View Full Version : What the hell...
Mar 29th, 2007, 8:15 PM
This is a story I wrote. Be advised, it is very VERY long. If you actually intend to read it, either do so in pieces or make sure you have at least an hour to kill first. I apologize for some of the language in it, but to the best of my recollection this is indeed how 13-year-old boys would talk in the absence of adults. Which probably gives away the fact that it is at least partially based on true events. Mostly I have changed names and scrunched things into a more convenient time scale for a narrative. I wrote this a long time ago, and no one but me has ever read it. ... Not sure if posting it here is going to change that...
p.s. I apologize that copying and pasting it here removed the paragraph indent... but I have not the patience to fix it.
The old wooden table in the waiting room of the junior high school’s guidance counselor’s office was covered with the scratched-in initials of countless former students, as well as the crude artwork of some of the more creative individuals who had passed through over the years. Three boys sat there with their heads down tightly enfolded in their arms. If their eyes had been open they would have seen nothing but the faintest bit of light getting through, but their eyes were closed. Not too tight, because that would have been a distraction in itself. Instead they focused on the sound of their own slow, rhythmic breathing, while somehow not seeming to notice the sticky heat of their own breath mingling with the tepid mustiness of the room itself.
Leaning against a bookshelf on the same side of the room was a fourth boy, who at this moment was watching the three at the table intently to see how well they were following his instructions. “Relax your shoulders, Jimmy. You’ve got to relax, and just focus on your breath coming in and out of your chest.”
“I’m tryin,” a muffled voice responded, not without a note of irritation.
Further away in the room two other boys sat on a couch that, judging from the greenish-yellowish plaid pattern and the layers upon layers of dust, couldn’t have been made any more recently than the late 1970’s. A portly, ruddy-cheeked boy sat on the edge of the cushion, hands gripping the arm of the couch, leaning towards the group by the table and watching them with narrowed eyes and slightly open mouth. The other boy on the couch was a little small for his age and sat on the far end, elbow on the other arm of the couch with his head resting aloofly in his hand. He glanced only occasionally from the corners of his eyes at the spectacle unfolding at the table. It was a deliberate disinterest. He instead chose to give most of his attention to trying to listen to the conversation going on behind the thick closed door of the guidance counselor’s office. The voices from the other side were too faint to be heard.
The larger boy turned to the other boy on the couch and pointed to the group at the table. “This is pretty freaky shit, ain’t it?”
“This is pretty stupid shit.”
“Man, this is weird. I dunno man. I dunno what to think about all this. It’s crazy, man.”
“I think it’s all a bunch of crap. Everybody’s just faking it anyway.”
“Man, how do you know that?”
“Cause it’s just stupid. That’s it.”
“Then why’d they bring you in here?”
“Cause me and my friend Andrea were just talking about it and -”
“That girl in there now?” he interrupted.
“Yeah, we were just talking about it and someone told the teacher on us and she sent us up here.”
“She’s been in there a while, huh?”
“I guess so.”
“You were here before me and those guys,” he nodded towards the group at the table.
The disinterested boy scoffed, “Yeah, what do they think they’re going to prove anyway? Those idiots are just going to get themselves suspended. Even though it is all just a load of crap anyway.”
“What makes you so damn sure about that? You tried it?”
“No. Why? Why would I need to? The whole thing is so fake. It’s totally lame.”
“Man, that’s not what I heard. I heard all kinds of shit, man.”
“All kinds of shit, I’m sure.”
“I bet you wouldn’t be saying that if you’d seen what I seen,” he said leaning back, obviously to affect an air of one who’s been around more and invite or entice the other boy to ask for more information.
It worked. “And what would that be?”
“Man,” he started, leaning back towards the other boy, “my friend’s been playin the game and when he met Toby, Toby told him that he was gonna kill my friend’s dog, and then like two days later my friend found his dog lying dead in the street in front of his house!”
“Like he’d been hit by a car or some shit.”
“Uh-huh, so you’re saying Toby became physically real, stole a car, and ran over your friend’s dog. Well, I was skeptical before, but now -"
“Man, shut up! That’s not what I’m sayin! For one thing it’s like Toby knows the future or something -"
“Quit talking like Toby is real. He’s not real. He’s a fictional character from a phony ass game -"
“Shut up! Just listen for a second, man. My friend’s dog lived in the backyard, but somehow he got out of the gate. Somebody opened up the gate and the dog got out and that’s why it got run over.”
“Wait, so you’re just admitting your own story is just a bunch of bullshit? So your friend’s family left the gate open. Big fucking deal.”
“No, man! They didn’t leave that gate open. They keep that gate locked. With a padlock and a chain. I’ve seen that shit myself.”
“That still doesn’t mean crap. You can forget to lock a lock just as easily as you can forget to shut a gate.”
“But my friend remembers locking the gate the last time he went out his yard before his dog got killed.”
“Then someone else went back there and left the gate unlocked. So what? There’s absolutely no reason to think anything at all supernatural was going on here -"
“Nuh-uh! Nobody else went back there! His whole family swears to that!”
“Well then someone else not in the family unlocked the gate -"
“Exactly what? Oh, so you’re sayin that Toby unlocked the gate? Look, maybe your friend’s dad did unlock the gate, but didn’t want to admit it cause he felt bad cause the dog got killed. Or maybe your friend just thinks he locked it when he left but actually didn’t. I mean it’s really easy to think you remember doin something when you do it all the time anyway. So just this one time he thought he did but he didn’t really. Or still maybe someone else, as in a real, physical being, unlocked it -"
“Who else woulda done it? Nobody took nothing. And who woulda done it just to get the dog killed?”
“How the hell should I know? Anybody! Hey, when your friend said Toby told him he was gonna kill his dog, did your friend go around tellin people like you about it?”
“What, you’re saying I killed my friend’s dog?”
“No, just hear me out on this. Did your friend tell other people, you or anyone, about Toby saying he was gonna kill his dog before the dog actually turned up dead?”
“But he did talk about it, then! Maybe somebody he told, or somebody they told, decided they were gonna do this shit to try and prove this shit was real, or just to start another rumor about how all this shit is dangerous just so they can get everybody all scared and freaking out and shit -"
“How’d they get the lock open? That lock wasn’t broke and neither was the chain. I saw them both myself.”
“Maybe somebody picked the lock! Or stole a key! Who knows! What I’m saying is maybe your friend talking about it sort of turned it into a self-fulfilling prophecy or something. Like somebody else carried it out or your friend was just so wierded out by it that he forgot to lock the gate himself. Or maybe your friend did all this shit himself, on purpose, to try and scare everybody! Frankly that’s probably the best explanation since there’s no such person as Toby for him to have talked to in the first place!”
“Man, fuck you, you don’t know shit! You accusing my friend of being a liar and killing his own goddamn dog? Man, that shit is fucked up. You got no right to be talking this shit when you don’t know shit about it!”
“You’re saying you really believe that a non-physical, made-up being like Toby was actually involved in killing some stupid fucking dog? Why the hell would a ghost or whatever the fuck he’s supposed to be kill a fucking dog? What the fuck should he care?”
“He don’t like all these people snooping around in his world! Everybody’s been playin the game and now he’s getting mad! Man, haven’t you heard about all the other shit’s that’s been happening? Like people going crazy and hallucinating and seeing all other kinds of crazy shit? And this ain’t the only time somebody heard something from Toby in the game that came true later!”
“People just make this shit up. Name one other example. With names, dates -"
“Man, fuck it. You think you know everything, but you don’t know shit -"
“No, I don’t know shit. Nobody knows shit cause there ain’t shit to know. Believe me, I’ve been looking into it. And I haven’t seen one damn thing, not one damn thing, that couldn’t be explained either as being a lie or made up or with just some rational explanation. It’s all bullshit.”
“No it ain’t, man.”
The disinterested boy let out an exasperated sigh and settled down harder onto the couch, turning his head away from the other boy who was now very much getting on his nerves. He pretended to be looking at some of the inspirational posters that hung on the walls on the far side of the waiting room. With only a few words apiece even pretending to read or study them with some intense interest would have only excused a few moments of silence. So instead he got up and walked over to a magazine rack that stood next to the counselor’s door. Not only could he busy himself looking over yellowed old issues of Reader’s Digest, standing next to the magazine rack also presented a better vantage point for eavesdropping on the conversation in the office on the other side of the door.
He still couldn’t make out any actual words. The hiss of an “s” and the occasional vowel sound was about all he could pick up. Disappointed, a brief wave of concern washed over him as he realized just how long it had been since the counselor had brought Andrea back there. He felt a little angry at what he thought was an over reaction on the school’s part. After all, he and Andrea had only been talking about Toby’s World, not playing it. And they certainly weren’t the only ones who’d been talking - it was the buzz of the whole school for the past several weeks. Though lately it had really gained momentum. And now the teachers and parents were apparently expressing concerns about it. But all in all, he thought, the whole thing really was stupid. A bunch of kids pretending to hypnotize themselves and explore some kind of dream world inhabited by an entity with a name as ridiculous as “Toby.” But now, with all the stupid rumors cropping up about kids going insane or never waking up, people were getting worked up into a panic. It really wasn’t until this point that he’d become intrigued by the stories - not so much for the veracity of the claims they made but for the mass hysteria they seemed to induce. That was why he and Andrea started asking around, asking everybody, trying to find out where this whole crazy idea got started in the first place. And that was what had gotten them brought into the counselor’s office that morning -
He was jarred out of this train of thought when he caught the sound of a deep, masculine voice from the other side of the door - certainly not the voice of the counselor, the middle-aged Mrs. Watson, and certainly not the voice of thirteen-year-old Andrea. It was as if his heart stopped momentarily. In a flash he felt a slight tingling and numbness in his lips and a cold sweat feeling washed over him - he had been caught completely off guard. But the rush of fear lasted only a moment, and his curiosity took over. He rather jokingly thought to himself that maybe they were talking to Toby in there, but decided that it must be the principal. The school was taking this very seriously, after all. But as he heard what seemed like a distinctly different masculine voice than the one he’d just heard, he began to feel a bit of discomfort in the pit of his stomach.
Embarrassed at how quickly he felt he was losing his composure, he picked up an issue of Reader’s Digest and started flipping through it to find jokes to read. It didn’t help that his hands were trembling slightly, shaking the magazine and making it hard to concentrate on reading.
This whole mess was starting to get to him. Panic is contagious.
“What’s your name, man?” the boy at the couch asked him, apparently in disregard to his masquerade of reading.
“Evan,” he said, looking up from his magazine without moving his head.
The appearance of his eyes turned up and looking out from underneath his knitted brows should have conveyed his agitation. If it did, the other boy ignored it.
“My name is Ward.”
Evan made no reply. He realized though that he’d read the same sentence about five times now.
Ward continued, “You know Joshua Miller?”
Evan lowered his magazine and looked at Ward. Ward seemed to be waiting for him to say something. “What, you’re finally giving me an example with a name?” he asked at length.
Rolling his eyes, Evan replaced the magazine on the rack. Then he looked at his feet, folded one arm across his chest, put his free hand to his face, index finger and thumb extended across either cheek, and said, “Go on, tell me about it.”
“Do you know him?”
“I might have heard the name before, I really don’t know.”
“Well Josh is a friend of mine. He was playing the game at home with his brother. He hasn’t been to school in a while now.”
“Where is he?”
“In the hospital.”
Evan grinned and shook his head in spite of the utter seriousness with which this last statement was delivered. As if that terse declaration was the proof positive of everything Ward had been arguing for earlier. And indeed Ward had said it like it was some kind of grand revelation and seemed perturbed that Evan was unimpressed by it. Evan couldn’t help but laugh at Ward’s offended expression. “Where’s his brother?” he chuckled, “The hospital? Toby get him too?”
“That ain’t funny, asshole. That’s my friend you’re making fun of.” Ward’s voice was cold - serious.
Lowering both of his hands to his waist Evan gave Ward a very studied looking over. If Ward was just lying to scare him he was doing a pretty good job of keeping a straight face. It was at this point Evan started to wonder if Ward really did sincerely believe this story. If he did, Evan suddenly felt it was best to humor him a bit and at least hear what else he had to say. And if Ward was just pulling his leg, the worst that could happen is that Ward would think he was gullible. Evan didn’t really care what Ward thought about him. And after all, it wasn’t like he could go anywhere, either. “Well did his brother say he saw what happened? What’s wrong with Josh?”
Pursing his lips and cocking his head back, basking momentarily in his vindication, Ward said, “His brother Nathan said Josh was talking to him while he was playing, and nothing had been happening for a while. Josh had never even seen Toby before when he’d played. But then all of a sudden, when Josh was describing some kind of room he was seeing, he screamed. Said there was an old, old looking woman standing in the doorway with some kind of demented looking expression on her face.”
“You mean when he saw Toby, Toby was a woman?”
“I dunno, man, hang on. Nathan got all scared at that point and was about to shake Josh to snap him out of it, but just before he could put his hands on his shoulders Josh started screaming like ‘No! No! Don’t touch me! Get your hands off me,’ and Nate jumped back and was all like ‘I ain’t touch you! Wake up, man,’ and all that, but then Josh was saying, ‘She’s gonna make me go with her! Help me,’ and that was the last thing Josh said.”
Evan leaned back slightly as if to take it all in. Ward had delivered the small amount of voice acting which the story called for quietly, with that fake scream voice that’s really more of a whisper, but with real gusto. Ward was looking expectantly at him. He didn’t know what to say. But he didn’t really believe the story, either. It sounded too much like a lot of the anonymous rumors that had been floating around the past few weeks.
“Well?” Ward asked.
“So what exactly is wrong with Josh?”
“The doctors say he’s in some kind of coma. He hasn’t woke up since he played the game. That was five days ago.”
Evan had his arms folded across his chest again and was biting his lower lip. He couldn’t help but feel Ward was trying to play him for a fool. “You been to see Josh in the hospital any?” he finally asked.
“Then how do you know he’s there and in a coma?”
“Nate told me!” Ward’s voice was getting hostile.
“So you still haven’t seen -"
Leaping from the couch, Ward shouted, “Nate wouldn’t lie to me!”
Evan nearly fell backwards. A slight boy, he was awkward and clumsy in fights and avoided them whenever possible. The sight of the larger boy rushing toward him with his cheeks flushed in what was evidently genuine anger made him lose his demeanor entirely. “Stop!” he pleaded.
“You need to stop talking like you’re the only one that knows what the fuck is going on!” Ward said stepping even closer.
Evan looked at the door of the counselor’s office, nervous that it might open at any second and whoever was there on the other side would be coming out to investigate the sudden outbursts. Evan hadn’t even noticed that the other boys by the table had remained completely uninterested in what he and Ward were doing up to this point. “Just calm down, ok?” he said, looking back at Ward.
Mar 29th, 2007, 8:17 PM
Ward stood in front of Evan scowling, fists clinched. Evan wasn’t sure what to make of it. If this was all a show, Ward sure was laying it on thick. At least he wasn’t coming any closer. And it seemed the door prevented conversations from getting in as much as it did them getting out.
Ward was loosening his fists when the boy from the other side of the room who’d been coaching the boys at the table through the game finally came over. “Hey,” he said, “Would you two mind keepin it down? We’re trying to do something over here.”
The situation apparently diffused, Evan breathed out and slumped his shoulders a little. He looked at the pale boy in dark pants and wrinkled flannel shirt and said, “Sorry.”
Ward simply turned around and assumed his position back on the couch. The pale boy laughed and looked the duo of Evan and Ward over. “My name’s Scott, by the way. What are you two in for?”
Clearing his throat Evan said, “My friend and I were brought in here because we were asking around about the game. Then someone told the teacher on us and she sent us up here.”
Ward waited several moments before he spoke. “I was tellin people about what happened to my friends Josh and Steven.”
Scott tilted his head to one side. “Oh yeah? What happened to them?”
“Well, Steven saw Toby one day in the game, then Toby told him he was gonna kill his dog. And a few days later his dog turned up dead. And Josh was playin when it seems like some old woman took him away. He ain’t woke back up since.”
“Oh shit,” Scott said, “that dude met Toby’s mother? Holy fuck. That’s never good.”
Evan felt like he was in the presence of a couple of crazy people. The way they talked about this sort of thing as if it happened all the time, or that there was nothing at all out of the ordinary or supernatural about it. Like the way little children talk about expecting presents from Santa Claus. How on earth could they believe this?
Ward looked at the floor. Was he not sure what to do now that someone actually believed him? Was he relieved?
Scott continued, “We think Toby’s mom killed him. Killed Toby, that is, not your friend. But since he’s met her there’s no telling what’s going to happen to him.”
Evan couldn’t resist, “What the hell are you talking about? How on earth could you know anything about this? And how the hell could Toby have a mother? He’s not even real!”
Scott looked at Evan as if disappointed, “You’ve never played the game, have you?”
“No, I haven’t. And I don’t want to, either. This shit’s all a little too stupid for me. I just wanted to find out where the hell this all got started.”
Ward snorted and turned his head toward the far wall and pretended to look at the posters like Evan had done earlier. Scott just had a weird and slightly unsettling grin on his face. “And what have you heard, Mr. Investigator?” he asked Evan.
Evan didn’t like something about Scott’s tone. It was somewhat patronizing, like he was talking down to him. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, some of Evan’s uneasiness was probably due to the fact that he was used to being the patronizing one. Still, he felt like telling Scott what he’d heard.
“Well,” Evan began, “I’ve heard a lot of things. Most of them outright contradict each other. And they all sound like some kind of stupid urban legend.”
Ward was now looking at Evan and Scott. Evan thought maybe what he’d just said would provoke some kind of a response from Scott. Instead Scott said nothing; his expression remained fixed - that disturbing, cocky grin.
Evan continued, “The details seem to change with whoever’s telling it, but a lot of people say that the game came out of somebody’s birthday party. Nobody seems to know who’s party, of course, or even whether it was a kid at this school or some other school. But in just about every version of the party story they say that a hypnotist was at the party and taught the kids there how to play the game. And they of course came to school and passed it along.”
Evan paused for a moment to study Scott’s expression. It didn’t look like any of this was news to him. Evan wondered why Scott was making him talk about it. Before he could resume talking, Ward interrupted by asking Scott, “Are those guys gonna be ok without you?”
“They should be. I told them to stay together and stay put. They’ll call me if something comes up.”
Evan still couldn’t believe how casually Ward and Scott could talk about this. He started to wonder if this wasn’t all some elaborate joke they were playing on him. Shaking off the thought he resumed talking, “Yeah, anyway, the whole hypnotist thing has a lot of variations, it seems. Like, some people say the hypnotist was some guy the parents hired to be entertainment at the party, and other people said he was some mysterious stranger that just sorta showed up at the house. Not really a lot of reliable information.”
Scott nodded. Evan continued, “Then there’s a rumor going around that some kids from somewhere, again no names, were playing with a Ouija board and the board kept saying over and over again, ‘Toby’s World.’ And how that led them to discover this silly ritual of hypnosis to play the game is never mentioned -"
Scott shook his head and interrupted Evan by laughing. He seemed surprised by this last story with the Ouija board. Apparently Evan had told him something he hadn’t heard before. But Evan wasn’t sure if Scott was laughing at him or if he found something about the story amusing.
“What’s so funny?” Ward was the one to actually ask.
“Nothing, nothing,” Scott said, still smiling and looking at his feet, “This Ouija board thing. That’s a new one on me. Heh! Ouija boards! I mean, geez!”
Evan’s jaw dropped. He had to pounce on this. “Who are you to talk like Ouija boards are all bullshit when you’re standing over there playin Toby’s World? Like you’ve honestly got all these guys hypnotized and they’re off in some other world or some shit? What’s up with that, huh?”
Without even seeming to get defensive Scott replied, “So you believe in Ouija boards?”
Evan was briefly taken aback, “What? No! Ouija boards are a crock of shit too! I just don’t see where you get off believing in one and not the other!”
“Oh. See, that’s what I was thinking too. I was wondering what made you think Ouija boards were so great and that Toby’s World was all a crock.”
Evan really didn’t get this guy. “So, you’re saying - what are you getting at?”
“Well, I guess Ouija boards aren’t always bunk. I mean anything’s possible, right? I guess if I saw one do something I couldn’t explain I might be convinced then. I just don’t know if I’d trust the guys holding the pointer thingy not to be movin it themselves.”
Evan’s arms shot out to the side with his palms facing up, “And how the hell is that different from those guys over there just pretending to be in some kind of trance and describing what they see? That’s exactly the same thing. They could lie just as easily as somebody playin on a Ouija board!”
Scott just grinned and said, “Maybe so. But I’ve seen enough to convince me otherwise.”
Ward, who was still sitting on the couch, laughed out loud and started nodding his head in full agreement. When Evan turned to look at him, Ward’s expression read something like, “Take that, smart guy.” Evan knew this was a losing battle.
“It’s alright,” Scott said, “This really is the sort of thing you just have to see to believe.”
Without even being sure why, and somewhat in spite of himself, Evan let himself get swept up in the moment and was probably more open to hear anything than he’d ever been before. “So what do you know?” he asked Scott.
“You’re not going to believe me unless you see it for yourself,” Scott said, smiling wryly.
“Just tell me or not,” Evan said with deliberate calmness.
Scott smiled all the more broadly and looked Evan over. Then he looked down, eyelids half-closed, as if he had suddenly started to reminisce about something. It was a few moments before he spoke, “You know, C. S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters that human beings generally make two primary mistakes in regards to demons: either they believe they don’t exist, or they have an unhealthy fascination with them. I think you manage to do both,” he said, laughing.
Scott, still chuckling, shook his head, “C. S. Lewis - a book he wrote. It’s written like it’s letters from a demon in hell giving advice to a new demon on how to lead some guy to damnation.”
Evan just stared blankly for a moment. Even Ward seemed a little upset. “What the hell does that have to do with anything? Are you saying - are you saying Toby’s a demon?” Evan finally asked.
Scott looked at his feet - scratched his head. Then he shrugged his shoulders and looked back at Evan and Ward. “I don’t really know. I mean, we’ve thought about it. We don’t think he is, but that’s kinda what we’re trying to find out right now. What I was tryin to get at just now, though, is that not so much you don’t believe in demons but that you don’t believe in the supernatural at all. And yet you’re still hauled in here cause you were so interested in Toby’s World that you couldn’t stop asking around.”
Upon reflection Evan had to admit that Scott had a point about that. But the more Scott talked about demons and the supernatural, Evan couldn’t help but think that the boy was more than just a little bit crazy. Ward, though, seemed to view Scott as some kind of authority on the subject. “What is it you were sayin earlier about Toby’s mom? What do you know about that?” Ward asked him.
Scott bit his lower lip, “Well, not a lot, actually,” he started, “But one of the stories I’ve heard is that Toby was this kid who lived with his psychotic mother, and that she abused him really bad all the time. So like, whenever she would beat him really bad or lock him in a closet for hours or whatever, he would sort of use this hypnosis technique to like, go out of his head, and just get away from reality somewhere where she couldn’t hurt him.”
Ward’s eyes were wide open, his mouth slightly agape. He let out all the breath in his lungs with a single, soft, “Whoa,” and remained silent, not even breathing back in for some time. Evan swallowed hard, “Where did you hear that?” he asked.
“That’s one you haven’t heard, huh?”
“No... I haven’t. Man, that’s even freakier than it coming from some crazy, ‘traveling hypnotist.’ A lot... scarier, even.”
“Unless the traveling hypnotist was Toby, grown up, and goin around teachin kids how to play the game!” Ward broke in, visibly shaking, as if he thought he’d just had the insight which cracked the case.
“Nah, I don’t think so,” Scott said, “We think Toby is a ghost, and was killed by his mom when he was still pretty young.”
“Well what if his ghost was the hypnotist? Oh, man, this is some fucking crazy shit!”
“I absolutely agree,” Evan said mockingly, “There’s no reason to think there ever was a hypnotist or a party or whatever. Now as far as there being some kid named Toby that was killed by his crazy mother, I don’t know. But if that was true, then how’d the story get out?”
“Man, the ghost coulda told people!” Ward insisted.
“That’s actually one thing we’ve considered,” Scott started, “but we were thinking more like Toby’s ghost came into somebody’s dreams or something, he didn’t go walking around or anything like that.”
“Why? Why would a ghost do that?” Evan asked.
“Kid probably just wanted someone to play with,” Scott shrugged, “After all, why else would people call it a game?”
Evan opened his mouth but didn’t say anything. Toby’s World certainly wasn’t like any other game he’d ever heard of. In fact he’d thought to himself several times that “game” wasn’t really the best word for it as there were no official rules or objectives of any kind. And nobody ever spoke about “winning” Toby’s World. As far as there being any kind of point to it all, it seemed it was just to get in touch with Toby for the sake of doing it. And most people who’d claimed they went into the trance or hypnotic state and wandered around in some imaginary house or whatever never claimed to have even accomplished this. In fact, among the people Evan had personally talked to that claimed they had met somebody in the other world, very few spoke with any conviction that whoever it was they talked to was definitely Toby. Most people said they weren’t sure. For one thing, even among the ones that were convinced they’d met Toby, none of them could agree with any solid accuracy on what Toby looked like. Most, though by no means all, said that Toby appeared to them as a young boy. But the details of Toby’s appearance were as unique as the individuals reporting them. Light hair, dark hair, seven or eight years old, twelve or thirteen years old, blue eyes, green eyes, brown eyes, red eyes, sad expression, hostile expression, demented expression, fat, thin, pale, tan; all of these words had been used at some point by somebody who said they’d met Toby. Still others, though rare, said Toby was much older - a young adult, a middle aged adult, or even an old man. At least one person had claimed Toby appeared as a talking dog. The widely varying personal accounts had seemed to prove to Evan that these people were not experiencing the same thing, like some other world, but a subjective, personal experience, no more meaningful than any crazy dream one might have at night. In this case, it just seemed that everyone going around and telling everybody about these dreams gave people a common set of symbols or themes that would inevitably appear in their dreams, which they would then mistake for having some kind of universal significance. As much as Evan wanted to blurt all of these thoughts out, his mouth felt like it was struck dumb and all he could do was shake his head and wait for the points of his thinking to stop coming to him all at once. Then almost out of nowhere he said, “What about Toby’s mother? If Toby invented this thing to get away from his mom, why would she ever show up?”
Scott seemed to enjoy discussing this, “Well, for one thing we think she might be dead, too. We don’t really know when they lived, so it coulda been years and years ago and anybody that even knew them might be dead by now. Anyway, working from the idea that Toby is some kind of ghost or spirit, then if we can contact his ghost, why not somebody else’s? And then again if this kid created this other world out of his own head, then it might be that his mother embodies his deepest fears and the power of evil, sort of like a nightmare, and it has nothing to do with the woman’s actual spirit. Personally I think that’s more likely.”
“Where do you get this shit?”
Scott’s grin broke even wider and he failed to stifle a laugh. It was obvious he was freaking Evan out and apparently he loved it. He didn’t seem to be as interested in Ward, possibly because Ward was already a believer - the fun and the sport of the whole thing probably was upsetting the people who didn’t believe.
Evan, annoyed from not getting an answer, looked at Scott directly and repeated, “Where do you hear all these ideas? I’ve been asking around for days and I haven’t heard anything about this sort of stuff.”
Settling back down, Scott just shrugged, “Me and my friends mostly come up with this ourselves. We don’t talk about it with others all that much because - well hell, you know why! Look what happens when we get caught!”
“You said earlier you heard Toby was some boy that was killed by his mother.”
“Oh yeah, that. My older brother told me about it. He said him and some of his friends knew about Toby’s World when they were in the eighth grade.”
Evan immediately stood up straighter, more alert, “You mean this shit’s been around for years? How come we never heard about it til a few weeks ago? Wait, how old is your brother?”
“He’s four years older than me. And he said it’d been around apparently since before he was in middle school, either. It just, I guess, never caught on like it has just recently.”
“I wonder why -?” Ward broke in.
Evan had turned around and stood there scratching his head. He thought this was probably the most significant bit of information Scott had passed along so far.
Scott answered Ward, “We think maybe nobody or very few people had been able to actually reach Toby in a long time, so people never thought there was much point trying. But for some reason, he’s started appearing to people again and once that got around more people have wanted to try.”
Ward nodded. Evan looked them both over. Scott continued, “We think maybe Toby is trying to tell us something. If we can find him, we’re going to try to ask him about everything - like who or what he is, where he came from, where the game comes from...”
“And I guess nobody’s ever thought to ask him before?” Evan said sarcastically.
“I dunno. Probably plenty of people have. Or at least tried to. But whatever they found out they didn’t tell other people, or else if they did we can’t tell it apart from other rumors. So we gotta find out for ourselves, straight from the source.”
“Can I watch you guys?” Ward asked.
“Yeah, if you want. You wanna go in too?”
Ward threw his hands up in the air, palms out, “No way, man! I don’t wanna get involved that much in this shit!”
Evan crossed his arms, scoffed at them both, then turned as if he was going to walk away. But he stopped after only a few steps. Paying little or no attention to him, Scott and Ward moved to the table at the far side of the room where the other boys had been waiting in silence this whole time. Evan watched from over his shoulder.
Mar 29th, 2007, 8:20 PM
“Everything still cool with you guys?” Scott addressed his friends.
From where he stood, Evan could hear only muffled replies. But nothing was urgent sounding. Apparently nobody was “freaking out,” or, Evan considered more likely to happen, pretending to freak out.
“So where they at?” Ward asked Scott, with a mixture of anxiousness and enthusiasm.
“Still in the room I left them in, I imagine. Sam, tell me what you see.”
As Sam’s head was resting in between his folded arms and was angled in such a way that he was basically talking into the table, Evan could discern almost nothing he was saying. Evan was struck by just how true what Scott had said earlier was. Despite all his harangues against the foolishness of Toby’s World, he really did seem to be utterly fascinated with it. He was grateful he was spared the embarrassment of either Scott or Ward noticing that he was edging closer to the table to get a better look.
“...There’s a lot of trash on the kitchen table. The refrigerator looks dirty,” was the first scrap of Sam’s report that Evan was able to make out clearly.
“There’s rotting lettuce on the table,” another boy added.
“I want one of you to open the refrigerator. Alan, walk to the refrigerator,” Scott said.
There was a brief pause. Evan wasn’t sure whether Alan was the boy who’d said something about lettuce or the one he hadn’t heard talk yet. Apparently he was the latter, as moments later Evan heard the word, “ok,” from that side of the table.
“Alan, open the refrigerator door,” Scott’s voice was smooth now - not a trace of his joviality or cockiness from just a minute ago.
Ward’s fingers played at his lower lip. He watched Alan expectantly; like he was watching someone in a horror movie about to enter the basement. One got the impression he was bracing himself for when the monster jumps out from behind the door.
But nothing sudden or startling happened. After just another few moments of silence, Alan gave another faint, “Ok.”
“What do you see in the fridge?” Scott asked.
“There’s nothing,” came the muffled response, “Just full of mold. It’s warm inside.”
Ward looked at Scott. “I heard a lot of people find a human head in there!”
Scott nodded briefly.
Evan scoffed, but not loud enough for the others to hear. There they went again; talking like all of this stuff was real. Like they really were all going to some other dimension - that was furnished, no less.
Ward continued to talk to Scott, but very quietly, apparently so as not to interrupt the game, “Man, one time my friend Steven found the head in there, and he decided to take it out of there and he put it on the kitchen table. And like, his brother Nate was running the game for him, right? And so like the next time Nate was running a game with somebody else, that dude found the head on the table and it totally freaked him out cause it had always been in the fridge before! And Nate hadn’t told this dude about what Steven had done or nothing!”
Scott smiled, stopping just short of a laugh. Evan did laugh, loudly and derisively. Ward and Scott both turned to look at him. Ward’s cheeks were again flushed with offense, and Scott, as it was becoming apparent was his custom, was still smiling.
“If you think all this is bullshit, then why don’t you just stay the fuck out of it?” Ward demanded.
Scott put one hand up, gesturing for Ward to calm down. Evan stood facing them, his arms still crossed. Scott spoke, “Seriously, dude, if you’re gonna be like that, why don’t you go find something else to do? Or at least keep your comments to yourself til we’re done?”
Evan looked at his feet and shuffled them about slightly and aimlessly. Scott was being too calm and polite for Evan to feel comfortable starting some kind of an argument with him. He thought he might make himself look like a jerk if he did. But he also didn’t want to just leave and let Scott have the last word like that. So, deciding to wait around for a chance to get the better of this frustrating individual, Evan said, “It’s nothing, just go back to what you’re doing. I’ll be quiet,” putting his hands into his pants pockets.
Without saying anything else, Scott turned back to his friends. Ward’s eyes lingered on Evan for a moment, but soon seemed to lose all interest in him when Scott and the others resumed their “game.”
“Alright,” Scott said, “I want all of you to stay together, and you’re going to leave the kitchen and enter another room. You’re going to walk together to another room. This should be the living room. I want you to let me know what you see. Jimmy, what do you see?”
“It’s all dirty,” he responded, “The lights are all out but the sun’s coming in through the windows. You can see all the dust.”
“The floor’s covered with trash and old clothes,” Sam added.
“The TV doesn’t work,” Jimmy spoke again.
“Alright, Sam, I want you to sift through some of the stuff on the floor. Do you see anything interesting?” Scott asked.
“There’re bugs,” Sam answered.
“Are there any pieces of paper amongst the trash?”
“What’s the paper like?”
“It’s drawing paper. There’re little kids’ drawings on it. Scribbles. Sad looking.”
“Tell me more.”
“It’s like, crying faces. Dark clouds. Really just a bunch of scribbly lines.”
“Ok, you keep looking through the papers and junk. Jimmy, I want you to look at the furniture. Tell me what kind of furniture you see, and what it’s like.”
“There’s an armchair. And a couch. They’re both filthy. Dust is really thick. There’s a shelf on the other side. Some really old looking books on it.”
“Walk to that shelf. I want you to look at the books on it.”
“They’re really old.”
“Yes, what else can you see about them? Can you make out any of their titles?”
“No. There’s nothing written on the outside. They’re just musty and covered in cobwebs.”
“Try picking one up. Can you open one and look inside?”
“Well, keep trying. Alan, I want you to go to the windows. I want you to look out the windows.”
Alan was normally slow to respond. Everyone waited for his usual reply of, “Ok.” But after twenty seconds or so he still had said nothing. Ward was visibly concerned. Scott just repeated, “Alan, walk over to the windows. Let me know when you’re there.”
But still he said nothing. “Oh shit,” Ward gasped.
“It’s fine,” Scott insisted, “Now, Alan, listen to me. You’re standing next to the window. Tell me what you see. Just tell me what you see.”
Evan rolled his eyes. He wasn’t sure who was the bigger fool - Scott or Ward - for taking this guy seriously. All Evan wanted to know was if Alan was trying to effect a dramatic pause or if he was going to treat everyone to a huge, phony freak-out.
Ward, however, was looking freaked-out for real. He was already sweating and shaking. He didn’t say anything though; in fact, it looked as if he was holding his breath. He just stared rather intently at Alan as he waited for him to say something. He didn’t notice Evan shaking his head behind him. When Scott spoke again, even his voice seemed to betray a hint of concern, “Alan, man, can you hear me? Just yes or no.”
There was no sound in the room except for the muffled conversation from the other side of the guidance counselor’s door. Evan turned around and looked at the door, feeling a wave of anxiety sweep over him not for the boys playing the game but for his friend Andrea. What on Earth could they be taking so long for? And were they talking louder now? It was definitely a male voice coming out of the room at that moment. It sounded - firm, even angry. Was he going to be next? What were they doing to her? What were they going to do to him? Then, for just a split second, he thought he heard someone sob - Andrea?
“Wake him up, dude, shit!” Ward interrupted Evan’s thoughts with this loud command to Scott.
“Yeah,” Scott said, for the first time looking genuinely worried.
Just as Scott was moving to try and shake Alan physically from his trance, Alan lifted his head up, his eyes half-closed, and looked around the room. His eyes rested briefly on Ward, then Evan. After that he turned his head to Scott. Still not saying anything, he unfolded his arms, and yawning, stretched them briefly. “You alright?” Scott asked.
Mar 29th, 2007, 8:20 PM
Apparently slow to respond even when awake, Alan finally said, “Yeah, I think I just dozed off.”
“You had me worried there for a second,” Scott said.
“We gonna keep playin?”
“Yeah, we’ll start over. Hang on just a minute.”
Alan leaned back in his chair and looked Evan and Ward over again, “Hey, sorry we ignored you guys when we came in earlier,” he started, “We’re just in a hurry to meet Toby.”
“That’s cool,” Ward said, “Do you think you really have enough time to find him?”
“We sure hope so. We figured we might have a few more minutes before they got around to suspending us,” he chuckled, “So we just got straight into it. I sure as hell don’t want to go looking for Toby by myself!”
Ward and Alan both laughed. Evan couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could really be afraid of this game. Every time he found someone who talked like it was frightening or dangerous he became suspicious of a put-on.
Scott, in the meantime, was waking the other two boys up, “Sam, Jimmy, the two of you are going to leave Toby’s World and come back to your bodies. You’re going to wake up when I count to five - one, two, three, four, five!”
Sam’s arms relaxed and his head rose slowly off the table. With a slight yawn he stretched and then turning to Scott said, “We gonna try again or what?”
“Yeah, we’ll try again,” he answered, while giving Jimmy a slight nudge with his elbow.
Jimmy’s head rocked slightly to the side and back from the impact, but other than that he seemed not to respond at all. Ward audibly gasped.
With a mixture of irritation and concern in his voice, Scott pushed Jimmy much more forcefully with his hand and said, “Jimmy! You’re coming back now! Wake up!”
But still Jimmy wouldn’t move. Ward backed off from them a little, though whether it was from fear or if he thought he needed to give Scott room to work Evan couldn’t tell. Evan was completely unimpressed with it all - he was quite certain that Jimmy was faking it just to scare everybody. Scott was a bit hard to read. Evan thought he seemed frustrated or angry with Jimmy. Maybe Jimmy did this often.
Scott, Sam, and Alan all got up and grabbed Jimmy by the shoulders and arms and forced him to sit up in his chair. Once released Jimmy’s arms fell motionless at his side and his head rolled back, jaw agape and eyes shut. Ward had one hand covering his mouth. He backed up slowly and got behind Evan. Sam took a hold of both of Jimmy’s shoulders again and violently shook him back and forth. Evan could hear Jimmy’s teeth clacking together from where he stood. Jimmy made no sound. Ward started for the counselor’s door.
“No!” Scott blurted out just before Ward’s hand could reach the door knob.
Ward stopped in his tracks and wheeled around, and saw all eyes fixed on him - even Jimmy’s. “He’s ok?” Ward asked, for some reason almost out of breath.
Now all eyes turned back to Jimmy. His eyes were wide open, giving him sort of a dazed look. Jimmy glanced around the room at everyone with a look that seemed to question why he was the center of attention. “What?” he finally asked.
Scott crossed his arms before he spoke, “Didn’t you hear me? I told you to wake up.”
“Uh, sorry. I was still looking at those books. I was trying to read one. I guess I wasn’t listening to you.”
“You can’t do that!” Scott reprimanded, “You gotta listen to me and not get lost in there!”
“Yeah, sorry,” Jimmy shrugged.
“What did the book say?” Ward asked, coming back toward the table.
“The book you were trying to read. What was in it?”
“Oh, uh, I forget. It was like gibberish or something.”
“I was starting to get freaked out, man,” Ward said.
“Why?” Jimmy asked nonchalantly, brushing his hair back from his eyes.
“We almost thought Freddy Krueger had gotten a hold of you,” Evan broke in.
“What the fuck’s your problem, dude?” Jimmy snapped.
“Man, he don’t know shit,” Ward offered as an apology or explanation.
“Just who are you guys anyway?” Jimmy demanded, “You been here since before us.”
“They were sent up just for talking about the game,” Scott answered before Evan or Ward could.
“You know them?” Jimmy asked Scott.
“Naw, we were just talkin a little bit. For that matter, I don’t think they know each other either, really.”
“Yeah, me and Evan just met in here,” Ward said to Jimmy.
“Evan? That you?” Jimmy asked, staring at Evan.
Evan took offense at his tone. He crossed his arms and scowled. He tried to come up with something sarcastic and clever to say, but then realized it was taking him too long. Finally he just said, “Well, duh.”
Jimmy snorted once in contempt. He stood up from his chair and looked Evan straight in the eye. Evan could see that Jimmy was a little taller than he was, but couldn’t tell whether he was built larger or not as the flannel clothing and jeans Jimmy were wearing were so loose and baggy. Jimmy’s gaze rested on Evan for only a moment though, just long enough to convey the threat of violence. He turned his attention to Ward next. “Who’re you?” he asked.
“My name’s Ward,” he said, offering his hand.
Jimmy looked at Ward’s hand briefly, then shook it. “Jimmy,” he said.
“Yeah, I know. Your buddy Scott was using your name for the game.”
“Oh yeah, yeah. So you play, too?”
“Aw, heck no, man. That shit ain’t for me,” Ward insisted with his palms-out gesture once again.
“I swear, you’re acting like he was offering you poison or something,” Evan laughed.
Jimmy looked like he was about to say something, but Scott broke in before he had a chance, “Evan’s a skeptic. With an unhealthy fascination with Toby’s World anyway. Just chill out, it’s cool. His problem, not ours.”
Jimmy seemed to like the idea of dismissing Evan as irrelevant. “Yeah,” he smirked, “So we gonna get back to this or what?”
“Hear, hear!” the otherwise quiet Sam chimed in.
“How bout you put us outside the house this time?” Alan asked.
“Yeah, we can try,” Scott said.
As Jimmy returned to his seat at the table Sam and Alan stretched their arms before getting back into their “game” positions. Scott leaned back against the bookshelf, making himself comfortable. Ward stood near-by. Evan looked about the room, trying to decide if he should feign interest in something else or stay and watch too. Still, he really was growing more preoccupied with concern for Andrea over how long they had kept her in the counselor’s office.
Evan leaned on the wall near the counselor’s door, resigning himself to watch the others at their game. Even though he didn’t believe there was anything supernatural to it he still thought it was fun to watch - at least more interesting than anything else he had to do.
Almost as soon as Jimmy had sat back down were all of the boys startled bolt upright by the sound of a door opening. Evan swung around to face the counselor’s door but found it shut tight. At the same time all of the boys at the table had stood up and along with Scott and Ward were facing the door from the waiting room into the hall. Evan was the last to turn and see the intruder was the 7th grade biology teacher, Mr. Mason, who had apparently just been passing by. He must have caught a glimpse through the window of the hallway door.
His arm extended holding the door open, he looked directly at the group at the table and demanded, “What were you boys doing?”
“Man, I was just lying my head down,” Jimmy protested.
“Yeah!” Ward added, flushed.
“Did I ask you?” Mr. Mason scolded Ward, “He can answer by himself. Now I want to know why I walk by and see the three of you with your heads on that table and the other three of you watching.”
“We been here a long time, I’m getting tired,” Alan offered innocently.
“You take me for a fool? I know what you must have done to be brought in here! And here I catch you all at it again? You boys are gonna get suspended, and I’m going to see to it personally!”
All six boys stood quietly, most of them looking down towards their feet. Evan wanted to say something in protest to Mr. Mason, but when he tried to speak his words got caught in his throat. Jimmy glared angrily at the teacher, but not until Mr. Mason had walked to the counselor’s door and had his back turned so he couldn’t see. Reaching the door Mr. Mason reached down to turn the knob but it didn’t budge. He looked down at it and tried to turn it again, this time realizing it was locked. He raised his hand to knock, but then hesitated, holding his clenched hand in the air just an inch or so from the door. Evan saw Mr. Mason’s expression change from anger to something that looked like concern - even fear. Mr. Mason loosed his fist, and cupping his hand around his ear he leaned against the door. All of the boys remained silent. None of them could make out any of what Mr. Mason was listening to, not even Evan, who was closest. Evan could however watch Mr. Mason’s expression. He saw his lips press together tightly and turn white, and then he took a slow, deep breath through the nostrils. He remained there like that at the door for several moments, before standing back up straight and turning to the group of boys near the table.
“Which one of you is supposed to be next?” he asked at length.
Scott and his friends looked at Ward and Evan, “I am,” Evan answered.
“Oh, you are? Do you know who’s in there now?”
“Uh - Andrea. My friend Andrea.”
“Were you two brought in here together?”
“Y-yes,” Evan was always nervous when he got in trouble.
“Then why are you still out here? Why did Mrs. Watson separate you two?”
“I - don’t know,” Evan was being honest.
They had been brought in together. It started in Mrs. Cole’s math class right after lunch. They were sitting in the back whispering to each other as Mrs. Cole was taking attendance. Normally that wouldn’t be such a problem; it would result only in being told to be quiet if they got caught. But Karly who sat in front of them raised her hand and complained that Evan and Andrea were talking about Toby’s World and it was making her uncomfortable. When confronted about this, Evan and Andrea both tried to deny it. But then from across the room Mike Sanders blurted out that they’d asked him about Toby’s World before class this morning. And that set off a chain reaction of other accusations - for the most part true. Andrea and Evan had been asking around about the game for days, so everyone knew it. Normally Mrs. Cole was not much of a disciplinarian, but today she took Andrea and Evan both straight to the counselor for spreading rumors when she was done with role call. That in itself was also a bit unusual, as the assistant principals were the ones who routinely handled children that acted up in class.
Once in the waiting room of the counselor’s office, Mrs. Cole had sat Evan at the table and Andrea at the couch. Then she knocked on the door for the counselor. Mrs. Watson’s muffled voice came through the door and Mrs. Cole soon went in, leaving the door open. From where he sat, Evan could not see into the counselor’s office because the door opened outward and obscured his view not just of Mrs. Watson’s office but of half the waiting room as well. He could, however, still see Andrea. She was leaning forward on the couch, peering anxiously into Mrs. Watson’s office. Evan tried to mouth the word “what” to her, but she either didn’t notice or didn’t respond. Mrs. Cole and Mrs. Watson both emerged from behind the door and approached Andrea. Andrea’s eyes remained fixed on something in the office until Mrs. Watson was right next to her. Mrs. Watson leaned down close to Andrea and said something to her so softly that Evan couldn’t understand it. But Andrea looked almost on the verge of tears. She started shaking her head. Mrs. Cole turned to look at Evan and, without saying anything, left the waiting room.
Mrs. Watson asked Andrea something else. Andrea just looked at the floor, like she was about to cry. Mrs. Watson waited for a few moments, then it sounded like she repeated the question to Andrea. After another torturous pause, Andrea just nodded. Evan was a little scared, both for himself and for her. Neither one of them was used to getting in trouble at school. He figured she wasn’t taking it too well. Maybe she was worried what her parents would do. Mrs. Watson straightened herself, then with one hand placed on Andrea’s shoulder she guided her up from the couch. Mrs. Watson turned around to look at Evan, then looked back at Andrea and asked her something else. Andrea shook her head, a vehement no. Evan saw Mrs. Watson’s hand tighten on Andrea’s shoulder, and seemed to ask her the question again. Andrea said no quietly but loud enough for Evan to hear this time; she sounded quite insistent. Mrs. Watson seemed to accept the answer. Evan heard her say “okay,” then she guided Andrea into her office with her hand still on her shoulder. Just before disappearing behind the door, Andrea gave Evan a tearful and apologetic look, and Mrs. Watson said to him, “Wait out here.”
Mar 29th, 2007, 8:21 PM
“Young man,” Mr. Mason’s voice interrupted Evan’s chain of thought.
“Were you two brought in for playing that game?”
“No, we were just talking about it, sir.”
“Well do you think Mrs. Watson will be finished talking to her soon?”
“I don’t know. She’s been in there a really long time already.”
“Um, since the beginning of the period. Right after role call.”
Mr. Mason looked at his wristwatch. Looking upset he asked, “You mean they’ve been talking for more than half an hour already?”
Evan hadn’t realized it had been that long. He just looked at Mr. Mason with a blank expression.
Mr. Mason turned away from Evan and looked at the other boys. With his arms crossed and his face scowling, he stood there several moments without saying anything. Jimmy sat back down and pretended to be interested in his fingernails. Scott leaned back against the bookshelf and made himself comfortable again. Sam and Alan both sat back down but neither took his eyes off of Mr. Mason. Ward just stood where he was when the teacher had entered the room, fidgeting uncomfortably.
Still without speaking, Mr. Mason turned and walked towards the door as if he was going to leave. Ward shot Scott a hopeful glance, but was soon disappointed. Mr. Mason turned back toward the boys when he reached the door, and leaning himself back against it, announced, “Well, since it seems Mrs. Watson is busy, I guess I’ll just wait here with you boys until she comes out.”
Ward audibly groaned. He obviously was hoping to watch Scott and the others get back into their game. But it looked like that wasn’t going to happen now. He walked, shoulders slouched slightly down, back to the couch where he found Evan was already sitting. He sat down next to him, then propped his head up with his hand, looking bored and irritated. The boys at the table sat with their backs to Mr. Mason, but said nothing. Scott, still by the shelf, looked suddenly very interested in his shoes. It was the kind of awkward silence that only gets broken by an occasional cough.
Several minutes passed in this way. Ward looked up at Mr. Mason, who turned his head to face him. Mr. Mason looked like he expected Ward to say something. But neither said anything. Finally Mr. Mason just looked away and returned to staring at the counselor’s door. Ward took this as a sign that it might be okay to talk quietly to Evan. He leaned over and asked in a hushed tone, “So that girl in there... she your girlfriend?”
“No,” Evan answered, annoyed and embarrassed.
“Why not?” Ward grinned.
“We’re like, we’re friends,” Evan turned away in case he was blushing.
“You like her?”
“Do you like her? Maybe I could ask her out for you if you’re too embarrassed.”
“Shut up!” Evan would have liked to add an insult to that imperative, but was afraid to as he was sure Mr. Mason was listening in.
Mr. Mason could hear them talking but didn’t show any interest. When Scott and the others noticed, they started talking quietly amongst themselves, careful not to say anything that would suggest they were talking about Toby’s World. The room was not as quiet as it had been before, but it was no less tense.
Ward was not finished teasing Evan, “She have a boyfriend?”
“Leave me alone,” Evan looked at Ward in an attempt to be threatening, but since Ward was so much larger than him it was likely futile.
“Am I going to have to move you two apart?” Mr. Mason obviously had been listening.
“No, sir,” Ward smiled.
Evan scooted a little father from Ward on the couch anyway. He would have liked to have gotten up and tried listening through the door again, but he was sure Mr. Mason would not allow that. But the magazine rack was right next to the counselor’s door. He thought maybe he could pretend to browse the rack while trying to catch what was being said in the other room. “Can I get a magazine?” he felt it was safest to ask Mr. Mason’s permission first.
“Fine,” he didn’t seem to care.
“I want one too,” Ward said.
“Wait until he sits back down.”
Wasting no time, Evan got up from the couch and started rifling through the magazines closest to the counselor’s door. He heard the male voice distinctly again - and beneath that, sobbing. He definitely heard sobbing. He froze in place, forgetting to keep up his charade of looking for a magazine. His hand fell away from the rack and he felt a sensation of tightening in his gut. He felt like he almost had to go to the bathroom all of a sudden.
“Are you going to pick out a magazine or not?” Mr. Mason demanded.
Evan turned around, but didn’t say anything. All of the other boys took stock of his expression and must have been able to see that something was wrong with him. Mr. Mason was annoyed, “Get a magazine or sit back down, young man.”
Evan took a brief look at the rack and haphazardly picked up an old copy of Reader’s Digest like he’d had earlier. He walked back to the couch and sat down, opening the magazine to a random page and just stared, not really reading it. Ward studied Evan’s face. He had a glean from a thin layer of sweat, like he was sick. Ward was apparently so surprised by Evan’s sudden change of demeanor that he must have forgot he had asked to get a magazine too. But Mr. Mason reminded him, “Didn’t you say you wanted to get something to read too?”
“Huh? Oh, oh yeah.”
Ward got up and walked to the rack, picking up the first magazine that was in arm’s reach. He took it back to the couch and sat next to Evan. Mr. Mason watched them both like he suspected they were up to something. But Ward simply sat there flipping through pages, and Evan continued to stare blankly at an insurance advertisement.
A long, tortuous silence that followed was at last broken by the sound of the bell ringing to end the class period. The halls that had been deserted erupted into the commotion of students socializing, opening and closing lockers, or hurrying to their next class. Visibly annoyed, Mr. Mason obviously knew he had to leave to teach a class now that his break period was over. Mr. Mason looked around at the room at the boys and warned, “I’m going to send someone else up here to check on you. You better behave yourselves.”
With that he left the room.
Ward immediately threw down the magazine he had onto the couch and approached Scott. “What are you guys gonna do now? You think he’s really gonna send somebody up here and catch y’all?” he asked.
“Man, that pussy ain’t gonna do nothin’,” Jimmy sneered, “Fuck him.”
“You sure, man? What if -”
“Who cares? They’re going to suspend us anyway, it doesn’t matter what he says,” Scott explained.
“So we gonna start outside this time?” Sam asked.
“Sure thing. You guys all ready?”
“Been ready,” Alan responded, putting his head down.
Mar 29th, 2007, 8:23 PM
Jimmy and Sam soon followed suit. Ward was back to his state of watching with open-mouthed anticipation. Scott cleared his throat. Before he could speak, Ward called over to Evan, “Hey, man, you wanna come watch this?”
Evan couldn’t fake interest in the magazine he was holding. He was too concerned about Andrea to be interested in much of anything else at the moment. But considering his options, he decided it would be more interesting to watch these fools pretend to be hypnotized than to flip through a nearly mildewed old magazine. Still somewhat reluctantly, he left his magazine on the couch and walked over to the others. He stood, leaning against the wall near the counselor’s door, self-conscious of the gurgling noises his stomach was making and hoping the others didn’t notice.
Even though Evan had never played the game himself, he was well aware of how it was supposed to be done. First Scott was going to tell all of his players to relax and focus on their breathing. The amount of time this phase took depended on the individual. Since asking one’s players if they were relaxed was as helpful as asking if they were asleep, the guide would just have to wait until he or she thought the players were ready. Normally one would judge by the apparent tension in their postures and the rate and depth of their breathing. If a guide and some players were familiar enough with each other it was easier for the guide to know when to move on to the next stage.
Scott was evidently at this point with his friends here. The room was quiet again except for the sound of slow breathing and the muffled conversation from inside the counselor’s office. “Relax your shoulders, Jimmy,” Scott corrected.
Jimmy said nothing, but his shoulders slacked visibly. After another minute or two of quiet breathing, Scott was ready to begin.
The next part was called the “Fall.” Evan had heard it described to him by everybody who played the game. Although the details changed, everyone said that you knew you had entered Toby’s World when you had a sudden sensation of falling backwards out of your body. For some people it was like a sudden drop, others said for them it was like sinking slowly into water or a leaf falling to the ground. But it was always dark - completely black - until you reached the bottom.
“Now I want you to imagine yourself falling, falling backwards out of yourself and down into a deep, black pit,” Scott was guiding the players through this stage.
What happened when one reached the bottom was again a matter of individual experience. Most people said they found themselves in a dark place that had only a faint light coming somewhere from above, and saw nothing else around them but a wooden door. Usually the door opened up into a house, so a lot of people referred to the dark place as the “Closet.” But some people said the door opened up into a yard or a field, going outside. Still others never said anything about a door at all. Some of them reported just falling out of the sky into a field, or through a roof and straight into a house. People always talked like the house was an actual place somewhere, and argued over what the real details concerning it were. There was over all a great deal of consistency at least in the broad strokes, but of course Evan knew that could be explained as the cross-contamination of all the stories floating around. Evan wondered if any of the group in front of him expected to really find something in this. People almost always reported finding the world empty of any other occupants, but since they had an audience to perform for, Evan was very suspicious and on guard of them hamming it up with a Toby sighting. From the way people who were serious about this stuff talked, it was probably preferable not to find Toby. Ward almost certainly would have said so.
“You’re falling, down, down, into the darkness,” Scott continued, “and when you reach the bottom you find yourself in another place. You’re standing in a yard in front of a house.”
Scott was trying to get the group to imagine themselves outside the house like they had talked about earlier. Evan made note that they didn’t start in the closet like space so many other people talked about. Ward was rapt with attention, a few fingers in his half-open mouth. Evan wondered whether Ward was comparing what he was watching now to the different stories he’d heard before. Somewhat snobbishly, he assumed not.
“You’re all standing in front of the house now,” Scott said, “You’re going to start by exploring the yard. Alan, I want you to take the lead. Walk to the left of the house and tell me what you see there.”
It was a moment, as usual, before Alan responded, “Okay.”
“What do you see at the side of the house?” Scott repeated.
“It’s dirty,” he said
“The grass is real overgrown. There’s junk in it. Scrap metal, it looks like.”
“Try to examine one of these pieces of scrap metal.”
“I think it’s an old engine. Like from a car. No, it’s bigger than that - a truck maybe?”
Scott scratched his chin, like he was pondering a new clue to some great mystery. Perhaps in his mind, he was. He addressed Jimmy next, “What do you see where you are, Jimmy?”
“I see more trash in the yard. The body from an old car up on cinderblocks.”
“Ah, you’ve found the ghost of redneck past!” Evan couldn’t help himself.
Ward “Shushed” him loudly. Scott paid him no attention. Evan thought he saw Jimmy’s foot twitch.
“Sam, what do you see?” Scott asked.
“I think there are little kids’ toys down there in the grass. But they don’t look like anyone’s played with ‘em in a really long time.”
“Can you get a closer look?”
There was a moment of silence, then Sam’s frame jerked visibly. Ward’s hands shot up to cover his mouth, eyes wide open. “What happened?” Scott asked, firm but calm.
“I picked one up but it was covered with ants,” Sam explained.
“That’s fine. Don’t handle them, then. Alan, I want you to lead the others around the house to the next side.”
The pause, then he answered, “Ok.”
“It’s the back yard. It’s all overgrown too. I get a bad feeling about it.”
“I don’t know. There’s something not right here.”
Ward moved a little closer.
“What do you guys think?” Scott asked both Jimmy and Sam.
“Yeah, it’s odd,” Jimmy said.
“I don’t know,” Sam said, “Nothing’s ever felt right in this place.”
Scott and Ward both smiled faintly. Scott went on, “Sam, if you’re feeling brave, why don’t you venture a little ways away from the others, further into the backyard, and tell me what you see.”
Much like Alan, Sam waited a moment before he said, “Ok.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Ward whispered to Scott, grabbing him by the shoulder.
Scott motioned Ward away with an impatient gesture, then turned back to Sam, “What’s it like back there?”
“The grass is very tall, but, it doesn’t go very far back. There are trees here - like the edge of a forest. It’s dark inside.”
“Do you feel safe going into the forest alone?”
Ward looked upset. Evan tried to look bored.
“I can’t get too far,” Sam said, “There’s an old fence back here. It’s barbed wire.”
“Is that all you see?”
“Well, it’s pretty dark, but I think I see more junk cars further back in the woods.”
“Hmm,” Scott scratched at his chin again.
“I think I see a barbeque pit,” Jimmy said without prompting.
Ok, Sam, head back to the others, then all walk over to the barbeque pit or whatever it is.”
Scott gave them all a moment before asking, “So what do you guys see there?”
“I don’t know what this is, all I see is a bunch of bricks,” Alan said.
“Me too,” Sam added.
“There are definitely ashes around it,” Jimmy insisted.
“Look through them,” Scott suggested.
“There are little pieces of bones.”
“Like from a kid?” Ward broke in, but no one responded to his question.
Scott asked for him, “Do you have any idea what kind of bones they are?”
“No, they look like ribs. Could’ve come from anywhere.”
Disappointed for some reason, Ward stepped back a little.
“Well, there’s still one side of the yard you haven’t been to yet,” Scott started, “so I want you to make your way around to it together.”
No one said anything for a moment, then it sounded like Jimmy was about to speak but he was cut off by Alan, who said, “We can’t.”
“It’s too overgrown,” he said.
“The woods come right up to it. There’s no way through it,” Sam clarified.
“Well, alright, never mind then,” Scott said, a bit perplexed.
He thought for a moment before giving his next instructions, “Ok, look for the back door. You’re going to go inside the house now.”
“There isn’t one,” Alan responded more quickly than he normally did.
“Look for it, you’re going to go in through the back door.”
“I don’t see it,” Alan stated flatly.
“Me either,” said Sam.
“Yeah,” added Jimmy.
Scott suddenly started to lose his composure. Evan wasn’t sure if he should be amused or worried. Ward had no trouble making up his mind on that matter.
“There is a back door,” Scott insisted, “so find it and go inside through it.”
“It’s not there,” Jimmy shot back.
“This isn’t the same house,” Sam said with a hint of apprehension.
Evan’s curiosity was actually piqued by this somewhat. He had expected them to try and scare Ward and him, but not with something like this.
Scott even looked surprised. If he wasn’t, he was a great actor, “What do you mean it’s not the same house? You mean it’s not the one you’ve seen in other trips or it’s not the one you were outside just a minute ago?”
“Both,” he answered, still a bit flustered.
“It’s a lot older,” Alan said.
Scott appeared shocked but fascinated, “Describe it to me,” he said.
“It’s gray,” Alan started.
“Cinderblocks. The whole thing looks like it’s made of cinderblocks.”
“It’s weird looking,” Jimmy contributed.
Forgetting his air of skepticism Evan actually moved closer. As brief as the description was so far, it reminded him of something. A house made of cinderblocks - he’d seen one before, but in the real world, not some crazy dream.
“What else do you notice about it?” Scott asked.
“There are some windows,” Alan commented, “but they’re small. And high up off the ground.”
“Can you try walking back around the way you came?” Scott asked.
“Wait,” Evan broke in, “does it look like there’s a second floor?”
Looking really surprised now, Scott turned to face Evan, “I thought you considered this a bunch of bullshit.”
“Just ask them, will you?”
Crossing his arms and smiling, Ward appeared to take a certain sense of self-satisfaction from seeing Evan get into the proceedings - some kind of personal vindication, even.
Scott acquiesced to Evan’s request, “Does the house look like it’s two stories tall?”
“Yeah,” Jimmy answered.
“Most of the wall is missing on this side,” Sam said, “but you can see there’re several rooms up there.”
Evan nearly fell over backwards. It sounded like they were describing a place on the edge of the woods in his own neighborhood. The local “haunted house” in fact, a place that had a sinister reputation for as long as anybody could remember. No one knew the history of the old place, why it had been abandoned, or for how long. But that’s not to say that explanations were never proffered. It was the focal point of what might have been considered a very localized set of urban legends. But everyone called it by the same name: Mayhan’s.
Staggering backwards, Evan bumped into Ward.
“Hey, man, watch it!” Ward snapped, giving Evan a forceful shove.
Regaining his balance, Evan looked at Ward as if to apologize, but said nothing. He didn’t notice Scott had approached him until he felt Scott’s hand on his shoulder.
Mar 29th, 2007, 8:24 PM
“You alright?” Scott asked, not smiling at all.
Evan looked at Scott for a moment, not sure what to say. He tried reading his expression, but wasn’t sure what to make of it. Scott wasn’t coming off as cocky or condescending right now. He looked really concerned. But Evan wasn’t sure if he should believe it. Beginning to regain his normal composure, he felt a deep suspicion welling up inside himself. A flood of questions poured into his mind. Did they know what neighborhood he lived in somehow? Or did they just know about Mayhan’s? After all, it was well know throughout his own neighborhood, so wasn’t it at least possible it was well known in others? Could this be their way of trying to scare him? Or maybe was it all just a coincidence? He felt increasingly firm in his resolve that this was either their idea of a joke, or some fluke - nothing special about it. So there was nothing to be afraid of. “I’m fine,” Evan said to Scott at last.
With a perplexed look, Scott turned from Evan and went back to the game with the others. Ward’s gaze lingered on Evan until Scott spoke again, “I want you guys to walk back around the house and look for a door. Walk back to the side of the house you were on earlier.”
“There’s a door here on the side,” Alan said.
“Looks like a kitchen door,” Jimmy said.
“No, it’s just a doorway,” Sam said, “the door is missing.”
“It’s a big hole,” Alan said.
“Maybe it’s a garage, then,” Jimmy said.
This latest bit of evidence served to convince Evan thoroughly that they were just describing Mayhan’s. They must have been there before. On the left side of the house from the front was indeed a large gaping hole that certainly did appear to be a former garage. There was even the rusted scraps of metal left over from what was apparently the rolling door. Whether or not they were doing this because they knew he lived near the place he still wasn’t sure. Either way, he was more sure than ever that they were all just faking it.
“Go in through the doorway,” Scott instructed.
There was a brief silence, then Sam said, “Wow.”
“What is it?” Scott asked.
“I thought the house always looked trashed before. This place is a disaster.”
“This place barely looks like a house at all,” Alan added.
“What’s the furniture look like?”
“There isn’t any,” Sam said.
“There’s just junk in here. Junk metal,” Jimmy said.
“Predictable,” Evan thought.
“It’s not just metal,” Alan said, “there’re piles of rubble. Like cement. Must be from all the crumbled parts of the wall. This - this place is completely trashed. I can’t imagine what did all this to the place.”
Scott hesitated a moment. Maybe he was a little surprised at this longer-than-usual description from the normally taciturn Alan. “Sam, do you see anything in the room besides junk?”
“No. I think I see a refrigerator in another room.”
“Is the door to another room open?”
“No, it’s through holes in the wall. There’re holes in all the walls.”
“I’m surprised the place is still standing,” Jimmy added.
“Try to head towards that refrigerator,” Scott said, “All of you. Stick together.”
Scott waited like he was giving the others time to walk into another room. Then he asked, “Have you found it yet?”
“Yeah,” Alan answered.
“Describe it to me.”
“It’s a rusted piece of crap.”
Scott chuckled a bit, “One of you open it.”
Evan thought he heard Jimmy start to say something but it was Sam who spoke, “The door’s about rusted off. There’s nothing in it. No power to it. Can’t be any power in this place anyway.”
“Is there anything else in this room?”
“Just more junk,” Jimmy responded.
“What other rooms can you see?”
“I can see outside from here,” Alan said, “It looks like the whole front wall of the house is missing.”
From his few visits to the real Mayhan’s Evan knew this was an accurate description. The front of the house was pretty much a gaping hole; where any doors or windows had been were no longer clearly evident since the space around them was apparently ripped out too. He even remembered seeing the ruined refrigerator just inside. He was wondering if they were going to describe the graffiti that so many neighborhood kids had spray-painted all over the walls.
“I want you all to stay in the house for now,” Scott said, “and find a new room and tell me what you see.”
There was another pause, then he said, “What do you see now?”
“There’s less light in this room,” Alan said.
“Not as many holes in the wall. There’s less sun getting in,” Sam commented.
“There’s just junk in here too,” Jimmy said.
“It’s narrow,” Alan went on, “and it’s overgrown.”
“What do you mean it’s overgrown?”
“I’m standing in grass, I think,” Alan said.
“There’s not much light getting in but there is grass,” Sam said, “but it’s half dead.”
“That’s weird,” Scott said.
“You ever find anything like this before?” Ward asked him.
“No,” Scott answered, staring off blankly.
Evan rolled his eyes and looked to the counselor’s door. He couldn’t believe how much time everyone was wasting over this nonsense.
“Is there anything else in the room?” Scott asked the group.
“I see a staircase going up from here,” Alan said.
“Really? Well, I want all of you to go up there.”
“There’s only a few steps,” Sam said, “You can’t get up from here.”
Another authentic detail, as Evan knew.
“I think I just saw someone looking in through the window!” Jimmy said, suddenly alarmed.
Ward jumped. Evan saw it as just the predictable conclusion to their little performance.
Scott was standing up straight, more attentive, “Keep calm,” he admonished, “Do you still see them?”
“No,” Jimmy said, “the face was just there a second.”
“What did it look like?” Scott asked.
“I didn’t get a good look. I mighta been wrong,” he offered.
“Did either of you guys see anything?” Scott asked Alan and Sam.
“No,” Sam said.
Though a rather nervous sounding Alan said, “I think we are being watched.”
“I don’t know,” he admitted, “but I’ve felt this ever since we walked around the house and looked into the woods.”
Scott appeared to struggle to find a question to follow up with, “Who - do you have any feeling who it is?”
“Man, you oughta get ‘em out of there!” Ward pleaded.
Scott motioned for him to be quiet, “Alan, do you feel it’s dangerous?”
“I don’t know. But, it doesn’t seem nice.”
“Ooohh...” Evan mocked.
Ward backhanded him quickly across the chest, which made Evan nearly fall over.
“Do you think you should leave?” Scott asked seriously.
“I dunno,” Alan answered.
“I wanna go back out and check,” Jimmy said.
“Sam, what do you think?”
“I’ll go check too.”
“I’d rather stay in the house.”
“That’s okay, you can stay there if you want to. Jimmy, Sam, you guys are going to walk back the way you came and go out of the house.”
There was a moment of silence before Jimmy said, “Okay, I’m outside.”
“Yeah, I’m outside too.”
“Now I want you to both just stay where you are and look around. What do you see?”
“It’s just overgrown and full of junk,” Jimmy said.
“I think there’s something moving over in the woods around back,” Sam stated.
Ward gasped softly, and, visibly tensing up, moved a little closer to the table. Evan let out an exasperated sigh, and stopped himself just short of walking away. Scott, still sounding serious, asked, “Do you feel safe going to check it out?”
“I’ll go with him,” Jimmy volunteered.
“Yeah, I’ll go,” Sam said.
“Then you’re going to walk around the house back towards the woods. You walk into the back yard and you’re looking at the woods. What do you see?”
“It’s too dark in the woods. I can’t see into them,” Sam said.
“I think I see a shadow moving, somewhere back in the trees,” Jimmy sounded fearful.
“Do you want to enter the woods?” Scott’s lips trembled slightly.
“I’ll do it,” Jimmy declared.
It was a moment before Sam finally answered, “I guess so.”
Evan noticed Ward was biting the fingernails on his right hand. He was even sweating a little bit. At the same time Evan felt a lurch in the pit of his stomach. His arms wrapped around his gut, and he looked over briefly at the counselor’s door. A wave of sickness and rage swept over him. He felt like pounding on the door and dragging everybody in there out to witness this and see how fake and stupid it all was. But he didn’t move. Hunched over slightly, head bowed, he turned back toward the table with an air of utter disgust. No one noticed.
“What do you see now?” Scott asked.
“It’s just dark back here. But it’s even darker than it was before,” Sam said.
“I think I saw it move again,” Jimmy said.
“Where at?” Scott asked quickly.
“I don’t see it,” Sam said, “I don’t think it’s back here anymore.”
“No, it’s here,” Jimmy insisted.
“Where is it, Jimmy?” Scott asked.
“I don’t know, but it’s here,” he said.
“I can’t see anything now, it’s too dark,” Sam sounded surprised.
“Oh shit!” Ward exclaimed.
“Don’t panic, Sam, you’re going to come back,” Scott reassured him.
“Oh, fuck, it just moved past me!” Sam shrieked, so loud despite even his talking into the table that everyone worried people in other rooms could have heard it.
“Sam, you’re going to come back,” Scott commanded, forgetting to keep his voice down.
“I saw it too!” Jimmy gasped.
“Sam, come back! You’re going to wake up right now!” Scott ignored Jimmy.
“It went past me towards the house!” Sam sounded panicked.
“Shit, what about Alan?” Ward grabbed Scott by the shoulder.
“I think there’s more than one!” Jimmy yelled.
“Alan! Alan, can you hear me? Do you see anything?” Scott was still louder and more intense sounding than normal.
Alan didn’t move or make a sound.
Ward looked on the verge of tears. For some reason he glanced at Evan, as if for reassurance, but all Evan had to say was, “Guess the boogeyman got him.”
His cheeks and eyes red, Ward sneered at Evan and turned back to Scott, who was shaking Alan by the shoulders. “All of you, listen, wake up!” Scott’s voice had reached a shout.
“Something’s got me! I can’t see it!” Jimmy cried.
Mar 29th, 2007, 8:25 PM
“All of you wake up!” Scott repeated.
Sam lifted his head up from the table, a look of terror on his face. He nearly knocked his chair over when he jumped out of it and reached for Alan. Sam and Scott both grabbed hold of Alan and shook him violently. Ward did the same to Jimmy. Jimmy appeared to have gone rigid and resisted being moved. “Let go of me!” Jimmy shouted, though it wasn’t clear if it was addressed to Ward or his supposed attacker.
“Wake up!” Ward was shouting now too.
And then Evan heard a muffled shout coming from somewhere else. His heart skipped. It came from inside the counselor’s office. And it didn’t stop. One of the men in there was screaming something, and Andrea was in hysterics. Her voice carried even through the thick door in choked sobs.
“Hey!” completely forgetting himself, Evan started pounding on the door with his fist.
His heart was racing so fast the blood coursing through his temples hurt. “Hey!” he repeated slapping the door repeatedly with the palm of his hand once his knuckles were sore.
But the screaming on both sides of the door was just getting louder. Scott and Sam were both shouting at Alan to wake up, and Jimmy was shouting for help. Then in a brief moment when Evan turned to look at what the others were doing he saw Alan convulse suddenly, his limbs flail wildly, and one of his feet shoot straight into Jimmy’s shin.
“Fuck!” Jimmy shouted as his eyes opened and his hands reached for his aching leg.
Alan dropped to the floor, eyes rolled back in his head, back arched, and frothing at the mouth. Jimmy looked at him in open-mouthed disbelief, while the others started shouting in tandem in some sort of attempt to snap him out of it. But he writhed on the floor and nothing but gurgling noises passed his lips.
Evan didn’t know what to make of it. He watched Alan while he absent-mindedly kept slapping the door. Because he was looking away when the door opened it caught him off guard, and the edge clipped him hard on the side of the face and busted his lip, while the doorknob caught him just below the ribs. He hit the floor hunched over and head first. Not even sure what had happened yet, he rolled onto his back and looked up to see a strange man standing in the open doorway into the hall. For a second he wasn’t sure what door had hit him. Mrs. Watson was looking down at him from just above him, looking horrified to realize that she’d hit him with the door when she came out.
With the door no longer shut, the sound of the screaming and sobbing from the office mixed cacophonously with the shouting in the waiting room. A dizzy Evan struggled to get to his feet, becoming for the first time conscious of the sensation of blood dribbling from his busted lip and the stinging pain in his side.
The stranger looked around the room franticly while the dazed Mrs. Watson stood in the doorway of her office stammering and unable to come up with any words. “Andrea!” the stranger yelled, pushing his way past Mrs. Watson and into the office.
Mrs. Watson followed close behind him, not sure what do about this new visitor or the boys near the table. She had given the boys only a cursory looking over, quite possibly not realizing the extent of the situation. Evan struggled for his balance and, pulling the door farther open, peered around to finally look into the office.
What he saw nearly knocked him down flat again. Andrea was hunched over the waste basket, either vomiting or in dry heaves, tears and mucus dripping from her face which was contorted into a silent scream. The stranger seized her in his arms and called her name. A red faced, sweaty, middle-aged man in a partially unbuttoned dress shirt and disheveled tie was pacing around with one hand massaging the back of his neck. Standing in the back of the room was Mr. McKinnon, the principal. He saw Evan as soon as his head appeared from around the door. He pushed his way past the red-faced man, the stranger, and Mrs. Watson while looking Evan square in the eye. Even stood transfixed.
“You’re bleeding,” Mr. McKinnon said, but didn’t wait for Evan to answer.
He went straight into the waiting room to investigate the commotion that was still going on. Probably expecting to break up a fight, he hesitated for a second in shock when he cleared the door. But once past his initial reaction he charged directly to Alan and forced the other boys out of the way. Alan was still writhing uncontrollably on the floor. “Pastor Coleman!” Mr. McKinnon called out, “Get out here, now!”
The red-faced man hurried out into the waiting room, but still found the time to give Evan a disapproving scowl as he passed him. Mrs. Watson remained near the doorway, pallid and distressed. The stranger who had just entered the room, who Evan realized must be Andrea’s father, held her in his arms, gently rocking her convulsing body and stroking her hair, trying to calm her.
“You get his feet!” Mr. McKinnon was talking to the pastor.
The two men lifted the trembling boy off the ground, struggling to keep him from wriggling free of their grasp. Evan noticed now that blood mixed with saliva was dribbling out of the corner’s of Alan’s mouth. For the first time Evan thought that Alan wasn’t pretending. It looked like he was having an honest-to-god seizure.
Mrs. Watson had come back out to see what the principal and pastor were doing. She got her first good look at Alan’s face and nearly shrieked in horror. She only stopped herself by throwing both hands up over her mouth. The two grown men seemed barely able to control the muscle spasms of the young boy. By this time a small crowd of curious spectators, a child with a hall pass, a custodian, and one of the school’s secretaries, had gathered at the open waiting room door and were plainly struck with astonishment at what they saw.
“What’s happening?” Mrs. Watson was frightened.
“These children have been playing that damned game!” the pastor roared.
“I wasn’t!” Ward squeaked.
Alan still thrashed about wildly as the two men struggled to carry him out of the room. Mrs. Watson rushed to the crowd at the door and shooed them out of the way. “We’re going to take him to the nurse’s office!” Principal McKinnon shouted.
Scott, Sam, Jimmy, and Ward all stood where they had been and watched ashen-faced as Alan was nearly dragged out of the room. “You boys come too!” Mrs. Watson commanded.
Without a word they followed, and the whole crowd, spectators and all, disappeared into the hallway. It was only a short distance down the hall to where the nurse’s office was, and Evan could hear the echoes of the ruckus until a final, terminal shut of a heavy wooden door cut them off. The only sounds left were Andrea’s quiet sobs, and her father whispering to her. The three of them were now the only people in the room.
Evan wondered if he should say something. He felt the knots in his stomach again, and almost forgot about the pain of his split lip. He leaned against the doorframe and let out a quiet groan.
Andrea’s father must have noticed, “What are you still doing here?” he demanded.
“I-I’m -” Evan stammered.
“That’s Evan,” Andrea said softly.
“You’re that boy Evan? You the one that got my daughter into this game?”
Taken aback, Evan tried to explain, “N-no! We’ve never played it! We were -”
“That’s not what your principal told me! You little liar!” he interrupted.
Evan started backing away as Andrea’s father got up with an enraged look on his face. Putting his hands up and still moving away, all Evan could manage to say was “What? What?”
Andrea grabbed the bottom of her father’s shirt and stopped him, “No, daddy, it wasn’t him!”
“I saw them all playing that damn game when I came in!” he shouted back.
“I wasn’t!” Evan insisted, “Me and Andrea never played it!”
“Evan...” Andrea said, faintly.
He looked at her and her father warily, “What?” he asked.
“I have played it.”
The words almost didn’t register. He must have misunderstood. “No,” he shook his head.
“I did. I didn’t want to tell you. I was afraid you’d think I was stupid,” she apologized.
“But, what, why, what were they doing to you anyway?”
Before Andrea could answer, Evan jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He spun around to find Mrs. Watson standing there. “Are you hurt?” she asked.
“I’m okay...” Evan answered.
She walked past him and into her office, soon producing a box of tissues from her desk. She pulled a few of them out, then handed the box to Andrea. The loose ones she gave to Evan, “You go ahead and get yourself cleaned up and back to class. And I don’t want to see you sent back up here for talking about this again. If that happens, I’ll have to recommend to Mr. McKinnon that he suspend you.”
Angry but afraid, Evan just nodded. His eyes watering, he looked pleadingly at Andrea. What she had just told him hit him so hard he felt numb. The fact she kept something like that from him; she might as well have told him she’d kissed some other boy. For a moment he thought he might throw up. And he still didn’t know what they’d been doing with her for the past hour.
“Did you hear me, young man? Go back to your class.”
Mrs. Watson gave Evan a slight push and he backed away. He stared at Andrea until Mrs. Watson shut the door and locked it in front of him.
In something of a daze, Evan walked into the hallway with his head down as if the thoughts it carried were so heavy it hurt to lift it. He didn’t bother to shut the door from the waiting room behind him. It was so old that the hinges that were supposed to automatically close it got stuck and didn’t really work anymore if it was opened too far. He started to shake and cry a little. He sucked his lower lip and felt the split with his tongue. The almost metallic taste of blood filled his mouth. He heard a hushed voice coming from down the hall to his left.
Turning to look, he saw Mr. McKinnon and the pastor talking to each other outside the nurse’s office. Stepping softly so as not to make a sound, he sneaked closer. Mr. McKinnon said something about Alan having a seizure. That didn’t surprise Evan. But the pastor, standing with arms akimbo and a grim look on his face, very clearly said, “We’ll have to get in touch with the parents of these other boys if we’re going to pray for their deliverance. But we probably don’t have time today to perform another exorcism.”
Evan thought he felt his blood freeze.
“Do you know any of their parents?” Mr. McKinnon asked, but Evan could barely hear anything over the throbbing of blood past his ears.
“I know a few of those kids’ parents,” the man nodded, “Not sure about the other two.”
“Do you think that girl will be okay?”
“We’ll need to keep praying for her for a while. I’ll go speak with her father.”
Evan turned and walked away - out of the building, then into the parking lot. It was an overcast spring afternoon as storm clouds rolled in. There was no traffic in the two-lane street in front of the school, a fortunate thing for Evan as he crossed it without looking. He made his way past the row of dilapidated old houses that stood across the street by cutting through someone’s side yard. On the other side was an empty lot where the grass reached over his knees. He stopped abruptly and laid down in it, looking up at the sky. Feeling something in his hand, he lifted it up over his face to see it - a wad of crumpled tissues. He let them drop to the ground.
The wind carried the sound of thunder with it. But he did not move. He lay in that spot, shivering in spite of the warm weather, until the school bell rang at the end of the day.
Mar 29th, 2007, 9:21 PM
:respect: jinxz, I no idea you could write like this! I have the utmost admiration for the way you put real life aspects of speech in this story. You are definetly a better writer than myself and someone I again admire because of this.
Mar 29th, 2007, 9:27 PM
Wow. Thanks. It sort of came naturally to me though; as I said, this is pretty much an autobiography (I chose the name "Evan" for my fictionalized alter-ego since it means "young man.") I started writing another "chapter" to this, since this whole incident frames something else bizzare and frightening that began seven years later. If I ever get around to finishing it, maybe I'll share that too.
Mar 29th, 2007, 9:30 PM
I look forward to what you may share further...
May 10th, 2007, 12:49 PM
Aah! Write more of this. I just read the whole thing and I want to know what happens next. aha...maybe there's a second page. I'm going to go hunt for it.
May 10th, 2007, 6:51 PM
I am working on another part to this. Though I realized it would wind up being the length of a novel if I wanted to do justice to it. The actual events it's based on span over ten years, so even redacting everything into five or six chapters might be difficult.
Anyway, thanks for the encouragement... it's nice to know some people enjoy it... :w00t:
May 15th, 2007, 10:08 AM
I am working on another part to this. Though I realized it would wind up being the length of a novel if I wanted to do justice to it. The actual events it's based on span over ten years, so even redacting everything into five or six chapters might be difficult.
Anyway, thanks for the encouragement... it's nice to know some people enjoy it... :w00t:
It was definitely enjoyed =]
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