25, OCTOBER EUCLID HEIGHTS, OH
03:16 PM Monday
Allison felt better than usual when the last bell rang on Monday. Despite her preoccupation over the weekend, her obsessive streak had managed to pull some of her classes out of the gutter. Even Mr. Franklin, her physics teacher, smiled at her as she filed out of his class.She had thought physics was a lost cause.
Physics was the last class of the day. Afterward, she went straight from the science wing to the school courtyard.
The original high school was an H-shaped building and the science wing had been built across the top of the H, turning it into a squared-off A. Flanking the science wing were the south pool and the new gym, giving the top of the A much broader shoulders than the rest of the building.
The courtyard filled the top of the A and now that school was over it, in turn, was filled with students.
Allison came out into the courtyard as usual. And, as usual, she walked past bike-racks and started under one of two short tunnels led through the first floor of the science wing. After school she always met Macy at the McDonald’s across the street.
She swung her backpack, whistling something to herself. Even the ominous echoes the tunnel threw back at her didn’t depress her. She hadn’t seen Chuck around all day, and that lifted her spirits more than anything. After what she’d heard about the scene at the library, it was a good thing not to run into Chuck.
She walked along the left wall of the tunnel, whistles echoing around her, running her hand along the brick. Bright sunlight filled both ends of the tunnel, cloaking the interior with shadow. The noise from the courtyard behind, and the traffic-filled street beyond, seemed far away.
She stopped halfway to the street. A kid with a Walkman was standing at the head of the tunnel, and seemed to be staring at her. The kid was too young to be in high school. But there was something about the kid’s stare that was familiar—
Oh Jeez, the library.
The kid had been in the gray van that had nearly run over her. It was the same sandy hair, and the same merciless gaze. Allison almost said something but, just then, someone from behind sped past her on a skateboard.
She nearly dropped her backpack as she flattened herself against the wall.
“Sorry,” said the skateboarder without slowing down.
Allison clutched her backpack to her chest and exhaled. Her heart was racing. Little high strung today, aren’t we?
As she calmed down she suddenly became aware of two things; the kid with the Walkman had vanished, leaving her alone in this dark tunnel; and she was leaning next to a brown-painted fire-door.
The door was open, slightly.
She’d barely had time to notice the door was ajar before Chuck reached out of it and grabbed her. She was so shocked that she didn’t even think to scream. Her backpack spilled on the ground as he pulled her inside the door. She was frozen up until the time she heard the door chunk shut behind them.
Chuck slammed her against the cinder-block wall and covered her mouth.
The echoes of her aborted cry for help continued forever.
Chuck had pulled her into the fire-stairs. The door next to them was thick steel, tagged with the sign, “Emergency Exit Only.” The walls were dirty white-washed cinder-block, the floor damp, gray concrete. The stairs went down to the tunnels that connected the basement locker-rooms to the pool and the gym. The light was from a flickering, unadorned fluorescent tube set high in the ceiling.
Chuck looked bad. His eyes were wide and bloodshot. He wore a sleeveless flannel shirt, and his jeans were spotted with blood.
Chuck held her pinned to the wall with his left hand. It wrapped around half of her face, crushing her lips to her teeth. Salty blood was leaking into her mouth. He leaned against her face with all his weight, pinning her and igniting the embers of another headache.
She felt as if her heart had stopped beating. Her insides had fallen away leaving a vacuum.
“Hi sweetcakes,” Chuck said. His breath stank. His hand stank.
“Remember this?” Chuck held up his right hand. Allison felt her eyes widen even as hysterical tears began filling them. Half his right hand was covered with dirty white gauze. His index and middle finger were discolored.
“You did this you little bitch— here, lemme give you a better view.”
Chuck grabbed part of the dressing in his teeth and pulled.
He’s crazy, Allison thought. Her lungs burned, and her limbs seemed to have receded away from the rest of her body. A fire burned behind her temples, flaring with every attempt to breathe.
The white gauze spiraled away from Chuck’s hand, revealing a purple bruise covering most of the palm. The bruise darkened to black where a line of puckered flesh ran diagonally from the heel of the palm to the web between Chuck’s first two fingers. The slice was knitted together by a line of black stitches. Chuck flexed the hand and viscous black blood seeped between a few of the stitches.
Allison wanted to throw up. She felt as if she was on a roller coaster, but there was no upward turn, just the downward curve, down, and down, and down. . .
“This hurt.” Chuck balled his injured hand into a fist. Allison could see his neck strain with the effort, and Allison was afraid he was going to punch her with it.
She pulled at the arm holding her, kicked at him, but Chuck barely noticed. He held a trembling fist closed until beads of fresh red blood began to appear between his fingers.
“I should hurt you, Sweetcakes,” he said. The way he said it made Allison stop struggling for a moment.
He reached into his pocket, smearing more blood on his jeans with his bad hand. He withdrew something thin and glittering. At first it looked like a pen, but then Allison saw the blade on the tip.
When Allison saw the scalpel, she redoubled her efforts at kicking and pulling herself free. But it wasn’t just Chuck’s strength holding her captive. He was leaning in, all his weight crushing against the hand on her face.
It was so damn hard to breathe.
Oh God, why doesn’t anyone hear this? Didn’t anyone hear me?
The pain in her skull was beginning to fracture her vision. Rainbows grew from the fluorescent tube above them. The exit sign burned like a hot coal in the corner of her vision.
“I should cut you, like you did me.” Allison tried to claw his face, but her nails were blunt. She’d always thought long nails got in the way.
Chuck laughed at her.
The sound made Allison curl up within herself. As if all her fear meant nothing.
Allison felt the blade of the knife against her throat. “Calm down, or I willcut you.”
Allison felt her arms drop. She wasn’t getting enough air, and her vision was turning red around the edges. Her head was on fire and she could feel her consciousness slipping.
It would be so easy just to stop fighting.
The hand fell away from her face, and for a moment she gasped for breath. She had a few breaths as Chuck reached around behind him. It took her a second to realize what he was pointing at her.
Her eyes widened as she realized that Chuck held a gun.
He’s going to kill me.
The blade in Chuck’s right hand traveled down the front of her blouse, taking buttons as it went. “I don’t want to hurt you, Sweetcakes. I like you— really I do.”
The blade severed the front of her bra.
It wasn’t until Chuck had dropped the knife and was reaching for his own pants that Allison’s panic-fogged mind registered what Chuck wanted to do.
Oh God no! I never— and with him—
The thought ignited such a pain within her skull that she thought she was going to die right there.
Anger and pain balled up with in her, and erupted outward, toward Chuck.
All her panic and rage fed into that one word. All she could think of was pushing him away. She threw up her arms to defend herself and stared at Chuck’s right hand, still at his pants. At that moment she felt the ball of pain shoot away.
She heard something.
It was a loud snap, something like a muffled rifle-shot, or someone flicking God’s own wet towel.
As her vision cleared, she watched Chuck’s cheeks puff out as he violently exhaled. His eyes widened. He wheezed, as if he couldn’t catch his breath.
The gun fired into the wall, deafening Allison and spraying her with concrete shrapnel. It fired again, into the floor, filling her nose with acrid gun-smoke. Then it clattered to the ground.
Both of his hands shot to his groin as he doubled over.
He collapsed to the ground, next to the gun.
She was frozen to the wall as she watched bright red blood begin to leak from between his fingers.
Something had happened to his jeans. It looked as if all the seams had given way. Blood pooled under him.
Chuck screamed. The sound brought Allison to her knees, knifing her with a pain in the temples that rivaled any headache she ever had. She nearly passed out.
She was barely aware of people arriving. From below, where the locker rooms were, a half-naked teenager ran up the stairs, trunks still damp and eyes red with chlorine. His gaze landed on Chuck’s prone form and he began yelling for help. He whipped a towel from around his shoulders to put pressure on the spurting wound. The swimmer kept crying and cursing because Chuck wouldn’t let go and every attempt to staunch the bleeding made Chuck scream even more—
Howling animal screams that tore into Allison’s skull like a band-saw.
The pain drove her away from everything. She wasn’t really there, couldn’t really be seeing this.
The swimmer and Chuck screamed at each other. Both unintelligible. The towel turned red.
More people up the stairs. The swimmer shouted them back. Mr. Geraldi, the swim coach, carried one of the ubiquitous blue-bottomed first-aid kits. Geraldi saw the blood and a look of hopelessness crossed his face.
Geraldi screamed at the students to call an ambulance. Not a yell, but a scream, as if it was his own flesh torn and bleeding. He dropped the first-aid kit and knelt next to the swimmer. Geraldi’s muscles knotted as he pried Chuck’s hands away, so he could get pressure on the wound.
Chuck’s screams finally died away, and that was the worst sound of all.
Then the door was open and there were police.
One of the cops had to drag her outside, away from the bloody chaos on the concrete landing. Allison realized that her blouse hung open, and she folded her arms.
People— students— were everywhere. Dozens of uniformed cops seemed to have arrived out of nowhere. A cop car, flashers going, had driven into the courtyard. Police kept the students and faculty back, away from the fire-door and the path under the science wing.
Someone, it might have been Mr. Franklin, draped a jacket over her shoulders.
Paramedics she didn’t remember arriving carried out Chuck on a wheeled cart. Their orange windbreakers were spattered with blood.
She was surrounded by cops when she thought she saw a twelve-year-old kid staring at her from the crowd. The kid’s gaze seemed to pierce her, straight through what had just happened. It was as if the kid saw everything, and didn’t care at all.
That was when she finally began to cry.