Junie Ferguson has a bit of a sleeping problem. Normally this would not be such a major issue, but in her case it puts the lives of everyone in Stark Pines at stake, as a wave of darkness sweeps over the once peaceful town.
DJunie Ferguson enters Classroom 2-E, and boy would she be a sight for sore eyes if she were there under pleasanter circumstances.
The young, pretty brunette substitute teacher glides between the rows of desks, thin hips swaying, her short, barely combed mess of curls bobbing up and down with each step, until she takes a seat atop the desk at the front of the room.
"I'm sure you've already heard what happened, but," she says, removing her pair of fake diamond studded black sunglasses, "it looks like I'll be taking over for Mr. Hall today."
A chorus of confused and murmurs breaks out among the students. Among them are some tears. Arguing. Panic. Pure chaos.
"I know it's asking a lot, but try to chill out, guys." Junie walks over to the board. Marker in hand, she fistbumps the air, smiling cheerily. "Because we've got work to do! So, if you would please open your textbooks to where you left off on Friday..."
But classwork was the last thing on their minds, and she knew it. Her smile droops into a frown as a snooty looking boy with an over-jelled blonde pompadour, and a bright pink wool scarf 'thing' in the process of constricting his neck, leans forward in his chair; wide-eyed.
"Is it true that Mr. Hall was killed?" He dares to ask, and his classmates - who were all wondering the exact same thing - look to Junie expectantly.
"Well, I'm afraid it is true," she shrugs and answers, after giving it some thought. She figured there was no use in hiding the death of the well-respected English Literature teacher, and besides, it is practically impossible to keep a leash on recent newsworthy events in Stark Pines, a town far too small to harbor any secrets. That is, except for one enduring mystery.
"It was another Reaper killing...wasn't it?" The inquisitve student bites his lips. "The Reaper: Still at Large" is plastered across his face in big bold letters.
But to this question Junie would spare no answer, although the mere thought of the serial killer's gruesome handiwork sent shivers up her spine. For now let's just say he was known as the 'Red Reaper Killer' because his crimes always involved .
Junie groaned and rolled her eyes.
Of course, she thought to herself, Rockwell had to be the one to so indelicately drop the R-word, and thus stir the whole class into an even tizzier tizzy.
"What are we gonna do, Miss Ferguson? How are we supposed to concentrate on our work when there's a killer on the loose?"
"Sit down and shaddup Rockwell Harris, you're not making my life any easier," Junie snaps at the fashion unconscious Ken doll, but could not stop thinking about it even as her hand started scrawling the day's lesson on the foggy, ink-smeared whiteboard.
"He's got a point, Junie." A gurgly voice calls out to her.
She turns and looks, but could see that none of the students were pining for her attention; too enraptured in their conversations about the murders as they were, so that could mean only one thing.
"Yo, June! I'm talkin' to you." In an instant the voice went from sounding demonic and distant, to 'there's a Brooklyner hiding somewhere in the room'.
Damn. Not now. For the love of God, not now, Junie wanted to say, but God damn it saying the Lord's name in vain like that could get you fired at Silver Glade High. So instead she shakes her head, and focuses on reading aloud the scene from Hamlet she was writing to try and block out the persistent presence, "What a piece of work is a man."
"Juuuuunie! Babe, why are you ignorin' me?"
The face of the clock above the whiteboard melts away, and is replaced by a black pupil that looks directly at her.
Rather than react to this she just increases the volume of her voice, and jabs at the board more furiously with the marker. "How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty!" As most sane people would do when pestered by somebody with a Brooklyn accent she chose to ignore it, and hope that it would eventually go away.
Suddenly a blue jay flitters out of a gossiping female student's mouth, and perches on Junie's shoulder. "This is important stuff, Junie!" The bird says into her ear, "please, Ferguson, lend me your ear!" It coughs up a human ear, that falls to the marble tiled floor with a dull thud.
"Buzz off, birdbrain," Junie whispers, then glares at the annoying avian variety as she continues, "in form and moving, how express and admirable!"
"In dancing how like an Angel, yeah, yeah, I know," the bigmouthed blue bird mocks interrupts her, "but a little birdy told me that somethin' bad's gonna surface at this school in like, a microsecond."
It flaps its wings excitedly. "We've gotta do somethin', kid!"
"Why don't you just leave me alone?" Junie flails her arms like a raving lunatic, in her mind attempting to swat the blue jay away, but...
"Stayed up too late last night, Miss Ferguson?"
She had fallen asleep with her head on the desk, judging by the puddle of sweat now pooled on its surface. However, this was definitely not the worn out, coffee-stained throwaway in Classroom 2-E -- it was the Principal's polished oak desk, in his cozy office that always stunk of Febreeze and old people.
Principal Frond, himself an aged, portly balding man with the rude habit of leering at people over the rim of his wide-rimmed glasses, leers at her from the other side of his gleaming silver nameplate. A fan creaks rhythmically as it spins overhead, and the room is cast in the glow of the countless bars of fresh morning sunlight that sneak in through the drawn blinds.
After a prolonged period of awkward silence Junie perks up, recalling that the man who signs her paycheck had asked her a question almost a minute ago.
"Oh, did I go to sleep late last night? Yeah...I was so shaken up when I heard about the murder that I couldn't sleep a wink."
At least half of her excuse was truthful -- the sixth murder in Stark Pines this year within a week of the last one was part of the reason for her lack of sleep, with the other part being small enough to fit in one palm, and in all probability the root of her throbbing headache.
Principal Frond sighs.
"Yeah. That's not the kind of shit you want to see in the Saturday paper. Hall put in a good thirty years for us, and it's not a stretch to say everyone loved him," He leans back in his chair, rubbing his eyes. "No word of this to the kids, alright?"
Junie walks over to the window, leaning against the waist-high bookcase next to the window as she pulled the blinds away to watch the first wave of children be dropped off by the bus.
"It's not like they don't know already. Anyone with an internet connection would be aware of it by now."
The man twiddles his Chaplin 'stache, nodding stiffly. "Yeah. Just don't even bring it up. But hey, if you're tired, I could get somebody else to cover--"
"Nah, I'm good," she reassures him, then awkwardly tags "sir" on at the end.
Junie is then about to leave, but stays when she spots something outside. Perched on a branch of the old Oak tree growing in the small lawn that seperates the main building from the driveway roundabout, is a Blue Jay. Then, she feels an arm wrap around her shoulders. It was Mr. Frond, who must have suddenly decided to forego all notions about personal space, or so she told herself.
"Say, Miss. Ferguson, you only have two classes today, don't you?"
"Yeah. What about it...sir?"
Her eyes remain fixed on the Blue Jay, who was either showing off his Shakespearean acting, or in the throes of a heart attack, swivelling and lolling about on the branch frenetically.
"Well, I just had the finest idea."
Principal Frond's arm slinks uncomfortably close to the suspicious sub's booty region; gracefully settling at her waist.
"Why don't we go out for a couple burgers later? Just the two of us?" He licks his lips as if he were sitting in front of a Triple Cheese Pine Stacker at the local Meating House right then and there. "I know just what it takes to show a lady a good time, if you know what I mean."
"I don't know if that's such a good idea, with everything that's happened..."
Junie can barely contain her laughter as Prinicpal Frond lays across his desk on his side, with his bulbous beer gut oozing over the edge of it, and one bone-thin, vomit green colored khaki pantsed leg propped up in the air suggestively.
"Mr. Frond, you're trying to seduce me."
He laughs sheepishly, catching his glasses before they could slide off his nose. "Huh?"
Just then, a powerful gust of wind blows past Junie's face as the blue jay she had been watching crashes in through the window, landing on the burgundy shag carpet amidst scattered bloody feathers, and shards of broken glass.
"He's one o' them, Junes," it shrieks, flopping around like a fish out of water, "he's the wise guy I was tellin' ya about."
Faster than you can say the word 'inception', the flirty fatso falls off the desk and lunges at the whistleblowing blue jay, squeezing it with both hands while laying flat on his stomach.
"Oh, Mr. Frond! Leave that poor bird alone," she pleads sarcastically, then snickers.
"This isn't funny, kid!"
Struggle as it may, the poor critter could not free itself from the principal's clutches. "Oh God, babe, I can't...feel...my cohones," he cries, and after picking the dirt out of her nails for a bit, Junie reluctantly comes to his aid.
"Alright, enough tomming around."
She first tries kicking the principal, but when her foot makes contact with his back, it becomes stuck.
It was as though his entire body had transformed into one big, sticky, gelatinous gray blob, and it was wrapped tightly around her ankles.
As if that were not troubling enough, the blob seemed to be growing across the floor like an expanding layer of what looks like Play-Doh after you would mix all of the colors together, because you were a stupid kid and didn't know any better.
At the same time as this is happening, a nauseating odor worse than that of both Febreeze and old people gives Junie a good kick in the nostrils.
"It's sulphur," she says of the wholly unmistakable scent -- one she was getting far too familiar with, lately.
Principal Frond's face appears amidst the tarry, oozing substance that was now beginning to rise higher than the desk and Junie's knees as it flooded the entire room.
"So you've got the hots for me? I'd like to say I'm flattered, but I'm mostly just creeped out."
"We could have had a good time, Junie," the slime Frond says, his 'face' protruding from the main body and gently brushing against her thigh, "I know this place downtown where they kill the cows right out back, throw its ass on a bun, serve it up with chips and there you go. Mmm!"
Junie makes up a disgusted face. "Sorry, I prefer my meat well done."
She looks down at her feathered friend, who was splashing with all the power he could muster; desperately resisting being smothered by the rising goo.
"C'mon and do it!" He begs of her with pleading eyes. "Punch me! Bite my head off...do something! Just...kill me already, or else we'll both be dead, babe!"
"Alright, alright, don't get your tail feathers in a knot."
Junie stoops and reaches out to grab him, but is startled when Frond's freaky face gets in the way.
"Just give me a kiss, Junie! Then I might let you have him."
"Last I checked, that's not how it works. You're not living in the 1960s anymore, so..." she starts to say as the face, extending from the body, draws closer to her's, forcing her to rear back further and further to avoid smacking lips with literal slime.
Desperately feeling along the bookcase beside the broken window in search of something to use as a weapon, her hand grabs ahold of a lamp.
"You'll have to try a lot harder than that!" She yells, and after rearing her arm back all the way slams the ceramic light fixture against the side of her kissy-faced assailant's head so hard that its base shatters.
He - rather, it - cries out in pain, and grants Junie the opening she needed, to thrust her hand forth into its dark, slimey depths to snatch the bird.
"Alright, give it to me." It shuts his eyes to brace for what was to follow.
"No, Junie! Please, have burgers with me!"
As the amorphous mass of Principal Frond threatens to consume Junie entirely, she grasps the tiny cranium of the blue jay between her fingers and gives it a sharp twist.
"Sorry, Rocket," she says under her breath, as a blinding white light envelops them.
It is a light so pure that it seared the skin of all malevolent entitites within range. Frond is rendered powerless in an instant, as the light only grows stronger until it explodes in a massive, brilliant supernova that shook the world of Junie's dream to its very core.
Its power tore through the walls of the Principal's office and scorched the grassy lawn and oak tree outside. The fabricated images of the children coming off the bus dissipated, as streaks of pitch black nothingness were etched into the sky.
Indeed, 'Killing' Rocket was tantamount to setting off a nuclear explosion in the dream world, but that was only the beginning.
"You're in for it now," Junie says with a clumsy smile, as the wet grasp around her feet recedes.
As the enshrouding dust cloud clears, the sillhouette of a hero, standing tall as a man, only with the head of a Blue Jay and talons for hands and feet, emerges.
He speaks with a thick Brooklyn accent.
"Alright, big guy, I hate that I had ta get my neck snapped just so I could deal with a joker like you."
Rocket holds up a golden long sword, grinning with confidence as he takes a step toward the severely reduced mass of Frond, shivering with fright in the far corner of the room.
BIIIING... BIIIING... BIIING...
Junie Ferguson awakens to the sound of her alarm clock at five'o'clock in the morning, on a crisp and clear Saturday.
To her it was just another night, another nightmare, and with it came another demon to face.
She lived by herself in a small apartment overlooking the pine forest on one side, and a downhill street on the other. Substitute teacher by day, demon hunter by night had pretty much become her lot in life. The space between the two worlds was occupied by trivial things, like walking over to the fridge while half-asleep, to fill up a cup of orange juice. After performing a quick eyeball check on the clock in the living room, of course.
"I need to go shopping soon," she grumbles to herself as she draws the last drop out of the carton, but the sound of something knocking against the window above the sink gives her pause.
A Blue Jay is perched on a bristly branch, tapping its beak against the glass.
"Rocket? Oh, Jesus no..."
Goosebumps sprouted along Junie's arms and neck, as she approached the creature, worrying over whether she was still inside of a dream.
To her relief, when she pressed her palm across the cold panel...the bird flittered away without a sound.