As every typical morning, I woke up to the sound of my alarm at 5:55. I wasn’t the type of person who had a major problem with getting up early. I dressed in a sports T-shirt and my long soccer shorts I had laid out on the floor before I went to bed yesterday. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much floor to speak of; my room was the smallest bedroom in the house and was constantly covered with clothes. Being a soccer player didn’t leave room for free time, including simple chores and tasks.
I walked down the stairs and was greeted by my babysitter, Carrie. My parents were on a business trip somewhere in Europe for their job at Frontmen Lawyers. Since they were going to be gone for a week and didn’t trust me and my sister to look after ourselves, my mother hired Carrie to watch us.
She was only slightly taller than me and only slightly older. She had dirty blond hair, turquoise eyes, and a smile that seemed all too fake. Almost every day she had a shirt with her favorite band on it, Green Day. Sometimes it was the same shirt. Combined with an overly-caring attitude, Carrie came off as a very annoying individual.
She looked up at me and gave me that fake smile of hers.
“I hope you’re hungry” she said, “I made my special pancakes this morning!” Carrie’s knowledge of cooking was on par with that of a first grader and her Easy-Bake oven. Carrie made pancakes almost every other day.
“Oh goodie” I said with mock happiness.
“Good to know, because I made three, just for you!”
It was hard, but I managed to put on a smile. “Oh joy”.
I brushed past her and took off at a brisk pace down the hallway to the kitchen. It was pretty small, with only just enough room for a little square table and four chairs. The refrigerator had to go into the living room. The kitchen’s color scheme wasn’t what we had wanted: it was a very light blue with gray stripes. The staff at the Home Depot down on Greenington Street appeared to have been colorblind.
My sister Stacy was already slowing chewing on her share of pancakes. She looked like she might be getting sick.
Stacy was only a grade below me, going to the same school as well. She had blonde hair cut short just above her neck, brown eyes with sharp facial features, and was about a head shorter than me. We never really bickered and argued as most sister-brother relationships ended up being, but instead we were pretty polite to each other.
I sat next to her at the table.
“Too many pancakes” she sighed. “It’s fun having a babysitter, huh?”
I nodded. “I used to love ‘em, now I hate ‘em”.
I took one bite of one of my pancakes, then immediately felt nauseous. Way too many pancakes… my body starved for something different.
“You got soccer today?” she asked me.
“Yeah, just after school lets out. Why do you care?”
“Oh, I’m just having some of my friends over. I wouldn’t want your demonic presence around her to scare people off, y’know”.
“Funny” I said with a weak smile. I didn’t have the same amount of energy today. Whether that was a result of sleep deprivation or the pancakes I didn’t know.
I took a glance at Stacy, who looked even worse than she did a minute ago.
“Hey, don’t tell me you’re thinking about going to school like that”.
“I have a big test today. I don’t want to make it up, especially on a Friday”. Her face seemed to have become completely pale when she said this.
“I think you should take a day off” I advised.
She sighed and looked at me with annoyance. “You know Carrie will be overly caring for me if I do”.
“Then fine. Just stay away from the pancakes” I said, smiling.
After drinking some milk and cleverly dumping my pancakes under some trash in the trash bin, I headed upstairs into the bathroom. I looked into the mirror; my short brown hair was mainly flat, but stuck up in some parts, my emerald eyes were half-closed due to my lack of energy, and my face looked unblemished today; a rarity in high school.
Carrie came upstairs to check on me and insisted that she brush my teeth. I kindly refused. After she insisted to apply my deodorant, I quickly said “I have to head for the bus” and moved even more quickly out the door, grabbing my Green Bay Packers sweatshirt on the way and slipping it on.
She shouted after me, “It’s only six thirty-three!” but I was already halfway down to my stop, my feet pounding heavily on the pavement. I knew she meant well, but it came across as creepy sometimes… most times.
No other day could have been more ordinary. It was late into the fall season, with many of the trees decorated with red, orange, and yellow leaves. The light breeze picked those up on the ground and sent them spiraling into the air like a miniature tornado. Out on the horizon, the sun could be seen shining brightly on a light blue sky, an odd occurrence for this time of the year.
I actually smiled at the weather. It gave off that feeling of ‘today is a good day’. Of course, it was still cold as hell… but everything else seemed so perfect.
I noticed my friend Trent was already at the stop-sign that marked my bus stop, tossing a rock. He usually got to the bus stop early because of his rough home life: his parents were constantly bickering, and he was worried they would get a divorce. Seeing him there worried me that he had quickly ran out of his house again, signifying another argument.
He stood up when he saw me and threw the rock at me. I caught it and passed it back.
“Nice catch” he said grinning.
Trent was the same height as me with a pretty good build, better than mine at least. He has blue eyes that look like they desperately wanted to be green, a mouth that couldn’t help but twitch into a smile every moment of the day, and dark brown hair. He always wore a T-shirt unless it was extremely cold. Today’s high temperature was twenty degrees, but he just didn’t feel the same as usual I guess; he wore a black sweatshirt with short sleeves
He moved into the neighborhood during preschool, and when we met we instantly became friends. We both shared an interest for sports and reading, as well as enjoying hanging out with people. He even had the same sarcastic sense of humor as me, which was a rare thing to achieve. Fast forward to high school, he was still the same, basically.
Trent was one of those kids that was incredibly kind, but stuck to the background and really didn’t socialize with people. He wasn’t shy, he just didn’t really like too many people. I guess it was because of his usually dark clothing and his liking of metal music that students just wrote him off as an emo.
“Why’d you come down so early?” he asked me, tossing the rock back.
“Babysitter” I said. Trent mouthed an “oh” and said no more on the subject. He knew all about Carrie’s weird personality and antics.
“Parents get in another fight?” I asked. Most people don’t ask him about his home situation, but Trent and I know each other like we were brothers; we shared a bunch of stuff with each other.
I could tell by the frown on his face it wasn’t good. “Worst fight they’ve had in a while. They’re even mentioning me now, saying things like, ‘Are you the best parent for Trent?’ It’s making me nervous”.
We didn’t say anything after that statement, just kept tossing the rock. For about two minutes there was just silence. I felt as though the temperature had dropped a few more degrees.
“I just want them to stop. Just shake hands or something, and be done with it”. His eyes met mine. “Is that so hard?”
I couldn’t find the right words to say. I shrugged. “I guess it’s difficult for some people. It can be stressful to live with someone you don’t reserve the same feelings for anymore”.
“Must be” Trent sighed. “Just gotta wait for a rainbow to crash into my house or something, splash some color around”. We both shared a smile.
The conversation died off once again. Of course, who should come to brighten things up but Harry?
“Helloooo guys!” he called. Even though he was about two houses down the street, we could hear him fine.
Harry was the shortest of us: barely five foot five tall with short black hair and dark skin. His face was roundish, with brown eyes and a mouth that was open a lot of the time, spewing jokes and whatnot.
“Sup, Harry” Trent said, tossing the rock at him. Harry, who wasn’t the best at catching, dropped it. This earned a sigh from Trent.
Harry held up his hands. “Don’t get upset: I’m getting better”.
He noticed Trent seemed a little down. “I won’t ask, for your sake” Harry said.
Trent nodded. “Thanks”.
He walked over and joined us at the stop. “So what’s up?”
“Waiting for the bus, like any other sophomore without a license yet” I replied.
“Why wait? Steal a car, why don’t you?”
“Unfortunately, they have laws against that now” Trent said, throwing the rock at Harry.
“And against violence too!” Harry said, dodging the object.
“I’m sorry, Harry. How are you?” Trent said with fake politeness.
Harry laughed. “You’re an ass”. He turned to face me. “You got soccer today?”
I nodded. “Yeah. Still going through the state tournament after the local championship last week. And I am really not feeling completely alert today”.
“Well I always did want to use the ‘dunk-your-head-in-cold-water trick”.
“Do that, and I will kill you”.
“Hey look, you sound pretty alert now”.
Our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of more students. I turned to see Hannah Stoffer walking down to the bus stop. She looked as gorgeous as she usually is, her light-reddish hair swaying in the light breeze, a colorful shirt on as always, and a face I could never stop staring at. It was just… perfect, for a lack of a better term. Damn, I can sound really stupid sometimes. Even without speaking.
In contrast, Tinna, the girl flanking Hannah, was about a head shorter than her with black skin and long curly hair, and always had some jewelry on wherever she could put it. She does a lot of after-school activities, and she was one of those girls that always expected perfection out of people and thought she was entitled to be famous. Personally she comes off to me as annoying.
I looked back at Hannah. We had been friends for a long time, hanging out mostly every day at school. We just don’t see each other often enough anymore because of some… complications.
Harry followed my gaze and couldn’t help but make a comment.
“Do I need to grab a mop for your drool?” he laughed.
I punched him on the shoulder, releasing an “ouch” from Harry.
Trent was looking at me, laughing as well. Was it really that obvious?
By now, Hannah had arrived.
“Hi” she said, smiling at me.
“Hi” I said, returning the smile.
“I heard Romeo and Juliet is the school play this year” Harry said. I turned on him, and he was smart to back off that time.
“Do I need to leave you two alone?” Hannah responded, laughing a little.
“It’s just Harry being Harry”.
“I can’t apologize for who I am” he said, shrugging.
“You should consider it” Trent countered.
The roaring sound of the bus’s engine interrupted my thoughts. Slowly the big yellow vehicle came to a stop. Tinna got on the bus first: she was, apparently, so much more important than us, and therefore deserved to enter the bus first. The rest of followed up behind her.
On the first day of school, I had been able to snag a seat at the back of the bus, which is basically the VIP section. Trent and Harry sit in front of my seat, and Hannah sits next to theirs.
Harry lightly slapped me, seeing that I was looking at Hannah once again. “Caught you staring, boy” he said in mock anger. I could hear Trent laughing.
I couldn’t help but ask, “Is it really that obvious?”
I probably never should have asked, especially when Harry’s around. “NASA can spot you as easy as a star” he snickered.
Sighing, I leaned back in the surprisingly comfy seats and waited to arrive at Rueger High School.
“Hey, don’t worry about it” Trent said, still grinning from earlier. “I think she’s cute”.
“Stop it Trent, you’re making me feel like I’m in a high school romance flick” I snickered, though I agreed of course. I was that particular character that gazed at the girl from afar. Comparing myself to poorly-written Hollywood teenager dramas made me feel sour.
I almost fell asleep at one point, but I caught myself and shook my head a few times to get more focused. I really needed to get focused, or else soccer would be a disaster. Then came my usual soccer stress; constantly worrying about the match no matter how far away it is.
The bus entered the school parking lot a few minutes later. I left the others to get to my locker and get the supplies for the day’s classes. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at that time; it felt like and looked like a regular, boring day at high school.
Rueger appeared rather simple; the exterior was simply composed of brown bricks, with a more modern, black roof. The layout, however, was differing from many other schools—our science rooms were all put into the same corner of the second floor—and the school itself was rather large. It stretched far across the lot it was built on, creating long hallways that at times seemed endless.
In my school, the day started with a twenty minute homeroom. I bumped into someone on the way to my class: Harry. He was gazing at Rachel Yong, a girl he had the hots for. Instead of staring at her face, he was staring at her from behind, looking down at her midsection.
I’m not sure when he decided Rachel was the love of his life, but he was certainly dead-set on it at that point. She was a gymnast with a small, beautiful figure, long brown hair… and many other aspects which didn’t matter to Harry at the moment.
I must have interrupted his staring session. He snapped his head towards me, his face reddening.
“Sorry to butt in” I laughed. He quickly walked down to his locker without saying a word. It was a rarity to shut up Harry.
Eventually, I reached my homeroom and took a seat beside Trent, who was also in my homeroom. He waved a greeting, then went back to the project he was working on. I could tell it was complicated, so I elected to not bother him.
When I looked in his direction, something caught my eye. There was a kid sitting in front of Trent named Chase Davids, one of those average kids that nobody really knew. He looked really pale, his eyes wide… and some of his skin was peeling off. I found myself staring at him for a long time. His condition appeared so gruesome that my eyes couldn’t divert their focus.
Some sense informed me to help him. A bad feeling had washed over me; Chase’s form provoked fear inside of me. Something didn’t seem right.
“You okay, man?” I asked him. He didn’t seem to hear me. Suddenly, he gasped and snapped his head towards me so fast it made me jump back a bit.
“I’m doing alright” he said. His voice was deep and raspy.
I quickly went back to my seat. Trent looked over at me, equally curious. I shrugged, and then started reading my silent reading book, Ender’s Game, the recent encounter with Chase taking a backseat in my mind. I’ve wanted to read it for a while, but other people kept getting their hands on it before me. I can tell why: It was pretty cool so far.
The homeroom teacher, Mr. Groffe, came in a few minutes later.
“Hello everyone” he said, with a half-smile on his face. Mr. Groffe was a pretty laid-back kind of guy, and wasn’t the stereotypical school-happy teacher. That’s what made him my favorite teacher. That, and because he didn’t give out that much homework.
The bell rang a minute later. Mr. Groffe sat down in his chair and looked over his computer.
“Good news everyone, no announcements today” he announced.
Most of the time there is nothing to do during homeroom time, so Mr. Groffe just talked about some news stories that had been reported yesterday on television. I zoned in and out during this, preferring to read my book, but also trying to hear what was happening in the world.
One report was of a local scientist that claimed that there was some sort of element in the ground that was gradually coming up on the surface. According to him, it could turn a normal human into a flesh-eating monster in less than a few hours. The whole class laughed, and zombie jokes started up.
After reading a chapter of Ender’s Game, I looked over at Hannah, who was sitting in the front row. As usual, I began playing my fantasy story through my head: a crazed murderer comes in and lunges towards her. Moving quickly, I push the killer, knocking him off balance, then I throw him out the window. Hannah runs over and hugs me, saying “My hero!” Everyone cheers for me, and I become really popular.
As usual, Carson Douglas shatters my daydreaming by walking over and giving her a hug, then shooting a dirty look at me. Carson was six foot two with the body of a football player. Of course, that’s what he was: a big, smelly, football player. I prefer calling him a jock. He had that stereotypical “perfect boy” face, though it was constantly ruined by his dumb expressions. His nose was slightly bent because he had got in a fight earlier in the school year. It was rumored that drugs were involved. He was the quintessential high-school jock.
Carson and I have always hated each other since middle school—our personalities just never melded together well after a disastrous team project in science class—and he knew I liked Hannah. He loved how hurt I was about the two of them going out, which is actually one of the reasons the two of them are going out in the first place. He was also the reason Hannah and I never saw each other. Whenever I invited her to anything or tried to talk to her, Carson changed everything.
I gave off a groan audible to Trent. Shouldn’t Hannah be smart enough to know how much of a jerk he is?
Trent heard me and saw I was shooting glares at Carson. “His head’s full of gas” he said,” the only thing he’s got over you is that he’s a football player with big muscles”. I smiled at his comment. Trent almost always backed me up on things, especially when Carson and Hannah were involved.
I looked over at Chase again. I couldn’t help but stare: he looked like he was dying. His skin was peeling even more, his fingernails were growing rapidly, and his eyes were darting back and forth. Occasionally he would lick his teeth, which looked to have become sharper. It was as though he was mutating right before my eyes.
I think Mr. Groffe noticed how bad Chase was, because he walked over and said something to him in a low voice. Chase nodded and replied to whatever the teacher had said. Mr. Groffe nodded back and went back to his desk.
A few minutes later, homeroom ended, and I picked up my belongings and started leaving to go to my first class. I looked back and noticed that Chase was still in his seat, looking even worse than before. His eyes had become bloodshot, darting ever faster back and forth, more skin peeling off of him. Slowly, he rose from his seat and limped towards the door.
Mr. Groffe blocked his path. “Chase, you don’t look good. You need to go see the nurse”. He handed Chase a pass to the nurse.
Chase made a gurgling sound, then continued to his first class. Suddenly, he stopped. He swung around and went towards the nurse’s office. I turned to Mr. Groffe.
“You should have sent him home” I said.
He shrugged. “I’ve never seen anything like his condition. I wasn’t sure what to do”.
I continued to my first class, Science. Yet my thoughts had drifted elsewhere.
My brain was set in overdrive. What the hell was wrong with Chase? Skin peeling, bloodshot eyes, fingernails like claws? It was something one would expect to emerge out of a lab set in a sci-fi movie. I couldn’t explain his condition.
As soon as I began analyzing his current physical state, I pushed all of those negative thoughts of my head. Why should I worry? It could just be a simple problem. Maybe all he needs is a good shot from the doctor.
I was so wrapped up in thinking about Chase that I realized I had wandered off away from my class. I turned around and got back on track.
Suddenly, I heard a voice behind me.
“Having a good day looking over what you can’t have?”
I turned around in the hallway and faced down Carson.
He laughed. “No, I just thought you might have one actually”.
I tried playing everything as nonchalantly as possible. Carson wasn’t a complete idiot and if I didn’t take his bait he would leave me alone.
“No. Not at all” I responded, almost smiling.
“Got soccer today, right?”
“Yeah. Still in the tournament”.
“Well hey, good luck to you” he said. His politeness was so fake.
I turned to walk off when he called after me. “I just thought I should establish this; she’s not yours. She’s mine. I used to not mind you always locking onto her, but it’s starting to get on my nerves. We clear?”
“Clear on what?”
He approached me and got right in my face. “You keep drooling over her and I will strike you down. So, no more trouble”.
“I’m not following you, Carson”.
He gave off a small chuckle, clearly aggravated. “I like Hannah. And I don’t want things to get in the way of that. You are a thing. So stay out of the way”.
I was angry beyond belief, but I managed to maintain my cool. “I promise. No trouble from now on”.
“Huh” he said as though he was surprised. “Well alright then. I’ll see you around” he said, a casual, carefree tone in his voice. He smiled, then walked into the Social Studies room right next to my Science room.
Seeing that the confrontation had ended, I headed inside, barely missing the late bell. Unfortunately, the teacher, Mrs. Hought, tried her best to bore us to death. She passed out blank periodic tables and told us to fill in each slot using our book for help. She even stated that we had to finish this today in class.
My mind wanted to focus on the hard work ahead of me, but I kept thinking about Chase, no matter how hard I tried to divert my attention. Mr. Groffe said he never saw anything like his condition. In middle school, I studied a lot of diseases that didn’t have these side-effects. Something was wrong with Chase, and for some reason I couldn’t help but feel nervous, as though something bad would happen.
Trent shared Science with me as well, and he seemed to notice that I was nervous. He mouthed the word “what?”
I shrugged; I couldn’t explain my anxiety. Trent just shook his head and went back to his work. Maybe if I had told him why I was feeling so tense, we wouldn’t have been so unprepared for what lied ahead…