Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Episode Four: Fear


Fear is only as deep as the mind

~Japanese Proverb



Esther rubbed her wet feet into the warm carpet of Assistant Principal Mathew's office. He gazed at her over hands folded on his desk. “You need a pass because a student threw you bag out of 12B's window, but you won't tell me who did it.” Esther avoided the Vice Principal's gaze, staring at her shoes dangling from her fingers. He sighed. “Miss St. Clare, I can give you a pass but, just like last year, I can't help if you won't tell me who is bullying you.”


Fidgeting in her chair, Esther stared at her knees. “I just need a late pass, sir.”


“Because some...boys,” the vice principal paused. Esther’s fingers tightened on her shoes, her face growing warm under his intense gaze. “...tossed your bag out a window into the Founder's Garden.”


A half formed word turned into a mousy squeak. Esther cleared her throat. “Yes, sir.” There was a longer pause, then the sound of scribbling. She looked up.


“Put your wet things in the girl's locker dryer and borrow a skirt and socks from a coach.” The vice principal tore a pass from a stack of yellow slips. “Go on then. Your class should be in the computer lab by now.”


“Thank you, sir.”

¤


Coach Shanders flipped on the first row of lights to the varsity locker-room. She stretched out a line from her belt with metallic zip, selected a key and unlocked a metal cage beside the energy drink machine. “Throw those wet things in the laundry basket. Joanne Harden is on today. See her after school to get them back.” The door swung wide, nearly colliding with Esther as she came around the hideaway corner. “Wake up, sophomore.”


“Sorry...” Esther gazed at the volleyball lockers, tall and new with changing benches creating a hexagon in the center.


“What're you? An extra-extra-small?” Half the coach’s arm vanished into a pile of uniforms stacked haphazardly inside the cage.


“Small is fine.”


“Take a shower before you change.” The coach held out a skirt and sweater tied together with what looked like netting. “No telln’ what’s in that fountain.”


“I'm okay.” Esther took the packet.


The coach shrugged. “Suit yourself. I'll be in my office.” She shut the cage and locked it; the key zipping back to her hip. “Hit the lights on the way out.”


Esther backed towards the benches, packet clutched to her chest. When she heard the door click shut she untied the netting and held up the skirt. The lights flickered. She squinted at the label.


Medium.


Sighing, she set her satchel on the bench.


¤

In dry socks and trying to corral a skirt two sizes too big, Esther took a deep breath and pressed her fingers into the door's niche.


The movement behind 26 computers was faint, but she felt watched as she crossed the room to Dr. Lampman’s desk. She heard mouths snicker and whisper as she handed over the pass.

Lampman flipped up the microphone connected to his earphones and gave the paper a cursory glance.


“Bring up your term paper and get to work, Miss St. Clare.” He replaced the microphone.


Esther made her way to the aisle and the long computer table of row four. A thrill, sharp and insistent, dove down her back, brining up a chill. Holon sat next to the work station that corresponded to her class seat assignment. Esther clamped her eyes on the computer lab’s red and black titles. She hooked her satchel on her chair, pushed the power button and quickly sat, hands in her lap. Without moving she let her eyes slid carefully over to Holon.


“Have a nice swim?”


A shove from behind. Esther’s chair rocked forward, arm smacking against her keyboard. She caught herself and jerked back.


Tobie smirked, twirling a newly sharpened pencil, as he walked off towards the front workstations.

Esther righted her keyboard and stared down at the slightly grubby keys.


“Ignore him.”


Her breathing stopped in a quiet gasp. She glanced sideways. Holon gazed dutifully at his screen. Esther swallowed. “Did—Did you—”


“Don’t show him he's getting to you...” For a moment Holon’s dark eyes met hers. “Esther.”


Esther’s PC dinged softly and the screen loaded. She tried to focus on 17th century art interpretation.

¤

The room filled with gentle clicking. Esther read through her thesis one last time. She should be on the second section; religious influence on artists in the 17th century. Only a few weeks left before she had to present her rough draft for informal review. Then exit and entry exams. She had to focus. But every time she went to type the next section the screen flickered. It made her eyes water.


She tilted her head back, head phones creaking in her ears, to glance at the station next door. Holon’s screen wasn’t flickering. She cupped her chin in her hand and let her eyes un-focus. The thesis blurred as if being sucked into the program, streaming out into a white blob.


The screen blinked.


Sighing, Esther saved then closed the program. The bright gold wallpaper with the red and black Westin Crest reflected parts of the front of the lab. Dr. Lampman sat at his desk, arms crossed and head lowered to his chest. Esther glanced at the windows. A dark burst darted across the window and bounced off the monitors. Losing momentum it fell, rolling to the floor. Esther whirled around, knees striking the back edge of her seat. She searched the tops of the PCs, the row behind her, the ceiling. Biting her lip, she glanced up her row, but the other students were gazing at their screens. Her fingers drummed against her keyboard, eyes returning to her monitor.

A stream of black swirled in her screen. Her hand found the mouse. She moved it towards the shadow. She clicked. Nothing happened. Esther twisted in her chair. Nothing swam in the air behind her. Half turned; she glanced back at the screen. A shadow, misty with a strange oily shine, hovered just above the empty computer table. The track of lights above the row flickered, gently swinging. She stared into the empty air above the metal suspending the lights from the ceiling, then glanced back at her monitor. The shadow was there, pulsing slightly. Esther leaned forward very slowly, not daring to blink. A strange puff of smoke, deep and shapeless, blackened the edge of her screen. It swirled like ink injected into a glass of water. Her nose nearly touched the LCD. The shadow crackled and popped, vanishing like a bubble. Esther reared back, the wheels on her chair lifting from the tiles; her over compensation nearly spilling her over her keyboard.


“Don’t look at it Esther.” Holon’s typing didn’t break rhythm.


“You can see…” She gasped. A shadow surfaced by her ear, weaving away peripheral light. A small pressure clasped then sprung off her shoulder. Esther peeked past her monitor to the row ahead, letting the darkness play just out of her line of sight. It skipped along the top of the monitors, then dove. Esther ducked her head below her station. Rebecca Johansen’s two inch Ed Hardy heels twitched under her chair. Rebecca’s voice echoed in her ear phones.


“Sir? Sir! My monitor just went off! Sir! My--”


“I heard you Miss Johansen. Just a moment.” Lampman’s microphone clicked as he set it on the desk.


Esther leaned further under her table, watching a pair of beat up Adidas turned down Rebecca’s row.


“I was just typing and everythingshut off! It just shutoff!”


“Slow down. It’s okay.” Lampman knelt beside the tower. “Maybe the monitor...hmmm.” He glanced up at Rebecca. “Did you save?”


“Like five paragraphs before...”


“And you weren't online?” Dr. Lampman pushed the power ring on the tower. Nothing happened.

“No, sir! I swear! Oh God, am I going to have to do it all over? Am I?”


Lampman squeezed his arm in between the tower and the table leg. His fingers cupped the edge of the tower, moving it out of the way. He stared down at the switch connected to the outlet in the floor. It glowed in the semi-darkness of the tables.


“Huh...It’s on. Thought it might be a surge but…Ouch!” Lampman fell backwards, holding his hand. “What in the world...”


“Sir! Are you okay?”


“Something...electrical...need to shut the row down.” Lampman clamored to his feet.


Daniel’s chair rocked backwards. “Hey! My screen!”


Delia Ng jerked her fingers back from a blue spark jumping off her keyboard. “Dr. Lampman!”

Chairs screeched.


“Now hold on guys. Hold on! We seem to be having some sort of electrical problem. Everyone, up from your computers. Stand up. You too, Sinclare. Up.”


Esther glanced down the row towards Tobie's station. Her throat dried. Everyone else was focused on Lampman and Rebecca, but Tobie’s eyes were trailing something swinging back and forth just above his monitor. Esther stared at his tense shoulders as shadows twisted and settled on the top of his monitor in the edges of her vision. A deep chattering wove through the air. Tobie slowly reached out. His fingers snapped closed, inches from his palms, as if something were caught in his hands. Esther forced her gaze to the side of his wrist. Shadows twisted, curled and pulled inside Tobie’s grip. They surged, split, and drained between his fingers; coating the keyboard, then vanishing. The screen sparked. A sapphire current flew down the monitor's cord to the tower. Tobie pushed off the table, rolled backwards, and slammed into the row behind him as his monitor exploded.

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