The rain beat a steady rhythm on the asphalt. In the dark sky above, the rumble of distant thunder rolled slowly toward us.
“Daniel.” The sound of my name pulled me from my reverie. I turned my head away from the drenched playground and toward Miss Wasson. “Are you with us?” she asked, resting a hand on the edge of my desk. I nodded unconsciously, my mind a million miles away. I looked to the watch on her left wrist. It was a beautiful timepiece; a circular face surrounded by a gold bezel, with a wide two-tone bracelet. Fine golden hands pointed to the time; just a little before four pm. It would be another half hour before I would be able to escape. “Daniel,” she chided again.
“Yes,” I answered quickly, looking up at her. “Yes,” I repeated, somewhat sheepishly. The corner of Miss Wasson’s mouth turned upward in a slight smile as she moved back toward her desk. My sole companion sitting at the desk next to mine waved a finger, mimicking a scolding. I ignored her as my eyes drifted back outside.
Dark, dreary and wet. It was the perfect metaphor for Friday afternoon detention. I tried to force my attention back toward my math textbook, but I found myself unable to concentrate.
“Miss Wasson,” Emma, my detention buddy, wheedled. “Can I go yet?”
Unwilling to try and force myself through my next math problem, I focused on Miss Wasson instead. I had assumed she was somewhere around 40 judging by the laughter lines tugging at the corner of her eyes and the faint wrinkles on her brow. She was an attractive woman; tall and fit, with her dark brown hair cut short. Her jaw was pronounced, giving her the look of a fighter. While she had always been kind and patient with me, she could be fearful when angry.
She tapped the face of her watch in response to Emma’s question. “Mr. Dawes made it clear to me you were to remain in detention until four.”
“It’s nearly four now.”
“And when it’s exactly four, you may go.” Miss Wasson looked to me, and I flushed as my gaze lingered too long on her. I looked down at my textbook as she approached. “How are you finding these?” she asked quietly.
“Fine,” I lied. I was a smart kid but always struggled with numbers. I had flunked the previous night’s homework so badly that Miss Wasson had placed me in detention so I could catch up.
I watched as she traced a finger down my work so far. “Good,” she said, “But slow. I’m expecting you to have this complete before-”
Emma’s scream pierced the classroom. Both Miss Wasson and I jumped as one. “Emma Delaney!” Miss Wasson shouted, quickly regaining her composure. “What do you think you’re doing?” Emma raised a shaky hand but said nothing. I watched as my teacher’s expression softened. “Emma, what is it?”
I looked out to the darkening playground, expecting to see someone staring through the window but there was no one there. “Emma?” Miss Wasson placed a hand on her pupil’s shoulder.
“I saw Henry,” Emma squeaked.
I felt myself swallow hard.
“Oh, for the love of…” Some of Miss Wasson’s fire returned. “Emma, I will not have you disrupt Daniel with some childish story.”
“I saw him,” Emma repeated. Watery eyes looked up at Miss Wasson. “It…it crawled under the cabinet.”
Doubt flashed across Miss Wasson’s features for a brief second. She looked at her watch and then back to Emma with a heavy sigh. “You may go,” she said after a few seconds of deliberation. Emma didn’t need a second invitation. She didn’t bother packing her bag, she simply grabbed it, her books and bolted for the door.
I listened to the fading footsteps faded as Emma raced down the tiled corridor. “Henry.” Miss Wasson laughed softly as she sat on Emma’s now empty desk. “Not a bad way to buy yourself a couple of minutes out of detention, I suppose.”
“I’ve heard other people say they’ve seen him too,” I offered. Everyone had heard the stories.
Miss Wasson’s smile was kind. “I’ve been teaching here for close to twenty years now, Daniel. The Henry story has been going well before I started. Don’t let Emma’s acting spook you.”
I would never have thought Emma to be clever enough to think of pulling such a stunt. Or talented enough to be so convincing. “She seemed pretty sure,” I offered quietly, trying to ignore the small flash of shame. At fifteen I was too old to get spooked by ghost stories.
“You don’t believe her, did you?” Miss Wasson’s tone suggested patience tinged with a hint of disappointment as if she had expected more of me. Before I could deny anything, Miss Wasson had stood up and moved back toward the front of the class. I watched as she fetched a long ruler from the holder beside the whiteboard. “Cabinet, was it?” I nodded weakly. “Okay. I’ll chase our friend Henry, and then you get back to your work,” she said, pointing with the ruler and favoring me with a friendly wink.
I nodded again as she knelt by the cabinet. “Henry?” Miss Wasson poked hard with the ruler. “Henry?”
I felt myself grow uneasy. I wanted to say that my teacher had proven her point, that I was being silly and I should get back to work. “Miss Wasson,” I said meekly. She turned to look at me. “Miss Wasson, I…..”
The words died in my mouth with a whimper.
A hand crept out from underneath the cabinet — a pale white hand and nothing more. I was frozen in place as it scuttled forward toward Miss Wasson. Distracted by me, she did not see it as it crept toward her. The hand brushed her own. I could see the surprise register on her face before she looked slowly down.
There was no screaming. Miss Wasson simply gasped as the ruler dropped from her hand. She followed it down, slumping to the ground at the foot of the cabinet.
She didn’t move; her eyes were closed tight. Slowly, I raised myself from my seat, trying to ignore the bile that began to rise in my throat. “Miss Wasson?” I tried again, more feebly than before.
Slowly, Henry crawled up Miss Wasson’s left arm and onto her back. His pale form stood out starkly against the dark grey of her sweater. I watched as he started moving toward her neck. Some unknown instinct kicked at me then, an inexplicable belief which suggested he meant my teacher harm. I was too afraid to move toward them. My mind screamed that I should, but my legs would not respond.
Instead, I lifted and heaved my textbook toward them. It sailed embarrassingly wide, landing with a heavy thud on the wall behind where Miss Wasson lay.
Henry turned at the sound and scuttled back toward the cover of the cabinet. I ran to Miss Wasson’s prone form.
“Miss Wasson! Miss Wasson!” It was no good; she had fainted dead away, her body limp as I shook her. From the shadows of the cabinet, I could feel Henry watching me as I picked my teacher up and dragged her to the door.
Credit: Daniel Gilmore
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