Estimated reading time — 14 minutes
“There is an unexpected turn in the weather this morning, say our local meteorologists. Instead of seeing a warm day, we are getting a snowstorm that sources are saying could turn into the storm of the century.”
Dad turned off the radio, grumpy as hell this early in the morning. “It’s always the storm of the century with these guys,” he muttered, tapping his fingers on the worn steering wheel. His wedding ring clicked against the aged leather. I looked away from it before I could start thinking about Mom.
We got along fine, Dad and me, even with Mom gone. Drives like this, going to school before anyone else got there, was my favorite. It was a quiet time we shared before the cancer finally took her, and even though at home, we felt her absence like a god damn cavern swallowing us whole, here, in his old pickup, things were fine. We were okay.
He had work over at the factory, always did, so I always got dropped off to school hours before anyone got there. Teachers got used to seeing me there by myself, doing homework, reading a book, or since my parents scrounged up enough to get my cellphone, playing games that didn’t eat up any of my precious data.
Today was no different. The parking lots were empty when we pulled up to the school. I appreciated my silence. It was a good time to think. Call me pretentious, but I don’t think enough people spend time thinking on their own. Enough time to process.
When I opened the truck door, it was a biting, awful cold, cutting straight through the jacket I had on. Dad took off his scarf and tossed it over to me. I was too old now, too close to being a man, for him to wrap me up in it the way he used to.
I looked up into the dark sky, clouds rolling in like tidal waves, and saw the flecks of snow beginning to fall. Dad grunted and started up the truck again, sputtering to life, the only thing in the empty parking lot. “Looks like it’ll be a rough day today, son. Try to stay warm.”
* * * * * *
It was sixth period English when we got the announcement, flickering over the intercom. Ms. Melas stopped her lecture on Lord of the Flies to listen.
“Due to the amount of snowfall, we are going to stay on campus until the snowplows can reach this side of town,” the principal droned. “Your parents have been informed that you will be with us until you can safely be picked up. The process for being checked out by your parents will be gone over by your sixth-period teacher, where you will stay until we are able to safely release you.”
“Yes!” Bryan Donovan practically shouted in my ear. “I had a chem test after school. There is a God after all.”
“Settle down, Mr. Donovan,” Ms. Melas warned. Even though she was looking at him sitting behind me, I flushed under her gaze. When she saw me turn red, she smiled slightly. I didn’t know why I bothered looking away; my giant crush was obvious, and was probably flattering to her. Ms. Melas was probably in her mid-thirties, real pretty, unmarried for some reason. Everyone said she was a lesbian.
She sighed, turning off the projector. “Well, I can’t imagine getting any work done with you all knowing we have a snow day. Go ahead and stop hiding your cellphones from under your desk or behind books, we all know you have them. You can use them until we figure out what’s going on.”
Everyone laughed and cheered, putting away their books and binders. Some people didn’t play on their phones, just talking about how great it was to get some time off to relax. There was half an hour left in class and she basically just let us go. It was awesome.
I got dragged into some conversation I paid no attention to, instead glancing around the room and thinking about my classmates. Arlette, the cheer captain, who was beautiful and pleasant and smart, the kind of unfair sort of graces that God gives out sometimes. Then, the most unfair of His doings, Delilah, who was an emaciated sort of thin, with hair that stays greasy even after a good washing, doodling away in her sketchbook. Usually from some anime, Sharpied fingernails scratching at the penned stars on the backs of her hands. Herman, who was in the marching band and would never shut up about it, Nick, also in band and deeply ashamed of it, Chuck, red-headed and obsessed with her books and stories. Some people whose names I still don’t know and can’t remember, so unremarkable to the world.
Bryan was probably my best friend. He was popular, and I guess I was too, by association. Bryan ran track and I watched. He dated cheerleaders and I hung out in front of the gas stations with them, sipping on a Slurpee while they made out. He was a pal, and the most annoying human being on the planet.
He smacked me in the back of my head as if he read my mind, offended. “You paying attention at all, Davie?”
“Nope,” I said, shoving him off me. A group of girls sitting around us laughed.
* * * * * *
The lights above us flickered, stopping all the conversation in the room. It’s been an hour or so after the end of the school day. The outside world was wrapped up in darkness and snow, the light gone, even though the sunset wasn’t for another few hours. Everyone was unnerved by the sudden quiet. Delilah looked up from her sketches for a moment, then looked back down, apparently undisturbed by the quiet disruption.
“Spooky,” Ms. Melas deadpanned, rolling her eyes. A few people chuckled, easing some of the tension. “What, you pussycats afraid because of a few flickering lights?” She smiled. I always liked her, even when I was a kid. Before my brother graduated, she was his teacher. She was always nice to me, called me cute when I was seven. Guess that’s all it really took.
“We’re not supposed to be here this late, you know,” Chuck said in a hushed voice. Everyone turned to look at her. “Nobody is supposed to be here after-hours.”
“Why not?” Bryan asked, obnoxious as ever.
“Because of the Witch, dumbass!” she snapped. “The one who lives in our school.”
Bryan paused for a second. “That is the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Language, Mr. Donovan!”
“He’s right, though,” Arlette interjected. “What do you mean a Witch that lives in our school? That’s insane.”
Chuck shook her head. “No, really, it’s true! I read it in the library once, about the history of the school. It used to be an unholy place that Witches worshipped and practiced dark magic. They used to perform sacrifices right here, where the school is today.”
“I suppose if you want to tell scary stories to pass the time, I’m fine with that,” Ms. Melas said, checking her watch. “I’m going to see what’s going on with the other teachers. The phones aren’t working, probably because it’s after hours. I’ll let you guys know what’s happening in a bit.” She left the classroom, leaving the door slightly ajar in case something happens.
Everyone automatically moved their chairs in a circle to listen to Chuck. She was a weirdo, but always told the best stories. With our phones running low on power from playing on them for the past few hours, it was the closest thing to entertainment we could get. The only person who didn’t scoot over was Delilah, still drawing away. It was creepy. She was creepy.
The lights flickered overhead again, and Arlette drew closer to me. Bryan wagged his eyebrows at me and I threw an eraser at his head.
Chuck cleared her throat. “I found it in the very back of the library when I was a freshman, tucked away on the shelf like nobody wanted me to find it. It was about the history of the school, and the land before it was built. It was old and falling apart, like if I sneezed the whole thing would fall apart into dust. I was really careful when I started reading it.
“It turns out that there was a colony here, back in the 1700s. It was quiet and good, all God-fearing people, and they prayed every day that the winter would be kind and that the snow would not come. But it came every year, wiping out crops, killing livestock, and oftentimes taking the lives of the colonists. Still, they prayed. After years of things happening, the town elders started to wonder, why was this happening? Even after they prayed to their god?”
“Because they touch themselves at night,” Bryan snickered. Arlette gave him a dirty look and he stopped.
“They realized that it was because of a Witch. She lived in the town, a young lady, that they suddenly realized had always been there, even as generations passed. Nobody realized, maybe because she cast a spell on them—”
“Booooo, cast a spell, my ass—”
“Shut up, Bryan—”
“—that she never aged and stayed exactly the same, year after year after year. It turns out that it was her the whole time, and the sacrifices the snow brought her kept her youthful after all this time. When the town elders discovered this, they vowed to get their revenge.”
The lights dimmed, then glowed brightly again. Arlette grabbed my arm, squeezing tight.
“They found her in her cottage all alone, facing the corner with her head up, chanting her spells in a choked scream. The snow had already begun falling when the elders grabbed her and dragged her out into the town center. She was still chanting, eyes rolled up into the back of her head. The town chief ordered a fire be built so they can burn the Witch, but they couldn’t get it kindled with the snow falling so thickly. He tried to tie her hands together, but it was so cold that his fingers would not cooperate. So instead, he took the blacksmith’s hammer and nailed her hands to the hanging post. There was no blood, there was never any blood. Witches don’t bleed. He ripped out her tongue so that he could stop the snowfall, save his town, but she continued to scream. He slit her throat, and whatever breath was left in her body exhaled the last of her spell, and the town was blanketed in white, lost until it thawed that spring. New settlers found the entire town, melted out and gone rotten in the sun, but they never found the Witch. The nails were there in the hanging post, but she was gone.”
I didn’t realize I was digging my nails into my palm until the pain came slow, like a realization. I let go and shook my hands, deep indents in my skin. Arlette did not let go of me.
“So the new settlers built Arlena Falls here, and Arlena Falls High School. Every year, we get major snowfall as the Witch tries to find her next sacrifice. Kids kept disappearing or getting into fatal accidents as the years went by, which is why we’re not allowed to stay here late at night.”
“Nuh-uh,” Herman protested, “the marching band stays here late every day, and you don’t see us being sacrificed.”
“And the band nerds are prime candidates for virgin sacrifices,” Bryan yelled. I socked him in the arm. He was my best friend and definitely the most annoying person in the world.
“The music building is brand new, built like, five years ago,” Chuck countered. “So it isn’t the same.”
It was eerie, now that I thought about it. We weren’t allowed to stay late. Campus security and teachers made sure of it, sweeping anyone trying to stay behind away. Any night time PTA meetings were to be held at City Hall. They said it was because the classrooms here are too small to hold all the parents, but why not use the gym?
I stopped myself. This was just another one of Chuck’s stories. It was just a way to pass the time. I looked at the clock on the wall. It was nearing five o’clock. Dad was getting out of work soon. I wondered where he was, or if he even got the message from the school. I wondered if he knew what was happening at Arlena Falls High.
* * * * * *
We were getting snappish with one another, fast. Bryan was getting on my last nerve. My alone time was precious and it was being eaten up by his loud mouth.
“So, Chuck, how do we tell if the Witch is with us or not? Does she fly in on a broomstick or what?”
“There are signs, idiot,” she snapped from her desk. She was looking more and more worried as the minutes ticked by. It seemed like after her story, everyone was more than a little freaked out. Arlette moved her stuff next to me. I should have felt some sort of manly pride at being the one she felt safe around, but I was mostly just uneasy and on edge like everyone else. The outside world was barely visible from our second-story window, gusts of wind occasionally shaking the glass in its frame and making us jump. It sounded like someone was tapping on the windows lining the walls, and we kept saying out loud, as if it made it all better for everyone else, “Stupid wind, stupid snow.”
Arlette’s stomach grumbled loudly and she swore under her breath. I wish I had something to offer her, but everyone had already chowed down on whatever snacks they had in their backpacks after school. We didn’t even have a stick of gum to split between us.
Arlette raised her hand to ask if we could raid the cafeteria or something, ever the good student, then paused. “Wait… where’s Ms. Melas?”
Sure enough, our teacher had disappeared. She went to check on the other teachers and never came back. That was hours ago. A cold shiver ran down my spine. I looked around at my classmates. I felt their haunches rise, the already uneasiness of the room shift into something else. Panic.
“Nobody panic,” Arlette instructed us. But I could see it in the tremor of her hand. She was just as scared as the rest of us. “I’m sure she’s just chatting with other teachers and lost track of time.”
“It’s been hours,” said Nick quietly. Everyone turned to look at him. He rarely said much. “There’s no way she just forgot about us.” He paused, scratching at himself nervously. “There’s just no way.”
At that point, the power went out and something banged against the windows. Everyone screamed, some running for the door and tripping over backpacks strewn on the ground. Just as quickly, the lights flickered back on, the backup generator picking up speed. Kids were on the floor, rubbing their bruised knees. Some were crying, freaked out as hell.
Bryan stood up from where he knelt, gripping the desk as if he was braced for impact. He looked at me and nodded. “Dave and I will go check out the other classrooms, see where Ms. Melas went.”
Aw, fuck me. I knew there was a reason he was my best friend. But also, fuck him; I didn’t want to leave the classroom. But he was already heading out, so I followed him. It’s what I did. I picked up the fire extinguisher. We had a school shooter rally earlier in the semester where some expert told us that a fire extinguisher made a great weapon. I didn’t know I would ever have to think about that again.
As we stepped out of the classroom and into the empty hallway, I heard Herman say, “Wasn’t she supposed to tell us how our parents are supposed to pick us up?” It was true. I was suddenly filled with dread. What happened to Ms. Melas? Was she okay?
Bryan led the way. Our classroom was older, a little ways away from the other rooms, so when we got to the first one, we had built up enough adrenaline from the silent anxiety to bust some heads open. Bryan knocked, then opened the door.
It was empty.
“Isn’t this Coach Langdon’s room?” he whispered. He taught sixth-period Geometry before coaching baseball. “Why wouldn’t he be here?”
It was amazing, the kinds of things we rationalize. “They probably released students in waves,” I said, hearing the franticness of my voice. I couldn’t shake it, no matter how hard I tried. “And we’re one of the last, since we’re so far.”
“We should get back, man, what if the class gets released and we get left behind?”
“I’m gonna check a few more classrooms.” He motioned for me to hand him the fire extinguisher and I tossed it to him.
“I’ll… head back into Melas’s room. I promise I’ll come find you if—when she comes back.” I felt like a god damn pussy. But being in that empty hallway, staring at that empty classroom, this late after school, was terrifying. I had to get back.
Bryan went on steadily, and I tried not to run back to the classroom.
* * * * * *
“They’re all empty.” Bryan set the fire extinguisher next to him with a clunk. He looked pale as a ghost. “They’re all gone. The teacher’s lounge is empty too. Melas is long gone.”
“But how could she leave us?” Arlette stammered. “She’s our teacher!”
“Come on,” I insisted. “She didn’t just leave us…”
“Shut up, man, with your stupid fucking hard-on for that dyke!” Bryan practically exploded. “She fucking left us!”
“She couldn’t have! She probably went to go get help or something.” It was so flimsy that I felt stupid saying it. All eyes were on me. “She wouldn’t have just left us like this, not willingly.”
“Not willingly?” Chuck repeated. Her eyes got huge, like saucers. “Not willingly?” She burst into tears. Everyone stared at her. “It was just a story!” She started crying, hard. “It was just a story!”
“What was just a story?” Herman yelled, terror in his voice. “The Witch thing?”
Chuck just cried harder, rubbing her mascara all over her cheeks. “I didn’t think it was real! It couldn’t have! But the signs…”
“What are the signs?”
“First, the snow,” she sobbed, hiccupping like she was choking, “then, everyone leaves, just disappears…”
The lights flickered again and everyone screamed. They dove for one another, trying to grip onto something corporeal. Arlette was no longer grabbing my arm. She was glued to her seat in terror, tears streaming down her face.
“The Witch will appear! As one of us!”
A deadly silence fell over the room. The kind of silence only a snowstorm can bring, oppressive and implying something terrible.
Bryan swallowed audibly. “How… how do we know who the Witch is?”
“This is stupid,” I tried. “We’re just freaked out, there is no Witch, Chuck said it was just a story she made up—”
“No, I read it, the book is in the library,” she continued to weep. “I found it when Ms. Melas assigned Lord of the Flies. It’s right there in the back.”
“How do we know?” Bryan shouted, commanding the room. I fell silent, watching him pace around the room like an animal. “Come on, Chuck, how do we know?” When she kept crying, he walked up to her and grabbed her shoulder, shaking her hard enough for us to hear her teeth click together. “Chuck!”
“She’s quiet, not the first person we’d think of.” Quiet. Not the first person we’d think of. So we all thought of the same person.
We turned to the corner of the classroom where Delilah stood. She was thin, practically swimming in that giant black hoodie of hers. She was always quiet, hidden away in the background.
It turns out it was her the whole time.
She stood there, petrified, staring at us. “Wha… wha…” She couldn’t even finish her sentence. She raised her hands as if to protect herself.
In the center of her palms, dark circles. Stigmata. Like she was nailed to a post by her hands.
The generator failed and the lights went out. A gust of wind finally defeated the old windows, shattering it and sending snow and broken glass bits around the room. It was chaos, screaming.
Bryan picked up the fire extinguisher and started making his way to Delilah, who was frozen in fear and babbling incoherently. “Ink!” she kept shrieking. “It’s just pen, it’s just ink—”
He moved with such force. I could only think of one thing. I tackled him from behind. “Bryan, wait—” He elbowed me right in the nose and blood gushed down my mouth, down my shirt. I gasped for breath, seeing stars, falling back.
Delilah ran for the door. The lights turned on and off, generator picking up speed and dying, coughing up life and death. Everyone chased after her, picking up yardsticks or pencils or pens, hollering and yelling, sounding like war cries.
Arlette helped me up and we ran after them. I was so dizzy, woozy. I heard Delilah screaming and crying for help as she pounded down the stairs, everyone running after her.
The doors at the front of the school burst open and she collapsed into a snow pile, running for her life. But everyone was so much faster.
Everyone was just so much faster.
* * * * * *
When the ambulance and fire trucks and police finally arrived, we were half-frozen to death. They asked, even later on, why we didn’t just go back inside. They didn’t understand. We couldn’t. We couldn’t go back inside.
The blood outside the school mixed in with the fresh snow like a dropped coke Slurpee, browning in the bitterly cold air. The paramedics did their best to scrape up what they could to take back with them. The police stood around, shocked and unsure of what to do. This kind of thing just didn’t happen at Arlena Falls.
They led Bryan away, who was silent and flecked with blood and bits. Chuck kept whispering, “Witches don’t bleed, Witches don’t bleed…”
We were all taken to the police station, and then released to our parents. Dad didn’t say a word about my bandaged nose, or my black eye, or my choked crying all the way home. I thought about Mom, the emptiness that she left behind. I thought I was going to die right there in the mudroom of our home, gasping for breath. Dad held me like I was a kid again.
It didn’t make anything right again.
* * * * * *
Accident at Arlena Falls High School leads to Fatality
By Selena Lam
When the storm of the century hit Arlena Falls, a greater tragedy occurred when a student, Delilah Chapman, was killed in an accident in the school’s courtyard. Sources say that the student in question was well-liked by her classmates and was considered a good friend. They say the straight-A student was quiet and never caused any trouble, and was a valued member of the school population.
The accident occurred when students were left behind when the school lifted their snow day lockdown. In a strange occurrence, students did not check their cellphones to see that lockdown was finished and that they were free to go.
School officials say that the teacher of the students left behind, Ms. Helena Melas, is currently on paid administrative leave while the district investigates. Ms. Melas has been a member of the school’s faculty for thirty-seven years.
Flowers and condolences can be sent to surviving members of the Chapman family, her parents, John and Silvia at 4237 Rockwell Drive.
For more information, subscribe to the Arlena Falls Gazette.
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