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Late afternoon bells rang in the air, stinging the summer heat and combatting the screams of children, running along streets and paths, dancing away from the school building and all the way to their homes. Summer vacation always excited the children in such a way, causing a fuss of car horns angrily screaming as the children skipped through the streets with little care; school was out, summer began, little else mattered in their little world. Little else existed besides fun and pools, no homework and laziness for a whole few months before the torturous routine begun again.
Teachers, too, shared the same childish joy as the children as they collected their belongings from their desks. They weren’t close to finished, not by a long shot (the teachers’ jobs were never finished), but the delight of no longer having to deal with snotty noses, whiny complaints, and shrill screams filled the hearts of all teachers with glee.
“Till the next year.” A teacher held up a coffee mug as if making a toast with a glass of champagne. One specific teacher, a Mr. Samson Henry, tipped his hat with a sly grin on his face before shoving his suitcase under his arm.
“Several months free,” Mr. Henry chuckled before nodding past his colleagues and strutting toward the half swung open door.
“Leaving already? As giddy as a kid you are, Samson, ready to begin your summer vacation?” Mr. Henry held up his hand, smiling against the laughter and cheers of the fellow staff members, and he dismissed the rest as he leapt down the steps of the school building. By then, only half of the children still remained, busy throwing old school assignments in the air and ripping apart tests sporting a scarlet F on the front. All the children ignored their school teacher as he strolled past, humming as he moved along the path away from the school, away from the screeching and cheering children, and away from the town, alight in the delight of the upcoming summer. The screams and cheers soon faded, replaced by kind nods of acknowledgement and small hellos, and later replaced with the tranquility of chirping birds and the rustle of leaves in the summer breeze. Mr. Henry’s shoes formed paths in the grass as he shuffled along into a neon forest, opening up, after aisles of trees and bushes and wildflowers, into an open meadow. Tall blades of grass danced across Mr. Henry’s ankle and a secluded stream hissed distantly, barely audible to the naked ear. Even the birds seemed to hush in this meadow, understanding the serenity of the area and appreciating the silence themselves. In the center of the meadow lay a patch of matted grass, inviting Mr. Henry to kneel down in the flattened blades, as if they were meant for him (in a way, they were).
Mr. Henry set his black leather briefcase on the grass and, with a click of the keys on the front, pried it open. Notebooks and papers scatter the bottom of the case, littered with pencils and pens and even an odd highlighter. The teacher pushed aside the mess to reveal a vibrant yellow pad and a pencil worn down to the brink of nonexistence. Ignoring the pencil, Mr. Henry delicately removed the pad from the briefcase and set it down before shutting the briefcase for good, pushing it to the side and drawing a line through the lovely blades of grass. Crossing his legs in an imitation easy pose, Mr. Henry set the pad in his lap and closed his eyes. The wind seemed to carry its own music in this place: in solitude or in company. The distant hums of robins combine with the quiet of the drilling of the woodpeckers. Each breath drew the glorious scents of early summer into Mr. Henry’s nose and out again, releasing his own soul into the spirit of the meadow. Not a single sound could break the meditative joy that the meadow provided to whomever entered.
Mr. Henry had seen it before. People enter the meadow and immediately feel this intense serenity. Feelings in these meadows became distorted among the silence under the sunlight. Summer sun on bare skin held the power to drive a man crazy.
Opening his eyes, Mr. Henry bowed his head to focus on the pad in his lap. With a tiny smile on his lips, the teacher’s nimble fingers gripped the pages and pulled them from the yellow cover. Powerful pencil strokes leapt from the white paper in front of his eyes, outlining figures of the meadow that stood in front of him, almost as a black and white photo as opposed to a drawing on a dollar store drawing pad. Mr. Henry admired the artwork in front of him, reminiscing on the times he sat out in the patch of grass, eyes half slid closed as his hand ferociously moved through the strokes of flowers and trees and creating the brightness in the artwork as if he was staring up at the sun itself. A drawing of a sunflower that now laid as nothing more than fertilizer to the earth drew delight into his heart; the beauty, although dead, lived forever through what he created. Many things in this drawing pad reflected the beauty now long dead and gone.
The final page of the drawing pad drew Mr. Henry’s eyes closed, a smile of bliss gracing his pale lips as he drew his face toward the sun, bathing in the burning heat. This drawing, though he hardly dared look at it, danced around his mind almost every moment of every day, lingering in the back, never too long. The late spring day still resonated in his mind and in his bones from this glorious memory. This glorious day.
“An eye for an eye,” Mr. Henry thought out loud, whispering to the black sky and pouring out his heart. The drawing stayed hidden for a reason, and a reason Mr. Henry knew all too well. While he reflected on the day more than he ever wished anyone to know, the past remained in the past, and that was where the past belonged. It had to end, even if he was the one who had to do it: and the counterpart was in no way going to put a stop to it. He still dreaded the memory, and it pained him how that memory always fogged the beautiful one he wished to remember until the day that he died. Mr. Henry’s hand numbly traced the outlines of the pencil drawing, perfectly outlining the image, as if he had done it a million times before. The moment, no matter how beautiful, still pained him with loss. It had to be done, however, for the both of them.
Mr. Henry loved teaching, he loved the children he taught even more. He never understood the complaints from other teachers dealing with children hardly considered a bad seed. The worse the children were, the harder Mr. Henry pushed himself and his students to success. Mr. Henry found nothing as satisfying as a troubled child thanking him at the end of the year. Although, spending most of his time with the children left little time for personal life, and an even slimmer amount of time for relationships. In fact, Mr. Henry was the only staff member to remain unmarried; however, that didn’t mean he had always stayed that way. Phyllis Henry, Mr. Henry’s wife, passed in a car crash nearly ten years earlier. The next month, coincidentally, marked ten years since her death. They were better than high school sweethearts, they were middle school sweethearts (if such a thing existed), and it didn’t matter that he was only 24 at the time of his wife’s passing, Mr. Henry never truly got over the pain that the loss of his wife had caused him. Everyone just assumed he wasn’t ready to date, and probably never would be, after a loss so great. No one pushed, either, they gave up setting him up with suitable young women long ago, finding the task fruitless. He turned all of the dates down, and the community decided to just let him mourn in peace.
A sigh broke the silence as Mr. Henry’s eyes opened once again and returned to the drawing laying in his lap. A sad smile touched his lips and his finger stroked one of the lines before flipping to the final page in the pad, staring down the white material staring back at him. So little physically stood between him and the blank page, but a mental wall grew between his hand and the paper, keeping him from releasing his feelings through the pencil and drawing. In frustration, Mr. Henry slammed the pad shut and threw it into the tall grass, carding a hand through blonde locks that had fallen into his face and blocked his vision. With another sigh, Mr. Henry threw himself down, his back meeting the damp ground underneath him. Summer breeze graced his cheeks and nose and he let his eyes close again. The warm heat mixed with the beautiful silence and scents of nature, of dewy grass and wild flowers and weeds, and with each deep breath, Mr. Henry drifted into a light doze, taking him over.
By the time Mr. Henry awoke from his nap, a red and purple sky lingered above the treetops of green. Groggily, Mr. Henry pushed himself into a sitting position and rubbed at his crystal blue eyes, wiping out the sleep and guck. The silence differed from earlier, the tranquility turned almost eerie. Mr. Henry pulled himself to his feet, ignoring the fact that his clothes were now dyed green from the moist grass, and he began to stretch. As he let out a loud yawn, a nearby twig snapped. Freezing, Mr. Henry shut his mouth and lowered his arms very slowly.
“Hello?” he called out, unsure if the sound was simply in his mind. So there he stood, almost a full minute, standing and listening to the silent meadow. After a moment, he shook his head and knelt down by his tossed briefcase. Reaching for the drawing pad, realization sunk in like ice, cascading down his throat and to settle in his stomach like bricks. In moments, Mr. Henry was on his feet and holding a threatening finger out in front of him.
“Who’s there? I know you’re out there!” The silence that met him rose fury to his face. “Come on! Out you come!” Mr. Henry spun on his heels, his head whipping to and fro as he searched in vain. Finally, the sound Mr. Henry strained for came again, and with that sound, a figure emerged from a cluster of trees. Fury burned the teacher’s eyes as he pointed a finger accusingly at the figure. “What do you think you’re doing?” His eyes lowered, only to catch a familiar yellow sight. Humiliation suddenly filled him as he realized that the figure may have looked through the drawings in the pad. The figure may have seen, the figure may have known. The humiliation and embarrassment only lit more anger into the heart of Mr. Henry.
“Is this some kind of a sick joke?” Mr. Henry narrowed his blue eyes toward the figure and he made a step closer. The figure, in turn, also took a step forward, a hidden face staring straight into Mr. Henry’s soul. The setting sun caught the shiny surface half hidden behind the black pants leg of the visitor. With the sun, Mr. Henry caught the sight and immediately took a step away from the figure. Another step closer, then another, before the figure brought out the shiny object so that Mr. Henry could see it so clearly he could catch his own reflection in the blade of the knife. It wasn’t a kitchen knife, or anything easily obtainable, it was an antique: an antique that Mr. Henry knew all too well.
“No, no, please.” Mr. Henry, now all of the anger turned to fear, begged as he held out his hands, blue eyes filling with tears. The figure caught hold of his hand, holding the knife high in the air.
“Beg for me.” Mr. Henry crumbled in the grip of the figure, now openly sobbing and trying to hold his hands together, as if in prayer.
“Please, oh please. Don’t kill me!” Despite the fear clear in his face, his voice was sure and almost steady, not a single stutter or hesitation. Mr. Henry had always been good at keeping his voice, even in the hardest of times, steady. He had a lot of practice after Phyllis Henry had passed. “I’ll do anything! I’m sorry!” Although the begging was alluring to the figure, and welled great pride, it just wasn’t enough.
“You’re sorry,” the figure spoke coolly, causing Mr. Henry to choke on a sob and whisper out his pleas. “Sorry isn’t good enough.”
Mr. Henry didn’t need to see the face of his attacker to know exactly who it was wielding the knife. However, he foolishly believed that this attacker would never, truly could never, go through something as horrid as killing him. Surely the figure downed in black would pull the knife back after hearing his begs and apology. He really dreaded having to turn in the attacker when all of this was over, it caused him great pain to think about it.
But, unfortunately for Mr. Henry, he would never have to suffer for turning the attacker in.
Mr. Henry stared in fear as the knife rose above his and the attacker’s head, catching the beautiful rays of the setting sun in the blade, pouring pink light onto Mr. Henry’s sweaty face. What a time to go, and what a most gorgeous place. Underneath the new summer sky and the dying light. What could be more appropriate: dying along with the day, and when the new sun rose, he would rise as well. But not on this world, but he would rise anew, unlike the sun, he would become a lesser sun. He would become a star. The pink reflecting the blade blinded Mr. Henry’s vision, and for a moment, he felt the tranquility of the meadow and could hear the woodpecker drilling in a nearby tree, and a robin pulling at a worm in the ground, looking up in time to witness the knife come down on Mr. Henry, just in time to hear the struggled breath and to see Mr. Henry attempt to fall to his knees, only caught by the attacker ready to take another slash with the knife, once pink with the setting sun now red with the life of Mr. Henry. The vivid green grass, matted from many visits and sittings, drawings and secrets that Mr. Henry would soon take to his grave, stained with the blood of its most prized visitor. The robin leapt into flight as Mr. Henry’s body collapsed to the ground, and Mr. Henry’s dying eyes watched as the attacker calmly shuffled through the discarded leather briefcase and lifted it before leaving without a single look back at the man on the ground. Mr. Henry would never see his attacker, or anyone else intruding in his beautiful meadow, again.