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Every year, it’s inevitable that some sixth graders will ask why the third floor of James Middle School isn’t a complete circle like the rest of the school. It’s an interesting topic since the ends of the floor’s walls are boarded up with dented steel one only sees on temporary buildings.
“Oh, some kid died on the third floor,” the seventh and eighth graders usually respond. “So they tore some of it down.”
Those kids aren’t incorrect; the third floor used to be a complete circle, with five additional classrooms and an infinite amount of lockers. I should know because I was an eighth-grade student at the time, and I remember that woeful day 13 years ago.
I was rather cool when I was around. I impressed everyone by constantly breaking the dress code, particularly with my shaggy hair, oversized band tees, and distressed and baggy jeans. I couldn’t even count how many times a teacher squawked at me for being a “distraction” on my hands.
I was attracting a crowd of like-minded kids one day after school, collecting some “oohs” and “ahs” as I pressed my right foot on one end of my trusted skateboard and jumped to do a backside flip. I landed near the school steps, slowly continuing to skate as I admired the rounds of applause I was receiving.
“Mr. Hart!” Mrs. May, the oldest and meanest of all the teachers of James, stomped up to me. “Mr. Hart, what do you think you’re doing?”
“Um,” I smiled and shrugged, “hanging out with my friends.”
“Doing dangerous stunts is not ‘hanging out’.” She crossed her arms, clearly unimpressed. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to take your skateboard, Mr. Hart.”
“What?” My smile turned into a look of shock. “You can’t do that, Mrs. May! I need this to get home.”
“I’m sorry, but this is the second time this month I’ve caught you skateboarding on school grounds. You know the rules.”
I rolled my eyes and hopped off my skateboard, groaning as she picked it up and placed it under her left shoulder. “How am I supposed to go home now?”
“You can go to the office and call your parents.”
I gulped. I knew if my parents found out I was using the skateboard on school grounds, they’d have my ass on their wall before I could apologize.
“Don’t be shy, Mr. Hart,” Mrs. May squawked. “I’ve met your parents before and they’re lovely people.”
Before I could respond, a familiar voice said, “Mrs. May, Harrison was supposed to walk home with me today.”
We turned to the source of the voice and my heart skipped a beat. It belonged to Peggy Davis, the most beautiful girl at the school. She had the darkest raven hair and more piercings and makeup than the school allowed, and she was often called out for her baggy leather jacket and zipper pants as well. We were both misfits at school, and I supposed that was why I was so drawn to her.
“Very well, Ms. Davis.” Mrs. May nodded and turned to me, “I will still be keeping your skateboard, Mr. Hart, until your parents come and pick it up.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I groaned as she stomped back into the building.
As the crowd of students dissipated, Peggy ambled up to me and gave me a sympathetic smile, “I’m sorry Mrs. May took away your skateboard. She can be so unfair sometimes.”
“I know, right?” My face started to heat up. “My parents are gonna kill me when they find out.”
“Well,” She blushed, making her cheeks more visible on her pale face. “I know how we can get back at her.”
“Really? Tell me more.”
“Do you know my buddy, Adam? He’s recently got his hands on a nice little book.”
“Let’s just say it’ll give Mrs. May a nice dose of her own medicine.” Her smile turned mischievous as we began walking.
I grinned back at her. “What do we need to do?”
“The school doors are unlocked at night, so we can break our sorry asses in at eight with Adam and anyone else that wants to help. We’ll then just have to set up in front of Mrs. May’s classroom.”
“But what are we going to do?”
All Peggy did was giggle, “You’ll see.”
I considered what she said for a moment. On one hand, the idea of sneaking into school knowing next-to-nothing made me shake in fear. But on the other hand, how could I surpass such an interesting opportunity with the girl I loved?
“Alright,” I high-fived her. “I’m in.”
That night, I snuck back to the school, meeting Peggy, Adam, and a couple of other kids at the front door. We silently creaked the door open and tip-toed our way to the third floor, stopping in front of Mrs. May’s classroom.
“Okay, Peggy.” Adam knelt on the floor. “Do you have the tapestry?”
“Sure do.” She pulled a dark blanket out of her bag and spread it in front of his feet.
I glanced at the blanket’s design. It had a simple star in the middle and was surrounded by intricate floral patterns that were being covered by a large book, various plants I had never seen before, and unlit candles.
“Take a seat, Harrison.” Peggy winked at me.
“What’s all this?” I knelt down and picked up a dried purple flower.
“They’re herbs.” One of Peggy’s friends rolled her eyes. “They’re for the ritual.”
“Wait,” My heart pounded against my chest as I began to realize what was going on, “ritual?”
“Absolutely.” David laughed, crossing his legs. “You wanted to get back at Mrs. May, right? Well, we’re going to hex her.”
My hands started to tremble. I was under the impression that we were just going to ransack her room or steal her beloved pencil collection, but hexing? What kind of person would think such an act was a good idea?
“Oh, calm down.” Peggy gently took one of my hands into hers. “We’ll be fine.”
A few of her other friends began to light the candles, brightening the dark hallway as David opened his book and chanted some kind of spell:
“O triple form of darkness! Somber splendor! Thou moon unseen of men!
Thou huntress dread! Thou crowned demon of the crownless dead!
O breasts of blood, too bitter and too tender! Unseen of gentle spring, Let me the offering.
Bring to thy shrine’s sepulchral glittering! I slay the swart beast!
I bestow the bloom Sown in the dusk, and gathered in the gloom ...”
I shivered as he continued to chant. I was never one to believe in magic and witchcraft, but my mind was racing with thoughts. What if the spell curses us instead? What if we get caught by some police officer? What if Mrs. May found out about what we were doing?
I suddenly stood up. “I can’t do it, guys.”
“What?” Peggy yelped, trying to yank me back down. “You can’t do that!”
David stopped chanting and looked up at the commotion, “Holy fuck, Harrison! Sit back down now!”
I shook my head and turned around, prepared to run back home, but I soon realized that I couldn’t move. My bones were stuck together like a statue’s, and my face was frozen in fear.
“Going somewhere?” A woman’s voice asked me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Peggy and her friends. They were paler than they ever were before and were screaming so loudly, I wouldn’t have been surprised is the local residents heard them.
I returned my gaze to the stair doors. My joints stiffened as I witnessed what everyone was looking at. It was a woman, with black hair just like Peggy’s, but longer and messier, as well as snow-white skin and lifeless black holes where her eyes were supposed to be.
“Harrison, run!” Peggy screamed, getting up to reach me.
As much as I tried, my muscles were locked in place. I couldn’t even yell back that I couldn’t escape the floor.
The woman unnaturally grinned from ear to ear and raised her left hand, her fingers elongating into claws.
Oh, shit, I thought. Shit, shit, shit, shit—
I felt a sudden scrape on my throat, as if I got a paper cut. But, my lungs started to run out of oxygen no matter how hard I breathed. My eyes started to grow heavy, and I became more and more tired. I was the most exhausted I had ever been in my life once I blacked out.
When I came to, however, there was police tape surrounding the area I was stuck at, and I saw myself being picked up and taken away on a stretcher.
“No!” I screamed, but everyone ignored me as they went about their business.
I raced to one of the paramedics and attempted to yank his arm. Instead of his arm pulling back like I expected, my hands went through his elbow.
“Oh my god,” I started to tremble. “Am I...am I dead?”
My fears were confirmed as a white sheet was draped over my body. I had seen enough TV to knew what that meant, and all I could do was cry.
James Middle School wanted to distance themselves as much as possible from my death afterwards. They tore down that corner of the school where the ritual occurred and I never saw Peggy and her friends walking down the school halls again. Some students gossiped that they were expelled for breaking into the school in the first place, but I was never able to confirm the rumors.
Most students at the school nowadays don’t know what happened, as James ensured that no one ever found out the truth behind my untimely passing. Not even a lawsuit from my parents brought justice to the school, and the administration never confirmed the incident of October 24th, 2005. Occasionally, a student will feel a sudden chill or hear a sudden laughter when I pass by them, but they shrug it off as just some draft or prank.
It’s a shame, though. I guess I’ll be stuck at the school forever, with no one knowing the sad story of Harrison Hart.