Margaret released a deep sigh as she hung up with her mother; it brought no relief. She couldn’t work up the courage to tell her that nearly all of the money meant to buy a train ticket back to Winter Park had been spent on a used lightbox. Honesty just wasn’t an option in this situation: the lightbox was a necessity. Margaret had scored a rare seat in Introduction to Animation, a feat considered impossible for a freshman, and she needed to be prepared from day one to show Professor Bergstrom that he hadn’t made a mistake by admitting her into the class.
As she set her phone down on the drawing table, Margaret examined her purchase. A press of a switch brought the florescent bulbs to life and cool light shone through the translucent glass. The student she bought it from wouldn’t need it at the powerhouse computer animation studio where he was headed. For Margaret, though, this tool would be key to her growth, and this class would put her nearly a year ahead of the other students in her major. She ran her fingers over the pegs on the drawing surface and imagined the pages of onion skin on which she would make her drawings walk and jump and dance. She could picture all of the ideas incubating in her sketchbook and wished that she could take the bulky lightbox with her so she could bring something to life over the summer vacation.
The slamming of a door interrupted Margaret’s daydream. Her roommate dragged a suitcase with a broken wheel into the bedroom and let it tip over onto the floor. “This is the best I could find for you, Margie,” the girl said.
“Thanks, Jane, that’s exactly what I needed.”
The lightbox immediately caught Jane’s eye. “You actually found one? I can’t believe it!” She walked over and put her hand on the drawing surface. “It’s so cool to the touch,” Jane said. “Much better than the one my brother built for himself when he was here.”
“I heard he made an incandescent light table,” said Margaret.
“That’s way too pretty of an explanation for what he had,” said Jane. “It was just an Easy-Bake Oven with the front cut out and a piece of window glass in its place. And it still did a great job cooking, as anyone could tell by looking at his arms after using it for a couple of years!”
Margaret winced at the thought of Jane’s brother’s wrists and forearms. His work was legendary around the campus, but so was the damage he had wreaked on his skin. Like many students from the small Savannah school he had gone on to a high-paying job at an award-winning studio, but he had kept his torturous homemade lightbox for its “sentimental value.” She cleared the thought from her head and opened the borrowed suitcase for examination.
“It was the only extra Jaime had,” said Jane, “and just about everyone else has left for vacation. Once you get packed up, I’ll drop you off at the train station and then I’m heading for points north.”
“You don’t actually have to take me to the train station.” Margaret said.
“Why not? Do you not have a ticket? Did your parents not send you money for that?” Jane was indignant. “First they don’t let you bring a car up to Savannah, and then they don’t even give you a way to get home on the weekend before summer break?”
Margaret put up her hands to calm her increasingly infuriated roommate. “Hold on a minute, they sent me the money. It’s just that this lightbox cost a little more than I had planned for.”
“You spent your train ticket money on a lightbox?” Jane exclaimed. “How are you planning to get home? I can’t drive you all the way there from Savannah and turn around to head back to Chicago!”
“I would never ask you to do that,” Margaret said with a shake of her head. “I figured I’d take a look at the ride share board downstairs and see if anyone was heading toward Orlando, or maybe Tampa or Miami. And if that doesn’t pan out I’ll just see about a bus ticket. I can still afford that.”
“A ride share? With someone you don’t even know? That’s way too creepy for me,” said Jane. She stood up and looked out the window. “Look, just let me take you down to the bus station. At least I’ll know you’re getting home safely.”
“And turn a four-hour trip into an eight-hour trip?” asked Margaret. “I’ll save that option for last. Come on, at least come downstairs and look at the boards with me.” Jane rolled her eyes and then stood and helped her roommate up from her seat on the floor. Down in the lobby of their dormitory, Margaret and Jane scanned the ride-share board for any notices of students traveling south. Most drivers had included a date that they were leaving town and Margaret realized that many had already left. A brightly colored paper with the word Kissimmee written across the top caught her eye. According to the notice, the driver, Amanda, was heading home the next day at nine in the morning. With Winter Park on the way, Margaret could be home just after lunch. She took the paper from the board and clicked her phone open.
“Hey, I know this guy, he’s hilarious,” said Jane. “I had American Culture with him on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Weird as hell, but funny. At least you’d be entertained on the way.” She took the notice down and handed it to Margaret. Dominic La Cava, headed to Lake Mary. Winter Park would be a little out of his way, but not by much.
Margaret looked at both of the notices, and just past them she saw a black piece of paper pinned to the board. In silver marker was written Sam. Driving to Clewiston. Tomorrow. Margaret had no idea what “tomorrow” could mean in this context. How long had the notice been posted? She had walked by the ride share board before and had never seen it. And she was familiar with Clewiston. It was an isolated little town in the middle of miles of sugar cane fields. He could probably use the company, at least part of the way.
“Three rides,” said Jane. “Or you can be smart and just call the bus terminal and reserve a ticket. What do you want to do, sweetie?”
Margaret looked at all three notices, considered Jane’s offer, and then dialed the number.
“Hi, is this Dominic?” Margaret asked the voice at the other end of the line.
“Who is this?” the voice asked. Its tone wasn’t as inviting as Margaret had expected when she dialed. She could feel her stomach tighten.
“My name is Margaret Murphy, and I’m calling about your post on the ride share board at the freshman dorm.”
“What about it?”
Margaret was surprised that the owner of the voice didn’t assume she was calling about a ride. After a pause she said, “I’d like to ride with you to Florida.”
There was no sound on the other end of the line for about ten seconds, then the voice burst into laughter. “Yeah, this is Dominic. I was just messing with you. Where do you stay in Florida, Margaret?”
“I’m in Winter Park,” Margaret said. The change in Dominic’s voice made her feel relieved. She was always nervous about calling people she didn’t already know. It was worse when they picked up and didn’t sound happy to hear from her.
“Winter Park…that’s a little past me,” Dominic said, “but if you have gas money we’re good.”
“Sure,” said Margaret. “Can I pay for half of the gas?”
“Can you? You want my permission? You got it,” Dominic said, “but we need to leave tonight. I have somewhere to be early tomorrow morning. Can you be ready to go by eight?”
Margaret thought for a second. Leaving at eight would have her home shortly after midnight. Her parents would be in bed by then and wouldn’t be happy about someone ringing the bell. She decided she would have to call her dad around ten to let him know that she was en route.
“Eight sounds great,” she said. Dominic laughed.
“Wouldn’t you know it, I’ll be riding with a poet,” he said. They agreed to meet at eight o’clock in front of the freshman dorm. Margaret hung up the phone and looked at Jane.
“Yup. Pretty funny,” Margaret said in a tone that indicated she didn’t think he was funny at all.
“He’s hilarious,” said Jane. They started toward the elevator. “He would have the whole class in stitches, even the professor would have tears. I peed a little once. Have you ever read his blog?”
“He writes a blog?”
“Yes, it’s called Lezbos ‘n’ Gays,” said Jane. “All about his life in Savannah. It’s amazing. If half of the stories on there are true then this town is a way more interesting place than I ever imagined.”
“Wait, this is the Lezbos ‘n’ Gays guy?” Margaret asked. “Why didn’t you tell me that before I called him?”
Jane smiled, shrugged her shoulders and pushed the button for their floor. Margaret had read the blog before; everyone in school read it. It was funny, and the story topics ranged from the mundane (intrepid reports of breakfast) to thrilling (an account of a hedonistic overnight stay at a tree house hostel just north of the Florida state line). Descriptions were humorous, well-articulated and possibly exaggerated. And Dominic wrote about everything that happened to him. Margaret wasn’t sure how she felt about becoming a character in some guy’s ride share story on the Internet. On the other hand, from reading Dominic’s blog she figured that the probability that she was going to be riding with a potential rapist stood at about zero.
Margaret considered the call she had made, and as the elevator doors slid open she stepped out with an idea of what she should do.
Jane gave Margaret a hug and walked toward the elevator. Margaret finished packing the suitcase and looked around the room a final time. A roll of quarters that she had bought for the laundry was sitting unopened in a drawer. She dropped it into her purse, along with a pencil and small sketchbook. She wished that she had a car so that she could take the light box with her instead of storing it.
Eight o’clock came with no sign of Dominic. She dialed his number. No answer. Margaret let out a sigh as she looked at the last of the sunset. She still had Amanda’s number, and she wasn’t leaving until morning. Margaret clicked her phone. It was almost nine o’clock.
A car pulled in to the parking lot as she began dialing Amanda. It drove around to where she was sitting and the passenger side window rolled down.
“Are you Margaret?” the driver asked.
“Hi, yeah…Dominic?” Margaret said.
“That’s me! Hop in, let’s get out of here.” Margaret got into the car with her suitcase. Dominic swung the car around on Liberty Street. She thought about bringing up the fact that he was nearly an hour late but remembered the blog and decided against it.
“Sorry I’m late,” Dominic said. “I couldn’t believe the traffic.”
“It’s no problem,” Margaret lied. “I was talking to a friend and didn’t even notice.” She and Dominic never stopped talking for the first hour. He turned out to be a funny and well-spoken travel companion. Margaret was surprised how much they had in common. Their conversation turned to films they liked, and she was pleased that they shared a love for the animator Hayao Miyazaki.
“Ever see Whisper of the Heart?” Dominic asked.
“Love it,” Margaret said.
“It’s my favorite. The girl in that movie, she challenges herself. Forces herself to grow. That’s what I want to do with my storytelling, but I just haven’t found that type of motivation.”
“I think you’re a great writer,” Margaret said.
Dominic glanced at her then quickly looked back at the road. “You’ve read my blog?”
“I think everyone in Savannah has read your blog,” she said. Dominic said nothing. As they came up to an exit he pulled off of the road and into a gas station.
“Get out,” he said. Margaret was surprised.
“If the blog is a sore subject with you, I won’t say anything else—“
“Get out,” Dominic said again. Margaret felt her stomach tighten. Was he going to leave her at a gas station? She could feel tears well up at the corners of her eyes.
Dominic suddenly laughed.
“You should have seen your face!” he said, practically crying. “I wouldn’t make you walk to Florida! But seriously, get out because we need gas and you said you’d pay for half.”
Margaret frowned. She handed Dominic twenty dollars and he went inside as she pumped the gas. She didn’t like this guy’s sense of humor. Between this and the late pick up, it seemed like he was looking for blog material. Margaret looked at her phone. She would need to call her parents soon. Dominic came back to the car as she replaced the pump handle. As they buckled their seat belts he handed her a small white tube.
“What is this?” Margaret asked.
“Breath spray,” Dominic said with a smile.
Margaret was convinced that she was being baited now. She looked up at Dominic and said. . .
“Thank God you bought this,” Margaret said, taking the breath spray from Dominic’s hand. She removed the shrink wrap from the tube. “I didn’t want to be rude about your problem. Open wide and I’ll make the trip more pleasant for the both of us.”
Dominic stared at Margaret. Slowly, his expression changed to a smile. “Well look who found the courage to stop being polite,” he said. “I was wondering how far I’d have to go to bring out the real you.”
Margaret wasn’t smiling. She held the breath spray up, her finger on the nozzle. “I said open wide.”
Dominic stood and looked toward the highway. “No thanks, I already bought my own,” he said. “Hey, do you want to drive for a while? I’m getting a little tired.”
“Whatever,” Margaret said. She walked around to the driver’s door. “No more messing around, though,” she said.
Dominic put his hands up. “No way,” he said, “we’re straight. You’re cool in my book.”
Margaret slid into the driver’s seat. After Dominic buckled his seat belt, she drove back to the Interstate. “Don’t fall too deeply asleep,” Margaret said. “I don’t know my way through Jacksonville.”
“You’d better not fall asleep either, then,” Dominic said.
Margaret noticed the clock on the dashboard. Eleven o’clock. She clicked on her phone to call her parents, but the display flashed a red battery and then shut off. She sighed and put the phone in her purse, along with the breath spray.
“Do you need to make a call?” Dominic asked. “You can use my phone.”
“No, it’s fine,” Margaret said. “I do have a question for you, though.”
“About your blog—“
“You said you weren’t going to bring up my blog,” Dominic said.
“Too bad,” said Margaret. “Where’d the title come from?”
“Why? Does it offend you?” Dominic asked. “Are you bothered that I’m gay?”
“I could care less if you’re gay,” said Margaret. “But I’ve read a lot of your blog entries and not many of them are about the gay lifestyle. Why do you use such an in-your-face title for a blog that’s about everything else?”
Dominic sat up and looked at Margaret. “When I was first was accepted to art school, I felt like I found a place where I could fit in. No one else was gay in my town. I felt alone. I had high expectations for Savannah. But when my mom and I came up here for the tour, the first thing I heard someone say was, ‘That damn art school. I can’t believe there are so many lesbos and gays running around here.’ It became my first blog entry and it stuck. Any other questions?”
“Good. Wake me up when we get to Jacksonville.” Dominic turned back toward the door and didn’t say anything else.
Margaret didn’t want to disturb him so she drove for a while with the radio off. The drive was hypnotizing and she realized she was nodding off. Driving for another two hours seemed impossible. She read road signs to stay awake. About thirty minutes past the Florida border, she saw a sign indicating that I-95 was going to split into three parts. She shook Dominic.
“Just stay in the middle lane,” he said through a yawn. “That’ll take you right through downtown.” He sat up suddenly. “Hey, is that a hitch-hiker up ahead? Pull over and pick her up! This might be fun!”
Margaret pulled off the Interstate about ten feet past the hitchhiker. The young woman watched them for a few seconds, then picked up a small backpack and jogged to Dominic’s car.
“Thank you so much,” she said. “I’ve been walking for three hours and no one would pick me up.”
Dominic turned around in the passenger seat. “Hey, I’m Dom and this is Maggie.” Margaret gave him a sideways glance and then looked at the hitchhiker in the mirror. She looked like she had seen some rough days in her life, and her clothing was wearing out.
“I’m Sybill,” the hitchhiker said. “If you go another two exits and get off at Forsyth Street, it will just be another couple of minutes until you’re at my place. Real easy.”
“No problem,” said Dominic, who looked at Margaret and smiled. Margaret didn’t respond. She looked for an opening in traffic and then pulled into the right lane. The idea of taking a hitchhiker anywhere in the middle of the night in a city that she didn’t know made her uncomfortable. Dominic’s idea of entertainment was nowhere near what she considered fun. He and Sybill chatted while Margaret drove past the Beaver Street exit, and when she neared Forsyth Street, she noticed on the sign a blue square with a white bus symbol inside.
“Hey Maggie, turn right at the light,” Sybill said as Margaret followed the exit lane. The name Maggie made her cringe. The blue bus sign appeared again at the intersection, this time by itself on the top of a pole with an arrow that pointed to the left. When the light changed she turned left and headed east on Forsyth.
“This is the wrong way,” Sybill said immediately. “You need to turn around, Maggie.”
“Where are we going, Maggie?” Dominic asked in a sing-song voice. Margaret smiled but still said nothing. The lights were green through each intersection as she followed the blue bus signs, eventually stopping at the intersection of Pearl Street. She put the car in park and got out, grabbing her suitcase from the back seat and walking toward the bus station. “What is this?” Dominic asked.
“I’m done riding with you,” Margaret said without turning around. “Have fun with your new ride share.”
“You’re going to miss out on all the fun,” Dominic said. The playfulness was gone from his voice.
“I guess I’ll just have to read about it.”
“Damn right you will, Maggie,” Dominic said, anger seething in his voice. As Margaret walked into the bus station she heard his car peel out and speed down the road in the direction they had come.
“One ticket to Winter Park,” Margaret said to the attendant as she approached the counter. The tired-looking woman didn’t look up but began typing.
“Doesn’t go to Winter Park,” the attendant said. “Closest I can get you is Orlando on the Express. Leavin’ at five p.m.”
“Five p.m.? Is there anything sooner?” Margaret asked.
“Yup, but they’re all booked,” the attendant said. “It’ll be fifty four dollars, tax included.”
Margaret looked into her wallet. One wild-eyed and lonely Andrew Jackson looked back at her.
Margaret sat next to the only public power outlet she could find in Jacksonville’s cavernous bus terminal. Her phone came to life as she plugged it in. The display said that it was 1:15 a.m. She figured that Amanda would be up and loading her car around 7:30, so she set the phone’s alarm, dropped it in her pocket, and wrapped her arms around herself to wait.
Margaret jumped from the chair as something began buzzing against her hip. She slapped her pocket before realizing that it was her phone alarm going off. Had she fallen asleep? She pulled the phone from her pocket. It was 7:31 a.m. She sat back down and shook the cobwebs from her mind. Her suitcase and purse were still under the chair where she had been sitting. Margaret breathed a sigh of relief and reached into her purse for Amanda’s number.
“Hello?” Amanda answered in a voice that was too cheery for the morning. Margaret heard road noise in the background. It sounded like Amanda had left Savannah early.
“Hi, I’m calling about your post on the ride share board,” Margaret said. “Are you still leaving at nine?”
“Sorry, sweetie, you missed me by a couple of hours. No one ever called so I left Savannah at six.”
“Actually, I’m in Jacksonville,” Margaret said. “My ride kind of flaked out on me halfway and now I’m stranded. I’m headed to Winter Park, though, and would love to ride with you the rest of the way if you don’t mind.”
“I’m driving through Jacksonville now,” said Amanda. “Must be your lucky day, girl!” Margaret told Amanda the roads she took to the bus station, then hung up and went outside to wait. In less than twenty minutes a small SUV pulled into the pick-up lane in front of the bus station. Amanda released the trunk latch and Margaret tossed her suitcase in the back and climbed into the front seat.
“Thank you so much for picking me up,” Margaret said. “You will never believe the night that I had.”
“Can’t wait to hear all about it,” said Amanda. “We need to make a stop real quick before we get back on the interstate.”
“Hello, Maggie,” said a voice in the back seat. Margaret recognized the voice immediately.
“I picked up Sybill a couple of exits out,” said Amanda. “She lives just down the road.”
Margaret was about to say something when the hitchhiker suddenly lunged forward and grabbed her by the collar. “Not a word, Maggie,” she said poking the barrel of a revolver into Margaret’s ribs. She turned to Amanda. “Drive, pig.”
Tears welled in Amanda’s eyes as she started the car. Sybill ordered her to make a U-turn and directed her down several backstreets, each more derelict than the last. “When I heard we were headed to the bus station I had my suspicions,” Sybill said, “but I never thought I’d be this lucky.” She told Amanda to pull her car into a fenced lot. In the side mirror Margaret watched a man close and lock the gate behind them. Her purse suddenly started buzzing as Jane’s ringtone blared from an inside pocket.
“Shut it off, now!” Sybill screamed. Margaret reached into the purse and clicked off the phone. As she twisted her hand to pull it out, she found her fingers wrapping themselves around a weapon.
Margaret closed her eyes, said a silent prayer, and clutched the roll of quarters tightly in her fist. When she opened her eyes, she looked at Amanda. Amanda was trembling, and tears were streaming down her face.
“Sybill,” sobbed Amanda, “why would you do this? I was trying to help you out.”
“Calm down, Amanda,” said Margaret. In the passenger’s side mirror, she could see the man begin walking toward her side of the car.
“Shut up!” yelled Sybill. She turned her attention to Amanda. “And you shut up too, pig. Maybe you should listen to Mag—”
Sybill stopped mid-sentence as Margaret clipped her under the chin with a fist full of coins. The paper roll tore and quarters exploded from her hand. Sybill’s head snapped back against the seat and the gun went off, blasting a hole through the windshield. Amanda screamed.
“Run, Amanda!” Margaret yelled as she fumbled with her seatbelt. She got the buckle undone and rolled out of her side of the car. The man who had locked the gate froze, then started running toward her. Margaret turned and ran, and out the corner of her eye she could see Amanda running toward a small white building.
Sybill started screaming. “Elvis! Elvis!” The footsteps chasing Margaret stopped. She looked back as she ran and saw the man leaning into the passenger door of Amanda’s car. Ahead of her a small dumpster was lying on its side, its contents spilling out onto the concrete. Margaret jumped over them and slid behind, finding a small hole she could look through.
The man, Elvis, helped Sybill out of the back seat of the car. She put her palm on her forehead, and he put his hands on her shoulders and said something to her. Sybill nodded and the two of them went to the back of the SUV. Margaret looked at the part of the fence closest to her. No holes or gaps were visible.
That’s why they’re not coming after me yet, Margaret thought. There must be no way out.
Margaret looked past the side of the dumpster. A red brick building sat in the middle of the lot. It looked like a forgotten school from long ago. The small, windowless building Amanda had run toward was visible across the schoolyard. Besides the two buildings, there didn’t appear to be anything inside the fence other than Amanda’s SUV and a line of damaged dumpsters. The one that Margaret was hiding behind smelled particularly awful. She could see large bones and entrails mixed with the pile of trash. Margaret imagined that her captors dragged deer or other large roadkill in from the Interstate. Whatever they were bringing home, it appeared they ate well, because she could see enough bones to make several animals.
Margaret looked back through the hole. Elvis must have said something funny because Sybill started laughing. They were dragging two suitcases toward the school. One of them was hers and the breath went out of her as she thought of her large sketchbook locked inside, full of years of ideas. Margaret was startled by Jane’s ringtone again, which she shut off immediately. When she looked back, they both had guns drawn and were slowly making their way toward her side of the school yard.
Elvis and Sybill crept closer to where Margaret was hiding. She crouched low and peered through the hole in the dumpster. The small white building looked to be about a hundred yards away. Margaret waited until her captors were beyond the dumpsters before sneaking out of her hiding spot. Convinced that she was hidden from view, she moved quickly and quietly across the schoolyard.
The silence of the schoolyard heightened Margaret’s senses. Absent were the sounds of traffic and airplanes and people living their lives in the surrounding neighborhood. Even insects weren’t buzzing around. Inside that fence may have been the deadest place on Earth except for the nearly-silent patter of her footsteps.
“There!” Margaret heard Sybill shout from behind, and she burst into a sprint. One shot rang out and she felt a sharp smack against her ribs but didn’t stop running. When she got to the white building she turned the corner and got behind it, breathing heavily from the run. Margaret’s heart was pounding in her ears and she closed her eyes, willing herself to calm down and listen for the sound of footsteps. Her breathing slowed and she heard nothing. No one talking, no one following, no one nearby. She opened her eyes. Amanda wasn’t there.
Margaret’s side ached, like she had been punched in the ribs. “So this is what it’s like to get shot,” she whispered to herself. She slid her hand under her purse and felt her side but there was no wound and her fingers came away clean. From her purse she removed her wallet from her purse, which had a bullet hole clean through, and her phone, in which the bullet had come to rest.
“Maggie Maggie Maaaaaaaggiiiiie,” called Sybill. The sound bounced off every surface and Margaret couldn’t tell what direction it was coming from. A black painted door was on the side of the small building where she was hiding, but when she tried the knob it was locked.
“Amanda, are you in there?” Margaret whispered, gently tapping the door. No response came from inside the building. She looked for a better place to hide. The only other thing on this side of the schoolyard was a run-down playground. She would be completely exposed whenever Elvis and Sybill reappeared. Margaret looked around one corner of the building and saw the two suitcases standing where they had been left between Amanda’s car and the main school building. Around the other corner she saw something she didn’t expect: Dominic’s car was parked along a side of the school that was hidden from the main road.
Staying low to the ground, Margaret crept to the space between Dominic’s car and the school. From there she had a clear view of her suitcase and Amanda’s car. She also saw that door into the school was slightly open. Had Amanda gone through there? There were probably a thousand places to hide inside, but then it would just be a matter of time until she got caught. As Margaret stood to get a better look her purse scraped against the bricks of the school’s interior.
“Is someone out there?” a voice whispered from an open window above her. “Could you help me, please?” The voice was tired and pained, but eerily familiar. Dominic.
Margaret looked over the hood of Dominic’s car. No one was coming. Slowly she stood up and climbed onto the hood. Standing on the car put the windowsill slightly below chest height, allowing Margaret could see into the room.
She was right about the building having been a school. The room was littered with broken desks and chairs, and an old blackboard had been well-vandalized by the local vagrants. She couldn’t see Dominic. Margaret leaned against the windowsill.
“Dominic, is that you?” she asked into the wreckage of the classroom.
“Margaret?” It was Dominic, and his voice took on a more optimistic tone. “Margaret, did you come back for me?”
She hesitated for a few seconds. This all seemed too perfect. First, he wanted to pick up Sybill. Then Sybill came back for Margaret at the bus station. Then all of this craziness with the guns and the locked gate and the abandoned school… it was the perfect set up.
“Nice one, Dominic,” Margaret said. “I thought this was some serious stuff out here, but I’m on to your joke now. I’m sure you’ll have some great blog material. Well played, sir.”
“Margaret, please,” Dominic said, hope slipping from his voice. “Please help me. What they’ve been doing to me… it’s horrible.” She could hear his voice cracking, then he started to sob. Margaret rolled her eyes. He was putting a lot of effort into this prank.
Voices bounced off the walls as Sybill and Elvis approached the corner of the school. Her mind drifted to the bullet lodged in her cell phone. It didn’t add up. Real bullets?
“Your buddies just about killed me out here,” Margaret said. “I’m coming in, and you’d have one hell of an explanation because you’re all going to jail as soon as I can get to a phone.” She tossed her purse through the window and climbed in behind it.
Margaret brushed the dust off of her clothes as she stood. Her eyes took a few seconds to adjust to the darkness inside the classroom, and the first thing she saw were the plates and silverware on a small table nearby. Someone had enjoyed a meal recently. A cutting board was on another table against the wall. A large butcher knife sat on the table next to the cutting board, upon which she saw some meat, and bones, and…a hand?
“Margaret,” Dominic moaned from a corner.
Margaret couldn’t turn around. She didn’t have the courage to actually see what she had already pictured in her imagination. To turn would be to eliminate the possibility that this was a prank, or a dream, or anything that she could banish.
The voices under the window brought her back to her senses.
“I could have sworn I heard her,” said Sybill.
“Must’a gone inside,” said Elvis. “That door right there’s open.” Margaret heard the creak of a door. Her time was running out. She turned to face Dominic and covered her mouth to hold in the scream that would have meant discovery.
He was tied to a table, his face was badly beaten. His left arm was severed at the elbow, the stump tied off with a cloth tourniquet. “Help me… please,” he whispered.
Margaret walked to the table and knelt close to Dominic’s ear. “I’m going for help, okay?” she whispered. “I’ll be back really soon.”
“No, don’t leave me,” begged Dominic, “please. Don’t leave me with them.”
Margaret stood and crept toward the window. She was startled by noise behind her and turned to see Dominic struggling, trying to free himself from the restraints.
“Dominic, stop it,” she said.
“You can’t leave me here!” Dominic cried. One of his feet broke free of the table and he started kicking against the wall. “Margaret!”
Running footsteps echoed through the empty hallway. Margaret climbed through the windowsill as someone fumbled with a set of keys on the other side of the door, which swung open as she jumped out onto the hood of Dominic’s car.
“There she is!” she heard Sybill shout from inside the classroom. She grabbed the driver’s side door handle of Dominic’s car.
Margaret sprinted past the open doorway as someone heavy landed on the hood of the car behind her. As she ran past her suitcase she wished that she could stop to pick it up, but the two loud pops behind helped quicken her steps.
When she reached Amanda’s car she slid in through the still-open driver’s door. The car started Margaret looked behind her and shifting the gears into reverse. Looking at the gate, she realized that she had no idea whether the car could crash through. It always worked in the movies, but in real life?
As she turned back toward the windshield she saw something that the car would crash through effortlessly. Margaret shifted the car into drive.
Elvis stopped running and lifted his handgun. She was in his sights.
The car suddenly lurched forward as Margaret pressed the pedal to the floor, making him hesitate for less than a second.
That was all she needed.
The car plowed into Elvis, sending his body across the hood and his face smashing through the glass. Margaret didn’t let up on the gas until the car slammed into the school building throwing Margaret into an airbag and Elvis against a brick wall.
Margaret didn’t know how long she had been unconscious, or if she had been out at all. A terrible headache was stealing her ability to focus and when she tried to move her shoulder burned. It took a moment, but she realized where she was and staggered out of the car.
Elvis was in a crumpled heap on the hood of the car. A bloody splatter on the side of the school made Margaret confident that he wasn’t going to be getting up. She looked behind the car and saw his gun lying on the ground about thirty feet back. She picked up the gun and kept it pointed in front of her as she entered the school. Moving slowly and deliberately, she soon arrived at the door where Dominic was being held.
Sybill was leaning out of the window. Margaret kept her in the gun’s sights as she approached, and when she was close enough to touch she saw that Sybill’s skull had been cleaved open from behind.
“Margaret,” a weak voice said from behind her. She turned to see Dominic sitting against one of the broken desks, the butcher knife on the floor beside him. The tourniquet had slipped partially and blood was oozing from the stump. “I got her.”
Margaret took Dominic’s remaining hand and tried to help him up. “No,” he said, “there’s another one. Her brother.”
“He’s done,” she said as she dragged him to his feet.
Dominic smiled. “We make a good team,” he said as the pair stumbled forward and out of the classroom.
* * *
By the end of the summer, requests for interviews were finally starting to die down. Margaret was happy to have a few days of rest before returning to Savannah in her own car.
“I’d better not hear about you picking up any hitchhikers on your way to school,” her father said, “or this car is going back to the dealership.”
“Aside from Dominic, I’m not looking for company,” she replied.
It had taken a couple of months but Dominic had begun to accept life with one hand. He and Margaret kept in close contact, especially when the national news channels descended, asking for their sides of the bizarre story. They had decided early on to present a united front and only interviewed together.
Amanda hadn’t spoken to the press, or anyone else, since Jacksonville. Margaret had found her in a classroom down the hall, frozen in place with her hands over her mouth. The state of the couple that she had stumbled upon was horrifying and had forced Amanda into contemplative silence. She would not be making the trip back to Savannah anytime soon.
Margaret’s phone rang. “Have you gotten the chance to read my new post?” Dominic asked.
“I told you,” Margaret replied, “I’m not reading your blog anymore.”
“You need to!” Dominic said. “It’s all about how amazing you are!”
“I’ll pick you up in thirty minutes,” she said, ignoring his pleas. “Make sure you’re ready.”
“Yeah, I’ll see you then,” Dominic said, sounding deflated. Margaret hung up and her parents helped her finish loading her car. She pulled out of her driveway thinking of the days ahead, days that would be spent bringing drawings to life on the light table that was waiting for her at school. She had years of ideas in her sketchbook, and although some of the drawings had been ruined by a couple of bullet holes, she wasn’t concerned about a shortage of material.
Her nightmares provided plenty of inspiration.
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