By Don Lorah
The school was built like a penitentiary warding off the encroaching suburbia.
“Think they built the school first or neighborhood?” Courtney asked.
Tomas jumped, “What?”
Courtney pointed towards the school, “Do you think they built the school first or the neighborhood that surrounds it?”
“Does it matter?”
“No. But you’ve been quiet the whole way here and I thought I’d try a little conversation.”
I did try conversation, Tomas thought, I asked where you got the car. I asked if you were sixteen. I asked if you had a driver’s license. I asked why we were riding the bus when you had access to a car. You’re the one who didn’t answer.
Courtney read Tomas’ thoughts, “We’ll talk about it later.” She parked next to a fire hydrant.
“You’re gonna get towed.”
“It’s the middle of the night. Who’s gonna know?”
Tomas shook his head before exiting the car, “You don’t know these people.”
Tomas surveyed the school and the surrounding houses. He couldn’t pinpoint where exactly, but he had a feeling someone was watching them.
“What do you see?” Courtney searched her bag for a ski mask. She handed one to Tomas.
“I’m not putting that on.”
“Because that makes us look guilty. So far we haven’t done anything.” Tomas pointed to the car, “Except park illegally. You put that on and we’re juvenile delinquents.” He paused, “Right now, we’re just high school kids looking to get to second base.”
“I heard you keep getting called out at first base,” Courtney laughed.
Tomas’ cheeks burned, “Let’s get this over with.” He started towards the school without Courtney.
Courtney followed, “Hey, I was just kidding. Don’t be mad.”
Tomas waved her off.
She grabbed his hand, “Hey, I really was just kidding.” She searched his eyes for understanding.
Tomas relented, allowing for reconciliation. But inside he dumped another shovel of dirt on ever growing expansion of feelings.
As they crossed the teacher’s parking lot, Courtney asked, “Do you know how to get in this place?”
“Mr. Grasis has a window that doesn’t lock. We should be able to open it from the outside and climb in.”
“How do you know he has a window that doesn’t lock?”
“Rumor is, a student broke it when they jumped out of it. Mr. Grasis tried following the kid out the window, but he didn’t fit.”
“Were you the student?”
Tomas looked at Courtney, “Believe it or not, but I’m not the worst kid at this school.”
Courtney held up her hands in defense, “Again. Just kidding.”
Tomas felt along the bottom ledge of the school wall, “There it is.”
Courtney used the flashlight on her phone to see he was holding a worn screwdriver with a black and yellow handle. “What’s that for?”
“To pry open the window. We need a little leverage to get it started.”
She raised her eyebrows towards him, “You sure you weren’t the one to jump out the window?”
“Nope. Wasn’t me. But I am the one who realized the window no longer locks.”
“How did you do that?”
“You don’t want to know. Plead ignorant in case we get caught.”
Courtney grinned as Tomas placed the screwdriver at the base of the window. With a curse and a grunt, the window edged up enough they could place their fingers underneath. Two seconds later Tomas was pushing Courtney through the first-floor window.
“What should we do?” Courtney asked, surveying the room.
“Go to my locker and get Red.”
“No, I mean, what prank should we play on Mr.Grasis. You know, to get back at him for picking on you in the hallway.”
Tomas stopped at the door, “It doesn’t work that way. You don’t get back at bullies by being a bully yourself. This isn’t a high school comedy.” Tomas exited the room.
Courtney pushed a pile of papers off Mr. Grasis desk into the trash can. She stuck her tongue out at Tomas.
“Make sure the door doesn’t close,” Tomas called to Courtney.
Courtney looked around for something to prop the door open with. Not finding a door stopper, she drug over a desk.
“Good enough?” she asked.
Tomas shook his head, “Good enough.”
Lucky for them, Tomas’ locker was only a hallway away. Their steps dimly illuminated by the emergency lights above them. Tomas reached out along the wall like a blind person. Courtney walked the center of the hall as if she could see in the dark.
As they passed the art room, they felt a presence peering at them in the dark.
“Those masks are creeping me out,” Courtney said.
“Well, the blue on, with the horns, has been tracking us since we turned the corner. So, yeah, I’d say, they’re creeping me out too.”
“They’re watching us?”
“How can papier-mache masks track us?”
“We broke into school, to rescue a talking bookbag, from the dark, and you’re surprised?”
You two done talking French out there, Red’s familiar sarcasm coming from within the locker.
Tomas spun the numbers. The tumblers fell into place. He opened it on the first try, “Didn’t think I’d be able to do that. Usually takes me two or three times.” He grabbed Red, “Good to see you buddy.”
They heard tape peeling away from the wall. All three turned to see masks falling to the floor.
I am so mad at you, but right now, we need to get out of here fast.
Courtney tapped Tomas on the shoulder. He turned. Courtney was too stunned to speak. The masks were now floating at the other end of the hallway.
Gotta run, man!
“Are we really afraid of paper masks?”
The blue mask with horns let out a primal scream not heard since the creation of the earth.
Courtney covered her ears. Red jumped out of Tomas’ hands and started scooting away. The blue mask led the charge after them. Tomas jumped into gear, grabbing Red off the floor. He led Courtney towards the Tech Ed Center.
“Figures,” Tomas joked.
“I’m the one who made the blue mask for art. It was an extra credit assignment.”
Such the overachiever.
Courtney and Tomas pulled on doors, looking for one that was unlocked. 20 masks of different colors barreled down on them. At the last second, they found a door that would open.
“That was lucky,” Courtney said.
They watched the masks float on the other side of the glass.
“Think we’re safe?” Courtney breathed.
In answer to her question, the masks flew into the large classroom window smashing through with ease. Tomas and Courtney shielded themselves from the flying glass.
“How in the world does paper beat glass?” Tomas asked.
I don’t know. No hands. Don’t play a lot of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
Tomas ignored Red. He looked around for a weapon. On a back bench, he found a wrench. “Look out,” he warned Courtney. She ducked, so did the blue mask. But an orange and red mask took the wrench right in the face.
But the orange and red mask wasn’t affected. It took the blow easily. Courtney tried as well. She threw a tray of sockets at other masks. Nothing they threw did any damage. The masks loomed forward.
Get to the cafeteria. You need water to defeat these things.
“What?” Tomas asked.
Don’t argue. I’m gonna buy you a few seconds.
Before Tomas could ask, “What”, again, Red started to glow. The masks back up momentarily as Red turned into a bright orb of light. Before the masks could regroup, Red discharged his buildup of light, stunning the masks, causing them to fall.
Tomas stood stunned watching Red transform back into an ordinary bookbag.
Courtney grabbed his arm, “Come on. They’re only stunned. We need to get to the cafeteria.
They ran like cats, trusting their senses more than seeing what was in front of them. A lifetime of hallway navigation had prepared them for a darken flight through the school building.
The masks followed.
Luckily the cafeteria couldn’t be locked down like other rooms in the school. Tomas and Courtney rushed past folded tables towards the kitchen area.
“The sinks are over here,” Courtney called out.
Tomas rushed over, “Okay, now what?”
“We’ve got to spray them with water?”
“How? Cup it in our hands?”
“We can use bowls or something.”
“So, we need to find bowls.”
They started looking.
“How’s Red?” Courtney asked.
“I don’t know. He’s not moving. I think the pulse thing, he did, knocked him out.”
“I hope not for good.”
“Yeah, me too.” Tomas didn’t want to think about losing his only friend. An emotion tried to bubble its way into his throat, but he swallowed hard to ignore it.
“Found one!” Courtney shouted.
Out of the dark, several masks, led by Tomas’ blue one leapt from the shadows, snatching Red out of his hand.
He tried to pull Red back, but the masks snapped at him. Several held him at bay, while others started ripping at Red’s outsides.
Courtney filled a bowl, “Here.” She threw the water into the dark, “I can’t see. Did I get one?”
“I don’t know.”
“We need light.”
“I got it.” Tomas rushed over to the stainless-steel fridges lining the far way. He flung open their doors filling the room with light. They witnessed one drowned mask, but several otherswere tearing small holes into Red’s sides. Courtney continued to refill the bowl.
“Filthy beasts,” Tomas called out. He threw a container of carrots at one of the masks. A direct hit, it knocked a green mask back but not out. Courtney threw another bowl full of water on the masks. She took several out but was too far away to hit the horde chewing on Red.
Tomas searched the refrigerators for more ammunition. He assaulted the masks with every fruit and vegetable he could find. Courtney kept launching volleys of water, but couldn’t connect with Red’s main attackers.
“We need more water,” Tomas could hear the desperation in his own voice. Red lay like a slaughtered elk ravaged by a hungry pride.
“Duh, why didn’t I see this before.” Courtney reached out for the industrial strength spray nozzle attached to the sink. She pushed the lever sending a torrent of water across the kitchen. Everything in her path was soaked.
One by one, all the masks dropped or were shredded from Courtney’s onslaught.
“And to think I almost failed Home Ec,” she joked.
Tomas rushed to Red’s side. He pushed off the dissolving masks with disgust. Against, Red’s earlier wishes, he poked his fingers through the chewed holes. “Something’s wrong.”
“Of course, Red just got the crapped kicked out of him,” Courtney offered.
“No. It’s more than that,” Tomas unzipped Red. He reached inside. “There’s nothing in here.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, there’s nothing in here. No crystals. Nothing.”
Tomas started searching the floor, “They must have fallen out.”
“Do you think that’s what the masks were searching for?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on. But this is my fault. I shouldn’t have left him alone.” Tomas started to cry, “He told me, not to leave him alone. He told me not to leave him in the dark. I’m supposed to be his friend. I’m supposed to be there for him. I’ve killed him.”
Courtney kneeled down beside Tomas, “Calm down.” She placed a hand on his shoulder, “Let’s try to find the crystals and see if we can make Red better okay?”
Tomas wiped at his tears. He was too emotional, at the moment, to care how fragile he was in front of Courtney. “Okay.”
“You said the crystals were pink?”
“I don’t see any pink ones. Here’s a black one? Could this be it.”
“I don’t know,” Tomas was panicking, “Just grab it all. We can sort it out later.”
Tomas and Courtney rounded up everything on the floor. Black crystals, fruits and vegetables were stuffed back into Red. When they thought, they had everything, they made for the exit.
“How close are we to Mr. Grasis room?” Courtney asked.
“Forget Mr. Grasis,” Tomas said hitting the nearest exit door, triggering the silent alarm.
They drove back to Tomas’ house in silence. Tomas was too worried about Red to care if he woke his mother when he got home. He didn’t even have the strength to send Courtney away. He collapsed on his bed, with Red in his arms. Courtney curled up on Tomas’ couch.
All three slept till morning.
It was Red who woke them.
Can someone tell me why my insides are stuffed with carrots.
He spat one across the room.
Tomas woke up immediately, “Red. You’re alive.” Tomas jumped off the bed. Red was sitting at Courtney’s feet, on the couch. Tomas bear hugged him. His exuberance woke up Courtney.
Not in front of the lady, huh? It’s bad enough you cried all night.
“How did you know?” Tomas asked backing away.
You cried in your sleep
“I cried in my sleep?”
What are you a parrot? Yeah, you cried. You talked. You danced. You painted the Mona Lisa.
Red shook his duffeled shoulders.
Who patched me up?
Tomas looked to see fresh stitching closing the holes the masks had created.
“I did,” Courtney said, wiping the sleep out of her eyes. “I woke up around five. Couldn’t sleep. You still weren’t back with us, so I thought I’d see if I could help.”
Red touched at the stitching.
Good job. I wouldn’t be here, if you hadn’t of done that.
“So, what’s the story?” Tomas aksed.
The story? The story is you left me alone in a locker. You did the two things I told you not to do. You left me alone and you left me in the dark.
“And I’m really sorry about that. I was mad. You know they suspended me because of you.”
Don’t turn this around on me. We could have taken care of things a long time ago, but you didn’t want to.
“Yeah, it’s my fault. I got it. Glad I rescued you last night.”
You wanna go? Step up my friend. I grew up on the wrong side of the factory, homeboy. You don’t mess with assembly line 62.
“Gentlemen, calm down. We’re all on the same side here.”
Tomas and Red looked away. Downstairs they could hear the house was alive with morning rituals. People were moving robotically, preparing for the day’s activities.
“Is it alright I’m up here? Your mom isn’t going to come up and yell at me or anything, is she?”
“I’m suspended. Mom won’t come up. She’ll leave a chore list on the kitchen counter. It don’t matter if I get up at 2 am or 2 pm, as long as the list gets done.”
They sat in silence, listening till the house was quiet.
“You never did answer my question,” Tomas addressed Red.
“What’s going on? How are you alive? Why were those masks after you? How did my papier-mâché mask come alive? Why were your crystals black instead of pink? Why can’t you be in the dark?” Tomas took a breath.
Is that all? That was more than one question.
“Let’s start with those and go from there.” Tomas folded his arms.
I am sorry for yelling at you. I really don’t like the dark. I was really scared. I’m glad you came back for me though.
I can’t go home till my crystals are violet.
“Why violet? Where’s home?”
Why does grape soda taste like throw-up? Things are because they are. Home is where I hang my hat.
“Those are crappy answers.”
That’s all I got.
“Okay. So how do we get your crystals violet?”
You trying to get rid of me?
Red laughed. Tomas didn’t.
I need you to calm down. We’re in big trouble. Black crystals mean, I was technically dead.
Tomas registered surprise, but didn’t say anything.
“So, how are you here now, then?” Courtney asked.
I guess that has something to do with you, but I’m not sure what that means, just yet.
Tomas glared at Courtney.
“I don’t know. I just sewed him up,” Courtney defended.
“Yeah, but you were also the one who begged me to go get him,” Tomas shot back.
“Is that what you did. You broke into the school, to get your bookbag back.”
All three turned to see Kay had walked into the room.
“Mom?” Tomas said, “Good morning.” He tried to recover.
“Don’t, ‘Good Morning’, me. Guess who I just had a conversation with?” Kay stood with her hands on her hips.
Tomas looked at Courtney.
“Don’t look at her. I’ll deal with the fact that this girl slept in your room last night, in a minute. Answer me. Who did I just get off the phone with?”
Tomas racked his brain for the answer.
The principal. You were in the school last night.
Kay saw the answer flash across Tomas’ face, “That’s right, smart guy, the principal. Seems you vandalized the school last night.”
Tomas thought back to previous night. He wouldn’t call water on the floor, vandalism, but schools were institutions of zero tolerance, nowadays. Thank God, kids were sent there to make mistakes and learn.
“Mom, I can explain.”
She held up a hand, “I don’t want to hear it. You’ve decided to throw your life away. And it’s starting to affect mine. Instead of getting my stuff done, I have to go down to the school and deal with your shit. You want to be a smartass or psychopath go ahead. But you’re not dragging me down with you. Got it.”
“I’m sorry?” Kay asked with her hand to her ear.
“Yes, ma’am. I’ve got it.”
Kay waved a finger at Courtney, “Honey, if you want to see your next birthday, I better not find you here again. You understand me?”
Courtney didn’t answer. She slinked out of the room. Tomas and Kay listened as Courtney descended the steps and left the house, the screen door slammed shut behind her.
“I’ll be in the truck,” Kay cursed as she left the room.
That could have gone better.
Tomas’ day was only getting started.
Bookbag Boy (Part 2)