The Sketchbook

This is the story from which I draw my Blog’s name.  It inspired me to follow it with a full book which continues this story.  It was an attempt at horror, but in that realm I think it fails.  Now It seems more like Call of Cthulhu meets Carrie or Fire Starter. Still, it has launched me into a world of Nepritel gods and obsessed cult members which, while barely touched on here, are being fully developed in the book: The Sketchbook: Ink and Tear’s.

Before you can get to those dark gods though, you need to start here:

The Sketchbook

By Marc Housley

Copyright 2008

Jamie had left her sketch book on the table.  She never left the sketch book behind.  The dark leather bound book was her obsession, and no one had ever seen her without it.  She sat through class after class doodling in it.  But, there it was, still on the desk while she had hurried out of the room to the bathroom.

The three girls who sat around her in the tenth grade English class exchanged glances.

“She left her book?” asked Sarah, the pretty brunet in the mini skirt and halter top that sat in front of Jamie,  “the freak carries that book around like it’s an appendage.”

“Let’s see what she spends all her time drawing,” said Tiffany. The two other girls nodded agreement.

Tiffany reached out to open the book, and an excitement passed through her like the first time she had shoplifted.   Seeing what Jamie drew would be like stealing a secret no money could buy.

Tiffany gently took hold of the cover. The leather was warm and soft to the touch.  She slowly lifted the cover to see what images illustrated the thick drawing paper within, then she screamed and jumped backwards. The cover fell closed.  A trickle of blood ran down her finger. She stuck her bleeding finger in her mouth while she grabbed a tissue off the table. She tasted iron and her finger burned.

“Whatever is the ruckus Tiffany?”  The teacher, Ms. Smith, asked Tiffany, who was staring at the book.

Removing her finger from her mouth she wrapped it in the Kleenex, and blood soaked through the white cloth.

“The book bit me!” she yelled.

The class erupted in laughter.

“That is what you get for snooping in someone else’s stuff! It is just a paper cut, stop your hysterics, I will call the nurse and let her know you are coming,” Ms.  Smith said.    The teacher picked up the phone, while the class murmured, and Tiffany still stared at the book.

“What did you see?” Sue asked Sarah in a terse whisper, “The cover blocked my view.”

“Nothing… I saw nothing,” Sarah said, “the page was completely blank.”

“Maybe she draws on the other pages and just left that one blank,” said Sue.

“Maybe, but I am not going to look.  You go ahead and open it if you want,” Tiffany said, anger and disgust apparent in her voice.

Sue shook her head emphatically. “That girl is a freak, I don’t want to sit near her, never mind touch her stuff,” Sue said.

“Now girls,” Ms. Smith said startling the two.  She had approached silently while the girls talked, “You three pick on Jamie way too much. Sure, she is not like you, but that is no reason to insult her, and you three are all together rude, and even cruel.  If I catch it again, I will give you all a detention.  For now you owe me a one page assignment on a person’s right to privacy.  It is due tomorrow, along with the rest of your homework.  If I don’t get it, you get the detention.”

The girls groaned.

“But Ms. Smith, the girl is strange,” Sue said.

“And she smells, and I have seen bugs on her!” Sarah said with dismay and disgust in her voice. The class laughed.

“The girl is a witch, and should be burned at the stake like her ancestors,” said Tiffany.

“Now Tiffany, That’s enough from you,” Ms. Smith said angrily, “you reject everyone, and every idea, that does not fit into your small mind.  You are the ring leader of this group, and so you owe me a two page report, and if I see you mess with Jamie again, I will call your parents as well as give you a detention,” Ms Smith said harshly, “Now go to the nurse to get a bandage for your finger before you bleed everywhere.”

Ms. Smith turned to the front of the class, and walked back to the white board where she had been writing out the students’ comments about To Kill a Mockingbird.

Tiffany left the class on the way to the nurse, holding her bleeding hand like it had been cut off and she was in shock.   Her thin, strong legs carried her angry stride down the hallway, her shoes clapping against the tile floor, the sound echoing through the almost empty corridor.

As she approached the bathroom door a girl stepped out.  She was wearing long black, wide-legged jeans,  a black hooded sweatshirt, and dark boots, all of which looked like it was bought from a second hand store.  Her hair was wavy, about shoulder length, and it was black with a tint of purple.  Her lipstick was dark purple, and her fingernails were all different shades of purple.  She was short which made the bulky clothing give her a  pudgy appearance, but she wasn’t fat.   Her face could be cute, except for the downtrodden scowl present on it at all times, and it not been concealed by her long bangs.   She walked softly, silently, and without any exuberance.

“Bitch,” Tiffany spat as she approached.  Jamie did not even look at the blond speeding past, but she did notice the bloody bandage. Tiffany stepped in front of Jamie, stopping her.

“Your book bit me, you freak,” Tiffany said.  Jamie looked around, seeming surprised at the mention of her book.  Realizing that she had left it in the classroom, a panicked expression crossed her face, and she pushed past Tiffany toward the classroom.

“Hey, what the hell.  Get back here,” Tiffany said, but as she started after Jamie, she tripped on the shoelace of her other shoe and fell to her hands and knees.  Some guys down the hall laughed, causing Tiffany to get red in the face from embarrassment.

“Oh, that’s it, that is the last time I get humiliated by a goth punk,” she whispered to herself.

Tiffany went to tie her shoe, wondering how she would tie it with her pointer finger bleeding.  Then she realized that the shoelace had not simply come untied, it had snapped.  She held the frayed ends, still trying to keep the bandage on her bleeding finger.

“Oh, this is great,” Tiffany said, sarcasm dripping in her angry voice, “how the hell am I going to fix that?”

She carefully walked to the nurse’s office, her laces flopping with each step.

“Let me see your finger,” the nurse, Mrs. Newman, said.  She was short, with a round face, which was begging to show signs of age in the wrinkles around her eyes and off the corner of her lips.  Her wavy hair was poorly tinted black to cover her gray.   She was always cheerful and seemed to be able to remember every student who had ever gone through the school.   Her presence here seemed as much a standing part of the school as the rusting bleachers, the squeaky lockers, and the archaic address system with its static-squelching speakers.

“How did you say you got this?” Mrs. Newman asked.

“Paper cut,” Tiffany said, no longer deeming it wise to say a book bit her finger.

“Funny, this does not look like a paper-cut at all,” Mrs. Newman said, looking at Tiffany skeptically, “There is a jagged piece missing. Are you sure it was not caught on a piece of metal?”

“Um, yeah, maybe,” Tiffany said, “I might have caught it on something sharp on the desk.”

Mrs. Newman sterilized it, and bandaged it using layers of gauze and tape.

            “Ok, Tiffany, that should be fine.  It may take a while to stop bleeding though.  I want you to stop in after lunch so I can take a look at it again.  Here is a pass,” Mrs. Newman said, handing over the yellow slip of paper.

Everyone was staring at her silently as Jamie entered class. She slunk into her seat and pulled the drawing book to her chest. She lowered her head so her hair hung in front of her face.

“Jamie, we need to speak after class,” Ms. Smith said.

“Yes, Ms. Smith,” Jamie replied, not looking up.

“Jamie, would you please put that book away and take out your homework,” Ms. Smith asked, “This is English class, not art.  You have plenty of time to draw later.”

Jamie slowly put the book into the dark green canvas army document bag that she carried as a book bag.   The drawing book took up most of the bag, making it very unlikely she had brought any of her reading books or homework with her.

Ms. Smith continued the line of inquisition she had started before Jamie had returned, again dragging out answers from the class like a carpenter pulls nails from an unyielding board.  Smarter students raised their hands, bringing up intelligent answers as if they were the first to think them, not realizing that every class before had someone make the same connection.

After class Jamie sat at her seat while everyone else got up.  The room emptied as happy chatting students fled into the hall, only to join the crush of students outside either hurrying to their next class, or attempting to get in four minutes of socialization before they would rush to class late.

Ms. Smith stood in front of Jamie, and comfortably sat against a desk.

“Jamie, I am worried about you.  I know things are hard for you at home right now, but you are not using any of your potential.  You were an honor student in middle school, and now you are doing everything you can to barely pass. I have seen it in your tests.  Seven out of ten questions you answer perfectly, showing a complete understanding of the subject matter.  One question you muddle through, then the other two your fail completely.  Perfect C. It has to take you more effort to get a C than it would for you to get an A.”

Jamie shrugged, “The reading materials suck.  I read To Kill a Mockingbird in 5th grade and hated it,” Jamie said, looking over the books on Ms. Smith’s wall, “I despise John Steinbeck, and think East of Eden is a waste of paper.  Huckleberry Fin could have been a good book, had Mark Twain figured out how to end it.  And if I have to sit through another class on the holocaust, Nazis, or Ann Frank’s sexuality I think I will puke.”

Ms. Smith did not know what to say, so she said nothing for a moment. She watched a small spider crawl off Jamie’s desk, and tried to think of what she was going to say next.  After some thought filled silence, she said, “You have strong opinions, Jamie, I just wish you would use your mind for something more productive instead of limiting your future by sacrificing your grades.  You don’t have to like what I assign, you can hate it, and write all the reasons why, but you are wasting you intelligence by doing nothing.”

Again Jamie shrugged.  Students had started to filter into the classroom.

“I will give you a pass to your next class,” Ms. Smith said.

“No need– it’s just lunch, and they never check passes,” Jamie said, already through the door, the drawing book already out of the bag and clutched to her chest as she walked into the hall.

Mike, John and Ken were looking at the new kid.  He sat in the back corner of the lunch room at a table by himself.  He was thin, short, and scrawny.  His tightly curled blond hair was neatly combed, but still seemed to have a life of its own as it seemed as thick as sheep’s wool. He was dressed in khaki pants and a lose sweater.  His style of dress was something in-between a prepy kid who had failed to stay up with the fashion, to a nerd who had older brothers who almost got him to dress in style.  But, there was something strange about the way the kid acted.  He had no friends, and did not seem to care.

“When did that new kid get here?” asked Mike, while shifting through the school lunch with his fork.  The mac-and-cheese had congealed to one uniform texture and consistency.  It was not quite the shade of yellow that cheese should be.

“He got here about a week ago, I think,” said John, “his dad drops him off at school every morning in a big black SUV as if he was from the FBI.”

“Maybe he is,” said Ken, “Maybe his family was mobsters or something, and now they are under witness protection, so they shipped him out to a rural school in the middle of nowhere important.”

Mike laughed, “Yeah, maybe his last name is “Soprano.’”

“Yes, I would beat him up, but I bet I would be given concrete shoes by morning,” said Ken.  Ken continued in a deep authoritative voice, “Ken, We’re here to make you an offer you can’t refuse.  ‘PSSST.’ Silenced bullet to my head,” Ken said, making a gun with his fingers and the “PSST” sound of it firing.

“Yeah, I would stay away from him, there is something not right about him,” said John, “I mean, does anyone even know where he lives?  Where did he move from?  What is his name?”

“His name is Alex, or something, he says it with an accent,” said Ken, “the teacher introduced him in my math class, said he had moved to the US from Scotland, I think.”

Alex was eating a sandwich he had brought from home.  He was reading a bible, the book’s black leather cover was worn from long use. It was a large tomb, with “Holy Bible” written in large, flowing golden letters down its spine.  The lettering had started to flake off, indicating they had been inlaid with real gold.

“It looks like he is religious,” said John.

“Yeah, he had that book with him in class all last week,” said Ken, “but he rarely reads it.  I think it has some sentimental value. He does not come across as that religious in person, unlike some of the kids around here.”

“Well, he is not shy about it carrying that book around,” said John.

“Another reason not the beat him up, he might be in good with the almighty as well as an ex-member of the mob: then you will have to watch out for lightning bolts as well as silencers,” said Ken,  “but, being Scottish, I guess he is in not in with the mob.”

“He still could be,” John said, “didn’t you see that mob movie in Boston where they were killing people, what was its name.  Um, The Departed, that was it.”

The Departed was Irish,” said Ken.

“Eh, whatever, they are all from the same area,” John said.

At the opposite end of the room sat Jamie.  She also had a sandwich she had brought from home; a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  She sat at her table nibbling on the sandwich while she drew pictures in the big book in front of her.  No one sat at her table.  Even the other goth kids ignored her, and she ignored them.   She kept casting glances across the room at the new boy sitting near the windows.

Ken’s attention to Jamie was broken when John spoke up, “It looks like someone is in trouble.”

“Why?” asked Ken, his mouth full of mushy mac and cheese.

“I just saw the Principal, Ms. Smith, and a police officer walk past,” John said, looking out the twin doors at the end of the cafeteria.

“I am going to go find out what is up,” said John, “if I am not back by the end of lunch, I will see you guys after school.”

John walked over to the cafeteria monitor.  It was Mr. Jones, the social studies teacher.  The balding thin man still wore clothing that looked like he should be an engineer for one of the Apollo missions to the moon.

“Can I have a pass, Mr. Jones?”  John asked.  Mr. Jones handed him a blue slip of paper with a toilet bowl image printed on it.

“Thank you, Mr. Jones,” John said, and exited the double doors.  He checked to see if Mr. Jones was looking.  Mr. Jones’ head was buried in a pile of students’ homework assignments.  John then turned left following the direction the Principal had gone, instead of going to the right towards the bathroom.

He rounded the hallway, and did not see anyone.  Quickly he strode through the hallway, and as he passed the door to Ms. Smith’s room he heard voices.

“The door was locked the entire time, I am sure of it,” It was Ms. Smith speaking.

“Are you sure, Mr. Smith?” the police officer said, being either overly thorough or an idiot, John was not sure which.

“Yes. I had to unlock it when I came in,” Ms. Smith said.

John went to a locker near the door and stood with his hand rotating the combination lock slowly so if someone rounded one of the hall’s corners they would think that was unlocking his locker.  He continued listening to the conversation.

“Besides, I was only gone 10 minutes,” Ms. Smith said.

“Mam, it would take a dozen children well over an hour to tear all these books into confetti sized pieces,” the police officer said, “they even shredded the hard covers.”

“Is anything else missing?” asked the Principal.

“No, I checked my purse, all my money and credit cards are still there,” Ms. Smith said.

“Ms. Smith, I think someone played a practical joke on you,” said the police officer, “since they could not have actually shredded your books in that short a time period they must have carried the originals away, and dumped already shredded books in their place. Ask around and see if a few students were seen carrying boxes during this period.  But, I bet the culprits will return the books in time.”

“Ms. Smith, please write up an incident report for me, along with a list of all the books that are missing,” the Principal said.

Sensing the conversation coming to a close, John stopped twirling the lock, and went down the hallway to the next bathroom.   He entered a stall, and pretended to be using it. “Wow.  Someone started the pranks early this year.  I can’t wait to hear how that one was pulled off,” he thought to himself.

The students on the bus ride home were gossiping about the fact that Ms. Smith’s books were torn up.  Each student seemed to have a different story or opinion on how it was accomplished.

“I bet they snuck in through the window and brought in a shredder,” said one boy.

“They could have done it with a pair of scissors,” said a girl.

The bus stopped at the three story apartment building.  It was on the last street in the town, before the road disappeared into the rows of corn to traverse the grid work of roads that connected the various farms in the countryside.   The girl in black, sitting behind the bus driver, quietly exited the bus and walked up the sidewalk to the apartment building’s entrance.  The bus’ doors closed, and it continued on its way to deliver home the various denizens of the farms beyond.

The front door creaked, and Frank looked over from the couch where he was drinking a beer and watching baseball.

“Jamie is home,” He said, tossing his head toward the back room as if he could propel the words faster that way.

Jamie walked in, and immediately went to the fridge.  She grabbed a soda from it, and popped the top.

“Jamie, aren’t you supposed to be on a diet,” Jamie’s mother said as she came out of the back bedroom.  She was tall, thin, with long wavy blond hair puffed out to the sides.  Her make-up was on thick, giving her face a chalky texture.

“You are the one who wants me to lose weight, I am happy as I am,” said Jamie.

“But you want to get a boyfriend, right?” her mom asked.

“Yeah, Jamie, your mom is 40, and she is in better shape than you,” said Frank, still watching the game.

“Yeah, and look at the type of guys she’s ended up with,” Jamie said, “I see you didn’t work again today, Frank.”

“I work enough to put food on the table,” said Frank, “which you eat more than your fair share of.”

“Mom, ditch the looser,” said Jamie, as she went down the hall to her room.

“Don’t you talk to Frank like that,” Jamie’s mom said, turning on her heels.

“You need to learn some respect!” shouted Frank, “If you were my kid I would teach you to show respect.” Franks voice was threatening and angry.

Jamie calmly kept walking to her room, “Frank, if I had a washed-up, crack-addict father like you I would kill myself just to rid the world of your gene pool.”

Frank’s reply was lost in the doors slamming, and the blare of the stereo, which Jamie turned on the second she entered her room.  The two adults were left shouting out a closed door.

Jamie’s mom screamed, and started stomping on the floor.

“Damn it, Frank, I thought you said you sprayed for these damned cockroaches!” Jamie’s mom yelled, still stomping as the dark shapes scurried under the cabinets.

“I did, but I have not seen any bugs, living or dead,” Frank replied.

“Well, they are here.  I just saw a bunch run under the counter.”

Frank came over and bent down to look. “I don’t see anything.”

“There is one! It just ran over your shoe!” Jamie’s mom shouted again.  Frank did not feel anything on his leg, and lifting his pant leg, he saw nothing there either.

“There is nothing here, woman,” he said.  The TV had erupted in cheers and applause.

“Damn.  They just scored again, and I missed it,” Frank said, “I am heading back to my place, I can’t even relax here with the two of you in hysterics.”

Frank grabbed his jacket and exited in a hurry.  His apartment was 10 minutes away, and he did not want to miss more of the game.  His slamming the pick-up truck’s door rattled the apartment building’s windows.  The old blue and gray Chevy’s diesel engine roared to life, and spewed out a cloud of oily smoke.

He turned on the radio.  “Johnson has rounded second, he is on his way to third, but Collins has the ball. Collin’s has tagged Johnson out ending Johnson’s dramatic slide into third.  It is now two outs, one man on first.”

The traffic light ahead of him was red, and he slowed, hoping it would turn green again before he had to stop.   The light was still red, and he pulled to a stop as a series of cattle trucks rumbled through the intersection.   Reaching into the pocket of his jacked he pulled out a small plastic bag.  Dipping a finger into the white powder contained inside he lifted a fingertip full to his nose and snorted.

He let his head rest against the headrest, his eyes closed.  He listened to the cattle trucks still rumbling past in front of him and let the cocaine start to do its thing.

When he looked up the light had turned green, and he floored the truck’s gas pedal.  Its big thick wheels spun, then the truck lunged forward, its back end fish-tailing under the acceleration.

The radio station was getting filled with static, so he reached to alter the channel a bit to get the signal clearer.  The old truck still had a dial radio, not even a digital. He looked at the dial and caught a glimpse of a bug running around the side of his hand.  Looking at his hand he saw nothing, he turned the hand over, and still saw nothing.  Then he turned it again, and this time he caught a glimpse of a black body with long spindly legs running around the edge of his palm.   He slapped at it and then looked at the spot.  The bug was gone, but as he went to put his other hand on the steering wheel he saw it.  It was on the palm of his hand, it must have stuck there as he slapped it.

The bug wasn’t squished.  As a matter of fact, it seemed like it was laughing at him.  The little body was convulsing, and he could have sworn it was looking him in the eye.  No sound was made, but he could tell the damn bug was laughing.   He slapped his hands together trying to squish it.

The bug did not move, and both hands slammed into each other with enough force that his fingers and palms hurt from the impact.

“Ha, gotcha you little bugger,” he said.

Opening his hand he saw the bug, still looking at him and laughing.  Then he saw his other palm, and his eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped.  The exact same bug was on that palm, too.  It was laughing at him along with the first one, and now he was sure they did not have bug faces, but human ones; like grotesquely animated theater masks convulsing with laughter.

Frank screamed, holding his hands out away from his body toward the windshield. He shook them, still screaming.  Then he looked up.  He was still driving the truck, no, wait, his feet weren’t on either the brake or the gas, but the gas pedal was still held down.  It wasn’t just down, it was floored, and the old diesel engine was accelerating with all its might. He had just enough time for this new wave of terror to wash through him when the truck crashed into a small ditch, bottomed out grinding the front end into the dirt before the truck was propelled up the other side in a shower of grass and sod.

The truck’s impact knocked parts off its chassis off.  Luckily for Frank he had put on his seatbelt.  He had no idea which way was up, but it was clear the truck had not stopped moving after hitting the drainage ditch.  He was spun from side to side.  Out the windows he caught glimpses of the sky, the dirt churned up by the car, the rows of corn, then the scene repeated again and again.

All this he saw in slow motion, and in high detail.  The sky was a deep dark blue, with a few high flying wisps of clouds.  A flock of birds was sweeping after each other above the field.  He watched individual corn stalks pass the truck, the tough stalks cracking as they were hit, the leaves making a ripping noise as they flapped against the broken windows.  Dirt was flying in all directions.  He watched chunks break away from the ground to be sent on their trajectories into the rows of corn stalks.  And then it was over.  The truck was right side up, about 50 feet into a corn field.

Frank got out and looked around.  He was fine.  His clothes were dirty, and he had chucks of corn husk, cob, and leaves all over him.  The truck was totaled. There wasn’t a single straight line left on her. He would have to get her flat-bedded later.

“Damn, I am going to have to call the Bakers and let them I crashed in their field,”

Frank said.  His apartment was only about a 6 minute walk from the wrecked truck.

Despite his disheveled appearance, in this farming community no one even looked twice as he walked home.  Here he looked like a farmer who had made a mistake with a corn husker.  He continued to walk home, but the cocaine was making this much harder: his brain was now swimming in its affects.

He entered the apartment, glad that he had remembered to take the keys out of the truck. He walked through his kitchen, showering corn parts all over the floor.  He called the Bakers, “ Hi, Mrs. Baker.  I am dreadfully sorry, but my truck ran off the road into your field.  Yes, yes I am alright.  I just was being bitten buy some bugs, and got distracted is all. I will have the truck out of your field by tomorrow.  Yup, Thank you for your concern, Mam.”

Frank hung up the phone.  He would have to call the towing company and have it removed from the corn field.  He grabbed the whiskey off the top of the fridge and took a swig. Carrying the bottle with him he went into the living room and turned on the game.  Then he moved to the bathroom.  He had left a trail of corm parts all over.

He stripped, leaving his corn covered clothes on the floor.   He looked at himself in the mirror.  There were almost no scratches from the accident, no bruises.  Corm stuck out of his hair, spattered pieces dripped down the side of his face, and dirt was laced throughout everything.

Then something moved.  It ran around behind one of the pieces of husk.  He flipped the piece of husk out of the way, and ran his fingers violently through his hair, creating a cascade of corn parts, but not finding any bugs.  He jumped into the shower, and turned it on high.   He rapidly washed off the dirt and plant pieces, he soaped ever inch of himself and scrubbed using the sponge like a Brillo pad.

He let the hot water cascade over his body, his eyes closed.  His heart was racing, and the drugs were making his world dance in and out of reality, even without the other-worldly bugs chasing him. He opened his eyes, and looked over his body.  He saw no little bugs.

He dried himself off, listening to the game through the open door.   His panic had subsided.

“I am just seeing things,” he told himself, “it is stress, and a little bad coke.”

He took a swig of whiskey.  As he put down the bottle, he saw it.  A spider on his thumbnail.

He looked at it closely.  It looked like a spider, it moved like one, but it seemed like it was drawn on his thumb.  There was no 3rd dimension, no thickness.  It had no width.  The little spider was about the size of a quarter, but had the thickness of a painted line. The disturbing part was it had a face.

“I am just hallucinating.  These are not real.  Coke addicts see bugs, over react, and hurt themselves.  This is just a bad trip.  Stay calm, and it will go away,” Frank said to himself.

The spider was still pulling at his thumbnail. Frank felt the thumbnail move. “Ha, I am even having sensory hallucinations.” He said, amazed. Then a second spider approached along his palm, and joined the first.  One on the right of the thumb, the other on the left, they both lifted.

Frank screamed in pain as he watched the edges of the fingernail lift and pull up at the quick underneath. The bloody flesh appeared as the fingernail was lifted off.  The spiders looked at each other, and then tossed the fingernail to the ground.

Frank swatted at the bugs and screamed. They had run up his forearm, and were beginning to chew on his arm, leaving small holes up and down its length.  He swatted at them, scratched at them, but they would not go away.  Even as his fingers touched them, he felt nothing between his finger and his skin, yet the bleeding holes in his arm were real.

Then felt his right eye close during a blink and not open again.  He turned to the mirror, while still scratching his arms.

A centipede shaped bug was holding his eye closed.  He watched as the bug, one by one, lifted its legs and drove the long legs into his eyelid.  He was already screaming, and so screaming more did not help. Small sharp pinpricks were felt across the eyelid, and he felt his eyelids pulling at the centipede’s legs as he tried to open they eye. The lid didn’t move.

A series of bugs were crawling up his neck onto his face. They moved in rows, like ants following a scent trail.  There were spiders, centipedes, ants, cockroach shaped bug, scorpions, and odder thing that were not bugs that he recognized.

Two large spiders approached his mouth, and reaching around it they pulled his lips together.  Smaller spiders then did the same thing the centipedes had done to his eye, sewing his lips closed with their legs.  Rivulets of blood formed where their legs punctured his skin.

Frank’s scream was muted now.  His throat was hurting from yelling so loud.  He continued to try to scream as he felt bugs digging at different parts of his body.   He was trying to yell so loudly his lips were pulling against the spiders, blood seeping out of the holes made by his lips pulling at their legs.  As a leg lost its grip, the spider simply drove it back into a new spot.  Blood was running down his arms, patches of hair had been pulled out, and blood had run into his open eye, blurring the world around him.

He heard someone knocking at the door, but what was being said was lost in his own muted screams.  He ran out of the bathroom, trying to get to the door.  He collided with the kitchen table, and tumbled sideways.  He was slapping, scratching, screaming, and flailing when the police kicked the door in and entered with guns drawn.

The knock on the door came at 7:30 that night.  Jamie and her mom had just finished a dinner of meatloaf, potatoes, and corn.  Jamie’s mom was washing the dishes when she heard the knock.            “I wonder who this could be.” She asked out loud.

“Probably another salesman,” Jamie said, having sat herself down in the living room, her drawing book open on her lap.  She was using a thick, black inkwell pen to draw with.  The metallic tip made a scratching sweeping sound as it moved across the book’s thick drawing paper.

Jamie’s mom opened the door, and her breath stopped for a moment when she saw the police officer standing there.

“What did my daughter do this time?” she asked, her hand on her hips her voice dripping annoyance.

“Mam, sorry to bother you.  This has nothing to do with Jamie,” the officer said, looking at the girl sitting there still scribbling in the notebook. “Do you know Frank Stenson? The officer asked.

“Yes,” her mom said, concern coming into her voice, “Why, has something happened.”

“Yes Mam.  He is at County General Hospital.”

“Is he going to be alright?” She asked, suddenly ashen with worry.

“The doctors say the wounds will heal, Mam, but he is in the psychiatric ward.  He has not said anything coherent since he got there.  He had you listed as his emergency contact.”

“Thank you,” Jamie’s mom said, “I will get my things and go see him now.”

“That won’t be possible, Mam.  Only direct family is allowed into the psychiatric ward, and currently he is strapped to his bed until he calms down, which the doctors tell me will probably not happen until he detoxes from the cocaine.”

“Cocaine?” Jamie’s mom asked.  Jamie chuckled, in a “I told you so” sort of way.

“Yes mam, That is the reason I came here.  I was wondering if you knew who his supplier was. We found his truck in a cornfield, and are testing the cocaine we found in it, but the detectives would like to get a hold of his supplier in case the coke was contaminated.  He was all cut up from self-inflicted wounds, probably from trying to scratch at imaginary bugs.  It happens often to cocaine users, but not usually to this extent.”

“No, I had no idea he used cocaine, never mind who he got it from,” Jamie’s mom said.

“Well, Mam.  If you do remember anything please contact me at this number,” the officer said, and handed her his card.

Jamie’s mom just nodded, still in shock.  The police officer left and she went to her room to cry.

Ken was waiting in front of the school for John’s bus to arrive.  He was watching the girls walk past into the school, and saying hi to those he knew, when he caught a glimpse of a black SUV pulling up to the school’s turn around.  The back windows were tinted, but the front ones were clear.  He saw Alex sitting in the passenger’s seat, and a tall, broad shouldered man driving.  As Alex got out of the car, Ken saw the man more clearly.  He was wearing a dark gray business suit, and had black hair.  He was strong in build, and must have been over 6 feet tall.

“Definitely FBI,” said Ken to himself.  He watched Alex get out of the car, and exchange a brief conversation with the man behind the wheel before taking his back-pack and heading into the building. He spoke to no one on the way in other than to return a hello or two to kids who were going out of their way to be friendly to the new kid.

He walked right past Ken on the way into the school building.

“Hey, Alex,” said Ken.

Alex stopped, and looked at Ken. “Hello,” Alex said, in an accent that seemed Irish, or Scottish, or something.

“I am Ken, I am in your math class.”

“Hi Ken,” Alex said, moving out of the doorway to stand next to him, “Can I do something for you?” he asked.

“Uh, no, I was just saying hi.  Being friendly, you know.”

“Ah, well then, it is nice to meet you.”

“You too.  Where are you from?”

“A lot of places, but originally Scotland.”

“Wow.  That is a long way away,” Ken said in awe, he had only been out of the state once, never mind to another country.

“My family moved here for work,” Alex said.

“What do they do?”

“My dad does consulting.  Engineering or some such.  I don’t really pay much attention.”

Ken caught out of the corner of his eye someone looking in his direction.  His eyes darted to get a look, and Alex, being adroit, caught the glance and followed it.  The goth girl, Jamie, was sitting on a bench about 40 feet away drawing.  Her legs were crossed, her baggy jean pants hanging over the edge of the bench. She had her sweatshirt’s hood pulled over her head, and her bangs were coving most of her face, the light purple hair in sharp contrast to her black silhouette.  A large book was open in her lap.  She kept glancing at them furtively from beneath her bangs, and then looking down at the book to continue drawing.

“That girl is so strange.” said Ken.

“She just seems goth, girls like her are all over England these days,”  Alex said.

“No, she is… strange,” Ken said.

Alex took another glance at Jamie, then turned back to Ken. “I need to get to my locker.  It was nice meeting you Ken.”

Alex walked into the building, and Ken watched him go. “He seems a bit stiff, but normal.” He thought to himself.

Jamie’s mom was having a bad morning.  Multiple calls to the hospital had not been returned. Her daughter was getting on her nerves, and she had to go to work at the restaurant until 8 that night.  She went to a drawer in her room, and pulled out a small vial and then removed a long syringe.

“Just a little will help me cope,” She told herself, drawing out few milligrams of heroin.

She wrapped her arm with a belt and let the veins pop up, purple against her pale white skin. The tension caused her arm to throb while it cut off the blood flow.  She placed the needle on the vain, and pushed.

The needle did not go in.  She checked the point of the needle, and it seemed sharp enough, it was a new needle.  She placed it against her vain and pushed, and again the needle did not penetrate.  The skin depressed with the force, but it did not break.

“What the hell?” she asked herself.

She lifted the needle, and saw a little black spot where the needle had been.  She moved the needle to another vain and pushed.  Again, nothing.

She tried a third spot, and again when she lifted the needle she saw the little black dot.  She moved the needle down the vain to try again, and as she put the needle against her skin, she saw the black dot scurry under the needle point!

“What the hell!” She said out loud this time.  Then tried another spot.  Again, the little dot darted across her arm to intercept the needle where it met the skin.  She looked at the dot closely, and realized it resembled a little spider, or a tick. She scratched at it, but felt only her skin.

“Great, Frank tears himself apart trying to scratch bugs, and now I am seeing them.”

I will outsmart you, she though, and drove the needle toward her thigh.  The needle collided with her thigh, pushing down hard, then the needle bent sideways, yet the skin still did not break.  She stabbed again and again, and every stab was met with the same effect.

Giving up she flung the needle across the room and bowed her head in tears of frustration. Her deep sobs caused her body to shake, but soon the crying had it run its course.  Drying her eyes she told herself, “Maybe it is for the best.”

Alex was walking down the hall during the fourth period.  The hall was empty.  He was carrying the leather bible in his left hand, and his book bag was thrown over his right shoulder.  He was humming a melody to himself and watching the tiles pass by under his feet as he walked.

He caught the moving object in his peripheral vision as he rounded the hall’s corner, but it was too late.  He collided with her, and two books fell to the ground. Without thinking Alex rapidly bent down to pick up both books.  One was his bible, but as his fingers wrapped around the other leather bound book he saw the black jeans and immediately knew who it was he had bumped into.  His fingers wrapped around the soft warm leather and he picked up the book.

“I am sorry, miss.” Alex said in a deep Scottish accent.  He handed the book back, and Jamie reached out to take it.  As her hand grabbed the book, Alex saw a spider run from the book along his finger.  Jamie had seen it too.

“There is a spider on your hand,”  Jamie said, and Alex swatted at it, but it was gone.

“Sorry about bumping into you,” Alex said, “I was deep in thought.”

“It’s alright,” Jamie said, looking down.

“I am Alex,” Alex said, putting out his hand. Jamie shook it, “I’m Jamie.”

“It is nice to meet you, Jamie,” Alex said with a smile, and turned to walk away.

“Nice to meet you, too,” Jamie said, turning to watch him go.

Alex went immediately into the bathroom in the Tech-ed side of the building.  No classes were held here this time of day, and he was sure he would not be disturbed.

He entered the big handicapped stall at the end of the run down bathroom.  Generations of graffiti coated the walls.

Alex put the bible on the ground and then disrobed.  He piled his clothing on the toilet seat so that if anyone came in they would not see a pile of clothes on the floor.  He looked over his body, and saw no bugs.  But, he could not see his back.  He opened the stall door and walked to the mirror.

“If someone walks in now I am never going to be able to explain this,” he said to himself, while he turned in the mirror looking himself over.  His skin was pale white.  His face had freckles, but they were all light orange.  There was nothing black on his body.  Satisfied the bug was not on his person, he returned to the stall and looked over his clothing.  The bug was not there either.

Looking at the bible on the floor he said, “So, you must be hiding in there,” and he proceeded to flip through the bible again and again until he saw it: a spider hiding in the crack between two pages.  It was about the size of a penny.

He looked at it. It looked like someone had drawn a stick spider with a thick black ink.

“There you are,” Alex said, “Now, lets see what you are.”

He removed a piece of yellow chalk and tapped the spider.  It ran into the middle of the page, then scurried toward a corner.

“I am sorry to defile you, but I have to.” Alex said, speaking to the book, as he tore the page the spider was on out of the bible.  The lettering on the page was faded and worn, hand written in a language with far more consonants than English.

The bug scurried rapidly across the front of the page, and when it reached the edge, it ran right around onto the back of the page.   Alex flipped the page over, and quickly drew a circle on it with the chalk.  The spider ran to the edges of the chalk circle, but did not cross the light yellow line. Alex took a moment to put his clothing back on, then returned his attention to the bug in the middle of the page.

He continued to draw ever tightening circles around the bug until it had nowhere to run.  The circle was almost the same diameter as the spider’s outstretched legs.

“Ok, now the fun begins,” Alex said.

He took out a candle.  It was natural beeswax, the dark color and oblong shape giving it an archaic look.  Alex then took out the chalk again, and began writing on the tile floor.  The words disappeared as quickly as they were formed, seeping into the hard tile floor as if they were water and it was a sponge.  Lastly he drew out a pin and pricked his index finger.

A single drop of blood formed.  He placed he finger into the circle where the spider was trapped.  The blood filled the circle edge to edge, but did not go past the chalk.  Now the black spider was standing on red circle, enclosed by the yellow chalk.

“Now, you are going to tell me the truth aren’t you?”

The spider moved it’s legs with intent, but Alex could not figure out what it was trying to say.

“Ok, I take it you can probably make yourself into any image.  If I am right, form a circle for yes, or a square for no.”

The bug turned into a circle, then back into its spider form.

“Ok, That worked,” Alex said, then continued, “You live in Jamie’s book, don’t you?”

Circle.

“Did Jamie draw you?”

Circle.

“Are you evil?”

The spider did not move.

“Are you good?”

Again the spider did not move.

“Will you hurt Jamie?”

Square.

“Ok, that is a good sign,” Alex said to himself.

“Will you hurt others?”

Circle.

“And that is a bad sign,” Alex again said to himself.

“Why were you sent here?”

The spider did nothing. “Oh bloody hell. I have to phrase it as a yes or no question. Ok. Were you sent to me for a reason?”

Circle.

Were you sent to hurt me?”

Square.  That brought a sigh of relief.  Alex thought for a few moments, then asked, “were you sent to spy on me?”

Circle.

“Why would you spy on me, oh, of course you can’t answer that,”  Alex sat on the floor with his legs crossed, his chin on his hand, staring at the spider on the page before him.

“Were you sent to spy on me?”

Circle.

“Does Jamie know you are here spying on me?”

Square.

“If I let you go will you go back to Jamie right away?”

Square.

“Will you continue to try to spy on me?”

Circle.

“Humm.  That is a bad answer.  I am sorry to have to do this to you,” Alex said, placing the page of paper into the candle flame.  The flame burnt inward rapidly, the old paper crinkling as it was consumed.  The edge of the flame turned the paper upwards, and the writing first faded into the browning paper before it was consumed by the ravenous fire.

The flame reached the edge of the outermost of the concentric chalk circles, and the paper burnt inwards.  Finally it got to the circle where the spider was, and the spider tried to get to the far edge, but it was unable to get over the chalk line much the same way a panicked puppy would be unable to get over the edge of a cardboard box.  Alex felt pity for it, but then just as the flame burnt the edge of the chalk circle the yellow line disappeared as the paper turned brown and the spider dashed across the edge and ran around opposite page where no chalk circles had been drawn.  Then it darted onto Alex’s hand where he was holding the page at the corner.

“Damn it,” Alex said, dropping the paper.  The spider was running up his forearm.  He rapidly took the chalk and drew a circle up by his shoulder.  The bug stopped.

“You are a smart, daring, dedicated little bug,” Alex said.  The bug formed a circle, then continued to dart around looking for a way off his arm.

Alex continued to draw circles until the bug was trapped on his pointer fingertip.

“I have you again, bug.  It was well played, and this is going to hurt me as much as it hurts you,” Alex said, as he put the tip of his pointer finger into the flame of the candle.  He flinched, then grimaced as the candle bunt the bug and his flesh at the same time.  Only after he could see no skin left on the fingertip did he pull it out of the flame.

The bathroom door opened.

“Who is in here?” the teacher’s voice said, “Have you been smoking?”

Alex blew out the candle, and swept the ash of the bible’s page away  just as the door to the large handicapped stall swung open.

“Who are you, and what are you doing?” Asked the teacher, “Don’t you know you aren’t allowed to have candles in school?”

“I was praying,” Alex said, wrapping his hand around the bible, hiding his burnt finger.

“You can pray all you want, but you can’t light candles.  I am going to have to bring you to the Principals office.  Come with me.”

Alex followed obediently, pain still shooting up his arm from his badly injured finger faded and in a moment the finger had healed.  His mind was rapidly trying to figure out how he was going to get out of this one.

Had he read Isaiah chapter seven, verse two, he would have seen that the sentence ended with two periods, where moments before the book had been without error.

Mr. McPhee, I understand that you son is very religious, but we can’t have him lighting candles in school,” the Principal’s voice was adamant, yet worried.  Mr. McPhee’s physique dominated the room.  The man stood at least six feet four inches tall, and had the body of a weight lifter.  His suit was expertly tailored to highlight his size, strength, and power.

“The candle is a part of the prayer ritual.  We of The Kirk have been doing this ritual for nearly two thousand years, and my son will not stop simply because your school has some inane fire code against harmless candles,” Mr. McPhee was saying, his Scottish accent making him seem even angrier.

“Sir, candles are a fire hazard, and can’t…” the Principal was cut off.

“What type of bloody imbeciles do you raise in America that you can’t trust your own children with a simple bit of fire? We have been handling fire since we were Neanderthals, and unless your children are some throwbacks to cave men, I would expect you to respect our religious rights, and let my son pray with a simple candle, ” Mr. McPhee’s tone was biting.

“Sir, I understand, please calm down.  I will speak with the fire marshal about accommodating  you son’s religious beliefs, but we can’t go changing our rules simply for one person. Our rules state that lighting any fire on school grounds is an automatic three day out of school suspension. We have a zero tolerance policy…”

The door had already slammed shut before the principal had finished his sentence.  He heard the large man step into the hall spouting a long sentence of Gaelic words which the Principal was glad he did not understand.

Alex was sitting in the office.  He was listening to the conversation from the principal’s office, as he watched a blond girl approach the assistant principal, Mrs. Bennington.   The girl entered Mrs. Bennington’s office like she was a general about to inspect her troops, not like a girl about to be reprimanded.

“Mrs. Bennington, you have to…”

“Enough Tiffany, Ms. Smith gave you enough chances,” Mrs. Bennington said.

Alex listened to the conversation between the two for a while.  Tiffany’s voice alternated between frustration, rage, and finally defeat.  There was no arguing with the system, as Alex’s father just found out.  Alex could hear his father’s side of the conversation perfectly clearly down the hall.

“Thalla gu Taigh na Galla,” Alex heard his father say as he walked down the hall.

“It was so bad that you have to speak Gaelic, father,” Alex said.

Aye, Alasdair,” His father said, “you have been suspended for three days.”

The father and son walked out of the office.  Alex looked worried.  Standing at the door he looked around the school.

“What am I to do now,” he asked himself.   His father pulled up the black SUV, and as he climbed in the car’s shocks creaked, and it tilted toward the driver’s seat.  Alex opened the passenger door, clutching the bible to his chest.

The three girls were silent all through English class. Each of them had a detention scheduled for Saturday.  Ms. Smith was not pleased, and the girls realized that they were one step away from being sent out of class.

The other day Tiffany had seen a bug crawl down Jamie’s leg, and across the floor at her.  She had jumped up knocking over her table.  She had started yelling at Jamie, and the other two girls had joined in.  Today they were silent, but Jamie had moved herself to the other side of the room, with or without Ms. Smith’s agreement.

Seventh period was gym class.  Tiffany, Sarah, and a group of friends were sitting on the bleachers, choosing not to take part in gym class as always.

“I am going to mess that bitch up,” Tiffany said in a low, harsh, tone.

“We get in trouble, when she is the one who is bringing bugs into school, she is a health risk,” Sarah said.

“Yeah, but we have the detentions,” Tiffany replied.

“I am always in for messing up losers,” said Amanda, a red head whose long curly hair was her pride and joy.  She sat on the bleachers running a long strand through her fingers. She sat out of gym class just so she wouldn’t mess-up her hair.

“So, what is the plan,” asked Megan.  Megan was shorter, with brown hair to her shoulders.  She sucked-up to Tiffany and Amanda every gym class.

“I don’t know yet,” said Tiffany.  She was staring across the gym.  Jamie was sitting on the floor near the changing room entrance, again drawing in the big book.

“I am going to burn that book of hers, and make her watch,” Tiffany said, “after I have ripped out her purple hair and burnt those smelly, ugly, clothes.”

The gym teacher was refereeing a game of indoor soccer.  The students playing were enthusiastically playing to win.  The teacher rarely paid attention to the students who refused to take part in the sports.  Day after day the girls sat and talked, and Jamie sat and drew, and nothing changed.

Except today.  The girls watched as Jamie got up and walked into the girl’s locker room.

“This is our chance,” whispered Tiffany, and the cabal quietly moved toward the door.  Their hearts raced, but the teacher did not turn away from the game.  No one saw them enter the locker room following Jamie.

They quietly opened the door, and snuck through the shower area.  They had removed their sneakers at the door, and were tip-toeing across the cold tile floor.   They heard the toilet flush, and the stall open.

Jamie rounded the corner, the big book clutched to her chest.  She was looking down, and startled when she saw the four girls standing in front of her.

“Hello Jamie,” said Tiffany, as the girls circled around her,

“I think it is time we settle some things,” Tiffany said, and stepped forward and pushed Jamie.  Jamie stumbled, and fell against the tile wall.  She hit hard, and a crack rushed up the wall showing the floor with tile shards.

Tiffany reached down to grab the book out of her hands, but Jamie had clutched herself into a little ball and her grip on it was solid.

“I think she needs to clean off,” said Amanda, who stepped forward and turned on the shower directly above Jamie.  The shower sputtered, then roared to life, spraying out cold water over the five girls.

“Strip her girls,” Tiffany said, still trying to get the book out of Jamie’s hands.  The three girls each grabbed a hold of a part of Jamie’s sweatshirt and pulled, leaning back with all their might.  The cloth ripped at one arm, another rip formed down the side, and the third where the hood was fastened.  Jamie’s pale skin showed through the ragged holes, but instead of trying to cover herself all she did was clutch the book.

Tiffany grabber he hair and slammed Jamie’s head against the wall.  Jamie winced in pain.

“Listen, bitch, give me the book,” Tiffany said, spitting into Jamie’s face with each word.

Jamie did not budge.  She started to scream, but could not hear herself.  Her screams were being drowned out. They were being drowned out by the other girls screaming!

Tiffany had taken a few steps back, as had all the girls.  Jamie screamed, louder than before, at the sight in front of her.  Thin black lines extended from her feet across the tile floor, one line to each of the girls.  The lines crossed the girls toes, and looped up their ankles. There they started to shape themselves into grotesque forms.  Bugs crawled over the girls bodies, and images formed over their faces; demonic images, and each one was moving as if alive.  Each girl was looking at the others and screaming in shock.  Their high pitched voices were echoing in the tight tile room.

Then the bugs started biting.  Tiffany’s face erupted in small pockmarks, each mark by a bug that was slowly chewing at her skin.  Amanda fell to her knees in pain, and her long red hair started to fall out in clumps as the bugs ran over her scalp ripping her hair out in clumps.

The girls clothing started to fall off shredded ribons.  One larger bug, a beetle of some sort, had crawled into Megan’s mouth was looked like it was trying to pull a tooth out.

Jamie kept screaming.  The fire alarms went off, and the room filled with the spray of water from the sprinklers.  Jamie looked at the walls.  The lines extended from where she stood, up the walls, and out the doors.

Having stopped her screaming she was able to listen.  Over the sound of the fire alarm she heard students running in panic, shouting, and screaming.

Jamie was in shock.  She felt blood running down the back of her head.  Her vision was blurry, and the water running in her eyes made it difficult to see.  She looked at the ground, and realized that hundreds of lines moved out from where she was standing.  They formed patterns, pictures, and images on the walls.  Faces formed, their mouths moving in silent monologues.  Landscapes formed, then degenerated into scenes of war and slaughter, then these devolved into thousands of bugs which scurried into cracks and around corners, or joined together into other images.

Jamie walked into the hall, barely aware of herself.  The halls had mostly emptied.  Smoke was drifting from the science labs.  Most of the sprinklers had been set off, but Jamie watched as a pair of scorpions pried at one that had not yet gone off.  The metal warped under their claws, then the sprinkler erupted in a single spout of water.

Jamie walked through it on her way toward the front door.  The water pored over her.  Her ripped cloths were plastered to her body.

The sun came as a shock.  Only the emergency lights had been on in the school, causing the dark ink creatures to be even more frightening as they scurried along the walls from lit section, to shadow, and back again.  Now, the bright sun blinded Jamie.

Students were running in all directions.  Some teachers were trying to get them to calm down, but many teachers themselves were fleeing in terror.

Police cars and fire trucks had already arrived.  A few police cars were parked just outside the school bus turn around in front of the school.  The fire trucks had parked around the side of the building, near the dark cloud of smoke that was clearly visible billowing out of science labs windows.

The police officers stood beside their cars, trying to fathom the scene before them.  Jamie kept walking out of the school, the book clutched to her chest.  The lines were running directly behind her, into the building.  A moment later they retracted, exiting the school like a shadowed shortened as the sun approached it’s zenith. Soon the lines had retracted into the shadow around her feet.

A black SUV drove up behind the police cars and Alex stepped out.  The car then drove off and parked, as if Alex had just been dropped off for school.  Alex immediately bent down, and taking a piece of yellow chalk, he drew a circle around himself.

A police officer was approaching Jamie.  At about 20 feet away, he staggered as he saw her face and nearly fainted or vomited.  Her face was a montage of moving images, so were her hands, and any place where her ripped clothing showed her flesh.  The images were horrible, evil, little daemonic things which crawled over her skin.

The other officers saw her face now, and panicked.  A few of the officers ran, the fear overwhelming them.  Two stayed, shaking in fear but holding their in place.  One pulled his pistol, and the other followed suit.  But, their arms were quivering so badly it was obvious they had no ability to aim.

The officer near Jamie fell back on training, his conscious mind nearly void of comprehension. He pointed his pistol it at Jamie. “Miss, get down on the ground, and put your hands on your head,” he said.  Jamie did not respond, but she did stop moving forward.

“Put your hands behind your head!” the officer yelled as he approached.

Jamie did not move.  The officer got close, and Jamie still did not move.  Rapidly he darted forward, grabbed one of her hands, and he jerked it around her back.  Then he grabbed the other hand, which was clutching the book, and brought it down to join the first hand, pulling them together at her wrists.  Jamie did not resist.  Her fingers were clutching the book so tightly they had turned white.

“Miss, drop the book please,” the officer said.  Jamie didn’t, and the officer moved her hands together and handcuffed them with Jamie still clutching the book.

The officer began to walk Jamie toward the patrol car when the handcuffs fell off.  The officer looked at them on the ground, surprised.

“How the hell did you do that?” he asked, but Jamie said nothing.  A small bug ran out of the handcuffs’s keyhole and climbed onto Jamie’s foot.

The officer took out a set of plastic quick-ties and began to wrap them around Jamie’s wrists.  He watched as a black lines extended from her wrists, up his fingers to his wrists.  The lines wrapped themselves around his wrists, and then tightened.

He stared transfixed as his hands fell to the ground, cut cleanly off at his wrists.  A moment later the pain hit, and he screamed and fell to the ground writhing.

The officers panicked.  One fired his pistol.  Despite his fear, the round hit home. Jamie’s head bounced backwards from the collision. She was screaming, “stop it, stop it,” as loud as she could, but it was too late.  The officers all reacted, and panicked, they fired round after round.

Jamie felt the impacts. She saw the smoke from the guns.  She heard her voice, as if it had been disembodied and was screaming at her, not her doing the screaming.  Tears were running down her cheeks, she felt the ink running over her body, felt it’s thoughts.  The book seemed to pulse, to breath, and yet it felt as much a part of her hand as her fingers.

Alex watched round after round hit Jamie.  He was yelling, “cease fire” at the officers, but it was too late.  Bullets had riddled her cloths, knocking pieces off.  But everywhere a bullet hit her body, the ink formed a dark circle, then the bullet bounced off.  The ink spot then rippled outward as if the bullet had been nothing more than a leaf lightly disturbing the surface of a tranquil pond.

Long dark lines formed, tracing a direct path toward each of the firing police officers.  Alex kept screaming, but the police officers were transfixed.  The reloaded their firearms, and started a second salvo.

The first line reached the nearest patrol car.  It crawled up it forming a grid work around it as if the entire car had been drawn with a Cartesian scale.  Then the lines contracted inward, crumpling it like it had been made of tinfoil.   The second car crumpled like the first.

Then Alex saw it.  The lines directly in front of Jamie were forming characters on the ground–  ever changing lines of text which faded into the asphalt as soon as they were drawn.

The police officer behind the first cruiser was screaming in shock as he watched the arm holding his gun wither.  It wrinkled and turned gray.  The fingers curled in on themselves, as his skin collapsed on itself as if it was deflating. It looked like it had aged a hundred years in a second.

“Damn it.  You bastards got into my library.  How the hell did you do that.  How did you master spells of that complexity,” Alex thought to himself in shock.  He clutched the bible to himself, closed his eyes for a moment, then called out to Jamie.

“Jamie, you must control them!” his voice cut through the chaos of screaming students, sirens, and gunshots.  He stood in his yellow circle, watching the horror unfold before him.  He saw the police officer slump to the ground, staring in shock at his arm which now hung at his side like an old mans, weakened by time, and unresponsive as if from stroke.  The officer’s expression was one of complete incomprehension.

A ring of fire formed around Jamie, as the circles and writing continued to inscribe themselves on the ground in front of her.  The ring of fire formed a ball, then the molten ball shot forward, the air cracking from its heat.  It was headed at the remaining police officer, but a large dark object got in the way.

Alex’s father stood with his arm outstretched behind him holding the police officer away as the fireball slammed into his chest.  The fireball burnt through his suit, burying itself in him.  Then, a moment later, a stream of smoke was exhaled from his mouth.  His chest had a cleanly burnt hole in it that still smoldered, but he seemed un-phased.

Alex continued to speak to Jamie.  His voice, carrying over the fifty feet as if he was whispering in her ear.

“Jamie, only you can control them. Only you can stop this.  They will obey you.  I know you do not want anyone to get hurt.  You must control them.”

Jamie nodded her head.  Her face was stressed with effort, as bugs crawled over its surface. The lines stayed extended from her feet in all directions, but they stopped their carnage.

“Come to me Jamie,” Alex said.  He knelt down and drew a second, smaller circle outside of his.

“Come here Jamie, control them, control your body,” Alex kept encouraging Jamie, and step after agonizingly slow step Jamie walked toward him.  The lines extended to his chalk circle, the bugs circled around it, crawling over each other to find a way in, but they couldn’t.

“Jamie, place the book in the smaller of the two circles,” Alex said.

Jamie bent over, but the effort seemed to cause her agony.   She extended her hand, holding the book a few inches over the caulk circle

“I… I can’t do it,” Jamie said.

“Yes, you can,” Alex said.

“No, I can’t, it… it is a part of me… it is like tying to put down my own finger…”

“Jamie, you must control it.  You must force it to do your will. It feels like you need it, it feels like it is a part of you.  But it is not.  It is a tool, a thing, nothing more.”

“I can’t,” her voice was a whimper of pain.

“Think of your mother going through heroin withdrawal, I am sure she thinks it is part of her too. You can’t expect her to change if you don’t have the strength to let go yourself.”

Jamie nodded, tears soaking her cheeks.  The tears made paths of white skin as they dripped down her cheek.  The bugs got out of their way, then filled in behind them.  Drop after drop made its way down her cheek, escorted by an entourage of small bugs chasing them down.  Alex reach out and touched her chin, the bugs raced across his fingers, up his arm.

“Jamie, let go,” Alex said again, in a stern yet compassionate voice.

Jamie did.  The book slipped from her fingers, and as soon as it did, the living tattoos disappeared from her skin like darkness fleeing at the flick of a light.  The book fell, and the sound of it hitting the asphalt seemed to Alex and Jamie like a building had collapsed, although it had only made a quite slap as the soft leather landed.

Jamie stepped into the circle with Alex, and immediately wrapped her arms around him.  Her tear soaked her cheeks she cuddled into his chest.

He wrapped his arms around her, and for a few moments he simply let her cry.  The rest of the world was still in chaos, but here peace had come.

“What happened, Alasdair?” Jamie finally asked.

“I am not entirely sure, Jamie,” Alex said.

“Why is it I know things that I did not know before.  Why is it I know your Alasdair MacDhubhshith?”

“Because your little bugs stowed away on something I own, and got into my library,” Alasdair said.

“What are they?” she asked.

“Hard to explain,” Alasdair said, “the world you know is not entirely real.  There are things in it we humans are not supposed to know, and not supposed to do.  Some of us know them, and go insane.  Some of us learn them, and manage to keep a part of ourselves intact through the experience, but coming out we are never the same again.

“Do you know the stories where a witch has a black cat as a familiar?”

“I have heard things like that, yes” said Jamie.

“The best way to think of the book is that it is an ink familiar.  It sensed in you a kindred spirit, and in drawing in it you filled it with your thoughts, fears, hates, and desires.”

“What would you have done if I had not put the book down?” Jamie asked.

“Killed you,” Alasdair said calmly, and Jamie did not react to his saying so.

“And what do we do now.”

“That depends on you” Alasdair said.  Jamie stepped back for a moment.

“You have made quite a mess here,” Alasdair said, “and no matter what happens, you will never be able to go back to your old life.  Your only option is to come with me and learn to control the book.”

“And if I don’t, you will kill me.”

“Yes” Alasdair said, without malice.

Jamie continued to hide her head in his chest for a few more moments, then she pulled away and looked around.

The area was deserted of anyone conscious.  Bodies lay about, but it was impossible to tell if they were alive or dead.  The far end of the school was still on fire as the gas lines from the science lab fueled the inferno.   Everyone who could run had run.

“It is only a matter of time before more police and firefighters show up.  I need your decision now.”

“What about all this?” Jamie asked.

“This can be taken care of.  Similar incidents have happened before.”

“I am ready then,” Jamie said.

Jamie flinched in shock as she realized that Alasdair’s father was standing right behind her, having snuck up while she was looking the school over.

“This is not actually your father, is it?” she asked.

“My father was buried over 300 years ago in Scotland,” Alasdair said, “this is a golem– a clay giant made to serve me.”

Jamie reached out and placed her finger in the burnt hole.  The flesh had been burnt, but instead of charring like meat, it had hardened like clay.

“Does it hurt,” she asked the golem.  It shook it’s head no.

“The golem needs a strand of your hair, and a drop of your blood.”

“Why?” asked Jamie, as she pulled out a hair, and handed it to Alasdair.  Alasdair drew out a small needle, and gently taking her hand, he pricked her finger.  Then he raised the finger, and the hair, and placed a drop of blood on the golem’s skin, and the strand of hair in its hand.

The golem turned, and walked toward the school.  As it did, it shrank, and soon Jamie was staring at her own back walking into the burning building.

“It has become me.  Everyone will think I died in that fire, including my mother?”

Alasdair simply nodded.  They both new the alternative.

Jamie bent over and picked up the book.  It was warm, but no bugs exited from it. She could feel them though.  No longer was it simply a drawing book.  It’s touch joined them, and she had to fight to keep her thoughts private.

Alasdair put out his hand, “Shall we go, there is much I need to teach you, and others will be on the way now.  It would be better if they do not find us.”

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5 thoughts on “The Sketchbook

  1. This is the second time I’ve read this part of the story, though it has been awhile.

    As horror goes, it’s pretty good. Stylistically, it has a few strong points. From a technical standpoint, it doesn’t flow very well. I think reading it out loud would illustrate the problems I detected. It needs a healthy dose of editing, though the same could be said for everything we generate.

    You do well fleshing out Jamie and Alex; they’re interesting characters and I want to learn more about them. Overall, it is a fast but effective introduction to the story. I hope you continue to work on it.

  2. You’ll have to be more specific on the style issue, since I just read it over twice and don’t “see” it. As for editorial errors, I know those will be plentiful as this hasn’t had anyone else edit it.

  3. One of the books I read on writing referred to ‘the engine starting’ on a book. It’s the moment when a reader becomes engaged and decides not to put the book down. It’s a useful metaphor and one that has stuck with me.

    The engine in this story starts when Frank is attacked by the bugs. That’s when it really grabbed me. Up until then, I was on mildly interested but that section is where it really got interesting. Similarly the end and the ‘fight’ with the cops was very interesting. Alex is also an interesting character.

    If the purpose of this story is get you working towards a longer piece, then it has accomplished that purpose and you can stop here.

    If you want to publish this at some point, consider the following:

    The engine needs to start sooner. Frank’s situation is very cool and scary, but it happens too late in the story. I’d start with it. Sure the reader won’t know what’s going on at first, but you can fill it in for them with some of the ‘at school’ material.

    You switch between characters very quickly. It’s a little dizzying. Example: Jamie goes home, goes into her room and suddenly we’re following Frank out the door. That’s a very abrupt change. Readers want to know who they’re supposed to care about and the rapid shifts make the difficult.

    Right now the story is clunky. At the risk of putting words in his mouth, I think that’s what Dave means when he says it doesn’t flow very well. Here’s an example:

    “Then the bugs started biting. Tiffany’s face erupted in small pockmarks, each mark by a bug that was slowly chewing at her skin. Amanda fell to her knees in pain, and her long red hair started to fall out in clumps as the bugs ran over her scalp ripping her hair out in clumps.”

    Those sentences could be shortened and streamlined. If you want opinions on how, I’d be happy to provide them, but for now I’ll just point out that this is a passage the felt overly wordy and repetitive.

    Let’s not lose sight of the bottom line though: I like the story. When Frank got torn apart and when the cop lost his hands it was genuinely creepy as hell. With some editing, it could be even creepier.

    • I would say a lot of editing, but this is a story I have chosen not to run by my “editor.” So, I need the help of friends. English, for me, starts broken, and is then trampled under an Orc who’s line dancing. Once it is in a fuller form I will let her take a crack at it. This started as a short story, but the idea didn’t fit into one. As such, it is the “pre-story” for Ink and Tears. Reading both in close proximity to each other has shown me where I need to go back and alter the first, expand sections, and shorten others. The fight at the end will be re-written for a few reasons. One, the bugs hate water and so they will need to avoid it, even while surrounded by it (ink doesn’t mix with water, it becomes a key plot point). I think maybe I will write a prolog, one of the sections that shows the sketchbook before Jamie had it, which leads to where she found it. The previous holder was a school teacher in the 1800’s, the school burnt and she rescued the children while carrying the lessons book she kept. While the town appreciated saving the kids, her walking through fire made them decide she was a witch and attempt to hang her. Lets just say the lynching goes poorly. I figure if I start with that, then lead into the school, the audience will have some inkling that something strange is going on, but not be sure what until the end. I also need to add in a section of interaction between Mr. McPhee and Jamie, because of connections and events in the second story. There needs to be a stronger emotional reaction to finding out that he is a golem, and having him walk into the school taking her place in death. So, back to the “drawing board.” Once I get more comments on this, I will re-write the first story, and slowly post parts of the second. Thank you.

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