As you could probably imagine, I caught all 31 flavors of holy hell from my parents when they heard from Mr. Carmichael. I never went back into the house, I just sat on the front porch and waited to hear the uproar. They subscribed utterly to Mr. Carmichael’s version of the events and in between screaming damnation at me, they bombarded me with questions I couldn’t possibly answer to their satisfaction.
The sun was rising when the riot act had finally been read out in its entirety. The gist of my further punishments were as follows:
1. I was now grounded for an additional month.
2. I would have no contact with Sadie for the indefinite future. This was at Mr. Carmichael’s insistence.
3. I would not be allowed to take driver’s ed or otherwise pursue my driver’s license until I turned eighteen. And…
4. Upon my return to school, any grade I received below a B+ would result in further grounding and revocation of privileges to be defined if and when they occur.
I considered these punishments to be an outrage and bullshit of the highest order. The one that stung the most was being cut off from Sadie. I had a million questions to ask her, they buzzed through my mind endlessly like angry bees. I was dying of curiosity. More than that, though, I just missed my friend. That she had returned to us was a huge relief, I was glad for that, but to be denied contact was just cruel. The hell of it is, I couldn’t blame them entirely.
I knew their anger arose from laboring under false pretenses. The only answer they had was that we had, for some unknowable reason, spirited Sadie away in some sort of hideout just to mess with them. They thought we would let the whole town go into an uproar, conduct a massive search, lie to the police, the media, make fools of everyone, just for a childish prank. Why would we do that? But there were no other answers. We didn’t give them any, at least. What could we say?
We didn’t know anything ourselves, apart from those few facts that were, to us, undeniable: Sadie entered that closet with Jeff, and Jeff left the closet without her. For two whole weeks, she was simply gone. No one, Sadie included, knew where she might have been. At the end of those two weeks, she emerged from that closet believing, or claiming to believe, that no time had passed.
Those facts provided no answers, only more questions. Our parents didn’t even have that to fall back on. The only point at which they had to cling was that we were all present when she disappeared and we were all present when she reappeared. Thus, we were to blame. Ipso facto.
It was maddening. Maddening. All of my life, as far back as I could remember, I had been fascinated by real-life mysteries, just like this. Ghosts, U.F.O.s, Bigfoot, The Bermuda Triangle, unsolved murders, I read all about them. I wished again and again that I could experience something so strange and unusual. Well, here I was. The strangest thing I would probably ever encounter, sitting right next door, and I couldn’t leave my room. How was I supposed to deal with that?
With nothing else to do, I spent hours with my desk pushed up to the window, watching the Carmichael house for any clues to what may be happening within. I scribbled pages of notes, but they were mostly obsessive ramblings. I didn’t see anything. Of course, the only window I could see clearly was Eliza’s, and that vantage point quickly became distinctly unhelpful.
Sunday night she had caught me staring up at her window. We locked eyes, and she slowly began unbuttoning her blouse. My jaw dropped, and in that frozen moment, I thought of something apart from the mystery of Sadie. Only, instead of baring the goods to me, she stopped halfway through and flipped me the old double deuce. Both birds, and a quick closing of her curtains. She hadn’t opened them since.
Despite her efforts, I was provided the one and only clue to Sadie’s well being all my spying produced. Just before the curtains closed, I saw her there. She was in Eliza’s room, looking right over her shoulder. I’m not even sure Eliza realized she was there yet.
I didn’t see much, it was only a split second after all, but I did notice something: Sadie’s hair was a rat’s nest. It was usually perfect, not a strand out of place. Strange, but probably meaningless. She had been through a lot, and slipping up on grooming wasn’t exactly unheard of in situations like that.
My only other link to the outside world, at least until my suspension ended in a few days, were the letters left taped to my window. The others were in almost as much trouble as I was, but they had school to meet up at and time to compare notes. Jill would condense all their discussions into these letters and leave them surreptitiously in the middle of the night.
The first letter read as follows:
Dear Prisoner Number 8008135 (Haha, boobies),
How goes your incarceration? Mine proceeds apace. My parents don’t seem to understand I’m happier in my room with my books, my music, and my beloved isolation. I hope I stay grounded forever. Just kidding. Sort of.
From what I gather the others are making do in their own ways. Ashton painted a beautiful portrait of his sister lounging on her bed. Did you know he painted? Khalil’s parents have kept him too busy to be bored. I saw him yesterday mucking out the gutters and repainting all the shutters. That rhymes! I’m a poet and heretofore I was unaware of the fact. Ha.
I’m not sure what Jeff has been doing to while away the hours. I asked him, but in response, he grinned and made a jerking off gesture. I doubt he’s been waxing the old beanpole this entire time, but who can say? My guess is that he is waging a grand war with all of his old G.I. Joe dolls.
Well, that’s enough small talk, I suppose. You must be wondering about the status of Sadie following her miraculous reappearance. Sadly, I do not have much to report. She did not come into school today.
The good news is that word of her safe return to this plane of existence has reached the other students. We have all been grilled thoroughly for details of the execution of our amazing prank, and I assure you it never gets old. Just kidding. It’s already about as old as Ronald Reagan’s pubes. I guess the good news is that you, Mr. Soup Bowl Assault, get to miss all of it.
Actually, school aside, not a one of us has seen hide nor hair of any of the Carmichaels. I suppose now is the time for privacy and healing. Or something. I’m sure you have been keeping your own surveillance, and if the answers are written on Eliza’s titties, please do let us know.
I will continue to post these dispatches if and when new information arises. Or if I’m bored and feel like writing a letter. My sister sent me a tape labeled ‘Meat Puppets,’ but I’m not allowed to listen until I’m ungrounded. Blah.
Your Partner in Crime,
Jillian Estelle Peters
Hours passed. I was so bored I did the reading assignment, which was Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I’ve never really enjoyed the reading our teachers thought would enrich our growing minds, and so I didn’t expect much from this one. It surprised me. The story of children marooned on a deserted island and their gradual (or in some cases not so gradual) descent into savagery dug its hooks into me and wouldn’t let me go. I read it cover to cover in that endless second day.
I guess I disagreed with the message Golding seemed to be forcing upon the reader. See, it seemed like to him civilization was equal to goodness, that morality and civilization were inexorably tied. Savagery, he maintained, was evil. Was it though? Civilizations made wars, civilizations created wealth and poverty, civilizations made slaves of lesser civilizations. It seemed to me that Civilizations never lost savagery, they mastered it.
I could make that argument in the paper I would have to write, but would my teacher accept it? Teachers, parents, they were the masters of the lesser race: Us. Their children, their students. If I wrote a paper spouting ideas like that, I’d get an F. Probably I would.
Piggy, I guess he was the paragon of society. Piggy was a wet blanket who wouldn’t adopt the new paradigm, total savagery. He died for it, and I guess that’s tragic. He was just a kid, after all. But what was the point then? That in the vacuum of the greater civilization we must hold to its tenets even if they serve no purpose in the wild? Even if they hold no value in survival?
The savage children hunted the wild boar, they provided sustenance. They sustained life. What would Piggy have done? Held a town hall meeting discussing the possibility of hunting game and the ethical quandary of preying on the lowly beasts of the wild?
I don’t know. Maybe I saw it all wrong. Maybe this was the wrong time to be reading a story like that, while I was angry at my parents and adults in general for what I felt was unjust treatment. I started and trashed my report three times before I decided I would try again later when I had more time to let the material sink in. More time to reflect.
The next morning I found another letter from Jill taped to the window. It read as follows:
Hello again, Paul
Dying of boredom. I stole that Meat Puppets tape while my parents were out. They either have way too much trust in me or they didn’t care enough to hide it. Weird stuff, but I like it. I like it a lot. Can’t wait to listen to it with you. ‘Plateau’ is probably my favorite track so far. Had to turn it off before the end so I could get it back downstairs before they returned.
School still sucks. Everyone else is bored but fine. Blah blah blah. Not much to report. Oh! Julian, you know Julian Moreno? During Social Studies he cut one so heinous we all had to flee into the hall until the stench dissipated. Everyone was certain he crapped his pants. I almost threw up. At least that distracted people for a couple of hours. Still getting grilled about Sadie.
What about Sadie, you ask? Well, no one has seen her. Still. No one has seen any of the Carmichaels. Still. What are they up to in there? Even Eliza is staying home. Why?
They’re in there, I can tell you that with a fair degree of certainty. Their cars are in the driveway for one. For two, you can see them sometimes behind the curtains, moving around. For three, well, for three there’s Khalil’s story. If you can believe it.
Yesterday after school, he told me, his parents sent him over to the Carmichaels to apologize for breaking into their house and all the other things they’re so sure we did. Khalil didn’t care, he was no stranger to issuing apologies he didn’t really mean. You know his personality.
So he goes over to the Carmichael’s house, knocks on the door. Nothing. Knocks again. Nothing. He’s about to turn and leave when he sees Mr. Carmichaels’ head silhouetted through the window on the door. What do you call those door windows? Oh, who cares.
Through the door Khalil heard Mr. Carmichael ask, ‘Who is it? Who’s there? Go away!’
Khalil said he sounded weird, real weird. He said it was hard to describe. He could tell it was Mr. Carmichael talking, but sounded wrong. Not like he was sick, exactly. Not gravelly or phlegmy, or anything like that. The closest thing he could come up with was that it sounded like Mr. Carmichael recorded all the words he said in advance, one by one, and cut them together.
You know how your speech has a certain rhythm to it? I think it’s called cadence. I think what Khalil was trying to say was that Carmichael’s speech had no cadence, or else the cadence was all wrong. Does that make sense?
So anyways, Khalil was kind of thrown off, but he wasn’t going to go home without giving an apology or his parents would flip out, so he said something like, ‘Mr. Carmichael, it’s me, Khalil! I’m sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to say I was sorry for everything.’
He only got part of that out. Carmichael cut him off with that same funky no-cadence speaking voice. He said, ‘Khalil. Stay away from here. You and all your friends. Sadie doesn’t want to see you. Ever. You’ve done bad.’
That’s word for word what he said, at least according to Khalil. You know how he exaggerates.
Well Khalil still wasn’t put off. Half of it was him still wanting to get the apology in. Reading between the lines, I think Khalil really was sorry about all the trouble. He jokes around a lot but he’s a good guy. He just wants everyone to be friends, to like each other. Even the parents. The other half was Sadie. He just wanted to see that she was doing okay. He’s sweet on her, you know. Like half the school is.
So one last time he tried. He said, ‘Mr. Carmichael, please can I just come in for a minute? I just want to have a quick talk and then you never have to see me again.’
He got about half of that out before Carmichael dropped the real bomb, the show stopper. Now, I wouldn’t repeat this if I didn’t think Khalil was telling the whole truth. You know that, right? He said, ‘Get out! Black N(-word), get out!’
Like I said, it’s hard to believe. You know Mr. Carmichael. He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body, right? Mr. Watkins is one of his closest friends. How could he possibly say something like that? But he did say it. Khalil swears he did, and he was so upset. He wouldn’t joke about that.
This is really messed up. I have no idea what’s going on, and I’m really worried about Sadie. Eliza too. Sadie had to go somewhere, right? Maybe there’s something about her parents we didn’t know. Maybe they abused her? I don’t know how she could have disappeared like that, but maybe she slipped out somehow. I can’t figure it out. But I think she ran away and her parents found her and dragged her back.
Does that make sense? Would her parents pretend she was still gone and hold her prisoner in her room? Did we spoil something by finding her there? There are holes in that story, I know, but it’s like a puzzle with some of the pieces missing. It would make sense and come together if we had those missing pieces.
Well, I guess that’s it and now my hand is cramping. I’ll write again if anyone else learns something.
Your Friend and Confidante,
Ms. Jillian Agatha Peters
I read and reread that letter dozens of times over the course of that day. In the interim, I wrote a report about Lord of the Flies that was mostly bullshit but I thought was what Mrs. Clarke wanted to hear. I had plenty of other work too, and I slogged through all of it. It wasn’t easy and I can’t say I did a great job on any of it, but I didn’t intend for this suspension to lead to flunking and getting left back. All the while, though, my eyes kept darting back to that letter.
What did it mean? How could Mr. Carmichael say something like that? What is going on here? Would we ever find out? My mind was this horrid tangle of possibilities. The Carmichaels have been family friends my whole life, longer. Sadie has been my friend since we were both running around in diapers. If she was being abused, why didn’t she tell us? How did we not notice?
That was only one possibility though. Maybe it was the likeliest possibility, but I still couldn’t make sense of it. What else, then? Of course, I had a million ideas, most of them variations on the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. All of them were ludicrous and improbable. Or so I decided. I had been spending too much time alone in my room with nothing to distract me but school work and something that would most likely seem a lot less mysterious in the fullness of time. When everything went back to normal.
I was naive enough then to think that everything would always eventually go back to normal. I know better now, but I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.
That was the final day of my week’s suspension. The next day I would get to leave the house if only to attend my classes and go straight home. I never thought I would be so happy to get to go to school. It was a sickening feeling. I waited until midnight to see if Jill would leave another dispatch, but no such luck.
Ditto that morning at six when I dragged myself out of bed. I was disappointed but not entirely surprised. She would see me at school and give me the lowdown then, surely. I was expecting more vague strangeness, but not the bombshell I received.
It would be a few hours before I would see her. Unlike the rest of us, she didn’t take the bus. Her dad took her to school every day before work. It was supposed to be a sort of bonding time between the two of them, I guess. She hated it, of course. Well, she said she hated it. I knew better. She loved her dorky parents, it was just that showing it didn’t really mesh with the image she was trying to convey.
I received a warm welcome from all the others. Jeff, Ashton, and Khalil had a banner prepared for me which read, “Welcome back, Psycho!” It came complete with a caricature of me smashing the face of Craig/Chris with the soup bowl. I never lived that down. Until I graduated high school the other students would feign terror every time the cafeteria served soup. People I hardly remember still call me Soup Psycho or Soup Nazi every now and again. The nickname switched when the ‘Seinfeld’ episode came out in ’95.
I won’t say that day was great or even enjoyable. Actually, it was terrible. First of all, it was school. School is always terrible. Secondly, I had to see the counselor during study hall to discuss my anger problems. I told her I didn’t have anger problems, I had asshole problems. Not the answer she was looking for. Finally, my violent outburst only enhanced my unwanted celebrity, and Sadie’s continued absence from school did nothing to help matters. As far as the general school-going public was concerned, she was still missing.
I didn’t see Jill until lunchtime and apart from Jeff, none of the others wanted to talk about Sadie. They didn’t know anything and they were sick of talking about the nothing they knew. Jeff intimated that Jill had something big to share, but he didn’t want to tell her story without her. The first four periods were a blur.
It was Stromboli day, which was one of the few items the cafeteria served that I truly loved. The side was always tater babies, which are just tiny potato wedges, but I loved them more than words can say. Somehow no potato wedges I have ever had since have matched them. Maybe that’s just nostalgia, though. As an added bonus, Jeff hated tater babies for some unknowable reason, and always donated his portion to me.
I sat at the usual table with all the others. Khalil was telling one of his countless jokes. I missed the body of the joke but the punchline was “Hey Murray! I found the guy who crapped in your tuba!” It must have been funny too because everyone within earshot was laughing their asses off.
The only one not laughing was Jill, who did not seem to be paying attention. I sat between her and Jeff. Jeff immediately scraped the tater babies off his plate and onto mine. He took a healthy scoop of my chocolate pudding, our long-agreed-upon payment.
Jill didn’t seem to want to talk, which confused me. I thought she would be eager to spill her guts, but all I got from her was “Eat your Stromboli, Paul.”
I did. I scarfed it down, actually, along with all the tater babies and a soda from the vending machines. She slipped me a note while no one else was paying attention. As discreetly as I could, I read it.
The note read Meet me by The Lockers. Jeff too, if you want. Tell no one. Wait a couple minutes after I get up.
Jill left almost immediately after I read the note, making sure to bus her tray and throw her garbage in the receptacle. It always tickled me that despite her punk affectations, she never lost her good habits. I guess being a punk didn’t have to mean being a rude jerk, but it was still amusing. She wore a denim half-jacket covered in studs and band patches, and the stitching was immaculate.
After downing half of Ashley’s Stromboli, I gave Jeff the secret signal to follow me. Never mind what the signal was, it’s a secret. I got up and dumped my own tray on the stack. Jeff belched loudly and announced, “Well, I gotta go take a shit. Later, babies.”
Khalil was halfway through another joke and no one took much notice of our departure. We met up with Jill by The Lockers. The Lockers were not our lockers, they were lockers situated in a dark corner of the hallways, a forgotten remnant of an old annex of the school lost years ago in a fire. No one used those lockers, which made the dark corner a perfect place for clandestine meetings. Read: makeout sessions.
Jill was waiting for us there, a hollow-eyed wraith lurking in the dim light.
“I won’t run away with you, Jill,” Jeff declared, “my heart belongs to another. I know it hurts now, but someday your heart will mend, my dear.”
“Shut up, Jeff,” Jill hissed, “This is serious, okay?”
“Alright, alright,” Jeff answered, holding his palms out and backpedaling in surrender, “So what is this all about?”
“It’s about Sadie, naturally,” Jill replied, “and it’s something so freaky and wrong that I figured Paul, you’d be the only one who would believe me.”
“So why am I here?” Jeff asked.
“Because she knew I’d drag you along anyway,” I told him. Jill nodded.
“Exactly,” She said, “So Paul, I guess you’re wondering why I didn’t leave you a letter last night.”
“I guess I just thought you would see me today,” I said.
“You’re half right,” She said, “except I did write you a letter, and I was going to leave it on your window just like before. Before I could, I saw something that made me forget all about my mission. Something that made me run straight home and lock the doors. Something really freaked up.”
“What was it?” I asked. She rarely swore, it was just another fun contradiction in her punk rock persona. I could tell this was not the time to tease her about it.
“Before I tell you, you gotta promise me two things: You won’t laugh at me, and you won’t tell the others. Swear on our friendship, or I won’t tell you. Okay?”
Jeff and I looked at each other, and we didn’t need a secret signal to agree to swear by her terms. We raised our right hands and in perfect unison we said, “I swear.”
“Okay.” She seemed to gather herself for a moment before speaking again.
“So the other two times I delivered the notes it was between, like, midnight and one A.M. Last night I dozed off, so it wasn’t until after three that I set out. The neighborhood was damn near pitch black at that point. It was so still I could hear the blood rushing in my ears. I didn’t think I was feeling any kind of fear or anxiety though, you know? It was still our neighborhood.
“Well, maybe somewhere deep inside I was harboring some deep-seated fears of getting caught because just as I was about to start climbing your tree, I heard a sound and it just about made me jump out of my skin. It was this horrible yowl. Just one yowl, loud and sharp, and suddenly cut off. It came from Sadie’s back yard, on the other side of the fence.”
Jeff and I exchanged a glance. The mass of tater babies and Stromboli in my stomach lurched in the way that told me I was about to receive terrible news.
“So what could I do?” Jill asked, “I had to know what made that sound. So I climbed onto the woodpile in your backyard and peered over the fence. That’s when I saw her. I saw Sadie.”
“Sadie made the yowl?” I asked, flummoxed.
“No.” Jill said, looking paler than ever, “The cat did. Ashley’s cat, Figaro, made the sound. Sadie was in the backyard, buck naked, filthy and on all fours. She had Figaro clamped in her jaws by the neck, and the cat’s blood was running down her chest. She was eating it… alive.”
“Jesus Christ,” Jeff said. I didn’t say anything, I was speechless. My stomach lurched again when I realized I hadn’t seen my dog, Buck Biscuits, in a couple of days. I didn’t think much of it before, since I had been spending my days in my room.
“That’s not the worst of it,” Jill said, swallowing hard and looking green. We looked at her expectantly. “She saw me. I gasped, I couldn’t help it. She heard me and she looked up, looked right into my eyes. She just growled through her teeth and ran back to the house. Her mom opened the door for her. I saw her just for a couple seconds, but she saw me too. She was dressed in rags, hanging off her. She was as filthy as Sadie. She… she looked like an animal. They both did. I… God!”
Jill began sobbing, and Jeff and I held her as the bell rang, signaling the end of the lunch hour. Eventually, we all went to our next classes. I don’t remember a bit of it. All I could think about was what Jill told us.
I didn’t doubt her for a moment. I guess that’s why she wanted to tell me. Someone else would assure her that it was all a bad dream or her imagination. Some insulting bullshit like that, blunt dismissal disguised as comfort. People just refused to believe what they thought should be impossible. I believed Jill, not because I was interested in things people thought were impossible, but because she was my friend.
The hell of it was this: My belief did not do her a bit of good. Jeff would back us up even if he didn’t fully believe her himself, but that didn’t do her any good either. If we told our parents what she saw, they’d be so pissed at her for sneaking out they wouldn’t take a moment to consider what she had to say. We were on our own. Worse than that, we were isolated even from one another after school let out.
There was only one thing I could think to do, and that was to catch Jill before her mom came by to pick her up from school. She couldn’t go back home, that much was obvious to me. She was in danger. Whatever might be going on with Sadie, Eliza, and her parents, they wouldn’t risk her spreading the word around.
Well, I knew that plan was shot all to hell when I heard her name paged over the intercom midway through last period. I slapped my forehead, realizing what day it was. Once a month Jill had a doctor’s appointment and had to be pulled out of class early. I’m not sure why she had to go to the doctor every month, she wouldn’t say. So much for the running away plan.
I caught up with Jeff waiting for the bus home. I could see that Jill’s story affected him just as it did me. I think I mentioned earlier how sweet Jeff was on Sadie. Long stranding crush and all that. The idea that she had somehow gone feral, filthy, and carnivorous must have been a hard pill to swallow.
“Hey,” I said, standing beside him.
“We’ve got to get her out of there,” he said.
“I agree,” I said, relieved that we were on the same page. “They saw her. They might come for her next.”
Jeff turned and looked at me for the first time. His face was naked, damp with sweat, and his eyes were hollow.
“Not Jill.” He said. “Sadie. Whatever fucked up shit the Carmichaels are up to, whatever they’ve been doing to her, it has to stop. Tonight. We’ll get her out of the house somehow, take her to my place. Call the police. Are you with me?”
“Jeff,” I said, flabbergasted, “This is… You’re talking about… Sadie was-”
Jeff grabbed me by the shoulder, his hollow eyes suddenly blazing.
“Are. You. With me?” He demanded.
The bus was pulling up in front of us. What could I say? Jeff was my best friend. If he asked me, I would have followed him into hell. It was so much easier back in those days to see things in black and white terms. You had to back your best friend’s play. Even if you were terrified.
“I’m with you,” I said.
“Tonight,” was his only reply.