One by One

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
Ashleigh has an ordinary life but once Dani, the sports captain dies mysteriously and the only person there is the school janitor, Ed, her life goes tumbling down the hill.

Submitted: April 18, 2013

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Submitted: April 18, 2013

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“Ready for the presentation, Ashleigh?”

I flinched at Tina’s question, and she jumped from behind my locker door. She beamed with her typically bubbly disposition.

“Geez, tense much?” she frowned as I caught my breath.

“Sorry, I was up all night studying. I’m a little on edge, and this crappy weather isn’t doing anything for my mood,” I mumbled as I stuffed notes and textbooks into my backpack.

“Clearly,” Tina chuckled. She linked arms with me as we headed toward Dickson room. It was her way of cheering me up, and she knew it always worked. The downpour of rain splashed against the window, the clouds were grey and looming over the school and the sun was hiding behind the clouds as if afraid of thunder and lightning. The bell went for first period and the halls were bustling with students hurrying to arrive to class on time. The hallways were filled with chatter and the pitter-patter of running footsteps.

Tina stopped at Dickson room and opened the door but didn’t walk in. I ran straight into her and looked up, confused. Her brows were furrowed, her breathing quick and shallow, eyes unblinking and intently fixed upon something in the empty room. I shifted my eyes and slowly turned my head, half afraid to see what had made the cheery Tina so grave. In the dark room, the little bit of light that filtered onto the floor through the blinds illuminated a pair of sneakers, bottoms facing Tina and I, which were connected to a pair of limp legs; the rest was blocked by a dark, hunched over kneeling figure. A flash of lightning flooded the room with light for two seconds, revealing the figure to be the school janitor, Ed. His piercing eyes gleamed below heavy brows, and he was glaring directly at Tina and me.

We both screamed loudly and jumped back out of view. My heart pounded hard as I backed into the wall. Mrs Dale noticed the commotion and squinted down the hallway, tapping two other teachers and motioning them to follow her.

“What’s going on?” she asked loudly, shooing students out of the way as she made a beeline toward us. I stared wide eyed at the door, and Tina just pointed, stuttering, “I don’t...something...I don’t know.”

Mrs Dale tore the door open without hesitating and flicked the switch. The other teachers filed in with her, blocking my view.

“What—” I heard her ask loudly before being cut off by a low, quiet voice, most definitely belonging to Ed, the only man in the room. Mrs Henderson appeared suddenly at the door, “Call an ambulance,” she ordered. It finally registered that she was speaking to me as she raised her eyebrows and shouted, “Now!”

I jumped and threw my bag to the ground, rifling through the pockets, fumbling for my mobile. I dialled 000 and immediately heard the stern operator, “000 what’s your emergency?”

“Uh...” I wasn’t even quite sure yet.

“What is your location?” she asked calmly.

“I...I need an ambulance,” I finally mustered. “Korowa Anglican Girls’ School. There’s a student on the ground and—” On the ground I could finally see who it was. The school’s sports captain, Dani Riley, was sprawled out with something leaking from her mouth.

“Hello? Are you still there?” came the persistent voice.

“She doesn’t look so good,” I whimpered as my eyes welled, my throat getting tight, my chest burning. She was so still.

The ambulance arrived, taking Dani away. “They’re zipping up a bag, that’s never good,” whimpered Tina. My eyes filled with warm tears and slowly trickled down my face. Mrs Henderson escorted me toward the front office. “We’re going to call your mother to come pick you up. Stay here,” she ordered. I didn’t move an inch.

My mother rushed to me as she walked through the office door, pulling me into a tight bear hug. “Oh, honey, are you all right?” she asked softly. I frowned, solemn, as she held my shoulders at arm’s length. “The school called me and told me everything dear, after you had to call the ambulance,” she said, her face filled with sympathy.

“I’m fine,” I offered quickly. “Have you heard anything from Mrs Dale?”

My mother wasn’t a crier. She was tough as nails. But her face fell and her lower lip quivered. Dani was gone, she didn’t have to tell me. Only the thought of losing a child could make my mother break down. I collapsed in the car, mind racing. Ed, or Mr Ed as the teachers instructed us to call him, kept running through my mind. His face, so grave and menacing, glaring at me from that dark room. I’d wake with a start the next three nights, sweating and gasping for air, those glinting eyes haunting me. He had something to do with Dani’s death. I just knew it.

My friends were silent as I placed my  lunch down at my usual spot. The typically breezy girls with explosively loud voices barely managed to crack a smile as I started into my sandwich.

“It was poison,” whispered my friend Kelly to me across the table, barely audible. Her eyes were big and sad, very out of place next to her high bun, bright ribbons, bright makeup and glittery dance  outfit she was wearing because of the concert rehearsal after school. She wasn’t your typical dancer. She wasn’t snobby, or arrogant. She didn’t condescend people of their actions. She was the captain and choreographer and pretty much the sweetest person in the entire school. An A+ student with a squeaky clean track record and rich, charitable family. “Mycoherbicide,” she said a little louder. “Sounds like suicide.”

“What—”

“It kills bugs,” my friend Meg interrupted before I could ask. Meg was terribly shy but had a hilariously dry sense of humour once you got to know her. She wasn’t making any jokes this time, though. I’d never considered suicide, mostly because it made no sense. Dani was pretty, popular, and had already nabbed a full gymnastics scholarship to her chosen university. She had everything.

The bell rang, startling me. Oh yeah, lunch. Kelly ran out ahead of everyone to get the other dancers in order. The hallways were packed with students, slowly trudging toward the grand hall. I looked up from my feet, and my stomach dropped. Ed stood at the entrance, holding one of the doors open. I could tell he had been staring at me before I looked up, and he didn’t break eye contact with me once I’d caught him. I quickly inspected my shoes again, the ceiling, other people's shoes, anything so I didn’t have to look into his eyes. I shoved my way past a few dozen people, determined not to get stuck anywhere close to him. I felt his gaze burning into my head as I ducked through the doors and sprinted breathlessly toward the assembly hall.

The school hymn was sung, we said the school prayer, we paid tribute to Dani and the captains made their announcements. I was starting to nod off as the dancers lined up. I lazily scanned them, looking for Kelly. I was bored, but I’d certainly cheer my friend on. Where was she? The others seemed to wonder this too as I saw their eyes darting around the hall. I stretched my spine, my eyes searching every corner trying to find her, but no luck. This was certainly not like Kelly. She was never late, plus I’d just seen her in the tuckshop. The co-captain shrugged her shoulders and signalled for the music to start. They completed their routine and the assembly was dismissed with no sign of Kelly.

“She must not be feeling well or something,” I wondered aloud as my friends also exchanged puzzled glances. I headed to the bathroom to see if she needed anything. Sure enough, I saw her cheerleading pompoms and backpack leaning poking out from underneath the only closed stall.

“Hey Kelly, too much Indian food?” I called out, chuckling. “Don’t worry; it happens to  all of  us!” No response. “Aw, don’t worry, there’s always next time! The girls did a great job anyway. Do you need anything?”

I jumped as her backpack slid down and fell from the stall. “Kelly?” I called out. “Ke-e-e-e-lly,” I sang. Everything was still. I slowly approached the stall. “Kelly?” I said softly as I reached out to push the door in. It was locked. I tilted my head to peer through the crack. Kelly stared back at me, her eyes wide open, her head tilted back, mouth open. I screamed before I could catch myself, and I didn’t stop until I crashed through the doors of the main office.

“When was the last time you saw her?” the officer asked me as the ambulance drove away slowly. No sirens. This was third time I was being asked the same question, where had I seen her last, did she say anything about being upset, did she have any enemies, how did I know she was in the bathroom, what is her mother’s phone number...nothing had sunk in yet.

I slammed my bedroom door when I got home, not wanting hugs or kind words from Mum. I couldn’t sleep that night, or the night after that, or the night after that. I skipped a week of school, watching the news all day, hearing reports of Kelly having ingested giant amounts of chlorine. Then reports of Nikki, the debate team captain going missing, then Amy, the magazine editor dying from water poisoning. My mother took this as kids being kids, trying to use chemicals in ways they were not intended. I didn’t tell her my suspicions about Ed.

I ran down the hallway, late to history, and darted around a puddle of what looked-liked Gatorade. I tumbled into class, tripping over myself, and flopped into the first empty desk I saw. Mr Robin, a steadfast ex-military man, opened his mouth to give me what I knew would be a verbal lashing but was interrupted by a rapid knock at the door. Mr Robin opened the door, and I saw half of Ed’s face. I heard him saying something about Jenny, the hockey captain, and Gatorade. Mr Robin turned on his heel and barked at Jenny to help Ed clean the mess in the hallway, as it has been her drink. Jenny rolled her eyes and marched dramatically to the hall, prompting giggles from the class.

The bell rang 20 minutes later, and Jenny’s books and bag remained at her seat. Mr Robin bolted from the room before the students as he always did, desperate to get to lunch before the rush. The students followed quickly, leaving me to collect Jenny’s belongings. I stepped into the deserted hallway, struggling with the weight of my own books and Jenny’s. Something wasn’t right. It doesn’t take 20 minutes to clean a spill. I headed to the janitor’s closet where Ed often ate. I was truly terrified, but I was determined to find Jenny. The door was closed. I knocked softly, then harder, then banged with my fist.

“Mr Ed! I—”

Someone grabbed my shoulders and spun me around. Ed, frowning and sweating, stared down at me. “Can I help you?” he said in his monotone, drawling accent.

“I...I...where’s Jenny?” I asked abruptly and with as much confidence I could muster. He stared at me for an eternity, his mouth pinched shut, until his lips finally turned up slowly into a sickly grin. Eyes gleaming, he whispered, “No idea, sweetie.” I abandoned any facade of cool, calm and collected behaviour and sprinted as fast as I could, not looking back until I reached the end of the hall. She was gone. Everyone was gone, for that matter. I suddenly felt very alone as my footsteps echoed from one side of the hallway to the other. I pushed the heavy swinging door to the stairwell open and froze. As the hinges creaked, I swore I heard a muffled voice saying “Ashleigh.” I moved to take another step, the hair on the back of my neck standing up. I heard it again. I spun around to find Jenny staring at me from the back of Dickson room through the glass pane of the door, wide-eyed, gagged, and struggling.

Suddenly, Dr Connell, the chemistry teacher, appeared behind Jenny through the glass, grinning. The knob turned slowly, and he leaped from the room, his eyes with a devilish twinkle. I dropped everything and slid down the banister, instinct taking over. I didn’t have time to think. Years on the athletics team helped me along, but Dr Connell was gaining on me. He was only 35 and tall. Second floor, almost there, then first floor. If I could just get to the ground floor. Then finally, I leaped down the last six steps and charged my way into the tuckshop. I did the best thing I could think of: I clambered on top of a table and screamed the loudest my lungs could manage.

Miss. Johnson, Mrs Dale and Mrs Henderson all came rushing through the door. “What’s wrong Ashleigh?” said Miss. Johnson with a concerned look on her face. Suddenly, Dr Connell stampeded into the tuckshop, his grin turning into screwed-up, confused frown. I told the teachers everything; I was unable to stop, until I was standing there, breathless. The tuckshop was silent; everybody’s breathing deep and intense. Mrs Dale’s eyes flickered up to Dr Connell. “Thank you for informing us Ashleigh, the teachers and I will have a talk with our principal. Dr Connell, that includes you. Ashleigh, you should be getting back to class.”

Turns out our chemistry teacher wasn’t Dr Connell from Melbourne University. He was actually Andres Sánchez from Argentina. He also went by Bryan Adams, William Talley, George Peck, and Anthony Silva. He went from school to school taking revenge on popular students thanks to some emotional scarring from back in his own high school days. Turns out Ed was just naturally really creepy. Jenny was suffering from chloroform inhalation, but she recovered and survived. An investigation was launched into how the school managed to hire an escaped murderer and identity thief, and the whole community got some sense of closure from his arrest. After a few years, the story would go down as an urban legend, and there were whispers of the Dickson room being haunted. The school tried to hush the story up and forbade any of the teachers from discussing the incidences.

It would be another decade until I heard my husband flipping through the channels, stopping him at a news broadcast detailing several students perishing at a school in Sydney after inhaling too much helium—apparently for fun.“Ready for the presentation, Ashleigh?”

I flinched at Tina’s question, and she jumped from behind my locker door. She beamed with her typically bubbly disposition.

“Geez, tense much?” she frowned as I caught my breath.

“Sorry, I was up all night studying. I’m a little on edge, and this crappy weather isn’t doing anything for my mood,” I mumbled as I stuffed notes and textbooks into my backpack.

“Clearly,” Tina chuckled. She linked arms with me as we headed toward Dickson room. It was her way of cheering me up, and she knew it always worked. The downpour of rain splashed against the window, the clouds were grey and looming over the school and the sun was hiding behind the clouds as if afraid of thunder and lightning. The bell went for first period and the halls were bustling with students hurrying to arrive to class on time. The hallways were filled with chatter and the pitter-patter of running footsteps.

Tina stopped at Dickson room and opened the door but didn’t walk in. I ran straight into her and looked up, confused. Her brows were furrowed, her breathing quick and shallow, eyes unblinking and intently fixed upon something in the empty room. I shifted my eyes and slowly turned my head, half afraid to see what had made the cheery Tina so grave. In the dark room, the little bit of light that filtered onto the floor through the blinds illuminated a pair of sneakers, bottoms facing Tina and I, which were connected to a pair of limp legs; the rest was blocked by a dark, hunched over kneeling figure. A flash of lightning flooded the room with light for two seconds, revealing the figure to be the school janitor, Ed. His piercing eyes gleamed below heavy brows, and he was glaring directly at Tina and me.

We both screamed loudly and jumped back out of view. My heart pounded hard as I backed into the wall. Mrs Dale noticed the commotion and squinted down the hallway, tapping two other teachers and motioning them to follow her.

“What’s going on?” she asked loudly, shooing students out of the way as she made a beeline toward us. I stared wide eyed at the door, and Tina just pointed, stuttering, “I don’t...something...I don’t know.”

Mrs Dale tore the door open without hesitating and flicked the switch. The other teachers filed in with her, blocking my view.

“What—” I heard her ask loudly before being cut off by a low, quiet voice, most definitely belonging to Ed, the only man in the room. Mrs Henderson appeared suddenly at the door, “Call an ambulance,” she ordered. It finally registered that she was speaking to me as she raised her eyebrows and shouted, “Now!”

I jumped and threw my bag to the ground, rifling through the pockets, fumbling for my mobile. I dialled 000 and immediately heard the stern operator, “000 what’s your emergency?”

“Uh...” I wasn’t even quite sure yet.

“What is your location?” she asked calmly.

“I...I need an ambulance,” I finally mustered. “Korowa Anglican Girls’ School. There’s a student on the ground and—” On the ground I could finally see who it was. The school’s sports captain, Dani Riley, was sprawled out with something leaking from her mouth.

“Hello? Are you still there?” came the persistent voice.

“She doesn’t look so good,” I whimpered as my eyes welled, my throat getting tight, my chest burning. She was so still.

The ambulance arrived, taking Dani away. “They’re zipping up a bag, that’s never good,” whimpered Tina. My eyes filled with warm tears and slowly trickled down my face. Mrs Henderson escorted me toward the front office. “We’re going to call your mother to come pick you up. Stay here,” she ordered. I didn’t move an inch.

My mother rushed to me as she walked through the office door, pulling me into a tight bear hug. “Oh, honey, are you all right?” she asked softly. I frowned, solemn, as she held my shoulders at arm’s length. “The school called me and told me everything dear, after you had to call the ambulance,” she said, her face filled with sympathy.

“I’m fine,” I offered quickly. “Have you heard anything from Mrs Dale?”

My mother wasn’t a crier. She was tough as nails. But her face fell and her lower lip quivered. Dani was gone, she didn’t have to tell me. Only the thought of losing a child could make my mother break down. I collapsed in the car, mind racing. Ed, or Mr Ed as the teachers instructed us to call him, kept running through my mind. His face, so grave and menacing, glaring at me from that dark room. I’d wake with a start the next three nights, sweating and gasping for air, those glinting eyes haunting me. He had something to do with Dani’s death. I just knew it.

My friends were silent as I placed my  lunch down at my usual spot. The typically breezy girls with explosively loud voices barely managed to crack a smile as I started into my sandwich.

“It was poison,” whispered my friend Kelly to me across the table, barely audible. Her eyes were big and sad, very out of place next to her high bun, bright ribbons, bright makeup and glittery dance  outfit she was wearing because of the concert rehearsal after school. She wasn’t your typical dancer. She wasn’t snobby, or arrogant. She didn’t condescend people of their actions. She was the captain and choreographer and pretty much the sweetest person in the entire school. An A+ student with a squeaky clean track record and rich, charitable family. “Mycoherbicide,” she said a little louder. “Sounds like suicide.”

“What—”

“It kills bugs,” my friend Meg interrupted before I could ask. Meg was terribly shy but had a hilariously dry sense of humour once you got to know her. She wasn’t making any jokes this time, though. I’d never considered suicide, mostly because it made no sense. Dani was pretty, popular, and had already nabbed a full gymnastics scholarship to her chosen university. She had everything.

The bell rang, startling me. Oh yeah, lunch. Kelly ran out ahead of everyone to get the other dancers in order. The hallways were packed with students, slowly trudging toward the grand hall. I looked up from my feet, and my stomach dropped. Ed stood at the entrance, holding one of the doors open. I could tell he had been staring at me before I looked up, and he didn’t break eye contact with me once I’d caught him. I quickly inspected my shoes again, the ceiling, other people's shoes, anything so I didn’t have to look into his eyes. I shoved my way past a few dozen people, determined not to get stuck anywhere close to him. I felt his gaze burning into my head as I ducked through the doors and sprinted breathlessly toward the assembly hall.

The school hymn was sung, we said the school prayer, we paid tribute to Dani and the captains made their announcements. I was starting to nod off as the dancers lined up. I lazily scanned them, looking for Kelly. I was bored, but I’d certainly cheer my friend on. Where was she? The others seemed to wonder this too as I saw their eyes darting around the hall. I stretched my spine, my eyes searching every corner trying to find her, but no luck. This was certainly not like Kelly. She was never late, plus I’d just seen her in the tuckshop. The co-captain shrugged her shoulders and signalled for the music to start. They completed their routine and the assembly was dismissed with no sign of Kelly.

“She must not be feeling well or something,” I wondered aloud as my friends also exchanged puzzled glances. I headed to the bathroom to see if she needed anything. Sure enough, I saw her cheerleading pompoms and backpack leaning poking out from underneath the only closed stall.

“Hey Kelly, too much Indian food?” I called out, chuckling. “Don’t worry; it happens to  all of  us!” No response. “Aw, don’t worry, there’s always next time! The girls did a great job anyway. Do you need anything?”

I jumped as her backpack slid down and fell from the stall. “Kelly?” I called out. “Ke-e-e-e-lly,” I sang. Everything was still. I slowly approached the stall. “Kelly?” I said softly as I reached out to push the door in. It was locked. I tilted my head to peer through the crack. Kelly stared back at me, her eyes wide open, her head tilted back, mouth open. I screamed before I could catch myself, and I didn’t stop until I crashed through the doors of the main office.

“When was the last time you saw her?” the officer asked me as the ambulance drove away slowly. No sirens. This was third time I was being asked the same question, where had I seen her last, did she say anything about being upset, did she have any enemies, how did I know she was in the bathroom, what is her mother’s phone number...nothing had sunk in yet.

I slammed my bedroom door when I got home, not wanting hugs or kind words from Mum. I couldn’t sleep that night, or the night after that, or the night after that. I skipped a week of school, watching the news all day, hearing reports of Kelly having ingested giant amounts of chlorine. Then reports of Nikki, the debate team captain going missing, then Amy, the magazine editor dying from water poisoning. My mother took this as kids being kids, trying to use chemicals in ways they were not intended. I didn’t tell her my suspicions about Ed.

I ran down the hallway, late to history, and darted around a puddle of what looked-liked Gatorade. I tumbled into class, tripping over myself, and flopped into the first empty desk I saw. Mr Robin, a steadfast ex-military man, opened his mouth to give me what I knew would be a verbal lashing but was interrupted by a rapid knock at the door. Mr Robin opened the door, and I saw half of Ed’s face. I heard him saying something about Jenny, the hockey captain, and Gatorade. Mr Robin turned on his heel and barked at Jenny to help Ed clean the mess in the hallway, as it has been her drink. Jenny rolled her eyes and marched dramatically to the hall, prompting giggles from the class.

The bell rang 20 minutes later, and Jenny’s books and bag remained at her seat. Mr Robin bolted from the room before the students as he always did, desperate to get to lunch before the rush. The students followed quickly, leaving me to collect Jenny’s belongings. I stepped into the deserted hallway, struggling with the weight of my own books and Jenny’s. Something wasn’t right. It doesn’t take 20 minutes to clean a spill. I headed to the janitor’s closet where Ed often ate. I was truly terrified, but I was determined to find Jenny. The door was closed. I knocked softly, then harder, then banged with my fist.

“Mr Ed! I—”

Someone grabbed my shoulders and spun me around. Ed, frowning and sweating, stared down at me. “Can I help you?” he said in his monotone, drawling accent.

“I...I...where’s Jenny?” I asked abruptly and with as much confidence I could muster. He stared at me for an eternity, his mouth pinched shut, until his lips finally turned up slowly into a sickly grin. Eyes gleaming, he whispered, “No idea, sweetie.” I abandoned any facade of cool, calm and collected behaviour and sprinted as fast as I could, not looking back until I reached the end of the hall. She was gone. Everyone was gone, for that matter. I suddenly felt very alone as my footsteps echoed from one side of the hallway to the other. I pushed the heavy swinging door to the stairwell open and froze. As the hinges creaked, I swore I heard a muffled voice saying “Ashleigh.” I moved to take another step, the hair on the back of my neck standing up. I heard it again. I spun around to find Jenny staring at me from the back of Dickson room through the glass pane of the door, wide-eyed, gagged, and struggling.

Suddenly, Dr Connell, the chemistry teacher, appeared behind Jenny through the glass, grinning. The knob turned slowly, and he leaped from the room, his eyes with a devilish twinkle. I dropped everything and slid down the banister, instinct taking over. I didn’t have time to think. Years on the athletics team helped me along, but Dr Connell was gaining on me. He was only 35 and tall. Second floor, almost there, then first floor. If I could just get to the ground floor. Then finally, I leaped down the last six steps and charged my way into the tuckshop. I did the best thing I could think of: I clambered on top of a table and screamed the loudest my lungs could manage.

Miss. Johnson, Mrs Dale and Mrs Henderson all came rushing through the door. “What’s wrong Ashleigh?” said Miss. Johnson with a concerned look on her face. Suddenly, Dr Connell stampeded into the tuckshop, his grin turning into screwed-up, confused frown. I told the teachers everything; I was unable to stop, until I was standing there, breathless. The tuckshop was silent; everybody’s breathing deep and intense. Mrs Dale’s eyes flickered up to Dr Connell. “Thank you for informing us Ashleigh, the teachers and I will have a talk with our principal. Dr Connell, that includes you. Ashleigh, you should be getting back to class.”

Turns out our chemistry teacher wasn’t Dr Connell from Melbourne University. He was actually Andres Sánchez from Argentina. He also went by Bryan Adams, William Talley, George Peck, and Anthony Silva. He went from school to school taking revenge on popular students thanks to some emotional scarring from back in his own high school days. Turns out Ed was just naturally really creepy. Jenny was suffering from chloroform inhalation, but she recovered and survived. An investigation was launched into how the school managed to hire an escaped murderer and identity thief, and the whole community got some sense of closure from his arrest. After a few years, the story would go down as an urban legend, and there were whispers of the Dickson room being haunted. The school tried to hush the story up and forbade any of the teachers from discussing the incidences.

It would be another decade until I heard my husband flipping through the channels, stopping him at a news broadcast detailing several students perishing at a school in Sydney after inhaling too much helium—apparently for fun.


© Copyright 2018 yshi16. All rights reserved.

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