I stared at the pile of envelopes for a long time. Yeah, I guess I knew right then that she was gone. It wasn’t as raw as most of the images I saw from the future, but it was there, screeching in the back of my head that I better catch her before she left the house. I didn’t try to catch her, though. I just sat there on my bed, with my lousy hangover, staring at the pile of envelopes. The one on top had the day’s date on it.
I pulled it out of the stack and opened it.
“Hey Baby,” the letter inside said. “If you’re reading this, I guess you know I’m gone. No big loss, right? I’m not going to sit around and get all weepy right now—I’m not in the mood for it, and neither are you. Besides, you’ll be late for school. I know you think you love Sarah. Love is a good thing. But it’s rarely a true thing. So just ask yourself something, okay, little man? Ask yourself why you’re loving. Don’t ask just once, either, because it seems like the answer will always be changing, and it’s a good thing to keep tabs on. Why are you loving?
“But enough of that. I’ve dated each of these envelopes, but I don’t guess I really needed to—I’m sure you’ll know when to read them. I know it’s not a whole hell of a lot of guidance, but I did the best I could. I love you. Mom.”
And that was it. I threw the stack of envelopes onto the bed and went to take a shower. I finished my morning routine just like I always did, trying not to think about all the crazy shit that was going on inside my head. I dressed, ate a piece of toast, and grabbed my backpack. I was almost out the front door when I decided to throw the letters in my bag.
“What’s up?” Sarah asked me. “Are you getting sick? You look like you’re getting sick. You’re all pale.”
“My mom left this morning.”
“What do you mean, she left?”
“She took off. Not coming back.”
“Oh my gosh! No wonder you’re so pale! Are you okay?” I thought about milking the sympathy for all it was worth, but I felt like we were running out of time. The world had an electric feel for me. Clouds seemed to be moving too fast, noises seemed too loud. I smelled smoke everywhere I went.
“Come on, man. You know I didn’t really like my mom. I could give a damn, really—I think there are more serious problems in the world today.”
“What are you talking about?” I think she knew, I really think she did. But there are some things that it’s just too hard to accept. The end of the world is one of those things, for most people.
“I’m talking about we’re coming up on it, man.”
“Maybe. I don’t know. Soon.”
Soon turned out to be third period. I was sitting there at my desk, not really paying attention to whatever it was Mr. Sneedle the science teacher was saying. I was looking out the window, wondering if today was the end of the world. It certainly was a nice day for it. It was a wonderful spring day, warm without being hot, where the breeze tastes sweet and you understand that you’re supposed to be playing in some damn field or something, or fishing by a creek, or doing anything other than sitting in a stuffy science room, listening to this fat guy blubber on about who knows what. The doors of the school building had been propped open to let in some of the breeze, and once in a while you could catch the scent of freedom wafting in.
“Mr. Sneedle,” Kim Ramsey said, “I think you have a new student.” She pointed to the classroom door.
“What’s that?” Mr. Sneedle said, and then he saw the dog. It was a toy poodle, the same one I had seen over and over again. But it wasn’t so small anymore. It was about the size of a pony. It’s pink-dyed fur was full of twigs and grime, and there were several bald places where it had fallen out. The dog didn’t look like a sane dog, not by any stretch of the imagination. To me, it looked like a mental patient with rabies. It was grinning a crazy grin, and one of it’s eyes was bulging almost out of the socket. “Oh,” Mr. Sneedle said, and then the mad dog was upon him.
It knocked him behind his desk, so none of us saw exactly what was going on, but the wet ripping sounds were descriptive enough for us. And in case any of us had any doubt about the violence of the hidden show, there was the occasional spatter of blood smacked onto the blackboard to clarify.
I don’t know why nobody else moved—maybe they were too startled or horrified to move. Me, I was just too tired. Life had become a step or two too difficult to try. There was nothing good at the end of the end, just death after a horrible trial of wits, strength, and heart. I wasn’t up to it.
The dog finished up with Mr. Sneedle and then rounded the desk to face the class. It’s face was smeared with blood, and the insane smile was still there. It scanned the class, perhaps deciding which one of us would taste the best. And then that bulging eye burst, shooting a mass of yellow-green slime out onto one of the kids sitting on the first row. I wasn’t quite sure what his name was—Aaron something, I think—and I didn’t figure it was too important, anyway. He started screaming, screaming about how it burned. It had pretty much covered his face and his right arm, and you could hear a crackling hiss, like when you're frying an egg in really hot grease. Even over his screams, you could hear that sound, and even over the screams of everyone else in the room.
The dog dropped onto it’s side, dead, and was out of the spotlight immediately. Aaron something, he was the center show now, as he screamed about how someone help, somebody make it stop. He reached out to the girl next to him, and she screamed and jumped out of her chair. That seemed to break whatever spell had kept everyone glued to their seats, because that’s when everyone rushed to the door. They hurt each other as they panicked through the too-small doorway, you could hear the pain of crunching bones and smashed skin even if you tried to ignore it. And still you could hear Aaron something’s skin as it sizzled.
I sat in my chair, thinking about how there was no way I was up to the challenges that life in this new mad world had to offer. “Why are you loving?” a voice whispered in the back of my mind. For a second, I thought it might be enough to vanquish the mental fatigue that had smothered me since the dog walked into the room and ripped apart my science teacher. For a second, I thought I could do it for Sarah, because I loved her. And then I realized that I was a dumb high school kid who knew dick about love. Why am I loving? Because I didn’t know what else to do with my raging hormones, I guess.
I heard screams from the hallway, and then my classmates started pouring back into the classroom, in the same panic in which they had left it.
“Close the door! Close the fucking door!” That was Brad Rankin, the big-shot running back of the football team. He was an all right guy, I guess, as good as you could expect from a dumb jock who couldn’t think about anything unless it pertained to sports. He slammed the door and threw his body against it. You could hear bodies thumping into it as some of the other students tried to get in, you could hear them screaming things like "Let me in!" and "Please help!" and you could hear them scratching at the glass. Brad was pretty stout, though, and he was able to keep the door shut. “Holy fucking shit, man! What the hell is going on out there?” I don’t think he was asking anyone in particular.
Aaron something, he had stopped screaming and rolling around on the floor, but his skin was still sizzling, like if your bacon was at low simmer, just a little white noise, boys and girls, pay no mind.
“I forgot to take my pills this morning,” Stacy Jennings said. “That’s what happened. I forgot to take my medicine.” She looked around, a little too optimistically. “I have A.D.D. I have to take my pills every day, three times a day. Or my imagination gets carried away, that’s what my mom says. And I must have forgotten to take my pill this morning, and this is all just my imagination.”
I wasn’t going to be the one that argued with her—it seems like my whole life has been spent as a drug addict’s withdrawal syndrome. Brad turned to her, his face pale and flushed red, all at the same time, and it looked like he was going to disagree with her forgot-to-take-her-pill theory. But that’s when Mr. Sneedle stood up. What was left of him, anyway.
He had been pretty mangled by the poodle: pieces of his face were swaying all over the place like the sea plants you see on the National Geographic channel; his clothes were all torn up and blood-stained; his internal organs had been promoted to external organs. His eyeballs rolled all around in his sockets, voyeurs with no one to look at.
For a second, I almost passed out. My entire body went warm and numb, and all the sounds—the noise from outside in the hall, the sizzling of Aaron something’s flesh, the non-stop scream of whichever girl it was that had been screaming for the last eternity or two—seemed quiet and soothing, like a golf game on TV after you’ve eaten way too much and really feel like dozing off. I was just about out for the count.
And then Mr. Sneedle started changing. His teeth, that was the main thing. They started growing, and they didn’t seem to care where they did it. Fangs erupted out of his shoulders, they sprouted out of his elbows. Mr. Sneedle was nothing but teeth, it seemed like. There were still flaps of flesh waving around, but they were in the minority. And then he lunged at Brad.
I never really understood what a lunge was until then. It wasn’t an attack—it was too clumsy and violent to be an attack. It was a blind need, the way you might suck air after being held under water for too long. Mr. Sneedle wanted Brad right then, NEEDED him.
Mr. Sneedle ripped Brad apart, starting with an arm, followed by a leg, and ending—after a few more stops—at the head. He ripped Brad apart and ate the pieces in whole clumps, shoving meat and bone into any orifice that his altered body allowed. Mr. Sneedle seemed to be made up entirely of mouths now, all of them sharp and greedy.
I couldn’t take it. Tired or not, I stood from my desk, walked to the window, and jumped out of it.