Miss Stevens threw it away.
The class had erupted into quite a raucous laugh when she had taken the strange, quivering pile of black goo away from Sarah, who responded with a sheepish grin and a giggle shared by Justin and Lindsey. It had been tossed casually among the three of them, done with a timing of each throw coordinated with Miss Stevens’ turning her back to him in order to point out something else on the screen. A couple of snickers had clued the teacher in that something was happening, and one properly executed play (the “turn-around-and-snap-back-to-face-the-class-without-warning” route) rewarded her with a glimpse of the flying blob planting itself squarely on Sarah’s desk with a solid, wet slap.
As usual, the chuckles of the three guilty parties in the case of the flying goo-thing were replaced with the typical reactions to the news that Miss Stevens intended to call each of their homes after class. Sarah just pressed her lips together with a sheepish, guilty grin and a shrug of the shoulders. Lindsey pleaded with Miss Stevens to not follow through; after all, another call home meant that mom might speak to the cheerleading coach about suspending her from the team, and heaven forbid that something like that would happen. Justin broke into a loud-mouthed protest of not doing anything wrong that had all the conviction and believability of a man clad in black, standing next to an opened safe in the middle of the night with hands full of cash, whose defense was that he was just cleaning the shelves.
The ringing bell interrupted Justin’s rant of injustice at the matter. Miss Stevens waved them out, watching them as they slowly filed through the doorway, interrupted only by Tyler, who asked if he could make up his quiz from last Wednesday after school. No can do, as Miss Stevens had an appointment with her eye doctor at three; but making it up on Monday during class wouldn’t be a problem. He thanked her, then turned and marched out to join the cacophony of slamming lockers and babbling mouths.
The analog clock read 10:15. Five minutes to make the calls.
She could have waited until lunch to do it, but lunch time was short enough already, and a glimpse out the window told her that it was too nice a day to be sitting inside for any unnecessary reason. Gold sun poured down upon green leaves and flooded a soft carpet of grass. She’d definitely take her lunch outside today. Better to do as much talking as possible now to parents than to miss out on the taste of paradise being offered on the other side of the window. After all, tomorrow’s forecast called for rain.
Moving to her computer, she brought up the student information. There it was-neatly arranged in alphabetical order, with addresses, parent names, and of course the all-important phone contacts. More than likely, the parents were at work, so messages left on the answering machines would be enough for now. Just as well; she wasn’t interested in making small talk about flying goo.
First call: Justin. Hiding the receiver under her neck length brown hair, she finger-punched numbers and listened to the distant ring while her eyes drifted back to the seductive weather conditions that flirted with summer, beckoning her to come out and soak herself in a shower of sunlight and warmth that would drench her with rejuvenation.
Why hadn’t she called in sick today?
Another ring, still no answer. Better hurry this up; the next class would be filing in any second now. Still, the rhythmic operation of the locker doors continued outside, along with polyphonic gossip, punctuated with the infrequent delighted squeal of an ecstatic girl at the news that the football team quarterback might have the hots for her.
Outside, shadow dampened the sunny landscape. Miss Stevens’ lips formed into a slight pout.
A third ring. More shadow, less sun, to the point where Miss Stevens began to wonder whether or not she had mixed up the forecasts. Maybe today was supposed to be the intended arrival for the thundershowers. Or maybe the weatherman had (again) made a wrong prediction. So much for a sunny lunch outside.
She glanced back at the clock-still 10:15. It’s not even been a full minute? There was no second hand, so there was no telling how long it would be until the minute hand would advance. But certainly this had to have taken more than a minute by now! Any other time, like on Miss Stevens’ prep, the minutes flew by, making a fifty-minute block of time set aside for the preparation of the class day feel more like twenty minutes-on a good day. Now, all of a sudden, the clock refused its hasty rush. On the one hand, that was fine with her; she could use the extra time. Wishful thinking; the clock battery’s probably going dead. She’d pick one up after her appointment.
She looked back at the window with disappointment, and the disappointment gave way to a perplexed stare.
It was nearly dark outside.
Dark. Not just clouded over, but dark, as if the sun had suddenly decided to drop from the face of the sky. The trees and lawn could barely be made out, little more than deep purple forms against a backdrop of what looked like a tangible black. Granted, Miss Stevens had seen storms darken the landscape before, but not like this, especially without even a hint of a gust of wind or the distant rumble of thunder to accompany it. There hadn’t been anything more than a slight breeze just a few minutes ago, and a closer examination of the sky earlier revealed not even a hint of a storm on its way.
Now the sky-sun and all-had been swallowed up, and the result was an unusual settling of a deep, artificial twilight over the land. Very dark-and still.
A restless apprehension brushed over Miss Stevens, not just because of the strange phenomenon outside, but also because the stillness was accompanied by sudden realizations about two other unusual points of attention.
The first was that there was no fourth ring from the phone. Nor was there the familiar sound of a voice on the other end of the receiver, either live or by answering machine. Nor had there been the sound of a disconnecting click, followed by an annoying, repetitious buzz that indicated the other line was unhooked, or busy. There was simply nothing after the third ring.
Which led Miss Stevens to the second realization; one which troubled her even more than that of the strange atmospheric metamorphosis, or the suddenly non-existent phone call. Both of those, as disconcerting as they were, did not send off any major alarms, nor did they make her feel as strikingly helpless… or even just a little bit afraid.
Not like the second thing she noticed.
There was no noise at all coming from the hallway.