Sanitized Testing

The classroom isn’t as full as it used to be. Sure, I haven’t been in a full classroom since Kindergarten, but today there’s three less people than yesterday. Three is a significant number when there’s only seven people. On the first day of senior year there was eleven of us. Now there’s only four and it’s only October. Once the cold settles in we are really in trouble.

Mrs. Sandfield picks up the attendance sheet. She knows all of us by name, but she still insists on treating us like a “normal class” or what was normal before the outbreak. “Gardner?”

Silence. Mrs. Sandfield chews her bottom lip. Her eyes glance up to Troy Dodson’s empty seat. She crosses his name off and just like that, the last trace of him is gone. “Peters?”

Silence. Mrs. Sandfield scratches her pen. “Vance?”

More silence sucking the air out of the room. It doesn’t help that the air conditioner has been broken for months. Mrs. Sandfield marks through Katie Vance’s name. “Weber?”

“Here,” my voice booms obnoxiously loud in the quiet room. Marie Gardner flinches and turns her stink eye on me. You’d think I was yelling at a funeral. She’s a drama queen.

Mrs. Sandfield sets down the list and automatically pulls her sterile smelling hand sanitizer out of her desk drawer. She used to have the fruity kind that girls would shove under their noses when the sweaty soccer team walked by, but the fruity sanitizer is long gone and so is the soccer team.

“Alright, today we are learning the quadratic equation…” Mrs. Sandfield picks up a bright red dry erase marker and starts writing numbers on the board. The internet and phone lines crashed down a few years ago, but the electricity is still running…for now.

As Mrs. Sandfield rambles through notes I count the dry erase markers resting on the board. There’s six of them. I wonder what will happen when they dry out. Maybe Mrs. Sandfield will drag an old chalkboard in if she can find chalk. Maybe by then there won’t be anyone around to teach.

Mrs. Sandfield drags through math, history, and grammar before finally letting us eat lunch. We have to bring our lunch since there’s no one around to cook it. We eat right at our desks since there are only four classes in the entire school. I’m not sure why we don’t just combine into one class, but I guess that’s how the plague spread in the first place. I tried to tell my mom that going to school would get me sick, but she wouldn’t have any of that. Even though half of America is infected, education is still clearly more important.

As I popped jell capsules of fruity artificial flavoring into my mouth I nearly choke. Five little black spots dot my palm. My heart rate spikes as I clench my hands into a fist. I rub my eyes and look again. The dots glare defiantly up at me. “Can I borrow some hand sanitizer?” I blurt.

Mrs. Sandfield narrows her eyes and holds out her bottle. With a closed fist I stand up and take a step towards her. The world lurches under my feet. I barely feel the cool tile as I hit the ground. I see two Maries swinging out of her desk and jumping over me. Black dots dance in my eyes. “Help,” I croak even though I know they won’t help me. They can’t help me or they’ll get sick. They won’t ever use this room again. It’s contaminated.

The door slams shut behind them. The lock clicks. I can almost see the yellow police tape as the black dots blot out the world.

Asylum: The Knocker

I hear the knocking. Holding my breath I glare into the intense darkness straining my ears for the most minuscule sound. There it is! It’s getting louder, the rapping of knuckles against wood. It’s impatient. Someone should really get the door, but I cannot. Paralyzed I lay in wait. The doors unlocked. Maybe whoever it is will figure it out and just come in.

Rap, tap, tap. Again and again and again. The sound beats on my brain pounding like that clanking old type writer that, that poet hammers on upstairs when decent people are sleeping.

Rap, tap, tap. It’s worse than the old woman two floors down who hacked through Beethoven’s symphonies on piano, worse than the young man two doors down who sung opera painfully out of tune in the wrong key.

Rap, tap, tap. I wish I could swing myself out of bed, but if I try they will come back in with the big needle and I’ll spin back into endless nightmares. The big needle doesn’t stop the nightmares. They think it does, but they’re wrong. They pretend not to hear me scream after they use it. Who cares if it doesn’t work as long as I’m not awake to cause trouble. They don’t care.

Rap, tap, tap. Rap, tap, tap. The noise crescendos. I’m surprised they don’t hear it. Shouldn’t they hear it? Shouldn’t they stop it?

Rap, tap, tap. Rap, tap, tap. “Stop it! Stooooop!”

The doors bang open. I struggle to sit up. I have to get my hands free. Why won’t they take this stupid jacket off? How am I supposed to do anything with this stupid jacket on? Rap, tap, tap “Shhhh! It’s alright. Just lay back down.” It’s one of them. The voice bites through the air. I can smell the bloody mouth. I can see the bulge of the needle concealed beneath the lab coat.

Rap, tap, tap. Rap, tap, tap. “Please, please. I’ll go back to bed. I just can’t take the tapping. Please stop the tapping.” I can’t free my hands. I need to free my hands.

Rap, tap, tap. Rap, tap, tap. The doctor pulls the big needle from his coat. “No, please! I will sleep! Just stop the tapping!”

Rap, tap, tap. Rap, tap, tap. Faster and faster. I wriggle as the needle pinches my neck. “Shhhhh! Just go to sleep. It’s alright. There ain’t no tapping. You’ll be fine.”

Rap, tap, tap. Rap, tap. Rap, tap. The darkness smothers me. I struggle to fight it. I just have to get my hands free.

Creak. The doctor’s mumbling drifts back to me. “Good thing it was only Fred this time. Poor guy always hears things. He doesn’t know he’s got four other people rattling round his brain.”

The darkness swallows me and I see her standing over me, the knocker. Her yellow eyes glow through the blackness. “Took you long enough. Out! It’s my turn.”