Those are some nasty bite marks, said the E.R. Nurse. She swabbed a cotton ball soaked in alcohol up and down my neck, cleaning off the bloodstains. It seared with pain, but I barely cringed.
Yeah, I said tonelessly.
So how did you get them? she asked, a hint of conspiratorial mischief in her voice.
I shook my head. I’d prefer not to discuss that, if it’s alright with you.
It’s not as if I meant to be rude. This just wasn’t her story to hear.
She shrugged, and made a few marks on the clipboard that held my chart. Suit yourself. Then she paused, clicked the pen up and down. How do you spell your name again?
Rowanna, I said. R-O-W-A-N-N-A.
She copied down the letters. . That’s so pretty.
I ignored this. And the last name is Spence, S-P-
Oh, I got that, she said. I’ll just hand this over to the doctor, and she’ll be with you in a few minutes.
Thanks, I said.
She nodded, and vanished through the curtain that served as a wall.
Outside, the chatter of hospital staff and bleak machine sounds barely perforated my thoughts. I could only stare at the blank curtain in front of me, as if in a trance. I tried to cleanse my mind of whatever the fuck just happened.
It didn’t work. All it did was replay again and again, a series of disconnected silent film scenes.
And I had no choice but to watch it, over and over.
Today was supposed to be a good day. At least, my students thoughts so as they filed into the Latin Room at the beginning of fourth block. All the lights were out, and an image of a paused YouTube video projected on the big white screen at the end of the room.
Yesssssss, came the whispers of excitement as they found their seats, rustled their papers and books into place. We’re watching a movie!
I waited until 1:05 before I shut the door, as per usual. Any student who came in after would be marked late, and a victim of split-second public shaming. I took attendance: Only one student out of eight was absent Claire DeVue. Doctor’s appointment, I quickly remembered. I wrote by her name.
, I said, formally addressing the rest of the class, the same as I did everyday. It didn’t sound conversational, but only because no one had conversations in Latin anymore.
they replied in unison, just as I’d trained them. Literally,
Even now, I still can’t believe these kids actually listen to me. This was the last class of the day, Latin IV. By now, students were supposed to be barely awake. Not this class. Only the most disciplined seniors managed to survive Latin I, II, and III without being decimated (See what I did there? Sorry, couldn’t resist). These kids were going into med school, law school, politics; any profession where knowing the archaic terminology would give them a competitive advantage. These kids took everything seriously. They attacked their studies with religious discipline, bound by a spirit of camaraderie rarely found among classmates. My duty was to lead them in their fight against a common enemy Failure.
As their teacher, I don’t think I’m wrong to assume that my class is home to the most brilliant, most students at Fox Valley High School.
Somehow, I still have trouble believing that they see me as an authority figure. I’ve always been the shortest kid in class; and as a teacher, I was the shortest in the class. Even at age 28, I looked the same age as most of the girls in that school. To compensate for my diminutive size, I wear scary 6-inch heels that around the room in tiny, sharp steps. I have several pairs of shoes like this. Today, I wore my Louboutins my black patent-leather Jamies with the open toe, devil-red underneath. (That was how I spent my Christmas bonus.) Needless to say, I looked intimidating.
On the downside, I know they also make my ass perk up under the black pencil skirts I always wear. I pretend to ignore the way most of the male students look at me. Instead, I try to act as un-sexy as possible. I strain my black hair into an old-lady bun every day. I wear stark librarian glasses, even though I don’t have a prescription (they’re only transparent lenses) to discourage the more mature boys from flirting with me. Of course, it didn’t always work.
I think back to three years ago, when these same kids wandered out of their summer daze and into my classroom with blank Freshman stares. That first day of class, I asked each student to name a word with a Latin origin. They went through a fairly standard list: , , . One kid said
No, Joseph, that’s a Greek word, I told him. Think of a different one.
As time went on, we’d start calling him Iosephus.
The poor kid puzzled over it for a moment. Uhh Rome?
I frowned. Fine, I’ll take that.
Then I turned to the boy who sat next to him: a deeply-tanned kid in skinny jeans and one of those ridiculous striped v-necks, with glossy dark hair and a rakish lady-killer smile. I narrowed my eyes and frowned even deeper.
You, I glanced at the seating chart. Diego, what’s a Latin word?
The rest of the class laughed into their hands so they wouldn’t get in trouble. If that little shit thought he could embarrass me, he was wrong.
Doh-mee-NAH-trix, I corrected. That’s how you pronounce it in Latin.
I went to the blackboard, took a piece of chalk, and scraped out in my formidably neat handwriting. Let’s break this down.
Underneath, I wrote, ; and
, I told the class. By the end of the semester, you’ll be able to dissect nearly every Latin word, just like this.
For the next three years, I kept my cool through all of the awkward Latin conversations. With a straight face, I told them the Latin word for “six” was . (Oddly enough, it has to do with the fact that six was a sacred number of Venus, Roman goddess of love. I only take it as further proof that sex and love are not the same thing at all.) Eventually, they stopped giggling every time I said it. The same went for the Genitive case; and the Latin word for “old person,” which just happened to be (but we usually used an alternative, like ); or anything else that sounded vaguely anatomical. It got especially tricky when I informed them that the Latin word for “with” was , which actually made sense in an X-rated way (I seriously hoped my students didn’t know this, but they probably did). I required that they use the correct Latin pronunciations, though. “Old” was AH-noose. “With” was KOOM, not come.
I quickly learned that just one outburst of adolescent laughter could send the entire room into red-faced, oxygen-deficient chaos. Therefore, if anyone used the Anglicized (i.e., dirty) pronunciations, I threatened to hit them with the and deduct 10 points from their final semester grade. With this rule, I’ve managed to preserve order in the classroom for the past four years.
Luckily, I never had to use the (Dative Case), the Latin term for “stick”. Yes, I’m talking about those old-fashioned wooden things that teachers used before they all got laser pointers. One, because corporal punishment is illegal in almost all states, and two, the threat of a whole letter grade deduction was enough to keep these young punks in line. Still, the stayed propped up next to the chalkboard, a time-honored tradition of the Latin Room. That same stick had been passed down to me from the Latin teacher before me, from the Latin teacher before her I’m not entirely sure how far back the legacy goes. I just know that I can never, ever retire the ; even though sometimes it give me the aspect of a dominatrix. To do that would be sacrilege.
Still, at least I didn’t use a laser pointer. Lasers are for entertaining cats, not educating the future of America.
Instead, today I chose to begin my lesson with a YouTube video. I waited until all of the students were settled in.
Who among your generation, I asked them, knows what is?
A flurry of hands went up. Good, I said. There might still be hope for these Millennials.
Most of the hands went down in a second, except for one: Erica Schultz. Her wire-rimmed glasses caught the glare of the screen, and she looked owlishly perplexed.
Yes, Erica, what is it? I asked, hiding my impatience.
Shouldn’t it be ? she asked.
I took a deep breath, resisting the urge to grab the and javelin-toss it right through her face. No, it’s , I insisted. If you take out the prepositional phrase, ‘‘, it’s just ‘. Not ‘‘. You might want to check your AP Lit notes.
Oh, she said, realizing her error. In an classroom, the other kids might have responded with derisive laughter, eager to humiliate anyone who stood out. My classroom, though, was a Socratic environment more conducive to the free exchange of ideas. They debated without fear of judgment, and bullying was irrelevant.
As I was saying, I resumed, you’re about to see a clip from . I would just play the entire movie, except that doing so would get me fired. So, we’re only going to watch one scene today; and you’re at the point now where all the terms in this dialogue should make perfect sense to you.
With that, I pressed on the sketch.
I watched as my students stared at the screen in rapt attention. They snickered as John Cleese, dressed as a Roman soldier, forcibly coerced Graham Chapman into writing a proper Latin sentence. I could see that, underneath the screen reflection dancing in their eyes, behind the impish amusement, they understood . Apparently, I’d succeeded in doing my job; I could barely believe it.
Then, before the camera angle showed the completed sentence, I paused the clip.
, went their collective disappointed murmur.
I switched the lights back on and pressed a piece of chalk to the board.
Now, who can write the correct answer? I asked, surveying the class. Anyone?
I got this, Miss Spence, said an all-too-familiar voice. Of course, it be Diego Menendez. Sliding his chair back, he strutted up to the front of the room in slick, easy steps. He’d probably grown a foot since Freshman year, and even while I wore my six-inch heels, he still smirked down at me.
Ah, Puer Scelestus, I said. I had Latin nicknames for most of my students. His just happened to mean “Wicked Boy,” because he never stopped looking for new ways to try my patience. It also had something to do with that time in his Sophomore year when he announced his bid to run for Governor of Illinois in 2028. That day, I also taught the class the meaning of a term which all Illinois governor-hopefuls should know.
You’re not going to twist my arm if I get it wrong, are you? he asked with a crooked, wry smile.
I gave him a warning glare. Not a chance. I think I’d like to keep my job.
He stopped in front of me and I handed him the chalk. Whether he intended it or not, his fingers brushed against mine. I pulled my hand away and swiped the chalk dust off my skirt.
All right, I said, let’s see what you got.
He checked his notebook and got right to work. I took a step back, crossed my arms, faced the rest of the class.
As much as I hate picking favorites, I must admit Diego one of my favorites. After the Dominatrix Incident, I thought he’d turn out to be a lazy troublemaker. He proved me wrong, though. His Junior year, he constructed an entire essay on the premise that (more commonly known as ) is actually one of the world’s oldest pick-up lines, which Horace used on a girl named Leucono. He also credited Horace with the original concept of “YOLO” as it related to Epicurean philosophy, and its eventual decline into hedonism.
I’d been so proud that day, I’d almost forgotten to frown. .
Even now, as he finished the ear-wrenching chalk sentence, I was glad I could claim this boy as one of my own. He stepped back, eyes challenging me to find fault with his work.
, it said. I scanned it for errors and found none. He’d impressed me again, but he didn’t need to know that.
I narrowed my eyes. Be honest, Diego, have you already seen this movie?
His face went blank, genuinely surprised. Wait, does that mean I got it right?
I guess we’ll find out, I said, as if I didn’t know the answer already. You may sit down.
He went back to his seat, just as he was told. I shut the lights back off and resumed the clip. Sure enough, the frame zoomed out on the words – written a hundred times in red paint. I paused the clip and closed the browser on the screen.
It would appear so, I said. Good work, Puer Scelestus.
This merited a few half-assed golf claps from the rest of the class, which died out when I turned the lights back on.
Which leads us into the last topic we’ll cover before the Final, I said, my favorite case, the Imperative.
The kids made no verbal complaint, but I could sense their disappointment. Did they really think we were going to watch movies all day? I shook my head, did a few sample exercises, and assigned the bookwork for them to do in class.
Work on this until about 2, I said. That gave them almost an hour. Then we’ll check answers and I’ll give you the homework. At which point, they’d no longer be my prisoners until Monday, at least.
Can we work in groups? asked Trevor Nguyen. Usually, the boys pushed their desks into a cluster as they worked, while the girls stayed hunched over their own books in annoyed silence.
I sighed. Yes, you may, I said, as long as you’re not disrupting others.
As soon as I said this, all the boys’ desks migrated together with an ear-grating scrape against the floor. For the rest of the time, though, they stayed reasonably quiet. I worked on grading the Latin II kids’ homework, looking up now-and-then to make sure everyone was working. It seemed like I could risk being comfortable now; I took off my itchy black cardigan and hung it from the back of my chair. I relaxed, feeling much lighter in just my button-down blouse.
After about 15 minutes, it looked like the boys had finished. Nick Whattley had his smart phone out (even though they weren’t allowed in classrooms, I really didn’t care if the kids used them assuming they’d already done the work). From their scattered conversations, I could tell they were engrossed in whatever viral nonsense was trending on Vine this week. I pushed my fake glasses up and frowned.
Guys, what is that, I asked with too little interest to imply a question mark; I just needed to make sure they weren’t watching porn.
Nothing, said Whattley, a sallow scrap of a boy with a razor-thin face and shaggy blond hair. Just some random internet game.
I narrowed my eyes at this obvious bullshit. Of course those boys would cover for each other. If Diego ever killed someone, Whattley would help him dissolve the body in acid and (another Latin term). Still, I wasn’t going to get up from my desk over this.
Whatever it is, just keep your voices down, I warned. The chatter died away.
Then I noticed Diego using his notebook as a ruler, making lines across another sheet of paper. Meanwhile, Trevor rummaged through his backpack, looking for something. He found two #2 pencils and placed them on the desk.
Now was unusual teenage Millennials writing with non-mechanical lead pencils. I said nothing, but watched them with suspicion. Diego scribbled something on his paper and placed the pencils in a cross, one balanced on top of the other. This seemed oddly familiar, but I didn’t know why .
Still, as emotionally indifferent as I was, it gave me a bad feeling. Guys, I warned, I said no disruptions.
The boys ignored me, already focused on their game. Diego set the pencils perfectly still. Everyone paused; even the girls were watching now, from their far-removed seats.
Diego spoke, as if formally addressing someone:
I dropped my grading pen, poised to start yelling.
Ask it something in Latin, said Whattley, lowering his voice as if that would keep me from hearing him.
Diego didn’t even bother to lower his voice; he disregarded me completely. he asked. The other boys laughed in whispers.
I shook my head. The kid definitely had no shortage of ambition.
Okay, guys, I said at last. Seriously, stop.
No one even looked at me; every student’s eyes were fixed on the pencil contrivance. I found myself watching, too for no reason other than skeptical disdain.
At the time, my rationale on the supernatural was this: it made no difference to me either way if ghosts, demons, or any other spirit entities, actually existed. If they weren’t real, then they were the products of mass delusion, and interesting fiction material nothing more. If they real, though however unlikely I that was I wouldn’t fuck with them. My speculation ended there.
That is, it , until the pencil on top started twitching. It teetered up and down, drumming on either side of the paper. The whole time, no one had touched it. I leaned forward, nerves on edge.
Then the pencil moved across the room and landed in the chalkboard tray on the opposite wall.
At first, I thought one of them threw it.
Really? I shouted, destroying their rapt silence. (A conversational Latin phrase I’d taught them, even though no one had conversations in Latin anymore.)
Some of the kids looked startled, as if they’d forgotten I was there.
I didn’t throw it, I swear, said Diego, the future politician. So, naturally, I thought he was full of shit.
I stood up and glared at every student in the room. The next person who throws things, I warned, will have to stand in the corner like a preschooler, if that’s the way you’re going to act.
He didn’t do it, Miss Spence, Iosephus piped up. It moved by itself.
Even the girls, usually unimpressed with the boys’ antics, nodded in agreement. Some of them looked genuinely afraid.
Frustrated, I hoped I could end this with my own bad temper. I slammed both my hands on the desk and everyone flinched. Whatever. I don’t care. Just don’t do it again,
Then something clicked in the same chalk tray, far away from where was sitting.
A small piece of chalk rose by itself.
What the I could barely spit the words out.
The chalk about the length of a finger bone hovered in mid-air, swishing back and forth in a pendulous motion. Several students gasped; fear burned livid on their faces.
On its own will, the chalk wrote something on the board. The characters looked stone-carved, ancient.
The students read the words, tried to work out the meaning on paper.
’Or you’ll do what?’ I translated. It sounded like a challenge. By now, I’d had enough of this bullshit. I gave the class my most withering glare. Seriously, who the is doing this?!
(In case you don’t know, the Latin verb meaning to make sounds a lot like fuck.)
No one, said Erica’s small, frightened voice. That girl wouldn’t lie; I don’t even think she knew how.
The animated chalk started a new message, just below the first one:
Sabina read, translating the verb first. ?
Close, but no cigar. It’s actually quite a challenge to translate an unfamiliar Latin sentence on sight when you haven’t already studied the words on a chart.
’,’ I corrected.
But it’s not an imperative, Erica argued, putting her freshly-minted knowledge into practice.
No, I said. It’s stating it as a fact.
So what are we going to do? Diego demanded, as a challenge to the unseen scribe. Go on, tell us!
Then, under the previous line, it wrote one word:
No one needed to read it in English; we all knew what it meant.
The collective breath went out of the room; even the temperature seemed to drop. Something seemed wrong with the air, the light. We were in the presence of something just .
I made one last effort to keep us rooted in the mundane, to keep the reality we knew from crumbling away.
Whoever’s doing this, I said in my scariest teacher voice, this isn’t funny. It needs to stop .
Then a deep, gravity-shaking sound emanated from every corner of the room. I would say it was a laugh, but is too human a term to describe it.
On their own, the lights went out. We could still see through the windows, but the lurid afternoon sun only deepened the shadows in the room. On some herd instinct, the girls left their seats for the cluster of desks. The students all huddled together, as the whites of their eyes got eerily bright in the growing darkness. I tried to stand between them and our unwanted visitor.
There was just one problem; I had no way of seeing or our enemy was.
The unnatural voice made another rough cackling sound, and I felt it deeper than my own heartbeat. Its words came from everywhere and nowhere; just gurgling, incoherent gibberish, which might or might not have been Latin words spelled in reverse.
The chalk still hovered in the air, as it probably had been the whole time. I never thought an innocent piece of white chalk could be so terrifying, moving by itself. It started scribbling on the board. The scribbles became a huge mass of jumbling lines.
Nick Whattley, who still had his phone out, snapped a picture of it.
What are you doing? cried Jenna. Don’t take a picture of it, are you stupid? To make her point, she smacked him in the head.
Hey, he protested, more annoyed than hurt. What was that for?
Before I could decide which one to yell at, Jenna screamed.
Just like that, their cluster dispersed. The other kids bolted as far away from Jenna and the chalk drawing as they could, nearly knocking me down. I steadied myself on a desk.
Something burned red around her neck. She dug a pendant out of her shirt collar, and I instantly saw what it was. After four years with these students, I knew most of their basic family histories. Jenna’s family was Irish-Catholic; and she wore a small crucifix on a chain around her neck.
Right now, it seemed to be blistering an imprint of itself into her skin. Her hands flew to the back of her neck, probably to undo the clasp.
Help, Miss Spence, she shrieked, voice rising to a scream. Her terrified eyes looked straight at me, glistening with tears. I can’t get it off!
Of course, hand contact between teachers and students was prohibited; but this was an exigent circumstance. I rushed up behind her, moved her hair away from her neck, and pinched the painfully small clasp open with my fingers. It burned my fingertips immediately, like my hair-straightener does whenever I accidentally touch the heated ceramic. With a sharp cry I threw it against the wall, where it burst as if held together by a string.
No longer sparkling, the silver alloy crumbled into dust. Flies swarmed from it, even though no flies could possibly have gotten in.
By this point, though, had a much broader meaning.
I looked at Jenna. She winced and massaged her own neck as the redness faded. At least she’d stopped crying.
Are you all right? I asked.
She could barely get her voice above a whisper. I think so.
I glanced back at the corner, where merely the of flies buzzing made me sick. They’d massed into a larger, darker cloud. Their collective presence hovered there gloating, mocking. It leered down at me in flickers of wall behind the teeming flies.
By now, the students had more-or-less huddled back together. Jenna rejoined the group, clinging to Shelby and Erica. I looked back at the dark, swarming shape in the corner.
What do you want? I asked it; although, I doubted that had any terms to negotiate.
Its rumbling laughter shook the air again. I wanted to throw a shoe at it just not one of my Louboutins.
Not even a shoe, necessarily. There had to be in the room we could use to attack it. My mind ran through its canon of Classical literature, historical knowledge, and obscure facts. Based on the evidence, I had to accept it was a demon. There no rational, sane explanation.
Not crucifixes, apparently. That probably ruled out holy water, too. Clearly not chalk, since it already used that. Chalk dust, though, chalk dust reminded me of something
Salt. Salt repels evil spirits. Blood contains salt, and blood contains life. For that reason, it was a valuable commodity to the Romans (soldiers were even paid in salt, which gives us the term ).
That logic seemed tenuous, at best but then again, logic had no place here anymore.
Meanwhile, the fly-cloud loomed like a spider in the corner. It drained the weak light from the room, and waited.
What has salt?
Does anyone have any snacks? I asked my students.
They exchanged puzzled glances.
You won’t let us bring food in here, said Erica.
She was right. I’d been forced to ban any kind of food items in my classroom, after that one time Diego who else didn’t bring leftover chicken wings from lunch. He also had to unwrap them noisily from their tin foil and eat them during my lecture, which caused both a distraction and a red fingerprint-smeared mess all over his paper.
I frowned; this time, at myself. It seemed I’d trained them well. Now my own draconian rules had turned around to bite me in the ass.
Perfect, I muttered, just perfect.
Wait, said Iosephus, reaching into his pocket. If I take this out, can I get in trouble?
I sighed. Yes, today you are granted immunity from any and all food violations. So what have you got?
With a guilty look, he dug out a plastic bag full of those awful processed crackers sandwiched around an orange cheese-like substance. Disgusting, yes; but at least it was a sodium bonanza. (A later Google search would tell me that, as a natural purifier, salt can also cleanse a room of negative energy.)
I frowned. That’ll work.
The fly-nebula’s collective consciousness must have been onto me, because the insects dispersed faster than a flock of pigeons.
I covered my face with my hands, and through my fingers I saw all the kids do the same. Not only did the flies spread to every corner of the room, but their population at least tripled in size. I kept an eye on my students, especially Iosephus and his bag of solidified trans fats. We kept our heads down and weathered the buzzing black-pepper sandstorm.
What do I do with it? That was Iosephus’ voice, straining through the noise and the darkness.
I used my hand to make a barrier over my mouth, which kept the flies out. Thinking on the spot, I said, Just break it into crumbs. And scatter them.
Try making it into a circle, said another boy’s voice. Nick Whattley.
The kid must have read it somewhere. He’s always reading weird, fucked-up shit.
I heard crackers breaking, crumbs pouring out like sand. Some of the flies made shrill, buzzing screams as their numbers diminished. They didn’t “drop like flies” either; from what I could tell, they just vaporized back into the nothingness they came from.
When the insect-fog cleared, I could see that the “protective circle” was really more of a short, uneven line. Still, the flies were gone, so it must have served its purpose.
At the same time, I could sense this wasn’t over. Even though sunlight warmed the windows, the ceiling and walls were darker than before. Immediately, I rushed to my students.
Before I could get to them, though, the now-vacant desks began to move on their own. They ground across the floor in a heavy, droning herd. I almost worried they’d crash into me. Instead, they formed a solid barricade around the salt-line trapping the students in, and keeping me away from them.
I stopped when I could go no further.
Is everyone all right? I asked. I could still watch over them, but other than that I was useless.
Some said yes; others nodded. Jenna still looked a bit red around the neck, but other than that she seemed fine.
What does It want? cried Shelby.
I don’t know, I said. I really didn’t.
Yet, Something Else have an answer to her question.
Whatever that Something was, it grabbed hold of me. It lifted me several feet into the air. I kicked my legs, even though I clearly had nothing of substance to kick. It also must have obstructed my mouth, because I couldn’t scream at it to put me the fuck down. At least I could still breathe through my nose, though. I hoped wouldn’t change.
Meanwhile, the students could only watch in dumbfounded horror as it took off my glasses and threw them to the floor. It undid my hair, shaking it in loose in soft waves past my shoulders, and smacked me repeatedly in the face. With each lashing sting, I had no choice but to “turn the other cheek” as I lost control of my shoulders and neck.
Hey, put her down, shouted Diego, climbing easily over the barrier of desks. Don’t you dare hurt her!
The entity shoved a chair into him, knocking him down.
Then it pushed me back against the blackboard, right into the chalk drawing. My nose breathed the fine dust in, and I couldn’t cough it out. At first, I was afraid I might choke.
Instead, it released my mouth from its control. At least, it seemed to. When I tried to speak, though, only blood came out. It poured out in red lines down my buttoned white shirt. Then my nose bled, then my ears. Soon, I was bleeding through every orifice, and I do mean .
Of course, all I could think was, It was no use though. I couldn’t even turn my neck, but I saw the purplish-crimson pool beneath me growing on the floor.
By now, the phantom chair had trapped Diego in a corner, far away from the line of protection. He tried shoving it away; but his unseen enemy turned the chair on its side, held it lion-tamer like, and used the sharp metal legs to parry him back.
I panicked when I thought of what the chair might do to his young, unmarred face.
Diego, don’t fight it, I shouted. You’ll only get hurt!
Luckily, he listened; even though he probably would have liked to keep on fighting. The chair stayed suspended in front of him, poised to strike him if he moved.
He looked at me, with a deranged fear in his eyes I’d never seen before. I could only think of one reason why that he seriously had no idea what to do. He had no solution to the problem before him. Suddenly, his knowledge, wits, and teenage charisma were useless.
Even worse: For the first time in the four years he was my student, . Or any of them, for that matter.
The other students stood behind the salt line, bewildered. Their necks turned back and forth from me to Diego, as if watching a ping-pong match. I didn’t blame them for spacing out, either. How the hell are a bunch of high school kids supposed to even , let alone react to it? At least they seemed unaffected by the disturbances if they stayed behind the line for now.
Of course, the moment I thought about that, an invisible sharp-clawed hand scraped against my collarbone. It slashed through the buttons on my blouse, flinging them in all directions. It left my blouse hanging open like two curtains, while my students continued to stare in paralyzed shock.
To my immediate horror, I remembered which bra I was wearing. It just happened to be my black bra with red lace trim, with a clasp that opened in the front instead of the back.
. You’re probably shaking your head in disapproval right now, wondering, In my defense, it was the only clean bra that matched my Louboutins and , my bra must match my shoes.
It also matched my blood, which continued to spatter against the floor beneath my feet.
That got me thinking, why would the spirit want to wring my blood out like water from a rag? Did something in blood inherently repel them? Salt, for instance? Or maybe blood was stronger than salt.
It was worth a try. I bit down hard on the inside of my mouth, like I usually do when I’m frustrated. Only this time, I sank my teeth all the way into each other and tore off a substantial chunk of skin. Of course, it hurt like a bitch. My eyes blurred with hot tears, which only melded the darkened room into worse chaos. I felt the spirit’s presence, though, like an electric charge crawling through me. Grimacing with pain, I spit my own bleeding skin at it.
Then I heard an unreal, maddening screech. The spirit pulled back and took its chilling aura with it. In the process, it dropped me and I landed with a in the pool of my own blood.
I sat there for a moment, reeling from the iron-flavored pain in my mouth. Scarlet saliva oozed rabies-like from my lips and I could do nothing to stop it. This must have shattered the nonreactive spellbinding my students, though, because they looked at me with horrified concern.
A chorus of, Oh my God! Miss Spence, are you okay? issued from the kids that weren’t too shocked to speak.
I’m calling 9-1-1, insisted Jenna. She took a step toward the phone on the wall.
No, I shouted, nearly choking on blood. Stay behind the line, all of you.
Jenna paused, just on the edge of the line. She sighed, took a step back she knew I was right.
Does anyone have a phone on them? she asked the rest of the class. Strangely, everyone’s battery had died at exactly the same time.
the phones are dead, said Whattley. That’s the thing they do, is mess with our phones!
Shakily, I rose to my feet, steadying myself against the chalk tray. I silently lamented the invisible bloody stains on my beautiful black Louboutins.
Nobody step outside the line, I repeated. It’s probably the only thing keeping you safe.
I reached down to re-button my shirt, only to realize that the buttons were gone. I ignored the curious looks from the boys in the class.
What about Diego? asked Whattley. We can’t just leave him there!
Sure enough, the chair still held Diego hostage in the corner, bobbing up and down to show that some intangible force still controlled it.
Nah, I got this, said Diego, which I doubted. He craned his neck in hopes of finding a way around the chair, but I don’t think there was one.
Without thinking about it, I crossed my arms. I’m not sure if it squeezed my breasts together at the expense of covering up my risque lingerie; I was too deep in thought.
. Why hadn’t I thought of that before?! The second I reached for it, though, that spirit could be on me again. I had to distract it.
Just then, I had an idea with just a flicker of a chance of working; but that was enough. I turned to my students behind the salt-line.
Everyone, listen up, I said. You have a writing assignment.
Some of them made scoffing gasps.
Seriously? the girls demanded. Are you for real?
doesn’t mean shit anymore, I snapped. Now face the chalkboard and do exactly as I say.
In my four years as a teacher, I’ve learned that unruly children can always be put back in their place with profanities. I just have to make sure their phones aren’t recording the whole thing. No chance of that here.
The six kids behind the line turn around, each grabbing a small piece of white chalk. They waited, poised to write.
Diego gave me a weird look, genuinely confused. I ignored him.
Now, I said, this is the time to practice your imperatives. Tell this thing in as many ways as you know how.
Immediately, their hands flew to the blackboard.
All of these translate roughly to, .
Would it work, though? Did I imagine it, or did a touch of bruised sunlight crawl back into the room? That gave me reassurance at least, enough to step closer and closer to the animated chair, in hand.
, I reasoned. I turned the stick with the handle pointing out instead. The wood was riddled with my bloody fingerprints.
The students were noisily at work, chiseling ancient words into a slab of chalk-covered stone.
This had to be my chance. I swung the into the space of air behind the chair, and it connected with something almost-solid.
Whatever it was, it let out a horrendous shriek. It threw me back, crashing me down on the surface of my desk. I probably would have broken through, had I been heavier. Unfortunately, while being flung backward I dropped the . It hit the floor and rolled against the wall.
Sometime when that happened, the spirit released the chair in the corner. It fell harmlessly to the floor. Once it stopped moving, Diego kicked it aside.
He have tried to grab the fallen . Instead, he sprinted toward my desk, jumping over chairs. I couldn’t remember. He stopped just before he reached my desk, leaning over me.
The whole room was spinning, it seemed. My eyes could only fix on his color-drained face, draped in crow’s wings of black hair. His widened dark eyes held twin images of my battered face.
He said something, but his words escaped before I could catch them. It sounded like, Are you alright, Miss Spence?
The force of being thrown back had knocked the wind out of me. I made a feeble groan in place of the word .
His arms tried to lift me, but I shook my head as violently as I could. I wanted to say. I knew this, and he knew this.
That didn’t stop him from trying to rescue me, though; Something else did.
Diego jumped, body going rigid, as if he’d been stabbed by a needle. Something twisted him around, knuckle-cracking his entire spine. He stayed like this for a while feet pointing toward me, body facing away. For a panicked second I thought his head would turn around like a corkscrew.
Instead, whatever stretched him let go. He spun back around, hair whip-lashing against his face; but it wasn’t the same face.
On the surface, he the same. The , though, were different. His mouth twitched, like a cat on the verge of hissing; his canine teeth appeared sharper. Like a snake tasting fear, his tongue flicked from side to side.
His eyes, though, were the worst. Each pupil had not one point of light at the center, but , maybe thousands. Lights that glowed green, yellow, in pairs the eyes of nocturnal predators shrouded in jungle shadows. They leered and glinted with amused malice, divided my pale image amongst themselves. Behind them, an endless night threatened to swallow me at any second.
It took me a moment to realize that, where Diego had hoped to lift me with his arms, the spirit now used them to pin me down. I tried to sit up, but they slammed me down harder. I tried to kick my legs, but the stupid pencil skirt restricted my movement. Even with my sharp heels, I couldn’t kick him hard enough to hurt him. Or, I should say, the demon that had him now.
It bent Diego’s head down, licked the side of my face with his tongue.
A serpentine whisper that wasn’t Diego’s voice reverberated in my ear. It warped into more voices, repeating echoes that didn’t make sense.
I managed to recover my voice; or at least, a crushed whisper of it. Stop, I breathed. Don’t.
It sounded like a horde of rattlesnakes all shook at once, hissing cruel laughs. They rustled in broken Latin phrases, some of them probably spoken in reverse. I only caught fragments of what they said, and I managed to piece a few sentences together.
My voice came back, this time stronger. No, Demon, leave us alone.
Nick Whattley heard me. Quick! Write that down, he told the others.
Write down? asked Jenna.
Write, ‘Demon, leave us alone,’ in Latin, said Whattley.
Erica was already on it. Imperative of ‘leave alone’ is ; ‘us’ is . She scribbled that down in her cramped, awkward handwriting.
No, said Trevor, is the Dative or Ablative; or . You want to use , the Accusative.
I thought was the Nominative, said Shelby.
Trevor threw up his hands in annoyance. It’s
At least start the sentence with something, said Jenna. She wrote , which Whattley immediately swept away with an eraser.
Hey, she cried, what is with you?!
It’s ‘-mon’, not ‘mon’, Whattley insisted. He wrote
Whattley. He know the Latin word for demon; that kid reads some fucked-up shit. Now that I think about it, that whole game was probably his idea. .
I would have followed my students’ verbal exchange more closely, but the Thing that took Diego grabbed my chin and held me still. His hot, wet tongue slid into my ear, reaching deeper than I thought it should have. Rusted bells clanged and scraped against my skull. I shut my eyes.
, the demon voices said. .
No, I shouted, though I could barely hear my own voice.
I shook my head, hair thrashing back and forth. Diego’s hand grabbed my chin and held me still, giving me just enough room to breathe.
Like a cascade of insect wings, the voices shushed me. They whispered something into my ear, and told me to relay it to my students.
Everyone listen, I ordered them. I’m only going to say this once. Whatever is, told me to say… I took a deep breath. It wants you to close your eyes. It says whoever opens them will lose them.
I knew, without having to look, that my students instantly complied.
As soon as they did, the spirit lowered Diego’s face to mine. It trapped everything I saw in a shroud of velvet black hair. Once his shadow eclipsed all the light from my eyes, his tongue slid into my mouth. My lips gave little-to-no resistance, nor did my teeth. Maybe they were right; maybe I want this to happen.
I tried to say , but his tongue was already entwined with mine. If this was a stranger’s body instead of Diego’s, I might have tried to bite the tongue off; but I would never do that to one of my students. I struggled to free my hands, but his sinewy arms held me down. He was still 17, but he wasn’t a child anymore. His arms were at least twice as strong as mine.
Then it slipped Diego’s tongue back out of my mouth, licked a trail up my cheek probably blood. Before I could speak, I felt his lips on my ear, feverishly wet. I heard the sound of fires crackling.
, whispered the night-creature voices,
His teeth closed around my neck muscles in what felt like a cruel grin. Needless to say, that made me shut up.
Then he started playing rough. His nails raked up and down my back, my chest. When they broke, it only made them sharper. His mouth moved down my neck (still close enough to sever my artery in a second), gnawing on my fragile skin. He chewed on my collarbone, sinking his nails into my arms. I cringed, and acid-hot tears blurred my eyes. Soon he was just a dim shadow moving up and down, inflicting pain upon deeper pain.
I thought of a cat wrestling a catnip-laced toy claws shredding, teeth gnashing, paws hungrily embracing it adoring the object to the point of destruction. That’s how he held onto me. I think I even heard the demon-voices purring, in their own malicious way.
It didn’t surprise me when he undid the front clasp of my bra, put his face between my breasts, and chewed on them until they bled. My mouth contorted but no sound came out; still, I think I was crying.
I could already read the angry e-mails from the parents, see myself at the shameful disciplinary hearing before the school board. How was I going to explain that my favorite student nearly mauled me to death? Fine, , he my favorite student! I could finally admit it, now that favoritism was the egregious thing I was guilty of.
All the while, the demonic murmurs kept repeating:
I could barely speak. , said the empty husk of my voice. but I couldn’t even convince myself. He’d strained out any defiance I had.
The spirit laughed like stones breaking.
Then I realized: it just said As in, there were more than one. Why had I not thought of this before?
Yet, I quickly forgot about singulars and plurals. The demon (or demons? I still had no idea) moved Diego’s hand down into my skirt. I knew what was happening now. My bitter tears mixed with the blood I’d shed.
His cracked, bloody nails scratched my hip bone. They got caught on the black-and-red lace (, I was wearing panties, and , they matched my shoes), which his hand pulled down anyway.
I’d always secretly loved his sun-bronzed hands, with the lithe piano fingers. Now, in the worst possible way, I finally learned what they felt like. He made my nerves go raw. My legs, against my conscious will, locked around him. As tight as my pencil skirt was, the demon pulled it up.
This time, I didn’t want to say no. I knew I should have, but I didn’t. The demon let go of my arms, used both hands to unbuckle his belt. I probably could have struggled free, but I didn’t.
Instead, my thighs just clasped him tighter. My lovely black-and-red Louboutins locked behind his back, trapping him. I never wanted him to leave.
Then I felt what I’d been dying to feel this whole time, underneath his boxer shorts. I could think of Latin words to describe it. Actually, they’re Latin words, now that I think about it. I doubted this was his first one, far from it. This probably wasn’t even the first time he’d fooled around with a girl, demon-possessed or otherwise; but I was no high school girl.
I might have been his first fuck that is, if the door hadn’t opened.
My eyes flew to the door, just as Claire DeVue walked in. She carried an admission slip from the office from her doctor’s appointment, which I’d completely forgotten about.
She had a high school stereotype all to herself, the Quiet Artist Girl. Painfully shy, she hid behind a veil of long blonde hair at all times. Only now, it shimmered like starlight in the dark room. She must have noticed something was wrong, as her already-pale face turned phosphorescent white. The term came to mind: ; but also, .
Diego’s tongue lashed back from my mouth. He spun around with an inhuman growl, like a tiger provoked.
Air rushed back into my lungs. Shut the door! I gasped as soon as I regained my voice. Shut it, Claire!
She let it slam closed, feet frozen where she stood.
I’d always had a sneaking suspicion that Diego had a thing for Claire. He probably would have asked her out by now, if the poor girl didn’t succumb to social laryngitis every time he tried to talk to her. I can only imagine he made her even more uncomfortable now, with his mouth smeared in blood and eyes channeling all the darkness in the room straight into her livid face. It’s a good thing I hadn’t pulled it out of his pants, otherwise she’d have been uncomfortable.
They spoke to her, the voices of many demons. there were more than one, how could I not have known? They sounded like a menagerie of beasts howling and scratching at the bars of a cage. Yet, somewhere in that cacophony, I heard familiar words.
’‘ Like a drunk idiot, he staggered toward her, pants nearly falling down.
The voices went backwards:
Claire glared at him, eyes transfixed between horror and shock. Like me, she’s a small, fragile girl. He could easily injure, if not kill, her. Then, I remembered the It had rolled away, to the wall behind me.
Careful not to make a sound, I lifted myself from the desk. I stepped out of my Louboutins, and my feet cramped in pain. Of course, I was used to it.
The demons went on with the poem:
The most petty, vindictive side of me thought, Why is he using the line on ? It should be I quickly ignored it, and lunged for the stick I’d marked with my own blood.
As soon as I grabbed it, I looked back at Diego and Claire.
Diego’s hands were yanking on her hair, lifting her off the ground. She cried out in pain as the demons cheered maniacally.
, Diego, she yelled with a fervor I didn’t know she had.
Terrified, unable to run, Claire did the only thing that made sense in the moment. She twisted the top off the sports drink, and spilled it all over him.
For a moment, everything stood still. Then small wisps of smoke curled away from Diego’s skin. His hands let go of Claire; she kicked him in the shin for good measure.
Hateful demon voices hissed from every corner of the room. They snarled curses in Latin, reverse Latin, strange tongues I didn’t even recognize.
This puzzled me, until I remembered that drink was full of sodium, electrolytes, alkali materials (at least, I it was; chemistry was never my subject). It seemed strong enough to at least repel the demons. Diego’s skin seethed bright red, and tendrils of blackish steam rose from his body. He fell backward, writhing on the floor in pain. The miserable screeches issuing from Diego’s mouth weren’t his.
Nick Whattley turned around, as if awakened from a spell. He opened his eyes and saw the demons’ power was waning. They couldn’t threaten him anymore. He called the other students to attention.
Hey, you guys, he said, you can open your eyes now!
Are you sure? asked Shelby. She sounded like she’d been crying.
Yeah, said Whattley, and I know what to write now.
Reluctantly, they all turned around.
What is it? asked Trevor.
I should’ve thought of this before, said Whattley. ’Demon, go home.’ Everyone, write it!
Since they had no other options, all the kids behind the desk-barrier listened. They wrote line after line, checking each other’s spelling. Chalk pieces carved up and down the blackboard like knife-points.
The sound pierced the inside of my ears. Unfortunately, this only seemed to upset the demonic entities.
All the damned souls in Diego’s eyes flashed open, and with a wildcat yowl he jumped to his feet. He sprang at me, fingers ready to claw at my skin. Before I could think about it, I swung the thick end of the stick at him. It hit him in the face, and he stumbled back.
Once I caught my breath again, I turned to my class. No, you’re all wrong, I said. There are more than one demon. It’s plural.
, they said, as the epiphany ran through them like electric current.
It’s , then, isn’t it? Whattley asked me. !
Yes, I said. Everyone write that! I felt like an idiot; had the answer basically been in this whole time? It almost seemed too easy.
Then again, a lot of things are much simpler than we make them out to be.
How many times? asked Erica. I wanted to say that quantity didn’t matter, but it probably did.
As many as it takes, I said. Then I pointed to Claire. You too.
She ran to the opposite chalkboard, the one that wasn’t obstructed by desks. Without being told, she erased the uncanny demon-face drawn in chalk. I realized I probably should have done that.
Claire’s commands were probably the most effective, since she had the neatest handwriting. Even her entry into the room made us a group of 9 a number of powerful significance if you’re into numerology. I hadn’t even thought of that until now.
Actually, I don’t think we would’ve overpowered the spirits if she hadn’t walked in. We might actually owe our lives to her.
Nine times, I said. We all should write it at least nine times. I wasn’t sure, but it was worth a try.
Then I heard a low, agonized moan from the floor. Diego’s whole body reeled, and he coughed up a frightening amount of blood.
Was he back to being again? There was only one way to find out. I slowly approached him, as he convulsed like a cat choking on a hairball.
Diego? I prodded him with the .
His gaze jolted up at me, blood trailing like snake venom from his mouth. . The demons glowered at me from his eyes, spewing faintly-audible curses.
, I shouted, striking him repeatedly with the stick. (I figured I should say, , and , just to avoid any confusion.)
When I finished my tirade, Diego’s body collapsed again, face-down in his own blood. He lay still for a moment, and I began to worry that I’d seriously hurt him.
Diego? I felt tears spring into my eyes.
I heard a faint groan in his own voice this time. He slowly lifted his face from the ground.
I ran to him, slid down to the floor to help him up. My skirt soaked up his blood as well as my own, but I’d worry about that later.
Honestly, I wish I could have collapsed into his arms and sobbed. I wish I could have shown every emotion I had for him in that moment. But there were rules, and I’d already broken enough.
Come on, up we go, I said briskly, swiping my tears away before he saw them. I let him use the stick to prop himself up.
Just then, he noticed his belt was still undone, and that his pants were halfway down his boxer shorts. I looked away before I could notice any more unnecessary visual information.
Oh, shit, he murmured under his breath. Miss Spence, I’m so sorry. He hiked up his pants, re-did his belt buckle.
Still looking away, I tried to keep my face expressionless. How much of what just happened do you remember, Diego? I asked.
Oh, God… his utter remorse told me he remembered . Miss Spence, I’m . I can’t even tell you how sorry I am. Please don’t tell my parents.
Those were some seriously fucked-up demons, forcing him to consciously experience the whole episode. I shook my head. In reality, should probably be begging not to tell his parents.
I won’t tell them, I promised.
When I knew he was going to be okay, I tried to turn the lights back on.
The room stayed dark.
Shit, I muttered. I tried every light switch, flipping them up and down. Still nothing.
By now, a dark presence was massing by the windows, choking out the sunlight.
I wondered, heart racing into a panic. I glanced at Claire. She was just finishing her eighth .
Nine times. We all had to write it nine times.
I ran up next to Claire, finding my own space on the board.
Diego, get over here, I said. Quickly, I handed him a piece of chalk and told him what to do.
In a matter of minutes, every space of chalkboard very closely resembled Brian’s handiwork from the movie. I looked at the windows and held my breath.
It seemed like the room itself shuddered, as the demon voices made one last departing hiss. Every window rattled. Chunks of glass broke off, as if they’d been stricken by a hail storm.
I thought that was shatterproof glass, said Trevor.
It is, I said. Or at least, it’s supposed to be.
Then, the darkness leaked out through the broken glass. A cloud of flies formed outside, and quickly swarmed away.
The lights flickered on weaker than before, but at least they worked again.
I looked around the room. Guys, I asked, is everyone alright?
The students nodded, most of them too on edge to speak.
Then, I realized my shirt had been torn open that whole time. I frowned, walked calmly to my desk, and grabbed the cardigan hanging on the back of my chair. Turning around, I glared around the room, challenging anyone to comment. No one did.
I slipped back into my Louboutins and to the front of the massed-together desks.
Put these desks back the way they were, I ordered, with no acknowledgment of how they got there. Without a word, the students obeyed.
The harsh scrape of desks being realigned, of order being restored, was almost soothing. I paced around as they all took their seats, and stopped in front of Nick Whattley’s desk.
He had a sheet of notebook paper shut in his textbook.
Open your book, Nick.
The shock on his face told me he’d forgotten what was even there: the infamous diagram. I snatched the paper away and stiletto-marched back to my desk.
In a bottom drawer, I found a lighter I’d confiscated from one of the Latin III kids. I opened a window, careful not to cut my hands on the glass shards. Then I lifted up the window screen, and held the lighter out far enough that it wouldn’t trigger the fire alarm.
I lit up the paper, and watched the shrivel and burn. The wind took it away, and I watched it fizzle out into ash. Yes, I realize it could have started a fire somewhere else. At that point, I didn’t give a fuck, as long as it wasn’t .
Then I turned back to face my class, giving everyone my most disappointed frown.
The next person who plays that game, I warned, gets an F for the semester. Does everyone understand?
They nodded like trained monkeys.
Good. I shut the window, ignoring the sprinkling of glass that fell. I’d clean it up later.
Then, a loud nearly gave us all a heart attack. I looked up, and breathed a sigh of relief. It was only the intercom.
Miss Spence? said the Dean’s voice, filtered through the sound system. He sounded irritated.
Yes? I called, completely innocent.
What is going on in your classroom? I’ve been getting complaints of excessive noise.
We’re reviewing for the Final, I replied. I kept my voice calm, as if the past hour had never happened.
Oh, he said, finding no fault with my statement. Well, make sure you do it quietly.
We will, I assured him. Sorry about the noise. It won’t happen again, Mr. Eckels.
All right, he said, and hung up the intercom phone on his end.
I wanted to laugh at the sudden absurdity of all of this, but we stayed frozen in silence. Blood was still all over the floor, all over me, and all over Diego.
Then the bell rang. Class was out for the day, but no one moved.
Does anyone have an extra jacket? I asked.
I do, said Iosephus, in my locker.
Go get it, I said. And shut the door behind you.
He got up from his seat, and did just that. We waited for three unbearable minutes as the hallway filled with the clamor of departing students. Then the doorknob twisted, and Iosephus walked back in with the jacket he used for football practice.
Give it to Diego, I said. He tossed it and Diego caught it. Diego was slightly taller, but it still fit him. For now, it was enough to get him through the hallway without suspicion.
All right, I said. Class dismissed. Everyone, study your imperatives. The Final’s on Monday.
My Latin IV class got up from their seats. They were still a bit nervous, and rightfully so.
Only Diego spoke up. Um, if you guys could keep this whole thing on the D.L…. If this gets out, Northwestern might withdraw my acceptance letter.
Jenna sighed in annoyance. Oh my God, don’t be an idiot. No one would believe us anyway.
Northwestern. I couldn’t be prouder of my favorite student. My frown melted away, and I almost cried again. .
Claire was the last to leave. She paused at the door, taking in the whole catastrophic state of the room.
Miss Spence, do you need help cleaning up? she offered.
I smiled at her, just briefly. No, I’ll be alright. Go ahead, Claire.
She nodded, and carefully shut the door so it wouldn’t slam.
Long story short, I spent the next three hours cleaning up the mess. I used paper towels and soap from the girls’ bathroom to scrub the blood off the floor. Luckily, my black skirt and black cardigan didn’t show any stains. The blood wouldn’t show up on my black Louboutins either, but that didn’t stop me from sanitizing them obsessively. I wiped the blood off my desk, threw away the bloody papers. Then I cleaned my dried crimson fingerprints off the and returned it to its rightful place beside the blackboard.
Lastly, I e-mailed a request for maintenance to fix the windows. They’d still repair them even if I didn’t list a reason. At least I had the entire weekend to think of a bullshit explanation for the shattered glass, if anyone even bothered asking.
Time crawled by in the Emergency Room, even after the doctor came in. I barely noticed when she gave me a local anesthesia, stitched me up, and gave me a series of other injections. All I wanted to do was take off that starchy gown, change back into my bloody clothes, bind my sore feet back into my Louboutins, and get the fuck out of there.
The doctor made some more notes in her clipboard. She looked up at me, eyes heavy with concern.
Rowanna, you’re in a safe place, she said. You can tell me anything.
No, I said. This was all consensual. Consent was a valid defense in the State of Illinois. They didn’t need to know his age.
The doctor sighed. All right. I could tell she wasn’t satisfied with my response, but she wasn’t going to get a better one. I’ll write you a prescription for some antibiotics and painkillers. You might also want to try some of these over-the-counter anti-scarring creams. She pointed to a list, but I didn’t read it. Then she told me that if scar tissue form, I could come back in a few weeks for a plastic surgery consult.
Sure, I said. I’ll keep that in mind.
Of course, I knew this was a lie. If those wounds scarred, which they probably would, I’d keep them as my own secret memento. Is that weird? Probably. Still, whatever Diego Menendez ends up doin