Blake peeked into Alisha's room, but was shocked to discover that while the sheets were messy, the bed was empty. He snorted in disbelief.
She's still not feeling well, especially after Thursday, he thought, frustrated. Why's she still going to the pharmacy, and so early?
Before he took a step in the hallway, he breathed in, and out, trying to remember June's words from yesterday. He knew he needed not to worry so much...but how could he not?
Not right now, he told himself. With his right hand clutching the scythe in a tight and nervous manner, Blake opened the front door but stood completely still. He looked outside and around, his mind whirling with emotions.
Suddenly June appeared at the sidewalk, coming from the right. She turned her body towards the front yard fence, and stopped, staring right in his direction.
As soon as she'd appeared in his sights, Blake breathed in with a sharp gasp, and ever so slowly pulled a part of the blade into June's line of sight. He gripped the staff of the weapon tightly, keeping his hand behind his back. He did his damnedest to hide all traces of the nervousness wracking his brain and body. The moment his friend raised her eyebrow he froze in place, and waited. Her mouth opened ever so slightly, and finally she tilted her head the tiniest bit.
"What are you doing standing around?"
After a few moments of processing, Blake then realized that his initial suspicions may have been correct: other people could not see the scythe, for whatever reason. But more than that, he came to the conclusion that he could not wait any longer; he needed to talk to his mother about this. She might be the only one at this point that could help him figure out what was going on.
"What's up with you, everything alright?"
June's sudden words broke him from his trance, and Blake shook his head to pull himself out of his own thoughts. He tried thinking of a response for June's question but couldn't, and instead he awkwardly shuffled around to grab hold of the door. In the same instance he tossed the scythe into the corner of the room behind the door; even if June had confirmed his suspicion, he didn't want to push it too far.
Blake pulled the door shut behind him as he left his house, and locked it.
"Sorry, sorry" he replied while hurrying down the sidewalk. "Just, staring off into space a little."
"Okay well, hurry up, we've got to get to school."
A surprised Blake strolled down the sidewalk with June at his side, curious as to why she had not pressed him further. At the very least he figured she would ask him more about why he stared off for so long. Maybe she waited to ask? The first couple minutes of their walk was shrouded in complete silence, and the longer it went on the more he clenched his jaw. Eventually he just cast a sideways glance at his friend. June's chin remained down the entire time he look at her. He also noticed her lip was curled inward, and her brows were just slightly furrowed. Her right hand was near her neck the entire time, fingers gently caressing the same necklace she always wore.
Shoot, he thought. Why didn't I say something sooner?
It took a moment for June to look his way at all, and the previous oddities on her face disappeared and were replaced by a quizzical look.
"Yeah?" she asked.
"You doing alright this morning?"
"Oh. I guess." June closed her mouth, but Blake stared at her long enough that she continued. "I didn't sleep too great last night."
"Why's that?" Blake pressed.
"You...you know how Mom came home earlier than normal last night?" He simply nodded in response so June proceeded. "Well, she was coughing a whole bunch last night, even after taking some medicine. It was so loud you could hear it from anywhere in the house."
"Sorry to hear that. I hope she gets better."
"Yeah......me too. So, um, she decided to not go in to work today."
As the two turned another corner, some thoughts swirled about in his mind as he considered June's story further.
"You don't think, that, maybe my mom's caught it?" he said with a lowered tone. "Because, I've heard a bunch of people have gotten sick lately. And you know my mom..."
"Maybe my mom caught something from your mom."
Blake could recognize June's attempt at a joke, but even she had an awkward smile and uncertain expression. It went away before long.
"Sorry. Bad joke," she apologized.
"But I mean, I don't think so," she finally answered. "Your mom's been sickly for a long time. But she gets really exhausted, and sometimes faint spells. My mom was coughing a bunch, and throwing up a little too. I think it's something different than whatever your mom has."
Whether she intended on reassuring Blake or not, it did not matter. Worry for his mother had grown a substantial amount during the course of this conversation, and suddenly his chin was down and his lip curled in. The remainder of the walk to school, only a block-and-a-half, was finished in silence. And now, Blake could not escape the nagging feeling that something was missing from June's story, he just did not know what.
By the time the two of them made it to the front lawn of the school, Cameron and Amelia approached the pair from the side of the building.
"Hey, you two made it," said Amelia, speaking first and in a voice more aloof than usual.
Blake and June both exchanged a glance, but it was the latter than said something. "You seem distracted."
"Yeah, well, mom thought Cam and I should have stayed home today, since a bunch of people have gotten sick lately," Amelia replied. "Ken and James both weren't at the Sunday service, and Mrs. Callaghan wasn't looking great either. A substitute is supposed to take her place today."
Blake looked around as Amelia spoke, and noticed there seemed to be fewer students around than normal. The impact was not large, but enough of one that he could see the difference. More than that though, students spread themselves out in a number of small groups, rather than the typical amalgam of comingling before the start of a normal school day. And just based on the expressions of everybody, apprehension had filled the air around the front doors of the school.
"I'm getting worried."
June's voice rose above the collection of hushed whispers and conversations, but only her friends focused their attention onto her. Blake immediately noticed the crossed arms and the uncertain expression on her face from earlier had returned.
"Well....you're not the only one," said Cameron, less enthusiastic than usual, much like his sister.
"Hey, have any of you been feeling off lately?" Amelia suddenly asked. When everyone shook their heads with little hesitation, she breathed a sigh of relief. "That's good."
Students began filtering into the school, though the bell had not yet rung. Blake exchanged glances with each of his friends, all of whom seemed to have the same train of thought. After some small nods between them, the four walked together towards the front doors.
Before entering the building, a discomfort ran up his spine without warning, a sharp and noticeable sensation he could not ignore. Blake looked around with a start, and his heart rate quickened. He thrust his fists into the pockets of his shorts before they balled up tight in front of everybody. Was something here, again? Why?
But then the feeling ebbed away once he entered the school. His hair continued to stand on end, however, and every one of his senses remained alert as he walked through the halls.
Five of the sixteen chairs were empty, making the already silent classroom feel even more quiet. Blake tried concentrating on a couple of math problems in his textbook, but his spine still tingled. The sensation was only a slight one so he could not determine exactly what it meant, or where it could even come from, but he felt no less nervous.
Blake and a few others around him turned their heads after the dry hack. A girl, Jenna was her name, covered her mouth with her hand for a solid few seconds as if trying to hold back another cough. She cleared her throat oddly a few times, and then her focus returned to her desk and notebook. He wondered why she was here today; her face appeared a slight bit pale, her eyes were glossed over as though she hadn't gotten enough sleep last night.
Blake noticed Amelia and Cameron on opposite sides of the classroom. She looked bored with her chin rest on her knuckles, and while he seemed frustrated he continued his work in silence. Neither exchanged a glance with him, or each other. Blake began tapping his desk, the action constant albeit gentle. The tingling still ran up his spine, which left him unfocused on anything else.
I could use a bathroom pass. But he quickly shook his head at the thought. No, Cam knows I did the same thing last period; I don't want him asking any questions. Besides, I couldn't even catch a glance of any spirits or spectres. But I know there's something here. I can feel it. But which one is it? A benevolent one......or is it one of those shadowy-
A bell chimed a gentle tone with four rings, but still Blake looked up with a start. The sounds of shuffling books and papers grew in volume, but even then the silence of the classroom did not seem defeated.
"Don't forget about the final test on Monday," the teacher called out even as students filed out. "I know some of you are worried but I promise it's not that bad."
Blake had gathered his things quickly and left the classroom. Amelia wasn't too far behind him and in the corner of his eye he saw her stretch her arms upward for a good few seconds. But at the moment there was no interest in catching up with her for even a couple moments. He had more pressing concerns in mind, and so turned immediately towards the bathroom.
"Hey, wait up!"
With a soft groan Blake turned his head as Cameron jogged up to his side. While his companion did carry a slight smile, it did not look as bright as it normally would.
"You ready for that math test? 'Cause I sure as heck am not."
"You really want to talk about a math test?"
Cameron paused for a moment, but then a nervous laugh escaped him as he lifted one hand to the back of his head. "Guess not....but, anything's better than talking about, well, other stuff."
And with that Blake could not help but empathize with his friend, for he felt the same. He pushed open the bathroom door, while Cameron followed close behind. Blake immediately walked into a closed stall and shut the door, waiting a few seconds, but Cameron had not questioned anything.
That's when he felt it, a very subtle tingling that ran up his spine. This time he identified a definitive burning, more of an annoyance rather than a pain this time around. Despite that, it was the last thing he wanted to feel right now.
A sink was turned on and ran for about ten seconds before it shut off. On the other side of the door, Cameron's voice rang out.
"I'll meet you outside, uh, Blake." The voice carried a slightly sheepish tone, but Blake only cared about the sound of the door opening and closing. As soon as it shut, he stepped out and looked around.
"Not at school, please not at school again..."
A sensation akin to a sharp prick at the center of his spine made Blake spin around with a jolt, his arms and hands flying towards his chest. A gaseous shadowy creature, no, two of them with flattened bodies, crawled along the floor in his direction in a sluggish manner. Strangely, a wave of uncertainty washed over Blake as the two tiny shadows, no bigger than common house cats, slunk closer towards him with a great deal of caution.
For a moment, he pitied these creatures. Most of the dark wisps he'd come across so far were so full of instinctive malice and had attacked with little hesitation. While these things in front of him emanated a dark aura, it was overlain by a sense of unease and tension that made Blake's own body shrink down. They did not seem interested in attacking him, but seemed to be driven more by some other desire. Or....no, almost like they were pressured by some other desire? It was a strange feeling that Blake could not put into words, but either way these creatures did not act like the rest he had seen. They moved in a more submissive way than what he'd seen previous.
After a few seconds of thought, Blake stomped his foot down, and the shadows jumped. The stamped forward with his other foot in a quick and forceful fashion. The two shadows reacted immediately by backing away with haste. After one last look, both creatures turned and phased right through the walls, and disappeared completely.
He stood for what felt like days, trying to comprehend what just happened. None of this made any sense. Some shadowy creatures would attack, but others could be scared off? Why was that? Why could their behavior vary?
Instinctively, Blake looked down towards his hands. The still remained at his chest, and while clenched before they now showed signs of relaxing. If this was going to happen more frequently at school, that could become a serious problem.
Something new caught his attention, a sound. A yelp? And then a muffled commotion grew in volume. Blake realized it came from out in the hallway, and wasted no time in pushing the bathroom door open with a loud grunt. To the left, a few students chatted in hushed voices. But to the right a crowd began gathering. Blake could not see what exactly was going on, but he did spot Cameron in the middle of the cluster. With swift movements Blake stepped forward and carefully slithered his way into the crowd until he reached his friend.
"Cam." He realized he had to raise his voice a little to counteract the growing noise of the students around him. "Cameron, what just happened?"
His friend only glanced sideways at Blake for a moment before letting his eyes fall onto some of the crowd standing in front of him. "I-I don't know. Somebody collapsed? That's what I heard from Amelia."
"Amelia? Where's she at?"
"The front of the crowd, I think."
Sure enough, soon as Blake turned forward he noticed Amelia's dirty blonde locks, standing around what appeared to be near the front of the crowd as Cameron said. He couldn't, however, see her face.
"I'll go and find out what's going on." With a tap on Cameron's shoulder, Blake worked his way forward, slipping through the cracks in the crowd with as much ease as he could muster. He could see the side of Amelia's face now, but she had not noticed him. Her gaze was fixated on something on the ground before her. So Blake knew he had to call out.
"Amelia!" he shouted amidst the fray of students. "Amelia, what's going on-?"
He stopped suddenly as soon as he pulled himself to the front of the crowd, standing mere feet away from Amelia. The crowd surrounded two students, one of whom was collapsed on the ground and unmoving. But he did not expect to see June gentle shaking the fallen student as if to wake them. And the collapsed teenager...was that Jenna, from his class just minutes ago?
Blake slowly approached the both of them with a racing heart, finding it easy to move forward as a gap had formed between June and Jenna, and the crowd circled around them. But somebody reached their arm out to forcefully prevent him from going toward the center any more. Blake turned his head, startled by Amelia's action and the slightest bit annoyed as well, so when he called to June for her attention, she twisted her neck. Blake's eyes widened with understanding.....and with shock.
She had blood on her face.
It didn't look like hers though. There wasn't much; it was like someone took a broken spray bottle and squirted red right on her face. Blake immediately looked to Jenna's body; her chest rose and fell far too quickly and irregularly.
June's voice was soft, quiet, but also quivering with such dread that froze Blake right in his place. And when she spoke next, his blood all but turned to ice.
"It's just like what happened to mom."