Authors: Vicki Grant
Tags: #JUV000000, #Young Adult
I'd been trying my best not to sneeze, but there was so much hay and dust and grossness in that barn that I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. I tensed my whole body. I squeezed my nostrils together. I held my breath and scrunched up my face.
It didn't do any good.
The sneeze was like a rocket. It started in my gut and worked its way up my back and into my eyes and nose. I couldn't hold it anymore. It exploded out my face.
It was so loud these girls screamed as if they were being attacked by a pit bull. The worst thing was those wads of Kleenex shot right across the barn like two bloody little bullets.
For a second, nobody could figure out what had happened. There was complete silence, then somebody took a closer look at the Kleenex and realized what it was. People groaned and pointed and shrieked. Everyone turned around and stared at me with this “Ewww” look on their faces.
I said, “Excuseme,” which was
apparently hilarious. What else was I supposed to say?
I just stood there feeling gross and stupid until the guy screamed, “
Somebody in the back was trying not to laugh, but everybody else shut up pretty fast. I felt another sneeze starting. This one was going to be even worse than the last one. It was going to be messy. I could just tell. I raised my hand.
“What do you want?” he said. He said it like he'd just about had enough of me.
I squeaked out, “Is there a washroom I could use?”
“I dunno,” he said.
The principal said Mr. van Wart had only been in the country a few years. Still, you'd think that was plenty of time for him to figure out if there was a washroom on his property.
I probably should have realized something was up then, but my mind was totally out-of-order. The new sneeze had taken over my body. It yanked my belly out and threw my head back and expelled
two giant jellyfish out my nose. Then the blood started again.
Everybody screamed. People stepped back into fresh piles of manureâon purpose!âto get away from me. I just stood in the middle of this big empty circle with my head down and my arms out and all this slime gushing out my nostrils.
Even the guy was grossed out. He was having trouble managing his anger again.
“You got a problem?” he said.
“I need to get my allergy pills,” I said.
“Where are they?” he said.
“In the bus,” I said, trying to keep those jellyfish away from my mouth.
He went, “I told you! The bus is off limits. Your teacher's sick. We don't want to disturb her.”
“I really need a Kleenex,” I said. He wasn't happy.
“Who's got a Kleenex?” he said.
Nobody had a Kleenex. I was the only person in the whole class who ever needed
to blow my nose. Figures. Shane would remind me of that little fact later.
The guy shrugged. He said, “You're gonna have to just use your sleeve.”
Everyone screamed and gagged at that one.
!” he said. “Get a Kleenex in the house. You got one minute. Take any longer and I'm coming after you.”
It sounded like a threat. People started to mumble.
The guy smiled. “I mean, you don't want to keep everyone waiting, do you?” he said.
He opened the door. I ran out with my head down. It was so humiliating. I would have loved to have kept running and running and to never see any of them again, but where would I go? This farm wasn't even in the sticks. It was a hundred miles past the sticks. People here went to the sticks when they were looking for excitement.
I sneezed again and my neck snapped. What good would a couple of Kleenexes
do? I'd go through those in about three seconds. I'd be sneezing like this until I got home if I didn't get my allergy pills. I'd be lucky if I didn't break out in hives.
I looked back at the barn. The guy couldn't see the bus door from where he was. My backpack was right at the front. It would only take me a second to nip in and get my pills. Ms. Creaser wouldn't mind. Maybe I could even ask her if she needed anything.
I slipped around to the front of the bus. The bus driver was lying down with his head on the steering wheel.
I figured he was taking a napâuntil I opened the door and saw Ms. Creaser lying face down in a pool of blood.
The bus driver was out cold. His arms were tied behind his back. There was a T-shirt stuffed in his mouth. It was so rude. Something you'd do to an animal. I took it out so he could breathe.
Ms. Creaser's hands were tied with the blue scarf she'd been wearing. He'd obviously hit her on the head too, but somehow it was the scarf that really scared me. It seemed particularly cruel
to tie someone up with their own scarf. I don't know why I thought that, but I did. I guess I wasn't thinking straight. Everything was so weird. My body was moving all fast and jerky, but my brain was like Jello.
I pushed the hair away from Ms. Creaser's face. She had a big gash on her forehead, but she was alive. She opened her eyes a bit and groaned. I didn't know what to do. I realize now I probably should have tried to use the bus driver's radio or even run for help, but I didn't. I just sort of shook for a while and wondered what the guy was going to do when he caught me.
I needed Ms. Creaser's help.
“Are you all right?” I asked, which was kind of stupid. She was lying in a pool of blood. Clearly, she wasn't all right.
I was just about to untie her hands when I heard the guy go, “...and nobody move! I mean it! I'll be back in a second to, uh, finish our tour.”
I looked out the window. He was coming after me. I tried to untie the scarf,
but I couldn't get my fingers to work. I was shaking too much.
“I'll be back!” I said, though I really wasn't sure that I would be. Ms. Creaser was nice. I didn't want to leave her without any hope. I was just about out the door when I remembered the Kleenex. I grabbed some from the first-aid kit and slipped out.
I don't know how the guy missed me, but he did. I managed to run around the back end of the bus and make it look as if I was just coming from the house. I tried to sort of stroll out. You know, act casual. I don't think I looked very convincing. My legs were like gummy worms.
“I found some,” I said. I waved the Kleenex in the air, but I couldn't look at him. I was so freaked out I would have given myself away. I wiped my nose.
“Took you long enough,” he said. “I was starting to get worried.” Then he grabbed my arm and half-pushed, half-carried me back to the barn.
“I wouldn't want you to miss the rest of the tour. We're getting to the good part,” he said.
“The slaughterhouse is next.”
The guy was still smiling when we got back to the barn. It was like he'd loosened up and was starting to enjoy himself. I knew that couldn't be good.
All I could think was, Why did Mr. Benvie decide to take us here? He knew Mr. van Wart. He told us that. He told us they got together all the time to talk about farming. Mr. Benvie must have
suspected there was something wrong with him. I mean, all you had to do was look at the guy.
I'm not talking about the tattoo or the gold tooth or the shaved head. My half-sister's boyfriend has all those things and a lip ring too. He's okay. Even my grandmother likes him.
But this guy? It didn't matter how much he smiled. His eyes still gave me the creeps. I couldn't figure out how Mr. Benvie would have missed that. Had the guy been hiding it before? Had he put on a good face for Mr. Benvie just so he could lure us here and...
What was he going to do to us?
Why would he even want to do anything to a bunch of kids?
It made no sense.
The guy had the pitchfork in his hand and was smiling away like a camp counselor. He said, “All right, c'mon, everyone. Get going. Nothing much happens in the barnâbut I think you're
really going to find this next building interesting.”
If he hadn't called one of the girls “Babydoll,” he would have sounded like a regular teacher.
I was terrified. I wanted to tell someone what I sawâbut who? Who could I tell? It's not like I had any friends in class. If I walked up to someone and started talking, they'd probably scream and run away. No one wanted to get near Pigboy, especially after that sneeze.
And even if someone did let me near them, I wouldn't have a chance to say anything. The guy was watching every move I made. He had a pitchfork. I didn't think he was the kind of teacher who'd let you get away with “whispering in class.”
The building was just a log cabin with boarded-up windows and a wooden door. The guy unlocked it and smiled at Anna McCrae.
“After you,” he said and winked.
You could feel the cold and dark pouring out the door. People kind of hesitated to
go in, but he nudged them along.
“C'mon! Hurry! That's it,” he said. “There's something inside I want to show you.”
Everyone was almost in when Anna screamed.
“There's a man here! He's bleeding!”
Things happened really fast after that. Some kids rushed in to take a look. Others tried to get out. The guy started pushing people in with the pitchfork. Everyone was screaming and crying and scratching and panicking.
Somehow he didn't notice when I ducked down and scrambled away on my hands and knees. I ran around the side of the building. I was just waiting for him to come after me.
The guy slammed the door and pulled down the latch. He locked it with a key. Then he walked away. The screaming didn't seem to bother him at all.
It was the first time in my life I'd ever been glad I was so skinny. There was a little bush in front of me. I pushed myself
flat against the side of the log building and prayed the guy couldn't see past it.
He only looked back once. There was this loud noise. I guess someone inside was trying to ram the door open. There was no way they were going to get through. The guy just laughed and kept walking.
I wanted him to keep walking. And walking. And walking.
If he left for a while, maybe I'd be able to get the door unlocked. I thought if we all stuck together, maybe we could overpower him. Who knows? Maybe Shane's mean streak would finally come in handy.
More likely, Shane would be so delighted to meet someone who
shared his interests
that he and his new little friend would overpower
The guy didn't keep walking. He leaned against the fence and pulled out a cigarette. It took him about fifteen matches to get it lit. By that time, he really needed a smoke.
He was still hauling away on the cigarette when a phone rang. I jumpedâ but it didn't surprise him at all. He didn't even look around for it. He pulled a barrel up beside the barn and climbed on top of it. He felt around in the gutter. He pulled out a cell phone.
“Yeah,” he said. He listened for a while. I couldn't hear what the other person was saying, but I could see it was making him mad.
I'll leave the swearing out.
His face was practically purple. He said, “Don't give me a hard time! Ain't my fault. How was I supposed to call you? You were the one who said only one guy would be here!”
He listened some more.
“Well, you were wrong, weren't you?...A bunch of kids, that's who...No. Not two or three! Twenty or thirtyâand a teacher and a bus driver too.” He laughed. “But I took care of them. No thanks to you!”
The person on the other end of the phone said something. The guy went wild. He said,
“Don't tell me to calm down!
calm down! I got to get out of here fast or I'm dead. The cops are going to figure out what's up.” He butted his cigarette out with his foot. “So what am I gonna do now, Genius?”
The guy was pacing around the barnyard like he was a bull about to charge. He had this weird thing happening with his neck. It was creepy. He was twitching the way people in horror movies twitch just before they morph into bloodthirsty killing freaks.
He was going, “Of course they've seen my face! How was I supposed to hide my face from thirty kids? They think I'm van Wartâor at least they did till I locked them up with him...”
I know it sounds stupidâbut right until that moment I did think he was van Wart. I just figured living way out here by himself with no junk food or TV must have made him nuts. I know it would have put me over the edge.
Watching him now from my hiding place, I realized the guy didn't just have a
bad day and “lose it.” It must have taken him years of practice to get that crazy. Next to him, Shane looked like a Sunday-school teacher. A real amateur.
“I told ya! I can't have no witnesses,” the guy was saying. “I ain't going back there.”
He listened for a while and then did that weird twitchy thing again. He laughed.
“Yeah,” he said. “I guess I could do that. I'm pretty good at arranging tragic accidents...”
I didn't like the sound of that. I didn't like the sound of that
. People get hurt in accidents. People get
in tragic accidents. I hated to think what the guy had planned for us.
He listened for a while more, then snapped the cell phone shut. He twitched again and disappeared down the side of the barn. I had to make a run for it. I didn't know when he'd be backâor what
he'd have with him. A knife? A gun? A bomb? My imagination was going crazy.
I darted across the barnyard. My feet barely touched the ground. I crouched behind an old green wagon and caught my breath.
I couldn't see the guy, but I knew he was still behind the barn. I could hear the pigs snorting away at him. Those poor animals were sure starved for company. They went nuts when anyone came near.
The bus was closer than the house, but I was too scared to go inside it. If the guy came back around the corner, he'd see me. If he came into the bus after me, I'd have nowhere to run. I'd be dead meat.