When school finally started back up, it was with a visible weight on everyone’s shoulders. The hallways were filled with huddled groups discussing Maggie’s attack, and in a special session of homeroom students watched their teachers stumble through lectures on depression, sexual assault, victim blaming, and self-harm. The senior class in particular was targeted by the staff, getting an assembly on underage drinking and consent with a speaker from Washington who was in the AA program. The PA system rang out throughout the day, asking for specific students to come to the office for a brief conversation with the principal.
After Halloween weekend, the school had been closed for four days and was getting back into the swing of things on November sixth, which fell on a Friday. Approximately half the student body showed up that day. Noticeably missing were some of the names that were called out over the PA.
“Ethan Largo, to the office…”
Todd Sizemore had shown up to school forty-five minutes early that day. He wasn’t sure what he expected from his cousin, but he had hoped to run into Delia and confront here about the texts on Maggie’s phone. The hot pink evidence rested in his large jacket. Todd felt extremely guilty about still having the phone, and knew the severity of withholding the Apple product, yet still he kept it. It didn’t have to do with protecting Delia, after all, “blood thicker than water” didn’t even apply in this situation. Todd simply felt that he was meant to have the phone, to dig deeper into what ever had happened to Maggie, to get justice for the atrocity he had been forced to look directly at. The image of Maggie laying out, barely clothed and with dried blood on her face kept forcing its way to the front of his brain.
“James Halvert, to the office…”
She wasn’t in any of the usual haunts of the goth kids, in fact none of the goth kids were in their usual haunts. The metal lattice of under the bleachers looked somehow sadder without the usual walking corpse cosplayers. The doorway outside the kitchen was devoid of its usual cigarette cloud. The parking lot only contained a few girls crying in the drivers seats of their hand-me-down cars. Still, Todd maintained hope, after all him and Delia shared a Pre-Calculus class first period and therefore a home room.
The room remained locked later than normal however. Ms. Halverson was always one of the first teachers in the building, which made her 8:16 arrival rather inconvenient. A line of students had formed along the wall, staring blankly at lockers when she showed up. Todd had never seen her look this haggard, and she dropped her key twice when she showed up, audibly muttering, “Fuck”.
“Reginald Clayton, to the office…”
Instead of his usual spot in the front, Todd slipped into a desk towards the back of the room. Students filed in, taking seats and glancing at their phones quickly before the bell that meant class was in session. Several hashtags had been spread through the student body like wildfire, including #prayformaggie, #deercliffjustice, and (perhaps ironically) #FreeEthan. When the bell finally did ring, the room lacked most of its usual participants, and Ms. Halverson read in a dry voice the prepared statement created by the school councilor. Delia still hadn’t shown up.
Todd slipped Maggie’s phone out of his pocket, looking for any updates. Other than several facebook notifications and some Tiny Desk Concert youtube thing, it was useless. He clicked through till it was open to the conversation with his cousin, and his thumb hovered over the send button which would send out a message he had typed several days ago.
“We need to talk.”
Yet he didn’t hit send.
“Anne Marie Bennett, to the office…”
halfway through pre-calc, Todd gathered his stuff and walked out the room. He was met with no resistance. He skipped all the rest of his classes that day, instead wandering the halls, looking for Delia. When the final bell rang, he jolted out of the school and hopped on his bike, which he then rode around the town at top speed, eyes constantly scanning for the messy black hair of his target. The fact that he hadn’t made contact with her in six days was beginning to bother Todd. He had made a point of staking out her trailer home during the days off school, which turned out to be a totally fruitless endeavor also. Aunt Lorraine made a trip to the grocery store on the third day, and might have even seen Todd from his hiding spot behind the large oak tree in the middle of the courtyard, but his cousin remained unseen. Perhaps, if his hunt didn’t pan out today, he would sneak out of the house and try to see if she was slinking home under the cover of dark. His early bed schedule had prevented him from watching the trailer past 7:45 most nights. Already 6:00 PM on the 6th, and having already tromped across most of Deercliff twice, Todd figured a quick dinner before planning his great escape to stalk his cousin was in order.
Todd leaned hard to the left on his mountain bike while rounding the corner by the Cenex station and Safeway, barely decelerating, and as a consequence put into play multiple well-established scientific and mythological theories. Let’s start with science. An object in motion will stay in motion, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Todd’s bicycle, and more importantly, Todd, will play the part of object in motion. Reggie’s mom’s sporty Mazada CX-3 will fill in the role of unbalanced force. The mythological portion of this doesn’t have as nice a packaging as Newton’s laws of inertia. We can just call it “lucky break” or “good things come to those who wait: Electric boogaloo”. You know that point in every movie and story, when someone is about to give up on a goal, only to have it magically fall in their lap? In the midst of his front tire crumbling, his long legs scraping across his handlebars and dragging across the red hood of the car, and his miraculous landing on the other side of the car, not only unharmed but on his feet, Todd caught a glimpse of Delia sitting in the passenger seat of a older model red Ford Bronco. The car was driving the opposite way, but Todd could swear he saw Delia look back at the scene unfolding.
Then the hands grabbed him, and Todd’s world went black and took on the strong smell of gym socks and jock straps.
Reggie, Big Mac, Jackson, and Ann Marie had all made a pact to not go to school that first day it finally got back up and going. Life had become fully about solving Maggie’s assault and trying to prove Ethan innocent (although each leaned into different parts of both those reasons). They hadn’t really found any new leads, and despite having a meeting to talk to Todd Sizemore, Ann Marie had not gone at the last minute. She hadn’t told anyone about her and Ethan yet, and figured claiming an emotional reason was good enough a cover for not doing anything in the wake of everything that had transpired. She didn’t have to worry about Ethan telling anyone, since he had to forfeit his phone to the police and was in the city currently with some big-shot lawyer who specialized in defending those who committed (excuse me, potentially committed) crimes of a sexual nature.
Reggie’s garage hangout had become the base camp for this operation, since the Halvert home still had police tape dangling in places and Reggie’s mom worked in the city each day. Big Mac was the de-facto leader, assigning tasks and using his widely accepted social dominance to attempt to see what other students knew. Ann Marie missed the 3rd and the 4th, having gone to the hospital to check in on the Nice family. Maggie’s brother Trevor had shown up, some odd chick in tow, and according to Annie was going a bit ballistic. He had even asked her to give him the address to Ethan’s house. Back now, she was supposed to be the lead on approaching Todd Sizemore, their only other human lead. Reggie and Jackson had completely gone down the Internet rabbit hole for their part of the investigation, hunting for more information about the BHIN. Several forums had begun to turn up actual information, including the username of a fellow who claimed to be ex-BHIN. 3lectricladyland hadn’t told them much, but had promised to help claiming, “If the BHIN is involved, something wicked is coming your way,” then instructing them to, “start taking regular notes of all strange events in the town. Anything from changes in barometric pressure, animals behaving oddly, increase in accidents, anything and all things that might seem out of the ordinary.” Reggie mostly liked talking on the forums to the “conspiracy retards”, but Jackson found that the more he looked around each day, the more weird shit he saw.
The 6th was going about the same as the rest of the week. Reggie circled back home having pretended to leave for school, waiting the appropriate time for his mom to walk to the shuttle bus and take off for the city. She only drove in extreme circumstances, as she got rather anxious behind the wheel. Then he opened the garage back door, fired up the computer, warmed a plate of pop-tarts, and waited for the rest of the gang to show up. Always Jackson first, with two big Americanos with cream. The two usually had about an hour before Annie’s beater car pulled up with her and Big Mac in it.
“Hey, did you hear the frogs last night?”
“It’s too early to talk about your wet dreams, Jackson.”
“Dude, like, c’mon. They were like unusually loud, right? Like, they’ve been getting louder each day man. There was one in my front yard this morning! Frost on everything, practically snow weather, and there sat a fat frog just… I don’t know, sitting there.”
“Ok, I’ll bite. Yea, I’ve noticed the frogs too. I only agree cause there was one climbing on my window this morning too.”
“That’s some bizarro crap man. Should we tell him?”
“No. we mark it down on your weird shit calendar. Lots of frogs. Power going out every day at same time. girl sexually assaulted.”
“Right, friend assaulted. What other weird stuff you found out there Sherlock?”
“I wish you would take this seriously man.”
“I wish I didn’t have to, and I certainly wish you wouldn’t talk to me like that.”
Annie and Big Mac walked into this icy exchange, but didn’t say anything or attempt to lighten the mood. Instead they just set to work, finishing off their part in what had been Reggie’s idea. He recommended (with thick sarcasm) they create one of those boards police use in movies, complete with red string when the group first began meeting at his house. When Jackson showed up with a full ball of string the next day though, no one was surprised, and the action actually did have a sort of therapeutic element. Purpose often has that effect on people. Annie went through Facebook and Instagram, getting pictures of all those who may have some part in this event, and Big Mac set about devising a quick way to cover the board should anyone appear unannounced (it involves wheels on a shelf and a blanket tacked to the ceiling with a quick-release string in case you were wondering).
And so the gang worked through the day, scouring the internet, shooting off texts, spouting ideas and conspiracies, until a much needed snack break was proposed by Big Mac. Leaving Jackson and Ann Marie behind, Big Mac and Reggie headed off in the Mazda for Safeway around 5:30 that afternoon.
At 6:47 PM on November 6th, Reggie and Big Mac brought a large struggling figure, with Reggie’s basketball bag on his head, into the garage.