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Authors: Caroline B. Cooney

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BOOK: Night School
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Voluntarily enter that occupied dark?

So this was how Mr. Phillips had felt the first moment Night Class invaded the library. Absolute unspeakable knowledge that he was not alone, and that whatever had joined him was evil.

Andrew shuddered, trying to peel the suffocating plastic that didn’t exist from his face.

De
spooked—what a joke. The instructor, the shadows, all the other Night Classes of the world, were right there. Waiting for him. Planning how to panic him.

“Andrew?” said Mariah nervously. “What’s the matter? Do you see something? Did you hear something?”

Their backs were to the night, exposed and weak.

How close the spine is to the skin. How easily the jaws of death could crush any one of them.

It isn’t death, Andrew said to himself. He fought fear. He could not dissolve like Mr. Phillips. Andrew reminded himself that he knew what was going on here: nothing but atmosphere. A Night Class did not actually do anything but channel fear.

The night was starless and moonless, and it felt as if day, should it come, would be eternally sunless.

The four teenagers moved in tight up against each other, like animals at a watering hole, hoping numbers would keep away predators. Knowing that one of them was doomed … whoever was weakest.

I am weakest, thought Autumn.

I am weakest, thought Andrew.

I am weakest, thought Mariah.

“Where’s the camcorder?” whispered Ned.

How clearly Autumn could hear the voices of her parents. Don’t get involved in this. It isn’t nice, Autumn. Always do the nice thing, Autumn.

So this was blackmail. Finding out too late whose opinion mattered, and how much you did not want that opinion of you lowered. Even if she had done nothing to hurt Mr. Phillips, it would look as if she had. “We could go back in for it,” she breathed. But I did do things, she thought.

The high school was beyond dark. It had moved into another deeper world, where eyes and ears could not matter, only souls.

“Company keeps away the dark,” whispered Autumn. “I learned that on the way in.”

“And the instructor himself said that only a person
alone
in the dark is at risk,” whispered Mariah.

How, wondered Autumn, do you schedule your life so that you are never—not once—alone in the dark?

But still, no one moved toward the building.

“We’ll have to go together,” murmured Ned. He found himself wanting to hang onto somebody. Holding hands was too girlish, too babyish.

Andrew’s eyes searched the shadows. Shadows of trees and canyon, of building and car, but most unexplained. Thick, dark shafts cast by nothing and no one.

If somebody were filming us, thought Andrew, I would look exactly like Mr. Phillips. Eyes darting, flickering, squinting, peering, screaming.

“Why bother?” said Ned loudly. “We’re not on the film. Only Mr. Phillips is. Who ever looks at home movies anyhow? Some boring footage of somebody’s kid singing off-key in a dull concert. Somebody might steal the camcorder but nobody’ll ever look at the film.”

What if Ned’s wrong, thought Mariah, and the film is not only played, but played to Mr. Phillips’s peers? The other teachers?

Teachers were viciously gossipy, and protective of turf. Subs were supposed to be second-rate. It was practically a job requirement. What if a good sub ever came along? Possibly even a sub better than the teacher?

How they would secretly rejoice, seeing the maimed rabbit that was Mr. Phillips.
We’re
better than
you
are, they would singsong.

But she did not want to go back into the school, either. She wanted the minutes in the library to remain nothing but a once-seen movie. I wasn’t the one who sat there nodding and swaying to the chant
alone in the dark,
Mariah reminded herself. “I think it was some kind of psychological test. We’re going off the deep end over nothing. Why get so worked up? I say we drop out of class, skip the homework, forget the whole deal. Andrew can get to school early in the morning and find the camera before anybody gets to the library anyway.”

Autumn felt a little chill of revulsion. For one minute, Autumn didn’t like Mariah anymore. She’s just protecting herself, Autumn thought. If we don’t protect ourselves, who will? Autumn did not argue with Mariah. Instead she hoped Mariah would enlarge on this, be convincing, make her point correct beyond a shadow of doubt.

A shadow.

Shadows closed in.

Without speech, they knew they had to escort each other to the cars. They had to get out of there.
Now.

Mariah’s car, parked in the turnaround, was next to them. She unlocked it. Through each mind passed the new knowledge that locks are nothing. Walls are nothing. Doors are nothing.

Night Classes go where they please.

When Mariah drove away in that car, she would be one thing only:
a person alone in the dark.

Ned made a strangled sound, small and weak, like a puppy lost in the corner. They glared at him sideways, for being the first failure in their strength, the crack through which shadows would creep.

Ned was pointing toward the school.

Autumn could not look. Ned’s mouth was twisted and his eyes flared and his finger quivered. That was clue enough for Autumn.

Mariah however looked instantly, to pin it down with her eyes, assess it, and keep it meaningless.

Inside a black and empty school with no teachers, no staff, and no human occupants through the long glass windows of a classroom in which nobody stood, a movie was being played.

Andrew’s movie.

The cold blue light of the screen was quite similar to the cold blue moon of the instructor’s smile.

But it was not, after all, Andrew’s movie.

It was somebody else’s movie, and it showed Autumn and Andrew and Mariah and Ned as they watched Mr. Phillips … and did nothing.

Chapter 7

J
ULIE’S PARENTS WERE OUT.

She had planned to spend the night on the phone. Phones were lifelines, and as long as the other person’s voice came though the wire, you were still safe. Brooke, however, had a choir rehearsal (she was the only member of the group with a singing voice) and Danielle was going out to dinner to meet her newest future stepfather. (She was the only member of the group whose parents held annual weddings; marriage was sort of their hobby, and every now and then they even remarried each other. Danielle remained normal.) However, Autumn should have been home.

Julie needed Autumn to be home.

Julie was hurting. When she left school that afternoon, getting into her Mercedes (Julie was the richest of the group and liked it to be very clear), a girl named Lynnie, somebody for whom Julie certainly had no use and certainly would never bother with, had said, “Hi, piranha.”

The girls around Julie had snickered. “She’s beyond piranha,” said another girl. “She’s a piranha trainer.”

Lynnie said, “Don’t get in the water with Julie,” and Lynnie and her friends laughed together and walked away from Julie.

Normally Julie liked her reputation as the toughest and cruellest in school. Today, however, she had caught herself in a mood of envy. First she was envious of Sal, who had the unusual quality of being good at being alone. Then she was envious of Mariah, who probably had the unusual quality of being happy in her dreams.

And me, thought Julie, what unusual qualities do I have? It isn’t unusual for teenagers to be mean to each other. It isn’t unusual for teenagers to be well dressed and drive great cars.

Julie wanted to talk to Autumn and had even considered the possibility of laying her heart bare. Although they were inseparable, Julie-Brooke-Autumn-Danielle told each other very little; it was too risky, maybe because they were inseparable.

But Autumn had gone out somewhere, without letting Julie know, and Julie was home alone, with nobody to talk to. She imagined herself calling Sal up, or Mariah, or Lynnie.

Yeah, right.

Julie was afraid of the dark. Every night of her life, she still checked under the bed. Kept the closet door closed. Had the yardman trim the branches away from the house so nothing rasped against the siding. She still went to bed before her Mom and Dad so that she’d never be the one to turn off the last light.

Julie had slept with a night-light since birth. Her end of the house actually had three night-lights: bedroom, hall, and bathroom. She was a big buyer of night-lights, which you could find in catalogs. She had bunny rabbit night-lights, Christmas night-lights, moon-and-stars night-lights, and Mickey Mouse night-lights.

They had not helped Julie like the dark. They had only taught her that collecting was fun. Whenever Brooke-Autumn-Danielle spent the night, Julie liked to pretend that her grandmother was the night-light freak. I don’t spoil her fun, Julie explained generously, I let her think the night-lights are really sweet.

They weren’t sweet.

They were essential.

What would she do if the electricity went off? What would she do if Mom and Dad were very, very late? What would she do if there were a prowler, or a strange car in the drive, or a creepy noise from the roof, or footsteps on the stairs?

Julie was afraid to shampoo her hair, lest she be blind and helpless in the dark. She could not have the television off, but she could not have the sound on, either; it would mask whatever sounds in the dark Julie needed to be alert for. She could not go to bed, because there she was cornered, but she could not stay up, because there she was exposed.

She could not laugh at herself, she could not calm herself, she could only wait for her parents to return, and in the meantime she focused herself on Autumn, whose fault this was; if Autumn were home the way she had been told, Julie would have a voice on the line and all would be well.

“We were shadows!” cried Autumn. “How did it film us? We couldn’t even see each other when it happened.” She wanted to get sick, right there on the sidewalk. For her face, the feminine but strong looks of which she was so proud, had observed Mr. Phillips like a scientist observing a rat in a maze. With a little superior smile she had turned off his only light, and raised her eyebrows in contempt when Mr. Phillips screamed.

Nothing good of Autumn showed in that film. Only the lowest part of her: the scummy part.

I didn’t know I had scummy parts, thought Autumn. I didn’t mean to be mean! It isn’t fair that somebody was filming. I would have behaved right if I’d known anybody could see me.

“Who shot that footage?” said Andrew. “Nobody else was there. Just us. And the instructor. And Mr. Phillips.”

Somebody is always there,
said the instructor.

His coal smoke shadow blinded their eyes.

“Go away!” screamed Mariah. “If you have to come out here, come like a person! Talk out loud!”

The instructor explained that Mariah was not in charge here.
Night Classes,
he said,
begin continually. And graduates, of course, entertain themselves. As all of you agreed, over and over, as I am more than willing to show you on film, taunting Mr. Phillips was excellent entertainment.

Autumn was going to throw up. She could tell. It was not going to be spooky or shadowy, it was going to be gross and awful.

Past students are always in the shadows. Waiting to see who presents himself as an SC. I have been most interested in your own fear of becoming SCs.

“Well, we’re going in there to get our camcorder!” shouted Mariah Frederick, astonishing everybody, especially herself. “You’re nothing but a punk! You’re nothing but smoke and shadow and stench!”

Andrew loved her. Now when she was righteous and angry and storming, he wanted to film her.

“We’re getting our film and we’re getting your film and we’re dropping out of class. So there!” Mariah Frederick marched toward the high school door, and her classmates fell in line behind her.

Lead, thought Andrew, and there will be followers. He was amazed to be Mariah’s follower.

And brother Bevin?
said the instructor.

Bevin could not imagine what his life would be without the radio. He especially liked call-in shows, and he knew that the people who called in were like himself: desperate, lonely grieving people without lives. People who at midnight and two in the morning still needed to hear the voices of others, talking of nothing, offering opinions based on nothing, just talking, talking, talking to shut out the loneliness.

Bevin himself had never called in. He regarded the phone as something that must be kept for the final resort; the ultimate call for help. The radio was his friend, but the phone might someday be the only way out.

The only way out of what?

Bevin never permitted himself actually to have the thoughts he was having. His thoughts were cordoned off, like parts of a vast auditorium where even he himself could not go. He could only see them across the room, vaguely, and out of focus. Thoughts of peace or death or disappearance. Sometimes these three thoughts seemed like the same thing and sometimes, then, they seemed quite wonderful.

Tonight they seemed terrible.

His sister was taking some sort of class with her friends, undoubtedly going out for pizza afterward, dancing perhaps; laughing, certainly. Mariah had so many friends! People were always smiling at her, saying hello to her. Bevin did not know how she did it. On Mariah that bewildered dreamy look was very attractive, and people loved her for it, and forgave her when she lost the thread of conversations, and welcomed her even when all six seats at a six-chair lunch table were full.

But Bevin, who was so similar to Mariah; who not only looked a great deal like her but acted and moved like her; Bevin was loathed for it.

He had never been jealous of Mariah. In fact Bevin had had very few harsh emotions toward others in his life. Perhaps that was part of the problem; perhaps he was essentially so wimpy that he was not worthy of notice.

But there, of course, was the problem.

Bevin, who until last year had been not worthy of notice, was this year’s choice for notice.

BOOK: Night School
4.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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