“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster,
And if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
- Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzche
NIGHTMARE: The GODDESS ACROSS THE HALL
He lay with his back against the couch, all feeling lost at the sight of the Valkyrie before him. Angela, the woman of his rich desire and greatest inspiration, knelt beside him at the couch allowing him to gaze into her profoundly green eyes. As all other feeling seemed to ebb away, Jake felt deep love and incredible happiness as she brushed his hair back and planted a gentle kiss on his lips; a kiss that would last forever….
FOUR DAYS EARLIER
Jake woke at the sound of his ancient alarm clock blaring “Wonderwall” by Oasis. Startled into consciousness, he laid still and listened to the song as he tried to let the weight of reality reach him. The clock read 7 AM. He contemplated just going back to sleep. Surely sleep would be heaven compared to the hell he endured at school.
Jake whipped off the covers and slowly got out of bed. He groggily made his way from his attic bedroom down the stairs, which led to the kitchen. As he prepared a bowl of cereal he found himself thinking about her… Jake had exactly one thing to look forward to in his life, and it was passing time between classes where he would see her, if only for a moment. He let himself envision a fantasy world wherein she knew he existed, one where he wasn’t an outcast, but the object of her affection.
Finishing his cereal, he dumped the bowl in the sink and made his way down the hall to the bathroom, letting his imagination carry him there. He undressed and hopped into the shower, which seemed to hail ice at him. Anger rose up in him at his mother for using up all the hot water again. Gradually the water warmed and he just let it hit him. He felt the water sliding down his cheeks like tears. He couldn’t even really be sure they weren’t.
He stepped out of the shower and began to dry himself off. He gingerly dabbed at the fresh bruise on his chest and shoulder. He walked to the fogged up mirror and wiped it down with his towel to closer examine the bruises. He could make out the exact spot where the knuckles had connected with his shoulder, but was happy to see that the bruise near his eye was healing. He sat staring at his reflection and was overcome with sadness.
Jake ran upstairs and hurriedly dressed. He went back down to the bathroom to run a comb through his hair and a brush his teeth. He made his way to the living room, picking up his backpack and slung it over his shoulder. He noticed a note on the dining room table.
Won’t be home till late. There’s mac and cheese in the fridge and pizza money in an envelope by the sofa.
With sadness, Jake read the note. Even his own mother didn’t want to spend time with him. She was ever off at work, or with friends. The older he got, the less he saw of her. It was as if, she felt that seventeen was the age where a son didn’t need a parent anymore, and maybe for a lot of teen boys that was true, but Jake felt he had no one to care for him or watch over him. He was alone.
He crumpled up the note and tossed it in a nearby trash can as he made his way for the door. It was a bright morning. The sun mocked him, but at least the cold of winter mirrored his slowly breaking heart. Taking his mind off things, he centered on the snow crunching beneath his feet, being careful not to slip on any concealed patches of ice.
The trek to school wasn’t a long one, but frosty air had a way of making the half mile journey feel much longer. That coupled with the dread of what he was going to have to endure made the walk feel like even more of a slow burn. Before long he cut through the school’s parking lot. Faces flitted past as he reached the stretch of sidewalk that led into the school. The sight of her caused him to momentarily stop. Her name was Angela, she had a lovely heart shaped face, that always seemed to be bright, happy and with a playful smile. Her hair was vivid red, which made her sparkling green eyes all the more striking. As she stood in front of the school to wait for a friend, Jake remembered the first time he ever saw her. It was ninth grade. It had been in the stairwell. He had just dropped his notebook and a few textbooks on the floor, when she had run up behind to help him pick them up. When he thanked her, she winked at him with that glorious emerald eye of hers. He’d been nursing a crush on her ever since. Though they never spoke, the days when she made eye contact with him were what kept him going. He watched as Angela greeted her friend. Sarah, was it? he found himself wondering. He couldn’t help but smile as he watched from afar, longing to be the person she so warmly greeted. His focus shifted to the school Angela and her friend were entering. It was Rose Leaf Public High School, a grand red bricked building that the community had been working hard to modernize to the 21st century. So many smiling faces entered the school. Why couldn’t his be one of them?
“I do not want to go in there,” Jake sighed under his breath.
Almost cutting him off, a muscular young man pushed past him and another purposely shoulder checked Jake. It was Stan and one of his cronies.
“Nice,” Jake muttered.
“Got something to say, shit-for-brains,” Stan asked warningly.
Jake avoided Stan’s gaze and shrugged.
“Yeah,” Stan said. “Didn’t think so.”
Jake watched as Stan and his friend entered the school. Rage rose like a phoenix from within which caused Jake to squeeze his hand into a fist so tightly that his nails dug into him palm. He could feel blood trickle between his clenched fingers as he walked into the school. Jake rushed to one of the washrooms near the lobby entrance. Inside the washroom was a kid from his class named Mike, who had just finished up washing his hands when Jake entered and placed his bleeding hand under cool water.
“You okay, Josh?” Mike asked noticing the blood.
“It’s Jake,” he spat back. “And, yes, I’m fine. I just…tripped."
Mike eyed Jake curiously for a moment, before Jake abruptly grabbed a paper towel and exited the washroom. Jake walked through the crowded halls towards a set of lockers. Across the hall he saw Angela walk up and plant a large hug and a kiss on Stan’s cheek. From his own locker, Jake watched with disgust. What does she see in him? he wondered. Jake had begun to enter his locker combination when his best (and, truthfully, only) friend Will stopped by to make small talk about some Pre-Calc homework he was struggling with. As Jake listened, his focus never really shifted from the goddess across the hall. Will noticed and gave him a wink to which Jake playfully punched his arm. Jake finished putting his jacket and backpack in his locker, before making his way to class.
* * *
It was his favorite class of the day, mainly because of the teacher, Ms. Mayer. She was in her mid-twenties, and was the kind of person that radiated knowledge. She had a wonderful knack for getting her students to discover hidden qualities and talents they might not have known about. He would always try to arrive early for her class. He placed himself in the center of the room, giving Ms. Mayer a nod as he entered. Classmates entered the room at sporadic intervals, most of whom would be chatting to a friend about their day. Mike entered the class, and as he passed Jake he asked; “How’s the hand?” Jake smiled then replied “better.” A young girl named Julia entered the room. She smiled at Jake then took a seat next to him, asking how his day has been.
Julia lived a few houses down from Jake, and he suspected she was crushing on him. It’s not that she was unattractive; Jake just didn’t feel anything for her. She was nice, but had a bad habit of always showing up at the wrong time. He chatted with her a bit, which distracted him from noticing Stan enter the class. Stan opted for a seat behind Jake’s and as he passed by, he unslung his backpack from his shoulder and whipped it into Jake’s face. Most of the class laughed. Ms. Mayer, eyed Stan down.
“Stan!” she yelled. “Outside!”
“Come on,” Stan shot back in cocky defense. “It was an accident.”
“So were you I presume,” Ms. Mayer said to ‘ooo’s’ from the class. “Hall. Now.”
Stan set his bag on the desk, and then followed Ms. Mayer out of the room. Will, who entered the class as the commotion began, approached Jake.
“You ok?” Will asked.
“Yeah,” Jake said blankly. “God, I hate that guy.”
“He’s a jerk,” Julia said softly. “Don’t let him bother you.”
“How can I not?” Jake asked a little more sternly than he meant to. “I’m sitting still and the creep hits me. I call that bothersome.”
Ms. Mayer and Stan reentered the room. She directed Stan to take his seat.
“You ok, Jake?” Ms. Mayer asked.
“I’m fine,” Jake said embarrassed. Why is she asking in front of everybody?
“Good,” she replied. She redirected her attention to the white board, where she wrote two words:Myth and Legend. “Today we will be focusing on
myths and legends. Can anyone tell me, what is a legend?”
A few hands shot up, she called on a student in the far back.
“Isn’t it a story passed on through time?” the student asked.
“That certainly is an aspect of what a legend is,” Ms. Mayer said. “A legend usually has some grounding in history and generally possesses actions of heroic or superhuman feats. What makes them interesting is that they have something that has a nugget of fact and as the story is passed on, it gets transformed to make it more mythic; more exciting. Now, there are multiple kinds of legends but we are going to focus our attention first on urban legends. Can anyone tell me what an urban legend is?”
Several students raised their hands. Ms. Mayer called upon…
“It’s a story told as fact that you hear from a friend of a friend,” said Alicia, a pretty girl who could often be seen with Mike.
“I’m glad you mentioned ‘a friend of a friend’,” Ms. Mayer said. “These stories are often told in this manner. You will never hear the stories firsthand. They are always stories you hear secondhand from people quoting people. In other words they are stories whose origins have been lost in the mists of history.
“They are often cautionary tales of misguided youth, but have little basis in fact. You might encounter an urban legend that is grounded in some form of truth or one that has been entirely fictionalized to the point that it transcends sensation. Take the urban legend about mixing Pop Rocks and fizzy drinks. If you ingest this, so called, ‘lethal’ combo your stomach won’t explode, but you might get a stomach ache. And that is most likely where the story’s origins lay. Someone tried it and felt ill. The story has since been exaggerated to the one we know now. But, there was a grain of truth in the story. That is what we will be investigating.
“We are going to be putting on our investigator hats to try to get to the root of these stories and see the grain of truth in the story as a whole; the fact, if there is any. Lucky for us, our town has a local legend that has been around for a generation. Does anybody know the story I’m talking about?” she asked the class with a smile, ready for the answer.
“Is it the story of Joseph Matthews?” Julia said aloud absently.
“That’s right Julia,” Ms. Mayer said. “Can you share the legend of Joseph Matthews?”
“Me,” Julia said shyly and looking a touch scared.
“Yes,” Ms. Mayer prodded.
“Alright,” Julia said, turning red. “He was a mad man who butchered up a school. He took an axe and killed everyone in it.”
“He didn’t kill everyone,” Stan interjected. “It was just the first floor where everyone died.”
“Let her finish,” Ms. Mayer said politely to Stan.
“Well,” Julia continued more confidently, “when the police got there they shot him six times but he didn’t die. They say that they never actually found the body. I heard that he still lives in the old school now that it has been abandoned.”
“Very good Julia,” Ms Mayer said. “Stan, let’s hear your version.”
“So, it goes like this,” Stan explained. “He just killed the kids on the first floor; not the whole school. And, he wore a Bill Clinton mask to make a political statement while he sliced them up.”
A few students started to laugh.
“What political statement was that?” Mike asked, laughing heartily. “That he did not have sexual relations with those kids?”
The class laughed even harder. Even Ms. Mayer laughed aloud. No one was laughing harder than Jake, though.
“What are you laughing at faggot?!” Stan shouted at Jake then slapped the back of Jake’s head.
“STAN!” Ms. Mayer shouted. “Principal’s Office!”
Stan got up, and as he did he pushed Jake’s desk over. Mike was quick to his feet and pushed Stan hard in the chest.
“Mike, sit down!” Ms. Mayer said loudly trying to take back control of the room. “Stan, we’ve talked about this. You do not use hate language in this
classroom. Go to principal Himbry’s office.”
Stan stormed out of the room. Ms. Mayer redirected her attention back to Jake.
“Are you alright?” She asked with a tone of concern.
“I’m fine,” he replied moodily.
Mike helped Jake to upright his desk. Ms. Mayer, visibly agitated, continued on with her lecture.
“Tonight,” she instructed, “I want you to research the origins of the legend. Write me a one page paper on the legend as you know it and include your findings on the real Joseph Matthews.”
“So, he is real?” Will asked. “I really thought he was just a scary ghost story they tell kids about.”
“Well, that’s for you to find out Mr. Boyd.” She said with a smile to Will.
Ms. Mayer looked at the clock and noticed there was but a minute left of class and instructed everyone to begin packing their bags. At the bell, Jake rushed out of the class but was caught by Julia.
“Hey,” she said. “I was wondering if you wanted to research the paper together tonight.”
“Ummm, sure,” Jake said with slight reluctance. “I guess that’d be cool.”
“Really?” Julia asked excitedly, not catching his reluctant tone. “Cool! I’ll see you after last period. We can walk home together.”
“Sounds like fun,” Jake said, not really sure why he was even saying it.
“Talk to you later,” Julia said as she walked off to her next class.
Two young men approached Jake as he stood by his locker, hoping to catch a glimpse of Angela.
“You got Stan suspended,” said Dave, a dude who had long red hair, and always dressed in some metal band tee.
“What do you mean ‘I got’—” Jake asked indignantly.
“Just shut the fuck up,” said Ash, a handsome young man who was already sprouting a pretty good beard for a high schooler. “You better watch your back.”