We huddled in the dark closet for what seemed like forever, our hearts pounding in our chests. The blood washed in my head, a tidal ebb and flow with each beat of endless waiting. My eyes hurt from squeezing them shut. I opened them slowly and all I saw was the darklight static of the room. Flashes and fibers of light noise sparked in the black as my brain struggled to make sense of the dark. It made me dizzy.
My jaw ached from clenching and when I finally let my breath escape, the release flowed through me. I could feel the tingles and aches of muscles held too long in one position. How long were we here, hiding like frightened mice?
“Haley?” came a small voice from somewhere in the tiny room. “Are you okay?”
No, we wouldn’t. We’d never be okay. None of us. But, that wasn’t what Eunice wanted to hear. “Yeah, I’m fine,” I said. “You?”
“No shit. Me too.”
I hunkered closest to the door listening. Eunice’s voice came from behind, probably under the shelves. Outside this room, the feral sounds of growling and feeding continued. At least the screaming had stopped, but now I could hear Eunice crying. I crawled, feeling my way, to where she sat curled up.
“How many kids in your class?” I asked.
“Seventeen,” she said. “Eight girls and nine boys.”
“Fourth grade, right?”
“Yeah.” She sniffed. “Today was an art day. Everyone was here. They love painting.”
I reached out and took her hands. They were cold. She trembled. This wasn’t a good sign.
“Listen, Eunice.” I kept my voice low. “Are you injured anywhere? Did you get bit?”
“I- I don’t think so,” she said.
“Check yourself. All over. If you’re bleeding, they’ll smell you and find us. If you’re bitten, we have a bigger problem. Do it. Do it now!”
“I’m sorry, Haley.”
“Don’t be sorry. Just be alert. Stand up.”
We checked each other over for injury as best we could by feel. Nothing. Maybe she was just getting sick. Just what I needed. The room was hot and the air thick.
I moved back to the door to listen. Eunice followed me. She reached out for my hand again and I let her take it. It didn’t matter if she was with Jimmy instead of me. All that did was that seventeen little monsters scampered about on the other side of this door. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. I was clenching my jaw again and I wanted the ache.
“Ow, Haley. You’re hurting me.”
I let go of her hand. “I’m sorry,” I said, muttering.
“That’s okay. What are we going to do?” asked Eunice.
“We’re going to get out of this tiny shit-hole, that’s what. This closet. This school. This fucking town.”
“What about Ben and Jimmy?”
What about them indeed. They were late.