Mrs. Moore & The School that was Ablaze

 

by Evangeline Adjei-Danquah

The morning came too early for Joanne Moore.

It wasn’t the bright rays of sunlight filtering in through her bedroom window that drew her from the few hours of restless sleep that she had managed to get. Rather, it was the constant thought that kept on running through her mind, the thought that something was eluding her. Realistically though, it was the blare of the alarm clock on the wooden mantle beside her bed that took her away from her sleep. And now, it was the reminder of work to be done that kept her awake. With her foot pressing on the gas pedal, Mrs. Moore’s car speed up, and she couldn’t help but wonder if today would be one of those long, tiring days when the students never seemed to listen. Usually, Joanne preferred to pass the twenty minutes it took for her to reach Prep Charter High School on Point Breeze Avenue, where she worked as vice principal, listening to the local news radio. Today was different though; as she pulled into the vacant parking lot of the school at six in the morning, it felt to her that those twenty-minutes had breezed by in the silence.

She glanced at her clock on the dashboard of the car, then at her reflection in the rearview mirror. Her hand reached up to smooth down her dirty blonde hair, straighten her black glasses, and brush an invisible peace of lint of the collar of her pink shirt.  Satisfied with her appearance, Joanne stepped out of her polished silver car and tapped tapped her way in black heels into the building, through the hallways of Prep, and into her spacious office. By habit, the first thing Mrs. Moore always did when she arrived in her office was to scan for anything out of place. Her eyes washed over every crevice of the room, but saw everything in order. She dumped her bag down on the chair across from the desk once her inspection was completed. A stack of paperwork was waiting for her in the top drawer of her cabinet, and with a yawn and a sigh of tiredness, Joanne began her day.

Time ticked, but the seconds and minutes crept on slowly. With every soft audible click that came from the clock, Mrs. Moore’s eyelids grew increasingly heavy. Her caramel lashes weighed an unimaginable ton. Time continued to drift, and her mind did too. As her thoughts stretched further, sleep was a wave that took her under, and she could not resist.

It was the crash of rain that pulled her out from her deep sleep this time. Something, she told herself, wasn’t right. Bold white letters on the screen of her phone told her it was five past ten. To her shock, she did not hear the boisterous shouts and slamming sound of kids talking and shutting their lockers. Joanne got up from her desk and stepped toward her doorway when she froze in realization.

 Why were all the lights off?

The doors to the classrooms were open, but where was everybody? Just as she was sleeping, she thought she heard voices of staff teaching. But maybe it was all in her head…

Rain pounded heavily on the roof of the school like bells on a tambourine being shaken over and over again. It was the only sound she heard as she walked the dark halls. It was the only sound until—BAM!

The sound of a locker being slammed reverberated throughout the entire building. Quickly, Joanne took off in the direction of the noise, only to arrive at a hallway and catch a locker swinging violently on its hinges, but no person in sight. Mrs. Moore’s skin prickled.

“Hello?” she called gently; her voice was barely more than a whisper in the deserted corridor, but it echoed nonetheless. The only sound she received was the vicious slap of the rain on the roof above her head. Slowly, she turned in a circle, and her wide eyes scoured the area for signs of anyone having been here. A scrap of paper, a forgotten notebook, or a time tracker —all things that would give proof to somebody—some student—having been here.

Joanne tried to make reason. “It’s only me here,” she told her self. “Only me.”

Even as she said these things, they did not make her feel better. She heard the sound of footsteps running behind her, and being alone didn’t seem so reassuring anymore. Mrs. Moore spun around suddenly, and saw someone run just out of sight. Her heart pounded, and she gasped, covering her mouth with her hand. Heat surged to her face, her adrenaline spiked, but fright did not freeze her. Without hesitation, Joanne ran after the person. Down the hallway she went, and around the left bend of the first corridor. Whoever this person was, they were fast. Mrs. Moore was breathing heavy, but kept on, and only stopped when a door slammed. The only room around the corner of the left bend was Mr. Pears, and the door to his office was wide open. In the room, the television up in the corner of the wall was on. Channels flickered back and forth on the screen, then the vision blurred to black and white splotches. Joanne watched helplessly as the door inched forward and creaked to a stop some inches from closing. She contemplated going back to her office, gathering her things, and leaving. But what if this is only a student, she thought, playing some ridiculous joke on me? She mustered enough courage and entered the room.

It was as dim in there as it was in the hallway. Joanne reached in her pocket for the flashlight on her phone when she remembered her phone was still in her office. She had left it there when she had glanced at it for the time. How could she forget her phone? What if she needed to call someone quickly? Resolutely, she decided to go back to her office to retrieve it, but just as she reached for the door, it slammed shut in her face.

Mrs. Moore threw herself at the door. Her hands balled up into fist and she pounded at it. For a moment, she thought she might break the glass, but then the thought only motivated her to pound harder. She screamed and yelled, grabbing at the knob, pulling and turning frantically. Panic had took over her, and she wondered what she would do—how long she would have to be locked in this room, how long it would take someone to notice—when the loud speaker came on with a crackle. Laughter filled the room and the whole deserted school. The sound of it was androgynous; she couldn’t tell whether it was a boy, a girl, or maybe both laughing at her. The mocking disturbed her, but not so much as the silence that followed. Then, she smelled it; something was burning, and Mrs. Moore became hysterical.

Tears flowed down her face. She had never struggled so fiercely in her life and she could feel heat outside the door. A fire had been light, right in front of the room. Joanne used every bit of strength she had at getting out. When flinging herself at the door didn’t work, she picked up a trophy off a shelf. She hefted it high, and her armed arched upwards to come down on the glass window of the door. Down it was coming when—“STOP! Joanne, STOP!”

Mrs. Moore lowered her arm uncertainly. “Hello?” she called, her voice muffled by tears.

“Hi.” The voice came from the loudspeaker; it was definitely a woman, a young woman. “Joanne, it’s only us.” 

Us? Mrs. Moore didn’t understand.

“Sorry,” the woman said. “We didn’t mean to give you that bad of a scare. It’s just, Prep has traditions. We do this to all new teachers and administration.”

The door opened, and Karen Shannon stuck her head in the office, a broad smile upon her face. The door opened wider and three more faces appeared. Mrs. Shannon moved into the room, followed by Mr. Hunter, Mrs. MacDermaid, and Mrs. Riggs.

Mrs. Moore watched as the three entered, laughing.

“It was only a prank, Joanne. Now you’re a true member of the Prep staff. You’ve been initiated.”

Mrs. Moore wiped a tear off her cheek. “I thought…I…” She looked around at their happy faces, and her fright dissipated. Anger threatened to take its place, but she pushed it away. She looked down at the trophy still in her right hand, and sat it down lightly on Mr. Pears’ desk. The teachers laughed, and Mrs. Moore laughed with them. She thought of how ridiculous she must have looked and couldn’t help but smile.

“So,” said the woman over the load speaker.

“Is that you, Patrice?” asked Mrs. Moore.

“Gotcha!” shouted all the teachers at once, and Mrs. Moore noted there was more than one teacher over the loudspeaker.

And suddenly, the thought that was evading Mrs. Moore surfaced to her mind: it was a Saturday.

             

Art by Laura Spring