From the Notebook Files of Gloria Esquerra
Mission Preparatory is a school for the elite. The complex is posh and sprawling. Its lofty steeple roofs and huge latticed windows have the look of Old World castles. Except for the blacktop pushing its way to the gated entrance, towering trees completely ring the complex, providing equal amounts of beauty and darkness to the immense campus. A dark wild forest moves in all directions away from the preparatory school, providing a natural barrier of protection from the eyes of the curious. The forest is stopped by distant housing developments and the town of Wayword.
Mission indeed screams affluence, an enticing wonderland for the overindulged offspring of the rich and famous. But that is an illusion. Mission Prep is in fact a dumping ground for the neglected and unwanted youth of the well-heeled.
I am one of the unwanted. My crime was being born. I wasn’t planned, and clearly, I wasn’t wanted. Because my progenitors have always considered me irrelevant, my first fifteen years were spent in the local public school system, but after continuous scrapes with the law, the fed up WPD and the town judge summoned my douchebag parents back to Wayword. I was promptly plucked out of the Juvenile Detention Center and summarily dumped at Mission and left here to rot. That was over a year ago.
So here I am, seventeen, still boarding at the exclusive school. Here, residence halls are called manors, not dorms, which is misleading because even though the rambling structures have the look of a manor, they still house students. The single occupant rooms are quite spacious and have their own private bathrooms. So I’m comfortable and have no complaints. There aren’t any rules here. At least none posted or spoken, and yet we have a crime free campus, which is very weird because the student body is truly a collection of rebellious rejects. Every kind of mischief occurred at Wayword High, but here? Nothing. We’re like drugged-up zombies lurching our way through our high school years. The only thing, though, is I don’t believe we’re being drugged. It’s something else. I can’t explain it, let alone prove it, but lately a growing feeling in my gut is warning me of the presence of an unseen, sinister entity. What it is, I don’t know. I’m only sensing a presence.
Unexplainable things happen here. Like how is it that every student attending Mission maintains a high GPA? How? Listen, I walk the halls and grounds with more than a few kids who have the IQ of a banana peel. So I know that cannot possibly be true. Strange though, I’ve seen several of these walking banana peels on exam days and they are different. They are sharp and alert. I haven’t witnessed cheating, yet it has got to be happening. No one has ever been caught even attempting to steal a test prior to taking an exam, and there is no evidence of passing cheat notes in class. Nor is there evidence of instructors engaging in academic improprieties–i.e. fixing grades. CCTV cameras are mounted everywhere. Privacy is not a right at this exclusive institution. It’s all so very strange. But stranger still is how our Division I football team remains undefeated when half of our players are on the wimpy side. Seriously, how can a tricycle demolish a tank on the football field. It doesn’t happen. Except for here.
Another weird thing occurred a few days ago. I don’t have many friends here but I count Margret Remming as one. Margret was born with a hip deformity which left her with a noticeable limp. She’s also a bit on the slow side of the intelligence meter and for those two reasons, she was cast aside and dumped here. Well, Margret took ill the day before an important chemistry test. I was with Margret when the nurse came in to check on her. Because her temperature was so high, Margret was immediately moved to the campus clinic, which is more like a mini hospital than a clinic. I check on her later that day but was told she was not allowed visitors and that she most likely would be spending a night or two at the clinic. So, imagine my shock when I walked into chemistry the next morning only to find Margret looking healthy and acting all chipper. We spoke after class, but only briefly. Margret appeared nervous and anxious to get away from me, but before she shoved past me, I noticed that her light blue eyes were strangely speckled, like fine sand particles had somehow gotten lodged in them. I also noticed that her limp was gone. A feeling of apprehension came over as I watched Margret hurry down the hallway.
“She’s inhabited, you know that, right?” A male voice startled me.
I whipped around to face a dark-haired boy standing just behind me. “What does that mean?”
“It means that’s not really Margret. Something has taken over her body. It’s not your friend.”
I felt the apprehension ballooning. “You’re insane. What are you talking about?”
“You don’t know yet, do you?” The boy began to stroll away. “Look out your window tonight. Look toward the forest.”
“What will I see?”
He threw a look back at me. “The inhabitors. Keep the lights off. You don’t want to be seen.”
Half past midnight they came into view, four figures ambling across the immense lawn. They soon disappeared into the trees. The figures appeared gangly and grayish in the moonlight, and they moved in a hunched over sort of way. I had no clue as to what they could be but I knew with a certainty that evil lived in the surrounding forest and that there was no escaping this place. Is survival possible? I don’t know. What I do know is that from here on my life at Mission will be lived in utter terror.
I have a strange tale to tell you, a true story that to this day remains unexplainable. It bothers me still, even haunts me. First, let me share a little bit about my cousin, Madalyn, and myself and how we came to be involved in this story. We live in a small, rural town, a farming community, actually, where everyone knows each other, and, unfortunately, it’s a place where goodness and cruelty struggle to co-exist. The Fate River cuts through an oak and pine forest that spread away from the river’s banks a little over a mile and ends where agriculture fields take over. The Fate is wide and mostly shallow except for in its center where it deepens and a strong current hides.
Maddy lives on the large farm adjacent to our small plot of land. Her daddy owns over two hundred acres of land. My dad owns one field of forty acres. We are the same age and of the same mind, so we’ve been best friends all of our twenty-five years now. Aunt Ella is my mother’s sister. She’s a nurse. Maddy’s father is a true farmer, a local born and raised here. My daddy was a big city lawyer who gave up the money and insanity for some peace and quiet. Mama retired from teaching when I came along. Maddy and I have no siblings, just each other. We do have relatives living in the area. Some of them are the salt of the earth kind of people but there are a few that are as heartless as anyone can be. This tale begins with their cruelty.
School was out for the summer. The heat was stifling, so Maddy and I took off for the river to cool our feet. Being only eleven then, we were not allowed to swim in the river without the presence of a parent and we obeyed that rule faithfully. As we approached the bridge that connects the land, we heard voices nearing the bridge from the opposite side. We slowed our steps and moved into the trees to see who else would be at the river. Some people you learn early to avoid. From behind the trees we waited and watched until the voices became people. The two girls in the group were our cousins; the three others were boys from town. Maddy immediately became frightened and wanted to leave for the group that showed up were known to be a pack of mean bullies. They were older than us by three years. Claire, our budding psycho cousin, was carrying a squirming sack which she was violently swinging back and forth, causing the other to laugh and cheer her on. I knew that what was in the sack was alive and about to be thrown into the river to die a horrible death. It happened minutes later. The bunch watched from the bridge until the sack sunk beneath the water and then they left, whooping with glee and giving each other high fives. I can still hear our cousin Kim’s twisted laughter reverberating through the forest. Once they were out of sight, I tore out of the trees and down to the bank and began searching for the sack. It bobbed up several feet down the river. I race to rescue whatever was in the sack. As I pushed through the shallows, I could heard my mother warning me not to go into the deeper waters but that’s where the sack was and I needed to get it. I could also hear Maddy’s pleading voice begging me not to go in but I could not bear to see any animal being so cruelly treated. Once I reached and took hold of the heavy, waterlogged sack, I turned to paddle back to the bank but the current clamped onto my legs and pulled me under. I could feel my body scraping the river’s bottom and though I fought to get loose, I knew I was losing the battle. Then something happened, something I still can’t explain. It was like two strong hand took hold of my waist and forced me upwards and over to a sandbar. I still had the sack grasped in my hand. Maddy wadded out to me. I told her to get the sack out of the water and onto dry land. She did and after grabbing some air into my lungs, I hauled myself onto the bank. I didn’t think to ask who had saved me until much later. When I did ask Maddy about it, she stared back at me with a queer look on her face and said no one else had been in the water. Just me.
We quickly yanked the knot loose and found four black and white sodden kittens, along with the mother cat, in the bag. Two kittens were already dead, the mother cat and the other two were barely hanging on. Maddy showed me how to breathe into their little mouths to help them survive. When their breathing evened out, we helped the mother cat. She survived, and as soon as she could manage, she went to her two dead babies and licked them, like she was kissing them goodbye. Maddy and I cried.
We carried the cats home in our shirts and told our mothers what had happened. I got a scolding from Mama but it wasn’t too harsh. Mama, like me, could never accept cruelty of any kind. Aunt Ella, Mama, Maddy and I buried the dead kittens at the north end of our field, placing little crosses made of sticks and tied together with twine on the tiny graves. We kept the kittens and the mama cat in our garage since Maddy’s family was leaving on vacation the next morning.
The mother cat we name Indigo because of her blue-black fur. We named the kittens Gray and Tay. Tay belonged to me. Indigo stayed close to me, rubbing up against my legs and curling up on my lap when her babies slept. I got the feeling she was thanking me for saving her and her babies. Two weeks after the rescue took place, Indigo began disappearing at night. We weren’t concerned. That’s the nature of adult felines. But once she started prowling, strange stories began circulating in town. The first piece of gossip concerned my cousin Claire. Mother heard talk at the beauty parlor that Claire was being stalked and that she had reported it to the police. She claimed to have pictures of her stalker, a dark figure who watched her house at night from across the road, but when the police asked to see the photos, Claire could not produce them. Claire swore up and down and on the Bible that she was telling the truth but due to her bad reputation not too many folks believed her. Weeks later, Claire was found dead near the river. Some maniac had ripped her throat apart. She bled out. Two weeks later one of the boys who had been with Claire the day they threw the cats into the water was found dead behind the Quik Stop. He too had been talking about about a dark creatures who seemed to be everywhere he went. His throat had been ripped to shreds and his eyes horrifically gouged out. Then Kim was killed, suddenly and viciously. The police believed we had a violent serial killer stalking the town. His prey appeared to be the young folks.There was no evidence of sexual assault, just the mangling of the throat and face. The other two boys who were with the group that day were also found murdered near the Fate River. The community became paralyzed with fear.
But the killing stopped that night, the night the last of the group was found dead, and Indigo suddenly ceased her nightly disappearing. It all still baffles and frightens me because I cannot shake the belief that it was Indigo out there taking revenge for the cruel murder of her two babies. I know it sounds insane. House cats can not kill people, right?
Principal Marshall hadn’t noticed the white-haired grandmother sitting quietly two rows behind him, not until he heard the door to the courtroom open and he turned to see who was entering. His eyes shot past her just as his adversary swaggered in. Hudson Lowe, Sommerset High’s good-for-nothing punk.The desire to beat the shit out of the kid pumped hot in his veins but he managed to keep his face tranquil. Today of all days he would remain a picture of placidity, and he did, even when Hudson Lowe called him an asshole and gave him the finger. He was not about to give the punk any ammunition to use as some kind of possible defense tactic. Principal Marshall wanted Hudson Lowe’s ass to fry.
Rennis Juvenile Detention Center. The Courtroom.
The judge entered and took his exalted place behind the elevated desk. He took a small amount of time perusing the brief he had carried in with him. He looked up to survey the small gathering. His gaze turned to a face all too familiar with the court. The dark-haired, dark-eyed youth was staring defiantly back at him, a smirk lifting up one corner of his mouth. Other than the new case worker sitting beside the youth, the judge could detect no change in the boy.
“Mr. Hudson Lowe, I see you have not heeded the warning I gave the last time you made an appearance in my courtroom.” Hudson Lowe grinned. The judge’s eyes stayed on the juvenile for a moment, before they slid over to the new case worker. “I’ve read your report, Mr. Singe, and that of all three previous cases workers assigned to Hudson Lowe. Is it a fair statement to say Mr. Lowe has made little to no progress from the time of his last court appearance to today?” After Mr. Singe spoke his agreement with the judge, the judge turned to the school district’s attorney and Principal Marshall. “Mr. Samuel, I have read the District’s latest complaints against Hudson Lowe. To say the list has grown exorbitantly is not an exaggeration, and although I am disappointed, I am not surprised. Mr. Lowe appears determined to rack up as many offense as he can. I would like to hear what Sommerset’s principal has to report. Mr. Marshall.”
Principal Marshall stood. “Thank you, your honor. Mr. Hudson Lowe’s incorrigible behavior has indeed become bolder and more dangerous. I believe he has become a serious danger to the students at Sommerset High and to himself.
Hudson Lowe snorted loudly. Principal Marshall ignored him and began reading the offenses.
January 17th, Mr. Lowe managed to hack into the school computer system and replaced a video on bullying with a pornographic film. The bullying video was part of our strong anti-bullying message to the student body. It was to be presented at the assembly held on this day. Instead, the students were subjected to minutes of graphic pornography as it took some time to shut the video down. Understandably, parental outrage ensued and threats, both legal and non-legal, were heaped on me, my staff, and the district.” A bark of derisive laughter interrupted the principal and the judge hurled a rebuke at Hudson Lowe. Principal Marshall carried on. “On the night of February 10, Mr. Lowe entered the teachers’ lounge and spray painted the walls with figures of both female and male genitalia and of staff members having intercourse with various comic book characters. He was caught red-handed by the night custodian as he tried to sneak out of the lounge. Three cans of spray paint were taken from him. All costs to the district for repair and replacement are included in Mr. Samuel’s report. A week later, Mr. Lowe got hold of Coach Roberts’ coffee thermos and urinated into it. This was in retaliation for a week of detention Coach Roberts gave him after three female members of the track team reported having their “rears” repeatedly slapped by Mr. Lowe. Sexual harassment charges were leveled at Mr. Lowe. The District has scheduled a meeting that has yet to take place. During the same week, Mr. Lowe instigated a brawl in the cafeteria. The damage was severe, the clean up costs are high. Several tables were destroyed and had to be replaced. On the following Friday, Mr. Lowe hot-wired the school’s Handicap Van and attempted to drive it off campus. Security stopped him but not before damage was done to the vehicle and a chain link fence. Mr. Lowe’s reason for taking the van was that his diabetic grandmother was having a diabetic seizure and he had to get to her. Mr. Lowe’s grandmother has been in the ground for ten years, your honor. Then–“
The judge held up a hand. “Thank you, Principal Marshall. I have heard enough.” The judge turned to Hudson Lowe. “Mr. Lowe–“
Before the judge could finish his words, Hudson Lowe sprang to his feet and spoke out loudly. He pointed an accusing finger at Principal Marshall. “Hey, asshole douchebag, you forgot to mention the video of you banging the English teacher on one of those cafeteria tables I supposedly wrecked. And how convenient of you to forget the photos someone uploaded to Facebook of you wearing women’s panties. You’re a sick, hypocritical, pervert. Maybe the judge should…”
“Enough! And sit yourself down, Mr. Lowe!” the judge bellowed. “Mr. Marshall is not the juvenile being evaluated here. Your are, Hudson Lowe, and I find only an escalation in your deviant behavior. So much so that I also fear you are becoming a menace to the community. Therefore, I am sentencing you to two years at the Raven Rehabilitation Center. While there, Mr. Lowe, I strongly urge you to make some life changing decisions concerning your future. Court is now in recess.”
Hudson Lowe turned on his case worker. “Nice job defending me, shithead!” he angrily said. The case worker glared at him. “And what the hell is this Raven Rehab Center. Never heard of it.”
“Hell, Hudson. It is another name for hell and you just got yourself a well-deserved ticket to there.” The unsympathetic case worker took off and, much to Principal Marshall’s delight, Hudson Lowe was placed in handcuffs and hauled out of the courtroom.
A sleek black SUV waited outside the back entrance of the Detention Center. Its door opened when Hudson Lowe was escorted out the building. The door closed and locked the moment Hudson Lowe was tossed inside.
“Abuse of a prisoner here, assholes! And what about the cuffs, huh?” A second later the handcuffs flew off his wrists. “Shit! What just happened?”
“Seatbelt is not necessary,” the driver said.
Hudson glanced at the driver and saw the elderly grandmother of the courtroom. He busted out in laughter.”You’re my driver? Has it come to this? Really? The Medicare shuttle service? Who the hell are you and what if I decide to knock you the hell out? What you gonna do?”
The old woman turned a kind face to the juvenile. She smiled. “I’m the Headmistress of Raven. I am here to welcome you to your nightmare, Hudson Lowe.”
Before he could blink, the old woman morphed into a hideous creature with glowing red eyes. The demon smiled viciously at the smartass punk. Hudson Lowe’s days of mischief were at an end. His days of torment had begun.
Rainwood is situated somewhere in the Rocky Mountain Range, miles and miles from any major city or town, even the less populated towns. It is a hamlet, really, a tiny isolated community of only a few families. High mountains enclose Rainwood, imprisoning the settlement during the bitter winter months. To say it is cold there during this time of year is an understatement. It is downright frigid, blistering, and sorrow often is a companion to the white season. Death is winter’s frequent sidekick. But while winter brings sorrow, spring brings relief and the beginning of new life. Spring throws open the road to Rainwood and on the opened road comes the Blanket Man. It is strange, yet it is true, that the Blanket Man only visits Rainwood if death has touched the hamlet with its icy hand.
I am near the end of my eighty-second year of life on this earth and the Blanket Man still keeps the cycle. I have not lived in Rainwood for many, many years now but I still have my contacts and they keep me informed. When the Blanket Man arrives, they are sure to let me know. He is the same man who has been comforting the hamlet for all these years and the years prior to my birth.
From my earliest memory, the Blanket Man is white-haired. He has been around since before my time but his face and body do not match his hair. He looks early forties, and he is as handsome as he is rugged. His blue eyes shine bright and full of joy, and he drives into Rainwood in a large automobile that is loaded down with wares and blankets. Mostly blankets. Blankets of all types of designs and colors and made with the softest material. The back seat of his car is packed almost to the roof with such items as toasters, pots and pans, dishes, coffee makers, toys, towels. Things like that. It’s like a wonderful tiny store inside the car but it is the trunk that holds the prize. The trunk brims with all these beautiful blankets that warm your heart at first glance. They are special and made of the finest quality. I have yet to find blankets like them anywhere on this earth. Using the internet, I have searched for years. The blankets come with the small tag “Joyful Sunlight” sewn on to a border. The blankets do not fade, neither do they wear. Mine is as new as the day my father purchased it for me.
Mother died that year. Like three other citizens of Rainwood, she died of influenza, leaving a young father with a five-year-old to bring up on his own. The Blanket Man came that spring. He followed death, and sunlight came with him. Joy gradually replaced devastating sorrow. My blanket is a soft blue, the color of a cloudless sky. Happy daisies race across the top and bottom borders of the blanket. The blanket protected me. It chased away dark clouds that could come on suddenly and made me happy. When Dad became ill and slipped into a coma, I placed the blanket across his quiet body and watched a smile grow on his face just before he passed. I was twenty-four the year Dad went to be with Mother. My heart was shattered and fear began a takeover, but the blanket drew me to it. It comforted me and brought me around.
The Blanket Man goes first to those who have suffered a loss, then to the sick. If they wish to purchase a blanket, they have first choice. I have never heard of him turning away any sufferer. When his visit is done, he sails away in his big car and soon disappears behind the towering mountains. Bright light, like that of the rising sun, announces his arrival and bright light announces his departure, but not everyone witnesses this phenomenon. It remains a mystery as to why not. But the Blanket Man is always welcomed when he visits Rainwood. Those he has touched with happiness claim he is an angel sent from God. Others say he’s just a great salesman. Scoffers laugh at the very idea of an angelic being visiting an insignificant, off-the-beaten-path settlement. All I can offer is that when the Blanket Man came with his blankets the year I was five, happiness quickly dispelled the sorrow in our small home. He sold my daddy a treasure, a blessing, and an irreplaceable heirloom. Even now, as the years continue to accumulate, I am comforted by the memory of the Blanket Man and by the soft blue blanket with borders of happy daisies that he carried into Rainwood with him.
***A salesman visited my reservation every so often but not every year. His big car was stuffed with goods from floor to ceiling but only blankets and other bedding items were in the trunk of his car. We referred to him then (and now) as the Blanket Man. He stopped appearing a long time ago. I’ll probably write about him later in Tales from the Rez.