She was new to the school. Though her family had lived in the town all her life, they decided that she should attend classes at a public school. She was a quiet girl who was introduced to the class on a Tuesday and took a seat in the back of the room. No one really paid much attention to her, she never raised her hand to answer questions, she would hide beneath a tree during recess, and she wouldn't talk to anyone. Until her second month at school, none of us even heard her speak. The teacher had tried to get her to say hello her first day, but she shook her head and turned away from him and the class.
She spoke to one of the other shy students in the classroom. We had no idea who was speaking and when we realised almost the entire class was staring in silence as she and Terry were conversing about the book he was reading. The shock lasted for as long as the teacher let it, and upon his direction, we were putting our things away for lunch. The next few days Anne and Terry were more often than not seen together. Various kids would mock them, which they ignored. A week later they were both absent from class. The day after Anne was back in class, her arm in a cast and sling. We all wanted to know what happened, but she remained quiet as she had been her first day. Later that day the teacher made an announcement that Terry's parents were looking for him with the police. Some officers came to the school over the next couple days and talked to the kids our classroom. We told them that Anne and Terry had been spending a lot of time together. They questioned her but she remained quiet. I overheard from the teacher that the police went to speak to her parents, but they were even less help than Anne was. Time passed, and we made a tiny memorial to Terry and promptly forgot about it. He wasn't that popular and the only ones that seemed to miss him were the bullies who stole his money every day.
6 weeks passed and we had all but forgotten Terry. Then we all heard her voice again and saw that Anne had started talking with Lindsey. Lindsey was happy to have someone talking about her artwork. Well, talking as if it were good. Anne started to draw with her and they started spending most of their time together talking and drawing. A couple weeks later Lindsey was absent. The next day she was absent as well and the police came again to talk with the kids. Most of us were looking at Anne. Two kids that were her friends had disappeared. The police tried to talk with her again but she remained silent like the first time.
After that none of the kids wanted to sit near her, even kids from other classes avoided her in the halls. She was seen as a jinx, some of the kids were saying she killed them and buried their bodies on the school under the tree she was always under. The teacher admonished us, saying that she had lost two friends and would need support from us, but the way he looked at her... he looked like he believed the rumours the kids were spreading. The days progressed and Lindsey was not found. We made another memorial and put it with Terry's. The principal visited the class the next day and inquired about them. He told the teacher they had to be removed. He called it a depressing reminder to the kids and inappropriate. I don't see what is inappropriate about it. It was just us kids writing things we remembered or liked about them on a piece of paper, and having them glued around their picture. We didn't pay attention to them after we made them anyways. I suppose it doesn't really matter if that's the case. No one forgot about Anne though, we all stayed as far as possible from her. She didn't even seem to notice or care that her friends were gone.
I started to watch her after this. The other kids were scared by her, or would run away when she got near shouting things like "the killer" or "don't kill me." She paid no attention to anything anyone said to her in this regard or any regard for that matter. She didn't deny the claims or acknowledge the other kids. The only times she would respond to anyone was when she was called on by the teacher, even then, she didn't speak. She would walk to the board and do the problem there, or she'd go to his desk, listen, and nod. A few days later, almost in unison we all jumped as she spoke again. Her voice quiet but sweet. She asked for some help on a maths problem from the teacher. Everyone aside from him and Anne were visibly shaken. One girl burst into tears and was consoled by her friends. The teacher ignored this and helped Anne dutifully with her coursework. He wasn't the best teacher any of us had had, but he was a really nice teacher. He didn't yell or hit any of the students when we got in trouble. Most of us liked him rather a lot because of this. After Anne returned to her seat, one of the boys went up to him and tried to warn him. He laughed it off as a joke. "She wouldn't hurt anyone."
After school five of us gathered and discussed what we could do. None of us wanted to lose our teacher and we all knew it would happen in the next few days. We decided that we'd follow him home after school each day to make sure he was safe. Three days went by. Each day Anne became more vocal and spent more and more time with the teacher helping her. I had come to hate her voice. On the fourth day the scene from the past few repeated, but this time Anne asked the teacher to come by and discuss private tutoring with her parents. We all exchanged looks and nodded in agreement that we were going to do what we could to protect him tonight. School dragged on after that instance, and Anne had gone back to her silence. When the end of the day came we gathered where we had the previous nights, missing Toby who had gotten detention. When the teacher emerged he was holding Anne's hand and they headed in the direction her family lived. We followed.
For the next hour we followed, as stealthily and hidden as a bunch of grammar school kids could. None of us had ever been to this part of town, the houses were spaced out and were surrounded by wrought iron fences or thick shrubs. We could see paths that led up to giant houses through some of the gates. When Anne and our teacher entered one gate we ran to catch up so we wouldn't lose sight of them. From the gate we saw them walking toward a large dilapidated house at the top of a small right. There were holes in the roof and broken windows and one corner of the house looked like it had burned. The teacher didn't seem to notice and walked on with Anne.
We pushed through the gate and entered the grounds. Unlike the house, the grounds were pristine, the path neatly cobbled, the trees pruned back, the bushes were all shaped like spheres. Not a branch or leaf was out of place. I looked around confused as the others started walking up the path. Anne and her companion had turned from the house and were walking towards a high hedge next to it. A large fountain rose from behind the hedge. It was hard to see at this distance, but it looked like an angel fountain, the cherubs spitting water into the air.
When Anne and the teacher disappeared into the hedge, we raced to the place they vanished. An arch-shaped hole was in the foliage. We stepped inside and found ourselves flanked by hedges that seemed to touch the sky. We slowed and listened, hushing each other and looking for any clues as to which way they went. Cautiously we progressed taking the turns we thought they had taken. We heard nothing except the wind in the leaves and the water splashing in the fountain.
The last turn we took entered into what I assume was the center of the maze, the statue was completely visible now and at the base was a young girl washing her clothing. We stood slack jawed and watched Anne washing her blouse in the basin of the fountain. We all turned away, both scared and embarrassed. Then I said "The teacher." We all turned back. Anne's gaze met ours. She didn't move. There was no emotion on her face. She just stared at us.
"Where is Mr. Decker!?"
She stood motionless still. Under her gaze I started to hurt.
"What did you do with him?!"
I averted my eyes downward, unable to meet her eyes anymore. The grass was red, as if it had been painted. I looked back up at her, tears coming to my eyes. A voice, like a soothing lullaby drifted from her lips. "Do you want to play with me too?"
One of the other boys ran toward her balling his hand into a fist. He tripped a few feet from her and landed face first on the ground. The other boys noticed the grass now. Panic spread through us. I turned and ran back the way I hoped we had come. I didn't look back to see where the others were, but I could hear their feet as they tried to keep up.
The voice floated over the maze. "Come back and play." It just spurred us to run faster. I know I got lost, I was taking every other turn that I came across and running as hard as I could. I stopped hearing the others' running. I thought I heard something else though, something larger moving through the plants coming towards me. I pushed myself harder, my legs burning and I saw the house flash by to my left. I skidded to a stop and doubled back to emerge from the maze. I didn't stop running until I was a block away from the place.
I calmed down and looked back at the top of the house, peeking out from behind trees. I collapsed and tried catching my breath, my muscles ready to take me farther at the slightest sight of anything. Nothing came. Not Anne. Not any of my friends. Not even a pedestrian. I stood up and felt a little sick, turned and hurried home. I had to tell my parents what happened.
I got beaten for lying to my parents. They told me nothing of the sort could ever happen. They yelled at me and locked me in my room for the rest of the night.
The following morning I woke and got ready for school. Was given another lecture from my father as he walked me to school. I went to my classroom and had difficulty taking my seat. None of the other boys were there, only Toby. Their empty desks made me want to cry. A young lady came into the class and started the lesson Mr. Decker had not finished the day before.
I raised my hand. "Where is Mr. Decker?"
The woman stared at me, as did everyone in class. "Who is Mr. Decker?"
"He is our teacher, who are you?"
Some of the kids laughed and she closed the book she was reading from. She had a confused look on her face and she came toward me, I backed away, scurrying from my seat. "Thomas, that's not funny." How did she know my name? Who is this woman? I ran from the classroom, knowing I would get another beating when I went home. I ran to the only place my brain could think of. Anne's house. The gate was hanging from rusted hinges, they squealed in protest as I pushed it open. The house was as it was yesterday but the grounds were overgrown with weeds and grasses everywhere. I pushed my way through the undergrowth toward the house and climbed into its steps and looked from the higher ground. There was nothing but weeds. No hedge maze. No fountain. Just weeds.
I sat on the steps and put my face in my hands and cried. A few minutes later a voice asks me if I am alright. I look up and see a policeman standing in the brush looking at me. I ran at him and clung to his leg, crying and telling him everything. The new girl, the kids disappearing, the teacher disappearing, the hedge maze, my friends disappearing, the strange lady in the classroom. He listened to me and quietly patted my back until I finished.
"You should go back to school." He said to me. I stared up at him dumbfounded.
"But... my friends, the teacher..."
He laughed a little. "You have quite an imagination." I flushed red with anger and embarrassment. "You don't want to be truant son. I'll escort you back." I wanted to run, but I didn't. I wiped the tears from my eyes and the snot from my nose. The officer gave me his handkerchief and we walked back to the school.
I was escorted back to my classroom, the lady there spoke briefly with the officer. The other kids were laughing still. Toby came over.
"Wow, a cop caught you."
"Who is that woman?"
Toby scrunched up his face. "She's... Miss Jacobs. Our teacher."
"What about Mr. Decker?"
"Who is Mr. Decker?"
Miss Jacobs came over and broke us apart, the policeman had left. "This is out of character for you, Thomas." She told the class she'd be back and walked me to the principal's office. I stood outside while she spoke to him.
The walk back to class was painful. I knew it wouldn't be the last time today I'd get a wallop. Miss Jacobs made me stand in the corner for the rest of the day, which I didn't mind since sitting would hurt a lot worse.
None of the other kids came near me, not even Toby. The woman picked up every lesson where it had been left off the day before. I tried to watch her but every time she saw me looking at her she'd come over and smack me with a ruler. "Eyes forward." "You're being punished." "Do you want to visit the principal again?"
I was sent home with a letter for my parents. I got another lecture from my dad after he read it. I didn't get the spanking I thought I would. He just looked at me sadly during the lecture. When he stood he looked at me and asked, "What is wrong with you?" Then left.
I went back to school the next day, and the day after. I tried to talk to Toby a few more times in the following weeks, ask him about the boys, he thought I was crazy. No one remembered any of the kids who went missing. The memorials that we made were nowhere to be found. I visited the house over the next few years, looking for clues and finding nothing.
I grew up, but I didn't forget what happened. I got made fun of for the stories I told that year. I know they happened, but it seems I am the only one. Even when I left for university these memories clung to the back of my mind.
I never went back home. I had hoped that distancing myself would help ease some of the pain from the memories. I fell in love, got married, and raised a small family. There were many happy times in my life.
I am old now, and the memory of Anne is just a wisp in the back of my mind, never flitting to my conscious thoughts. My granddaughter, Gloria, is in grammar school and I pick her up on Fridays when her mother can't. I walk her home and she tells me all about her day. Which girl likes which boy, how the teacher hates them, things I believe are normal for a girl her age. This last week when I picked her up, I saw a young girl walk out of the school building. I froze in place, watching, sweat forming everywhere. She moved toward the gate I was standing at and passed by, almost gliding. My pulse quickened when she stopped, turned around and waved at me. She looked exactly the same, just different clothes. Everything came flooding back as if they happened yesterday.
As she turned to leave, that same sweet, quiet voice danced into the air.
"Gloria and I will be the best of friends."
Written by Sentientdessert