Leanne sat in the car silently, arms crossed as her mother drove her down the pockmarked road to her school. She’d been summoned this Saturday morning to serve penance in detention for breaking tradition and standing up for herself. Practically unheard of for a girl of twelve.
“Ms. Henner tells me you gave Billy Thompson two black eyes and bruises all over his body before your math teacher could pull you off of him.” Her mother finally broke the tense silence.
“He spat in my hair.”
“You can’t just hurt people, Leanne, violence doesn’t solve anything.”
“He’s not going to spit in my hair again. Problem solved.”
Her mother sighed as she flicked the turn signal with her finger. She was a willowy, red haired woman with fine features and a once-attractive face ravaged by middle age. She sported a long sleeve shirt that hung off her thin arms and a pair of wide sunglasses above a quartz necklace.
“When you hurt people, there are consequences. I get called in, you father misses work for meetings. When you get older, it only gets more serious.”
“I guess it’s a good thing you’re wearing those sunglasses then, or Ms. Henner would have dad come in for Saturday morning detention too.” Leanne quipped.
Her mom flinched, knuckles tightening on the steering wheel. She directed an angry glare at Leanne as she parked, giving her view of the bruise just inside her left eye socket. Leanne could see she wanted to say something more, but she said nothing.
“Get your backpack and get out of the car.”
Leanne grabbed her backpack out of the back and hopped out, watching her mother peel away, sending little bits of rock and pavement flying up as she sped out of the parking lot. She watched her go, swearing she would never turn out like that.
Leanne had never made the conscious choice, she just knew without considering it that she would rather go to detention for not acting like a girl should than become the bitter victim. Leanne settled the backpack on her shoulder and glanced over to the school, where she spotted Ms. Henner waving for her to come in, her body jiggling. Leanne’s eyes narrowed.
What little she knew of Ms. Henner outside of school came from her father. Dozens of times, her dad had come home, dirty and exhausted, and asked her about her grades. Every time the subject of conversation turned to Ms. Henner, ever since the home visit six months ago.
Right in front of mom, he’d call Ms. Henner a brick house, milk chocolate, say things like she was wasted on grade schoolers, and she’d make way better money in the service industry. Leanne didn’t know exactly what he was talking about at first, but the way he talked about Ms. Henner’s looks turned her stomach. Her mom had only brought it up once.
“’Body like that, it’d be a crime not to.” Leanne muttered, echoing her dad’s words with a scowl. Some of the rage directed at him had transferred over to the object of his obsession without Leanne even realizing, the woman herself coming to represent something that disgusted her.
She trudged toward the school, brushing off the familiar hand her teacher put on her shoulder to guide her in.
“Is something wrong?” Ms. Henner asked, her dark brown eyes filled with concern as she looked down at Leanne. “Other than being in detention, I guess.”
“None of your business.” Leanne snapped, heading down the hall with confidence. She knew exactly where the detention room was. Ms. Henner watched her for a moment, before she shrugged and followed, writing the outburst off as simple irritation at losing her weekend.
Leanne barged into the room, put her backpack down by her desk in the corner, sat down and kicked up her feet, pulling out the fantasy book she’d squirreled away in her bag. Her homework was already done, and Leanne got straight-A’s without even trying, so Ms. Henner didn’t even bother to stop her, merely walking between the other kids in detention, helping them with their homework.
The other students in the room included Erik Porter, for kicking another kid in the shin, John Babson, for smooshing a burrito into a girl’s face, Carlos Gutierrez, for being Mexican, and William Yates, for being targeted by a sociopath.
William was a chubby Swedish looking butterball who’d refused to give Carrie his homework, and so the girl had written threatening letters to herself and given herself a black eye. He was inches away from being expelled. He should have just earned the detention and beat her up, or fought it every step of the way, but the pudgekin had simply accepted his fate and meekly shown up to do homework or write lines. Something told Leanne he wouldn’t refuse to give her his homework again.
Erik was a half German with scruffy black hair, starting to grow an obnoxious chin and overbearing personality. His dad was in the military, and he liked to mention that at every possible turn.
John Babson was your typical poster child for bullying. Big, stupid, and mean, with ruddy fat cheeks.
Carlos was Mexican.
Ms. Henner walked over to Erik and glanced down at his homework, studying it a moment before she leaned over, pointing at a math problem he seemed to be having difficulty with.
“You can make the multiplication easier by taking the zeros out, and adding them back in at the end of the problem.” She said, pointing down at his paper.
“Uh-huh” Erik grunted, his jaw hanging slack as he snuck glances into Ms. Henner’s vacuum-sealed dress. Leanne noted Erik’s sneaky glances at the woman’s breasts spilling up and out of her top, and Carlos’s naked staring at her orb-like rear end. Leanne turned away and directed her gaze back to her book. She didn’t want anything to do with them. Just let this be over already.
Ms. Henner must have noticed Leanne’s discomfort, because a minute later, Leanne heard the sound of a chair being dragged over to her.
“May I have a seat?” Ms. Henner said, settling down in front of her, her tight pink dress practically splitting at the seams. It wasn’t made for a woman with those proportions. Leanne averted her eyes so as not to stare.
“Leanne, I’ve noticed you’ve been...not in a good place recently.”
“Billy Thompson?” She asked, one brow arched.
“I think at a certain point, boys need to learn that there are consequences to their actions,” Leanne said with a shrug. “I’m glad I could help him with that.”
Ms. Henner sighed and ran a finger over her eyebrow in a nervous tic.
“I hope you know you can come to me if you’re having problems at home, Leanne.”
Hmm. Let me think about that. Tell you my dad beats my mom and fantasizes about whoring you out to all his friends for the superbowl? Tell you my mom starts with a bottle of wine in the morning, and nurses it until five?
And what would happen? I get sent to a foster home as a teenager, where chances are the dad or the brother will try to molest me, or the mother uses me as a foil to make their daughter look better.
Fat chance, I’d take neglect over abuse any day. I’m gonna ride this out until I’m eighteen, join the Airforce and never look back.
“Nope, no problems.” Leanne said with a halfhearted smile.
Ms. Henner frowned, and was about to speak when Leanne’s ears caught the squeak of shoes running through the hall. A moment later the door was thrown open with a slam.
“Jennifer,” A balding, thin man said as he strode breathlessly into the room.
“Principal Hughes?” Ms. Henner said, standing up straight. “What’s going on?” He didn’t answer her straight away, instead jogging to the remote on the lectern and pointing it at the T.V. suspended in the corner of the room. The principal jammed a button on the remote, his eyes riveted to the T.V.
In a matter of seconds, the black screen flared to life, and a cold voice emanated from it. A man who seemed to be wearing the familiar face of their local newscaster was speaking. Wearing, because the face was stretched over bones that weren’t quite… human.
“The transfer will be painless, and your universe will be assimilated in Five,”
“What’s going on?” Ms. Henner asked, coming to stand in front of the TV with the principal.
“Is this a joke?”
“I…” the principal said, glancing at her, shaking his head.
“I fucking hope so.” He said, returning his gaze to the television.
Leanne closed her eyes against a kaleidoscope of colors, dropping to the ground and retching at the sudden twisting in her gut. A moment later, the disorienting colors were gone, and she opened her eyes to a world of darkness. Something had killed the lights, and only reflected light from the morning sun eked in through the window facing the courtyard.
She could see Erik, Carlos and John were looking around, raising their heads from where they too had dropped to their knees. John was wiping a bit of barf off his lips, his brows furrowed in confusion. The bully rarely understood what was going on, but to be fair, the other kids in the room had no idea either.
“Huuk!” Leanne heard what sounded like retching coming from William’s direction. She glanced over at the kid, wondering if he was still feeling sick from…whatever had just happened. When she saw him, her heart nearly stopped.
Bright green bile streamed from the boy’s mouth as he convulsed, bent over on his hands and knees. Beneath his sweater, beneath the skin under that, Leanne saw something pulsing, wriggling back and forth inside his skin. Something bigger than him.
For a single horrible moment, all she could think of was a caterpillar from animal planet.
“AAGH!” The scream caught her attention, and she saw the two adults, Ms. Henner and the principal, writhing on the ground and shaking. Leanne sprang to her feet as Ms. Henner’s dress tore open, revealing purple masses of flesh that spiraled upward, attaching to the ceiling beside the now-dead TV.
Her teacher went limp, dress falling away as the mass of flesh raised her up, suspending her in the air like a cocoon. For a brief moment, Leanne saw the body her father had slavered over for the last six months of her life, the woman’s smooth brown skin, wide hips, and breasts big enough to dive into. Then the moment ended.
Vine-like lumps of flesh began to move under the woman’s skin, turning it purple, discolored, and misshapen.
A tearing sound brought Leanne out of her stupor, and she glanced back to William. The boy had grown even fatter, tearing out of his clothes as his legs shriveled into stubs.
Two things occurred to Leanne.
1: Whatever was happening, was happening fast.
2: She needed to get out of here, now.
The two adults were between her and the door. Ms. Henner suspended in the air and the principal still writhing, looking longer and skinnier by the minute. His skin was turning pale and what little hair he had was falling off in clumps.
Leanne shared a single glance with Carlos and the two of them bolted for the door. Leanne jumped over a desk with a single bound, too panicked to curse the seating arrangement that put her in the back corner. The front row seats were reserved for kids who got bad grades.
Carlos made it out the door first, simultaneously jumping over the principal and under Ms. Henner, trying to keep himself as far away from either of them as he could while he ran.
Erik stood and watched in stunned silence as Leanne rushed past him. She’d cleared the last desk when a slab of meat slammed into her side, knocking her against the wall and to her knees. Without sparing her a second glance, John Babson rushed out the door, mindless of the girl he’d body slammed out of the way.
Leanne didn’t have the time or presence of mind to be angry, she simply shot back to her feet and kept running, but when the third child sailed over the principal, He reacted.
“SHAAa!” Came a heart-stopping hiss from beneath her as the principal reached out and caught her ankle with obscenely long fingers, toppling her to the ground. The man, shedding his skin and clothes, grinned with a wide row of shark teeth as he pulled himself closer to her tender calf.
“Gah, get away!” Leanne shouted, kicking at the ground with her free leg, trying to pull out of the former human’s grasp. All she had to do was get into the hallway and she could outrun John any day of the week.
The creature’s grip only grew stronger as it was pulled halfway out the door by her struggles. It seemed to be getting used to its body, its trembling limbs becoming more and more agile. The thing thing got onto its hands and knees, aiming to lunge forward and take its first bite of the young girl’s succulent flesh.
It shot forward on its weak arms, mouth gaping, aiming to start at her calf and work its way up, making Leanne scream in shrill terror as it closed in on her.
The creature’s gnashing teeth stopped just short of her ankle, slamming down on the tiled stone of the main hall. It threw an accusatory glance over it’s shoulder, and Leanne could make out a dark purple arm seizing the former principal by his leg.
“Run.” Ms. Henner croaked. Her left eye was pale and sightless, her flesh boiling underneath her skin as more and more tendrils of flesh emerged from her body and secured themselves to the ceiling, walls, and floor.
Leanne slammed her heel into the back of the thing’s head as it was looking up at Ms. Henner, the momentary distraction enough to tear her leg free. In less than a second, Leanne was up and running, practically flying down the hall.
In a matter of seconds, Leanne hit the steel double doors at a sprint, bruising her forearms as she slammed the doors open, breaking out into the light of day. The full light of day reflecting off the pavement caused her to squint as her eyes adjusted.
Behind her, from the darkness beyond the slowly closing school door, she could hear Erik screaming. The sound felt like claws working their way down her spine. Erik’s screams were cut off with the Clack of the school door closing. Leanne glanced over her shoulder, but she knew she would die if she went back in.
In the parking lot, leaning against one of the teacher’s SUVs, John gasped for air, the little sprint wiping the jerk out. Carlos was nowhere to be seen.
“Hey!” Leanne cried, waving at him. John took a look at her and began running in what she assumed was the direction of his house. Maybe. Whatever, it was every kid for themselves now. He’d already proven that when he pushed her down.
Leanne ran forward, ready to run all the way back to her own house before she heard it; Screams and gunfire. This must be happening everywhere. The street back to her house crossed two blocks of urban housing. There’d be tons of those used-to-be-people.
Leanne eyed the woods. She could run with the best of them, and climb trees like nobody’s business. She’d once outrun the bus and climbed the oak tree into Ms. Henner’s first period science class before anyone got there. Ms. Henner only found out because there’d been bits of bark on the windowsill.
Ms. Henner’s last word echoed in Leanne’s mind. She’d saved her. Why? Leanne hated her.
Leanne’s gaze caught on a beat-up truck driven by the school janitor. Harold was a vocal proponent of the NRA. Word among the kids was that the old man had nearly gotten fired several times for bringing a gun to the school in his truck, but Leanne was willing to bet the old man just got better at hiding his guns.
Leanne glanced at the forest in the distance, then back to the school. Ms. Henner was hurting real bad, and something told Leanne that it wasn’t going to end by itself.
This is where you choose. A soft voice seemed to whisper in her mind. Choose between being a victim or a fighter.
Leanne picked up a rock from the sidewalk and stalked toward the truck, keeping her eyes open for any more of those not-people.
Five minutes later, She cocked the janitor's shiny new .45 and headed back into the school...