It was easy to find new propane tanks for the town barbecue. It was not as easy to figure out how long to allow Chief to stay. And so, the school superintendent sat at her desk, peering at the frothy beige of her coffee as if attempting to divine an answer from the soft bubbles. Maybelline took her job as superintendent very seriously and while Chief brought out the fun in her, she knew it could not be a lasting situation. For one thing, she saw his children every week at the school’s general assembly.
Maybelline had strict beliefs, belief in God, belief in the school system and a belief that sweethearts were never meant to transfer into adulthood. Still, it wasn’t like she could turn Chief away. He always made her smile and sometimes, laugh. When she had heard of the fire, she had been concerned for his health. She knew that no one else would offer a room.
Whether because they were too scared or antagonistic towards the town’s editor-in-chief, it didn’t matter why, Maybelline knew her offer was the only one Chief would have gotten.
Maybelline had hoped for a nice conversation over breakfast, but her immaturity got the better of her. She dressed quickly as Chief slept, wanting to avoid an awkward talk. Slipping on her signature heels, the green gloss of the vinyl matched her V-neck sweater and crisp black skirt. Her feet slipped inside the shoes with ease, her pantyhose causing a cool feeling to ripple over her skin.
After making sure her ringlet curls were clipped back, she grabbed her briefcase. Heading to her office, she thought of Chief as she drove. How awful the fire must have been for him, she knew the house had been in the family for years. If Chief’s father were still alive, the man would be even more heartbroken.
As Maybelline went through her day, her thoughts remained on Chief. She couldn’t focus on the often-trivial concerns of parents or the more fretting concerns of teachers. As she sat in her office, there were only minutes left until the official day would be over.
Picking up the black desk phone, she dialed the newspaper office.
The tone rang a few times before hopping to the answering machine. She sighed, about to hang up, when…
“H-hello? Juanita News.”
It wasn’t Chief, obviously, but Maybelline answered back anyways, “Good afternoon, this is Maybelline Brewer, I’m calling for Chief?”
“Uh…” There was a faint pause and muffled talking in the background, “He’s gone home for the day…” There was a smacking sound, “I mean, not home, of course, no. He went out. Could I take a message?”
Maybelline sighed, declining and hanging up the phone.
Where had Chief gone?
Leaning against the back of her chair, she gazed out the window.
Was it any of her business?
He was a grown man. He could go where he wanted.
The woman sighed, rubbing her temples. She remembered exactly why she didn’t keep men around, now. Watching a breeze ruffle the leaves of the oak tree outside her window, Maybelline lost herself in thoughts. It took five knocks before she realized her secretary was outside the door.
“Oh, Larisa!” Maybelline turned quickly, picking up a pen. She tapped it against the paper in front of her. Hopefully the skeptical young Larisa would believe she had been working.
Larisa didn’t convey one way or another what she thought, crossing her arms, “Carl called. He says there’s a mess in the girl’s bathroom upstairs that you should check out.” She didn’t seem particularly interested in such a mundane task.
Maybelline, however, was confused. The school’s groundskeeper, Carl, usually cleaned messes up without requiring notifications. Setting her pen down, it clicked quietly against the desk. With a deep breath, she stood up. Her heels tapped against the floor as she headed out.
When she reached the upstairs bathroom, she saw Carl with a mop and sign. He was telling a student to go to the downstairs bathroom instead. Maybelline watched as the student headed to the stairs. With an inquisitive gaze, she tilted her head towards Carl.
The scruffy man with his confusing mop of auburn curls pointed the end of the mop towards the bathrooms, “Thought ya’d like to check it out before I clean up. Bit… like maybe we got a crazy amongst the students, or worse, a Satanist.” He didn’t sound overly surprised.
Maybelline sighed, nodding and heading into the bathroom. The clicking of her heels echoed against the narrow walls. At first, she wondered what Carl was on about. The walls were spotless, even the floor seemed clean. Walking further along the tiled floor, she noticed the back stall’s door was unhinged at the top.
There was a quiet dripping sound coming from somewhere. With a frown, she slowly opened the door. Her fingers landed in something sticky on the hinge. Blood? She stared down at the red smears. The bottom hinge squeaked dangerously as she opened it the rest of the way.
Her eyes widened, fear welling up inside as she saw what was in front of her.
Strung up above the toilet hung the form of a young girl. Thick roping attached to the stalls held the girl by the wrists.
Maybelline couldn’t breathe. Blood dripped into the toilet bowl, filled red. The superintendent felt dizzy. The girl’s skin had been peeled clean, raw muscle pulsing, exposed to the harsh air. Her face was mangled beyond recognition, the eye sockets dark and trickling black blood.
As Maybelline gazed at the horrific sight, she realized the girl was breathing. Stumbling back against the door, she tried to bring herself to scream. Instead, the girl did it for her. The lopsided mouth with blackened teeth, absent of lips, screeched.
“Ms. Brewer?!” Carl’s concerned voice caught the shaken Maybelline’s attention. She looked at him with wide eyes, her back up against one of the bathroom sinks.
The woman had lost a heel, scrambling away from the horrific stall. Without realizing it, her skirt had ridden up, her pantyhose ripped from the sudden movements.
Carl was staring at her with a fair amount of worry.
Maybelline gasped, looking back to the stall.
Her heart sunk as she stared at an empty stall. The barely hinged door squeaked, slowly drifting from side to side. There was no blood, well… not like Maybelline had perceived. Instead, on the back wall, smeared in red was an odd, squiggle like symbol. Clutching at her chest, she stared at it wildly. Had she hallucinated?
“Maybelline?” Carl asked again and the woman shook her curls as she forced herself back to the present.
“Yes?” Maybelline gasped, her face pale and a light sheen of sweat upon her.
“I heard screaming?” The man was still holding the mop, walking towards Maybelline.
She threw up a hand, making him pause. He had heard screaming? Had it been hers? Or that… thing… She looked back in the stall, not believing it. Taking a deep breath, the woman fixed her skirt and went to collect her heel, “Oh, just had a fright. Please, get your cleaning supplies, Carl.” She instructed.
Carl paused, looking as if he was about to ask something. To Maybelline’s relief, he didn’t. He left the bathroom as she knelt over to collect her shoe. Slipping the heel on, she tried to keep away tears. She thought over what had occurred.
With shuddering breaths, she glanced back up to the symbol, then down to her shoe, then to the symbol.
What was it?
Maybelline slowly reached into her jacket pocket. Removing her slender, green cell phone she snapped a picture. She stood, turning away from the stall as she waited for the preview of the snapshot to appear. A soft sound began in the distance. She did not know what it was.
It sounded like… rushing water?
Maybelline glanced up from her phone, looking directly into the bathroom mirror ahead of her.
Though her face was pale, her eyes dilated, she did not see herself. Instead, she focused on the reflection behind her. The symbol was gone, the peeled girl there once more. Maybelline cried out, quickly turning around.
There was nothing, only the symbol. She dropped her phone. It clattered in the sink.
She swiftly looked to the mirror. The reflection was being covered by black blood, dripping down, filling the sink underneath. Her phone began to fritz, being drowned in the thick liquid.
Tears rolling down her cheeks, she went to retrieve her phone. It was just a hallucination! She told herself, diving her hands into the coagulating blood. To Maybelline’s horror, the blood coated her skin, cracking and seeping into her. She could feel it. Not only that, but she could smell a disgusting scent of rot and sulfur.
Overwhelmed, she left her phone behind, hurrying away. The blood dripped from her forearms, coating the slender limbs as if she was wearing elegant gloves. Crying out, she tripped back on her heels. Her back collided with the edge of the bathroom stall.
Pain shot through her, she blinked rapidly, trying to rid herself of the image before her. The line of identical mirrors began bleeding, following her scrambled path towards the door in a magical trail as she left her shoes behind.
Maybelline felt stinging hot tears as she crashed out of the bathroom door, falling over the ‘Floor is Wet’ sign. Her elbow vibrated from impact, pain rippling through her arm. She stared up at the faces of a couple male students.
Her horror increased as she realized one of them was Chief’s son. Stammering, she quickly pulled down her skirt, which had flown up during her fall. Maybelline saw Carl with the mop and a soapy bucket of water, obviously about to head into the bathroom and shocked by the woman’s dramatic exit.
She couldn’t hear his words, though she could see his mouth moving. Hurrying to her bare feet, the floor was slick underneath the pantyhose texture. Her heels were in the bathroom. She looked to the men and decided she didn’t need her shoes.
Moving her mouth, she hoped she told Carl to clean the bathroom before she headed down the hall. She needed to escape, get somewhere safe. Hurrying down the school steps, she tried her best not to slip. Her ringlet curls bounced rapidly in time to her light steps. Maybelline was crying still, the tears rolling down her cheeks.
School had gotten out minutes ago and soon the halls would be filled with students. Trying not to notice the occasional drifting teenager, out early, she hurried towards her office.
When she reached the door, she quickly fell into her chair, gasping for breath. Her body shook. Quickly grabbing the waste bin, Maybelline retched into it.
“Should I come back later?” The low voice of a man sounded.
Maybelline dragged her palm over her mouth, turning around, “Chief!”
Dropping the waste bin, she stood and hurried over to the tall man. Crying, she fell into his arms as he automatically held them out to hold her, “Oh, Chief!” She cried dramatically, gazing up at him.
A strong hand ran over her hair, fixing the curls that had burst from the hairpins, “May, what’s the matter, babe?” He seemed just as concerned as Carl, if not more. Maybelline calmed slightly.
“A-oh, just…” She shifted away from his arms, “Oh, you’re so cold.” His coat was freezing.
“I was outside.” Chief responded with a faint smile. He walked over to the visitor chair, sitting down. Maybelline stood next to it. She felt weird without her heels. Walking back to her desk, she sat down and breathed audibly through her nostrils. A few minutes of silence passed.
“…Are you going to tell me?” Chief was fiddling with a cigarette box.
“Wha-oh, uhm…” Maybelline wasn’t sure. He would think she was crazy. The last thing she needed was more prescriptions to be on. Staying silent, she glanced out of the window at the tree, “W-were you here to pick up the kids?” She asked, trying to change the focus of the conversation.
Chief was glancing out the office window, considering closing the blinds as he listened to the woman’s attempt to redirect the topic. He knew what she was doing, but somehow, he didn’t mind. Instead, he happily took the shift, “Yes.” Standing up, he zipped up his jacket. Maybelline swiftly stood up, causing him to look over her with a raised brow, “What?” He asked.
“Uhm.” Maybelline stared at him blankly for a second before saying lowly, “You should shave. I’ll stop for a razor on the way home.” She forced herself to smile. Chief was looking at her as if she was odd. Maybelline hoped he wouldn’t ask further. The man leaned over the desk. Her heart raced.
“May…” He spoke in a hushed tone, reaching out, “You’ve got a bit of something…” Chief took her chin, his thumb brushing against a spot, “had a bit of something there.” He said, casually. The man leaned in closer, whispering, “and here,” He kissed her softly on the lips.
Maybelline gasped behind the gentle touch before suddenly reaching over. Her hands snaked around his neck. She placed a knee up on her desk, knocking a coffee mug full of pens over.
Chief kissed a bit harder, his lips parting. She mimicked, their tongues meeting in a familiar tap against one another. Brushing a rebellious curl from her face, the man smiled in a sarcastic way, “Take it easy, May… you look like hell.”
She slapped him on the chest, huffing as if insulted by the very true comment. Feeling a bit rejected, she slumped off the desk and sat back in her chair. At least she wasn’t thinking about girls with peeled flesh hanging in the students’ bathroom anymore.
She smiled as Chief left the office.
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