8: Carrie Spills Her Guts

"We didn't make it up," she insisted, like she wasn't a fan of the name. "There were people before us."

My anger relaxed. A calm reassurance swept over me. I was finally going to find out what some of these rats were about. As reassuring as that was, it couldn’t ease the throbbing in my head, the sting across my back, the swelling of my nose, and the pain that seemed to be....well, everywhere.

I waited for her to continue, but she hesitated, looked me over. I followed her gaze to see what she was so distracted by.

Goddammit!

I still wasn't wearing a shirt.

I blushed, stepped back. I didn't feel just shirtless. I felt naked. There I was, more confused than I'd ever been in my life, still shaking from having been attacked by a giant monster in the pool, practically begging her to help me, and I didn’t even have a goddamn shirt on. I must have looked so stupid. I had that primal urge to run, but I wasn't going to let Carrie know how self conscious I felt. I sucked it up. That's what Dad woulda told me to do. Bastard.

I swallowed a thick lump of saliva. It felt like a golf ball trying to force its way down.

Carrie's cheeks were nearly as red as the hand mark around her mouth. At least I wasn't alone.

She pulled her gaze away from my chest, back to my face.

"They—um—" she began.

We exchanged awkward looks—the ones where you try to act like your fine even though you’re wildly uncomfortable. I gave her a fake "I don't give a shit" look. But if mine was as bad as her "I was just looking around and didn't notice anything" look, then she knew exactly how uncomfortable I felt.

"The League..." she said, struggling to remember what she'd been talking about. "...discovered a hole between our world and another one." Her eyes wandered above my neck. It was clear that she was still affected. And I’ll admit that there was a small moment where I wondered whether or not she’d liked what she’d seen.

"This hole tears right through Lawrenceville,” she continued. “They called it the Rift. The League discovered this very potent, tangible energy that seeped out of it. And they found a way to control it.”

“It’s like it spits out electricity?”

It’d never been very easy for me to follow abstract ideas. I needed to relate it to something that made some sense to me. And electricity was the closest thing I’d been able to come up with.

“It’s not electricity,” she insisted.

“Yeah, I get that.”

How stupid does this girl think I am?

“Just go with me on this,” I said. “So this…rift…spits out a sort of electricity, and you guys plug into it?”

Carrie’s tiny nose was all cringed up as she struggled through my analogy. “Sort of…” she said, as if it made some sense to her, but she didn’t want to go with it.

“And that’s where your powers come from?”

“Yes.”

“So you guys are like toasters.”

Carrie’s face was even more contorted, like she’d smelled something awful. She must’ve thought I was way out in left field.

“In order to use your powers,” I explained, “you have to plug into this Rift thing. So it’s like a socket, and you guys have to plug into it in order to work. Like a toaster.”

“No,” she said. “A toaster just plugs in and you can use it whenever you want. We can’t just plug in whenever. Like with what Seth and Brad did with you. They had to work on that for hours to build up their strength. We’re more like…like batteries. We have to recharge.”

“Okay, okay,” I said. We were on a roll. “So what does that have to do with that..." Images of skeleton-thin hands covered in wrinkles and blisters jumbled in my head so that I couldn’t find words to describe it.

"The Rift fluctuates.”

Fluctuates? What is this, the news?

“Sometimes it expands quickly, and something big can get through. That's what happened with the Slasher.”

I tried to make it fit into my electricity example. It kinda fell apart there.

“So what is it?” I asked.

“An animal from that other world, but it just does what it wants. We can’t control it,” she said, defending my initial accusation that Seth had somehow sicked it on me.

“A horse can be trained,” I insisted. It was too coincidental. I eyed her suspiciously. "So you’re saying you guys have nothing to do with it?"

She looked to the floor, stroked her arm again. Guilty!

Her lips did a freaky little jiggle, like she was calculating her next sentence.

CLICK! CLICK!

A cold rush crawled up my spine, and I wasn’t positive, but I was pretty sure my heart had stopped. I turned my head so quick I thought it was gonna do a 180.

The silver handle on the door shook.

Oh…shit!

Scenes involving that black cloak, the wrinkled hands, and blood spewing from every part of my body filled my head. I was lucky to have gotten away from it the first time. Now I was cornered in this little room, with nowhere to go.

The handle turned. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, but I jumped in front of Carrie. It was bullshit of me to think I’d be able to protect her from that monster.

The door burst open.

A tiny, chubby woman with ear-length brownish-reddish hair and freckles stood in the doorway. Thick, wrinkled flesh drooped off her jaw and jiggled as she did a double take. She looked at me with wide-eyes—bigger than Carrie’s had been in soccer, but just a little smaller than those kids with the anime-eyes on the St. Lawrence brochure.

I’m sure I had the same look of shock on my face. Minus the nasty double chin.

Her head did a little dance side to side, the chin dancing a little more than the rest of her face. Her eyes shifted from me. I didn’t think it was possible, but they widened even more. Now they looked like the kids from the brochure!

“Carrie?!” she exclaimed.

Carrie stepped up beside me. She moved her mouth, as if to start speaking, but nothing came out. I figured that was a version of stuttering for someone with such a little voice.

She looked to me, then back at the woman in the doorway. She was gonna have to think real quick to explain the shirtless guy next to her.

The woman’s bewilderment transformed to strong disapproval. She set her hand on her hip and glanced back and forth between me and Carrie, giving us the kinda look nuns give you when you look at someone of the opposite sex—like they know what you’re thinking and are gonna get you for it.

“Ms. Ryder,” Carrie said, shaking herself. “You scared me. Could you help us here?”
Just as quickly as this Ms. Ryder person’s expression had gone from bewilderment to disapproval, it flashed from disapproval to concern. “What is it?” she asked in a thick, twangy accent. “He okay? What’s wrong?”

“He fell on his back in the courtyard,” Carrie said. “Luckily, I was heading back to the dorms just after it happened.”

Clever.

Carrie must’ve seen the cuts on my back from when the Slasher had dragged me across the cement floor by the pool and decided to use it to her advantage.

Ms. Ryder hurried over to me. The door closed behind her.

“Good thing I forgot my medicine. Come on, boy. Turn aroun’. Lemme see,” she insisted. By the way she said it, you woulda thought I was trying to hide it from her.

I turned around.

“I’ll get some rubbing alcohol for it,” Carrie said. She rushed passed me. I felt Ms. Ryder’s warm hands on my shoulders.
There goes my personal space.

She felt around my back. I guessed to see how deep the cuts were. Either that or she was a perv.
Carrie went to a beige wall cabinet on the other side of the room, beside a bathroom. It squeaked as she opened it.

“You got this from fallin’?” Ms. Ryder asked, confused.

“Yeah,” I said. “I kinda—”

“He said he fell against a wall,” Carrie hastily, but brilliantly chimed in as she rifled through a box in the cabinet. “It scraped his back pretty good.”

It concerned me how good she was at lying to Ms. Ryder. I wondered if she had done the same thing with me. Though with me, I already knew something was up, whereas Ms. Ryder was oblivious.

“Ouch. That musta hurt ya somethin’,” Ms. Ryder observed.

“You have no idea,” I said.

“I’ll tell ya,” she continued. “There was a kid in here last year. He done scraped up his whole front and back when he’d fallen down somma those stairs outside. You know ‘em concrete ones?” While she’d been talking, she’d gone over to a row of chairs that lined the wall by the door and pulled one over beside me. “Now don’t just stand there. Sit down,” she insisted. She put her hand on my shoulder and practically pushed me into the chair.

“There’ya go,” she said. “Carrie, where ya at?”

Carrie was heading back towards us, carrying a skim-milk white plastic bottle and a roll of paper towels. She set the bottle on the table and ripped a paper towel off the roll, started folding it.

Ms. Ryder was still behind me, studying my back. “Blood’s awfully dry,” she said. “When’d it happened?”

Carrie poured some of the contents from the bottle onto the paper towel. I could tell by the way she was staring at the towel that she was becoming a little more worried about lying—like she wasn’t going to be able to cover all her bases. “About thirty minutes ago,” she said. “It was on the other side of school. I had to get something out of my locker.”

“It took you thirty minutes to get here from the other side of school?” Ms. Ryder asked, not so much suspiciously—more genuinely confused.

Carrie gulped one of those golf ball sized gulps that I’d done earlier. “Could you turn around?” she said softly to me.

As I turned, Ms. Ryder came around to help Carrie. I couldn’t help but watch these big rolls she had hanging off her stomach as she passed. Her chest to waist ratio was like the inverse of Megan’s.

“He thought he might have sprained his ankle,” Carrie lied. “So I had to help him over.”

By now I’d recovered from the near heart attack I’d had when Ms. Ryder had first walked in and was just annoyed that me and Carrie had been interrupted from our discussion. This woman needed to go, because I still had questions that needed to be answered.

“Sprained ankle?” Ms. Ryder asked. “It hurtin’?”

“FUCK!”

A sharp sting on my back made me cringe. That bitch Carrie was putting the rubbing alcohol on. Fuck her!

“Yeah, it’s gonna sting,” Ms. Ryder explained.
No shit!

“Your ankle hurt?” she repeated.

“Um…not really,” I said apathetically. I had bigger things to worry about than this woman not believing I had a sprained ankle. Like a giant monster in a black cloak and Carrie putting more of that shit on my back.

“Lemme take a look,” she said, coming back around. “You can’t be too sure. Few years ago, a kid came in here, thought he’d sprained his ankle. Turned out he had to go to the emergency room cause he’d done fractured it.” While she’d shared an anecdote from her life and adventures as a school nurse, she’d pulled a chair from the wall, put it beside mine, and sat. Her rolls had appeared to double in size. “Come on,” she insisted. “Take off your shoe.”

I bit my lip while Carrie kept at my back with the rubbing alcohol. Maybe I shoulda just let the Slasher finish me off.

I kicked my shoe off with my other foot. Ms. Ryder knelt down and whipped my sock off. She pulled my foot up and rested it in her lap. It was odd how she just did what she wanted and didn’t ask for permission. She felt around my ankle, did little circles with the tips of her fingers. Her face was intense like the look most kids got during math tests.

“Yeah, it looks fine,” she said. She set my foot down, looked up at me. I couldn’t take my eyes off the wrinkles and lines in her gizzard. “Good God, what happened to your face? And your neck?”

I hadn’t had a chance to look in a mirror, but between Brad smacking me in the nose, my head hitting the ladder ring of the pool, and having that chain wrapped around my neck, I assumed I looked like shit.

“It was a bad fall,” I replied.

“Okay son—”

The word son was like knives driving into my ears.

“—I’m gonna take my pills and then we're gonna bandage ya up.”

She leaned over to the desk, opened a drawer beside me. Her rolls were right in my face. The way they moved almost made them look like they were waving at me. Ms. Ryder pulled out an orange prescription pill bottle and closed the drawer. “You need to be more careful. You’re lucky you didn’t break anythin’.”

Ha. If anything, lucky was not how I felt.

She got up and headed to the bathroom on the other side of the room. “You know I always do it. I need to just put some of these pills in a bag at home, so I don’t have to worry about leavin’ em. You’d think I woulda done it already.” By now, she was at a sink in the bathroom, pouring some water into a paper cup that she’d pulled out of a dispenser by the mirror. She threw a pill in her mouth and downed the water.

It was a little bathroom with a white sink and toilet. The light in it was dark orange—very different from the bright fluorescents lighting the rest of the clinic. The light made Ms. Ryder’s hair look even redder. And the way it was casting shadows off her saggy jaw and rolls was incredibly unflattering.

Ms. Ryder tossed the paper cup in a trashcan between the sink and the toilet.

“I can’t not take em,” she said. “You know, my Mammaw. She was seventy-three and she was in a parking lot and just done fell over, and—Goddammit! I forgot to refill the soap.”

She bustled back out, headed across the room, passed the cabinet, to a box beside it. She knelt down and started going through it.

“These do look bad,” Carrie whispered to me. She pressed the towel with rubbing alcohol against my back again.

I closed one eye tight and growled like a dog.
“You baby!”

“Can we just get out of here?” I whispered through ground teeth. We had far more important things than to listen to Ms. Ryder’s ramblings.

“I mean this is a woman who’d been healthy—not a problem—for seventy-three years. You know what they say…healthy as a horse…”

How did Carrie work with this woman every damn day?

While Ms. Ryder blah blah blahed, she pulled a bag of pink gunk out of the box and headed back to the bathroom.

“We’ll be done soon,” Carrie whispered into my ear. “Relax.”

Relax? That was easy for her to say. Her back wasn’t on fire.

“…oh she was in the hospital for two, maybe near three months…” Ms. Ryder popped the lid off a soap container beside the mirror, poured the pink guck into it. “…and the doctors tell her, take the medicine. And God knows we tried to get her to take it…”

“She’s really nice,” Carrie reassured me.

Ms. Ryder pressed the lid back on the soap container, tossed the empty bag into the trashcan. “There we go!” she exclaimed proudly. She turned the faucet on and rinsed her hands. “And we knowed she shoulda taken it, and Grandpa, done with her forty three years, woke up and finds her stone dead. And I mean, she didn’t have no symptoms. We’re talkin’ outta…”
“Kill me now,” I groaned.

CRASH!

It sounded like a hundred glasses shattering at once. Inside the bathroom, the mirror exploded into razor-sharp fragments that flew at Ms. Ryder.

I tripped out of my chair, crawled back against the wall like I’d done at the pool.

Ms. Ryder fell back, unleashing a loud, twangy shrill.

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

It was coming back for me!

Ms. Ryder’s body halted midair, then lunged forward. I figured the Slasher must’ve grabbed her. Her face slammed into the wall where the mirror had been. She flailed about, her scream continuing, but sounding more like a gargle. I feared that she was choking on her own blood.

She pressed her hands on either side of the mirror and pushed. She might as well have been trying to lift a thousand pounds, cause she didn’t get an inch.

“Oh my God!” Carrie gasped, her hand to her mouth as she watched the scene in terror. “Oh my God! Oh my God!”

Pieces of mirror hit the tile floor. They jingled like bells. I hopped up and ran to the bathroom. I sure as hell didn’t want to deal with the Slasher, but I wasn’t going to sit around and let it kill this woman.

As I reached the doorway, what had to have been a huge piece of mirror ripped through the back of Ms. Ryder’s shirt. I could see the indention of her spine between her shoulder blades. The piece of mirror had cut right through it and was covered in a thick, red mess. A chunk of purple slid down its sides.

Ms. Ryder’s arms dropped down. She was still.

I stood in the doorway, my heart racing. It took me a moment, but the more I looked at the thing sticking out of her back, the less it looked like a piece of mirror. It was awfully long and had a sharp, knife-like curve.

It sucked back into Ms. Ryder’s spine.

She didn’t move, just lied against the wall. Her waist rolls inched lower and lower. They dragged the rest of her body toward the floor. Her shoulder hit the sink and the weight of her rolls was so heavy that they flipped her over. She dropped.

I closed my eyes, heard a loud crack that I was sure was her back slamming into the tile floor. I opened my eyes. Ms. Ryder lied on her side under the sink. Her face was like a red pin-cushion covered in shards of glass. Her mouth hung open like it had when she’d first walked in, but now a stream of thick, crimson blood oozed out of it, making a small, round puddle on the tiles just under her mouth. I couldn’t see her eyes. There was too much blood filling the sockets.

“Oh my God!” Carrie played like a broken record and breathed like she was having an asthma attack.

Where the mirror had been, was now a hole that led to darkness. The darkness seemed to move, and from it, crawled these long, yellow things that looked like oversized spider-legs. They grew longer and longer and curled around the sides of the hole. They were fingernails.