“Fitting In”

Another of my early efforts about a girl named Melissa finding herself in high school.
And zombies.


Melissa Shaw entered George Spiggott High School that Monday morning, struck with a feeling she was going to be shot with a sniper any moment.

Nothing seemed right that morning. Her clothes and even her hair felt like foreign things grafted to her body. The familiar ashy gray hovering over town for the past few days remained as it had been, leaving the world wet and bleak.

Although she didn’t pay much mind to the sickly looking people shambling around the street, it was hard to ignore the number of ill people on the bus she rode in on. Everything felt off, and her worries about school only seemed to compound it.

She took a deep breath and pressed on, bracing herself for whatever might happen—be it snide comments, staring, or even that sniper she was sure was targeting her. She walked into the school, trying to pretend nothing was out of the ordinary or different—an act she discovered more difficult than imagined.

But although she spotted a raised eyebrow here and there, she reached her locker sensing no negativity. Packing her books, some relief crept in. No one was pointing and laughing. She wasn’t being chased out of the school. No shots fired. She allowed herself to smile and thought, That wasn’t so bad.

Melissa finished packing and headed for class. Along the way, her relief started to give way to actual confidence until she passed Andrew Cole and Taylor Phelps. The two of them were counted among the outsiders of school—a label they seemed to resent and relish at the same time.

They had numerous facial piercings, greasy hair, dressed in tight-fitting black clothes—which did not flatter the overweight Andrew—and spent their free time brooding and sulking with bleak, depressing music.

As she approached them, Melissa couldn’t help but notice Andrew staring at her with a look of disdain while whispering something to Taylor that made him laugh. She almost kept walking, but when she looked at them, they went silent and obviously tried to pretend they weren’t talking about her.

“There a problem, guys?” she asked.

“No, no problem at all,” said Andrew. There was a pause, though Taylor looked like he was stifling a laugh. She considered pressing them, but didn’t want to get into an argument. She was about to leave when Andrew added with a mocking thumbs up, “By the way, I dig the new look.”

Taylor, who looked pale and sickly, started giggling in between haggard coughing. Melissa unconsciously twirled her hair on her finger and sneered. “Gee, thanks.”

“So, what?” Andrew said, letting out a condescending chuckle. “Heather McFarlane find a new sidekick and you’re not in with the Barbie brigade anymore? So you’re all dark and cool now?”

“Oh, please,” she said. “What do you care how I dress?”

“Naw man,” said Taylor, holding in his cough. “She probably got dumped by one of her douchebag boyfriends, so now she’s all sad and lonely.”

Since deciding to change the way she looked, Melissa had been rehearsing her rebuttal in case anyone gave her a hard time. Tragically, every word of it evaporated from her memory—leaving her to only respond, “Hey, eat shit, all right!”

“Whatever,” said Andrew. The bell for class rang, and as they left, he said, “But look, seriously, go back to the blonde bimbo thing. ‘Cause no one’s going to buy this.”

Walking away, Taylor added for good measure, “Poser.”

They left her standing in the hall, struggling for some kind of comeback—but she went blank. The bit of confidence she had gathered melted away, and in its place returned the feeling she wore a target on her back.

“This is going to be a bad day.”

* * *

She calmed down during History, but drowsiness from lack of sleep set in. Melissa’s nights had been growing restless for a while. Her dreams haunted by visions of ghostly creatures coming to get her at every turn. She’d wake up in the middle of the night feeling isolated and alone, yet surrounded at the same time.

Her eyelids heavy, she found herself dozing at her desk, only vaguely aware of the growing cramp in her wrist from keeping her chin propped upright. Her teacher, Mr. Fletcher, and his flat, monotonous voice didn’t help.

Every so often, her chin teetered close to slipping from her hand and slamming into the desk, prompting her to jerk her head up, eyes wide, as if to scream out, Yes! I AM awake!

Looking around the classroom, she noted she should make more of an effort to stay conscious. A lot of people were out sick, making the chance of being caught or called upon to answer a question higher.

Although she recalled Taylor looked ill, it didn’t occur to her there was an abnormal number of people out of class. Nor would it occur to her until later most of her classes were suffering a lot of absences.

Despite her efforts to put it behind her, the sting of Andrew and Taylor’s comments nagged on her mind. She tried not to be bothered with the remarks of two sanctimonious jerks, but she couldn’t help but feel a lurking suspicion people were calling her a “poser” and laughing at her behind her back.

She sighed and stared out the window she was seated next to. Due to her classroom being on the second floor, she had a good view of the park across the street.

The park was deserted and damp, littered with dead, wet leaves. The slides and jungle-gyms stood empty, while surrounding swings-sets were motionless save for the slight breeze. Melissa thought how creepy children’s parks were when they were deserted like that, especially on such a dreary day.

Then she noticed the park was not empty after all. From where she was, she could make out two people walking through it and, although it was hard to tell from the distance, it looked like Johnny Cruise and Brad Sloane—two of the more popular jocks from school. She smirked, figuring they were cutting class.

But if it was them, they were both walking strangely. They lumbered about, legs spread like they were struggling to keep balance. She didn’t know what to make of it, when she noticed a third man with them.

He stood in front of Johnny and Brad, as though waiting for them, and wore a black trench-coat and matching fedora. He was imposingly tall and, although his back was to her, she could swear his skin was dead white.

Johnny snatched at a pigeon standing in front of him. The quickness and savagery of it startled her—like a snake that seems perfectly still and calm one second, then snap! She leaned closer to the window and watched with horrible fascination as Johnny raised the struggling pigeon to his mouth.

Even from where she was, she could see the pigeon’s tiny head disappear inside his jaws—followed by the squirt of blood that shot out when he bit down. Her hands rose to her mouth, face frozen in shock, as a maddening terror swept through her.

A strangled scream tried to force its way out, but she could only watch in silence. Without realizing she was doing it, she rose from her seat and inched closer to the window as Johnny finished his messy meal.

Covered with blood and feathers, he, then Brad and the man in the black coat, all in slow unison, looked up towards the school—right at her.

Frozen in terror, she spent a brief moment trying to assure herself there was no way they could be looking at her, much less see her. Then, as if to show how wrong she was, the man in black pointed at her.

She screamed and threw herself away from the window. She crashed into her desk and toppled over with a loud bang that made everyone else in the room jump in their chairs. Once the initial shock passed, the entire class exploded with laughter.

“Melissa, are you all right?” Mr. Fletcher asked.

Not feeling her fall, she sprang back up and yelled between panicked breaths, “Outside! Outside—I-I saw—they looked … outside!”

“What?” Mr. Fletcher asked. “What’s outside?”

“They—they …” she tried to answer, but when she looked out the window, they were gone and the park was empty. Not a trace of who she thought was Johnny Cruise, Brad Sloane, or even the man in the coat.

“What, Melissa?” Fletcher asked again, a hint of impatience in his voice. “What’s wrong?”

Her breathing slowed, and her panic shifted into simple embarrassment. She must have dozed off, she thought, and dreamed what she saw out the window.

“Nuh-nothing,” she grumbled. “Sorry.”

Class resumed as Melissa pulled her seat upright and sat down, wanting to crawl out of her skin the whole time.

* * *

After History, Melissa spent much of the day wishing she was a turtle that could hide in its shell. A growing pressure formed behind her neck, as though she was locked in an invisible vice that was getting tighter as the day wore on. Her exchange with Andrew and Taylor left her feeling convinced people were mocking her behind her back. Now she was seeing things.

She returned to her locker to gather her books for Math, wanting nothing more than to get through the day as quickly and quietly as possible.

The image of Johnny eating a pigeon and the man in the coat pointing at her was still fresh in her mind, but she tried as best she could to put it past her. It was just another nightmare, she told herself. And although she’d been having more nightmares than usual recently, she figured it stress. She just needed to relax.

Unfortunately, she turned around only to find Heather McFarlane had sidled up behind her.

“Jesus!”

“Mel, we need to talk,” said Heather, paying no mind.

Already knowing where this was going, she replied, “Can it wait? I have class—”

“What’s been up with you, lately?”

“What do you…?”

“You know what I’m talking about.” Heather’s voice took that harsh, cold tone it would when things weren’t going her way. “You’ve been flaking out on me. I barely see you anymore and … this.” She paused, gesturing Melissa’s appearance with a half-confused, half-repulsed expression. “What’s this?”

“What’s what?”

“You look like a fucking Tim Burton reject.”

She hesitated and feebly said, “What’s wrong with that?”

Heather appeared taken aback, flashing a look that said, I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say that, and asked, trying (poorly) to sound less critical, “Seriously Mel, what’s wrong? Is there something I should know?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” she said, unable look Heather in the eye. “I just—um—I just, I don’t know, wanted a change?”

“A change,” Heather repeated, the hint of a sneer forming on her mouth. “You used to look cute, Mel.”

You mean I used to look typical, she thought, but couldn’t bring herself to say it. Heather glared at her with icy blue eyes that could pierce steel, and she felt two feet tall. Thankfully, the bell for next period rang before she could shrivel up and turn to dust.

“Whatever,” said Heather. “We’ll talk about this later.” She started to walk away, but stopped to sigh—sounding more like a groan—and said, “Next time you need a change, get a haircut or something. For fuck’s sake, Mel.”

Resisting the urge to scream, Melissa ran to the bathroom which, fortunately, was empty. She went to the sink and splashed cold water on her face and in her hair, hoping it might calm her down.

She replayed the scene in her mind and kept imagining the real answers to Heather’s questions. The words that were on the tip of her tongue, but she couldn’t bring herself to say.

She started cleaning herself up only to be struck with a feeling she wasn’t alone. She scanned the bathroom, glancing under the stalls for feet, but there was no one.

She shrugged it off and returned her attention to the mirror, but still felt like she was being watched. She looked around again and the bathroom was indeed empty and silent. She exhaled, assuring herself she was just being jumpy.

Mmmeeeeelllllllliiiiiiiiissssssssaaaaaaaa

The noise drifted up slightly, almost delicately, like a spider web caught in a breeze. She barely even heard it herself, but her body stiffened and froze like a deer that sensed a nearby predator. Her breathing began to speed up, and she put her back to the sinks, looking around the room and trying to discover feet under the stalls or someone in the corner—anything to prove she wasn’t going insane.

Mellliiiisssssaaaa

She looked at a vent near the ceiling and glared at it, trying to convince herself that was the source. Someone, somehow, was screwing with her and calling her name through the vent. Considering her day thus far, the idea of some jerk trying to scare her inspired an impatient anger she found empowering.

“Shut the fuck up!” she snarled, and the lavatory went silent and still again. There was an almost comical pause, as though whoever was calling her name was not expecting her to respond like that, until finally:

Melissa.

Quite clear, like someone was in the bathroom with her—but at the same time, not somehow. A low, smooth, eerily slick voice. Hearing it made her imagine being in a dark, lightless room while knowing there were cockroaches crawling in the corners and walls. She shivered upon hearing it, but her anger remained.

“What?” she demanded. “Who’s there?”

The time has come, little Melissa, the voice hissed from nowhere. Time for you to come with us.

Lacking anything better to respond, she simply said, “Fuck you?”

The sound of feet shuffling on the floor came to her, and her body went stiff like a rope snapped taut. Someone was in the bathroom with her, and as if to confirm it, a dull, lifeless moan drifted out from behind the corner stall. Looking towards the floor, she saw there indeed were feet where there weren’t before.

Just let it happen, little Melissa.

Join us

The moan was louder, and her blood froze. The bathroom stall slipped open and pasty, pale-gray fingers emerged, closing one at a time upon the door with the crack of rigor mortis for each. Melissa could only stand there, her mouth hanging open in shock, staring at the thing that emerged from the stall.

It shifted outward, its skin puffy and matching the decayed color of its fingers. Its eyes were sunk in, a dull shade of yellow with its iris and pupils barely visible, as though a thin layer of pus coated them.

Just below the right eye, the thing’s face was gone, revealing bone and strands of sinew and muscle underneath jagged remains of flesh. From where she was, Melissa saw—which nearly brought on total panic—bite marks.

To her horror, she recognized whose face it once belonged to. Andrew Cole—whom she saw earlier that day with Taylor. Taylor, who was looking sickly and (dying) miserable.

This thing, that only this morning was Andrew Cole, emerged from the bathroom stall, its shirt damp with blood and hanging loose from its body. With disgust, Melissa suspected that was because its belly underneath was gone.

It shuffled out, hunched over slightly, its right arm hanging limp before it, and its left arm curved like a claw ready to strike. It looked at her and, bringing a tidal wave of absolute terror she’d never before known in her life, regarded her with recognition.

What was left of its mouth raised into a kind of snarl, and the creature let out a stronger and more determined moan that was almost a growl.

The look on its damaged face and the noise that emerged from its mouth told her all she needed to know: it knew who she was and it was coming for her.

She backed away to the bathroom door and spent a few moments clumsily trying to get it open while somehow not removing her back from the wall.

Andrew was halfway through the bathroom and picking up speed.

Finally, Melissa slipped through the door, not once taking her eyes off the creature glaring at her with a murderous, animalistic intent. Now in the hall, she continued to back away, expecting the creature that was once Andrew Cole to pull the door open and pursue her.

Walking backward, she didn’t notice Tina Clarke on her way to the ladies room herself and they collided. Tina only let out a small, “Oops,” but Melissa screamed. Quite loud.

“Oh, sorry!” said Tina. “I didn’t see you there. You—” She trailed off, while Melissa—pale, eyes wide, hair wet, and make-up running—stood clutching her chest as though having a heart attack. “Are you okay?” Tina asked. “You look … stressed.”

She stared at her with an incredulous look on her face. Finding herself unable to properly articulate her feelings of panic, horror and confusion, she merely agreed in a jittery voice, “I’m having a bad day.”

Tina considered this and gave a sympathetic shrug. “That sucks.” She turned to enter the lavatory and was about to say something else when Melissa cut her off.

“WAIT! Don’t go in there!”

She jumped, surprised by the outburst. “What? Why? What’s wrong?”

Melissa struggled to think of a reason, knowing that telling her the truth would be stupid even if Andrew Cole really was in there trying to eat her. Unable to think of anything, she choked out, “The toilets. They’re … broken.”

Tina’s eyes widened. “All of them?”

Lacking anything better, she simply nodded.

Tina looked somewhat mystified and answered, “Wow.” She then shook her head. “I guess … I’ll use the one upstairs.”

“Yeah … yeah. And—uh—someone should, like, tell the janitor or something.”

Tina shrugged and walked away, headed for the stairs. Out of sight, Melissa let out a relieved sigh, even though her heart was still pounding.

What little relief she felt was cut off as quickly as it came by the sound of something pushing against the bathroom door. That rope of tension snapped taut again as the door slowly crept open—a low moan emerging from behind it and decayed fingers slithering out.

Not bothering to watch the rest, she took off down the hall to Math class. She threw herself inside and slammed the door shut before pinning her back against it. Everyone in the class, including the teacher, Ms. Goldberg, gawked at her with expressions ranging from confusion, concern, entertainment, and disdain. Melissa stood against the classroom door, breathing heavily and eyes bulging.

“Melissa, you’re late—” Ms. Goldberg began, before noticing how panicked she looked. “Is there something wrong?”

“The—in the—the bah—” she babbled between hysterical breaths

“Melissa, calm down …”

“The bah—bathroom—in the bathroom—”

“Melissa! Breathe!”

She stumbled forward, feeling lightheaded and unable to control her breathing. She continued trying to say something was in the bathroom, but only mumbled, “… I want my daddy …” before collapsing on the floor.

* * *

She awoke in the nurse’s office, lying on a reclined chair with a damp washcloth on her forehead. She hoped it was just a bad dream, but the reality of her day came crashing on her the instant she felt the aching in her head. On the wall clock she saw it was after three and she’d been out the rest of the school day, bringing a mixture of relief and embarrassment.

“Oh, you’re awake,” said Nurse Grace, walking in. “How’re we feeling?”

“Like crap.”

Checking her, Grace laughed. “They said you took quite a spill. What happened?”

Melissa considered how to respond, seeing no use in claiming she saw undead classmates lurking about the school. Instead, she mumbled, “I don’t know.”

“Ms. Goldberg told me you were saying something about the bathroom. Did something happen in there?”

“Not really.”

“Has anything like this happened before? Have you been feeling well?”

“No.”

After waiting a moment, Grace finally asked, “It there anything bothering you, Melissa?”

“Well, I guess,” she answered. “I guess I’ve been under a lot of stress.”

“That’s a start,” said Grace. “Stressed about what?”

“I don’t know. I guess, like, my friends.” She tried to find something more to add, but only repeated, “I don’t know.”

“What about your friends? Are they mad at you?”

“No. It’s not that. I just …” She paused. “I don’t know.”

“Wouldn’t have something to do with your new look here, would it? Didn’t you used to be blonde?” Melissa shrugged, but said nothing. Grace looked at her sympathetically and said, “There’s nothing wrong with trying to find yourself, Melissa. But I’m probably not the one you should be talking to about this. Why don’t you talk to the school counselor?” Melissa only grumbled, so she added, “It’ll help to talk. Trust me.”

Grace gave her two aspirin for her head and sent her on her way. All Melissa wanted was to go home and lock herself in her room. She moped down the empty hallways, her head pounding and still feeling like she was being watched, judged, and about to be shot.

But as she passed the school counselor’s office, she thought talking to someone might help with the stress. Although she didn’t have much faith the counselor would find a way to help with her troubles, she indulged the small hope he could offer some advice or comfort. If nothing else, she thought, maybe she’ll stop hallucinating decaying ghouls were coming after her.

With a sigh, she knocked on the door and entered, rubbing her aching forehead. “Mr. Jenkins? I was wondering if we could talk …”

The second she walked in, she noticed the smell—a rank, horrific stench that hit like a punch to the face. She knew what was in there waiting for her before she even looked up. Johnny Cruise, Brad Sloane, Andrew Cole, Taylor Phelps, and even Heather McFarlane—all hunched over, snarling, decayed with gray skin, and ready to pounce.

At the desk sat the man with the black coat and white skin she had seen earlier. Staring at her with dark, beady eyes glowing with evil intent, he grinned with disgusting, rotted teeth that glistened with venomous pus.

“Hello Melissa,” he hissed, the same slimy voice from the bathroom. “We’ve been waiting for you. Join us …”

Melissa let out a depressed sigh and moaned, “I hate school.”

END

©2016 by M. Walsh

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