Photo by Miguel Orós on Unsplash
by Aura Redwood
The bell rang, shrill, demanding, echoing through the small classroom. Without needing to be told twice, a swarm of small children echoed their own cheers in return, clamouring, running to the door, to their summer freedom.
Chris couldn’t help but smile at the excitement of his students. Ignoring his natural teacher instincts to tell them to not run in the corridors, he started to pack up his books into his pack — a leather messenger bag, bleached and worn. It was only when he looked back at the seats, expecting an empty room, to see little Thomas Williams still sitting at his desk.
Chris sighed and put his bag down on his desk before heading towards Tom. His student didn’t hear him, though, and kept drawing intently on a piece of scrap paper.
Tom looked up in surprise before looking around the classroom.
“Tommy, the day’s over,” Chris said kindly, as he knelt down to the child’s level, “You can go home now.”
Thomas did not answer, but looked back to his drawing. Chris, now at his level, could see his child-like picture with more clearly. The figures were rough and the coloring out of the lines; nevertheless, Chris could see the child had made another drawing of a monster killing someone.
“Tommy, what is this?” Chris asked, looking now at the child seriously, and trying to ignore the nagging feel of an itch on his back.
“A picture,” Tom mumbled without looking back
“Why the monsters, Tommy?”
Tommy didn’t answer, and just looked back with big green eyes at his teacher. They seemed to look right through Chris.
Chris sighed and stood up straight, “Well, Tommy, I don’t know about you but I’m excited for summer.”
Tommy shrugged but got the message and collected his things into his ratty backpack. Mumbling a small goodbye, he walked slowly out of the room, still wrapped up in a long sleeved shirt, not only too big for him but unusual for the hot Southern summer.
Chris watched the boy make his unenthusiastic way out of the school and couldn’t help himself as his forehead wrinkled. He reached to scratch the insistent itch on his back.
“Thank you for coming in on the Summer Break, Mrs. Williams.”
“Not at all, Mr. Dickson. Did Thomas do something wrong?”
In a mostly empty school, Chris sat in front of Mrs. Williams at his teacher’s desk. Her hands nervously played with the long sleeves of her dress as she looked at the teacher in front of her with worried looking eyes. Chris could already feel his back starting to act up again.
“No, not at all. Will Mr. Williams be joining us?”
“He is much too busy for things like this,” Rachel Williams said in a rush before trying to change the subject, “So exactly why am I here, then?”
Chris looked with careful examination at the small, nervous woman in front of him, before continuing. “Well, Mrs. Williams, your son is a bright boy but he is very quiet. He also has an…” Chris thought carefully about his choice of words before continuing, “interesting art subject. I just wanted to know if everything is okay with him at home.”
Rachel’s eyes went wide for a second, and she uttered a nervous laugh. “That’s all? Of course everything is all right at home. I don’t know exactly what he has been drawing at school, but Tom has an overactive imagination. Nothing but dreams in that boy’s empty head.”
Without waiting for a reaction from her son’s teacher, Mrs. Williams was up out of her seat. “Well if that was everything, I will take my leave. I really must be home to cook dinner before Rowland comes home.”
Already on her way out with her purse in her hand, Chris knew he wasn’t going to get more from her and so he simply nodded. Without needing any more acknowledgement, Rachel quickly left the small classroom.
Slumping back in the old wooden chair, Chris looked up at the ceiling and exhaled loudly. He closed his eyes as he tried to ignore the annoying itching feeling. This was going to be a problem.
The condensation ran down the cold glass onto his hand. Chris took another sip from his lemonade and looked out at the rest of the community at the church’s pavilion. The small children ran around the hot grass while their parents and the rest of the adults stayed in the shade to try to escape the wrath of the summer sun.
Seeing the preacher pass by, Chris gave a small smile and nod, which was returned with a natural friendly air. He found himself being thankful for being invited to the Church’s barbecue, despite not being a church-goer. Though he considered himself a man of the community, he couldn’t help his views on the church. For some reason or another, he always found himself avoiding it. It felt, somehow, wrong for him to step into a religious place people dedicated themselves to so fully.
A couple of men passed by him; their loud chatting broke his thoughts as he gazed at the old wooden church. The men made their way to the grill, ready to watch the skills of a barbecue master at work.
Taking another swig of his freshly made lemonade, a smile once again crossed Chris’ face. Many of his own students were running around in the pounding heat. Even little Thomas was out there, this time, thankfully, wearing a short-sleeve shirt. This is what summer break was supposed to be about. The smell of fresh grass, hot meat on buns, cold lemonade, and of course the smiles of his community.
A door slammed open and all heads turned towards the church. A man with a large smile on his face haphazardly walked out the door. “So this is where everyone is hiding out,” he announced to the group in front of him.
Walking unsteadily towards them, this man Rowland looked from person to person as if he was the most popular man in the neighborhood, obviously unaware of the whispers already starting to break out.
Now at the pavilion, his bloodshot eyes looked around to find someone he knew. There he saw his wife with a plate filled with fruit sitting next to another man; she looked worriedly at her husband. It was too late for her to do anything, as he had seen her, and his face went bright red.
He quickly ran forward, grabbing her hand, causing her to drop the plate. “What do you think you’re doing with another man?” he hissed angrily, probably thinking he was whispering. The air in the pavilion thickened as conversations instantly dissipated. Even from a meter away, Chris could smell the booze on this angry man’s breath, and his back started once again to itch.
Looking back at the crowd, which now was staring at him, he laughed at his own joke: “Stupid women not knowing they need to know they wait for husbands before they come to an event.”
“I tried to wake y- ,“ Rachel started to say, but was quickly met with a hand across the face.
The sound echoed through the field.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Rachel’s eyes filled with tears as the red mark started to form across her cheek.
Her apologies bounced off Rowland though as he started to drag her out of the pavilion muttering angrily to himself. “I should have never let you come here. Talking to strange men like a whore. The whole neighbourhood will be talking about you flirting like the floozy you are.”
The air was heavy with unspoken words, yet no one said or did anything on Rachel’s behalf. Rowland dragged his wife up the beaten path and out of the church property, not even looking back for his son.
Once the couple was out of view, people started to come together, a murmur rising from each group. Chris found his hand once again searching for his back, where he started to scratch relentlessly. The back of his shirt became speckled with blood.
Looking at the community — once again ruffled by Rowland — Chris knew something had to be done.
It wasn’t hard to track down Rowland. There was only one dive bar in the small town and it was common knowledge that was where he spent his afternoons. Chris sat in the dark cabin of his old beat-up station wagon. The neon sign over the entrance glowed relentlessly while his eyes remained on the rotting wooden door, waiting for any movement from within.
It was early in the morning and already his back would not stop itching. Blood started to soak into the seat back behind him, but he had yet to notice the mess it was making. His sharp blue eyes were too much focused on waiting for his target to appear.
The door opened and a familiar figure stumbled out.
“Finally,” Chris mumbled to himself, as he watched Rowland stumble to his truck.
As Rowland’s truck weaved out of the parking lot, Chris turned his keys. Giving it a moment, he moved slowly out of the parking lot and followed behind his target, letting the lights of the car ahead help him see ahead as he held onto the steering wheel with white-knuckled hands.
It had not been more than five minutes, when the truck started to pull over. Sitting up straight in confusion, Chris followed suit and pulled over a few feet behind. Maybe he had been seen, maybe he should just leave. His mind went back to Rachel and Thomas, and his hand with a mind of its own went back to scratch his bleeding back. A single bloody feather fell to the seat.
Rowland, true to whispers around town, had not noticed anyone else as he carefully tended to his own needs. He slid out of his seat and waddled drunkenly toward nearby woods, fumbling with his belt as we went along.
A determined smile stretched across Chris’ face as his hand reached for his shotgun. He stepped quietly from his car and toward the man urinating alongside the empty road.
It was only when Chris cocked the gun did he notice he was not alone. Looking up at silver barrel glinting in the moonlight, his glassed over eyes went wide.
“What the he-!”
He tried to push the gun away from his face, and looked at the man who held it. His look went from confusion to outrage, as he recognized his son’s teacher.
“What do you thin-…”
“I think we need to have a little talk Rowland,” Chris said as calmly as his voice would allow. His hands were slick with his own blood, and he could feel his finger itching to pull the trigger.
“I don’t need to talk to no stupid teacher,” Rowland said as he started to try to pull his pants up, but without much success.
“Well, I think we do. I think we need to talk about your son.”
“Heh,” In a drunken fit of laughter, Rowland was only too glad to explain to the poor, stupid teacher, “Tom is no son of mine. He is weak. Nothing like me. His stupid whore mother must –…“
Not able to hold his anger back anymore, the itch on Chris’ back decided it was not waiting any longer. It grew across his back until it was a fiery pain he could not handle anymore. Screaming in agony he raised his hands and weapon to the heavens. Feathers start to shed from the two large wounds on his bloodied shoulders as his body began to feverishly shake. From within his back a pair of large blood-soaked wings unfurled and stretched behind him, framing his furious countenance.
Rowland stared wide-eyed at the crimson angel before him.
It was also the last thing he saw as the shot echoed through the woods.
About the author:
Aura Redwood writes in Canberra, Australia. She is a giant geek who loves to write, game and binge watch shows.