This was a place of daily combat. It housed beings whose raw emotions were displayed both openly and passionately in acts of petty malice and casual cruelty. For many of the people who passed their stressful days in the halls of the worn-down building, doing so was less of an existence than a mere survival.
In short, it was a high school. Thomas Wright High — named for the war hero and crusading senator — was not that different from most American high schools of the time, with the exception that a sinister evil had settled in the tiny community of Springdale. And in ways as yet unknown, that evil centered within the school.
Steffie Jennings was new to both the town and the school. Her wholesome good looks should have made her popular here. Her past included activities like being a pom-pom girl, a homecoming princess, and a student body president. But the spirited blonde teenager had enjoyed such a distinction at her old school, and her experience at Wright High was exceedingly different.
Wearing stone-washed jeans and a pink sweater, she always walked down the halls of the school alone. She was certainly the object of desire for many of the boys who leaned against their lockers and stared as she passed them. Still, her beauty did not remove a larger problem that marked her as a pariah in the tightly regulated social caste system of a high school. Namely, she was new to the town and had fallen on the bad side of the school’s leading clique.
The cheerleaders of Thomas Wright High were a snobby bunch, and they looked down on the newcomer with a cold malice that was made no warmer by their obvious enjoyment of tormenting those who did not fit their ideas of what a girl should be like.
Steffie heard their giggles and their barely whispered asides as she approached her locker. She was far from timid, yet she wanted to avoid a scene. Calling attention to herself wasn’t a smart idea, since such attention would only make her stand out from the crowd even more.
“Nice jeans,” said a sneering Andrea Wayne, the popular head cheerleader, as Steffie retrieved some books from her locker. “Did you mug Martha Quinn?”
OK, Steff, don’t lose it, thought the blonde girl. You could rip her hair out one bleached lock at a time, but that isn’t likely to help you any. Just play it cool and shut her down verbally. “Andrea, believe it or not, my world doesn’t revolve around your fashion taste — such as it is,” she said.
Steffie noticed Rog Hammerstrom, the football quarterback, ogling her and rolled her eyes in disdain. Rog is cute, she thought, but he won’t even talk to me without a signed note from Andrea. Too bad the jocks all act like drones around their stuck-up queen bee.
Entering the science lab, Steffie sat down near the back, exchanged greetings with her brainy friend Tammy, and opened her notebook.
“Did you study for the chem final?” asked Tammy.
Steffie smiled and said, “I fell asleep halfway through the periodic table. Tell me how it ends.”
Tammy laughed. “Zinc kills Miss Scarlet in the study.”
The other kids whispered amongst themselves as their teacher, Mr. Brown, failed to arrive.
“Old Professor Keenbean never misses class,” said Alvin Crowder to another boy. “Could he actually be out sick?”
The boy elbowed his pal and said, “Yeah. I hope, if we get a sub, she’ll be hot.”
At that moment, the door slammed shut and the kids all turned to face a striking blonde woman who entered the class with a studied silence. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a rather severe bun that blunted the hair’s natural luster and body. She wore dark-framed glasses that almost obscured her piercing and intelligent eyes. Her pale features were lovely but devoid of any cosmetic enhancement. She wore a high-collared gray blouse of an expensive make. Her matching gray skirt was floor length and concealed a pair of flat gray Mary Janes.
Ignoring the kids, she walked past them to the desk, then placed a binder on the desk and stared at them for a moment with a clear disdain. “I am your temporary instructor,” she said in a clear but haughty voice. “My name is Miss Jones. Kindly turn to page seventeen of your textbook and review the chapter on the elements. You shall be given an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to both read and retain the material and make effective use of said material in twenty-two minutes.”
“Does that mean we’re, like, having a quiz?” whined a redheaded girl.
“I am indeed testing your levels of discernment and obedience,” she said. “You may dispense with the needless use of the word like. The use of popularized colloquialisms renders one merely common and unworthy of the consideration of educated people. You should remember that, in this society, people are often only allowed a short time to create an impression on others. If your language is that of the uneducated and inarticulate, then you will be perceived as being uneducated and inarticulate.”
The girl stared back in open-mouthed awe as a giggle from the back was greeted with a cold stare from Miss Jones.
Steffie smiled to herself. Hel-lo, she thought. One ice maiden present and accounted for.
Glancing at the clock more than once, Miss Jones found her day at Wright High passing with mind-numbing slowness. She clearly disliked being at the school and regarded her pupils as little more than brutes from the wildest of jungles or the most primitive of societies. During the break for lunch, another teacher approached the scornful substitute with a warm smile.
“Miss Jones, is it?” he said. “I’m Hank Reynolds, the football coach here at T.W. High. I thought maybe you’d like to grab a bite with me. I could show you the ropes.” He winked playfully at her.
She smiled coldly. “I ascertained that you were employed here in the capacity of athletic instructor because of the decidedly informal manner in which you are dressed. Seldom does one find a man of your obvious chronological age not in your line of work who persists in wearing the trappings of his adolescence. I surmise you experienced your highest levels of affirmation from your peer group during your school days as a player of various mindless games, and you seek to prolong that sensation by remaining on the fringe of the sporting life. I thank you for your offer of a meal and a tour, but I am neither inclined to dine with you nor to spend needless time in your company.”
Walking off, she left the poor man in a state of surprise. He was not entirely sure if she had insulted him or not. He glanced around the room and hoped none of the other teachers had overheard their exchange.
Miss Jones slipped inside a small empty classroom and removed a tiny object from her bag. She spoke into the small communications device and said, “Father, I have assumed the role of Miss Jones, a substitute teacher. I have found nothing disturbing beyond an evident and appalling decline in the educational training of both students and teachers in comparison to the standards you established for my own private education at our home.”
She listened as a male voice replied, “If you detect no sign of supernatural activity at the school, then I advise you to investigate the community. The murders that attracted my attention were certainly worthy of our time, Drusilla.”
Dr. Drusilla Zero replied to her father’s request in her normal dutiful tone. “Yes, father. I shall do whatever is necessary.”
Rog Hammerstrom grabbed his letter jacket and slipped out of the gym around midnight that evening. He smiled as he remembered his time with Sharon Slate a few moments ago. “Nothing like an empty gym for a little romance,” he said.
Smiling as he noticed a young blonde girl walking across the campus, he smirked. Steffie, he thought. All right. The night is young, and so am I. Running over to her, he called out, “Hey, Steffie, wait up. You know, a pretty young thing like you should never walk the dark streets alone. You know those murders happened not too long ago.”
Steffie turned and smiled. “Rog. How nice to see you. Goodbye.”
As she turned to walk off, he grabbed her arm and cried, “Hold it!”
“I’m busy,” said Steffie. “I’m a big girl, and I take care of myself. Now let me go.” She pried his hands from her arm with surprising strength and ran into the night.
Rog shrugged and rubbed his hand. “Pretty strong for a girl. Ahh, she’s weird, anyway.”
He’d started to head for the parking lot when a dark figure approached him, and his eyes widened with surprise. “You? Hey, great,” he said with a sneer. “I was getting hungry.”