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The Shadow Haven Series: Dead Zone
Shadow Haven is not just a place; it’s a state of mind. It resides on the outskirts of sanity and the fringes of extraordinary. And while it may be beyond reach of its seekers, sometimes it’s madness leaks into our own world. Our own towns. Our own lives. And when Shadow Haven does grasp us in it’s cold dead hands nothing is impossible.
Chapter 1: Dead Zone
The casket sits in the middle of the cafeteria, filled with only roses and a few stray pictures. The cold hard truth is there isn’t enough flesh left to fill a thimble. I’ve heard rumors about how the bacteria and animals had left nothing of the boy besides a grimy skeleton. But that’s nature, and what is left in Mother Nature’s grasp belongs to her forever.
But here I am, in the Lincoln High School gymnasium, where everything is as opposite of nature as can be. I look to the left and see students mumbling amongst themselves in the bleachers. To the right I see a group of teachers whispering to one another. Probably neither students nor staff are speaking about the true reason we’re here. The death of Justin Beamer, a student in my literature and composition class.
I didn’t know him that well, Justin I mean, he wasn’t the type of student I’d be close with. To be brutally honest, Justin was a thorn in my side for the majority of the school year. He was a smart mouth in class, he put absolutely no effort into his work, and he never shut off his cell phone during a lecture.
His cell phone.
I shiver, and wrap my arms around myself in a self-hug. I need to push the cell phone out of my mind. It’s not healthy to think about it. So I turn my attention to Principal Ferris, a balding oaf of a man. Many other teachers believe he isn’t even fit to be a hall monitor.
“…was a friend to those in need of one,” Ferris spoke into the microphone. I could hear his lips smacking revoltingly as he continued his longwinded speech. “Justin’s humor lit up a room the moment he entered. You might not think about our school as I do, but we are a family. When one of us dies everyone should feel it because a piece of ourselves is lost. It’s times like these that we must band together as not only a school but as a community. As a family.” He put the paper down on the podium so he could fiddle with his large glasses. Through a breaking voice, completely and utterly fake, he wiped a tear from his eye and says, “And now, a moment of silence for Justin Beamer.”
The already relatively quiet gymnasium fell deathly silent, there is a lone sob from one corner of the room. It’s followed by a cough from the other corner. I count down the seconds before the principal speaks again, wondering if there is a meaning within the seconds. Instead, there is only a 62 second silence before he tells everyone to return to their classes. No meaning. At least as far as I can tell.
As the stadium around me empties, I stand alone amongst the rushing masses. I imagine myself being a stoic rock in the middle of tumbling frothing sea.
I jump when a hand comes down on my shoulder. I don’t know why I’m so jittery. Actually that’s not true, I know exactly why I’m so jittery. But I can’t tell anyone. I can’t let anyone know that I’m the reason-
“Can you believe that act, Annie?” Macy Filler asks, walking around a little to face me directly. She’s wearing her brunette hair in a bun again. An unflattering, horribly made-up bun that is only made worse by her bright yellow and purple dress.
“I mean, honestly, the ‘we are a family’ line? And the fake tear? What a joke, right?” She’s a few years younger than me, but she still acts like she’s 16. Hardly the type of person who should be teaching U.S. history.
“Mm-hmm,” I barely pay attention to her. We’re friends, not good friends, but she seems to think I’m her best friend. Sometimes I can’t stand her constant chattering, this was one of those times.
“He’s such a hypocrite too. Ferris hated Justin more than anyone. If he’s trying to impress the parents into donating towards a memorial scholarship he’s off to a corny head start.”
“Mm-hmm,” I repeat, attempting to show my disinterest in conversation but it’s lost on her.
“Hey, are you okay?” Macy puts her hand on my arm compassionately. “You don’t look so good.”
“J-just a little shaken up,” I say. I think she’s referring to my eyes, I haven’t slept well in days and it’s starting to show, no matter how much makeup I put on.
“Wow, I guess I never expected…y’know, you always talked about how much you hated him,” Macy didn’t even try to hold back. “I thought you’d be glad, well not glad, but not particularly upset about his death. Oh…wait, wait, wait. Is this about his parents? Were you the one that gave his locker contents to-”
“No, I had the janitor do it.”
“I get that,” she says, “I mean, what do you say to the parents of the kid you never liked. I have a hard enough time when they’re still alive.”
“Mm-hmm,” was the only way I could respond to that statement.
“And can you believe Justin drowned? Around here of all places! Not a lake for miles and this kid drowns in a ravine. Why couldn’t he just climb out in the first place?”
“It was raining, and he slipped,” I recall the story I heard from the other staff members earlier in the week. “He slipped and they say he broke his leg on a rock. He couldn’t climb up the muddy sides so he just waited until the water rose over his head.”
“Oh my God,” Macy covers her mouth with both hands, eyes wide. “That’s horrible. And no one helped?”
“No one knew. You remember how hard it was raining last week. No one wanted to step outside.”
“And he didn’t call for help?”
“He-he left his phone in his locker,” I stutter in my response.
“You’re kidding. It figures, the one time these kids actually need a cellphone and they don’t have it. That’s freakin’ depressing.”
“Yeah, yeah it is,” I look down the stands and spot Justin’s parents speaking to Principal Ferris. I met them a few times during parent-teacher conferences. The father was black haired like Justin, however Justin had his mother’s full face. Ever since the Beamer’s had heard about their son’s death I’ve only seen them in black. Today the father is in a black and gray suit and the mother stands solemnly in the type of black dress I’ve only seen in the movies.
Macy’s high-pitched voice pierces my mind; she’s rambling on again. “Listen, if you still need to talk the whole staff is going out to a restaurant tonight,” she grins brilliantly, the earlier discussion all but forgotten. “We’re going to Chili’s and Ferris paid for an open bar.” Smirking slyly, she adds, “Will Conners the gym teacher is going to be there, and I know for a fact he couldn’t take his eyes off you the whole service.”
I couldn’t stand it anymore. How could she be so cheery? How could she stand talking about a restaurant when a boy is dead? I don’t know what comes over me, but I shout at her, “He’s dead! I don’t give a damn about Will or Chili’s! And I don’t want to talk to anyone, especially you!”
The shock in Macy’s eyes matched my feelings. I don’t know where the outburst came from; it was an anger that couldn’t be stifled. What have I done?
Before she can respond I hightail it out of the gym. The heels hurt my feet when I move so quickly down the steps of the bleachers, but it’s nowhere near the pain I’ll feel knowing the rumors Macy will spread about me at the restaurant. She’ll probably accuse me of taking drugs or say I’m having a nervous breakdown. If she gets really nasty, or drunk, she might even accuse me of having a relationship with a student. But that’s for tomorrow; all I want is to go home.
My classroom is right around the corner and it takes a few seconds to unlock. The room is dark and quiet, just as I left it. I pick up a few belongings off my desk before moving towards the metal cabinet in the back. I keep my purse and jacket inside, no telling what these kids are capable of.
The sunlight from the windows casts long eerie shadows across the desks, so eerie I find myself shivering. I didn’t expect to see anything out of place in the cabinet, but then it happened. Lying on my neatly folded jacket was a cell phone. I never put it there, and no one has the key to the cabinet besides me. But there it was, sitting there. Waiting for me.
Suddenly it makes a small chiming noise, signaling it had received a text message.
I take a step backwards, ready to shriek, but instantly feel silly. This was a cellphone, probably confiscated from a kid, not a bomb set to go off. Determination drives me to stop acting like a skittish doe. So I casually grasp the small device and look at the illuminated screen. I tap the screen to see the message. I fully expect to see an invitation to a movie, a small emoticon, or even a question on whether they received their cellphone back. I didn’t plan on seeing a lone message, in all capitals .
“YOU KILLED ME”
At this, I drop the phone and run.
TWENTY MINUTES LATER
“It was just a prank call,” I repeat to myself when I look in the rearview mirror of my Volkswagen. My nerves have calmed down a great deal since the shock in the classroom. “Probably from one kid to another. You overreacted, that’s all. It can’t be Him, that’s impossible.”
But a small part of my mind whispers darkly about the promise I made to Justin. And the whisper grows louder into a word, until it becomes a shout. And it chants in my mind like a Native American incantation while I’m driving.
“It can’t be happening!” I scream at an imaginary opponent in my car, a droplet forming in the corner of my eye. “It’s not happening!” I’m surprised when I see that I’m ten miles over the speed limit. As I slow I’m startled when my purse begins to buzz. I instinctively reach inside the bag, an act I’ve done hundreds of times. Then I stop. With my hand still partially buried in my purse, I let my fingers rest on the sides of the cool plastic whilst the phone buzzes.
What if it was Him? What if He’s upset? Could He hurt me?
“No. I’m being silly,” I say to myself in an attempt to rally self-confidence. “Just grab the phone, it could be important.”
Swallowing a lump in my throat, I grasp the cellphone tightly and yank it roughly from my purse. Even as I’m trying to prove how brave I am, my fingers tremble. They shiver even more violently when I see it’s a text message from an unknown source. Glancing up every so often to watch the moderately populated road, the phone continued to buzz. I’m determined to get over my fear. I grip down on the phone harder to stop trembling and I press the answer button.
And there it was.
In capital letters.
“YOU CAN’T RUN FROM ME”
One second I’m shrieking because of the message, the next I’m shrieking because I’ve gone off the road.
My yellow Volkswagen Beetle bounces up and down as it takes a dive into a ditch besides the woods. I attempt to slam on the brakes but I have no luck halting on the uneven downward slope. The wheels weren’t made for this type of travel; I hear one explode in the crash. I’m bouncing up and down in my seat as I run over stray boulders and tree stumps. The front end runs into a maple tree with a loud crash, the hood caves in on itself while the air bag explodes into my face.
For a second I’m in a daze, and I’m thankful for it. I don’t have to worry about anything. However the stupefaction wears off fairly quickly and I find my limbs batting the deflating air bag out of my face. My whole body feels sore, but the memory of the text message fuels my frantic efforts to abandon the car. Fidgeting with the buckle, I quickly launch myself out of the car and onto the grass once I’m able.
Scrambling across the dirt and weeds, I manage to push myself off the ground and begin to run towards my home.
Above the sounds of the forest and traffic, I swear I hear the faint ringing of my cellphone.
TWENTY-THREE MINUTES LATER
I walk onto my street. I can see my house at the end of the subdivision. My clothes are dirty and slightly sweaty, my hair must be a mess, and my feet ache from walking in high heels. But there it is. Home. I’m so close to the only place that I’ll be safe. Home is always safe.
My efforts are slightly less frantic, now that I’m closer to home. On either side of the street are my neighbors, all of which are obsessive about their lawns. Mr. Philips is mowing his yard in his blue baseball cap. The dreadfully annoying Ms. Harrison is working in her garden across from him. She’ll no doubt run up and try to get the scoop on what happened to me. Even worse is the incredibly judgmental Mrs. Carin, she’ll probably think I was driving under the influence. Sometimes I wish they would all just-
Mr. Philips reaches into his pocket and pulls out his favorite Blackberry.
Ms. Harrison picks up her pink cellphone that’s next to her watering can.
Mrs. Carin gets out of her porch rocking chair and hobbles inside to answer her phone.
“Oh God,” I don’t stop to watch the three of them begin speaking into their phones. I already received the message from Him. I kick off my black heels and make a run for my house. I don’t care who sees me running down a street barefoot, nothing else matters. I pass by four children playing basketball in their driveway.
They all reach into their jackets and check their iPhones.
Putting all my energy into sprinting, I pass a jogger who is going in the opposite direction.
She takes out her headphones and reaches into her pocket to check the screen on her phone
I rush past at least a dozen people. All of them receive sudden phone calls.
I can’t stop myself. I scream. I scream as loud as I can when I run up my porch steps and into my house. I don’t even stop to wonder how my front door is unlocked. I only thank God that it was because my keys are still in my car. The beautiful sight of my plainly decorated living room would usually make me feel relaxed, but all I can think about is keeping the phones out.
With strength I didn’t even know I possessed, I push my leather couch across the hardwood floor in front of the front door. The floor will be scratched beyond repair but I don’t give it a second thought. I then push the easy chair and coffee table in front of the door to make sure every phone was locked out. I wouldn’t even be able to move them back out of the way if I wanted to.
My next move is running into the kitchen where I see the back door. I lock both locks before tipping the refrigerator over to block the entrance. It lands with a loud crash onto the kitchen tile. The fridge burst open and all of my food falls onto the floor, all ruined.
But for some reason I don’t care. All I care about is the device sitting on my kitchen counter. My home phone. It has to be destroyed. It must be destroyed.
I grab the phone cradle and yank the cord out of the wall. I smash it onto the floor and begin crushing it under my bare feet. The plastic begins to cut my skin and the metal wiring burns my flesh. Yet it has to be gone. It has to be killed. There has to be nothing left of it.
And then it’s over.
My body is quivering all over from the rush of adrenaline in my system, but I begin to relax. The house is quiet. It’s peaceful. I move into the living room, every step sends the shards of plastic deeper into my feet. But I don’t care. I’m safe. Finally, I’m-
I freeze. I pray I’m imagining it. I close my eyes and cover my ears and beg to God that the call isn’t real. That I’ll be spared from the torment.
When I uncover my ears it’s still there. Calling like a demonic shriek from hell. It’s coming from my bedroom.
Tentatively walking up the stairs to my room, I say a quiet prayer that He would leave me alone. That He would stop calling forever. That He will forgive me for what I’ve done.
I turn the door handle, not sure whether to expect a vengeful beast on the other side. The lump in my throat grows and I’m crying freely now. I can barely see through my tear-blurred vision, but I can make out a beacon of light in my dark room. On my scarlet bedspread is a phone, glowing brilliantly.
Wiping the tears from my eyes, I prepare to face another cellphone. However even I didn’t expect to see what phone it was.
“Oh my God…” I whimper out. It was a teal blue phone with hell-flame decorations on the sides. It was His.
I could ignore it. I could just let it ring until it stops. But then it occurred to me, perhaps I could reason with Him. Perhaps I could convince Him to leave me alone. Apologize, plead even. He would see that I hadn’t meant it. He would see that I feel remorse for what I’d done.
I snatch the phone off my bed and look at the caller ID. Again, it says unknown. This time it’s a phone call.
“Please, please listen to me,” I whisper to myself as I press the ‘receive call’ icon. Pressing the phone forcefully to my ear, I whisper into the device, “H-hello?”
“You made a promise,” a horribly cold voice rasps into my ear.
“You know I-I didn’t actually mean it,” I whisper, tears pouring from my eyes, “You-you can stop now. Please stop.”
The answer is as simplistic as it is cold, “No.”
All around me I hear more ringing. Phones appear out of nothingness. Cellphones of all different colors, all different shapes and sizes, all start ringing at the same time. They were on the dresser, lying on the floor, on the bedside table, and inside my closet. It’s a choir of noise. A choir of death. To another person they’re just ringing cellphones. But to me they’re the cries of the dead, angry and frothing at the mouth in preparation to attack the living.
I shriek, trying to be heard above the noise. I drop the phone and dash back out of my bedroom and down the stairs. When I take the third step my foot lands on a cellphone, causing me to trip. I fall but manage to catch myself on the railing. To my terror I spot more phones. They’re lying on the floor of my living room, on top of my couch, on my table and chairs, lying across the kitchen tile, in a row on my counter and on my windowsills.
“No! NO! NOOO!” I scream, stumbling over cellphones as I try to make it to the front door. But once there I realize I’ll never be able to move the furniture away. I was physically exhausted from the car crash, the running, and moving the furniture. The adrenaline had worn off, leaving me wasted.
The chorus of cellphones began to answer themselves with different answering machines. I didn’t want to hear who was on the other end. I knew I only had one last chance. I tore up the stairs and found the teal phone still on the floor where I’d left it. I grasp the phone in my hands and blubber into it.
“P-please! Please leave me alone! I-I didn’t know th-that would happen to you! Please let m-me go!” I beg and cry into the phone, tears running freely down my face.
I wait for a response. For anything.
Meanwhile the answer machine has ended its recording, leaving the callers free to leave a message. I expect to hear a haunting voice, screaming of demons, or, even worse, more ringing. But instead comes an entirely different noise.
My whole house is filled with the babbling of rushing water, louder than ever. Then the sound of rain falling is added to the noise. In an instant the sounds in my house have been transformed into a rushing river. I feel like I’m drowning even though there’s not a drop of water around me besides my tears.
It’s water rising in a ravine.
“Please! STOP THIS! I’M SORRY!!!” I can’t even hear myself shrieking into the phone. The noise of rain and rushing water is too loud. However, with my ear pressed into the teal phone I can make out a raspy haunting voice.
I let out a cry of pure torment. But it’s unheard amongst the rushing water. I curl up on the floor and hug my knees to wait for death to free me from the water. There is nothing but running water. And there always will be.
ONE WEEK AGO
“I want my cellphone back, Ms. Trant.” From the tone in Justin’s voice I can tell it’s a demand, and not a request. He has both hands shoved into his cargo pants pockets that hang much too low. He has a look of superiority in his eyes, like he’s better than all of the rest of us.
“I told you, Mr. Beamer,” I even out a stack of papers on my desk, showing how much disinterest I have for him, “have your parents call and you can pick it up tomorrow.”
“That’s complete bull-”
“Watch your tongue!” I snap at him, putting quite a bit of edge into my voice.
By now all of the other students have left for the early release day, leaving Justin the only one in my classroom. He’d been arguing for a good few minutes now, much to my anger.
“Now I want you to get your butt, which is hanging out quite a bit, out of my clean classroom before you dirty it with your foul mouth. Go home to whatever type of family who would raise such a horrible child. Which is what you’re acting like. A child.” I smile evilly at the end of my rant. He was fuming from the ears, and I knew he couldn’t do anything. He probably didn’t have the balls.
Then he says the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, “But what if I, like, die because I don’t have it?”
I can’t help but laugh at his statement.
“Are you serious? Well then, I promise you can haunt me when you’re dead. Would that make you feel better Mr. Beamer? Until then…” I pick up the teal blue cellphone, with the ridiculous flames on the sides, and wave it tauntingly at him. “This will stay in my desk until you or your parents pick it up.” I drop the phone into a drawer and make a show of locking it inside the desk.
He looks utterly defeated, realizing I wouldn’t care if he died or not. As he turns to walk out of the classroom I add a little barb with a smirk, “Don’t forget a rain coat, sweetie. It’s raining, you know.”
Authors Note: Guilt. It’s what drives men and women to do better in life; to make up for some wrong that they committed, whether from one week or one decade ago. Some people learn to let it go, and liberate themselves from its hold. But for Ms. Annie Trant, that guilt was so powerful, so overwhelming that it held onto her and couldn’t be shaken. And while many people are haunted by regrets towards the deceased, most are not subjected to calls from them. Annie fell victim to that small instance where guilt is so irrepressible that it drowns you. However this is a sad consequence when anyone, living or dead, comes in contact with Shadow Haven.