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I’m going to take a wild guess and say that you wouldn’t like to find a dead rat in your mailbox. Most normal people would actually be downright disturbed by that, and I’ll take another guess that you’re fairly normal. Naturally, Aubry was disgusted when she saw a miniature rat corpse in her PO Box, and her first reaction was to slam the door on the box shut. She probably would have screamed, if the mail room hadn’t been full of students milling about, waiting to head to their last class of the week. I’m asking you to imagine a chilly Friday evening in November, where the sun is just barely sinking behind the brick buildings of the local prestigious private school. This is Aubry’s school. She was in her first term of prep year (that’s fancy private school talk for freshman) when she first got a suspicious present in her PO Box. She checked every day, expecting care packages from her loving parents. Indeed, reader, she received many a care package that first term. But this particular Friday afternoon, she received an unexpected gift; a dead rat, that led to unexpected danger.
Pacewicz-Endicott Academy is situated somewhere between the mountains and the sea somewhere on the east coast of the US. Students come from all over the country to attend and board in comfortably furnished dorms. The courses are fascinating, the food is delicious, the faculty is accommodating, and there is next to nothing for any student to complain about. For years, PEA was regarded as not only the most prestigious, but also the most delightful private school in the country. Each student who applied wished on every shooting star and prayed to every type of holy deity they could conjure up to be accepted into the school. And Aubry was one of the lucky few that were accepted, and with a big sum of financial aide as well. She was thrilled when she was dropped off by her parents, who bid her farewell through teary eyes. Aubry was their baby girl, their only child, and they didn’t want to leave her hundreds of miles from home. But every time Aubry texted or called or wrote to her parents, she told them everything was perfect. “Of course, it’s perfect, it’s PEA”, you’re probably saying, and that’s exactly what her parents assured each other. They worried less and less about their daughter, and eventually lost touch with her. But that’s all you can know about Aubry. It’s too dangerous for her, too dangerous for you. I think I’ve told you too much already. You should watch your back.
Zeke sat in the health station for about the seventh time that week, waiting to see if he could be prescribed any more hormones. He assumed that the nurses who worked Friday afternoons would have mercy on him, as the faculty’s job was to keep the students as content as can be. So Zeke sat on a recovery couch, thumbing through some children's book about visiting the doctor’s office. You’ve probably been here too; in elementary school, waiting to see a school nurse for something oh-so minor. But here’s the thing: Zeke’s problem isn’t so minor. He needs these hormones to make sure his appearance is maintained, and without them, could have serious changes in appearance and lead to gender dysphoria. Finally, a nurse stepped out of the back office, keeping her gaze down upon Zeke’s paperwork. She gave a sad smile before saying; “I’m really sorry, sweetie, I’m afraid we can’t increase your dosage due to campus medication safety regulations.” Zeke sighed heavily, then immediately took to the defense. “This isn’t normal medicine! It’s the hormones that keep me who I am!” He boomed, then added a “ma’am” at the end, as if that would change her answer. “I am so sorry,” said the nurse who didn’t seem sorry at all. “I also have to ask you not to tell your parents about this problem.” She rolled up her sleeves, to her elbows, exposing a thick layer of tattoos. “This is a problem for on campus only, and it’s my hope that you make sure it doesn’t go anywhere else.” Zeke, infuriated, stared straight at her heavily inked forearms. In his blinding rage, all he could spot was an ugly rat tattoo right in the middle of the patch.
November is the month when all the fall sports teams either wind down or head to championships. This was a big relief for Sarah, who had been sidelined from her first soccer season at the academy with a broken arm. I want you to know that soccer is the reason Sarah made it into Pacewicz-Endicott, it was her heart and soul and one of the things that made her happiest. Think about your very favorite activity, the one you daydream about doing during a boring class, or church, or any other time you’re supposed to be dedicating your attention to something more important. That’s what soccer is for Sarah. Having to sit out the soccer season not only upset her, but also her teammates. Sarah was some otherworldly being on the field, rumored to be the actual reincarnation of the goddess Nike, which made her teammates not only envious of her so-said skill, but also irate when she showed up to their first practice in an arm sling. The other girls on the team, therefore, hadn’t been the nicest to Sarah during the season, and that’s why she was so worried for their team sleepover that night. Her stomach twisted into knots boy scouts would be jealous of as she walked across campus to the house of the team’s coach. She tried convincing herself that the girls were all probably harmless, and the coach of the team, Coach Twaine, was going to be monitoring the girls. “Sarah, you have nothing to worry about.” she whispered to herself, before peering through the window and ringing the doorbell with her good hand. Now, I know I’ve totally set this chapter up ominously, and that is completely on purpose. The fact that something bad will happen to Sarah at this sleepover isn’t even a spoiler. You’ll totally see it coming, so I might as well just skip ahead a little bit. So, anyway, Sarah and the girls ate pizza together in their flannel pajama pants and gossiped about god-knows-what. They all settled into sleeping bags on the floor of the common area, and Coach Twaine wished them all a good night, and reminded them that they “actually had to go to bed before 2 am” and to “not be afraid to bother her if something was wrong”. Sarah laid frozen on the floor, her broken arm drawn up to her chest protectively. She couldn’t help but worry that one of her teammates was about to do something awful to her. Sometime during the night, when the piercing fear in her chest overcame her, she jolted awake. It took her no less than 3 seconds to rub her eyes and see a small group of her teammates standing above her, an uncapped sharpie in hand. “Goddamnit. She’s awake.” One of them said, just loudly enough for the rest to all groan, and quickly make their way away from Sarah. It didn’t register to Sarah exactly what these girls were doing, but she felt cornered, and knew what she had to do. She stood up as quietly as possible, the few girls with the sharpie watching in anticipation as she groggily made her way to her coach’s room. She slowly turned the knob, letting a beam of light scrap the empty wall above her coach’s bed. “Coach?” she whimpered. “Is everything alright, Sarah?” Coach Twaine said, sitting up. “Yeah, I just...I’d rather sleep in here. Not near those girls. You understand right?” The light flashed off of her coach’s teeth, in a friendly smile. “Of course, I set up an air mattress on the floor just in case. Make yourself comfortable okay? I’ll see you in the morning.” She said, laying back down. Sarah inched her way in the room and closed the door behind her. “Make sure to lock it, hun.” Sarah obeyed gladly, and then scurried to her mattress on the floor.
Sarah woke up, glad to have been undisturbed by her teammates the night before. The room was empty and quiet, and she could hear the loud girls outside in the kitchen, probably making pancakes. She stood up, stretching her good arm above her head, smiling at the small sensation of release. Maybe her prep year wouldn’t be that bad after all. Just as she was about to head out to the kitchen to join her coach and teammates, she checked the mirror next to the door in Coach Twaine’s room. And Sarah probably would have screamed if the kitchen down the hall wasn’t full of girls. She recoiled in horror, blinking away any last dreamy unrealities that might have plagued her vision. But what she saw was definitely real. A rat had been drawn freehand right onto her face, in thick black ink.
Whenever Malcolm entered the dining hall, a chorus of girls could always be heard giggling. This wasn’t the kind of giggling that said “we’re making fun of you because you look goofy”. It was the kind that said “we’re nervous about ourselves because you look so beautiful”, because Malcolm was a beauty, whether you liked to admit it or not. He wasn’t traditionally attractive, but made almost everyone on the Pacewicz-Endicott campus swoon nonetheless, blushing and gushing and wanting to bow down and praise him like a king and kiss his stinky feet. All this attention made Malcolm uneasy, and he often didn’t socialize with the masses that seemed to drool over him. This sometimes gave off the impression that he was standoffish or arrogant, which he certainly wasn’t. But that’s all I can tell you about Malcolm, you know too much. This particular Saturday morning, Malcolm decided to venture to the dining hall for the make your own omelette bar, just like all the other boarding students. To avoid the crowds, he joined a meek looking girl who was devouring a book instead of her breakfast. “Hey, hope you don’t mind if I just...” Aubry looked up, squinting at the tall boy who seemed to be inviting himself to join her. Good god, you’re beautiful is what Aubry wanted to say, but instead just let her jaw drop at least 70 feet as Malcolm sat down directly across from her. “I’m Aubry.” she said, managing to keep her voice as neutral as possible as she introduced herself, “I have work study at the library, I think I’ve seen you in there before.” Malcolm smiled, nodding. He didn’t seem to think she was going to make a huge scene, and he appreciated it. “I’m Malcolm, and yeah, I love the library. It’s huge, man, I get lost in it all the time. I have work study at the mail station, I sort packages. Not nearly as cool-” “WAIT!” Aubry interjected, “Did you happen to have a rat come through with the packages?” Aubry immediately grew embarrassed. She didn’t want this gorgeous-potential-friend of hers to think she had some kind of rat fetish. Malcolm shook his head. “No rat has ever come through...we put all the packages through a detector device and a rat, would totally set off all the alarms.” “Even if it was dead...?” “Even if it was dead.” Malcolm was sure. Aubry groaned, closing her book. “I don’t know how that could've happened...” “What exactly happened?” Malcolm questioned, stuffing a big piece of omelette in his mouth...damn that was a good omelette. Malcolm reveled in his omelette. “Well, yesterday, I was checking for a care package from my parents- they’re usually so overprotective, I don’t know why they haven’t been this fall- anyway, there was this dead rat, just RIGHT THERE in my PO Box.” Malcolm set down his fork and rubbed his chin quizzically. “There’s no way that would’ve made it past the detector scanner...maybe a student? No, they’re not allowed in the mailroom unless it’s their work study? A teacher?” “Are teachers allowed to stuff the PO Boxes?” “Yeah, that’s how they hand back tests.” Aubry grew crimson in the face, feeling like a moron for not knowing that. “Isn’t that the weirdest. Well, I’m gonna head out.” She got up and hustled her way out of the cafeteria before Malcolm could even ask for her Facebook. Malcolm was disappointed to see this interesting stranger go, so he shyly returned to his omelette. Unfortunately, he had finished every last bite of his yummy breakfast, but there was something else on the dining hall plate. Right where his omelette had been was an exceptionally life like sticker of a rat.
To: Michelle Brown-Bracco, Jeremy Bracco
From: Aubry Bracco
hi mom and daddy,
i miss you guys a lot, and wish you’d write me more. i’ve seen that you have been on facebook, but you haven’t messaged me in a while. but it’s fine. i am hoping you can come visit me over thanksgiving. term tests are coming up soon, which is fine. can i be honest? everyone loves this school. they treat it like the most holy miracle that could’ve ever happened to them, like PEA is the literal saving grace for them. it’s rat s*** compared to their augmented versions of this school. but i’m excited for second term. hope to hear from you guys soon, i love you.
Malcolm had stalked about every club Facebook page for Pacewicz-Endicott, looking for Aubry, but he couldn’t find her page. He was desperate to contact her, find out why they both were terrorized by these seemingly-symbolic rats, whatever they meant. Malcolm was almost worried that this was some kind of awful anonymous teasing, like he had been through in middle school. Malcolm, although seen as beautiful at this new school, was teased for being so bizarre, eccentric, unconventional looking. The kids in his school would laugh at him, because he was so goofy looking, and his single mom could barely help him. She would call him “abstract art”, and muss up his long, sandy hair. Should he cut it? Was his face too wide? Were his eyes too close together, or did the kids say they were too far apart? He thought about how he needed to be perfect, which is a dangerous game. But, my fair reader, Malcolm had more danger to worry about than his struggle for perfection. Malcolm was accepted to Pacewicz-Endicott Academy because of his incredibly moving essay on his own face, and was awarded a ginormous scholarship. This was the thing that his mother was really thankful for. She dropped him off a day early actually, before the leaves on the maple trees turned from vibrant green to the gold crested red hues that were now painting the sidewalks of the campus. It was a mystery to Malcolm why he had gone from ugly to attractive all of a sudden, but he couldn’t complain about it. Could he? Anyway, Malcolm set out to the library first thing the next Monday morning, laptop and peeled up rat sticker in hand. He raced up the faded granite steps at top speed, so fast he bumped into a dark-haired girl, the arm he hit already braced. “Watch it!” she mumbled angrily, stopping to grab her arm. Sarah let shallow breaths of air in and out of her gritted teeth, turning to Malcolm. Pearly whites still bared, Sarah took a step in Malcolm’s direction. Malcolm was taller and could probably take injured Sarah down in 4 seconds or less, but Sarah had had enough of everyone’s bullshit that she was willing to stick up for herself against this inconsiderate prep school vulgarian. “Listen here, I’ve had it up to here with this first term. My soccer team hates me, my bones are broken, and I’m STILL scrubbing sharpie off my face. I swear to god, take out a marker now! Draw another rat on my face-” “Did you just say a rat?” Malcolm said, seeming suspiciously eager. “Yes...” Immediately, Malcolm held out his forefinger, rat sticker on the pad of his finger. Sarah looked at him, face evolving from shock to anger to confusion...? Was that it? She was in a state of disbelief, but at the same time did not know who Malcolm even was. Do you even know who Malcolm is? If you do, maybe you should stop reading. “Well, what does it mean?” Sarah said in a not-so-polite way. Malcolm swallowed hard, putting his finger down. “Hear me out,” he whispered, “we’ll get to the bottom of this. But you have to come with me. I’m finding a girl who has work study here.” To this, Sarah chuckled, rolling her eyes. She shook her head. “You’re girl crazy? I think the hell not.” Just as she was about to turn and leave, Malcolm blurted; “She got a rat too.” Sarah stopped herself, then mumbled something nasty under breath as she followed Malcolm up the rest of the steps to the campus library.
Aubry sniffled, pulling her beige cardigan around her tightly. The late autumn head cold was going around the PEA, and Aubry was one of its first victims. She was not only super congested, which gave her a headache, but also stressed because she hadn’t opened her PO Box since last Friday, and she knew there was a dead rat in there stinking it up. Her head throbbed with apprehension as she struggled through her early morning shift at the library. Just as she was about to pass out from her exhaustion, the beautiful boy from the omelette breakfast rushed up to the front desk, with a shorter, dark haired girl in a sling following close behind. Aubry rubbed her nose as discretely as possible. She recognized the girl from her religion lecture course, and gave a friendly smile to the both of them. “Hey...is something wrong?” “It’s urgent.” Malcolm said, leaning over the desk to look Aubry in the eye. Worried but undoubtedly intrigued, Aubry beckoned the two to follow her to the Silent Reading Room in the back of the building. The concept of silence was unappealing to the majority of the students at PEA, and this particular room served very little use. There were rumors that it was haunted, or imploding due to an invasive mold, or hadn’t been renovated in all of the academy’s history. As the group stepped in, an impossible stench corrupted their nostrils, filling their senses with mustiness. Aubry flipped on the lights, brightening the outdated interior. At once, the group was surrounded by the faded paisley wallpaper, stained from water damage done Lord-knows-how-many-years ago. The Room was silent, as advertised, and the eerie noiselessness sent shivers up Aubry’s spine. She trembled, sitting down on an upholstered ottoman. Sarah and Malcolm sat across the room on a dubiously stained love seat, preparing their story. “So, seconds after you left me alone in the cafeteria, I looked down at my tray - I had finished my omelette wicked fast, I guess - and there was this rat sticker stuck right where omelette was.” Malcolm held up his finger again, exposing the sticker again. “No...way...” Aubry said, closely analyzing the sticker. “How could the perpetrator get into both the mailroom and the kitchen? This seems impossible for a student to be capable of.” “I don’t think it’s a student.” Sarah butted in, capturing both Aubry and Malcolm’s attention. “Listen, I got a rat too. Drawn right on my face.” “Oh, I’m so sorry.” Aubry said, sympathetically, but Sarah waved her off and continued. “There was literally no way for a student to have gotten to me. Even more than that, I was asleep in a room with my soccer coach, so I can say with almost full certainty that it was her.” “So you think these are all coming from your soccer coach?” Malcolm asked. “No,” Sarah said, “I think it’s all faculty members. Like your rat was on a lunch tray. Definitely a lunch lady.” Leaning back, Sarah eyed the others, letting her revelation sink in. “Well, that makes sense, but why?” Aubry said, toying with the slipcover on her chair. “God, this room actually sucks.” she mumbled. “Yeah, compared to the rest of this perfect school.” Sarah said sarcastically. “Why does everyone love this school so much? It looked so much better on the tour.” For the first time, Aubry agreed. “Seriously-” All of a sudden, the lights in the room flickered, then went out completely. All three of the teenagers screamed, fearing for their lives in the dark, dank silent reading room.
Wow, I am so sorry about that cliffhanger. But I’m here again to give you the heads up. Your beloved kids won’t be killed off! Just yet. What? Who said that. Not me. Anyway, I don’t want you to worry about them. They’re doing just fine. But don’t act like I told you. S***. I’ve said too much. Let’s just keep going.
Aubry, Malcolm and Sarah were ready to face the wrath of the rat in the pitch black room as soon as the door was flung open. A shadow of a pudgy boy stood in the frame. “Gee whiz, I didn’t know anyone else actually came in here!” Zeke fussed with the lightswitch until the lights turned on, allowing the group to see him. He had freckles generously sprinkled on the tops of his cheeks like the light dusting of snow on the ground right after the first frost of the season. He had sandy hair that - actually, I need to stop. You know why. Zeke stepped into the room, bewildered still by the fact that it wasn’t just a spirit he had heard from outside. He adjusted his khakis, looking at the group. “So...do you guys come here often?” Aubry guffawed, shaking her head. “No, why are you here?” “Sometimes I like to come in and see if I can attract any ghosts.” This time, everyone laughed. “Well, what were y'all doing?” “We were trying to have a top secret meeting.” Sarah said, smirking as though she just revealed a huge inside joke. “Oh, for what? Are you guys spies?” Zeke started out laughing too, but then he got serious. “Do you guys not go here? If you’re trying to take down the school, I have some complaints.” “Hah, join the club.” Sarah said, acting surprisingly welcome. Zeke plopped down on the armrest of the ottoman Aubry was seated in, a puzzled look crossing his face. “Why do I have a feeling this could actually be an anti-PEA club?” “You’re not necessarily too far off,” Aubry started to explain, “we’ve all kinda been harassed here. But like...by...rats.” “NO WAY!” Zeke shouted, a maniacal smile lighting up his pale face. He was small in stature, but this curious grin gave him a power that made him grow larger than life. This was Zeke’s chance, and maybe he could even get his hormones out of it. “I saw one, clear as day, on a nurse in the health center’s arm!” Astonishment. 4 teenagers, with one thing in common; a rat. Who would’ve known they’d end up in the same silent reading room together. It’s almost as if fate were in their favor, but trust me when I tell you the universe couldn’t have been more against them.
To: Malcolm Freiburg, Sarah Lacina, Zeke Smith
From: Aubry Bracco
glad that i got all your fbooks. just want to say that we probably shouldn’t tell faculty about the rats. z, malcolm sarah and i think the teachers and stuff are the ones who are responsible. I want to figure out why. if you get another rat or someone else you overhear ends up with one, let me know. also, anyone want to get ice cream at lolly’s tonight? i’m having some cravings. -a
The Pacewicz-Endicott Academy Club Fair happened at the end of first term, and drew in large masses to the normally quiet library. Malcolm and Sarah decided to go together, “a date”, as Malcolm called it. “Not a date” was what Sarah preferred. Zeke decided to make an appearance as well, thinking that joining a club could help distract him from the stressful events that were taking place. Aubry initially chose to stay home, and rest off the ice cream-induced stomach ache she had, but thought about what her guidance counselor had said about joining a club; “It could get your mind off of your parent’s absence”. Aubry hauled herself down to the fair, miserable and still upset about her parents lack of communication. It was so unlike them. Was there a chance they were told not to talk to her, Aubry wondered. This school was supposed to be the best experience of her life, but she had never been more dismal. Entering the library, she spotted Zeke. He smiled, approaching Aubry with an armful of flyers. “Didn’t think you were coming?” “Decided I might be a little better off out of my dorm.” Zeke frowned, sensing his new friend’s depression. “Are you okay?” he lowered his voice to a serious tone. “Yeah, yeah, I just feel like this school is almost...against me...my mom and dad don’t ever talk to me anymore. I have this weird feeling that the school told them not to.” “That’s crazy...” Zeke started to remember what his nurse had told him. “The nurse -- the one with the rat tattoo -- she told me not to tell my parents about a medication issue I had with them.” Aubry, genuinely shocked, looked around the room, full of the happiest looking high school students on the planet.
Malcolm and Sarah were starting to see the same club’s stands over and over. “I say we get out of here.” Sarah said, drifting away from the crowds and towards the exit. “Hey, hey, we haven’t seen everything!” Malcolm said, shuffling to a bulletin board in a lone corner of the room. “Check this out! Some kind of faculty clubs. Oh look, I’m gonna join...” Malcolm scanned the board, “Teachers Against Vaping!” Sarah chuckled, taking a look at the board for herself. “I think Teacher Chess Union is more my speed.” Malcolm smiled, but a club poster on the board had caught his eye. “What do you think about Art Society? Am I artsy enough or that?” “Art Society...” Sarah said, glancing questioningly at the poster which read:
Keep the students happy, keep the administration safer!
Faculty welcome: Nightly, 8pm, Silent Reading Room of Carrez Library
“I didn’t think anyone went into the silent reading room?” Malcolm wondered aloud, but Sarah was already on her phone, texting Zeke and Aubry as fast as she could.
Aubry and Zeke pushed their way through the horde of students to the sheltered corner where Sarah and Malcolm were hiding out, ready to know exactly why Sarah had texted them all so suddenly. “Guys, I think I know who’s been giving us rats.” Sarah said, motioning to the small poster. Aubry and Zeke rushed up to take a closer look as Sarah explained. “‘ART’ is in all caps, which doesn’t make a lot of sense if the club is actually for art, but look; art is an acronym for rat.” Aubry gasped, and Zeke muttered a “no freaking way”. “‘Keep the students happy’, is that what they’ve been trying to do to us?” Aubry said, turning to again look at the crowds of students, all smiling and laughing, have the downright time of their lives. And I don’t think I’m giving away too much, reader, by saying these four teenagers were not, in fact, having the time of their lives. “We’ve got to go to the Silent Reading Room -- NOW” said Sarah, checking her phone for the time. It was almost a magical moment when 7:59 turned into 8:00, and that immediate second struck an enormous amount of fear into Sarah’s heart. They were expecting them. “Whoever is in Rat Club is trying to keep all the students happy. But how?” “Cutting off communication with the world, and some kind of crazy mind control, or something like that. I can’t imagine there’s any other way to control the thoughts of such a large group.” The group's pace slowed as they approached the Silent Reading Room, fearing what might be just beyond the door. Zeke stared at the door to the ominous room. His head was achy and mood was crappy because of his lack of hormonal treatment, and he was hopeless. But he realized this room was his only hope. It had been his sanctuary, and now it could give him the answers to why his hormone treatment was being held off, and why he and his friends communication with the outside world was as well. He took a breath, looking at each one of his new friends. So slowly and so quickly at the same time, he opened the door to the Silent Reading Room, ready to face whatever kind of rat pack lied within.
I think it’s funny for you, reader, to think I wouldn’t leave this story off as a cliffhanger. What did you expect from an ahole like me? I feel no remorse for your probable frustration. Please, don’t bother coming up with fan theories about what happened next. Trust me, they are all wrong. Just promise me one thing: this story stays a secret between the both of us, okay? Promise?