(blow friend to fiend: blow space to time)
-when skies are hanged and oceans drowned,
the single secret will still be man"
- from what of a much of a which of a wind by e.- from by e. Sacred Nothing in an Empty Room
(Chapter Two) by Megan Auffart
Ms Steinenburg's tenth-grade honors biology class was never as quiet as Cara felt it should have been. The one side of the classroom was populated by loud-mouthed boys, each one smelling like sulfur (if they'd taken a shower in the gym's old shower room after physical education) or sweat (if they had not). In fact, the only boy in the class who didn't make Cara feel dizzy every time he lifted up his arms was James Tanahill, who wore the same deodorant her father used to wear. Cara didn't mind the way he smelled. Sometimes, whenever she sat in the desk behind him, she would lean up on her elbows, close her eyes, and inhale. Today, however, Sissy Stalinski had taken the seat behind James and so Cara had to sit across from him instead, where she could still smell him a little, but not nearly so well.
Cara closed her eyes, too accustomed to the stupid nickname to wince, and forced a smile. Ever since Sissy had found out that Cara didn't mind if she copied her homework, Sissy had made an effort to talk to Cara at least once a day. Normally, Cara would have liked having a friend like Sissy, who was forever doing things that were both interesting and incredibly stupid, like refusing to use a towel after swimming practice at the gym and going around the school dripping wet, just because Patrice had dared her to. Interesting things like that, which Cara liked to hear about, even though she'd never do them herself. Cara usually liked to keep to herself, but Sissy's incessant chatter was very hard to ignore.
"Hi, Sissy," Cara replied with an inward sigh of resignation. "How are y…"
"Did you hear about Ms Steinenburg?" Sissy interrupted, her eyes bright with animalistic excitement. With her blond hair and blue eyes, Cara had always privately thought that Sissy looked like one of those German bar maids. Since Sissy had gotten sort of plump since last year, and kept her hair tied into two braids on either side of her face, it only made the resemblance stronger.
"What about her?" Cara asked.
"You'll never guess," Sissy said, her voice tense and her lips seemingly locked in a permanent grin. Cara didn't say anything. This was a strategy she had learned from experience. If she tried to guess what Sissy had to say, then she would never find out, because Sissy would refuse to tell her until Cara had guessed. So Cara kept her mouth shut and just looked at Sissy until she blinked and declared, with the enthusiasm of a game show host announcing the fabulous prize, "Ms Steinenburg is missing!"
This came, surprisingly enough, from James, who had turned around to stare at Sissy with his dark, calm eyes. James never said anything in class unless called upon by the teacher, and he never said anything at all to the other students, even when they talked to him directly. Cara liked this. It made it easier to walk home with him from school, since she never had to think of anything to say to him on the way there. Cara and James both lived on the same street, although many houses apart. Although she'd known James since they'd both been eight and their parents had made them walk home together for safety, Cara still didn't know much about him besides the fact that his dad was a WASP, his mom was Hispanic, and he never said anything unless he wanted to.
Sissy, however, didn't even seem to notice that anything was different. "Yeah!" she exclaimed, "My mom told me about it after she read it in the newspaper. Ms Steinenburg disappeared on Friday, after school, and her fiancé called the cops like, an hour later."
"Do they know what happened?" Cara asked, shocked. Ms Steinenburg wasn't her favorite teacher. She graded hard and yelled at them in class, and her breath always smelled sweet and unpleasant, like her mother's breath smelled whenever she drank. To Cara, however, Ms Steinenburg always seemed predominately solid, no matter what her other traits were. Like she would always be there, like a mountain, or a permanent scar. And for her to turn up missing… It was too much like Dad. Way too much like Dad.
"Isn't that cool!?" Sissy squealed, and the quiet murmuring of agreement from the other students in the class caused Cara to look up. Everyone else was listening to the news, too, and checking their watches while the teacher's desk chair remained empty. Cara checked her own watch. It was two minutes until ten o' clock, but that didn't mean anything. Ms Steinenburg usually showed up at the last minute for her classes and, often times, let them go five or ten minutes early so that, she had claimed, she could be alone and collect her thoughts. And just because she was reported missing on Friday didn't mean that she was still missing. She could have shown up any time during the weekend.
"Do you think she's dead?" another person from their class asked, and Sissy turned in her desk and started talking to them, leaving Cara alone. A light touch on the shoulder startled her – no one ever touched her, not even her mother, except on rare occasions – and Cara turned her head to see James looking at her with a serious expression playing across his face.
"Don't be upset," he said to her quietly. Cara had to strain to hear him over the dull roar coming from the rest of the classroom. Leaning across the aisle, she shook her head.
"I'm not," she answered back, glancing back and forth to make sure no one else was listening to them.
"It's the same thing that happened to your…"
"Shut up!" Cara hissed at him. James looked at her for a few seconds longer and then turned back around in his desk to sit facing the front of the classroom, staring impassively at the empty teacher's chair and the desk, still cluttered from last week's assignments.
Cara checked her watch again, five after ten, and sighed. She wasn't coming. Ms Steinenburg would never enter the classroom again. Cara didn't know how she knew, but she just knew, like from instinct.
"Do you think we have a substitute?" she asked James, but he didn't respond to her, even when she repeated herself a little louder. He was probably pissed at her. Eventually, everyone was at some point, Cara noticed. She'd pissed off Sissy more times that year than she could remember, but that was one of the good things about Sissy; she forgave and forgot more times than any person could be reasonably expected to do. Probably didn't have the brain space.
By the time the vice principal came into the room to explain to them that Ms Steinenburg wasn't able to come in today and the substitute teacher hadn't shown up as expected, Cara was already forming a plan. There were too many people disappearing from her life. There was nothing stable, anymore, not even school. When the vice principal left, telling them to use the rest of the period as a study hall while his little, Hitler moustache twitched from whatever new form of stress he was suffering today, Cara had made a decision. After school was done, she was going into the woods. She was going to visit Kamakwi.
...to be continued...
...to be continued...