The first thing that stuck out to Arina Scarsi as she took out to hand in her homework was that it looked like she had erased and redone about half of the paper. This was especially strange, considering that she hadn't touched it after she finished it during lunch the previous day. The erased parts were filled in in something that wasn't her handwriting, and she didn't put her name on it yet but something was there. A distinct scribble that Arina couldn't read settled itself plainly at the top of the paper. Arina knew that it wasn't her signature, because cursive was for chumps and she certainly wasn't a chump, despite her placement at the top of the sixth grade.
She didn't have the time to say anything about her paper and the strange handwriting, though. By the time she noticed, the person in front of her was taking her paper and passing it forward, and she couldn't say anything or else she'd look like a total idiot. So, she didn't say anything, watching her paper float to the front of the room and hoping with all of her heart that the consequences wouldn't be too major.
The class went by, mostly, without a hitch. The class worked on a packet while Mrs. Schiro graded papers, and aside from the occasional odd noise, it went off without a hitch. Arina made to scoot out of the room right as the bell rang for lunch, but a soft clearing of the throat stopped her. The rest of the class filtered their way out, and Arina sheepishly made her way up to Mrs. Schiro's desk.
"Arina," Mrs. Schiro started gently. "Do you know why I wanted to see you before lunch?"
This was always a dangerous question. If she said no, she would be accused of playing dumb. If she said yes, then she'd be in deeper trouble because it would look like she deliberately did whatever she did. Arina knew exactly why Mrs. Schiro called her after class, but she wasn't going to say it like that. Instead, she leaned forwards and did what she did best- talk until she started crying.
"I tried to say something about it before I handed it in," she started. "But, nobody would listen to me and-"
"I'm going to stop you right there." Mrs. Schiro's voice dipped slightly, away from the gentle nudge and more into the "not mad but disappointed" territory. She straightened slightly and took out the paper. "So you knew that this was- Was like this before you handed it in? Why?"
What? Arina looked at the paper, then back at Mrs. Schrio, helpless. "I… I don't understand."
"Arina, you know about our academic integrity policy. Why did you cheat?"
She felt the blood drain from her face, then rush back into her cheeks in an indignant flush. "Wait- I didn't cheat!"
Mrs. Schiro pursed her lips and settled back in her chair. She leveled Arina a stern look, eyes making their way back down to the paper. "And now you're lying about it? Arina, you know that someone else filled in this paper- You even let them put their name on it. If I didn't recognize your handwriting, I wouldn't have known that it was you, and the assignment would be marked as missing. I should mark it as missing, anyway, since you only did half of it. I thought you were smarter than this, Arina."
"But I…" Arina was at a loss for words. Would Mrs. Schiro believe her if she said that she didn't know how it got there? She seemed to prove that nothing productive would come out of this conversation. Even though Mrs. Schiro called her aside for an explanation, she seemed to have one in mind already. Arina didn't think Mrs. Schiro would hear anything different. That didn't mean she wasn't going to try, though. Despite the overwhelmed tears welling up in her eyes, she shook her head. "I don't know how it got there. You have to believe me!"
Mrs. Schiro started a moment, like she was afraid of the tears. After a moment, she seemed to relax, leaning forwards slightly. "Here- How about this? I'll let you redo the assignment. If you do it the whole way through, just you, then I'll give you full credit."
It was a good exchange, but Arina was too choked up to say anything. She nodded instead of using her words, trying to stifle her sobs. It seemed as if that was enough to earn Mrs. Schiro's pity, because she gently reached out to press the paper into Arina's hands.
"Don't let this happen again."
Arina nodded once, twice, and fled the room, right into the arms of someone much taller than her. She gave a surprised noise, then a shocked sniffle as the taller person shifted to pull a hand through her hair. The hug was nice, and she appreciated it to its fullest as she was shepherded down to the cafeteria.
Arina gently sat down at one of the cafeteria tables. The chatter around them got her to calm down, though the tears only fully stopped when someone stuffed a plastic wrapped something under her nose. Arina blinked her eyes open, then crossed her eyes to look down.
Chocolate rice krispie.
She looked up at a boy with a shock of red hair and a gentle smile sitting across from her. He held the rice krispie out to her like it was a box of tissues. At least, it worked for its intended purpose. Arina sniffled, then smiled, taking the treat.
Danny smiled. He and Arina had been friends since grade school, at least, so his presence was a nice sight.
"I thought it would make you feel better."
An arm made its way around her shoulder and squeezed. Arina glanced up to see another girl, taller than either her or Danny. This, it seemed, was her guiding force. Mariana squeezed her again, in a soft hug.
"We were wondering why you didn't leave with the rest of us. Is everything okay?"
Oh. Right. Arina set the crumpled paper on the table before her, not sparing it as much as a look as someone settled in tightly to her other side. The little pixie of a thing pursed her lips, then looked back at Arina with big blue eyes.
"This isn't your handwriting."
"I know," Arina said, looking back at it as Mariana hissed for Kaylee to give her some space. "But, you need to believe me, I didn't make anybody else write on this."
"Are you saying that somebody took your homework to write in the answers?" Mariana asked. "That sounds crazy, Arina. Super crazy."
"Someone named… Einstein?" Danny took the paper and twisted it so he could get a good look at it. "That's a joke, right? It has to be a joke."
"Is that what it says?" Arina took the paper back, holding it up so she could read the letters at the top. Sure enough, it did say something like that, though the letters curled together too much. She could hardly read it without focusing too much and hurting her eyes. "That has to be proof that I didn't have anything to do with it, right?"
Kaylee ducked so that she was in line with the paper. "And- Hah! Turn it over, look at the back." She took the paper from Arina and flipped it over. "Y'see- you leave these marks in the paper when you write because you have a super heavy hand. You can see your handwriting in all of these, but…" She turned the paper over. "Not on this side! You can even see that they got erased a bit- That means someone else must have taken the paper!"
"Someone took my paper, erased the answers and wrote new ones, and then put a fake name at the top of it… But why?"
"It's not like you have any enemies," Danny said lightly. "I've made sure of that."
"Don't worry about it. Maybe it's a prank?"
Mariana clicked her tongue. "Who would do that, though? Who would want to prank Arina? Have you seen her? She's like a roasted marshmallow."
"I saw her cry once because snakes don't have arms," Kaylee added. Jokes on her, everybody was sad because snakes didn't have arms. How else were they supposed to hug anybody? "But, I think you guys are thinking too metaphorical here."
By this time, Arina opened her rice krisipe treat and was beginning to peel off parts to eat. "What do you mean, too metaphorical? That's the most obvious solution, isn't it?"
Kaylee waved a finger, then laughed. Her blue eyes went wide, and Arina could imagine the metaphorical camera panning right on her face. "What if the perp just wrote their name at the top of the paper?"
"...Okay, but that's stupid," Mariana said.
"That's very hurtful."
"You can rub some dirt in it. Look- Why would they write their own name on the top? It would just lead to them getting caught."
Arina swallowed her rice krispie. "I don't know. I don't know anybody that goes here named Einstein."
Kaylee shrugged. "It could be a nickname. A mean one, but still a nickname."
Arina shook her head again. "I don't think it's that, either. I mean- I know almost everybody who goes to this school. Don't you think that we'd hear it being said in the hallways?"
"Well… Then… It could be someone that doesn't go here anymore," Kaylee said. She took the paper again, and then her cell phone.
"How would someone that doesn't go here get into Arina's locker?" Danny asked. "And, actually, why would they want to do it?"
"I said that they didn't go here," Kaylee said, setting her phone on the table. "I never said that they didn't live here."
Mariana scrunched her nose. "Of course they don't live here. Nobody lives here."
Arina picked up Kaylee's phone. There was an article from the local newspaper on it, from years before they were born. "Teenager dies in local high school," she read, scrolling through the article. "April 13, 1993. Kaylee, how long did it take you to find this?"
"Not long!" she bounced up, eyes sparkling. "I have everything that could be a potential conspiracy theory bookmarked to my personal devices."
"Of course you do," Mariana said. She leaned in, just so she could look at all three of them. "Does this sound crazy to anybody else, or just me? What does this have to do with Arina's homework, anyway?"
Kaylee tilted her chin up, smirking at Mariana. "A ton. Here, can I-" She took her phone back, scrolling through the article. "Deceased is Thoreau senior Conrad Abner, known to classmates as… Can any of you guess what Mister Abner was called?"
"No way!" Danny laughed.
Kaylee brightened at the attention and nodded. "He was called Einstein! Rumor has it he got super sick during his final presentations and died. He was slated to be top of the class- Accepted to Cornell, going to be valedictorian. I hear he wanted to go to medical school. Rumors say that his presence still exists in this very school."
"It sounds like a ghost story," Mariana said.
"That's why I like it so much! I always did like ghost stories." Kaylee laughed as she slipped her phone back into her pocket. "But, I mean, I don't see you coming up with any theories."
There was a moment where Mariana sputtered, but she seemed to shake it off. In the meantime, Arina sat up.
"So… What do we do?"
"You've seen Ghostbusters, haven't you?" Kaylee shifted so that she was sitting on the table instead of the seat she was originally in. "It's super simple. We find the ghost! And then…" A brief pause. She puffed out her cheeks in thought, then snapped her fingers as a thought came to her. "And then we study it! Like scientists!"
It was a good enough idea. Arina caught herself nodding, even as Marina tried to protest.
"Okay, but- Why would a ghost want to do her homework?"
"That's just a question for the ghost to answer, huh?" Kaylee laughed, then tapped a hand on the table. "C'mon. It's a good plan, right?"
"It isn't much of a plan," Arina said. "How do we find it?"
Kaylee went quiet, like she hadn't anticipated that, but Danny stepped in to fill the void. "What if we just use bait?"
"Einstein bait. Think about it- It had to have deliberately gone into Arina's locker and looked for her homework. So, what if it's attracted to homework?"
It wasn't the silliest idea she'd heard of. Mariana nodded, out of the corner of Arina's eye, and Kaylee laughed in that "perfect idea" voice. Arina sat up slightly, nodding herself. "It's… Not a bad idea, I think. So, what, do we lure him out with my homework? How do we catch him, then? I can't hold a ghost's hand."
"Just ask it math questions!" Kaylee said. "That'll at least make it not immediately disappear. We can do this after school, wait until most of the teachers are gone and make a ghost trap!"
"This is a bad idea," Mariana said, even though she nodded in agreement. Arina knew that Kaylee and Danny were on board, so all that was left was her.
"Okay," she said. "Let's do it."
An air of anticipation permeated the last three hours of the day. Arina could hardly focus in her classes. At the end of the day, she was either going to see a ghost- or she was going to be expelled and-or arrested for trespassing. She was too cute to be in juvie for trespassing. And her friends- They'd all be so mad at her, even if it was their idea, because it was her homework to start with.
After the final bell rang, Arina made a beeline to the girl's bathroom. She had already sent a text to her mother saying that she would be going home with another friend, so she just had to wait. Mariana was the first one to walk in, and Kaylee was a little close after. Danny was somewhere around- he wouldn't be too hard to find, most likely- so all they had to do was wait for most of the people to leave.
Arina took a long while to catch her breath and assuage her anxiety. By the time she could breathe in a straight line, Mariana was shepherding her back into the hallway, over to her locker. The school was silent, now, save for Danny rocking back and forth on his feet. He was waiting by the locker with a blank worksheet and some tape.
"Where did you get that?" Kaylee asked.
"Don't worry about it," Danny replied. He turned to Arina's locker and taped the worksheet up. "It's the bait. Now, all we have to do is wait."
"Not here, though," Kaylee said. "Or else we might scare the ghost away- Here! Come on!" She grabbed Arina's hand, then gestured for Mariana and Danny to follow her. They ducked into an empty classroom, and Kaylee left the door open just a crack. From there, Kaylee gestured for them to seat themselves wherever they like.
"What do we do if it's not a ghost?" Mariana asked, sitting down at a desk. "What if it's just some random person?"
"Then Arina gets to yell at them for being a little shit?" Kaylee replied.
"Hey- Watch your language, what if someone walks in?"
"It's four in the evening," Danny said. "Do you think that anyone would walk in on us swearing at four in the evening?"
Arina cut in before Mairana could continue, perching herself on the desk Mariana was sitting at. Otherwise, they'd be here until the sun went up. "Man, if it was an actual human person, I don't even know what I'd say. I might start crying before anything actually happened."
Danny came up next to her and gently elbowed her in the ribs. "That's pretty normal, yeah? Crying when you don't know what else to do?"
"Wh- Hey! Don't be mean!" Arina flushed in embarrassment, earning herself a short laugh for her troubles. "It's a legitimate question! What if it's just a bully? I don't know how to deal with bullies."
"You won't have to," Danny said.
"Don't worry about it." Danny shifted to lean against another desk, then paused a moment to look up. "...Hey. Did you guys hear that?"
The room went silent. From outside, in the hallway, there was a brief sound of footsteps. The four of them stood up and made their way to the door, each leaning out like an old television show. The room was relatively close to Arina's locker, so they could see the figure standing outside of it from here.
"I told you it wasn't a ghost," Mariana said.
The figure was tall and ghastly pale, like a ghost, but something felt much more solid about it. It reached to take the paper on Arina's locker with a single hand- which promptly fell off.
"God fucking damn it," the figure said, in a very raspy voice.
Arina reached out to grab the nearest solid object- which was most definitely Kaylee's hand. "Its hand fell off," she hissed.
"Why would its hand fall off?" Mariana asked, her voice pitching high. "That doesn't make sense. Why did its hand fall off? That doesn't make sense!"
The figure turned to look at the group, seemingly alerted by the noise. Deep brown eyes stared at them, and as it turned, it was easier to note the tatters on his clothing, the bloodstains around his mouth. It came closer to them, nose twitching, and Kaylee gasped.
The figure stopped. It looked between the four. Then, it nodded. "Sup."
Arina couldn't hear herself scream over everybody else screaming. Someone grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the classroom, and down the hallway, and out of the school. The four of them caught their breath on the school's front lawn as Kaylee began to pace and laugh.
"This is huge- Guys! This is huge! Do you know what this means? Have y'all got any idea what this means?"
"We almost died?" Mariana said.
"Arina's crying again?" Danny added.
Arina rubbed her face. What do you know? She was crying.
"Well, yes- But more than that!" She stopped in front of them, where they were all sitting on the ground, and pointed back into the school. "Mariana was right. That wasn't a ghost."
"It sure as hell wasn't human!" Mariana said.
"This gives me great pleasure to say- Please watch your language." Kaylee laughed again, then pulled a hand through her hair. "It wasn't human. That thing? That thing was the source of every missing person's report in this neighborhood for the past decade, maybe more! People who go into this school after hours and never come out. That thing was eating them! Do you know what this means?"
"...We almost died?" Marina said.
"Arina's still crying?" Danny added.
Arina nodded. Still crying.
"No! It means that we were just face to face with a real life zombie! We need to tell somebody!"
Arina rubbed her nose. "You- You're telling me that a zombie did my homework for me?" When Kaylee nodded, Arina continued, "Who are we supposed to tell that'll believe us?"
Kaylee paused a moment, like she hadn't considered the question, before shrugging. "I guess that's a problem for future us, huh?"
Hello, and happy holidays! This work started when I was about ten years old, writing some of my earliest stories. This work, under the title "A Zombie Did My Homework", was my dad's favorite story of mine. For Christmas this year, I wanted to give him something special while returning to my roots. What better way to do that than to rework an old story?
I don't anticipate adding more to this, but if you like what you see, please leave a review! Have a safe, happy holiday, and thanks for reading!