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CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED
By John Michael Osborne
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2009 John Michael Osborne
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePaul Jameson burst into the main office of West Highland High School.
His first day on the job as the new guidance counselor, on a September Monday, when he heard about the boys calling themselves the "Evil Trinity," he believed he'd made a mistake accepting his new job in the northern Atlanta suburb. After all his problems with a group of teens involved in the occult who murdered a colleague, he couldn't believe he was facing this issue again. Now he wanted to resign his post that day.
On the other side of the white chest-high counter, a lone heavy-set secretary with long dark hair, Mrs. Karen Bruce, pecked away at a black flat screen computer. For years when Paul worked as a guidance counselor at his last high school in Atlanta, he had to wade through five secretaries to get to his principal. Now this office looked so small it made him feel claustrophobic.
"Mr. Fielding!" she shouted. "Mr. Jameson is here."
The ninety degrees and nearly equally high humidity made everything smell damp and sour, including Mrs. Bruce's citrusy sweet perfume. It smelled like she bathed in it. Beads of sweat dotted Paul's forehead beneath his brown, wavy hair.
The principal's office was in the corner, behind Mrs. Bruce. His door was open. JackFielding sat behind his desk as he talked on the phone. He hung up, put on his blue suit coat and stepped into the main office. Mr. Fielding was gray and balding. His face looked like a toad. Paul wouldn't have been surprised if the principal's tongue lashed out at a fly buzzing around the counter in front of him.
"What's this I hear about the English teacher leaving today?" Paul asked.
Mr. Fielding leaned his elbows on the white counter and folded his hands as if he intended to pray. "She said her mother suddenly became gravely ill. She left to go to Florida to take care of her."
A sick mother? That's not what I was told. "When I was in the teachers' lounge, I heard something about an 'Evil Trinity' that got Mrs. Novotny to pack up and move to Miami. That sounds like a gang. Who or what is the Evil Trinity?"
A short blonde girl exploded into the office and handed a small stack of papers to Mrs. Bruce. She whispered something to the secretary and dashed back out again.
Fielding folded his arms and frowned. "No, we have no gangs here. That's just kids being kids. They like names. It makes them feel important."
Paul wanted to shout, How are kids just being kids when they call themselves the Evil Trinity?
"Oh, great," Mrs. Bruce muttered.
"What is it?" Fielding asked.
She reached into a dark gray file cabinet alongside of her desk. The drawer groaned like an old woman in pain. "I just got the first period attendance. Guess who's beginning again today where they left off last spring."
"Angel and Adrian?" Mr. Fielding asked.
Mrs. Bruce removed a few files. "Yes, and it doesn't look like they're alone. Donny Kontos, Stephanie Leonard, and Bobby Donovan are also absent."
"Are these all trouble students?" Paul asked.
Fielding shook his head. "Angel Diamond and Adrian Anthony, yes, but not Donny, Stephanie, and Bobby." He turned to Mrs. Bruce. "Better start making some phone calls and see what's up."
She searched the records for the work and home phone numbers. "It's that Evil Trinity crap again. Bobby, Donny, and Stephanie like to hang out with those boys, although, why, I don't know."
Paul's heart raced. "Angel and Adrian? Are those a couple of the boys in this Evil Trinity?"
"Yes," Mr. Fielding said.
A girl with a crimson face ran into the office. "I can't find this classroom!"
Mrs. Bruce looked at the girl's schedule. "Go past the library and take the next right. It's down that hallway."
The girl looked like she might throw her books at Mrs. Bruce before roaring back out.
Mr. Handleman, one of the science teachers, stormed into the office. "Karen, the copier in the teachers' lounge isn't working."
She sighed. "You can use mine. I'll check the other one. It's probably jammed or needs paper."
Mr. Handleman copied a few pages and nearly ran over a priest who popped into the office. "A typical busy first day, I see," the priest said.
Mr. Fielding stepped around the front counter. "Hello, Father. Come on in. Paul, this is an old childhood friend of mine, Father Marcus."
Paul shook the priest's hand. Despite the heat, his grip was cold and clammy, like a drowned corpse. He was tall, slightly overweight with sandy blond hair.
"Paul's our new guidance counselor here," Mr. Fielding said.
Father Marcus nodded and smiled. "I suppose I should've waited until later when some of the first day chaos dies down."
"Not at all," Mr. Fielding said. "We just have a few absent students this morning."
"On the first day? Are they sick?"
Mrs. Bruce scribbled something down on a yellow sticky pad and opened another file. "No, it's a bunch of kids skipping with the Evil Trinity again."
"We don't know that yet," the principal barked.
Paul nervously peered at the clock above the copier. It was one short hour before the second period. "Trinity sounds like three. Is there a third one with Angel and Adrian?"
Mrs. Bruce glanced up at the priest and said, "There's supposed to be. We don't know anything about him."
Mr. Fielding glared at her again. She went back to looking up phone numbers.
"Angel and Adrian are a shame really," Father Marcus said. "Their families used to go to church regularly. Now I never see them."
"Yeah, I can't imagine why," Mrs. Bruce said.
"Mrs. Bruce!" Fielding said.
She picked up the phone. "I'm calling, I'm calling." She breathed as if she just ran a fifty yard dash.
Paul didn't like that name of the Evil Trinity. It reminded him of the Prophets, the gang he had trouble with at his last job. "Do you know why these kids call themselves the Evil Trinity?"
Father Marcus folded his hands and sighed heavily. "They attended grade school at St. Matthews. They disliked it there so much, they turned to the occult out of spite."
The blood drained away from Paul's face. It felt like little pitchforks stung his cheeks. The Prophets studied and practiced occult magic. "How is it you don't know anything about this third kid? Doesn't he hang with Angel and Adrian?"
"We don't believe there's actually a third one," Mr. Fielding said. "We think Angel and Adrian made him up to bully and intimidate other students. We don't know what Angel and Adrian have said about him that makes him so scary, but the name of the Evil Trinity makes some kids skip class."
The more Paul heard, the less he liked. He wanted to run out of that office and all the way to Miami with Mrs. Novotny. "And these other students, Donny, Bobby, and Stephanie, you think they're skipping because they're afraid of Angel and Adrian?"
Mrs. Bruce hung up the phone. She slammed it down so hard, it sounded like she broke it. She scribbled something down on a piece of paper. "No, they're definitely skipping with Angel and Adrian again."
"Find out anything?" Mr. Fielding asked.
"Only that Donny, Bobby, and Stephanie aren't sick. Their parents believed they went to school this morning."
Mr. Fielding stepped back behind the counter and grabbed a notebook on Mrs. Bruce's desk. "Paul, I know you taught English before you became a guidance counselor. I need you to fill in for Mrs. Novotny's second period class. This is her lesson plan. I'm going to get a replacement as soon as I can."
Paul's stomach churned like he might heave right there. He feared this was why he was asked to come to the main office. He escaped the constant battling with students in class by becoming a counselor. He was petrified at the thought of running into this Angel and Adrian in Mrs. Novotny's class. He was suddenly glad those two skipped today. He hoped Mr. Fielding would find a new teacher right away.
"What happened to Mrs. Novotny?" Father Marcus asked.
"She said she needed to leave," Mr. Fielding said. "Her mother became very ill."
"Her mother? I thought her mother already passed away."
Mr. Fielding gazed at him like a starving cobra.
"I guess I'm mistaken." Father Marcus turned to Paul. "It sounds like you've quite a busy schedule today doing double duty."
"I'm used to that. I'm a single parent. I have a teenage daughter. Monica is a senior here."
"Good luck," Mr. Fielding said. "Let me know how things go."
Paul believed he needed more than luck. He wondered what would make a teacher suddenly abandon her contract to bolt to another state.
Paul hated the antiseptic smell in this school. It reminded him of the morgue where he identified his wife's body. He buried his nose in his coffee. He grabbed a cup from the teachers' lounge. It tasted as good as it smelled, strong with just a hint of cream.
His new classroom was smaller than the ones at his old school where classes ranged from thirty to fifty students. Only twenty-four students enrolled in Mrs. Novotny's English class. Two blackboards hung on the plain white walls in the room. After the classroom filled, he felt like a zebra caught in the sights of a pride of lions. As some of the students whispered, it sounded like they plotted to kill him. He imagined them deciding who was going to get what. This one wanted a leg, another one wanted an arm, one claimed rights to his liver and another wanted his heart.
The bell rang to start the period. It sounded like a TV severe weather alert. He hoped the class would settle down but hungry lions don't quiet easily. He asked them to be quiet a couple of times. They wouldn't listen to him. So he decided to try an experiment and see just how bad this Angel and Adrian really were.
He shouted, "Evil Trinity!"
Unfortunately the experiment worked all too well. Everyone glanced at Paul, then looked at the door as if they feared those kids walked into the classroom. He spotted several ashen faces, but they looked relieved when they saw none of the Evil Trinity.
Paul smiled. "Good. Now that I've got your attention, I'm passing around a sheet for each row. Sign your name, pass it back and those will be your assigned seats."
"Damn," someone whispered way in the back.
Some of the kids switched their seats. Paul waited for them to find a chair they liked and then passed out his class materials. "Welcome, everyone. I'm Mr. Jameson, your new guidance counselor. I'm filling in today for Mrs. Novotny who is no longer with us, I'm afraid." Paul paused to see how everyone would react to that. He saw a few worried expressions and nervous glances. "I'm confident you know that you have a lot of reading and writing in here. This is a class for juniors and seniors, and by now I think all of you should've learned grammar. This is a reading and writing intensive class. You're going to be reading novels and you'll be keeping a journal. You'll be writing essays about what you have read, and that's when I'll be grading you on grammar.
"I'll expect you to read and write every day. Most kids think I'm tough, but I teach my class like college professors teach. This class is to prepare you for what most of you are going to experience in a year or two in college."
Paul overheard someone whisper, "Do we kill him now, or do we wait until mid-term?"
Paul smiled. "Why don't you wait until mid-term? You may actually like this class."
"The old fart has good hearing, too," someone muttered.
After class, Paul said to Mrs. Bruce, "I didn't have Donny or Stephanie in my class. Have we heard what's up with our five missing students?"
Mrs. Bruce's pecked away on her computer. "Not yet. I've been in touch with Donny's mother, Stephanie's mother, and Bobby Donovan's father. They're all skipping but their parents don't know where they are. I expect all of them will be back in school tomorrow."
Paul hoped so. "What about our infamous Angel and Adrian?"
The secretary shot an angry glance at Paul before she shook her head. "They're another story. I'm just not having much luck with those two. I can't reach either one of their parents at work. Angel's father bounces from one job to another. Adrian's mother does the same thing."
"Do you know if these kids are at home?"
"That's part of the problem. When they disappear like this, no one can find them, not even the police. It's like those two have some sort of magical power that let's them turn invisible."
Paul shivered. He didn't like how she put that. He rationalized that this mysterious third kid was probably real after all. Angel and Adrian were just hanging out at his home. He was relieved it wasn't his job to get to the bottom of this Evil Trinity.
By Thursday of that week Mrs. Bruce still had no luck getting in touch with the parents of Angel and Adrian, so she called the police, but Paul was glad to see Stephanie, a honey blonde, and Donny, a skinny kid with long curly hair, were back in his classroom. Donny's thin frame and long locks made him look like a rock musician.
"What's this?" Paul announced. "Can it be? Are my eyes deceiving me? Donny Kontos and Stephanie Leonard have graced my classroom with their presence? I am honored! Class, let's give them a big hand!"
Paul clapped, then his class did the same. Donny and Stephanie glanced at each other as if to say, Okay, this new teacher is really weird.
"You just can't imagine how long I've waited for this," Paul said. He had a stack of papers, his syllabus, and textbooks for both students. Paul let the piles drop in front of them. "You kids are a week behind. I expect you to get caught up immediately, and I am one of those teachers who loves to give pop quizzes. So get to reading and writing tonight. Any questions?"
"Yeah, I have one," Donny said.
"Okay," Paul said.
"Can I leave class to go commit suicide?"
"No. Any other questions?"
"You mean we have to do all of this?" Stephanie asked. "Most teachers don't give that much homework for the first week of class."
"If you were here on the first day of class instead of skipping," Paul said, "you would have heard me say that this is an advanced English class. Any more questions?"
Stephanie winced at the stack of papers as if Paul had plopped down a bucket of bloody eyeballs on her desk. Donny rubbed his face and sighed like his social life just ended.
Once class finished, Paul told Donny and Stephanie he wanted to talk to them. "We're still looking for Angel and Adrian. Do you know where they are?"
Donny and Stephanie smirked.
"No," Donny said.
Paul didn't like those smirks. That told him those kids weren't telling him the truth. "What do you know about this other kid that Angel and Adrian are supposed to be hanging out with, this third one that's supposed to make up the Evil Trinity?"
They bowed their heads. They glanced at each other but wouldn't look up at him.
"Nothing," Stephanie said.
Their hesitating made Paul believe they were hiding something. "Were you with Angel and Adrian when you were skipping?"
Donny smiled slightly. "No."
Paul didn't believe them. He had seen the Prophets command fear and loyalty from their so-called "disciples." He feared the Evil Trinity also possessed such a hold over kids.
Chapter TwoMonica sat down in the second row, right by the door, for her third period algebra class. The teacher, Mr. Cartright, wrote math problems on the board for his class of thirty students. Stacks of papers were neatly piled on his desk. He always kept his algebra book on the right hand corner of his desk. His coffee always set next to that. He used an antiquated Rubik's Cube as a paper weight. Everything on his desk was always in the same designated spot and you never touched anything.
For nearly a week, Monica had an empty desk setting next to her. But that morning a boy startled her by flying into class and slapping himself down in that seat just before the bell rang.
He rubbed his shaggy strawberry locks as if he were trying to straighten them out, but it looked as if he messed them up more. "This is algebra, right?" he asked.
Excerpted from CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED by John Michael Osborne Copyright © 2009 by John Michael Osborne . Excerpted by permission.
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