Corey groaned and turned over in bed. The sun was just beginning to rise, so she knew it was early, too early to be awake. But she’d spent most of the night awake. The image of Mrs. Allen staring her straight in the eye wouldn’t leave her head. She wasn’t looking forward to her second day of school.
She shut her eyes tightly, willing herself back to sleep, for those last few blissful hours. Oh, how she wished it were summer still! Or that she was in the third grade already. The current third graders were already raving about Mr. Thomas. He was supposed to be one of the best teachers in the school.
Corey shuddered and turned back over. The third graders had also said Mrs. Allen only gets worse as the year goes on. Helen had tried to console her when she got home from school yesterday, saying Mrs. Allen was sure to become nicer as they year went along. Sadly, Corey already knew that wasn’t to be.
She sighed and snuggled down, holding her teddy bear close to her heart. She closed her eyes and let her mind wander, trying to focus on anything other than Mrs. Allen and her ruler.
“Corey, sweetie, time to wake up,” came Helen’s melodic voice.
Slowly, Corey opened her eyes. Sunlight was now streaming in through her windows. She sighed and stretched, thankful she had finally fallen asleep. Unfortunately, she was now exhausted.
“Corey,” her mother repeated, accompanying her voice with a light tap on the door. When Corey didn’t respond, Helen opened the door and stepped inside. “Corey, honey, come on and get up. You don’t want to be late for your second day of school.”
She warily eyed her mother for a moment and then turned over onto her side. “I don’t feel good,” she moaned.
Helen tsked. “Corey, I know you’re faking. You’re a terrible actress. I know you don’t like Mrs. Allen, but, you never know, she might be nice today. You have fifteen minutes before your breakfast will be ready.”
“I don’t want to go,” Corey complained, pouting all the while.
Helen crossed her arms. “Cora Iris Marks, you have fifteen minutes to get up and get dressed before I come back up and dress you myself.”
Corey groaned, but obediently rolled out of bed. Helen smiled and kissed her daughter’s cheek before leaving the girl to dress herself. Corey dragged herself over to her closet and slowly pulled her clothes on. Helen called up to her every five minutes and she forced herself to reply. She didn’t want her father dressing her.
Dressed, hair brushed, and backpack slung over one shoulder, Corey trotted down the stairs and sighed her way into the kitchen. Her parents were seated at the table, both already almost finished with their breakfasts. Her father had his face hidden from behind the newspaper as he sipped from his coffee mug. Just as Corey sat, he snapped the paper closed and folded it. Taking a last sip of coffee, he put the paper down and got up.
“Have to get going,” Andy said, kissing his wife and daughter in turn.
“Do I feel warm to you?” Corey asked as her father’s lips left her forehead.
Andy ruffled the ends of her hair. “Sorry, honey, you still have to go to school.”
Corey sighed and slouched down in her seat. She picked at her toast and eggs as her father walked out the door. She listened as his car started up and then pulled out of the driveway. She spent another five minutes picking at her food while her mother cleaned up the dishes and the sink.
“Okay, let’s go,” Helen said pleasantly as she dried her hands.
Corey hopped off of her chair and picked up her backpack, grumbling quietly to herself as she slung it over her shoulders. She lagged behind Helen as they headed out the door and over to the car. The drive to the school was too short for Corey’s liking and, before she knew it, she was walking through the school gates, dragging her feet as she trudged along.
“Corey!” Terese called out, jumping and waving from their classroom door.
Corey smiled and waved back. Terese was the only thing that brightened her days, especially now that they were both in Mrs. Allen’s classroom. She quickly joined her friend, who immediately grabbed her arm and dragged her into the classroom.
Corey blinked at the open door as she followed Terese inside. “Why is the door open? I thought Mrs. Allen said she wouldn’t open the door early.”
“I know,” Terese said, her voice hushed. “The principal’s in there waiting for everyone to arrive. Mrs. Allen isn’t here yet.”
“What?” Corey whispered as she and Terese took their seats. Corey dropped her bag to the floor and turned in her seat. She glanced over to where the principal sat at Mrs. Allen’s desk. “I hope nothing’s wrong. I don’t like Mrs. Allen, but I hope nothing bad happened to her.”
Terese nodded enthusiastically, blond hair falling across her face. With one hand, she swept her hair back. “I know! We just have to wait a little longer.”
Five minutes later, the last student wandered in and took his seat. The principal rose from the desk and slowly went to close the door, her heels clicking on the floor the only sound in the room while everyone looked at each other, wondering where their teacher was. There was a brief flurry of rising voices before they abruptly quieted as the principal headed for the front of the classroom.
“Is Mrs. Allen sick?” one boy ventured, raising his hand as he spoke. “Ms. Walton, is Mrs. Allen sick? Will she be here today?”
As she walked, Ms. Walton turned slightly to him and brought a finger to her lips. The boy quieted and put his hand down. Ms. Walton continued to walk, drawing everyone’s eyes with her. Finally, she stood before them all, hands folded in front of her, looking severe and serious in a black pant suit.
“I’m afraid I have bad news,” she began. “As you can tell, Mrs. Allen is not here today. Unfortunately, she won’t be returning ever again.”
Corey and her classmates turned to each other and their voices rose in excitement. A year without Mrs. Allen? They never thought they would ever be so fortunate!
Ms. Walton held up a hand to quiet them. “The school has been struck with a tragedy. Early this morning, Mr. Allen awoke to find his wife missing from their bed. He found her in the kitchen, dead.”
Corey gasped, along with the rest of her class, and clasped a hand over her mouth. Her eyes were wide with terror. It had happened again. Trembling, she raised her hand.
“Ms. Walton,” she asked, her voice quivering, “was it a terrible death?”
At those words, Ms. Walton immediately walked over to Corey’s desk and knelt down. She and Corey shared an intense gaze for a moment before Ms. Walton had to blink.
“Corey, right? Do you know something?”
Slowly, Corey shook her head. “I don’t know. Please, Ms. Walton, was it a terrible death?”
Mutely, the principal nodded. She spoke in hushed tones to keep everyone else from hearing. “It looked like an animal had killed her. Do you know something?”
Corey nodded. “My biological parents and two of my classmates last year were killed the same way.”
Ms. Walton grasped Corey’s arm. “I remember the girls had been your classmates. Is there anything you can tell the police to help them solve these murders? ”
Corey bit her bottom lip and shook her head. “I just happen to know the people who die. I don’t know who has been doing the killing.”
The principal forced a smile and gently squeezed Corey’s arm. She rose. “That’s okay. But if you know anything, make sure you tell Detective Skyler Adams, okay?”
Corey nodded and Ms. Walton returned to the front of the class. She spent a few more minutes letting them know they were being sent home, but to return to school the next day. Until a replacement could be found, they would be instructed by substitute teachers. If their parents had any questions, they were instructed to contact the school and Ms. Walton would be more than happy to talk to them.
“Well, it’s another interesting start to a school year,” Terese said as she, Corey, and Stacy walked towards the school gates to wait for their parents to arrive. “I just wonder why they all died.”
Corey nodded and bowed her head slightly, wondering if it could, in some way, be her fault. After all, it had been her parents, two girls who had been mean to her, and a teacher who had scared the living daylights out of her.
“It is a little scary,” Stacy said. She frowned. “I’m glad we won’t be taught by Mrs. Allen, but to have her die?” Stacy shook her head. “I’m not sure if my parents will let me stay in this school after this.”
“Well, you’ll find out soon enough,” Terese said, pointing to where a woman who looked like Stacy was waving from a car window.
“That’s my mom,” Stacy said. “See you tomorrow.”
With a wave, Stacy bounded off to the car and climbed in. The door slammed shut and the car drove off.
Terese rested a hand on Corey’s shoulder. “Are you okay, Corey? You look kind of funny.”
Terese nodded and they stood side by side for a few minutes, just watching the rest of their classmates being picked up. Terese already knew her mother would be a little late and Corey knew a neighbor was going to pick her up and watch her until her mother got home.
Helen had called to say a neighbor would be picking Corey up and she had been a little hysterical on the phone. Obviously, this latest death had really rattled her. For Corey, Mrs. Allen’s murder wasn’t too different from the murders of Corey’s classmates the year before. She couldn’t believe the school had been struck by another death. Helen had also started blathering about transferring Corey to another school. After a quick good-bye, Corey had hung up the phone.
“That’s my mom,” Terese said. “See you tomorrow?”
Corey nodded distractedly. After sharing a smile with her friend, Terese hurried to her mother’s car and climbed in. Corey was left with a couple of other students. They all stood alone, just waiting and wondering. She knew she was in shock, but she wondered if her classmates were in shock, too.
“Corey!” a voice called out.
Corey’s head shot up. The neighbor’s daughter, a young woman somewhere in her twenties who was taking care of her sick father, was waving to her. Corey smiled. She liked Anna and she liked helping her take care of Mr. Peters. She knew she was going to enjoy this afternoon.
Brightening, Corey ran over to Anna’s car and climbed in.
“Ready for an afternoon with my parents?” Anna asked brightly.
Enthusiastically, Corey nodded as she buckled up in the back seat. “I can’t wait! I like your parents.”
Anna chuckled and shifted the car into drive.