I tried to block out the speech that droned through the old speakers on the wall. The auditorium was packed with the entirety of the student body to listen to the new campaign speeches. Student council something-or-other hopeful number three was in the middle of a passionate monologue that had to do with student parking. The speakers were at least twenty years old, but they were loud and there wasn’t much else to pay attention to in the room. There were a few pockets of enthusiastic supporters for the candidates, but most of us just wanted to get out of here.
Granted, this had saved me from another one of Mrs. Duvalls’ droning lectures, but I had learned how to adapt to those. Concentrate on the mole just below her right eyebrow and it looked like I was paying attention. History was important, before this year it had been one of my favorite subjects, but I was lucky enough to get a teacher who had only changed her lesson plans twice since she started her job and that was to remove references to the USSR and West Germany.
I looked around, but I couldn’t see any of my friends. Finding the three of them in the seven hundred assembled students wasn’t the easiest thing. Everyone was sectioned off by the class they were in, but the teachers were lined up along the wall. It made it hard to pick out people based on their schedules and cut down on socialization during this oh-so-important assembly. It didn’t matter really. Unless they were right next to me it wasn’t like we would be able to talk.
My search purposely avoided the area where Sara sat. Her natural near-white hair was a beacon among the crowd. The first time I saw her I thought she was a princess. I was eight at the time, but she still looked like some fairy tale come to life. It was easier just not to look at her, otherwise I’d find myself staring. The worst part about it was that she was one of the nicest people I’d ever met, but I didn’t have the courage to talk to her. She was athletic, smart, and sweet.
Up until this year we had been the same height too. We were both five foot tall if we stretched, but then I hit s growth spurt. I towered over her now, like most of our sophomore class, and it made me feel odd talking to her. Not that I did that a lot before, but I had pre-planned conversations based on our mutual shortness. Hobbit jokes, mostly.
Yeah, I’m not exactly lining the ladies up. My new height and the physique that came with it may have turned a couple of heads, but I was still me. I didn’t play sports, I wasn’t in the honors society, and I wasn’t stuck up enough to be a prep. My small group of friends usually migrated between eating lunch with the chess club, man I suck at chess, and under a tree in the quad on warmer days. Of the four of us only I had a car, but it was a hand-me-down beater that didn’t have AC and would die whenever someone turned on the radio.
I stood up in a hunched fashion to keep out of sight and waddled down to the stairs. Mrs. Duvall was giving me the stink-eye by the time I got to the floor. She was a good few inches over six feet tall and bore a striking resemblance to a bad Julia Childs impression. My mom pointed that out to me after the first parent-teacher conference.
“What are you doing Isaiah?” She hissed at me, even that was a monotone.
“Bathroom.” I tried to step around her.
“It can wait.” She crossed her arms.
“If you have a mop, sure.” I shrugged.
“Fine.” She stepped aside.
I made it out of the auditorium and took a deep breath. That many people all closed in like that didn’t do well for my calm. I stood in the open area for a moment to enjoy the extra space. The lunch staff was getting the cafeteria ready for the impending rush of freshmen. Our school had an open campus for lunch, for sophomores and up.
The bathrooms were off to my right by the front doors and to my left was the cafeteria. For a moment I wondered how long I could stay out here. I didn’t actually need to go to the bathroom, and I didn’t want to hang out there until the assembly was over, but going back in didn’t sound like a fun idea either.
I strolled over to the lunch line. The menu was out and who was I to ignore such dynamic options? One of the workers stopped to watch me approach. I didn’t remember her name, but she’d been one of the few that left a lasting memory. Twenty years ago she must have been drop-dead gorgeous, even today in a hair-net and apron she was pretty.
“Cheese pizza and a drink for two dollars.” I nodded as read the menu aloud. “Since there’s no one around, would be able to tell me what the cheese really is?”
She rolled her eyes and went back to work. I opened my mouth to say something else when one of the doors to the auditorium slammed open. My eyes locked on the vice principal as she stormed out toward me. I guess they had some serious rules against bathroom time during an assembly. For some reason my natural reaction was to point at the lunch menu.
“Get back here young lady.”
My gaze shifted down slightly to see Sara already at the door to the outside. She was fast. The vice principal tried to chase after her, but sensible office shoes didn’t lend well to a run.
“I’ll get her.” I found myself saying.
The vice principal was stooped over with her hands on her knees. I rushed after her and caught the door shortly after she went through. Sara stood outside pacing back and forth.
“Hey, Sara.” I closed the door behind me. “What’s up?”
She turned around to face me and suddenly she went from nearly ten feet away to within kissing distance. The irises of her eyes had disappeared, leaving a small dot of black in a sea of white. I took a step back. She had said something, but I didn’t catch it.
“Do you?” She had backed me against the door.
“Do you have a car?”
“Yeah.” I nodded. “It’s in the student lot.”
“Can you take me home?”
She was right in front of me one moment and then not in the blink of an eye.
“Come on.” She waved me on from the gate.
I ran toward her and she disappeared again. My brain tried to understand what was happening, but came up with nothing that made sense. I was pretty sure that if I listened hard enough I would have gotten elevator music. When I got to the gate I found her at the entrance to the parking area. She was pacing again. I couldn’t understand how she moved so fast. She wasn’t running, but she was almost a blur as she moved back and forth.
“Which one?” She asked as I caught up to her.
“Here.” I walked up to my car and gave a short wave.
She took in the faded yellow hatch-back that was older than both of us combined and nodded. “Is it unlocked?”
“Yeah.” I chuckled. “No one would want to steal it.”
“Let’s go.” She said from the passenger seat.
I looked at the gate where she had been a moment before and then to the car. “How?”
“Please.” She pleaded. “I need to get home.”
That did it. I hopped into the drivers’ seat and started the car up on the first try. We pulled out onto the road and I started heading toward her house.
“I live on Pierpont Way.” She prompted as I made a turn.
She looked at me for a moment.
“I used to mow your neighbor’s lawn.” I added.
“You got tall.”
“Tallest in the Shire.” I quipped.
She looked at me for a moment again. “Hobbits. Right. Sorry, not in the mood for jokes.”
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t know.” She put her head on the space above the glove compartment. “I just have this horrible feeling that I need to get home now.”
“Okay.” I nodded.
“I need some music.” She flipped on the radio.
“No.” I managed to say a moment too late.
The speakers crackled at static, but the engine kept on.
“What’s wrong?” She asked as she moved the dial around for a signal.
“The radio doesn’t work.” I said slowly as I tried not to stare at the dials as I drove.
“Oh, because all the stations have gone digital?” She turned it off after she couldn’t find a station.
“No.” I shook my head. “Because it kills the battery.”
“It does?” She looked at me as I drove. “If this is a joke I’m not getting it.”
“No, not a joke.” I missed the turn and did a quick illegal U-turn. “Every time it turns on the car dies.”
“Didn’t this time.” She shrugged.
“I noticed.” I said.
I drove in silence for a few blocks before I took another turn. We were in the tangle of pre-fab suburbs now. The roads were a mess of grids and circles as the models of the houses changed. Each addition was done by a different company so while each subset had few variations on the same theme the general scheme of things was a mess.
Sara leaned back in the seat and brushed her hair out of her face. This was the first time I’d really spent time with her. When we were younger we kind of played together. Not a lot, just when our circles of friends crossed, but once I realized girls weren’t cootie factories it was too hard for me to actually think around her. Most of the time I felt like I would just turn into a mumbling boob and forget how breathing worked.
I turned down her road.
“Why are their cars here?” She muttered.
I stole a look at her to see her hand on the door. “Please wait.”
She looked at me, once again the color was gone from her eyes.
“Let’s take a closer look.” I didn’t know what was going on, but she needed someone on her side. “I’ll drive closer and if we need to we can get out.”
“Okay.” She nodded. “Let’s go.”
I drove along the road a little slower than the twenty-five mile an hour speed-limit. She was on edge and I was starting to get the feeling that something wasn’t right. I didn’t know what, but it felt right to take a cautious approach.
A shape zipped across the sky. I stared for a moment trying to figure out what it was. We weren’t by any airports and there wasn’t any sound attached to it. Helicopters didn’t move that fast anyway. My thought process was interrupted as the passenger side door snapped shut. I looked out the windshield just in time to see Sara open her front door. I left the car in the middle of the road and ran to catch up to her. I made it to the end of her driveway to see the front door close. Damn, she was fast.
The shape swooped by in the sky again. It was too fast to see, but I could tell it was getting closer. For some reason I thought I could hear bells.
I knocked on the door. Sara’s mom answered it. I took a step back as those large white eyes greeted me.
“Who are you?” Her voice had a strange lilting accent to it. “Go away.”
“Mom.” Sara called from inside. “That’s Isaiah, he gave me the ride here.”
“Good.” She hauled Sara through the front door by the collar of her shirt. “Take her back to school, now.”
“Tell me what’s going on.” Sara yelled.
“No time.” Her mother kissed her on the head. “Run.”
Sara winced as her mother’s lips touched her forehead. She looked up at the sky and gasped.
“This isn’t happening.” She whispered.
I looked up at the sky. “What?”
“How did you do it?” She asked her mother.
The door was already closed. She tried the handle to no avail.
“Mom.” She screamed. “Let me in. What is that?”
“Sara.” I pulled her away from the door. “There’s nothing up there.”
Something inside the house crashed. I looked to the door. Sara stared up at the roof.
“Run.” She pulled me down the steps of her porch toward the car.
“What are we running from?” I asked as she literally pulled me along.
“You can’t see them?” She ducked behind one of the cars in the driveway and pulled me down.
There was another loud crash from inside the house. She pulled me down beside her.
“See what?” I asked.
“I couldn’t see them either.” She muttered. “The kiss.”
She pulled me close. I closed my eyes as our lips touched. My heart thundered against my chest and my head swam. It wasn’t like I had dreamed, but it felt like I was floating. I opened my eyes. They focused on her face and I blinked. Had she always had pointed ears?
The sound from inside the house made took my attention from inspecting the girl of my dreams. My breath caught in my throat as I looked at her home, or rather, what was on top of it. There was a sled pulled by eight animals that had to be reindeer and a brown sack next to the driver. The only thing it was missing was a fat jolly man in red. In his place there sat a twisted goblin with sickly green skin that held the reigns tight.
There was another crash as a goblin tumbled through a window to the ground outside. He was dressed in a stained tunic that was held tight by a rough cord at its waist. The gnarled handle of a dagger stuck out from its chest.
Sara looked from me to the dagger. “Grab it. We have to help them.”
I reached out and grabbed the goblins hand. It took one good tug to pull it over to us.
“Thought it would be heavier.” I looked down at the goblin.
Its green skin had an unsettling sheen to it, but the face was almost human. If not for the too-large hook nose and long double-pointed ears it would be just some person. My eyes settled on the daggers handle. I looked at Sara. She gave me a nod.
My hand closed on the handle. The goblins eyes snapped open. It let out a cry full of anger and pain. I screamed, stood up, and kicked it as hard as I could in the ribs. The creature sailed through the air. It gave a solid crunch as it hit the side of the house.
I couldn’t catch my breath. It might not have been dead before, but it certainly was now. I had killed it. This creature, a goblin, something that belonged in the fantasy isle, not the front yard of the girls I had a crush on.
“What’s that?” Sara’s voice sounded small and far away.
I looked up to roof of her house. What I had thought was a bag had started to move. I watched as it stood up and shook off its slumber. The form of a large man in a brown hooded robe now stood beside the sled. The goblin that had been holding the reigns pressed itself low in its seat to avoid attention.
“We should run.” I muttered.