The Scrutiny of the Eternally Hunted

The point of his shoulders dug into the seatback. Despite the crisp 68° day, the streamers from the air-conditioning grate fluttered like worms. He’d like to be somewhere else.

“Do you know why we sent for you?”

He nodded.  Down the hall Ms. Branhe’s class recited times tables in inflectionless child-yells.  In his classroom, Mr. Hunt would still be bent double, picking up pieces of glass too big to fit in the vacuum. He tried to picture what the rest of the class would be doing; surely they hadn’t stayed huddled in the rear of the room like sheep. Perhaps Hunt had made them do lines to keep them quiet, sit in orderly rows in their desks around the bloodstain.

“Good. We’ve called Emily’s parents, they’ll…I’d like to talk to you.”

There was a caraway seed between his teeth he was trying to discreetly attack with his tongue. There was still a crust of mustard on the corner of his mouth, but he refrained from licking it. He had seen the remaining half of the sandwich trampled under someone’s sneaker. Shame. The cheese had been good.

“But more than that, I’d like you to talk to us.”

His legs dangled off the edge of the chair. It was the new kind of ergonomic chair they had just gotten in, with a hard plastic ridge at the end of the seat that cut off the circulation to his feet unless he rested them on the back of the next chair.

“I want you to know you’re not in trouble. Whatever you tell us, there will be no punishment incurred.”

He had personally witnessed the art teacher lock a girl in the dark room until her throat was hoarse with apology for the crime of yawning. No punishment. Not officially anyway.

He scanned the wall pennants. Best attendance. Outstanding performance. Student of the year. No teacher of the year, no distinguished alumni. The commencement speech was given by a teacher, never a returning student.

“We only want your cooperation, free of repercussion. Remember you’re helping us.”

There was a Nuthatch just outside the window. He could tell what bird it was with only his peripheral vision, because grandpa had taught him that birds looked for movement with the scrutiny of the eternally hunted.

Emily’s face flashed into his mind. Wrung out and pale and contorted like a dishrag. He blinked hard.

“We only want to know one thing. What did you do to Emily?”

For the first time, he looked his inquisitor in the face. His fingers ached, they were torn and splintered like he’d been breaking crates apart with his bare hands. The pinky was splinted and it throbbed red hot into his hand. He nursed the throb, it was a good hurt. It reminded him of the truth.

“Before or after you got her?”

There was an intake of breath. Off in the schoolyard there was a bonfire going. A meat smell. He finally worked the seed out and spat.

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