Our tests had been handed out; we had sixty minutes to complete them. I scribbled my name at the top and prepared to start. The first line had me stumped. Scanning through, I could barely understand anything at all. Words were garbled. Phrases made no sense. Like questions had been cut from different tests and tossed together on the page.
Question 1: There is an only then are will is the right way?
Question 2: When going there the turn is not again only to?
How could I even answer questions like that? Yet, all around me was the sound of other students working through the questions. Was there something I’d missed? Was I just that tired?
I read the questions again. It didn’t help, so I raised my hand to get the attention of my teacher. From behind her desk, the teacher turned to me. Her arms were on the desk. Her back upright. Her eyes met mine. There was something wrong with them, like maybe they weren’t the color they had always been. She wouldn’t stop watching me in a direct and intense way. I looked away. I didn’t want her help. The she produced a tack from the top drawer of her desk and held it up for me to see. Reaching for the window, she began scratching the tack across the glass. Back and forth the tack continued, tearing through silence with a dreadful screeeeeeeee, screeeeeee.
I looked around. No one else seemed bothered. Everyone simply worked through the test.
Screeeeeeeeeee. I wanted to ask her to stop, but she was my teacher, so I returned to the test where I had yet to deliver an answer.
Question 7: No one believes you.
Question 8: No one will ever believe you, Sarah.
I sat up at the sight of my name. I wanted to leave, stand from my desk and walk brusquely away, and if my teacher told me to sit down again, I would just keep going, even if it resulted in the first detention in my life. Unable to stop myself, I looked at the next question.
Question 9: Look behind you, Sarah. I said, look behind you.
The lights went out. I wanted to scream. I choked on hard breaths. Huddled to my desk, I did my best to listen through the confusion for some idea on what I should do or what was happening. Screeeeeeeee. Screeeeeeeee. I couldn’t move. The tack then stopped. I heard my teacher stand, her chair pushed back from the desk. I heard the students as they stood in the darkness. They began walking towards me. The circle tightened. I covered my head in my arms, doing my best to shrink away to nothing.
Why was this happening? Why? The test, the questions, the tac.
It all came together. It was a dream. I was dreaming.
Wake up, Sarah! Wake up! I screamed at myself.
The students were getting closer, reaching for me. A hand brushed my shoulder. Another touched my hair.
Sarah, open your eyes! Open your eyes!
My eyes flittered, both in my dream and in the real world.
Open your eyes!
I awoke in my bed, cringing still from hands that were no longer there. I stared at my room. Felt the emptiness, the darkness. It took me a moment to take in the harmless and familiar setting of my room before finally accepting where I was. In relief, I flopped to my back, staring at the ceiling, thankful to be in my room and out of that dream. Screeeeee. Screeeeee. The sound scraped over me. It was coming from my window.
I lurched for the lamp at my bedside table, dousing the room in light. I flipped back around, expecting the woman to be in the corner. She wasn’t. Just my dresser. An empty corner. A window.
The sound stopped.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to believe. The silence confused me. Had I actually heard the sound again or was it only in my head?
I remained upright in my bed, staring at the window as the night trickled by. My body tingled resentfully, craving sleep. My eyelids blinked, begging me to let them close. I wanted to sleep. I had slept so little lately.
An hour passed by with no more sounds. Then two hours. Then it was 4:34 am. They were the last numbers I remember seeing on my clock. When I woke to the first sounds of morning, I was slumped over, arms on my thighs. I pinched myself. I was awake, but that wasn’t much of a consolation anymore.