the one to blame pt. 1

an excerpt from a horror story by Inara Pirani, ’19

     My stomach flip flopped as I followed my new principal, Dr. Trent, down the worn, rubber-lined steps of my new school. My legs felt like jello as Dr. Trent turned down a long hallway. I hated meeting new people. I’ve never been that outgoing person, who introduces themselves to everyone they see. What would I say to people?

“Hi, my name is Colton, and I just moved from Toronto to Engleheart in Ontario. My parents got divorced a year and a half ago, but I haven’t heard anything from my dad for almost a year. My mom was still in school when they got divorced. She had to quit, but she couldn’t find a job in Toronto, and we couldn’t keep our old house there. We lived in a shelter and had to live off government funding?” No. I wasn’t going to tell people all that. Besides, I was just looking for a short and sweet response that would answer everyone’s nosy questions. No long explanation involved.

As Dr. Trent walked down the seemingly endless hallway filled with messy student-made posters advertising clubs and bake-sales, I couldn’t help but glance down at my tattered sneakers and slightly faded corduroys. I had gotten used to going to school in secondhand clothes from the thrift store down the street from the shelter, back in Toronto. All the clothing there looked like they were from 1990. You know, striped turtlenecks, corduroy pants, and varsity jackets.

Anyway, to explain my story, my mom and her siblings decided that she should take the house she inherited from her Great Uncle Garrison. No one had lived in the house for 15 years before we moved in.

The rundown house was large with six bedrooms and three bathrooms. The front steps were bashed and broken and all the doors creaked when you opened them. Also, because the house was so old, it had really dim lights. We already blew several fuses trying to run the toaster and the microwave at the same time. Overall, the house was kinda creepy. Anyway, my mom moved my siblings and me to Engleheart and Mom got a job as a receptionist at Englehart District Hospital. Like I said, today was my first day at Englehart Middle School.

The classroom that Dr. Trent walked into was like every other classroom I had ever been in. Gray painted walls with tall windows and a chalky gray tiled floor, covered in shoe marks and dirt. Posters displaying photosynthesis and plant vs. animal cells were hung up on the wall across from the large windows. In the back of the classroom were black lab benches. The student desks stood in neat rows in the middle of the classroom. They were the average middle school desks; gray, with the right arm attached to the back of the chair. Almost all of them were occupied by a pair of eyes staring at me. At the front of the room, adjacent to the whiteboard, was the teacher’s desk with a tall dark haired woman sitting behind it. I supposed she was Mrs. Madaki. She looked up when I walked in. Dr. Trent stood behind me, with her hand on my shoulder.

“Mrs. Madaki, this is your new student; Colton Petersson.”

Everyone’s eyes followed me as Dr. Trent practically pushed me to the front of the room. They were probably taking in my holey green and white striped turtleneck, my faded, too short blue corduroys, and my beat up high tops that once belonged to my older brother Ski. I wanted to melt into the floor. Or run and hide. Or ship myself back to Toronto. Or just become invisible.

If I was my brother Ski, I would have smiled and cracked a funny joke that would have made everyone laugh, instantly love me and take their minds off my clothes. But my mind was blank. Instead, Mrs. Madaki stood up and walked over to me.

“Nice to meet you Colton,” Mrs. Madaki said, shaking my clammy hand. “There is an empty desk next to Rebecca over there.”

I frantically looked around the room, hoping to spot the empty desk. At last, I found it. I hurried to sit down and get out of the spotlight.

The day passed pretty slowly. In every class I was stared at, like a fish in a bowl. Several people shot curious looks at my clothes but no one said anything to me. Finally, at the end of my day I had a study hall. I walked into the room and looked around. The desks were arranged into four groups. A group of girls had already sat down at one of the groups. A mixed group of boys and girls had taken over the other one. I figured it was the ‘popular kids’ kind of table–no one else would have the nerve to sit at a mixed gender table unless they were popular. The third table was half-filled with boys who were talking rapidly to each other and at the last table sat a girl with long black hair, scribbling furiously in a notebook. I glanced around again and took a seat at the boy’s table. They all looked up when I came over. Should I ask if I can sit here? Or should I just sit down and start working? What if they think I’m rude? But I really DON’T want to talk….

“Hey, are you that new kid?” one of the boys said, interrupting my panic attack. He was smiling, but it seemed like kind of a bemused grin.

“Yeah,” I muttered as I felt my cheeks grow hot. That always happens to me when I get nervous. Ski always makes so much fun of me because of it. He says I look like a tomato.

“Cool, I’m Logan. Where’d you move from?” one of the other boys asked.

The room suddenly went silent after Logan’s question. Everyone stared at me. I blushed even harder. “Uh…Toronto,” I said shakily.  All of a sudden the teacher walked into the room. I sighed with relief, hoping that the teacher would stop the conversation. Instead, he quickly took a head count and sat down at the teacher’s desk, not paying any attention to anyone.  

“Cool. What’s it like there?” Logan asked, pulling his phone out of his pocket.

“Uh. You know. It’s…yeah,” I said. What do I say? Toronto was like Toronto. It wasn’t like I was from somewhere exotic like Zimbabwe or Spain or somewhere like that. After all, Toronto was only a five and a half hour drive from here.

“So where do you live now?” Logan asked.

“On Kendall Street,” I said, trying to sound as confident as possible.

“Hey! I live on Kendall Street too! Which house is yours?” A short boy with black bangs asked me.

“Oh…ummmm,” I stammered, trying to think where my house was. “It’s the last house on the right. Near the intersection with Laurier Street, I think.”

“Wait. That haunted house?” A short boy with black hair asked.

“I guess…” I said. “I guess it is kinda creepy.”

“Yeah.” The boy threw me a weird look. I wished they would stop asking questions. No such luck.

“Nice jacket by the way. You a big fan of the Bulldogs?” Logan asked, pointing to my varsity jacket. Oh man. Hockey. I always dreaded the sports-related conversations. I never kept up with this stuff, so I never know what to say. Hockey is boring; all you do is watch a bunch of dudes on steroids kick a puck around with a stick.

“Uh, not really,” I said. My face definitely looked like a tomato now.

“You’re NOT?!” three boys asked at once. Shoot! I’d hit a nerve.

“I’m…not really into sports. The jacket was my brother Ski’s,” I said. I wanted to explain this with the least number of words.

“Oh. Give us your phone number. We can add you to our class group chat,” Logan said, attempting to be friendly.

“I-I don’t have a phone,” I said quietly. My mom had given Ski a phone when we moved, but she couldn’t afford to give me one. I’d never really cared until this point when I met the shocked faces of the guys at this table.

“Do you have like a tablet or something you could get the app with?” Logan asked.

“No…” My voice trailed off. My face felt like it was on fire. I looked down at my worn sneakers. There was a growing hole in the fabric by the toe.

I knew what all those boys were thinking. This strange new kid, has no phone, looks really weird, lives in a creepy house and doesn’t like sports. Luckily, the teacher saved me.

“Boys, please quiet down. This is a quiet study time.” The teacher furrowed his brow and glared at us over the tops of his glasses. No one talked for the rest of the block. Well, not to me anyway.

When the bell rang, I gathered up my bag and walked to the entrance of the school.  I waited by the front steps and kept a lookout for my older brother Ski. Ski’s basically the polar opposite of me. He loves to talk and meet new people. Back in Toronto, he used to work at the ice cream store down the street from our shelter. Everyone used to love him because he would always talk the customers into buying more ice cream. He had a way of especially charming all the old people who came into the store. He would laugh and make jokes with them. They said he made them feel “young again”. By the end of the summer he knew all of their names and what their favorite flavors were. I don’t know how he did it. Whenever I try to talk to my grandma and her friends all they do is tell me to get a haircut.

My mom used to let Ski keep part of the money he made, which was why he never had to wear clothes from ten years ago. Anyway, mom also made this rule that I have to walk home with Ski and our younger sister, Amelie, everyday. Ski and I would meet up outside the Middle School and then pick Amelie up at the elementary school on our way home. A minute later, I heard a familiar laugh from behind me. As I turned around Ski was walking arm in  arm with two other guys. I was out of earshot so I hadn’t heard what Ski had said, but apparently it had been hilarious because all three of them were hysterically laughing. Great. Day one and my brother already made, like, fifty friends. And how many had I made? Zero. Unless you count the two boys I ate lunch with. Neither of them talked to me. They were both on their phones.

Anyway, Ski and his friends finally stopped laughing and strolled over to where I was standing.

“Yo Ski! Is this your little bro?” one of the boys asked, glancing at me. He was tall, with dark curly hair and hazel eyes. I knew instantly that he was one of those ‘popular kids’. He was dressed in dark jeans, a Toronto Maple Leafs sweatshirt, sneakers and a navy baseball cap. A pair of Beats hung around his neck.  In one hand he carried an Iphone. Both boys looked me up and down, like I was some specimen under a microscope. Ski rolled his eyes at me.

“Yeah…Hey listen, I’d better go. Catch you guys tomorrow!” Ski grinned and headed off down the steps and onto the sidewalk. I ran to catch up with him. Once we were out of earshot from his friends, Ski turned on me.

“Dude, you are so uncool! All by yourself, just standing and waiting! Now all my friends will think I’m a dork because my brother is a geek!” Ski burst out.  I stayed silent. Why couldn’t he understand that I liked being by myself? I always felt so awkward around other people. I just wasn’t like him. Not to mention, Ski got all the cool clothes and the phone and stuff.  We didn’t talk until we reached the elementary school. I spotted Amelie talking to another girl her age. Amelie saw us and promptly walked over to us, clutching her pink bookbag and a large piece of cardstock. Mom never bought Amelie’s clothes from the thrift store like she did with mine. Instead, Amelie wore the hand-me-downs from all my girl cousins. The clothes are all clean and well taken care of. Unfortunately for me, I have no boy relatives around my age who could give me their old clothes. Unless you count Ski of course.

“Hi! Look what I made during recess!” Amelie bubbled over with excitement as she showed us a crayon drawing of the Eiffel Tower.

“My teachers really nice. Her name is Ms. Minchin. She told me that I was a wonderful artist.” Amelie said, waving her picture as she skipped across the sidewalk.

“Did you make any friends?” Ski asked, throwing me a nasty look. I looked away. Why wouldn’t he let it go?

“Yup! I made friends with Mary, and Keisha, and Helene.” Amelie smiled.

“Look Colton! Even your younger sister is more social than you. She made more friends today, than you ever made in your life.” Ski spat as we turned onto Kendall Ave. I didn’t say anything. The three of us walked in silence until we reached home.  

Once Ski had unlocked the front door, and we had put our bags away, Amelie announced that she was bored.

“What do you want to do?” I asked her. In Toronto, whenever she was bored, Amelie had always gone to her friends house who lived down the street. Here, we knew no one.

“Let’s go look in the shed!” Amelie announced. There was a small shed,on the edge of our property. Up until now, no one had looked in it.

“Sure,” I said. I didn’t have anything better to do.

“Ski are you going to come too?” Amelie asked. Great. Well, there was no way I  was going if Ski was. Luckily, Ski refused.

“Nah. I have too much work to do.” Ski said, pulling out his phone.

I was relieved. Ski was starting to get on my nerves.

Amelie and I trekked through the leaves and made our way to the gray concrete shed.

The door to the shed was unlocked and swung open pretty easily when I twisted the door knob. I had expected it to be much harder considering no one had been in here for 15 years. Or at least no one was supposed to have been here.

The floor was covered in Ramen Noodle wrappers, old leaves, and this funny translucent paper that crunched when we walked over it. It reminded me of the tracing paper that Amelie had in her room. On the wall were shelves filled with old cracking cans of paint. Leaning against the wall was an ancient gardening rake. Sitting next to it was a wooden crate with some tools in it. Resting underneath the shelves was one of those large plastic tubs like you get at a dollar store. I lifted off the lid and saw that it was filled with…clothing? I lifted out a man’s black sweater. Pee yew! Did it reek! I dropped it back in the box and closed the lid before the smell would waft any further.

“Hey, Colton!” Amelie said, crouching by the wooden crate. “Look at this hammer,” She lifted the old fashioned hammer out of the box and began to sneeze. It was only then that I realized that it was covered in dust. I glanced back at the paint cans lining the wall. Those were covered in dust too. In fact, everything was covered in dust except the wrappers on the floor and the box of clothing. Weird. I made a mental note of it and went to join Amelie, who was still looking through the box of tools.

When Mom came home that night, she oohed and aahed over Amelie’s drawing and listened to Ski’s stories about all the friends he made and how he was joining the soccer team. I told her about our exploration in the shed. She wasn’t impressed.

“Colton, I don’t want you going in there anymore. It’s dangerous. Those shelves are so old. They could break and fall on your head. Besides, you don’t know what creatures have been living in there. They could have rabies. If I have time over the weekend, I can clean it out. Until then you are not going back into that shed!” She turned and gave me a look before sighing tiredly. “The hospital might need me to work overtime though.We have to save money so I can send you three to college,” she continued, getting that far away tired look in her eyes.

After dinner, my mom retreated to her bedroom and began her nightly conversations with her two sisters. She had been doing that almost every night since my parents got divorced a year and a half ago. She always talks about the lack of income we have and how Dad never sends her child support money.

I lay awake that night, thinking about what those boys in my study hall thought of me. Suddenly, I felt angry. Angry at my mom. It was all her fault why I couldn’t fit in. She couldn’t buy me proper clothing, a phone or any electronic device! I was stuck being an antisocial kid, who now looked like a loser because his mom couldn’t  pay her bills. Why did this happen to me? Ski was old enough to get a job, which was why he got everything he wanted, but I had to stay at home and watch Amelie. Maybe if I had some normal clothes and a cell phone, those boys would think I was a little more cool. How could I make more money? Enough money to get myself a phone, clothes and possibly a nicer looking house. So, I’m not talking petty cash… I mean the big bucks.

When I finally went to sleep, I dreamed that I was back in the shed, only this time I was alone. All of a sudden, all the boxes in the shed began to fall on top of me. The noise pounded my ears as I screamed for my mom to come. All I could hear was her voice echoing inside of me. ‘I told you not to go in the shed again…’ I woke up sweating. The dream felt so real, I could still hear the echoes of the sounds in my ears.  Leaning over, I checked my clock. It was 3:40 AM. I turned over and dozed off again.

When I awoke, the sun was peeping through my curtains, bathing my room in soft yellow light.  I dressed as quickly as I could and stuffed my binders into my bag. In the kitchen, an alarming sight met my eyes. On the counter was an open and tipped over jar of honey. The thick syrup had leaked onto the counter and the floor. A box of instant oatmeal lay on its side next to it. The contents of the box were all over the counter. Some of the oatmeal had begun to stick to the dried honey. The full jar of pasta sauce my mom used last night was now empty. At that moment, I remembered my dream again. Maybe this had to do with those noises I heard-

“Colton!” My mom’s shrill voice rang out from behind me. I turned to see my mom, still dressed in her robe, peering at the sight over my shoulder. “Did you make this mess?!” She stormed over to where the oatmeal container lay on its side, picked it up and dumped it into the trash.

“Colton! I asked you a question. Did you make this mess?” She looked me straight in the eye with that Mom look she always had on whenever we did anything wrong.

“No! Why would I?” I said confused.

“You were the last one to go to bed last night. Containers don’t just spill themselves.”

Flushing, I tried to tell my mom that it hadn’t been me. Why would I want to eat oatmeal in the middle of the night?

“Wow! Did you make this mess?” Ski came up behind Mom, dragging his backpack behind him. “I thought I heard footsteps downstairs last night. What were you doing Colton?” Ski glanced at me, rather bemused.

“It WASN’T me.” I repeated for the hundredth time.Why wasn’t anyone believing me? “Maybe it was Amelie.”

“Colton, Amelie slept in my room last night. I doubt she could have done it. ” Mom peered at me over her framed glasses. With that, Mom threw me one last suspicious look and headed towards the bathroom. I walked towards the kitchen door and examined the lock. It didn’t look like someone had broken it. Maybe someone had come into our house through the front door. I walked back into the hallway and examined the lock from there. It looked fine too. That must mean that someone had access to our house. The thought caused a shiver down my spine. I retraced my steps back to the kitchen, walked to the refrigerator and pulled out the milk. It looked fine, so I went ahead and poured myself a bowl. Sighing, I poured cereal into the bowl and promptly began to eat. This stupid creepy house would be gone if I we could have more money, I thought, crunching away, then I wouldn’t be blamed for everything!Still, it was kinda creepy. Someone just walked into our house and stole pasta sauce, honey and oatmeal…

The second day at school was pretty similar to the first. The only difference was that I didn’t have study hall. Instead, my schedule said that I had an art class with some teacher named Mrs. Huang in Room 234. Somehow, most of the boys from my study hall ended up in my art class. I sat with the group of boys again. They didn’t really talk to me that much. I guess they still thought I was kinda strange. Instead they talked about sports and some new game they all had on their phones. I didn’t really mind because it gave me time to think about how I could get my hands on some money. Maybe I could ask my mom to let me work somewhere like the library, where Amelie could sit and wait for me. It wouldn’t be big bucks but it might help pay for my clothes. I would have to do some research though, before I tell Mom.

When Mom came home that night, she followed her usual routine of complaining about her day, how people didn’t have their insurance cards and were making a big deal about their bills. Then she exclaimed over Amelie’s painting she had made that day and signed Ski’s soccer form. She didn’t say anything to me about the morning’s incident, but I think she was still upset with me. I decided to try and stay up a little later to pay more attention that night if I heard any sounds in the kitchen. This would also give me more time to think about how I could make some money.

I guess I was tired from the night before because I fell asleep right away. The next thing I remembered was waking up to my alarm clock. Remembering my idea to check the kitchen,  I bolted out of bed and ran down the hall. I stopped short in front of the kitchen. The front door to the house was wide open… To be continued


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