Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nobody Smiling

by Cate Gardner

Vern Gobel won by a margin.

That is by the margin in my notebook where he scrawled threats in pencil. Or rather where he had one of his minions scrawl them for him. The words have faded now. My thumb has run over them so often they are just a blur.

The silence in the auditorium, peppered with nervous coughs and the scraping of chairs, makes my ears hurt. No one in the crowd is looking at me, but they should. I fuss with my signet ring, running a finger over the R and trying to ignore the tightening in my stomach. Lulu Adams was a good, fair candidate. Her policies were sound and, despite the blood gushing from her neck wound, bloodless.

She is looking at me. Holding onto her throat and peering up to the back of the auditorium.

She knows.

The headmaster’s left eye is twitching, his fingers drumming against grey flannel. He wants to say something but Vern’s henchmen have sewn his lips together with garden twine.

Vern clears his throat, then clears it some more. His voice is a not-quite-broken squeak that doesn’t reach this far back. All I see are his lips moving. Not that I care what he has to say. Not that anyone here cares. We all just want out.

He points towards the wall and we don’t need a window to visualize the black smoke that hangs over the rival Eberhart High. Science experiments go wrong, everyone knows that, especially when you add dynamite to the formula. A few dazed, misguided students, who believe they voted Vern into office, wonder how they could have missed the combat policy. It was all there in black and vicious white. Of course, without the right light it is impossible to see the white words written on white paper. I believe I invented that code.

Vern Gobel’s photocopied manifesto begins with a confusing paragraph on how one day he doesn’t want to be just the President but the President. I’m guessing he means of the U.S. and not of some nameless global corporation or of the school. A smile twitches at the edge of my lips as I envisage Vern as a fifty-year-old bone thin geek handing out cookies and badges to kids.

Of course, they would be cookies laced with cyanide or fertilizer. Badges fastened to fat cheeks by means of safety pins.

Lulu looks at me now with the blank eyed stare of a dead girl as her blood drips from the stage onto Mrs. Mendelssohn’s birds nest. The math teacher’s shoulders heave up and down.

The dull whine of sirens penetrates the thick walls of the auditorium. In quick succession the doors bolt shut as Vern’s henchmen, a collection of science club geeks, stand guard at the doors. They fold their puny arms and I wonder why we don’t rush at them. They would break with the slightest kick.

Maybe it’s the hacksaws and sharpened kitchen knives putting us off. Maybe it’s the frozen stare of Mr. Adams, the gym teacher. When muscle and brawn lies stupefied by fear then we should all sit very, very still and not attract undue attention.

Did one of the students just look at me? A sly glance. It only takes one person to whisper and the fact of this sham election will swarm through the crowd.

Oh joy, Vern is pointing at me. I think he’s encouraging everyone to clap. Some students are doing so in a regimented sarcastic fashion. Though the kids from the school newspaper are having problems. It’s hard to clap when the class president has chopped off your hands.


Cate Gardner is a writer of all things odd. You can find her stories online at Arkham Tales, Three Crow Press and Every Day Fiction. She also has stories forthcoming in Postscripts, Fantasy Magazine, Dead Souls, Sand, Necrotic Tissue and Space & Time. You can find her on the web at and at


BT said...

More evidence that Cate is truly twisted and wonderfully adept at showing that quality off.

I expect nothing less.

Well done, Cate.

jonathan pinnock said...

Another excellent piece, Cate. Always willing to go the extra mile.

Michael Stone said...

Jeez, Cate, you know how to spin a nightmare. Good work!

Alan W. Davidson said...

Great work, Cate! Another wonderful tale, this time to celebrate the kids returning to school.

Unknown said...

one of the darker ones i've read of cates. very nice.

Rebecca Nazar said...

A dark tale deftly done. Great work, Cate.

Jamie Eyberg said...

I am rather glad I didn't go to school with Cate if that is how she remembers it.

Katey said...

It's like that dream you have in high school when you walk into the room and realize you're naked. But awesome.

The voice is particularly excellent here. Love the way you've metered out the words to pack a punch. Black and vicious white indeed.

Rachel Green said...

Disturbing indeed. Nicely done.

Anthony Rapino said...

Very cool. But more importantly, very creepy.

Anonymous said...


Creepy and more than a little disturbing, but excellent :)

Fox Lee said...

Ah, this made me misty eyed for my high school days ; )

Cate Gardner said...

Thanks to you all for reading. :)

Jameson T. Caine said...

Sheer nightmarish and twisted imagery. I haven't lost sleep due to a story in decades, but you sure are gonna change that. Ack. :)

Benjamin Solah said...

Ooh, ooh, I really liked this one. Stories about schools always seem to resonate with me too.

L.R. Bonehill said...

Great twisted story, Cate.

Cate Gardner said...

Thank you all. Making my day.

Jodi Lee (Morrighan) said...

Absolutely chilling, Cate, great job!!