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ON DECEMBER 19, 1977, A MENTAL PATIENT NAMED TIMOTHY SHAUGH WALKED INTO SEACRIST ELEMENTARY SCHOOL IN SEACRIST, PENNSYLVANIA, AND MURDERED A SECOND GRADE TEACHER WITH A CHOPPING AXE. THE SHAUGH MURDER WAS THE LAST IN A STRING OF UNEXPLAINED INCIDENTS WHICH OCCURRED AT SEACRIST IN THE FALL AND WINTER OF 1977, AND EARNED THE SCHOOL THE NICKNAME "HORROR HIGH". MY NAME IS CY WISTROM, AND I WILL HERE TELL YOU THE WHOLE STORY.

IN SEPTEMBER OF 1971 JOSEPH TORMEY DIED. TORMEY HAD BEEN THE HEAD JANITOR AT SEACRIST SINCE 1958 AND HE DIED OF LIVER CANCER. IN EARLY 1977, A YOUNGER BROTHER OF TORMEY'S WON SOME MONEY IN A STATE LOTTERY, AND IT WAS DECIDED AMONGST THE FAMILY THAT SOME OF THE MONEY WOULD GO TOWARD THE CONSTRUCTION OF A FAMILY CRYPT IN EVANSTEN, TEN MILES NORTH OF SEACRIST. THREE MEMBERS OF THE TORMEY FAMILY WERE DISINTERRED DURING THE SUMMER, AND JOSEPH TORMEY'S BODY WAS REMOVED FROM HIS GRAVE IN SEACRIST HILL ON SEPTEMBER 10, FIVE DAYS AFTER THE SCHOOL YEAR BEGAN. ON WEDNESDAY THE FOURTEENTH, A CITY PATROL CAR DRIVING PAST SEACRIST AT A LITTLE PAST MIDNIGHT REPORTED THAT A LIGHT WAS ON IN ROOM 21, WHICH FRONTED THE SOUTHEAST SIDE OF THE SCHOOL AND LOOKED OUT ON HIGHTOWN ROAD. THE OFFICER IN THE CAR CALLED THE SCHOOL PRINCIPAL AT HIS HOME AND ASKED IF ANY STAFF MIGHT BE INSIDE SEACRIST. THAT NIGHT THERE HAD BEEN A GIRL SCOUT'S MEETING FROM SIX O'CLOCK TO SEVEN-THIRTY IN ROOM 25, JUST TWO DOORS DOWN FROM ROOM 21, BUT OF COURSE THAT HAD LONG SINCE DISBANDED. THE PRINCIPAL AGREED TO DRIVE THREE BLOCKS TO THE SCHOOL AND CHECK ON THE LIGHT, AS HE HAD A SKELETON KEY.

WHEN HE GOT TO ROOM 21, HE DISCOVERED THE BODY OF JOSEPH TORMEY PROPPED UP IN A CHAIR FACING THE BLACKBOARD. TORMEY'S BODY WAS ENTIRELY ROTTED, AND COULD ONLY BE IDENTIFIED THROUGH THE FACT THAT IT WAS MISSING FROM THE COUNTY MORGUE WHERE IT WAS BEING STORED OVERNIGHT, UNTIL IT COULD BE PLACED INSIDE THE FAMILY CRYPT THE NEXT DAY.

THE PRINCIPAL, ELLIS XAVIER, CALLED THE POLICE BACK AND TORMEY'S BODY WAS REMOVED. THERE WERE NO SIGNS OF A BREAK-IN ANYWHERE IN THE SCHOOL, AND THE POLICE DIDN’T FIND ANY FINGERPRINTS IN THEIR CASUAL DUSTING. BUT THERE WERE SIGNS OF FOUL PLAY INSIDE THE COUNTY MORGUE, THOUGH. THE BODY HAD BEEN SEALED INSIDE A STEEL DRAWER WHOSE LOCK HAD BEEN JIMMIED SOMETIME AFTER THE MORGUE CLOSED AT EIGHT O'CLOCK. TORMEY HAD BEEN TAKEN FROM THE MORGUE AND PLACED INSIDE SEACRIST ELEMENTARY SOMETIME BETWEEN NINE-THIRTY AND MIDNIGHT. POLICE THOUGHT THAT VANDALS MAY HAVE GOTTEN THE BODY INTO THE SCHOOL THROUGH A SECOND STORY WINDOW WHICH HAD BEEN LEFT OPEN TO AERATE A NEWLY PAINTED ROOM, BUT IT SEEMED INCREDIBLY BIZARRE THAT SOMEONE WOULD GO TO SUCH STRANGE LENGTHS TO PLAY SUCH A DEMENTED JOKE.

THERE WERE NO LEADS, THERE WERE NO WITNESSES, NOTHING TO EVER SUGGEST WHY JOSEPH TORMEY'S CORPSE WAS PLACED INSIDE SEACRIST THAT NIGHT. HE HAD NO REAL ENEMIES IN THE TOWN AND THE STAFF REMEMBERED HIM AS A HARD WORKER WHO TRULY LOVED THE CHILDREN AT THE SCHOOL. ROOM 21 WAS SEALED OFF FOR TWO DAYS AND MR. APPIER, THE FIRST GRADE TEACHER WHO USED THE ROOM, USED ANOTHER.

WORD OF WHAT HAPPENED TO JOSEPH TORMEY BECAME IMMEDIATELY DISTORTED AMONG THE STUDENTS OF SEACRIST, WHOSE AGE RANGED FROM SIX TO ELEVEN. THE SMALL ADMINISTRATION DECIDED NOT TO TELL THEM WHAT HAD HAPPENED, AND SO THERE WAS ONLY A VAGUE SENSE THAT SOMETHING TERRIBLE HAD OCCURRED. DURING MORNING ANNOUNCEMENTS, PRINCIPAL XAVIER TOLD THE CHILDREN THAT AN UGLY PRANK HAD BEEN PLAYED THE NIGHT BEFORE, AND HE WENT ON TO DELIVER A BRIEF LECTURE ON THE EVILS OF VANDALISM. THE STUDENTS OF SEACRIST WERE UNDERSTANDABLY CONFUSED.

I REMEMBER A GIRL NAMED SUSAN, WHOM I SAW CRYING ON THE PLAYGROUND DURING RECESS ON THAT SEPTEMBER 15TH. EVEN THOUGH I WAS AN UNUSUALLY SHY CHILD, I WENT OVER TO HER AND ASKED HER WHAT WAS WRONG. SHE SAID SHE WAS SAD BECAUSE SHE HAD HEARD THAT MR. APPIER HAD BEEN KILLED, AND THAT WAS WHY HIS ROOM HAD BEEN SEALED OFF. NO ONE KNOWS WHO STARTED THIS RUMOR, BUT BY LUNCHTIME FOR THE UPPER GRADES IT WAS ALL OVER THE SCHOOL. BY THE END OF THE DAY, EVERY TEACHER HAD TO TELL THEIR CLASS THAT MR. APPIER WAS FINE, THAT HE HAD JUST CALLED IN SICK FOR THE DAY. EVERYONE WENT HOME STILL IN DOUBT AS TO WHAT HAD REALLY HAPPENED. I SAW SUSAN, THE GIRL ON THE PLAYGROUND, WALKING HOME AT THREE O'CLOCK WITH A GROUP OF OTHER CHILDREN, LAUGHING HAPPILY ABOUT SOMETHING. IN LESS THAN TWO HOURS, SHE HAD GONE FROM DESPAIR TO CHILDISH JOY. JOSEPH TORMEY'S CORPSE WAS TAKEN BACK TO THE MORGUE, CHECKED FOR SIGNS OF ABUSE, AND THEN PLACED INSIDE THE FAMILY VAULT THREE DAYS LATER. BUT BY THE EIGHTEENTH OF SEPTEMBER, EVERY CHILD KNEW WHAT HAD HAPPENED IN ROOM 21, AND SOME OF MR. APPIER'S STUDENTS WERE TERRIFIED TO GO BACK INTO THAT ROOM. THE LOCAL NEWSPAPER, THE TRI-COUNTY GAZETTE, PRINTED THE STORY ON PAGE TWO AND MADE THE MISTAKE OF PUBLISHING AN UNCONFIRMED RUMOR TOWARD THE END OF IT. THE REPORTER SAID MERELY THAT PRINCIPAL XAVIER HAD ERASED A CHALK-WRITTEN MESSAGE FROM THE BOARD OF ROOM 21 UPON FINDING JOSEPH TORMEY'S BODY. THE MESSAGE HAD ALLEGEDLY BEEN SCRAWLED BY THE VANDALS WHO COMMITTED THE CRIME, AND XAVIER HAD BEEN RELUCTANT TO REPORT JUST WHAT THE MESSAGE WAS—ONLY THAT HE HAD ERASED IT WITHOUT THINKING IT MIGHT BE IMPORTANT TO THE CASE. SO THE CHILDREN OF SEACRIST FILLED IN THE GAPS LEFT BY THE NEWSPAPER AND WHAT THEIR PARENTS WOULDN'T TELL THEM BY INVENTING IN THEIR OWN MINDS WHAT THE VANDALS' MESSAGE MAY HAVE BEEN. IT WAS EITHER A DEMONIC WARNING OR A DRAWING OF THE SCHOOL BUILDING WITH BLOOD DRIPPING FROM IT, DEPENDING ON WHAT YOU HEARD AND WHAT TIME OF DAY YOU HEARD IT.

TWO WEEKS LATER, TOWARD THE END OF SEPTEMBER, THE GAZETTE DID A FOLLOW-UP STORY ON THE TORMEY INCIDENT. THE PAPER DIDN’T SAY MUCH BEYOND THAT THERE HAD BEEN NO PROGRESS IN FINDING THE CULPRITS RESPONSIBLE. BUT IT DID CONFIRM THAT ELLIS XAVIER HAD REVEALED THE CONTENTS OF THE MESSAGE ON THE BLACKBOARD TO A POLICE SOURCE. IT HAD TAKEN HIM A COUPLE OF WEEKS TO FULLY REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS BECAUSE THE SHOCK OF FINDING THE DECAYING CORPSE HAD BEEN SO GREAT. THE MESSAGE HAD READ: TO ALL THIS DARKNESS. IT HAD APPARENTLY BEEN WRITTEN IN IMITATION OF A CHILD'S CLUMSY SCRAWL.

I WAS IN THE SECOND GRADE AT SEACRIST SCHOOL THAT YEAR. TORMEY HAPPENED IN THE FALL, AND IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER CAME TIMOTHY SHAUGH. THE EVENTS OF THAT TIME HAPPENED WITH GREAT SPEED. SEACRIST ELEMENTARY BECAME A KIND OF HELL ON EARTH SO QUICKLY THAT MANY PSYCHOLOGISTS AGREE IT WAS ALL NEVER TRULY GRASPED BY THE UNDEVELOPED MINDS OF SEACRIST'S CHILDREN. CERTAINLY NOT MINE, MY DOCTOR USED TO SAY. FOR THREE YEARS I HAVE TOLD HER THAT I REMEMBER LITTLE OF THAT TIME, AND CERTAINLY NOTHING OF THE DAY THAT TIMOTHY SHAUGH WALKED WITH A CHOPPING AXE INTO THE CLASSROOM WHERE JEAN WILLETT WAS TEACHING MYSELF AND TWO OTHER STUDENTS HOW TO TELL TIME. I HAVE ALWAYS CLAIMED THAT THOSE MEMORIES ARE SIMPLY GONE FOREVER.

EVERYTHING TODAY IS DIFFERENT. THE CATATONIA WHICH CLAIMED MY MIND AND MY BODY FOR FOURTEEN DAYS RECENTLY HAD RESIDUAL SIDE EFFECTS THAT NO DOCTOR COULD EVER HAVE HOPED FOR. THOUGH MY DAYS AT SEACRIST WERE SHROUDED IN A MENTAL FOG FOR MANY YEARS, THE CATATONIA, WHATEVER CAUSED IT, SEEMS TO HAVE BROUGHT IT ALL BACK. I REMEMBER READING THE MORNING NEWS IN THE GAZETTE AND FEELING FAINT, AND THEN WAKING FROM MY TWO WEEK SLEEP IN THE HOSPITAL, AND WITH IT CAME EVERYTHING. I HAVE NOT TOLD MY DOCTOR THIS, FOR REASONS OF MY OWN. I HAVE NOT TOLD MY FRIENDS OR THE MAN FROM A SHOW CALLED HAPPENINGS WHO CALLED ME AGAIN NOT THIRTY MINUTES AGO, LEAVING A MESSAGE OF CONDOLENCE ABOUT AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE OF MINE. BUT NOW IT IS TIME TO TELL SOMEONE. I HAVE ALL SORTS OF SECRETS, AND EVERYONE WANTS TO KNOW THEM. I REMEMBER TORMEY, STEVEN ODOM, THE FIRE, AND MOST CLEARLY OF ALL, I REMEMBER TIMOTHY SHAUGH. OF THE THREE STUDENTS WHO LIVED THROUGH THAT DAY, I KNOW THAT ONLY I HAVE THE ABILITY TO TELL WHAT I SAW AND WHAT I HEARD. THIS IS MY LAST TESTAMENT ON THE SUBJECT.

SEACRIST ELEMENTARY SCHOOL WAS FOUNDED IN 1957, AND WAS THE BRAINCHILD OF REVEREND HARDIS RUSSELL, WHO WAS THE SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS AT THAT TIME. IT WAS RUSSELL'S IDEA TO MOVE STUDENTS FROM A SMALLER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DOWN THE STREET INTO A LARGER BUILDING ON HIGHTOWN ROAD AND TO INCORPORATE SIX GRADES IN THE BUILDING INSTEAD OF JUST THREE, DIVIDING THE UPPER AND LOWER GRADES BY FLOORS, WITH ONE THROUGH THREE ON THE BOTTOM, FOUR THROUGH SIX ON THE TOP. HARDIS RUSSELL DIED IN 1960 OF A HEART ATTACK.

DURING THE TIME I WAS A STUDENT IN SECOND GRADE, SEACRIST HAD ABOUT THREE HUNDRED CHILDREN AND A TEACHING STAFF OF TWENTY-SEVEN. FROM THE DAY IT OPENED UNTIL ITS CLOSING IN WINTER OF 1978, SEACRIST HAD THE HIGHEST ABSENTEE RATE OF ANY PUBLIC SCHOOL IN PENNSYLVANIA. IT NEARLY DOUBLED IN 1977. BEFORE THAT, THE BOARD OF EDUCATION CONDUCTED A STUDY OF THE ABSENTEE RATE BUT COULDN’T FIND ANY EXPLANATION FOR THE PROBLEM. THE SCHOOL WAS INSPECTED FOR HEALTH HAZARDS TWICE IN THE SEVENTIES, BUT STILL NO ONE COULD FIND A REASON WHY NEARLY TWENTY PERCENT OF THE STUDENTS WERE HOME FROM SCHOOL ON ANY GIVEN DAY.

THE ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL'S NAME WAS STEVEN ODOM. HE DISAPPEARED ON OCTOBER FOURTH. A CALL WAS PLACED TO ODOM'S HOME ON THE FIFTH WHEN HE STILL HADN’T CALLED IN SICK. THIS WAS ON A TUESDAY. HIS WIFE, WHOSE NAME WAS LADYBIRD, ANSWERED THE PHONE, AND WHEN SHE WAS TOLD THAT STEVEN HAD NOT COME INTO WORK, SHE IMMEDIATELY CALLED THE POLICE. SHE SAID THAT ODOM HAD NEVER COME HOME FROM A FISHING TRIP TO MARYLAND THAT WEEKEND. THE TWO MEN WHO HAD BEEN WITH HIM ON THE TRIP SAID ONLY THAT THEY HAD DROPPED HIM OFF IN FRONT OF HIS HOUSE AT ABOUT DAWN MONDAY MORNING. THE POLICE BEGAN TO SEARCH FOR ODOM RIGHT AWAY.

THE PLAYGROUND AT SEACRIST ELEMENTARY CONSISTS OF A LARGE SQUARE BLACKTOP BORDERED ON THREE SIDES BY MONKEY BARS, SWINGSETS, AND THE LIKE. JUST BEYOND THAT A LARGE FIELD BEGINS, ONE WHICH SLOPES DOWN FOR ABOUT A HUNDRED FEET AND LEVELS OUT FOR A COUPLE OF ACRES. NOT MANY CHILDREN EVER PLAYED IN THE FIELD DURING RECESS, EVEN THOUGH WE WERE ALLOWED TO. IT WAS A FAIR DISTANCE FROM THE SCHOOL BUILDING, AND THE EDGE OF THE FIELD BORDERED SOME VERY DEEP WOODS. THREE DAYS AFTER ODOM WAS DUE BACK AT HOME AFTER HIS FISHING TRIP, A BOY NAMED CARL TRAMMELL AND TWO OF HIS FRIENDS WERE HAVING A GAME OF CATCH DOWN NEAR THOSE WOODS. WHILE PLAYING, CARL NOTICED TWO STICKS RISING UP OUT OF THE GROUND TOWARD THE WESTERN END OF THE FIELD, AND HE WENT OVER TO HAVE A LOOK. HE WAS NINE YEARS OLD. HE FIGURED OUT QUITE QUICKLY THAT THE STICKS HAD BEEN PLACED IN THE GROUND TO MARK A GRAVE, ALTHOUGH THERE WAS NO SIGN THAT THE EARTH BENEATH THE STICKS HAD BEEN DUG IN AT ALL. WRITTEN IN CHARCOAL ON THE HORIZONTAL STICK WHICH COMPLETED THE CRUCIFIX SHAPE WAS THE NAME ODOM.

CARL TRAMMELL RAN UP THE SLOPE TOWARD THE PLAYGROUND AND TOLD THE FIRST TEACHER HE SAW ABOUT WHAT HE HAD FOUND. THAT TEACHER’S NAME SLIPS MY MIND, BUT SHE WISELY DIDN’T TOUCH THE STICKS. INSTEAD SHE WENT RIGHT TO THE PRINCIPAL TO TELL HIM WHAT HAD HAPPENED. ELLIS XAVIER CALLED THE POLICE A HALF HOUR LATER, AFTER THE CHILDREN WERE SAFELY INSIDE AT LUNCH. IT WAS THE SECOND TIME HE'D HAD TO CALL THE AUTHORITIES IN LESS THAN A MONTH.

THE STICKS WERE MADE OF THICK BALSA WOOD AND CONNECTED AT THE INTERSECTION OF THE CRUCIFIX WITH A RUBBER BAND. THE LETTERS WRITTEN UPON THEM WERE FOUR INCHES HIGH AND PERFECTLY CLEAR. THERE WAS NO DOUBT WHAT THE GRAVE MEANT. AND ALTHOUGH THE GROUND BENEATH OBVIOUSLY HAD NOT BEEN TAMPERED WITH, AN AREA OF THE FIELD FORTY FEET IN DIAMETER AND NINE FEET DEEP WAS CUT OUT WITH A BULLDOZER STARTING AT FOUR O'CLOCK THAT SAME DAY. IT LEFT A DEEP PIT IN THE FIELD AND MADE IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE CHILDREN TO PLAY DOWN THAT WAY FOR THREE WEEKS. MOST DISTURBING OF ALL WAS THE BAFFLING RESULT OF THE FINGERPRINT TESTING ON THE TWO CROSSED STICKS WHICH MARKED THE APPARENT GRAVESITE. THE ONLY PRINTS FOUND ON THE STICKS, AND THERE WERE THREE COMPLETE SETS IN ALL, WERE THOSE OF STEVEN ODOM HIMSELF. HE HAD BEEN FINGERPRINTED THE PREVIOUS SUMMER WHEN APPLYING FOR A TEMPORARY POSITION AT PITTSBURGH AIRPORT.

ON THE NINTH OF OCTOBER STEVEN ODOM WAS STILL MISSING, AND NO ONE HAD COME FORWARD TO OFFER CLUES AS TO WHERE HE OR WHERE HIS BODY MIGHT BE FOUND. ON THE TENTH, A REPORTER FOR THE TRI-COUNTY GAZETTE BROKE A STRANGE TWIST IN THE STORY. WILLIAM JAMES STATED IN A SIDEBAR STORY THAT DURING THE PREVIOUS YEAR, LADYBIRD ODOM HAD FILED TWO SEPARATE BATTERY CHARGES AGAINST HER HUSBAND, ONE IN FEBRUARY AND ONE IN MAY. BOTH TIMES THE CHARGES HAD BEEN DROPPED, BUT THE SECOND TIME STEVEN ODOM HAD TO SPEND THE NIGHT IN JAIL. THE BOARD OF EDUCATION CLAIMED IGNORANCE OF THESE CHARGES AND SAID THAT SINCE THEY HAD BEEN DROPPED ANYWAY, IT WASN’T THEIR CONCERN. BUT LADYBIRD ODOM HAD ALSO BEEN BRIEFLY HOSPITALIZED TWICE IN 1977 AND ONCE IN 1976, TWICE FOR CONCUSSIONS RESULTING FROM FALLS, AND ONCE FOR A BROKEN INDEX FINGER WHICH SHE CLAIMED WAS DUE TO THE SLIPPAGE OF A HAMMER. THE BATTERY CHARGES DIDN’T COINCIDE CHRONOLOGICALLY WITH THE HOSPITALIZATIONS, BUT JAMES POINTED THEM OUT ANYWAY, WHILE BEING VERY CAREFUL TO ALLEGE NOTHING AGAINST LADYBIRD ODOM. SHE WAS APPARENTLY HYSTERICAL, AND HAD TO BE KEPT UNDER SEDATION FROM THE DAY THE MYSTERIOUS GRAVE WAS FOUND.

THEN SOMETHING HAPPENED THAT WAS VERY ODD INDEED. MRS. HARRIS, SEACRIST'S ART TEACHER, ARRIVED AT HER ROOM ON THE MORNING OF THE TWELFTH AT ABOUT SEVEN-THIRTY TO PREPARE FOR THE SCHOOL DAY. SHE DIDN’T NOTICE ANYTHING OUT OF THE ORDINARY UNTIL SHE WENT TOWARD THE BACK OF THE ROOM TO GET OUT A REAM OF CONSTRUCTION PAPER FOR HER FIRST CLASS. THERE WAS AN EASEL PROPPED UP THERE, WHERE IT USUALLY WAS, BUT NOW THERE WAS A TWELVE BY TWENTY-FOUR INCH WHITE CANVAS RESTING ON IT. MRS. HARRIS FIRST FOUND IT STRANGE THAT ANY CANVAS SHOULD BE IN THE ROOM SINCE SHE HAD NONE FOR USE ANYWHERE, EVEN IN STORAGE. SHE STOOD LOOKING AT THE CANVAS FOR A GOOD FIVE MINUTES BEFORE SHE TOOK IT OFF THE EASEL WITHOUT THINKING OF THE THING AS EVIDENCE, AND BROUGHT IT DOWN THE HALL TO SOMEONE WHO MIGHT KNOW WHO TO CONTACT NEXT.

I DON'T FEEL I CAN ACCURATELY DEPICT THE CANVAS AS I'VE SEEN IT. THE DRAWING ON IT WAS DONE IN CHARCOAL, LIKE THE INSCRIPTION ON STEVEN ODOM'S HEADSTONE. IT SEEMED TO HAVE BEEN DONE RATHER QUICKLY, MORE OF A THUMBNAIL SKETCH THAN A THOROUGHLY IMAGINED RENDERING. IT SHOWED A WOMAN'S HEAD AND SHOULDERS AND NOTHING ELSE. THE DETAIL OF THE DRAWING WAS COMPLETELY CONCENTRATED INTO THE FACE, WHILE THE NECK AND SHOULDERS WERE DONE IN THREE OR FOUR QUICK SLASHES. THE MOUTH OF THE WOMAN WAS SHOWN AS A FROWNING, LIPLESS OVAL IN WHICH THERE WERE SIMPLY FAR TOO MANY TEETH CROWDED IN. THIS GAVE THE WOMAN AN ANIMALISTIC APPEARANCE. THE TEETH WERE DRAWN IN A RUDIMENTARY SERIES OF VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL SLASHES. ABOVE THEM WAS A CROOKED NOSE AND SOME WAVY LINES IN THE CHEEKS, SUGGESTING A HAGGARD EXPRESSION AND ADVANCED AGE. THEN THERE WERE THE EYES, WHICH WERE THE MOST REVOLTING ASPECT OF THE CANVAS. THE LEFT PUPIL WAS SHAPED LIKE A DIAMOND AND WAS HOLLOW. THE RIGHT PUPIL, THOUGH, WAS ROUND AND BLACK LIKE A STONE, AND WAS NEARLY TWICE AS LARGE AS THE LEFT, SEEMING TO BULGE OUT AND STARE BLANKLY. THE EYEBROWS WERE TWO HORIZONTAL CLAW MARKS. A PROFUSION OF SCRAGGLY, SEEMINGLY UNWASHED HAIR TUMBLED AROUND THE WOMAN’S SHOULDERS. THIS TIME THE ONLY FINGERPRINTS ON THE OBJECT WERE MRS. HARRIS'S. NONE ELSE COULD BE FOUND.

AT THE TIME THE DRAWING WAS REPORTED TO THE AUTHORITIES, VERY FEW OF THE OFFICERS ON THE ODOM CASE KNEW EXACTLY WHAT LADYBIRD ODOM LOOKED LIKE. ONLY TWO MEN HAD ACTUALLY TALKED TO HER FACE TO FACE. ONE OF THOSE MEN LOOKED AT THE DRAWING LONG ENOUGH TO FORMULATE THE THEORY THAT THE FACE ON THE CANVAS WAS LADYBIRD'S. IT WAS A CRUDE LIKENESS, BUT IT SEEMS THAT AS THE DAYS WENT BY, IT BECAME MORE AND MORE A PLAUSIBLE CHANCE. THE POLICE CALLED LADYBIRD ODOM'S HOME TWO DAYS AFTER THE DISCOVERY OF THE DRAWING, BUT SAID NOTHING ABOUT WHAT THEY HAD FOUND. THE DRAWING ITSELF MAY NEVER HAVE BEEN ENOUGH FOR THE POLICE TO BEGIN TO SUSPECT THIS WOMAN IN THE MURDER OF HER HUSBAND. IT MEANT NOTHING IN ITSELF, AND COULD HAVE BEEN DONE BY ANYONE. THEY WERE MOST LIKELY INVESTIGATING THE HISTORY OF BATTERY IN THE ODOM HOUSE VERY CAREFULLY, BUT THIS WAS STILL NOT ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO CONFRONT LADYBIRD DIRECTLY.

IF ONE LOOKED CLOSELY ENOUGH INTO THE HAIR OF THE WOMAN IN THE SKETCH, LETTERS OF THE ALPHABET COULD BE DISCERNED SLOPING FROM A POINT ABOVE THE MUTATED RIGHT EYE AND CONTINUING DOWN TOWARD THE RIGHT EAR. THE LETTERS APPEARED TO SPELL OUT THE WORDS NEWMARKET HILL. IT ISN’T KNOWN WHO ON THE STATE POLICE FORCE WAS THE FIRST TO NOTICE THIS, OR TO ACTUALLY SUGGEST THAT THE WORD HAD SOME CONNECTION TO THE CASE. NEWMARKET IS A SMALL TOWN FIVE MILES SOUTH OF SEACRIST. NEWMARKET HILL IS A LOCAL LANDMARK THAT HAS SOME CONNECTION TO A NORTHERN MARCH DURING THE CIVIL WAR. IT'S A SLOPING HILLSIDE OF EXPOSED STONE ON ROUTE 13 EAST OF THE TOWN OF MCHENRY. A MONUMENT TO THE HILL'S INVOLVEMENT IN THE WAR IS CUT INTO ONE OF THE STONES AT THE BASE OF THE HILL. ON OCTOBER 15TH, THE SAME DAY OF SEACRIST ELEMENTARY'S AUTUMN PLAY, WHICH INVOLVED THE LOWER THREE GRADES AND WAS PUT ON FOR THE PARENTS IN THE AFTERNOON, THE STATE POLICE WENT TO NEWMARKET HILL TO TAKE A LOOK AROUND. THEY MUST HAVE BEEN ACTING ON SOMEONE’S INTUITION, OR MAYBE ON AGREEMENT THAT THE EVENTS SO FAR IN THE ODOM CASE WERE TOO STRANGE FOR ANYTHING TO BE DISCOUNTED. THEY FOUND SOMETHING WITHIN AN HOUR, UNDER A PATCH OF LOOSE EARTH TOWARD THE TOP OF THE HILL, AWAY FROM THE STONIEST SOIL. SHALLOW DIGGING REVEALED FIRST AN ARM, THEN A TORSO, THEN THE ENTIRE BODY OF STEVEN ODOM. HE HAD DIED OF HEAD INJURIES, MORE SPECIFICALLY OF BLOWS TO THE LEFT OF THE SCALP AND ONE AGAINST THE NECK. THE CORONER DETERMINED HE’D BEEN DEAD FOR SOMETHING LIKE TWO WEEKS. THE WATCH THAT HIS WIFE HAD GIVEN TO HIM FOR HIS BIRTHDAY FIVE YEARS BEFORE WAS COVERED IN DIRT BUT STILL TICKING.

ODOM'S DEATH JOLTED THE CHILDREN OF SEACRIST. TO THE LOWER GRADES, THE ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL WAS A KIND OF ALL-SEEING GOD TO FEAR AND RESPECT. THE PRINCIPAL HIMSELF WAS SEEN VERY LITTLE AND SO WAS A CONCEPT OF GREAT HORROR TO EVERYONE UNDER THE AGE OF TWELVE. HE WAS ASSOCIATED IN OUR MINDS ONLY WITH PUNISHMENT. BUT ODOM, THE ASSISTANT, WAS ALWAYS IN THE HALLWAYS, GOING FROM ROOM TO ROOM SOMETIMES AND JUST SITTING IN ON CLASSES, LISTENING, SMILING AT THE KIDS, AND VANISHING AGAIN. HE WAS AN IDOL OF SORTS. JOSEPH TORMEY HAD NEVER BEEN KNOWN AT ALL TO ANY CHILD AT SEACRIST, BUT ODOM WAS, AND HIS MURDER FRIGHTENED US, AND FOR MOST KIDS IT WAS PROBABLY THE FIRST EVER LESSON OF DEATH. THE INCIDENT WAS IN THE NEWSPAPERS FOR MORE THAN THREE MONTHS. IT MIGHT HAVE PASSED QUICKLY INTO MEMORY, BUT THE BODY OF EVIDENCE POINTING TOWARD LADYBIRD ODOM JUST GOT MORE AND MORE OMINOUS.

THERE WAS NO MENTION OF THE MYSTERIOUS DRAWING IN THE NEWSPAPER. THE POLICE INQUIRIES INTO LADYBIRD ODOM REPORTEDLY CAME FROM "A GATHERING OF UNRELEASED, CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE," ACCORDING TO THE TRI-COUNTY GAZETTE. AN HOUR AFTER STEVEN ODOM'S CORPSE WAS DISCOVERED, LADYBIRD WAS CALLED. THERE WAS NO ANSWER AT HER HOME, AND SHE WASN’T THERE WHEN THE POLICE ARRIVED AT ABOUT FOUR IN THE AFTERNOON. THE FRONT DOOR WAS UNLOCKED AND HER CAR WAS GONE. A NOTE HAD BEEN LEFT ON THE KITCHEN TABLE. LADYBIRD ODOM WROTE THAT SHE WAS AT THE END OF HER EMOTIONAL ROPE AND HAD TO LEAVE THE AREA. SHE WOULD CALL THE POLICE WITH A FORWARDING NUMBER A DAY LATER. THAT DAY CAME AND WENT, AND THE POLICE BEGAN TO ACTIVELY SEARCH FOR HER AS THEY HAD ONCE SEARCHED FOR HER HUSBAND. CALLS TO THE HOTELS IN THE AREA REVEALED THAT SHE HAD STAYED THE NIGHT AT A HOLIDAY INN IN DORSEY, FIFTY MILES WEST OF SEACRIST, AND HAD CHECKED OUT EARLY. THE AUTHORITIES COUPLED THIS FACT WITH SOME CONFLICTING STATEMENTS SHE HAD INITIALLY GIVEN THEM, AND SUDDENLY SHE WAS CONSIDERED A FUGITIVE FROM JUSTICE. JUSTICE NEVER FOUND HER. IT’S BEEN EIGHTEEN YEARS SINCE STEVEN ODOM WAS MURDERED, AND THE POLICE LOST ALL TRACES OF LADYBIRD ODOM AFTER SHE CHECKED OUT OF THE DORSEY HOLIDAY INN. SHE’D BEEN A HOUSEWIFE FOR NINE YEARS, BUT SOMEHOW SHE MANAGED TO ELUDE THE POLICE LIKE A PROFESSIONAL CRIMINAL. IN THE MONTHS THAT FOLLOWED, OTHER EVENTS AT SEACRIST BEGAN TO OVERSHADOW STEVEN ODOM’S MURDER, BUT YOU COULD ALWAYS FIND MENTION OF THE CASE SOMEWHERE IN THE GAZETTE AS MORE AND MORE EVIDENCE STRENGTHENED THE CASE AGAINST HIS WIFE. BASIC FORENSIC EVIDENCE PILED UP, AND NEIGHBORS BEGAN TO CLAIM THAT ODOM HAD BEATEN HIS WIFE A NUMBER OF TIMES DURING THEIR MARRIAGE. THIS MADE IT SEEM CERTAIN THAT SHE REALLY HAD FINALLY KILLED HIM ONE NIGHT UPON HIS RETURN FROM A FISHING TRIP. FINALLY, ONE NEIGHBOR CAME FORWARD NEARLY SIX MONTHS LATER WITH A CLAIM THAT LADYBIRD ODOM HAD BORROWED HIS CAR JUST AFTER TEN O'CLOCK ON THE NIGHT BEFORE STEVEN WAS REPORTED MISSING. HALF A YEAR WENT BY BEFORE THE NEIGHBOR DISCOVERED A LARGE GARDEN TROWEL TUCKED INSIDE HIS SPARE TIRE COMPARTMENT. POLICE DEDUCED THAT THIS WAS WHAT HAD BEEN USED TO BURY STEVEN ODOM. THE ACTUAL MURDER WEAPON WAS MOST LIKELY A BASEBALL BAT OR SOMETHING SIMILAR, BUT IT COULD NOT BE FOUND. THE THEORY WAS THAT LADYBIRD ODOM HAD BORROWED A NEIGHBOR'S CAR TO TRANSPORT THE BODY BECAUSE SHE DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO DRIVE THE STANDARD SHIFT OF THE TRUCK THAT BELONGED TO HER HUSBAND.

I REMEMBER VERY CLEARLY THAT NO MEMORIAL SERVICE WAS HELD AT SEACRIST. THERE WAS NO ANNOUNCEMENT OF HIS DEATH OR MOMENT OF SILENCE ASKED FOR DURING THE MORNING MESSAGES. SUCH A THING WOULD HAVE BEEN TOO PROBLEMATIC FOR OUR YOUNG MINDS. THE FACTS OF THE CASE WERE LEARNED OSMOTICALLY THROUGH OUR PARENTS, RUMOR, AND THE TELEVISION. AFTER SEACRIST CLOSED FOR GOOD IN JANUARY OF 1978, THE MANDATORY PSYCHOLOGICAL EXIT INTERVIEWS CONDUCTED WITH EACH AND EVERY CHILD PRODUCED ONE INTERESTING REFERENCE TO THE STEVEN ODOM CASE. A FIRST GRADER NAMED LAURIE BURKE WAS ASKED HOW MUCH SHE RECALLED ABOUT WHAT HAD HAPPENED TO THE ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL. LAURIE TOLD THE PSYCHOLOGIST THAT SHE HADN'T THOUGHT ABOUT IT MUCH SINCE THE TIME MR. ODOM SPOKE TO HER IN THE HALLWAY THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS VACATION BEGAN. OF COURSE, ODOM HAD BEEN DEAD SINCE OCTOBER AND THE PSYCHOLOGIST POINTED THIS OUT, BUT LAURIE SAID NO, SHE REMEMBERED COMING INTO SCHOOL TWENTY MINUTES LATE BECAUSE SHE HAD DROPPED HER GLOVES IN THE SNOW ON THE WAY AND HAD TO FIND THEM. SHE RAN INSIDE THE SCHOOL, TERRIFIED THAT SHE WOULD BE IN A LOT OF TROUBLE, AND ODOM HAD BEEN IN THE EMPTY HALLWAY, PUTTING A HAND OUT TO SLOW HER DOWN. NOT REALLY HAVING ANY TRUE CONCEPTION THAT ODOM HAD DIED MONTHS BEFORE, LAURIE CLAIMED TO HAVE WALKED TOWARD HER CLASSROOM ACCOMPANIED BY HIM. SHE SAID HE HAD BEEN DRESSED IN HIS USUAL SUIT AND TIE AND THAT ODOM HAD NOT SPOKEN MUCH BEYOND TELLING HER THAT THE TEACHER WOULDN'T MIND IF SHE WAS LATE, AND THAT EVERYTHING WAS GOING TO BE OKAY AS LONG AS SHE DIDN'T LOSE HER GLOVES. THEN HE TURNED AND DISAPPEARED DOWN THE HALLWAY. THE EXIT INTERVIEWS WERE TAPED AND LAURIE WAS RECORDED THREE DIFFERENT TIMES AS SAYING SHE WAS CERTAIN IT WAS MR. ODOM WHO WALKED HER TO HER CLASS THAT DAY. SHE NEVER SAW HIM AGAIN AND ONLY BECAME TRULY AWARE OF THE FACT OF HIS DEATH WHEN THE PSYCHOLOGIST TOLD HER OF IT. HER TALK WITH THE UNKNOWN ADULT WAS CONSIDERED JUST A MISTAKE IN IDENTITY AND NOT EVEN A DELUSION, AND SHE WASN’T REFERRED TO ANY OTHER DOCTOR AFTER SEACRIST CLOSED AND SHE WAS TRANSFERRED TO GUTHRIE HEIGHTS ALONG WITH MOST OF THE OTHER CHILDREN, INCLUDING MYSELF. SHE WENT ON TO CHESTER JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL AND THEN TO SEACRIST HIGH, LIKE ME. I DIDN’T KNOW OF HER CLAIM WHEN I WAS IN SECOND GRADE AND DIDN'T LEARN ABOUT IT UNTIL LONG AFTER WE HAD BOTH GRADUATED AND MOVED ON. THE TWO STICKS MARKING OUR ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL'S GRAVE AND THE CHARCOAL SKETCH OF HIS WIFE MAY HAVE BEEN INCINERATED OVER A DECADE AGO, BUT SINCE THERE IS NO STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR MURDER, THEY MIGHT STILL BE LOCKED AWAY AS EVIDENCE IN THE STATE'S CASE AGAINST LADYBIRD ODOM, WHO IS STILL WANTED FOR THAT MURDER, AND WHO I AM CERTAIN WILL NEVER BE LOCATED IN THIS LIFETIME.

AS I WRITE THIS, THERE IS A BOTTLE OF PILLS IN MY RIGHT BREAST POCKET. THE PILLS ARE KNOWN BY THE TRADE NAME N-ZEPAM. I TAKE TWO A DAY. THEY WERE PRESCRIBED FOR ME BY MY DOCTOR, WHO LIKES ME TO CALL HER SAM, SINCE I CAME OUT OF THE CATATONIA FOUR DAYS AGO. THEY'RE VERY SIMILAR CHEMICALLY TO VALIUM AND IT WAS EXPLAINED TO ME BY SAM THAT IT WOULD BE A VERY GOOD IDEA TO TAKE THE PILLS TO THWART ANY SIGN OF A BREAKDOWN. SO I TAKE THEM. SAM HAS BEEN MY DOCTOR FOR A LITTLE OVER THREE YEARS. TWO YEARS INTO MY THERAPY SHE CAME UP WITH THE IDEA THAT I DO MY OWN EXTENSIVE RESEARCH INTO SEACRIST ELEMENTARY'S HISTORY. SINCE THEN I THINK SHE HAS DONE LITTLE BUT POISON ME WITH PLATITUDES AND N-ZEPAM. BUT I KNEW RIGHT AWAY THAT LOOKING INTO SEACRIST'S PAST WAS JUST WHAT I WANTED TO DO.

I HAVE SO MANY DETAILS ABOUT THE PLACE MAINLY DUE TO A SINGLE BOOK. IT'S CALLED THE UNTOLD STORY OF SEACRIST SCHOOL, AND IT WAS WRITTEN FOUR YEARS AGO BY A REPORTER FROM THE PHOENIX DAILY JOURNAL NAMED ROURKE BILLINGS. BILLINGS WAS TWENTY-NINE YEARS OLD WHEN HE WROTE THIS BOOK, THREE YEARS YOUNGER THAN I AM NOW. I’VE BEEN TO MANY LIBRARIES AND MADE MANY PHONE CALLS, AND I CAN SAY WITHOUT MUCH DOUBT ANYMORE THAT IT’S THE ONLY FULL LENGTH ACCOUNT OF WHAT OCCURRED AT SEACRIST IN 1977 EVER PRINTED. THE UNTOLD STORY WAS PUBLISHED BY A FAIRLY SMALL PRESS AND WENT OUT OF PRINT JUST A YEAR AFTER IT CAME OUT. MY PERSONAL COPY IS FROM THE LOCAL LIBRARY HERE IN TOWN. IT WAS THE ONLY PLACE I COULD FIND IT WITHIN A HUNDRED MILES.

I'VE READ IT TWICE AND I THINK IT'S ALL THERE, ALTHOUGH FROM HAVING ACTUALLY ATTENDED SEACRIST SCHOOL, I WILL ALSO SAY IT’S FILLED WITH CONTRADICTIONS AND INACCURACIES. BILLINGS GETS MANY THINGS WRONG, BUT HE REVEALS SOME THINGS I NEVER KNEW ABOUT. I MYSELF AM MENTIONED TWICE, VERY BRIEFLY, AND BOTH TIMES ONLY IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE OTHER SURVIVORS OF TIMOTHY SHAUGH'S ATTACK ON ROOM 15. ROURKE BILLINGS CALLED ME PERSONALLY ABOUT A YEAR BEFORE THE BOOK WAS PUBLISHED AND ASKED IF I WANTED TO ANSWER A FEW QUESTIONS AND I SAID NO. APPARENTLY MOST OF US DECLINED. WE THREE SURVIVORS, AT LEAST, ARE NEVER QUOTED IN THE UNTOLD STORY.

IT'S NOT A VERY GOOD BOOK, AND TO CALL SOME OF ITS CLAIMS OUTRIGHT LIES WOULD NOT BE OUT OF LINE. FOR EXAMPLE, I HAVE TO WONDER ABOUT A PASSAGE IN A CHAPTER CALLED "TENDING THE SHADOWS”, WHICH CLAIMS THAT ON OCTOBER 21ST OF 1977, SHORTLY AFTER THE DISCOVERY OF STEVEN ODOM'S BODY IN THE TOWN OF NEWMARKET, A LOOSE GROUP OF ABOUT TWENTY PARENTS GATHERED TOGETHER IN THE HOME OF A WOMAN LIVING A FEW BLOCKS AWAY FROM SEACRIST ELEMENTARY. THE WOMAN, FREDERICA HUNTLEY, WAS A CONCERNED PARENT OF A SEACRIST FIFTH GRADER AND HAD SUPPOSEDLY ORGANIZED THE PARENTS' MEETING TO TRY TO GET TOGETHER ON A PLAN TO SHELTER THE CHILDREN FROM THE BARRAGE OF CONFLICTING STORIES THAT WERE CIRCULATING, AND WHICH WERE JUDGED TO BE POTENTIALLY DAMAGING TO OUR MENTAL HEALTH. SHE HAD SENT OVER ONE HUNDRED INVITATIONS TO PARENTS IN HER NEIGHBORHOOD. THE OUTCOME OF THE MEETING WAS AN AGREEMENT AMONG THE PARENTS TO TELL THEIR CHILDREN NOTHING ABOUT THE OCCURRENCES AT THE SCHOOL, EVEN IF THEY WERE ASKED. THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF JOSEPH TORMEY WOULD BE CHANGED TO DEATH BY HEART ATTACK, AND STEVEN ODOM'S DISAPPEARANCE WOULD BE PUT DOWN TO HIS BEING TRANSFERRED TO A SCHOOL IN A DIFFERENT PART OF THE STATE. THE MEETING LASTED FOR ABOUT TWO HOURS WITH A RECOMMENDATION TO EXPAND THE PARENTS' GROUP AND MAYBE INCLUDE SOME SEACRIST TEACHERS.

NO NAMES OTHER THAN FREDERICA HUNTLEY'S ARE GIVEN IN THE ACCOUNT OF THIS MEETING, WHICH APPARENTLY TOOK PLACE TWO BLOCKS FROM WHERE I LIVED. MY PARENTS NEVER RECEIVED ANY INVITATION OR HEARD OF SUCH A GATHERING. FREDERICA HUNTLEY DIED IN 1986, LONG BEFORE THE BOOK WAS PUBLISHED. I NEVER KNEW ANY CHILD AT SEACRIST WHO HAD BEEN TOLD THAT JOSEPH TORMEY HAD A HEART ATTACK OR THAT ODOM HAD BEEN TRANSFERRED. I DON'T BELIEVE THE STORY OF THE MEETING, BUT ROURKE BILLINGS DID GET THE GENERAL MOOD OF THE TIME CORRECTLY. I DON'T REMEMBER A SINGLE CHILD WHO HAD ALL THE FACTS CONCERNING EITHER CASE.

THERE’S ALSO A LOT LEFT OUT OF THE UNTOLD STORY, AND A LOT WHICH THE AUTHOR COULD PROBABLY NEVER HAVE KNOWN ABOUT. FOR INSTANCE, HE COULDN’T HAVE BEEN KNOWN ABOUT MY FIRST DAY AT SEACRIST, AS A FIRST GRADER OUT OF SARA BROWN KINDERGARTEN A MILE TO THE NORTH. MY FATHER WALKED ME TO SCHOOL THAT DAY, AND I CRIED WHEN HE LEFT ME, BECAUSE I HAD NEVER BEEN AWAY FROM HOME AS LONG AS I WOULD BE FROM THEN ON. I ENTERED THE FRONT DOORS ALONE AND MORE THAN TWENTY MINUTES LATE BECAUSE MY FATHER HAD GOTTEN THE TIMES WRONG ON THE BULLETIN THAT HAD BEEN SENT TO OUR HOUSE. IT WAS ONLY ME GOING INTO SEACRIST ON THAT FIRST DAY. WE’D VISITED THE SCHOOL TWICE, AND MY ASSIGNED TEACHER WAS IN A ROOM JUST TWENTY FEET OR SO INSIDE THE FRONT DOOR, AND ON THE LEFT. BUT THAT DAY I WAS ALONE AND CONFUSED BY THE SILENCE, AND I WALKED UP AND DOWN THE LONG HALLWAY IN FRONT OF ME THREE TIMES BEFORE I BEGAN TO PANIC. I KNEW THE NAME OF MY TEACHER, BUT I COULDN'T FIND THE ROOM. EVERY DOOR WAS CLOSED, AND I COULD HEAR NO SOUNDS. IN DESPERATION I FOUND A DOOR LEADING TO A STAIRWELL AND WENT UP ONE FLIGHT IN THE HOPE THAT SOMEONE WOULD BE UPSTAIRS TO HELP ME. I REMEMBER THAT THE STAIRWELL HOOKED AROUND TO THE LEFT AND WAS CLUTTERED WITH LADDERS, SHEETS, AND BUCKETS OF PAINT. THERE WAS A SMALL RENOVATION PROJECT UNDERWAY IN A SECTION OF SEACRIST THAT HADN'T BEEN USED FOR TEN YEARS OR MORE, AND I WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE IN THAT STAIRWELL. I WENT THROUGH A YELLOW DOOR AND FOUND ANOTHER CORRIDOR, THIS ONE MUCH SHORTER THAN THE ONE ON THE FIRST FLOOR. IT WAS ENTIRELY DESERTED TOO. I MAY HAVE BEEN CRYING AGAIN BY THEN. THERE WERE NO LIGHTS ON, AND I WALKED DOWN THE CORRIDOR MOSTLY IN SHADOW. SHEETS WERE LYING ALL AROUND ON THE TILE FLOOR. I WAS CUT OFF FROM THE REAR PART OF THE HALLWAY BY A CORDON ON WHICH A SIGN WAS HUNG. THE SIGN SAID NO ENTRY. I STEPPED OVER THE CORDON ANYWAY BECAUSE I SAW DAYLIGHT UP AHEAD. IT WAS ONLY A PICTURE WINDOW, BUT IT WAS BETTER THAN THE DARKNESS. AROUND A CORNER, THE HALLWAY ENDED IN AN ABRUPT NICHE. TWO DOORS WERE ON EITHER SIDE OF THE NICHE. HERE, THE FLOOR TILE HAD BEEN ENTIRELY STRIPPED AWAY, AND I COULD ACTUALLY SEE THE ROTTING CLAY UNDERLAYER. THE DOORS WERE VERY STRANGE, BARELY MY HEIGHT AND VERY THIN. THE KNOBS LOOKED ANCIENT AND AN OLD-FASHIONED, KEYHOLE PADLOCK DANGLED FROM BOTH. I OPENED ONE OF THE DOORS. INSIDE WAS A CLOSET OF SOME KIND, A CLOSET THAT NO ADULT, AND MAYBE NOT EVEN A CHILD, COULD HAVE STOOD STRAIGHT UP IN. A BROKEN LIGHT BULB HUNG FROM A STRING. THERE WAS AN OLD CLOCK ON THE REAR WALL OF THE CLOSET. IT HAD BEEN THERE FOR SO LONG IT HAD BEGUN TO GROW A KIND OF MOSSY ROT INSIDE THE GLASS FACE. TWO TINY CHAIRS WERE IN THE CLOSET, FACING EACH OTHER FROM ABOUT A FOOT AWAY. DUST COVERED THE SEATS COMPLETELY. AND IN ONE CORNER WAS A CHILD'S SNEAKER NO BIGGER THAN MINE, BROWN AND ALSO STREAKED WITH ROT. I IMMEDIATELY PICTURED MYSELF INSIDE THAT CLOSET, FACING THE WALL OR SOME OTHER STUDENT WHO HAD BROKEN THE RULES, LOCKED INSIDE, SUFFOCATING, LISTENING TO THE CLOCK TICK, MAYBE IN THE DARK, WITH THE WALLS CLOSING IN AS THE MINUTES PASSED, AND I TURNED AND RAN. I FOUND MY CLASSROOM FIVE MINUTES LATER AND I NEVER WENT UP THOSE STAIRS AGAIN. MAYBE NO ONE EVER DID UNTIL THE RENOVATION WAS COMPLETED SHORTLY BEFORE SEACRIST WAS CLOSED FOREVER. WHAT THAT ROOM TRULY MEANT, I NEVER KNEW.

THE AUTHOR BILLINGS ALSO NEVER GIVES ANY MENTION OF SALLY TRENT, A GIRL IN MY CLASS, MRS. WILLETT'S CLASS, WHO LEFT SEACRIST THE YEAR BEFORE, IN THE MIDDLE OF FIRST GRADE. SALLY'S INCIDENT TOOK PLACE OUTSIDE THE TIME FRAME OF THE OTHERS, SO IT WAS MAYBE NOT OF MUCH INTEREST TO BILLINGS, IF HE EVER HEARD THE STORY AT ALL. THERE'S NO REASON WHY HE SHOULD HAVE. IN ITSELF IT WAS ONLY AN ANECDOTE HARDLY WORTH NOTHING, EXCEPT TO ME, WHO STILL REMEMBERS HER. SALLY WAS A SLIGHTLY HANDICAPPED GIRL WHO SAT AT THE FRONT OF THE CLASS AND LEFT EARLY EACH DAY. I NEVER KNEW THE DETAILS OF HER PROBLEM. SHE WAS PROBABLY JUST SLOW. ALL I KNEW WAS THAT HER HEAD WOULD CONSTANTLY BOB SLIGHTLY UP AND DOWN AS SHE SAT IN CLASS, NEVER STOPPING, ALWAYS CONSTANT. THE TEACHER ALMOST NEVER SPOKE TO HER, SO SHE MAY HAVE EVEN BEEN MUTE FOR ALL I KNEW. BUT MRS. WILLETT BECAME MORE ATTENTIVE TO SALLY TOWARD THE END OF THE SCHOOL YEAR WHEN SHE BEGAN TO STARE BLANKLY INTO ONE CORNER OF THE ROOM. SHE WOULD JUST ABSOLUTELY RIVET HER STARE ON A PARTICULAR POINT, WHICH WAS APPARENTLY THE AMERICAN FLAG OR THE TRASHCAN THAT SAT BESIDE THE DOOR. I NOTICED HER BECAUSE HER ATTENTION WAS USUALLY VERY ACUTE. SHE FOCUSED ON MRS. WILLETT ALMOST FAWNINGLY, FROM THE TIME SHE SAT DOWN IN THE MORNING TO THE TIME SOMEONE FROM ONADELPHIA SCHOOL CAME TO TAKE HER TO AFTERNOON CLASSES AND THERAPY SOME SEACRIST CHILDREN HAD THERE. ONE MORNING MRS. WILLETT PASSED OUT SOME MATH EXERCISES FOR THE CLASS TO DO SILENTLY. I WAS NO GOOD AT MATH AND HAD TROUBLE CONCENTRATING, AND MY EYES WANDERED OVER TO SALLY TRENT. SHE WAS STARING INTO THE CORNER AGAIN. MRS. WILLETT DIDN’T NOTICE HER. SALLY’S EYES BEGAN TO WIDEN AND SHIFT IN SMALL MOTIONS, AS IF SHE WAS FOLLOWING THE MOVEMENT OF SOMETHING SHE WAS SEEING THERE. THEN SHE ROSE TO HER FEET, POINTED TO THE CORNER AT NOTHING, AND BEGAN TO SCREAM. THE WHOLE CLASS LOOKED UP. MRS. WILLETT RAN TO SALLY, ASKING HER WHAT WAS WRONG, BUT SHE QUICKLY GAVE UP ON THAT LINE OF REASONING. SALLY POINTED AND SCREAMED UNCONTROLLABLY, TERRIFIED. MRS. WILLETT GATHERED HER UP IN HER ARMS AND LED HER TO THE DOOR. WITH EVERY INCH THAT SHE WAS GUIDED TOWARD THE CORNER OF THE ROOM, SALLY KICKED HARDER AND SHRIEKED LOUDER TO BE LET GO, AS IF SHE WERE BEING FORCED TOWARD AN OBJECT, OR APPARITION, THAT SHE DREADED MORE THAN DEATH ITSELF. BUT FINALLY MRS. WILLETT GOT HER THROUGH THE DOOR. WE IN ROOM 17 WERE LEFT ALONE FOR FIFTEEN MINUTES. THERE WERE SOME GIGGLES AND SOME NAME-CALLING AND MORE THAN A FEW FRIGHTENED FACES. MRS. WILLETT CAME BACK AND EXPLAINED THAT SALLY HAD AN ATTACK OF SOME SORT AND EVERYTHING WAS ALL RIGHT. BUT SALLY DIDN’T RETURN TO SEACRIST, EVER. I ALWAYS THOUGHT OF HER AS SALLY THE SCREAMER UNTIL SHE PASSED OUT OF MY CONSCIOUSNESS WITH THE ONSET OF SUMMER VACATION.

I’VE SAID THAT THERE WERE TWO OTHER SURVIVORS OF THE TIMOTHY SHAUGH INCIDENT. THEY’RE BOTH MALES THE SAME AGE AS I. THEIR NAMES ARE PHILIP DARBY AND LOUIS LAIRD. I'VE DISCOVERED THROUGH SECONDHAND ASSOCIATIONS THAT PHILIP DARBY IS IN LAW SCHOOL IN CALIFORNIA, AND THAT HE HAS AMBITIONS TO WORK FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT WHEN HE GRADUATES. LOUIS LAIRD LIVES JUST ONE MILE FROM SEACRIST SCHOOL. SINCE HE WAS FIVE YEARS OLD, HE HAS NEVER ATTENDED SCHOOL MORE THAN FOUR MILES FROM THE ROOM WHERE THE ATTACK TOOK PLACE. HE OPERATES A SMALL PRINT SHOP OWNED BY HIS PARENTS ON BEECHNUT STREET, JUST TWO BLOCKS FROM THE SCHOOL.. NEITHER OF THESE YOUNG MEN HAS EVER TOLD ROURKE BILLINGS OR ANY OTHER AUTHOR OR INTERVIEWER ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED IN ROOM 15. PHILIP DARBY HAS NOT SPOKEN FOR SO MANY YEARS OUT OF CONTEMPT FOR THE MEDIA AND FOR THE SAKE OF PRIVACY. LOUIS LAIRD, ACCORDING TO HIS PARENTS WHEN I TALKED TO THEM, HASN’T BEEN AS FORTHRIGHT WITH HIS OWN REASONS, BUT THEY SEEM OBVIOUS TO ME NOW. HE’S FRIGHTENED TO THINK OF THAT DAY BECAUSE LIKE ME, HE’S STILL HAUNTED BY IT. LOUIS'S DOCTOR IS APPARENTLY NOT A BIG BELIEVER IN DREDGING UP THE PAST FOR THE SAKE OF THE FUTURE. LOUIS'S PARENTS TELL ME THAT IN THE COURSE OF HIS THERAPY, SEACRIST ISN’T MENTIONED, EVER. THE DOCTOR CHOOSES TO EMPHASIZE THE POSITIVE ASPECTS OF LOUIS'S LIFE AND TO BUILD A KIND OF FENCE AROUND THE INCIDENTS. I WONDER IF THIS MIGHT WORK FOR ME, BUT I KNOW I CAN NEVER TAKE IT THAT FAR. THE THOUGHT OF SEACRIST DISAPPEARING FROM MY CONSCIOUS MIND IS UNTHINKABLE TO ME. I RESEARCHED THESE PEOPLE BECAUSE I WANTED TO KNOW IF IT WAS POSSIBLE THAT THE SECRET OF WHAT HAPPENED THAT DAY COULD REALLY DIE WITH ME. APPARENTLY THE ANSWER IS YES. PHILIP DARBY IS SIMPLY NOT INTERESTED IN THIS CIRCUS OF HORRORS. LOUIS LAIRD DOESN’T WANT HIS LIFE DESTROYED. IT GIVES ME ALL THE MORE REASON TO THINK.

AT 10:45 A.M ON NOVEMBER 14, 1977, A FIRE ALARM SENT ALL THREE HUNDRED AND FOUR STUDENTS OF SEACRIST ELEMENTARY OUT ONTO THE PLAYGROUND IN WHAT APPEARED TO BE A ROUTINE DRILL. BUT THE DRILL HAD NEVER BEEN SCHEDULED AND THE PRINCIPAL CALLED THE MAINTENANCE MAN IN FROM HIS DAY OFF TO CHECK ON THE ALARM SYSTEM. THE BELL DIDN’T TURN ITSELF OFF AFTER THIRTY MINUTES OF CONSTANT RINGING. INSTEAD IT REPEATED ITS BUZZINGS AFTER A TWO MINUTE SILENCE. THE MAINTENANCE MAN DIDN’T QUITE KNOW WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THE ALARM, SO HE DECIDED HE HAD TO DETACH IT FOR THE DAY AND INSPECT IT MORE CLOSELY. HE THOUGHT HE’D FOUND THE PROBLEM BY THE TIME THE STUDENTS WENT HOME, AND EVERYTHING SEEMED ALL RIGHT.

AT 12 NOON ON NOVEMBER 15TH, DURING RECESS FOR THE LOWER GRADES, THE FIRE ALARM WENT OFF AGAIN. HALF THE BUILDING EMPTIED OUT. GRADES ONE THROUGH THREE WERE ALREADY OUTSIDE. THIS TIME THE FIRE ALARM WOULDN’T STOP RINGING, PERIOD. MAINTENANCE DETACHED THE SYSTEM AGAIN FOR CLOSER INSPECTION. THE FIFTEEN INDIVIDUAL ALARM PULLS AROUND THE SCHOOL WERE CHECKED TO MAKE SURE THEY WEREN’T FAULTY. NO PROBLEM WAS FOUND.

AT 1:40 P.M. THE SAME DAY, THE ALARM SOUNDED YET AGAIN. THE PRINCIPAL CAME OVER THE LOUDSPEAKER AND TOLD EVERYONE TO STAY IN THEIR SEATS BECAUSE IT WAS JUST A FALSE ALARM. AND IT TRULY WAS. MAINTENANCE WAS PUZZLED. THE FUSES OF THE MAIN ALARM STATION IN THE BOILER ROOM HAD TO BE YANKED EVEN THOUGH THEY APPEARED TO BE WORKING FINE. THE RINGING OF THE ALARM CEASED. THE NEXT DAY, THE STATE SENT OVER A SAFETY SUPERVISOR TO LOOK AT THE ALARM SYSTEM. THE ALARMS WERE SETTING THEMSELVES OFF EVERY TWENTY OR THIRTY MINUTES. THE SAFETY SUPERVISOR DECIDED TO UNHOOK THE ENTIRE SYSTEM FOR ONE DAY FOR SCHEMATIC TESTING AND POSSIBLE REPLACEMENT. THE PULL BOXES WERE DISCONNECTED TOO, JUST IN CASE. SO THERE WERE NO OPERATIONAL ALARMS WHEN THE STUDENTS CAME BACK TO SCHOOL ON FRIDAY MORNING. COINCIDENTALLY, THAT FRIDAY SAW THE HIGHEST ONE-DAY ABSENTEE RATE IN SEACRIST'S HISTORY. THIRTY-FIVE PERCENT OF THE STUDENT BODY STAYED HOME.

AT 10:35 A.M. ON NOVEMBER 17, A FIFTH GRADE TEACHER ON THE SECOND FLOOR IN ROOM 51 NAMED ERICA ELS HEARD A LOW RUMBLING NOISE AND SAW A TUFT OF BLACK SMOKE DRIFTING BY IN THE HALLWAY. SHE GOT UP FROM HER DESK AND OPENED THE DOOR. THE RUMBLING BECAME LOUDER. SHE MOVED FIFTEEN FEET DOWN THE HALLWAY TO AN UNUSED ROOM, 57, AND STEPPED CLOSE TO THE DOOR. EVEN FROM THE HALLWAY SHE COULD FEEL THE HEAT BEING GIVEN OFF, AND SHE REALIZED THERE WAS A FIRE INSIDE THAT ROOM, A BIG ONE. SMOKE WAS FILTERING THROUGH THE BOTTOM OF THE DOOR INTO THE HALLWAY. SHE TURNED AROUND AND SAW A FIRE ALARM RIGHT BEHIND HER. SHE PULLED IT, BUT THERE WAS NO SOUND. IT WAS THE FIRST MAJOR FIRE IN SEACRIST'S LONG HISTORY. IT WAS ALSO MOST LIKELY THE FIRST TIME THERE WAS NO WAY OF ALERTING THE ENTIRE SCHOOL AT ONCE THAT A DISASTER WAS ABOUT TO HAPPEN.

MRS. ELS RAN INTO HER CLASSROOM AND TOLD THE STUDENTS TO LINE UP QUICKLY AT THE DOOR. THE CHILDREN WERE ALREADY PANICKY. THEY COULD HEAR THE RUMBLING FROM 57. TWO OTHER TEACHERS CAME OUT INTO THE HALLWAY AND MRS. ELS ALERTED THEM TO THE PRESENCE OF THE FIRE. THIRTY SECONDS LATER, MOST OF THE UPSTAIRS CLASSROOMS HAD EMPTIED INTO THE HALLWAY AND THE KIDS WERE HEADED FOR ONE OF TWO STAIRWELLS LEADING TO THE BOTTOM FLOOR. BY THE TIME HALF OF THE CHILDREN WERE DOWN THE STAIRS, THE DOOR TO ROOM 57 HAD CAUGHT FIRE AND WAS ALMOST ENTIRELY EATEN THROUGH. CHILDREN WHO SAW THE FLAMES SCREAMED AND STARTED TO RUN. A GIRL NAMED AMY CHICOBA WAS PUSHED HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS AND BROKE HER LEFT HAND. DOWNSTAIRS, I WAS IN MRS. WILLETT'S CLASS. THERE WAS A SOCIAL STUDIES LESSON GOING ON. THE FIRST SOUND I HEARD WAS THE CLOMPING OF FEET AS THE UPPER GRADES FLOODED DOWN THE STAIRS. THEN THE DOOR TO THE CLASSROOM OPENED AND MR. COLBERT, FOURTH GRADE, RUSHED IN, AND ORDERED US OUT IN A TORRENT OF PANICKY AND ALMOST UNINTELLIGIBLE SPEECH. THE RUMBLING FROM THE UPSTAIRS FIRE COULD NOW BE HEARD. THREE OR FOUR CHILDREN STARTED TO SCREAM AND MRS. WILLETT CUT THEM OFF FLAT. BACK UPSTAIRS, MR. WELLS GRABBED A FIRE EXTINGUISHER AND BEGAN TO DESPERATELY SPRAY THE FIRE, TO GOOD EFFECT. HIS EARLY ACTIONS MIGHT HAVE SAVED SEACRIST FROM TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS IN DAMAGE. IN THE CENTRAL ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE, SOME OF THE SEACRIST STAFF WERE STILL UNAWARE OF ANYTHING BEING WRONG. THIS CHANGED WHEN THEY HEARD THE SHOUTING COMING FROM DOWN THE LOWER GRADES' MAIN CORRIDOR. CHILDREN RUSHED BY IN BUNCHES. THE TEACHERS COULDN’T CORRAL THEM. THE NOISE OF THE FIRE WAS HUGE AND ECHOING, AND SEEMED MUCH MORE FEROCIOUS THAN THE THING REALLY WAS. I WAS SWEPT ALONG BY MY CLASSMATES INTO THE HALLWAY, JUST FIFTY FEET FROM THE NEAREST EXIT. BUT IT WASN’T THAT SIMPLE. THERE WERE SHOUTS, SCREAMS, AND ORDERS FROM TEACHERS TO SHUT UP AND SLOW DOWN. THE EXIT DOORS BANGED OPEN AND CHILDREN SPILLED OUT. THE STAIRWELLS AT EITHER END OF THE HALLWAYS RELEASED MORE CHILDREN INTO THE TRAFFIC FLOW OF THE LOWER FLOOR. THEY RAN INTO EACH OTHER AND TRIPPED OVER ONE ANOTHER IN PANIC. I WAS SUDDENLY PUSHED TO MY RIGHT INTO A BANK OF LOCKERS. A PADLOCK STRUCK MY RIGHT CHEEK. SOMEONE SHRIEKED INTO MY EAR. I KEPT MOVING BLINDLY. AN ADULT'S HAND STEADIED MY SHOULDER AND THE HALLWAY BECAME VERY BRIGHT. THEN I WAS OUT THE DOOR AND ONTO THE PLAYGROUND. BUT THE STAMPEDE CONTINUED. THE SCENE WAS UTTER CHAOS. STILL NO ALARM BELLS RANG. A SECRETARY CALLED THE FIRE DEPARTMENT FROM THE INNER OFFICES IN THE CENTER OF THE BUILDING. TWO MINUTES LATER, I COULD HEAR SIRENS. NO ONE WAS REALLY SURE WHAT HAD HAPPENED IN ROOM 21, MR. APPIER'S ROOM, WHERE THE BODY OF JOSEPH TORMEY HAD BEEN FOUND TWO MONTHS EARLIER. FOR SOME REASON THE CHILDREN THERE WENT OUT THE WINDOWS. NONE OF THEM WOULD LATER SAY THEY WERE ENCOURAGED TO DO THIS. MAYBE THE HORRIFYING SOUNDS COMING FROM THE HALLWAY MADE THEM BELIEVE THAT THERE WAS NO OTHER WAY OUT. THEY WERE THE SLOWEST TO GET OUT OF THE BUILDING EVEN THOUGH AN EXIT WAS CLOSER TO THEM THAN ANYONE. SEVEN OF THE CHILDREN SUSTAINED NASTY CUTS FROM A BROKEN WINDOW. ONE CHILD NAMED DANIEL GIRALDI LACERATED HIS SCALP AND CAME OUT ONTO THE PLAYGROUND BLINDED BY BLOOD, BUT OTHERWISE HE WAS ALL RIGHT. THE LAST PERSON OUT OF THE BUILDING WAS MR. APPIER, WHO GOT OUT LATER THAN EVEN MR. WELLS, WHO HAD ATTACKED THE FIRE.

THE PLAYGROUND WAS A GRISLY SCENE OF WEEPING, SHOUTING, AND HYSTERICS. I WAS MERELY STUNNED, NOT QUITE SURE WHAT WAS GOING ON. I COLLAPSED TO MY KNEES AT ONE POINT, INTENT ON SLEEP. I WAS TOLD LATER THAT I’D SUSTAINED A MILD CONCUSSION. THERE WERE ABOUT TWENTY INJURIES ALTOGETHER, SOME OF THEM FAIRLY SEVERE, BUT NO ONE WAS PERMANENTLY HURT. THE AMBULANCES ARRIVED QUICKLY, AFTER FIVE FIRE TRUCKS. THE CHILDREN, TEACHERS, AND STAFF WERE OUT ON THE PLAYGROUND FOR TWO HOURS. THE FIRE WAS PUT OUT WITHIN TEN MINUTES. ROOM 57 WAS DESTROYED, BUT NO FURTHER DAMAGE WAS DONE. PARENTS CAME TO COLLECT THE CHILDREN. THE PRINCIPAL WAS LEFT TO EXPLAIN WHY NO FIRE ALARMS WERE OPERATIONAL. HE MANAGED TO AVOID ANY SERIOUS CONFRONTATIONS OR PUNISHMENTS. IT WAS THE COUNTY THAT LATER BORE THE BRUNT OF THE ACCIDENT.

TWO NEWS CREWS ARRIVED AT SEACRIST RIGHT AFTER THE FIRE TRUCKS CAME. THEY WERE THERE EVEN BEFORE THE FIRST OF THE INJURED WAS TAKEN TO THE HOSPITAL. A MAN FROM A TINY LOCAL NEWSPAPER, THE SUN-COURIER, TOOK A COUPLE OF PHOTOGRAPHS WHICH ENTERED THE SEACRIST LEGEND THREE WEEKS AFTER THE FIRE, WHEN HE RECOVERED THE PHOTOS FROM HIS ASSISTANT, WHO CLAIMED THE FILM HAD BEEN DAMAGED IN TRANSIT FROM THE LAB AT THE NEWSPAPER TO THE COPY ROOM IN THE ADJACENT BUILDING. BECAUSE OF THIS MISTAKE, THE ONLY PHOTOS PRINTED BY THE COURIER WERE OF THE DAMAGED ROOM AND OF THE PLAYGROUND AFTER THE FIRE. THE PHOTOGRAPHER WAS DEVASTATED. HE THOUGHT HE HAD GOTTEN TWO TRULY SHOCKING PHOTOS OF SEACRIST ELEMENTARY. IMMEDIATELY AFTER HE SNAPPED THEM, HE RAN INTO THE SCHOOL BEHIND SEVERAL FIREMEN IN SEARCH OF TWO CHILDREN HE BELIEVED HE HAD SEEN BEING SEVERELY BURNED. BUT WHEN HE GOT INSIDE, THERE WAS NO ONE THERE AND HE WAS USHERED OUT AGAIN. HE WAS ASSURED FIVE MINUTES LATER THAT EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE CHILDREN HAD BEEN ACCOUNTED FOR, AND NO ONE HAD SUFFERED ANY BURNS. HE WALKED AWAY VERY PUZZLED AND VERY ANXIOUS TO SEE WHAT CAME OUT OF HIS FILM, WHICH HE THEN GAVE TO HIS ASSISTANT FOR DEVELOPING. THREE WEEKS LATER, THE ASSISTANT GAVE HIM THE THREE PHOTOGRAPHS AFTER ADMITTING THAT HE HAD KEPT THEM SO THAT THE SUN-COURIER WOULDN’T PUBLISH THEM. THREE WEEKS AFTER THE FIRE THERE WAS NO REASON TO. THERE REALLY HAD BEEN NO BURN INJURIES DURING THE FIRE, AND EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE CHILDREN WAS ACCOUNTED FOR OUT ON THE PLAYGROUND. THE PHOTOGRAPHER, HIS ASSISTANT, AND SOON ALL OF SEACRIST WERE UTTERLY PERPLEXED BY THE PHOTOGRAPHS. NOT EVEN ROURKE BILLINGS COULD ACQUIRE THE RIGHTS TO THE ONES I'M TALKING ABOUT. THEY WERE PRINTED A MONTH AFTER THE FIRE IN A SMALL, NOW-DEFUNCT MAGAZINE CALLED INSPIRE. IT WAS A MONTHLY NORTHEAST NEWS AND SOCIOLOGY MAGAZINE THAT PRIDED ITSELF ON FEATURING FINE NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY FROM AROUND THE EAST. THE CAPTION BENEATH THE PHOTOS, EACH ONE OF THE SAME SUBJECT AT TWO SECOND INTERVALS, EXPLAINED THAT IT WAS OF A SCHOOL FIRE IN PENNSYLVANIA, AND THAT THE TWO CHILDREN IN THE PHOTOS HAD "RECOVERED" FROM THEIR INJURIES, WHICH WERE NOT AS HORRIFYING AS THEY SEEMED. INSPIRE IS THE ONLY PLACE THE PHOTOS WERE EVER SEEN. THE PHOTOGRAPHER, LESLIE MORTENSEN, REFUSED REPRINT RIGHTS TO EVERY ORGANIZATION THAT ASKED.

THE INJURIES DEPICTED IN THE PHOTOS WERE INDEED TRULY HORRIFYING. MORTENSEN SHOT THEM LOOKING IN THROUGH THE MAIN LOWER GRADES ENTRANCE. THE DOOR TO THAT ENTRANCE HAD TWO WIRE MESH WINDOWS WHICH ALLOWED A DIM VIEW OF THE INTERIOR HALLWAY. MORTENSEN TOOK THE PICTURES WITH A TELEPHOTO LENS, THEN RAN ACROSS THE BLACKTOP AND OPENED THE DOOR TO FIND NO ONE INSIDE. TWO CHILDREN CAN BE SEEN IN THE PHOTOS. THEIR HANDS ARE PRESSED AGAINST THE MESHED GLASS AS IF THEY WERE TRYING TO GET OUT BUT COULDN’T. THE CHILD ON THE LEFT APPEARS TO BE ABOUT SIX OR SEVEN, MAYBE EIGHT YEARS OF AGE, THE IDENTITY IMPOSSIBLE TO MAKE OUT. IT'S EVEN QUESTIONABLE WHETHER IT'S A BOY OR A GIRL. THE CHILD'S HANDS ARE CLEARLY ON FIRE FROM THE WRISTS UP. ANOTHER CHILD, RIGHT NEXT TO HIM OR HER, IS OBVIOUSLY TALLER. THE AGE CAN'T BE DETERMINED BECAUSE THE CHILD'S HEAD IS ENTIRELY ENGULFED IN FLAME. ABOVE THE SHOULDERS THERE ‘S ONLY A BULBOUS MASS OF FIRE, AND THE CHILD'S HANDS RISE FROM THE WINDOW TO BEAT ON IT TO NO AVAIL. SOMEONE WITH A PERSISTENT IMAGINATION COULD ARGUE THAT YOU CAN SEE THE NAKED CONTOURS OF THE LOWER SKULL. IT ALMOST SEEMS AS IF THERE’S NO FLESH AT ALL THERE. BUT THIS CAN ONLY BE SEEN DUBIOUSLY THROUGH A MAGNIFYING GLASS. THE CASUAL VIEWER IS SPARED SUCH DETAIL. ALL THAT IS THERE IS THE DEATH OF TWO CHILDREN. THE DOORS AT WHICH THEY POUND FOR RELEASE WERE NEVER LOCKED, BARRED, OR BLOCKED AT ANY TIME THAT DAY AND YET THEY CAN'T GET OUT. A DAY AFTER THE PHOTOS WERE PUBLISHED IN THE MAGAZINE—ILLEGALLY, LESLIE MORTENSEN CLAIMED—EVERYONE IN SEACRIST WENT LOOKING FOR INSPIRE. IT WASN'T DIFFICULT TO FIND. I SAW THE PHOTOS FAIRLY QUICKLY. MY PARENTS BOUGHT A COPY AND ACCIDENTALLY LEFT IT IN THE KITCHEN CUPBOARD WHEN THEY WENT OUT SHOPPING ONE DAY. THE CAUSE OF THE FIRE WAS NEVER DETERMINED.

BEGINNING WHEN I WAS THIRTEEN UP UNTIL I TURNED TWENTY I WAS ADDICTED TO A DRUG CALLED ONAVIL, WHICH IS ESSENTIALLY VALIUM AT A TWENTY PERCENT LOWER BARBITUATE CONTENT. I DIDN’T REALIZE I WAS ADDICTED, AND NEITHER DID MY PARENTS UNTIL AROUND THE TIME MY FATHER DIED, WHEN I WAS NINETEEN. BUT I BECAME VERY SICK AFTER I WAS TAKEN OFF THE DRUG BECAUSE OF A MINOR HEAD INJURY. I WAS IN THE HOSPITAL FOR TWO MONTHS. APPARENTLY, ONAVIL SHOULD NEVER BE PRESCRIBED TO PEOPLE WITH A FAMILY HISTORY OF LOW BLOOD PRESSURE. MY MOTHER HAD LIED TO MY DOCTORS ABOUT THE FAMILY HISTORY IN ORDER TO PRESERVE MY WELL-BEING. WITHOUT THE ONAVIL, I WAS SOMETIMES A WRECK. SHE ONLY WANTED ME WELL. I NEARLY WENT INTO HYSTERIA THAT FIRST TIME I WAS TAKEN OFF THE DRUG AFTER SIX YEARS OF CONSTANT USE. BUT IT WAS NOTHING LIKE MY MOST RECENT INCIDENT, WHICH PUT ME OUT FOR FOURTEEN DAYS. WHEN MY NEW DOCTOR, SAM, LEARNED ABOUT THE ONAVIL ADDICTION, SHE SHOOK HER HEAD, WONDERED HOW ANYONE COULD DO SUCH A THING TO ME, THEN IMMEDIATELY PUT ME ON N-ZEPAM. I BRING UP THE ONAVIL BECAUSE ACCORDING TO THE PHYSICIAN'S DESK REFERENCE, ONE OF ITS SIDE EFFECTS IS OCCASIONAL HALLUCINATIONS IN FIVE PERCENT OF USERS OVER AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME, EVEN WHEN THEY’RE TAKEN OFF THE DRUG. MY DOCTOR THINKS IT WAS THE REMAINS OF THE ONAVIL IN MY BRAIN WHICH CAUSED MY FIRST AND ONLY HALLUCINATION, THE ONE I HAD WHEN I RETURNED TO SEACRIST ELEMENTARY EIGHTEEN YEARS AFTER IT HAD CLOSED FOR GOOD. THE RETURN WAS PART OF THE THERAPY I MENTIONED BEFORE, WHICH BEGAN IN DECEMBER OF LAST YEAR. IT BEGAN WITH THE HALLUCINATION, LED TO ALL MY RESEARCH, AND ENDED FOR GOOD WITH MY FOURTEEN DAY COMA. I RECOVERED FROM THAT FOUR DAYS AGO.

SAM ENCOURAGED ME TO GO BACK TO THE SCHOOL GROUNDS. SO ONE CHILLY DAY I DROVE DOWN WILL-O-THE-WISP ROAD WITH NOTHING IN MY MIND WHATSOEVER. I WAS FEELING UNUSUALLY CALM THAT DAY, SO I HAD THE COURAGE TO LOOK TO MY RIGHT OFF JUNIPER AVENUE AT UPHAM HILL, THE MENTAL HEALTH CLINIC FROM WHICH TIMOTHY SHAUGH ESCAPED ON THE DAY OF THE MURDER WHICH CLOSED SEACRIST. I PARKED MY CAR ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, LOOKED OFF THROUGH THE TREES AT THE BUILDING, AND DECIDED TO WALK THE ROUTE TIMOTHY SHAUGH TOOK FROM UPHAM HILL TO MY CLASSROOM.

HE WAS TWENTY-NINE ON THE DAY OF THE MURDER. HE’D BEEN COMMITTED TO UPHAM AFTER BEING FOUND AT THE SITE OF A NASTY CAR ACCIDENT TEN MILES NORTH. SHAUGH WAS A DRIFTER AND HAD BEEN HITCHHIKING AT ABOUT ONE A.M. WHEN HE WAS GIVEN A RIDE BY A MAN NAMED RICHARD JOYCE, WHO’D BEEN DRINKING AT A LOCAL BAR. TEN MINUTES LATER THE CAR RAN OFF THE ROAD. TIRE MARKS SHOWED THAT JOYCE HAD BEEN RUN OFF IT BY AN ONCOMING CAR DOING AT LEAST NINETY. JOYCE WAS HOSPITALIZED AND RELEASED. SHAUGH HADN’T BEEN WEARING A SEATBELT BUT HE WAS COMPLETELY UNHURT. BUT HE COULDN’T BE COAXED FROM THE CAR. HE’D LEFT A HALFWAY HOUSE IN OXFORD THREE DAYS BEFORE. HE’D JUST GOTTEN UP AND WALKED OUT. RECORDS SHOWED THAT HE’D LIVED IN SUCH PLACES MOST OF HIS LIFE. HIS PARENTS WERE DEAD. HE WAS SCHIZOPHRENIC, LEARNING DISABLED, UNABLE TO FEND FOR HIMSELF, AND HAD OCCASIONAL PSYCHOTIC EPISODES. THE STATE PUT HIM IN UPHAM HILL. HE WAS THERE FOR SIX MONTHS, ALL TOLD. HIS RECORDS SHOWED HIM TO BE IN A STASIS. HE WAS UNABLE TO LEARN TO READ OR WRITE, WAS UNCOMMUNICATIVE, RARELY VIOLENT UNLESS PROVOKED. ONCE HE CLAIMED HE HEARD VOICES TELLING HIM TO MOW THE UPHAM HILL GROUNDS AND EAT THE GRASS SO THAT NO ONE COULD TELL HE HAD DONE IT. HE WAS PUT ON AND OFF THORAZINE DURING HIS STAY. ON DECEMBER NINETEENTH, HE SLIPPED OUT OF THE REC ROOM AT ABOUT EIGHT A.M. UNBEKNOWNST TO THE NURSE ON DUTY. THERE WAS NO OTHER SECURITY HE HAD TO GET BY. THE NURSE WAS IT. AFTER THAT, IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF FINDING AN EXIT WITHOUT BEING SPOTTED BY ANY OF THE STAFF. THERE WERE NO CLUES AS TO WHY SHAUGH CHOSE THAT DAY TO SUDDENLY LEAVE, OR WHY HE HEADED FOR SEACRIST. UNTIL THE DAY HE DIED OF CANCER THREE YEARS AFTER THE ATTACK, HE SPOKE NOT ONE WORD TO ANYONE ABOUT ANYTHING. AFTER THE MURDER OF JEAN WILLETT, HE BECAME TOTALLY MUTE. HE DIDN’T EVEN COMPLAIN OF THE TERRIBLE PAINS AS THE CANCER DUG INTO HIS STOMACH, MAKING HIM COUGH UP BLOOD.

ON THE DAY I WENT BACK TO SEACRIST, I CLIMBED OVER A SHORT FENCE AND WALKED UP A WOODED INCLINE TO THE EAST WING OF UPHAM HILL. I STOOD FOR A MOMENT AT THE DOORWAY SHAUGH HAD PARTED. HE HAD WALKED DOWN THE HILL, AVOIDING THE FENCE, AND HEADED EAST. HE FOUND A MARSHY PATCH OF LAND THAT LED DOWN INTO A TINY, MUDDY RAVINE, AND AFTER THAT, THE ROAD TO SEACRIST ELEMENTARY. THE PROPERTY BESIDE THE RAVINE BELONGED TO A CATTLE RANCHER. IT WAS THERE THAT SHAUGH, WALKING AMONGST THE COWS MOST LIKELY, FOUND A CHOPPING BLOCK, AND AN AXE DUG DEEP INTO IT. SHAUGH TOOK THE AXE AND CROSSED THE ROAD, THEN CROSSED THE PLAYGROUND LEADING TO THE LOWER GRADES ENTRANCE. NOBODY SAW HIM EVEN THOUGH HE WAS SIX FEET FIVE INCHES TALL, WEARING A BLUE COVERALL, AND CARRYING A SHORT-HANDLED CHOPPING AXE.

AFTER THE ATTACK, THEY STRIPPED HIM DOWN AND FOUND NASTY BRUISES ON THE BACKS OF HIS LEGS. OTHER PATIENTS AT UPHAM HILL DESCRIBED SHAUGH SOMETIMES SITTING ON A BENCH OUTSIDE AND SWINGING HIS LEGS FORWARD AND BACKWARD IDLY, THE WAY A BORED CHILD MIGHT DO, LETTING THEM FALL AGAINST THE BENCH. SHAUGH WOULD DO THIS FOR HOURS AND INCREASE THE FORCE OF THE LAZY SWINGING MOTION, SEEMINGLY UNCONSCIOUS OF IT, UNTIL MAYBE HE WAS DOING IT HARD ENOUGH TO SEVERELY BRUISE THE BACKS OF HIS LEGS. HE NEVER COMPLAINED OF ANY PAIN.

I FOLLOWED SHAUGH'S ROUTE TO SEACRIST UNTIL I FINALLY STOOD IN FRONT OF THE MAIN LOWER GRADES ENTRANCE. I WAS CLOSER THAN I HAD BEEN TO THE BUILDING IN EIGHTEEN YEARS. ON THE DAY I LEFT SECOND GRADE, NONE OF US KNEW WE WOULD NOT BE RETURNING. IT'S IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME TO TELL JUST WHEN MY HALLUCINATION BEGAN, SINCE THE SEAM BETWEEN THE REALITY OF STANDING THERE AND THE SUDDEN IMAGES THAT CAME FOR ME WAS SO FLAWLESS. MY DOCTOR MIGHT THINK IT WAS THE ONAVIL COME BACK TO HAUNT ME. I MYSELF THINK IT WAS JUST SEACRIST, STANDING THERE JUST THE WAY I LEFT IT. THERE WAS SOME GRAFFITI AND A LOT OF WEEDS, BUT NOT MUCH ELSE TO MARK THE PASSAGE OF TIME. WHEN I PULLED ON THE DOOR IT OPENED, HAVING NO RIGHT TO OPEN. THE PLACE HAD BEEN SEALED FOR MANY YEARS. SO THAT WAS PROBABLY WHEN THE HALLUCINATION REALLY BEGAN. SUDDENLY I WAS INSIDE. IT WAS VERY COLD THAT DAY. IT WASN'T MUCH WARMER IN THE SCHOOL.

ROOM 15 WAS JUST A FEW STEPS AWAY. THE FLOOR WAS SMOOTH AND CLEAN. THAT MUST HAVE BEEN PART OF THE HALLUCINATION, JUST AS THE OPEN DOOR MUST HAVE BEEN. SOFT LIGHT BATHED THE HALLWAY FROM OVERHEAD BULBS LOCKED IN TINY MESH CAGES, BULBS WHICH WOULD HAVE BEEN REMOVED OR SIMPLY BROKEN BY 1980 AT THE LATEST. THERE THEY WERE. LOCKS WHICH HAD BEEN TAKEN FROM LOCKERS NO MORE THAN A WEEK AFTER THE SCHOOL CLOSED FOR GOOD WERE HANGING FROM THEIR HOLES. THIS WAS IMPOSSIBLE. I MADE NOTHING OF THESE IMPOSSIBILITIES. THEY WERE REAL TO ME. I COULDN’T THINK.

A MAN CAME OUT OF THE SHADOWS FROM DOWN THE HALL, AND HE WALKED TOWARD ME. HE WORE BLUEJEANS AND A WHITE DRESS SHIRT. HE TOOK MY HAND BEFORE HE SPOKE, JUST TO SHAKE IT AND DROP IT AGAIN. HE SAID HIS NAME WAS TODD SUNNING. HE WAS THE FOREMAN OF THE PROJECT, HE SAID. HE SAID HE’D BE GLAD TO GO OVER WHATEVER INFORMATION I NEEDED. HE MOTIONED FORWARD FOR ME TO LEAD THE WAY. MANY PEOPLE DON'T UNDERSTAND HOW IT COULD BE THAT I WENT SO WILLINGLY, WHY I DIDN'T MERELY TURN AND RUN. I CAN ONLY SAY THAT THERE IS AN ACCEPTANCE THAT COMES WITH UTTER IGNORANCE OF WHAT IS TRULY REAL. SO I WALKED WITH THE FOREMAN. I SMELLED HIS AFTERSHAVE AND I NOTICED THE COLOR OF HIS SHORT HAIR. I HEARD HIS FOOTSTEPS ON THE TILE. I THINK ABOUT HIS NAME SOMETIMES, BUT I CAN'T IMAGINE WHERE I HAD EVER HEARD THE WORDS BEFORE. THEN IT OCCURS TO ME THAT THE MAN'S INITIALS WERE THE SAME AS TIMOTHY SHAUGH'S.

WE WALKED ALONG PAST ALL THE OLD SCHOOLROOMS. I SAID NOTHING. THE MAN TALKED ABOUT WATTAGES AND IMPROVEMENTS TO THE SYSTEM OF WATER PIPES THAT RAN BELOW OUR FEET. HE TALKED ABOUT REWIRING AND INSULATION. NONE OF THE EXACT WORDS HAVE STAYED WITH ME. I WALKED AHEAD OF HIM, AND I DIDN’T TURN TO LOOK AT HIM UNLESS HIS VOICE SEEMED TO BE DRIFTING AWAY FROM ME. FINALLY HE STOPPED TALKING AND I LOOKED UP TO SEE THAT HE HAD LEFT ME. I WAS UPSTAIRS, NEAR ROOM 57. I COULD HEAR THE SOUNDS OF EFFORT FROM AROUND THE CORNER, SO I FOLLOWED THE SOUNDS. THE FOREMAN WAS IN FRONT OF ONE OF THE EMPTY ROOMS, ON HIS HANDS AND KNEES. HE WAS STUFFING A TOWEL AGAINST THE BOTTOM OF A DOOR. WATER WAS LEAKING THROUGH IT. HE LOOKED UP AND SAID IT WASN'T A PROBLEM, AND THAT THEY HAD FORESEEN THIS EVENTUALITY. I GOT DOWN TO HELP HIM. HE HAD A WHOLE STACK OF WHITE TOWELS BESIDE HIM AND THE LEAK WAS GETTING WORSE. THE WATER WAS BUBBLING AND FLOWING UNDERNEATH THE DOOR AND I JUST WANTED TO HELP, BUT HE TURNED ON ME AND ORDERED ME TO STAND ASIDE. THE WATER BEHIND THE DOOR BECAME STRONG ENOUGH TO FORCE IT OPEN. THE FOREMAN SHOUTED AND STEPPED AWAY, AND A WAVE OF WATER BURST THROUGH INTO THE HALLWAY, KNOCKING THE DOOR BACK. THE FOREMAN RAN. I LOST SIGHT OF HIM BECAUSE I HAD TURNED TO RUN TOO. BUT THERE WERE NO STAIRS ANYMORE, AND I COULDN'T REACH THE BOTTOM FLOOR. AND THEN, ALL AT ONCE, I WAS UNDERWATER. THE TIDE RUSHED UP AND ENGULFED MY LEGS, THEN MY CHEST, THEN MY NECK, AND THEN MY HEAD. I WAS LOOKING INTO COMPLETE DARKNESS, AND I WAS SWIMMING, CARRIED AWAY. I TRIED TO TREAD WATER BUT THERE WAS ALREADY NO SURFACE. EVERYTHING WENT MERCIFULLY BLACK AS I FELT MY FEET RISE OFF THE TILE FLOOR, CARRIED UPWARDS BY THE SWELLING OF THE WATER. MY HEAD WAS COCKED TO THE CEILING.

THE NEXT THING I WAS AWARE OF WAS WALKING DOWN ROUTE 7, WHICH IS A FOUR LANE STRETCH OF HIGHWAY RUNNING TOWARD PLATTSBURG AND SAVAGE. I WAS ON THE SHOULDER AND CONSCIOUSNESS RETURNED TO ME ALL AT ONCE. I WAS ALREADY WALKING. IT WAS LIKE I WAS IN A TELEVISION PROGRAM THAT HAD BEEN TURNED ON IN THE MIDDLE OF A SCENE. AFTER EIGHT OR TEN STEPS I STOPPED AND LOOKED AROUND ME. CARS RUSHED PAST. I DECIDED TO KEEP WALKING TOWARD A PHONE. IT TOOK ME AN HOUR AND A HALF TO FIND ONE. AND I WAS SOAKED FROM HEAD TO TOE. MY HAIR WAS MATTED DOWN, WET, AND MY CLOTHES STUCK TO ME. I WAS SOAKED BECAUSE LAKE ARTEMESIA WAS LESS THAN A QUARTER MILE AWAY. I HAD GONE TO SEACRIST BUT WOUND UP HALLUCINATING AND MAYBE TRYING TO DROWN MYSELF. MY MOTIVES FOR GOING TO THE LAKE WERE FOREIGN EVEN TO ME. OF COURSE THERE WAS NO ACTUAL PROOF THAT I WAS EVEN THERE, BUT I SMELLED OF SALT WATER. WHEN I TOLD DOCTOR SAM OF THE EPISODE SHE TOOK IT AS A SIGNAL TO STOP MY RESEARCH INTO SEACRIST. SHE WANTED TO CHECK ME INTO THE HOSPITAL. I REFUSED. I WAS GETTING HEALTHIER AND HEALTHIER. I KNEW IT.

SEACRIST ELEMENTARY SCHOOL WAS CLOSED ON JANUARY 24, 1978. THAT WAS ONE DAY BEFORE THE CHILDREN WERE SUPPOSED TO RETURN FROM MORE THAN A MONTH OF MOURNING FOR JEAN WILLETT. THE OFFICIAL REASON GIVEN BY THE SCHOOL BOARD WAS THAT A MUCH LONGER TIME OF HEALING WAS NECESSARY FOR THE CHILDREN AS WELL AS THE PARENTS. AND SOMETIMES I’M CERTAIN THAT AT LEAST ONE, MAYBE MORE, MAYBE ALL OF THE FOURTEEN SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS CAME TO SOME SILENT AGREEMENT ABOUT WHAT WAS HAPPENING AT SEACRIST. I IMAGINE A SCENARIO THAT NOT EVEN ROURKE BILLINGS DARED TO DREAM. I IMAGINE A PRIVATE MEETING OF PEOPLE IN POWER IN A SMALL ROOM AT THE BOARD OF EDUCATION WHERE THE WORD "CURSE" WAS SPOKEN FREELY AND WITHOUT FEAR OF RETRIBUTION. THESE WERE ADULTS AND THEY HAD MOVED BEYOND SUCH BELIEFS, SURE, BUT THERE MUST HAVE BEEN HUNDREDS OF CONVERSATIONS AFTER WE CHILDREN WERE ASLEEP IN OUR BEDS, TALK ABOUT THE CROSS BURIED IN THE GROUND TO MARK STEVEN ODOM'S DEATH, OR THE TWISTED CHARCOAL DRAWING, OR THE PHOTOGRAPHS. THEIR FEELINGS WERE NEVER WRITTEN DOWN, THAT'S FOR CERTAIN, NOT EVEN IN THE UNTOLD STORY OF SEACRIST SCHOOL. EVERY YEAR THAT PASSES BURIES THEM DEEPER, JUST AS THE REASONS FOR SEACRIST'S ABANDONMENT ARE BURIED. THE OFFICIAL CLOSURE OF THE PLACE NEVER ACTUALLY CAME. IT SIMPLY NEVER RE-OPENED. THIS INVOLVED LETTING AN ENTIRE SCHOOL GO TO ROT AND REQUIRED THE BUSSING OF EVERY CHILD TO THREE DIFFERENT SCHOOLS AROUND THE COUNTY FOR YEARS, WHICH IN TURN TOUCHED OFF A MASSIVE BUDGET CONTROVERSY, WHICH CAUSED ENDLESS FINANCIAL HEADACHES TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND THE SCHOOL BOARD. SO I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT THERE WAS NO SECRET AGREEMENT THAT SEACRIST REALLY WAS A HAUNTED STONE ROLLING DOWNHILL WHICH COULDN'T BE STOPPED AND SO HAD TO BE SEALED FOREVER. I IMAGINE THE ADULTS SLEEPING IN THEIR BEDS AT NIGHT AND THINKING OF THE ESCALATION OF EVENTS WHICH ENDED IN THE SLAUGHTER OF A TEACHER, AND WONDERING WHERE IT MIGHT GO FROM THERE IF SEACRIST WAS ALLOWED TO STAY OPEN. WHAT COULD JANUARY HAVE BROUGHT? WHAT WAS WORSE THAN MURDER? THAT’S THE REAL REASON WHY THE PLACE NEVER TAUGHT ANOTHER CHILD TO READ AND WRITE. MANY RESPONSIBLE ADULTS THREW AROUND STATISTICS AND HAGGLED OVER ZONING SPECIFICS FOR YEARS AFTERWARD, BUT IT WAS ALL WHITEWASH. WHAT HAPPENED WAS THAT SOMEONE SOMEWHERE GAVE IN TO HIS OR HER DARKEST FEARS ABOUT THIS UNIVERSE AND CONVINCED THE RIGHT PEOPLE TO DO THE SAME THING. AFTER 1977 SOME GROUP OR THE OTHER WAS ALWAYS CONVENIENTLY AROUND TO STOP SEACRIST FROM BEING RE-OPENED, ON GROUNDS RANGING FROM MONEY PROBLEMS TO ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS. EVEN AT THE AGE OF NINE I KNEW IT WAS OVER.

THE EXIT INTERVIEWS WERE CONDUCTED AT CITY HOSPITAL. NOT A SINGLE CHILD WAS EXCUSED FROM THE QUESTIONS OF TEN PSYCHIATRISTS BROUGHT IN FROM ALL OVER THE COUNTY TO FORM AN ADVISORY PANEL. THEIR TASK WAS TO DRAW UP A LIST OF QUESTIONS TO ASK US. THE POINT WAS TO DETERMINE HOW BADLY WE HAD BEEN AFFECTED. SO THEY ASKED US IF WE FELT SAFE IN OUR MOMMY'S AND DADDY'S HOUSE, IF WE FELT AFRAID OF ANYONE, AND IF WE THOUGHT ANYONE HAD BEEN UNFAIR. THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS WERE WRITTEN DOWN IN A FILE AND PUT SOMEWHERE. THE UNTOLD STORY CLAIMS THAT ABOUT FIVE PERCENT OF THE STUDENT BODY WAS REFERRED FOR FURTHER TREATMENT AND PRIVATE COUNSELING. ONE OF THOSE CHILDREN WAS LAURIE BURKE, SHE WHO MADE THE INSANE CLAIM OF SURREAL CONTACT WITH STEVEN ODOM. I AND THE TWO OTHER SURVIVORS OF THE SHAUGH ATTACK WERE PASSED RIGHT ON TO MORE SOPHISTICATED COUNSELING WHEN WE WERE THROUGH. THAT POLICY WAS CERTAINLY WELCOMED BY MY PARENTS, WHO SAW THAT AS WINTER BECAME SPRING AND SPRING BECAME SUMMER, I WAS WITHDRAWING SLOWLY FROM EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING AROUND ME. WHEN I STARTED ATTENDING A PRIVATE SCHOOL THE NEXT SEPTEMBER, I LASTED ABOUT TWO WEEKS. I WAS KEPT OUT OF SCHOOL ENTIRELY FOR ANOTHER YEAR, STUDYING ON MY OWN. AND I BEGAN TO BE NORMAL AGAIN.

MY EARLIEST THERAPY IS A DIM MEMORY. THE THING I REMEMBER MOST VIVIDLY IS SITTING BESIDE MY FATHER'S HOSPITAL DEATHBED WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER. I VISITED HIM EVERY DAY FOR A MONTH, AND WE TALKED ABOUT A LOT OF THINGS, BUT SEACRIST WAS NEVER AMONG THEM. FINALLY, NEAR THE END, I ASKED HIM WHY I COULDN'T HAVE JUST BEEN TOLD EVERYTHING, WHY THERE HAD BEEN SO MUCH HIDDEN, WHY STEVEN ODOM WAS PASSED OFF AS A SAINT, WHY THE PHOTOGRAPHS HAD BEEN KEPT AWAY FROM ME. I WANTED TO KNOW THE POINT OF THE PRETENDING THAT THERE WAS SOME CLOSET THE ADULTS COULD PUT THOSE THINGS INTO WHERE THEY'D NEVER BE FOUND, BECAUSE THEY INEVITABLY WOULD BE. HE TOLD ME ONLY THAT I NEEDED TO BE PROTECTED. HE SAID THAT NATURALLY, I WOULD FIND OUT THAT THE WORLD WAS A SINISTER PLACE OF THE UNEXPLAINED AND THE UNTHINKABLE. HE JUST HADN'T KNOWN WHAT IT WOULD DO TO ME TO EXPOSE IT THAT EARLY. BUT EVEN AFTER I HAD BEEN INSIDE MRS. WILLETT’S ROOM TO WATCH HER DIE, THE LIES HAD FLOWED. I CAME TO HATE THE PEOPLE WHO HAD TOLD THEM TO US, ALL OF THEM. MY FATHER DIED ON JUNE 1ST, 1986.

I'VE SEEN ALL THE OLD NEWSPAPERS, ALL THE OLD MAGAZINES, AND FOUND A TAPE OR TWO OF RADIO PROGRAMS FROM THAT TIME DISCUSSING SEACRIST. I'VE READ ROURKE BILLINGS'S BOOK EXHAUSTIVELY, AND TALKED TO EVERYONE I NEED TO TALK TO. I HAVE EVEN VISITED TIMOTHY SHAUGH'S GRAVE. THE HEADSTONE GIVES A NAME AND TWO DATES AND A PASSAGE FROM THE BIBLE. I WAS FINISHED WITH SEACRIST, I THOUGHT, BUT NO. I REALIZED THAT I’LL NEVER BE FINISHED WITH SEACRIST WHEN DON QUESTED, THE HOST OF HAPPENINGS, CALLED ME AT HOME ON MAY 4, THREE DAYS BEFORE I COLLAPSED IN THE MIDDLE OF MY ROOM AND ENTERED AN UNEXPLAINED COMA WHICH LASTED FOURTEEN DAYS AND FOURTEEN NIGHTS. THE COMA WAS ABSOLUTELY DREAMLESS. AND WHEN I AWOKE I REALIZED IT AGAIN: I AM SEACRIST, AND SO IS EVERY CHILD WHO WENT THROUGH THOSE DOORS AND CAME OUT WITH TEN DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF THE FACTS.

THIS IS THE LAST PART I CAN WRITE ABOUT. DON QUESTED IDENTIFIED HIMSELF, SOUNDING VERY CORDIAL, AND ASKED IF I HAD EVER WATCHED THE PROGRAM. I TOLD HIM NO, BUT I WAS FAMILIAR WITH THE FORMAT AS I HAD HEARD ABOUT IT. I ASKED HIM WHY HE WAS CALLING. HE SOUNDED VERY PROUD WHEN HE TOLD ME THAT HE HAD BYPASSED HIS ASSOCIATE PRODUCER AND DECIDED TO CALL ME HIMSELF. HE SAID HE REALIZED THAT THE SUBJECT WAS DELICATE AND THAT PEOPLE'S FEELINGS HAD TO BE TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT. WHAT SUBJECT? I ASKED HIM. HE EXPLAINED THAT HAPPENINGS WAS PLANNING A TWELVE-MINUTE FEATURETTE TO RUN ON THE SHOW IN ONE MONTH. THE FEATURETTE WOULD BE ABOUT SEACRIST ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. HE HAD DONE SOME INITIAL RESEARCH INTO THE SCHOOL'S HISTORY AND WAS INTERESTED IN INTERVIEWING MANY FORMER STUDENTS. I ASKED HIM IF I WAS THE FIRST TO BE CONTACTED. HE CHUCKLED AND SAID NO, NOT BY ANY MEANS. IN FACT, THE SHOW HAD ALREADY LINED UP EIGHT INTERVIEWS AND WAS GOING TO TAPE THEM LATER IN THE WEEK. I ASKED FOR THE NAMES OF THE PEOPLE HE WAS GOING TO INTERVIEW AND HE DISAPPEARED FOR A MINUTE TO FIND THE LIST. HE RETURNED TO THE PHONE AND READ IT OFF TO ME. I RECOGNIZED THE NAMES ONLY DIMLY. I DON'T THINK I HAD EVER SPOKEN TO ANY OF THEM. I ASKED QUESTED WHY HE WAS CALLING ME IN PARTICULAR. IN THE FRIENDLIEST OF TONES, HE SAID THAT ONE OF THE PRODUCERS OF HAPPENINGS HAD GIVEN HIM MY NAME AND TOLD HIM IN PASSING THAT I WAS ONE OF THE THREE SURVIVORS OF TIMOTHY SHAUGH'S CRIME EIGHTEEN YEARS BEFORE. I ASKED IF HE HAD CALLED THE OTHER SURVIVORS. QUESTED SAID NO. IT WAS HIS UNDERSTANDING THAT THE OTHERS HAD BEEN EXTREMELY EXPLICIT ABOUT THEIR DESIRE TO HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THAT PAST, TO THE POINT WHERE LOUIS LAIRD'S FAMILY LAWYER HAD BEEN ASSIGNED THE TASK OF DEFLECTING ANY OCCASIONAL REQUESTS FOR INTERVIEWS OR QUOTES. I ASKED WHAT THE FOCUS OF THE PROGRAM WOULD BE, AND WHAT SORT OF ATTITUDE IT WOULD TAKE. QUESTED CLAIMED HE WASN'T CERTAIN, BUT IT WOULD MOSTLY BE A SIMPLE RECAPPING OF THE UNEXPLAINED EVENTS WHICH WERE SO FAMOUS. WHEN HE TOLD ME THIS, I COULD ALREADY ENVISION THE PROGRAM, THE QUICK CUTS OF BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHS, THE OMINOUS MUSIC PLAYING IN THE FOREGROUND, SOME SORT OF TITLE GIVEN TO THE WHOLE THING. I TOLD HIM THAT THE FACTS SPOKE FOR THEMSELVES AND THAT THERE WAS REALLY NO NEED FOR ME. QUESTED SAID HE WAS HOPING I MIGHT BE ABLE TO GIVE SOME INSIGHT INTO WHAT HAPPENED, AND THAT OF COURSE INTERVIEWS WITH ACTUAL PEOPLE GAVE EVERY STORY ON HAPPENINGS CREDIBILITY AND PROVED THAT IT WAS REAL, THAT IT REALLY HAPPENED THAT WAY. AND I WAS A SURVIVOR. I HAD ACTUALLY SEEN WHAT TOOK PLACE INSIDE ROOM 15. IF I WANTED, I WOULD BE INTERVIEWED IN MY HOME, TELLING WHAT IT WAS LIKE, AND I WOULD BE EXPECTED TO GIVE DETAILS OF WHAT TRANSPIRED. QUESTED CLAIMED OFF THE RECORD THAT THE PAY SCALE OF MY APPEARANCE WOULD MOST LIKELY BE ALTERED SOMEWHAT BY MY RECALL. EVERY INTERVIEWEE WOULD BE PAID THE SUM OF THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY DOLLARS FOR THEIR APPEARANCE ON THE SHOW, BUT A GUEST SUCH AS MYSELF, WHO COULD OFFER A GREAT DEAL OF FASCINATING INFORMATION, COULD BE PAID SOMETHING MORE. FROM THIS I TOOK THE IMPRESSION THAT FOR EVERY DETAIL I GAVE ABOUT THE DAY I WATCHED TIMOTHY SHAUGH KILL MY TEACHER WITH AN AXE, THE REIMBURSEMENT FOR MY TIME WOULD BE INCREASED. QUESTED TOOK OFFENSE THAT I SHOULD THINK THIS. HE SAID HE ONLY MEANT THAT IT WAS A VALUABLE STORY TO THE SHOW AND THEY WOULD BE APPRECIATIVE OF ANY INFORMATION I MIGHT BE ABLE TO GIVE, AND THAT WAS ALL.

I TOLD QUESTED THAT I HAD NO MEMORIES OF WHAT HAPPENED IN THAT ROOM. THEY’D BEEN OBLITERATED IN THE WAY MEMORIES OFTEN ARE FOR PEOPLE INVOLVED IN TRAGIC ACCIDENTS. THE LAST THING I REMEMBER WAS GOING INTO THE ROOM TO BE TAUGHT HOW TO READ THE HANDS OF A CLOCK, AND THAT WAS IT. ON THE OTHER SIDE, I REMEMBER WAKING IN A HOSPITAL ROOM, UNSCATHED. QUESTED WONDERED IF IT WAS POSSIBLE THAT THE SHOW’S STAFF COULD FILL IN THOSE DETAILS FOR ME, AND THEN MAYBE I COULD JUST CORROBORATE THAT THEY WERE TRUE. HE WASN'T QUITE SURE HOW THIS WOULD WORK, BUT THE SHAUGH CRIMES WERE IMPORTANT TO THE STORY, AND EYEWITNESS DETAILS WERE ESSENTIAL.

I APOLOGIZED AND WISHED HIM GOOD LUCK ON THE STORY, AND I TOLD HIM I DIDN’T WANT TO BE CONTACTED AGAIN. I THINK I SHOULDN’T HAVE OFFENDED HIS BASIC JOURNALISTIC INSTINCTS BY OFFERING SYMPATHY THAT THEY COULD NEVER FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED IN ROOM 15. QUESTED TOLD ME THAT THEY WOULD INDEED FIND OUT. HE SAID THAT IF I COULDN'T HELP THE SHOW, MAYBE LOUIS LAIRD COULD. THEY WERE HAVING TROUBLE LOCATING HIM, BUT WITHOUT MY TESTIMONY ON THE SHOW, THEY DIDN'T HAVE MUCH CHOICE BUT TO BYPASS HIS LAWYER SOMEHOW AND SUBMIT AN AGGRESSIVE REQUEST FOR HIS SIDE OF THE TALE.

IT WAS AT THIS POINT THAT I OPENLY CHALLENGED DON QUESTED. I WARNED HIM THAT HE MUST NEVER, EVER CONTACT LOUIS LAIRD ABOUT THIS ISSUE, BECAUSE HE HAD BEEN SO GREATLY AFFECTED BY THE EVENTS AT SEACRIST AND HE WOULD BE GREATLY DISTURBED BY THE CALL. HE HAD EVEN GONE SO FAR AS TO HAVE HIS NAME LEGALLY CHANGED WHEN HE WAS TWENTY-ONE. I KNEW LOUIS. I KNEW HIS MIND BECAUSE HIS MIND WAS MINE. WE WERE ALL THREE BROTHERS, MYSELF AND LOUIS AND PHILIP DARBY. BUT LOUIS HAD BEEN ON THE EDGE OF SANITY FOR EIGHTEEN YEARS, JUST AS I HAD BEEN. THEN QUESTED TOLD ME HE ALREADY HAD SOMEONE IN SEACRIST TRYING TO FIND OUT EXACTLY WHERE LOUIS LIVED. I ASKED THIS COCKROACH IF HE WAS AWARE THAT THERE HAD BEEN FORTY SUICIDES SINCE SEACRIST CLOSED DOWN, WHICH MEANT THAT ALMOST TWELVE PERCENT OF ALL THOSE CHILDREN HAD PUT GUNS IN THEIR MOUTHS OR SWALLOWED PILLS OR DROWNED THEMSELVES. I WAS NOT GOING TO LET QUESTED CAUSE ANOTHER ONE. AND SO I OPENLY THREATENED HIM. I TOLD HIM IF HE CONTACTED LOUIS LAIRD, I WOULD KILL HIM. QUESTED APOLOGIZED FOR TOUCHING UPON SUCH A SENSITIVE ISSUE BUT THEN CLAIMED IT WAS ALL OUT OF HIS HANDS. I HUNG UP THE PHONE.

THAT WAS ON A TUESDAY. ON FRIDAY, LOUIS TRIED TO HANG HIMSELF IN HIS PARENTS' LIVING ROOM SEVERAL HOURS AFTER SPEAKING TO AN ASSOCIATE PRODUCER FROM HAPPENINGS. ON SATURDAY, THE DAY AFTER, I WAS CROSSING THE ROOM TO PLACE THE NEWSPAPER CONTAINING THIS NEWS IN THE RECYCLING BOX AND MY LEGS WENT OUT FROM UNDER ME. I COLLAPSED AND SLIPPED FROM UNCONSCIOUSNESS INTO A COMA. WHEN I AWOKE, SOMETHING WAS DIFFERENT. I REMEMBERED WHAT HAD HAPPENED TO ME EIGHTEEN YEARS BEFORE. THE TIMING OF THE COMA WAS NO COINCIDENCE, AND IT WASN’T A FREAK OF PHYSIOLOGY. THEY WERE KILLING ME, BUT I HAVE SURVIVED, AND I'VE MADE UP MY MIND. IF THEY'RE GOING TO PUT IT UPON ME TO BURY THE PAST, THEN I HAVE NO CHOICE TO DO IT, BECAUSE THIS IS NEVER GOING TO DIE, NOT EVEN WITH ME, NOT EVEN WITH LOUIS AND PHILIP AND EVERY LAST STUDENT WHO EVER WENT TO THAT PLACE. THE RUMORS AND THE FACTS ARE GOING TO SWIRL TOGETHER IN MEMORY FOR ALL TIME, JUST AS THEY ALWAYS MUST WHEN WE'RE CONFRONTED WITH SOME EVENT OR SOME TRAGEDY BEYOND THE REALM OF ANYONE'S IMAGINATION. AND IF YOU BIRDS OF PREY MUST KNOW IT ALL, IF THAT‘S WHAT IT'S GOING TO TAKE TO STOP THE SUICIDES, TO STOP YOU PICKING THEM OFF ONE BY ONE WITH YOUR QUESTIONS AND YOUR INSANITY, THEN SO BE IT. YOU'VE WON. YOU WON WHEN I FELL TO THE FLOOR AND TIMOTHY SHAUGH WAS PUT BACK INTO MY DREAMS. WITH HIM CAME THE COLORS AND THE SOUNDS OF ROOM 15, EVERY VIVID SECOND WHICH I PRAYED EVERY NIGHT HAD BEEN LOST FOREVER. YOU DRAGGED IT OUT OF THAT CLOSET AND PUT IT ALL RIGHT INTO MY HANDS. YOU'LL GO MAD NOT KNOWING EVERYTHING, NOT HAVING YOUR HUNGER SATED. IT'S UNTHINKABLE TO YOU, NOT KNOWING. SO I’M GOING TO TELL YOU ALL ONCE. I LEAVE THIS LETTER FOR ROURKE BILLINGS AND DON QUESTED AND FOR MY DOCTOR, FOR MY STEPFATHER WHO CALLED ME ABNORMAL AND TOLD ME WHEN I WAS NINETEEN TO JUST STRAIGHTEN OUT OR NEVER COME BACK TO MY MOTHER'S HOUSE, FOR THE MANY STUDENTS AT SEACRIST WHO SOMEHOW GOT WELL FAST AND NEVER LOOKED BACK, AND FOR ALL THEIR PARENTS WHO REFUSED TO TELL US ANYTHING BUT WHO WILL SIT AROUND HAPPENINGS LIKE DOGS, LAPPING UP EVERY BIT OF HORROR THAT THEY CAN GET THEIR MINDS ON. I LEAVE THIS FOR ANYONE SO SICK AND DISTURBED THAT THEY WANT TO HEAR IT, ANYONE SO MESMERIZED BY THE UNSPEAKABLE SIDESHOW ASPECT OF LIFE THAT THEY WOULD INFLICT THEIR WILL ON HELPLESS SHEEP LIKE LOUIS LAIRD. YOU SAVAGES WILL NEVER SEE THE ROPE BURNS AROUND HIS NECK, AND YOU'LL NEVER SEE HIM IN THE HOSPITAL NOW, DRUGGED SO HEAVILY HE CAN'T RECOGNIZE HIS OWN SISTER, BECAUSE THAT'S NOT INTERESTING TO YOU, BUT IF YOU WANT MURDER AND GORE, HERE IT IS. ARE YOU READY?

WE WERE BEING TAUGHT TO TELL TIME. A MAN APPEARED IN THE DOORWAY, HOLDING AN AXE. OUR TEACHER, MRS. WILLETT, ASKED HIM A QUESTION. TIMOTHY SHAUGH SAID SOMETHING BACK. THERE WAS LAUGHTER, ACTUAL LAUGHTER, INSIDE THE ROOM.

AND THEN, YOU BASTARDS, YOU MONSTERS, HE TRIED TO KILL US ALL.