Mr. Gobi always demanded a final draft of the paper printed for his review before publication. Officially Stacy was the lead editor, but Romero High was no free speech society and everyone knew full well that nothing that might get the club on the wrong side of the administration would ever see the light of day. Usually his office door was open, but today it stood closed. Stacy didn’t know what to make of it.
“He’s having a bad day. Be nice to him,” suggested Julia Sano, unprompted, as Stacy stood confused in front of the door.
She knocked, and barely heard the answer. “Just let yourself in,” Julia recommended.
Mr. Gobi took great pride in a window in his office that overlooked the rear parking lot of the school. Just to have his own office and a window, he said, meant that he was a big deal, and natural light was a central element to a balanced mind. Today his blinds were drawn, and the blinding midday sun could only cast narrow bands across the walls, illuminating in segments Mr. Gobi’s teacher of the year trophies and the letters from students he pinned to his bulletin board.
Mr. Gobi looked in Stacy’s direction as she came in, but not at her. He stared right through her head to the wall beyond, one hand between Cody’s ears. Not petting, just sitting there while Cody gently rocked back and forth to pet himself. “Hello, Stacy. You can leave it on the desk.”
“Ok,” said Stacy, eager to get out of that horrible office. Her favorite teacher and ally throughout high school’s sudden change in demeanor upset her. She hoped he would sort out whatever was bothering him and get back to being Mr. Gobi again shortly.
As she backed out, he said, “Hey, Stacy, did I ever tell you you remind me of my daughter? Thick auburn hair. Brilliant young women, the both of you.”
This is weird. No thank you, I don’t want to have this conversation. “Um.” said Stacy. “Reach out when you’ve looked it over.”
“Ok,” Mr. Gobi mumbled as Stacy closed the door on him.
Mr. Gobi never talked about his daughter. Once, Stacy heard that Angela had died in a car crash six years ago, but nothing else. Why would he suddenly be upset again now?
“Did Ethan really do all that?” Julia asked from her desk next to the office.
“What?” Stacy came back to the present.
Julia’s wolfhound Jack said “wow wow,” and she reached down to pet him.
“I mean, I know him pretty well. I guess I could see him wandering into a horde of zombies. He might be exaggerating how smart they were. It wouldn’t require a remarkable degree of intelligence to outsmart him.”
“He wasn’t exaggerating,” Stacy blurted.
Julia scowled, “so you’re his cheerleader now? So much for convincing him to leave the paper, then.”
“I am not anyone’s cheerleader,” Stacy snarled. “You have no idea what’s going on here.”
“Ah, soudesuka? Maybe you can illuminate me.”
Blas growled, but Stacy didn’t respond, and Julia continued. “What Mr. Gobi just said about your hair caught my attention and I had to go back to it. I think it’s fascinating the description of this laughing zombie.” She scrolled down on her iPad. “She had thick, brown hair matted to the back of her pale yellow sun dress with blood. The sparkle of intelligence lit her eyes as her mouth quirked into a grin.”
“So? Thick brown hair. What’s your point?”
Julia grinned, flipping her long black hair away from her pale face. “I’m so glad you asked. First of all, it’s lovely that you’re helping little Ethan write his submissions, but this one really reads like you wrote it all yourself. Ethan has a cute face, but he considers videos of himself driving a bicycle into a lake legitimate news for a reason.”
Stacy wasn’t about to give Julia the satisfaction of agreeing with her. “You just wanted to inform me that you think Ethan is stupid?”
“No, koibito, stupid? My stars, what a thing to call your boyfriend! I hope you don’t talk like that to his pretty face, men can be very sensitive.”
“He’s not my- did you have something else you wanted to tell me!?”
“I wanted to show you something. Now, Ethan, you know, he’s a little skittish and doesn’t like to talk to me, but I was wondering if you could show him…” Julia scrolled a thin, white finger across her iPad, “this picture.”
A chill ran down Stacy’s spine. Standing between a youthful Mr. Gobi and a heavyset white woman was a little girl with thick brown hair all the way down her back. She wore a pale yellow sun dress. Julia swiped back to the article, “Princess Penelope Blackwater Stowe closed her jaws around the zombie’s throat and tore out her trachea -“
Stacy was barely aware of what had happened, but Julia’s colorless cheek was now a pale pink. She lifted her hand to it, and for all her momentary sociopathic joy, she now looked bewildered and hurt. “What – why did you do that?”
“Uh” said Stacy, noting the stinging sensation on her own hand and the eyes staring at her across the classroom as Julia slid out of her chair and ran away.
I killed Mr. Gobi’s daughter, Stacy thought numbly. Then she realized he absolutely could not be allowed to read that paper. She turned back to his office to see that she was too late. The door opened, but Mr. Gobi did not emerge, only his voice.
“Ethan,” the voice sounded tremulous, a force of will keeping it steady. Ethan’s head popped up from his computer. When no followup came to the unnerving call, Ethan bit his lip. “Yes, Mr. Gobi?”
Then the voice sounded just like normal Mr. Gobi again, which somehow was even more frightening. “May I see you in my office?”
Stacy bolted to the office and stood in the doorway and whispered to Ethan. “Mr. Gobi thinks you killed his daughter.”
Ethan furrowed his brow, “I thought she died in a car crash way back when.”
“No, that may have been a lie. Julia -“
Ethan scowled. “I don’t want to hear what Julia has to say. I fully support you slapping her, by the way. Good job.”
Mr. Gobi cleared his throat and Stacy turned. Red eyes stared through thick-framed glasses and flit between the two of them. “I’m nearly finished looking it over, Stacy. I’ll be with you in a moment. Ethan, would you mind closing the door behind you?”
“Who is that?” you may be wondering. Look no further than the series glossary to refresh your memory on characters you may not have seen in a while.