“A picture pops up of a middle-aged man, walking out of the school towards a police car, his arms being held together by handcuffs. The man’s hair is short and black, slicked back by sweat. His skin is russet brown.
So if it isn’t my father, who is it?
I gasp. I know who it was.”
I grab my backpack, put on my shoes, and walk out the door of my apartment. It’s Friday, the day before the stress-free weekend. As I walk down the hallway, I hear the words, “Hello, Aaron.” I spin around and see my neighbor, Mr. Vasquez, leaning against one of the walls in the hallway, a sly smile spread across his face.
“Oh, hi, Mr. Vasquez.” Mr. Vasquez lives in the apartment next to us. He always seems a little odd, like he is always distracted by something in his head when I’m talking to him. He lives alone and doesn’t come out much. He never orders food to his door, and always wears black when he goes outside, even in the blazing hot summer days. To make some conversation, I ask, “Where are you going?”
He hesitates, and then says, “I have to run a few errands.”
“Oh. Okay, sounds like a fun Friday!” He laughs slowly. I’m late for my bus, so I wave goodbye and then walk out.
At school, I put my bag in my locker. I walk to homeroom and read. The bell rings, and I go to math. After math, I go to science. After science, I go to writing. A typical day. Boring, really. And to top it off, there is always mind-numbing homework to be done at home.
The bell rings for lunch. I go to the cafeteria and sit down with my friends.
“Hey Aaron,” Sammi says. Sammi and I have been friends since first grade. We could always count on each other.
“Hey,” I say as I slide into my seat. “Did you finish the social studies project for last period?”
“Yep. I even added a kite to Benjamin Franklin’s model. This diorama deserves to get an A.”
I grin. “I bet. Thanks for doing that, Sammi.” That’s when I feel a vibration in my back pocket. I take out my phone and turn it on. I get a text from an unknown caller.
I figure it must be a friend from school who I don’t have the number of, so I say:
“Hi. Who are you?”
I wait. No reply. I feel a bit uneasy, but the person probably got caught up in something. I put my phone into my pocket again and open up my bag. I take out my sandwich and take a bite.
I go back to my locker after lunch to get my stuff for social studies when I feel the vibrating again. I close my locker door and take out my phone. There is another text.
“I am coming to kill you and your little friends. Your school is Aberdale Middle, right?”
I freeze. I don’t think this is another classmate anymore. I start running towards social studies, but halfway there, I am interrupted by another text.
My palms start sweating. I run faster. It could be a hoax, but just in case, I want to show it to Sammi. I enter the social studies room. Kids are in groups of two, putting the last few touches on their projects. I run over to Sammi.
“Hey, Aaron. Do you like the kite? Do you think there’s anything-”
“Sammi,” I say. I am shaking.
“Are you okay?”
Panting from running, I take out my phone and show her the texts. She stares at it for a few seconds.
“Um… Aaron, I think this guy is just trying to trick you. Maybe it’s just a kid from school.” I nodded.
All of a sudden, the intercom sounds. The principal, in an urgent tone, practically yells,
“Lockdown. Teachers, this is not a drill. Lockdown.” Everybody goes over towards the closets, which are unable to be seen by the door. Our teacher, Ms. Wilson, covers the window on the door with a piece of paper and locks it. She tries to look calm, but I can tell she is scared. There is a panicked vibe in the room. We all sit down on the cold floor edging towards the wall. Everybody is silent. We wait. Sammi sits next to me, mouthing the words, “Oh my god,” over and over again.
A minute later, I hear someone banging on the lockers. “I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!” A familiar voice screams. “ALL OF YOU!”
A chill goes down my spine. Sammi looks at me, her eyes wide. I can’t understand why I know that voice. It comes from a grown man. A girl starts crying.
We wait, listening to the guy yell and bang the lockers. The sound of breathing in our classroom is ragged.
There’s a banging on our door, which makes everybody jump. I curse under my breath.
“I’M GOING TO KILL ALL OF YOU!” The voice screams.
Another kid starts crying. And one screams, “No!” I am terrified. I am too young to die.
We all look at her alarmingly. She cries harder, her face florid, and puts her head on her hands.
I look at Sammi. Her eyes are closed, and she is rocking back and forth. I touch her arm lightly. She opens her eyes and looks at me. I give her a sad smile. She sighs.
The man is still banging on the door, screaming. I wonder how this guy even got my number.
Then I have a thought. Maybe it is my dad.
He cheated on my mother when I was nine. My mom, even though she hated him, gave him my number to talk to me. But I was so angry. I felt like he didn’t love me anymore. So I never added him in my contacts, and never, never picked up to his numerous calls. Finally, when I was around eleven, he never called again. Since then, I’ve forgotten his number and moved on in life without him.
At this moment, the banging on the door stops, and moves to the lockers. The man moves towards the other doors. I wonder how the other kids feel. I feel guilty. Guilty that I never talked to my dad, guilty that I don’t love him anymore.
It is all my fault.
I hear sirens outside. I breath a sigh of relief. Someone lets out some gas. Nobody laughs. Usually, they laugh and laugh when someone farts, but today is different.
After about thirty seconds I hear the words, “Hey! Hey! Put your hands up!” It is a cop. I guess the killer obeys the officer, because the officer doesn’t say that again. Instead, he says, “You’re coming with me.” I hear the clang of the metal handcuffs. There is no more sound.
A minute passes. Then another. There is no more banging or yelling. Everything is silent.
Finally, the intercom sounds. “The lockdown has been lifted,” says the principal. Everybody breathes a sigh of relief. The girl who started crying first, hiccups.
“Please wait until your door is unlocked. You may exit the building at three o’clock.” I look at the clock. It’s already last period. I don’t notice the bell, even though it is dead silent in our room. I am thinking about other things.
That night I watch the news in the living room with my mom. I tell my mother all about the day, but I leave out the part about dad. She doesn’t like to talk about him much. She is shocked that the school has that limited of security and decides to watch the news to find out more.
We have been staring at the TV screen for more than three hours. Finally, there’s a picture of my school on the news. The female reporter says, “At around 1:25 PM today, a murderer went into Aberdale Middle School and terrorized kids as they waited in their classrooms for the police to come. Police have identified the killer and have arrested him.” A picture pops up of a middle-aged man, walking out of the school towards a police car, his arms being held together by handcuffs. The man’s hair is short and black, slicked back by sweat. His skin is russet brown.
So if it isn’t my father, who is it?
I gasp. I know who it was.
Mr. Vasquez? Why would he do this? I am stunned. I press the palms of my hands into my eyes until I see nothing but sparkles. I take a breath and keep watching to get more information.
“This man has been on the FBI’s most wanted list for a long time now. He’s gone incognito and moved from Arizona to New York. His real name is George Nassos. He has a mental illness and has murdered many. If you have any other information on this man, please call the police.”
I cannot believe it. I was living next door to a murderer. And the way he looked at me this morning… A chill goes down my spine for the second time today.
Later that night, Mom and I call the police and tell them everything we know. We tell them about him never really coming out much, his made-up name, and his oddness around us. The police are very pleased and thank us profusely.
At around midnight, I am in bed playing Flappy Bird on my phone when an unknown number calls. Thankfully, it isn’t Mr. Vasquez’s (a.k.a., George Nassos’s). I hesitate and accept the call. “Hello?”
“Hi. Is this Aaron?” The voice says.
“Yeah…. Who is this?”
“It’s, uh…your dad.” I gulp.
“Hey.” There is an awkward pause.
“So, um. I heard about the killer in your school. I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
I pause. I didn’t think he cared about me anymore. After all, he cheated on my mom, moved to California, and stopped talking to me. “Yeah, I’m okay.”
“That’s good. Were you scared? What happened?”
I tell him everything. The texts, the banging, the yelling. Then he tells me he misses me.
“Really? Because it seems like you don’t care anymore.”
“Squirt, of course I do. I love you to pieces.” I can actually hear the affection in his voice.
I sigh, “I miss you too, Dad. I miss you too.”