When school let out, I didn’t get to go. Since I had three demerits, I had to do my time. By “do my time,” of course, I mean “collect all the unserviceable pencil sharpeners in the school and return them to Mr. Fitz’s office for proper disposal.” Apparently, there was a special pencil sharpener disposal protocol which was necessary for the safety of the students. Something about a fire hazard, and the dead, and imminent floods.
Anyway, I spent about an hour going from room to room and crawling under desks, testing out discarded pencil sharpeners one by one with the pack of new Ticonderogas that Mr. Fitz had graciously provided me with. Every time I found a bad one, I dropped it into a large canvas bag with the Mulberry First County Bank logo on it: a stylized man who wearing nothing but a cape, a loincloth, and three watches.
I didn’t find as many duds as I’d expected I would, and I was kind of worried that he’d make me go back to check again. All the same, I still knocked on his office door. To my surprise, it wasn’t even closed all the way. It just swung open when I touched it.
Mr. Fitz wasn’t in, so I figured I’d sit down and wait for him to come back. He was probably in the bathroom or talking to another teacher. It shouldn’t take too long. However, as the minutes ticked away, I felt my knee bouncing as potential energy built up inside me. To make things worse, the room stunk. It smelled like someone had left a bag of chicken guts out in the sun for a week. How did Mr. Fitz stand it? The citrus air freshener wasn’t doing anything to make it better. If anything, it was making things worse.
I stood up and began pacing. I really didn’t mean to snoop! It just happened. Mr. Fitz’s bookshelves had almost no actual literature on them. They were entirely old issues of Reader’s Digest and notebooks filled with stickers shaped like flies. Only one shelf had real books on it, and those were YA vampire romance. I did spot Leaves of Grass, and a collection of letters by James Joyce.
It was entirely by accident that I wound up sitting at Mr. Fitz’s desk, and entirely by accident that I heard the buzzing. The loud buzzing. The loud buzzing coming out of his top drawer. I knew that if he walked in on me going through his drawers, I’d be in trouble. But I also really wanted to know what was buzzing. Was it confiscated cell phones? A collection of novelty neck massagers? Bees? Who would keep bees in their desk? Finally, I gave in to curiosity and opened the top drawer.
Mr. Fitz wasn’t keeping bees in his desk.
He was keeping yellowjackets, in those small bug houses that little kids put fireflies in. There were four houses, and three of them were packed full of nasty little hornets. And those were some hungry yellowjackets, because they were eating enthusiastically. Did I mention what they were eating? I don’t think I did.
They were eating rotting, skeletal hands, stripped almost cleanly of flesh, except for the bits that would be hard to get at with an X-Acto knife: tendons, cartilage, some weird little muscles in their weird little nooks. Those were the parts the bugs were going at. And they were doing a good job: one of the hands was nearly totally clean. Next to that hand, with a few bugs resting lazily on top of it, was Tracy’s signature ribbon headband.
I stifled a scream. If that hand was Tracy’s, it was obvious who the other two belonged to. Of course, one of them had Doctor Bonesaw’s girly watch next to it, and the other had Eric’s secret vape. Only one bughouse was empty. However, it was well prepared. It was shiny and clean. There was a little dish of water there, in case the yellowjackets got thirsty, I guess. Also, Ronnie’s cats-eye glasses were in there.
I stifled a scream.
That explained the stink, at least.
Evidence. This was evidence of a murder—three murders. Mr. Fitz was a murderer. He liked Tracy and Eric. Why would he kill them? What was going on?
Ronnie was next.
I needed to grab whatever evidence I could and go to the police. Maybe there were fingerprints or something on the bug houses. I didn’t want to carry a gross little box of murder around with me, but this was important. This would save Ronnie’s life.
I gingerly picked up the box with Tracy’s hand in it. It was a left hand; that made sense. Tracy was a lefty. The wasps buzzed furiously at the unwanted movement, but they weren’t able to get through the mesh on top (thank goodness). The weight of the skeletal hand made me sick.
The police station was nearby. If I took a shortcut across the soccer field and ran the whole time, I could be there in just a few minutes. People would see me carrying a skeleton box and think I was super-creepy. Didn’t matter. Murder.
That was when Mr. Fitz showed up in the doorway.
“Got all the pencil sharpeners,” I said, gesturing to the canvas bag with the hand that wasn’t full of evidence.
“You little piece of shit,” Mr. Fitz said.
I headbutted him in the stomach and ran.
I’ve never been athletic, but knowing that a serial killer knows you know he’s a serial killer is a great motivator.
The halls were newly-waxed and slippery, but I was wearing top-notch sneakers. Like many boys my age, I care a lot about my shoes, and go to great efforts to maintain their quality. I congratulated myself for my fashion sense, and then I tripped over a discarded skateboard. Skateboards weren’t allowed in school! The bug house bounced and skidded ahead of me, but it didn’t open. However, the yellowjackets did get angrier. I crawled forward and grabbed it, even though I was still on my belly.
“James Stewart, if you don’t turn around and give me that bug house right now, you’re suspended!” I heard Mr. Fitz calling from behind me.
“I don’t like it when you murder people!” I called back as I scrambled to my feet. “Stop doing that!”
I kept running, even though I’d definitely been bruised by the fall. I could hear Mr. Fitz catching up to me. I looked over my shoulder. He was riding the skateboard with shocking grace for a man of his stature, and he had a mad look in his eyes. His graying auburn hair was flying behind him like a Valkyrie’s. His polo shirt was still tucked into his cargo shorts.
I slammed my way through the door onto the soccer field. The girls’ team was practicing. I saw Ronnie in the bleachers, intently watching Olga as she commanded her squadron.
“Coming through!” I shouted. Everyone turned to look at me.
“What the hell are you holding!?” Ronnie asked as she half-ran half-fell down the bleachers. “Is that a hand!?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s Tracy’s. Mr. Fitz is a serial killer. Wanna come with me to the police station?”
Suddenly, Mr. Fitz burst out the door at us, flying gracefully on his skateboard.
He was beautiful and terrifying. I realized this was how a creature of the nighttime forest must feel before it was killed by a mighty tiger.
Ronnie grabbed my hand and pulled me forward, out of Mr. Fitz’s range. The skateboard fell away and he landed on his feet. He brushed his hair out of his sweaty face and smiled cordially.
“Ah, Ms. Stinton,” he said. “Would you be so kind as to help me retrieve my wasp collection?”
That was when a soccer ball hit him in the head. It threw him off balance, but only for a second. He grimaced.
“Call the authorities and retreat,” Olga commanded. The girls’ soccer team scattered. She stepped forward. “I’ve been waiting for this, Harold Fitz,” she said, a dangerous grin gracing her bowed lips. “You’re going down, bitch.”