's 2013 Horror Write-off:

"School Years"

Submitted by Charred Newt

“Sarah, come on! We’ve gotta join the others!”

“Just a second, there’s a thing I have to do.” Sarah ran towards the glass door. Chemistry would start in about fifteen minutes, but the classroom wasn’t that far from the biology lab, they could make it fine. She took the small paper piece out of her bag and checked it again: perfect timing.

She pressed her face against the smooth glass surface, and looked inside: the first year students were getting ready for their third practical lesson; they looked incredibly small, lively and chatty, like a flock of sparrows. Sarah narrowed her eyes, trying to focus on the back row.

Finally, she found herself. She had always been a tiny girl, and now, behind the long white table, with the protective glasses engulfing her small, freckled face, she looked tinier than ever. Sarah counted to three, and started waving: as she remembered, the kid had chosen that moment to glance in her direction and froze in surprise. Then, hesitantly, she waved back with a timid smile.

“Ok, are you done now? Everything as it should?” Chris asked again, her voice much softer than before. Sarah took one last peek: first-year-Sarah was writing something down on her notebook, with slow and methodical gestures. “Yeah, it’s done. We’d better go now.”

It took them only a short run to reach their classmates, who were walking quite slowly down the long, well-lit hallway. The sound of their steps reverberated against the walls, and mixed with their voices in a warm and slightly excited murmur. “By the way” said Sarah, still a bit short of breath “get ready for this one: yesterday I saw your Fourth taking a stroll with James’, and they were kissing!”

“What?!” Chris almost shouted, stopping dead in her track; she soon moved up again in quick thumping steps. “That’s not funny, you know I don’t even like the guy! He’s so boring, and he’s got that oily hair, and he never gets a joke, and his teeth are weird!” she said hurriedly, staring firmly into her friend’s face.

“Doesn’t look like that’s gonna bother you for much longer! Ask around, I’m not the only one who’s seen the happy couple.” Sarah let out a small chuckle, but didn’t get a reply. Worried, she turned to Chris, who was silently gazing at the floor, with big red spots spreading on her cheeks.

Her smile immediately disappeared. Feeling a sharp sense of guilt in her chest, she gently squeezed the girl’s hunched shoulders, whispering “Aw, cheer up. Maybe, once you get to know him, he’s not bad at all. He might get better in the meantime. Hey, I’ve just seen you together once, you might break up after, like, two dates!”

At the last thought Chris seemed to perk up a bit: she raised her head slightly, but still didn’t say anything.
Relieved, Sarah looked at the rest of the class, but nobody seemed to have noticed them, especially not James, who was way ahead. Everybody looked pretty relaxed, as usual. They were all gonna pass, after all, so there was no need to sweat it; well, except for Thomas, but everyone knew that.

They’d known since the year’s beginning, when two Thomas (Thomases?) had shown up on the first day.
The younger one was especially bitter about the subject, well aware that he was going to fail the year no matter what, and there was nothing he could do to change that. Being the only “doubling” added shame on the load. Older Thomas was way more optimistic: he often argued that, since they were all pretty sure there wasn’t a third Tom living in the bushes behind the dormitory, his second go would be the good one. He’d then laugh; he was quite the laughing type, and, sometimes, he could cheer up even his younger self. Most of the time they’d just fight.

Sarah often wondered why they’d put the both of them in the same class. Maybe it was the only one. Apart from the teachers, she didn’t remember ever seeing anybody else in the School, except perhaps for a janitor, once, but she wasn’t sure about that. One time, somebody had joked that the entire institute was probably run just by future versions of the students. She hadn’t found it very funny.

It was getting pretty crowded, now that they were approaching the main classroom area. The fifth year passed them by in a hurry; absent-mindedly, Sarah noticed that they were fewer than the Fourths. There was going to be a lot of dropouts, apparently. Or a flu outbreak. She’d fantasized about dropping out, sometimes, when she was feeling particularly bored, or down. Since she had both a Sixth and a Seventh it was clearly not going to happen, the Headmaster always stressed that point, but it was an interesting thought. Maybe the universe would abruptly coil up on itself and pop, like a rubber band stretched too far, or a balloon filled with light, or, maybe, her entire timeline would simply cease ever having existed. Gone, easy like that.

Or perhaps nothing, nothing at all.

But they weren’t going to let her do that, of course.

The group had stopped: Sarah barely managed to catch herself before falling face-first into Paul’s back. Silence had fallen like a lead cover on the whole hallway. Confused, she stood on the tip of her toes, trying to see through the forest of her classmates’ head. She could feel all the color draining from her face.
It was the seventh year.

Everybody lined up on the walls, as the Sevenths slowly advanced under the younger students’ nervous stare. They were few, fewer than any other year, and their long, tired faces looked much older than they could ever be, as if something had consumed them, leaving only stretched skin on thin, frail bones. Some had only a slight limp, others barely managed to stagger along, and had to be helped along by their more sure-footed friends. Many sported large, yellowing bandages, still blood-stained in certain points. Franklin was nervously glancing at his future wooden arm: its owner briefly gave him a look of pity, then carried on.

Sarah was trembling, despite her best efforts. Her Seventh was almost there, she knew it: she was slow, never came before the procession’s wavering tail. She covered her eyes, getting closer to the wall, trying to blend within it, to disappear.

She couldn’t look into her Seventh’s face.

She couldn’t stand seeing her.

She always had that vacant smile.