by Sky Hedman
Netta heard Annabelle’s verses from her hiding place in the bushes behind the big cedar tree. “Ask the animals, they will teach you.” Netta wondered how those words made any sense. What animals? How do you speak to them even if some were around?
Netta was glad for the excuse to be quiet and hidden once the gunshot rang out. Whatever was happening was way out of her league. Netta wasn’t alone. She could see Joseph Yannity’s legs through the glossy leaves of the salal bushes that separated them. She knew that the other people, Vlad and Debra, and Justine and Lisa Nightlie were probably close by. Yet she felt alone. The life of an innocent teenage girl was at stake. And now that she knew someone was shooting a gun, she realized that her life was also in danger.
A spider was navigating the leaf mold on the ground around her legs. Netta wanted to squash it at once, but she was afraid any movement would call attention to herself. She glared at the spider, willing it to go away, but instead it inched closer to the gap between her leggings and her ankle sock. She was in the spider’s trajectory.
“The birds of the air, they will tell you…” Joseph Yannity’s mind was stuck on that phrase. All those irritating gulls flying around the beach? They make a constant plaintive ruckus, squalling loudly as if every sound reported an injustice. He did enjoy hearing the random piercing sound when eagles cry above. Just yesterday, he had paused in the parking lot and watched a lone bald eagle calling, circling a tree and then settling down on an upper branch, which sagged slightly under the eagle’s weight. “But what do they tell you?”
Justine was irritated by Annabelle’s babble. “The fish of the sea will declare to you.”
“Humpff,” she retorted in her mind, careful not to divulge her position to whoever was stalking the area with a gun. She lay behind a large boulder. Raising her head slightly, Justine had a clear view of the spot where Annabelle had been found, but it was empty of human activity now. Justine’s sword was hard to camouflage. Noiselessly, she picked up some dirt and dropped it over the blade to dull its shiny surface. “The only thing the fish are declaring these days is extinction,” she thought. “And nobody is listening to them anyway.”
Lisa Nightlie had heard Debra Abel running away. Her cunning detective intelligence told her that there was more to Debra’s identity than just that of a notoriously irritable, solitary, bean counter. Debra was known to inhabit her office chair with her face hidden behind the huge computer screen for hours every day. Lisa wondered now if perhaps a few beans had gone missing from the school’s pot. Lisa listened to the quiet that had fallen over the woods. She was half standing behind a fallen cedar log, trying to decide her next move, when Phil Bradley walked noiselessly close to her and disappeared into the woods.
Hannah put her arm around Annabelle’s delicate shoulders. Annabelle and Hannah were frozen in place, unsure of where they would find safety. The ropes that had bound Annabelle…the gunshot…the strange words that Annabelle had spoken rendered them both speechless. Yet her words had profoundly charged their energy. The magic that Hannah had learned from her mother had always been a secret that only Troy knew about. Now Troy’s mistake in giving a magic cookie to Annabelle had stirred a powerful force in Annabelle’s soul. Under her gentle touch, Hannah could feel Annabelle shaking.
“Someone tied up me up,” Annabelle thought. “Someone fired a shot in the woods.” Annabelle started trembling. That mean man with the rope and that lady dressed for the office had meant to hurt her. Where was her father? Checking the stock market, as always? Her mother was vacationing halfway around the world with Zeph. Annabelle couldn’t even remember where they had gone. Hannah’s soothing presence was all that kept her from sobbing out loud. A few tears spilled from her eyes as she tried to piece it all together. “Who was that cat who showed up to comfort me anyway?” Annabelle was soothed by the memory of that warm, purring presence.
Around her, the sun was beginning to reach the forest floor. Annabelle had never woken up in a forest before. Muted lines and blurry forms morphed into furrowed tree trunks and leaf shrouded rocks. Annabelle was hungry, and she wanted to go home, but now, she wasn’t sure where home was.
Just as the sun illuminated the pavement and the street lights went off, Jane Varner arrived at Westminster Academy. Although she was earlier than usual, she could see lights on already inside the Main School building. The parking lot, usually empty at this hour, told a story. Perry McPherson’s silver Buick was in its usual spot, Lisa Nightlie’s lightly green van was parked rightly. Jane didn’t know who owned the beat up Subaru plastered with bumper stickers. That blue Prius belonged to Netta. Next to it was a Ford Explorer with a Stillaguamish insignia on the driver door. The English teacher’s electric bike was under the overhang and even Ruff’s $2000 BMC Roadmachine was leaning on the Student Commons wall.
“I must not have gotten the memo,” she muttered to herself as she unlocked the School building. Her office, to the left of the entrance, was dark, but McPhersons’ light was on and Debra’s door was ajar.
Jane peeled off her reversible rain jacket (a Costco special), and nudged her computer awake. “I’d guess the search for Annabelle involves a lot of people,” she thought. Going straight to the top, she stepped out and rapped lightly on McPherson’s door.
“Come in,” said a weakened version of her boss’ voice as she entered the office. Her eyes went immediately to the bloody towel that he was holding over his shoulder. His puffy face was pale, his eyes half opened, and his comb-over was hanging down on the wrong side of his head. He leaned back in his brass studded brown leather chair. Altogether, he demeanor was a sharp contrast to his normal formal and stuffy manner. He made no effort to hide his state of distress.
“Dr. McPherson? Whatever happened to you?” she said, rushing forward.
He moaned. His eyes fluttered.
Jane Varner made a split second decision, fueled by long term wisdom. She reached for her phone and called 911.
Jane had the next few hours to try to unravel all these clues. Debra’s office door was ajar; the file cabinet drawers were open but empty. An austere office during normal times, it now had the aura of having been abandoned. Her framed diploma was gone, but the mug she sipped coffee from was in the waste basket. “Victim or criminal?” Jane mused. She’d let the police sort it out this time. She was done with playing house mother to this bunch of bad actors. So what if everyone found out her secret? It wasn’t nearly as bad as spending school money to buy fancy cars or funding your retirement by stealing from the school. The statute of limitations was up; only her reputation could be stained. She couldn’t be charged for the bank robbery.
The bank robbery wasn’t to get money for her. It was money to help the revolution. “A revolution that never happened,” she reflected. She lived with a group of young hippies who seemed to like her. They lived frugally and shared expenses. One man in particular inspired them to go further. Soon, they planned to buy land and start their own egalitarian community. It would be ideal: everybody equal, everyone the same, rich or poor, male or female. They’d raise chickens and grow vegetables. They’d build their own school. They’d live simply. All that stood between this communal dream and reality was the money to buy the land.
For her, it seemed like the best sacrifice she could make. No one would suspect her if she dressed as an old lady. Her pale skin gave her privilege in shops and on the street. She was easily overlooked. She planned the robbery meticulously, proud to stop being the “good girl” she had been brought up to be. At Goodwill, she found a gray wig, a blue cotton shirtwaist dress, some sturdy women’s shoes and a cane. She just had to walk into the bank and slide the note across the counter.
Jane could still remember the slight stir on the bank teller’s face. The note she had passed to the teller said Jane had a gun, but she didn’t.
It all worked, she remembered, as she walked out of the bank with a bag of money, feeling ecstatic. What a hero she would be! They could buy the land and start living free. In her haste, she bumped into a customer coming through the door—why did it have to be him? Her wig fell off and she dropped the cane and as she ran away, she dropped the bag of money. Of all the people on earth, why did she let that man get a full look at her face? Disappearing down the alley and shedding her old lady shoes, she emerged back on the sidewalk as a bystander, and melted into the crowd.
She was never caught. The revolution didn’t happen. She dropped her bank robbing dreams. She found a girlfriend and accepted that it was time to find a steady job. She applied at Westminster Academy. They didn’t ask why she wasn’t married, and she stayed in the closet. It seemed safe enough to work there. As safe as anyplace for a lesbian. Only one challenge remained. The math teacher. His name was Judson Trompe. He recognized her from that encounter at the bank, and used it to his advantage.