The Writing on the Wall: Part 1
A Carlson Septuplets Story
The boys' bathroom was empty when Daniel Mynte took the hall pass during seventh block. Normally that was how he liked it: that was why he took the pass during class rather than during the overcrowded high school's passing time.
It was while he was washing his hands (or rather, splashing his hands quickly through the cold water) that he noticed something. He first saw it reflected in a mirror before turning around to see the real thing. Scrawled on the outside of one of the stalls, in black Sharpie marker, was a message.
U R ALL GONNA GET IT
THE BOMB GOES OFF 5-13-99 13:30 PM
For once, he wished he hadn't come to the bathroom alone. He wished there were some other kid there. He wanted to ask them if they thought this was serious. Normally Daniel wouldn't have worried—kids pulled pranks and tried to scare each other, after all. It was common enough.
It was, however, two weeks to the day after two boys on the other side of the country had killed fifteen people at their school high school, and things were different now. Daniel stood there in the bathroom for a moment, rolling the crumpled corner of the laminated hall pass between his wet fingers; then he took off, heading not back to his classroom, but to the office.
Molly jumped when someone snatched the hat off her head.
"Did you hear?!" cried Meredith, who was standing behind her holding the hat in both hands. "There's a bomb threat!"
"What?" Molly snatched back her hat-of-the-day, a maroon corduroy baseball cap, and repositioned backward it on her head. She was at her locker, where she had just retrieved it—hats were not allowed in class at Westfield High School. "What are you talking about, a bomb threat?"
"Oh, I heard about it!" said Michelle as she came up behind them. Westfield High School's lockers were assigned in alphabetical order, so all the Septuplets had lockers in the same area. "Dan Mynte was the one who reported it, and he's in my eighth block Government class. I heard him telling his friends about it."
"What are you guys talking about?" Molly asked again.
"It's supposedly written on the stall door in the central boys' bathroom," Meredith explained. "Come on, let's go see!"
"Go see inside the boys' bathroom?" Molly narrowed her eyes, but as Meredith and Michelle ran off down the hall, she slammed her locker door and followed them. The central bathrooms were right down the hall from the Carlsons' lockers. Around the corner they could see a crowd forming as girls lingered outside the bathroom's open entryway and boys pushed their way inside to see the message for themselves.
"Look at all these people," said Michelle. "Is everyone here 'cause of the note? And we can't even go in to see it."
"Does anyone know what it actually says?" asked Meredith. "Hey, Josh—have you been in there? Did you see it?" Josh was one of Meredith's theater friends.
"Yeah, I did. It's really there. It says, and I quote, 'u r all gonna get it, the bomb goes off 5-13-99 at 13:30 p.m.' You know, with just the single letters instead of the words 'you' and 'are.'"
"Clearly we're dealing with a mastermind," said Molly. "Nice of him to specify for us that 13:30 is in the afternoon."
"Do you think it's real?" asked a wide-eyed Monica who had just spotted them in the hall and joined them.
Josh shrugged. "The note on the wall is real enough. Whether the threat is real or not, I dunno."
All around them, kids were asking the same sorts of questions:
"Do they know who wrote it?"
"What are they going to do about it?"
"Are we going to have to stop using backpacks at school? There was a bomb threat at my cousin's school last week, and that's what they had to do!"
"But was it a real bomb threat?"
"Hey guys! What's going on?" This was Mary's voice in the hall behind them.
"Oooh, haven't you heard?" said Meredith.
"How 'bout if we tell you while we walk home? Let's not stand around clogging the hall anymore," said Molly. She grabbed her puzzled sister's arm and tugged her down the hall toward their lockers, with Meredith, Michelle, and Monica tagging behind.
Thanks to Daniel Mynte and his friends—and those who happened to overhear them during third and fourth blocks—the news of the bomb threat traveled quickly through Westfield High School. By the end of eighth block at 2:05 (which was actually only the fourth block of the day due to the school's alternating A and B day schedules) half the school had heard about it, though some versions of the tale were more accurate than others. One variation said that Dan Mynte had found a bomb in the toilet; another claimed that someone had been caught with a notebook containing intricate plans to set off homemade bombs in the cafeteria; still another said some students had already been arrested for threatening to attack the school with not only bombs, but staple guns, too. No one could figure out where that last one came from, or whether it was someone's idea of a joke, so people were taking it seriously.
Despite the dramatic rumors, however, there were some students whom the story failed to impress.
"It's just a stupid rumor. There isn't going to be any bomb," said Molly, after Melissa arrived home and reported the stories she had heard. Mel had stayed late at school that day to work on a group project and had heard both the bomb in the toilet story and the staple gun story from her groupmates. None of the other Septs had any extracurriculars or any other interesting plans that Tuesday afternoon; they were all at home, and all had gathered in their basement, where most of them were doing homework.
"And no staple guns either," added Mary. She and Molly agreed that the whole thing had to be a hoax, designed by some twisted kid who thought it was funny to make the whole school panic. "Honestly, that's just dumb. Who comes up with these rumors?"
"Well..." said Monica said after a moment, "I once stapled my finger by accident. I really wouldn't want to meet someone violent like that, even if he just had a staple gun."
There was a short, heavy silence after Monica's comment.
"From what I heard," said Michelle after a moment, "The message on the bathroom wall only mentioned a bomb."
"It just said that we're all gonna die when a bomb goes off on May 13th at 13:30 p.m.," said Meredith. "That's what Josh Polanski told me, right after he saw it himself in the bathroom."
"Well, even without all the other scary rumors, that's frightening enough," said Megan. "And would someone say that if they're not really serious? They'd get in serious trouble if anyone found out, even if it's just a prank."
"Sure they'd do it as a prank—just look at the news every night," said Molly. "Look at all the copycat threats there've been all over the country."
"And even if it was serious, the school knows now and they won't let it happen," added Michelle. "If I were going to do something like that, I sure wouldn't announce it ahead of time like that, 'cause then they'd be able to stop me. You don't write something like that on a bathroom door if you're really serious. You just do it for attention."
Melissa shot Michelle a look of incredulity. "Well, I don't do it for any reason," she said, "so I can't guess what reason this kid had to do it."
Meredith frowned. "Somehow I really doubt we're going to be able to figure out how this kid thinks. We'll just have to see what happens."
The bomb threat immediately became the main topic of conversation at Westfield High School. Many students were truly scared. There wasn't any news; the administrators didn't have any suspects, and no one knew what the school was planning to do about it when May 13th came around.
"Lizzie said her mom isn't going to make her go to school that day if they don't figure out who made that threat," said Monica at lunch one day. It was an A day, and Megan and Molly also had B lunch—the second of Westfield High School's three lunch hours—and because most of their friends happened to have the larger A or C lunches on A days, the three sisters generally sat together, along with one of Mary's particular friends, Alison.
"I wish Lizzie's mom would talk to our mom," said Megan, squishing her spoon back and forth in her strawberry yogurt. "She doesn't think there's anything to worry about at all."
"I'm glad she thinks that," said Molly. "It's not like we need anyone else to add to this fear-mongering. I bet whoever started this rumor is laughing his head off right now."
"Do you really think so?" Alison asked. "Mary keeps saying the same thing."
"I do, and I'm glad Mary does too," said Molly. "It's all a big fuss over nothing. At most, it's a cry for attention by some pathetic kid who probably doesn't even know how to make a bomb."
"Whereas you do," Monica noted dryly.
"And I don't need that spread around the school right now, thank you," said Molly, with half a proud smirk that was nonetheless suppressed by such an awful link between her and whoever was responsible for the threat.
"She knows the dark arts but she's too noble to use them," said Monica aside to Alison, who missed the reference.
"I just hope you're right," said Alison, "and the rest of us turn out to be the ones who look stupid on May 13th, not you."
Despite the efforts of Molly, Mary, Michelle, and a handful of other frustrated skeptics, the rumors continued to fly, each more frightening than the last. (Though, as Mary noted, each was also more absurd than the last: "What would the Russian mafia have against Westfield? And anyway, isn't the KGB defunct?") Administrators sent a note home with each student assuring parents that the school was taking all appropriate safety precautions, and that school would continue as normal (much to the dismay of many students) on May 13th.
And that was how things passed for the next three days, until the Septs arrived at school at 7:15 in the morning of Friday the 7th to find a small crowd gathered in the vicinity of their lockers.
"Look, they're here!" came a voice. Most of the crowd turned and stared at them. Most were wide-eyed; some even looked fearful.
The Septs pushed past the few people in their way to reach locker #349, which was what held everyone's attention. Carved into the pumpkin-colored paint was a message.
LOOK OUT THE 7 FREAKS WILL BE 1ST
"Oh my God," said Megan when she saw it.
"We're the target...?" said Meredith, her voice unusually quiet.
The other Septs simply stood in silence, staring at the crudely carved letters. For once, none of them knew what to say.
"Is this one of your lockers?" asked one of the kids who was standing around.
"No," said Mary, whose name came first alphabetically out of the Septs. "My locker is #357, and everyone else's is after mine."
"Maybe it doesn't mean them," said another kid.
"Of course it does, you idiot, who else could they mean?"
"And it's right next to their lockers, even if it's a few off...."
The Septs stood there speechless as the rest of the kids discussed the message, most of them talking as though the Carlsons were not standing right beside them. No one moved out of their way. Finally Meredith shoved through the crowd and spun the combination padlock on her locker, swinging the door open so it clattered with a metallic vengeance. She shot a warning look at some kids who were crowding around her. "Could you please move? We need to get to our lockers."
Everyone took a step or two back. As the Septs opened their lockers and started shuffling their jackets and textbooks, most of the other kids wandered off, though a few hung just a short distance away. People gaped and pointed at the vandalized locker as they walked by, and a buzz could be heard as the news spread by whispers through the halls, peppered by occasional cries of shock.
Finally done, Melissa slammed her locker door, popping the rare, awkward bubble of Septuplet silence. "This is crazy," she said. "Why would anyone target us? We haven't done anything to anybody!"
"Well, we're the obvious targets if they want to pick on someone," said Michelle.
"Probably figured they could get on the news that way," Monica added.
"Do you think it's real?" said Megan. "Did they really mean it?"
"No," said Michelle. She too slammed her locker, with more force than she normally did. "I think it's a prank just like the first threat."
"But...." Megan's expression was pained. "Do you think someone really hates us that much?"
"No," said Michelle exactly at the same time Melissa said, "Yes."
"It's just like I said. We're convenient targets," Michelle continued. "It doesn't have to be anything personal."
"Yeah, but they're probably jealous," said Melissa. "They probably think it's great to have gotten attention the way we have, and so they hate us, even though they probably don't even know us."
"Yeah," said Meredith. "I mean, who would hate us if they did actually know us?"
Molly looked squarely at Meredith, as though thinking particularly hard about what she had just said. "Hmmm...."
"What?" said Meredith and Mary simultaneously.
Molly shook her head. "It's nothing."
"What?" said Meredith again.
The computer-generated five minute warning tone sounded. Molly shook her head. "Gotta get to class. Gonna be late." With that she turned and marched away, her head down and her books hugged closely to her chest.
The others were quiet as they watched her hurry off.
"I wonder what she's thinking," said Michelle, scrunching her face in puzzlement.
"Guys, I'm scared...." said Monica.
Melissa put a hand on her sister's shoulder.
"It'll be okay," Michelle said, though her voice was not convincingly strong. "Let's just get to class."
Meredith and Monica stopped at the front office to report the message on the door before they went to their first classes, only to find that no less than four other kids had already reported it. At the end of first block, Ms. Riller, one of the assistant principals, called all seven of the Septuplets to her office to talk to them. She started by reiterating the information about safety precautions that had been in the letter that had been sent home with every student, three copies of which now sat on the Carlsons' kitchen counter and four on the desk in the family room.
Then she added, "Since you girls seem to be at the center of this—"
"We're not at the center of anything!" burst out Monica. Her sisters looked at her, surprised—Monica rarely had outbursts of any kind, and certainly not the kind that cut off the assistant principal.
But Ms. Riller only smiled kindly at Monica before continuing, "Since you girls unfortunately found yourselves tied up in the center of this mess, the school feels you have a right to know who wrote those messages. If we find out who was responsible for this, we will let you know. I'm not talking about little rumors, of course; I'm talking about a good source." Some of the Septs nodded, and Ms. Riller continued, "I just want to let you know that the school is taking this very seriously and will be looking out for you in particular. If you ever feel unsafe or threatened, please tell a teacher, an administrator, even a janitor or a cafeteria lady or anyone else who works here immediately. The entire staff will be briefed on this today, and everyone will be looking out for you. Do you understand?"
There was a chorus of mumbled yeses.
"Very good," said Ms. Riller. "Now, here are some passes back to your second block classes. Don't spend too much time wandering around in the halls, now."
The Septs collected their book bags and got up to leave, but as they made their way to the door, Michelle turned back.
"Do you really think the bomb threat's real?"
The assistant principal bit her lip as she thought of how to word her response.
"I think it's unlikely that you are in any real danger," she finally said. "But I said unlikely, not impossible. What happened at Columbine was real, after all. And those messages on the wall are real. So we're treating this as a real incident, and I want you girls to understand that."
"Thank you. We do," said Michelle, and she turned to leave, her sisters following her out.
Once they were a sufficient distance from Ms. Riller's office, Mary cried, "See! What did we say?"
"What do you mean, 'see'?" said Melissa. "She agreed with Megan and Monica that this is a real incident worth worrying about."
"No she didn't, she said that she doesn't think we're in any real danger," said Molly.
Megan opened her mouth, perhaps to express concern, but Michelle cut her off. "What she said was that they're taking it very seriously. That should make you less worried, not more, because if the whole school's on guard, nothing's going to happen, even if whoever wrote the threat does have a bomb. Which he still probably doesn't."
"Yeah," asserted Mary, determined to get a word in but finding all the things she wanted to say had already been said.
"Whatever. I'm going to class," said Melissa. She turned with a great dramatic twirl that caused her long jacket to flutter out around her and took off down the hall leading toward the English wing.
Mary called after her, "Don't you have Chemistry second block?"
"Isn't the science wing that way?" Mary pointed in the other direction.
"Yeah, so I'm going to have a snack first. Get off my back."
"Oh, give her a break," said Molly. "We did miss passing time. She can go to her locker if she wants."
"Yeah, I know. But that's pretty brave of her to be wandering all around the school on her own under such dangerous conditions." She said the last bit extra loud so Melissa would hear it down the hall; Melissa in turn spun around once more to stick her tongue out at Mary.
"You are incorrigible," said Molly, but she was smirking despite herself. For the cause of mocking the fear mongers, she seemed slightly more willing to let Mary and Melissa's mutual antagonizing slide.
The rumor mill wasted no time in churning out new material to correspond to the latest message. Many people were sure the same person had written the generic bomb threat as well as the message against the Septs, but plenty of others thought they were two separate people. That meant, depending on how you looked at it, either that the second threat was less serious, just a mean message riding on the first, or that it was more serious, because it meant the Westfield High School student body had two separate crazy killers.
There were two names circulating as to who wrote at least the second message. One was Brian Miller. Brian had always seemed to really dislike the Septs for some reason, ever since he had met them at Redcove Middle School when he started there in the sixth grade alongside the Carlsons. He had been heard by acquaintances on several occasions making disparaging comments about the Septuplets. His ex-girlfriend Trisha Swanson in particular claimed that he had said many such mean things about them, but no one knew whether to trust her because Trisha and Brian's break-up had been very messy, and Trisha was in Melissa's circle of friends.
"She's obviously just playing the whole thing up," said the popular Michelle Broderick, who didn't much like Trisha but was alleged to like Brian quite a bit. "She just wants to make him look bad to get back at him for dumping her."
"I'm so sick of hearing all about your little clique's squabbles," said Meredith to Melissa at lunch one day after hearing from her friend Hannah what Michelle B. had said about Trisha and Brian. "This really isn't helping us at all."
"Hey, it's not my fault that stuff like this comes with people liking me," said Melissa. "And don't you start on me. I hear enough of that from Mary."
It was easy enough to believe that Brian had said unkind things about the Septuplets; several people had heard him complain over the years that everyone adored them for no reason. According to someone who wasn't such a close friend of his anymore, two years ago, when they were all in the ninth grade, he had said in quite unprintable language that one day the Carlsons would see the other shoe drop and realize that not everyone in the world adored them as much as the press and some teachers and coaches did. This, apparently, was after a photograph of Michelle Carlson had been the top sports feature in the Westfield Gazette after she scored the game-winning goal in an exciting but arguably unimportant WHS soccer game while Brian's touchdown that won an important game for the football team got him a brief mention, sans photo.
"Yeah, I remember that," said Michelle when she heard the report in eighth block Government one day. "I thought that was unfair, too. Not that I said so to him. But yeah, I'd be the first to agree he should have been the one photographed. And they say that's why he wants to kill us? Oh, please. He may be a jerk with a good reason to be mad at me—even if it's a really old one—but I hardly think he's going to murder my family over that."
Brian's friends had rallied around him, saying that he was just a victim of the wave of fear ("That's true, he is," said Molly) and that lots of people didn't adore the Septuplets ("Hey! Wait a minute!" said Meredith) but that didn't mean they were going to kill them ("See, like I said," said Michelle). But thanks to the rumor mill and that wave of fear, he did get looks in the hallway of a sort that he was not used to getting, and saw heads turn away into little whispering circles when he walked past.
The other rumor concerned a sophomore named Jake Petrick. Unlike Brian, Jake had never been heard to say anything about the Carlsons, derogatory or otherwise. To most of Westfield's students—apparently including Jake—the Septs were just seven more fellow students. It seemed the only reason he was pegged as another suspect—in the minds of the students if not the administration—was because he was an anti-social type. He dressed all in drab, dark colors. Some called him a Goth, but the other so-called Goth kids didn't want anything to do with him, and indeed had a different sort of air about them. His hair was never brushed out of his eyes, and he always stared down at the ground as he shoved his way through the overcrowded halls, never meeting anyone's eyes. Students knew he gave teachers trouble, too, talking back and putting out little to no effort in class.
A freshman girl had also seen him hanging around in the English wing, where the Septuplets' lockers were, very early on the morning that the message was carved there.
"He's troubled," said Monica's friend Elizabeth Rogers during a break in first block Pre-Calc. "He's just the sort of kid you'd expect would do something like that."
"But he doesn't seem to have anything against the Septs," countered Zoe Hayworth, another of Monica's friends. The three of them had Pre-Calc together. "Not like that other kid—"
"Are you guys talking about Jake Petrick?" piped up Leslie Busher, who sat behind Elizabeth. "He doesn't need to have anything against them in particular. He's got something against the whole world. That's just how that kid is." She made a face. "He's always creeped me out."
"It's true, he does have that sort of air," said Zoe. "But—"
"But nothing. Monica, he's the one who wrote that. I'd bet a week's worth of giant cookies." The cafeteria's huge chocolate chip cookies were a favorite of the students.
Monica stared down at the chapter on the unit circle, not saying anything in response.
Over the next few days, the other Septuplets all listened to similar discussions, far more than they wanted. One day at lunch Molly had more of it than she could take.
"Enough of this!" she said, slamming her fist on the table in disgust. "These are all just rumors. Does anyone have any good information to pass along about this?" She looked around the table, while her tablemates looked at each other, wondering what Molly would accept as "good" information. "No? Then everyone should just drop it."
There was only one problem. Because the office hadn't officially named anyone—or even told the Carlsons anything at all as Ms. Riller had promised they would if they had news—the rumors were all they had to go on. And May 13th was drawing closer.
On May 12th, there was finally a break.
Ms. Riller called the Septuplets to her office again at the beginning of the fourth and final block of the day.
"We've had a confession," she told them. "A friend of Jacob Petrick came to my office today and told me that he saw Jacob writing the message near your lockers that morning. We called Jake to the office and asked him about it, and he admitted to writing the message."
"What?!" cried Monica. "So the rumor was right!"
"Both messages?" Meredith asked.
"No. In fact, he insisted that he did not write both of them, and his friend who told on him vouches for that. Also, a teacher who knows Jake's handwriting looked at the message in the bathroom and said it didn't look like he wrote it."
"Did he say why he wrote the one against us?" asked Mary.
"No. All we got from him was the admission that he wrote it. We'll be talking to him again, I assure you, and we will let you know if anything comes up that would concern you. I expect it may. He will be suspended from school starting tomorrow. If he bothers you in any way, please let us know right away."
The Septs, of course, again began discussing the latest events as soon as they left Ms. Riller's office.
"Well, at least now we know who hates us," said Meredith. "That was so awful, looking at all those faces in the hallway and wondering which of them would write something like that."
"Yeah, so now there's nothing to worry about," said Michelle.
"Nothing to worry about? Just because we're the Septuplets doesn't mean we're not also ordinary Westfield High School students, and I believe there's still a threat against all Westfield High School students," said Melissa. Molly rolled her eyes. One of Melissa's favorite arguing techniques was to use the "we're ordinary people too you know" line in arguments to imply that any Septuplet who disagreed with her was a snob who thought herself better than everyone else; many of the others thought this ironic considering Melissa's pride was second only to Meredith's when she saw her face on television.
Monica, at least, fully believed Melissa really was trying to be fair and keep herself mentally in check when she used that line. "Melissa has a point," she added. "They still don't know who wrote the bomb threat, and that was the more serious one. Even if the other one was more frightening to us specifically."
"I still just can't get why anyone would hate us enough to write something like that, even as a prank," said Megan. "What did we ever do to Jake Petrick?"
"Nothing but be born and get attention and have people like us," said Monica. "That's enough, I guess."
"Yeah, since the little freak doesn't even know us," said Meredith, "and no one likes him anyway. And I can see why."
Everyone was quiet for a moment as they walked down the hall. As Megan was about to turn the corner, she noticed Molly's face; she looked unusually lost in thought, the way she looked when she just couldn't figure out why a math problem wasn't adding up.
"What are you thinking about?"
Molly looked up after a second when she finally realized Megan was talking to her. "Huh? Me? Oh, nothing. Just thinking about how crazy it's still going to be tomorrow. I'm so sick of this panic."
Megan wanted to say that she was still frightened, but thought better of it, and headed down the hall to her class.
"The Writing on the Wall" © 2005 by Jessie Mannisto.