As a teacher it’s my duty to focus on every kid, but this kid was something different. The way she stared at me from across the room gave me chills up and down my spine. She never interacted with the other kids, always keeping to herself. Sometimes I would catch her whispering into her hands like she didn’t want anybody to read her lips.
Then last week, I, I… I can still see that image vividly every time I close my eyes. It was like something out of a horror movie, but I was actually there, seeing it with my own eyes!
I was calling in the kids to have them come back to class from having playtime outside. I do it everyday, and of course there were a few kids who would always give a small huff because they wanted to keep playing, but that was normal. I would stand at the back door that lead back into the classroom and count them all as they came in one by one. By the time I saw the last kid walk past me I got a grand total count of twenty-six. My attendance sheet had twenty-seven names listed, and I knew exactly who didn’t walk back. I kept the other kids distracted by letting them have some more fun time inside the classroom, most of them rushing over to the blocks and toy area to finish up whatever they were doing outside.
I looked across the play yard, and I couldn’t find Melissa, the last child in my class. The yard itself wasn’t too big; it had a nice-sized jungle gym with two slides on one end, two benches at the far end of the yard under a few trees, and a small painted circle for playing whatever game their little imaginations came up with. The entire yard was literally in sight, but I couldn’t see Melissa. I walked over to the slides to see if she was hiding behind them, but all I saw was a kickball and some jump rope.
I started calling out her name, but I didn’t get an answer back. I kept calling her as I walked over to the benches. Maybe she was playing hide-and-seek and got stuck behind a tree? She wasn’t there. I tried to keep myself cool and calm, trying not to think about how I potentially lost a child. I’ve been working with little kids for five years, and I’ve never lost a single one, especially not in such a small area. I took a moment and sat down on one of the benches to try and calm myself down; my heart almost burst out of my chest from beating so hard. I sat forward and put my face in my hands, thinking about where else Melissa could have run off to.
The yard was only accessible from the school building, so the only entrance in and out was through the back of the classroom. And on top of that, there were large fences surrounding the yard too, so there was no way a child could have easily climbed up and over it. It was a chain-link fence, and the holes weren’t even big enough for somebody to stick their finger into. I didn’t know the exact height of the fence, but to a child, just looking at the fence would have been like looking at the wall of some grand fortress they’d imagine.
I took deep breaths to try and get my breathing back to a slow, steady pace. In the middle of breathing out I picked up something coming from behind me, some kind of sound. It sounded like something small snapping, but there were a few bushes that lined against the fence, so I dismissed it and thought a twig got entangled in it. But the snapping continued, and I started hearing some kind of faint growling sound.
I picked my head up and looked back at the bushes—one of the bushes were shaking, as if something was moving inside of it.