Trademark, by Jenna Calloway
Photo by Viviane Okubo on Unsplash
The sound – a loud clang and elongated scratch – jarred him awake. Dylan clutched his throbbing head and swallowed down the rising remnants of his scrambled egg/Rainbow Skittle breakfast. His tongue felt thick, chalky. His head…where was he? He rubbed at his scalp, trying to eliminate the haze. He couldn’t believe he agreed to play – again! Even as they’d held the chloroform up to his face, minor doubts began to assert themselves. Mostly, it had been his mother’s voice expounding on the dangers of the internet. The stupidity of the Tide Pod Challenge. “That boy died of liver failure, you know!” Still, it was too hard to resist both the adrenaline rush and the thrill of inclusion by the clique squad. Popular kids didn’t invite just anyone to their well-established circles. Especially a newbie. Dylan squeezed his eyes shut; the sound again – louder, grating. Think, dammit, it’s all part of the game, right?!
The Reverse Hide and Seek Challenge was straightforward (notwithstanding obtaining the right chemicals), the only differences from the original game were that the player was knocked unconscious, hidden by the group, and, upon wakening, had to seek home within the allotted time frame. Simple. Dylan let out a breath. The name of the clanging and scratching sound sat on the tip of his tongue, but his fuzzy brain couldn’t grasp it. More clues. Somewhere warm. He wiped a sheen of sweat from his forehead. Where was he? He looked at his watch. Technically, illumination wasn’t allowed but the light was faint at best. 3:15 pm? No. Impossible. His allotted time ended in 15 minutes. How had he…crap, an overdose! Suck-ass bastards!
Adrenaline surged through his system, plunging his brain into hyper-focus. Well-played, boys! Game freaking on! That sound…his brain swirled, then landed. It was so familiar, he himself made it each time his mother asked him to clear snow off the sidewalk. A shovel, hitting then dragging over concrete! Ok. That narrowed things down. Dylan shifted; his bones cracked in protest. It was cramped, the wall hard against his back. Somewhere dark, confined. The woodshop cupboards? There were always shovels for cleaning up sawdust and wood scraps. No. Wouldn’t be this muggy. So? Dylan lifted his wrist, directing the watch’s light above his head. Outlines formed amongst the dark shadows: loaded shelves and textured brick walls. The school’s pottery studio! The extra-large wood-fired kiln. Ha! It was close to the parking lot where he was supposed to meet them. Idiots! He just had to…Dylan slumped against the brick wall, all oxygen leaving his body. Oh, shit! The kiln. He was inside the actual kiln!
Dylan took in a few deep breaths. Think, it’s just a game. He shone the dim light towards the shelves. Vague shapes lined each unit: vases, mugs, plates, and disfigured faces staring through uneven eyes with fanged, lopsided grins. Ogre bowls. Deep bowls with grotesque appearances holding yarn for crafters who inexplicably enjoyed pulling woolen snot from creatures’ nostrils. The school’s pet project. Apparently, there was a huge global market. Dylan shook his head. The world was full of freaks.
Yet…his heart accelerated…if the shelves were lined to this degree then - Double shit!!
He screamed, shrill and unyielding.
Someone had to hear him; someone was working that shovel! They may be preparing to light the fire. Dylan hyperventilated. No, not preparing. Ms. Jacobs’ lectures cascaded through his mind. 2300 degrees Fahrenheit! Ash and coal. Fire bars to feed… The firebox! It was located just in front of the loading entrance to the chamber. Ok. Thick air, rising temperature, oxygen depletion. Calm the hell down. Dylan exhaled. Slow your breath. Still time.
He moved carefully around the shelves. There was a low space, not much, but enough to belly-crawl through. Besides, Ms. Jacobs and Principal Walters would not be pleased if he damaged any of the creations. Additional funding for the school and all that. He visualized the kiln, moving as quickly around the chamber as his crouched position allowed. Chimney stack…chamber…he touched the loading entrance. It was walled off.
Shut up, he admonished himself, fighting panic. Standard procedure. Don’t lose it. He leaned into the wall and cried out, “I’M HERE!!”
“Did…hear?” A faint voice from outside said.
Dylan bit his lip. Ms. Jacobs! She heard him! He brushed the loading entrance, fingers sliding over the warm bricks, hoping… Yes! Dry stacked! Small gaps allowing for the contraction and expansion of gasses. “Ms. Jacobs! I’m here!” Dylan screamed through the minute openings. His fingers found purchase, skin scraping as he pushed and pulled at the brick. Tiny drops of blood dripped down his wrist, obscuring the watch’s tiny beacon of light. Didn’t matter. She heard him…she…
Dylan listened. Other voices.
“Sorry…Baxley singing…badly. Might…heard.” The shovel sounded again, faster this time.
No! Confess, please!! Dylan shrieked, pounding on the brick, his heart thumping unsteadily until he collapsed.
He pressed his lips against the wall. “You…win,” Dylan croaked, his voice spent, “Here…” He took in a hot breath, lungs struggling for air. “I’m…here.”
“Fired the kiln over the weekend, Jane?” Constable Lake said to his long-time friend, looking around the pottery studio.
Ms. Jacobs nodded, removing the last of the ogre bowls. “We had a lucrative new order. I heard Dylan went missing. Did you find him?”
“No. That’s the fourth kid in two years. I’ll put him on the missing registry, same as the others but…” Constable Lake shrugged, “I doubt he’ll be found. Chase and Baxley mentioned Dylan talked of running away. I just need to ask a few follow-up questions.”
“They’re diligently cleaning up, as per usual. Back soon if you care to wait.”
Constable Lake looked at the immaculately clean kiln and walked to the display table. He picked up an ogre bowl. “Sure. These are beautiful. The boys mentioned they helped prepare everything - said the key to the glaze is…”
“All in the ash. They are my best students.”
This year, Jenna Calloway has had two pieces of short fiction published: French Cuisine by Jenna Calloway for Flash Fiction Magazine, and Pier 21 for 101Words.com
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