startled into looking at it closely. She didn't care for what she saw - not a bit. There was a look that hadn't been there two days before, a frightened, watching look. With sudden shock she realized that the blurred reflection in her glasses of Robert's pale, respectful face had gotten inside her and was festering.

The door opened and she heard two girls come in, giggling secretly about something. She was about to turn the comer and walk out past them when she heard her own name. She turned back to the washbowls and began checking the towel holders again.

'And then he-'

Soft giggles.

'She knows, but-'

More giggles, soft and sticky as melting soap.

'Miss Sidley is-'

Stop it! Stop that noise!

By moving slightly she could see their shadows, made fuzzy and W-defined by the diffuse light filtering through the frosted windows, holding onto each other with girlish glee.

Another thought crawled up out of her mind.

They knew she was there.

Yes. Yes they did. The little bitches knew.

She would shake them. Shake them until their teeth rattled and their giggles turned to wails, she would thump their heads against the tile walls and she would make them admit that they knew.

That was when the shadows changed. They seemed to elongate, to flow like dripping tallow, taking on strange hunched shapes that made Miss Sidley cringe back against the porcelain washstands, her heart swelling in her chest.

But they went on giggling.

The voices changed, no longer girlish, now sexless and soulless, and quite, quite evil. A slow, turgid sound of mindless humor that flowed around the corner to her like sewage.

She stared at the hunched shadows and suddenly screamed at them. The scream went on and on, swelling in her head until it attained a pitch of lunacy. And then she fainted. The giggling, like the laughter of demons, followed her down into darkness.

She could not, of course, tell them the truth.

Miss Sidley knew this even as she opened her eyes and looked up at the anxious faces of Mr Hanning and Mrs Crossen. Mrs Crossen was holding the bottle of smelling salts from the gymnasium first-aid kit under her nose. Mr Hanning turned around and told the two little girls who were looking curiously at Miss Sidley to go home now, please.

They both smiled at her - slow, we-have-a-secret smiles - and went out.

Very well, she would keep their secret. For awhile. She would not have people thinking her insane, or that the first feelers of senility had touched her early. She would play their game. Until she could expose their nastiness and rip it out by the roots.

'I'm afraid I slipped,' she said calmly, sitting up and ignoring the excruciating pain in her back. 'A patch of wetness.'

'This is awful,' Mr Hanning said. 'Terrible. Are you-'

'Did the fall hurt your back, Emily?' Mrs Crossen interrupted. Mr Hanning looked at her gratefully.

Miss Sidley got up, her spine screaming in her body.

'No,' she said. 'In fact, the fall seems to have worked some minor chiropractic miracle. My back hasn't felt this well in years.'

'We can send for a doctor-' Mr Hanning began.

'Not necessary.'

Miss Sidley smiled at him coolly.

'I'll call you a taxi from the office.'

'You'll do no such thing,' Miss Sidley said, walking to the door of the girls' lav and opening it. 'I always take the bus.'

Mr Hanning sighed and looked at Mrs Crossen. Mrs Crossen rolled her eyes and said nothing.

The next day Miss Sidley kept Robert after school. He did nothing to warrant the punishment, so she simply accused him falsely. She felt no qualms; he was a monster, not a little boy. She must make him admit it.

Her back was in agony. She realized Robert knew; he expected that would help him. But it wouldn't. That was another of her little advantages. Her back had been a constant pain to her for the last twelve years, and there had been many times when it had been this bad - well, almost this bad.

She closed the door, shutting the two of them in.

For a moment she stood stiff, training her gaze on Robert. She waited for him to drop his eyes. He didn't. He

Вы читаете Suffer the little children
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