By: Millard Murdock
It was Friday and Mrs. Simpson was giving her last homework assignment. But I wasn't paying attention; I was staring at the back of Rita Brown’s orange-red hair. I had always had a thing for red hair. And freckles. The two seemed to go together, and Rita had both. I couldn’t see her freckles from my vantage point, which was near the back of the class, but I knew they were there. And lots of them. More than I had seen on anybody. But they didn’t take away from her good looks. She was the prettiest girl in the sixth grade.
She was sitting in the front seat in the row to my left. Girls who made good grades sat at the front of the class. And Rita made good grades. She had it all: brains and good looks. That’s why I was staring at the back of her head.
Mrs. Simpson’s words brought me away from Rita’s red hair. “Timmy, would you like to stay after school and dust the erasers and wash the blackboards?”
“Er...Sure, Mrs. Simpson.”
“Good. Would anyone like to help Timmy? We have two classrooms to do today, so he’s going to need some help.” Several hands went up, including Rita’s. I silently willed Mrs. Simpson to pick Rita. And there was a good chance she would. Miss Simpson never picked two boys to stay after class for fear they would goof off. She would pick a girl, and if she picked Rita to help me, I could talk to her. And she could talk to me. And we could become good friends. Or sweethearts. I sure would like a red-headed sweetheart.
Mrs. Simpson hesitated. She studied the faces that were attached to the raised hands. For an eternity, it seemed. But finally she decided. “Rita Brown.” I let go of the breath I had been holding.
After class when everyone had left the room except Mrs. Simpson, Rita, and myself, I approached Rita. My heart was pounding and my palms, too, were excited, for they sweated. I hoped I didn’t have to shake hands with her. No one liked to shake a damp hand.
“Thank you both for staying and helping. I needed both of you because we have to do Miss Jones’ classroom as well as ours. She and her students had to catch the bus for their after-school field trip. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, we don’t mind,” Rita and I said in unison. We looked at each other and laughed. Already we are a good team, I thought.
“Good. Then I’ll leave it with you. I’ve got a meeting to go to.” And she was gone.
“Have you done this before?” Rita asked, flashing a big smile at me. “I have no idea what to do.”
I returned her smile with change, and wiped my palms on my pants. “I’ll show you.” I picked up one of the dusty erasers. “First, we have to gather up all these erasers and take them outside. We don’t want to dust them in here, or we’ll get chalk dust all over everything. When we get them outside, we’ll bang them against the back steps until they’re clean. Then we’ll wash all the blackboards with rags from the janitor’s closet. With both of us, it shouldn’t take more than fifteen or twenty minutes.”
Another smile, bigger this time. “Well, they’re certainly loaded with chalk dust.” She smacked one of the erasers against a desk. Chalk dust flew. “Just look at that.”
“Wait until we get outside to do that,” I instructed. “You collect all the erasers in here, and I’ll get the ones in the other classroom. I’ll meet you at the back steps.”
“Okay. That sounds simple enough.” She gave me another big smile. “I can do that.”
With anticipation of great things to come, I collected my erasers and took them to the back steps. Rita wasn’t there. I waited a few minutes and she still didn’t show. She must have lost her way, I thought. Just like a woman to get lost.
I hurriedly dusted the erasers and took them back to Miss Jones’ class. I returned to Mrs. Simpson’s classroom to see what was taking Rita so long. But Rita wasn’t there. I knew something had gone wrong when I saw the two overturned desks, and books and paper scattered across the floor. Then I noticed the dirty erasers lying near the door. It looked like someone had grabbed Rita as she was leaving the classroom.
I had to do something!
I rushed into the hallway and looked first in one direction, than the other. Which way would the kidnapper have taken her? I couldn’t make a good choice because both directions led outside.
I had decided to go for help when I saw an eraser mark about shoulder high just outside the classroom door. Rita must have kept one of the erasers and was marking a trail. There must be other marks.
I could stop to call the police, but valuable time would be lost. I could do that later when I was sure I couldn’t help Rita right.
Halfway down the hallway on the left side, I found another eraser mark. It was beside a door leading down to the basement. The kidnapper hadn’t taken her outside after all, I thought. He might still be with her in the basement. Not much time had elapsed since I had left her to collect the erasers. Ten minutes maybe.
I didn’t want to go charging into the basement without some kind of weapon, so I hurried back to my classroom. A softball bat seemed to be my best bet, so I took that. It was my favorite bat, and I had hit a lot of home runs with it. Maybe I could hit another one for Rita.
At the bottom of the steps there was open space. I could see the furnace at one end, and several storage rooms at the other. I cautiously approached the storage rooms, the bat raised high in case the kidnapper surprised me. I saw another eraser mark beside one of the doors. This had to be where he’s taken her.
I surveyed the situation. The door opened outward, so I could pull the door open without being seen. I could lay in ambush behind the door and swat the kidnapper when he came out. I was strong for a sixth grader, and I was sure I could overpower him.
I eased the door open, letting a shaft of light into the dark room. No one came charging out, and no shots were fired through the door. But I did hear someone moan.
I opened the door all the way, letting even more light into the room. But I still couldn’t see anybody inside. I heard another moan, louder this time. Images of Rita’s naked and raped body danced in my mind. The kidnapper must have already done his dirty work and escaped. I entered the room, the bat raised high just in case.
Suddenly, light flooded the room. My body braced for a fight, but relaxed at what I saw. Rita stood near the center of the room, the string connected to the bare light bulb in one hand, and a blackboard eraser in the other. She was fully clothed and perfectly unharmed. A mischievous grin spread across her freckled face.
“My hero,” she said, and with a flick of a wrist, she plunged the room into darkness again.