The first thing you gotta know about me is that I hate nap time. I mean I really hate it. I close my eyes because Miss Richards makes me, but I never go to sleep. I just sit there with my head on the desk and think about what I'm gon-na do tomorrow, or wonder if my dad's gonna let me stay up and watch the Lakers' game. Sometimes if I'm really bored I try to whisper something to my two buddies, Kervon and Eric though I always get caught. Then I'm right back in trouble again.Kervon, Eric and me go to an all Black school. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a Black school and a White School until Kervon told me about it. Kervon's really smart though he gets in trouble all of the time like me. Once he acted so bad he was suspended for two days even though he's only in the fourth grade. When he came back to school, he just had this big, ol' grin on his face. He wouldn't tell me why he got suspended. But I bet you it was from peeing in the hallways. He can be real nasty like that when he wants too, ol' Kervon. Me and Kervon both like Eric because he do whatever we say. Miss Richards says it's because he don't know any better, but I think he's pretty smart if he knows how to listen to us. Together we're all sort of a team like the Power Rangers. Anyway I was sittin' there with my head on the table, and my eyes squeezed tight, trying real hard to be good be-cause Miss Richards said she was gonna call my mama up at work if I acted up "...once more. Just you try it young man!" So I was sitting there on my hands to keep them from hitting Elzie, even though her sleeping head was so irresistibly close and she had hit me during lunch time, when someone whined; "I gotta pee!" It was Kervon. I waited for Miss Richards to tell him not to say 'pee' but 'I need to go to the washroom please,' and besides he should have taken care of that before nap. But Miss Richards didn't say nothing. She kept right on napping. Miss Richards really loves her naps. "Hey, I gotta pee!" he said a bit louder, though of course not too loud. "Shut up, boy," I said in a harsh whisper. "You gonna wake everybody up." Then Eric couldn't resist any longer and started giggling. That made me giggle too and we all snuck out of our seats and stood by the closed door. "You don't need to announce it to the whole world." I said in my big, grown-up voice. I'm gonna be good, I reminded myself. Just the way Miss Richards would want me to be. "He gonna do it in the hallway again," Eric giggled. "Shut up." Kervon whispered. Then somewhat shyly; "Y'all come with me." I shot a quick glance at Miss Richards whose head was buried in her folded arms on top of her desk. She was safe in dreamland. In fact, for once every single one of my classmates were deep in sleep. There wasn't a fidgeter among them. "Alright" I said and we all left the room. The sudden, unrestrained freedom from all authority made us feel loud as we ran down the hallway screaming laughter. I let my hands (who never did know how to stay at my sides) trail all over the lockers, the art work some of my classmates had put up, and the important looking red and white handle of the fire alarm. (Though I swear I didn't pull it. Not then.) Kervon pretended he was LeBron James and kept dancing around me pushing his old, balled up homework into my face. Eric lagged behind a bit, taking everything in with his huge eyes. His mouth hung all the way open as if he were having trouble breathing. "It quiet huh?" Eric said. Startled, I became aware of this quietness all around me. I mean this strong quietness. School's are always noisy places, cause there's always something going on. Band practice, teachers talking... some kid telling another one to shut up. But now I couldn't hear nothing. It was as if the whole school had fallen asleep. Not just room 003. I think in a way we were making so much noise because it was so quiet. And no hall monitor stopped us. No grown-up asked for a classroom pass or wanted to know where we were going. "Hey Kervon..." I said, not sure what I was gonna tell him. By then we had reached the third hallway, the one we needed to go down to find the boy's washroom and Kervon had stopped and said "Look y'all." I looked straight ahead and my mouth opened up without my mind's permission. The same thing happened with my friends. We were all staring like guppy fish. That was because what we were looking at was nothing. I mean there was nothing there. The hallway that I had used that morning to go to my class ended into a field of white. It was as if someone had torn reality away. Like reality had only been a piece of paper after all. Along the brick walls to our right and left were the jagged edges where it had ended, like broken glass has jagged edges, and then there was the blank nothing. It was bright and white. I could see out into it forever. Maybe it was forever, I told myself and then I became a little bit afraid. Not a lot you understand, because I'm a big boy. I'm nine years old and I know how to kick anyone in the balls who tries to get me. But I might have been afraid. A little. "Whaddaya think happened?" And the way Kervon said that, like he was so unsure, made me feel even more afraid. "Earthquake." I said trying to act like Kervon's ol' smart self. The way he was supposed to act. "Earthquake come and just torn everything away." "You reckon this where God lives?" Eric asked timidly. I didn't like that question. Didn't like it at all so I said; "Come on y'all. Let's go back to Miss Richards. She'll know how to fix earthquakes and things." But then Kervon stepped out into it like he was hypnotized. Like he was under control of Rita Repulsar or someone. He took four steps on the gray linoleum and three steps into it, his dirty sneakers leaving dusty footprints on the white nothingness. Then the footprints faded away, like your breath does on the window during cold winter morn-ings. "Kervon, man? What are you doing? Are you crazy?" He turned around and looked at me and his face was 'blank' like that blank, nothingness out there. And I saw I made a big mistake about Kervon being unsure. He was unsure alright, but it was the same kind of uncertainty he had when he flipped his middle finger up at our principal, Mr. Gra-ham. Or when the three of us threw the classroom books out the window. He was only unsure of what kind of pun-ishment that was going to happen next. That kind of unsure. "I just wanna check somethin' out. Y'all come with me." I was already shaking my head, and when Eric saw this (he had actually lifted one of his feet to follow Kervon) he stood back and pretended to be interested in looking out the window. Kervon gave Eric an angry look and then he looked long and hard at me. Both of my hands curled up into fists in case there was going to be a fight. But then he fought me in the way where you don't use your fists. "You scared ain't you?" "Nah, I ain't!" I said hotly. "I ain't scared of nothin!" "Yes, you is." Ol' Kervon was smiling in that slow way of his. He was enjoying this, that bastard. "You just a scared little baby who needs his ba-ba." "I ain't no baby, you dookey-assed bastard!" Eric suddenly yelped; "You said a cuss word. I'm gonna tell your mama." "Shut up." Then in a softer voice I asked him; "Eric, you scared?" "Huh-uh." And he wasn't lying either. He was too stupid to know about the scary things yet. To know that mamas and daddies and big brothers couldn't always protect you from people or things that like to bite. They couldn't always make sure your life story had a good ending. But for a moment I wished I was that stupid again too. "See? Even Eric ain't scared. You the scaredy-cat one. You ain't no Power Ranger. You think the Gold Ranger would be scared of this?" I squeezed my eyes tight and tried to will the adult words to come. Something like ... "What are you trying to prove Kervon? Why do you need to go out there so bad?" Or maybe; "I'm not no scaredy-cat just because I don't wanna do what you say." Those were the words I thought of later. But right then I couldn't think straight because I was too ashamed. He was right. Any one of the Power Rangers ...even that silly Pink ranger girl would of had enough guts to go out and face that thing. I opened up my eyes and shouted at them; "Fine! Go on! But I ain't going with you. I'm going back to Miss Richards. I'm gonna tell on all your butts!" Then I spun around with the full intention of running back to 003. But for some rea-son I couldn't leave just yet. It was like some invisible rope was tying us together ...us Power Rangers. Kervon felt it too. He shuffled his feet a little and then mumbled something that sounded like "Come on." and took Eric's hand. He turned to look at me. For one instant, one tiny, tiny second it was like he was talking in my head even though his mouth was closed. Like he was begging me to stop him somehow. But I might have imagined that. Mama says I have too big of an imagination. They went. I didn't think they would be able to do it. The three of us always stuck together. But he went with Eric. They went until they got tinier and tinier, looking like mosquitoes on a piece of paper. After a while I could hardly see them no more. Kervon disappeared almost immediately because he's the same color as a Hershey's golden bar, but I could see Eric for a long time, outlined like a tiny tree branch against a cloudy sky. Then he was gone too. Alone, alone, alone I thought. I was aware of that quietness again. It seemed like a living thing. Like a snake that could bite. For a moment I had to keep myself from plunging into that forever whiteness too. Anything to be with my two pals again and stop that awful loneliness. That feeling that you were the only person in the whole wide uni-verse. I told myself not to be stupid but to be a good boy. Someone who was well behaved. A good boy would go back and get Miss Richards. So I ran back to room 003 as fast as I could and when I got there nothing had changed. Everyone was still sleeping unmoved. Miss Richards head was buried in her big, fat arms. Wake her up, I told myself. But then I thought about her yelling at me. Telling me how bad I was to be out of my seat, not to mention getting lost in that forever thing. So I went back to my desk, closed my eyes and waited. Now here's the part where Channel Five news and that other morning show asks me about over and over again. This is the part where I'm supposed to say I was asleep. But I wasn't asleep. I know that because I hate nap-time. But all of a sudden I lift up my head and there's this tall white guy, this fireman standing beside my chair with his hand on the back of my head. He looked so powerful and so cool in that yellow uniform of his, a grown-up yellow Power Ranger that I almost liked him. The fireman said to some people behind me. "Here's one alive." They died of carbon monoxide poisoning, you see. Everyone in the whole classroom, even Miss Richards. The stove we used to cook chocolate chip cookies with was broken and they all died of carbon monoxide. That's what the fireman told me. He said somehow I was lucky and didn't breathe enough poisoned air to kill me. That's when I told him he was wrong, because me and Kervon and Eric weren't even in the classroom when that ol' poisoning was going on. I told him about Kervon needing to pee and the big ol' terrible nothingness. The fireman listened to me with that careful, concentrated look that the principal sometimes uses. Then he knelt down beside me so he could look me right in the eyes. He gave me that look that adults give you when they mean to tell you something and they mean for you to listen. I get that look a lot. He said what I had was a nightmare. No one left the classroom. He knew that for a fact because the two hall moni-tors and Mr. Hunt (his classroom is right next to ours) were watching during the entire nap time and they didn't see no little kids come out of room 003. I was about to tell him that they were all wrong. We did go, cause we always stick together, when I saw Kervon. A black woman wearing a fire suit (a firewoman?) was cradling Kervon in her arms like he was a little baby that might wake up. But when I saw his upside down face hanging over her arms, his eyes bloodshot and unfocussed, I knew he would never wake up. There was a huge wet stain on the bottom of his pants. Now I have to speak to a stupid school puh-sychartist once a week cause everybody thinks I'm still scared. I ain't scared no more. They all scared. I know that. All the grownups and everybody scared, so they make believe I'm scared to feel better about themselves. But I know the truth. She asks me the same, old, dumb questions anyhow. First she wants to know if I feel bad cause I alive and my friends are all dead. She says that bad feeling is called guilt. I miss 'em, I tell her, just like I tell her every week. I feel bad for 'em too. But it wasn't my fault they got lost in the for-ever thing. Hell, they should have stayed put. Maybe that's even what happened to Miss Richards and everybody else in the classroom. They went out looking for them, when they should have stayed put. She gives me that funny look of hers and then asks me if I know what death is. I tell her I know what death is. It means you go to sleep and never wake up. I ain't scared of no dying neither. Just as long as it's nice and dark and you can't see.
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A powerful tale that speaks to a different type of horror, this first timer's story moved me. Personal thanks to Chere Taylor and welcome to Anotherealm. -GM