“Did you hear about Randy?”
Cordelia Zelmanova rolled her eyes at the mention of Randy Bellfore, Allswood High School’s resident weirdo. The ‘school tool,’ a phrase of Cordelia’s own authorship, was NOT what she wanted to hear about first thing in homeroom on the opening day of her senior year.
The inquirer, a shorter girl with mousy brown hair, (Band geek. Name was… Evelyn…? Elenore…?) was looking at Cordelia with a strange, almost expectant expression, as thought Cordelia would obviously know what she was asking about.
Cordelia calculated her response internally. E-girl was going to be her homeroom partner all year, so they would have to be on at least cordial terms. But she also needed to know what was acceptable behavior and what was not.
And opening Cordelia’s morning with a conversation about that freak Randy was DEFINITELY not acceptable.
“Nooo,” Cordelia replied with a measured mixture of sarcasm and contempt. “Why would I have heard anything about that freakcase?”
E-girl’s eyes grew and she recoiled as much as her stool would allow. (Good. Dominance established.) “Oh…” she sputtered. “It’s just… I figured, you know… with it… like… you… and all…” her eyes flicked to Cordelia’s body and then back to her face.
Cordelia kept silent and held her measured glare. (Get with the program, girlie.)
“I… I’m sorry,” E-girl said quietly.
Cordelia smiled and patted the girl’s hand. (It was just like training the Shit-Zhus; punish bad behavior immediately, reward good behavior just as quickly.) “It’s ok. No harm done.” And now the smooth subject change… “Who did you get for math?”
E-girl opened her mouth to answer, but was cut off completely by Judd Peck’s head thrusting between the two of them. Judd, (amateur motocross rider; football team tight end) who sat behind the girls, had thrown himself bodily onto his table to achieve the feat.
“Mornin’ Cordie,” he said, maintaing his grip on the table so he could tense his biceps in a show for her.
“Good morning Judd,” Cordelia said with a roll of her eyes. She opened her notebook and did her best to seem as though she was looking for something in it.
Judd ignored Cordelia’s ignoring. “So crazy about Randy, right?”
Cordelia’s hands had slapped the table on either side of her notebook before she realized she had even made the movement. From the corner of her eye she saw E-girl jump visibly even with Judd’s head in the way. She turned on Judd with vehemence.
“WHY does everyone want to talk about RANDY this morning?” she asked Judd, her biting tone far less restrained than it had been with E-girl.
“Ohmygod you don’t know?” Judd asked with an expression of confused surprise. “Did you not get the text?”
Cordelia’s phone was in her purse, on silent. “What text?” she asked.
Judd reached back and pulled his phone out of his jean’s pocket. He flipped it open. “Ooooooooh man I can’t believe you don’t know,” he was chuckling now, poking at his phone. “It’s so royally fucked up…here.” Judd held out the phone to Cordelia but a voice from the front of the room stole both their attentions before she could get a good look at the message.
“Is that a CELLPHONE you’re holding Mister… Peck, is it?”
While Judd and Cordelia had been talking their homeroom teacher Mister Wilson had entered from the front and the entire rest of the class had grown quiet.
“Uh,” Judd pushed himself back across his table and onto his stool, his face red. Cordelia whipped her head around to face forward. “Yes, Mister Wilson.”
Mister Wilson, a shorter balding man with glasses that looked like they were from 1973 stood behind his desk at the front of the class, an annoyed expression on his face. He gestured to some words written in the upper right corner of the whiteboard behind him. “Now, you’re on the football team Mister Peck so let me inform you of what this strange collection of lines written here says. It says ‘All Cellphones Will Be Confiscated.’ So congratulations on being the first of this year. Bring it up here.”
The rest of the class broke into quiet murmurs which Mister Wilson didn’t seem to hear. Instead he held his gaze on Judd as the boy left his table and walked the aisle, setting his cellphone gingerly onto the teacher’s desk. Mister Wilson snatched the phone up with a speed one wouldn’t have expected from someone of his apparent fragility and threw it into a drawer in his desk, slamming it shut with a bang that caused the whole class to jump. Judd returned to his desk, everyone avoiding eye contact with him.
“Asshole,” he muttered as he passed Cordelia and E-Girl’s table.
Mister Wilson turned to the whiteboard and began to write his name, giving his introductory lecture. Cordelia looked back over her shoulder at the glaring Judd.
“I’m sorry,” she mouthed silently, putting on her best sad puppy imitation.
Judd nodded to her and flicked up his middle finger at Mister Wilson’s back.
“And that’s detention, Mister Peck,” Mister Wilson, back still turned, said.
Cordelia crossed her arms on her desk and tried to appear to be attentive, hoping to do some damage control with Mister Wilson. It was in this position she could feel very clearly when her own phone, set to vibrate, went off in her purse.
She counted the buzzes, each indicating a text message.
The buzzing finally stopped at thirteen.
Curiosity crawled through Cordelia like kittens. Just what the hell was going on? And what did it have to do with that scuzzbag Randy? She bent crooked hoping to ask E-girl, but even at the slight movement Mister Wilson (who Cordelia had already begun to refer to as “THE Wilson” in her mind) cocked an eyebrow at her.
So no cellphones, AND no talking. Perfect. This guy was from the stone age.
Her fifty minutes of homeroom seemed eternal to Cordelia. He phone had buzzed three more times at random intervals but she didn’t dare look at it. After his initial back-turn The Wilson kept his eyes on the class the entire time. When the bell finally run Cordelia was practically shaking with pent-up questions.
“Ok, tell me what the fuck is going on,” she whirled on Judd before the bell had even finished ringing.
Judd opened his mouth to speak, but Mister Wilson interrupted from the front.
“Mister Peck, please join me up here so we can have a chat about what we’ll be spending our time on this afternoon.”
Judd’s face darkened and he rose from his stool with a glade at Cordelia.
Seeing she was one of the last students in the room, Cordelia began frantically gathering her things together. She didn’t dare pull out her phone until she passed from the threshold of The Wilson’s class, but even as she walked from her table to the door her hand was already fishing for it in her purse.
“See you later, Judd,” she told him with what she hoped was an apologetic look.
Her clamshell phone was out and open as her heel hit the hallway. Sixteen messages.
“OMG Randy is n my HM with it RIGHT NOW!”
“Have homeroom w tool. Looks just like you WTF?”
“Can’t believe Randy! Did u know?”
“Just saw it! LOL”
All sixteen messages were variations of these themes. But none told her WHAT Randy had with him. Cordelia read through them again, hoping for some clue, but there was nothing.
The natural cacophony of the hallway was so much white noise as Cordelia walked oblivious, absorbed in her phone. Yet through it all her ears picked out a specific whispered phrase she caught as it’s murmurer passed her.
“Wait… shhhhhh. There she is.”
She looked about her wildly, seeking the source. He eyes settled on the backs of three girls walking together, one just turning from her over-the-shoulder gaze at Cordelia to join in a giggle with the other two. Cordelia recognized the the three girls from all the times she had gazed hate into the backs of their heads hoping they would catch fire. She had sworn she would never talk to any of them, but she was desperate.
“Brittney! Wait up!” she called out, causing more than one uneasy glance from passerbys; her loathing of Brittney Delouise was well known amongst the student body.
The group of girls paused and turned in unison, their eyes cold and dangerous.
Brittney, the tallest and blondest of the three, smiled like a wolf regarding a chicken coop. “Good morning Cordelia. So nice to see you again,” she said. The other girls erupted in giggles at this.
Coredelia ignored whatever dig Brittney was trying to take at her. Though now that she had her attention, what could she really ask her? Cordelia was off-balance, but she had to ask SOMETHING.
“Did you do… something? With Randy, I mean?” she asked, instantly cursing herself for how stupid she sounded.
“Oh honey,” Brittney took on a look of mock pity, “I’M not that one that’s been doing things with Randy.” Brittney’s entourage giggled hysterically at this.
Cordelia pushed the issue. “Just…. just tell me what is going on.”
Brittney folder her arms across her breasts. “You really don’t know, do you?” she asked.
Cordelia shook her head, hating feeling this weak. She should have asked someone else…
The warning bell rang out. Second period was starting in five minutes.
Brittney eyed the buzzing speaker above the lockers. “Well I’d hate to be the one who spoils it for you. Come on girls, we better get to class. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of Cordelia today.” He friends burst into laughter at that, and they turned their backs on Cordelia to continue to class.
Flames of rage leapt hot and quick in Cordelia and she smashed the base of her fist into a locker behind her. Britteny’s dismissal wouldn’t be forgotten, but she was out of time. She rushed through the emptying hallway to enter second period just as the second bell rung.
Her math teacher was less strict than Mister Wilson by a mile, but Cordelia knew school policy was to take cellphones if the teachers saw them. Still, she had absently kept hers in her hand during her exchange with Brittney and her goon squad. She thumbed it open out of sight under her lab table and tapped out a quick text to her best friend Staci by touch.
“U kno wut up w randy?”
Her phone throbbed twice in her hand almost instantly. Propping her chin in her hand and resting one elbow on the table as though she was boredly listening, she glanced down at the glowing LCD screen.
“OMG Sams n his HM Sayz hes got a doll of u – Staci – GO MUSTANGS!”
A doll of her? Cordelia didn’t understand.
“Wut u mean?” she sent back.
“Sam sayz Rndy has doll that look like u n wheelchair. Talk 3rd per. Wilson eying me. – Staci – GO MUSTANGS!”
So that was it. Randy had brought some kind of doll with him that looked like Cordelia. His infatuation with her since Junior High had been an irritation that Brittney and her crew had pestered Cordelia with often enough during cheer practice, but THIS was a new level of freakazoid, even for the Tool.
“Cordelia? Is everything copacetic?”
Mister Zimmer was standing at the front of the class, eyes bloodshot (likely from his most recent joint) with a look of concern on his stubbled hippie-face. Cordelia realized several of the class had turned around to stare at her at his questioning of her downcast scowl. She put on a smile she didn’t feel.
“Oh yes, Mister Zimmer. Everything is fine,” she told him.
“If you’re feeling funny you can go to the nurse,” he offered.
“Thank you Mister Zimmer. I’m all right,” she answered.
“Ok, if you’re sure.”
Mister Zimmer turned back to his whiteboard and continued his lecture on angles, but Cordelia didn’t hear him.
Her phone continued to buzz with variations on the “LOL just saw it” theme throughout second period. Cordelia ignored most of these, but one from Bryce (fullback, football team) set her on edge even further.
“Randy said I can try you out sometime! LOL”
Zimmer’s introduction to geometry barely registered to Cordelia as little more than background noise. She was seething inside.
Whatever Randy had with him was going to ruin her. Everything she had worked so hard to achieve – her place on the cheerleading squad, her position as one of the school’s elite, the control and respect her presence demanded – was now on the chopping block.
And it was all Randy’s fault.
The bell rung signaling the end of the period. Noise of a thirty backpacks and sachels being zipped and gathered swelled to an immediate crescendo. Cordelia scooped her binder up and dumped it into her book bag as quickly as she could.
She only had ten minutes to track down Randy and put a stop to this before third period. The longer this continued, the more she was in jeopardy. And if she didn’t end it by the end of the day…
Mister Zimmer called out her name as she filed out of the room with the other students. She stopped and turned.
“Yes Mister Zimmer?” she asked. This was NOT a delay she needed.
“I’m…” he started and faltered, frowning as though at a loss for words. “I’m sorry if you’re having a difficult day.”
His statement caught her off guard. “Oh, thanks Mister Zimmer,” she said dismissevly.
He continued to look at her, frowning; she stood there clutching her backpack, wishing to be anywhere but there. The moment descended into awkwardness.
And she realized:
He knew something.
“That’s all Cordelia. You can go.”
Cordelia wanted to scream. She wanted to grab the man and get in his dull, stubbled face and holler “TELL ME WHAT YOU KNOW!” It felt like every nerve she had was electrified.
But that wouldn’t be proper behavior.
That wouldn’t be Cordelia Zelmanova.
So Cordelia turned and pushed through the door and out into the crowded hallway.
Staci was at her side as soon as she was through the door.
“Where. Is. He?” Cordelia asked, smoldering rage dripping from every word.
“I don’t know. I was able to send out a couple texts, but no one was with him in second period. That could respond, at least,” Staci reported.
“Zimmer knows something,” Cordelia shrugged her backpack to settle it for the walk to third period.
“Zimmer?” Staci asked. “Why would he know anything? He’s a teacher.”
“I don’t know. Has anyone sent you pictures of it?”
“No.” Staci shook her head.
They walked in silence. Cordelia could feel her friend’s eyes on her, and the tension in Staci’s posture.
“Did you… you know… know?” Staci asked hesitantly.
“NO!” Cordelia screeched in horror drawing looks from the plebeians around her. “No,” she said again, quieter this time, looking to see who would dare acknowledge her outburst. No one would; either from knowledge of the situation with Randy or from the traditional fear of the wrath of a popular person, no one would meet her eyes.
Staci pulled out her phone, either waiting for Cordelia’s wrath to abate somewhat before speaking again or reading a real message. “Tim says it’s… big. Like, the same size as you.”
“Like, life-size?” Cordelia asked.
Staci tapped out a quick message. Her phone buzzed in her hand.
The first bell rang; two minutes until third period.
“Wait… is Tim with him? Can he see him?”
Staci’s fingers tapped deftly at the phone’s keypad. It buzzed back.
“He’s behind him. He’s headed to…” Staci looked up from the screen at Cordelia. “Mr. Azerjabi’s class.”
Cordelia’s eyes grew wide. That was only five doors down from her third period. She spun around just in time to catch a glimpse of Randy’s shoulder length greasy hair passing through the threshold out of her sight. His shoulders were hunched as though he were pushing something in front of him.
The second bell rang signaling the start of class. With a growl of frustration Cordelia slipped into their third period science class with Staci on her heels.
Still, all was not lost, Cordelia thought to herself. After all, she knew where he was. She only had to endure the mocking texts for one more period. Maybe she’d spend some time getting the boys organized to help her. But she knew one thing beyond all others.
After third period, the school tool was HERS, and this mess would all be over.
Cordelia’s eyes were on her phone secreted beneath her lab table before Mrs. Steinbach had even launched into her “Welcome to science” speech.
She arrowed down to her “Football Team” contacts list and sent out a mass text.
“Need help with a problem. My locker, after 3rd.”
Her phone vibrated almost immediately.
“Drills during 4th 🙁 Later? – Tyrone”
Cordelia kicked herself mentally. She was so caught up in this Randy issue she had completely forgotten cheer tryouts, which took place fourth period, right before lunch. The football team would be practicing at that same time, starting their drills for the year. It was doubtful she would get a chance to talk to any of them before lunch. If she skipped cheer practice, (which theoretically was auditions,) to pursue Randy after third, she could potentially lose her spot on the squad.
Staci, sitting next to her, slid a notebook in between them on the table and tapped it with a pen. On a clean sheet of paper she had written a single word and underlined it:
So she’d had the same thought. Cordelia nodded, and took the pen from her. Underneath Staci’s note she wrote:
“5th = Randy” then she circled Randy’s name and violently scribbled through it.
More texts came in from a few of the other players stating that they too would be at drills; Cordelia ignored them. Any plan to get Randy would HAVE to be put on hold until after cheer. She refused to let the tool torpedo her station in the school’s royal crust any more than he already had.
Staci took the pen back from her and wrote another note:
“Want me to follow?”
Of course! Staci had a walking cast on from a sprain; there was no way she would be trying out for cheer today.
“YES!” Cordelia wrote & underlined it several times.
Cordelia & Staci feigned attentativeness for the rest of Mrs. Steinbach’s introductory lecture until the bell signaled the end of period. Cordelia collected both hers & Staci’s notebooks while Staci stood.
“Pictures if you can,” Cordelia instructed.
Staci nodded her comprehension, and limped into the outflowing crowd.
Cordelia finished collecting their things and trailed out the door, casting a glance over the shoulder toward the class where Randy and his abomination had been inhabiting. The tool didn’t present himself and she was on a tight timeline so she headed to her locker. Spinning the combination lock open she shoved the notebooks in and yanked her gym bag out.
Most of the girls had changed by the time Cordelia arrived at the locker room. She slipped quickly out of her first-day-of-school dress, folding it carefully, and changed into her workout clothes. Mrs. Fee had already lined the girls up along the football field sideline by the time Cordelia jogged onto the field.
“…and most of you probably won’t make it from what I’m seeing,” Mrs. Fee was saying. She raised an eyebrow at Cordelia as she took her place at the end of the row of girls. “Not like you to be late Zelmanova,” She said.
Cordelia saw Brittany, who stood near the front of the line, lean in to one of her friends and whisper something. The friend giggled quietly.
“Sorry Mrs. Fee, won’t happen again,” Cordelia answered.
“I’ll say it won’t. Something funny Delouise?” Mrs. Fee’s gaze whipped to catch Brittany still bent and whispering.
Brittany started. “Uh, no Mrs. Fee.”
“You and Sasha seem to have some nervous energy. Why don’t you get it out by demonstrating some backward handsprings for the rest of the girls? Show them what they’re in for. Zelmanova, you come over here and talk to me.”
Mrs. Fee wandered out of earshot of the waiting girls as Brittany and Sasha walked out to the field and began their handsprings. Cordelia sheepishly joined her.
“I’m sorry I’m late Mrs. Fee…” she started.
“Oh can it, Cordie,” Mrs. Fee dismissed her apology with a wave. “We both know your shit is hitting the fan today.”
Cordelia was taken back.
Mrs. Fee knew too?
“You know about…?”
“About the Bellfore kid? Of course I know.” Mrs. Fee grimaced. “The whole faculty had a goddamned meeting about it a week before school started. Seems the almighty Superintendent Bellfore sent down a comminique from on high and your spineless prick of a principal couldn’t wait to ‘encourage us in understanding.’ And that, dear, is a direct fucking quote, thank you very much. Makes my stomach turn.” She crossed her muscled arms over her breasts. “Principal Donaldson probably used the word ‘tolerance’ eighty-three fucking times in his explanation of ‘Superintendent Bellfore’s son’s unique condition.’ You’d could practically hear the sound of him sucking off his career. God it made me sick!” Mrs. Fee’s right eye twitched, a motion Cordelia had only see two times before: once when they lost a cheer competition to a judge’s lousy call, and once when she had talked about her ex-husband.
“I tried to stand up for you, of course, when he showed us the pictures of the thing,” she continued. “Called ’em all out on it. Donaldson blew me off. Said any resemblance to a student was purely coincidental; that Bellfore had ordered the thing custom to avoid just such an incident. Called it a ‘self esteem support device.’ Custom my ass! It’s custom alright. Custom enough to look just like you. Gods Cordie,” Mrs. Fee sighed heavily, “I’m sorry. I tried.”
Cordelia was taken aback. Mrs. Fee had always been one of her favorite teachers, but to know she went against the principal and the rest of the staff to try to protect her… Cordelia was touched.
“How many more Mrs. Fee?” Brittany, the armpits of her gym shirt now wet with sweat, hollered from where the rest of the tryout hopefuls stood waiting.
“Half the football team tells me you’re pretty limber, so how about five more?” Mrs. Fee shouted back, eliciting giggles from the girls and a look of pure mortification from Brittany.
“That should shut her up for a while. I wish she wasn’t so damn good,” Mrs. Fee looked Cordelia up and down. “You’re tough enough to take it, girl. So take it. Now come on,” she put her hand on Cordelia’s shoulder and urged her back towards the line, “lets get this chickenshit circus on the road.”
A shower and Mrs. Fee’s assurance that she had, in fact, made the team, left Cordelia feeling improved after tryouts had ended. She gingerly pulled her underclothes from her locker and dressed quickly, mindful of the blinking light at the top of her waiting phone.
Someone had sent her a message.
Bra and panties secured, Cordelia slipped into her dress and closed her gym locker. Steadying herself with a deep breath she flipped open her cellphone.
“1 NEW PICTURE MESSAGE FROM STACI… DOWNLOADING NOW.” it read.
The screen blinked black for a moment and the picture was there.
Staci’s thumb partially obscured the bottom third of the image but Cordelia could see enough. Randy the tool stood doe-eyed, mouth open, digitally frozen in a posture of oafish stupidity. His outstretched arms were obscured by the frizzled dark mane of the doll, though from the angle of his exposed elbows it was clear he was pushing it in a wheelchair of some kind.
The doll itself filled Cordelia with a knot of revulsion. That its intent was to be her doppelganger no one could argue – it’s dead glass eyes matched her shade and shape perfectly; it’s skin tone sat a shade darker only due to her lack of tanning; it’s body size and type reflected Cordelia’s down to how the swell of its breasts filled out its dress;
The exact same dress Cordelia wore now.
An airless shriek escaped Cordelia’s lips. Rage and sickness poured over her like twin tidal waves; feeling drained from her knees and she fell into a sitting position upon the bench that ran between the gym lockers.
Little details became more apparent the longer she looked at the image. There was a belt cinched just around the midsection of the doll, and smaller ones around it’s wrists and ankles. Cordelia assumed these were to keep it held in place in the wheelchair. It’s mouth hung slightly open, like a ventriliquist’s dummy without the jaw gaps, it’s tongue a barely visible shade of pixelated rose, lips contorted into an ‘o’ shape, as though it was whistling.
“It’s not JUST a doll,” something whispered from deep inside her.
No. Not just a doll.
This was so much more. An incredible replica of her, down to the smallest detail. Dressed exactly the same as she was. (Did Randy see me shopping for the dress? Did he see me buy it? Has he been following me this whole summer?)
And the mouth…
Her understanding began to snowball with her disgust. The mouth was the key, wasn’t it?
There was only one reason the mouth would be shaped just so.
Only one reason to copy someone you could never have, really.
Cordelia swallowed back a rush of bile.
Randy had made a SEX doll. Of her.
That wasn’t right.
This wasn’t something the Tool had made.
This was beyond professional; the reproduction – immaculate.
This was something he had paid money for. A LOT of money.
Money RANDY didn’t have…
…but his DAD did.
Cordelia slapped her phone closed as if it were a window into hell itself. With a start she realized she was shaking. Her stomach turned and she dove for the toilet in a rush, puking up what remained of her breakfast.
She was throwing up for the second time when the bell rang for lunch.
The cafeteria was raucous and loud when Cordelia entered. A dimming hush rolled like a wave through the enormous room as students became aware of her presence in groups of twos and threes, dropping their normal conversation to hushed whispers.
Cordelia recognized it for what it was; the situation had reached critical mass. Everyone in school knew about Randy and his pet Cordelia, and the real Cordelia was paying the most brutal of all prices: simultaneous collective reappraisal from the body of her peers.
She saw nerds who only hours ago wouldn’t have dared breathe her name (except in the privacy of their lonely darkened bedrooms) look up from their MMORPG strategy guides and nod smugly between each other. Saw the leers and the elbows and the chin thrusts pass between the jocks as they directed each others attentions towards her, their subtlety inconspicuous as a train wreck. Heard the clicks of cameraphones firing off like automatic weapons, each lens opening an aperture of social media scorn to be heaped upon her.
She felt all her work, from freshman year until now, crumbling around her in the hush that was falling at her entrance. Felt her separation from the strata of the school’s elite dislocating like a joint pulled out of place.
There were no more chances. The damage had become too severe, the story spread too far. Randy had accomplished in one disgusting, disturbing fell stroke the murder of her entire High School career.
He had made Cordelia just like he was.
An object of derision.
The cafeteria was now completely quiet. Everyone waited, watching what Cordelia would do. Burst into tears? Run out screaming?
Cordelia felt both of these impulses well up within her, and pressed them both back. She had not come this far, fought this hard, or dealt with so much bullshit to be derailed by this. Randy and his toy were problems of epic proportions, true.
But Cordelia was a fighter.
She walked over to where Staci was sitting, tasteful-length heels clopping echoes into the cavernous silence, and tossed her head at her friend.
“Come on,” she said, “let’s go off-campus for lunch.”
They drove in silence, Cordelia catching the movement of Staci’s wary sidelong glances out of the corner of her eye. Staci waited until they had received their food and taken a booth at the back before speaking.
“Are you… doing ok?” she asked Cordelia.
“No,” Cordelia answered. “But I think I will be.”
“I tried to do what I could from it getting to far, but Bryce…” Staci trailed off.
Cordelia gave her a weak smile.
“It’s ok. You did what you could.”
They chewed in silence for a bit before Staci spoke again.
Cordelia nodded. “Mrs. Fee told me the teachers all knew about it.”
Staci’s mouth hung open, half-full of chewed food, aghast. “What?”
“Randy’s dad is the superintendent. Fee said he passed world to principal Donaldson, who held a meeting before school to tell all the teachers what was going on. The excuse was that Randy is handicapped and the doll is a ‘self-esteem support device’.”
“Randy isn’t handicapped, unless his handicap is being a disgusting loser.”
Staci’s righteous anger made Cordelia smile in spite of herself. At least she wasn’t ENTIRELY alone. Then she sobered.
“I don’t know how to handle this, Stace,” Cordelia admitted after a few moments.
Staci took her hand. “I don’t either hon. But we’ll figure something out.” She glanced at the clock on her phone. “Ohmigosh, we better go, we’re gonna be late.”
Cordelia sighed heavily. “Do I have to?”
Staci nodded, pulling at her arm. “It’s high school. Everyone will have forgotten about this by tomorrow.”
Somehow, Cordelia didn’t think that would happen.
A cursory glance at her phone told her she had 24 unread messages waiting as Cordelia walked from her car to fifth period, opting to go around the outside of the buildings as opposed to braving the halls. Even with the lowered surrounding population glances, chuckles, and hand-covered whispers followed in her path like a wake.
The class was a blur. Cordelia heard next to nothing of what the teacher said. She was too busy thinking ahead.
This Randy business was a brutal blow to her empire, to be sure. Potentially even fatal. But the plebeians were fickle; all she needed was a bone big enough to throw them to get them off of her trail and onto something else.
But what? What could be big enough to shake this? From the sound of things, Randy was going to be walking the halls with this thing, making it a permanent new fixture of school life. It would be around in the mornings, and at lunch, and at night he would take it home and…
Whatever she was going to do, it had to happen today. This had to stay an anomaly. Any longer and she would be sunk. She would lose and Randy would win.
And Cordelia Zelmanova was NOT going to let Randy the Tool win.
The bell rang signaling the end of fifth. More than one glance was cast her way, but Cordelia ignored them. She had decided: she would take this hit square on the chin, but in the end come out the victor.
She had found her fire again.
This time she headed straight for the halls. No more slinking outside. She didn’t know what she was going to do yet, but she knew she’d figure it out.
Only, it had to be her, didn’t it? If she had the football team roll Randy after school it would be hanging over her head (and who knew what else) for the rest of the year.
No, it had to be her.
Staci sidled up next to her matching Cordelia’s stride. “Where the heck have you been? I sent you a text” she whispered.
Cordelia held up her phone so Staci could see the outer LCD readout: 47 unread messages.
“This is getting out of hand,” Staci continued. “Blomquist wanted to have a debate about Randy’s kinky… thing… in ethics. Can you believe that?”
Cordelia’s step faltered and Staci continued a step or two beyond her before realizing she had passed her friend up.
“What…?” Staci started, and then followed Cordelia’s gaze.
There, standing at the doorway to Mr. Wilson’s class, was Randy the Tool.
Mr. Wilson stood directly in the path of the wheelchair that Randy had in front of him. Cordelia could see her doppleganger’s limp dark hair, arrayed somewhat frazzled by now, hanging down over the rear of the wheelchair seat. The doll had slumped to the side slightly.
“Oh… my… gawd.” Staci muttered.
“… is not a student it doesn’t belong in my classroom,” Cordelia’s ears caught onto Mr. Wilson’s nasal voice.
“But Mister Wilson…” Randy protested as the ringing bell warned class was about to start.
“You can leave it outside the door, if you like, but it is not coming in my class, Mister Bellfore,” Mr. Wilson looked beyond Randy and locked eyes with Cordelia as the crowds of students fanned into their classes.
“I’m sure,” Mr. Wilson continued to hold Cordelia’s gaze as he spoke, “it will be here when you get back.”
“But Mister Wilson, Principal Donaldson said…” Randy protested.
Mr. Wilson held Cordelia’s gaze a moment longer before regarding Randy again.
“Principal Donaldson says many things, Bellfore. But not right now, and not in my class. Which is starting right about…”
The second bell rang.
“…now.” Mr Wilson finished.
Head hung low, Randy pushed his Cordelia doll over to one side of the doorway and entered the classroom. Mr. Wilson cast one more significant glance at Cordelia before pulling the door closed behind him leaving Staci & Cordelia in a now-deserted hallway.
“Ohmygod. Did Wilson just…?” Staci whispered.
Cordelia turned swiftly to her friend. Staci started at the movement.
“Go to class.” Cordelia told her.
“What? Why? It’s right…” Staci began to protest.
“Because whatever happens, I need you to not be involved,” Cordelia whispered back. “Plausible deniability. Now go.”
“But… what are you going to do?” Staci asked, eyes wide.
“I don’t know yet,” Cordelia told her.
Staci ran around the corner to her class leaving Cordelia alone in the hall. Cordelia figured she had maybe forty minutes left before class was over.
Forty minutes to set this thing right.
She slipped off her heels and shoved them into her backpack even as she crept forward quietly on bare feet. She had to be quick, but she also had to be quiet. Hurrying as quickly as she dared she ran to the wall and slid herself along it, ducking under windows inset in the classroom doors. The last thing she needed was for someone to see movement flick by one of them and get curious enough to look out.
Three doors left.
She ducked under the window to Mr. Wilson’s class, resisting the urge to peek inside. Instead from her squatting position she grasped the handles of the doll’s wheelchair and pushed until she thought she was safe to straighten up.
Cordelia’s mind spun.
She had it.
But now where to take it?
She needed somewhere close by, and deserted. Her spy routine had cost her another five minutes. Thirty five left. Frantically her eyes searched the hallway while her ears strained to catch the approach of any hall monitors that might be walking around.
She shoved the wheelchair hastily towards the Art Class door. Funding had been cut for the school’s art class two years prior and now the room was rarely used. It was her best shot.
She backed herself and the wheelchair up to press against the wall and slid her face along the door just enough to peek into the classroom window.
Her breath caught in her throat. If the door was locked…
She grabbed the handle and pulled downward.
The doorhandle turned easily and the heavy door edged open a crack.
Suppressing a squeal of joy Cordelia pushed the art room door and held it open with her foot while she hauled herself and wheelchair into the dimly lit room.
With a hiss the art room door sank shut behind her.
Cordelia could still scarcely believe the thing as she stood beholding it. The doll was an incredible reproduction of her, right down to the faint scar they shared along the chin.
How long had Randy had it? She asked herself the question before she realized she had it. Had he had it all summer? Had he been doing… things… to it for that long? Imagining her while he did?
The potential answers were enough to push her over the edge.
She scooped up a pair of long silver scissors, the kind with painted black handles that seemed to be standard issue for every school she had ever been in, and drove them into the left eye of the doll. There was a soft chinking sound as the blades reflected off a blue glass eye and sank into the soft silicone gel that composed the majority of the doll’s body. Cordelia had stabbed with such force and at such an angle the scissors perforated down through the doll’s lower jaw. Rather than pulling them up and out Cordelia yanked down, ripping a chasm through the front of the doll’s face.
She followed this up with a series of quick stabs to the thing’s chest, but it wasn’t good enough; she wasn’t yet satisfied with the damage.
Cordelia next took to the doll’s fingers, first trying to cut them off completely and then, when the scissors encountered the resistance of the doll’s pvc skeleton she opted for sliding the scissors into the fingers like she were trimming wrapping paper, flaying the doll’s digits open.
This worked so well that she lifted up the doll’s dress and did the same to it’s thighs and calves, dragging the scissors down in a white-knuckled grip. She then switched to holding the scissors as intended and snipping randomly at the dress and skin.
Finally she opened the scissors and held one half of them like a knife, slashing at the doll’s face in broad ‘x’ strokes like she was swordfighting.
Panting she tossed the scissors aside and stepped back to regard her handiwork.
The doll’s face looked as though it had been shoved into a garbage disposal; the once recognizable visage resembling chewed orange jello. It’s arms and legs had slits that looked like gills covering them. The dress, HER dress, was in now in tatters.
And she still had fifteen minutes left.
Exhilaration coursed through Cordelia, but it was muted. There was still something missing… some final master stroke…
She looked quickly around the room. Her eyes fell on a jar of red paint, stacked among various other shades. She scrambled for it and grabbed a paintbrush from the nearby bin. The bristles of the brush were dry from unwashing, but it would serve her purpose well enough. She wrenched the lid free of the paint jar and dipped her brush in. Across the torn bust of the doll she swiped letter after letter until she had written ‘WHORE’ in bright wet characters.
There, that was it.
She grabbed the wheelchair and pulled it over near the artroom door, eyeing the hallway as best she could through the small rectangular window. The coast still looked clear. Cordelia pressed the doorhandle down with her elbow and slipped back into the hallway, modified doppleganger in tow.
The hallway remained empty and silent as Cordelia wheeled Randy’s doll back to where he had left it. A glance at the clock on the wall told her she had seven minutes left to be anywhere but here.
But where to go?
She chose the nurse’s office, concocting her story as she went. By the time she arrived she was fairly well in tears.
“Cramps,” she told the school nurse, and unmarried woman named Jenkins. “I went to the bathroom they hurt so bad. Do you have anything?”
“Oh honey just lie down here,” Miss Jenkins indicated a cot. “I’ll get you something to take the edge off.”
“Thank you Miss Jenkins,” Cordelia said.
She was still on the cot when the bell signaled the end of class. Not soon after that the louspeaker announced that Cordelia Zelmanova was to report to the principal’s office immediately.
“I’m feeling better,” Cordelia promised Miss Jenkins, “the pills had made me feel well enough to go to see what Principal Donaldson needs. Probably a student leaders meeting or something.”
“We all get it bad sometimes, honey,” Miss Jenkins told her as she left the nurse’s station.
Cordelia nodded. Today was definately one of those times.
Principal Donaldson waved her into his office with a flapping of his hand. Cordelia thought he had to have been pushing at least 350 now. The summer had not been kind.
“Sit down, Miss Zelmanova,” Donaldson instructed, collapsing behind his desk into a protesting leather chair.
Cordelia took the left of the two low chairs which sat facing the principal’s desk, smoothing her dress across her knees as she did. Composure was key here.
Donaldson regarded her briefly before clearing his throat and launching into it. “I understand you were at the nurse’s station just now,” His voice was deep and not altogether unpleasant.
“Yes sir,” Cordelia said. “My menstural cycle just started. Lot’s of cramping. It’s very painful.”
Cordelia didn’t see how he could, but she remained quiet.
“Miss Zelmanova, are you aware that a fellow student, Randy Bellfore, had a very expensive handicap aid with him today? One that some have intimated to me potentially bore a passing resemblance to you?” Donaldson’s chair springs squelched as he adjusted his bulk.
Keep it together, Cordie. “I think one of my friends mentioned he had something with him.”
“Did you happen to see it yourself at any time?”
“Oh no sir,” Cordelia answered. “So far I haven’t had any classes with Randy today. And we don’t,” she lowered the tone of her voice just a bit, as though she were intimating a secret, “we don’t really have the same friends.”
Principal Donaldson nodded. “Yes, I’ve heard that. Miss Zelmanova…”
“Call me Cordelia, please,” she interrupted him and flashed him a smile.
“…Cordelia,” he paused before continuing, as though he were still getting used to the taste of her name in his mouth, “While Mister Bellfore was in sixth period today someone… damaged his property.”
“Oh no!” Cordelia tried to sound as concerned as she could. “Who?”
Donaldson frowned at her and crossed his arms across his massive chest.
He knew. Cordelia could see it in his eyes. The question was, could he prove it?
After a few moments the big man sighed.
And she knew: he couldn’t.
“We don’t know. We were hoping you might,” he told her, his eyes flicking rapidly across her face, watching to see how she reacted to this statement.
Cordelia held her expression of shock. “Me? How would I know?”
“Did you see anyone in the hallway when you left the restroom and went to the nurse’s station?”
“See anyone?” Pause. Look up and to the right. Squint your left eye. Aaaaand… respond. “No sir. No one. Though I was bent over pretty good. Because of the…”
“Cramps, yes,” Donaldson finished her sentence for her, absently waving a hand as though he knew this already. He continued to regard her. “Cordelia, here at Allswood High we take damage to student property seriously. Especially when in involves damage regarding a handicapped individual.”
She struggled to maintain her composure. He was goading her, and she knew it.
“Oh yes sir,” Cordelia agreed.
Principal Donaldson frowned. “I’m concerned that there may be a criminal investigation, if we can’t find a way to handle this in-house.”
There it was. His trump card.
Cordelia’s mind raced. What would a criminal investigation mean? Had she left fingerprints? Surely she had when she had steered the wheelchair to and from the art room. Could they pull fingerprints from wheelchair handles? Cordelia didn’t know.
But what had Donaldson said? ‘If we can’t find a way to handle this in-house.’ And that was what he was wanting, wasn’t it? Surely he wouldn’t want newscasters reporting that a the son of the superintendent was carting around a sex doll under his watch, would he? She gambled.
“That WOULD be bad,” Cordelia nodded in agreement, and fell silent. His next words would tell her if she had forced his hand.
Principal Donaldson re-crossed his arms.
“Yes,” he said finally, “that would be bad.”
She had made it.
“Thank you for coming in, Miss Zelmanova. I hope you feel better. Let Jane at the front desk know if you need to call your parents to come and pick you up.” Donaldson used his desk to hoist himself to his feet. Cordelia stood as well.
“Thank you sir,” she said. As she paused the final bell of the day rang, signaling the end of the schoolday. Cordelia smiled. “I’m feeling better already.”
Find this and other weird tales in “A Thousand Creeping Things” – A STRANGITIES collection available in paperback, Amazon Kindle, and ePub.