“Alright kids, it is time to go around and pass out all of your valentines to each other. If everybody behaves well, we will be passing out candy from the teachers as soon as you are all finished.”
Mrs. Marshall was speaking to all the 5th-grade classes of Tumbleweed Primary School in Tucumcari, Texas. We were gathered in the cafeteria for our Valentine’s Day celebration, and all of us kids were bubbling over with anticipation for all the candy and cards with our favorite superheroes or cartoon characters depicted.
“Everyone please be careful while making your way to drop off your candy and cards into each other’s baskets. When you have finished handing out all of your cards please make your way back to your own seat and wait patiently so we can proceed.”
As she finished, she walked over to take a seat with the rest of the teachers, and we were off to the races. The cafeteria exploded with a loud chattering as we all ran over to find our groups of friends and deliver our valentines side by side, while also showing off the ones that we had chosen before handing them out.
I found my best friends Davis and Brandon and let them feast their eyes on my incredible valentines featuring my favorite web-slinging superhero. They were impressed but insisted they had me bested with their baseball and football valentine cards respectively. Davis extended one out to me and told me about it.
“This pitcher was busted for steroids, so that makes it like 100 times cooler. Happy Valentine’s Day Jimmy!”
I laughed and accepted the card. We all exchanged the rest of the cards and candy that we had for each other and turned our attention to the rest of the cafeteria.
“So many cards to hand out, I’m assuming you brought one for Suzy Collins, Jimmy?” Brandon asked.
My face turned red as I closed the top of my bag of cards and looked towards the ground.
“I mean, yeah probably… I got one for a lot of people. It’s no big deal.”
Davis busted out laughing and pointed at the bag that I was clearly trying to shield them from looking in.
“Right, and I am sure that you didn’t pick that big goofy heart-shaped one out just for her.”
I pushed his shoulder playfully and shot back at him.
“Lay off it already, we gotta go get these things handed out. I will meet back up with you guys at the table.”
We waved to each other and went our separate ways for a moment. I had two to hand out to the new kids that I hadn’t really gotten to know very well yet. Their names were Mike and Aaron. They seemed cool enough, but we were all in different classes and only saw each other at recess from time to time.
After I dropped theirs off, I walked around delivering each card and candy to the rest of the kids that I had prepared one for. All except for one that I had been working up the courage to go and drop for the entire time. The big heart-shaped card that I had gotten for Suzy Collins along with the best chocolate bar that I had gotten for anybody. A real, full-sized candy bar. Not to mention the note that I had inscribed across the front of the card, “Do you like me? Y or N” I was a modern-day Shakespeare, I know.
There was only one problem. I waited too long to make the discreet drop and now people were starting to make their way back to their seats. Suzy was one of them, along with her whole group of friends who sat alongside her at the table. I decided to just push through my bashfulness and hand it to her anyway. I walked up and made very little eye contact while kind of kicking my feet around at something imaginary on the ground.
“Hey um, Hi Suzy. I uh, I just wanted to… To give you this.”
I held it out and was met with a chorus of gasps and laughter from her friends. She took the card from me to look at it and after reading the front threw it back towards me on the table with a disgusted look on her face.
“Ew, really? You think that I would like you? Go away.”
Rejection, but what would Valentine’s day be without it? I grabbed it off the table while apologizing and incredibly red in the face now. When I turned toward my table, I saw Davis and Brandon making kissy faces and joking around before breaking out in a quick chorus of “Jimmy and Suzy, sitting in a tree.”
The janitor was putting a new bag into the trash can at the end of the table, so I handed him the card and candy to throw into the trash and finished my walk of shame before sitting by my basket. As I did Brandon was seated across from me and spun around with his back facing me. He reached around to either side of his back caressing it and making kissing noises, looking surprisingly like he was really making out with someone.
“Shut up guys, she totally shot me down. Just knock it off please.”
They both stopped and obviously did not realize what had happened. Davis patted me on the back from his seat beside me.
“Sorry dude, that’s rough. We didn’t know or we wouldn’t have been messing with you so much.”
I shrugged it off and responded. “It’s cool, I’m really not worried about it. Her loss anyways. Let’s see what kind of a haul we got this year! I hope I got some good candy.”
I did my best to hide the hurt feelings and embarrassment that were trying to fight their way to the surface. We all tore into our baskets and found all kinds of chocolates and candy tied to cards from our classmates with cheesy and generic messages. “I choose you,” “Be Mine,” “I Luv U.” That is until I came across one that was completely different from the others. It was written across a card that was shaped like a heart; in fact, it was the same exact type of card that I had gotten for Suzy Collins. The message that was written on it caused me to turn pale and feel sick to my stomach. Like it was immediately tied into a thousand knots.
It read, “Leave pictures of yourself in the bathroom closet by the end of the week or I will kill your dog.”
I looked around the cafeteria trying to see anyone who might have dropped this as a prank. The only person I saw looking in my direction was a teacher named Mr. Roberts. I couldn’t read the expression that was on his face, but he looked away shortly after I made eye contact with him.
I looked towards Davis and Brandon as a last hope to find who had dropped it. I held it up and spoke in a wavering voice.
“This is really not funny guys. I don’t know if it is some kind of joke or something.”
Brandon snatched it out of my hands from across the table. He looked as shocked as I felt and handed it to Davis. As Davis read the ominous note Brandon asked me a question in a hushed tone.
“Dude, who gave you that? You need to go show it to Mrs. Marshall right now! That is seriously so messed up.”
After he finished reading, Davis chimed in on it as well.
“Yeah man, Brandon’s right. I don’t think it is someone messing with you, and if they are, they could get in some serious trouble for playing like that.”
Davis handed it back to me and just as I was considering taking them up on their suggestion, Mrs. Marshall began to speak out to the whole cafeteria from the front of the tables.
“OK everyone, y’all did very well. I see that the last of you are now seating yourselves. The rest of the faculty and I will now make our rounds and give you the candy and cards that we have gotten for all of you. Each of us teachers has gotten some things, especially for our own classes. Enjoy your treats and happy Valentine’s Day children!”
We were in Mrs. Marshall’s class so I decided that I would show her when she came around. I was so nervous. I did not know what I was going to do. We have had our golden retriever named Lady for years, we got her when she was just a little puppy. Mrs. Marshall made her way down my side of the table, as soon as she got to me, I told her I needed to show her something that I found in my basket. She could tell how terrified I was and took the card from me quickly and read over it. As she did, she covered her mouth with her hand and almost dropped her bag of cards and candy.
“Davis, please take these and pass them out to the rest of the class. Everyone has one with their name on it, thank you, sweetie. Jimmy, come with me right away. We need to go to Principal Rosharon and show him what you have.”
Davis grabbed the bag and continued down the table as I stood up and followed Mrs. Marshall. We walked out of the cafeteria together. I could not help but notice Mr. Roberts glancing over and giving what I thought was a strange look to me and Mrs. Marshall while passing candy out to his class. It was almost as if he was worried or something.
Mrs. Marshall knocked on the principal’s door and walked in while gesturing for me to take a seat. She walked over to his desk and laid the card in front of him. He picked his reading glasses up and after he took in the message from the card, he removed his glasses with a very serious and stern look on his face. He tapped the card with the tip of his glasses.
“What is the meaning of this Julia?”
She looked at me nervously and proceeded to explain the situation to the principal.
“Jimmy here received this Valentine’s Day card from somebody while we were having our little celebration in the cafeteria. As you can see it is a very disturbing message that has been written on the card and there is no indication of who it is from.”
He sat the card down as well as his glasses and rubbed his temples. After taking a moment to weigh the information he looked at me and then back to Mrs. Marshall.
“Well, this is a very serious threat. Our administration has a zero-tolerance policy for this type of threatening language. As soon as we find the child who is responsible for this they will be expelled, and it will go on their permanent record.”
Mrs. Marshall did not seem very reassured by this. She came over and patted me on the back before responding.
“Yes, I believe that’s all we can do. Thank you very much, Principal Rosharon. I’m going to call Jimmy’s mother and let her know that she can come and pick him up for the day. I’ll let her know about the situation and if you let me take the card, I can let her see it and then bring it back to you for the investigation.”
He picked the card up and handed it to her nodding solemnly.
“That will do, but please be sure to bring it back. The handwriting on it could be vital to helping us pin down the responsible party.”
We thanked the principal for his help and made our way to the front lobby. We waited there for my mother who was understandably very distraught when she heard the news and saw what was written. After assuring my mother that they would be keeping a very close eye on me when I returned to school, she helped us out the front door and returned to the direction of the principal’s office.
I had trouble sleeping that night. The principal was convinced that it was some kid playing a prank, but I was not so sure about that. The way that Mr. Roberts kept looking over at me had me really disturbed. I wondered if I made the wrong decision. Maybe if I had just put some stupid pictures in the bathroom then whoever sent me that note wouldn’t do anything. What if I made them mad by turning it in?
After tossing and turning for hours, I was finally able to fall asleep. My parents and I had decided that I would return to school the next day. It was better to not let whoever it was think that they were getting into my head and I would surely be under a close watch after the events that had taken place. My mom dropped me off at the front of the school and waited until she saw me walk all the way in before driving off.
As I walked into Mrs. Marshall’s class, I could sense the tension in the room. Word had surely gotten around after I left. What bothered me more than the students all looking at me as I walked in was the fact that Mr. Roberts was talking with Mrs. Marshall over by her desk. We had some cubbies where we put our stuff on the side of the room. I walked over to put my backpack in mine and saw something at the bottom.
It was a picture and a note, I was so stunned by the picture that I could hardly bring myself to read the note. The picture was from my window beside my bedroom. There is a broken spot in my blinds that you can see through. Someone had snapped a picture of me asleep in my bed through it.
The note that was attached to it said, “You should have kept your mouth shut.”
It was after I read this that I felt another picture underneath the first one that I saw. I could not stand anymore. I did not want to look at what the picture contained, but I had to. When I pulled it out from underneath, I instantly threw it at the ground and started screaming and crying. The teachers came running over to me and picked up the pictures and note to see what the problem was.
My dog Lady was in a field, beheaded. Laying in a pool of her own blood. My poor little puppy, I picked her out at the shelter myself and she had always been such a sweet and loving dog. After the teachers saw what was in the picture and read the note, they picked them up and led me into the hallway. Mr. Roberts spoke to Mrs. Marshall.
“I was afraid of this; it is like I was telling you. Time is of the essence. I will bring him to the principal’s office, and we will contact the authorities.”
I shouted at him and backed away, still crying and overcome with grief.
“NO! I will not go with him anywhere. I have seen the way you have been looking, and now you are here when I get this? You are the one behind this. I won’t go!”
I kept backing away towards the next hallway over as the teachers tried to calm me down and reason with me. That is when I felt someone grab me. I was lifted and carried out of the emergency exit that for some reason did not set off the alarm. Before I knew it, I was tossed into the trunk of a car and had it slammed shut before I could escape.
I was more scared than I had ever been in my life. I tried to remember what we were taught to do in situations like this. The policeman at the school told us that we should take our sock off and try to bust out the taillight so we could be seen by another driver who could notify the authorities.
I ripped the material down and started kicking the taillight area with all my might. I wasn’t having any luck for the longest time until I finally felt it give way. I took my shoe off and grabbed my sock holding it by the top preparing to wave it like a flag.
I was able to wave it for a bit, but it seemed like it was not nearly long enough. The car made a few turns and then pulled up into what felt like a driveway. I heard a garage door open and close and took it as my cue to stop the flag-waving. I put my sock back on and replaced my shoe. I was shaking with fear and had no way to defend myself. I was hoping to find a tool for changing tires or anything like that, but the trunk was completely bare.
The trunk was thrown open and I recognized the man’s face as soon as I saw it. It was the janitor. I was crying and pleading with him, but he grabbed me by the shirt and dragged me out. He pulled me through the door and into the house.
“All you had to do was give me some pictures kid. Doesn’t make no difference though. I’m gonna get plenty of em’ now anyway.”
He threw me onto the couch. The room was dirty and full of trash. There was one corner of the room that had a bunch of familiar things piled on top of a little table. There was a hat that looked just like one I had that went missing in 3rd grade. A huge stack of chewed up bubble gum. A bunch of wrappers from my favorite candy that I ate pretty often at lunchtime. At the top of the piece were two copies of the same pictures that I had found in my cubby. There were also a few distorted pictures of me from the back or the side in the hallway and the cafeteria.
“Yeah, you see my collection, huh? Couldn’t get no good pictures, and I just wanted some good ones. All you had to do was give me some pictures kid, now I’m gonna have to make you look like your doggy over there. That will make a nice souvenir, dontcha think? See I even got this here hat to go right on top. That will look real nice over here.”
I was paralyzed with fear. I could not believe that this mad man had been watching me and thinking about me all of this time. Making freaky little shrines to me in his house. I thought that I would have to make a run for it soon, but to my surprise, I heard sirens approaching in the distance.
A look of fear overtook the sick man’s face and before I knew it the house was lit up with blue and red lights as well as spotlights coming in through the windows. He ran over to the next room and came back with a machete that was covered with blood. My poor dog Lady’s I assumed. He took a position around the corner waiting for them to come in.
The police kicked in the door and struggled with the janitor for a moment. When he started trying to swing the blade at them, they fired two shots directly into his chest. One officer came to grab me and brought me outside where Mrs. Marshall and Mr. Roberts were waiting by the police cruisers. I heard the paramedics saying that the janitor died on the scene, which would likely do wonders for my peace of mind in the years to follow. I looked towards Mr. Roberts apologetically and as if he could read my mind, he drew me in and embraced me tightly while patting me on the back.
“I saw the janitor putting that card into your basket on Valentine’s day. After I heard what the card said, I knew that we had to act quickly or something terrible was going to happen. I’m sorry that I couldn’t have done more to help you sooner.”
I reached forward and held him, crying. Mrs. Marshall walked over and patted me on the back as they both did their best to reassure me. My parents were on the way and would be to the scene soon. I couldn’t help but feeling like after that day, I would never be the same again.