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The Dawkins Murders is a four-part opus that I wrote in high school in the late 1980s!

"Open House" is Chapter Four.

Open House

“I hate this time of year,” Anita Millner remarked to no one in particular. Her voice seemed loud in the large classroom. She glanced out the wide, high double windows that were pushed outward to allow the cool October breezes to tickle the papers on her desk. Darkness was fast approaching; the first cars that had pulled up and parked in the large lot below had their headlights on. Tiny children were dragging their weary parents up the steps to the imposing four-story school building. A shriveled auburn maple leaf had blown into the room, it scratched a relentless autumn melody as the wind made it dance across the scuffed wooden floor.

It was Open House at Dirkwood Elementary School, which constituted the South Wing of the Webster H. Adams Municipal School Building. Other ends of the structure housed an adult education center and a middle school; the areas were separated by heavy iron gates and various indoor courtyards, verandas and skylights. The Adams Building was a mixture of the old and the modern; futuristic bubble windows looked out onto high arches that revealed the years gone by in weathered stone. Renovation was constantly under way, areas were being torn down and remodeled as new rooms and features seemed to spring out from nowhere.

Anita let her gray eyes travel around the room; taking in the rows of colorful plastic desks, the low bookshelves overflowing with volumes of Dr. Seuss and Curious George, and the line of tiny empty hooks along the back wall. The room was very open and sunny in the daytime; the walls were painted a cheery white and a large ceiling fan twirled relentlessly overhead. Anita had set up a long table along one wall full of her students’ projects, artwork, and other classroom activities that “utilized the full creative potential” of each child.

Suddenly a face flashed in front of her in her mind; it was the face of her sister, Katie. Many months before (although it seemed like only yesterday), Anita had gone out to the movies with her boyfriend Craig. It had been a stormy, windy night, and as she and Craig had driven down Riverside Drive toward her house all the other homes had been dark. She remembered the clatter of tiny hailstones on the hood of Craig’s Jaguar as they had turned up her driveway, the bright headlights slicing two narrow paths through the darkness.

It was that moment that would haunt her dreams and plague her nightmares for weeks on end.

Two dark figures had darted across the driveway in front of the oncoming car. Anita would never forget the look of anger; anger and blind rage, as she had stared into the deep brown eyes of one of the strangers that would drown the Millner family in a sea of tragedy.

The next few minutes had been a blur, she remembered running through the open front door and following the tiny fresh drops of blood into the kitchen. There they had found Katie slumped against the refrigerator, her eyes glazed over with death. She remembered the police sirens blaring down the street and the paramedics carrying out the bodies of her sister and Paul Kravitz, their next door neighbor who had been found lying in a sticky pool of blood on the den floor.

Somehow, Anita and her family had survived, walking through their lives in a daze. Anita had secured a job teaching second graders at Dirkwood, a job which she enjoyed up to a point. Screaming, dimpled little lunatics are only adorable for so long, she was often telling herself. Now, as the first of those cherub-faced terrors began filing into the classroom, parents in tow, she forced herself to get down to business.

“Hello everyone,” she began nervously, adjusting her glasses and noticing the low turnout. She counted five sets of parents and kids squeezed into the tiny, low desks. One tall, slender red-haired woman had a pained look on her face as she sprawled her long legs into the aisle as gracefully as she could manage. Anita was very disappointed to notice that her favorite student, Jake McKracken, had not yet arrived. His mother, Georgianna, was Executive President of the Dirkwood P.T.A. and accompanied her youngest son to every school function and event.

“Has anyone seen Jake?” she wondered out loud, looking hopefully from student to parent and back to student again. Eleven heads shook from side to side. One particularly obese woman had pulled out a thick pocket romance novel, Island of Lust, and had become thoroughly engrossed in it. Sweat was already beginning to drip off her damp brow.

“Well, I guess I’ll begin then,” Anita continued, flashing her gleaming white teeth at the people seated in front of her. “My name is Anita Millner, and I’d like to welcome you to Dirkwood Elementary. I’m very lucky to be working with such a wonderful and creative group of kids. You should all be very pr—“ Jake had suddenly entered the room with a tall, blond man with a scraggly beard. Jake had a scared look on his normally cheerful pink face. The breeze suddenly made her shiver, and she reached on the back of her chair for a light tan sweater.

She cleared her throat before she went on, wondering silently where Mrs. McKracken could be. “As I was saying, all of you should be very proud of your children. Each one of them is gifted in his her own special way.” She paused and looked back at Jake. Sweat was forming on his moist forehead, and his eyes were darting wildly from side to side. The man next to him grinned reassuringly at Anita and gestured for her to continue.

“Uh, Jake, maybe you’d like to introduce your friend. I don’t think I’ve met him before,” Anita hedged, encouraging him.

“He—he’s my—“ Jake blurted out, his voice quivering.

“I’m his uncle,” the man finished, smiling down at his nephew. “Craig Patman. I’m Georgiana’s little brother. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Anita.”

Anita let out a deep breath. His uncle. No wonder she had never seen him before. “Nice to meet you, too. Now where did I leave off?”

* * *

An hour later, Anita was completing her individual conferences with the parents of each student. Her feet felt like bricks; she took off one of her high heels and massaged her throbbing arches. She stole a glance out the window and noticed that the parking lot was nearly empty. The feeble lights of the lampposts cast eerie shadows on the blacktop.

“Anita? I mean, Ms. Millner? Pleased to meet you.” Craig Patman was standing in front her, both hands on the shoulders of Jake’s faded rugby shirt. “I want to congratulate you on the wonderful job that you’ve done with my nephew. He talks, no, raves about you all the time. Don’t you, bud?” He squeezed Jake affectionately, dislodging a tear from the corner of his nephew’s eye. It trickled slowly down his cheek and into the corner of his mouth.

“God, what’s wrong, honey?” Anita asked, concerned. She bent down to give him a hug, and he ran to her, his tiny arms tightly encircling her thin neck. His breath was coming in quick gasps that sent chills through his tense body.

“Just leave him, okay?” Craig replied forcefully, reaching over his long arms to take him from her. Jake had a tight grip on the sleeve of her sweater, and it took Craig a few moments to get him to release his grasp. “He’s just feeling a little sick. Maybe it was the burgers we had for dinner or something. Right, Jake?” Jake’s uncle rumpled his nephew’s curly black hair and continued. “Listen, I wanted to see that Geography project that Jake’s been telling me about. I think you guys did it back in September. Do you happen to have it with you?”

Anita silently cursed herself. “Oh, shoot. It’s in my car. I’d be happy to go out and get it for you. No problem. Just give me a few minutes.” She walked around to her desk and unlocked the bottom drawer, pulling out her bulky purse. Smiling at Jake as she strolled toward the door, she said: “I’ll try to be as fast as I can. Jake, are you sure you’re okay?”

“He’s fine, just stop your worrying. Really, it’s unnecessary,” Craig answered, glaring at her. Shrugging her shoulders, Anita turned and went out the door.

The white, sterile walls of the hallway had a placating effect on her as she listened to her heels echo in the empty school. Each classroom she passed was locked and dark. Anita turned to her right and carefully descended down the stairway to the first floor. The marble steps were illuminated by dim moonlight shining through a large window on the landing. Without pausing to glance out, she reached the bottom of the stairs and pushed open the heavy oak door, almost bumping into a stocky young black woman who was mopping the main lobby.

“Oh, God. Excuse me – sorry,” Anita exclaimed, startled. She looked into the woman’s dark eyes and smiled warmly at the night janitor, Alma.

Alma grinned back. “Oh, Miss Millner. I thought you’d be gone by now. Everyone else is. I just gotta lock up the wing.”

“I need to run out to my car for something. It’ll just take a second okay? Then we’ll be out of here,” Anita explained as she brushed past Alma, taking care not to trip over her bucket of soapy water. Even the main office is locked up, she realized as she strolled past, chiding herself for not paying attention to the time. She had a hand on the metal door to the parking lot when she stopped in her tracks. Anita had heard something.

“Alma, did you just hear something? It sounded like a scream.”

Alma glanced up, a blank look on her face. “Naw. I didn’t hear a thing. Sorry.”

Anita hurriedly turned and walked quickly out the door, feeling embarrassed. The quiet darkness calmed her racing heartbeat. She caught sight of her car parked under a tall lamppost as she ambled across the cracked blacktop.

There was something in the pocket of her sweater. Puzzled, she reached in and pulled out a crumpled fast food hamburger wrapper. Ignoring her quickening pulse, she unfolded the stained wrapper and immediately realized Jake’s neatly printed letters:

He ki-

“Oh my God,” Anita whispered, horrified. The last letter was blurred, as if written in a hurry. She crumpled the note up into a tight ball and threw it in front of her, the fear beginning to creep into her mind like a wave at night.

It was then that she noticed the dark shape sitting in the front seat of her car.

A scream formed in her throat as she hurtled across the parking lot and around to the front door of her dark blue Ford Mustang. Throwing it open in horror, Anita shrieked as the body of Georgiana McKracken fell out onto the pavement, her puffy white lips frozen in a scream of terror. A note was pinned to her flowered blouse. Grimacing, Anita bent down to read it:

Thought I’d forgotten you?
No such luck, baby.
I WANT YOU, or the kid DIES!
- You Know Who

Gregory Dawkins had found her. The man who had tormented her in nightmare after nightmare was back, and if she didn’t stop him, he would kill an innocent child.

“NO!!” Anita yelled, racing quickly across the parking lot toward the door. She threw it open and charged inside. Alma dropped her mop and rushed to her.

“Oh my God Alma we’ve got to do something! HE’S BACK! We’ve got stop him! Please!” Anita’s eyes were pleading as she grabbed the janitor by the shoulders and shook her.

“What’re you talking about? Who’s back? Calm down, child. Now—“

They both heard it that time. It was a scream more hideous than either of them could ever imagine. It was the cry of a little boy.

“It’s Jake! He’s just a baby! Please, we’ve got to do something!” Anita began running down the hall toward the stairs to the second floor.

“I have a gun downstairs, I’ll go get it!” Alma yelled to her, rushing past Anita and vanishing down the steps to the basement and the boiler room.

Her heart skipped a beat. “You’ve got a gun? Alma, why didn’t you say so? Alma? ALMA? COME BACK! DON’T LEAVE ME!” she called hopelessly down the stairwell.

There was no answer.

Suddenly another scream made her jump. Quickly making up her mind, she charged up the stairs, wincing as her bare feet smacked against the hard marble. Grabbing the railing for support, she hurtled up the final steps and into the second floor hallway. Anita whipped her head left and right, unsure of which direction to go. The slam of a door to the left solved her dilemma. Anita sprinted down the hall toward the sound.

She halted abruptly. Something was lying in the middle of the corridor in front of her. Her heart was pounding in her ears as she reached down to pick it up.

It was a blond wig.

The lights in a classroom ahead of her suddenly flickered on. Trembling, she walked quickly down the hall, afraid of what she might find. Was Jake lying bruised and beaten in some dark broom closet? Or was he already dead?

The oak door to Mrs. Hudson’s kindergarten class was covered with fresh red paint. Anita closed her eyes and swallowed hard. The morbid invitation COME ON IN stared back at her, the words already starting to run together and drip on the green marble below. Opening her eyes, she cautiously pushed open the door and tiptoed into the lit classroom.

The room was silent. Sliding glass doors on the opposite wall led to a small metal balcony that looked out onto a courtyard. The room was cluttered with low round tables and cabinets overflowing with board games and dress-up clothes. A large incubator suddenly switched on on the shelf next to her, making her jump. Several tiny chicken eggs were nestled cozily under the glow of the light.

Anita slowly moved across the room toward the door to the balcony. It was unlocked, and the glass panel made no sound as she slid it open smoothly in its tracks. She stepped out onto the cold wrought-iron balcony and shivered as she glanced up at the deep, black, starry October night sky. Looking at the identical balcony on the opposite side, her heart suddenly leapt into her mouth.

Jake was lying on the edge of the balcony across from her. He was bound and gagged with a dirty piece of cloth, and Anita could see the silent tears that were streaming down his frightened face.

“JAKE!” she screamed loudly, gesturing wildly. She took a quick look down at the two-story drop to the concrete below. “Jake! I’m over here! Are you okay? Please, just nod your head!” He looked across at her. Immediately, the hope showed in his dark brown eyes.

“I’m coming to get you, honey! Just stay there! You’ll be okay!” Anita yelled as she turned around, bumping into Gregory Dawkins.

She felt a flash of sharp pain as the first stab of the knife caught her in the right shoulder. Crying out, she was thrown brutally to the hard floor of the balcony. The knife slipped out of her shoulder and clattered a few feet away. Anita rolled over and yelped in pain as she tried to grab it with her good arm, but Gregory quickly stepped over her and snatched it from her.

“Your time has come,” he whispered to her. An evil smirk flashed across his handsome face, and he winked at her.

“NO!!” Anita screamed, and closed her eyes to wait for the final death blow.

But the only sound she heard was the crack of Alma’s gun, sending Gregory flying off the balcony, arms and legs flailing wildly, to the ground below. Before she blacked out she saw Alma’s concerned face as she stepped out onto the balcony from the room that Anita had exited.

“Are you okay?” Alma was asking over and over. “I hit my head on something down in the basement and was out for a coupla minutes. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Is—is he dead?” Anita asked in a low voice. I mean, really dead?” Pain was shooting up and down her arm.

“Yes, honey. It’s all over. Now you just sit tight while I call the police. You and little Jake are gonna be fine.”

Thank God, Anita thought to herself. She looked up at the deep sea of stars above her and realized that she could dream peacefully once again.

The Dawkins Murders: Open House
November 05, 2020