Dead Body Girl
Sandra, you are so noble. Guys, the Dead Body Girl is gonna be the bait.
My brain slowly starts working. I'm frozen in the doorway. I'm supposed to be here – Mrs. Andersen told me to come here. The dead body is NOT supposed to be here.
I try really hard to see his chest move. No movement. His arms and legs are in an odd position. Like someone dumped a dead body on the floor.
I should tell Mrs. Andersen! I back out of the room, slam the door shut, and run. I dash past Belle practicing her lines with the Beast, techies repainting a backdrop, and I dodge through some teacups and silverware doing their homework. Someone yells at me, "Watch it, Screech."
Wait! Was that just a prop in the storage room?
I stop running and catch my breath. It was just a dummy! From a previous play. Of course. It had to be a dummy. I calm down and wait until my breathing is normal. It had to be a dummy.
I help Mrs. Andersen for the rest of rehearsal, then I quit being a helper.
I stop doing my homework and try to take the position of the dead body. I can't. I relax as much as I can, and that helps. But I think you have to be dead to be in that position.
I go downstairs. My parents are sitting on the couch, reading their books. "Mother, Father, what should you do if you see a dead body?"
My father's eyes light up and he sets down his book. "A very interesting question, Andrea. I'll go first. If it's in a museum, for example a mummy, you should study it. Alice?"
It's my mother's turn. "If it's in a morgue, you shouldn't touch it unless you are wearing gloves. I have read that there is a serious risk of infection from bodies that have been dead too long."
Father: "If the dead body is at a funeral, different cultures have different traditions. In some cultures, they kiss the dead body."
Mother: "In our country now, we usually just pay respects to the dead body."
My chest feels empty. I say, quietly, "Never mind," and start walking back upstairs.
Father: "I once read an article about funeral directors preparing the dead body for viewing. It's really quite an art."
Mother: "If you see a dead body on TV, you should change channels. There is too much violence on TV already."
And then I'm upstairs and I can't hear any more.
I'm sitting by myself on the school bus, replaying yesterday in my mind. I opened the door and saw the body. I probably shrieked. I don't know how long I was in shock. I remember every detail of that scene – it's like a video, except he wasn't moving.
Mr. Zane is our ninth-grade math teacher. He's nice. "It's important to see the structure of numbers. That's often your first hint for solving the problem. For example, what do you think when you see the number 25? Andrea?"
I look at it. "Two is the number of moons of Mars. Five is the number of fingers on a dead hand."
He looks startled. Doesn't he know moons of Mars? I should have used ears or eyes. Stupid.
I never can guess what people will know. Sometimes they don't know facts that seem obvious. Other times they know things I can't see at all. Mr. Zane would know what to do if he found a dead body.
We're learning about the environment in science. I go up to my teacher after class. "Mr. McBride, why doesn't Greenvale have an Ecology Club?"
"I don't know if there's any interest. But that's a good idea, Andrea, Greenvale should have an Ecology Club."
If I show Mr. McBride that there's interest in an Ecology Club, maybe he'll start one.
At dinner, I tell my parents that our high school might start an Ecology Club.
Father: "What a wonderful idea."
Mother: "And a natural idea too, Samuel. Who should care more about the environment than the children? They will have to live in this world long after we are dead."
Father: "If your mother and I can do anything to support your club, please let us know. Right, Alice?"
Mother: "Of course."
Me: "How do I know if there's any interest in an Ecology club?"
Mother goes first. "You can take a poll of your fellow students. However, polls tend to be biased towards socially-favorable answers, such as expressing an interest in ecology."
Father: "Behavioral measures are always preferable. You could start a club and see how many students join."
Mother: "However, that would tend to underestimate interest. Many students might be interested but for one reason or another be unable to join."
I interrupt. "Which of those is the easiest?"
Mother: "The poll. Ask people if they are interested in an Ecology Club. Try to take an unbiased sample from your population."
I can't just go up to people and ask them questions. Doesn't she know I'm shy?
I'm reading the notices on the bulletin board next to Principal Yancy's office.
He's stalking me! Except he's just a picture. I stop screaming. He isn't stalking anyone.
He's alive in the picture. The poster says Missing Person. Wayne Jenkins. It says he is a 10th grader. That should be past tense. I start looking in my backpack for a pen.
People are standing around me in a circle and watching. I find a pen and start changing the poster. Principal Yancy comes out of his office and asks me what I'm doing, in a very firm voice. "I'm changing this to past tense. Because he's dead." Do I need to explain that? "It's considered proper to use past tense for describing dead people."
Principal Yancy arches one eyebrow. "And what makes you think he's dead?"
"I saw his dead body in the Auditorium Storage Room."
Principle Yancy starts running in that direction. The kids who were watching us all run to follow him. I follow too, in the back.
We get to the door of the storage room. Principal Yancy fumbles with his keys while everyone watches. I'm pretty sure he's not supposed to be letting high school students follow him and see a dead body. He hasn't thought this through very carefully.
He finally opens the door and bursts into the room. The other students rush in behind him. They all run past where the dead body is.
I look in. There's no dead body on the floor where I saw it. Everyone is searching the room for a dead body. The search isn't very organized – everyone looks everywhere. I don't understand why someone would look for a dead body in a small drawer.
Eventually the principal realizes there is no dead body in here. "Boys and girls. What are you doing here? Return to your classes right now."
We start to go back to our classes. I feel a large hand on my shoulder. Principal Yancy says, "Not you. Come with me." He sounds angry. I'm scared. I follow him back to his office; he's walking so fast I have to run sometimes to catch up.
We walk into his office and he points to the chair facing his desk. "Sit." We sit down.
"I don't appreciate you lying to me. Do you know the story of the boy who cried wolf?"
"Yes." It's a very well-known story.
"What's your name?"
"Andrea, do you want people to trust you to tell the truth?"
I shrug my shoulders. I can't imagine when that would be important.
"You can't make up stories and then expect people to believe you when you do tell the truth."
"Yes, sir." But in the story, they believed the boy the first time.
"It's okay to tell small lies that don't hurt anyone."
"It is?" I'm screeching. No one ever told me that. I thought lying was wrong.
"Everyone does it."
"I never did that."
"Andrea, do you remember when your parents told you there was a Santa Claus?"
"They never told me that. He's a fictional character." I thought everyone knew that.
"The point I'm trying to make is this. It's okay to tell small lies. But you can't lie about something like this."
"Yes, sir." Principal Yancy is telling me it's okay to lie? Is he allowed to do that?
"I think you can go back to class now. Let me be very clear, Andrea – I don't want anything like this ever happening again."
"I promise." It won't – I NEVER again want Principal Yancy yelling at me and criticizing me.
"Andrea Wellington please report to the principal's office." That's on the loudspeaker in our classroom. And every classroom. I'm embarrassed.
Everyone in my class is looking at me, making me even more embarrassed. When I stand up and start to leave, Miss Banks says, "Maybe you should take your things with you, Andrea."
Was I supposed to know that? I've never been called to the principal's office. I pack up my things with everyone still watching me, hoist my backpack onto my shoulders, and leave.
Samantha is sitting in the hallway as I pass by. She tells me, "You're in trouble, Screech. They're going to kick all the freaks out of this school."
The principal's secretary walks me over to the principal's office and opens the door. The principal isn't there – instead, a policeman is sitting in the principal's chair. I sit across from him in the same chair I was in just an hour before. There's a large desk between us. "Hi Andrea. I'm Detective Jacobs."
His nametag says Jacobs. He's young for a policeman and he doesn't have a gun. He gives me a nice, friendly smile. That helps me be not as nervous.
Detective Jacobs: "According to Mr. Yancy, you reported seeing Wayne Jenkins in the Auditorium Storage Room."
He stands up and sits on the side of the desk. He smiles at me. "Tell me what you remember."
"I was the helper for Mrs. Anderson in the play. She sent me to the Auditorium Storage Room to look for a top hat. The Beast somehow lost his. We keep the props and equipment from previous plays in there."
He nods and smiles. "Yes, go on."
I'm babbling, he doesn't care about props. "When I got there, I opened the door like nothing was going to happen."
Detective Jacobs: "Keep going."
"Then I was staring at a dead body." I can still see the empty look on his face.
Detective Jacobs: "I see. How did you feel?"
Detective Jacobs: "I imagine. Now, are you sure he was dead?"
"Yes." I'm sure.
Detective Jacobs: "How did you know that?"
"The arms and legs were in strange positions. Like this." I get out of my chair, lie on the floor, and show him as well as I can. "It wasn't exactly like this. But close. A real dead person could show you better." That's stupid. I stand up and go back to my chair. "And he wasn't breathing."
Detective Jacobs nods. "Was there any blood?"
Detective Jacobs: "Was there any sign of violence?"
"Doesn't there have to be violence for a person to be dead?"
He smiles at me. "Were there any other signs of violence?"
Detective Jacobs: "But you were sure he was dead."
Detective Jacobs: "Were there any signs of decay?"
Detective Jacobs: "Was he warm?"
I imagine touching his body. I shriek with fright. "I didn't touch him!" Now I'm breathing really fast.
Detective Jacobs: "You just looked at him."
"Yes." I'm trying not to hyperventilate. I take slower breaths.
Detective Jacobs: "Did he move?"
"No." Dead people don't move. He should know that.
Detective Jacobs: "Then what happened?"
"I looked at him more." Every hair was perfect. He couldn't have been a dummy. Why did I convince myself he was a dummy?
I get his friendly smile again. "What happened when you were done looking at him?"
"I ran to tell Mrs. Andersen."
Detective Jacobs: "And what did Mrs. Andersen do?"
"I changed my mind and didn't tell her."
He frowns quickly, then goes back to smiling. "Why? Why did you change your mind, Andrea?"
"I decided the dead body was just a prop. From a previous play. You know, a dummy."
Detective Jacobs looks at me like he doesn't believe me. "I see. Even though you were sure you had just seen a dead body, you decided it wasn't a dead body."
"Yes. I'm sorry."
Detective Jacobs: "And then you changed your mind again later on and decided it was a dead body?"
I think about that. "No, sir. I always knew it was a dead body."
Detective Jacobs: "But you didn't tell anyone until today."
"It was too late to tell anyone." Is this one of those things I'm supposed to explain? No, he was a kid once. And I got in trouble for telling people today.
Rachel stops me in the hallway between classes. Rachel teases me more than anyone. I try to walk around her, but her friends won't let me get past. "You are so weird, Screech. Telling people you saw a dead body. You shouldn't be allowed to go to this school." She looks at me more. "When we aren't calling you Screech, we're going to call you the Dead Body Girl."
Then her friends let me past and they all call me Dead Body Girl and laugh. I should have known better than to tell anyone. She's right, I'm weird.
Bradley sits down next to me on the bus ride home. No one ever does that, I always ride the bus alone. He's a 10th grader. He's not ugly or gross, and he's never been mean to me, so worse people could be sitting next to me. He still makes me nervous.
Bradley: "Did you really see a dead body?"
He's actually talking to me. I try to talk back. "Yes."
Bradley: "That is so cool."
He thinks. "Okay, maybe it wasn't cool for you. Was it scary?"
Bradley: "I'm sorry you had to see a dead body."
"Thank you." He's nice.
Bradley: "And you got called on the PA. I heard that."
"Yes, a detective wanted to talk to me."
Bradley: "Cool! He was grilling you about the body."
Bradley: "I'd like to be grilled by a detective some day."
He stops talking and we ride for a little while. Then he says, "Um, if you want, I can help you catch the killer."
"What?" I'm screeching. Don't screech, Andrea.
Bradley: "When you find a dead body, you're supposed to try to catch the killer. I can help. I'm kind of smart. Not as smart as you, I know you get 100's on almost every test. But I'm strong and brave."
He doesn't look strong. Is there a way I'm supposed to know if he's brave? "Why would I try to catch the killer?"
Bradley: "Don't you want to prove you weren't the one who killed him?"
"I'm a ninth grade girl. No one thinks I killed him. No one even believes I saw him."
Bradley: "Oh, they'll believe you on that. They can suction the floor, pick up dead skin tissue, then do a DNA analysis."
That makes me anxious. I like it that people don't believe me, because then they don't pay attention to me. "Then everyone will think I killed him?"
Bradley: "I know you didn't."
It feels good to have him on my side. "Do you know how to tell if there's any interest in an Ecology Club?"
Bradley: "An Ecology Club. That would be so cool."
Bradley: "Put up posters around school. On the poster, tell people to email you if they're interested. Do you want help?"
"Yes." I definitely need help with that.
Detective Malich: "Get anything interesting from the girl?"
Detective Jacobs. "She was strange, and things didn't add up right. I'm guessing she was making up a story to get attention. But something's bothering me about that."
Detective Malich: "Or she really saw a dead body, decided not to tell anyone, then decided to out herself with the whole school watching. Yeah right. And what happened to the dead body? He had to get up during the night to take a piss?"
Detective Jacobs: "I guess you're right. Should I still order a lab test of the floor for DNA samples?"
Detective Malich: "And what did I tell you is the first rule of being a detective?"
Detective Jacobs: "Cover my ass. I'll order the test. If the chief doesn't want to pay for it, that's his problem."
Bradley emails me a possible poster. It's really good, but there are errors. I fix some grammar and email it back to him. He changes his mind on a few things, then I remember something we forgot to say. Finally we agree on a poster.