The Kid Who Wasn't There

by James Pavian

It happened the second week of school! I opened my locker, and there he was, grinning. I was frozen, the way you are when something spooks you, and he reached out and pulled the door shut. I tried unlocking and opening the door as quickly as I could, but he was gone. The next time it happened, as soon as he closed it, I tried not unlocking the door, but just pressing my ear against it, listening for some sort of tell-tale sound, some hint of what was going on.

Nothing.

I tried examining the sides, back, top and bottom of the locker, looking for some sort of trap door, or something. I spent several days trying to catch the lockers on either side opened, just to see if there was some sort of clue on their sides. Nothing.

I tried saying "What are you doing in there?" but before I'd said "are," he'd shut the door. I tried saying, "Hey! This is my locker!" I got as far as "This." I tried saying, "Wait a minute!" Same result. Same result with "Please wait!" and "Stop doing this," and even "Hello! My name's--"

He always had the same expression on his face, a sort of goofy grin like a kid playing a joke that shouldn't even be funny, but he makes it funny because he's so convinced that it's funny. And he was always wearing the same thing: a school sweater over a pale-yellow shirt. I started to notice details: the way the shirt was wrinkled. It was different, just a bit, every time. Sometimes a sliver of his white undershirt showed, or the V opening of the shirt was a little off-center to the left--or the right, but usually to the left. Once, he had a drop of ketchup on his chin. I think it was ketchup, anyhow. And sometimes the fingernails on the hand that closed the door needed trimming. They were always trimmed the next time I saw him.

I didn't see him every day, but once or twice I saw him twice on the same day. I thought about asking to have my locker changed, but they would ask me why, and what was I supposed to tell them: that it was haunted? I asked a friend of mine to watch while I opened the locker, but of course, he wasn't there. My friend went along with my requests for a whole week, and he wasn't there. So he eventually said he was sorry, but he had a life, too, and he stopped watching. So of course, my whatever-he-is showed up that same afternoon.

He's playing me. He has to be playing me. But why? If I could get my hands on him, I'd strangle him. No, I wouldn't. I'd kiss him. He's so damn cute. I wondered why I didn't dream about him. One night, I deliberately tried to picture him while I … you know, what you do in your bed all alone at night in the dark if you're a boy. But it didn't--or actually, it worked too well: I came almost immediately. He wasn't there, the next day.

Or the day after.

I suddenly realized, about a week later, that hadn't seen him. And I missed him. And I wanted him. I wanted him with me in my bedroom; I wanted him to be in at least one of my classes; I even wanted him to show up long enough for me to tell him I'd fallen in love with him, or something, before he disappeared. I started longing for him, clinging to the image of his last appearance, dreaming about touching his hand, or his sweater, or even kissing him. I'm what-do-you-call-it? Obsessed. That means I'm going crazy, right?

Then, today, I saw him again! Not in my locker, but with a group of kids getting a tour of the school. Same sweater, same pale-yellow shirt. I just stood there with my mouth hanging open and my notebook sliding out of my hand onto the floor, and he saw me, and his face lit up with that same goofy smile, and my heart felt like it was turning cartwheels, somehow.


He told me later that he felt the same way.

Voting

This story is part of the 2017/2018 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Locker". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 3 to 24 February 2018 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.

The challenge was to write a story inspired by this picture:

2017 Inspired by a Picture Challenge - Locker

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