The Narrows by Ronald Malfi Read Online (FREE)
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Stillwater Runs Deep
“We all rose early, and I think that sleep did much for each and all of us.”
—Bram Stoker, Dracula
The students in Miss Sleet’s sixth-grade class were reading quietly to themselves when one of the girls in the back of the room screamed. Heads whirled in the girl’s direction—it was Cynthia Paterson, sitting stiff as a board in her chair, her head craned back on her neck—and there was the sound of pencils rolling to the floor. Matthew Crawly, whose desk was just two up from Cynthia’s, followed Cynthia’s eyes toward the bank of windows that looked out upon the football field, a bright green grid mapped with white, spray-painted lines. He could see nothing of significance on the field itself or in the parade of champagne-colored trees that lined Schoolhouse Road beyond the field.
Miss Sleet stood sharply from behind her desk. She was a narrow, hardened woman in her sixties whose body—cloaked in garish floral prints with lace cuffs—looked angular and violent. Her hands were like the claws of a rooster.
“What is—” Miss Sleet began…but then the rest of her words were replaced by a guttural groan as her own eyes flitted toward the wall of windows.
Toward the back of the room, a few more students cried out. A good number of the girls had already popped out of their desks and stood like pageant contestants at the back of the classroom, their backs against the file cabinets and the rank of hooks that held their autumn coats. Cynthia Paterson jumped out of her chair as well, her face suddenly pale, her eyes impossibly wide. Soundlessly, she pointed up at the windows.
Matthew looked again, this time at the windows themselves, streaky with dried soap scum and peppered with Halloween decorations made from brown and orange construction paper. Spotty, gray shades made of thick vinyl were rolled into tubes at the tops of the windows, wispy with cobwebs. As he looked, he spotted a furtive movement at the top of the window closest to Miss Sleet’s desk—a twitching, incongruent thing where the shade met the wall. Something small and black hung from the shade. It was no bigger than the sandwiches his mother packed him for lunch, but even from this distance, he could see that it was comprised of coarse brownish-black hair and vibrated with life.
“A bat!” one of the boys shouted. “It’s a bat!”
The furry thing stirred and, even over the shouts and whimpers of the students, Matthew heard it emit a high-pitched, tittering sound. Its wings cranked open, its movements as seemingly uncertain as those of a newborn baby. A tiny triangular head capped with pointed ears bobbed as it sniffed the air—up, down, all around. Then it dropped from the shade and, amid a collective cry of fear from the students as well as old Miss Sleet, it zigzagged across the room. Its papery wings flapped frantically.