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"Physical Education" by Kate Folk
One day in February, the girls of Mrs. Dewitt’s third period P.E. class found a trail of blood on their return to the locker room. The trail originated in a small puddle in the far corner of the showers. It led, in droplets six inches apart, over the oat-colored tiles and the smooth gray floor of the locker area. After winding through two rows of lockers, it stopped under a bench.
Mrs. Dewitt should have gone to the principal, but she didn’t want to embarrass any of her girls. She grabbed a mop and cleaned it herself.
* * *
Mrs. Dewitt didn’t make the girls take showers, though she was supposed to. Only two girls in her third period class--Lindsey Nelson and Kristy Kirkpatrick--made a habit of showering after gym class. Not even they used the showers once the girls of Mrs. Dewitt’s third period P.E. class began finding clumps of hair along with the blood.
The girls’ locker room had two doors. One opened to the main hallway, the other to the gym.
At the beginning of third period, Mrs. Dewitt waited until every girl had exited the locker room. Then she put padlocks on both doors.
No one was allowed to use the bathroom during class. Mrs. Dewitt extended the rule to the boys, so it wouldn’t seem strange.
The blood and hair kept coming, though. Only during third period. Once a week, sometimes twice.
The girls left offerings in the shower room. A paper rose protruding from a shampoo bottle. Washcloths folded into vague animals.
On the days the girls left these gifts, no trail of blood and hair awaited them after class. The girls worried their gifts were being misinterpreted, so they stopped leaving them.
For several days after the last offering, no new traces appeared.
Then, on a Wednesday, a clump of hair in the corner of the shower room.
It was the densest and largest clump yet.
It was the diameter of a softball, tightly packed. They nudged it with the toes of their sneakers, marveled at its heft.
Minnie Hoback poked the clump with a pencil. She teased it apart and found teeth nestled in the hair. Molars and incisors. Human teeth.
* * *
By the second month, the girls were different. During class, they clung together, pale, shivering, and clumsy. The boys rolled their eyes whenever a girl failed to make a basket or intercept a kickball.
The clumps were now as big as basketballs. Mrs. Dewitt spent whole lunch periods bagging hair and mopping blood.
Small bones at first. Metatarsals, metacarpals. Cuneiforms.
On a Tuesday in April, a femur.
This could not have come up through the drains.
The girls wrapped the femur in brown paper towels and put it in a locker. Christina Lemmon used her padlock and told the other girls the combination.
They didn’t tell Mrs. Dewitt about the bones.
The girls had just learned the names of bones in their biology class. Kathryn Ellis still had the worksheet Mr. Bockelman had given them, with the diagram of the human skeleton.
She used a crayon to darken the bones they’d found.
For several weeks after the femur, nothing came.
Then they found a scapula.
They put the scapula in with the femur.
The girls used tweezers to chip off bits of bone, which they then put in Ziplock bags. They carried their fragments everywhere.
* * *
The bones kept coming, slowly. A rib on Tuesday, a vertebrae Friday.
By May, they had half the skeleton. They feared the school year would end before they collected the whole thing.
The girls became sicker. First, the paleness, shivering, muscle wasting and night sweats.
Then the vomiting.
The memory lapses and fainting spells.
Mrs. Dewitt pulled the girls out of class to ask them questions about their physical fitness. It was all she could do. She was only a gym teacher.
In June, Mrs. Dewitt moved the class outside. On the dewy fields, they played touch football, soccer, Frisbee.
The girls moved slowly, as a unit. They hung back, smiling at each other with their mouths pinned shut.
The boys yelled at them to pay attention.
The boys commented that the girls were worthless. One boy speculated that they were all on their periods.
* * *
By the beginning of June, the skeleton was almost complete. The sacrum arrived on a Tuesday. Then, for two weeks, nothing.
They were missing only the skull.
The girls moved as if underwater, their limbs stiff and heavy. Mrs. Dewitt let them sit on the bleachers and watch the boys play kickball.
The tornado came three days before the end of the school year. The whole school crowded into the gym. The girls of Mrs. Dewitt’s third period class sat in a circle. They held hands and bowed their heads.
They listened to the tornado tear apart distant wings of the school.
Inside Christina’s locker, the bones began to hum and then to stitch themselves together.
Kate Folk is from Iowa and now lives in San Francisco. Her fiction has appeared in Colorado Review, Puerto del Sol, Wigleaf, PANK, Tin House Flash Fridays, and elsewhere. Find her at www.katefolk.com.