This is a short story that was written by Destiny Cook, Makyla Grant, and Hannah Umphlett for the Ethical Uses of Technology Project.
Melody Molina-Hueda’s POV
“Last week, it became evident that students at the charter school Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technology were missing–whether or not they have been victims of kidnapping or are runaways is yet to be decided. No ransom demands have been made.”
David Campbell’s voice echoed in the otherwise quiet room, everyone’s breath captured by the growing anxiety. “The students have made multiple reports of rattlesnakes roaming the building, possibly due to the recent hurricanes. Animal control was notified and all snakes have been caught and set free. You heard it first from NEAAAT News! David out!”
Teachers had tried to play off the missing students, to act calm and collected as they had been ordered to by Mr. Harrison. Everyone was worried, there was no reason to pretend you aren’t scared for the fates of your classmates and of the snakes.
It’s not like I’m afraid of snakes, but there are some people who are–Miss Gerber, for example. I really don’t feel like listening to the screams and cries of people who are afraid.
Mr. Rock was my homeroom and as I walked into classroom 201, I just knew it was going to be boring. Dakota West and Heidi Uchtdorf were already in class; Dakota’s nose buried in the arms of her hoodie (Is she sleeping? Dead? Who knows.) while Heidi chattered absentmindedly, probably just talking to destroy the growing silence.
Or she just takes pleasure in the sound of her own voice.
Most of my classmates were missing in action, likely the result of their parents not allowing them to go to school or transfers. There were originally twenty-seven of us, but now it is just Dakota, Heidi, some other nameless folks, and I.
I usually don’t talk to them other than when necessary. Both Dakota and Heidi are their own kinds of standoffish and very cliquey. I’ve repeatedly asked Mr. Rock to let me change groups or at least work by myself, but noo, I need to “learn how to collaborate and efficiently work with others different than myself.”
“Different than myself” is the understatement of the year.
Dakota West used to hang out with Skye and William–the “tumblr” group. Emo music? Check. Worn flannels? Check. Video game figurines or merchandise? Check. Gay? Check. Skye and William were forced to stay home by their parents, so she mainly kept to herself now.
Heidi Uchtdorf was an enigma. She had an alarming habit of scrutinizing and picking everyone apart. She mainly spoke to Leanne, followed her almost like a lost puppy, to be honest. Leanne comes and goes at this point, but she’s in another class first period.
Both of Dakota and Heidi were intelligent, that was plain to see. But no matter how hard I’ve tried, neither will open up and accept me. They’re in their own little bubbles.
“Keep in mind, presentations are next Wednesday! I can’t keep extending dates, seriously, what’s the dill pickles?” Mr. Rock’s eyes glimmered with victory and anticipation of laughter…no one laughed. “Okay then, all of your work is on canvas. Get working this is a group effort!” A pointed glare was sent our way as he spoke.
Great. This period is going to be just great.
“You guys..is anyone else noticing how weird Mr. Rock is acting?” Nope, that wasn’t just me desperately looking for human interaction. Mr. Rock honestly was off. I didn’t think that was possible as he was one of our more “eccentric” teachers. “He’s just like…staring at his computer screen.”
“Melody, that’s his job. Plus he’s probably looking at Hapara.” Dakota’s voice was muffled behind a sleeve of her windbreaker, irritation lacing her voice.
“Josh over there is watching Attack on Titan, and he hasn’t gotten fussed at though.” I persisted through Dakota’s less than friendly glare, “I’m telling you, he isn’t blinking. Just watch!”
A minute or so into Rock watching, Heidi said, “Holy crap. You’re right! How is he not blinking?!” Ha! Victory!
“What. The. Heck.” Dakota’s sleep hazed eyes were wide awake now, shock painted across her face. “Maybe he just sleeps with his eyes open? That is weird, though.”
“Dakota, don’t be stupid. Everyone blinks like 15-20 times in a minute. He’s not sleeping.” Heidi’s acerbic retorts were not uncommon–they usually were not as vicious and angry. Heidi’s mood swings often vanished as quickly as they appeared, her pale features relaxing into one of pure embarrassment. “Dang that was rude, I’m sorry.”
Melody, think of something! You were having a successful conversation for once! Come on, think think thi–
“You guys, look! He’s scratching his neck raw!” It was true. Flecks of skin were falling down like snow on the back of his collar, the white specks gradually increasing in size. “He needs some lotion or something.” His hands gravitated towards his arms and overall, Mr. Rock had transformed into an itchy, jittery mess.
“It’s like he’s peeling…what?”
“Oh my god, it’s like chunks of flesh now.” Heidi’s voice was one of pure (creepy) interest mixed with…excitement? I don’t know, maybe she finds it oddly pleasing like peeling Elmer’s glue or something. Still creepy.
“Ew. Ew. Ew. Chunks is a disgusting word please never ever say it again!” Dakota’s lip curled in disgust, the hair on her arms standing up.
Sweat dripped from Mr. Rock’s hair which was plastered to his forehead. “Maybe I should go see if he’s okay…” His eyes were a pale, milky blue–almost slits. He looks like a weird mix of Voldemort and…
“Sssoo classs, it iss time to refl-” Suddenly, a scaly white growth covered his mouth; the alabaster plaster cutting off any of Mr. Rock’s shrieks of panic. Unadulterated fear, shock, and confusion filled room 201, the students’ screams of terror echoing down the hallway.
And…and a snake.
2 minutes later
Heidi and Dakota scrambled across the room, plowing chairs, tables, and scrap metal to the ground in the wake of their hysteria. A ten-foot boa constrictor towered above us three, chunks–sorry Dakota!– of dead flesh falling off Mr. Rock’s newly transformed body. Mr. Rock’s auburn scales were speckled with white dots, his body contorted into a twisted rope.
You might wonder at this point, why are you not screaming? Why aren’t you crying and fleeing? I already told you: I’m not scared of snakes.
“Heidi! Dakota!” I shrieked, my voice would be easily overpowered by the thudding of desks and their sobs, “Stop! It’s Mr. Rock!”
“I know that! That doesn’t mean I’m not freaking terrified of the massive boa constrictor in front of us!” Dakota’s voice cracked repeatedly, her sobs cutting up her words. “We’re going to-to die!”
“Do you know what this means?! Those rattlesnakes were the missing students!” Horror filled Heidi’s words, her mind quickly filling the gaps. Animal control captured those rattlesnakes. They might die. Some of her friends, who were MIA, might die in the wild.
“Thanks Heidi, your intellect continually ‘amazes’ me! Thanks for stating the obvious!” I hissed, anger bubbling up in my chest. “Now we have to get out of here!”
“Heidi, since you’re super smart with science, think of something! Now!” Dakota screeched, her fear slowly subsiding in wake of her adrenaline rush.
“I…I don’t know! Boas eat small mammals and now we’re the small mammals!! Distract him?!”
“The window!” Dakota began running with all of her might, jumping onto the counter and slamming her fist through the window. “Come on you guys, Mr. Rock might still be in shock, but I’m pretty sure snakes get hungry!”
Shards of glass sprayed everywhere, Dakota’s fight or flight instinct kicking in and numbing the pain of her bleeding knuckles.
“WOAH! SHE JUST FREAKING SUCKER PUNCHED THE WINDOW!!” Heidi exclaimed as she ran desperately towards the open window.
“That was so cool!” We both hopped out of the shattered window, gripping each other’s, albeit, very sweaty hands; ignoring the steep drop below.
Little did we know as we clambered off of the dirty ground with damp pine straw, sticky sap and blood clinging to our bodies, this was only the beginning of the Snake Incident of 2016.
Melody Molina-Hueda’s POV
Heidi kept mumbling to herself; her words were barely audible except a couple of vulgarities and complaints about how dirty she was. We were crouched around a couple of old planter boxes, the rusty nails jutting out at dangerous angles.
“Okay, so I’m thinking we need to find out what happened to Mr. Rock back there.” I jabbed my thumb back at Moore Hall, the evening sun blocked by the tall building. It’s dark shadow still loomed over us. “Whatever it was? Was unnatural.”
“Paranormal.” Dakota’s grin spread across her face, which had been previously been knotted in pain. Her knuckle had thankfully stopped bleeding, but all three of us were still surprised that Dakota had literally punched through a window.
“Supernatural. Now can you two weebs stop?” Heidi cut into our conversation, her glower shutting both Dakota and I up almost immediately. “Sorry, you guys aren’t used to my sarcasm yet. I was joking.” Still, I’m starting to have this feeling that I made a massive mistake by having these girls help me figure out this entire mess.
“Melody, since you wanted to help, you and Dakota can go find Mr. Rock and see if there is any snake skin left.”
“Okay but like, what are you gonna do?” Dakota asked, gathering her things–her hoodie, her phone, and a handful of band-aids. “Plus how are we going to keep up with each other?”
“I’m going to the police station to check out the missing person reports. I’ll email or text you guys later. Adios!” Swinging her keys around her index finger, Heidi began walking to the parking lot to her car, leaving Dakota and I with a simple wave of her hand and a bright smile.
Begrudgingly, Dakota and I headed back to Moore Hall to find the remnants of Mr. Rock’s shedding and possibly, him.
“This is just fantastic. Of course, Heidi sends us off to certain death, while she goes to ‘try and find’ the missing students. We already know what happened!” Dakota’s murmuring continued the whole trek back to the building and our exploration of Mrs. Mongoose’s room, as well as Mrs. Bishop’s.
Creeping up the dark staircase, we heard a familiar sound: hissing. Lots of it. Heavy thumps echoed throughout the entire building–a sure sign Mr. Rock was somewhere nearby.
As we tiptoed around the left hallway, the hissing gradually crescendoed as we neared Ms. Molina’s office. Throwing the door open, Dakota and I ran into the classroom–picture frames and posters were scattered around the floor guiding us to the desk, underneath lie the curled up snake form of Mr. Rock.
His slitted eyes stared at us questioningly, his body braced for an attack. Dakota broke the silence with “Soo…how are we going to get the sample? I don’t feel like dying.”
“True…uh..” My eyes flitted across the room, desperately looking for either a weapon or a bag of some sort, “Over there! Grab me that trash bag!”
Dakota carefully walked over to the trashcan, her arms flung out to the sides and her back facing the wall. “Okay, now what that I have it?”
“Now what I want you to do…is to walk towards Mr. Rock.”
“What?! Why?! Plus you’re closer! And not scared to death of snakes!” Dakota stared accusingly at me, her disbelief and irritation thinly veiled. “You’re just as bad as Heidi…I can’t even.” The plastic trash bag was rattling as Dakota frantically gesticulated, the sound bouncing off the thin walls.
“Just do it!” I whispered harshly. Is it that difficult to listen to instructions?
Dakota took a slow step forward. She walked very cautiously towards him. Mr. Rock came striking out and slithered out the room. I thought the Dakota was gonna scream, but instead she said.
“Stupid…stupid Danger Noodles!”
“Was that your version of a curse word? Oh my gosh..” Giggles slowly escaped me, tears stinging my eyes. “I can’t! How about Slithering ropes?”
“Yes! Mr. Rock is now a scary belt.”
“A terrifying shoestring.” My sides ached from laughing so hard and Dakota’s face was tinged red as she gasped for breath.
A few minutes later, Dakota began searching for any remnants of snake skin under the desk. Her phone was tucked under her chin with the flashlight guiding her as she crawled on her knees. “Bam! Found some!”
Dakota daintily held a piece of torn bloody tissue in between her fingers, the thin flesh wiggling slightly. “Yikes, this is kind of gross. Okay, anyways I’ll text Heidi.” She set the tissue sample on the desk as she quickly typed out her message.
To: Heid Yo Kidz
Yo yo heidi we found a flesh sample..do you want to meet up somewhere and get food?? – north dakota
From: Heid Yo Kidz
Lit okay y’all want to meet up @ the rice bowl? 6 p.m. good?
“Melody, we should probably get going, we have like twenty minutes to get to the Rice Bowl.” Dakota turned to me, tucking her phone into her back pocket. “Also, it’s like 8 miles away so, get ready to sprint for your life.”
My throat burned and was scratchy as my chest heaved for air–it felt like my lungs were about to collapse on themselves. Dakota and I had indeed just ran-walked-jogged to a restaurant eight miles away.
And we were still 15 minutes late.
Red and yellow neon lights illuminated Dakota’s face, her bleach blonde hair soaked with rainwater that dripped down her temples. Shadows from figures inside The Rice Bowl danced across the window panes. “On a scale from Dalai Lama to Donald Trump in a debate, how annoyed do you think Heidi is gonna be?”
“I’m thinking a solid chastising parent when their child is past curfew,” Dakota replied, quickly walking to the front door of the restaurant. Chinese calligraphy and Ming dynasty art decorated the glass.
“Dang, I am kind of hungry now…wait, I see Heidi!” I pointed her out to Dakota and we quickly jogged over to Heidi, who was sipping on a glass of water. “Hola, sorry for being so late! We didn’t have a ride.”
“You do know you could have asked me to pick you up, right?” A smile spread across Heidi’s cheeks, stretching ear to ear. She’s not angry at all. Wow.“You both look like you just ran a marathon.” We probably smell like it, too.
“Yeah, we basically did. Anyways, what should we get?”
After a few minutes of silent eating–I was about kill someone (aka Dakota) for gulping their drink down, Heidi brought up the elephant in the room: Mr. Rock’s skin sample.
“So, when I get home I’ll just look at the sample with my microscope..you guys did wear gloves when picking it up, right?” Heidi’s smile was scarily brilliant, she was ready to get this case over with.
“Uh yeah..we used a trash bag though.”
“What.” Heidi deadpanned, the exhausted purple swipes under her eyes further the impact of her soulless glance.
“We didn’t have any Petri dishes on us, so we just found a trash bag in Mrs. Molina’s room.” Dakota elaborated, “Speaking of the sample, where is it, Melody?”
“Uhhh…I thought you had it, Dakota.”
“No, I gave it to you when I texted Heidi!”
“No. No, you didn’t!” Oh no, oh no, oh no. We forgot it at Moore Hall.
“Are you telling me you freaking left our evidence at Moore Hall, where there’s something fishy going on, where we witnessed our teacher transform into a snake?!” Yes. Exactly that!
“Melody, you had one job and you screwed it up!” Way to keep the peace there, Dakota.
“You guys, chill! We can just sneak back into Moore Hall. It can’t be that difficult! You with me, Heidi?”
“Yeah, sure, I guess. But keep in mind that that is illegal–it’s considered breaking and entering! I’m not bailing you two out of jail.”
“Jail is the least of our worries, Heidi!” is what I wanted to say, but no, I kept my mouth shut, like usual.
Dakota West’s POV
I pulled my jacket sleeves down as I began walking towards the building known as Moore Hall. Cold water splashed onto my combat boots from a puddle on the sidewalk. Heidi and Melody were not far behind me. We were walking around the side of the building, trying to find the door closest to Coach Molina’s room. Melody seemed to have left the snakeskin samples in her mother’s classroom.
“Dakota, how are you planning on getting us into the building?” Heidi questioned. I quickly pulled a silver key from my pocket and held it up for her to see.
“I snagged this key from Coach Bishop’s purse. I knew it would come in handy sometime.” I spoke confidently as we approached a side door. I put the key in the door and turned it to the left. The door clicked and I pushed on the handle. The door slid open with an ear-piercing squeak.
“I hope no one heard that.” Melody chuckled quietly. As we entered the building, an odor of fresh meat wafted into my nose.
“Hey, do you guys smell that? It smells kind of like raw meat. It’s repulsive.” I covered my nose with the sleeve of my jacket. The door we entered let us into one of the side stairwells, the one closest to Coach Molina’s on the second floor. I made my way up the stairs with the others.
“Have we thought about how we are going to get into Mrs.Molina’s room? As far as I know, she locks it every day after she leaves.” Heidi stated as we reached the top of the stairs. I opened the stairwell door and we left the stairwell.
“She’s my mom, I have the key to her room already.” Melody smiled and pulled a gold key from her pocket. We stopped at the room and Melody used the key to open it. The snakeskin samples were sitting on the desk closest to the door. I quickly retrieved them and we decided to check out the rest of the classrooms for evidence.
The first classroom we entered was Mr.Shepard’s room. The tables were covered in plastic and a book containing information about the snakes of North America. That seemed kind of suspicious. Heidi picked up the book and examined the table of contents. A piece of paper fell out of the binding of the book. I picked up the paper and scanned my eyes over it. There were drawings of snakes and words that seemed to have been hastily scribbled onto the page. The handwriting was practically unreadable. I placed the page into my pocket and we moved onto the next room.
Coach Bishop’s room seemed to have been ransacked. The chairs and a few tables had been turned on their sides. Papers were strewn across the floor.
“What could have happened in here?” I asked curiously.
“I don’t know, maybe a giant snake decided to take a trip down to Coach Bishop’s room and have a little fun.” Hannah retorted.
“Whatever, let’s just get out of here before the snake comes back.” We exited the room without exploring further.
The next room was filled with all sorts of red ornamentation so it was clear that it was Mr.Marx’s room. A faint rattle could be heard coming from the closet so we decided to avoid the dark space where rattlesnakes could be hiding. We looked through his paperwork in search of anything snake related. There was nothing to be found so we decided to head back downstairs.
As we were passing Mr.Harrison’s office I noticed the door was cracked. The smell of raw meat was much stronger in this area of the school. Melody peeked into his room and gasped.
“Guys, I think I know where the snakes are coming from.” She backed away from the door slowly. I leaned in so that I could see what she was talking about. Inside his office was a big metal machine, that seemed to be releasing the smell of the meat. It had a sign on it that read “Snake-a-nator: do not touch.”
“We should probably go check this out.” I pushed open the door and walked into the CEO’s office. The others followed me and we examined the machine more closely. There were buttons on the side that I would assume controlled the range of the machine.
“Guys, I think this machine works through the Chromebooks. The user decides which Chromebooks to infect with this certain virus, the virus then travels from the Chromebooks into whatever accessories you have plugged into the computer. If that accessory is a pair of earbuds, it can then be transferred into a soundwave that will transform the student using it into a snake.” Heidi spoke, reading from a pamphlet she found on Mr.Harrison’s desk.
“So that’s where all the students have been going, and it explains the sudden increase of non-native rattlesnakes in Elizabeth City. That means the snakes that have gotten into the school building were actually just students that had been affected by this machine. Mr.Harrison must be a snake, just like Mr.Rock, and he’s using this machine to create an army of his own kind.” I explained.
“What can we do about this?” Melody asked. Heidi walked to the wall and unplugged the machine. I found a pair of scissors and cut the power cord.
“Now he can’t infect any other computers, but we don’t how many have already been infected. It’s safest if we tell anyone who hasn’t already disappeared not to use their Chromebooks unless absolutely necessary and not to plug anything into them.” Heidi replied. I pulled out my phone and started to communicate the message to anyone who I knew wasn’t already a snake. Melody did the same and before I knew it I had texted about thirty people the same exact message.
“Guys, remember that we are breaking the law, we should probably get out of here before we get caught,” Melody said, being the voice of reason. “It might be a good idea to take some pictures before we leave, though.” I snapped a few pictures of the machine as Heidi took some of the pamphlet pages.
Melody Molina-Hueda’s POV
As soon as Dakota snapped a couple photos of the Snake-a-Nator, a low grumbling vibrated the room–pens, books, and picture frames fell to the ground. There was a snake nearby, and by the sound of it, it was freaking massive.
“Oh no, we should really get going, I have a feeling that that isn’t Mr. Rock, but someone else entirely,” Dakota whispered, her voice cutting through the deadly, tension-filled silence. Suddenly, Mrs. Mongoose ran into the room; her chest heaving from exertion and her knuckles white from gripping a bloody shovel.
“Mrs. Mongoose, why are you here?!” Heidi’s voice was harsh and full of panic, as were her features. Her eyebrows were knotted in confusion and panic and her shoulders were hunched up, like a wild animal backed into the corner.
“I could ask the same. It’s dangerous and you are not supposed to be here!” Mrs. Mongoose stepped into the thin stream of street light pouring in from the windows. The body of a silver and tan snake sat limply at her feet; its head sliced clean off. Guess we know where the blood is from.
“We came to get something important from Mrs. Molina’s classroom, and we were just leaving,” Dakota spoke quickly.
Just as we stepped forward Mrs. Mongoose ran at us. She jumped over our heads, did a mid-air flip and swiped the air with her shovel. When we turned around we realized that it wasn’t the air that Mrs. Mongoose swiped at. It was the head of a twenty-foot snake that was about to strike.
“Mrs. Mongoose, that was super cool!” I shouted. Heidi instantly turned and shushed me, her eyes silently warning us to shut up or leave. My head dropped in embarrassment.
“Girls, you need to go. It isn’t safe here for you.” The concerned teacher said before pointing us towards the door. “Get out now before it’s too late for you.”
“Wait, so do you know who’s behind all of this and why?” Heidi slid from behind Dakota, her arms crossed and hip cocked out. “We need answers, like, right now. This entire thing is insane!”
“Yes, I figured it out a couple of weeks ago–Mr. Harrison is turning all of the students and teachers into snakes because he wants more of his reptilian kind.”
“You’re telling us he’s been turning people into snakes because he’s freaking lonely?! That’s insane and dumb and I just….what the hell?!” Dakota shrieked, her fists bunched up at her sides.
Suddenly, and without warning, a swarm of vipers locked in on us–their fangs poised to attack. Oh my gosh we’re going to die we’re going to die we’re going to d- Mrs. Mongoose’s arms flung her shovel out, the serrated edge cutting the bodies of the snakes in half. “Girls, we have to find Mr. Harrison now!” Mrs. Mongoose hollered swinging her shovel onto her shoulders.
“Yeah, I don’t think so.” Heidi’s icy words stopped the three of us in our tracks, her entire body language had changed. There was no time for anyone to react to her statement though because both Mr. Harrison and Mr. Marx entered the hallway.
“Ladies, I’m afraid your time has been cut short.” Mr. Marx spoke before pulling a red book out of his pocket. I always thought Mr. Marx was a bit red-blooded, but I wasn’t expecting a pocket copy of the Communist Manifesto?! This week keeps getting weirder and weirder.
“I want this control over everyone and I am not letting anyone get in my way. It started with hapara and the chromebooks and it’ll end when everyone bows down to my command.” Mr. Harrison laughed maniacally.
“Guys, let me handle this.” Heidi chuckled. “This was never their fight. I was the real mastermind behind this operation.” There was a sinking feeling in my gut as I realized what this meant. Heidi was never our friend or ally. She was only in it for herself.
Heidi Uchtdorf’s POV
Sangria blood was splattered across the plaster walls, dribbling down the walls in horrid Pollock-esque splashes and speckles. Laid beneath the now garnet wall was a tangle of quickly decaying grey limbs, the two bodies curled into one another in a fetal position. A large chunk of flesh was missing from the side of their neck, ripped out by a curved fang.
Dakota and Melody’s constant excited chatter had been cut short, their giggles replaced by blood-curdling screams of terror. Melody’s eyes had widened almost comically, her face the very image of horror and sheer betrayal. Not my fault they were too stupid to piece it together. But now, the radio silence is almost unbearable. Almost.
Crouching down on the backs of my thighs, I felt around their bodies to find the evidence–Mr. Rock’s exoskeleton. Their bodies are stiff, rigor mortis is setting in surprisingly fast. Anyways, if the police found this sample, they would actually investigate the missing persons and stop being completely useless.
They might even shut down my entire operation!
A deathly pallor and chill had settled into Melody’s previously dark skin, the color fading before my eyes. Poor girl. She shouldn’t have looked into this.
A wicked smile strained the muscles in my face, the grin more of an ear-to-ear Glasgow slit. The freezing air was sending a plague of goosebumps across my arms; the hairs standing up, desperately seeking warmth. My human form really cannot function, especially in cold weather.
But, then again, snakes really are cold-blooded.