had to go see the nurse. From the windows in the hallway you could see the empty playground and the tree. I didn’t want to look because I thought there’d be something coming up out of the hole. Something that had licked the bark where I scraped my hand. Something that got the smell for me and thought I tasted good. And it was crawling right now, slowly-slowly, wriggling its long arms up out of the crack. It would be halfway out, and it would see me. Look right at me with those big, yellow eyes.

At the last second, I looked anyway.

There was nothing there.

The nurse’s office was locked. Mr. Derleth, who cleans the place and has gold teeth, said that Nurse Williams wasn’t in that day. Mr. Derleth took me into the bathroom and wiped off my hand with wet toilet paper. I thought he was going to ask what happened but he didn’t.

Right after lunch we all got called to a special assembly and we had to wait for an hour. All the older kids sat still and quiet. Even the sixth graders. Once or twice a teacher went in and out, and when the doors were open we could see that there were policemen in the hallway. I was scared because I thought they were going to put me in trouble because of the tree. They were going to make me tell. She would know if I told. She’d get me if I told.

The principal came in and said that school was over early today, but that we had to stay here until our parents came to pick us up. Nobody said why. Not even mom. She was quiet all the way back.

We got a whole week off from school.

A policeman I hadn’t seen before came to my house one day and asked if he could speak to my big brother. Mom told me to go play in my room a while but I just stood in the hallway. The policeman asked Danny if he had seen Nurse Williams and Danny said no.

It’s OK to talk to us, you’re not in trouble.

Did she seem sad at all?

Did she seem scared?

Did she ever say anything that seemed strange?

Like maybe there was somebody who was following her?

He asked more questions but Mom caught me and made me go to my room. I thought she was going to yell at me but she didn’t. She brought us to the store afterwards and picked up ice cream.

All the sixth graders knew what happened.

She cut out her tongue.

She leaned down and bit off her fingers.

One at a time.

She nailed her feet to the floor.

The nails went into the carpet quiet, real quiet.

She had the demon hold her mouth closed so she couldn’t scream.

That’s what they said.

She’s in that house down there, isn’t she?

You’ve seen them, haven’t you?

She keeps them in boxes in the garage. Feeds them to her demon one piece at a time.

I lied and said that I didn’t believe them.

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