JRJ

Jeremy Robert Johnson read a separate excerpt from “The Loop” at last year’s Telluride Horror Show. He acknowledged that reading in the finished book, “Thanks to the awesome Creepy Campfire Tales audience at Telluride Horror Show for letting me test drive this book with y’all. You helped me calibrate the kicks in this thing and I’m so happy you finally get to read it.”

Editor’s note: The following excerpt is from author Jeremy Robert Johnson’s new book, “The Loop.” He is participating in “Creepy Campfire Tales” during this week’s Telluride Horror Show Shelter-in-Place Edition. Learn more at telluridehorrorshow.com. The following has been edited for profanity and depictions of violence. Some readers may still find it disturbing.

Lucy was about to laugh until she saw the way Chris’ body was moving.

Something was wrong with him. Very, very wrong.

His narrow frame was slumped, pinning his weight against the metal support tube running from chair to desk. Lucy leaned forward and noticed a thin string of drool hanging from the corner of Chris’ mouth. Sweat was beading on his forehead and soaking through his greasy, black locks. His left leg was jerking back and forth at the knee while his foot pressed against the tile flooring so hard the sole was scuffing.

He’s… fighting something. Like he’s trying to force himself to stay in that desk.

Mr. Chambers finally caught on and turned to look at Chris.

“Mr. Carmichael, what’s … ”

And then Chris’ neck bent back and he was staring at the ceiling and he yelled, “You promised you’d delete the picture, Ginny.”

Patty Dufrene stood bolt upright. “Shut your mouth, Chris. How do you … ”

Chris kept yelling. “Why am I seeing this? Where am I? I don’t want this!” and then he fell quiet but the spasms in his body amplified, causing his desk to rock and lift and clatter against the floor. His head swiveled, eyes wide and panicked as if he was trying to see in the dark.

Had his eyes always been so blue?

Lucy swore that Chris had hazel eyes, but now they appeared blue and rheumy. Lucy wondered how that could be but the thought was interrupted when his back and knees popped so loudly the sound echoed against the ceiling tiles. Lucy recoiled, imagining how that must feel inside Chris’ body — his joints grinding and locking, unable to stop all that shaking.

Mr. Chambers was to Chris’ side then. “We need to give him room until this passes. The key, is to, uh, to keep him from hurting himself. Megan, run down to the office and tell them to call 911.” Then Chambers bent over Chris’ thrumming body and rattling desk. “We need to get him as flat and stabilized as we can. Jake and Michael, you get his legs and I’ll lift under his shoulders.” The teacher said, “Chris, can you hear me? I need to move you,” and he laced his hands behind the boy’s neck and that’s when Lucy realized she must have fallen asleep in class because she swore that at that moment she heard something under Chris’ hair squeal and then Mr. Chambers was backing away with a bloody hand, screaming.

Chris had erupted from his desk and was on top of Jake, had him trapped in his desk, and in a series of spasms Chris managed to raise one hand and plunge his right thumb directly into Jake’s left eye.

Then in Lucy’s nightmare she saw Mr. Chambers afraid to move forward but yelling, “Chris, get off him now or I’ll have to report this,” as if they were still in a situation where something like the rules of a high school might apply, and Jake began to bleed from the corner of his eye as he unleashed a slaughterhouse squeal and tried to bat Chris away with his arms, and then Chris’ eyes rolled back in his head and a flat, even voice fell from his mouth saying, “Override protocol failed. Ops dispatched.”

Mr. Chambers didn’t seem to understand where the voice was coming from because he turned toward the door of the classroom, looking for the people who might be coming to restore order. After a few seconds ticked by he must have realized that task fell to him because he rushed over to his desk and pulled out a small black canister of pepper spray and said, “You have to stop that now, Chris! Stop or I’ll spray you!”

If Chris heard, he paid it no mind. His thumb pressed further into Jake’s skull. Jake made noises which no one in that room would escape dreaming about.

Mr. Chambers stepped toward the boys and sprayed Chris’ eyes and then aimed the stream directly into the mouth of the young man.

Mr. Chambers gained Chris’ attention.

Chris untethered from Jake’s coiled, screaming body and stood. Blood dripped from his thumb to the tile. The class sat paralyzed, coughing and gagging and trying to breathe fresh air through folded hoodies or sleeves. A crowd had gathered at the door to the classroom, some filming with their phones, some running when they saw Jake’s body shaking its way into deep shock.

Chris straightened and looked at Mr. Chambers, then at his red, slick hand. “This fixes it. What I did. What you did to me. The signal … ” His voice started to fade, airway tightening against the pepper spray assault. Chris shook his head from side to side and coughed. He blinked through hideously swollen eyelids. “It’s not so bad, Mr. Chambers. They said I would be smarter, but they lied to me. They lied to my mom. But you — you really helped me. After all this time.”

Then Chris bent forward, his movements finally smooth, and he picked up his pre-calculus book from the floor. He lifted the thick, sharp-cornered book up in the air with one bright red hand.

“This is the answer. You gave us the answer.”