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Historical Fiction Fantasy Mystery

The sound of dripping water was driving me crazy. Drip, drip, drip! If it would just stop, then I could get back to my classwork. 


I sat at the back of the third grade row and I could see the whole classroom. All the kids in my row were busy with their times tables. The teacher was listening to fourth graders recite their spelling words and the fifth graders had their heads buried in their history books. It seems that nobody else noticed the dripping. I looked around, but I couldn’t see where the dripping was coming from. Finally it stopped and I could get back to work.


The next afternoon, right after we came in from recess, the dripping started again. Everyone else was oblivious to the noise, but it was driving me nuts and I made it my mission to track it down. Finally, I noticed a small puddle of water at the end of the fifth grade row. But, there was nobody there and no water was coming from the old tin ceiling. Just the drip, drip, drip sound.


The school in my little town was old, much older than any of the kids and probably older than most of the teachers. One classroom was for first and second grade, another for sixth, seventh and eighth grades. My room was for third, fourth and fifth grades and looked out over the playground. That’s always where my attention wandered when the teacher wasn’t looking.


I loved going out to the playground at recess time. The littler kids always played on the swings and slide. Bigger boys played king of the hill on the huge dirt pile that had been built up by successive generations of students. The girls all played hopscotch and jump rope. And the teachers sat on a bench next to the school, visiting and watching us.


As this was our free time, there were few rules for the playground. In fact, the only rule I can remember was “don’t go down to the pond.” The pond was just beyond the row of trees at the back of the school. In winter it was frozen over and the ice was hard enough to provide a great surface for skating and crack the whip. But, in spring and summer when the ice melted and the water ran free, it was a dangerous place and teachers had put it off limits.


When recess was over, one teacher picked up the old school bell and rang it to call everyone in. Obediently, we all filed back into our classrooms and got back to work. I could still hear the drip, drip, drip.


One day, right after recess, I noticed a skinny boy at the back of the fifth grade row. His pale, blonde hair appeared to be wet and he was shivering. There was a puddle of water beneath his desk. When he saw that I noticed him, he looked away quickly.


After school I looked for him, but I couldn’t find him anywhere. The next morning, he wasn’t in his desk, but when the recess bell rang, there he was again, still shivering and still dripping wet. The teacher never called on him, but I didn’t find this too unusual, since she never called on me either. It went on like this for the rest of the school year. When summer vacation came, I forgot about him.


The next fall, I moved over to the fourth grade row, this time near the front of the room. Most of last year’s fifth graders had moved to the next classroom and I assumed that the skinny boy had moved also. But one day, right after recess, I sneaked a peek around the room and to my surprise, there he was, at the back of the fifth grade row, still shivering and still dripping wet. I was curious so I asked other kids about him. They laughed and said I must be making up stories. There was no boy like I described. But every day right after the recess bell rang, there he was.


I looked for him at recess, but didn’t ever see him, even with the little kids. One day after the bell rang, I waited until everyone else had gone into the classroom, then followed them in. I could see wet footprints leading straight up to the skinny boy’s desk and there he was, shivering and dripping wet.


One morning, I slipped a note into his empty desk. “Hi, my name is Julia and I want to be your friend. Write back if you want to be my friend.”


As usual, he was there right after recess. But this time, when I sat down in my seat, I saw wet footprints leading up to my desk. Inside it was my note, soggy from the boy’s wet hand. He had added “My name is Robbie. Yes, I would like to be your friend. I’m pretty lonely.”


And so our unusual friendship began. We never talked and I never saw him on the playground. Instead, we corresponded through secret notes for the rest of the school year. In the summer, I occasionally looked for him at the school, but he was never there. When I moved on to the fifth grade, I looked at the end of the row right after the recess bell rang and he was there, as usual, still shivering and still dripping wet. He didn’t look a day older than when I had seen him the first time. We began writing notes again and over time, he told me his story.


Robbie was the youngest child in a large family and was pretty much left to his own. One of his favorite things to do in the winter was to slide and skate on the frozen pond. Even though the teachers had strictly forbidden children to play there, that didn’t stop Robbie.


Every day he would sneak down to the pond at recess, always listening for the teacher to ring the bell, then run quickly to the playground to come in with his classmates. One spring, the thaw came early and what had been a solid sheet of ice just the day before was paper thin and gave way under Robbie’s weight. He slipped under the ice and floated far enough downstream that he couldn’t break through. That day, when the school bell rang, Robbie didn’t return. When he didn’t come home that night, his father and brothers finally went looking for him. Several days later when the ice had melted completely and the stream ran clear, they found his lifeless body. They buried him in a small grave at the edge of town. Over the years, his whole family moved away, leaving Robbie alone. Now that they were gone, Robbie stayed at the school, coming obediently whenever the teacher rang the recess bell.


At the end of my fifth grade year, we moved to another town and I never saw Robbie again, but I will never forget his pale, wet hair, his shy face and his puddle of water.


When they tore the old school down, my dad rescued the bell from a pile of rubble. Just last month, my mother sent the bell to me. I picked it up for the first time in 50 years and with all the authority of a teacher, clutched it tightly in my hand and rang it. Its sharp melody sang out and I could almost hear the children coming in from recess. That’s when I noticed the wet footprints in my front hallway and the puddle of water in front of the piano where I keep the bell.


Now, when I’m feeling lonely or nostalgic, I ring the old bell. Robbie always comes, answering the recess bell after all these years.

June 03, 2020 20:40

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2 comments

13:05 Jun 11, 2020

I like how you started with the dripping noise and hinted that no one else could hear the noise or see the Robbie but that he was still real to the narrator. Great job!

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Julia Gibson
15:52 Jun 25, 2020

Thank you for your comments. BTW, I still have the bell. ;)

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