The corpse of the teenage boy puckered his lips, kissing the air as he approached me. I pulled the Swiss army knife from my belt—the one Dad had given me weeks ago for my eleventh birthday—and jutted the blade into the entranced boy’s heart.
Its lips parted, a final moan coming from its lifeless husk, before falling flat. That was the third one today. The first was at homeroom, the second during the walk to lunch, and now, in the locker room. At this rate, I’d never make it out of sixth grade.
Cooties, they said, had been spreading like an egg on a frying pan. One second you’re fine, the next you’re aqueous goo, puddled at your locker, and finally you reshape, a hardened pimple-faced mass with the sole intent of finding someone else to mack on. I crouched down, turning the boy over. On his neck was faint pink lipstick, very fresh. He must’ve turned just minutes ago.
All the kids in elementary were prepared for this sort of thing. Buzz Lipscomb used to give everyone a punch to the arm each day, a vaccination to the disease. Each boy and girl had cootie catchers at the ready. Back in elementary school, we were prepared. Middle school, however, people often mistake cooties for puberty. Puberty! This is why the disease spreads so quickly.
I wiped the blood off of my Swiss army knife, latching it to my belt once more. What a waste, I thought. I moved through the locker room, checking corners and ensuring that I didn’t hear any faint puckering sounds. As I neared the exit I heard the loudspeaker spark up.
“Students,” the school nurse chimed, “there appears to be a case of…” She paused. “If you see anything unusual in your classmates, please get the nearest adult as soon as possible.”
Great, I thought. Very subtle.
Inside the gym, the rest of the class was going about their usual activities. Mr. Virtrum was just getting down from the ladder when he spotted me entering.
“Anissa!” he said. “Why’re you still in jeans?”
I tried to tell him about the boy in the locker room, how I had to get out in case there were others.
“Are you saying there was a boy in the girls’ locker room?”
It was clear he wasn’t listening.
“And is that a pocketknife? Missy, you could hurt yourself with one of those. Gimme that.”
I tried to argue, to explain that it was my only defense, but he shook my concern off, shoving the tool into his pocket.
“All right,” he said. “Let me go get them boys out of the girls’ locker room, the damn pervs.” He left the room, as the rest of the class continued idling about.
Buzz Lipscomb came over. “Hey, you hear about all the cootie breakouts lately?”
I smiled. Buzz understood. He always knew when something was up. “Yeah,” I said. “Think you could give me a cootie shot?”
He laughed. “I could, yeah, but could you do something for me first?”
“Sure, what is it, Buzz?”
“Well,” he said, taking his hands out of his pockets, “you could give me a kiss!” He lurched forward, extending his arms in the way only an infected would. His skin paled and his eyes darkened until only a faint glimmer remained. I sidestepped, tripping him as I backed away.
“Buzz! Not you, too!”
He stood up, his lips puckering just like all the others. “Anisssssssa,” he hissed. “Give me a kissss, Anissssa.”
Some students looked over at us, only to be mauled by whomever they themselves were talking to a moment before. The disease had evolved. They could hide in plain sight, learning to speak before getting the drop on us. Or had I been blinded by something else? I reached for my pocketknife, grabbing at nothing.
“Crap,” I muttered, remembering Virtrum in the locker room. Before Buzz could stand I found my way to the hallway. Virtrum emerged from the locker rooms, holding a boy and girl by their shirt-necks.
“What in the world are you doing?” he growled.
“Buzz is trying to infect me, Mr. Virtrum! Give me my pocketknife back!” I moved towards him, only to have the boy he was holding hiss and snarl at me. He’d been infected. Just as the thought entered my mind, the girl turned, grabbing Virtrum’s arm and kissing it feverishly.
“What in the hell? Get off of me!” He shook her clean, but I feared he only had a few seconds before he turned. I shoved the boy out of the way, his head slamming into the wall with a sharp crack. Reaching into Virtrum’s jacket pocket, I found my knife.
The boy who had fallen into the wall stumbled to get up, but before he got the chance I plunged the blade into his chest.
“Hey,” Virtrum said, “don’t do that!” It was like he’d never seen something like this before, like he’d gone on as a bystander to the disease for his entire life. He reached out, grabbing my arm and pulling the blade from my hand.
“Virtrum, please, I need it!”
Buzz stumbled into the hallway, leering as he paced towards us. His smooching kisses echoed, hitting my ears like blasts of thunder.
Virtrum pushed the girl off of him, but she persisted in trying to infect him. Somehow, he seemed immune to the whole thing. “C’mon,” he said, reaching out to me, “we’re all going to the principal’s office.”
Buzz lurched forward as I pleaded for the knife. “Virtrum, please!” It was all about to end.
With that Buzz grabbed me from behind and began to peck and slobber my cheek and neck. It was warm, warmer than I’d imagined from something so bleak and loveless.
“Hey,” Virtrum yelled, “Buzz, get the hell off’a her!”
But it was no use. My life was being sapped, his pecks reddening my neck. I wouldn’t last long.
Virtrum tried to pull him off me but it was too late. He stood there, befuddled by the strength Buzz had. His gaze assured the worst. I was paling, my life nearly empty. Virtrum looked at the knife for a moment, questioning something that he hadn’t for a long, long time. He jabbed Buzz in the arm, looking to me for what to do. He then stabbed his thigh, his ribs. “Anissa, what the hell am I supposed to do?”
“Heart,” I choked. “Break… his heart.”
Virtrum, with all his might, reached his hand between our entangled bodies, spun Buzz around and thrust the blade deep inside Buzz’s chest, twisting and turning it, before withdrawing, red-fisted.
We fell. Virtrum looked over my body, speaking empty words, saying empty thoughts, relating something to his past, how he had forgotten the brutality of adolescence. It didn’t matter. This was it. I knew that whatever brief innocence I had was departing. That soon I’d need my heart broken to bring me back from this zombified, overzealous preteen bent on kissing and acting upon physical attractions. That the most real feeling I’ll ever feel going forward will come from these attractions. That never again will I be able to swing on a swing or lick an ice cream cone without having an eye for some greater lust.
As I faded into darkness, the thought of Cosmo, cherry flavored lip-gloss, and boy bands flooded my mind.