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It’s the week before Christmas break in Bardeen, Wisconsin, a township just north of Milwaukee—right up against the shore of Lake Michigan. School has been cancelled for the last couple of days due to a freak blizzard that whipped across the lake and into town. If you open the door to your house, you can’t even see the end of your driveway. All the kids love it, playing video games and watching movies instead of being imprisoned in a classroom. A few brave souls make their way out through the 24-inch accumulation to go to work or other obligations, but most embrace nature winning this round. It was a classic “snow in.”

Today is the first day back at Bardeen Middle School. Some students and faculty haven’t shown up, which is normal. Some, however, seem to be acting weird. Annie, who broke her leg last week, doesn’t need a cast anymore. She’s even forgotten that she broke her leg at all. Mr. Meyden has been asking strange personal question of every student he sees: where do their parents work, who do they work for, and—the weirdest one— what value does that position hold within the local social hierarchy of the community? Perhaps it’s for some upcoming social studies project for his class. It’s still weird.

Lunch period so far has been far quieter than usual. With some kids missing and others acting strangely, the usual buzz of the cafeteria has been replaced with whispers. Mr. Meyden, who is usually a very relaxed supervisor, watches every table like a hawk. The silence at your table is shattered by your phone vibrating. As you draw your phone out, you notice everyone else at your table does the same thing. Glancing at your phone, you see a video message was left on your chat app. Watching the message, you see the garbled image of a smiley emoji. It shifts with static, as if it’s struggling to stay on your screen.

“If you’re getting this,” says a young voice in the message, crackling with digital noise, “then you’re one of the few people I’ve determined aren’t one of Them. We need to stop Them before they replace everyone in town! I’d do it myself, but I’m stuck. I need your help. Please call me back. If we don’t stop them, everyone’ll be one of Them by Christmas! Hurry!”

As the message finishes, you notice that Mr. Meyden is mere steps away from the table. Wasn’t he across the room when you last glanced? His lips curl into a warm smile, but there’s something about his eyes. They’re relaxed, cold, unemotional. It’s unnerving.

“Who were you talking to?” he asks in a dispassionate tone. “If it’s one of your parents, I’d like to speak to them.”

Something’s not right.

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File Last Updated:
February 06, 2018
This title was added to our catalog on February 06, 2018.