The room as viewed through two narrow, listless slits was of an arcane sort: intricate wooden carvings framing a fireplace where the only light in the space flickered and sparked. At the blurry edges of the embers’ rays, Harvey could just barely make out what may have been velvet drapes tied by gold fiber rope.
Conjuring the nerve endings in her fingertips, she touched the armrests to which she was tied and there too felt etchings dug into wood. This furniture was hand-crafted, ancient, and expensive. The room was old as time.
It seemed as though thousands of years had passed as she sat there, immobile, considering her fate. The story of her predicament and, in fact, the entire history leading up to her life on this Earth had, moments earlier, passed before Harvey’s very eyes.
But it was the glimpses beyond history that disturbed her, flashes of what seemed to be another dimension altogether. From what she could grasp, there were blood rituals, a gateway, and writhing figures of many shades of brown, beige, and white—from the darkest to the palest of skin tones—all toiling beneath a towering monolith that scraped a swirling sky of noxious green gas.
The experience was not all visual. She could actually feel the writhing and a compression, crushing her body between a thumb and forefinger the size of the world. Worst of all was a deep, all-encompassing vibration that communicated to her in no language she could even comprehend. It was more than words. It was a feeling. The only meaning she could extract came in the form of a strange symbol. However, when she was no longer in that dimension, she could no longer recall its exact form.
Was she going to die?
In the end, not only might the precise nature of her death be revealed, but so might its significance in a grizzly tale that began with the assassination of school assembly president Josh Kilpatrick, then followed along a winding path of sinister forces and death, and finally arrived at her own capture.
Flee north from the hard concrete of the Boston metropolis and you pass a stretch of lush forests and the sparkling cool waters of Spot Pond. The reprieve is brief as you glide on the eight-lane interstate through suburbs of colonial homes, their replicas, replicas of the replicas, and replicas of the replicas’ replicas. It’s not unless you’ve chosen to break away onto Route 25 that you’re free from the density of the city and its outgrowth. For the remaining six miles, you graze along the edges of Harold Parker State Forest until you find the quiet retreat of Moorehaven Academy.
The school spans an impressive 50 acres throughout the town of Andover. Your typical New England village, Andover was colonized by the English in the 17th century, who brought with them a plague of Weil’s syndrome that decimated any Pennacook people that weren’t sold into slavery, murdered by colonialists, or who didn’t escape to the north. Shortly after it was established, the town became embroiled in the witch trials that occurred in neighboring Salem, with over 40 Andover women and children accused of dealing with the Devil. Unfortunately, the Devil was never brought to justice.
Over time, the primitive sorcery that once flourished in Andover was largely supplanted by contemporary concerns. There was Raytheon, the largest maker of guided missiles; Phillips, a global consumer goods business; and Pfizer, one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies on the planet.
And then there was Moorehaven, at the center of which stood the great ziggurat of Admissions, a modern architect’s take on the pyramid of education. The base represented the foundation on which knowledge is built. Flanking the structure were contemporary steel sculptures, a series of large curved waves on the west side to represent the power of intuition and, on the east, a collection of piercing, jagged arrows pointing upward to signify the might of reason.
The pinnacle of the edifice was the piercing point of truth with which to navigate and decipher the universe. As if to underscore the lack of subtlety, the designer insisted on locating a purple spotlight at the pyramid’s apex. During hazy days and dark nights, it projected a bright violet beacon into the endless sky.
In the buildings orbiting this odd facility, the school molded children into young adults capable of managing not just their complex personal affairs and enormous businesses like the aforementioned, but also a sprawling empire. Nine out of 46 U.S. presidents had been Moorehaven graduates. Other notable positions attained by Haven Mavens included generals, Pulitzer Prize winners, diplomats, governors, publishers, Hollywood actors, musicians, judges, poets and activists. The height of power achieved was roughly proportional to the level of ambition and family connections of the individual.
Harvey Spizzle sat pouring through the documents buried in Peter Dale Scott Library, conducting a run-of-the-mill dive into the history of Moorehaven Academy: the roots, the fruits, the toots—whatever other garbage the editor wanted to commemorate the bicentennial in an upcoming issue of The Haven Maven.
Doing so was proving difficult. It wasn’t that she wasn’t interested in the school’s history as one of the oldest elite educational institutions in the country. In fact, she was quite curious about the esoteric practices of some of the academy’s clubs, reserved for only a select handful of students. Harvey was also intrigued by the way that Moorehaven and the other Great Schools seemed to be linked to old money in this part of the U.S.
The Great Schools Association, or GSA, itself was only about 40 years old, but the informal ties between the nine boarding schools within it dated back to at least the end of the 18th century. The GSA was established as a formal means of linking nine boarding schools dotting New England that regularly collaborated or maintained scholastic or athletic relationships with one another. The group met twice a year, ostensibly to discuss the societal climate impacting education and private schools. Topics included how to bring more diversity to the campuses, how the economic recession was affecting the finances of private schools, the threat of gun violence and terrorism to campuses, partnerships with industry, the impact of climate change on the region, and opportunities for intercampus collaboration. Of course, there was also the management of the GSA Trust, a sort of mutual fund made up of money pooled by the different academies that went into stocks and bonds in order to ensure financial stability for all parties involved.
The problem was that, when Harvey pitched articles about boarding schools and the moneyed elite, the editor—a fourth-year girl from Connecticut that demonstrated an overall lack of vision or style—told her to keep it simple and superficial. Superficiality was one thing in particular that Harvey had a hard time manifesting. Aloofness, shyness, a general ennui about life—those were more Harvey’s style.
Unfortunately, this meant that it was hard to focus on the story at hand. It wasn’t due until the end of the semester, in time for the big celebration, but it was meant to be Harvey’s first feature. This would be her shot at something more substantial—only it seemed she would have to forego substance to get there.
A furnace somewhere in the basement clicked on, igniting a steady stream of methane gas to heat the cool air drawn from the building into the system. A fan sent the warmth through a series of ducts throughout the library. The result was a toasting of the room where Harvey was seated.
Harvey closed the yearbook she was looking at and left the library to return to her dorm. She pushed open the front door of the cold stone building and strode out into the toxic atmosphere.
When she arrived at her room, she found that even though his computer was blasting new country music, her roommate was gone. Daxx Wunderkind was a doughy, third-string kicker for the school’s junior football team. He had ruddy, pink cheeks, freckled white skin and always wore a backward baseball cap. His hobbies included playing video games, smoking weed, trying to hook up with girls, and getting so drunk that he peed on their dorm room floor. Once, on his 14th birthday, Daxx came back to the dorm at three in the morning and pissed on his own bag of football gear.
Though he was not currently in their room, the ghost of his presence remained. There were two empty chairs sitting in front of the TV in the center of the dorm, which displayed the menu screen for his snowboarding game. Beside the chairs were two empty forty-ounce bottles made of green glass. Harvey hadn’t developed a skill for accurately estimating the fluid volumes of containers, she merely recognized the approximate size and shape of the bottle from all of the previous times Daxx had gotten tanked.
The room still smelled of Daxx, but that didn’t mean Harvey couldn’t enjoy herself… she opened up a solitaire app on her phone and played it for a while until she realized just how pathetic it was. So, she picked up a book on the history of U.S. policy in the lead up to the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001 called The Road to 9/11, but it couldn’t hold her attention. Harvey wanted to learn more about the politics that governed her world. At the same time, it was so boring and she found little entryway into a topic she knew nothing about.
She put it down and picked up where she left off with The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. She knew she was a parody of a boarding school teen by reading it and that Salinger was probably a creep, but she had gotten it as a gift from a friend’s brother before she left the world of public education and working class people and went off to her new home.
Harvey didn’t expect to be particularly captivated by it, but there was something about the earnestness of his writing, the beautiful descriptions, and the depth of feeling in the book that struck her. She also identified with the state of mind of the main character in that she too felt a bit lost with regard to her purpose in life—or even the purpose of life altogether. As she thought this, a slice of cool air slid beneath the crack in the dorm’s open window and brushed her neck, suggesting an ineffable answer to her unasked query.
By the time she got to the bit about Holden punching Stradlater after his date with Jane, Harvey started to drift off to sleep.
Sitting on the faux-leather reclining chair of a consultation room in the Douglas Valentine Wellness Center, Harvey waited for Nurse Hancock to return with some vaccinations. Harvey stared at the wall ahead of her. Tacked to it was the school calendar, sold in the gift shop. It depicted happy multiracial students with backpacks thrown over their shoulders, ostensibly enjoying their participation in Moorehaven’s rewarding educational experience.
Beneath a poster describing the benefits of various methods of birth control was a picture warning new parents not to abandon their babies. Floating above a grayscale image of a wailing infant was a helpline number desperate parents could call for help. The poster’s message was that whoever picked up at the other end would assist in finding the unwanted newborn a new home. The logo was a sort of marriage between a triangle and a spiral within an eye, where the pupil should have been. The organization was dubbed the National Parent Help Network.
There was also a laminated pain chart that displayed a spectrum of moody yellow faces ranging from pleasant bliss on one end to terminal grimace at the other. Harvey felt somewhere in the middle. She cocked her head to the side and continued turning it until the scowl had flipped into an absurd smile.
It was while she fixated on the inverted frown that Harvey noticed from the corner of her eye a swirling blur of color. A commotion was occurring. She turned her head to glance out the window and saw what looked like a rain-soaked fight taking place in the parking lot behind the Crisis Management building. Two boys—one a bit taller and more bizarre looking—were shouting at each other, drenched in the near-constant New England deluge.
The funny-looking one wore a stern face with a faraway look in his eyes. He was clenching his jaw in such a way as to give the appearance of an angry underbite. His red hair seemed almost tacked to his dome and ready to slide off at any moment. He stumbled a bit, which drew Harvey’s attention to a clear glass bottle in his hand. He couldn’t have been older than 17 but was obviously drunk. And the other boy, a bit stockier and with a tall head of curly, brown hair, didn’t look much more sober.
She watched the shouting match continue until the funny-looking one reached down for a nearby rock and slammed it across the right side of the shorter one’s face. The victim then grabbed his own cheek, which was now bleeding, and screamed in pain. In response, the shorter one grabbed a smaller stone from the ground and hurled it, missing the tall one and sending it in Harvey’s direction.
The rock traveled along a strange trajectory, bouncing off a tree and into Harvey’s window. There was an explosion of sound and a shattering of glass and then Harvey felt something hit her forehead. The wind howled through the gaping glass hole and splattered the edges of raindrops into the room. Blood trickled down between Harvey’s eyes.
Looking at Harvey through the window from 10 yards away, the funny looking kid seemed to have realized what he’d done, lifted the other kid by the arm, and started leading him toward Harvey and the Valentine building.
Wiping the blood from her forehead with a tissue, Harvey opened the exam room door and peeked into the lobby. She saw the door of the Center open and one of the drenched boys say plainly, “Hey, Nurse Hancock, my friend Hack here is hurt pretty bad.”
“Yeah, ‘cause you hit me with a rock, dingus,” the other muttered.
“Think he might need stitches, nurse.”
“Boys,” Hancock was saying. “What the hell happened?”
Lest any of them turn to catch her eavesdropping, Harvey slammed the door shut and the conversation continued uninterrupted.
“It’s not a big deal,” the funny-looking one replied.
“Not a big deal?” Hack slurred.
“Oh, jeez, boys. Donovan, what’s going on here? Are you two drunk?”
“Listen, Nurse Hancock, it’s really not a big deal.”
“Okay, c’mon. Come into room three and I’ll take care of you. Let me jot this down for my files: Donovan Lanning and Hack?”
The voices muffled behind a closed door and Harvey realized she’d probably be waiting for a while.
Something like an hour had passed by the time she’d finished her physical, had a small band aid placed over her superficial facial wound, and gotten her vaccines. Before heading out, Harvey pulled her neon knitted ch’ullu onto her head, flaps of turquoise, electric green, red and black limply flopping over her ears. Every time she wore the hat, Harvey felt like she might have been appropriating the culture of the indigenous Quechuans her mom bought it from, given Gloria Spizzle’s mostly European-Bolivian background. Then again, she really loved her ch’ullu.
Harvey then wrapped herself in her green hoodie, grabbed her bag, walked into the lobby and out the front door where she was confronted by the broad back and buoyant brown mop of the shorter boy, Hack Klein, as he ambled off in the rain talking on his phone.
“Yeah, mom. Donovan just whipped me in the face with a rock,” Klein said.
Harvey trailed quietly behind, unable to keep herself from listening, and extended a brilliant blue umbrella over her head, becoming a rainbow of color amidst a mist of grey and red.
Listening to Klein, she immediately wondered what type of kid had the impulse to call their mom while drunk.
“Well, I told him that I had noticed all sorts of shifty things happening around the Crisis Management building. That I didn’t like his new friends and noticed they’d been hanging around there a lot, too.”
There was a pause, as Hack listened to his mom on the other end.
“Of course, it’s my business, mom. I’m going to be a second-degree CMT volunteer next year and I don’t want my chances of advancing in the program messed up because my friend is involved in all sorts of shady activities.”
A second-degree Crisis Management volunteer… That would probably make him a second-year student, since first years couldn’t take volunteer security jobs until at least their third semester at Moorehaven.
Harvey also wondered if having an Oedipal complex was required for joining law enforcement. That would explain this kid’s odd choice to drunk-dial his own mother. It might explain some of the sanctimoniousness prying Hack Klein seemed to exhibit, too.
“And you know what, mom? I think Donovan had something to do with Josh Kilpatrick getting shot last year.”
That was certainly a shocking thing to declare to one’s mother. As a transfer student to the prestigious boarding school, Harvey was hardly confident about anything, let alone what happened to Josh Kilpatrick. Not only that, but she plain didn’t care what had happened to him. That was before her time, a semester ago, and it really didn’t seem to impact her life today.
The same wasn’t true for other Moorehaven students, who saw Kilpatrick as the next savior of the U.S.of A. Like about 51 percent of the school, Kilpatrick was white and wealthy, but he had grand plans of reform for Moorehaven that had the potential to open it up to more socioeconomic diversity. How much of that he could have actually achieved as a student assembly president was unclear to Harvey, but the rhetoric surely worked to cast a spell on the liberal students, particularly the Young Democrats club. He was a charming kid, but before he could go onto the Ivy Leagues and occupy his preordained spot at Harvard, he was shot—head blown to smithereens in front of all of South Boston.
“Yeah, I said that to him. I told him to his face I heard from a very reliable source that he was the getaway driver. That’s when he fuckin’ hit me with a rock—yeah, I know. Sorry, mom.”
The brief taste of drama was a fun diversion from ordinary school days, but soon Harvey returned to her uninteresting life. It was another lonely Sunday. As much as she dreaded the social interactions she would be forced to endure, she almost couldn’t wait for Monday. At least then there would be other people around.
When she woke up, her roommate was out once again. In fact, he’d never returned the previous night, which sent a barely noticeable wave of jealousy through her. To take her mind off of it, Harvey decided to call her parents.
After several chimes, her dad’s face appeared. The creases neighboring his eyes smiled “hi” before his mouth did.
“Heya, Harv. How’s it goin’?”
“Not bad,” Harvey replied. “Just checkin’ in on you guys.”
“Oh, it’s just boring over here. We’re the ones that should be checking on you. What’s new at Moorehaven? You starting to find your footing?”
“Eh, not exactly.”
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I’m sure it’ll start to fall into place soon. When I went to college, I didn’t make any friends for a whole semester!”
“Yeah, but you went to school in town. You just went back home every night.”
“Fair enough. Listen, mom’s out right now attending a city council meeting for the paper. Why don’t we give you a call back tonight?”
“Bye, sweetheart. Love you.” His face vanished once more.
With little else to do, Harvey spent the rest of her Sunday wandering the fog from campus to town, reading her book in various locations that could drum up the right sense of bittersweet longing.
On Monday morning, Harvey Spizzle woke up groggily and looked across the room at a sleeping Daxx, pink face firmly shoved deep into pillow and drool pooling beside a gaping mouth. Harvey quietly grabbed some clothes, walked down the hall to the communal bathroom and showered, letting hot water fall down past wet feet in shower sandals and into a drain shared by five other shower heads separated by flimsy, plastic curtains.
Looking in the mirror, Harvey noticed a jawline not unlike his dad’s, as well as some pubescent stubble from a week of not shaving. He realized that it was a masculine day. He turned his head from side to side, looking for traits of the feminine, beneath a head of curly brown hair. They seemed to be there, maybe the long lashes around his brown eyes or his high cheekbones, inherited from his mom. But they receded into the background as the male traits conquered Harvey’s mental view.
He shimmied his briefs on under his towel, put on a grey slim-cut, button-down shirt, a pair of black chinos and his black canvas shoes. All but the shoes were relatively new purchases his parents paid for before Harvey went off to boarding school. He then ambled diffidently back to his room, grabbed his satchel crammed full of folders and books for class, organized with no discernible rhyme or reason.
Harvey’s gender may not have felt fixed, but, due to the weather and a bit of malaise, some of his accessories had now become standard: the flamboyant Andean hat, the umbrella, the sweatshirt. The only variance became the variety of clothes beneath.
Yet another overcast day, heavy cumulonimbus had been summoned above the town where they might stalk Andover residents and cause calamity whenever nature saw fit. Moorehaven kids roamed the campus, seeking educational wisdom while immersed in ultrafine particles glowing red with the light of an occluded sun.
First period was English, where the students were focusing on writing about their own lives using a variety of literary devices and formats. This was followed by Health or, as the school called it, “TEEN HEALTH MATTERS FOR SECOND YEARS.” While sex was the topic everyone was waiting for, the class was still on nutrition, which could have been interesting had the teacher delved into the gut biome, but instead focused on the most superficial interpretation of a well-balanced diet.
Zoning out in class, Harvey recalled that it had been Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, who had first conceived of the concept of a “balanced breakfast”. The father of the public relations business, Bernays had worked with a client in the pork industry to increase the popularity of the foodstuff. To do so, Bernays convinced influential doctors to recommend bacon and eggs as a part of a balanced breakfast.
Harvey’s gut biome became hungry for some breakfast. He pulled a granola bar out of his bag and scarfed it down.
After Health, it was off to Spanish, where Harvey could lose himself in another language. Somehow, even though he was paired with fourth-year students in an advanced foreign language class, Harvey became an extrovert, making jokes and teaching his classmates words they only used in his mother’s native city in Bolivia.
How he retained Spanish he didn’t know because his parents didn’t speak it at home. His father had never picked it up, so Harvey’s only chance to practice was usually with relatives. Otherwise, the language just submerged below the surface of his consciousness.
Then it was back to shrinking in the corner of the classroom in History—except that the teacher wouldn’t let a student just fade into the background. With a six-to-one student-to-teacher ratio, educators at Moorehaven basically made kids talk, regardless of if they wanted to or even knew the answer. The goal, of course, was to build confidence and prep them for college and executive leadership positions. So, while studying the consolidation of the Han Dynasty, Harvey would have to, at one point or another, answer some question, voice shaking and hands-a-tremble.
During his free period, Harvey would go to Casolaro Commons where he would look for acquaintances out of the corner of his eye while maintaining an air of nonchalance about who he might see or where he might eat. That day, he saw no one, sat out on the terrace and ate an organic onion bagel with wild-caught lox, garlic and herb cream cheese, red onions and capers, plus a bag of barbecue kettle chips and a chocolate milk.
Harvey sat out on the covered patio, eating his half-Jewish lunch as a reflection of his half-Jewish cultural heritage. He pulled out The Catcher in the Rye and picked up where he left off. Holden was going to Ernie’s Nightclub and it wasn’t panning out to be a meaningful experience.
A gust of wind blew a discarded napkin into Harvey’s face just as two students walked past his lonely, little table. He recognized one of the kids as the student assembly representative of the McGowan dorm. The guy had a matter-of-fact way of speaking that lent some credence to his voice. Whether or not he actually told the truth was another thing altogether, but he sounded sincere as he told the other student:
“Those people on the Wilson Committee were dead wrong. There’s no way in the world that a single kid could have shot Josh Kilpatrick up that…”
The last bit faded as the duo walked by. Harvey couldn’t be sure of what he heard, but, like that, the two students were gone, continuing their conversation further and further away from his ears.
Harvey was shocked by the fact that over a semester had passed and kids were still talking about this Kilpatrick guy. Not once, but twice in just a couple of days had he overheard his peers discussing—and loudly—Kilpatrick’s death under what was suggested to be odd circumstances that included getaway drivers and/or multiple shooters. Either the whole school had a hard-on for Kilpatrick, or the story of his murder wasn’t as simple as it seemed. Or maybe both.
It was around then that his interest in the school’s social and political life began to pique. Harvey’s next class was part of his Journalism extracurricular, the first part lecture and the second part devoted to working on stories for the Haven Maven. He thought maybe he’d pitch the Kilpatrick assassination as an entry point into the bicentennial.
“I like it,” his editor responded. Harvey was taken by surprise. “I mean, don’t spend too much time on the actual shooting, but I like the idea of beginning with a sort of memorial.”
A memorial wasn’t exactly what Harvey had in mind, but it was a good enough excuse to look into the incident a little further. Without any other mission to drive the story, this act of violence might just be enough to add a little bit of weight to Harvey’s piece.
Finally, he had psychology, the only other subject he felt comfortable with, another foreign language he was fairly fluent in. Harvey had always been fascinated by the human mind, both in terms of individual behavior and in groups. And it wasn’t just the ephemera of the thoughts themselves, intangible outside of the behaviors they caused and EEGs, but also the psychophysiology of neurotransmitters, chemical reactions across synapses, and the other mechanics of an otherwise incomprehensible being.
Harvey was looking forward to learning about the effects of different psychotropic drugs on perception, like how LSD was said to dissolve the ego. Similarly, he wondered about how those experiences might be related to schizophrenia and dream states.
There was another topic, however, that Harvey was pretty sure wouldn’t be covered: parapsychology. He always assumed there’d be no empirical evidence to support it, but could astral projection really occur? If not, what psychological mechanisms did such gimmicks take advantage of. Were any occult practices legit? Communicating with the dead? Seeing into the future? Conjuring the power of the devil? Or was that all hokum designed to take advantage of the illusory thinking of the human mind?
And with the conclusion of Psychology came the end of the school day. Harvey’s final time slot on Tuesdays was a free period, prescribed by the school for socializing, relaxing or extracurriculars and, since everyone else was busy doing one of those three things, he would pursue the third thing and find out who killed Josh Kilpatrick.