Friends and family breathed a sigh of relief on the day Jacob Johnstone disappeared. A growing source of anguish and despair, his wife Julie was at her wit’s end. Each day, she prayed in silent consternation pleading for it all to just end. And so one evening, it did.
At first, Jacob attributed the changes in his temperament to stress. After all, this was by far the largest project his fledgling construction company had ever undertaken. The pressure to perform was immense. Not only was he was pushing his crew to the limit but indeed his own financial capability. This job was either going to make him or break him.
He had done his share of small commercial contracts before but nothing on the scale of King George Public School. A basic tare down was one thing, but a controlled demolition was quite another. So as he made his way from classroom to classroom, through long since empty hallways, his focus was laser sharp, his attention singular.
Once the community’s hub, the hundred-plus-year-old red brick lady had fallen victim to the endless march of time. Declining enrollment had been her final death throw. Baby boomers from a bygone era no longer filled her halls with their shouts of joy and laughter. The classrooms, once beehives of actively, now sat dusty, dank and deafeningly quiet.
Jacob moved methodically throughout the facility, taking note of where best to place each charge. The structure needed to be weakened at certain points in order that it collapse within the specified safety zone.
From room to room he walked, each indistinguishable from the last. Thus was why he took immediate notice of the sudden temperature drop upon entering room 2B. He quickly surmised from his surroundings that it had once served as the English Literature class. The irony of it being 2B was not lost on him.
Recollections of his own junior high school days flooded in. How he had detested his English teacher. The constant berating and drilling in of nouns, adjectives, and verbs made the arrogant old codger almost intolerable. “No one gives a damn about grammar anyways. Besides, Shakespeare sucked,” he muttered aloud.
Throwing aside the thought, he walked over to investigate the long sill. He ascertained that one of his crew must have forgotten to close a window. His assumption proved correct. The far right pane lay partway open, a crisp autumn breeze fluttering through.
Placing his hands firmly on the top rail, he applied a strong downward pressure. It didn’t budge. He redoubled his efforts, but still, the sash remained firmly in place. “No matter,” he thought, “Your time’s almost up anyway.”
He had just exited the classroom when a thundering crash brought Jacob to an abrupt halt. His heart leapt to his throat, the reverberating boom echoing throughout the building. “What the hell was that?” he asked frantically.
His pulse raced feverishly, adrenaline pumping through his veins. He took a moment to calm himself then slowly stepped back. Cautiously, he peeked his head around the door in the direction of the raucous sound. His mouth fell open slack as he looked on in disbelief. Shards of broken and shattered glass lay strewn and scattered about the floor. Above, the window that had been jammed open just seconds before now inexplicably slammed violently shut.
He scrambled to make sense of the alarming scene. “What? How?” His nerves already beyond frayed, he decided it best to just completely dismiss the strange occurrence. Hastily, he finished up what he had come to do, promptly exited the school and headed home.
Julie was accustom to Jacob coming home late at night, often awaiting his safe arrival. This evening was no different. She gently kissed his cheek, bid him goodnight and made her way upstairs. Jacob followed soon after.
It had not been a peaceful night for Jacob. Julie, aware of her husband’s restlessness, made a point of asking him about it at breakfast. “I don’t know” Jacob shrugged, “I just kept tossing and turning.” Not wishing to worry his wife further, he made no mention of the frightening nightmares that had precipitated his fitful sleep.
His body felt sluggish, his mind blurred as he pulled into the construction yard that morning. He immediately took note that Bob, his foreman, had yet to arrive. Storming into the office, he screamed at Lisa, “Where the hell is Bob?”
Lisa and Jacob had been friends since high school. She ran the office like a finely tuned instrument. “He phoned and said he was running late.” Jacob just shook his head then stormed off to his office.
Lisa, acutely aware of her surroundings, realized that it wasn’t at all like Jacob to fly off the handle like that. She knocked softly then tentatively pushed Jabob’s office door open. “Are you ok?” she enquired. He raised his hands to his face then proceeded to rub his temples. “I am sorry Lisa. I just don’t feel like myself today.” She smiled back empathetically. “Well, if you need anything, just let me know.” “I will, thanks,” he replied apologetically.
Jacob did his best to maintain focus throughout the day. Perhaps he had picked up some bug in that cold English classroom, or worse yet, something toxic. Either way, he knew that at this juncture, he’d just have to push through it. There was just too much hanging in the balance to let things slip.
Pulling into the drive that evening, he leaned over and rested his forehead on the steering wheel. “What is wrong with me?” he wondered aloud. Suddenly a disembodied voice rang out “How fares thee, good sir?” Jacob instinctively jerked his body erect. He peered about the truck in every direction, startled by the unexpected response.
Throwing open the truck door he bolted out into the street. His eyes darted one way then the next. Nothing. Puzzled and confused, he resignedly turned around and walked back toward the house. “On man, I really am losing it.”
He dared not mention the occurrence to his wife, unaware that Lisa had called earlier that day expressing her concerns to Julie. “Something is wrong with him.” she’d told Julie. “Ever since he went to the school the other day he’s been acting really weird” Julie concurred but quickly rationalized. “I am sure it’s just the stress of this job,” she said half-heartedly. “He’ll be fine once the demo is over.” Even she doubted her words.
As the week wore on Jacob became increasingly more reclusive. “I am fine!” he would respond tersely to the slightest of inquiry. But things weren’t fine and word of his malaise was quickly getting around town.
His employees, initially worried about his well being were becoming increasingly more concerned about their own. Everyone involved was counting on this job, and given Jacob’s erratic behavior, the whole deal was now being called into question.
The sun’s rays flooded the kitchen on the morning of the demolition. In what had become a rare moment of clarity, Jacob finally admitted to Julie. “I think I am losing my mind.” He shuffled in his chair for a moment and then looked her directly in the eye. “I am hearing a voice. It’s as though someone is trying to take control over me.”
Julie’s heart sank. She began to hyperventilate, her breathing becoming rapid and shallow. “Oh my God Jacob. We have to get you to the hospital”, she pleaded.
Jacob forcefully pushed himself away from the kitchen table and jumped to his feet. “No damn way Julie. They’ll think I’m crazy.” He began pacing about the room. “We’ll lose everything. The contract, the business, the house, everything!” He turned to Julie with a threatening glare, “You don’t tell a soul, you got that? I’ll be fine just as soon as this damn demo is over”
He snatched his coat off the back of the kitchen chair and stormed out of the house. Shaken, Julie sat motionless, staring aimlessly at the wall clock. “I hope so Jacob.” she lamented, “For our sake, I hope so.”
That evening, following the demolition, Jacob swung open the front door and greeted his wife with a mischievous grin. There was a spring in his step and a playful air about him. He whistled gleefully as he rummaged through the refrigerator. “I am sorry, I didn’t expect you home for supper, ” Julie said apologetically. “Oh that’s ok dear, I understand.”
Julie was taken aback by Jacob’s jovial behavior. It was a pleasant surprise but at the same time quite disconcerting. “Are, are you ok?” she asked hesitantly. “Never better,” Jacob said with a wink. “I feel like a new man.”
Not wanting to push her luck, Julie motioned toward the stairs. “I’m umm, heading off to bed. Good ahh….goodnight Jacob” He sauntered up to Julie and lovingly cupped her face in the palm of his hand. Drawing her nearer, he softly spoke, “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say good night till it be morrow.’
Julie’s lips curled into a wry smile. Not quite believing of her own ears, she hoped that the nightmare might finally be over. As she ascended the stairs, Jacob turned and strolled back toward the kitchen. Walking past the hall mirror he stopped himself then took a step back and gazed deeply into its reflective surface. Leaning in closer still, he peered intently into his eyes, as if for the first time. “Hmmmmm, green. How enchanting.” he pondered, “Ah, Greensleeves, now farewell Jacob, adieu.”