Fiction: S.C.A.T.

Disclaimer: The story you are about to read is full of suspense and some gore. Please proceed at your own risk.

S.C.A.T. won first place in the Abbey Hill Literary Challenge. You can access this story and other winners in their site here

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S.C.A.T.

by Prisca Rodriguez

Sunrise revealed a single drop of blood. Dust particles floated lazily on the rays of the sun that streamed in through the kitchen window. They landed on the countertop and on that almost perfectly round drop of spilled life. She almost missed it, engrossed as she was on her predawn phone call with her faraway husband.

“Oh, sweetheart, you should have seen him. Your son, dressed up in full soldier gear, just like his daddy! He thought he looked so fierce with his kitty whiskers painted on. He looked adorable! He and his school friends were having so much fun.”

Her eyes followed a particularly large dust particle caught in the sun’s beam to its unfortunate landing on the drop of blood, where she usually cut all raw meat before a meal. Odd, she frowned, I’m always so careful to clean it all up.

“…thing?”

To her dismay, the blood had completely distracted her from the conversation.

“I’m sorry, honey, what did you say?” She ripped a piece of paper towel and wiped away the offensive spot. Have to remember to disinfect the area.

“I said, what do fatigues and whiskers have to do with that Spring party thing?”

She looked at the ceiling, raised an eyebrow and sighed.

“It’s almost time for the SCAT, remember? The party is not about Spring, but about the test. The teachers get the kids excited and inspired to excel. It’s kind of like a pep-rally. I thought it would be cute to add the cat whiskers. You know, for S-CAT.”

A groan from the other end.

“Not that again. You sound like you’re actually looking forward to torturing our kid with that… Spring Confounding something-or-other.”

“Spring Comprehensive Achievement Test, dear.”

“Whatever. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of. I remember last year’s test. Our poor boy…I thought we were going to have to get him therapy because he was convinced he had failed it. He walked around as if it were the end of the world! And even after he got the good news, he couldn’t read a book for the pure joy of it anymore. He always had to ask about its lexile level, or about it having an SCAT bubble sheet to test his reading skills….and a lot of other B.S…”

She leaned against the refrigerator and tapped a finger to the door as he continued his spiel. When he got like this, there was no stopping him. He just didn’t get it. Standardized tests gave children much needed structure to survive in this world. This new program even held teachers accountable for their teaching.

She remembered this one lady—an odd duck—who ordered pizza and drinks every Friday, supposedly to teach the kids about fractions. That classroom was a mess every single time. When the first SCAT practice came, just about all of the kids in the class got low math scores! They got rid of her and a few others who just didn’t make the cut. The new teachers knew what do so the kids were prepared for the test. They were thoroughly trained in the new methodologies by none other than the Department of Education. It’s a good thing, too. Now my baby is doing better than ever and acing those tests!

“…and, seriously, what is that stupid test doing to help my boy learn about life? Where is he going to get by with just some formulas and filling in bubble sheets? Let me tell you, there was this new recruit today, straight from this inane educational system, and he couldn’t even—”

She closed her eyes and concentrated on her tapping fingers, wishing her husband were home to see for himself how well his son was doing in school.

“Are you listening to me?”

She blinked rapidly in the brightening room.

“Uh, yes, of course. But it’s getting late, darling. I need to get our son to school.”

A long, rumbling sigh from the other end.

“Right. I miss you. All my love and kisses to the kiddo.”

She put the phone in her pocket, smacked her lips together and wiped them with the back of her hand. All the words left unsaid kept accumulating in her mouth, desperate to be free. I can’t wait for him to be home. He’ll see, then. He’ll see I’m doing a good job raising our child. All of those hours this past week, spent on studying for the test…he’ll see…his son will have the highest scores in the class.

Her hands fluttered around her head, as if swatting away the unpleasant conversation, when she saw that one of the kitchen knives was missing from its block. It was the filleting knife.

Fingers of electricity climbed up her back as she fixed her gaze on the spot where she had wiped away the blood. The house was eerily quiet. Where were the sounds of steps coming down the stairs, ready for breakfast?

She walked the length of the counter, past the sink, getting closer to the microwave, where she saw two more little drops of blood. Her hand flew to her mouth and she reeled back, her eyes landing on the wall where many more drops of blood spelled “Hello”. They were beginning to run down the wall; the blood was still fresh. Her mind thought back to her trek downstairs into the kitchen earlier that morning, eager for her husband’s call, but still very sleepy. She had not spared a glance to much of anything except the floor so she wouldn’t trip over her own feet.

She raced to the stairs and bit down on her hand to keep from screaming. Little dots of blood lined the wall leading up to…

A strangled cry escaped her as she raced up the steps.

At the top of the stairs her feet refused to carry her further. The door to her son’s room stood slightly ajar, more drops of blood decorating the frame, handle, and the letters of the single decoration on the door: a sign that said “Key Pout”, which always made her smile. Except now.

A giggle made her jump and every hair of her body stand on end. From the other side of the door the giggle grew louder then softer; soon it became a gasping giggle. Manic…manic laughter. The kind that never stops, she thought.

Her trembling hand lightly tapped the door before pushing it open. Her entire sight of vision was covered in spots. Little dots on the lamp shade, the bedspread, on the pair of sneakers waiting patiently next to the bed…and on the walls. Her whirling mind suddenly recognized patterns in the blood and she wondered what messages she failed to recognize on the wall up the stairs.

SCAT, testing, high score, lexile, reading comprehension, Spring, study, pass, fail, pass, fail, pass, fail, fail, fail… “Fail” was the predominant word on the walls; the word felt like an accusation.

The giggling stopped.

She stepped completely into the room. Her son sat on the floor at the foot of the bed, only his head twisted to face her, a wide grin splitting his features.

His eyes were watery, red-rimmed and glazed.

“Look! I’m preparing for the future. They don’t even realize I heard the big secret!” He turned away and giggled.

Her breath came in short gasps and whimpers and she forced herself to step closer to her son. What was he doing that she couldn’t see?

“S-son…son, what do you mean. What secret?”

“My teachers. I heard them talking. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I heard them say ‘SCAT’ and I couldn’t help myself. All’s fair in love and standardized tests, right? Well, I heard them say: ‘That damned test. It gets more impossible every year. How much more are they going to ask of us and these kids? You’re lucky to be retiring’”.

He laughed outright and twisted his head to her again. Thick tears were streaming down his face as he laughed open-mouthed, the whites of his eyes growing.

“And then you know what the retiring teacher said? It’s the biggest secret of all! She said: ‘Ha! I bet they’ll soon ask the kids to fill out the bubble sheets with their own blood!’ So you see…so you see…I had to do it. I had to practice before they changed the test. I’ll be the best, you’ll see.”

She fell to her knees in front of her son, mouth open in a silent scream. In his cut hands he held the missing fillet knife. Little drops of blood dripped from his hands onto a sheet of the practice SCAT bubble paper. Still laughing, her son turned to make sure the little drops fell onto the bubbles, filling them darkly, filling them completely, and, most importantly, filling them perfectly.

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