Coach by Sharon Frame Gay
by Sharon Frame Gay
Journal of Lindsey Stone, 1985
“My name is Lindsey Stone. I’m writing in the darkness under the blanket with a fading flashlight. Whoever finds this will know who killed me. I am hiding this journal in the locker at school. I know I am dying. It is just a matter of time. Of opportunity. My bones already ache from the frost of death, my heart silent as the deep woods.
When you read this journal, ask yourself, “What would I do?”
It all began this September when school started. The happiness of junior year was shadowed by the disappearance of four girls this summer. Three lived in townships close by. The fourth, Julie Taylor, was a freshman here at Lincoln High in Pine Ridge, Missouri. Two were found. They were stabbed, mutilated, and tossed into Fletcher’s Pond. Two are still missing. A cloud hovered over our school, our festivities, our studies. The whole town is jittery. Nobody goes out past dark until they find the killer. Girls walk in pairs or groups, never alone, and NEVER after the sun goes down.
Monday started off like any other day at Lincoln High, except for the nagging reminder that we were in danger. We still found time to laugh and joke, huddle in corners with friends, and chat in the lunchroom. But behind our smiles, there was a deep foreboding.
My dad dropped me off at the front doors of the school as he always did. It was a crisp fall morning, the leaves a brilliant red and orange against the backdrop of a deep blue sky. My friends gathered in groups, talked about classes, the upcoming football game on Friday and music, until the bell rang. There were promises to meet at lunch or in study hall.
My best friend Katy and I stayed after school that afternoon to help with cheerleading try outs. We planned on riding home with Jason, Katy’s older brother. After the try outs, Katy and I were heading for the showers when Jason jogged down the hall.
“Wait up” he said. “We have a problem here.”
“What’s the matter?” asked Katy.
“The old crappy clunker broke down in the parking lot. The tow truck is coming to pick it up and take it to the mechanic. I have to ride along. Hurry if you want to come downtown in the tow truck with me. Dad will pick us up from there.”
“No way,” said Katy. She jutted her chin out. “I have stuff to do at home. I won’t waste time sitting around in a stupid garage. Lindsey and I can walk. It’ll still be light when we leave. Right, Linds?”
I glanced at my watch. It was getting late. I hesitated, then nodded. “Yeah, we’ll hurry home.”
“Ok, have it your way, but you better hustle,” Jason said as he turned and walked away. “See you at dinner.”
Downstairs, the girls locker room was silent. Everyone had left for the day. I decided not to clean up until I got home, pulling on a grey hoodie and jeans, stuffing my gym clothes in a backpack. Katy said she wanted to take a quick shower, so I waited in the dressing area for her. I paced the floor, hoping she’d hurry.
“Get a move on,” I called out. I heard the shower start. A few minutes later, it stopped.
Katy called out in a worried voice. “Lindsey! Get in here!”
“What?” I asked, poking my head around the tiled stall.
Wrapped in a towel, Katy pointed past the shower head to the ceiling.
“Does that look like a camera to you?”
I peered upwards. There was a small black disk perched on a stalk, protruding from a rafter. Maybe it was a fire sprinkler. Maybe it was a security camera. A security camera? Here in the girls’ shower? That would be an invasion. Far away, I thought I heard footsteps. Then silence. I put my finger to my lips. We listened, but all we heard was water dripping from the shower head.
“I don’t know what it is. Let’s get out of here. We can tell the office tomorrow and have them look at it. Come on.” I looked at my watch. “Now!”
Katy dressed quickly, running her hands through tendrils of damp red hair, tossed a bottle of soap and the wet towel into her backpack. We hurried down the corridor, past a series of darkened class rooms to the double doors, pushed them open and set off across the football field towards home.
The sun was dancing lower on the horizon. We broke into a trot along the well worn shortcut kids took through a stand of trees. Although a dense wooded area, it was the quickest way home. Our feet pounded along the trail as we brushed past shrubs and low hanging branches. The last of the remaining sunlight flickered in and out of shadow, forming lacy designs on the trail. A cold wind picked up, trees swaying overhead. In the distance, a dog barked.
Katy caught her foot and stumbled over a root. She stopped to adjust her backpack and bent down to tie a shoelace. She straightened, took a step. There was rustling in the trees to our left. Branches snapping. We looked at each other, frightened. My heart raced. Katy’s green eyes widened as she stared into mine.
“Let’s go,” I mouthed. I took a step towards home, but Katy wheeled around and raced back down the trail towards the football field.
“Katy, come back,” I whispered into the wind.
Instead, she ran faster through the woods, leaving me far behind. I stood there, confused. I didn’t want to continue on alone, yet I didn’t think going back was the right thing either. But how could I leave Katy? I sprinted down the path towards the school, the forest darkening in the fading light.
Reaching the edge of the clearing, I stopped and looked around. Katy was nowhere in sight. Did she make it back to the building? Did she double back into the woods, thinking I hadn’t followed? I stopped and listened, the only sound my labored breath. Fear clouded my brain. Deep shadows crept across the football field as I strained to see.
Then I heard a muffled noise coming from the woods. It must be Katy.
“Katy?” I whispered.
There was no answer, just the wind in the trees.
Holding my breath with every step, I approached the area.
I smelled it first. The coppery tang that hit my nostrils and set my head spinning. Blood, fresh and heavy on the lower notes of the forest. In the deepening dusk, I stopped, terror rising. I saw Katy’s backpack, lying under a broken shrub, and a flicker of yellow through the branches beyond the path. I stepped off the trail and into the bushes. Parting the leaves with my hand, I peered through the foliage.
Katy was lying on the forest floor, eyes half closed, her throat slit and still pumping blood, clothes sliced in shreds. Standing above her was the killer. He was drooling, eyes glazed, knife in hand. The man kneeled above Katy’s body, ripping at her clothes, lost in a frenzy. I gasped, inhaled sharply. He froze, turned his head, and we locked eyes. Recognition came to both of us. I backed away in horror as he turned towards me with the knife.
“Wait!” he yelled.
Panicked, I turned and raced deeper through the trees. He followed me. I veered right, scrambled across a small brook into a horse pasture. Now he was right behind, as though he expected this was where I would go. Somewhere familiar. Somewhere open. I burst forward, turned towards the barn, but changed course at the last second, darting past the building and on to the rural road that circles our town. I sprinted down the middle of the road into the setting sun, running for my life.
Headlights came up over the hill in the dusk. An old white pickup truck topped the rise, heading towards me. I waved frantically. The car slowed, then pulled over, motor idling.
An older man rolled down the window. “What’s going on?”
I didn’t recognize him. He could be dangerous, too. But anybody was safer than who I had just seen. I hesitated telling this stranger what I saw. He might drive off, thinking it was a prank. Or worse yet, hand me over to the killer lurking somewhere behind me. So I lied.
“Help! I need a ride to Springfield. My brother’s hurt and I have to get there right away.”
“Springfield?” he asked. “What’s the big emergency? Can’t your parents drive you? A kid like you shouldn’t be hitchhiking.”
“No, they can’t drive me. They’re already there! He was in an accident and I’m heading for the hospital.”
He gave me a suspicious look, then nodded. “Hop in, I’ll take you as far as the edge of town , then you’re on your own.”
“That’s fine,” I said, running to the passenger side. I looked behind me as we drove on. There was nobody in sight. But he was there. Hiding in the trees. Plotting, planning, waiting to get me. I needed to get as far away as possible. I knew him all too well. And he knew me, too.
The killer was our high school coach. He was well respected in town. The police might not believe me at first, giving Coach time to get to me. He’d twist things, so that nobody suspected he was capable of murder. Coach would make my death look like an accident. I didn’t know what to do. Where was I going to go? There was nothing in my backpack but books, some makeup, and a few dollars. I only knew, for now, I couldn’t go home. Coach would kill me.
The truck driver said his name was Dan Olson. He had white hair under a farmer’s cap, and wore faded overalls. The truck smelled like smoke and sweat. Beneath my feet rolled used soda cans and crumpled papers. He asked my name. I told him it was Janet. He made small talk on our way to Springfield. I answered as best I could, my heart tripping. All I could think of was Katy. She knew Coach too. Katy probably ran right up to him, thinking he would walk us home in the dark. I shuddered at the thought. Now Coach was after me. Mr. Olson peered at me from time to time, asking questions. My voice sounded tinny and fake as I tried to speak normally, even though I was bordering on hysteria. I thought of Coach, of Katy, the camera in the locker room, the girls who had disappeared and felt bile rise in my throat. My spirit shattered.
After an hour, the truck slowed as Mr. Olson turned off the highway, rattled and stopped in front of Springfield Regional Hospital.
“Here we are,” he said. “I brought you all the way to the hospital instead of drop you off somewhere. It isn’t safe, with all those girls gone missing.” He looked over at me. “You should never hitchhike, you know. Especially now. I hope your brother’s okay.”
I nodded, thanked him, got out of the car. He sat there with the motor running, watching me, a deep frown on his face. To avoid suspicion, I walked through the hospital doors.
It was busy in the lobby. People were wandering in and out, talking in hushed tones. Babies were crying, small children running back and forth, patients in wheelchairs. Uncomfortable looking chairs lined dull green walls. Still shaky, I settled in the far corner next to a potted plant. I set the backpack down, clasped trembling hands together between my knees, and closed my eyes.
What should I do now? I longed to call home. Say I was okay. What if Coach found out I called somehow? Would he hurt my Mom? I couldn’t take the chance. No, it’s best to hide out until I can figure out what to do. At least for now, I was out of danger. I hunkered down in the chair and tried to stay calm. But everything came back again and again. Katy. Oh my God. Katy.
Katy and I had been best friends since first grade. She lived down the street in a white Colonial house with green shutters. Her mom was a doctor, her dad an accountant. Jason was a year older than we were, always teasing us, calling us the “Terrible Two.” I remember walking to school together when we were six, holding hands, trailing behind Jason every morning. Katy’s fiery red hair glimmered in the sunshine, so different from my blonde pigtails. She was the risk taker, the one who loved a challenge, while I hung back and watched her do something first, like the balance beam at school or debate club. Then, like a faithful puppy, I followed. You seldom saw one of us without the other.
By the time we entered high school, I was taller than her by several inches. Katy was tiny, always the girl at the top of our cheerleading pyramids. I held her up, her feet on my shoulders while we cheered at all the games. And now, she was gone. I felt like I let her down somehow, unable to lift her up from death. Coach had known her all these years, too. How could he betray her, betray me, betray the whole town? My mind whirled. I couldn’t get the image of Coach out of my head as he stood above Katy’s body. Nothing will ever be the same. Nothing.
Hours went by. Night had gathered outside the window. A constant parade of people shuffled by. Nobody seemed to notice me. I felt safe here among all these strangers. What irony, I thought. To feel more secure with people I don’t know than those I do.
Closing my eyes again, I leaned my head against the wall and tried to rest. Maybe if I fell asleep, I’d wake up and discover I had been dreaming. My mind kept returning again and again to Katy, to Coach, to the grisly murder.
Somebody grabbed my sleeve. I gasped, bumped my head against the wall. Looking down, I saw a small boy in a blue sweater tugging on me.
“Is that you?” he asked, pointing to the television mounted in the waiting room.
There I was up on the screen, along with a photo of Katy. Beneath the photo a banner read “Two girls missing in Pine Falls. Police are asking for your help. Call 911 if you have any information.”
Pulling the hood over my head, covering my blonde hair, I looked down at the boy, and swallowed hard. Tried to smile. Sweat trickled down my ribs.
“Now, how can I be on TV and be here in the hospital at the same time?” I asked him. “How silly! That’s not me.”
He thought about it, nodded, then skipped back to his mother. I picked up my backpack and walked down the hall to the cafeteria, bought a banana and a sweet roll. Tried to stay as invisible as possible. I turned towards the window, shielding my face from others, and sat there until the sky lightened. Then I stretched and headed back to the waiting room.
There were more people in the lobby now than last night. I couldn’t stay here much longer. In the ladies’ room, I washed my face and hands, ran a brush through my hair, tucked it inside the hood. Looking in the mirror, a pale version of myself stared back.
Opening the door, I turned towards the lobby.
A deep voice said, “Stop right there.”
Startled, I tried to duck back into the ladies’ room, but a strong hand grabbed my elbow. I looked up. The voice belonged to a sheriff. He towered above me, his badge right at eye level, beefy face lowered towards mine.
“Are you Lindsey Stone?”
I thought of lying. But my name was on the backpack. I had identification in my wallet. He’d know the truth soon, anyway. I couldn’t run. He still gripped my arm. I nodded in defeat.
“Come along, Lindsey. We’re glad you’re safe. Everybody’s been looking for you. We’re taking you back to Pine Hills and your family.”
He propelled me through the lobby and out the doors into the back seat of a waiting squad car. Another officer was in the passenger seat. He turned around, smiled. He looked like Coach, and my heart skipped. As we pulled away from the curb, I saw the little boy in the blue sweater with his mother, pointing at me. I was so lost, confused and afraid. Then I put my head in my hands and cried.
“Lindsey,” said the sheriff, peering in the rear view mirror. “Do you need anything?” His voice was soft, sympathetic.
I shook my head.
“Listen, we’re taking you to the station in Pine Hills. Your parents will be there. The police want to ask questions. Don’t speak now about what you may have seen. Just sit back and relax. Wait until you talk to the local police.”
I nodded, peering out the window at the start of a bright autumn day, remembering Katy with her blank eyes, her mouth open in surprise.
We pulled in front of the tiny building that housed our police station. The officers lead me through the door and down a short hallway, into a room with bright overhead lights, metal chairs and a table. On one side of the table were Mom and Dad. They both stood up and moved towards me.
“Lindsey!” Mom cried. “Thank God you’re okay!” She trembled as she put her arms around me. Her face was ashen and drawn. In the harsh light she looked like a ghost.
I turned to Dad. He put both hands on my shoulders, squeezed. “Honey, are you okay? Is everything all right?”
I swayed, feeling faint, knees buckling.
“I think I need to sit,” I mumbled, and Dad lead me over to a chair, set me down, kept his hands on my shoulders.
Two officers walked into the room, greeted us, then began the interrogation. They started by saying they found Katy’s body. They were sorry to tell me she was dead. Katy’s brother said we had been together after school. They asked if I had been with Katy. Maybe saw something that can help. They turned on a tape recorder, pushed it towards me and invited me to speak. I took a deep breath, began to talk.
I told them we had gone separate ways on the trail and I had lost her. That’s when I heard a faint noise coming from the woods and thought maybe Katy was hiding. I saw her backpack near a bush, and parted the shrubs. Katy lay on her back, throat slashed. I told them she was lying there alone. Then I completely freaked out, running in terror through the woods to the highway. Afraid the killer was hiding nearby, I took off in a panic, asked for a ride out of town.
Twisting my hands in my lap, I lied and said I never saw the killer, never heard his voice, had no idea who it could have been. They asked me the same questions over and over again, trying to trip me up, but I remained solid in my lies and told them I had seen nothing but Katy’s body. There was too much at stake to tell the truth.
Mom prodded. “Are you sure you saw nothing else, Lindsey?”
I looked at her, then over at Dad. He raised his eyebrows in question.
“I’m sure” I said, crying. I looked into Dad’s eyes. “Please believe me. I saw nothing.”
He stared at me for several moments, nodded slightly in understanding, then turned to the police. “She’s telling you the truth, officers. I know my daughter. I know when she’s lying and she’s giving you honest answers. Lindsey’s exhausted. Please let us take her home for now.”
Eventually, the police took up their recording devices and notebooks and told me we’d talk again. Maybe something would come back in my memory that might help. Call them anytime. They said we were free to go.
I barely ate dinner that night. The three of us sat at the kitchen table, each overcome with different emotions. Mom and Dad stole worried glances at me. I know they suspected I wasn’t telling the whole truth. I kept my head down, staring at the plate. Weary, I rose from the table on unsteady feet.
“I need to go to bed” I mumbled. Climbing the stairs with shaky legs, my heart thumped with each step. Soon. I would die soon.
Closing the bedroom door, I shoved the dresser against it, double locked the window and pulled the blinds. Rummaging through the closet I found an old baseball bat, set it down on the bed. Then allowed myself to cry, for me, for Mom and Dad, for Katy, her family. I felt the desperate pall of terror wash over me and vomited into the trash can next to the bed. Spent, alone, frightened, I wrote in this journal. Every creak on the stairs, every scratching limb on the window, every night noise, was no longer a source of comfort but the clarion call of death. Fatigue overtook me and my eyes grew heavy.
I must have slept, waking with a jolt when Mom knocked on the door. She said it was time to get up, have breakfast and set out for school. I washed my face, got dressed, took great care to stow this journal in the backpack, and walked downstairs. My parents sat at the kitchen table. Mom buttered a slice of toast, put it on a plate. She told me I didn’t have to go to school today. I told her I wanted to go. In my frantic mind, I thought it might be safer in a crowd. I could finish this journal at school.
I sipped at some orange juice, felt it burn as it slid down my throat. I wanted to say something to my mother, warn her. But I also wanted to protect her. Maybe it’s for the best, I thought. Maybe it’s as it should be. I felt my soul surrender to the horror of what I saw, to the horror of what will be coming.
Dad and I did not speak as he drove me to Lincoln High that morning. We rode in silence, my backpack clutched fiercely to my chest. This time, instead of dropping me off at the front doors, he parked the car and we walked into the building together, his hand on my elbow, guiding me. We had a meeting this morning with Mrs. Roberts, the principal, to discuss what happened. Friends smiled sadly as we passed through the big double doors, hugging me, murmuring words of sympathy about Katy, shaking Dad’s hand as we made our way down the hall. They were relieved I was found. In the midst of all this sorrow, at least I was spared, they said. Or so it seemed to them.
We reached Mrs. Robert’s office. She rose from the desk with tears in her eyes and closed the door behind us. She gave me a hug, tucked a strand of hair behind my ear with a gentle hand.
“Thank God you’re home, Lindsey. This is a nightmare. Such a tragedy. I’m sorry for you. For poor Katy. It’s horrible, but it’s over now. You’re safe.” She gestured to a chair. “Here, honey, sit down so we can talk.”
Then, smiling at my father, she gestured to the other chair by the window………”Have a seat, Coach.”
* * * * THE END * * * *
Copyright Sharon Frame Gay 2017