Underground Reading: Deadly Weapon by Wade Miller
Review Round-up: Sworn in Steel and The Elements of Sorcery

Fiction: 'Mass Hysteria and You' by Amy Coombe

Mass Hysteria and You

At first I didn’t care.  Everyone was talking about how Carrie Barf collapsed in the hall between second and third period and I was, like, good. She’s a bitch. She was always such a bitch to me.

Carrie – that’s Carrianne Barthes, pronounced Barrrrrth, like the philosopher, we’re related, God, I can hear her saying it right now – she was mean to me from the moment I moved here. Everyone else, all these assholes, they’ve all lived here all their lives, gone to school together since kindergarten. Their moms were probably doing prenatal yoga together. It’s disgusting. I moved here when I was thirteen, and so I was doomed; they were never going to want to be friends with me. Even if I’d wanted to, which of course I could see immediately that they were all horrible clones, so I didn’t. Carrie Barf and her stupid friends all look exactly the same and wear the same clothes and even carry the same backpack. You walk behind them and you can’t tell them apart unless you know which one has the North Face Ticonderoga backpack (black) and which one had the North Face Toulemne backpack (black) and which one had the Northface Fucking Whatever Mountain Name backpack, also black.

I wish I could say we had a name for them, like the Barfettes, but no one actually does that in real life.

Anyway, everyone said Carrie Barf collapsed because her stupid boyfriend Chris Ostemel dumped her. They say she made a funny noise and then fell down right in the hall, between periods in the middle of everything, just started flopping around like a fish. They called an ambulance and took her to the hospital, and afterwards all her friends stood around holding hands and crying in the halls all day, and you just wanted to grab them by the shoulders and shake them it was so ridiculous. And then the next day, when we had a mandatory pep rally scheduled - right at the beginning one of her friends, Gillian, got up and walked to the podium and was like I’m sure you all know by now but Carrianne is in the hospital and they won’t even let us in to see her so we know it’s soooo serious and we thought it would be soooo great if everyone could sign this huuuuuge card for her, and she holds up I swear to God a scrapbook filled with blank pages and then Principal Grant says it will be outside his office until Friday and everyone who wants to can come sign it and he encouraged every one of us to gather together and wish for Carrianne’s speedy recovery.

I wasn’t going to sign it because, seriously, fuck her. And then Ash, that’s my best friend, Ashley, Ash said we should, because it would be hilarious. Someone was always watching it to make sure no one wrote anything bad, so we signed it ironically. I wrote I hope all the little Mexican children are praying for you like I’m praying for you.

I’m an atheist, of course. But Carrie Barf isn’t. She’s one of the ones who goes down to Mexico every spring break to build houses for poor people. Like anyone would want to live in a house built by a sixteen-year-old, right? There are like a million of them at our school, all in the same church, and they all go down to Mexico every year. But the ringleader is Carrie Barf. And her boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend now, hah hah. I mean, he's dating Jo Twicker now, so I guess he did dump her.

Anyway, my theory is that they actually do the Mexico thing so they can get their special sweatshirts that say ‘Helping Those who Help Themselves 2014’ or whatever and then post pictures of themselves on Facebook holding hands and being all pious. Then they come to school and wear the sweatshirts and talk about spending spring break in a third-world country building shitty houses for poor people like it was such a life-altering experience, I learned never to take anything for granted. It's just as bad as the Facebook pics but worse because I have to listen to it. Oh my God, for real. It’s such a pile of crap. Because after they say oh it brings me so much closer to my faith, they also say oh it looks so good on my college transcript

So for a while after Carrie collapsed Ash and Becky and Amy and I would spend lunchtime talking about how Carrie Barf probably just has epilepsy and when she comes back to school she’ll have to wear a padded helmet all the time like Natalie Portman in Garden State. She’d haaate that. She never even wears rubber bands in her hair because they give you split ends, she says, so lots of other girls here don’t put their hair back either. They’re all such sheep.

The rumor that was going around, I mean besides the super-mysterious illness that only affects tiny perfect blondes, was that Carrie got pregnant and Chris wanted her to get an abortion and she did but it was botched and she collapsed from it. As if little Miss God-helps-me-because-I-help-those-who-need-houses-in-Mexico would have sex before marriage. Did I mention she’s president of the school’s strength through abstinence club?

Yeah. Totally epilepsy.

And then, like two weeks later, Carrie’s friend Gillian collapsed in class. In pre-Calc, which I’m in with her, and she sucks at, so I’m pretty sure she was just trying to get out of taking a test. But she was flopping around and her face was red, it was so gross and weird. And just like stupid Carrie they called an ambulance and took her away and everyone cried and held hands and then I swear to God the cheerleaders held a prayer circle at lunch. And Ash said she heard Chris, Carrie’s ex, say that he heard that Gillian was the only person Carrie’s family let see her after she got out of the hospital and maybe she had Ebola and now we all might have it ‘cause Gillian caught it and came to school with it.

Chris is full of shit and Ebola’s not even that communicable.

So two days after that Grant comes over the PA during 3rd period, and he says that there’s nothing to worry about; Carrie Barthes and Gillian Rawls took ill in unrelated incidents but they’re very well-liked students and the student body is understandably concerned and upset, so grief counseling will be available to any student who wishes to discuss anything, and you could hear the sound of all the slacker assholes in the back of class fist-punching and being all bro, we can get out of class anytime now, and it’s so gross how everyone immediately started exploiting what I think was just Carrie Barf  and Gillian Rawls being drama queens or having epilepsy or something.

And then, I swear to God, Jacqui Lawson didn’t come into school the next day and she’s like besties with Gillian and Carrie and so immediately everyone starts freaking the fuck out again. That’s when Becky told me that her sister Trinity who works in the office found out that Grant was getting emails and calls from parents being like is there a disease at the school and are our precious darlings in danger. And reporters were calling!

But it was at lunch that day that we figured it out. That’s when Ash was like, aren’t they all in English with you? Because, yeah, I have the pleasure of sharing sixth period English with Carrie and Gillian and Jacqui and Jo Twicker and all of them, like, how they managed to all get a class together I don’t know. Anyway, that’s what got me thinking: we’re doing American Literature this year, that’s the Junior year curriculum, so we had to read The Crucible first semester. And I remember Carrie was like I feel so sorry for Abigail, because she just was in love with John Procter and gave him everything and he was so mean to her so it like makes sense that she’d act that way because she was so powerless and then she got upset when I said The Crucible was actually pointing out the danger inherent in organized religion and unconsidered belief, all cleave to no faith when faith brings blood and then Gillian turned around, totally red in the face, and was all you wouldn’t understand what true love is to me, like she does? and then Simon Cabral said–

Anyway, it doesn’t matter because Carrie Barf is an idiot and a bitch and I hate her. And Gillian too. Whatever.

So I googled Salem Witch Trials and then mass hysteria and yeah, I know what’s going on.

So now it’s like a week later none of them are back at school yet and people are actually not showing up in the morning. And I’m like thank god I have Becky, because with her sister working in the office we’ve got an inside man, you know? I can hardly believe it, but parents are legit totally freaking out and taking people out of school until the mystery that’s only affecting girls is solved. Because they don’t know that it’s just Carrie Barf, like, proving a point because her boyfriend dumped her, and all her stupid friends are just faking it to support her or whatever.

Anyway, now Jo and Chris have been together for a while so I guess it really is over between Chris and Carrie Barf. What a pity, the love of the ages is no more. He probably finally noticed what a bitch she is, but Jo’s not any better, so sucks to be him. Carrie’s going to be pissed when she finds out that all her hysterics were for nothing.

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Amy Coombe grew up in Wisconsin, on a quiet street in an orange house filled with books and cats. When she's not writing she can be found drawing small birds in the margins of lined paper. This is the first publication of this story, her second for Pornokitsch.

Image credit: Adapted from "2nd floor hallway" (Creative Commons)