December 29, 2006
Bobby Ray's ConferenceRate this encounter: [Name Withheld Upon Request], South of Jonesboro, Arkansas, Fall of 1986
I have never told anyone what happened that autumn night. I have hesitated to tell my story, because I didn’t want to be lumped with those “crazies” who believe in ghosts, or UFO’s, or werewolves. Perhaps the time has come to tell my story, and by doing so, maybe someone will come forward who can help me understand it.
Twenty years ago, I was a young school teacher in a rural area some twenty miles from Jonesboro. I was in my second year of teaching English to juniors and seniors and I loved my job. The school year was off to a difficult start -- a popular senior girl, Callie, had disappeared during the first month of school. She was a cheerleader, and had left the football field to walk to her home a couple of blocks from school after the game -- but she never made it. All sorts of tales were circulating, fueled by the fact that her walk would have taken her near a cemetery. Callie had been one of my favorite students -- happy, wholesome, seemingly untroubled girl. When no clues to her whereabouts were found, the prospects looked grim. Her boyfriend, Bobby Ray, was in my third period English class. He was a quiet young man, and the investigation had focused on him, but he had not been charged. I tried to ignore the rumors and remember that I was hired to teach these students English, not play detective.
It was late October, the night of parent-teacher conferences. The conferences were held from 5 to 9 P.M. to accommodate working parents, and I will admit I was uncomfortable thinking of my drive home alone, with Callie’s disappearance still on my mind. My class room was actually a new portable building located between the main building and the field house. This evening, the remoteness of my room made it seem eerie.
It was nearing 9 o’clock, and I had counted the evening a success. Most of the parents had been receptive to the news of their child’s progress -- or lack of progress -- and a large number had shown. I began to put away my paperwork and clear my desk so that I could leave. So intent was I on packing up, that I didn’t realize someone had entered the room until a movement right in front of my desk caught my eye.
“Bobby Ray! You scared me! I didn’t hear you come in!”
Bobby Ray just stood there looking at me with the strangest look on his face. “You don’t have to be afraid of me, ma’am,” he said, with a slow smile. Something about the way he said that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Something just didn’t feel right. “I just came to check on my grades. Momma couldn’t be here, she’s feeling kinda sick.”
I can tell you, I was feeling more than a little sick then. My room was isolated, and Bobby Ray’s visit was nothing short of sinister. My brain went into auto-pilot. “All right Bobby Ray, just have a seat here and sign in, please.” I passed the sheet to him and watched him scrawl his name on the line. Then I launched nervously into a rundown of how he was doing in my class, emphasizing areas where he excelled, and encouraging him to work harder in his weaker points. Throughout the meeting, Bobby Ray sat there with a glazed look in his eyes, and never said a word. My heart was pounding, and all I could think about was that Callie had vanished, and the young man seated before me may have been involved.
When I finished, I asked him, “Do you have any questions?” “No ma’am,” he answered, “but thank you.” Bobby Ray got up, and simply walked out of the room never looking back. I was shaking with relief, and feeling so foolish. I had let my imagination run away with me! A good night’s sleep was what I needed, and tomorrow morning I would realize how silly I had been.
I locked the sign in sheet and my gradebook in the filing cabinet, grabbed my purse, peered out the window, and made a dash for the main building.
A solemn atmosphere greeted me. “How did it go tonight?” I asked Brenda, the algebra teacher, and my best buddy, as we were heading to our cars. “I think it went as well as could be expected, considering the accident," she replied. “Accident? What accident?” I haven’t heard anything about one. I’ve been stuck out in my room all evening.”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought about your being out there, or I would have come and told you myself. I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but one of your students was killed in an accident right after school this afternoon. It was that boy Bobby Ray, the one whose girlfriend disappeared.”
I was so stunned I couldn’t move or speak. “Oh that’s terrible! What happened?”
“Oh, it’s so sad, as soon as school was out this afternoon, he jumped into his truck, headed home, and pulled out in front of another vehicle. You must have heard the sirens and wondered what had happened.”
Suddenly, I remembered I had heard the sirens, but was so caught up in getting my room ready for the conference, I hadn’t thought anymore about it. But there was a mix up, because Bobby Ray hadn’t been killed, he was in my room a few minutes ago, and the accident had been hours ago.
“I hate to hear that, but I think you have the wrong student.” I was so ready for this night to be over. Several of the other staff members were in the parking lot discussing the wreck. I asked the coach if he had heard anything about it. “Yes, it was Bobby Ray,” said Coach Harris. “I went by and talked with him mother before I came back to the school building. She’s taking it really hard, as you might expect.”
I was reeling from shock. “And the accident has just happened a few minutes ago?” I asked.