I’m still not sure why he picked me. I’m an ordinary woman, no different than any other person you’d know.
My name is Sarah Engel and I’m a fourth grade teacher at Commonwealth Academy. I’ve taught at the private school since I graduated from college six years ago. It isn’t the kind of place I’d ever imagined working.
Hidden behind iron gates along the bleak New England coast, Commonwealth was created for children of the chosen—politicians, rock stars, financial gurus—who live in danger of being kidnapped for ransom. We’d had an attempted breach, as they were called, two years ago. The ransom note found in the would-be kidnapper’s lair was for eight figures. The parents later said they would have paid that and much, much more.
I’ve never had a lot money and probably wouldn’t know what to do if I did, which is lucky since educators are notoriously underpaid, private school or not. I’m perfectly content to live on campus, wear clothes I order off the Internet and drive a ten-year-old car. Don’t get me wrong—I could learn how to spend vast sums of money, I’m sure—but teaching is my calling and it’s all I’ve ever cared about.
My motivation is simple and I didn’t need years of therapy to figure out why.
When I was a few weeks old, I was returned to the hospital like a suddenly reconsidered purchase. There was no note, no letter, no explanation of why I no longer fit into my parents’ plans, just me…in a plastic laundry tub with a ragged towel at the bottom. The record of my birth could not be found and the building’s security tape revealed nothing but a fuzzy image placing the basket by the back door. If this had happened in the United States, an investigation might have ensued. In Martinique, that’s not the way it worked. I was handed over to the nuns who ran the local orphanage and that’s where I lived for the next eighteen years. We were fed and clothed but there wasn’t time or the resources for much of anything else. If the older kids picked on you or one of the nuns didn’t like you, or someone simply took your only treasure, be it rock, shell or secondhand toy, you were on your own. There were no comforting arms to hold you or someone to wipe away your tears, not because the nuns didn’t care but because there were simply too many of us.
I promised myself, once I’d decided to be a teacher, that the children around me would know they were unique and special, no matter what their circumstances. They would know, especially if their parents weren’t present for some reason, they mattered to someone even if that someone was only a teacher.
When the job at Commonwealth fell into my lap, I was hesitant because it wasn’t the kind of place I expected to find the opportunity—much less the need—to make good on my pledge. A college friend had applied for the position but a month before she was due to report, she was seriously injured in a freak car accident. Faced with a long recovery, she suggested I go in her place, and with Commonwealth’s blessing, I eventually agreed. I told myself fate has a way of working things out for the best.
I shared more with the private school’s wealthy students than I’d anticipated. Just as I’d been left at the hospital, some of my students were dropped off by their famous parents who would then disappear, devoting themselves to their careers, their lovers, their own thin lives…anything and everything but their children. For the most part, I believe they loved their offspring but their priorities lie elsewhere, the demands and responsibilities made by others on their lives too pressing to ignore. Kids know when they’re not first, and I pledged anew that I would do my best for them even though I had had no parents or children of my own and had no idea what my promise actually entailed.
And maybe that’s the key. Looking back on it now, I have to accept that explanation. He sensed my inexperience with the students, my vulnerabilities, my weaknesses, and he used it to his advantage. I wasn’t equipped to give the children what was required. He knew my energies were nothing compared to his power. He’d be in and creating his chaos before I had a chance to realize what had happened, much less fight it.
That’s how he always operates and this time was no different. He didn’t arrive with a bustling fanfare or a big explanation or a loud announcement. He simply slipped in and started manufacturing evil and by the time it was too late, he was part of our fabric, a darkly colored thread running sideways though the tapestry, a thread impossible to remove without destroying everything that it touched. He’d assumed because of me that his task would be an easy one.
I wish I could say he’d been wrong. But the Devil rarely is.