There is was, the awful posting reminding everyone of the great tragedy. Elise sighed mournfully and rubbed her arms with both hands as if to ward off a chill. A single tear slipped down her cheek as she read it again:
Due to the incident
on November 14,
Cheez-its are no
longer allowed in the
Thank you for your
High school lunch period was hard enough without that notice triggering every students’ memory. She shook herself and moved into the line, her mind traveling back to that horrid day three weeks before...
It had been no different than any other Thursday lunch period. Elise, Ben, Alex, and Chelsea finished their morning classes and met in the hall to go into lunch together. The four were a tight group and enjoyed ever opportunity to be together.
“Elise, did you end up getting that job at the clothing store you interviewed for?” Ben inquired as the friends entered the line in the cafeteria.
“Yeah! They loved me, I have no idea why, but they did and I landed the job! I’m super excited about this opportunity.”
“That’s awesome!” Alex cheered.
Elise smiled as she grabbed a tray and moved past the Cheez-its and on down the line, the rest of the group following her.
Chelsea clapped her hands happily before asking, “How come you never get any of the crackers or anything they serve here, Elise?”
“Remember, I’m allergic to orange dyes that are in goldfish and Cheez-its and stuff.”
“Oh right, I forgot about that.” Her friend smiled and ducked her head in embarrassment.
“That’s okay, Chels, everyone forgets stuff once in awhile, even me!” Alex comforted in a teasing voice. Ben punched him playfully on the shoulder and the three non-allergic-to-orange-dye-friends all placed a little bag of Cheez-its on their trays before moving on to get the rest of their lunch.
“Thank you.” Elise sniffed and smiled weakly at the server behind the counter who’d just placed a bowl of fruit on her tray.
The woman nodded and Elise moved, on feeling very lonely.
As they did nearly every day, the foursome continued through the lunch line together, laughing and joking and teasing each other the way close friends do. Then they settled over in the corner of the cafeteria to eat before heading back to their high school classes.
“Elise, what should I tell Emi about friday night?” Chelsea leaned toward her friend and asked her question in a hushed voice.
“What about it? Are we doing something?” Elise glanced over at her, a confused expression on her face.
“Uh, yeah! We’re going to go see that new movie.” Chelsea shook her head.
“What are you two whispering about?” Alex asked, leaning forward and winking at Ben, with whom he’d been discussing the car he hoped to buy in 30 years when he would finally be able to afford it, if he was lucky.
“Nothing....” Elise said innocently.
This answer was one of many running inside jokes among the group. Alex smiled and gave a fake laugh before saying, “But seriously, what’s up?”
“Elise, Emi, and I are going to go check out that new chic flick coming out friday. Were you wanting to join us?” Chelsea tilted her head awaiting Alex’s sure refusal.
“Uh, no. You have fun-- Ben! What are you doing?!” Alex jumped to his feet awkwardly, knocking over his chair and causing the girls to look over at their other guy friend.
Ben was gasping for air and shaking like a leaf, his face turning blue.
“You okay?” The voice next to her asked again.
“Oh, sorry Nina, I didn’t hear you. Yeah, I’m fine. Just thinking....”
“Yeah, I guess we all are. Wanna talk about it?” The younger girl asked Elise softly.
“No. But thanks.” Elise shook her head and headed to the corner table to eat alone.
Elise screamed for help and the entire student body present in the cafeteria looked over to their table, a few jumping to their feet like Alex. A teacher came running.
“What’s wrong? Is he chocking?” He asked, searching the faces of Ben’s friends.
“No! He was just sitting here eating. We don’t know what’s wrong.” Chelsea managed to squeak out in a frighten, trembling voice.
Suddenly someone else across the room screamed. “She can’t breath, someone help!!”
The teacher bending over Ben shook Alex’s arm and sent him running to call for 911.
Elise slipped into her normal chair. She didn’t know how she had let so much food end up on her tray, she had hardly any appetite.
As Alex was turning away, he crumpled to the ground. Chelsea grabbed Elise’s arm and pointed in speechless horror. Elise shook her terrified friend off and ran on shaking legs to bend beside him. He also was turning blue. At that point, she passed out.
Pulling out a tissue from her wristlet, Elise dabbed at her wet cheeks in a weak attempt to salvage her face. They were all three gone. Alex, Ben, Chelsea, and 11 other students had died that day.
Two weeks later the deaths were linked back to the Cheez-it crackers which had been on all their trays. They were poisoned. Obviously with extremely strong stuff to have had such a fast effect on the students.
Now that posting was up as a reminder. Maybe the school thought it would be a comfort to the friends of those gone to know that Cheez-its would never be offered to them again there, but at least to Elise, the notice was an awful thing to have to see everyday.
“No more Cheez-its,” Elise mumbled. “I don’t think any of us would have taken them anyway.”