Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
Hundreds of spindly, small legs attached to a thin, black body hung above the door's overhang. Em had stumbled backwards, only for Yasmin to catch her and yank her behind her. The creature seemed startled by the noise and it scuttered down to the handle. Bug launched his flashlight at it as though his life depended on it. It fell at an angle, reflecting the half-alive insect which squirmed under its weight.
"It's just a centipede," said Lee. Mateo honestly couldn't tell whether he was just trying to sound unbothered or not. One minute he was apathetic and the next he was worried.
"Just a centipede?" said Em, her voice exaggerating the just. Her expression of disdain was matched by both Yasmin and Mateo. Even Bug looked at him in disbelief.
"You should be more scared of whoever the hell else heard you scream," he said with a smirk.
"Or maybe that someone's gonna have to pick up that flashlight," Mateo butted in.
"Lee can do it." By the sound of her voice there was no doubt it was a challenge. Mateo caught the split-second displeased twitch of his mouth that fell back into a more relaxed grin. If he were Lee, he would've dropped the act by now. No way in hell would he ever get close to that squirmy, grotesque thing.
Lee walked casually over to it, the sleeves of his brown coat gathering around his fingertips as he bent down. He picked up the flashlight by the end, snatching it away and jumping back like a rabbit to the safety of its bushes. The centipede flailed around for a bit more until it found its footing and slunk away. He put his hands in the air like a person who was about to surrender yet he had a proud smile plastered on his face. The only thing that was impressive was he was able to hold the flashlight with two fingers.
"I'm surprised you actually did it," said Yasmin with an air of playfulness, "great job, really!" She clapped her hands together sarcastically. Bug outstretched his hand.
"More about the actual exploring of this place and less about a bug?" It was only after he saw Lee's devilish look that he knew he had messed up.
"Okay, Bug." Lee gave him the flashlight, and to no one's surprise Bug kept his composure. He wasn't one to react to silly stuff.
"Ha," breathed Em. Her eyes flashed, her nails sinking into her rough palms. A seemingly normal smile stretched across her face.
"Now with that out of the way...," she strutted right in, her back illuminated by Bug's flashlight. Em's unrelenting act of strength and power comforted Mateo. He would never be able to understand how she kept a straight face in a fight yet were scared of an insect.
The entrance hall was thin and cramped. Cobwebs clung to the ceilings above them, long abandoned by their masterful weavers. Light bounced off of the thin threads, creating brief halos around their foreheads. The walls were thick but grated down by age. Mold crept up the walls like shadows waiting for their moment to pounce.
The area which now opened up before them was drastically larger. To Mateo it reminded him of catacombs, full of possible tunnels and twists which branched off into small and mysterious rooms. It was a surprise to him that the Bishop still used it for occasional bible study.
"Wonder if it's illegal to turn the lights on," said Lee softly.
"As if we aren't doing something possibly illegal already," replied Yasmin, her swift words silencing him.
The walls were a dull white and were stained by age. They peaked in arches which continued until the end of the hall. Old fashioned long and narrow lockers ran against the sides of the middle wall. Faded, black and red checkerboard tile lay beneath their shoes. It was a strange choice of color and reminded him of something out of a horror film.
For some stupid reason it struck a chord in Mateo's heart. He wondered to himself what memories past students made here. What lives did they go on to lead? How did they die and what friends did they make here? The building was a looming reminder of one of the many ghosts of the past. A metal staircase lay at the left side of the spacious room, diagonal to the entrance hall.
"This place was here since 1876, it was once called the St. Rose Academy. It was located on--,"
Mateo, to his own surprise, interrupted him.
"Gonna be a our tourist now, eh Bug?" he joked. Yasmin turned back to glare at him.
"Shuddup." It wasn't a question or plead, it was a demand. Mateo's brain decided it were an opportune time to remind himself that he was stupid and incapable of intelligent thoughts. He reluctantly agreed.
"Anyways, it was located on Brennan Estate, which was kinda a Victorian mansion I guess. Up until 1902 novices of the religious group, Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart, lived there." His voice was hushed and calm like flowing water. Lee stepped ahead of Em, his fingers curiously brushing over the long line of lockers. As he swung each one open one by one, their haunting groans chilled Mateo's heart. Lee's eyes narrowed, his body slightly hunched as he peeked into a locker.
"Mind shining some light over here Yasmin?"
She said not a word, seemingly annoyed but obliged anyway. His interest caught, Mateo followed her over and looked inside. A yellow and black insect with a curved back and paper-like wings lay on its back. Yasmin made a sound of disgust.
"Just a wasp," said Lee, a hint of disappointment in his voice.
"You'd think they'd at least clean up the place since they're still taking church kids over here," mused Mateo. The pair had no reaction to his words.
Lee inched over to the last locker, his now bright green eyes flashing under the light. The metal numbers above it were rusted yet read the number sixty-one. It was a stray number, singled out by all of the other numerically ordered lockers. Though his fingers fumbled and pulled at the locker, it did not budge. The others had swung open with barely a touch.
"Why the hell won't it open? It's not like there's a lock on the damn thing," muttered Lee. He gave it a final, strong pull yet it still remained unmoving. Mateo could tell by the hungry look on Lee's face that he wouldn't be able to rest until he figured out why it wouldn't open. Mateo's eyes wandered as though they had minds of their own, feeding on his fear of the dark. The faint edge of a door peeked out from the wall.
"Hey there's a door down there." His voice peaked in a strange enthusiasm. Yasmin washed the long hallway in the bright, artificial light. The doorway was taller and broad, fit for an unusually tall person. This time the chills that ran down his skin were more invigorating than they were disturbing.
Lee gave the locker a final punch and a disgruntled comment before taking off after Mateo. Yasmin fell behind them, her once proud light now flickering. Like a cat who saw a mouse, Mateo's eyes hungrily peered into the broad area. Yasmin's light revealed a set of rusted bleachers, discarded mats, and piles of junk. An awful, mildew stench permeated the air as though it were an angry spirit.
"Why does the church even let people in here still? Place is a health hazard," muttered Lee, a hand over his mouth and nose.
"It's not just a health hazard, it's a one trip ticket to death." Yasmin's response was sarcastically cheerful, her index finger pointed up.
"Death?" Mateo questioned. Yasmin placed the flashlight under her chin, lighting up her face as though she were about to tell a ghost story. Her eyes sparkled with unspoken information.
"Two students died of asbestos here, a lung disease. To get straight to the point, just going to school and breathing killed them." Her face was painted with a merry smile. Instinctively Mateo covered his lower face with his hand. Lee had an eyebrow raised inquisitively, though he said nothing.
"Well for our sake I hope they somewhat fixed it," said Mateo between his fingers. He leaned against the door frame, tempted to yawn. It seemed like a pretty shitty and stupid way to die. The phrase "school kills" was ironically true in this case.
Suddenly Yasmin looked as though she had just been slapped in the face. Lee seemed to take no notice, his eyes drooping. Mateo stared at her, a sense of unease crawling up his spine.
"Where's Em?" Lee's eyes shot open at her words, as though he had been nodding off and someone had kneed him in the side.
"And Bug," murmured Mateo. How had they not realized? It was foolish to lose track of their kick-ass bodyguard and expert tourist. The exaggeration nearly made him smile, though Mateo held it back. It definitely wouldn't be appropriate to look amused right now.
"Em? Bug?" she called out. Yasmin received dead silence in response. Her fingers tightened around the flashlight as though it were her lifeline. She ran off back into the long hallway, turning the corner and appearing to go up the staircase. Lee took a final look at Mateo before begrudgingly following after her.
Stupidly Mateo stood alone in the darkness, seemingly to not have processed what just happened. When he realized he should have gone after them it was too late. He walked into the gym room, blindly searching for a light switch.
The walls were lumpy and wet and he struggled not to withdraw his hands. His intrusive brain was kind enough to bestow upon him an imaginary of wet, wriggling clumps of flesh struggling under his fingertips. Mateo gulped. It's just a wall. Just a normal wall. His thoughts began to argue with each other, telling Mateo it was quite a dangerous wall. What if there is black mold behind them?
"My house has mold in it, why the fuck would I care?" He whispered the words so softly it were as if he had mouthed them. The silly conversation he had with himself seemed to calm him down. Just as he had reassurance in himself, a sticky, hard substance attached to his palm. Jumping back in fright, he cursed under his breath and wiped whatever it was against the edge of the door frame. He could only hope it was something normal like gum.
I could just sit on the floor and curl up in a ball with my eyes closed. Then I wouldn't have to worry about the dark at all, he thought jokingly.
Inspired by the knowledge of an onset of paranoia to come, he searched the walls once again. Finally. The familiar curve of a small light switch rested beneath his fingertips. A strange buzz filled the room as he flipped it upward. His breath became shallow and quiet, like prey who felt the presence of a predator lurking in the shadows.
The light overpowered the darkness only to be dragged back into its depths suddenly. He rushed to flick it off and on again, only to find it was already turned down. His introduction to fear oddly made him more conscious of his body.
Mateo's heart beat like a human about to die only to rise as undead; blossoming into something unknown and dark. His breathing was manual and unnatural. He knew he could have easily summoned some faked skepticism and blame it on being a run-down building. That would be the most sensible conclusion. He took a deep breath this time, flicking the switch on once again. There was no buzz this time. The light swooped in to swallow the darkness instantly. It was as though he had imagined it all.
The room's simplicity was a comfort. Junk and clumps of cardboard boxes lay scattered on the grey, stained floor. It somewhat reminded him of a large and messy storage room. Surprisingly the basketball hoop was still in place and hung suspended from the wall.
The bleachers lined both sides of the wall, painted a basic blue while the seats themselves were a mustard yellow. The colors weren't very complementary and somewhat were a sore to the eye, though it brought a smile to his face regardless. It reminded him of something innocent and warm that he could not recall in sight but only in feeling.
The windows were easily twenty years old and were lined in sets of threes or fours above the bleachers. The sight of nothing but blackness outside made it all feel artificial. He could imagine young freshmen nervously dancing at a winter dance or aspiring students helping out after school. It made him wonder if anyone actually made memories like those where he stood now. A strange pain of emotion stung at his stomach. Mateo never had any experiences like those.
He approached the opposite side of the wall, his eyes searching and wary. By the bleachers sat a low, rusted water fountain. He pushed the button on its front and it pitifully spurted out a few droplets. Mateo crouched down, noticing a few words written in what appeared to be Sharpie.
O + M forever
He grinned from ear to ear. It was weird to think a high school relationship would last forever. I bet one of them are dead, or both. His eyes skimmed the rest of the wall, looking for any other small notes. Just as he were about to get up, something tiny caught the corner of his eye. Mateo peered closer, his hand against the wall. It was an amateur drawn eye with a pupil scribbled in with yellow highlighter. At first he was blank of any emotion; a whiteboard waiting to be ruined.
He crouched there for awhile. The realization didn't come to him dramatically. It wasn't like a flash of lightning that crashed and burned his whole world. He wasn't sure if he had any feeling to conjure up. The gold eye which he had seen earlier on Luka's face and dwelled in another place he could not describe or understand now emerged from the waters of his mind.
A nameless feeling wound up inside of him. Mateo's movements were robotic as he stood. His heart urged him to get out of there but he couldn't find the courage to move. His mind played out a horrifying imagination for him; the once scribble now morphing into a real, detached, fleshy eye that glowed with a light that burned his soul.
Then came with it a long gnarled neck and a blank head which peaked out of the wall. He could almost see its hand reach out to him too. It was strangely feminine and didn't match the rest of its body whatsoever, though its claws were curved and sharp.
They grazed the underside of his chin, then trailing down to his neck and stopped. Mateo knew he had the power to move, yet he felt frozen. He couldn't be sure if any of it was real, or if he were real in that moment. He yearned to have the willpower inside of him to speak. The words were clear and sharp in his mind. It was a question that if not answered would slowly drive him mad. The faint sound of chattering voices above cracked the scene which unfolded him before him. Time resumed itself once again and he found himself staring at the painfully plain wall.
He turned on his heel, ready to get out of there even if it meant stumbling through the dark. A face popped through the doorway, exuding a contagious excitement. His hair was ruffled and messy as though he had sprinted down the steps.
"Hey Mateo you gotta come up here! We found something cool!" The flashlight dangled carelessly from his fingertips. It must've meant they found some power upstairs. Mateo assumed a fake demeanor, letting an enthusiastic smile appear on his face.
"Okay." Mateo tried his best to seem nonchalant but add a pique of interest to his voice. His mind felt as though it were floating in space, attached only by a small cord. Each step he took felt mechanical and nothing like his own. Bug was a few paces ahead of him, his gait long and quick. Even though he was considerably shorter than Mateo, he found it hard to keep up.
Bug ascended the steps two at a time, not even bothering to use the rail. They stood on a platform which only led to two more sets of stairs. A tall, wide window stretched proudly behind them. Mateo paused only for a moment, glancing at two adjacent houses which stood ominously in the night.
Bug was already at the top before Mateo could move, and with his heart beating fast he pursued after him. A long corridor cast in creeping shadows opened up before them. Six small rooms branched off to the left side. On the right a set of smashed in windows allowed some street light to crawl inside. To Mateo it looked like some old, chilling mental ward.
Nearly tripping over his own feet, Bug made his way to the only lit up one; room sixth. If whatever they found put him in such a frenzy, surely it had to be something really suspicious. Mateo didn't bother to run after him, taking his time to peer into each one.
To his disappointment, the streetlight only allowed him to see obscure shapes. It would be too much of a hassle to turn on the light in each room one by one. Both Yasmin and Lee were crouched on the ground, Em standing above them with her hands on her hips. Bug stood behind them and at the sound of Mateo's footsteps waved him over. He leaned over them, noticing a silver chain necklace with a vial attached in the palm of Lee's hand.
His eyes widened at the sight of what was inside.
"It doesn't look like anything other than blood," said Em analytically. Lee shook it around a bit, the liquid languidly sloshing around. The sides of the clear vial were rusted with a dark brown color.
"Maybe it's food coloring or something. It kinda looks like a golden red." Even Lee sounded like he didn't believe his own words. He held it up to his squinted eyes. The vial swung like a pendulum as he thrust it back from his face.
"It smells really strong, like alcohol. Rum maybe?" Lee's lips were curled in disbelief. The notion of it being blood was much more sensible than a chain connected to a vessel of rum. It made absolutely no sense.
Mateo were about to look over to remark about how crazily excited Bug was only to realize he wasn't standing there anymore. He was on his hands and knees on the other side of the room, shining his flashlight under discarded boxes and pieces of paper and trash. Mateo wrinkled his nose in disgust. The floor was probably just as sanitary as a rat's ass.
"It still doesn't make any sense to me why whoever's trying to sell this place would leave stuff like this around." Mateo tried to make his voice even out, acting as practical as he possibly could. He felt more reassured with them around, allowing him to keep most of his anxiety at bay.
"It's cause we live in Sognore, don't know how you still haven't gotten the memo that no one who lives here cares." This time Yasmin murmured her words, an amused smile on her face. For some reason, it seemed like knowing that hurt her in a way.
It was obvious they all hated the town, but she expressed her displeasure the most out of them all. Mateo averted his eyes, more focused on whatever the hell Bug was doing. He didn't want to think about why there was a necklace of blood here and why its owner had it. Mateo could already feel a lump forming in his throat.
Bug pulled something small from underneath the heap of boxes, standing and holding it singularly between two fingertips as though he were a professional card player that had just outsmarted everybody.
"You guys might wanna come see this."
(A/N: this school is a real place located in Carbondale, PA. It is true two students died there from asbestos, which I was informed of.)