Warning: This work has been rated 18+.
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 that 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 acted concerned.
“Just a centipede?” said Em, her voice obviously exaggerated. Her expression of disdain was matched by the rest.
“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.
“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 she was scared of an insect.
The entrance hall was thin and cramped. Long abandoned cobwebs clung to the ceilings. 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.
“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 peaked in arches that 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 reminded him of something out of a cheesy horror film.
He wondered 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 tourist now, eh Bug?” Yasmin turned back to glare at him. He didn’t realize how stupid it sounded until after he said it.
“Shuddup.” Her words were demanding but he knew she meant well.
“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 calm voice flowed throughout the empty halls.
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 paperlike 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. Well that was a boring thing to say.
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. Mateo was a cat who saw a mouse, his eyes hungrily peering into the broad area. Yasmin’s light revealed a set of rusted bleachers, discarded mats, and piles of junk. An awful, mildewy stench permeated the air.
“Why does the church even let people in here still? Place is a health hazard,” muttered Lee, a hand over his mouth and nose.
Didn’t I say that earlier?
“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 doorframe, tempted to yawn. It seemed like a pretty shitty and uneventful 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 still wondered if Lee was putting on a casual, unbothered act.
“Where’s Em?” Lee’s eyes shot open at her words, as if he had been nodding off and someone had kneed him in the side.
“And Bug,” murmured Mateo. How had they not realized?
“Em? Bug?” she called out. Yasmin received dead silence in response. Her fingers tightened around the flashlight. 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 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.
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 doorframe. 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. It seemed more promising than standing alone and vulnerable.
Before another wave of paranoia could hit him, he searched the wall again. 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 a mouse that felt the ripples of a predator in the dark. The light swarmed in, only to be gorged upon and dimmed as quickly as it had turned on. He rushed to flick it off and on again, yet it seemed to make no difference.
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 were as if he imagined it all.
The room’s simplicity was comforting. 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 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
“That’s cute. One of them, or both of them are probably dead by now.”
His eyes skimmed the rest of the wall, looking for any other small notes. As he were about to stand, something tiny caught the corner of his eye. Mateo peered closer, his hand against the wall. It was an amateurly drawn eye with a pupil scribbled in with yellow highlighter.
He crouched there for a while. 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 being wound itself inside of him. He began to forget the cramped feeling in his legs. His heart urged him to stand, though he couldn’t seem bothered to give his body the command. The scribble morphed into a fleshy eye that glowed with the light of heaven’s wrath. Then came with it a long gnarled neck and a faceless head which peaked out of the wall. Its hand reached out to him. It was feminine and motherly, unlike the rest of its deformed body.
They grazed the underside of his chin, trailing down to his neck. The string of words existed both in his mind and in the room.
“Be not afraid.”
A stillness, quiet yet powerful, coated over his fear. It were as if the being was tucking him into sleep after a long worry over the monsters in the closet. He couldn’t be sure if any of it was real, or if he were real at that moment. The feeling of peace sunk into his body, and his fingers barely embraced it before it left once again. The cycle of time resumed 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 familiar 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, allowing an enthusiastic smile to appear on his face.
“Okay.” Mateo tried his best to seem nonchalant, though he added 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. Mateo couldn’t help but think if he went any faster he’d fall. Momentarily they stood on a platform which led to two sets of stairs. A tall, wide window stretched ominously behind them. Mateo paused only for a moment, glancing at two adjacent houses which stood lone 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 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 looks like old blood,” Em said. 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.” Even Lee sounded like he didn’t believe his own words. He held it up to the window’s dim light, suspending it above his head.
“This is gonna sound really weird, but it feels warm.”
“Warm?” Em’s voice dripped with incredulousness. Her and Yasmin gathered around him and they took turns touching the vial.
“This is too damn weird, I’m out,” Em said with a snicker. Their jokes didn’t hide the underlying creepiness well, though it was better than silence.
Then again, I’m being extra paranoid.
Mateo’s curiosity wanted him to join in and inspect the necklace too. On some deep subconscious level, his body knew not to move. He didn’t want to trigger the visions and his mom’s remarks. Even in this eerie setting he wanted to keep some shred of peace.
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 floors still had centuries-old grime on them, no matter how many times they’d been cleaned.
“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 could feel the weird visions itching at the corners of his mind. All he could do was cling tighter to the reassurance of having his friends around him.
“It’s ‘cause we live in a dead end town, I 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.
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 for what reason. 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.”