The Halloween Project Day 10: School Down Below
A ghost story. Every Halloween needs one. But…a good portion of this is true.
Anthony looked across the cafeteria table to Brian and Joanna, his two best friends. Between a mouth stuffed with Pringles and the noise in the café he announced, “Guys, listen, lean forward, so I can talk to you. Like privately,” and with the “P” sound of the word privately he spit out a mulch of Pringles.
“Anthony! You are so gross!” Joanna protested. Brian laughed and spit out some milk. “You too!” she squealed, and followed with her own laugh.
“C’mere, C’mere, C’mere!” he grew louder, gesturing with his hand to lean in. And they did, ears pricked to hear his whispered secret.
“I need to show you something…something you won’t believe. It is totally cool,” he shared.
I’ve been here for a long time. I guess. Feels like a long time.
After school two days later, Anthony, Brian and Joanna stood shoulder to shoulder at a large metal door down a short side hallway. Kind of a school cul-de-sac, it went nowhere, except for the imposing grey steel door.
“This is it,” Anthony said.
“It’s a janitor’s closet, come on, let’s go. The late bus will be coming soon,” it was Brian, always Brian, the voice of calm 11 year old logic.
“You’re afraid,” Anthony challenged.
“Afraid of a janitor’s closet. All those mops and cleaning supplies. Boo!” he joked.
I know I can find my way out if I just keep trying.
“It’s not a janitor’s closet,” Anthony said, and with that he grasped the handle and pulled open the door, slowly for effect. It revealed normal, concrete steps leading down to a basement, metal runners at the tips of each step, a dozen or more. Down below there was light, blurry and indistinct.
“I’m afraid,” Joan said.
“We’re going to get in trouble. Serious trouble,” Brian agreed.
“No, we’re not! We’re just exploring. It’s our school. It’s a big, cool middle school and it has this awesome basement. Come on. We’ll just go down a little ways. I’ve already gone down. It’s like really nothing.”
“You’ve been down there?” Joanna asked incredulously.
“Yeah, maybe a week ago, but only about halfway down the steps. I check the door sometimes, but it’s usually locked.
“You check the door?” Brian asked.
“Yeah, but isn’t it awesome?”
“I’m leaving,” Brian said.
“Oh, come on Brian! Don’t be a total ass,”
“Anthony!” Joanna corrected.
“Sorry, Brian. I man it is kind of amazing. I bet there are cool things down here.”
“Alright, alright, just a little bit,” Brian’s voice reluctantly agreed.
We did find things. Interesting things.
They walked down the stairs on light, protected steps. Reaching the bottom they realized they were in a small alcove. Piled to the sides were old lockers, a few broken desks. Odds and ends of tools and equipment.
“See. Janitor stuff, let’s go,” Brian stated.
“Holy shit, look at this,” he was standing in the doorway at the end of the alcove.
“Language, Anthony!” Joanna, always their moral compass, demanded.
“Sorry again, but look.”
Both his 6th grade partners stepped up next to him.
In front of them was a warren of corridors, some with doors others without. Light lingered beyond and off into the distance. At least six pathways took off in all directions.
“I’ll bet that goes toward the cafeteria,” Anthony said.
“And maybe those over there to the…”Joanna’s voice trailed off. “I don’t really know where. O.K. Let’s go now.”
Anthony, countered once again. “We’ve only been here for about three minutes. Let’s explore a little more then we’ll go. The late bus doesn’t come until 3:50. It was only 3:30 when we came here. Check your phone.”
“My phone doesn’t work down here, no signal,” Brian said.
“Of course, like every stupid movie,” Joanna replied.
I know Joanna’s here somewhere. I saw her. I know I saw her.
They moved together, almost lock step. “Let’s go left,” Anthony said, and they did.
It was lit with overhanging bulbs, not anywhere near dark. Above were pipes and dangling electric wires, the inner workings of a school that held 1000 students every day. The tubes and water outflows ran everywhere, coursing and turning, vertical, horizontal, sometimes passing through walls on either side. They passed small rooms no bigger than a closet and others the size of a small classroom. Debris ran here and there, boards, pipes, more desks, still older lockers, a set of cubby holes with a dozen pair of work boots.
“This is incredible!” Anthony said.
They took a few more winding turns when the lights went out. And blackness reigned.
But it’s so dark, so very, very dark.
Joanna’s voice rang out first, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!”
“Stay calm, just turn on your flashlight app,” Anthony suggested.
“My phone doesn’t work!” Brian hissed into the dark.
“Your phone works just fine, you dope! You just can’t make calls.”
And they did, all turning on their flashlights at the same time. At first they scanned the walls. Now in the dark everything had changed. What was only corridors and angles turned into shadows and moving objects. Chairs appeared to be living things and the darkness beyond each doorway proved foreboding.
“We’ll just turn around and head back,” Anthony said with a bravado that belied a slightly higher hitch in his voice. He made his way toward an arch on his left.
“It’s not that way,” Brian corrected, “it’s this way, and he motioned to the right with his light.”
You can get turned around here. I know I did. I think we all did.
“No!, No, no. It’s this way,” and he started off.
“Oh my god, this isn’t happening!” Joanna said aloud.
“Just stay calm, we’ll be out of here in five minutes,” Anthony said.
At six o’clock Anthony said, “We are officially lost. They’ll be looking for us. Let’s bang on some things and one of the night janitors will hear us.”
“No they won’t!” Brian argued, his voice growing strident, “We’re in the basement or whatever this goddamn place is. I’ll bet all the janitors go home. It’s Friday!”
“Not the janitors! Our parents! They’ll be looking for us everywhere!” Anthony was yelling now to.
“But not here! They’re not going to be looking here!!” Joanna screamed.
I hope they looked for us. I’m sure they did.
It was an hour later when Joanna said, “I’m so thirsty…I can’t…I need something to drink…I can’t keep walking around,” it was then that her cell phone died and the flashlight app blinked and blackened. She began a slow moan and sunk to the floor.
“O.K., O.K., let’s just rest. Brian shut off your phone and save the battery, I’ll just put mine on my home screen so we’ll just have a little light.
“No, please, we need a little more light. Please?” Joanna asked.
It was midnight or at least they thought so when the last phone died. Joanna had actually fallen asleep.
ds,” Anthony said, “Let’s just hold hands so we’ll know where we each are. The lights will come on eventually. They’re probably on a timer.”
“You mean like tomorrow morning, or Monday morning?” Brian asked.
Anthony didn’t answer.
Is there a darker color than black? Is the night pure black?