“Do you guys really know where this place is?” Kelsey asked, pushing a branch away from her face, stepping lightly between sticks and rocks and dirt. A canopy of green extended over them and blocked out most of the early evening sunlight. The waving trees cast dark bouncing shadows throughout the forest.
Squeaky turned around and frowned, “Of course we do! It’s not that much farther...I think.” He looked at Hashtag and whispered, “We do know where it is don’t we? I feel like we should have been there by now.”
Hashtag stared ahead, doing his best to keep balance on his knobby knees, and replied, “Well, we haven’t been out here in forever, but I’m positive it’s this way.”
“Ow!” Kelsey yelled as she stubbed her toe on a root. “Isn’t there, I don’t know, like a road or something that goes to there? I mean, this is an old school, right? Buses would have driven there, with students, on a road that wasn’t overgrown with trees and rocks and stuff.”
Squeaky and Hashtag exchanged glances before Squeaky responded, “That is one of the weirder things about this place. It’s just out here in the middle of nowhere. There are a few paths like this one, but no main roads. It’s like everyone who worked or went there vanished and the forest swallowed it up. Some people even say the paths shift overnight and that no one path will lead to the same place. You just have to follow the signs.” He gestured generally toward the foliage surrounding them.
Kelsey furrowed her forehead, “You’re just saying that to freak me out.”
Squeaky burst out laughing, “Yeah, I’m just messing with you!” He stopped and took off his glasses, heaving with laughter. “Oh man, sorry, sorry, okay, yes, there’s a road, but the school is pretty far back in the forest, which is actually pretty weird if you ask me. The road’s not really used for anything at all anymore, so I suppose we could have walked it, but we used to come this way so we thought it’d be fun to again. You know, to see the old sights.”
Kelsey scowled and adjusted her sunglasses, “Not funny!”
“That’s what I always tell him,” said Hashtag dourly, “but he insists on talking anyway.”
“Well, I think I’m funny,” retorted Squeaky, “and you do too! Sometimes, at least. Remember a few years ago when I was staying overnight at your place and we woke up your parents because we were laughing too hard?”
“Guys?” said Kelsey.
“That wasn’t you! We were watching a movie!” said Hashtag.
“Guys? Uh, are you guys seeing this?” Kelsey asked.
“I chose the movie, though!” said Squeaky.
“Guys!” yelled Kelsey.
Hashtag and Squeaky stopped in their tracks and turned around to see Kelsey pointing through the thick woods. They turned their gaze and in the distance saw the clearing where the old abandoned school remained, its front doors wide open.
Kelsey looked at them, concerned, “Should the doors be open like that?”
“Oh there are a thousand reasons the door could be open,” said Squeaky, “It’s probably just the wind.”
They stepped out into the clearing and Hashtag raised his head for a moment to capture the scenery. Out from under the oppressive shade, the clear sky allowed the sun to shine and reflect off of the green, vibrant leaves of the trees that danced back and forth in the whispering breeze. Yellow flowers littered the overgrown grass and Hashtag found himself squinting in order to find his way toward the building. “It’s really bright here,” he remarked.
Squeaky and Kelsey ignored him while they argued.
“I do not want to go in there if someone else is in there!” she said sternly.
Squeaky threw his hands up in the air, “But I don’t see any cars! How could anyone else be here?”
“Are you just playing dumb?” Kelsey asked. “We literally just walked here.”
Squeaky glanced around the clearing, “Hmm, yeah. Well, it doesn’t look like anyone else is here. There aren’t any tracks or signs of the grass or plants being knocked down by someone walking toward the building or anything.”
“Oh,” Kelsey replied, “so now you’re some sort of expert boy scout wilderness person, huh? Well, good, since our master hunter has seen no tracks, let me just walk straight into this creepy old building full of murderers.”
Squeaky ran up to the top step and poked his head into the dark hallway. “Hello!” he shouted, “Hello? Murderers? Hello!?” The words echoed into the emptiness and back.
Kelsey crossed her arms and looked at Hashtag, who was sitting on the steps, staring at the sky. “Hashtag, any help?”
“Huh?” Hashtag asked, looking at her for a brief moment before jerking his head down, his eye on the green grass and yellow plants, thinking about the blue sky. “What are you guys shouting about?”
“Squeaky wants us to get murdered by creepy people hiding out in this school,” said Kelsey.
“Hey!” yelled Squeaky, “I don’t want anyone to get murdered by creepy people hiding in this school. I just don’t think anyone’s hiding in the school. If there’s anything in there, it’s probably just animals, not murderers. What kind of murderer hides out in an abandoned building? Besides, if we run into anyone, we’ve got Hashtag!”
Hashtag groaned, “Dude, come on.”
“I know, I know, it’s not very nice of me to bring up, but, if we run into any trouble, you can, you know,” Squeaky looked at Hashtag up and down and then said quickly, “just stand there and they’ll probably run away in horror.”
Kelsey suddenly felt self-conscious wearing her dark sunglasses. She removed them, attempted to look at Hashtag earnestly, but hastily placed them back on her nose.
“Fine,” Hashtag replied somberly before walking up the stairs. “You know, this was supposed to be fun.”
“It’s still fun!” Squeaky protested. “Just think, you can save us from certain death by just being you. You’re like a superhero or something!”
Hashtag ignored him and turned just before the entrance, “You coming Kelsey?”
Kelsey cast her gaze up at him and brushed her hair behind her ears, “Yes, let’s go check it out.”
They all walked into the darkness and Hashtag closed the door behind them.
Their footsteps and voices bounced down the hallway and back again; it was a cacophony of thuds and whispers. Lockers adorned their path as well as the occasional bulletin board, thumb tacks still haphazardly placed in their surface. In each of the rooms they encountered, the windows were boarded up. The electricity, not surprisingly, was not working, and so they navigated the maze of dust and grime with flashlights.
The outside world had slowly crept in throughout the many years the school had been abandoned. In its cracked edges, dirt and plants crawled their way inward, vines stretched their tendrils across the walls and the ceiling, and the pitter-patter of rodents created the illusion that the building itself was somehow alive.
Kelsey swore that the plants relished the darkness, twitching and recoiling when she shined her flashlight upon them. “Ok, so maybe I’m just on edge for the general weirdness of a dark and empty building in the middle of nowhere,” Kelsey whispered, “but this place kind of gives me the creeps.”
“Yeah,” Hashtag admitted, swinging his flashlight back and forth, “this place is a bit more unsettling than I remember.”
“Oh nonsense!” exclaimed Squeaky, a bit too loudly, “You guys are all just worked up because of...well, because of everything else that’s happened recently...but that’s neither here nor there. We’re just doing some good old fashioned exploration. Like, what’s in this room?” Squeaky swung the door open, pointed his flashlight to illuminate the interior, and then slowly stepped back. “Whoa,” he said.
Hashtag and Kelsey peered into the classroom. At first glance there was nothing abnormal about the scene. A blackboard hung on the wall next to a large desk, the edges of the room were lined with filing cabinets and shelves, and the room itself was littered with students’ desks and chairs.
“It’s so clean,” said Kelsey.
“There’s no dust anywhere,” said Hashtag.
Squeaky sauntered into the room, turning his flashlight every which way, examining the surfaces of each piece of furniture. Hashtag and Kelsey followed him into the room.
“Ok,” Kelsey whispered harshly, “now I am definitely creeped out. This is straight up nightmare fodder. I thought I was having bad dreams after…well, you know...but now this? It’s bad enough that I have to wake up screaming because I’m being slowly chased by what sounds like--”
She stopped speaking abruptly and put her hand over her mouth.
“--what sounds like, that,” she whimpered. “Oh my god.”
Both Hashtag and Squeaky strained their ears, holding their breath so as to not make an interfering sound.
“Ha ha,” Hashtag broke the silence, “I’m not falling for--”
“Shhh!” Squeaky called out. “I can hear it too. It’s down the hallway and coming this way.”
Hashtag closed his eye and focused. Then slowly, over the sound of his frenetically beating heart, he heard it too.
Shuush shuush, shuush shuush the sound crept around the corner.
“We have to leave,” Hashtag said gravely, “now.”
Squeaky shut off his flashlight and bolted out the door. “What the hell is it?” he asked.
Shuush shuush, shuush shuush the shuffling picked up pace.
Hashtag and Kelsey chased after Squeaky.
“I have no idea,” Hashtag replied exasperated, “but I’ve heard it before too.”
“I told you we shouldn’t have come in here!” Kelsey shouted.
Shuush shuush, shuush shuush the noise was moving faster and faster and closer and closer, shuushshuush, shuushshuush.
Squeaky threw the doors open that led outside, daylight blasting them with radiance. He ran out and jumped down the stairs, Kelsey trailing behind him only by a fraction of a second. As Hashtag reached for the sunlight, his feet faltered and his body crumbled beneath his frenzied running.
Shuushshuush, shuush the air around Hashtag chilled and electricity raised all of the awkward hairs on his body.
Hashtag yelled and scrambled to his feet, chancing a look backward into the darkness before rushing outside and slamming the door behind him.
“What...” Squeaky panted, “...the hell...was that? What did you see?”
Hashtag kept running and shouted after them, “Nothing! I didn’t see anything! Keep moving!”
Squeaky and Kelsey raced after Hashtag down the overgrown road, clouds drifting in and blocking the sun.
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)