“What did you do?” Squeaky whispered to Hashtag. They were standing near Hashtag’s locker, before the start of first period. Hashtag was rifling through his books while Squeaky crossed his arms and leaned against the wall.
“What do you mean what did I do?” retorted Hashtag. “I ran home! This is only the second time I really remember sleepwalking and I wake up in the middle of the street? It was really strange and made me uncomfortable.”
“Everything makes you uncomfortable,” Squeaky said and adjusted his glasses. “Well, at least you woke up before a car hit you or something.”
“Thanks, I guess,” Hashtag replied. He picked up the books for his first period class and closed his locker. “The weirdest part, you know besides the whole sleepwalking thing, was that I woke up in front of Kelsey and Alexis’ places. What was I doing there?”
Squeaky put on his glasses and squinted. “Do you really have to have a reason to be anywhere when you sleepwalk? Isn’t it kind of random or like you’re acting out a dream or something? Honestly, I have no idea. I’ve never done it. Apparently I talk in my sleep a lot, or so says my mom.”
“Shocking,” Hashtag scoffed. “Anyway it must’ve been some boring dream. Who dreams about walking down the street?”
“Maybe you were walking across the surface of Mars or Hell or someplace cool!” Squeaky suggested excitedly.
“Why would I want to be walking through Hel--”
“You!” a voice rang down the hallway. Everyone stopped in their tracks and turned to see Carlos and Ryan storming toward Hashtag and Squeaky.
Squeaky pointed at Hashtag with a quizzical look on his face, then pointed at himself, then shook his head and pointed at Hashtag. “Oh lay off, dude,” Squeaky said, “What the hell do you want with us this time?”
“You killed her!” Ryan bellowed.
Students began to gather around the commotion.
“What are you guys even talking about?” asked Hashtag, getting increasingly nervous as the crowd grew larger.
“Kelsey,” Carlos said through gritted teeth, “you ripped out her eyes and killed her, you little freak.”
Hashtag remembered the scream that he had dismissed as his brain playing tricks on him. He recalled the way the wind blew and how the air was seeping with cold electricity. Fuzzy, deep down in the recesses of his memory, he could hear her calling out to him.
“I gotta go,” he said, gagging. He pushed his way through the crowd and into the bathroom where he launched into a stall and vomited. He heard the door swing open.
“You’re not getting away that easily,” Ryan said, creeping up behind him.
“Why… why the hell would I kill my friend?” Hashtag asked between bouts of retching. “How would I even do that? Why would I do that?”
“How should I know?” yelled Carlos. He and Ryan positioned themselves behind Hashtag, blocking his chance of escape. “Alexis told me. She told me she saw you last night, right before she heard her scream. You were hanging outside, no one else with you. I don’t know how you did it. I don’t know how you did it to Brad either, but this ends now.”
“I didn’t do anything!” Hashtag turned and screamed at them, his voice echoing off the walls. The lights flickered and dust fell from the ceiling. Hashtag slowly stood up and faced them, his eye welled with tears. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve. The shadows in the room began to dance.
Carlos and Ryan exchanged quick glances and then tried to look at Hashtag, but averted their eyes.
“Now,” Hashtag said quieter, walking toward them, “go away and leave me alone.”
The dust condensed behind him and cast a strange shadow against the wall. Carlos and Ryan backed up slowly. The dust moved forward with every step Hashtag took.
“Uh, Hashtag?” Squeaky opened the door slowly. “You alright, buddy?”
Ryan and Carlos looked at Squeaky and then dashed out the door. “Don’t you think we’ll forget this!” Ryan shouted.
Squeaky walked toward the stall where Hashtag stood. Hashtag held his face in his hands, crying. “She’s dead,” he said, “I can’t believe she’s dead.”
Squeaky looked down uncomfortably, tears forming in his eyes. “I know, man,” he said, “me either. We’ll figure this out though. We’ll figure out who did this. I know it wasn’t you.”
Hashtag sniffed and coughed and wiped the tears off of his face. “Thanks, that means a lot, and I think I know where to look first.” Before Squeaky could respond, Hashtag raced out of the room, down the hallway, and out of the school.
I really wish I had brought a flashlight, Hashtag thought to himself. The door closed behind him and a thunderous echo sent blasts of sound up and down the hallway. He stepped forward and heard his footsteps fall over and over, quieter and quieter. He closed and opened his eye, hoping he would adjust to the darkness quickly.
The abandoned school was exactly as he had remembered it from before. Cracks adorned the walls and corners while bits of vegetation defied the dark interior by slithering through openings and twisting along any surface they could find.
He ran his left hand along the wall while he crept forward, blinking intermittently, the gray world slowly coming into focus. He could now make out the edges of doors and windows, chairs and desks that lay strewn about the hallway.
Hashtag stopped moving and turned around. He could no longer see the entrance. He strained his ears to listen for shuffling footsteps but heard nothing but the pounding of his heart. He sighed and trudged forward, determined to confront the thing that haunted them before. Even if it kills me, he thought over and over, even if it kills me.
Eventually his hand fell into emptiness and he knew he was outside the room where they had heard it, the room that was so clean and shiny. Hashtag paused in the doorway.
Behind him, a blast of light and then the door at the entrance slammed shut. Hashtag darted into the room and hid around the corner. The pitter-patter of footsteps bounced in the airwaves. Hashtag could not tell how many of them were there, but feared calling out in case it was Carlos or Ryan or worse. He held his breath as best he could and watched the light of a flashlight moved closer and closer until it peered into the room. Hashtag pushed himself against the wall as hard as he could. He swore whoever was standing there could hear his heart beating against his chest.
“Whoa,” said Squeaky.
“Oh good god!” exclaimed Hashtag, “You scared the crap out of me!”
Squeaky yelped and fell backward, the flashlight flying out of his hand and spinning in circles on the floor. “Holy shit, dude! I didn’t know you were there.”
Hashtag scrambled over to and picked up the flashlight and shined it toward Squeaky. “Did you...did you follow me here?”
“Oh come on now,” Squeaky said, picking himself up off the floor, “let’s not be ridiculous: ‘follow’ is such a strong word. I prefer ‘tagging along’ or ‘the invite was non-verbally implied’ or ‘Squeaky it’s so great to see you.’”
Hashtag grunted and shined the flashlight back into the room. “Huh. This is the same room as before, right?”
Squeaky patted the dirt off his knees and walked over. “Oh weird. Yeah, this is definitely the same room, but there’s no way it could get this dirty in just a few days.”
They both stepped into the room and surveyed it, Hashtag flashing the light every which way, examining surfaces and corners. But as far as either of them could tell, it was old and in shambles just like the rest of the building.
“Well,” Hashtag said, “maybe I was wrong. Maybe there’s nothing here.”
A flash of light and a loud boom crashed down the hallway as the doors were swung open and slammed shut again. Hashtag and Squeaky froze.
“The flashlight!” Squeaky whispered harshly. “Turn it off!”
Hashtag fumbled with the flashlight. It flew out of his hand and slid into the hallway. When it came to a rest, it shone directly into the room they were in. Squeaky groaned and slipped behind a desk to hide.
The cacophony of footsteps and voices shouting Hashtag’s name reverberated through the entire building. Panicked, Hashtag stood immobile. Beams of light bounced around the hallway. They were getting closer. Hashtag closed his eye.
In his head, he could see Kelsey’s face in her window. She belted out a scream and Hashtag’s body shivered from the top of his head downward. He clenched his fists until his knuckles faded white. He opened his eye. The voices were getting closer and he didn’t care. He ground his teeth and stepped into the hallway to greet them.
“What the hell,” he growled, “do you assholes want!?”
Carlos slammed his flashlight onto the ground and punched Hashtag in the face. He grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him into a nearby chair. Hashtag yelped. Carlos swung again and connected with Hashtag’s cheek.
“Hashtag, shut up,” Carlos commanded. “Ryan, give me the rope.”
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)