“One, two, three,” Squeaky quietly counted to himself, his hands cupped over his ears, “four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.” He opened his eyes and nervously glanced around the room. The darkness was tangible. The only light source was the flashlight thrown or dropped onto the ground in the hallway before the screaming had started and stopped. Squeaky dropped his hands onto his knees. Their screaming had stopped. He wiped the tears from off of his cheek and against his better judgment attempted to listen to the cavernous abandoned building.
The silence was as palpable as the darkness. Squeaky chanced a thought that perhaps this was all over, or that it never happened, that he was living out some horrible nightmare that he may wake from at any moment. It was still that time he took a football to the head on the field and was knocked out cold. Hashtag and Mr. Bennet were hovering over him, yelling at him to wake up and he would wake up and they would laugh about it. On their way to the nurse’s office, they would see Kelsey and Brad and they would ridicule him for having glasses and Hashtag for his appearance and everything would be back to normal.
Shuush shuush, shuush shuush, the sound rose up from the emptiness,
“Oh god no,” Squeaky pleaded to the darkness. “Please just go away.”
Shuush shuush, shuush shuush. The shuffling grew closer and closer. Shuush shuush, shuush shuush. The footsteps were just behind him, on the other side of the desk. Shuush shuush.
Everything fell silent and cold. In the faint light, Squeaky could see his breath forming tiny panicked clouds. A thin sheet of fog crept over his glasses. His hands shaking, he reached up and pulled them off of his face and instinctively began to clean them.
He sensed a presence above him. Squeaky’s entire body hummed as electrical shocks wove their way through his skin. His hair stood on end and the vibrations in the air sunk into his core. Squeaky shakily set his glasses upon his face. Out of curiosity or a force against his own will, he wasn’t entirely sure, he slowly looked upward.
Out of the thin light, he could make out the outlines of a shadow, a swirling maelstrom of dust and dirt towering over him. It’s form was generally like a person, but imperfect and riddled with protrusions and incongruities. Where’s it head would be, two orbs, one red and one blue, emanated a soft glow. It was perfectly silent.
Squeaky’s heart palpitating rapidly, he closed his eyes and began to count, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.” He had not lowered his head and when he opened his eyes, blinked twice, he saw nothing but the darkness spread out before him.
He hurried to his feet and peeked around the corner of the desk. The flashlight’s beam was angled against the far wall, illuminating nothing but rusted lockers.
“Hashtag!” he whispered loudly, the only response his voice echoing out the room and down the hallway in both directions. He crept toward the hallway, his eyes nervously darting back and forth and behind him.
He braced himself on the edges of the doorway and squinted left and right but only saw the outline of shapes. “Hashtag, where are you?” he half yelled.
He stepped forward, but his foot caught on something heavy and he tumbled down, his cheek slamming into the floor. His face and hands felt sticky and the smell of iron permeated his nose. Attempting to scramble to his feet, he reached his hands out and pushed them into something soft. He recoiled and fell backward against the wall.
“Hashtag, what the hell! Where are you?” A groan near the opposite wall responded.
Squeaky closed his eyes, inhaled, opened them, raced to his feet and leapt across the hallway toward the flashlight and collided directly with the chair Hashtag was tied to. The chair skated across the hard floor and Squeaky collapsed into the lockers next to the flashlight. “Shit!” he screamed, at himself, at Hashtag, at the chair, at the damn dust monster, “Shit! Shit! Shit!”
Frustrated, he thrust out his arm, grabbed the flashlight, and swung it toward the rest of the hall. Squeaky had watched a fair amount of violent movies and played a fair amount of violent video games. Gore tended not to bother him too much. The people, even after being shot or maimed or worse, always still looked like people, actors or renderings. And he had even seen real dead bodies. He recalled going to his grandparents’ funerals and remarking how they didn’t look like themselves but rather poorly constructed statues of themselves.
Carlos, Ryan, and Alexis didn’t look like people, nor did they look like poorly constructed statues. Fear had etched its marks across each of their faces and propped them up like puppets. Each was recoiling from the space where Hashtag had sat, their mouths gaping, their eye sockets an empty testament to the horror that had befallen their visages. Their bodies had turned gray and cold, and the thing had painted them red with their own blood.
Squeaky kicked his legs back and forth until he was standing, his back pressed firmly against the decrepit lockers. He looked down and saw his arms covered in blood, likely Ryan’s from the way that his body was contorted. Squeaky turned and vomited on the floor, the putrid smell rising to meet the scent of death and blood already hanging in the air.
“Hashtag,” he grunted in between heaves. “Hashtag, we have to go.”
A body behind him stirred. Squeaky spun around and saw Hashtag slumped on the ground, his arms wrapped around his knees, lying on his side, sleeping or passed out, Squeaky could not be sure. He bent down and prodded Hashtag with his fist, “Hashtag! Wake up! We have to get out of here!”
Hashtag stirred and groaned. His eye snapped open and he stared up at Squeaky. “What the hell just happened?”
“Okay, okay,” Squeaky said to him, “just look at me okay? Just look at me. You don’t remember what happened, how we got here?” Hashtag shook his head and began to sit up. Squeaky placed himself between Hashtag and the bodies, shining the flashlight forward.
“No, I don’t,” Hashtag replied, giving Squeaky a quizzical look. “I mean, wait, I remember coming in here and Carlos punching me in the face and Alexis being mean and Ryan,” Hashtag reached a hand up to his eye. “Did he...poke me in the eye with a knife?”
Squeaky nodded, “I think so. I couldn’t see. I was hiding in the other room.”
“That bastard. Where the hell did he go? If I could, I would kick his ass so hard,” Hashtag stopped. “Squeaky, why are you giving me that look? Wait, why are you covered in blood whose blood is that?”
Squeaky grabbed Hashtag by the shoulders and made direct eye contact, “You really don’t remember anything after that? Nothing at all?”
“I already told you no! What the hell are you hiding?” Hashtag threw Squeaky’s arms off of his shoulders, stood up, and began to walk down the hallway.
“Wait!” Squeaky called after him, “just wait!”
Hashtag stopped and turned around.
“Wait, and I don’t get it either and I don’t know where it came from, but,” Squeaky trailed off, hesitated, and then turned the flashlight and allowed it to illuminate the carnage.
Hashtag reeled backward. His eye wide, he turned toward Squeaky, “Oh my god, they’re dead? They’re all...dead. No eyes.” He turned his gaze toward the bodies again. “I’m going to be sick.” He covered his mouth with both hands and ran down the hallway and out of the building.
The sun was bright and beating down on Hashtag. Sitting on the steps of the abandoned school, he was hot and sticky with sweat and blood and the heat in the air made him even dizzier. He looked out at the golden and green waves of grass and breathed in deeply. The sky was clear and blue and birds chattered in the trees.
The door opened and closed and Squeaky sat down beside him. “I don’t know what it was,” Squeaky started, “I have never seen anything like it. It was like something out of a nightmare. I didn’t see what happened to them. I was too afraid and I hid, but I saw it...after...and it saw me. I don’t know why I’m still here, mostly intact.” Squeaky poked his own chest.
Hashtag closed his eye and sighed, “Brad, Kelsey, Carlos, Ryan, and Alexis. All dead.”
“Yeah,” Squeaky said, “I think whatever it is that you were looking for here, it found us.”
“You think it was the same thing as before?” Hashtag looked at Squeaky.
Squeaky nodded, “For something so large, it was really quiet, just like the last time we were here, shuffling and making that shushing noise.”
A shiver spiraled through Hashtag’s body.
“What do we do now?” Squeaky asked, looking up toward the sky.
“I don’t know,” Hashtag responded. “Do we tell the police?”
“Oh sure,” Squeaky scoffed, “we’ll just walk up to them, covered in blood, and explain that a giant dust monster thingie rose up from your body and murdered three kids after they were torturing you in an abandoned building.”
Hashtag scowled at him, “Up from my body? What’re you talking about?”
Squeaky stood up and began pacing back and forth, “Oh did I leave that part out?” He laughed nervously. “You see, it kind of seemed like…how do I put this? Well, you passed out and then you started whispering a lot, something exploded, and the, well, thing, appeared behind you.”
Hashtag stood up and kicked at the grass. “Shit!” he exclaimed. “Shit! Shit! Shit!”
“That’s what I said,” Squeaky interjected.
“We can’t go to the police,” Hashtag concluded. “We can’t stay here. We can’t go to school like this. My place is closest and we can go through the woods again. We go to my place, clean up, go to school, and figure this out later.” He turned and faced Squeaky, “And not a word of this to anyone.”
Squeaky nodded solemnly, “Not a word.”
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)