Hashtag squinted against the brilliance of the flashlight shoved into his face. His face hurt and he was fairly certain blood was dripping down his cheek. He wanted to struggle against the ropes but the last time he had, Carlos had punched him again. Hashtag was not unaccustomed to the feeling of getting punched in the head, but he certainly didn’t like it and did his best to avoid it as much as possible.
The light was so bright, Hashtag eventually just closed his eye but even still, the light beat against his eyelids and his entire world shone a hazy red and orange. Carlos had tied his hands behind his back, his feet to the legs of the chair. Hashtag had tried to explain that he had nothing to do with Kelsey or Brad and he was trying to figure out what was going on, that he wanted to help and that’s why he was here, but each time he spoke, Carlos threatened him again.
He hopelessly conceded his willpower, resigning himself to whatever fate these two maniacs could imagine. He recoiled at the thought and involuntarily shifted his weight backward. He winced in anticipation of getting stuck again.
“Stop struggling!” a voice called out but it was not Ryan or Carlos.
Hashtag peeked out from under his eyelid, attempting to see beyond the impenetrable beam. A dark figure walked up behind Ryan. “Give me that,” she commanded. Ryan handed over the flashlight and she turned it on herself.
Hashtag’s eye grew wide and he stammered, “L...Le...Lexi?”
She flew toward him in a rage. “Do not,” she jabbed him with the end of the flashlight, “call me that.”
Hashtag flinched. “I’m...I’m sorry, Alexis, I didn’t mean to--”
“Didn’t mean to what!?” she screamed, turning on her heel and walking a paces away. She turned to face him, shining the light into his eye again. “Huh, Hashtag? Didn’t mean to what? Didn’t mean to kill my best friend? Didn’t mean to tear out the eyes of the one person who made this place feel like home?”
Hashtag sniffled and choked back a tear. “I didn’t do that. I didn’t do any of that.” He looked up at Carlos, who was looming over his left shoulder. “Please don’t hit me again.”
Carlos grunted and looked at Alexis. She nodded and Carlos came down on Hashtag’s face so hard he toppled over, chair and all.
“Please,” Hashtag pleaded, kicking his legs. “What do you want? If I can’t say anything then what do you want from me? Just let me go and I’ll leave you all alone, I swear. I won’t tell anyone about this or anything, just let me go.”
Ryan and Carlos picked him up and set the chair upright. Hashtag’s face was beginning to swell and his ribcage ached from the impact with the floor.
“We want you to tell the truth,” Alexis said. “We want to know why you did it, how you did it.”
“But I didn’t--” Hashtag stopped and looked at Carlos. Hashtag turned his gaze toward Alexis. He inhaled deeply.
“The night that…Brad lost his eyes I had a dream,” he began, “I didn’t know what it was at first, just colors and noises and a voice.”
“You had a dream?” Alexis scoffed.
“I know, I know,” Hashtag continued, his gaze now on the floor in front of him, “I didn’t think anything of it right away either. But then the night Brad died I had another dream. I was in the hospital with him, the window was open, and the power went out. There was someone or something shuffling down the hallway toward us. I couldn’t see what it was and as soon as it got close, I woke up to my mom telling me that Brad had died.”
Alexis paced back and forth. “So, you’re saying that your dream killed him?”
“Not my dream!” Hashtag retorted. “The thing in my dream, the shuffling thing.”
Carlos glared down at him, “You’re weirder than I thought.”
“I know how it sounds,” Hashtag said quietly. “I really do, but there’s so much more. There was the gorilla at the zoo and the shuffling noise we heard in this school and I thought that maybe it was here.”
“Wait,” Alexis stopped pacing, “you’re saying you think the...thing…that you think killed Brad and Kelsey is here?”
Hashtag nodded his head earnestly and said, “Ye--”
“Quiet!” Alexis yelled. The four of them fell silent and let the remaining echoes of their voices bounce and dissipate down the hallway. There was no rustling of animals, no mechanical clanks or electrical hums, no voices, and even the air was still and empty.
“Alright enough of this,” Ryan shattered the lull. “We do this my way.” He reached in his front pocket and produced a small knife. He crept up to Hashtag and waved it in his face. “You know what this is? Huh?”
Hashtag shuddered and spoke with a quavering voice, “It’s a knife what are you going to--”
Ryan stared Hashtag directly in the eye, “Shh shh, Hashtag. It’s okay. I just want to give you a little taste of your own medicine is all.” Ryan raised the knife to Hashtag’s eye.
Carlos stepped toward Ryan and grabbed his arm. “Dude, what are you doing? We were going to rough him up a bit but not this.”
“Oh, back off Carlos,” Alexis sneered. “He’s just making shit up at this point anyway. I mean, come on, you really buying any of that?”
Carlos shook his head, “No, of course not but I thought we were just going to scare him, you know?”
“I’m not going to kill him or anything,” Ryan gave Carlos a sidelong glance and then focused his gleaming eyes on Hashtag, “even if he deserves it. I’m just going to make him bleed a little more.”
Ryan slid the tip of the knife onto Hashtag’s cornea. Hashtag whimpered but held himself as still as he could, not wanting to slip forward. His eye welled with tears.
“Please stop,” Hashtag begged, “please stop. Please stop I don’t know what else to say. Please stop.”
Carlos stepped forward again, but Alexis grabbed him by the shoulder and gently pulled him backward.
Ryan slowly began pushing the knife inward, “Is that what Brad and Kelsey said before you tore theirs from them? Please stop,” Ryan mocked.
“Please stop, please stop,” Hashtag pleaded. As the knife began to part the flesh of his eye, pain shot out and seared through every nerve that stretched in his head and down his back and out his arms and into his fingertips and down into his toes until he couldn’t take the pain anymore and everything went black and silent.
Squeaky held his breath. In the darkness, hiding behind the desk, he could not see them, but he could hear them.
“Alright, enough of this. We do this my way.”
Oh god, Ryan, Squeaky thought, that manic would kill a puppy if he could get away with it.
Squeaky shuffled to his feet, his body bent low, and peered over the top of the desk. In the hallway, he saw Ryan’s body hunkered over Hashtag. With only a singular flashlight, the details were obscured each time Alexis moved the flashlight.
“...I want to give you a taste of your own medicine is all.”
Squeaky grimaced and quietly shuffled toward the wall next to the doorway. He pushed his back into it as hard as he could, holding his breath again, hoping that no one heard him.
“... I thought we were just going to scare him, you know?”
Squeaky closed his eyes and took off his glasses.
“I’m just going to make him bleed a little more.”
That is it, Squeaky thought to himself. He set his glasses back on his face and clenched his fists.
Squeaky thought about all of the punches and kicks he had suffered at the hands of Ryan and Carlos and Brad, the constant barrage of insults, the taste of dirt and blood in his mouth, the sting of sweat in his eyes. He stood up straight.
“What did you do? Did he pass out? This isn’t what I had in mind.”
Squeaky inhaled sharply.
“Dude, lay off. I was just going to hurt him a little bit.”
“Well you went too far!”
“Uh, guys? Guys! Stop fighting! Is he...is Hashtag talking?”
Squeaky poked his head around the corner and saw Ryan, Carlos, and Alexis hovering around Hashtag’s body slumped into the chair. His eye was closed but his lips were moving, “Shiny, sharp floor.”
The lights overhead flicked on for a split second and then exploded, shards of glass raining down on them. Ryan yelped and jumped backward. “What the hell was that!?” he screamed.
Squeaky stood motionless.
Hashtag’s arms began to writhe and slink back and forth until the ropes fell to the floor. He raised his head, “Before the dust fell.”
Alexis shook the flashlight. In its beam, she watched in disbelief as every mote of dust reversed direction and floated upward and toward Hashtag. The temperature plummeted and the hairs on the back of their necks raised.
The dust congregated behind Hashtag and formed a pillar of spinning dirt and grime. Like a statue crumbling in reverse, the dust stacked upon itself over and over until a large figure loomed over Hashtag’s body.
Carlos fell over while trying to back up.
The ropes from Hashtag’s feet fell. He opened his eye and stood up, “Red and blue and red and blue.”
The dust lurched, two orbs, one red and one blue, lit up, as if it were attempting to create a face.
Hashtag’s lips moved rapidly, “None is better than two. For if you have two then you have some, but if you have none than you can’t have some. And none is better than some.”
Thunder crashed into the hallway and raced through the school. Squeaky tore himself from his paralysis and jumped behind the desk. He heard their screams rise to meet the cacophony rattling the walls. He hunkered down and held his knees and shook back and forth and cried and tried not to listen to the garbled sounds of voices pleading for their lives.
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)