Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
Billy slowly facilitated his way in, careful to avoid cutting himself on the broken window. He had gained entry to places similarly and tried his best to clear the shards from the frame using his thick jacket. It was difficult to wipe it all away clean. That was the thing about glass, it seemed to hide well in plain sight – Story of Billy’s life. His jacket ensured at least one layer of protection when he slithered his way into the old classroom. He collected a tattered rucksack from Jessie’s gloved hands before helping her in.
“Are you sure this place doesn’t have one of those silent alarms?” She whispered.
“No. But then if it does, we won’t hear it anyway.” Billy replied nonchalantly.
He knew vagrancy was bottom of the priority list for any law enforcement team. He also knew the school had been abandoned for at least five years since closing. Nobody outside of it would care about a small break in. Knowing the history of the place, most would sooner wish it were burned to the ground.
Sunshine Park Primary School. It sounded so bright and cheerful, but the title was no more than a masquerade. One big broken dream full of damaged memories and rotten evil. Not closed due to budget cuts or the heavy remediation that was so obviously needed, but rather due to its cemented reputation as one of the most horrifying examples of child abuse in any school system. Abuse that Billy knew all about.
Jessie followed him across the large room concerned at the way he casually squeaked his grimy sneakers on the floor tiles. It was deliberate, a sound to create memories from within. He remembered back to that same sound as a child, planting his soles to the floor. Squeaking. Running. Running from something he could not remember. The room was cold enough to see the moisture from each breath, there were a few chairs overturned and drained pen markers on the floor; it was a shell of what it once was. The sounds of birch desks scrubbing against the floor and pencils scribbling on exercise books, heavy breathing from Brother Smith sat staring at each child one after the other. Billy remembered the smell of pipe tobacco on his clothes mixed with a sour body odor.
“I remember this room.” Billy said vaguely.
It was after midnight, and the only source of light working in this gargantuan building was being poured in from the streetlamps outside. The windows were so large the illumination was more than enough to showcase the massive complex to a certain degree.
“Where are we going exactly?”
Jessie was a little unnerved at her boyfriend’s calm demeanor. This was followed by an expression that unveiled a sense of vacancy. He was trying to remember things. Things deep rooted into his subconscious.
“There’s a place in here where we can crash for the night. I used to go there all the time.” He replied entranced.
They walked slowly out of the old classroom into a gigantic corridor, their shoes crushing loose drywall chunks with each step. The corridor was lined with open classroom doors on each side with big swinging double-doors at each end. The glow from outside shot lines throughout this space. The ceiling was punched with old tiles cracked off and numerous cables hanging down like nooses in the dark. Brown stains of old water created a musty smell to offset the dust from the paint flakes that floated around like lost spirits. A couple of old sliding whiteboards could be seen at the end of one hallway, alongside a wicker wheelchair that ominously faced towards the couple. Billy led on while Jessie fought the urge to choke on the dense particles that filled her throat.
“There’s a little hiding place under the stairs over here.” Billy pointed out.
Just there, next to the main flight of stairs, a small door that looked like a broom closet rested shut. An off-beige painted door with three slits in the top, maybe for air venting from the chemicals. It looked like nothing to Jessie, but to Billy it was like something from a postmodern fairy tale. She could imagine a child playing hide and seek there during recess, but for an overnight camp there was no way an adult could work with this.
“Check this out.”
Billy pulled the handle open slowly. Jessie could not see anything for darkness. It was like a cave; a cave leading into the very fabric of Billy’s mind. He reached into his thick plaid pocket and pulled out a small flashlight, clicked its soft trigger and shone the light into the small doorway.
Jessie reacted, surprised. “Wow.”
The small hatch opened inside to a larger area, enough to hunch down without kneeling, and enough headspace to not worry about hitting something. The space wrapped around underneath the entire stairwell and revealed a storage area at the back. Best of all, despite the ruins being mostly empty, this area was still stocked. Aside from a couple of bleach bottles rolling around, the shelves contained blankets, towels, napkins, some religious reading material, and containers of bottled water all unscathed by time and neglect.
“They must have forgotten to clear it out after the place closed down.” Billy smiled.
“Okay, this is actually pretty cool.” Jessie admitted.
Billy crouched and went in first, grabbing items as he got further in. It was a C shape, and around the back of the stairwell a small space that Billy was already familiar with.
“I used to hide here all the time. I felt safe here.”
Jessie’s baggy eyes carefully observed Billy creating a makeshift sleeping area using the blankets and towels. She had questions of her own.
She whispered. “Hun, what do you mean by feeling safe? Who were you hiding from?”
Billy sat down and took his shoes off, relieved to rest his aching feet; his stolen and stained sneakers two sizes too small. He rifled through the various drug paraphernalia in his pocket to find a singular flimsy joint which he lit right away for a deep long draw.
“I used to come to this school when I was a kid. You heard about what they did to the kids in this school?”
Jessie nodded. Everybody plus their closest friends and family knew about the abuse suffered at the hands of the Brothers and Sisters.
“I remember this one man, Brother Locke, he used to terrify me. He used to terrify everyone. He was this big, tall, bald man who used to go around the corridors right here on patrol every time a lesson was in play. He wore this wrinkled black shirt and a dog collar and just looked like a typical priest, except he had this huge brown leather belt he’d remove from his jeans,” he paused for a moment. Another repressed memory had stalled him mid-sentence. He took another draw and found his bearings. “He’d remove this belt from his jeans and grab it with both hands and just snap it.”
Jessie listened intently and held Billy’s free hand. “Snap it?”
Billy handed the joint over and mimicked the motion. “He would snap it between his hands. You could hear the crack of the leather snap down those hallways every lesson time. Snap. Snap. Snap. The closer he got to your classroom, the louder it got.”
Jessie shuddered and quickly glanced around the space, taking in every dark crevice. Billy turned off the flashlight. Some of the outside light had reflected into the space from the door being open, it was enough to see about six feet in front of them.
Billy continued. “Snap. Snap. Snap. Just the sound alone would scare you to death, just knowing he was there.”
“Sounds creepy as hell.”
“Like I said, he used to terrify everyone. I used to see kids going into his office, and he put the fear of God of them. They would leave crying, confused, and I could not understand why. Until it was my turn. One day I was in class, one of the Sisters was teaching us about long division or some shit, and I looked to the door, and here was Brother Locke staring right at me,” Jessie could see Billy’s eyes begin to well up. She knew this must have been his first time out loud telling his account. No interruptions, she passed him back the joint and watched him take another hit. “His eyes were bloodshot. He looked so angry with me, almost as if he wanted to kill me. At least, that’s what I thought at the time. I didn’t realize it was actually much worse than that. I turned my head to the front for a few minutes just using my peripherals until I saw his shape leave from behind the glass. I was petrified. Next thing, I get called to his office.”
Jessie caught wind of a crashing sound and jumped at the noise. A piece of the ceiling tile must have struck the floor near them. Billy spotted her unease.
“That’s normal. This old place is falling apart. There’s nobody here.”
Jessie’s arms were folded. “You know that for sure?”
“We had to break the window to get in. Nobody has been here for years. This place is rotting.”
Jessie looked down at her hands now shaking as Billy took a big inhalation. The interruption had cleared his mind enough to continue with the story.
“Anyway, I got called to Brother Locke’s office. I walk in and his bookshelves are lined off with thick leather-bound religious texts. He’s facing the wall. He has this little golden tray on his desk to keep his tobacco pipe in. The pipe is laid on the tray, so I figured he must be holding onto something already, something I couldn’t see,” Billy’s lips tremble, “I couldn’t speak. He turned around, and he’s got that belt between his two hands……snap!”
“I ran. I ran as fast as I could. I saw the little door open in the corridor, and I hid here, inside, right here. I could hear him pacing up and down the corridor, looking for me, but he never found me.”
Billy placed the now burned out joint on the floor. The smoke had filled the air.
“Every time I came to class, every time I came to school from then on, I hid right here. Sometimes I’d hide away here for days. And every time, I’d hear that snap echoing down the corridor.”
Jessie saw the terror in his eyes and knew there was more to his experience than that. Either he did not wish to tell her the full story or maybe his memory buried it so deep it would take a pickax to get at it. Her own body ached, but she wanted to listen. Billy’s eyes despite the tears looked heavy. She implored him to get some sleep. Once his head felt the floor he settled away to a near coma. Careful to allow him to rest, she soon found the plastic case she needed from within the confines of the rucksack, complete with the needle her dotted arm so craved.
Jessie woke up with sweat running down her back; her neck stiff from the rolled towel her head was sleeping on. It was like a nightmare. She was sure she heard it.
It was faint, but real. She did hear it. The echo rang through the hallway just next to them. Jessie’s heart was racing.
“Hun.” She whispered to Billy.
Nothing. Billy was dead to the world. She prodded him through the blanket to try and wake him up.
“Babe. There’s somebody else in the building.”
Jessie’s breathing had heightened so much she sensed an impending panic attack. She begged her body to remain calm, but the sounds drew closer each time in this old, condemned place.
Jessie’s whispers grew louder as her state of alarm intensified.
“Babe, please wake up! Please!”
She slapped at his face in desperation, and that’s when she noticed it. There was no breathing coming from Billy.
Jessie clutched the blanket and ripped it away from his body. She screamed. Billy’s limbs were contorted in varying directions, his face drooped and resembling an Edvard Munch painting, sheer fear and terror etched on; every bone in his body snapped like a chicken wing.
Jessie’s throat was hoarse, she swung her head round to exit and that’s when she saw it. A figure hunched over no more than four feet away from her. A tall lumbering thing, fleshy, naked, skeletal in the face with two eyeless holes that somehow locked onto hers. Within its spindly fingers, in both its nobbled hands, a brown leather belt held tightly with purpose.
Credit : Alex McIntosh
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