01 Feb I’ve Been Stuck in School Detention: The Night My Buddy Got His Face Eaten Off
And I’m just going to jump into this one.
It was never good news when the second hatch opened.
The first time it happened, Robin Phillips emerged, still looking beautiful despite being covered in sweat and (I guessed) piss. She threw a crazed look around the dark basement.
“Come on,” I said. “We better get moving.”
“Who the fuck are you?” she shrieked, cowering away from me.
I sighed. I’d had a huge crush on Robin for three years, and now my worst fear was confirmed: she didn’t even know I existed.
“Emmett Emerson,” I said. “I’m really sorry that this is happening to you, but we have to get out of this basement. There are bad things down here. There are bad things everywhere, but these ones are particularly aggressive.”
Robin started screaming. “Stay away from me!”
The overhead lights turned on. “We have to go right now!” I said.
Robin started sobbing. “What’s happening?”
“I’ll explain later. Right now, we have to go.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. A red fuzzy flurry of movement. I grabbed Robin’s arm. She bit my hand.
“Don’t touch me!” she said.
And that was the last thing she ever said, as Louie the Lobster’s massive claw closed around her waist and sliced her neatly in half.
Then there was the kid who refused to come out of his hole. I did what I could for him. I brought him food and water. I told him lies, like that everything was going to be okay. I did what I could, but it wasn’t enough. One night, I woke up and looked in his hole and he was dead.
There have been a few others. Darren Flemming, for example, who thought he could take on The Janitor. He couldn’t. Darren emptied the fire extinguisher in The Janitor’s face, and then swung the empty canister against the beast’s head. None of it did anything, and one headbutt from that spiked head was enough to end Darren.
Or not exactly. Darren is still here. So is Robin, and the handful of other kids unlucky enough to end up in this hellhole. They wander the halls as ghosts, moaning in despair.
Even in death, there is no escape from this place.
Talk about a shit sandwich.
Though I’ve eaten things here worse even than that.
When I saw that second hatch open again, over two years into this nightmare, I thought it was going to be another insta-goner. I was at the point where I couldn’t allow myself to hope anymore, and it was a terrible feeling knowing that whoever came out of that hole was going to die very soon.
I reached down to give him a hand up. Even in the dark, I recognized him. Jason Porter. He’d been a freshman when I first got locked in here, which would make him a junior now. We’d talked a few times, and he’d seemed cool.
“Listen, Jason,” I said. “We have to get the fuck out of the basement, stat.”
“Sounds good,” said Jason.
I had it down to where I could already have my hand around the basement door by the time the lights flicked on, and Louie the Lobster became animated. Jason slowed me down a little, but we made it out with time to spare.
“Mind telling me what the fuck is going on?” asked Jason, as I closed the basement door behind him. “Like, for starters, who are you and how do you know my name?”
“You don’t remember me?” I asked, disappointed. “I thought we vibed. That was a couple years ago though.”
“Never seen you in my life, dude,” said Jason.
That’s when it finally occurred to me. Even if he (or the others) didn’t remember me personally, they had to have heard about my disappearance, right? Clairmont, Maine is a small ass town, after all.
“My name is Emmett Emerson,” I said. “You haven’t heard anything about me? I was a year ahead of you. We talked a couple times. More than that, I disappeared from the face of the Earth a little over two years ago. Ring any bells?”
Jason shook his head. “Wait,” he said. “Let me guess. Detention, right? You got detention with Ms. Falloway, and then woke up here. Christ, you’ve been in here for over two years?”
“Not Ms. Falloway,” I said, “Mr. Hillrow. I dressed up a dildo to look like him and named it ‘Mr. Dilldow.’ Other than that, yeah. Detention, then the monsters, then the gas. Two years of that shit.”
Jason was cracking up. “Mr. Dilldow? Holy shit, that’s hilarious! That guy is a dick! For me, it was just a harmless fart. Okay, I farted on somebody, but he thought it was funny too. Wasn’t a big deal, but Ms. Falloway lost it. Then she gave me some kind of speech during detention, locked me in the room, and… sounds like you know the rest. But if you’ve been here two years…. Jesus.”
I nodded. The kid seemed to grasp the severity of the situation at least. “You hungry?” I asked. “Let’s hit up the cafeteria and I’ll fill you in.”
Jason opened his mouth to respond, but no words came out. I saw the color drain out of his face, and then he finally spoke in a whisper. “Is that… a monster?” he asked pointing.
I tensed up and turned to look. Then I relaxed. “No,” I said, “that’s just Lilly.”
Lilly came hobbling down the hall, dragging the foot that was missing all of its toes behind her, a tray of food balanced dangerously on her one hand.
“Cafeteria closed again?” I asked.
“I’m afraid so, Emmett,” said Lilly, handing off the tray to me.
“Fire?” I asked. “Or rats?”
“Little from column A, little from column B,” said Lilly.
I looked Lilly over carefully. I didn’t notice any new body parts missing. Which, combined with what she’d just told me, meant that the burgers on the tray were probably rat meat.
You get used to it.
“Thanks, Lilly,” I said. “Give our regards to Miss Hadley.”
Lilly hobbled away and we sat down on a bench and caught up while we ate.
“Cell phone?” asked Jason, taking a big bite of ratburger.
“Mine’s dead,” I said. “Yours?”
“Ms. Falloway took it during detention and then walked off with it. How about landlines? Like in the main office?”
“Spiders,” I said. “Maybe a million of them. I’ve raided the chemistry room and thrown everything I could find at them. I think they’ve only gotten bigger.”
“Internet?” asked Jason. “At the computer lab?”
“Very limited,” I said. “It’s a crap shoot on which sites work, and I haven’t found one yet where you can actually communicate with people.”
“Never the windows,” I said. “Windows are out of the question. Stay away from the windows.”
“Fire alarms?” asked Jason.
“Don’t do a thing this time of night.”
“The gas… it comes out of the vents every morning?” said Jason.
“That’s right. And I’ve tried every trick in the book. Training myself to hold my breath. I got up to four minutes, but it wasn’t enough.”
“Have you tried leaving notes?” asked Jason. “Like in the lockers?”
“You haven’t seen the locker monsters yet?” I said.
“Oh,” said Jason. “Right.”
“I haven’t tried it myself, but I saw one girl do it. That was the only glimpse of an actual locker monster that I’ve gotten. The girl went to slip the note in the little vents there, and the door swung open. This tiny green arm shot out of the darkness and pulled her in, slamming the door behind her. I heard her screaming in there… even tried to open the locker, but it was closed tight. The screaming didn’t last long.”
“Oh,” said Jason, shoveling in a spoonful of mashed potatoes. “What about a note somewhere else? Somewhere that’s not obvious.”
“I’ve tried it all,” I said. “I carved a message into a desk. The next night, I saw that desk down in the basement, and a different one was in its place upstairs. I wrote on the walls in Sharpie. Next night, it’s gone. The Janitor goes around and cleans everything up. I did write one message that’s still there. But it’s on the underside of Mr. Hillrow’s desk. I took out all of the drawers and wrote it there. It worked, sure, but who the hell is ever going to see that?”
Jason finished his burger and burped. “Well shit,” he said. “How’s the library looking?”
“Not good,” I said. “I’ve only been there a couple times. I’ll just say this. You don’t want those bookworms crawling inside you. What they do when they get in… it’s not right… and where they come out of once they’re ready to leave… ug.”
Jason frowned. “What kind of grades were you pulling, before you got locked up here?”
“Cs, pretty much,” I admitted.
“Same here. We need that library. We’re not smart enough to do this on our own.”
“But the bookworms,” I said.
“Well, sounds like we got a couple different infestations around here,” said Jason. “We got the monsters and we got the spiders. Don’t see anything we can do about that right now that you haven’t already tried. Then we got the bookworms. And the rats. What if we catch the rats, and set them out as bait for the bookworms?”
I had to admit, it was a brilliant plan. I mean, he didn’t know that the rats were our main source of protein, with Lilly being a distant second, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him just then. So it was a brilliant plan, and I was glad to have somebody in it with me, who was eager to get the hell out of it with me. But in a smart way. Or as smart a way as we could muster between us.
“Let’s do it,” I said.
We caught hundreds of rats in a big trashcan and set them loose in the library, peeking through the window in the door over the course of the week.
The rat trick worked. Soon, the hundred of rats were covered in millions of worms. That was our chance to grab a shitload of worm-free books.
We didn’t know what we were looking for. We’d been so reliant on the internet our whole lives, if we ever wanted to know anything, we’d just Google it. Now, we didn’t even know what we wanted to know. We just grabbed a bunch of books that looked like they might be useful.
We got books about spiders, books about the paranormal, books about the local history of our town, books on construction, science books, and so on.
While I was there, I found a copy of the yearbook from my freshman year. I wasn’t in there. I showed it to Jason, who found a copy of the yearbook from his freshman year. Neither of us was in it.
We collected dozens of books, and in a mad dash past Louie the Lobster, dumped half of them down into my hole, and half of them into his hole, so that we would have them there with us.
After that, we read. We read and we wandered the school and we talked.
Jason had ended up with the local history bits. “You know,” he said one day, as we passed by the moaning ghost of poor Robin Phillips, “I’ve noticed something really weird. This book I’m reading. Keeps mentioning this one family as sort of starting this town, and sort of running things for hundreds of years. The Haldros.”
“Yeah?” I asked, making sure to walk in the exact center of the hallway, the maximum distance allowable from the locker monsters on either side of us. “Haldro. Doesn’t ring any bells.”
“Well here’s the weird thing. There’s a lot of sketches of the husband and wife who founded the town. Then there’s photographs of their decedents. And you know who they all kinda look like?”
I had an idea, but I didn’t say it. “Who’s that?”
“Mr. Hillrow, and Ms. Falloway,” said Jason.
I shuddered. “Okay. So?”
“Well, if you take Hillrow, Falloway, and dildo, and sort of smash them together, it would be kind of like Haldro, right?”
“Okay,” I said, “I understand, but I still don’t see where you’re going with this. How did you even come up with this shit?”
“Well, there’s something else,” said Jason. “The book is really weird. Most of the time, it stays the same. But at exactly midnight, one of the pages… changes. It’s the one about the way back history, the one with the sketch of the founders of Clairmont. Suddenly, the sketch becomes clear, not like a photograph, but almost. And it’s Mr. Hillrow and Ms. Falloway there, sure as shit, both looking pissed off. And then… the words change.”
Jason swallowed hard and went on. “It’s not about setting up a shipping route or whatever anymore. Now, it’s this weird religious shit. Talking about how God is disappointed in our perversions, and is establishing Clairmont as the last refuge for the holy or whatever. The violators of God’s holy word will be punished for their sins. And to do that… the Haldros are willing to strike a deal with the devil.”
We pressed up against a wall as we passed a Wrangler, and Jason finished up: “I mean, it’s not just the words that change… the whole thing is now written out by hand, in this crazy old-time talk. I’ve had to read it a bunch over the past three midnights. First, to make sure it’s real, and second, to sort of translate what’s being said.”
I felt dizzy. “Okay,” I said, after a while. “So, what, Mr. Hillrow and Ms. Falloway are really Mr. and Mrs. Haldro? And they’re, what, immortal beings who’ve been around hundreds of years? And this whole bullshit school is their way of punishing people who fart in class? Is this what you’re telling me? Seems a little extreme.”
Jason shrugged. “The page talks about somebody else too. Not the devil, and not a Haldro. ‘You-know-who,’ this person is called. Apparently, they’re the one running the whole thing, whatever it is.”
I thought back to my first night there. The Janitor had said: “The boy shall not pass. Direct orders from You-know-who.” I shuddered again.
“Good work, man,” I said. “I’ve been reading some shit too. This construction book’s got me thinking. Maybe we’re taking the wrong approach here. Hoping for an open window, or an open door. Maybe what we do is just smash through this motherfucker. All it is is drywall, insulation, maybe some wires in there, and then brick on the outside. Pretty simple, actually. Can’t believe I didn’t think of it before. Maybe because I knew that something would try to stop me. But if there’s two of us… I think we could do it.”
“Sounds good, man,” said Jason. “Let’s do it.”
Over the next week, we planned it out. We found the perfect spot, far away from any windows, any lockers, and the front door. Far away from where the usual monsters lurked. We figured that would give us a head start, and, with any luck, we’d smash through to fresh air before they came for us.
There were always random monsters roaming around, like The Hall Monitor, which was a skeleton with two huge swords that would start running after you as soon as it saw you, to name one. But we couldn’t control for that. We had a good plan, but we needed luck too.
Our plan, after all that time, was really simple. We’d each grab two baseball bats from the locker room, go to our designated spot, and start smashing away.
I still think it could have worked. With the two of us.
Everything is so much harder when you’re alone.
But that night, I didn’t start out alone. I went to the locker room with Jason, and grabbed two bats. I was scared as Hell, and was running on pure adrenaline, trying not to think at all. I was on my way out when Jason stopped me.
“I’ve been saving this for a special occasion,” he said. He reached behind the lockers, where there was a gap between the wall and the back of the lockers, and pulled out a bottle of Captain Morgan’s. “Figure we need a little courage tonight.”
I had only drank a couple of times. I knew that it would give us courage, but also make us clumsy. “I don’t know, man,” I said. “Don’t you think we should be sharp?”
“Sure,” said Jason, unscrewing the cap. “But not too sharp. What if it comes down to a split second? A monster’s coming, and we’ve got just one more brick to smash. If we get scared, we die. This is all or nothing, man. This is it. We’ve got to be loose for it, you know?”
I didn’t know if I agreed or not, but after he finished taking a long drink, I had a nip. It burned the back of my throat, and the warmth spread out inside my body. I had another nip and then handed the bottle back.
“Okay,” I said, feeling the rush. “Let’s do this shit!”
“Hold on,” said Jason. “One more.” He tilted the bottle back and took two long swallows. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s do it!”
I led the way, my heart pounding in my chest. This is it, I thought. I’m either going to get out of here, or I’ll die.
I heard one of Jason’s bats tap against the floor, and I turned around. He was weaving slightly as he walked. “Shh!” I said. “Come on man. Got to be quiet.”
We passed a row of lockers, and I was relieved to see that the locker monsters were no more agitated than usual.
I saw the big hall window up ahead. Once we got past that, we were past the stationary monsters.
But we never made it past that window. Not the two of us, anyway.
I heard Jason scream as one of his bats clattered to the ground. I clutched both of my bats and turned to look at what I already knew what happening.
The Wrangler had a tentacle-arm around each of Jason’s legs, and each of his arms, dragging him closer to its hideous eyeless face. I made a step towards them and swung wildly. The Wrangler caught my bat in one of its tentacle-arms and pulled it away from me.
There was nothing that I could do.
The Wrangler lifted Jason into the air, upside down, so that their faces were inches apart. It sniffed Jason through its two ungodly nostril holes, then stuck out its red worm-tongue and licked him.
The Wrangler pulled Jason even closer, and I took a swing with my remaining bat. My weapon was pulled easily from my hands.
The Wrangler opened its maw and sunk its fangs into Jason’s cheek. I watched helplessly, with tears streaming down my own face, as Jason’s face was devoured bite by bite.
Then I was alone again.
After Jason died, I stayed in my hole for two days, sick with grief. For Jason, and for myself.
We could have done it together. I can’t do it alone. I’ve worked it through a thousand times in my head.
I can’t do any of it alone anymore. That’s why I’m so grateful for you all out there, reading these posts, offering suggestions. Like I said, I’ve tried most of them, but, going through the comments, I do see a few ideas that I haven’t tried yet. Maybe I’ll give them a shot tomorrow night.
Meanwhile, writing this has been rough. I think I’m going to go to the locker room and find the rest of that Captain Morgan’s. Pour one out for my dude.
I’m gonna get out of this nightmare, buddy. Then I’m gonna track down You-know-who and shut this place down.