01 Feb The Wasting Room
There is an unspoken rule that dictates that all stories, regardless of intent and genre, must be satisfying. So I’ll start by telling you right now that my tale won’t abide by that rule. My tale isn’t some leisurely read, not if I am to be faithful to what occurred. I’ll have to tell my story as it happened. A slow, drawn-out death, no lesson, no closure, no reason, nothing to justify what happened to my friends and me. If you’re looking for answers, leave, turn away, shut the door, you won’t find them here.
Nightmares, like all sickly malformed children, have a point of conception and birth. Mine was birthed in my elementary school, vile and caustic. I like to think that every school has them, little rumors, and myths about the place, ours just happened to be the “Wasting Room.” In the Centre of the east wing of the school was a brick building, about the size of a small garage. When I was in the 3rd grade, I walked past it and was immediately entranced by it. I went up to it and ran my fingers along the surface of the weathered brick, reveling in the amalgamation of strange textures, spongy patches of moss, brick, and mortar rough as sandpaper, the deep crevices, and cracks, all perfect contrasts bound to a single surface. I circled the building running my fingers alongside it until I stood in front of the door. Impulsively I reached for the doorknob and rested my hand on the cold, rusted brass door handle. Energy seeped from it to me, the transferring of an idea, an instinct. Calling to me, I know now that’s what it was doing. My hand tightened around the handle, and I was starting to twist it open when the harsh reprimands of a woman’s voice froze me in place.
“Christopher what are you doing?” asked my teacher Ms. Leore
She gave me a mild scolding before telling me “that room” was off-limits and to run along and get to class. Later that day at recess, I asked my friends, Danny and Leah, about the mysterious red brick building.
“That’s the wasting room. My older brother says that’s where they take the bad kids,” answered Danny.
“I heard a witch lives there,” Leah added.
I pondered it for a moment and, just like most kids my age, accepted both answers as truth. Over the next few years, I learned more about that forsaken room. The rumor goes that back when teachers were allowed to hit students, they would do it in that brick room. One day an exceptionally cruel principal took a 3rd grader named Lily into the brick room and beat her so savagely, he thought he killed her. In his panic, he sealed the room and forbade anyone from entering. Unfortunately, Lily hadn’t died, that would have been a mercy. She was just knocked unconscious. When she finally woke up and saw that she was trapped inside the brick room, she tried everything she could to break out, but being so young, her meek voice was never heard. Instead, she slowly rotted away for a few weeks, wasting away from the inside out. When they finally found her years later, her remains were mummified. Her face contorted in eternal anguish, her little fingers were whittled away to the bone, fragments of her nails embedded into the brick walls, dried blood stained the floor and walls. Ever since then, the room has been permanently locked, a gruesome tale told to children living in a gruesome world.
Of course, as all kids do with myths and urban legends, we embellished them. Danny would tell us that Lily was still alive, that she had survived off of rats and a leaky water pipe. Leah thought that the teachers still used the room to punish the worst students. I made up a story of how I once saw Mrs. Leore open the door, and I was able to see the dusty skeleton of Lily still inside. Danny and Leah didn’t believe me, of course, but the mystery surrounding the room still intrigued us. My favorite rumor was that the ghost of little Lilly wandered the halls of the east wing, and on lonely dreary days or dark starless nights, she would drag anyone caught alone into “The Wasting Room” to suffer the same fate she did.
It wasn’t until the beginning of the 6th grade when we invested in getting inside the room and seeing if any of the rumors were true. I was the one that pushed our trio towards that insidious red-brick building. It was our final year before we would be ushered into the ever awkward and painful stage known as adolescence. Danny was an early bloomer, and as the first wave of hormonal changes hit, he changed drastically. He was no longer interested in running around with Leah and me, as we chased small animals and hit trees with sticks. That was kid stuff, and if his sudden growth spurt was any indicator, Danny wasn’t a kid like us, not anymore. The night I decided we needed to make one last chance at re-capturing that childhood sense of adventure was the night Danny pulled out a crinkled magazine from under his bed and flashed me the cover. It was a Playboy, a busty scantily clad model on its cover. When he opened the magazine and tried to show me, I turned away as if it was a photo of a crime scene. I didn’t want to see it. I knew if I did, that would be the death of the child that still existed within me. I didn’t want to leave that stage of my life behind, not yet. Danny briefly berated me, asking if I was gay, saying that was the only reason someone would be scared of boobs. I ignored him and asked my mom to pick me up early.
I knew then that the only way to reel Danny back in would be with something that could still spark childish fear and wonder, the room. I knew even back then that after the summer, our trio’s dynamic would never be the same. It was Leah, Danny and I had been subtly vying for her attention, we both looked at her through different lenses, and I guess I just wanted to have one last adventure before our biology tore us apart. I was initially met with hesitation when I brought up the room, but, after a bit of badgering, they were on board.
“How are you going to do it? The teachers keep the doors locked, ya know.” Leah said
“That proves that they are hiding something, doesn’t it?” Danny added
“Maybe we can steal a key from one of the teachers,” I said
Leah scrunched her face at the suggestion. She warned us about how that would only cause more trouble. Danny interrupted to inform us of a secret entrance to the room his brother told him about. Leah and I were both skeptical at the claim, but Danny was insistent that there was a secret underground entrance.
“My brother says that he found it one time, says there’s a basement in the back of the school!” Dan insisted.
“Well then he’s just gonna have to show it to us then” Leah replied
Though we had settled on trying to convince Danny’s brother guiding us to this so-called secret entrance, we still made an effort to locate it on our own. Leah got picked up as soon as school was out, but Danny and I had about 30 mins before his dad picked us both up. We snuck to the field in the back of the school and poked around for a few minutes but found nothing but rocks and dirt. We gave up after a while and headed back towards the front of the school to wait for Mr. Powell to pick us up. I hadn’t thought about the plausibility of the school having multiple sealed exits and entrances. Up until the mid-60s, my school was a hospital. It was too small and outdated, having been first built in the 30s to be of much use in the rapidly changing era. It was abandoned until the early 70s when it was renovated and repurposed into a school. Of course, as naive kids, we never connected the dots. This place had seen much more death and suffering within its walls than anyone was willing to acknowledge.
I spent that night at Danny’s house, annoying his older brother David to show us the location of the hidden passage. It took only a few minutes to get him talking about his time spent at that school.
“It’s sealed up now, you know, They buried it. And it’s not a basement; it’s a cellar, I found it one day with Jimmy while we were goofing off. It had a rusty lock, of course, but I just broke it off with a rock. We never actually made it to the wasting room, I don’t even know if the cellar leads to it. That’s just something Jimmy says his teacher told him. Inside that cellar was a tunnel that ran under the school, old rusty pipes ran along the walls and ceiling, twisting like intestines, yea that’s what it was. We were inside some metal giant’s guts!” David jumped up, trying to scare us.
The only reaction he got from us was a unified “Gross.” David’s face scrunched up into an annoyed half frown before he continued.
“Anyways, there was something wrong with this place, not only was it ancient, rusty and dark, but something felt off like something was in there with us, or like the tunnel itself was alive. I swear I thought I saw the pipes twitch sometimes and the whole shaft was subtly shifting like it was breathing, I don’t know, but It was weird man. We walked a few feet further into this tunnel when we heard a clang, and we just froze, I tried to act tough, and so I called out like an idiot. I heard it before I saw it, this figure just darted out of the darkness, it was small, but it was on all fours, and it was fast. That’s when Jimmy and I started running screaming our heads off. When we reached the cellar door, we just scrambled up, and I turned around long enough to see this decayed little girl just on all floors glaring back up at us, absolute rage in her eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever slammed a door that hard since then.”
“What happened after that?” I asked
“Well, we ran screaming and crying to the principal’s office and told him all about what happened. Of course, they didn’t believe us, but they were upset that we had found the cellar entrance. So the next day the shoveled dirt over it and told us not to go near it again. You know sometimes I still get nightmares about that little girl, her pale skin covered in rot and her hateful eyes. Maybe it’s that Lily girl they talk about, but I don’t know.”
“So you’ll show us where it is?” Danny asked in an excited voice
“Hell no, if you kids know what’s good for you, then you’ll stay away from the door and from the wasting room. Nothing good will come of it” David replied
Disappointed but not disheartened, we went back to Danny’s room to play video games. David didn’t know it at the time, but his warning might’ve saved us from what was to come, If only we had listened. We told Leah all about David’s experience the following Monday.
“That’s scary, and I don’t think we should go looking for that door. What if Lily is really down there, and we let her out?” she asked.
“Don’t be dumb, Leah. My bro was just trying to scare us, besides I’ve got a plan on how to find it.”
“Oh yeah, how?” I asked
“Next time you spend the night, we’ll sneak out and hide my dad’s shovel in the trees in the field, and after school, we can go digging around and see if we find it,” Danny said with a grin.
“What about me? You know my mom picks me up as soon as schools out.”
“Just ask her if you can hang out with us for a little bit,” he responded.
Leah just sighed and said she would try. Danny’s plan, like most of the plans children make, never came to fruition. Sneaking out at night and carrying a shovel wasn’t going to happen. Danny modified his plan and instead snuck three garden trowels in his backpack to school every day until Leah was able to convince her mom to let her stay after school. It took three weeks of Leah’s whining, but she finally caved in after Danny’s father gave her a verbal confirmation that he would drop Leah off at her house.
It was a warm summer day when we made the trek to the back of the school to search for the cellar door. 6th-grade graduation was near, and I knew that these halcyon days were nearing their end. This would be our last great childhood adventure, and I wanted to make this the one to remember for the rest of my life. In the greatest knife twist of irony, that wish came true.
We spent only a few minutes stabbing the ground nearest to the school building before Leah hit something with her trowel. She shouted for us to check it out; she was always eager when it came to being the first at things. Danny and I started digging, and sure enough, we heard and felt our trowels scrape against metal buried only 3-4 inches deep. The three of us ran over and started scraping away until a rusty metal cellar door lay before us. Dan let out an excited yell and did a little half dance. I hadn’t seen him act so goofy in months. I was starting to reach for the handle of the door to throw it open when I felt a firm icy grip on my wrist freeze me in place. I jerked around in a panic to try to get a glimpse of the figure towering over me.
“What are you children doing?” asked Mrs. Leore in a calm but cold tone
“Nothing we were just playing around, uh digging for rocks and stuff,” Danny answered.
“Oh? Explain why you’re in a strictly off-limit area? hmmm? “ Mrs. Leore pointed an accusatory finger at Leah.
Leah looked down at her feet for a moment and let a few tears fall. The poor girl was always frightened by authority figures.
“We were looking for a way to get into the wasting room,” Leah said, tears slowly falling from her face.
“Oh, that persistent rumor? I can show it to you if you want,” Mrs. Leore said with a slight laugh.
“Wait, really!?” Danny asked
”Yes, if it’ll put these silly rumors to rest. Come follow me,” Ms. Leore said
The walk to the Eastern wing was punctuated by an anxious undercurrent, the various rumors surrounding that room, its nefarious purpose, and origins cycled through my mind. My anxiety peaked as we stood in front of that red-bricked building. Mrs. Leore took out a lanyard with a single bass key, gave us one final look, and inserted the key into the rusted, aging lock. The sound of the lock turning sent a jolt of paralytic fear through my body. Something about the faint grin Mrs. Leore gave us seemed sinister. As she creaked the door open, I started urging myself to take hold of my friend’s hands and just run, but every command I internally screamed at my body was ignored. Mrs. Leore straightened her back and flung the door open, the screeching of its ancient hinges cut through the silence and echoed off of concrete and linoleum. Danny jumped back, Leah gasped, and I broke out of my stunned silence to make a diminutive sound at the sight of what lay beyond the door.
Nothing, no skeletons, no bodies, no little girl withered and broken seeking revenge on the world that had condemned her to a fate worse than death: just dust, some shelves, and old furniture.
“Want to know why it was called the wasting room? This little room was once used as a pantry back when this school was still a hospital. When the first teachers opened it up after it’s conversion, they found it full of spoiled food. Guess the name got out to students, and they ran with it, made up all sorts of ridiculous things. We only use it for storage these days, nothing to fear.”
“But what about Lily? I blurted out
“Lily Teresa Esther, that was her name. The police determined that she was abducted by her estranged father and was never seen again. The last time she was seen was at this campus, but she didn’t die here. The investigation was thorough, and nothing was ever found.”
We stood dumbfounded by the sudden revelations.
“Good enough for you, kids?” she asked.
“Yeah, I guess,” Leah answered.
“Good, I’ve got things to attend to,” she said, locking the room and stuffing the lanyard into her back pocket.
As she was getting ready to leave, Danny ran up and hugged her, thanking her for solving the mystery for us. She let out an exaggerated sigh and let him know that it was no big deal and turned to leave. As soon as she was out of earshot, Danny spoke up.
“Did you ya see it?”
“See what?” Leah and I asked in unison
“You didn’t see it? Then I guess I’ll have to show you,” Danny said as he dangled the lanyard.
“Danny! We’re going to be in so much trouble. You need to give that back!” Leah said
“Yeah Danny, your dads gonna be here any minute,” I said
“Just enough time to take a quick peek” he replied
Danny took a quick look around to make sure no one else was around and quickly unlocked the door and opened it wide. He walked in and motioned for us to do the same.
“Don’t be babies, don’t you guys wanna see it?”
I took a nervous step inside the room, Leah close behind me, Danny walked towards an old, filthy dresser.
“Help me move this thing,”
All three of us worked to push the thing a few feet and revealed that directly under was a rusty cellar door.
“See! I told you guys!” Danny said.
“I don’t think this is a good idea Danny we don’t know what’s down there and you’re dad’s probably waiting for us,” I said
“Yeah, and we already saw that the wasting room is nothing to be scared of,”
Danny tugged on the cellar door’s handle and slowly raised it until it stood open.
“Did you guys ever think that maybe this isn’t the wasting room?” Danny asked
“What do you mean?” I asked
“David said that he saw Lilly in some tunnel in a cellar. We should check it out at least,”
I peered down the cellar and saw a ladder leading to a smaller chamber inside, there was a corridor attached to it, and at the edge of it, I saw several pipes. Danny was on to something, and with my curiosity peaked, I agreed that it would be worth taking a look.
“What about your dad? My mom will kill me if we’re late,” Leah whined.
“It’ll only be a second, just to see if the wasting room is down here,” Danny said
I gave Leah’s hand a quick squeeze and a reassuring look before she nodded. slightly. Reluctantly she joined us as we climbed down into the cellar. The chamber was surprisingly well-lit, light bulbs lined the ceiling. They were far enough apart that pockets of darkness existed in between each one. The most substantial oddity in the room was the profound lack of dust on anything. Sure rust lined the pipes, but the dust was nowhere to be seen. I should’ve seen this as a warning sign, a tell that place had been inhabited for years.
Leah pressed closer to me as Danny led our trio towards the pipelined corridor, the moment we crossed the threshold into it, we heard a loud slam that caused the lights to flicker. In the brief moment of darkness, I swore I saw movement. We screamed, loud and piercing, our collective shriek reached a siren-loud crescendo that quieted as the lights returned to their usual stable illumination. Leah was gripping my hand so tightly it hurt, and she was openly sobbing.
“I-I want to go home!” she said in between sobs.
“Yeah,” Danny agreed.
We turned to run back towards the ladder and saw that the cellar door had been what slammed shut. I scrambled up the ladder and tried to throw the doors open, but no matter how hard pushed and hit, it made no signs of budging. I started screaming for help, hoping someone would hear and let us out.
“Shit,” Danny cursed.
“What are we gonna do?” I yelled
Leah was now hysterical, pleading for us to get her out of there. Danny stared at both of us, face paler than I had ever seen it.
“This tunnel has to lead somewhere. I bet that it’ll be at the cellar on the other side of the school. We should-”
“No! We stay here and wait for help!” Leah yelled
“Leah’s right if we stay here someone’s bound to find us,” I said
Danny nodded and joined us in calling out for help and occasionally pounding at the cellar door. Hours seemed to pass by, and when we had screamed our voices horse and worked our hands raw, we knew no one was coming.
“We have to look for a way out,” Danny said in a dry whisper.
I nodded meekly and tried to help a near-catatonic Leah stand to her feet. She was responsive despite her silence. Walking to the edge of the room and peering down that ancient corridor, I saw that it stretched on as far as the eye could see, the light bulbs illuminating as much as they possibly could before blinking out of existence. I took a precarious step into the tunnel expecting something to happen, but when nothing did, I took another. Danny walked ahead in feigned bravado, and Leah followed close behind me. We walked until we hit the first light bulb above our heads, like a spotlight it shone in disorienting brilliance, giving us a clear view of the rusted and flaked metal pipes running alongside us. Some had built up condensation and dripped cold droplets. Others leaked a dubious black fluid, and some occasionally shot a jet of steam through cracks and holes. I had the slightest inclination to reach out and touch them, but I caught myself halfway through the thought. I looked ahead and saw the murky darkness we had to cross before reaching the next lightbulb lit beacon.
“Grab my hand and run,” I said
Leah took my right hand and Danny my right, and we sprinted as a linked unit into the next spotlight. We repeated this 5 or 6 more times before I noticed a change in scenery. The number of pipes running alongside had quadrupled, crowding the walls and ceiling and leaving no space. The size and variations of the pipes had also increased, some so rusted that they seemed on the verge of bursting, while others seemed almost new until closer inspection revealed the layers of grime that coated their surfaces. Some pipes were as wide as my head, while others were as thin as wires. I also was beginning to see that some of them were, very subtly, vibrating. I tried to pick up the pace, but after passing eight more light bulbs, my foot caught on something, and I fell hard. I was plunged into darkness, unable to see what had tripped me, the floor no longer felt like concrete. It was lumpy and harsh, covered in strange groves and valleys. Dread formed in my stomach as I tried to imagine what it was.
“Get up,” Danny shouted.
He hoisted me up, and we ran into the safety of the light, it was there when I finally got a good look at the floor. Pipes, the floor was made up of pipes. They lined every inch of space, I wondered if they rested on any concrete or if we were walking in a hallway of suspended pipes.
An unusually large pipe above our heads lightly showered us in a clear liquid I hoped was water. Leah looked at me with fear in her eyes. Danny saw it too, he turned away and stared at what lay ahead. The pipes beneath were now noticeably undulating, not constantly, but a wave of motion came and went in 40-second intervals. No one spoke up about the phenomena. Instead, we rested for a bit before we continued our trek down the pipe filled tunnel, silent and no longer holding each other’s hands.
I lost track of how many lightbulbs we passed and how long we had been down there. We collapsed in exhaustion under the glow of a light bulb. The pipes were now undeniably in constant shifting motion, an industrial intestinal tract. The hallway itself pushing us forward ever so slightly. The pipes now had multiple facets, spigots, and knobs, some leaking foul inky liquids while some spewed a steady stream of fetid water. An amalgamation of fungus grew from most pipes, psychedelic multi-colored, multi-textured molds, oddly shaped luminescent mushrooms, and pulsating slimes. The putrid scent of decay, spores, rust, metal, and death filled my lungs with every heaving breath. I stood up and propped myself against a pipe, wincing at the gelatinous sensation of the fungal organisms living on it. How much longer could I bear this?
The sound of clanking and twisting pipes caught my attention and looked up to see what was making the sound. It was a pale, withered hand poking out from the tangle of pipes directly above us. I stood frozen in place, unable to shout as a second hand slipped through and pushed the metal pipes apart as easily as if they were rubber. The sound the pipes made as they were forced apart caught the attention of Leah and Danny, and they looked up at being directly above their heads. As the hands pushed the pipes further apart, we all saw what it was, and we let out a collective shriek. The weathered visage of Lily peered back at us, hateful and coiled with malevolent intent. Where her eyes had once been now grew pale table capped mushrooms, the inside of her mouth was stained black, and it’s putrid stench overpowered that of the pipe corridor. From her long mummified skin, within the rips and tears, some fungus grew and dangled down or stood erect, vile defiling phalluses taking root in a child long dead. I saw the mycelium through her translucent papery skin, it throbbed, ached, and the morbid thought that the fungus was puppeteering poor old Lily Teresa Esther briefly materialized in my mind. It was dispelled by the shuddering sound she made, something between a wheeze and scream, she lunged wildly as soon as it escaped the rotting pit of her mouth.
“What is that?!” Leah screamed.
Lily was on all fours then, facing us, a swollen purple tongue fell out of that black pit, and she flicked it suggestively at us. I saw little white pustules lining the sides of her tongue and recognized with horror what they were, tiny mushroom caps. We ran faster than we had ever run in our lives. Lily let out another wheezing shriek and was at our heels. My chest burned with every breath, nearing exhaustion I dared to look behind me. Lily was now on the ceiling, clinging on the pipes like some hellish gecko, she was closing the gap between us, in moments she would be directly over our heads.
“There! It’s right there!” Leah shouted.
She was pointing at an object just a few lightbulbs away. I stood up to take a closer look and was shocked to see that it was a door, a rusted metal door. With newfound determination, I picked up speed and ran with all my might towards the promise of safety. I outpaced both Leah and Danny and threw myself at the door, with a single push I forced it wide open. Danny dove in, but Leah was a second too late. Lily dropped down from the ceiling and pounced. She succeeded in grabbing hold of one of Leah’s ankles and yanked the girl to the floor. Leah let out a scream and took hold of my hand, with her free leg she kicked at Lily and landed a direct hit. I heard the sickening crunch of ancient bones and frail skin shattering, and Lily’s head lulled back. Danny took hold of Leah’s other hand, and we pulled her out of Lily’s grasp. As we pulled her inside the room, Lily’s head snapped forward, and we saw the kick had unhinged her jaw, it now dangled from thin strips of skin. The fat purple slug of a tongue hung out thick, inky fluid poured from its length, as soon as the liquid made contact with the pipes, thin white caps sprouted and grew. I slammed the door before she could make another move, steeling myself. I turned around to see just to see where in God’s name, we ended up.
The inside of the room was huge, far too big. Its dimensions were a spatial impossibility; the expanse of the room was physically impossible to house just beneath the school. The ceiling was at least three stories tall, and its sheer size dwarfed the school several times over. There was no visible end. It was just a jumbled mess of pipes, ladders, drains, vents, grates, elevated metal walkways. It was maddening, an industrial hellscape. On some fixtures, the fungus was fused so seamlessly it was as if the pipes and all its attachments were made of fungal chitin and mycelium, grown together in a blasphemous fusion of rust, metal, and fungus—testaments to the gods of rot and decay.
“Where are we?” Danny said unsteadily
No one answered because no one knew, somehow we had crossed some unspoken boundary that divided our mundane little world, and this world ruled by atrophy. It came to me then, the answer to Danny’s questions and thus I spoke.
“The Wasting Room”
A brief silence fell upon us. From the pipelined walls, something emerged, an enormous mass was birthed. It dwarfed us in all it’s unholy glory; it was somewhat humanoid and comprised entirely of the same metal fixtures and fungus that made up everything else. Long rusty pipes and vents ran along its entire body, steam and, fluid leaking from them. I could see multiple giant gears embedded in its chest, turning constantly with no signs of slowing. Polypore Mushrooms, over a dozen feet in length, made up the organic majority of its mass. They grew along with its limbs and chest, a dozen other varieties made up the rest of its weight, they were the medium for which the biological and industrial conjoined and merged. Bioluminescent blue caps, bright red spotted amanitas, wrinkled morels, gelatinous wood ears, basket stinkhorns, and bleeding devil’s tooth, all there, thriving and festering. The being’s head was one giant flat fungal shield frond. It had many points ending in a pipe vents, multi-colored smog spewing from them, it was like some grotesque lions mane. In the center of its face sat two dark beady eyes, they seemed out of place, far too human. I knew at a glance what this being was. It could be nothing else but some long-forgotten lord of decay, the “God of Rot.” It didn’t need to speak to convey the hatred and pain it felt, it was all in its eyes, but regardless it spoke.
“Cast yourselves onto me, and my domain and ye shall be gifted the fruit of immortality, for death is nearly the beginning. Be immortalized in the mycelium and rust, that which with countless eons will always fester.”
As soon as the words were spoken, they rose, an army of humanoid pipe/fungus amalgamations took form before our very eyes. They took slow strained steps towards us, metal and steam screeched with every movement they made, we ran.
“There has to be an exit,” Leah yelled.
“How do you know?” Danny asked
“Because if this place has an entrance, it means that there must be some other way to enter and leave,”
“I don’t know if this place follows the rules of the outside world Leah,” I said
“It follows some of them though,” she said unsteadily.
We scrambled up a flight of stairs into an elevated walkway. There was one thing that caught my attention, following Leah’s reasoning, I noticed that this place was illuminated by rays of light peeking in from overhead windows. If we would just reach them, then maybe we could escape.
“There” I shouted
I pointed at a ladder leading up towards the ceiling. Danny was the first one to start ascending it. I helped Leah up before I took my place and climbed for my life. Looking down, I could see the army of bio-industrial humans convening at the base of the ladder.
“Danny! Leah! Hurry!” I shouted
Danny struggled to pick up the pace and make his way towards the now visible door at the end of the ladder. I felt the weight of the first creature start its climb, I felt the vibrations of every step it climbed, and it informed me that it was fast, way too quickly for us to outpace it for long.
“Almost there,” Danny shouted.
He was about a foot or two from the door when his hand launched out to push it open. I saw the glare of a bright summer sun just beyond the door. Danny hoisted himself up and had his upper torso through the door when the sound of wheezing scream cut through, instilling that familiar paralytic fear. A dangling pipe directly behind Danny burst open, vile black fluid spilled out in a torrential flood, drenching Danny. The reanimated corpse of Lily leaped out from the shattered pipe and clung on to Danny’s lower half, and they both came tumbling down. There was no time to scream or even react as they were both in freefall, Lily took most of the impact, her tiny, frail rotting body bursting as soon as it made contact with the cold hard floor, long rotted organs and violet fluid splattering across the room. Danny’s head still smacked the ground hard enough to knock him unconscious. The creatures on the ladder jumped down onto the floor, and they gathered around Danny.
“We have to help him!” I screamed
Leah, poor shy meek Leah, with eyes full of grief, made the final steps and climbed out into the world outside. I stood in shock, taking a glance back down at Danny, and back again at Leah, I realized I had a choice to make. I could leave with Leah right now, or I could stay down here with the Rowdy boy I had known since the 1st grade, dark-eyed and all too excitable, slowly maturing in a young man at the peak of his youth, how much longer would our friendship last? Danny, who once chased wild animals and built box forts, Danny, who played pranks on girls to scare them away and talked loud on purpose to annoy adults. Danny, who now rarely played with us and said our adventures were childish, Danny, who now preferred to look at magazines full of women splayed out and naked instead of reading the latest spiderman comics with me. Danny had made his choice, and Leah had made hers, I reached out to her, and she took hold of my hand.
“Wait! Please!” Danny shouted now conscious
I turned to look one final time, Danny was being carried away by the creatures, the black liquid that stained him had begun sprouting little mushroom caps, I’m sure if he was closer I would see the thin mycelium growing into his skin. I watched as they carried Danny to a nearby pipe jutting from the wall, it ended in an open spout, a familiar black liquid dripped from it.
“No! Please! Help m-”
His final cry for help was cut off by the creatures ramming and impaling him into the pipe. Danny went limp and let himself collapse. His body twitched once as I heard the pipe groan and creak, I saw his eyes and mouth start leaking the black fluid, as the inky tears ran streaks down his cheeks, little mushroom caps began sprouting from them. Hot tears ran down my cheeks; they cut a path through my dirt stain faced and fell onto the floor. I had made my choice. I let out a heaving sob as I turned and stepped out into our world.
A Janitor found us at the back of the school, next to the cellar door where Mrs. Leore had scolded us. The police were called as we had been missing for three days at that point, we pointed meekly at the now-closed door. The questions of what happened, where we were, and Danny were asked nonstop for the first week, we could only point them towards the cellar and the brick room, we told them of the wasting room and the hallway of pipes. They said it was trauma, and that we created false memories to cope. They never found anything in the brick room, in the cellar doors, and Danny was assumed dead by the end of the summer.
Danny’s parents didn’t invite me to the funeral. I saw in their eyes that they blamed me. With no one else to blame, they turned their ire towards me. Maybe they could see the guilt in my eyes. Maybe they knew that on some level I had abandoned their son, they weren’t wrong. David, Danny’s older brother, killed himself in the following weeks as if the Powell family hadn’t lost enough. My parents blamed me too, they never said it, but they always treated me differently, as if I was some wild animal that could snap at any moment. Leah and I drifted apart, the last time I heard from her was in freshman year of high school. I found a note slipped in my locker, it wasn’t signed, but I recognized her immaculate tiny script. All it said was that she was going back for Danny, that the door to the wasting room would open for her. Leah went missing that day, and I never saw her again.
It’s been six years since I first stepped foot in the wasting room. I tried to do some digging, but what I found doesn’t solve or answer anything. I know that when the school was still a hospital, the terminal patients were assigned that cold brick room, left there to waste away slowly, that’s how it got its morbid moniker. My small, unassuming school was a place for the sick to come and spend their final days in cold mildewy hospital rooms, maybe just maybe a place can only experience so much death, suffering, and grief before some outside forces take notice. Or maybe those who slowly rotted away called out to some higher power. Maybe after so much tragedy, a physical location can become linked to some outer realm ruled by that tragedy, by that decay. Maybe Mrs. Leore and the other teachers knew of the horrible domain beneath their very feet, and they played along with its whims and demands. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t know, there is no answer, no clean tightly wrapped ribbon that holds it all together. All I know is that I can’t go on like this. Danny and Leah consume my every waking thought, God, I miss them. The God of Rot promised me immortality once. I’m sure if I go back to that place, back to that red-bricked abyss, the wasting room would still be there waiting for me.