01 Feb There’s a Chemical Fog Outside Our Building: We Can’t Leave
The view from our classroom windows is nothing but a murky white. I bet if I went outside and looked down, I wouldn’t be able to see past my knees. I won’t be going outside, though— I honestly don’t think I’ll leave this classroom for a while.
Our class (Gothic Literature) was supposed to end at 1:30. I remember just staring at the clock, watching the seconds tick by, feeling Mr. Samson’s voice drone through my body, the monotone sound killing me into a haze of sleepy existence. I didn’t get much sleep last night, and it certainly shows. The classroom was lit solely by the fluorescent bulbs flickering on the ceiling, Samson having closed the blinds to avoid ‘distracted glances’ about fifteen minutes in.
I wonder now if we would have noticed the building fog outside had the blinds been open. Maybe we would have clamored together by the window, whispering in excitement to each other— anything that wasn’t hearing, for the tenth time that week, how revolutionary Mary Shelley was for that time. Or hearing Susan beg him to cover Carmilla, ‘just for half a lesson, Mr. Samson?’ It isn’t unusual for a mess of high schoolers to grow distracted and excited at any little change. I mean, who can blame us, with the constant repetition? Regardless, I’ve gone too far off topic.
It was about ten minutes before the bell was supposed to buzz, signifying the seven minute long break from our daily torture, that the intercom system crackled to life.
“We will now be having a lockdown drill. We request everyone stay calm, and follow the instructions of their current teacher. If you’re outside your classroom, we ask that you please make your way back in a timely manner. Thank you.”
I heard the collective groans of students who didn’t want to crawl under their desks in the dark. Really, the only thing worse than this lecture is the singular sound of your deskmate’s breathing penetrating a heavy cover of silence. Nevertheless, we’re used to lock down drills by now. The class shuffled slowly, desks creaking as students stood and crouched. Susan shoved herself under the teachers desk, whilst Jaimee and Audrey stood shoulder to shoulder in the tiny alcove just behind the doorway. We all waited with frustrated bated breaths, knowing that in just a few seconds we’d hear someone try the doorknob (apparently to scare us— it never works) and then the intercom system announce the drill was over. But those sounds didn’t come. Instead, all there was? Silence.
The reintroduction of sound started with a couple in the back corner whispering and giggling to each other. Students, growing more impatient, began talking to each other. It took ten minutes before Mr. Samson himself moved to his desk, shooing Susan out in the process, in an attempt to get some work done.
Ten more minutes passed. He grew frustrated, and motioned us back to our seats. That was when someone peeked outside. I’m not sure what they were looking for— maybe to see if this was a different sort of drill, or if maybe it wasn’t a drill at all. It didn’t take long for everyone else to be made aware of the oddity that was the outside world.
“Hey guys? I can’t see outside. It’s like, hella foggy.” I think her name was Ashley. I worked on a lab project with her once.
“Shit, she’s right.” A guy chimed in from across the room. “Jesus, that’s some massive blockage. Imagine driving in that.”
“It can’t be foggy, it’s not even humid out. Plus, already lunchtime. Way too late for fog.” Susan snorted. You know. Like a smartass.
“Well, it’s clearly something. Do you think it’s fucking with the cellphone towers? I don’t have any reception.” Ashley spoke again.
“Guys, come on. No phones in class. We just touched on this day before yesterday.”
Despite Samson’s protests, there was a quiet murmur of agreement. People who’d either checked their phones prior and noticed the same thing, or those who were checking them now and…well, noticing the same thing.
“Weather does screwy things, guys. Who knows.” I finally interjected my own opinion, shrugging my shoulders. A few more murmurs, slowly growing louder in volume as friends and deskmates began talking to each other to alleviate the boredom.
Five minutes later, whatever the weather is doing to our phones clearly has done something else. Our electric went out. We could still connect to the WiFi (obviously, I’m writing this, aren’t I?) but nothing else. Lights burnt out, the projector wouldn’t turn on, even the hum of the air conditioner that we hardly notice anymore just…went silent.
It was around 2:00 we heard the first scream. It was horrible and bloodcurdling, and It came from outside. We could hear it reverberate from the glass window, cold to the touch. As I’d find out later, the first of many screams to come. Some kid had decided to go outside. We didn’t know that yet, though. Mr. Samson had clearly had enough.
“I’m going to check with Ms. Young next door. Stay put. Lock the door behind me. I’ll be back shortly.” Standing from his desk, he took brisk steps to the classroom door, exiting with the confidence only an authority figure has.
We followed his instructions. For a while, at least. Minutes ticked by. Finally, around 2:30, we decided to just leave. What were they going to do? We’d been left with no guidance. Just a bunch of kids who totally didn’t know better, right?
It was cold outside as I passed the threshold. You know when you enter a Walmart at midnight, and everything is just…weird? Like you’re on a different plane? That’s kind of what this felt like. The halls were dark. Silent. The only light strewn in through the double doors in hall B, casting large shadows behind doorways. The fog pressed against the door, almost ominously.
“I’m leaving.” The guy from earlier shrugged, headed towards the doorway.
“What if they turned the alarms on? The doors will sound. Especially if we’re on a lockdown.” Ashley pointed out.
“Powers out. I doubt they are.” He called from behind him. I only looked over at him when I heard the doors open.
Immediately, he began screaming. He jerked away from the door, as if he’d been burned. The air smelled like chlorine and bleach. Maybe a bit of formaldehyde that the zoology class uses during exams. The doors swung shut the second he’d let go, the fog quickly dissipating. Audrey rushed over to him, trying to help.
“What’s a matter? Josh?” She set a hand on his shoulder before jerking her own hand back, letting out a sharp exhale as if she’d been burned. Because she had. She seemed to notice the situation almost instantly, shrinking back from the cowering boy in front of her, now letting out raspy and crackling moans of pain. It reminded me of someone with pneumonia, the sound of it.
Burning. His skin was burning. Bright red and blistering, and so was the palm of Audrey’s hand.
“It’s a chemical burn.”
“What touched them?”
“There’s a shower in the science lab, we should get them there.”
“How did this happen?”
Thirty voices, all at once. We split up, in the end. Five of them headed to 2-b, the lab with the supposed shower. The rest of us headed into the classroom, half of us eerily quiet, the other chattering in confusion and alarm.
And here we are, folks. A couple hours later, in a classroom surrounded by white. A fog of chemicals. We should find someone who knows what’s going on— we can’t just sit here, can we? And yet, that’s exactly what we’re doing. I’m posting this. You guys seem to know your way out of some…less than ideal situations. I’m at a loss. I’m…scared.
We have a lot of good news, and a lot of bad news. Everything is jumbled up in my head right now and my hands won’t stop shaking, so please bear with me.
Some minor bad news first— I can’t smell. Ever since I could smell the gas, I just…can’t anymore. Everything burnt for a while and then it just stopped. My nose is constantly congested and even when it’s not, there’s just nothing. I’m incredibly frustrated by this. It doesn’t help that it feels harder to breathe. Like a big weight is sitting on my chest. I don’t know if that’s just my grief getting the best of me, or an omen of something worse and unseen.
Also, we aren’t going to piss on things. I’m sorry, I know that’s probably the smart option, but we’ve collectively decided that dignity still holds firm. As much as it can right now, anyways.
The good news— the lot of us followed some of your advice. While we don’t have advanced science materials (funding? Ha. What’s funding?) we DID have trash bags and duct tape. We sealed off two classrooms and used coats and emergency blankets to make bedding for us last night. And I was right. It was a long night. Ashley eventually cried herself to sleep, I think around 1am. It was late. The classroom was so dark— it’s hard to explain. You spend so much time around light pollution, or under a blanket of stars and moonlight, that it’s really fucking jarring when you can’t make out anything at all. There’s nothing for your eyes to adjust to. It’s just pitch blackness. I’m sorry. It really shook me up, guys.
This morning, the first thing we did was head up to the roof. I was one of the stupid people that decided to. Once we got up there, we noticed that the fog reaches the top of the second story. It just barely brushes the edges of the roof. It’s also massive. I can’t see the end of it, and that’s saying something considering I can see the town. That, admittedly, worried a few of us a lot. What about our parents? Our siblings?
A few people had family out of town. I wasn’t one of them. My calls ring through, but no one ever answered. I cried. A lot. I have no idea if they’re okay or not. There are miles and miles of fog. We’re stranded in a rickety boat on a monstrously huge ocean. I don’t think anyone would help us, even if someone who could was in the town. How would anyone even get to us? Somewhere along the line, everyone filtered off the roof and back into the school, and I was left alone, staring off into a sea of grey and white.
After a very long time of just sitting and staring out into the mist, I slowly rose, making my way back down the stairs. Ashley was crying again. I could hear her, faintly, her sobs bouncing off the school walls. I rapped gently on the lab door. Audrey was there, holding her wrapped hand.
“I’m heading to the cafeteria. Did you want to come with me?” It felt like the one niceity we could afford right now, trying to include people.
“Sure. Not like I’m any use here.” She lowered herself from the lab table she’d been sitting on, following me out of the classroom. As we passed over the doorway I tried not to look at the sheet covering Josh, brown with dried blood that had seeped from his burns. I wonder if it smelled like rot.
Our footsteps were our only company for a while, our tennis shoes squeaking against the waxed floor.
“How’s your hand?” I tentatively asked.
“I mean, it doesn’t hurt anymore. I can’t feel much of anything in it, if I’m being completely honest.” That didn’t seem good. I read something once about how once a burn got bad enough, you couldn’t feel it anymore. Once it ate through your skin and down through your very nerve endings. “Have you heard from your family?”
“No. The entire town is like this, we could see it from the roof.” Her polite smile dropped at this. “Have you?”
“A few of my cousins, they live out in Ohio. I can’t reach anyone else, though. We aren’t…we aren’t even on the news, Sam. No one has heard anything about us. There’s a blockade on the town line— she drove down last night to check, but the guys there won’t tell my cousin anything. Just that the town is zoned off until stated otherwise.” Her voice waivered, before she cleared her throat, pulling her gaze from mine. I looked down at my feet.
“That’s weird.” I managed in response. I felt a lump in my throat as emotions threatened to overwhelm me, too. I didn’t want to be like Ashley, crying over something I had no control over. Helpless. That’s exactly what we are.
“Even weirder, we haven’t seen any of our classmates. Where are they? Where is Mr. Samson? And that shit the fog did to Josh and I? What if someone opens the main doors?”
“I…I don’t know.” I admitted shakily.
It was when we reached the hallway in front of the cafeteria that I heard her gag audibly, covering her face with her hands.
“What? What’s wrong?”
A field of corpses. We could see them from the window on the door before we could open the cafeteria doors. Dried blood coated the floor in front of dead eyes and slack jaws.
“Jesus.” I managed. The smell. Audrey’s retches. I suppose I got my answer. It smelled like rot. I could taste it, just faintly, in the air I breathed.
“Oh my god. Oh my god—“ She heaved again, doubled over, clutching at her stomach with her bad hand. I set a hand on her shoulder.
It likely wasn’t safe to be near there.
“Come on.” I pulled her down the hallway. There goes perishable foods. We could probably loot the vending machines, though.
“They’re all dead— Sam, what happened?”
“The dead can’t speak.” It was the verbal equivalent of a shrug. “Someone must’ve left a window open. I don’t know.” Lunch C would’ve been occurring around the time the lockdown went into place. I shook my head. “We need to tell the others.”
I tugged her gently after me. I felt numb. Trapped. I wondered if I screamed off of the roof— just yelled at the top of my lungs— if there was anyone left to hear me at all.
“Samantha? Audrey?” Standing there when we rounded the corner was Ms. Young. Audrey stifled a sob, running forward to hug her on instinct. “Dear, what happened to your hand?” The woman rest a hand on her back, looking up at me.
“I tried to help Josh.” Her voice was muffled. “I tried so hard.”
“The cafeteria is dangerous.” I whispered, pure ecstatic relief rushing through my veins.
“I figured. Come on. Mine and a few other classes are holed up in the auditorium. The teachers are trying to collect stragglers right now, anyone we can find. It isn’t safe to be roaming around right now.” She gently pulled Audrey off her, coaxing us both down winding halls and labeled doors.
At least a hundred kids were in the auditorium. I recognized a few, and so did Audrey. A few yells of joy were heard. A few kids were crying. Emotions were, overall, mixed. I suppose we found out where the others went, though.
It wasn’t until dark that everyone (as many as they could find, anyways) finished slowly filtering their way through the auditorium doors. The only light that accompanied us was the occasional phone screen. Miss young was a force of life in the dark curtain that enclosed us all.
“Quiet everyone!” She shouted, holding up a hand. It took a few tries before a hush fell over the room. Even through the darkness, you could tell her expression was solemn.
“Ms. Whittaker, Mr. Wardell, and myself, are the only teachers we’ve found so far. It would appear, as I’m sure many of yourselves have already discovered to be the case, that we are unable to leave this school. You’ll find that any efforts to will result in bodily harm. The air outside is incredibly dangerous.
We ask that you all refrain from opening any outside doors, along with going down the language hallway, math hallway, or cafeteria hallway. Each of these are areas that have open windows. While you can see the fog in some, in others it is not so readily visible.”
A pause. She peered out at all of us. “We have yet to get into contact with anyone in town, but we are working on contacting the proper officials. We ask that you all stay calm in the meanwhile. Food will be supplied to you as often as we possibly can, along with water— but please avoid running taps for the time being, as that water could be contaminated.
We are doing our best, and promise we’ll get you all home safe as sound as soon as possible.”
With that, she walked off to convene with the other teachers. Students clamored, a wave of pure chaos and sound erupting throughout the room.
“My friends were at lunch. Are they okay?”
“Does anyone have a charger?”
“I hate this.”
“My sister is home alone.”
“Can’t we just leave?”
It was a while before things settled down, and I figured I would update all of you. Clearly, some sort of officials know what’s going on, because the town is walled off. I don’t know how the teachers intend on contacting people in town, but I do believe they’ll try their best. The worry on Ms. Whittaker’s face told that. I think one or two of them are parents themselves. Audrey, along with a few other students who got exposed, are getting looked at right now. Mr. Wardell teaches Chem, so I’m hoping he can help her.
This can’t last long, right? I mean, the cloud has to dissipate eventually, doesn’t it?