I walk over to Justin and Jason and ask them if they’re okay, and apologize somehow for the loss of their machine.
“Hey, it’s okay man. Things happen”, one of them replies. Then silence again. Only a low rumbling can be felt in the ground as somewhere lightning strikes. Everyone just stands around looking at each other, wondering where the adults went.
From the bathroom Becky again starts screaming. This time a little more life changing. She screams again, hysterically. Like in the movies. Hearing it real life is very surreal.
I hold my breath, waiting for my blood to stop pushing so hard through my veins. It almost feels like the same rumbling as outside in my body, my blood seems to be pumping so hard. It feels like I’m sinking and falling at the same time, despite wanting to stand on my toes to survey the land.
Heather holds the door open just far enough for her face to get in and tries to comfort her. “It’s going to be okay, sweetie. Holly’s Dad can fix it. He’s really good!”
Holly nods while glancing at the other girls, who also nod in support. Holly’s Dad is a cosmetic surgeon, though no one’s ever needed one in Kort. It seems to be a hobby of his, with most of his business being on weekends.
Heather jumps back suddenly just as the door flings open, hard enough to crack the enameled brick behind the door. Becky scrambles through with wide eyes, her nose not quite so messy, but still pretty gruesome. Her arms before her, grabbing for something to throw behind her. She piles into one of the girls, and the others surround her and spin around ready to fight whatever is chasing her.
“SOMETHING IS IN THERE”, Becky nearly grunts behind tissue jammed in her nostrils, also clenching her teeth. Her eyes wide as saucers, and holding her forehead back in a strange attempt by the brain to protect itself from approaching doom. Her breathing ragged and spasmed.
Heather spins her head this way and that before creeping forward.
“No!” everyone in the room shouts at her.
“Get away from there, what are you crazy!?” someone squeals.
“Dude!”, one of the guys says as a final warning.
The lights flicker. Jason and Justin start to panic as one of them mentions to the other that “we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye”. Whatever that means. Childhood trauma surfaces at the strangest moments.
“Okay, look”, Holly says. Stepping forward and turning around to face the others. “Maybe.. Becky I know you must be in a lot of pain right now. I cannot imagine. But we are here for you. It’s just that…”
“You think I’m imagining this?” Becky asks incredulously. “Something was in there. I was starting to get really worried as I was running out of tissue, and losing a LOT of blood. I heard something, and turned around. There was someone standing there in the corner. I clearly saw … it looked like a child. But injured, or something.”
“How is your nose, Becky?” Heather asks. She reaches forward with a cloth and begins wiping the blood away. “It looks like the bleeding has finally stopped. I think you’re going to be okay”.
“I’m NOT hallucinating. This is not some type of shock. It felt weird in there. Like static.” Becky starts crying, and the room again falls into silence, broken only by the occasional rumbling outside. “Can we please get out of here, though?” Becky asks.
“Yea, let’s get some fresh air while we wait for the principal”, someone sitting on a basketball says.
“We should stay close to the building though”, someone else replies. “In case this weather gets really bad”.
The crowd shuffles toward the hallway, and we fan out into the fresh night air. Really there is no rain, at least not yet. Which was very strange, considering all the carrying on the sky is doing.
I glance over at the goth twins, who both have a nervous expression on their face. They seem to want to say something to me, but are not sure how to say it. Knowing these two for awhile, though. Nothing can really surprise me. We are all friends after all.
“Just tell me”, I say to them.
They glance at one another, then finally one of them speaks. “We didn’t close it”, he says very simply.
I shrug, and turn an eye to them, something my Mother always does to evoke a feeling of “go on” in others. It works rather well.
“It’s just that…” some monstrous sound violates the clean, night air. Like crashing metal, or a great ballistic event somewhere. At the end what can only be described as every animal screaming can be heard, along with what seems like a cry of dismay or agony. “Never mind”, he says.
“I think I’m gonna be sick”, the other one says.
Behind me the others are comparing ideas, commenting about the bluff. We mostly go quiet as what sounds like a steamroller driving slowly across a gravel road can be heard cracking across the sky, busting invisible rocks with brute force. Slowly crushing down the atmosphere above. It truly makes me feel like the sky is falling, and it isn’t as funny to hear as it used to be saying it.
Overhead, just over the sound of hushed tones of my friends still watching the bluff, I can hear a commercial airliner veer to change course. It’s engines clearly stress under the weight of this correction. It levels off finally, and goes about it’s path. Leaving only the miserable silence in it’s wake.
Which sounds a lot like a roaring lion. A sound no one likes to hear, especially out here in the middle of America. That rank, empty feeling one gets when first moving into a new home is present in a most epic way.
“There”, someone says. Pointing. Somehow my vantage point matches his finger, or we have formed a hive mind somehow, allowing us all to see the same thing. Like a bug with millions of eyes, able to see with a certain clarity, things no one really wants to.
Glowing slits several dozen feet into the sky, just over the peak of the trees, and at the base of the bluff directly in front of the school. That rumbling, thunderous roaring again ended with the sound of crackling thunder, and then terrible silence.
“Hey”, one of the guys finally says. “It looks like that thing from Exorcist”.
“Guys, you are scaring Becky”, one of the girls says in obvious panic.
The line of trees immediately in front of this thing flattens like pancakes before it, a shadowed appendage pinning them down.
It then takes another step forward, which lands with the crashing sound of a small asteroid.
Some of the kids turn to run away, but I manage to get them to go back through the building. “If that thing sees us running away, it will change it’s path to intercept us. We should go through the building out the other way”.
“He’s right”, some of the others agree. “We need to stick together, anyway.”
“We have to work together”, someone else unconsciously repeats.
So we rush back indoors, like we are in some kind of trance or a bad dream. It does feel that way; half expecting to wake up. Running almost blindly through the empty corridors I wonder again where the adults are. Someone is going to get a negative rating on everyone’s favorite search engine.
We spill into the gymnasium and run toward the emergency exit bay on the far side of the room. Whatever that thing is must have stepped on a power intake, or a transformer blew up, because the lights suddenly go out. We continue running, stumbling into and tripping over one another.
Oddly enough I am thankful at this point for the seemingly perpetual lightning outside which lights up the emergency exit. No backup generator? Another negative experience at Kort High.
“Where does all that money go?” Heather yells into the abyss. She must be able to read minds.
“My parents pay seven thousand a year in property taxes because of the levies”, Mike, the lead basketball player for this season strangely adds.
All of us get to the emergency exit and slam into the doors. “School populations have essentially flattened in the last decade for Illinois, but excessive and often wasteful borrowing continues to skyrocket, adding to the already unfair circumstances around our parents’ situations”, Justin shouts into the melee of words.
Clearly hot topics never rest, only appearing to in civilized society. Then at the most breakable moment, it all gushes out like puss.
Rushing out into the rain on the other side, we frantically head to the forest across the field, a few of the girls grabbing hands and screaming as the cold rain pelts into us all like the watery avalanche some call Niagara Falls.
Finally the shade of trees seems to lessen the onslaught of icy rain, and we all lean against the trees to catch our breath. A few sprawl on the ground. “This does not include unnecessary cutbacks to the school budget like our lunch service, allegedly forcing the school to invite fast food into our sacred halls of learning”, a pasty lad says through strenuous huffs of breath, holding his sternum to keep acid down.
I walk over and offer my hand to him. “We should make a plan to get out of this mess”, I say as he grabs my forearm and I heave him up.
“Don’t lay down when out of breath, it puts strain on the lungs,” I say to him more quietly. I show him how to raise his hands over his head to open the airways as the rest of us stumble out of the clearing, wiping the rain out of their eyes and gasping for breath.
“Like voting?” Becky asks. “My Mom says the dead vote so there will never be any change. They run this place like a mob outfit.”
“No Becky, my Mom also got the October newsletter.” I reply. I turn to face Becky, who’s previously deflated nose seems just fine now. Very strange. The rain has even washed away all traces. “She was also annoyed by the word ‘profit’ being included in the newsletter after crying about cutbacks, but what I should have said is that we need to figure out a way to avoid being crushed by that thing over there”, I say pointing at the glowing eyes casting their dark array of light in our direction just over the roof of the gymnasium. They seemed to be fixated on the building now.
As if sensing our attention, it bellows again, causing my heart to feel ill. My blood jumps at the sound, making me feel nauseous and dizzy. I don’t know if I am going to get away from this … this thing.
“What is that thing?” someone asks after apparently coming to the same internal thought process.
We look at Justin and Jason.
Justin, or Jason who knows, takes a step back while the other brother looks down at nothing in particular. “Why look at us?” Justin asks.
“Well it seems to have something to do with whatever you were playing with”, Mike replied. “We went from partly cloudy with a warm southerly breeze to the hall of the mountain king in ten minutes flat”.
“Haven’t you guys heard of global warming?” Jason interjected.
Those gathered begin to argue about various political topics at the same time. Meanwhile the beast stands in the midst of burning ruins, turning this way and that … smashing things that looks important.
To the side the principal can be seen running stapler in hand to his car, and Mrs King in the opposite direction. Thank goodness they made it out alive.
Mrs King blindly climbs over the very last bit of it’s tail, to which the monster briefly drops it’s scary demeanor and turns to see what touched it’s tail. Seeing nothing in particular it again narrows it’s eyes and goes back to breaking things.
Copyright 2021 Matt Schmidt