2nd Place – January 2020



H. M. Harrison

The place looked as abandoned as it did years ago after its abrupt closure. Only now, nature reclaimed much of the area and obscured large portions of the place. It was difficult to tell it had once been a school in the damage done to it and the abundance of green draping it.
Explanations of why the place closed ran from mundane to bizarre. The most common was the new school opening down the road made this one redundant. I liked the one stating aliens took over the place, who now used it as a launch and landing site for some unknown purpose.
I’d been out enjoying a walk among nature and ended up coming near the old school. While I’d never gone here, I heard enough legends and rumors about the place closing so quickly it piqued my curiosity. It made me bolder than I would have been normally.
On the still existing path leading up to the school, I stared up at the old building. I tried to see if anything on the outside hinted at which rumor might prove true. It stubbornly refused to give up its secrets and tempted me to come closer and find out for myself. I hesitated, looking the derelict over a bit longer. To look for alien paraphernalia or something else, I wasn’t certain. An answer of any sort, anyway Before I tempted fate and risked the building falling down because I sneezed near it.
Its sad appearance, crumbling and broken under the weight of nature’s crushing attack, almost made me mourn for its loss. It was still a school and represented all things I was glad to escape. Mostly the annoying kids who wouldn’t leave me alone. If I found an alien here, I contemplated trying to talk them into going after the jerks and eating them. Or, at least to make them as miserable as they’d made me as I tried to pay attention to something other than their series of psychological torture.
I pushed this aside as I slowly approached the derelict building, wincing as I walked through a cloud of odors that could have dropped a herd of elephants. Something like a severely backed up sewer with an undercurrent of plant rot to add a lovely awfulness to the ambience. I wondered at what managed to produce such a stink, as it seemed far too powerful to come from anything other than someone’s nightmare of raging monsters. At the same time, I resisted the urge to figure this out. Some things needed to stay in the realm of ignorance. This ranked high on the list.
Instead, I breathed as shallow as possible and made my way toward the building. Mercifully, the smell didn’t follow. An experimental sniff later, I let out a breath of relief to find it hadn’t hitched a ride. I really didn’t want to cart this “perfume” with me. The skunks might grow jealous.
As I approached one broken wall, I looked for a way to enter and answer my questions about this place. The “stink shield” probably should have warned me away, but my boldness made me equally reckless. I also didn’t like the people I’d have to ask to find out what happened here. Several were ones I wanted to feed to the aliens, and I didn’t want to owe them any favors for their revelations.
When I stood by the school at last, I gagged and staggered to an area well away from my chosen spot. I thought it was bad among the trees. Beyond the large break I’d found in the brick work was something reeked of a mass death zone of rotting horrors.
“If you wish me to leave, just say so.” I put my nose down my shirt to escape the stink. It didn’t help and I instead fast-walked to get as much distance between me and the whatever-it-was generating the stench to end all stenches. It seemed to follow me to a door leading into the place, now hanging loose and whining as a breeze moved broken metal not quite detached from it. I struggled to breathe as little as possible, trying not to open my mouth and risk finding out what flavor the air itself carried. Common sense told me to get away from here. Reckless stupidity spoke louder and told me to find out if I needed to go call the cops over a mass dump site for bodies of unfortunate victims or not. “Please just be that the building finally died and forgot to tell anybody.”
Movement among the shadows beyond the open door drew my attention, and I grabbed the flashlight I’d brought with me. It was one of those long, heavy, doubled-as-a-club kind and made me wonder if some part of me knew to include this in my trip to the woods, knowing I’d come to this place. I vaguely recalled grabbing it and mentally applauded whatever part of my rational mind made me do so.
Flicking on the flashlight, I held it so its bright beam shone through the door hoping to illuminate something that might grant me an answer. I spied something large and furry down one corridor in line with the door and nearly dropped the flashlight. A scream lodged in my throat at the sight of what I told myself wasn’t eyes staring back at me. As I did, I prayed I saw some unknown plant taking up residence in the garbage and broken brick littering area within. I then backed away, hoping it didn’t actually see me while I pretended I didn’t see it.
“On second thought, I’m not that curious.” I switched the flashlight off and fled, keeping a tight grip on it in case “Furry” came running after me and I had to defend myself somehow. All the while, I called myself every name possible for this dumb idea, making up several new ones when I ran out. “If I make it home, I will go find somewhere safer to explore. Like a bomb factory on an active fault line.”
I continued my list of more suitable deadly zones, including the most lethal area of Chernobyl’s radiation zones, until I made it to somewhere with at least a dozen cars and several people. A few looked at me as if I were an alien and I had to turn around to ensure “Furry” hadn’t followed me.
“You all right?”
The voice drew my attention to a guy on a skate board who’d stopped when I came barreling out of the underbrush. I probably looked as stupid as I now felt. I’d been seeing things and ran for my life away from a hulking plant growing in the school’s destroyed corridor. There were enough breaks in the ceiling, from what I’d seen, to allow for ample light and water to get in to grow a small forest in it.
“I’m fine.” I struggled to catch my breath and attempt to act natural as I stuck the flashlight through my belt to hold it in place. “Why?”
Skate board guy smiled at me, looking about ready to laugh. “You look like you were running from a monster.”
I gave a nervous laugh, trying and failing not to think about the large, fuzzy thing I’d seen at the old school. It was a plant, I reminded myself, nothing more. A big, non-scary plant that just looked like a giant, furry creature wanting to eat me. “Nothing like that.”
“You didn’t go up to the old school, did you? There’s something in it that’s said to eat those who get too close to its den. It generally smells like a whole cemetery’s population rising from the dead.”
If I looked as pale as I suddenly felt, it was a wonder the guy didn’t move to me in case I fainted. I cleared my throat as I fought to suppress the images now filling my mind.
“Is that so?” My voice was higher than it had been moments ago. I heard the pitch change, but I didn’t care. I suddenly wanted to put a few thousand miles between me and this place and having to converse with anyone, even if they were cute, made this impossible. “Nope, I went nowhere near the place. Thanks for the warning. I will remember that. Excuse me.”
I turned and tried not to race down the street as I made a beeline for my house. I wanted as hot a shower as possible to rid myself of any possible connection to the forest and derelict school. I also wanted a locked door, and a sturdy wall, between me and “Furry.” More than that, I wanted a teddy bear and a bed to hide under. Monsters couldn’t get to you if you hid under a bed with a teddy bear, right?

Writers’ workshop and writing group