About a month ago, I was informed that Jefferson Choice Middle School was shut down, and had been abandoned for some time. At first I was unsure how to react, having spent a small portion of my youth there and having some memories of the place, but I eventually came to the conclusion that I was happy it had been shut down. Especially after all those times in my mother’s room, alone and by myself with the lights over my head making that gentle buzz…
I suppose I should explain. I went to Arden Middle School for my sixth and seventh grade years, and then my mom got a new job at Jefferson. She wanted me to come to Jefferson so that we could both be at the same school, no more worrying about being late for the school bus or not understanding math homework (she knew the Algebra Curriculum), she would irritate me so much that it annoyed me to no end. Every day she would make some comment about how nice it might be if I were to switch over to Jefferson. When I told her that my intention was to keep going to Arden for middle school and eventually go to Arden High School, she would look at me reproachfully, as if I had just insulted her. I loved Arden Middle, I was actually very popular, my grades were all great and we had the best sports teams. It seemed that there weren't as many students at Jefferson who were interested in sports. The kids who went there were always very solemn and they seemed to take schoolwork very seriously. Me and my friends often joked about this to ourselves and talked about how only retards who took themselves too seriously ever went to Jefferson. That was one of the biggest reasons I didn't want to go. I didn't want to become known as one of those kids who always studied and never had any fun. But I let my mother get the best of me.
I loved my mother more than anyone else really. My dad had left us when I was less than three years old, claiming he was just going to go and run for some cigarettes and then never coming back… that had hurt my mother for a long time. Even then, when I was thirteen and it had been ten years later, there were times when I could still see the pain in her eyes.
One night I heard her in her bedroom when I had gotten up late at night for a snack and she had thought that I had gone to bed. I heard her sobbing into her pillow, and whispering prayers to god in between her cries. I would've done anything to stop that. But I couldn't walk into the room and soothe her; I couldn't tell her that everything was going to be okay with or without my father. So I did the next best thing. The very next morning I told her I would come with her to Jefferson. She was so excited. Elated would probably be the better word.
I told my friends about this the very same day, but changed it around a little, telling them that my mother was forcing me to go and about how angry I was at her. But on the inside, I was happy too, because my mother was happy. At the time I actually credited myself with the greatest decision I ever made.
Summer came and went, nothing extraordinary happened, and then, just like that, I was beginning my first day at Jefferson Middle School. The first thing that I noticed about Jefferson that was out of the ordinary was the teachers. All of them were unusually strict. I thought that the teachers at Arden had been tough, but the teachers at Jefferson were something else entirely.
Mr. Weaver, who was my Math teacher, gave out infractions to kids who got any lower than a seventy on his tests (Infractions being the disciplinary code, five infractions being an office referral.) the way he explained it, he taught the material well enough that if anyone should ever have lower than a seventy, they must not have been paying attention in class in the first place. Whereas I was shocked at this example of possible punishment, the kids around me looked indifferent, as if they were used to this sort of chastisement.
I also soon found out that, other than their seriousness concerning their schoolwork, most of them were just normal kids. They joked around and laughed and even broke many of the school rules just like most kids did. So they were not the school obsessed zombies that I and my old friends had joked about after all. Many of them were even very nice.
By lunchtime, I had a whole new set of friends. I soon found out what many of these kids were joking about. There was one kid in the school who was unlike any other. His name was Damien Oleander. Damien was a sort of school scapegoat. If anything bad ever happened, it was blamed on Damien. Damien was also the poorest kid in school, and was often teased for his tattered clothing and long, greasy black hair, which his family could not afford to cut. His sad face was covered in a bad rash of acne and he walked with his shoulders slumped, as if he had been beaten down. I actually felt genuinely bad for him. What had he done to make everybody hate him so much? When I asked, everybody who I was sitting with just looked at each other and sort of shook their heads. They all hated Damien just because he was alive. That was all the reason they ever needed, that and the fact that he was so poor and different. Whenever kids would make fun of him, he would just stare down at the ground, never saying a word, as if he had accepted his place.
After lunch there were two more periods, Social Studies and Science, and then, just like that, my first day was over.
My mom had told me what to do when the day had ended, I would come directly to her room and wait until all the special needs children had left, then I would sit down at a desk and wait for her to come back from one of her meetings.
A meeting was held every day in the media center, where all the teachers would discuss what happening during their day and what they could do to make it better and to stop rule breakers. Every meeting usually lasted from thirty minutes to an hour. So there I was, doing my homework and chewing on a piece of gum, then all of a sudden, the lights in the outside hall went out.
My mother had told me this as well. After all students that weren't in some kind of club left, the lights in all the halls went out, leaving power only in the classrooms.
I went on doing my homework, and caught myself looking at the blackness of the hall of the open door. There was something about that I didn't like, something that made me uneasy. It was almost as if the open door was a sort of black hole that would swallow me up if I got too close, or as if there could be someone lurking just outside in the blackness of the hall, watching me, knowing that it could see me but I couldn't see it.
Neither of those options appealed to me in the least and succeeded in making me very uncomfortable.
Finally, unable to stand it any longer, I shakily got to my feet and in one fluid movement I ran forward and slammed the door shut, my heart beating fast.
There was still a little glass window on the door that depicted that darkness of the hall, but I was just satisfied that I had faced this stupid, irrational fear of mine, and then I laughed. There was nothing in that hallway but my own imagination playing tricks on me. Had I really thought there might be something watching me out in the hallway? I chuckled to myself before sitting down again to continue my homework.
Suddenly I saw spur of movement out of the corner of my eye from the little window on the door, and heard the patter of quick footsteps. My heart leapt the hairs on the back of my neck prickled. Someone had been watching me, or had they? I sat there, immobilized, my eyes glued to the little window in the door.
Then I heard something. It was quiet and foreboding, it was music. Somebody was playing a piano.
I didn't take my eyes off the door until my mother finally came, accompanied by the rushed footsteps of other teachers ready to get home. My mother scurried in and immediately began packing her things.
The music had stopped by now. I asked her about the piano that I had heard. She told me that Damien Oleander stayed after school every day to practice his skills on the piano, she continued, telling me how great of a musician Damien was, and what great things he might do someday.
I listened patiently to my mother; I always have, before we went out into the darkness of the hall together, with only the small lights from classroom doors to guide us. I asked her why the school shut all the lights off after school. She told me it was to conserve power. I accepted this as we walked over to our car and got inside. Then she mentioned that Damien would be giving a performance at the pep rally in four days time.
I asked why he would be doing that, she responded that each pep rally was a sort of miniature talent show, at every pep rally, people with special abilities could come forward and present their talents. Believe it or not, I was looking forward to the pep rally; I wanted to see what it would be like with so little students actually interested in sports.
The next four days slipped by slowly. We got a lot of homework, and we all studied, it seemed like there was a test every other day. Then, finally, the assembly came around.
We all filed into the gymnasium through the one way doors that only locked from one side and took our seats on the bleachers. The principal of the school came forward and gave the typical welcome back speech, Then a small, ragtag group of cheerleaders did a little rhyme and threw one of their own into the air, then the fifteen or sixteen football players they had came forward, and everyone cheered them on enthusiastically enough.
Lastly there came the talent show my mother had talked about. A curtain was opened in the opposite center of the gym to form a sort of auditorium, and soon enough, the show began. First there was a kid who could say anything backwards and we all got to raise our hands and ask him to say something, after that there came a girl who was good at tap dancing, and later on there was a kid who sang the star spangled banner, then it was Damien’s turn.
He wheeled a huge piano out into the middle of the gym, then rushed back and got a small stool before sitting down, the first thing that I noticed was that he was very pale, and his face glistened with a faint layer of sweat. If you looked close enough, he was actually trembling a little; then, he slowly lowered his fingers down to the keys, and began to play.
He was playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, I recognized it as my mother’s favorite piano song, to Damien’s credit, the song started out great, the song was melancholy and dismal, but also somehow beautiful, it was then that I realized that, to Damien, this was more than just a song, this was how he would gain his acceptance, how he would get people to stop picking on him and start being friendly to him. That’s why he was so nervous. To him the climax of his years here at Jefferson was in this one moment.
Then, he missed a note.
He frantically sped up the song, trying to leave his mistake behind, but it was too late. Someone let out a low, mean, snicker, he missed another note, and then, someone started to laugh. It was a terrible, cruel laugh, high and derisive, and then someone else joined in, and before I knew it, everybody was laughing at Damien, including me. I didn't even realize that I had been laughing until I had stopped, and until it was too late to take it back.
Damien got up so fast he knocked down the stool and then he ran toward the exit, hands over his face, determined not to let us see that he was sobbing. He did not even bother to go back to our classroom; he just sprinted out into the open air.
The principal then stepped up and gave all of us a big speech about how everyone needed to show more respect for our fellow students, and how she would let our individual teachers give out the punishments for being so unkind. As we walked back to our classrooms, people were still in hysterics about Damien's mistake. I felt guilty and even a little mad at myself.
Next Monday, Damien didn't come to school, this was not concerning to me, and I probably would have taken a day off if something that traumatizing had happened to me. In the After School hours, it was unusually silent without Damien practicing with the piano. Then, Damien didn't show up the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that. By this time it was Friday, and rumors were swirling throughout the halls, rumors that Damien had killed himself and rumors that he had run away and hadn't been seen since. But when I looked through the local news, I didn't see anything regarding Damien, or anyone else in the school for that matter.
The weekend passed, and, when Monday rolled around, Damien was still seemingly at home, probably sleeping in. I was in Mr. Weaver’s class when all the excitement broke out; I was calmly and quietly solving equations when I heard a confused babble of voices from outside, then a strangled sort of cry. Then I heard our school resource officer, she was yelling at the top of her lungs, “DROP IT! DROP THE WEAPON NOW!” then there was a solitary gunshot, and a female scream.
The class was in a panic, some were straining to get a look out the door window, but Mr. Weaver was quick, he dropped the shades, covered the door window, locked the door, and ushered us all into one corner, The principal came over the intercom announcing a lock-down mode, and for the next hour or so, we just sat there, not moving, never breathing a word to each other.
We heard the wail of a siren from outside, then, numerous voices from outside, speaking in a low monotonous mumble of noise. Finally, there was a knock on the door and someone on the other side was telling us to open up, and that it was the police. Mr. Weaver opened the door, and we were all escorted out of the classroom and into the hallway, there was one spot in the hall that had people, mostly police officers had huddled around making it impossible for us to see what they were looking at. But as we passed by I saw through a gap in their legs, someone covered in a big white sheet that was stained in crimson blood, someone who was my age.
Revulsion welled in the pit of my stomach, and my legs got shaky and almost gave way. I grabbed onto the girl in front of me and held onto her for support until I could move. She did not protest. It seemed that everybody was headed home, Mr. Weaver leading the bus riders in one direction, and Mrs. Divers taking the car riders in another. I knew where I was to go, I staggered in the direction of my Mother’s room, wishing only to go home and have a long, hard nap, given the horrific events of the day. But what exactly had happened? Someone was dead; someone had been shot, but whom?
I arrived at my mom’s room. All her things were packed and she was waiting for me, her lips pressed in a tight, worried line. I asked her what had happened and she said she didn’t know, but would find out soon enough. The moment we got home, the first thing I did was to look up the breaking news. It turns out that Damien had snapped. He had disguised himself with a makeshift mask he had made from a pillowcase with the eyeholes cut out before entering the school from the back doorway and making his way into the eighth grade hallway bathroom. He would wait for a boy to come in before overpowering them, and then slitting their throats, ear to ear, with a small kitchen knife. He would then take the bodies and pile them up in one corner. He had managed to kill five kids before he was caught.
A boy who was stronger than others came in, and when he was jumped, he fought back, Dragging Damien out into the hallway before beginning to punch him, that’s when the resource officer had come along. This momentarily distracted the kid, and allowed Damien to stab him in the leg and put his blade against the kid’s throat. The resource officer had drawn her gun, and, when Damien had refused to back down, shot him in the head.
This of course, was all very shocking to me. I couldn't believe it had happened. How could something like this happen to us? And then, the more disturbing thought, how often does this really happen? And can it happen to anyone? Yes, of course it could. It was just when I was laying down for my rest when the announcement came in over the phone. There would be no school for the rest of the week.
I decided to attend Damien’s funeral, as well as the funerals of the boys who had been killed. The first funeral of the five murdered boys was very solemn, with the mother weeping into the shoulders of her husband and the husband trying to keep a straight face, his lips quivering before finally breaking down into a fit of terrible raspy weeping, people were pulling out tissues and I’m not at all ashamed to say that I shed a tear or two myself. It is not pleasant to see the heart of a parent break, and it is downright awful to see a family ripped apart by grief. I saw five families ripped apart over that long weekend. Damien’s family was not. They sat there, stone faced as the minister read from the Bible and they did not appear to be sad in the slightest, only a mother and a father, no other siblings.
When it finally came time to go back to school, I didn't want to go, I begged and pleaded with my mother to just let me stay home, but she wouldn't let me. She stubbornly insisted that I go to school and chastised me for trying to argue with her, needless to say, she was much stressed out. I came to school to humor her, and, just as I expected, none of the classes were as they regularly were. The teachers were woefully unprepared, and I could tell that Most of them hadn't even drawn up lesson plans. The day was over fairly quick, and before I knew it, I was in my mom’s room, my homework in front of me and my pencil in my hand.
I was supposed to be finding examples of symbolism in Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird, but I could not focus. The problem was I really had to use the bathroom. I was squirming in my seat, and crossing my legs, but I didn’t want to have to go into the blackness of the halls. Like a scared child who has to pee in the middle of the night.
I finally realized that I was making a big deal out of something little and decided to just get up and go, tucking my paper into my book, I set out into the darkness. I would go to the bathroom in the gym, I thought, it was the closest one after all. I set out and threw open the doors to the gym, which was darkened and silent, the curtains to the stage open with the piano in the center.
Suddenly there was a flicker of light; I looked upwards to see a single fluorescent light flickering on and off periodically. I stopped for a split second before continuing onward. Faulty electricity, I would have to tell the janitor. I heard and abrupt CRUNCH from below, I looked down and saw that I had stepped on a maggot. I looked around and noticed for the first time that the ground was crawling, the floor was scattered with little gray maggots scurrying around. This was news to me. It would seem that the gymnasium had a bug problem. I would tell the janitor this as well. It was revolting. I stepped around in what must have looked like a hopscotch pattern, trying to avoid stepping on the little buggers.
I finally, at long last reached the bathroom on the other side and shut the door, locked it as well, before finally relieving myself. I then washed my hands and looked up at my own face in the mirror. The light above my head suddenly flashed once, then went out. I froze, not moving a muscle as the light under the door stopped flickering and died.
I felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickle, as if someone was behind me, breathing down my neck… I had a cell phone in my pocket. A little flip phone, as we used to call them. If I could get it out of my pocket and flick it open, it would provide enough light for me to see if there was anything me, so, slowly and carefully, I extracted the phone from my pocket and in one quick move, flicked it open. There was nobody there. No one was in this bathroom but me, and I was letting my imagination get the best of me.
That's when I heard the music. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was playing inside the gym. Just outside the door. But who could be doing that? It took me a moment to realize I was shaking. I felt like a mouse that had been cornered from every side by a leering gang of cats. There was only one thing to be done and that was run.
With trembling fingers I quietly closed my cell phone and picked up my book, holding it in front of me like a shield. I slowly, steadily, slipped the door into the unlocked position, afraid that any noise I made would attract the attention of whomever or whatever was on the other side of that door. I used my toe to inch the door open, bit by bit. The door opened with a slow squeak and I grit my teeth, a bead of sweat dripping into my eye.
I gradually poked my head out. The curtains to the stage had been drawn shut and whoever was playing the music was certainly on the other side. All I would have to do would be to sneak past the curtains and let myself out of the gym. I closed the bathroom door with a silent click and began making my way forward, putting one foot in front of the other, deliberately, slow as slow can be, my legs were shaking like they were jelly and I prayed to god they wouldn't give out.
I was just getting past the middle of the curtains when I stopped. The curtains were slightly parted right in the center, and I could see right through.
Sitting on a stool, with his back turned to me, was Damien, the pillowcase mask over his head, as well as his tattered clothing, made this obvious. But how was he here? The book I was holding slipped out of my hand and fell against the floor with a dull thud.
The piano music stopped and Damien got up off the stool. I had to do something, I had to move, but I couldn't, I was immobilized by my own fear and I gaped, dumbstruck as Damien turned around.
A vise tightened in my stomach. There was a bloody bullet hole right where the left eye hole in the mask should have been. No, the blood wasn't dry, it was fresh, and it was running, some of it dripped onto the floor.
A choked sound came from my throat as Damien reached into the pocket and withdrew the slim silver Kitchen Knife, the handle was worn from use, and he had probably used it to skin animals.
He lifted the knife to his mask and cut the soft material, splitting the pillowcase down the middle with a soft ripping noise.
The mask fell to the ground, and there stood Damien, his skull half eaten away by the maggots that crawled and writhed all over what was left of his face… his rotted, putrid flesh hanging over his cheekbones…
He took a staggering step towards me, dragging his left foot, which appeared to be fractured, then another slow step in my direction, and another.
I had to do something, I couldn't just stand here while he came at me, that knife in his hand, and I knew he was going to use that knife to cut my throat ear to ear, just like he had done to all those other kids. That was what snapped me out of that trance like stupor, the memory of the day Damien had killed those innocent boys.
I found that I was finally able to move my legs again, and I stumbled backwards, before breaking into a sprinting run to the exit doors on my left, almost tripping once, before regaining my balance and wildly yanking on the doors, trying desperately to get them to open.
"One way doors," a voice in the back of my mind whispered, "two sets of doors in the gym, both of them only open on one side." I turned around and Damien was almost upon me, tears of blood running from his single decaying eye. A dreadful moan escaped his swollen lips and he reached out his hands, the cracked and yellow fingernails yearning for my blood.
I ran around him as fast as I could, away from those unearthly moans and that silver knife that Damien knew how to use all too well. I ran out of the gym and into my mom’s room before locking the door and staying there, waiting in a corner until I heard the clip clop of her heels on the linoleum floor.
As soon as she came in I demanded that I be transferred back to Arden Middle, no matter the cost. She saw how upset I was and immediately agreed; probably thinking that it had something to do with Damien killing all those kids. I never told anyone about Damien. I was afraid that I would be ridiculed by all my friends, or scoffed at for having such an unbelievable tale.
For the longest time I tried to convince myself that it had all been a dream, that I had somehow fallen asleep in my mother’s room and had a surreal, distorted nightmare.
But in the back of my mind I know the truth, and I know that every day, in the after hours of school, Damien sits in that stool and plays the piano, undisturbed, and indifferent to the fact that the school was shut down long ago.
Written by SnakeTongue237