There are a lot of life lessons that a boy can learn in high school. Brennan learned how to squeeze himself until he fit comfortably in a locker, how to change after gym while tuning out all the insults, and the invisible paths to travel between classes to avoid the biggest and nastiest of his classmates. He learned to stay off the radar. In a town that boasted more runaways than graduates, it was important to keep both your nose and your head down.
There aren’t a lot of things that locker-habitation prepares you for, but one night in late April, only six weeks from a summer’s freedom, Brennan learned one. The high school was old – like great-grandparent-on-an-oxygen tank old. The south wing hadn’t been used since the French and Indian War. It was dangerous, the adults said. People get hurt in old buildings. So they shut it down, knowing deep down on some level that kids would be kids and invade it as often as possible. The south wing had become a rite of passage – people snuck down there all the time.
Brennan really should have learned to wait out the basketball team jackholes with lockers on the third floor – because the south wing was exactly where he ended up.
He’d flown down the stairs, so intent on escape that he didn’t realize he’d passed the ground floor and gone down to the sub-level. But by then it was too late, and the sound of testosterone and catcalls was gaining on him. So he continued to run, somehow ending up in the unlit tunnels that crossed over to the south wing. Above him, no doubt, kids were laughing and sauntering across the quad heading for the parking lot. Down below, he was running for his life.
Halls were taken at random, his lungs burning so bad he thought they might catch alight. Left, then right. Then left again. He burrowed deeper and deeper into the bowels of the school. But the sounds behind him stayed constant, and actually seemed to get louder in his wake.
And then the hallway came to an end. There was only an open door. Hesitant at first – he didn’t want to be trapped like when he was in the lockers – he crept towards the entrance. As shadows danced at the end of the hall, and hoots and hollers drowned out his throbbing heart, he snuck instead.
Into an empty room. The walls were the same brick as the school, but it had been cleaned out completely.
He pushed at the door, which must have been solid steel straight off a battleship, because despite how hard he pushed, it barely moved. His tennis shoes squeaked against the concrete floor, and he pushed, and pushed, and pushed some more. Everything he had went into the door, until finally it started it move. An inch at first, then a second. Soon he was gaining more ground, but the catcalls in the hallway were getting louder. They were almost here.
He looked for a lock on the door, something he could flip as soon as it was closed, but he didn’t see anything. Something about that was strange, he thought, some measure of the door bothered him on an instinctual level, but his panic was so severe that he just kept pushing. There was no telling what they’d do to him if they found him. Not down here.
Then the door finally closed, just as it seemed the boys were going to catch up with him. There were distant thuds that he felt, with his cheek pressed against the cool metal of the door. Someone had kicked it. They were trying to push it back open even now, but the door wasn’t moving. Vaguely, Brennan remembered something clicking when the door had settled into his frame.
Insults came through the door, offensive words and homophobic slurs and calls to do things that were anatomically impossible. And then eventually, finally, the words grew quieter, and he was alone.
He slunk down to the floor, his head resting against the door behind him. Safe. He was safe. He’d managed to escape them.
He stayed like that for a little while, giving the other teens a chance to find their way back out of the tunnels. Everything was going to be fine. Brennan took the time to study the bricks – strange bricks that were so many different shades of purple and black. They were old, crumbling things. The room had been cleaned recently – that much was obvious, as there wasn’t much dust on the floor. But it was weird, because the room didn’t have a purpose. It, like the rest of the building, had been abandoned. Forgotten.
Then he looked closer. Some of the bricks weren’t black like he thought at first. They were red bricks that had been stained darker. The patterns were random, some spots darker than others. It was only the one wall, too. All the others had a uniform color and appearance. But the wall of strange bricks, that was like some sort of art project.
It almost looks like blood spatter, Brennan thought to himself. But how much blood would have had to hit the wall to make it so dark. And why would they have left it like that. It didn’t make any sense.
Behind him, the door slid open slowly. An inch at first. Then a second. Fingers appeared around the side. A gleam of something like a knife.
Brennan cocked his head to the side. Huh.