The Willow Society

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Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Taylor stood across the street from his new school, Willow Prep, located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City. It was twinkling dark, sometime after nine in the evening. He looked down at his watch. It was exactly 9:08 P.M. on a Friday evening in the ass-end of September. Taylor closed his eyes and took a few slow, calming breaths, trying to steady his fast-paced heartbeat. He was sure he had never been this nervous is his whole life.

Every once-in-a-while a car would whiz past, but otherwise the street was empty. The school took up the entire block, not a full long block, but not far off either. The school grounds were quite large, as far as Manhattan properties went. Surrounded by a high wrought iron fence, posts anchored in a shorter expanses of beige bricks rising to just below Taylor's waist. He wasn't a small boy for his age, about five feet nine inches, but was husky, and bore the pale skin of a boy who spent few hours outside. Taylor was fourteen years old and a freshman, having just started Willow Prep a few weeks before. Before moving to NYC he had lived just outside Houston, TX , in a suburb called Channelview and had been content to be an invisible, if terribly talented, computer nerd.

Taylor would never have done something like this back in Channelview. He had lived his whole life prior in the ragged suburb. The thought of doing something like this back there made him shiver with nerves, fear, anxiety, or some peppery combination of all three; he wasn't precisely sure. Whatever it was he had to concentrate hard on his anger in order to keep the unnamed feelings in check.

But he was angry. Very angry. Taylor had never been in a fight before today, if it could even be called a fight. It had consisted mostly of a much larger, older teenager from Willow Prep kicking Taylor while he was on the floor, but it had felt like what pop culture told Taylor a teenage fight should feel like. It had not ended well. Just thinking about it screwed Taylor's anger up even hotter than it had been. Another car came rumbling down the street and Taylor nodded, to himself, since there was apparently no one else around to see. Once the car was gone, having turned two blocks down, Taylor moved.

“This is it, Taylor.“ Taylor said in a whisper, to himself. He ran across the street and skirted the corner of the wrought iron fence down a little alley which separated the school from the building next. The alley was dark, the only light came from large sodium lights on the street beyond. Taylor had never been this way before, his mother, who briefly used to work at Willow Prep, had told him about it, casually. Though, she had had no idea then what he would eventually do with the information. Thinking about his mother only stoked Taylor's anger more, making it easier for him to keep moving forward; to hold down the anxiety and nerves which came along with doing something.

Something bold and flat out illegal.

Not that Taylor balked at doing illegal things per se, after all he was a teenager hacker. But this was his first time physically breaking in to any place other than his parent's closet to look for Christmas presents hidden under mounds of clothes. If only he had a little more knowledge of the school itself he might not have had to break in in the first place. Using the access card he had stolen from his mother's purse while she cooked dinner, he swiped the card over the panel, smiled as the little indicator light on the gate turned green. He made a mental note to find the logs and make sure it didn't show up as his mother getting access. One of his goals was to get her job back. Not get her in more trouble.

She had only been working at Willow Prep since Taylor began attending, a month at most. His mother, June Zachary, had been the Assistant Food Supervisor, essentially a fancy prep school version of a lunch lady. But the job had made her proud and she had been doing it very well, already on track for a promotion, not to mention the money the job brought in for Taylor's family. Living in New York City was very expensive, compared to Channelview especially, and they needed every penny. Worse, it was his fault she had lost the job in the first place.

That thought fled as Taylor edged through the gate and made his way as sneakily as he knew how across the grounds to a large set of steel doors. He had to pass another access panel and use his mother's card again. Inside the building the school was whisper quiet, eerily so, minus all the students and their hubbub. Taylor's head swung around nervously, looking for signs of any late night cleaning staff. Or a security guard. Although he was pretty sure his mother had said the school was currently without one, but who knew how long that would last? Perhaps they had hired one that day, rich people did stuff like that. Better safe than sorry.

Keeping that thought in mind he sneaked down hallways and up stairs, peering cautiously around corners and tiptoeing, each footfall thunderously loud in his anxiety-attuned ears. But after less than ten minutes of sneaking he found himself outside the room he wanted. Headmaster Ballard's Office. He knew this is where things would truly get complicated. Taking one last look down both directions of the hallway Taylor swallowed. There was no way to know if his mother's access card would actually work on the Headmaster's door. If it didn't, it was quite likely it would sound some kind of silent alarm and then he was well and truly screwed. But as terrifying as such a thought was, all Taylor had to do was remember the humiliation of the day's events, along with the other times he had been bullied while at Willow Prep, combined with the threat hanging over his head.

I'm screwed either way, might as well.

He swiped the magnetic card over the panel. The indicator light stayed red and Taylor's heart beat in his throat. His head whipped around looking for blinking lights; a siren, something, but the hallways were still eerily quiet. Swallowing again, hoping maybe he had just not moved slowly enough, Taylor swiped the card again, this time much more slowly. The indicator light flashed green. Taylor whooped and clapped his hand hard to his mouth, looked around in near terror. Frozen to the spot for long seconds, Taylor slowly brought his hand down. He berated himself silently, both for the noise and for the foolish fear there was anyone around to hear. Gritting his teeth remembering his anger and his reason for being there, Taylor darted into the office.

The inside was familiar. He had been in the Headmaster's Office twice, not enough to know it well, but enough he could find his way. He walked past the large desk with the little plaque which read Mrs. Lewandowski - Chief Operating Officer and for the third time Taylor snickered silently. Willow Prep was very big on fancy names for regulars things, his mother was a lunch lady with business cards which said Assistant Food Supervisor and Mrs. Lewandowski who was little more than school Secretary had a plaque on her desk which made her sound like a corporate titan. Moving past the desk he pushed open the already slight ajar door to the Headmaster's Office.

Headmaster Ballard's office had the rarefied feeling of a museum, combined with the usual heaviness of a Principal's office with just a touch of the stuffiness of a funeral parlor. Even with all the lights turned off and the only illumination coming from a screen saver of Dilbert cartoons on Ballard's monitor Taylor felt the old-manness of the room. It smelled of leather, books, and for some reason vanilla.

Putting all that out of his mind Taylor made his way to the other side of the desk and sat down, pulled out the keyboard tray and caused the screen saver to flash into a login screen. Taylor fished around in his pocket and pulled out a thumb drive. He inserted it into the machine and rebooted it. Less than five minutes later Taylor had full Admin access to the machine and the network it was connected to. He flexed his fingers and grinned wildly at the darkened office. His anger was forgotten for the moment, along with everything else as all his emotion was channeled into his fingers, he felt like how he imagined a Viking must have felt when staring down for a hilltop at a poorly defended village, his horde chomping misted breath behind him. It was glorious, empowering and consuming.

Suddenly Taylor's fingers froze. He heard what sounded distinctly like a rope being let down. He was on the sixth floor of the school: high enough up there could conceivably be ropes somewhere outside, as ridiculous as the thought was. Shrugging after looking around for a long set of moments and seeing nothing Taylor went back to the keyboard. His fingers moved furiously as he searched the network. Less than two minutes passed before he heard another strange off-putting sound which drew his attention away from the computer. He stood up and looked around this time but saw nothing unusual. Calm your nerves! Taylor sat back down and threw his shoulders back, cracked his knuckles, and put his hands back to the keyboard. There was another unexpected noise. He couldn't dismiss it this time, it had sounded like the sole of a sneaker rubbing against glass.

Am I having a paranoid delusion?

Getting up from the desk he peered out the two large windows situated behind it. They were the only windows in the room, but look as he might he could see nothing.. Worse, as he looked he was sure he heard the slightest hint of a voice coming from somewhere unseen. It sounded like a snicker being covered by cloth or a hand. Taylor spent a full two minutes nervously looking around the office, the area outside the office, and out the windows, but there was nothing but buildings, desks, dark, and books. Telling himself over and over again that he was alone and it was just nerves Taylor sat down. But his concentration was broken and his hands shook as he put them back to the keyboard.

Taylor thought back over everything which had led to his being here. All the twisting of events which had brought him to this decision, this moment. It was surreal And like a wave of feathers it came crashing down upon him: where he was, what he had done to get there, and his whole body shook. Taylor looked at the monitor, able to see his anguished face in the glare of the LED screen. He couldn't get his stride back, needed to screw up his anger again, but every time he tried all he could feel was nervous and afraid, unable to move.

Taking a few deep breaths Taylor started at the beginning, letting himself remember everything as flashes of images, hoping it would calm him enough he could continue. Hoping it would stoke his anger enough to dispel his fear. It had all begun rather simply with his family moving from Channelview to New York City - after Taylor had been awarded a scholarship to attend Willow Prep...

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