Fall could definitely be felt in the air around the campus of Kadic Academy. Everywhere you looked, the halls and corridors were littered with pictures of Jack-O-Lanterns, leaves colored in orange and yellow, and the bitter chill of the brisk fall winds signaling the return of sweaters and jackets.
And this proved no exception to the gang, as each came readily bundled up in their fleece jackets and scarves around the necks of the ladies. However, as they came together at the cafeteria for lunch, something caught each of the teens’ eyes that caused them to break out in laughter. In walked a hesitant Tristan wearing what appeared to be a pink fleece sweater that read, “Girls Rule!” in white print. Viewing this sight proved to be too much for the girls to take and all four laughed uncontrollably at the fact that this sweater belonged to one of them.
Trying to stifle his laughter, Oliver looked at Tristan and asked, “Um... I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you either didn’t do your wash and had nothing else to wear, or you lost a bet to Yumiko and were forced to wear that.”
Everybody continued to try and keep themselves from laughing, while Tristan held his head down in embarrassment. Adding to the humiliation, Yumiko entered in saying, “Your second guess was right. I challenged him to five rounds of Pac-Man, and he lost on the last match, to which my reward was I got to choose something he had to wear to school for one day that was from my closet.
“Doesn’t he look just precious?” she said trying to pat him on the head, only to have her hand slapped away by Tristan still in a huff.
“Aww, come on Tristan,” said Kevin trying to empathize. “You should have known that Yumiko doesn’t generally lose at that game.”
Finally raising his head, Tristan reluctantly said, “I came so close. That close, and somehow she still ended up knocking me out.”
“Don’t worry Tristan, you’ll figure it out one day,” said Yumiko.
“And what’s exactly is it?” asked Tristan sarcastically.
Pointing to her sweater he was now wearing, Yumiko repeated the words that her sweater so aptly quoted, “That ‘Girls Rule.’”
At that moment, the girls couldn’t help but high-five each other, while the boys looked at each other feeling slightly emasculated. But before they could live up that confidence, Jace and Kevin thought of an idea and said, “Well, since you girls are so confident, how about a challenge we can all participate in to see who really is better?”
Quickly silenced, Maya asked, “And what kind of challenge would that be exactly?”
Smirking rather slyly, Kevin said, “All of us as a group will go down to the old abandoned factory tonight Luke talked about with the other students. Whoever can stay there the longest from the group, will be named the bravest of the group and if it’s a boy, one of the girls of his choosing, will have to shout ‘Boys rule!’ to the entire school.”
“What, are you crazy? Going to that old facto...” asked Maya as her words were suddenly cut off by a nudge from Kevin, reminding her of why they needed to go to the factory.
“Oh... hmm...” she said playing the role of thinking deeply. “Okay fine, but if a girl wins, then the boy of her choosing from the group needs to take a megaphone, and shout out from the top of the dormitory, ‘Girls rule forever!’”
Everyone in the group took a moment to think about the challenge proposed while Kevin, Maya, Adele, and Jace already knew their decision.
After about five minutes of thought, Yumiko finally broke the silence and said, “Okay then, I’m in. Anything to watch Tristan and Kevin have to actually say ‘Girls rule’ to everyone on campus.”
Soon after the rest of the group agreed to do so, though fear could still be easily seen on the faces of the ladies, even on the faces of Adele and Maya knowing what the true extent of this challenge was for.
Walking out from the cafeteria, Jace stopped Adele as the group separated for their classes. Trying to be reassuring, the determined boy took hold of the still slightly fearful girl’s hands and looked deep into her cerulean eyes asking, “You sure you’re ready to take this on?”
Looking back up at him with sincerity on her face, the girl placed a gentle kiss on her boyfriend’s lips and said, “I’m sure. I know I was feeling afraid before, but somehow, the fact that we may find out something through this challenge seems rather calming.
“And besides,” she continued, about to parrot some familiar words, “if anything goes wrong, you’ll protect me right?”
Cupping her soft cheek in his hand, Jace kissed her forehead and replied, “Indeed I shall.” And with that, the two ran off to endure the remaining day of classes, preparing themselves for a night of fright and potential revelations.
After classes had wrapped up and kids began to depart for their dormitories, the gang met up just outside the cafeteria to rendezvous with another small contingent of kids led by Luke, prepared to embark on the journey ahead.
As they convened, everyone explained how they convinced their parents how they would be home late after a chaperoned night in the recreation room on campus.
“I almost thought dad wouldn’t buy it,” said Oliver as wrapped his arm around Katie as she let a chill make her shiver.
“Same here,” said Tristan. “When we told our parents, they hounded on us to be careful and gave us the whole, ‘Stick together,’ speech.”
Although that would likely prove a valuable piece of advice, as Luke gathered everyone together to explain the plan for the night ahead.
“Glad you guys showed up,” said Luke. “This will make for an easier trip if we go as a group this big.”
“So, what’s the plan Luke?” asked Kevin as everyone circled around.
Clearing his throat, Luke said, “Well, from what I’ve seen, there’s an old sewer line hidden in the forest that runs from the campus all the way to a bridge that connects the city street to the factory. Since the entrance is fenced up, we’re gonna have to take the sewer all the way over to a manhole that passes through the fence.
“Once there,” he continued, “we’ll have a direct entry into the factory. However, the difficult part, is getting down to the ground floor. To do so, we’ll swing from ropes hanging in the ceiling that were left there from years ago to head down.”
Switching to a more serious tone, Luke then said, “Now, here’s the most important thing... stay on the ground floor. Don’t go anywhere else, or you’re likely to get lost and won’t find your way back. Oh, and also, if any of you hear something like a wail or howl while we’re there, or if you see a figure that doesn’t look like us, get out of there quickly, and head back for the entrance. Everyone clear?”
It was at this moment everyone agreed to the plan, yet fear was obviously present among some of the kids there. In fact, as they began to head for the forest, some of the boys’ hands became numb with the tightening grips of their girlfriends’ shaking hands, which set in their own fear... a fear of losing their limbs.
But after about a five minute walk in the forest, the entry appeared that would lead the group into the sewer line connecting the campus to the factory. Unlatching the cover from the entry, Luke descended first, while the others carefully followed suit, now more frightened by the limited light shining from the sewer lamps and the light of the moon.
As they walked through the sewer tunnel, Maya and Kevin moved over towards Jace and Adele and asked, “So, what’s the plan? We going to stay with the group, or break off on our own?”
“Well, whatever happens,” said Jace, “we can’t leave everyone to fend for themselves. It’s best we all just stay together as a group.”
“I agree,” said Maya. “At the very least, we’ll likely get scared out of our minds. But who knows, this could be a trip that changes things completely for us.”
Nodding his head, Kevin passed along their plan to his brother and sister, the Della Robbias, and Katie, as the group continued to walk the seemingly endless tunnel.
After about 20 more minutes, everyone came to see a pentagon-patterned shine of light appearing on the ground, a sign that they reached the manhole cover. Lifting the cover up, Luke continued to lead the gang as they now walked out into the open air, and saw the run-down factory in front of them.
Approaching the entry of the factory, Luke jumped on the rope in front of them and showed them how to slide down to the ground. The group of 13 students then followed his example and landed safely, ready for the big moment.
Taking a deep breath, Luke began again saying, “This is it. Now, everybody remembers the plan. Meet back here in about a half hour. If you’re not back within a 20 minute window, you’re on your own to find your way back.”
Agreeing to the condition, everybody separated and began to peruse the factory in smaller groups, with Luke traveling in a group of three, and the gang making up the remaining nine.