The scents of dust and death, neither fresh enough to be powerful or stale enough to be hidden, dance in the air on the diminished remains of pencil wood and loose-leaf paper. The floor cradles decaying husks of wooden desks, their corpses hairy with black mold. Rusty chair legs jut out of the debris strewn about the room, capped pipes reaching for the holey roof, carrying dreams going nowhere. Standing tall, authority over all, the grand teacher’s desk, with its freshly-lacquered face, reflects the room’s rot back at it, Lord and Mirror. The disciple, a black void on framed board, shouts in chalky-white scrawl
“We’re all pink on the inside
I should know!
I cut us all open.”
As the words bore into my mind, a chunk of The History of America lands just shy of my feet, a few blank pages falling to the ground in its wake. “Bill of Rights 326,” reads the otherwise empty piece of paper that comes to rest on my boot. I nudge it away, reach for my blade, and seek my enemy.
A young boy leans in a far corner, his gray gaze wide and long, passing through me to stare at some distant horror. I approach him cautiously, the child much more frightening than the chaos of the room. Dried blood curls the corners of his mouth into tight parentheses, manufacturing a smile I know he cannot feel. I kneel to bring our faces level, offering him a fatherly grin.
“Whatcha doin’ here, son?” I ask, the words skinned raw by the gravel in my throat.
“I came here to learn,” he replies, tilting his head as if my question betrays a lack of intelligence.
A growl tickles my teeth, so I close my eyes and fight the urge to put the boy in his place.
I open my eyes. “Where ya from, little fell-”
I stand and dash for the doorway, reminding myself that little kids are often too fast for their own good. A chair leg catches my foot and sends me flying into the hallway. I pick myself off the floor, shake the dirt off my sleeves, and glare down the corridor.
It’s empty, just like the rest of this school, this town, this world.