“You awake, lil’ bro?” I groaned in response. “Good. I need to ask you something.”
“What is it now?” I complained. My brother was always waking me up in the middle of the night having to tell me something.
“I’m going out.” he said.
“Who is it this time?” I asked, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
“Not who, silly.” I gave him a look like Okay… He rolled his eyes.
“I’m going out there.” he gestured toward the door that lead to the Hallway of Doom.
“Are you insane?” I asked him, my eyes going wide. “You know what’s out there.”
“I know, but I’m sick of waking up in the night and hearing those screams.” he said. “I’m sick of living in fear when I don’t even know what it is that we’re so afraid of.” I hate it when he has to try to solve problems like this. I knew there was no talking him out of it.
“I’m coming with you.” I said grabbing my jacket as I jumped out of bed.
“No.” He grabbed my shoulders and looked at me. “This...I can’t explain it.” He shook his head. “This is something I gotta do alone.” A grim expression crossed his face when he said the last word.
“You can’t.” I pleaded.
“I have to, lil’ bro.” He let go of me and headed toward the door. I didn’t know what else to do so I followed him.
“What am I gonna do if…” I choked. He grabbed me and pulled me close. I tried not to cry. We hardly ever hugged. He let go of me and opened the door.
“I will come back.” He said. “I promise.” Then he was gone.
I remember staying up the rest of that night waiting, hoping he would come back, but he never did.
I have often tried to envision what the creatures might have looked like but it was all too complicated for me. I drew all different kinds of pictures of them in my mind but it was too grotesque to know what they really looked like. They could be giant bats, or enormous reptiles, or big hairy beasts. No one knew. The only person who ever survived being in that hallway at night was Jack.
Jack Carlson was very athletic, extremely smart, and has the strongest will of all of us here. That is, he did. Ever since his trip to the Hallway of Doom he hasn’t been the same. He’s jumpy, skittish because he doesn’t eat anything anymore, and he mutters about strange things in his sleep. One night he kept us all up with whimpering and screaming. Whatever Jack saw out there must have been really terrible. He’s lucky he got away with his life. He’ll never be able to recover.
I caught sight of some sort of creature lurking in the shadows once. It looked small and deformed. It seemed to be doing something. Then I blinked and it vanished.
“Did you see that?” I was about to ask but then the end of break bell rang and we all marched to our next class.
At Valley High School, you start when you turn thirteen and you can’t leave until you’re nineteen. We stay here all day everyday until we graduate. We have English first thing in the morning for two hours then Language for the next two hours and then we have Math, History, Science, Art, Music, and PE. Two hours for each and a twenty-five minute Lunch somewhere in between, and six hours of sleep. We get ten page packets for after school work and we have to do them all before we go to bed. Some of us have to cut into our sleeping time to finish it all. Best school ever, right?
My best friend, my only friend, Seth, is fifteen, like me, and really crazy but a genius, like me. The only difference is that he’s taller, more outgoing, and more popular. Everyone loves Seth. Everyone knows Seth. Only the teachers know me and only my parents loved me... I think. We never meet our parents at birth so I don’t really know whether they loved me or not. I’m one of the smarter kids here but I’m really quiet and I try not to talk because I don’t want to embarrass myself and be remembered as the biggest fool alive. I want to be remembered, but not like that and not like Jack, the strongest guy turned into a wreck.
“Do you ever want to just run away from here so you don’t have to do all this work?” Seth asked me one night when we were staying up to finish our work. Well...he was. I was just up to keep him company.
“Nope.” I replied from where I was sitting on my bed reading.
“Not once?” he looked at me skeptically. I shook my head. He fell back on his bed. “What do you think it would be like? To be out there.” He gazed dreamily out the window at the vast expanse of endless grassland. I have to admit I have often wondered what it would be like out there instead of trapped in here all day.
“Don’t be thinking about doing something crazy.” I warned him.
“When have I ever?” he looked at me with “shocked” surprise. I rolled my eyes.
“How would you even get out there?” I asked. “There’s no way you would be able to leave without being seen.”
“I could go at night when all the power is out.”
“How? Through the window? They’re five inches thick.” All the windows are really big and really thick. And the doors are all locked during the day. The only way anyone could get out is to go… “Oh no.” I said. “You can’t be serious.”
“How bad can it be? What if they’re not monsters and just the teachers messing around.” He said.
“What about all those kids who go missing out there?” I argued.
“Probably got out and are having the time of their life right now.”
“I will never go out there.” I said.
“Chicken.” A snicker came from the bed next to me. I kicked the person hard in where I thought their gut was. They squealed.
“I’d like to see you survive something like that, Stew.” I retorted as a head popped out from underneath the sheets. Steward, or Stew, is a whimp. He’s really annoying and takes pleasure in tormenting the younger ones and being annoying to everybody else.
“Are you mad? I’m not stupid.” he said. Seth and I looked at each other like Yeah, right.
“Well we’re going out there.” Seth said, gesturing towards the door. I looked at him. No way! He ignored me.
“Ha! Yeah right. Like you two idiots would make it back.” he said.
“We’re not coming back.” Seth bluntly replied. Stew looked from Seth, to me then back to Seth.
“You serious? You two are gonna try leaving this place?” he looked at us like we were crazy and, to be honest, we probably were. I mean, we were about to go to our deaths in the Hallway of Doom. You had to be crazy to do something like that.
“Yup.” Seth said.
“You’re both either really brave or really stupid.” he replied, pulling the covers over his face. I looked at Seth. He got up and walked toward the door.
“Wait.” I stumbled after him. “You can’t be serious.” He turned and looked at me. “You can’t go out there.” I said.
“Come on, Rick. Aren’t you at least curious about what happened to your brother?” he said, coaxing me.
“Not if I end up like Jack.” I said.
“We can make it out.” Seth said, looking at me confidently. “I know we can.” I shook my head. He opened the door and looked back at me. He smiled then walked out the door. I had no choice but to follow my friend.