The Packing House

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Chapter 13 | Night School

They say, when a person kills another person, the likelihood the murderer will make errors is astronomical. I don’t remember the statistics, just that dozens of mistakes are made. All I did was run away. Still, my mind crunches the data and compiles a list of likely slip-ups.

The stuff I pulled from my backpack and left on my bed; the papers I may or may not have put back; the money I… borrowed, as payback for all the birthdays she couldn’t afford. Still, I can’t stand here, thinking about possible errors. Movement is the only thing I can do about “what ifs.” Slowing down and getting sloppy are sure ways to get caught.

There’s a side road to the left with a smattering of houses. It’s off the main street and out of direct eyesight. My stomach growls like an angry, cornered cat.

I had visions of a hot meal, but now I can’t risk it. There’s no telling if they’re still searching for me or have given up the chase. I’ll eat again when I have a hiding spot. I pick up the pace like I know where I’m going. A car passes me and heads to a stop sign before making a right and disappearing.

Trees line the street on both sides. Each house has its own neatly-manicured lawn. A few have children’s toys, bikes, a basketball hoop—signs that a family live there. Running away was supposed to help how I feel. Instead, I’m developing the sense I don’t belong.

I cross at the corner and see grass and trees ahead that might be a park or playground. Once I’m closer, I see a large brick building up a low hill. The sign reads, Sanderville Area Middle and High School.

This might be the place where we’re supposed to transfer to. I’d know for sure, if I’d stayed home. I wonder if there might be a door open, a way in. No one would think to look for me here.

I don’t notice anyone driving by, but I feint toward the sports field just in case. There’s a playground at the far end of a single-story building that I think might belong to the middle school. Closer to me is a larger, two-story structure—presumably the high school. It’s massive, like two buildings morphed together. The high school ate the middle school and is slowly digesting the remains.

I follow the path around, hoping to find a way in. Behind the school are smaller buildings and a few dumpsters then some fenced-in ball fields and a track. Since there’s no one out there, I continue along the back of the school to check doors.

The first few are locked tight around the high school, which seems newer. I head along the hallway that seems to connect it to the older-looking middle school looks older. Still no door unlocked. But one of these has got to be open. Still, every door at the back of the middle school is locked tight, too.

So much for that idea.

Then it occurs to me to check the windows. Peering into each classroom, I see the typical desks grouped together, bookshelves filled with bins, walls decorated with bright posters, classwork hanging from strings. I keep scanning each window for an opening, but I’m rewarded with zilch.

That is, until a car I wasn’t expecting turns the corner. My heartbeat quickens like I’m in a bad horror flick.

At the end of the building, a set of windows goes behind a large bush. I duck out of sight before anyone in the vehicle can get a good look at me. Inside looks like a teacher’s lounge with tables, chairs, a counter behind with microwaves. I see an old, gold fabric couch and a refrigerator; the couch is probably as old as some of the teachers. A copy machine stands in the corner under the last window, which looks like it’s open just a crack. Bingo! But when I tug on it, I find it locked like the rest, just bent away from the frame. An image of my mother flashes in my mind.

I should keep a better lookout for my mother’s car, I think. From behind my bush, I can see that the car has parked and strangers are getting out. But it’s not my family.

I climb back out, exhale, and head back toward the high school. There’s a storage shed there, a bit away from the building with a green dumpster next to it. If I climb up on the dumpster lid, I could shimmy onto the roof of the shed. The space between the shed and the roof of the middle school isn’t large. I wonder…

A blue car comes flying around the side of the building. It’s the same color as my mother’s, but I can’t tell what make it is. As it gets closer, I realize it’s a Corolla not a Pinto. Still, I’m pressing my luck if I don’t get out of sight fast. They could still be searching for me.

Despite wedging my foot on the side of the dumpster where the garbage truck would lift it, I still can’t get a good foothold. I slide the door open, and I’m hit with the warm odor of Friday’s lunch. Ugh. Grabbing the top, I use the opening as a step and swing up onto the plastic lid. I keep glancing back to see if any other cars have followed the now-parked Corolla. I don’t see any but have lost sight of the driver. Staying to the outside edges, I stand and reach the lip of the shed roof. Good thing no one sees me looking foolish up here. The weight on my back doesn’t help. Sweat has transformed my shirt into an oversized moist towelette.

I swing my backpack up, keeping it near the edge in case I can’t make it, myself, then I try to pull my whole body up. Fail. Looking at the dumpster lid, I flip the right side open to give me better leverage. I always sucked at pull-ups.

“Lose something?” a female voice calls out of nowhere.

My body convulses. My hands were up, reaching for the ledge. This is the police, put your hands up, runs through my mind as I lower them and turn.

“Funny thing, this looks worse than it is. I was tossing my backpack around, and it got caught up there.” I point at the shed roof, hoping the lie rings true. The woman before me is in her late twenties, early thirties? Mildly attractive…

“As long as you’re not doing something foolish, like attempting to break in, I won’t have to call the police. Try and be careful up there, okay? You wouldn’t want to get stuck up on the roof.” She smiles and turns back toward the track; I notice now she wears a running ensemble. Is she the type who would call the police? Was she the one driving the Corolla? I can’t help but notice the way Corolla Lady’s outfit accentuates her curves… My brain is already imagining her as a cougar.

Once she’s out of sight, I shake off my muddled thoughts, grab the edge, and scramble up the wall to push myself off the side of the lid. It takes some effort, but I manage to get over the edge to my waist and then swing my legs up. At least I’ve regained my backpack, but I’m standing pretty high up. Great, now my stomach freaks out.

My kingdom for a burger and fries.

From the shed roof, I can see most of the top of the middle school. It’s flat with a lip around the edge and what looks like gravel scattered over the surface. Various metal tubes and A/C units protrude along the center. Where the middle school meets the high school, I see an access door with a bucket near it. Do the custodians come up to the roof to sneak a smoke?

The gap between the school building and the shed looks too wide for a safe jump. I’m not about to try it; I’d end up as road pizza. Looking down, I spot two wooden two-by-fours. This must be how they clear the garbage. I use them to cross over.

On the roof side are two more boards. I cross back, retrieve my backpack, and then put the two boards back. I also close the lid to the dumpster with one of the boards. After returning to the building, I pull down the second set of boards. No sense leaving a trail. Heading to the door, I finally find an unlocked entrance. Score.

I’m in a stairwell that leads down to a door. As it shuts behind me, I’m in pitch black darkness on a staircase. This is way too familiar. I’m struck with a flash of flickering eyes, but only off to the sides, not when I look straight ahead. Using the railing, I guide myself down in the dark and open the door’s push bar. Now I’m in a small, dark room. Feeling along the wall, I kick something metal. It seems like the janitor’s closet; there’s a noticeable musty smell.

With my hands out in front of me, I take a few tentative steps, searching for a door or light switch. A flash of rancid breath at my neck jerks me right back. I shudder. My hands find the cinderblock wall and a door. I fumble for the handle. It turns but doesn’t open. I’m trapped in the custodian’s closet of Sanderville Middle School. This is just great.

Will I ever be free of these nightmares?

I search until I find a light switch. Once the lights are on, it’s clear the room itself isn’t very large. My hands are shaking. There’s a mop sink framed in the back left corner, like a white plastic sandbox. The bucket I stumbled into is on my right. But there’s no monster or flickering eyes anywhere. Along the wall, a metal strip with rubber clamps holds mops and brooms. When one clatters into the sink, I startle.

On a metal shelf with cleaning supplies and rubber gloves, I zero in on an open pack of Marlboro Reds and a lighter. Rock on. Maybe my theory about the janitors’ smoke break is right. I tuck those into my backpack.

Back by the door, I see a few hooks with rings of keys. Aha. Maybe these are the room keys. My luck has turned. I take a set and pull the deadbolt, escaping the closet. I find myself in a school hallway, which sure beats the flash of memory my mind recalls: being dragged up the stairs, scrambling for footing, and praying Amber’s dad doesn’t rough me up on the front lawn. Fun times.

I take a look around, trying to get my bearings. Where’s a map when you need one?

I head down the hall to the left, hoping to locate the teacher’s lounge. I find it on the left, not too far from the main office. The door is locked, so I get out the keys and try them all. Click.

It’s the same as the one I saw from the outside; I notice it also has a small sink and kitchen, plus a vending machine behind the door. My stomach immediately jumps. Down, boy. I decide it’s time to find the cafeteria. Near the exit door, taped on the cinderblock wall, is a floor plan. Awesome! Now I can find food.

After eating and grabbing a shower in the locker room, I check out the teacher’s lounge couch. The sun has almost set; the room is much darker now. I can see a few people throwing a Frisbee on the football field, while others walk their dog around the track on a leash. No sign of Corolla Lady.

Throwing some change in the vending machine, I grab a candy bar then get comfortable on the couch. The sky grows dark, and shadows blanket the room. The exertion from the day plus my lack of sleep after the recent run of nightmares finally catches up with me. I’m all but wiped out.

I sink into the comfort of the couch and ponder whether I should read. Once I lie back, though, I’m a goner. I don’t remember any dreams at all; I don’t even wake once during the night.

Who knew the couch in the teacher’s lounge could be so comfortable?

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