I stroll down the halls. Detention starts at 4 o’clock, but I don’t want to be early. Or on time. Or even five minutes late. Those times say, “I’m trying.” My locker is gray and bland. I dump the books and papers I’ve collected today inside. A few sheets slip between the cracks and down into the locker below. No reason bringing homework home that I have no intention of completing anyway.
This hallway has no windows, but I feel eyes on me. The hairs on my arms stand on end. I worry the ring on my thumb before slamming my locker door shut. The metallic boom echoes down the empty corridor. There isn’t a student or a teacher in sight. Guess no one wants to be here longer than they have to. The heavy tread of my boots thumps in time to the beat of my heart. I hum the summer’s one-hit wonder and follow my mental map of the school.
A half set of stairs leads down to the Science wing. The temperature drops by ten degrees and the skin on my arms prickles in response. They must keep it cooler down here for health reasons or they lack the funding for fridges. They better have protective clothing. No way I’m dissecting shit and getting formaldehyde all over my vintage 1990-era Screaming Trees threads. The shirt was dad’s … before the accident.
I push past the double-swinging-doors labeled “Dissection Lab – Beware” and find myself in a large room filled from floor to ceiling in stainless steel appliances, tables, cabinets, and flickering fluorescent lights. If I didn’t know better, I’d believe I’d stepped into a morgue. Imagined eyes sweep over me. I ignore the way my skin crawls because the room is as empty as my dad’s spot at the dinner table.
Guess this means Ms. York forgot about my detention. Maybe I kept her waiting too long, so she left. I’m just that good. I wander toward the back of the room, rapping my knuckles on the metal tables. They ping and vibrate against the floor.
“Ms. York?” I give a half-hearted call. “Hello?”
Something in the corner of my eye moves.
I turn, expecting another flickering light, and stare at four tables with bodies under white sheets. The white sheet on one of the bodies is swaying. There’s no air circulation that I can feel. My stomach falls into my shoes when a body sits up. It’s a boy, not much older than me. His eyes are wide open, milky-blue. His mouth hangs open too, and the darkness inside goes on forever.
The other sheets move. All four bodies are up on shaky legs, lurching and jerking. Two block the exit, the other two move to block the aisle between tables and a side door. No sound comes out of their mouths. I’m doing all the screaming.
Wait. This is a trick. Scare the new student into blind submission. Oh, hell no! I’m not falling for this shit. The lights above seem to agree with me, the flickering stops. They shine brightly down on the boys in their monster make-up.
“Hilarious. You totally got me. Points to you,” I gesture at the boy with his school tie askew, “for the smell.”
The undead boys don’t react. And by not reacting, I mean, they don’t smile and say, “Gotcha!” Their heads tilt back and they sniff the air, find my scent, and two peel off. What is this place?
One of the cabinet doors sits open. I race across the polished floor, fall to my knees, slide, and climb inside. With a snick, the door closes. I fumble for the phone in my pocket and turn on the flashlight app. The light bounces off the metal, glinting on the lock inside the door. Why is there a lock inside the cabinet?
Nails or undead fingers drag across the surface. Every muscle in my body is taut. Waiting. The light hits the ceiling and forms shadows and reflections my brain doesn’t process at first. There’s a sword Duct taped above me. I don’t stop to ponder further as something large bangs against the door. The lock holds. For now. I’ve seen zombie movies. Once trapped, no one gets out alive.
I yank the sword into my lap. In this cramped space I can’t pull the blade out of the scabbard. Shit. The hits intensify around me. The cabinet’s ripped off its moorings, and I temporarily lose my phone as up becomes down and I fall around the spinning cabinet like a load of laundry in the dryer.
Then it’s only the mad pounding of my heart, blood rushing past my ears, and my uneven breathing. Sweaty palms slide down the length of the sword, and I orient myself by touch inside the cabinet. The locked door is above me. Swell. Better than flush against the floor, if I’m seriously considering escaping and fighting my way out of here.
Am I actually considering that option?
I take deeper and deeper breaths. Adrenaline floods my body. I’m high with terror and the possibility that this could work. The other possibility being too frightening to consider. I tuck my phone back into my pocket. No reason to give the zombies light by which to reach in here and rip me apart.
With a shaky hand, I wipe sweaty hair off my forehead. Now or never. Never or now. I get into a crouching position, the sword across my lap. It’s heavy. Solid. Hungry for blood. At least, that’s what I want to imagine is on a sword’s mind.
The lock clicks open with a twist of my fingers. It’s so so quiet. The cabinet door squeals to life above me as I slide it open. It sticks on the bent edge, but opens enough that I stand up, dragging the sword out of its scabbard.
The undead boys are staring up at the lights, cavernous mouths open. I don’t hesitate. The sword swings back behind my ear and then bites down hard into the nearest boy’s neck. His decaying flesh gives like dried paper. The other three boys turn toward me. The fourth falls to his knees taking the sword with him.
Why couldn’t a gun have been taped inside? I scramble out of the cabinet, slicing a long red line into my arm. Blood and sweat trickle down, splashing against the floor. The smell of the rotting corpses hits me full force. I gag, glad for once I couldn’t eat lunch.
A litany of strange words in a monotone voice finds me. I scan the room. Thalia stands near the exit, an odd-colored book open in front of her. Rafe turns the page, throwing who knows what into the spectacularly high flame of a Bunsen burner. It sparkles like a 4th of July firework, all blues and greens and white-hot light.
I slip out of the smashed cabinet and collect the sword. The other three zombies shuffle to the front of the room. The one on the floor shakes and trembles, trying to grab me. No thought races through my head. Instinct makes me grab the sword with two hands and bring it down on the thing’s neck again and again and again. Blood, bits of bone, and flecks of meat slide down the cabinet. The cold of it dribbles down my cheek.
If this were a prank, I’m pretty much done up for life now.
Thalia and Rafe continue working, wide-eyed and frantic. The three zombies amble closer and closer to their table. At first, I figure these two morons are working their mojo on the dead. But then I notice that the zombies aren’t obeying them, so much as getting closer and closer, mouths wide and dripping with spittle.
They can figure it out because I’ve got to find whoever’s controlling these things before the things get them. I take five steps to the side door and sneak a peak out the tiny square window. Ms. York kneels on the floor, strange lines drawn in white chalk in front of her. Her lips move, eyes squeezed shut. Bitch! I jam my shoulder into the door, still clutching the sword in two hands.
She doesn’t turn around as I raise the weapon above my head. Spell-work isn’t good for the user if they can’t hear it coming. Instead of slicing off her head, I bring down the pommel on her head. She crumples to the ground.
Someone screams. It’s not me. It’s definitely not Ms. York. I tear through the door and into the lab again. Thalia’s up on the table, clutching a book to her chest. She’s staring down with eyes almost as wide as her mouth.
“Stop screaming!” I punch a fist down onto the metal table. The impact buzzes up my bones into my shoulder. Ouch.
Her head snaps around to face me. Tears are streaming down her cheeks and there’s blood splatter on her face. She doesn’t blink or close her mouth.
I keep a tight grip on the sword and walk over to her. Around the stainless steel edges one of the zombies is missing a head. How is that a screaming moment? I look at Thalia.
“Why all the screaming?”
She drops her book. It smacks against the tabletop. Then she points down to the other side of the table. Walking closer, I get the full gory view. The remaining two zombies and Rafe make up a tangle of bodies. And when I get really close, Rafe’s face is a mess of claw marks and wet blood.
Towering above, Thalia asks, “Is he dead?”
I return my attention to her. Tiny specks of grey matter cling to her sweater. Gross. When she doesn’t move off the table, I get closer to the reeking pile of bodies. I press two fingers against Rafe’s neck. The beat is so faint that I have to push my fingers into his flesh. That’ll bruise, but at least he’s alive. I don’t know where I gather the strength to lift his fine ass out of the zombie mess, but I do. A hiss of breath escapes his lips, but he doesn’t open his eyes.
“Call 911,” I shout to Thalia. “His pulse is thready, but there.”
“Oh, thank halibut,” she says. She wipes off her face on the cuff of her shirt. Her school sweater is torn in a dozen places. Even the stitched silver swords above her pockets are missing threads.
In seconds she’s off the table and on her phone. I step away from the bodies on the floor. How on earth are we going to explain this? Thalia talks into the phone in quick urgent tones behind me. I pull the strange book toward me. The cover is smooth and textured. It’s like deer hide without hair. The spine crackles when I open the cover.
The pages are hand-written in ink that’s dried a dark brown. That’s not ink. That’s blood. This book is written in blood. I stop turning pages and wipe my hands off on my pants. Thalia runs a finger reverently down the open page.
“Guess I’m not a necromancer after all.”
“Necro-what?” I glare at her and point the sword at her chest. “Were you two planning to kill me this afternoon?”
She raises her hands. “No! Rafe overheard Ms. York saying she was gonna shut your smart mouth.” Thalia blushes.
I lower the sword. “You two were here to save me.” It’s not a question.
“I told you we weren’t a regular school.” Thalia picks up her strange skin-bound book and hugs it against her.
I might like it here after all.
Check in at 1pm and 3pm EST for additional Cimmerween stories from Jen and Audrey. Return Friday for my No Rules post.
Join us next month when we post four more tales on a new prompt.