Hey y'all. Just sharing a story I wrote awhile back. Thinking of starting up again with some short stories but, even despite the current outbreak of NCoV in Korea, I can't find the time. I'm actually studying computer networking on my own right now, just in hopes of breaking into another industry. Anyway, here's a short horror story.
My mom set the school on fire.
I remember that much. I don’t remember why. It was our secret. We went home and later, the town put out the flames before the building went down. Nobody used it after. The few kids left in the town got bussed to Ellijay for school. It was meant to be temporary but things stayed that way and the schoolhouse remained a husk. Logan was a babe at the time.
Twenty years later, I stood outside the old school building on a winter night, knowing Logan was inside. Snow fell in plumes like the sky had broken. Cars, some abandoned for years, were parked all up the road leading to the schoolhouse. I approached the steps of the schoolhouse and peered into the broken windows, hearing nothing.
The front doors had long rotted off their hinges. Someone had placed them atop each other and thrown them against the building. Even from down the hill at my mom’s trailer, I could see the splotches of white concrete where the bronze paint had chipped away. Now on a moonless night the old schoolhouse was a copper crypt.
I expected to see the people inside. Bums, junkies. Logan. But it was empty. I heard only my footsteps, crunching against snow and pieces of glass or rubble no one had bothered to clean in over two decades. The place stunk of mold and concrete dust.
The second floor was much the same. Two empty classrooms. That was it.
I couldn’t remember which one was mine, which one I’d spent my childhood in. Standing where a teacher would, surveying the empty, lonely room, I realized I had no idea where I’d sat, either. In fact, I had no real memory of my childhood, besides the creeping feeling that something terrible had happened, and then that fire came.
The basement was all that was left to explore. The door handle, against the winter night, was warm and welcoming.
Logan had called me two days before. First time I heard his voice in ten years.
“Ma’s dead,” he said. “She got TB.”
He sounded exhausted and spoke slow and detached. I figured it was from whatever drugs he was on. Logan said I needed to come up back to Newrock. I said I’d be up the next day.
I planned never to return to Newrock. But. Well. My mother died. A small town in North Georgia. Folks there were as dull as the town’s name. What could be new about a rock? Where was the old rock? Why couldn’t they use a more interesting name like stone or quartz or marble?
A mountain town nestled between hills, you could wipe the place off the map and nobody would bat an eye. Newrock was a place you went past. It wasn’t a place you went back to.
Ma was a drunk. I don’t blame her for trying to raise me and my brother on her own, but I sure as hell won’t pretend she did a good job. I cooked Logan and I’s dinner every night and made sure he had a lunch for school when she was too liquored up.
We called it phone time. Ma would sit in the kitchen, chain smoking and drinking her rum and coke, talking to girlfriends on the phone. It’d go on for a few hours before she’d start crying. It would end as she stumbled into our room and said how much she loved us over tears and sobs, how she’d never let it take us away, before she fell asleep on the chair watching TV.
Logan followed suit. He was a fuckup. Dropped out, spent time in county. Enjoyed pills and weed. Never got his life together, or called me. I stopped answering my mom’s phone calls after a series of one AM calls full of nothing but tears ending with a request for money. I could smell the booze through the phone. But Logan? Guy was a ghost till that phone call.
The town was empty. I got gas at the only station. I tried getting a coffee inside. Nobody was there. I left money on the counter. I drove up from the town to the hills where my mom’s trailer was. The snow had begun to recede with the morning heat but I knew it’d all return down come night. The trees remained skeletons and the whole place was ugly and dull. Stray pine trees kept their needles. They looked artificial and out of place in the barren and grey landscape. Further up the hill, the old schoolhouse loomed. It’s colonial architecture had no place around the trailers and couple corporate chain restaurants. The cars parked orderly running up to the building made no sense to me, but I had no time to pay it any mind.
Logan greeted me, dressed for winter. Even beneath the puffy jacket I could see he was skinny. His beard and hair were long and unkept. Black and thick, like mine and our ma’s. The house was freezing and my breath came out like plumes of dragon smoke. Logan smoked cigarettes inside. I asked him when the funeral would be.
“It was yesterday,” he said.
“It was yesterday,” he repeated. “Want a beer?” Logan walked over to the kitchen and I heard him open the fridge.
“The hell you mean ma’s funeral was yesterday? Why didn’t you tell me?” I looked around the house. There were
packing boxes tucked against the wall.
“I called ya and told ya, didn’t I?” Logan popped a beer. “Ain’t nobody came anyway. They cooked her at the funeral home and put her in that vase.” I turned and looked. It was ugly and purple, sitting on the end of the table. Logan put his beer next to it and turned on the television.
I went to what had been my mom’s room and closed the door. I searched through her things, not for any desire to steal some valuables. Logan likely already got that. But as a means to connect. That’s when I saw her journal. I sat there reading it, her thoughts about life and the recurring failed attempts to maintain the journal. But what caught me was the last few entries, talking about the vines. About how they returned, those vines, to pull people in. The poppy vines, she called them.
I knew what she meant. The whole country did. Opiates were a crisis on national news, and Newrock was like any small town wasteland in the U.S. A shithole.
After an hour or so I came out and asked my brother how he was feeling.
He jumped in fear. “Shit, Jeff,” he said. “I forgot you were here.”
At night, I woke to find Logan missing. It didn’t take long to decide where he’d run off to.
The Schoolhouse Basement
I used my phone as a flashlight as I entered the basement to the schoolhouse. Can’t tell you how but it was warm. Like a heater pulsed throughout it. I knew that was impossible, as meth heads must have run through this place for copper wire decades ago. But it was jungle hot. Down at one side, the brick wall was cleaved in two, revealing a tunnel. Tens of shovels rested against the wall and boot prints lined the dirt ground. I knew I’d find Logan in that tunnel.
The walls were rocks and I had to squat to move forward. I was too focused on not hitting my head on the wall to realize the bones I stepped on, sticking out from a crack in the stone. I jumped back. It looked large enough to be human. Then the bone shivered. And something pulled it through the cracks. I wasn’t about to stick my head down and look in and see what pulled that bones away. I went on forward and the tunnel opened up into a proper cave.
That’s where I found him. Sitting in a corner next to vines, huddling in a group of Newrock townsfolk. Junkies, their eyes glazed in a poppy sleep.
The vines was long and green and thick like a tree branch. It writhed and I surveyed the place with my cellphone light. The vines ran their way around the entire cave, crawling on the walls and roof and floor. They grew out from a single hole in the far wall above.
Logan sat in a corner, stripping off black thorns from the vines and poking himself. Ecstasy painted his face. I turned and saw others shooting themselves with the same black thorns. “Logan,” I said, not taking my eyes off the hole the vines grew from. “Logan, you need to come with me right now.”
“Jeff? That you?” He looked up at me, eyes closed, a dumb smile on his face. “I love you brother.”
“Logan. Take my hand. We’re getting out of here.”
“Fuck that.” He swatted at me, and that smile turned to hate. “Why the fuck would I do that?”
“Logan. If you stay here you’re going to die.”
“So what?” Logan opened his eyes. They were entirely black. “So what if I die here?” He swayed like a wind tugged at him. “It’s easy for you, man. You’ve got something. What have I got out there? At least it’s warm here. And you don’t know. This feels good. It’s the only thing that feels good. The only thing.”
“Where were you all those years, huh? Where were you when ma was sick and dying? In Atlanta? Off and away, forgetting about your small mountain town and fuckup brother? Not everyone makes it, Jeff. I’m not going to make it.”
“Come with me to Atlanta.”
“Who the hell’s gonna hire a felon? Just let me die the way I want to die. Just let me. Can you at least do that for me?”
I saw the vines stretch further out from the hole. A thick tendril curled around Logan, piercing him with its thorns. He gasped then moaned low and said nothing more. The tendril lifted him into the hole and he disappeared further into the caves.
I got in my car and left. On the way to Atlanta, I stopped at a gas station and bought beer. It was then I noticed the scars on my palm, like needle piercings. My mom had told me it was our secret, the fire. She’d never let it take us away.
Her vase in the passenger seat, I cracked a beer, drinking it on my way back to the city.