While Erik was still searching for his phone, I opened Martin’s message. It was short and to the point.
‘Meet me at the west wing. I am hiding here. I noticed something strange.’
I looked over at Erik. He read the message he’d gotten and turned back to me.
“What’s he talking about? He found something strange?”
“Got the same message, too.”
We were outside moments later. By now, it was already dark. Mrs. Richter was still awake, but we were gone before she could say anything.
“Why the hell’s he not coming back?” I asked Erik.
“Beats me, maybe you’re on to something, and he found out what it is?”
I nodded, but said nothing.
As we ran on, I scanned the school grounds for Mr. Siegert. I didn’t see the old bastard anywhere. He’d probably not started on his patrol yet.
It didn’t take long for us to reach the construction site. We were still quite a bit away when I started to hear noises again. It was the same sound again – something grinding against metal. It sounded like parts of the scaffold were straining under something.
I stared up at it, and the tarpaulin was waving in the wind. I wondered for a moment. What wind? The surrounding trees were completely still. So why the hell was it moving? It had to be Martin! I was about to call out when Erik bumped me with his elbow.
“Hey, is that him over there?”
I looked where he was pointing and saw a silhouette standing at the base of the scaffold.
“Guys, I’m over here,” Martin’s voice called out to us.
I took a few steps forward, but then I stopped. There was something wrong about his silhouette. It was almost as if it was… shifting behind him. I strained my eyes, but I wasn’t able to make out what it was in the dark.
Erik was about to rush forward, but a strange feeling washed over me. Something was wrong about this. I held out my arm and stopped him.
“Don’t, there’s something strange.”
“What the hell are you-?”
“Guys, I’m over here,” the silhouette repeated once more. It sounded exactly the same.
We both stared ahead. Both crept out.
“Why don’t you come over here?” Erik called out towards the silhouette.
It didn’t move at all. Only the tarpaulin was moving. It moved back and force, shaken by a wind that wasn’t there.
“Guys, I’m over here,” the silhouette we’d thought was Martin repeated for a third time.
“Come over here then, asshole!” Erik called out the anxiety visible on his face.
“Now, what did you just call me?” we heard a deep voice from behind us.
It turned out, Mr. Siegert was already on his patrol. The moment we saw him we booked it and again the old man was too slow to catch us.
Minutes later, we were back in Erik’s room.
“All right, man, what the fuck was that?” Erik almost yelled at me.
“I’ve got no clue, but it sure as hell wasn’t Martin!”
Erik nodded. He opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again. Then he shook his head.
“Look, man, this is getting too freaky. Sorry, but I’m going to go to sleep,” he finally said with a face devoid of color.
I nodded and left the room. He didn’t say another word, and neither did I. To be honest, I was as scared and confused as him.
That definitely hadn’t been Martin, and whoever it was, had wanted us to go to that damned construction area.
I don’t know for how long I sat in my room, trying to keep the panic at bay. My mind was in an uproar. They’d fucking got Martin, and now there was a different version of him out there. Or at least something that could mimic his voice.
Eventually, I dozed off in my chair.
My phone’s shrill ringtone woke me up. I didn’t know what was happening before I realized it was my phone. When I finally picked it up, I saw that Kim was calling me.
“Steven, there’s something odd going on outside, and I’m scared,” she whispered to me over the phone.
“Like what? Are you in danger?”
“There are people outside! Lots of them! I can’t make out all of them, but I think there are Mrs. Wolf, Mr. Thomas, and some other teachers. There are students as well!”
“Wait, hold on, how late… wait, it’s five in the freaking morning?”
“Yes, I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to go for a run, but when I stepped outside, I saw them. They aren’t even moving and… no wait, they weren’t, but now,” she broke up. I heard her inhale sharply.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“I don’t know, some went into the school, but I think the others went towards the construction area.”
I was quiet. That damned construction area. We’d seen Martin’s silhouette out there. There had to be something-
“Shit!” Kim suddenly cursed, and I heard her moving around.
“Kim? What’s going on?” I called out to her over the phone.
“I think one of them noticed me!”
“Get back inside! Just pretend you saw nothing.”
“Okay,” she said in a shaky voice. Her breath was coming rapidly, and I heard her retreat to her room.
“I’ll talk to you later at school, kay?”
Without even waiting for a reply, she hung up.
Dammit, Kim, what are you doing? I stepped up to my window and peeked outside. The boy’s dorm was on the other side of campus. I couldn’t see a damned thing.
I typed another short message for Kim, telling her to be safe and, if possible, to stay away from school. I told her I’d try to do the same thing.
I reread my message and laughed. Where the hell would I even hide? I considered leaving right now. Maybe I could sneak out and hide, or I could try my luck and get off the school grounds.
I’d barely started packing my things when I heard something outside. I froze. Was someone out there? Could they be waiting for me to try something?
I went up to the window again and watched the outside intently. I saw no one. I packed a few more things before I climbed up on the windowsill and saw Mr. Siegert. He was staring right at me with a deep frown on his face. It said, ‘don’t you dare try anything again, boy!’
“Fuck,” I cursed out loud. Why was he here right now? Well, I knew why. He’d caught Erik and me outside at night twice in a row.
I could outrun him, but then what? There was no way he’d let me leave via the gate. Hell, it was probably locked. Before I knew it, half the staff was hunting me down out there. I thought about the walls, but there was no way I’d be able to climb them. This place was a freaking prison.
I thought about trying my luck, but then I told myself to stay in my room for now. There had to be another way. Maybe I’d be able to hide in the dorms and sneak out during the day?
I was still trying to come up with ideas and make plans when Mrs. Richter burst into my room. I jerked up, staring at her with wide eyes.
“Mrs. Richter, what the hell-?”
“Now don’t you Mrs. Richter me, Steven!” she cursed. “I know you were out drinking the other night, and I know you sneaked out last night as well. And now, Mr. Siegert informs me he saw you trying to do the same thing earlier this morning? I swear Steven, this is the last straw! Now get ready for class!”
I looked at her, waiting for her to leave, but she stood there, not moving an inch.
“Well, Steven, I’m waiting!”
“This is ridiculous,” I spat at her.
“You want me to call Mr. Siegert? I’m sure he’d be more than happy to drag you to school personally!”
For a while longer, I held her gaze before I got my backpack and put on my shoes.
“Seriously, Steven, what’s going on with you?”
I turned to her for a moment. Her face showed an honest expression of misery and concern. When I saw her like this, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed for a moment. Shit, I knew she cared, and I knew I couldn’t tell her a damned thing.
Even as I left my room, she was still watching my every move. She almost pushed me out the front door, mumbling to herself, much to the hilarity of a few other students.
As I mixed with the trail of students walking to the school building, I thought about what to do again. I saw Mr. Siegert out there, watching me like an eagle as I went on my way. Should I risk running?
“… heard Mr. Engels had a complete freak-out!” someone said.
“Well, the guy’s always been a weirdo, think about art class a week ago. Was only a matter of time till he’d snapped,” another one added, jokingly.
“Yeah, but did you hear what he talked about? People not being themselves anymore and being twisted and shit.”
That was Tom, one of Erik’s friends.
I jerked around towards him. “Hey, what are you guys talking about?”
Had the rest of the students started to notice something was up?
The moment Tom saw me, his face turned dark. “The hell do you want, nerd? Why don’t you just go on your stupid school trip?”
“Just tell me what’s going-“
“Fuck off!” one of Tom’s friends yelled at me.
I looked around for anyone else. Where the hell was Erik when I needed him? Then I saw Gabriel, another friend of mine.
“Hey,” I approached him.
“Oh, morning Steven, what’s up?”
“I heard something happened to Mr. Engels?”
“Well, I heard he had a nervous breakdown and was taken to the nurse’s office. They canceled all of his classes, and I think he left early.”
Canceled for the day, I thought. Yeah, I’m sure they let him leave.
As the first students pulled into the school building, I slowed down, letting myself fall back. I took one step at a time, inching eastward, further and further away from the rest. There was no freaking way I’d enter the school building.
“Steven, what are you doing, class is about to start,” Ms. Marx, who suddenly stood near me, said.
I jerked around, staring at her. Where the hell had she come from?
“Now get going, or you are in even more trouble than you already are,” she said, pushing me forward.
“Everything all right here?” I heard Mr. Siegert’s deep voice from nearby. The moment he saw that Ms. Marx was talking to me, he frowned. “You causing trouble again, Steven?”
Shit, now there was no way I’d be able to sneak off.
“Well, Steven,” Ms. Marx said with a low chuckle. My eyes grew wide when I felt her hands pressing down hard on my shoulders.
I tore myself from her grip. By now, not just hers and Mr. Siegert’s eyes were resting on me. Many students had turned around, watching the exchange with curiosity. There was no other way, I realized, so I finally entered the school building like everyone else.
When I stepped into the classroom, some students looked up. I’d never felt so uncomfortable in my life. Some, who’d seen that I’d been in trouble, grinned at me, whispering to one another. Others stared at me with no change to their expression.
I sat down and busied myself getting out my class materials, trying my hardest to ignore everyone around me.
When the door opened, I looked up and saw Mr. Wolfram enter. Then my heart skipped a beat as I saw Mr. Thomas behind him.
“Steven, good to see you are back,” he said in his monotonous voice and approached me.
“Good news,” he continued with the slightest hint of a smile on his face, “you have been chosen for our field trip. Now come along so we can discuss the details.”
My heart rate went up. My breathing came in short, hard bursts. You goddamn idiot, I screamed at myself in my head. I’d completely forgotten about the field trip.
“No,” I finally brought out. “I’m not interested.”
“But Steven,” he said, stepping closer, putting his hand on my arm. “It is important for your future.”
I didn’t move. Instead, I squirmed under his hand, which gripped my arm harder with each passing second.
“Now then, let us go,” he said, his voice starting to sound strained. His face was right in front of mine, his eyes wide open as he held onto my arm with an iron grip.
Behind him, I saw Daniel and Nicole and a handful of other students, all staring at me emotionless. They were leaning forward into my direction. Their faces grew darker, angrier, the more I struggled under Mr. Thomas’ grip.
I heard others whispering to one another, some calling out and asking what was wrong with me. I didn’t pay them any attention. Instead, I focused on the six ghastly students, who seemed to be furious with me. The moment they were about to get up, I finally nodded at Mr. Thomas.
“Fine, I’ll join. It’s for my future, right?” I said in a sarcastic voice.
Mr. Thomas’ face distorted into an almost disgustingly bright smile as he led me to the door. Daniel, Nicole, and the rest were already ignoring me again, staring ahead at Mr. Wolfram like nothing had happened at all.
“This is a great chance. You will learn a lot,” Mr. Thomas continued as he led me down the hallway. His voice was empty and monotonous, sounding almost like a recording.
As I continued on with him behind me, I looked ahead for something, anything, and then I saw it: The stairs.
I walked on, right next to Mr. Thomas. He was still holding onto my arm, but his grip had relaxed after I’d relented to come along. The moment the stairs were right next to me, I jumped forward. His hand slipped off my arm, and I rushed down the first flight of stairs.
From above, I heard him call after me. I didn’t react; I didn’t turn around; I ran.
He called out once more, and then I heard his quick, heavy steps, as he came after me. The moment I’d made it down the stairs, I already saw him behind me.
“Steven, we have to go to the principal’s office and discuss the details of the field trip,” he called out. His voice wasn’t monotonous anymore. It was shriller, almost distorted.
Instead of answering, I rushed down the hallway.
“Come back here this instant!”
His distorted scream reverberated through the hallway.
For a moment, I turned around and saw him closing in on me with steps far too wide for his stature. His legs bent in an impossible way as he got closer and closer. It looked like they had too many joints in them.
I ran as fast as I could, but the echo of his footsteps was getting closer. Fear surged hot through my body. I couldn’t get away. He was too damned fast! Shit, what do I do? In my mind, I already saw him getting a hold of me, dragging me wherever they had taken all the other field trip participants.
I reached the end of the hallway, turned right, and continued down another one. Then I saw an open door. It was the old chemistry laboratory, and it was empty!
In an instant, I was inside. I threw myself under one of the giant, bulky laboratory tables. I hoped, no, I prayed that he’d continued down the hallway. Of course, he’d seen me come in here, and he was coming after me.
I listened as he entered. Everything was quiet, but then he paced the room. I realized he didn’t know where I was.
The moment he’d passed the table I was under, I saw that he looked different. He was taller, thinner, and had become an elongated version of a human being. As he moved, it looked as if his joints were placed in random places all over his body. His legs bent backward, then sideways as he continued on through the room. His arms were long, scrawny appendages, ending in boy fingers that scratched over the tabletops.
I was shaking as I watched this horrific version of my favorite teacher. When the thing spoke, I instantly covered my mouth to not scream up.
“Come ouuuut Steeevn,” the creature said in a distorted voice. I could barely make out the words and my name, but I heard the mockery in its voice.
When he reached the end of the room, I crawled out from under the table and stumbled towards the door.
When I was there, I saw in horror how his head twisted around in a 180° degree angle. His eyes were large, his mouth hanging open. For a moment, I froze, staring at the surreal sight. Then the creature rushed towards me, his body moving backward.
I couldn’t tear my eyes from the horrible, surrealistic sight in front of me. I took one step, then another, before I bumped against the doorframe.
Then my mind was clear again. I stumbled out into the hallway, prepared to run, but it was too late. One of his insanely long, dangly arms got a hold of me. They were so thin, yet so strong. I struggled, tried to run, but I was dragged backward by his impossible strength. I screamed up, but before I could even form words, one of his bony hands covered my mouth.
The creature held me in place right in front of himself. In utter horror, I watched as his head moved forward, his neck stretching out further and further. His large eyes glowed with an unnatural purplish light as they focused on me. His mouth opened wider than it should be possible, as if his jaw had popped or unhinged. I cringed back, thinking the creature would swallow me whole.
“Sis ielt rips uff de utust iportans Sdeeen,” the creature bellowed at me with his distorted, high-pitched voice. The strange noise stabbing at my eardrums and making my head spin with each word it spoke. Once more, I tried to get free, tried to scream, but it was impossible.
“Lesg now,” it said as it stepped towards the hallway.
Right then, I heard heavy steps from outside that got louder and louder with each second. A second later, I heard a different voice.
“The hell’s going on over there?” someone’s voice rumbled from outside.
For a moment, Mr. Thomas’ eyes focused on me again, before his head retreated backward. He released me, and his body shifted and returned to his human form.
“Help!” I pressed out as Mr. Muller stumbled into the room.
In an instant, I rushed towards him, then past him to got away, but I didn’t get far. The coaches’ strong hands got a hold of me in an instant.
“Not so fast, what the hell’s going on here?”
His eyes wandered from me to Mr. Thomas before he frowned.
“This boy here, Andreas, is trying to skip the field trip. You understand how important it is that-“Mr. Thomas started, but he was cut right off.
“Ugh, to hell with that damned field trip of yours! Just tell me,” he continued staring down at the panting mess I was. “Why you’re chasing a student through the school as if you’re mad? The hell’s wrong with you these days, Markus?”
Mr. Thomas just stared at the two of us. It was almost as if he’d stopped to function.
“The field trip is of the utmost importance, so-“
“I told you to stop talking about that damned trip!”
“He was trying to hurt me! He tried to drag me away somewhere!” I called out, looking up at Mr. Muller.
He eyed me with a mixture of frustration and confusion.
“All right, Steven, you’re coming with me! I think that’s acceptable, right, Markus?”
Mr. Thomas stood there, not saying a thing, staring at Mr. Muller and me for a bit longer. Then he walked away as if nothing had happened.
Mr. Muller let out a wordless curse before he released my arm and pushed me forward.
“Now get going, damn you! How come it’s always you who’s causing me trouble?”
“Sorry, Mr. Muller,” I mumbled.
He threw open the door to his office. “Inside, now,” he commanded.
The moment we were in, he let himself fall into his heavy chair, staring me down.
“Now tell me, Steven, what’s that about Mr. Thomas dragging you away?”
His eyes were hard, his face disfigured by his characteristic deep frown.
I explained, rambled on almost incoherently. It all flooded out, but he cut me off after a while.
“You on drugs, boy?”
I heard the words, but I was dumbfounded. My mouth was still open, but I was at a loss for words. I tried to start again, about the creature Mr. Thomas had changed into, but he cut me off yet again.
“You know Steven, I heard some boys were out the other night drinking and doing god knows what!”
“What? I’ve got no idea what you’re-“
“Don’t play dumb with me! I know damn well it was you, Erik and Martin, who snuck out the other night! You might think I’m stupid, but I won’t let you off this time! Heard you skipped class the next day too because you were still drunk or drugged out of your mind! Erik looked like shit. And Martin hasn’t even shown up to practice! What the hell are you boys thinking? And this whole nonsense about-“
“It’s because Martin is gone! He vanished after we went onto the scaffold!”
Mr. Muller grinned.
“Trespassing, Steven? You know why I never bother with you? Because you’re useless! Hell, I’d have kicked you off the track team long ago, but there’s this damned rule that you’ve got to participate! That’s all over now!”
“But Mr. Muller, none of this is important!” I called out in sheer frustration.
His eyes grew thin, and I saw his face turning red with anger.
“I’ve had it with you! Oh, you’ve got trouble coming, boy! I’ll have a good long talk with the principal about your behavior. I’ll recommend that you’re being suspended for good! And I dare you, if you’re not right here when I get back, I dare you!”
He heaved himself upwards and stormed towards the door. Before he left, he gave me a long, hard stare. Then he shook his head and left.
“Mr. Muller, you shouldn’t,” I started in a low voice, but he’d already left.
I thought about going after him and telling him it was dangerous, but I knew it would be useless. There was no way he’d believe me. Hell, there was no way anyone he would believe what I’d told him, no, what I’d seen.
I cursed at my uselessness, and for a moment, tears of frustration came to my eyes. I blinked, shook my head, and told myself to stop thinking about that. I had to escape, had to get away from this damned school!
I opened the door and peeked outside to see if Mr. Muller was still around. I’d half expected to find him waiting nearby, but he’d left for good. I rushed down the hallway, then the stairs, and in a moment, I’d reached the front door.
I heard someone call after me, heard footsteps coming towards me, but I was long gone before they reached me. As fast as I could, I hurried away. Can’t go to the dorms, I realized, so instead I ran to a few bushes at the edge of the schoolyard.
What now? I was sure that Mr. Thomas or hell Mrs. Wolf had informed Mrs. Richter and Mr. Siegert about me.
The moment I’d get near the dorms, I was sure that Mrs. Richter would inform them she’d noticed me. A look towards the front gate showed me what I’d already known. It was closed off, locked, and under surveillance by Mr. Siegert himself. Shit!
I waited in my small hideout and scanned the area. Well, I thought, there was no reason for Mr. Siegert to search for me. The only way out was via the gate. He could just wait there for me. That didn’t count for the teachers. I could imagine Mr. Thomas or the thing he’d become, searching the school for me and soon the school grounds.
I took out my phone and with shaky fingers, I typed a message to Kim. I told her about everything. I told her what had happened and that she, no, we all had to get away. It took me long minutes to type the short message. My fingers slipped over the keyboard, pressed the wrong buttons, and misspelled words. After every couple of words, I scanned the area and listened for any, and all sounds near me.
Once I’d finally sent the message, I stared at the screen, waiting for her to read it. When I finally got a reply, it was short and to the point, as usual.
‘Can’t answer in the middle of a test.’
Shortly followed by another message.
‘Shit, Mr. Wolfram saw me on the phone!’
I sent her another message, telling her we should talk at lunch, but I got no reply. She hadn’t even read it. Shit, why’d it have to be Mr. Wolfram? That bastard had most likely confiscated her phone for the rest of the day.
I don’t know for how long I sat out there, huddled between these few bushes. It felt like an eternity had passed when lunch break finally arrived.
I watched as students flocked outside, gathering all over the schoolyard. I scanned the crowd, waiting for Kim, but I couldn’t see her. I was too damn far away! I checked my last message, but it was still unread. When I tried to call her, it went straight to voice mail.
After waiting and thinking for a minute, I called Erik.
I didn’t get to say anything.
“Dude, what the hell are you doing? You’re in serious shit!”
“I know, dammit, I’m hiding outside. Can you see those bushes at the end of the schoolyard? The top row, next to the old playground. No, not there, turn right, idiot!”
“What? I’ve got no clue what you’re… oh those bushes?”
I looked up and saw him nearby, approaching me.
“Hey, Steven, what the hell are you doing?” he called out to me.
My heart froze. This goddamn idiot. He’d not just done that.
Right away, I saw a few of the nearby students turning into my direction. Some looked curious, some whispered to one another, and some stared at me with their empty eyes. Freaking hell, Erik!
The phone disconnected a moment before he reached the bushes.
“Dude, what the hell’s up with you?”
“What the fuck are you doing? Be quiet, dammit!” I hushed him. But it was already too late.
It was Daniel who soon stepped up next to Erik.
“You should go to Mr. Thomas, Steven, it will cause trouble for the field trip if you don’t.”
“Yes, Steven, let’s go,” another student piped up from nearby.
One by one, more of the emptily staring students got up and came towards me.
Erik looked around, confused, and soon he seemed anxious.
“The hell’s wrong with you guys? Hey!”
“The school trip is of the utmost importance,” Daniel said, mimicking Mr. Thomas’ matter-of-factly words.
They all came closer and soon gathered around me, shoving Erik out of the way.
“Leave me the hell alone!” I screamed up when some of them reached out for me. Half the schoolyard turned into my direction, noticing the scene.
Even from here, I saw the looks of the other students and I heard their hushed whispers. I grinned. At least now, with everyone watching, they couldn’t tear me apart or drag me back inside.
I gave Erik a short nod and ran.
Erik called after me, confused, but I just ran towards one of the empty training grounds nearby.
Just get away, Steven, I told myself. Get away as far as possible and find a new hiding place.
I staggered around the empty field. I constantly turned around, looking if someone was following me, but so far, I was still alone. It wouldn’t stay like this forever.
I stumbled forward, trying to find a hiding spot. I thought about one of the equipment shacks, but they’d probably check those first. I’d be trapped if I went in there.
I continued on until I saw the small patch of trees at the side of the track field. It wasn’t much, but it should be big enough to allow me to stay hidden.
Once there, I sat between the trees watching the school grounds nearby. Classes had to be back in session. No one was outside anymore.
The thought of making a break for it clawed at my mind and soon I got up again. What if the gate was open now? I knew I could outrun Mr. Siegert. What if those things were nearby, though? Hell, there was no way the gate would be open!
No, I stayed put. Minutes slowly passed, turning into hours. In the afternoon, Mr. Muller approached the track field. Wasn’t it still too early for track? No, he was searching for me.
I watched him walk around and saw his hulking, stalking movements. For a moment, he scanned the tree line. When I saw his twisted, elongated face and his empty eyes, I knew they’d got him too.
For at least half an hour, he searched through the area. As I’d expected, the equipment shack was the first place he checked. He made a few more rounds around the field before he approached the trees I was hiding between. I inched backward, pushed myself against one of the massive trunks, ready to run at any moment.
I was saved when the first members of the track team arrived. As track practice took place, I moved to the back of the tree line. I almost pushed myself against the wall that surrounded the school grounds. I sat there anxiously, almost expecting the whole team to make a break for me. But for all my worries, nothing happened. Everyone went on with their training. As I watched, they seemed as normal as ever, joking around, running, and talking.
Finally, I took out my phone. I hadn’t checked it in what must’ve been hours. The moment I did, I saw countless unread messages by Erik.
‘Dude, what the hell’s wrong with everyone?’
He’d sent it right after I’d run off.
In all the messages that followed, he either talked about the weird behavior of the teachers and students or asked me where the hell I was.
I looked up again. Track was still in session. When I checked my phone though, I saw it would be over in half an hour. I had to talk to Erik. We had to get out of here. If anyone knew how to sneak off, it was him! I’d heard his stories about sneaking out, getting booze, and hanging around the nearby town.
As shaky and anxious as I was, I forced myself to wait till track was over and then another half-hour. After that, I finally moved. I inched forward, scanning the school grounds.
The sun had already set. The last students that had lingered around outside made their way back to their dorms. When everything seemed clear, I sat out.
It was a painfully slow process. I saw no one, but I still rushed from hiding spot to hiding spot.
I noticed Mr. Siegert from afar, already making his rounds. It was much earlier than usual. The old man looked here and there, obviously searching for me, but voiding him was easy.
He wasn’t the only one outside, though.
I’d thought all the students had gone inside, but some were still outside. They walked around the school grounds mechanically, searching for something. No, I realized, not something: for me. A shiver went down my spine when I saw the face of one of them. It was distorted, eyes so wide one could think they’d pop out any moment. The further they were from the dorms, the more unnatural they moved. They were stalking the area with huge steps, crooking their heads as if their necks were made of jelly.
I continued on, doing my hardest to avoid their gazes, and finally reached the dorms.
I pushed myself alongside the walls, crawled past windows, and finally reached Erik’s.
I sent him a quick message, telling him I was outside before I knocked. It took only seconds before he ripped the window open, but it felt like minutes.
“Shit, dude, where the hell have you been,” he whispered to me.
“Move!” I hushed him and climbed inside. I quickly closed the window and duck below it.
“Hiding, isn’t that obvious?”
“Yeah, all right, I got it. So the whole school’s gone crazy.”
I looked at him. “Guess you finally noticed it.”
“Yeah, hard to miss once you start looking. But really, what the fuck’s going on? What the hell happened to you? You look like shit.”
As I told him what had happened with Mr. Thomas, his eyes grew wide. This time it was in shock. Not a hint of disbelief was visible on his face.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” he whispered.
“Erik, we’ve got to get out of here! There’s something bad going on, something terrible!”
“Martin’s back,” he said in a low voice.
“Wait, really?” I almost called out.
Erik nodded, but his face turned sour. “He’s acting strange, like… them. He said everything was fine, and nothing had happened, but he’s acting like a different person. Fuck man, what did they do to him!?”
I said nothing. That night we’d seen him, I knew things were wrong. I fucking knew it, but I’d still hoped that it had been a fake. I’d hoped that one of those things had pretended to be him, and he’d been hiding somewhere.
“Fucking hell,” I finally pressed, fighting against the tears coming to my eyes.
We were both quiet and minutes seemed to pass before I talked again.
“So, how do we get out? You’ve snuck out before, right?”
Erik nodded. “Yeah, no biggy, remember the wall to the east? The one where the tool shed and the trees are? You can easily scale the wall at one point and get out.”
I stared at him.
“Robert Neumann told me two years ago. You remember him, right?”
How’d I not remember Robert? He’d been the biggest troublemaker of the whole school. He always snuck out at night and terrorized the girl’s dorms. Hell, he’d even run his own little back market at the dorms, selling booze and cigarettes. The guy had been a legend before they had kicked him out, and I wish he was here right now.
“Should’ve known you were involved with him.”
Erik grinned. “So, we’re going, right?”
I nodded. Then I remembered Kim. I hadn’t talked to her all day.
“Shit, man, we’ve got to get Kim!”
“Your girlfriend? The Asian chick?”
“She’s not my,” I started but broke up and nodded.
“Hold on, I’ll tell her.”
I wrote her a quick message, asking if she was all right.
‘Yes, I am good. At the school, checking things out.’
‘Wait, what the hell are you doing there?’
‘Something messed up is going on. It is happening at the principal’s office. Mandy was taken there a day ago, and she is acting all strange. They are doing something terrible to the students there, but it is nighttime now. If we can get evidence of what they are doing, we can call the police. Can you come?’
I stared at my phone in disbelief before I cursed in frustration.
“Dude, she wants to check out the school!”
“Why the hell?”
“She thinks she can find evidence or something, fuck man, what do we do now?”
“You’re going to let her go on her own? What if they-?”
“Fuck, man, I know!” I cut him off. “I should go get her and you-“
“Oh, fuck off! I’m coming with you, all right? Hell, she might be right. That chick’s smart, right?”
‘Kim, don’t go there on your own, all right? Erik and I are coming. We’ll be at the school in a few minutes. Wait for us!’
My phone stayed quiet for a while. After what must’ve been minutes, it vibrated again.
‘I’m inside already. Let us meet up here.’
“Dammit!” I cursed out again.
Erik looked at me, his face all worried and serious. “Let’s go.”