A New Book and a Short Story

I am happy to share with you the cover of my new book, Fan Mail that was designed by David King of Black Rose Writing, the publisher of each of my books. I don’t know how he does it, but he comes up with a home run each time.

Fan Mail by Joseph Lewis, Cover Design by David King of Black Rose Writing

Fan Mail is similar to my other books, yet different in many ways. Like my other books, Fan Mail has most of the same characters you’ve come to know and enjoy. Like my other books, Fan Mail is written in the thriller-crime genre. However, it is more than a thriller-crime novel. There is a coming-of-age story with an LGBTQ+ theme running in the pages. I am certain you will laugh and weep throughout the book. I found myself doing that when I wrote it and again, when I edited it.

I will keep you posted on the preorder date. The paperback of Fan Mail will be available before the Kindle or Nook version and I will update you as I find out more information. The official release date is March 30, 2023.

As promised, here is another short story, The School, that fits with our spooky season of ghosts, goblins, and ghouls. I hope you enjoy it. I apologize ahead of time if the copy/paste feature upsets the normal formatting. I’ll try to fix it as I encounter it, but sometimes, this program has a will of its own.

Main Building, JFK Prep, St. Nazianz, WI Photo by Joseph Lewis

The School

by Joseph Lewis

            “We need to check it out,” Jayson said to his two friends. “Seriously.”

            Cross country practice had been over, and the three friends were leaning against Jayson’s older model Chevy Impala talking, drinking Gatorade, and eating Cheetos. The Cheetos were courtesy of Madi Foster. They stood a couple of feet apart from one another because all three were sweaty and ripe from the workout.

            They were seniors at Germantown High School in Wisconsin, and Keith and Madi were dating, sort of. Nothing official. Group dates mostly. But the volume of texts between the two of them would make War and Peace look small. Jayson Cook was their best friend. He was unattached at the moment and not looking for a girlfriend. He was so easygoing that if one came along, fine. If not, that was okay, too. Easygoing in that part of his life. Intense when it came to running.

            “I don’t know,” Keith Barton said. “First, it’s in St. Nazianz, and that’s about an hour away. Probably longer. Second, you said yourself the property is condemned. That means there will be no trespassing on the property, right?”

            “It’s not condemned. It’s just boarded up.” Jayson thought it over and said, “Maybe condemned.”

            “Part of me wants to go just to check it out,” Madi admitted. “But I don’t want to get caught and end up in jail.”

            Jayson, excited that he had at least one partial commitment, smiled broadly, flicked his long hair back and leaned forward.

            “Just listen before you decide, okay? This Father Oschwald dude has to leave Germany because of religious persecution or something. But there is another account I found that said he got kicked out of Germany for practicing healing and shit. He was a mystic, whatever that means. And he used herbs and plants to heal people. He and a bunch of followers leave Germany and land in New York. Most of his followers stay there, but some come to Wisconsin. They start this village and eventually, this boarding school. Pretty normal, right? Except for the mysticism shit and healing people with plants, even though he wasn’t a doctor.”

            “I suppose,” Keith admitted.

            “My dad’s friend, we call him Joe-Mama, went to that school in the early seventies. He told us some weird shit that happened there.”

            “Like what?” Madi asked.

            “There are tunnels from building to building. They were locked up and none of the students could use them, even in cold weather. They weren’t allowed. Students had to help clean up the place, like the classrooms and the kitchen and cafeteria. They’d do dishes, sweep the floors and wipe down the tables. One guy hid in the kitchen and used the tunnel to sneak into a building that was the laundry. No one was around, but he got to the second floor and found four small beds. Smaller than a twin, but larger than a baby bed. They were made up and didn’t look like they were used. But they were. This guy found a bible and a rosary on one nightstand, and there were clothes in the dresser. Small clothes, like a kid in elementary would use. Except, it was a high school and there were no elementary kids at the school.”

            Keith blinked at him, and then exchanged a look at Madi, who said, “That’s weird.”

            “And the doors were locked from the outside, not the inside,” Jayson whispered, leaning forward.

            “Outside? Like they were prisoners or something?” Keith asked.

            Jayson shrugged and said, “Joe-Mama never said, but it seemed like it.”

            “That’s creepy,” Madi said.

            Jayson shook his head and said, “That’s not the creepiest story. Joe-Mama said somebody snuck up onto the fourth floor of a dorm. None of the students were allowed to go up there. Brothers or priests or somebody had rooms on that floor. One night, this guy sneaks up there and finds the archives.”

            “The what?” Madi asks.

            “Archives. The history of the place dating way, way back to 1860. Something like that. There was a church on the grounds, St. Ambrose, named after this Father Oschwald. One brother, that’s what they called themselves- brothers and sisters- was found one night hanging from the bell tower. From the rope thingy that rang the bell. Except you needed a long ladder to ring the bell because the rope wasn’t long enough. And this brother was bouncing up and down on the rope, but there wasn’t a ladder around. No one knew how he got up there.”

            “Damn!” Keith said.

            Madi hugged herself like she was cold, even though the afternoon was hot and sunny.

            “It turns out that this same guy wanted to leave and quit the community, but the head guy convinced him to stay a week and pray on it. It wasn’t even a week, and the guy was found hanging on the bell rope thingy.”

            “They didn’t want him to leave?” Madi asked.

            “Or they didn’t let him leave,” Keith muttered.

            “There was a report of exorcisms and shit. At least two, Joe-Mama said.”

            “Exorcisms? I thought that was just a haunted story thing. I didn’t think it was real?” Madi said.

            “There were two stories that scared the shit out of me,” Jayson said as he ran his hand through his long, dark hair. He took a deep breath. “Joe-Mama told us a story about when he was a freshman. Two seniors snuck out of the dorm at night to have a cigarette. That wasn’t allowed at the school. They were talking and smoking and suddenly, one guy sits up. The other guy asks him what’s wrong, and the other guy shakes his head and said, ‘Nothin.’ So, they’re sitting there and the same guy sits up again and asks, ‘You hear that?’ The other guy says, ‘Hear what?’ and the first guy said, ‘It sounds like a girl screaming.’ He looks over his shoulder and said, ‘From over there where the auditorium is.’ The other guy says, ‘I didn’t hear anything.’ The first guy stands up and said, ‘Some girl is screaming.’ The other guy stands up and said, ‘I don’t hear anything. Honest.’ And the first guy takes off running towards the auditorium.

            “The building is locked up and they can’t get in, but they search around the building and the woods on the side of it. They didn’t find anything, but the guy is going crazy because he still hears some girl screaming. The other guy convinces him it’s a fox or the wind or something, but the one guy says it’s a girl screaming. Eventually, they go back to their dorm.

            “The next morning, the guy who heard the girl screaming does some research or talks to one of the older priests or a brother and finds out that the night before was the anniversary of some girl from St. Nazianz who was found murdered. The person who killed her was never found. It’s still an unsolved case.”

            “Jesus!” Keith said. He licked his lips and said, “And you want us to go explore this school? Shit, Jayson!”

            “Yeah, I don’t know,” Madi said.

            “The other story is even weirder. Joe-Mama, his football coach, and a couple of other students are in the Oschwald guy’s tomb. A crypt. They have a séance. They had a book that was written by Oschwald. At some point, it got really cold in the tomb, even though the night was warm. A candle holder, I don’t know the right name of it, fell over and one of the glass pieces whizzed by Joe-Mama’s head. It almost hit him. They got scared, even the football coach, and they got out of there. But on the way down, they heard the church bell ringing. It never rang that time of night. They saw one brother leaving the school and walking to his residence and they asked him why the church bell rang. The brother said there was no bell. It never rang. The football coach argued with him that they heard the church bell, but the brother said it never rang. Weird, huh?”

            “Too weird,” Keith said.

            Madi looked doubtful, and Jayson didn’t know if she didn’t believe the story or if she had doubts about going to the school.

            Jayson sighed and said, “Look, I’ll drive. I’ll even pay for food. If you guys come along, you can stay in the car. I’ll go explore. I just don’t want to go alone.”

            Keith and Madi stared at each other for a moment. Finally, Keith shrugged and Madi nodded.

            “Okay, but Madi and I don’t have to go into the school. We can stay by the car.”

            Jayson smiled and said, “Yeah, that’s fine. I just don’t want to drive up there by myself.”

            “Are your parents okay with you driving up there? I mean, do they even know you’re thinking about this?”

            Jayson shrugged, but looked away as he said, “They’re fine with it.”

            “They’re fine with it,” Keith said, not believing him.

            “Look, all I want to do is drive up there and look around. If I can get into the school, I’ll do that because I want to see the inside. If I can get into the other buildings, I’ll do that too. I want to see it for myself.”

            “What happens if you get caught?” Madi asked.

            “You mean, what happens if we get caught?” Keith said. “I mean, we’ll be in his car waiting for him.”

            “I won’t get caught,” Jayson said. “I’ll be careful.”

            Keith chuckled and said, “You’re going to be careful breaking into a place that is locked up. A place that probably has a hundred no trespassing signs everywhere. A place that sounds haunted as hell.”

            Jayson smiled and said, “Yeah, I’ll be careful.”

            “You’re nuts,” Keith said.

            Jayson laughed and said, looking from one friend to the other, “So, what do you say?”

            Keith hesitated. A part of him wanted to see this place, even if the stories Jayson told them were bullshit. It sounded like a cool place to see.

            Madi pursed her lips, frowning. “As long as I can sit in the car with the doors locked.”

            “And you pay for the food,” Keith added.

            Relieved, Jayson smiled and said, “Awesome! Okay! Do you want to go Friday night or Saturday night?”

            “Wait!” Madi said. “We’re going to go at night? To some spooky, crazy, haunted school? At night?”

            “It wouldn’t have to be night, night,” Keith said. “It could be late afternoon that goes into the night. Early night. Not the middle of the night.”

            Disappointed, Jayson nodded and said, “Okay, late afternoon. Early evening. I’ll drive and I’ll pay for the food. But we don’t tell anyone we’re going. I don’t want sixteen cars driving up there in a freaking caravan or something. Just the three of us.”

            “What do we tell our parents?” Madi asked.

            “That we’re hanging out, getting something to eat and going to a late movie,” Keith suggested.

            Jayson nodded and said, “That works.”

            Madi frowned. The whole idea troubled her, but like Keith, she wanted to see the place.

            Madi had been silent, almost brooding, since they left Germantown. Both boys tried to engage her in conversation, but after only getting one or two word responses, they gave up.

Finally, Madi leaned forward and said, “I did some research on this Oschwald guy. I think both of you need to hear it.”

The two boys were stunned, and Keith finally said, “Like what?”

“When he left Germany, he wasn’t a priest. The Catholic church was pissed at him after he wrote a book. They called it heresy. The archbishop basically stripped him of any duties, and this was after they shuffled him around from parish to parish. What I read didn’t use the word occult, but that’s what it sounded like.”

“The mysticism stuff,” Jayson said.

“More than that. Oschwald tried to recruit people into something called the Magnetic Society. Like a cult. The church was pissed, so Oschwald quit being a priest. He was more into medicine and claimed to have healed over 3,000 people.”

Jayson and Keith exchanged a look, not lost on Madi.

“That’s why he left Germany. I don’t understand, if he gave up being a priest and had all his priest duties taken away, why did he go by Father when he wasn’t? Only seventy of the 113 people who left Germany stayed with Oschwald. He didn’t just start this school. He started the whole village of St. Nazianz. From what I read, it was more like a commune. They called themselves Brothers and Sisters. After he died, the community kind of fell apart.”

“This guy sounds weird,” Keith said.

“That’s what my dad’s friend said,” Jayson said. “He said the whole place was weird.”

They were fifteen or twenty minutes away when Madi said, “Do we really want to do this? I mean, go see this school?”

“We’re almost there,” Jayson said as he caught her eyes using the rearview mirror.

Keith was silent for a beat and said, “We are almost there, Madi. It will be okay.”

“I’m staying in the car and I’m locking the doors. You two fools are on your own.”

            It was that time when night kisses the day goodbye and takes over the watch. No moon, no stars. Nothing but clouds. A slight breeze. No crickets. No noises, animal or otherwise.

            They had parked in a field roughly two football fields away, and tucked themselves just into the tree line on their approach.

            “Sssss, wait!” Madi hissed.

            Both boys jumped at the sound, and Keith whirled around in a fighting crouch. They relaxed when they saw her.

            “I thought you were going to wait in the car?” Keith said.

            “It was too creepy sitting in the dark by myself.”

            “Okay, how do you want to do this?” Keith asked Jayson.

            Jayson wiped his mouth off with the sleeve of his sweatshirt. “We can’t walk down the main driveway. Too open. I think we stay close to the trees until we get to that small building.”

            “What building is that?” Keith asked.

            “I did a Google Earth of St. Nazianz and the school grounds. I think that’s the auditorium.”

            “Great! Where the girl was murdered. The unsolved murder,” Madi said.

            Jayson looked at Keith, and both shrugged at her.

            “Idiots!” she muttered.

            They ran hunched over, but stopped every so often to make sure they blended into the trees and bushes on the edge of the school property. It was awkward, but they didn’t make much noise. They arrived on the side of the auditorium hidden from the main building of the school. They were till in the trees and only fifteen yards away.

            “Do you want to check it out?” Keith whispered.

            “I do. Are you two coming with me?”

            Keith looked at Madi and, not taking his eyes off of her, said, “I think I do.”

            “Sure, what the hell? Let there be three more unsolved murders.”

            The two boys laughed, and in response, Madi muttered, “Idiots!”

            They sprinted the short distance and crouched down under a closed window. Jayson, being the tallest, raised himself up at the side of the window and peeked in. It was too dark to see much of anything. He made out piles of folding chairs and a small stage at one end of the room. There were two exits on either side of the stage at floor level, and the main entrance was at the end opposite the stage.

            He tried to raise the window, but it wouldn’t budge. He said, “I’m not sure if it’s locked or if it’s just stuck.”

            “Probably locked,” Keith said.

            “I think there is a door on the side over there, and there is a main door in front to our left.”

            “Which are probably locked,” Madi muttered.

            Jayson sighed. Madi was getting to be a pain.

            “Keith, can you help me raise the window?”

            The two boys struggled and strained, but the window wouldn’t move.

            “Let’s try the side door,” Jayson suggested.

            They duck-walked along the side of the building until they came to a door. He reached for the doorknob, but Madi put her hand on Jayson’s arm.

            “Wait! What if there is an alarm?”

            Neither boy thought of that. If an alarm sounded, it would alert the neighbors. There was one house diagonal from the main road, but across the road and down about thirty to forty yards away. No other neighbors were close by. If an alarm was hooked up to the police, a sheriff might drive up, but St. Nazianz was small. Jayson didn’t know if the little town had its own force.

            “This place is shut up. Two of the windows have a board over the top. I doubt if there is an alarm,” Keith suggested.

            “Do you want to take that chance?” Madi asked.

            The two boys thought it over and Keith said, “If an alarm goes off, we get to the woods and run back to our car and get the hell out of here. If there isn’t an alarm,” he stopped and shrugged.

            “Then we’re good,” Jayson finished for him.

            Jayson gripped the doorknob, held his breath, and turned it. The knob turned, but the door didn’t budge.

            “Deadbolt?” Keith asked.

            “Probably,” Jayson said. He was disappointed. He thought it would be easier than this.

            “What if we try moving the board from the window?” Keith suggested. “They’re just plywood, and if there was a window, why would they need a board?”

            The two boys duck-walked back to a window covered by a board. They gripped it and gave it a yank. Gently at first, but when it didn’t budge, they pulled harder until it gave away. As Keith had suggested, nothing but a gaping hole where the window should have been. Only shards of glass remained in the pane, but the center of the window was gone.

            “Wait!” Madi said.

            Jayson sighed, thinking she was going to prevent them from climbing in. Rather, she bent down, grabbed a rock, and knocked out the remaining glass from the window.

            “No sense in anyone getting cut up,” she said. “Be careful. There might be bits of glass on the windowsill.”

            As a precaution, Jayson stuck his hands into his sleeves, and gripped the lower edge of the windowsill and pulled himself up, then he jumped down. He heard something small scurry off towards a corner.

            “Mice,” he said to Keith and Madi.

            “Do you want me to help you up?” Keith asked.

            “No, I’ll wait out here.”

            Keith used his sleeves to cover his hands the same way as Jayson did, climbed up, and dropped in. He waited until his eyes adjusted to the dark.

            “Can I use my phone as a flashlight or is that too risky?” he asked.

            “You can, but keep it pointed down. Shield it if you can.”

            “It stinks in here,” Keith said.

            “I don’t see anything special,” Jayson said. “Let’s go up on stage and maybe down into the basement.”

            The two boys rummaged around on the stage, careful not to make any noise. They found nothing of interest. The curtains were torn and coming off the pulleys, and were dirty and dusty. Three rooms on the side of the stage were empty, except for a couple of toppled folding chairs.

            “Let’s go downstairs,” Jayson said.

            “Where did they find the girl who was murdered?” Keith asked.

            Jayson shook his head and said, “No clue.”

            The stairs were narrow and worn by age and nature. At one point, Keith, the heavier of the two by fifteen pounds, almost fell through.

            “Careful,” he said as much to himself as he did to Jayson.

            The basement smelled dark and dank. Slimy was Jayson’s thought. He heard scurrying.


            “Or rats.”

            Jayson shivered and said, “I didn’t need to hear that.”

            When they stumbled on the restroom, which smelled of centuries’ old excrement and urine, Jayson said, “I’m going to piss. I didn’t want to do that in front of Madi.”

            He finished, and then Keith did the same. Of course, the plumbing and water had been turned off, so their urine just sat in the bowl.

They were about to step fully into the basement when they saw light flashing in the stairwell and heard the floor creaking above them.

            Jayson grabbed Keith’s arm, and both stood still, eyes wide, and ready to bolt if it came to that.

            “Madi?” Keith whispered to Jayson.

            Jayson made no response.

            Keith killed the light on his phone, and both boys waited in silence. The light disappeared and the noise of the creaking floor stopped along with it.

            “What the fuck?” Keith whispered.

            Jayson bent low to Keith’s ear and whispered, “Maybe someone saw or heard us and they’re waiting for us.”

            Both boys looked up at the ceiling and then at the near stairwell.

            A light flashed on from the side of the basement opposite them. Both boys jumped.

            “There you are,” Madi said. “There’s nothing in here except mice and mice poop and bats. I’m pretty sure I stepped in bat crap!”

            “You scared the shit out of us,” Keith said, breathing a sigh of relief.

            “What’s a little more poop to go along with the poop already on the floor?”

            Jayson chuckled.

            “Can we get out of here? Please?” Madi asked.

            They stood in the back of the main building after leaving the auditorium the same way they got in. To their left was a natural bowl, and one rusted out goalpost teetered precariously at the far end. Behind that was a shed. Jayson figured this was their old football field, and the shed behind it once held the football dummies, a sled, and other things needed for practice and games.

            Ahead of them was what looked like a breezeway between the main building and what might have been the gym. Above the breezeway was a window into the main building, but it was covered with a plywood sheet. He wondered if, like the auditorium, the plywood sheet was placed there because the window had been broken out. If so, it wasn’t the only window that had been broken.

            On the second and third floors of the main building, several windows were broken, but nothing covered them. Jayson thought village kids or kids from the neighboring town, Valders, might have come to party and ended up throwing rocks at the windows.

            Jayson nodded at the plywood covering and whispered, “That might be our way in.”

            Keith hoisted Jayson onto the roof of the breezeway, then did the same for Madi. Laying down on his belly, Jayson reached over the edge and helped Keith up.

            From the roof of the breezeway, they saw the empty back of the campus. Fingers of fog crept in from the trees, reaching across the bowl where the football field was. They watched the fog reach for the little cemetery and crypt where Oschwald was buried, along with other members of the community. Jayson shivered, and Madi held her arms around herself, not so much because she was cold but because she was fearful. She didn’t want to break into the school after all, and would just as soon leave. She didn’t voice her opinion because she thought no matter what she said, Jayson and Keith wanted to explore the school.

            As they did before, Keith and Jayson took hold of the plywood patch on the window, and to no surprise, the window was gone. Not even shards of glass remained in the window frame.

            “Ready?” Jayson asked.

            Keith nodded, but Madi stared at him blankly.

            “Ok, let’s go. You can use your phone as a flashlight, but tilt it down so it doesn’t attract any attention.”

            He was the first to climb in, followed by Madi, with Keith bringing up the rear. They found themselves in what looked like an office. A toppled desk was pushed to the side. Various spray-painted messages and tags were on the walls, indicating they weren’t the first to explore the old building.

            Jayson stepped out into the darkened hallway. Electricity must have been cut off, because the exit signs, which would normally glow red, were off. The one on the far end of the hallway hung precariously off the wall.

            “Which way?” Keith whispered.

            Jayson took stock of his surroundings and saw several doors along the hallway and a double-door across from him. “Let’s go down the hallway and then come back and go through the double-doors and see what’s there.”

            They tiptoed silently down the hall, through one door, then out, and into another. Graffiti covered the walls of the hallway and the classrooms. In one room, there were beer and liquor bottles, broken or left lying around. An empty tin can of soup that had been eaten by someone sat in the near center of a room. It had been converted into an ashtray.

            The air smelled of mold, mildew, cigarettes, beer, and weed. Whoever came here partied hard. Jayson even saw several used condoms flung against the wall and floor.

            “That’s sick,” Madi whispered. “Gross!”

            “Yeah,” was all Keith said.

            They worked their way to another set of double-doors and pushed through.

            What was once a library stood before them, taking up all the front of the second floor facing the main driveway. Empty shelves, except for one or two books and partial books, remained in place. Work tables shoved to the side or tipped over and a few broken wooden chairs were all that was left. Even those were covered in spray-painted graffiti. Evidence of parties from long ago to more recent was strewn on the floors and whatever tables remained upright.

            “What the hell is that smell?” Keith said.

            Madi already had her face up to her nose, tucked under her sweatshirt.

            “Jesus!” Jayson said.

            Someone, more than likely more than one, used the library as a toilet. Maybe an animal or a family of animals did the same.

            “Can we get out of here?” Madi asked.

            Neither Jayson nor Keith knew if she meant just the library or the building. And neither wanted to ask.

            “Yeah, let’s get to the other side, but watch where you step. Keep your lights low because these windows face the road,” Jayson said.

            They navigated the obstacle course of tipped tables and chairs, books, and various types and piles of feces past what was left of the checkout desk to the set of doors leading to the hallway. Once there, they stopped and breathed deeply, though the air was only slightly better than in the library.

            They reached a stairwell, and Jayson asked, “Up or down?”

            “Any idea what’s up there?” Keith asked.

            “Dad’s friend said dorms were on the third floor. Below us in the basement are classrooms.”

            “Let’s go upstairs. Basements freak me out,” Keith said.

            “This whole building creeps me out,” Madi said.

            “Okay, we’ll check out the upstairs, then go down to the basement.”

            They climbed the stairs, sticking to the walls until they reached the third floor. A heavy metal door was cracked open by a book. Most of the rooms were empty. Other rooms had old furniture stored in them. Still others had moth or mice eaten, ripped and torn mattresses. No telling who used them or what used them. They were stained in various colors, including what looked like blood. Bones of animals were piled in a corner.

            “What the fuck?” Keith asked.

            “Someone killed animals in here?” Jayson asked.

            “I hope that’s all they killed,” Madi said.

            “Shit, no doubt,” Keith muttered. “No guarantees. Look at the amount of blood on that mattress.”

            “I can’t. I’ll get sick,” Madi said, but her eyes were drawn to the mattress and she couldn’t turn away.

            “Come on,” Jayson said, taking Madi by the arm, knowing Keith would follow.

            Two other rooms towards the end of the hall were like that. Bones. Blood. The smell.

            “What the hell?” Keith said. “What did they do?”

            “I don’t want to know,” Madi said.

            They reached the end of the hallway and found another heavy metal door. They pushed through and found the stairs on one side, and another metal door on the other.

            “Let’s look in here,” Jayson said.

            He pushed open the door and stepped into an empty room that ran the entire length of the wall. It mirrored the library on the floor below them, except it wasn’t a library. It was empty except for the ever-present signs of parties, past and present, and blankets on ripped or chewed mattresses, and a few disgusting looking pillows without covers. Every few steps were used condoms.

            “Somebody slept in here? Seriously?” Keith asked.

            “I bet someone did on a dare,” Jayson answered.

            “No way in hell,” Keith said.

            Madi saw it and froze. Or at least, she thought she saw it, but still froze.

            “What was that? In the corner? Something moved.”

            “What? Where?” Keith said, backing up until he held Madi, leaving Jayson exposed.

            “I didn’t see anything,” Jayson whispered.

            “Something moved. Like a dark shadow. It was weird.”

            Jayson squinted and searched the area in front of him but didn’t see anything.

            “Could it have been a light causing a shadow?” he asked.

            “I don’t know. I thought I saw something.”

            “Keith, did you see anything?”

            “No, not really. But maybe we should get out of here just in case.”

            The three of them moved quickly and didn’t care about any noise they made. They pushed through the door and took the steps, running until they reached the basement.

            If it was possible, it was even darker in the basement than it was on the second or third floors. Using their phones as flashlights, they moved from room to room. Dusty. Damp. One smelling worse than the other. Decades of dirt and decay, mold and mildew. Nothing indicating any classroom except ancient chipped or broken chalkboards. Some housed stacked chairs or desks. Others remarkably empty.

Alarmingly, in one room towards the center of the hallway, was another pile of bones and a large stain on the chipped linoleum floor. At first glance, in the dark, it resembled paint or chocolate syrup. But when Jayson flashed his phone on it, it was clearly dried blood. A lot of it.

            “My God!” Keith said. “What the fuck did they do in here?”

            “Can we please get out of here?” Madi said.

            “This place gives me the creeps,” Jayson admitted, surprising even himself.

            They stepped out into the hallway and made their way to the metal door leading to the stairs.

            “Wait a minute,” Keith said.

            “What?” Madi asked.

            “The bones and the blood and shit. Either someone was killing animals for kicks, which is just sick,” he paused, glanced at both Jayson and Madi and said, “or could they have been doing animal sacrifices? Like Satanic worship shit?”

            “Damn, I don’t want to think about that,” Jayson said, his hand on the door.

            Madi shivered and wiped a tear from her eyes.

            “Are you okay?” Keith asked her.

            “No.” She shook her head, and said, “No, I’m not. This place is sick. It’s gross.” She shivered and hugged herself.

            “Okay, let’s go,” Jayson said.

            He pushed open the door, and all three heard it.

            Faint humming or a chant. Something foreign. More than one voice echoing along the hallway and darkness.

            Eyes wide, they stared at one another.

            Finally, Jayson whispered, “Do you hear that?”

            Heads nodded, and Madi cried harder, but silently. Her hands covered her mouth.

            “Just above us, I think,” Jayson whispered. “First floor.”

            “We have to be quiet,” Keith whispered. “I don’t want them to find us.”

            Jayson led them up the stairs single-file, with Keith bringing up the rear, each on tip-toes, eyes upward, with Madi gripping a handful of Jayson’s sweatshirt. They reached the metal door to the first floor. The faint chanting became louder, still quiet enough that they didn’t understand what was being sung.

            Jayson faced the door to the first floor. Unlike the others, it was shut completely and not propped open. He hesitated. Part of him wanted to open it to a crack so he could peek in. He wanted to see who was singing and where it was coming from.

            Keith shook him and whispered, though it was no more than mouthing the words, “Let’s get out of here.”

            Jayson hesitated. He heard Madi weeping, though her hands covered her mouth. Keith shook him again and whispered louder, “Let’s get out of here! Now!”

            The chanting stopped. The three kids froze.

            Keith pushed Jayson towards the stairs leading to the second floor. Jayson didn’t hesitate. He took off, with Madi and Keith following close behind. They didn’t care how much noise they made, just wanting to get out.

            They reached the second floor and pushed through the door and into the hallway, racing for the room that led to the window above the breezeway.

            Jayson stopped in his tracks with his arms out like a traffic cop, and both Madi and Keith piled into his back.

            Standing at the end of the hall was a figure in a black robe, carrying an old-fashioned lantern emitting a faint orange glow. They saw the figure clearly, except they couldn’t see the figure’s face. 

            Wanting to get away, and thinking they might have better luck heading back to the first floor, Keith turned around, but stopped.

            Another figure, dressed in a dark robe and carrying a lantern like the other figure at the other end of the hall, stood blocking their retreat.

            Both figures advanced slowly.

            “Fuck!” Jayson yelled, though he didn’t mean to yell anything.

            He reached behind him and pulled Madi as they ran to the room with the window. Keith followed.

            “Out! Now!” Jayson said, pushing Madi towards the window.

            She climbed through, but hesitated before she jumped. The drop wasn’t far, but far enough.

            “Keith, come on!” Jayson yelled.

            Keith pounded through the doorway and threw himself out the window and onto the breezeway. Jayson stood guard at the window.

            “I’ll go first and help you down,” Keith said to Madi.

            He jumped, landed awkwardly, but got up and limped over to the side.

            “Hang off the edge, and I’ll catch you.”

            “Hurry!” Jayson yelled.

            As he did, he saw one figure standing in the doorway.

            “Oh, God!”

            Madi let herself go, but Keith caught her. Jayson jumped off the breezeway onto the ground, fell, and rolled.

            One figure stood on the roof of the breezeway and pointed at them. That was all they needed.

            The three of them ran in the most direct, fastest route back to Jayson’s car. Keith tripped and fell once, as did Jayson. Madi pulled both of them upright.

            They reached the car, gulping in deep breaths of air as they did.

            “Go-go-go!” Keith yelled at Jayson, who hit the key fob opening up the doors.

            Jayson threw himself behind the wheel, started the engine, and backed out, with Keith barely in the passenger seat with his door still open.

            Jayson didn’t know how fast he was going as he hit the highway, hoping no other cars were on the road. Fortunately, there wasn’t any. Just them.

            As they sped past the driveway to the school, one lone figure in a black robe carrying an old-fashioned lantern stood and pointed at them.

I hope you enjoyed the story. Let me know what you think of the short story in the comment section below. And, let me know what you think of the cover of my newest book, Fan Mail. As always, thanks for stopping by.

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