The old school looks like a toothless bag lady in the dark, sprawled on her side.
“Get moving, Ryan. Or are you a chicken?”
I grate my teeth so hard they squeal, unwilling to look up at Greg Damien, future NFL star and neighborhood bully. A.K.A, my next door neighbor. The jerk would see my fear the way a dog sniffs people’s butts.
“I’m not a chicken,” I lie. The old building is already giving me nightmares of mummified teachers and human-sized, flesh-eating rats. (Or at least, they want you to believe they’re rats. They’re actually hairy, zombie aliens from another planet who decided to inhabit abandoned buildings on the rundown side of Detroit.)
Greg rips my bike handles from my grasp. “So get in there.”
Squaring my shoulders, I let out a sigh. He could force me into the building without breaking a sweat, seeing as how he’s twice my size. If I refuse, he’ll probably drop kick my rear through the front door.
Five months ago a rumor started floating around the city about a millionaire who converted all his cash into gold, buried it somewhere for safe keeping, then died. Without telling anyone where he hid it. Last week Marcy Livingston snapped a shot of a homeless guy leaving our old school with what she said was a gold bar in his hand. (She’s my other neighbor, the one who never shuts up. Seriously. Her mom threatens to duct tape her mouth shut so loud I can hear her shouting from my bedroom.)
I wouldn’t be standing at the broken entry in the middle of the night, debating the value of my backside if Marcy had just kept her mouth shut. We were going to be rich, but she said something in front of Greg and he decided our plan needed a mastermind. More like a master thug. You’d think with the promise of fortune he’d be going with me, or that he’d go himself, but there are rumors this place is haunted. People hear strange sounds and Marcy claims she saw a ghost.
The glass has been shattered and a couple pieces still glitter on the floor. Those that aren’t covered by dust. I glance back at Greg who grinds a fist into his palm.
Flicking on my phone flashlight, I step into the gloom. It’s not like I’m going to tell Greg if I find something, but he doesn’t have to know that. I start rehearsing my response once I get done here:
It was empty. All empty. The only things I saw were rats, graffiti on the walls, and broken furniture.
Truthfully, I’ve been dying to come check out the empty building, just not the night before my birthday. I want to live until I’m 11. A kid from three streets over went missing a few weeks back while exploring. Mom says he must have been kidnapped or killed by one of the drifters passing through. I’m curious. Not stupid.
Shadows creep across the wall beside me.
Or maybe I am stupid. Or just a chicken. If I had more guts, I would have punched Greg in his bullfrog nose and locked myself in my house. Instead I’m shivering and expecting something to jump out and snap my neck in half with its gator-sized teeth.
“It’s just graffiti and broken furniture,” I chant. Like I’ll believe those words if I say them enough. My foot crunches down on something and I twist the flashlight that direction.
Pages. Book spines. Dozens of them all broken and open-faced, littering the floor.
Now that’s a tragedy.
I jump and flash the light. The tail of a shadow disappears.
Okay, Ryan. This is the point where you get smart, run away, and hide for a few hours so Greg will believe your story.
Fingers trembling, I lift my light to follow the direction of the movement, to an open doorway. It was just a rat. Had to be. Or an alien luring me to my death.
And now I’m seeing things because is that a hint of light?
I click the off button. And swallow so hard it hurts.
The glow creeps across broken pages like a sea of scaly dead things just waiting for me to cross. Daring me to cross. One wrong step and I’ll probably be sucked into the pile and this giant tongue will slurp out, followed by a book-monster’s burp.
The phone is slick in my hands as I step forward.
I do want to die. Clearly.
The pages swish and crack as I step over them, reminding me of that neck-breaking sound effect in movies. I’m shaking as I reach the hall and turn to the source of the glow: another doorway straight ahead.
Every step echoes in the hall. Each smack of my sneaker reminds me how Mom would slap me silly for even thinking about coming here. I would take it and go to my room and dream about sneaking out to Van Naters for midnight ice cream and breaking more windows on abandoned buildings. Even if I’d never do either.
I halt in front of the entry.
This is it. I’ll step into the light and disappear. Poof. Gone. Greg will keep his mouth shut about how he bullied me into coming here and Marcy will blab about what she knows, but she doesn’t know I came here. That I’m about to die. And that I did it willingly.
I shove my phone into my pocket with trembling hands and ball my fists. One quick breath and I step forward.
I’m in the gym, bleachers flailed unevenly from either side, narrowing the room to a central point: the glowing thing in the middle of the floor.
My jaw drops.
“Surprise!” People jump out from behind the bleachers, igniting camping lamps and circling me. I stare in stunned silence, trying to figure this out.
“He’s in shock.” Marcy laughs. Greg’s chuckle bounces off the walls as he appears next to my parents. My parents? In my abandoned old school?
They’re holding packages in their arms, packages wrapped in birthday paper…
The grin on my face grows so large my cheeks ache. Best. Birthday. Ever!
Maybe not chickening out pays off.
Crystal Collier is a young adult author who pens dark fantasy, historical, and romance hybrids. She can be found practicing her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, four littles, and “friend” (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese. You can find her on her HERE.
Come help celebrate her birthday by picking up one of her books!