Part XII, b

A minute later, he was walking past the counter into the office proper, his search for more enjoyable foods momentarily forgotten.

He checked all three desks in the open room, but found nothing but dusty personnel folders, aging memos, an attendance sheet with a long list of names marked “Absent”, and the couple of framed pictures he noticed earlier.

He walked to the doorway on the left in the back of the room. The short hallway beyond was completely dark. The sun had apparently gone down while he was in the kitchen, meaning that what little light had been coming through the windows was gone.

He found three doors on the right side of the hallway, each leading to an individual office. The first had a plaque above it that read “Principal”, the second, “Vice Principal”, and the third, “Security”. He spent a significant amount in each of the first two, hunting in the dark for some kind of binder or folder on the desks and bookcases he found inside. No luck, though; everything was covered in three years of dust, and didn’t look to have been disturbed the least bit.

Thom guessed he’d been searching for probably an hour, at least, and his stomach was beginning to rumble. He finally admitted that the goal had probably been futile to begin with, since he didn’t even know if the journal existed, or what exactly to look for, if it did.

Telling himself he would give the last room only a cursory glance, he stepped into the security office, which was easily the smallest of the three. It had probably begun its life as a supply closet or something like that. Nonetheless, he immediately found it the most interesting. Directly in front of him as he stood in the doorway was a wall of screens displaying security camera video feeds from throughout the school.

Monitor One was labeled “Main Entrance”, and had a clear view of the set of doors just outside the main office. Monitor Two was apparently watching the “Rear Entrance”, and Monitor Three had the word “Subject” written on a piece of tape below it. That one was pointed directly at the empty hospital bed where Thom had spent most of the past seven weeks.

He wanted to be furious that she’d been watching him for so long without his knowledge, but the fact was that two months ago, he really probably needed to be watched closely. And he had to admit that continuing to keep a watchful eye on her only patient seemed prudent, especially given how important she claimed he was. Still, he didn’t like it, and would definitely be adding that to the list of things he needed to discuss with her.

Eight monitors, in all, made up the wall of video displays. The cafeteria, the windowed hallway upstairs that looked out over the courtyard and parking lot, the gym, the library, and even the stairway he’d come down were on camera. He wondered if the footage was recorded someplace too, or just displayed real-time. Had Ana been going back to watch what he’d been doing when she wasn’t here? Something else to ask her.

He stopped looking at the monitors and did a quick visual sweep around the room. There was little else of interest, but to his left, he found a bookshelf holding what were almost certainly old, recorded security tapes. One of the shelves, though, had three 2-inch binders instead of tapes. The first binder was labeled “Subject 1”, the second “Subject 2”, and the last “Subject 3”.

Elated, he quickly grabbed the third and opened it. The first page held nothing but a picture of himself in that same hospital bed, still wearing the IV and either comatose or asleep. He guessed it was taken when he first got here. He flipped through it quickly, finding pages and pages of hand-written notes. He set it aside carefully; he would come back to that one.

Thom then pulled the “Subject 1” binder from the shelf. The first page had a similar photo of a younger-looking woman, but unlike his image, she was clearly still connected to a respirator. The bed and the room in the picture were unlike anything he’d seen elsewhere in the school, so it must have been taken at a differently location. He flipped through the pages like he had his own journal, but pausedon the last page where he found the word “Deceased” in large letters. One sentence below that told him everything he needed to know, “Expired following removal from life-support”.

He was just about to go back to the first page of the journal when a flicker of movement caught his eye from the wall of video. His heart leapt into his throat when he realized a dark figure was standing outside the door on monitor two. It was shorter than average for a person, although he couldn’t be sure because whoever was out there seemed to be half-crouching and was bobbing erratically. The poor quality of the video feed made it impossible to tell much more, but if pressed, he might have said it was probably male and likely older.

Thom stood petrified, the binder in his hands forgotten, as the figure leaned forward toward the door and pressed its face to the glass. One hand, the left, came up to touch the door, just beside its head. The face bobbed three of four times slightly, like an animal testing for a scent. The other hand slowly grasped the door’s handle.

“Oh, Jesus, no.”

The figure tugged against the handle. The door held firmly, apparently locked.

Unaware that he’d been holding his breath, Thom exhaled slowly, quietly.

The short figure jerked the handle several times, forcefully, using its whole body.

“Shit. Give up, dammit. Go away.” It was barely a whisper.

On the screen, the figure stepped back from the door and looked up towards the sky. It opened its mouth and released a horrible screech that made Thom think of a furious, wounded cat. Even more chilling was the realization that he could hear it clearly from inside the building – the security monitors had no audio.

He stood helpless and watched the thing on the monitor raise its hand, form a fist, and swing it against the glass door. A spider web of cracks formed instantly. It leaned forward, apparently inspecting the damage.

Thom’s heart hammered in his chest. He held his breath again.

The thing’s hand made another fist, and swung a second time, hitting the center of the cracks. Glass exploded from the door.

Thom’s hands went numb. A cold chill swept through him.

The figure stepped through the broken glass, either not feeling or not caring about the jagged shards still held in the door’s frame.

Panic overwhelmed him. Deep inside, his mind screamed to do something, anything; run, hide, grab a weapon. But he couldn’t think, didn’t know how to react.

Something was in the building. Something was looking for him.

Thom was paralyzed with fear.