A little background on this story first. ‘The Academy’ was originally intended to serve as the first chapter of ‘The Unseen Kingdom’ and was to serve as a ‘Cold Opening’ to the novel. However, I ended up cutting the chapter for several reasons. My first concern was the growing length of the chapter, to the point that I envisioned an entire novel (or novelette) could be written to detail the event described. This dovetailed into the other concerns since none of the main characters appear in the chapter, and finally it built more tension than I wanted to establish so early in the first act. However, as a standalone story this serves as a nice introduction to the concept of both the town of Plainville, and ‘The Unseen Kingdom’. I will stage this story as a series of parts leading up to Halloween. Since there are some minor potential spoilers, I probably won’t post the end until after Halloween.
Summary: In August of 2014, a group of contractors were tasked with conducting minor renovations of ‘The Academy’, an aging three-story brick building that serves grades eight through twelve in the heart of downtown Plainville. While the renovations were proceeding as planned, the crew planned to stage an all-nighter to complete the final tasks before the school’s staff was due to return to work the following Monday. However, that night something went terribly wrong. You can’t bury the sins of the past.
The blazing orange sun gradually sank below the buildings to the west, casting long shadows across the streets of Plainville Massachusetts. A dusty red pickup truck sputtered to a stop in front of a three-story, dilapidated brick building, nestled between ramshackle abandoned buildings and distressed businesses. The concrete foundation of the building exhibited decades of decay, despite the superficial patchwork of mortar and concrete that filled the most egregious cracks. Two men emerged from the truck, carrying multiple cups of coffee and buckets of fried chicken. A small group of men waiting on the stairs leading up to Plainville’s school building jumped up to aid their colleagues and collect dinner.
“Man I’m starving, we thought you two skipped town,” Johnathon said, snatching a steaming cup of coffee from the container.
“No such luck. We stopped at the hardware store and picked up another ten gallons of paint remover and something to deal with the mold in the basement. We also grabbed another spool of 12 gauge wire and a few other goodies so we can wrap this project up tonight. The staff starts prepping the building for the start of the school year on Monday, so we need to be completed by Sunday.” Darren explained as he unloaded the aforementioned supplies from the bed of the truck.
As supervisor of the contracting team, Darren pulled out a clipboard to hand out assignments while the others ate their dinner. “We’re going to break into three primary teams this evening. Johnathon, you’re going to finish upgrading the fuse box. William, you’re going to be applying some sealant to any cracks you find in the basement and replace the primary sump pump. Alex, you’re going to be with me stripping the paint from the last of the restroom stalls, so we can get some primer up and drying overnight. Let’s see that leaves Gary and Sean, you’ll be working on the second floor outside the new computer room. You need to drill a hole through the interior north wall to install a wide screen monitor in the corridor. After that, it’s just cleanup and final inspection so let’s get these items completed tonight, and we’ll finish up any outstanding items on Saturday afternoon. Any questions?” Darren concluded with a flourish of his pen.
“Sounds like a plan boss, though I’m pretty sure my kid was hoping we’d accidentally burn the building down.” Gary responded, setting off a chorus of laughter from the group.
“You ever think we’d be making this dump habitable for another school year, after all the years we planned this building’s demise growing up?” William asked, shaking his head in mock disdain.
Another round of more muted laughter wafted from the assembled group that morphed into quiet conversation as the men commiserated over dinner. A freshening breeze blew dust down the main avenue, providing some relief from the summer’s heat. William walked over to Alex, who was leaning against the truck, sipping his coffee. “What’s your excuse anyways? Out of all of us, I figured you’d be the one with the good sense to move on.”
Alex looked up at the looming building against the backdrop of an increasingly tumultuous looking twilight sky, before staring into the swirling coffee between his hands. The young man shrugged his shoulders, “Guess I’m just a slacker like everyone else.”
William took a playful slap at Darren, forcing the young man to sidestep quickly, spilling a little coffee. Darren allowed a hint of a grin to cross his lips, “What’s your excuse, Bill?”
“Ya, let’s hear your excuse Billy boy.” Gary teased William.
“Oh, that’s an easy one. The Dunwich Prep Lightning wasn’t the only thing I scored on Homecoming 2006. Peggy and I made it under the bleachers that night. That pretty much sealed my fate. ” William responded with a sly grin.
“You weren’t the only one that made the bleachers a landmark son. We were doing that long before you were a twinkle in your daddy’s eye.” Darren responded, resulting in another round of laughter. “Alright, let’s finish up and get inside.
Alex hesitated following the others, staring up at the school building with its cracked windows and narrow weed-strewn yard. Both Gary and Darren noticed the sullen look crossing the young man’s face. “You alright Alex?” Gary asked, placing a comforting hand on Alex’s shoulder.
Alex forced a smile and nodded, “I’m fine. Come on, let’s go.” He said, heading up the steps, past the rusted black wrought iron fence surrounding the front of the school with Gary and Darren trailing closely behind. The three men passed through the freshly painted blue metal doors and into the entranceway of the school. Despite the weather-beaten exterior, the interior of the building exhibited a fresh coat of light blue and white paint on the interior walls.
The overhead fluorescent lights hummed softly, occasionally flickering in sequence down the school’s long corridors. A trophy case contained a slew of gold and silver cups and medallions for past sports and academic victories by Plainville students, dating back to 1931. Gary came to a stop in front of the school’s bulletin board mounted along the wall near the doors. Between the previous year’s class schedules, academic calendars and announcements there was a missing person’s poster.
Missing – Jimmy Watkins – Age 10 – Last Seen: October 31st, 2010 trick-or-treating along Dunwich Road. Last seen wearing a dark colored glow-in-the-dark skeleton outfit and white skull mask.
“It never ends, does it?” Gary asked, without turning to address anyone in particular. Alex stood beside Gary and shook his head, “No, it doesn’t. How is Michael doing?”
Gary shook his head, “He’s still having trouble accepting Jimmy’s disappearance. He refuses to even acknowledge that the kid is really missing, let alone dead.”
“Gary…please. You don’t know that.” Alex interrupted sharply.
Gary turns to confront the pained expression in Alex’s face. “I’m sorry Alex. It’s just…. Michael won’t accept he’s gone. He won’t move on.” Gary stared at the younger man, but Alex averted his eyes to the floor.
Alex sighed, “I know how he feels Gary. It’s been nearly ten years since my brother disappeared and I still can’t bring myself to move on, to leave this god forsaken place. What if he…”
“My god, is that what this is all about Alex. Do you really think, after all these years your brother is just going to walk through that door?”
“No, I mean… I don’t know. I just can’t write him off, Gary. He was everything to me. From what you’ve said in the past, Michael was the only friend Jimmy had in this world. You just can’t walk away from that. Time heals all wounds but…” Alex turned away, looking out the door feeling the familiar wave of sorrow and dread take hold of him. “Some wounds just won’t wash clean Gary. Especially when you believe could have done something.”
— To be continued