The drive, though very familiar, seemed much longer than it used to be. It's been around half a decade since I took this road, with lights flashing and cold northwest raindrops rolling off the windshield and creating an ever-present river running down the sidewalk. I know it hasn't been long, but you would be surprised to hear what has happened in these six or seven years. Graduation, University, more graduation, and of course a full blown, full time career that has woken me up in at the crack of dawn for the past few years. I've taken Christmas vacation to come back home to the city that picks you up then throws you back down into a mud puddle. No, this is not the city filled with vampires that the world has come to know as the only city worth recognizing up here on the Pacific coast.
Coming home has always been bittersweet, because for the most part I was never able to leave the house. Never able to walk around town like I had used to when I was younger. I was always too busy to reconnect with any other old friends who might just be home for the holidays. "Oh, but Mira, you only have a few days with your family." My father would say. I always had just enough time out of my schedule to show up Christmas Eve and leave New Years Day. But this year was a better year, I had more vacation days than ever before, and I was going to use them wisely.
I clutched the wheel tightly and turned a sharp corner in my mother's old jeep. I sloshed through a big pile of dirty wet snow. I clicked on the wipers to clear my view. I was closer now than ever to my destination. Would it be over grown with plant life? Was it newly re-painted and vibrant? Covered in snow and Christmas decorations? I could only imagine. As I pulled up to the last stoplight at the top of a large hill, I turned my head from the road to peer through the leafless cherry trees at what I once called my favorite place.
It seemed distant and virtually unrecognizable with boarded up windows and doors, old glass shattered on the pavement and infamous graffiti tainted the walls. It was vacant. Not a banner, not a car. Though it was the same place, it was distorted. I couldn't bear to compare it to what I thought it would have been. I leaned over the big steering wheel to look for the old sign that stood high up in the clouds.
SEATTLE ACADEMY: K – 8th GRADE.
I let out a small, unbelieving whimper. It couldn't be. My hopes that my favorite place might still be around were shattering as my dark eyes filled to the brim with memories. Conceptually, it didn't surprise me this place didn't make it. I had just always hoped, that maybe… My heart ached and my stomach churned. Tears started trickling down my cheeks when car horns went off behind me. I pressed my shoe against the pedal and sped past the school. I stopped at the next light at the bottom of the hill and pulled myself together. I took a deep breath and sat up tall. How could no one have told me? Would I be the one to spread the news that our second home was no longer- a home to anyone? Did any of my old classmates even really care that their childhood, along with mine, was nothing but a to-be-demolished building?
To my right was a brightly colored Am Pm that was raking in the money with high gas prices. The smell of deep fryers in the nearest restaurant wafted through the ice-cold air and I could smell fries even with my windows closed. I imagined us hanging on the chain link fence watching the plaza over the short trees that hid us from the dirty town we lived in. I remembered the times we would come down the steep sidewalk and cut through the parking lot to buy candy at the gas station store, after school of course. Or, if we were lucky, our favorite teacher would bring us down during the last period of the day. Or our coach would stop by after a long, possibly successful, game day.
The light overhead turned green and I was sure to go ahead this time, I turned right while contemplating if I really should take a walk down memory lane and somehow get into the academy, or at least the parking lot. At the next light I turned again and rolled over the bright yellow speed bumps, that we would wait for the whole ride to school on that old bus we took. That bus broke down countless times during my school years, yet I loved it just the same. It sounds pointless to love a bus, maybe it is, but I looked forward to taking rides, took them every chance I got, and behind those unusual doors and those ugly seats, we all had some pretty good times.
I came into parking lot after taking the back way through the neighborhood and drove down an aisle lined with winter-stricken trees that leaned farther than I remembered over the pavement. Like an archway the frosty white branches waved to me. I decided to park on the side of the road and not in a parking space, it wasn't like I would be pissing anyone off by doing so. Just as I was slamming the driver's door shut I heard something, it must've been my jogged memory, it sounded like the faint sounds of chatting mothers and children hopping over garbage cans, like the loud whistles of our old coaches and the soft chime of a bell. I sloughed it off like my ears were just used to such sounds.
As I approached the building I realized it was much smaller than I thought it should be. The gym was separated from the rest of the school building and the whole lot was, frankly, not as big as I had remembered. I convinced myself that the schoolyard in the back would be big enough to make up for it. I glanced around the parking lot, bigger than the actual school, remembering each and every car that passed through. The old bus that seemed so out of place next to the vibrant trees, the filthy orange cones we would always help carry around, and the cherry blossoms we would run past every Friday morning in the spring.
Anyway, I suppose the building wasn't a bad size for just around 150 kids. I stepped up to the sidewalk that was in the front of the building. I kept walking forward until I reached one of the many sets of stairs I remembered climbing every weekday. I slowed my pace as I crept down each icy rung and held tightly to the splintering handrail. I came to the obnoxiously red double doors that had once led to the office. The brass handles had rusted ten times over it seemed and they were so cold that as I held my hand there for only a moment my skin felt numb. I figured that if the doors weren't locked they would inevitably be frozen shut.
My impulses and curiosity, though, would never have let me think twice about swinging the doors open as quickly as I possibly could. Did I do such a thing? Why, of course I did.
They came open very easy, and would have opened even if I didn't use all my might like I did. I received in return a gust of musty air. I was too overcome with strange adrenaline to wonder why in the world the doors were left open for who knows how long. I braced myself and wandered down the recognizable hallway lined with pictures of graduates, trophies and memorabilia. I came upon the office windows and could practically see the secretary, nurse, and first grade teacher chatting away like always during lunch or after school hours. The windows had not been bordered up but I could only faintly see the furniture inside the closed walls. It seemed like the windows had chipped and the inside was filled with bizarre fog.
Suddenly I heard someone speaking as I felt a tug at my arm. Goosebumps crawled over my skin and I felt a cold wind, like I had left the door open. The voice sounded small, raspy. It repeated. "I hurt. I hurt. I hurt." I turned abruptly, only to find nothing there. I turned back to the blurred windows when I heard another noise, like a female child coughing; it grew louder as my eyes grew wider. My knees wobbled while I searched for an excuse. Why was I was hearing such things? It was familiar, that was all. I took a few steps backwards before I tripped on what might have been air and tumbled onto one of the few black leather couches that sat in front of the main office. As soon as I hit the cushions I felt a push and tumbled to the hard ground. I looked up to see an angry pale face staring down at me with scarred blue eyes.