The Long Forgotten
How was I supposed to know it was like this? After all, Martyn was very vague on the whole Underground School thing. I'd heard stories about it. The Underground School was a concentration camp, started in 3020, to keep the kids 'out of trouble' the adults said. It turned into a slave force soon after The Fall. I knew these things. They were nothing compared to seeing it.
We, Martyn and I, entered at one of the service hatches on what used to be a lower part of campus. Jumping down into the tunnels, my skin began to prickle at the putrid, ranted musk in the air like something rotting and the sound of echoed wails of sorrow and pain. I would've gone back up if Martyn hadn't ushered me along.
"We've got to find Zed," he whispered.
We trailed down the hall, following the cries of the trapped. It was rather dark in the tunnels, but once we turned I doubt that even Martyn could deny them. The hall was lined with white faces, each dusty and coated with a mixture of dirt and blood. Their eyes followed us, but their mouths didn't open. The silence made it worse.
"These must be the Kindergarteners," Martyn offered, whispering in my ear. "They've been here since they were little and were taught early on not to speak."
They were like ghosts, lining the floors with such weak frames. The girls had long hair, and the boys were too big for their clothes, but just barely. One girl tugged at my pants, raising one hand like a beggar. I would've stopped-I might've even- but Martyn pulled me along once more. He was afraid to lose me.
Trailing behind Martyn, I began to notice the children grow fidgety. Their eyes grew wide, and their bodies rocked. The elder among them turned away from us, trying to hide the tears clearly rolling down their checks. I turned forward, grabbing Martyn by the shoulder. He glanced back at me just as a loud bang rang out nearby. Martyn quickly pressed me against the wall, looking around.
"What was that?" I questioned.
"The Teachers," he answered, hastening our pace.
Martyn dragged me along as the children each turned away in shivered fear. We weren't of interest to them anymore, just whatever was coming down the corridor. The Teachers, rumor had it, were either very large or very thin. The round Teachers were the ones who ran the work, watching over the weary beings as they constructed nothing of true importance to keep them busy. The thin Teachers were the ones with whips, the beaters and the guards. They went out to find fresh meat out in the woods and neighboring villages. They were the most feared.
Martyn found us a spot to hide in a large crack along the wall behind two rather tall children. They were too frightened to argue as we crammed ourselves into the barely big enough hole in the wall. Martyn threw me in first, leaving him little room to hide. By the time we were situated, the sound of footsteps was distinct, clicking with each step of the approaching Teacher. Martyn whispered under his breath something about it being a thin one, it was the only reason the children would be this scared.
Something rang out, making a quiet and almost soothing ding sound. The clicking of shoes stopped. Martyn leaned a little further out, allowing me to peek just barely out of the crack. This particular Teacher was in fact thin and surprisingly female. Her hair was pinned in a bob, allowing the sharpness of her face to show. Her eyes, like unsheathed daggers, glanced over the children. Her lips perked, smiling lightly, and forced her lipstick to glisten and crack. With hands behind her back, she addressed the ghosts.
"Students," she called with a voice of a vulture, cold and crackly like a thousand pieces of metal tearing each other to shreds, "Good morning."
"Good morning, Miss," the children sang in unison.
"It's almost six, are you all ready for another day of work?"
She was talking as if she was a human being, looking after and caring for these children like she was their mother. She glided through the hall, clicking her heels. She stopped in front of a small girl. The little one, barely over thirteen, looked up at the Teacher with wide eyes. The Teacher brought her hands out in front of her, revealing the whip of almost pure black, except the blood stained tips.
"My dear," she hummed, glancing at those sitting around the little girl, "I hear you got an extra piece of bread yesterday. Is that true?"
"No, Miss," whispered the children.
It happened so quickly, I almost didn't realize it. I nearly screamed all the same. Martyn leapt back, covering my mouth and shaking his head. I could just see the little girl, fallen on her side and holding her face. The whip stretched out from the Teacher's hand, tipped in fresh blood. The child held back her tears, looking up at the Teacher again with weary eyes. The Teacher smiled still, like nothing had occurred.
The whip struck the young girl again. The tears began to form but refused to fall. The Teacher stood, hands taking their place behind her back, and smirked as if she was pleased with her work. She nodded, forcing the child to her feet. The other ghosts turned away as the Teacher led the girl away. The clicking heels slowly began to fade, soon replaced by the sound of thick and heavy ones. A little clang of a metal door opening and closing sounded off as a little round man joined the white faces in the hall. His jaw crushed the chicken he was clearly eating until he spat it at the feet of the children. He turned, pointing the way that the thin Teacher had just left.
"Get to the line, you spoiled brats!" he spat, spraying bits of meat into the air. The children watched the spray with a mix of distaste and starvation. They couldn't decide. "I said get!"
The small figures got up slowly, keeping the round Teacher within sight. He watched them like a little girl would a worm, careful and disgusted. The children formed a line and marched down the hall. The sound of a metal door opening echoed off the walls, and seemed to call the children forward. They marched almost like lifeless creatures, staring forward and feet moving without will. The round Teacher followed behind them, kicking the child in front of him with every other step. Still there were no tears.
I didn't realize I was crying, the tears just rolled down my checks without consent. I felt Martyn reach back and hold my hand as the line of children began to shrink. When the line was gone and the sound of a metal door closing, Martyn left our hiding spot. He looked both ways, careful to not make them visible to any Teacher still sneaking about. I watched him leave, and for a moment all was still. He didn't urge me out and the silence was making me nervous quickly.
"Martyn?" I pleaded.
I left the crack in the wall, looking around. The lights flickered as old items using do, creating an eerie atmosphere as I looked around for Martyn. I heard the tiniest noises in that moment of pure stillness. The sound of scurrying mice or the wails from above echoed along the silence, calling attention to them with each change in the foundation. I tiptoed, as silent as I could, but each step I made was another noise that echoed.
I felt a hand on wrist, tight and clammy. I nearly yelped, but I was spun around and silenced. It took me a moment to get my bearings, realizing it was only Martyn who was shushing me. Still, I didn't realize fast enough and bit his hand. He let out a tiny yelp, pulling away and holding his hand. By then, I finally understood who it was.
"Martyn! You scared me!" I howled the best I could without exceeding that of a whisper.
"You bit me!" he snapped, looking at his hand. "Why would you bite me?"
"I didn't realize it was you," I pleaded. "Don't sneak up on my like that."
"Noted," he nodded, looking around. "This way."
He led us along the hall, looking left and right in an endless cycle of caution. We knew we weren't alone in this building. We reached the end of the hall. The edge of the tunnel turned into a makeshift stone staircase that led to the metal door that the noises before had originated. Martyn climbed the steps first, slipping on the top one and nearly tumbling down the others. He managed to keep his footing and opened the door. It shrieked for the world to hear, forcing us to hold back our breath in anticipation of the throng of Teachers bound to be coming. None came. Martyn let out a sigh of relief turning back to me and motioned me forward.
I clambered up the stairs behind him, as he looked both ways in search of any Teachers. Still none. He led me along, staying close to the walls. The halls were painted a pale yellow, peeling off the walls from the moisture lingering about. The ceilings leaked something unmentionable and cold. The floors were dusty, cluttered with some mats of hair, and stained here and there with red. Windows were barred and covered on the outside, leaving little light coming in except the ever flickering lights of above. Power was weak after The Fall. Flickering lights were considered a miracle.
Martyn led me up another set of stairs, though these were less stone and more wooden with hints of metal lining the bends. At the top of the stairs was a loft that overlooked the assembly line of children working on whatever the Teacher's desired. Martyn and I hid behind the railing, watching as the children seemed to be rewriting something out of a book. The fat Teachers sat with whistles, carefully glaring at the working ghosts. Martyn perked, pointing through the rails at the corner of the line.
"Zed," he whispered.
I followed Martyn's direction, spotting our travelling commander. He remained in his red jacket, practically clinging to it as each Teacher passed behind him. His hair had been slightly cut into a flat crop, rather than his slightly spiked hair style. His eyes burned more than usual. He glanced around, barely focused on the task the others were doing. I heard something rustle beside me. I turned, watching as Martyn dismounted his bag from his shoulders. The little white bag opened, and he dug his hand in.
"Stay down," he nodded, pulling out of the bag a little crossbow, already loaded.
Martyn lifted the crossbow from his bag, and suddenly it was like he was a different person. I haven't known Martyn long but from what I've seen he seems so quiet and smart, clever even. Watching him take the crossbow, loaded and willing to go, and placing it just between the railings, was strange. He took aim carefully, and soon after fired the first shot. One of the fat Teachers let out a yelp, staring at the arrow that narrowly missed his skull now stuck in the wall. The other Teacher's reacted and so did Zed.
Zed leapt from his position, quickly knocking the Teacher behind him onto the ground. The children were now in a spin, looking around as Martyn let another arrow fly and again nearly miss a Teacher's face. Zed jumped onto the assembly line of desks, running for the exit, a small door at the end of the room. A thin Teacher quickly tried to grasp him by the wrist. When that failed, they took a whip at him and caught his wrist. It tightened around Zed's wrist until blood began to drip, but Zed gave it a tug. The Teacher collapsed, narrowly missing Martyn's arrow. Zed again headed for the door, this time uninterrupted. Martyn pulled his bow away, turning to me.
"C'mon," he instructed, shoving the crossbow back into the little white bag.
He took me by the hand, but it wasn't the same as the snug fitting grasp he'd taken me in before. This time it was tight and unnatural. We raced down the stairs, straight into a thin Teacher staggering out of the assembly line room. She was the same as the one we'd seen downstairs in the tunnels, though now her bun had slipped from its hold and was unraveling around her face. She turned to us with glaring eyes, taking us by our conjoined hands and raising us up.
"Lose one, gain two troublemakers, eh?" She hummed through a rasping and dying breath.
Something clattered from behind, and the Teacher released us. She stumbled forward, straight past us, revealing Zed with a metal strip from the stairs. He offered us a smile, dropping the shard. Martyn nodded, retaking my hand. Together, we followed Zed's lead and left this horrid place, but my mind remained there, among the ghost faces and the small frames. Something in me just felt like what we had just done was wrong. We rescued one, but left hundreds to the Teacher's whim. That didn't feel right to me, but I didn't say a word. Words failed me.