This summer, thus far, has been one of great relaxation and adventure. It’s been a summer of self-reevaluation, a summer of separation, and a summer of recharge. My journey has been quite strange, and, like I’ve probably said before, one of tearing and mending. Mistakes and lessons.
Lately, I’ve had to come to terms with a horrible, horrible choice I made. At the time, I didn’t know that it was so terrible. . .
In grief, I burned away much of my memories, and I continue to try to recover those little bits of me.
Last week I had lunch with the Artistic Director of Westport Country Playhouse, Mark Lamos. And he’s incredibly insightful. Having lunch with my coworkers and supervisors is one of many blessings of my internship. So, I’m taking advantage of hearing everyone’s stories while I can. I got to know a little bit more about Mark, and, in doing so, got to see a little more of what life can offer.
I got to ask him about his journey, how he became the Artistic Director. He talked about his unique journey – a blend of luck and talent. But the most important idea I could apply to my own place in life: not to limit myself to one title, one talent, not to box myself in and create limits for myself. And that is so incredible to me. He said that people my age tend to want to decide who they are too early. And that’s exactly what I’ve been attempting to do.
Burning away my art, my studies, my memories back in 2015 seemed to be a message to my future self: “You don’t need this anymore.” And my heart aches for that art again. (I don’t recommend burning away letters and lessons despite the therapeutic symbolism.)
Mark reminded me that I could be an actor, a director, a stage manager, a writer, a visual artist, a designer. I can be anything at any time I wish; I just need not to limit myself.
In saying all this, let’s take a look at a short story I wrote in high school. It’s hard to believe it actually survived. Haha! Given the burning of the notebook, the loss of my flash drive, the frying of my hard drive, and the several moves throughout the years. . .
The short story was inspired by my dearest friend Blair; we’ve been friends since before elementary school. One day she turned to me in class and said, “Wouldn’t it suck to be trapped here forever?”
Blair walked down the narrow hallway, looking in each room as she passed, but no one was there to comfort her. She’d been alone for about three months. It felt like three years. She peered into the glass of what used to be the principal’s office, fell to the ground, and wept.
She lost count of how many times she had walked past this very spot. What else could she do besides cry? The wretched school never presented her any escape. Every time she opened a door to the outside world she would end up back in the art room. Somehow she felt comfort in the little room with its never ending supply of paint, paper, and writing utensils, but she still needed one thing – human interaction.
Nothing was natural about being trapped in this school. She never slept nor ate, lacking the necessity. She just wandered the halls. When remembering the entrapment, a harsh pain stretched across her brow and blackened her vision. She could only remember her friends, her family, and the strange teachers. She clenched her fists together out of exhaustion and frustration, trying to remember the moment that changed her life.
Wiping away her tears, she stood up and walked through the school’s main entrance and was immediately transplanted in the art room. She went to her poetry notebook lying on the former art teacher’s desk. Emotions flowed from her brain and heart to her hands to form words on the empty page.
When she stopped writing, she looked up and stared at the wall for about an hour. She heard a noise outside the classroom and ran to the door. On the other side of the hall was the janitor’s office. She thought it was peculiar that that had been the only door ever closed in the school. The difference this time when she looked across the hall was a man standing and staring back at her.
Blair wanted to run at the stranger and give him a hug, but she pushed that thought away. How could she hug a part of her imagination? It’s true that she had hallucinated many times already. She didn’t like talking to the hallucinations. They terrified her, but this one seemed strangely different.
“Hello, Blair,” said the man. She gasped. He wore a stereotypical janitor suit, and his name tag had “Howard” stitched on it. “Um… Hello, Howard.” She stumbled on the words because she hadn’t spoken in so long.
“You’re not hallucinating. I assume you have been. They usually do. How long have you been trapped here?” The man was speaking so much faster than Blair could comprehend. He stared at her, and she realized he had just asked a question.
“I’ve been trapped here for years, about three,” she whispered. “What do you mean others?”
He stared at her for what seemed like a day, and then he spoke, “I hate this part of the job. It’s always a sad tale, teens ripped from their families and friends only to be trapped in school. It’s the worst kind of punishment.” He looked to be about twenty or twenty-five, but he spoke as if he had lived a hundred lifetimes.
He continued speaking, but this time it was to Blair, “You’re immortal. So am I, if you must know. I, or the school rather, acquires students, such as yourself, every couple of years. You all get pulled out of your time and preserved in this building. There’s only one way in and one way out. Your presence alone tells me that Katie found her freedom. The sad part is that she has to be placed in your time, not her own. She’s probably wandering the streets and seeing all the new buildings that weren’t around when she lived there, or here. It’s a little confusing to explain completely.”
Howard started walking down the hall toward the commons area. Blair, frazzled, chased after him. He eventually sat in a seat and beckoned Blair to sit in the one next to him. “This might be hard to explain. I’m only here when the school decides the student deserves a visitor. I’m as real as you are. I’m as trapped as you are. The only difference is you have the freedom to leave the art room when you want. I stay cooped up in that office for months.”
Blair opened her mouth to ask a question, but she didn’t know what she wanted to ask. With all the time she had, she could have thought of questions, but she never considered she would see another human being. Then the question came to her. “Why does the school push me back to the art room?” When did the school become a person?
“The art room is like the brain of the school. It feeds off the artistic energy of the student it traps,” Howard explained. “Have you ever noticed that there seems to be an infinite quantity of art supplies?”
“Well, yeah, but every art room seems like that to me.”
“The next chance you get try to destroy the art room.” Blair looked for a sign that Howard might have been joking, but his expression was as serious as it could be.
“Will that save me? Can I leave then?” She asked.
Howard made a noise that can only be described as a chuckle. “Don’t be so naïve. The school is more powerful than a mere art room.”
“Then why would you tell me to destroy it?” Blair was getting impatient.
“A few of the others did it, but when they left the room and came back, the room looked the same as it had before they destroyed it.”
“Well, now that you’ve told me, I’m not wasting my energy.” Blair was annoyed, so she stood up and walked to the gym. She could hear Howard’s footsteps as he followed behind her.
“Sorry, Miss, but I’m all you’ve got. So, you might as well tell me what you’re thinking.” It wasn’t a demand but a suggestion.
“Why should I? I’ve done well on my own.” She stopped to face him.
“I’m all you’ve got, and you’re all I’ve got. Plus, I know the way out of this place.” He had a point, Blair decided. Then she realized. If he’s so clever to find the way out, how come he hasn’t left yet? So, she asked as they walked through the gym doors.
He looked astonished at the question, but he finally started talking, slow as it was. “Blair… I’ve been trapped here my whole life. I- I was born here. My father was the janitor before I was and his father before him and so on. As long as there has been a school, there has been a janitor.
Blair had no idea. She was amazed by his honesty. “So, what happened to your dad?”
“To answer your question, I’ll tell you a story.” Blair waited as they walked to the bleachers. “My father had been the janitor for quite some time. He waited through six students until he met my mother. You see, she was a student like you. She was very artistic and beautiful. They fell in love and had me, but the day I turned twenty, their shackles were broken. They were set free, leaving me behind with the janitor duties.”
Blair’s jaw dropped to the floor. Then, she realized that it wasn’t his parents’ fault. The school did it to him.
“You shouldn’t feel sorry for me. It’s the only way for my family to escape this horrid building.”
She could see the sorrow in his eyes, but Blair needed to know more. “How do I get out of here if that’s the only way you can get out?”
“The school has a system of living worm holes. As you know, they usually lead to the art room, but if you’re lucky, you’ll find the way out. Depending on how long you’ve been here determines when you’ll be plopped back into the timeline.”
Blair was amazed at how casual he spoke of time travel. “So, you’ve told me options A and B. What’s option C?” Blair refused to leave him behind, but she didn’t want to get pregnant to save him.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, we’re in school right now. Maybe this is a test. It can’t be True or False. It has to be a multiple choice test. You’re just not familiar with option C.”
Howard got off the bleachers to get a basketball. “Want to play?”
“Um… Sure, but focus.”
“I’m still listening. Continue.”
“Okay, option C has to be hidden somewhere in this school. I’m not leaving you here.” She meant it.
“What’s your theory?”
Blair thought a bit about the human body. She thought about what Howard said about the school and how it’s an entity all its own. She considered that they needed to kill this entity to save themselves.
“How do we kill it?” Howard wondered. “It ‘healed’ the art room when the others tried.”
“I realize that, but maybe they had it wrong.” Blair started thinking. “You said that the school ‘fed off’ the art. Maybe that’s exactly what it does. That means the art room is the metaphorical stomach.”
“That may be the case, but what would be the brain?”
They both stopped and thought. “The office!”
Howard dropped the ball and hugged Blair. “You’re a genius, but how do we kill it?”
“Don’t you have tools? We could set fire to the place and destroy all of the desks, the walls, the files, everything.” Blair was getting as giddy as a nerd in a library and as crazy as a pyromaniac near a flame. Then, she thought, Howard doesn’t smell too bad for a janitor.
Then, Howard spoke, snapping her out of the reverie. “I do have tools. Let’s go to my office.” So, they walked to the janitor’s office. “What would you like? Hammer? Clamps to break the locks on the lockers?”
“Chainsaw?” Blair wasn’t joking one bit.
“There should be some in the shop.” They walked to the shop, Blair holding the huge hammer and Howard holding the clamps.
Blair’s heart was racing with excitement. “Let’s each get one. How will we take care of the fire, though?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll deal with that.”
So, Blair listened to him, and they strolled on their way to the big, bad Wizard of Oz, holding their instruments of destruction. Blair was getting home one way or another, and she hoped it would be this way. She worried that she would go down with the school. They got to the office, and the doors were open as usual.
Blair hoped the school didn’t know what was going on, but, like Howard said, she shouldn’t be so naïve. Her gut was telling her that something horrible lied ahead of them. However, they plugged in the saws and got to work tearing the desks apart. At the same time, Blair hammered on the filing cabinets and smashed the photos. Howard destroyed the chairs. He threw the computers to the ground, and Blair smashed them with her hammer.
If Blair had to describe the scene in two words, they would be “terrifyingly beautiful.” Just then, the saws shut off, as did the rest of the electronics, meaning no more light. Blair heard the click of a lighter as light came from her peripheral vision. She saw Howard’s strange smile as he lifted a paper to the flame. He threw it onto a pile of debris. Flames quickly devoured the office, making its way to Blair and Howard within seconds. The moment they decided to run, the door shut, locking them in. The school was fighting back.
The oxygen supply was shortening, and Howard crumbled to his knees. Blair’s eyes went huge as she fell to her knees as well. The fire was worse than any prick, bite, or sting she had ever dealt with. She thought the reason it hurt so bad was because she could feel Death calling her name. The temperature rose at least ten more degrees as she heard walls crumbling in the distance. A few more degrees and the school, Howard, and Blair met their end.
Blair opened her eyes. There were figures standing above her. Her sight slowly adjusted back to normal, and she saw her dad, little brother, grandma, and a lady in a nurse’s outfit.
“Honey, can you hear us?” Blair’s dad asked.
A weak sigh escaped her mouth. Then, she righted herself on the hospital bed and spoke as clearly as she could. “Did… I get… out?… I got out!” When she moved, a sharp pain shot through her back, covering every inch of her body, and she screamed. Her grandma sat down on the seat immediately beside her bed.
“Honey, you’re here,” her dad continued in a worried tone, “because you got in a wreck on the way to school.” He turned as a man walked in. “Here’s the young man that called the ambulance. Luke, this is my daughter Blair.”
Blair was so afraid and giddy all at the same time. Luke wasn’t Luke. He was Howard.