Frozen, color drained, all the blood in my body feeling as though it stopped circulating. Realistically, that sensation only lasted some odd seconds, but it might as well have lasted for years on end.
There were very few things in this world that would do that to a person. Maybe once, perhaps twice, it’d happen to them.
Yet for me, that feeling just kept coming.
And this was the strongest that feeling had hit yet.
The intercom came back on.
“Bluemoon, or Blank Face, whatever the fuck you want to call yourself, you’ve been a goddamn thorn in my side the second this all started. And all from the safety and comfort of a fucking mask. That’s cheating, you know that? But no more. That mask can no longer protect you. I know you’re a student here. I know that you’re actually a girl.”
I battled with the urge to vomit all over the floor. I had to settle with ugliness sitting inside me.
The voice was female, I could gather that much. With that talk about cheating, and the fact that there was only really one female I’ve explicitly dealt with during my time as Blank Face…
It made for an easy guess.
“And that’s why we’re here,” Benny said, “To end it. Willingly give yourself up, and we’ll all be on our way. No one has to get hurt.”
There was a pause. Seconds came and went. Then minutes. It wasn’t like I was in a position to respond directly.
“Very well. If that’s how you want to play this game, then, so be it. I’ve got my crew all over the premises, we will find you. And, this goes out to everyone else, but don’t bother contacting anyone from outside. There’s explosives placed at key points in the building, and I have access to the cameras. If I see anyone trying to enter, or trying to leave…”
She left it there. The threat was implicit enough.
“The only one who is in any position to spare you people is the ‘hero’ herself. And as for you, Bluemoon, I’m giving you five more minutes to come clean, to make yourself present and known. After that, and still nothing, I’m making my own guess.”
There was a click, then nothing. Before any of us could relax, sound came back on the intercom.
Not just any music, it was the music that played during passing period, in between classes. Light elevator music, easy to tune out. Except now, there was an eerie, overbearing quality to it.
Passing period was about five minutes. She was giving me a timer.
How was this possible, how was this happening? How did Benny manage to find me, and find me here, of all places, when I wasn’t able to get to her? Was she doing this as a part of Solace? Another one of those ‘games’ like from before?
Whatever Benny did, whatever trick she pulled to get here, it was fucked, unfair.
Like salt in a wound, the music kept playing, and I crawled back into the chair, though hunched. Eve and Coach Tilly were getting up, too.
“This is a dream, right?” Eve asked, voice shaky, her eyes as wide as saucers. “This has to be some kind of joke or prank or something.”
I averted my eyes.
I wish it was.
“Stay calm, everyone,” Coach Tilly said, sounding surprisingly level. “We’ll get through this if we stay calm.”
She was including herself in saying that, I noticed.
“Who was that?” Eve asked, “Is the Bluemoon really a student here? And did they say it was a girl? Why are they coming after it here?”
“That’s a lot of questions,” Coach Tilly said, “Luckily I can answer all of them with just one answer, I don’t know.”
The music played. The pit in my stomach grew.
Eve sat back down, backing into the corner of the room, by the door. It was November, it was raining outside, but the cold hadn’t gotten inside the building.
Regardless, Eve was shivering.
“Then, what do we do? Do we just… sit here?”
Coach wiped her forehead with her sleeve. Her brow was glistening with sweat. “I don’t know. It’s either that, or go out into the hall, but I can’t risk that, not with students. Not with my players.”
“We have our phones? Can’t we try something?”
Coach’s phone was on her desk. She picked it up, looking at it. She shook her head.
“Phone works fine, but if what they’re saying is true, I don’t want to be the reason why-”
Her voice cracked, and she went mute. Coach Tilly fell into her chair.
Eve pulled out her phone.
“Eve, you can’t-” I started.
“Internet doesn’t work,” she said.
“It won’t let me connect, I can’t go online.” Eve then laughed, a touch manic. “Okay, I know that I’m going to sound really stupid right now… This is definitely the real deal.”
Her eyes went wide again. “Oh god, oh god.”
She looked like she was on the verge of hyperventilating. For my part, I was right behind her.
“Eve,” Coach Tilly said, putting heavy emphasis on her name, “You need to not let yourself freak out like that. And Alexis?”
I lifted my head. Coach was watching me, close.
“Same goes for you. You’ve been quiet.”
I had been quiet, but I was having trouble process any of this. Was this the end of everything? Should I give myself up? If I did, Coach Tilly and Eve would be the first people to find out. Two people who had nothing to do with this. What would they do if I told them? Would they let me leave the room? Would Benny stick to her word, as far as innocents were concerned?
The music continued. Years of it playing in the background while I walked from class to class… Never before did it have such a presence.
And there wasn’t much of the song left to play.
I wanted to hit something, the wall beside me, make it break. I couldn’t, obviously, and that made me feel like shit.
Coach Tilly attempted to address me again. “Alexis? Don’t go into shock now.”
I opened my mouth, or rather, I just let it hang. It was hard to vocalize.
“I’m… here,” I said. “I’m here. Present.”
“Good to have you,” Coach said.
I tried swallowing, but my throat was dry. More ways than one.
“Is there anything we do know?” Eve asked. Her eyes looked glossed over, unfocused. Retreating more into her corner.
Coach massaged her head, hands over ears. Blocking out the music, I surmised.
“There are only so many places you can access the school’s intercom,” she said. “Whoever’s talking has to be somewhere in the front office. Maybe the nurse’s office, but that might be a stretch.”
I bent back down in my chair, clutching my stomach.
Was there a way I could get to the front office and stop Benny without getting caught? No, it was improbable, if not impossible. The logistics of it were too complicated. I was limited to what we had here, in Coach Tilly’s office, and even then, there weren’t a lot of resources at hand.
Shit, I was stuck, and the metaphorical clock kept ticking. I wanted the song to never end.
I spoke up, getting out my first lengthy sentence in what felt like hours. “Coach, can you contact anyone from the front office? See what’s the situation over there?”
“Maybe, but,” Coach had her phone in her hands, staring at it. “Contacting anyone there might put them in jeopardy, we’re in the dark about how it is over there.”
She lowered her phone, her expression dark.
“This isn’t a fight for the three of us to take on,” she said. Completely unaware about the irony of her statement. “This isn’t our place to do anything. We can only hope that whatever that person is saying is true. That the Bluemoon is here, and will come forward.”
My heart fluttered, like a bird in a cage.
I’d never seen Coach Tilly like this before. I’d never seen Eve like that.
Watching them like this, seeing another side of those you had known for years, I might as well be meeting them for the first time. They were so unrecognizable.
And then the music cut out.
A few clicks, the amplified sound of someone picking up a phone.
“I gave you a time limit, and you didn’t comply, Bluemoon. I’m very disappointed.”
All three of us were looking up at the ceiling, staring at a distinct circle affixed there.
“Now this is where I make my first guess. You, what’s your name?”
There was an abrupt moment of ruffling, like someone was passing a phone to someone else.
A second voice. The verge of tears.
I was breaking out into a cold sweat. I heard a faint sound in the distance.
That abrupt ruffling, again.
“Are you the Bluemoon?”
Benny was back on.
The device was being passed back and forth between the two of them. Crackling and popping of the signal.
“No, I’m not, god please, I’m not that thing.”
“How can I be so sure?”
“I’m not! Please! Isn’t it obvious I’m-”
She was interrupted. A loud bang sounded off, distorting the speakers. It cut out again, I didn’t hear the whole thing ring out.
We all screamed, anyways.
Someone gone. Lost. Forever. All because of me. All because of the fucking Bluemoon.
I jumped out of my seat. I lost my sense of where I was, what was happening, who I was. I had a mouth, and I just had to scream. Rage backed by something within me, deeper.
A hand went over my mouth, and I was pushed into the wall behind me. The desk banged in place, several books fell out of the shelves.
Eve had her hands on me, pushing me back, keeping me down.
Her hand caught my mouth while it was still open, her palm pressed against my tongue.
Thoughts in my head were screaming to bite into her hand. It took all of my willpower to back down.
Neither of us said anything, but it wasn’t quiet. The music returned. Light, jazzy elevator music.
Eve glared, pulling her hand away, a line of spit following. She wiped her hand at her side, cleaning it.
“Dammit, Alexis, we missed that next part because you wouldn’t shut up.”
She backed up some more, resting against the edge of Coach’s desk, placing her hands beside her. Her eyes went to the floor, grimacing.
“Don’t be so hard on her, Eve,” Coach said, somber. She turned her attention to me. “They put the music back because they’re starting the timer again. Five more minutes, and then they make their next ‘guess.’”
Coach’s face looked green as she said it, like the words carried an illness with them.
My back was to the wall, figuratively and literally.
Benny was going to have another person killed. Another student, who went to this school.
First Thomas, now this. Suzie.
I wasn’t very acquainted with her, but I knew of her, and it pained me all the same.
Oh my god, holy shit, holy fuck, holy shit–
I caught sight of Eve again, and I had to will myself to breathe in, then breathe out. Slow. Cool it for a moment. I couldn’t afford to let myself freak, not here. The tension was already layered on thick, and it was only getting more palpable, and noxious.
But something had to be done. Couldn’t just sit here. Or more innocents would…
I want to throw up.
There was a waste bin by Eve, could I relieve myself real fast?
Get it together, Alexis. You know what you want to do.
“Get out,” I said aloud, anger in my tone.
Coach Tilly and Eve both turned to me. Confusion.
I breathed, finding some mental footing again. Marginal. “How, how are we going to get out of this?”
Coach had returned to her chair, arms crossed. She looked as if she aged ten extra years.
She talked, with no emotion. “We’re going in circles now, Alexis. They want that Bluemoon thing, who is apparently here, and they want the rest of us stuck in one spot. If we move, and try anything, and get caught, it’s only going to get worse. Everything’s pinned on that one person, if they’re actually here.”
Music played. The timer continued.
“This went way too far, way too fast,” Eve said, nearly out of breath. “Doesn’t the Bluemoon know this is serious? Why wouldn’t they just give it up, already? Someone’s already-”
Her voice cracked again, and she just stopped there, looking even more downcast.
My chest was beating until it hurt, my eyes kept darting from my feet to the door. My feet to the door. My feet, the door. Feet, door.
Get Benny, find Benny. Paint the walls with her. Eat. Drink. Eat.
I tugged at my collar, airing myself off. I scanned the small room again, at a loss of what to do.
The room was getting smaller. Claustrophobic, amplified by the four of us. Not a lot of space to compose ourselves and-
Me, Coach Tilly, Eve…
The edge of a man’s outline, in the corner of my eye. It evaded a direct look when I moved my eyes to catch it, floating to stay in the edge of my vision.
It slinked as it moved, sliding across the wall, growing taller as it went from one corner to the other, closing in on me. I had to lift my head as its head reached the ceiling, a tendril-like arm stretching to touch my face and-
Alexis, we need to get out of here. You need to get us out of here.
I backed away again, into my own corner, knocking into the chair I was once sitting in. Eve jumped, avoiding it as it rolled to her.
“Alexis, what the fuck are you on?”
The tone and her choice of words drew my attention back to Eve. Her look was more worried than confused. Drawn in, shielded, like she was handling a snake, ready for when it would inevitably bite.
I had to tell myself to run my hand through my hair. A normal action in an attempt to stabilize myself.
I glanced around, one more time. Just the three of us. The music continued playing, the notes harrowing, piano keys drilling into my head.
“Nothing, I’m alright,” I said, utterly failing to sound convincing. I couldn’t even convince myself.
“Right…” Eve said, trailing away. She didn’t relax.
Damn, I couldn’t stand to be in here.
Then a noise clattered, different from anything else we’d been subjected to, recently. Coach Tilly and Eve turned their head in response. I did too.
Coming from right outside.
Another sound, same direction, muffled.
Not the ones in my head.
“Get down, get down,” Coach Tilly whispered, but she still stressed her words.
We all got down, crouching.
“Who’s out there?” Eve asked, whispering.
“For one last time, Eve, I’m not in a position to tell you,” Coach responded. “Keep quiet, and keep low.”
Eve did the latter, but ignored the former. “Is the door locked?”
“I can’t lock that door from the inside.”
“Do you think we can turn off the lights?” Eve asked.
The voices returned, this time louder. Talking, responding, but there was only one discernible tone to it. Only one person?
“It’s too late,” Coach said, “Here, crawl here behind my desk, we’re switching places.”
Neither of us were in a position to argue. We waited for Coach to move away from her desk, closer to the door. Eve slipped under the desk first. I was right behind her.
The space was limited, cramped. Vision compromised. I bumped shoulders with Eve.
We only had our hearing.
Four knocks on the door. Not the friendliest knocks I’d ever heard.
No response, not from any of us.
I heard the fumbling of the metal knob.
The door opened. Not from our end.
A woman. Not deep, but still menacing. “Why are you on the floor?”
She was addressing Coach Tilly.
Coach answered her, sounding surprisingly firm, given everything.
“The school’s on lockdown, it was part of our drills. This is a school, in case you didn’t know.”
“Oh, I’m more than aware. Are you the only one in here?”
I felt Eve go completely still.
“I am,” Coach said, hard.
“I’m inclined to take a quick look around. Sorry, part of our drills.”
I felt myself go completely still.
“There’s no one else in here,” Coach said. “Just me.”
“Maybe I believe you, but I want to see for myself.”
“Don’t, I’m the only one-”
Sneakers squeaking on tile. The grunts between two people. Signs of a struggle.
An all-too familiar click.
Not Coach too.
It was as if some other force had taken over. I sprung to action.
I pushed myself up, hands on the desk. I kicked my legs up, feet pressed on the wall behind me.
I only had a fraction of a second to process the situation. More than enough time.
Legs against the wall, a hard push, and I sent myself over the desk, slamming my body into the woman that was fighting with Coach.
The resulting crash took me out of the office, the woman under me. We hit the wall opposite the door, the woman’s back taking most of the impact.
I was back on my feet as the woman slid to the floor, hands to her side, empty. Dazed.
I moved on instinct, what I felt I needed to do. I grabbed her by the ankles, and pulled her back into Coach’s office.
“Holy fuck, the hell was that?”
Eve was hollering in my ear. She had gotten out from our hiding spot.
“Close the door,” I said as I came in. I was oddly cool about things. “No yelling.”
Eve had enough wits about her to listen. She stepped over the woman, getting the door.
I let go of her ankles, going to the woman’s collar. I picked her up to prop her against the corner of the room, I kept my hands on her, one on her neck, the other over her eyes. I was crouched to be at her level, one knee pressed between her legs, a foot on her hand.
She wasn’t going anywhere. Not unless I had a say in it.
I took a glance behind me, and Eve was standing over me, hands on her head, taking everything in. She wasn’t doing a very good job.
Eve stammered. “Okay, okay, you need to tell me what-”
“In a minute, but we need to watch our language. No names.”
“Because these people hold grudges, as you can see. If you give them a name and a face, they’ll go to the ends of the earth to get back at you.”
“No, as in, why would you know that?”
If my mind was a book, I flipped through the pages of my memory.
“Remember Jillian?” I said. “Brandon’s cousin?”
“Jillian? You mean that one… She’s Brandon’s cousin?”
“Yeah. Let’s just say she runs with these kinds of guys, and I’ve been on the receiving end of their kinds of grudges, once before”
Eve only had one word to say at that, one sound. “Oh.”
I had left some details out, fudging others, and I didn’t mention that I was currently on another receiving end of such a grudge, but I gave her a decent enough picture to work with.
“How’s Coach?” I asked, changing course before Eve could dwell on it for too long.
“Ah, I… Fuck, she’s not responding. She must have gotten hit in the head by her gun-”
“Gun? Where is it now?”
“On the floor, I kicked it away.”
This isn’t good, and it’s only getting worse.
The voice was sing-songy.
One thing at a time.
I had to come up with something.
“Keep her head up, do we have ice?”
“There’s ice in the breakroom.”
So there was none here.
Think, but couldn’t think too hard. Or I’d be inviting more unknown elements into my headspace.
“I can get ice,” I said. I turned to the woman I had pinned. “We just need-”
The music stopped.
Of all times.
It was as if the world itself stood still.
“You are testing my patience, Bluemoon. I’m surprised you can be so cruel to your fellow classmates.”
A certain fire was starting to spark within me.
“It’s time for my next guess. And your name is?”
Again, that name…
“Are you the Bluemoon?”
Then, crying. The sound of crying coming out from the speakers above. Going throughout the entire school. Everyone was hearing this.
Interrupted by a distorted fuzzy bang.
I gritted my teeth, lowering my head a fraction. Seeing red. Eve shrieked behind me.
“You two, start cleaning this up. Ah, seems like I was wrong again. But I will eventually be right. It’s all up to you, Bluemoon. You have five more minutes.”
Phone hanging up.
The timer started again.
I opened my eyes, and I saw that my fingers were around the woman’s neck. Getting tighter.
I stopped myself.
“You,” I said to her, low, so it stayed between us. “Answer, truthfully, with a nod or by shaking your head. Any other friends of yours in the hallways right outside?”
She shook her head.
I shifted a little to get another view of Eve.
“You go into the breakroom, you get the ice.”
Eve pointed to herself.
“Yes, you, I need to keep this one here.” I moved the woman’s head, tapping the back of her skull against the wall. I wasn’t exactly being careful with her. “And hurry. It’s not like in movies. If someone’s out, then it’s dangerous. We need to do what we can until someone else can treat her more properly. Go!”
She sprang at that last word, leaving the office in a sprint, despite her ankle. The door was shut behind her.
I went back to the woman.
“I’m allowing you to talk, now. Tell me everything you know,” I said. “Starting with your name.”
She didn’t try to fight or stall me. She knew her place.
“Sofia. Are you the Bluemoon?”
“Thank you, Sofia, and no, I’m not. And I’m the only one who gets to ask any questions around here, not you. The person on the intercom, where are they doing it from?”
Leaving out details was crucial. Wouldn’t do to let slip I knew it was Benny.
“How many of you are there, around the school?”
“There’s a lot of us, I’m not sure.”
“Ballpark it,” I said, seething.
“Definitely more than twenty, less than forty?”
She’s fucking with you. Kill her.
I shook my head.
I asked another question. “Those explosives, where are they, and can they be disarmed?”
“Are you telling me a kid is going to take out every single explosive?”
I gripped her neck harder, restricting more airflow. She started writhing. I released, then gripped, then released again.
“Answer the questions.”
She answered, ragged. “There’s three bombs. One in that big gym, one in the theater, the last one’s in the cafeteria. As for disarming them, you can’t, you’d need a bomb squad.”
She. They. Benny. They’re the real monsters. Do it. Spill them all.
I needed every ounce of concentration, and even that was slipping away.
“But there is a temporary fix. Some of us are carrying coolant spray, in case something goes wrong with the detonator. Hitting the bomb with that should knock it out of commission for at least a whole day.”
That, I could use.
“Do you have that spray on you?” I asked.
“I don’t, you’d have to get it from someone else, but I doubt they’d give it up so easily.” Sofia tried moving her head, getting my hand out of her eyes. I pushed her back into the wall to get her to stop.
“Are you sure you’re not the Bluemoon? All this talk, these questions you’re asking, it doesn’t sound like something a normal kid would concern herself with.”
“I’m not who you think I am,” I said, keeping my tone as neutral as possible. “But what makes you so sure that the Bluemoon is even here? You might be wrong, the Bluemoon might be somewhere else. Another school, or they might not even be a student. If they were here, they would’ve answered you, already.”
Sofia reacted. It made me sick.
“We know. The Bluemoon will make her move, eventually, and that’ll be the end of her. How many people die until then is all up to her.”
“It’s already the end for all of you, aren’t you aware of that? How do you expect to escape from this?”
I had Sofia’s eyes covered, but I could still see the lower half of her face. She reacted, again. A sickening smile.
“We all go to Hell,” she said. “All of us. The only choice we have is how soon we get there.”
You could snap off her head right here. Drink the juice that drips from the moist end.
Before I could react or respond, Eve came back.
“Got ice,” she said, without me having to ask. She moved to Coach, out of my field of view.
“Good, do what you can. I’ll…” I looked at Sofia, then to the door.
“I’ll go find the nurse.”
Eve immediately stood back up.
“You are not going out there, and you are not leaving me here.”
“I’m not leaving you, I’ll be back, and I’ll be coming back with help. Coach can’t afford to be in that condition for too long, and between the two of us, we’re not equipped to help.”
“Are you freaking insane? You’re going to go out there, and get yourself killed. There’s more of them out there, and we got found out just from sitting here. What if someone else comes while you’re gone?”
I didn’t have an answer for her, not for that last part. Another factor I had to deal with.
But I had to deal with this.
“I’m not going to get myself killed, that’s a promise. I won’t be gone for that long. The nurse’s-”
“Her office is right by the front office, where all the other fucking terrorists are! How are you going to get there and back without getting caught?”
“I’m fast, I can sneak-”
“No, just no!”
Eve was on the edge of being entirely hysterical, the situation getting to her. She wasn’t accustomed to this sort of stress, not used to having to deal when things suddenly fell out from under her. Not used to taking action.
She was just a regular girl.
And you are not Alexis. Not anymore.
“I have to do something,” I said. “We have to do something. Coach might not die from that injury, but do you want something bad to happen as a result of it, something that might last?”
I let the word hang in the air, despite how heavy it was, filled with all the guilt I could put into one syllable.
I continued, “We’re losing time, not just because of Coach, but the music. I’m going.”
More silence from Eve. I took that as my ‘permission’ to leave.
Before I could go ahead and do that, I needed to do something about Sofia. Even if I had her down, her very presence was still a concern.
“Is there any duct tape?” I asked.
“Um, I don’t see any.”
“Check the drawers in the desk.”
I was too in the way, Eve had to step on the desk and over to get around.
Metallic clanging, papers rustling…
“Here,” she said.
“Give it to me,” I said. I took my hand away from Sofia’s throat, reaching to Eve.
She placed it in my open palm, and I went to work. I used it liberally, there was a lot available. I started with her eyes, moving fast so she couldn’t get a glimpse of us. Some hair got stuck underneath the tape, but I wasn’t here to be gentle. Another strip of tape went over her mouth. I got off her, then flipped her to her stomach. I worked to tie her hands behind her back. Her feet, too, for good measure.
I tore the last piece of tape I needed, and set it. I noticed a sheath strapped to her hip.
I took it, slipping it into my own pocket.
Even after what happened with Jillian, I didn’t see the need to bring a knife with me to school. Nothing happened since. Not until this.
Even though it was against school rules, I wished I had started bringing it with me.
“There,” I said, as I finished, “That should do it. Keep her in a corner, keep an eye on her…”
I finally caught sight of the gun Eve was talking about. A black rifle. I wasn’t much of a gun fanatic to know its exact name.
“… and keep her as far away from that as possible. Don’t even touch it anymore.”
I noticed Coach as well, on her back, eyes closed, head raised by the bag of ice Eve brought.
It made me want to slam Sofia into the wall again, just for Coach’s sake. And a little bit of my own.
“What if someone else tries to come in?” Eve asked.
I spoke as I got up, grabbing my stuff, seeing what else was worth bringing. “Move the desk and block the door, it swings into the room.”
Eve seemed to accept that, she didn’t ask about any other options. Barring the door was all she’d have as far as defenses go, and I was rather sure that she wasn’t keen on using the gun herself.
I checked through the stuff I had brought in here, to no avail. Just my notebooks and textbooks. My backpack was in my locker. I set what I might need on one side. The remaining duct tape, the paper bag that Coach had given me, my new uniform inside. I made a note of the knife in my pocket.
Unprepared and Ill-equipped, all around. I didn’t have anything I could use to carry everything I might need. And I was uncertain in how exactly I would disarm three fucking bombs before I made my way to Benny.
Not to mention that Coach Tilly needed someone to give her proper treatment.
This was impossible.
Think on your feet, it’s what got you this far.
It was also what brought me this low.
Even so, even without much of a plan, I went for the door, anyways.
“I’m heading out,” I said, carrying the paper bag and duct tape in my hands. “Stay safe, and take care of Coach.”
I didn’t say anything for Sofia.
“Take my jacket.”
Eve unzipped her hoodie, an inoffensive beige, and tossed it to me. I caught it.
“Anything to help you stay on the down low. The pockets are pretty large, you can carry a lot with you.”
“Eve…” I was about to say more, but she shook her head.
“Just hurry and go, because this is really freaking me the hell out, and the less I have to see you, being all freaky, the less my brain starts making connections it really doesn’t want to.”
I swallowed, hard. Connections. This really was the beginning of the end.
I wanted to stay and refute her, tell her she’d be wrong in making that connection, but I didn’t have the luxury.
I left, Eve closing the door behind me.
It was a patchwork of a costume, a baggy hoodie, a paper bag over my head, holes poked into it. I threw out the uniform, leaving it behind. A roll of duct tape in a jacket pocket, a knife in the pocket of my jeans.
I stepped out into the hallway of the school proper, just as the music cut off for a third time.