Setting: An abandoned middle school
Object: A dog named Ralph!
As a town, Westside was dead or, at the very least, dying. As she was led down her old neighborhood street by her mother’s dog, Casey couldn’t help but look around and take note of how many homes were empty with FOR SALE signs in the yards. She shook her head sadly.
Casey didn’t know why she decided to move back here. No, that’s a lie she told herself when she started thinking about how bad things have gotten since she graduated from high school. She moved back because her mother was alone and she couldn’t bear to let her fight a recent diagnosis of breast cancer by herself.
Of course she understood why her older brother hadn’t volunteered to come and help out. He was on the other side of the country with a great job and a new baby. Casey was just… Casey. After college she took a job in the school’s admissions office. While it was a good job, it wasn’t a career. So picking up and moving back to Westside was barely an inconvenience.
Ralph tugged at the leash, acting like he wanted to take off in a sprint. “Calm down!” yelled Casey as she struggled to keep up. She had been lost in thought without really paying attention to her surroundings. She still recognized this part of the neighborhood, but she couldn’t believe they’d come as far as the old middle school.
She herself had attended Westside Middle, several years before the town’s failing economy and diminished population caused the school to be closed. Casey didn’t have a lot of fond memories of her middle school years. She laughed a bit at that thought. Does anyone? Looking at the abandoned building now gave her an uneasy feeling.
It was hard to believe that a place that was once bustling with activity could be completely empty. But that’s what happens to a small town when the area’s largest employer closes its doors and terminates its workforce. Most of the families that found themselves without income packed their things and moved on to where the jobs were. A few stuck around, struggling to make ends meet by working in retail or food service in other, nearby towns. Casey wondered how any of it was sustainable.
And she wondered why her mother had stayed behind.
Casey’s mom had been working as the executive assistant for the regional manager at Parkway Textiles when the factory was forced to close. She had been given a generous severance package, but Casey knew that couldn’t last forever. And when she was diagnosed with cancer two months ago, Casey just could not see how her mother could stand to stay in Westside any longer.
“This is my home,” her mother insisted, “This is your home. This is where you and your brother grew up. It’s where your father and I made so many wonderful memories…” At that, Casey decided she wouldn’t push the issue. Her father had died while she was in the 7th grade, and though the years had passed, she knew her mother missed him like it was yesterday.
The sound of Ralph barking brought Casey back to the present. She stared at the darkened middle school building, noticing the sun had set and that it was getting darker by the second. She felt a chill in the air as Ralph continued barking and pulled at the leash.
“Ralph! Come on,” Casey said, trying to be firm with this dog that she had grown less familiar with over the years. “Let’s go home.”
But Ralph wouldn’t have it. Something on the school property had his attention. And he was fighting to get away from Casey. She didn’t think of Ralph as a big dog, but he was strong enough that she really had to put all her strength into just making sure he didn’t cause her to fall on her face.
Just as she believed she had gotten a firm grip and tighter control on Ralph’s leash, the harness tore and the dog took off toward the old school. Casey fell backward, hitting the road hard. She started having some not-so-kind thoughts about her mother’s dog.
She picked herself up, then ran after him, calling his name. But he was nowhere to be seen.
Casey pulled out her phone and turned on the flashlight, searching through the overgrown grass in front of the abandoned middle school. When she noticed that there was a hole in the lower part of the front door, a hole that was just big enough for a dog the size of Ralph to fit through, Casey was filled with a sudden sense of panic. She knew, for sure, that Ralph had gone inside the school.
Walking around to the side of the building, Casey found one of the few windows that wasn’t boarded up. As luck would have it, the window was also unlocked, so she pulled herself up and inside one of the old 6th grade classrooms that she knew had once belonged to Mr. Brenner. It was mostly empty now, save for a few broken desks and chairs.
Using her cellphone/flashlight as a guide, she headed into the main hallway. “Because this is such a good idea,” she said to herself before shouting, “Ralph! Come here, boy!”
Casey shined her light toward the far end of the hallway and there he was. Ralph was just sitting there, panting and looking right back at Casey. She patted her leg and called to him again. At the recognition of his name, Ralph tilted his head, but he just remained where he was, sitting still.
She began moving toward the dog, but then she saw what was behind him. Or was it who was behind him? In the span of a couple of seconds, so many questions crossed Casey’s mind… Who is that? Why are they in an abandoned school building? What do they want with my mom’s dog? Should I thank them for catching him?
Casey realized that this person was holding on to Ralph. She opened her mouth to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. She was suddenly filled with such dread that her first instinct was to run back to the classroom through which she entered the building. She was sorry about losing Ralph, but she knew she needed to put as much distance between herself and this man(?) as possible. She knew because she heard the sound it made when it made eye contact with her. She knew because the eyes she saw were black and soulless.
Praying she had enough of a head start, she climbed back through the window. She nearly breathed a sigh of relief, knowing she was going to get away, and then she felt a tug on the leg of her pants. Looking back, she was stuck on a nail.
Casey could hear that thing’s maniacal laughter getting closer and closer as she desperately pulled away from the window. As the fabric of her pants ripped, she fell to the ground. But she was able to quickly pull herself back up and started running as fast as her legs would carry her, not daring to glance behind her. She didn’t stop until she was back at her childhood home.
Breathing heavily, she slammed the door closed, turning every lock she could find. “Mom! Call the police!”
Her mother emerged from the living room with a confused look on her face. “Call the police? What for?”
“Just do it!” yelled Casey as she took a tentative look out of the front window. All she could see was a dark and empty street full of dark and empty houses.
“Where’s Ralph?” asked Casey’s mom as she dialed 911.
Trying to calm down, Casey responded, “That’s part of the reason you’re calling the police.”
Thanks to Rosie over at Rosie Culture for this week’s challenge! I had fun writing it and actually got chills as I pictured some of the imagery in my head. Not sure if that all comes across in what was written. I’m definitely out of practice when it comes to fiction these days. Anyway, I’m hoping to stick to a weekly schedule and answer these writing challenges each Friday until I run out of challenges. If you’d still like to go back and leave a challenge for me, feel free to click here and leave a comment!