U-32 was one of the most beautiful high schools in Vermont in 2015. The playing fields were perfectly groomed, the trees lining the parking lot were just filling into their young prime, and the school building itself was gleaming and fresh; its floors shone; the windows admitted a clear, clean light; the bright surfaces were only occasionally marred by the dent of a door swung too hard or the scuff of shoe prints.
But these forty years have been unkind. The maple trees were left to fend for themselves when the blight came. Their crowns are mostly dead or dying, and the large branches that come down in storms are dragged out of the parking lot but left on the grass, tall weeds grown up around them, scraps of trash swept into their clutches by the wind.
Of all the problems, the most urgent, the one discussed at every school board meeting, is the roof. Over the years there were dozens of small, cheap fixes; now the fixes themselves have failed alongside the original leaks, and water seeps in here and there across the entire facility. In some of the upstairs rooms, on a rainy day, teachers put trash cans under steady drips from the ceiling, but in most of the school the problem is a persistent dank heaviness, a fog of spores from the mold spreading through every wall and under every carpet.
Even after everything that took place with the TT’s — even after the hearings, the emergency funding, and the new roof — the mold, and its dreaded smell, remains.
October of 2060, when our story took place, was the hottest October in thirty years. In the afternoons, for days at a stretch, it would reach into the nineties. Then the sky would curdle like milk and pour down mercilessly, filling the trash cans upstairs to overflowing.
The windows in every class were open until the rains came, but the whirring fans and droning teachers could not distract the students from the overwhelming reek, and they wilted at their desks, wiping sweat from their keyboards.
Only the TT’s were unphased, moving briskly among the students, smiling and energetic.
They could not smell, or sweat to make their own smell, and their smooth brows were placid and dry.
I knew what I had to do. I knew if I told somebody they would laugh in my face, and I did not want to confront the TT, so I would just have to figure it out on my own.
I decided I should start by paying a visit to where the TT’s were stored. It was in the old south hallway. No one was allowed to go there since last year when the roof had caved in, injuring seven students and killing three.
The hallways were completely empty. It was lunch and everyone was in the cafeteria, and the TT’s were charging in their storage unit. It was eerie. The wind whistled through the pointed shards of glass sticking up from the frame of the broken windows and the fluorescent lights buzzed and flickered.
When I reached the door to the south hallway, I took out my phone and put on the flashlight app because the lights no longer worked there. I pushed open the old metal door. It made a metallic squealing as it scraped on the floor, leaving a long grey scratch on the beat-up linoleum.
I cringed and hoped no one heard as I made my way into the forbidden hallway. I had thought it would be completely dark. Instead, a dim green glow came from the hole in the roof. The floor still had piles of debris from the roof scattered around.
And then I saw it sticking out from one of the piles. Amidst the broken wood and shingles was a pale hand with a trickle of blood dripping down it. It looked like it was trying to grasp at something. Had they never moved the bodies?
I shoved the scream down my throat as I heard two pairs of footsteps. The TT’s! After seeing what they did in class, who could say what else they were capable of?
Then, as I backed into a wall, I saw the door next to me open. A woman wearing stained denim overalls stood there and beckoned at me.
“Come in! Quick!” she whispers.
The New Kid
“Ashlynn!” Sam yelled. I just stared at her. Sam scampered over.
“So, how’s your first day been going? It’s a handful, isn’t it?”
“Hi,” I managed. “It’s been going well. How’s your day been?”
“Ah, it’s been fine. Bit boring, though, to say the least. Well, I’ve got to get going. English class. What do you have?”
“Science,” I said, a bit sullenly.
“Well, bye!” Once again, Sam just disappeared into the crowd, red hair there, red hair gone.
I moved to my next class, science, and lived through that, surprisingly.
I ran to my locker and then the bathroom, brushing my hair and washing my hands. As I went into a stall, I looked into the toilet and immediately flushed and looked away when I saw what was in there, exclaiming “Ew!” When the water started to seep back in, I noticed that it was red. I flushed three times, but the color didn’t change. There was something floating around in the red water. Was that….bone?
I backed away, too disgusted to even go into another stall. I felt sick to my stomach. Rinsing my hands off, I darted out of the bathroom and back to my locker, even though I was late to class once again. I collapsed onto the floor in front of my locker. What was going on?
Robot teachers, whispering robot teachers, apple tattoos, and now bloody toilets with a bone inside? The last statement would have been funny if it wasn’t so painstakingly real. I just sat there until the bell rang and kids came to their lockers. It was time for lunch, but the last thing I felt like doing was eating.
I decided to take a little tour of the school. Middle school students were supposed to stay in the amphitheater or cafeteria during lunch, but if anyone asked, I was a freshman. I was tall for my age, and a lot of people thought I was in high school.
I walked to the gym. The floors were scratched up and dirty, the paint and metal on the wall rusty and peeling. I was appalled. How could they have enough money for robots but not to clean up the school?
A crisp voice startled me. “Hey sweetheart, you’re in the wrong class. This is gym.” I spun on my heels and saw a young, fit woman in pink sweatpants and a t-shirt dribbling a basketball behind me. There was something about her that told me that she wasn’t a robot. The robots were very slender and perfect, and their eyes were super creepy: bright blue with pupils so tiny you could barely see them. This woman’s frizzy brown hair was tied up in a ponytail, and her hard brown eyes and tight mouth were staring right at me.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” I said. “I’m new here, so I’m kind of having a hard time finding my way around.”
After I said that, the woman’s face seemed to soften. “You’re new here? I’m Alex, the gym teacher. I will probably have you later today.”
I flashed her my most brilliant smile. To my surprise, she smiled back.
“So you’re new here, huh? Does that mean you haven’t been, you know…”
She trailed off, leaving me in the dust.
“What do you mean, I haven’t been…”
“I mean daily chats, body samples, shots, headaches, everything that comes with the Tech Teacher package.”
“No, but some weird stuff has been going on,” I said. “Some teachers were talking about me this morning. They said that they didn’t have enough resources for me. And then there were blood and bones in the toilet. And I met a girl who had an apple tattoo on her neck.”
“Wait, you did?” said Alex. “That’s it! Something is going on with those Tech Teachers. The girl you met has the symbol of the Tech Teachers on her. That means she is the property of….”
She stopped, looking around. “I’ve said too much. I’m sorry! Best luck to you!” She ran into an office at the back of the gym.
I decided I wouldn’t tell anyone about the locked doors. It wasn’t that big of a deal, only locked doors, nothing to worry about. Right?
I headed towards my next class of the day, science. I loved science, it was the only class of mine that wasn’t taught by a TT. As I walked into science class I could smell the familiar scent of mold and dust that outlined the walls of the class. I sat down at my desk… well, technically it wasn’t mine. Since there were so many students at Tech-32, classes were stuffed, so we had to share desks.
“Hey Felix, did you do the homework?” a boisterous voice said behind me. That had to be Bradley, my desk partner. He was exuberant, happy all the time. Surprisingly, he was probably the closest thing I had to a friend.
“No of course not, do you know me?!”
“Yeah, me neither, I was hoping I could copy off you, but oh well.”
I was going to make a comeback when Mr. Lawrence started the class. I was starting to doze off when Mr. Lawrence started talking about neurons, when I noticed something. Every kid in my class had this weird apple tattoo. I wondered if that was the new fad. If so, that was really ugly. Then I noticed that Bradley had it. Bradley would never get a tattoo, he thought they were unhygienic.
“Hey Bradley, where’d you get that tattoo?”
“You know, that tattoo of the apple on the back of your neck.”
“Felix, I think I would know if I had a tattoo on my neck.”
“Oh let me show you.”
I dragged him to the boys’ bathroom, lifted up the hair on the nape of his neck and showed him the tattoo.
“Voila — tattoo,” I said with a confident grin.
“Felix, I don’t see anything on my neck but skin, are you feeling okay?”
“Maybe if I put some water on it you’ll see it.”
I splashed some cool water on the mysterious tattoo, and the minute the water hit the tattoo it burst into sparks. “Oh my god, dude did you see that!” I said, perplexed. But Bradley wasn’t responding. He wasn’t doing anything. His head was down and he seemed to be asleep. Then suddenly his head jerked up, but he wasn’t his normal happy self, his eyes were emotionless.
“Hey Bradley, dude are you okay?”
He started walking out of the bathroom, and up the amp stairs. I followed him all the way to the music department. He stopped at what I thought was a janitor’s closet, pressed his hand to it and the door swung open. All I could see was darkness. Bradley stepped in, letting the darkness swallow him up. I just looked at the blackness, unsure of what to do next.