“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
Do you ever wonder if everything that happens has a purpose? If for every bad or mysterious experience, there is a lesson to be learned at the end of the road? A lot of people tend to believe so, probably because the mind is terrified of the far more likely possibility that some things just “happen”, and there is no such thing as “fate” or “destiny” to guide us. But what if there actually is a plan for everything that happens to us? What if every tragedy or mystery or mishap that we experience, is happening to teach us a lesson in the end?
These thoughts are usually not inhabiting the mind of a six-year-old. The child’s mind usually knows no horror, or tragedy at that age. But in my case, that was the age when those questions started rising in my mind.
Because of that day…
My name is James. I had a very fulfilling childhood before I went to elementary school. My family loved me very much, and we made a pretty good living thanks to my father’s job at the insurance company. In fact I loved my family so much that I was too scared to go to school on my first day. I suppose most children experience this fear, being forced to leave your precious warm environment and go to this unknown place with so much strangers you know nothing about. Even if it is for a couple of hours, it’s an unsettling thought at that age. I remember my mother trying to cheer me up, saying that I was going to make a lot of friends, and it wouldn’t be so bad. And I kept thinking, “Why do I have to make friends? I have you, don’t I?”
But, whatever my fears, I had to suck it up and go through with it. The first hours were just like I had expected. A bunch of kids screaming and playing in the classroom, and me sitting alone, watching from a distance, waiting for this to be over so that I could go home. And then, during our lunch break, everything changed.
I was sitting alone in one of the school’s tables eating a sandwich my mom had made me. When suddenly, out of nowhere, I heard her voice.
“Hey, my mom puts pickles in my sandwich too! They’re yucky aren’t they?!”
She was slightly shorter than me. Her hair was blonde and her eyes were so green it was as if they were glowing. At first I thought this was some kind of mean joke, but then she started talking to me, and we got to know each other. Her name was Liz. I remember everything I learned about her that day. Her favorite color was blue, her favorite animals were squirrels. After everything we’ve been through, I remember it all. Because that was the day that I learned that maybe the world wasn’t such a scary place. Maybe there was someone out there who could care for you. Liz taught me that.
But even though she taught me a lesson, she stuck around in my life anyway. As if what she had given me wasn’t enough. Maybe that meant, that there were still things I could learn from that girl. Before long we had become best friends. We spent all our time at school together, making fun of the other kids who acted silly, and many days we would get together after school and go to the nearby woods to play all sorts of games. The woods were close to both our houses, so our parents were fine with it, so long as we didn’t wander too far inside. Although we had a great lust for adventure, we were always very responsible for our age, and never did anything too dangerous.
There was, however, one thing that we had become kind of obsessed with. We had been to all the rooms in our school while we were exploring during breaks, but if you stood outside of the school, you could see that there was a big wall in the back that was hiding a large space, probably a back yard of some sort, that was adjacent to the woods. From the inside of the school we could not find a way to get to this back yard, except for one door in the far back wall that was always locked. Me and Liz would make up stories about what the back yard was home to, sometimes to excite our imaginations, others to scare the other playfully. We told each other stories about dragon’s nests, and portals to mythical kingdoms. Needless to say, we were very intrigued by the contents of the door on the far back wall, and whether it was actually leading to this hypothetical back yard or not. But, as time passed, and there was obviously no way for us to either climb the back wall, or open the locked door, we simply forgot about it, occupying our minds with other activities.
Our days were passing in harmony, until that day came.
It had been six months since the beginning of school. We had been informed the previous day that our teacher had called in sick, and that we would be getting a substitute teacher for a couple of days, until she got better. I was worried because I had already gotten to know our teacher, and I was feeling safe around her. What if this new teacher was someone strict or mean? Still, however bad he/she might have been, I had Liz by my side, so we would stick it out even if it was hard.
My mother dropped us of outside the school that morning. We were a little late so we rushed to open the front door as my mother drove away.
“Race you to the door!” said Liz as she started running.
“Hey no fair, I wasn’t ready!”
As I was trying to catch up to her, I felt something that made me stop for a second. It was a spontaneous dizziness. Like the kind you get from standing up too fast, but the strange part was that I hadn’t done anything weird or intense with my body. It just passed through my head for a split second, out of nowhere, and then it went away. Just when I was starting to worry, I saw Liz get to the door running, and just when she got there, I saw her throw herself at the door, and then bouncing right back as if she was a rubber ball. Now I had two reasons to worry. The door was locked.
We started pushing the door together to make it budge, but it just wouldn’t. This made no sense. Why would they lock the door on a school day? They never did that. Liz and I had been late before, but the door was never locked. If the school was closed shouldn’t they have called us? And just as we were starting to get really anxious, we heard the voice.
It was a man’s voice, very deep, and very confident. It had kind of a judging tone. We turned around to see who the voice belonged to. When I saw him, a chilling wave went up my spine. He was very tall and was dressed in black. Long black coat, black pants, and a black fedora. But what gave me chills was his face. You could tell he was probably in his forties, but was still very handsome. His eyes, however, were extremely unusual. They were light blue, the color of ice. Like the eyes of a husky. It wasn’t that he had something particularly frightening. Unusual yes, but not frightening. It was his expression that was troubling. He looked so calm, so confident, and yet so mysterious. The way he was looking at me, those confident ice-blue eyes, that calm smile, it was as if he was either proud of me or was planning on murdering me.
“Who are you?” asked Liz, who must have been as troubled as I was.
“Why, I’m your new substitute teacher Liz. My name is Mr. Silver.”
At the time I was too little to realize what an unusual last name that was.
“How do you know my name?” asked Liz again.
“Well, I read all of your files of course! It was a way to get to know you better. I read yours too, young James. I hear you’re really talented at drawing, right?”
“Y-yes…” His tone was very relaxing. Perhaps he was a good man after all.
“Well, I can’t wait to know all about you. And I’m sure there are many things you’d like to know about me, so why don’t we go inside?”
“Um, the door is-“ before I could finish my sentence, the man had simply nudged the door, and just like that it was open. As if it hadn’t even been locked. I couldn’t explain how he did it, but he just went inside, walking slowly and steadily. Liz and I stared at each other for a second, and I could see the discomfort in her expression. I wasn’t the only one intimidated by our substitute teacher.
I tried to shake off all of my bad feelings, and we followed him inside. I tried to calm myself, thinking he was only a teacher. We had just been a little late, the door was somehow stuck, and he was just stronger than us and he opened it. I was trying really hard to convince myself that there was nothing to worry about, but walking inside the school behind him, my concerns only got worse. There was something about the atmosphere in the school. It was a sunny day, but just when we walked a few steps inside the school, it seemed as if everything had suddenly gotten cold. The hall was darker than usual, as if the sun was about to set, and I could feel a chilling breeze in the environment. In fact, I don’t know if I imagined it, but I thought I could actually see the walls dripping with moisture, like the outside of a cold glass of water.
What was really unsettling though, was that the hall was dead silent. It was a school morning, and we were late, which meant all the kids should already be in the classroom making a fuss like always. But there was nothing. No laughter of children, no sounds of objects being thrown around in the classroom, just the sound of Mr. Silver’s slow footsteps echoing through the hall, like an old clock. It wasn’t in my head. Something was terribly wrong about that day.
Mr. Silver got to the classroom, and there was a glimmer of hope inside me that he would just go inside, the kids would all be sitting waiting for him and that we would all have a normal lesson. But he walked past the door. Maybe he didn’t know it was the one since he was new.
“Um, Mr. Silver?” I said standing next to the classroom door.
He turned around and smiled at me, waiting for me to speak.
“You walked past the classroom.”
“Oh, we’re not having class in here today, my boy.”
“Um… Where are we having class?”
Then he smirked at me, as if he had a surprise that he couldn’t wait to show us.
He walked straight across the hall and we followed him. Liz was quiet and looked as worried as I was. I thought maybe we shouldn’t be following him, but I was too afraid to refuse that man’s request. He walked slowly across the hall and then he stopped.
He stopped before the door in the back wall.
I kept thinking, “It’s locked. It’s always locked. He’ll just try opening it and give up.” But, as a part of me expected, he simply turned the doorknob, and just like that, it was open. Then he turned around and looked at us.
“We’re having class outside today.”
He walked in the door. For the first time my fear was overcome by a feeling of enthusiasm as to what the door was hiding all this time. I rushed to the door, when suddenly Liz grabbed my arm to stop me. She looked terrified.
“C’mon Liz, now is our chance! Didn’t you always wanna know what was behind the door?”
She followed me, as if she was forcing herself to do so. But my enthusiasm had gotten the better of me. I had to take this chance. We walked through the door, and suddenly we were outside. There was mist everywhere. Out of nowhere, on a sunny day, there was mist. All we could see was a stone path ahead of us and Mr. Silver walking down it. I grabbed Liz’s hand to make her feel a little safer and started walking behind Mr. Silver. After a while we could see some shadows in the mist. They were all around us, they were about as tall as we were, and they had a roundly shape. After a few steps the mist cleared and we could distinguish what the shadows were.
We were in a graveyard.
We were surrounded by graves of all shapes and sizes. All were extremely white, like they had just been cleaned, and we could see a steel fence rising to our left and right. Many trees were rising behind the fences, which made me think that the graveyard actually was adjacent to the woods, just like we thought.
Mr. Silver turned to us, with that confident grin on his face.
“Um… Where are the rest of the kids?” asked Liz.
“Hm… I suppose you’re the first ones here.”
I knew that was a lie. But I was too afraid to confront Silver about it. I wanted to play along until this “lesson” was over.
“So… What is this place?” I asked.
“This is where I work,” Silver said, smile still on his face.
“But... you said you are a teacher.”
“I didn’t say that was ALL I was.”
“So… what else are you?”
“Hahaha! You needn’t worry about that my sweet child. Today I am your teacher. Nothing more, nothing less.”
The way he spoke, he had such a charm. His voice was the voice of a father. Comforting you, making you feel at home. He was like a human trap, trying to lure you closer, so he could snap your neck at the last minute.
“Mr. Silver?” said Liz.
“Yes, my dear?”
“These tombstones… Why don’t they have names written on them?”
I noticed it the moment she pointed it out. She was right. All the tombstones were blank. Just clean, white, plain marble. Then Mr. Silver answered.
“Why should they? They know who they are.”
I didn’t even want to begin to understand what he meant by that. I was beginning to feel chills all over my body, and the desire to leave this dreadful place had started to overcome me.
“So…” He started. “I suppose you have many questions. Who I am, what this place is, what I do here…”
We did not answer, and there was a brief silence for a moment. So he just went on.
“Well, the truth is you are too young to understand, even if I explained it to you. But I’ll try to simplify it for you. One of my jobs is to tend to the needs of these tombstones. Or, to be more specific, to the people these tombstones belong to.”
“But…” said Liz. I was sure she would start asking questions. She never could sense when she should shut up. “The people who have the tombstones… They’re dead right? I mean, what do dead people need?”
“They have many more needs than the living, I assure you… Just look at them.”
My heart froze. I noticed something was different in our surroundings. I took a look around and I couldn’t believe my eyes. On top of every headstone, there were people sitting on top of them. People with plain white skin, no hair, no facial features, just white bodies, sitting on every tombstone, curled up like fetuses. I stepped back and tripped in my horror. They had appeared out of nowhere, as if they had been there the whole time. Right in the moment when Silver finished his sentence.
“Don’t be afraid my sweet boy! They can’t hurt you. They just want to find peace,” he said to me, smiling calmly at my terrified face, as if he was reveling in my fear. “Which brings us to my other job.”
“Your… other job?” said Liz.
“My other job, is to make sure no one disturbs these poor souls.”
“Wh-what do you mean?” I asked reluctantly.
“Hm… Come see for yourselves,” he said, and he stepped aside, revealing the path behind him. My heart started racing again. Behind him was a trail of blood, stretching along the path, and making a left turn behind a tree. He looked at us with a calm smile on his face, and gestured us to go. I didn’t want to know what was behind that tree, but I knew we had no choice, for this was no man that we could refuse. I took Liz’s hand and we walked towards the turn reluctantly. Those few steps felt like a century. When we got to the turn, I felt my instincts scream at me to turn around and leave. But I couldn’t. We looked behind the tree…
A little vomit came to my mouth instantly. Behind the tree were two huge pieces of flesh, each one bigger than me, and they were covered with blood and feathers. And then I understood what I was looking at. It was a pair of wings. A pair of wings that had been brutally cut off from… Whatever could have such huge wings.
“What…” I said with tears running down my face. “What did you do?!”
And then I heard his whisper in my ear.
“Look behind you.”
My reflexes forced me to instantly turn around. And the moment I did I wished I hadn’t. Before me was a tall and thin tree, and on it… was a man. His arms were nailed to two branches of the tree, and the rest of his body was hanging. He was wearing a white cloth that was almost completely red from all the blood it was covered in, but there was no blood on his arms, or his face. His skin was lifeless and pale, and his face had a tortured expression. An expression that to this day haunts my nightmares. He was dead. He was crucified to that tree and he had died a slow painful death.
I started screaming and crying, wishing I had never seen that, wishing for all of this to be over. And then something grabbed the back of my neck. It was grabbing me so tight, it was unbearable.
“Don’t be afraid.” It was his voice again. His calm, sadistic voice, whispering in my mind. “Just close your eyes, and it will all be over.”
I was screaming like I never had before. I started to lose my senses. Everything was going dark…
And then I heard noises. Very loud thumps, like someone was hammering a wall. I could also hear a voice. It was familiar.
I knew that voice. I tried to come to my senses. I couldn’t see anything, but I felt like I was holding something. Something human. I heard the noise again. Someone was banging on a door, right in front of me.
“Hold on, I found the keys.”
It was a woman’s voice, not the familiar one I had heard screaming my name. Then there was the sound of rattling keys, and then a bright light blinded my eyes.
“James! Oh god!” Someone was grabbing me. I came to my senses and realized it was my mother. I was in a closet full of old broomsticks and mops, and I was lying on the ground, holding Liz in my arms. Behind my mom was another woman, a young attractive woman with short red hair.
“Mom…” I said feeling dizzy. “Where am I? What happened?”
“I guess you two sneaked away to take a nap! We’ve been looking for you for an hour!” Said the other woman.
“Who are you?”
“I’m your substitute teacher, Ms. Collen.”
I jumped up. I got out of the closet bursting in agony. When I got out I saw. The closet was behind the door in the back wall. The door that had lead us to the graveyard was now a closet with mops and sponges. My mom was waking Liz up. I turned to the other woman.
“You’re… Our substitute teacher?”
“Yes, I am,” she said, smiling playfully.
“But… What about Mr. Silver?”
What did that mean? Had we really fallen asleep? Was it all just a dream? We went home that day without answers. Maybe it was all a dream. Maybe it was real. Maybe it was both. The fact is that we had experienced it. And it was that experience that made me think that the events that happen to us have a purpose. I know there was something to gain from that day, I just didn’t know what it was. Maybe the fact that I didn’t know, meant that it wasn’t over yet. And that fear became a reality when later at home my mother asked me:
“Honey, what is that bruise in the back of your neck?”
Written by Byron Tsimentas