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Follow the Arrows

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One evening, I met my friends Jeff and Dave in a bar for a few drinks. When I went to the bathroom, and walked into one of the stalls, I happened to notice some writing on the door. It read:

“Follow The Arrows”

I looked around, but I didn’t see any arrows, so I didn’t think much more about it. However, two hours later, I had to use the restroom again. As I walked through the door, I accidentally bumped the light switch with my shoulder and the room went completely dark. That’s when I noticed it. On the ceiling, above my head, there was a trail of glow-in-the-dark arrows. They looked like they had been there for quite a while. I was intrigued. I wanted to follow the arrows and find out where they led.

I went back to the table and told Jeff and Dave what I had discovered. They were curious too. We decided to investigate. I went home and got a black light. It’s kind of like a small flashlight, but it illuminates things that are invisible to the naked eye. When I returned to the bar, it was almost closing time. Dave and Jeff were waiting for me, their faces full of excitement. I went to the bathroom and tested my black light on some of the painted arrows. It worked like a charm. They glowed brightly.

We followed the trail of arrows as they led from the toilet, across the ceiling of the bar and out onto the street. With my black light, I searched around for invisible arrows on the ground. I found one. I followed the arrow, keeping my black light inches from the ground, waving it back and forth as Dave and Jeff followed close behind. A few feet away, I found another arrow. Then another, and another still. I was following these arrows down a side walk for about 2 blocks. We started wondering where the hell these arrows were taking us.

Finally I got to an arrow pointing us in a new direction… it was a driveway leading to an empty lot that was surrounded by a tall metal fence. We couldn’t see what was inside. The arrows led up to the gate. Jeff pushed on the gate, but it was locked. We decided to jump over the fence. Jeff went first, getting a firm handhold at the top, then pulling himself over. I put the black light in my pocket and took a running leap at the gate. Dave gave me a helping hand, pushing my legs from underneath until I tumbled over the fence. Then, Dave followed, hauling himself over the tall fence with surprising ease. We found ourselves in what looked like an old parking lot. Weeds sprang from cracks in the broken concrete.

I pulled out the black light and quickly found another arrow. We followed the new trail slowly, and it led us to a small shack in the middle of the parking lot.

“I know what this is,” said Dave. “It used to be a drive-in movie theater. I think that’s the concession stand over there.”

As we approached the building, we saw that it was boarded up. There was some faded lettering on the wall that read, “Popcorn”. Dave shrugged.

“So, what? The arrows lure people to buy popcorn?” We walked around the building until we came to a door in the back. It was secured by an old combination padlock. My black light picked up something scrawled on the door in glowing paint. It was a series of numbers.

“1 3 5 6″

Jeff entered the numbers in the combination lock and pulled it open with a satisfying click. He pushed on the old door and it swung open with an ominous creak. Jeff peeked inside.

“I can’t see anything,” he said. I peeked inside the door, shining my black light.

It was useless. I cursed myself for not bring a real flashlight. Just as I was about to suggest we head back home and return another day, I heard a click and a dim light appeared in the old building. Dave had found the light switch.

“This place looks like it hasn’t been used for at least 30 years!” said Jeff.

“Look at this parking lot! There are trees in it!”

“The electricity is still on,” I replied. “Someone is still paying the bills…” We walked in and saw that the interior was surprisingly clean, apart from a thin coating of dust. It was the sort of dust you would expect to find in an ancient Egyptian tomb. The shelves were empty and a cabinet stood on the far side of the room. Dave walked over and cautiously opened it.

“Wow, look at this!” he exclaimed.

The shelves were packed with candy boxes. I recognized Cracker-Jacks and Hershey’s Bars but the labels were very old. Dropping my black light on the floor, I grabbed excitedly for a giant box of chocolate.

Before I could examine them further, I heard Jeff say, “Guys! Check this out!”

He was standing over a hatch in the floor. He had pulled it up and was peering down into the darkness.

“Maybe there’s another light down there?” he said.

He went down the set of steps that led into the cellar and Dave and I followed close behind, trying to find a light switch. I was halfway to the bottom of the stairs when I heard a click and a dim lightbulb flickered in the dusty basement.

“Found it,” said Jeff.

We walked toward the light, bumping into empty shelves and strange debris. Canvas bags, like sacks of potatoes, littered the floor. They were covered in dust. On one of the shelves, I spotted some old film canisters. We hurried over, reading the titles. It seemed to be mostly old monster movies.

“Dracula Returns”… “Night of the Wolf People”…

I didn’t recognize any of the titles. We all jumped when we heard a loud whirring sound… It seemed to be coming from near the stairs and it sounded somehow familiar, like an electric power tool. Through the hatch at the top of the stairs, we saw the shadows shift and change. At last the sound stopped.

We stood still for a moment, our hearts beating hard in our chests. Then, we all ran over to the hatch to investigate. My mind could not comprehend what it saw. The hatch we had come through only moments ago was now blocked by iron bars. Jeff ran up the steps as far as he could and grasped the iron bars, rattling them violently. They wouldn’t budge. There was some sort of motorized contraption attached to iron bars. It was so dark though, that I could barely make it out. I reached into my pocket for my black light. That was when I realized I had left it upstairs. Jeff stood next to me and held up his cell phone. In the dim light, I could just make out a giant metal box that was mounted on the basement ceiling. If there were way to access this device, I couldn’t see it. Dave gasped suddenly and ran over to one of the canvas bags on the floor. He dragged it into the light and worked to untie it. When he was done, I saw him look into the bag and make a sound I’d never heard before – something between a scream and a moan. He started hyperventilating. Jeff and I ran over and looked into the bag. At first I couldn’t tell what I was looking at. Then I saw the hair and the pale flesh. I dropped the bag and vomited violently. I tried to speak, but vomited again.

“Jeff,” I gasped, my throat raw.

“Your phone… Call the police… Call them now!” I put my hand on Dave’s shoulder. He was slowly rocking back and forth, trying to control his breathing and calm himself. I looked around. There were about a dozen similar bags on the floor. Jeff eventually got through to someone on the phone. He explained where the bar was, and how we had walked several blocks to a parking lot with a fence around it. He told them about the concession stand and the basement with the locked iron bars. I grabbed the phone.

“Look,” I said. “There are dead bodies in bags down here… dozens of them.”

The woman on the other end said, “Just stay calm. I want you to just stay on line with me and give me your names.”

We told her who we were and answered her questions. I knew we should conserve the phone batteries, but she was our lifeline out of this crazy situation.

After we’d answered all her questions, she said, “You know, making prank calls to emergency rescue services is a very serious crime.”

My blood turned cold. She thought we we joking.

As calmly as I could, I croaked, “Ma’am I swear to you, I have never been more serious in my life. Please send someone down here. If we’re lying you can arrest us… Just send someone PLEASE.”

“Young man,” she replied, “don’t you have better things to do on a school night?” I heard a click as she hung up the phone.

“She… didn’t believe us” I whispered. “Give me the phone,” said Dave. He dialled the operator and spoke calmly and deliberately.

“Operator, I’d like to speak to New Hyde Park police, please… Yes, it’s an emergency… No, I don’t want 911 or dispatch, I want the police department.”

There was a moment’s silence and then, he spoke in a deep voice, “Hello, officer? I’d like to report some teenagers causing a disturbance in an abandoned building. They’re throwing things around, smashing bottles and wrecking the place. I saw them drag a little girl down into the basement. It sounds awful bad… just awful bad. Someone needs to get their butt down here quick before they hurt that little girl.”

Brilliant, Dave. Just brilliant, I thought. I could have kissed him. He gave the officer the location of the lot and the description. It was perfect. After answering some more the officers questions, he begged her once again to hurry and hung up the phone. Just then, we heard the sound of a car pulling up outside.

“Wow, that was fast,” said Dave.

“That’s not the cops,” I whispered.

We heard a car door open and close. Then, heavy footsteps tramped across the gravel. Jeff ran over to the hatch with the iron bars.

“We’re down here!” he yelled.

“Help! Please! We’re down here!”

The footsteps were slow and deliberate overhead. A pair of work boots and dirty bluejeans appeared at the top of the stairs. Jeff stumbled back down the stairs. He looked pale. I looked up and saw a bear of a man standing there. He was intimidatingly large. He was smoking a cigarette, staring down at us.

“Excuse me, Sir…” I began, but he just walked away as if he hadn’t heard me and went outside.

We heard him get something heavy out of his vehicle and then drag it inside. Whatever it was, he set it down with a thump. Then, we saw plastic tarp roll across the iron bars. Moments later, we heard the sound of duct tape. The hatch was closed, and we were alone listening to the sounds of the man working. Working, we were sure, on something evil. The sort of evil that is rarely seen. The sort of evil that you don’t live to tell anyone about. Suddenly, we heard a hissing sound. It was high-pitched and steady. I was confused. “Gas!” said Dave.

“I think he’s pumping some sort of gas in here.” We ran around looking for the source, but within minutes we were growing light-headed.

Jeff collapsed in the corner. Dave rushed over and tried to help him, but he passed out as well. I slumped to the floor, feeling myself drifting into unconsciousness. I heard sirens in the distance… and then there was nothing. When I awoke, I was lying on the concrete floor. I tried to sit up, but my arms were so weak, they gave out on me. My head felt like it weighed 100 pounds. I heard coughing behind me. Startled, I rolled over and saw Dave as he began to come around. There was a moment of confusion as I looked around the dusty room. Then it all snapped back in place.

Adrenaline pumping, my muscles found new strength. I grabbed Dave’s collar, “Dave, we’ve got to get out of…“ I stopped midsentence as I heard voices upstairs.

“Excuse me, Sir,” said the first voice. “We’ve had reports of a disturbance out here. Have you heard anything unusual?”

There was very long pause, and then a deep, baritone voice said, “Yes, Officer… There were some kids in this place making a hell of a racket… I came over here to run them off.”

“You own this property, Sir?” asked the police officer.

The man didn’t get a chance to answer because I started screaming at the top of my lungs. Dave joined me. Jeff stirred, but I was too busy running up the stairs and pounding on the hatch to pay any attention to him.

Dave grabbed a couple of metal film canisters and smashed them together, making an unholy racket. If anything more was said upstairs, we didn’t hear it. What we did hear was the scuffle that ensued. The two men upstairs were slamming each other into the walls. One of them fell to the floor with a heavy thud. There was a gunshot, and then another. Finally, we heard a second body slump to the floor. We all stayed silent for a moment, praying the police officer was triumphant. We heard nothing. “Officer?” I shouted through the hatch.

I heard a moan. Then a weak voice croaked, “I… I think I’m hurt… I think… I think…” and then there was nothing.

“Officer?!” I shouted again as I pounded on the hatch. There was no response. Jeff and Dave were behind me at the base of the stairs.

“We need to get the hatch open,” said Dave.

My heart was pounding. Dave ripped a metal bar from one of the shelves and wedged it between the iron bars. He started pushing with all his might. A small rip appeared in the tarp that had been duct-taped over the opening. I immediately began clawing at the thick plastic like a crazed rat. Jeff grabbed another piece of metal and stuck it through the bars, trying to get some leverage. We heard the groan of bending wood, followed by a loud snap. The hatch, and part of its frame, swung upwards a few inches. Something was on top of the hatch, keeping it down. I pushed through the bars with my bare hands, as Jeff and Dave redoubled their efforts. We heard something heavy and metallic topple over and crash to the ground.

The hatch door opened wider and I could just about poke my head through the opening. A uniformed police officer lay a several feet away. Something was sticking out of the side of his head. It was a kitchen knife! It was ghastly. The worst thing about it was that the man’s eyes were still open. He was staring directly at me. His right hand was still grasping a gun. On the other side of the room, the large bear of a man was clutching onto the wall, trying to pull himself to his feet. I could see that he had been shot in the leg and the shoulder. He looked determined. I stretched out my arm and tried to get the officer’s gun, but I couldn’t reach it. I strained my arm to its limit, feeling the iron bars pressing into my flesh. My fingertip touched the barrel of the gun. The dying policeman managed to push the gun closer to me and I got a firm grip on it.

Quickly, I twisted my arm and pointed the gun at the large man. The bars made it difficult to aim. By the time I got my arm facing the right direction, my view of the man was obstructed by the hatch door.

“I’ve got the gun,” I whispered to Dave and Jeff.

“The cop’s almost dead. He can’t help us. The big guy is over there but I can’t get a clear shot.”

“How many bullets?” Dave hissed.

“I don’t know,” I whispered.

“Maybe none…” Dave whispered, “we could get under him and try to shoot him through the floor.”

We heard the large man groan and move closer the hatch. I tried to aim the gun in his direction and waited with baited breath for him to appear. We heard the clanking of metal canisters and I watched a large cylindrical container get pulled towards where I knew the man to be. I squeezed the trigger and fired a shot.

The sound was deafening and the kickback from the small gun was much more than I expected. My ears were ringing and there was a sharp pain in my wrist. I heard the sound of frantic movement from the other side of the hatch door and a noise that was like someone turning a valve. An ominous hissing sound filled the air. The gas again! Jeff and Dave both helped me as we desperately tried to dislodge the iron bars that were holding us prisoner. We worked together, pushing, pulling and twisting until finally it gave way just and inch. Dave grabbed the contraption at the side and started yanking hard. Jeff and I put all our weight on the bars, and at long last, the enormous contraption fell. Dave took a step or two back towards us, but collapsed as the gas overtook him. I was starting to feel faint. Jeff pushed the frame out of the way and climbed out of the hatch. I tried to follow him, but my head was spinning. Suddenly, I saw the huge man spring out from his hiding place. He had a wrench in his hand and clobbered Jeff over the head with it. I was having trouble thinking. Where had I put the gun?! I didn’t see it. There was no time. I needed air.

I pulled myself out of the hatch and inhaled deeply twice. My perceptions were dull because of the gas, and so I did not expect the blow as the man slammed the wrench into my face. I tumbled over and collapsed, my body half-in and half-out of the hatch. I felt the gun next to my hand. I must have dropped in the frenzy to pry the bars loose. I grabbed it and swung my arm upwards, shooting wildly into the dark. Then, I lost consciousness and felt myself falling down, down, down into nothingness. When I awoke I was being loaded into an ambulance. I grabbed the arm of paramedic who was lifting me in.

“My friends?” I mumbled.

“What happened to my friends?”

The paramedic just gave me a sad look and shook her head. They finished loading me in and slammed the doors. I closed my eyes, too weary to think, and drifted back into unconsciousness. One year later there was a memorial service at my school. I showed up with my girlfriend. I was wearing my best suit and in my hand there was a piece of paper with a speech on it. I walked to the podium and cleared my throat. I said a few words about how I met Dave, and what a great guy he was. I told them all how he’d charged into a room full of potentially deadly gas to help Jeff and me escape from a madman.

I went on to mention Officer Stanley Bell, who died that night, leaving behind him a wife and two children. My voice sounded funny through the speakers. The damage to my face was extensive. I’ve had two surgeries and there is one more scheduled for the fall. I look okay, but it affected the way I talk. When I was done speaking I walked over to Dave’s family and hugged his mother. She didn’t want to let me go. Dave’s father patted me on the shoulder as he choked back a sob. I walked back to my seat.

After the service, Jeff was waiting on the front steps. The blow he took to the head had knocked out the vision in his left eye. He work dark sunglasses to hide his wandering eye. We didn’t say much to each other, I just hugged him and patted him on the back. On the news, the reporters talked about the 37 bodies in canvas sacks that had been accumulating since 1957. They showed the artist’s rendering of the killer, based on my description. He is still at large and his identity is still unknown.

The police told us the concession stand had been rigged with motion sensors that, when set off, would lower the iron bars to capture curious trespassers in a dungeon of death. They said the killer had rigged a silent alarm that would send a signal to his phone when someone entered his trap. I tried to remind myself that I was one of the lucky ones. I was exhausted and went to lay down in my bedroom. My girlfriend followed me a minute later and wrapped her arms around me. She remembered to leave the light on.

Nowadays, I always sleep with the light on.

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