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I was expecting to hear that he liked the alcohol or something, but I was not ready for what he said: to forget.
Being as nosy as I was, I had to ask what it was he wanted to forget, and this is what he told me, as close to word-for-word as I can remember:
“What do I want to forget? I've told you a lot about my time at [school name] but there’s one story I've never had the courage to tell anyone. It’s not funny, it’s not exciting… it’s disgusting and could put me in danger. If anyone finds out I didn't tell them what I knew, I could go to prison.”
But I begged him and eventually he gave in. Maybe it was the drink that loosened his tongue, or the ache of keeping a secret so long. Whatever the cause, he told me his last, most terrible secret.
“It was a Monday morning when I first noticed anything. I was in at the crack of dawn, cleaning the floors, dusting the desks, and making sure everything was right for work. At this point, it’d be a couple of hours before the teachers arrived, and another one or two before the kids got in.
I met Jamie - he was the other janitor, we only had two because the head teacher was too tight-fisted to hire another - in the premises team room. It’s like a staff-room but only for us, because the other teachers think they’re so much better than the lowly cleaning staff. Jamie was a strange one - he was in an hour earlier than everyone else and left after all the rest. In all my time there, I never saw him leaving or entering the school, just working all day long and well into the evening. But he was a friend - a friendly face among the openly hostile teachers. He was probably the only reason I’d stayed that long and not left to seek work elsewhere.
We talked for a few minutes then went on with our work. That day it was my turn to go clean out the canteen, and Jamie had to mop and brush the P.E. changing rooms. I pitied him, with the usual rank smell in those rooms, but had I known what I was going to find I think I’d have preferred to take his task instead.
The canteen was a mess. The shipment of fresh food was due sometime around ten, and was meant to last the entire week. And of course it fell to me to clean up and get the place perfect before the canteen staff arrived. Knowing them, that wouldn't be until around nine.
Behind the counter where the food’s served from, there are doors. One of them leads to the cold room, where the food is stored - like a giant fridge and freezer, but in a walk-in room. The second door is a ‘time-out’ place like the premises team room. The third I had never been in. I had no reason to. Keeping the stage clean was my business; backstage was for the magician, not the lowly assistant.
But today was different. It sounds so clichéd, but it looked like some inconsiderate child had spilled a mixture of tomato sauce and vinegar over the floor and trampled mud into it. You get an idea of the colour, I hope.
The mess I had to deal with. Well, I thought, I've had to clean up worse. Once I’d finished outside, I noticed some spilled on the floor - and under the door, into the third room. I pulled out my key ring and tried the keys. On the fifth attempt, I found the right key and opened it up.
The stench - honestly, it was like a spit roast left to rot. A hint of something once good and wholesome, breaking down into something worse. It hit me as soon as I entered, and I almost threw up immediately.
But that wasn't the worst of it. Ahead of me, I realised what was causing it.
The school hadn't brought in fresh meat - as in just-killed fresh - in years. It was deemed unsanitary. It seemed someone else had re-purposed it for their own use.
Rows and rows of steel hooks. Not a sight I was unaccustomed to, remembering old-style butcher shops. And it made sense to me that this was here. After all, if the school was too cheap to hire another janitor - and I didn't make that much an hour - then I would never expect them to fix up a whole room. They just left it and locked it. The school’s little secret.
But it was obviously not a secret to whoever had found their way here.
Rows upon rows of bodies. Dangling flesh with tears through the neck and back. Glazed eyes, staring into nothingness. Blood dripping, running, congealing.
The stink of death in the air.
And this time I did throw up.
I closed the door. Locked it. Stumbled back to our staff room.
I composed myself and worked three months longer. But I couldn't bear it. Knowing there was a killer in the school, and knowing exactly who it was. Leaving was the best feeling in the world.”
After this my uncle sighed, like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. But I had one more question for him.
How did he know who the killer was? And why didn't he turn them in to the police?
He replied, and I remember his sad, strange smile.
“That third room was locked with a special key. I took five attempts to unlock it because I tried all the canteen keys first. The last key was a last try to open the door - and it worked.”
He bowed his head.
“The key that opened the door - only two copies of it existed in the entire school complex. I held one, and so did my only friend.”
Written by Tigerhallam