“What’s taking him so long?” Justin hissed, looking back and forth down the shadowy hallway.
“I don’t know.” Max didn’t feel much like going in to check.
“This place is—”
They both jumped in spite of themselves when the door popped open and Shades stepped out.
Seeing his friends’ expressions, he quipped, “What? You think I fell in or somethin’?”
“Huh?” Max scratched his head.
“You forgot to flush,” Justin pointed out.
“Oh no, I flushed, but the plumbing’s out.” Though he didn’t know if it was just because the basement was no longer used, or if it was shut down throughout the whole facility. Either way, Shades almost shuddered to think of what that room was going to smell like for the next person to enter it. “But at least there was still some t-p.”
“Don’t go there, man,” Justin muttered, remembering all too well the unlimited supply of useless, crumbling toilet paper he found in Tranz-D. Of course, even improvising on that part, it was finding a place where you wouldn’t find yourself cornered that was the real challenge.
“Come on, guys.” As intriguing as Max found this abandoned island, he didn’t really like the idea of just standing around this creepy old basement. “Let’s get going.”
Having taken care of business here, they moved on to secure the next building. Surely the oldest on campus, they closed the distance quickly to escape the rain that was still pouring when they exited the main building, the whole thing looking forlorn and melancholy up close as well as from afar. This time, Max stayed on the ground floor while Justin and Shades located the stairs, one flight on either side. Finding no basement, they switched back to Shades’ original formation, finding several art rooms on the first floor, with a drawing studio and a band room on the second, each of them with big banks of high-ceiling windows offering a sweeping view of different sections of the island on either side.
Each of the “towers” on either side of the building turned out to be dark, dingy storage areas. Up here, they had to tread lightly, having spotted several broken floorboards. Paint peeled off the walls, the windows in each of the row of narrow rooms showcased years’ worth of grime and cobwebs, everything, including boxes of musty old books and equipment, buried under a virtual lithosphere of dust. Unlike hints they had seen on the other levels, revealing plainly the Academy’s attempts to conceal this building’s true age, possibly as old, if not older, than the crumbling chapel out in the woods. Standing at a window in one of those tiny rooms offered a bird’s-eye perspective of the woods nearby.
The view was lonely.
After that, they trudged over to the Camcron Building, a move which they were all somehow dreading. Just like the first time they came here, the place didn’t even look like it had been touched since it was shut down. This time, Shades tried the lock, discovering that, unlike any others they had seen on the island, this one required some kind of magnetically coded key. An obstacle which he had no implement to circumvent.
“Let’s just bust in,” Justin suggested, kicking the door to find the glass panel as hard as steel.
“Justin!” Max hissed as his friend cursed his stubbed toe and whipped out his laser staff.
“Let’s not,” Shades told him, “and say we did.”
“But why?” Justin demanded, though, now that he stopped to think about it, his mind now posed the same question to himself.
“I don’t think Donaldson wants us to go that far,” said Max. So far, they had been careful only to enter and look around, without damaging anything, and he wanted to keep it that way.
“Who cares what the old man wants?” Though even as he spoke, Justin wondered why he was so nervous about entering this place anyway. “Didn’t he say this place wasn’t part of his school anyway?”
“Perhaps,” Shades conceded, yet he couldn’t quite shake off that sense of foreboding, nor quite remember just what it was about those dreams that he was supposed to be afraid of, “but maybe we should come back to it after we’ve searched the rest of the island. We might even find the key, and that would definitely make things easier.”
Justin raised his laser staff.
“Wait.” Shades put up his hand. “While I have doubt our weapons could break through, still there might be alarms or other security systems.”
“Not like there’s anyone around to do anything about it,” Justin snorted.
“Most likely,” Shades conceded, “but while alarms may not be a problem, booby-traps or auto-weapons might. I think we should be careful with that place. Let’s at least see if we can find the key before we do anything drastic.”
Justin cringed at the mere mention of automated weapons.
“By the way,” Max pointed out, gesturing out from beneath the square block of roof that hung over the entrance, “the rain has stopped.”
On some unspoken accord, the three of them turned and walked away. Having decided to leave it for now and explore the rest of the island. Each of them found he was strangely relieved to just walk away from that building, even Bandit.
Given their last couple misadventures, there were moments when Shades wasn’t entirely sure this was such a bright idea, but now they were already here, and there was no danger in sight. Still, as much fun as he had sailing the high seas, he was also suffering from “cabin” fever. Need to get out and stretch his legs, and he felt his companions felt the same.
That, and in spite of all he had been through, the Unknown still beckoned to him as seductively as ever, leading all three of them on to the rest of the island.
Next, they made their way over to the chapel, finding it as empty, and as spooky, as before, recalling there were parts of the island out this way that they didn’t get around to seeing on their first visit. In the woods beyond, they spotted several small buildings beyond the trees. Revealed, up close, to be five circles of four small log cabins, with a large open space line with rows of benches for gatherings, all facing the same long-extinct bonfire, placed roughly in the center of the five circles. The whole thing surrounded by such dense growth it was no surprise they couldn’t see it from out at sea, despite being able to faintly hear the tide from this location.
Each of the roughly fifteen-by-twenty-foot cabins was named: one circle themed after trees, one after birds, flowers, forest animals, and fish. A door and two windows set in a small porch under front eaves: very ideal-looking, putting Shades in mind of a couple summer camps he had been to over the years. A cursory inspection turned up bunk beds, footlockers, and a couple small desks in each one. And not much in the way of floorspace in any.
Off to the side, overlooking the water recreation area beyond, stood a three-story lodge. On the first floor, they found a large kitchen and high-ceilinged dining hall of long wooden tables. The half of the second floor that the dining hall’s high ceiling didn’t occupy had a railing looking out over it, as well as a couple small supply rooms. The third floor consisted of what appeared to be personal quarters for teachers and staff, though they suspected that some of them supervised the students in the cabins, and much like there, was also largely devoid of personal possessions.
Finding nothing of interest, they quickly wrapped things up, passing the waterfront on their way to the sports complex. In the boathouse, they found life vests, a rowboat, canoes, and various water toys that left them wishing the weather was more accommodating. Unlocking the nearest gate to the complex, this time they entered all of the buildings, and found them as shut down and empty as they appeared to be. They lingered for a moment in front of the drained swimming pool inside the last building any of them checked before Shades spoke up.
“I think it’s fairly safe to say we’re the only people on the island,” he said, his voice echoing hollowly through the chamber. As he joined his friends on their way out the door, he switched on his radio, gesturing for them to follow suit, saying, “So what say we test the range on these things?”
“Okay.” Max also felt quite confident in the island’s emptiness. As far as he could tell, nothing had happened since they left, the whole place looked exactly as it had the day before.
“Why not?” After being cooped-up on the ship so much, Justin decided he wouldn’t mind a little time to himself, with nobody looking over his shoulder all the time.
“Alright, then how about you go back over to the woods,” Shades suggested. “Max and Bandit can stick around here, and I’ll go back toward the main building.” That way, as long as one of them was at the midway point, they could still stay in indirect contact, even if the two farthest of them were somehow out of range. “How does that sound?”
Both of them nodded.
“And we stay in touch on the way,” Shades instructed. “If any of us drops out of radio contact, the others immediately converge on their last known position. Let’s move out.”
That settled, they split up.