The final day had arrived, and St. Paul’s was a war zone. From above, it was a dazzling spectacle of light, fire, and destruction blossoming beneath a dense atmosphere of airborne debris. Countless battles raged on as legends faced legends, friends grappled with friends, and geniuses clashed brains. It was sprawling, glorious, epic carnage deserving of its own Peter Jackson trilogy.
But to Kim Gardner, down in the tunnels, it was just noise. Rock crumbled as the foundations quaked from the campaign up above. A million different sounds of warfare reverberated through the ground, converging directly at the APUSH teacher. She winced and covered her ears as she crept low to the ground, trying not to touch the spasmodic walls. The tunnels, pitch black as always, rendered her deaf and blind as she stalked through the quaking corridor.
Maybe hiding down here was not the best idea, Mrs. Gardner would have considered if she could hear herself think.
For now, though, she was exclusively focused on finding a way out. She had been searching fruitlessly for about an hour now, feeling the ground in front of her for guidance. The omnipresent noise of the skirmishes above were beginning to grate on her nerves.
“Me oh my, this racket is rather frustrating!” Mrs. Gardner complained inaudibly.
Suddenly, mercifully, the fracas above died down and the walls went still. Perplexed but thankful, Gardner rose to her feet. It was then then that she noticed the tunnel was now bathed in soft green light, and the path ahead of her was now slightly visible.
“How curious,” Mrs. Gardner stated. “I wonder where this light is coming from.”
It was then that she noticed the fluorescent green code drifting down from the floorboards above her like a gentle snowfall.
Someone had just been eliminated directly above her.
With a short gasp, Gardner ducked out of sight, as close to the tunnel wall as possible. She slowed her frantic breathing to a near-inaudible whisper.
Then the floorboards started to creak.
The boards sagged and whined under a massive weight that planted itself directly above the cowering APUSH instructor and took root, snaking its hairy tendrils through the cracks and anchoring itself to the floor. They pushed farther, embracing the walls of the tunnel and probing the darkness with their fibrous snouts.
Mrs. Gardner wriggled deeper into her dark corner as she realized with deepening dread who was above her, and how much danger she was really in.
. . .
Coach Joe Dickens wasn’t used to getting this tired after a fight. Then again, he wasn’t quite used to his new abilities either.
Ever since his promotion to Assistant Principal of St. Paul’s, Dickens knew that the Deadliest Teacher tournament would become infinitely more challenging. While the position granted him greatly enhanced powers, it also made him a target. Everyone wanted to prove their worth by scuffling with him, even if they weren’t remotely close to his power level. Just twenty minutes before, he had been challenged to a wrestling match by Coach Pinero. He answered this challenge with a sonic screech that vaporized the rookie instantly.
The fight that Dickens had just finished, however, was what had left him so fatigued. He had targeted MSgt. AJ East, assuming that he would be relatively easy to pick off. He started to regret this decision around the fourth air strike. From his safe perch in the AFJROTC Cadet’s Office, East hailed bomber after bomber to rain explosive hell onto Coach Dickens. No matter how well he evaded each projectile, he would inevitably be stricken by another.
Eventually, he reached East by forming an impermeable dome over his head with his beard-tendrils. But by then it was already too late. Over 80% of the beard had been destroyed by the hailfire. He was so weak that he was barely able to eliminate East with his usual sonic screech move. He needed to recharge. With a deep sigh, he plunged his beard into the floor, probing for any type of energy source to reinvigorate his tired follicles. Cocooning himself inside the remainder of his beard, he went into hibernation mode and let the roots find their food.
. . .
Down below, Mrs. Gardner was having a panic attack. She was almost completely cocooned in a shell of pulsating black hair. The shaggy appendages had ripped open a nearby power line and burrowed themselves in the wires, and were greedily syphoning the electricity within. Air crackled as the tendrils squirmed about, trading snapping arcs of lightning with the walls.
Mrs. Gardner stared, trembling, at the undulating layer of hair suspended mere inches from her nose. If she were to touch it, she would undoubtedly be electrocuted. If she wanted to stay in the tournament, she needed to act fast. Moving at a glacial pace to avoid grazing the hazardous beard, Gardner scanned her constricted surroundings. A lean metal object on the ground caught her eye.
Hmm… a metal pipe. If I can wedge that between the beard and that electrical box on the wall, maybe I can short it out and take away its power source! Mrs. Gardner realized with a crafty smile.
Gingerly, she picked it up, maneuvering it carefully through a web of stray tentacles. Narrowly dodging a particularly lively lock, she freed the pipe from its hairy prison. Then she worked it up higher, perpetually avoiding the walls of her tight confinement. She weaved it all the way up to her chin, angling it at the power box a few inches away.
You’ve only got one shot at this, Kim…
Gritting her teeth, Mrs. Gardner reared the pipe back–
–and grazed the beard wall.
A deafening blast viced the air as a bolt of lightning possessed her body. The force of the explosion propelled her convulsing form through the cement wall, tossing her like a ragdoll into a new tunnel. She bounced off of the opposite wall and slumped to the floor. Glittery green binary leaked from her jagged wounds as she lay motionless.
Dickens’s beard tendrils had begun to creep into the new tunnel, probing for further nourishment. Slowly but deliberately, they stalked towards Gardner’s vulnerable body, readying to consume her life force.
Suddenly, they became aware of a new presence in the tunnel. A veil of darkness was moving silently through the tunnel. The tendrils winced and cringed as they were engulfed by the shadow, shrinking pathetically back into the wall.
A well dressed, slender man emerged from the wall of shadow and examined Mrs. Gardner’s body. Miraculously, she was still breathing.
She would do nicely.
Grasping her with a smoky appendage, the man dragged her into the impenetrable darkness.
“I’ll keep you safe, champ…”
TO BE CONTINUED…
• • •