In the beginning, I was playing outside in a field on a bed of grass. There were children everywhere and a few other teachers, and I was fidgeting on the grass trying to close all of the goody bags that we’d made for the kids. Maybe it was field day or something. The sky was such an opulent blue and the clouds were wispy but still full enough to envision shapes when you looked up at them. No one was wearing masks, either, so I assume that the pandemic was over. Watching the children play gave me joy, and everything was perfect.
Suddenly, someone blew a whistle and it was time to go inside, but I wasn’t finished with the goody bags and began putting them in a box as fast as I could.
All of the other classes were lined up and ready to go back into the school, so I lined my class up and asked them to walk just to the corridor outside of the library — a few steps into the building — and wait for me there. It was my second grade class that I supervise on Mondays and Tuesdays, and one of the little boys in the class, Mason, asked me if he could go to the bathroom before going back to class. He was traditionally a troublemaker, so I shooed him away and told him that no one was going to the bathroom until we settled back into the classroom first. The rest of the class walked inside, and I gathered my things.
When I walked inside of the building, it wasn’t an elementary school anymore. It was a lobby with a doorman that led to an elevator. It was beautiful, like one of the hotels I’d stayed at in Rome, with marble fixtures and gold-embossed furnishings everywhere.
“Where did my class go?” I asked the doorman. He was a tall man in his fifties. Bald. Good smile. I’d never seen him before. “Who are you?”
“They went to the second floor, Miss Johnson,” he said. “I just run the elevator. Second floor?”
Second floor? This was supposed to be an elementary school.
The door man closed the elevator and we made some small talk. I wondered how he knew my last name because I’m not a certified teacher yet and just have the children call me “Miss Heather”. He opened the door to the second floor and I got out.
The walls were incredibly high and there was velvet everywhere. I was in the foyer of an opera house, and a gorgeous one at that. Everything was red velvet and gold, with crystalline chandeliers adorning different spots on the ceilings. As lovely as it was, I needed to find my class right now. I couldn’t just leave a group of seven and eight year-olds unsupervised.
I ran to my right down a set of red carpeted stairs, but that just led to one of those restaurants with bottles of Dom Perignon and men dressed in tuxedos everywhere. I ran to my left, and there came a section of hallways. I ran and ran and ran and it led to nothing. Finally, I began trying to cut through the “rooms” all around me, opening the doors to penthouses like those I’d seen in videos about the Plaza Hotel.
As I ran through suites fit for millionaires, I began to panic very badly. I opened yet another door when suddenly I found myself in a nightclub, with people panicking and dancing under the influence of ecstasy and cocaine everywhere. Hundreds of people were openly doing drugs all over the place. The women were dressed like Versace models, and the men were dressed like they were ready to buy women to sleep with. I made my way to the bar to see if I could gather any answers as to where I was and why this maze was never ending.
“What can I get for you?”
I stopped. I wanted a drink very badly. I could drink like a fish right now if I didn’t have to find my class of second graders.
“You can get me a gin and tonic later. Right now I need to know how to get out of here.”
“It’s really simple,” the bartender said, “go out the door and everything to the right is rooms. Don’t go left.”
“I want to find the classroom.”
“Yes. My class. They’re second graders. They need me.”
“There are no classrooms around here, sweetie.”
I ran out of the nightclub and down yet more and more hallways of rooms. In an act of desperation, I ran down the first set of stairs I could find, and past the fire exits I entered yet another gigantic room.
I went to the left, but it led to a massive indoor water park. I ran to my right, and found myself inside of a garage with several dozen luxury cars — Mercedes, Bentleys, Aston Martins — and finally went to the middle again to find a group of people in bathing suits who were getting ready to go to the water park.
“Where are the classrooms?” I begged, “Please tell me where the classrooms are.”
There were two women in bikinis and a man in orange trunks. For some reason, he was also wearing one of those awfully tacky pairs of Oakley sunglasses that make every wearer look like an undercover cop.
“You’re not going to find that here,” he laughed. Suddenly his gaze became demonic and after freezing for a moment, I ran as fast as I could back up the stairs.
For what felt like the millionth time, I ran past corridor after corridor, checking some of the rooms to see if my class was there. Once again, they were all just penthouses.
I was shit out of luck. I’d get fired from my job, and there would be no more stellar recommendation from the school to have on my resume once I finished my Masters degree. I’d been running for hours and surely the children would have gone home by now. Defeated, I returned to the night club and the bartender seemed to be waiting for me.
“Gin and tonic?” He asked. He was rather handsome, and it made me worry about my boyfriend. Where was John in all of this? Why didn’t I have my cell phone so that I could call him — so that I could call anyone at this point?
“Yes. A gin and tonic. With lime, please. Extra lime, actually.”
“No, no. Do you have Tanqueray?”
“You got it.”
I looked around the room while I waited for my drink. Everything was black with a neon glow, with the slick bodies of the partygoers all over the dance floor illuminated by sweat and flashing lights.
The bartender returned with my beverage and I began gulping at it. After my second giant sip, I reminded myself that I was in public and should probably make a point to drink slower.
“Someone’s ready to party,” the bartender laughed.
“I don’t party.”
“Well, you’re dressed for it,” he mumbled, his eyebrows arching.
“Where’s the bathroom?”
He pointed to a door a few feet away. I took my drink with me and entered yet another foyer. There were giant mirrors everywhere. This was a powder room, not just a bathroom.
When I looked at myself, I nearly dropped my drink.
I was wearing a black leather dress with gold buttons. It was just like the one Donatella Versace wore in the 90s on the red carpet with Gianni. The top was fit like a bustier, and it had thigh slits. My tattoos were out in the open with my collarbones and shoulders very exposed, and I gasped. Had I gone to work like this? Had I gone to work with my tattoos showing and tits pushed up in black leather? I looked like a bondage model. Even my makeup and hair were perfectly beautiful and whorish. Hadn’t I worn a blouse and skirt to work like I usually do?
I stumbled out of the bathroom and sprinted out of the nightclub as fast as I could. There was a single person in the massive and now dark foyer. It was a man with long blonde hair.
“Please help me,” I gasped, choking on my words, “I’m trapped. I lost my class. They’re in the second grade. Mrs. Hartley’s class. I need to find them. I need to get out of here. Please help me.”
“Oh, oh sweetie,” the man said, clutching his chest, “let’s get you there. Don’t be scared. There’s no need to worry anymore.”
He took my hands in his and asked me to take a deep breath. I tried to but all I could feel was the pumping of my heart inside of my chest — I could even hear it in my ears and feel pulsing in my toes.
“Just please help me.”
“Calm down. It’s okay. Let’s get you there.”
He opened one of the doors, leading to a hallway of classrooms. I was back in school! I made it!
“It’s right this way,” he said, kindly opening the door to a classroom for me.
Then, his hand froze on the door. He turned around to me and his eyes glowed red, teeth bared as razor-sharp fangs.
I screamed as loud as I could. I screamed and screamed but nothing would come out. The man lunged forward and began clawing and biting at my face and neck as I wailed in agony and fear.
All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream. — Edgar Allan Poe