You ever felt like… like something unusual is going on? Not like saving a dancing llama from being hit by penguin puke, but something just plain… odd? I would tell you what’s going on, but I have no idea. But something’s not right. Maybe this will make more sense if I write it all down. I guess this all started yesterday…
Nothing to see here
Science class. Why does everything happen here?
Mr. Malcolm was teaching about states of matter. I was just beginning to grasp the subject when Jerry passed me a note. Without reading it, I tried to hand it back to him. I did not want any distractions. But then, Mr. Malcolm caught me passing the note.
“Zack Williams, since you obviously do not want to hear the lesson, go spend your time in the principal’s office with Ms. Watson,” he said.
“Brace yourself, Captain,” DT whispered.
I walked to Ms. Watson’s office and sat down facing a bulletin board. On it were flyers, brochures, and a map of the school that showed where each class goes for tornado drills. I began absent-mindedly staring at it, until I noticed a part of the school that I didn’t know about. I know we have a basement, but that’s clearly marked on the map. After I stared at it for a while, the principal came into the room.
“Zack? Why are you here? You’re such a good kid?” Ms. Watson said, shocked. But I’m positive that she muttered, “For now, anyway,” after that.
I told her why I was there, and that I was just handing the note back to Jerry. But after that, I had to ask her a question.
“Ms. Watson, what’s that room on the map?”
She became frantic. “What room?” she said.
“That one,” I replied.
Her face was redder than Shred Skull’s. “Oh, that one. That’s the… uhhh… basement!”
“But it says that that other room is the basement,” I replied and pointed it out to her.
“Then that’s the… uhhhh… cellar?” Ms. Watson said.
“Then why don’t we go there for tornado drills?” I asked her.
“Ummm… I don’t know! The point is that’s a room and that’s that!” Ms. Watson replied angrily.
Call me crazy, but I’m sure Ms. Watson is be hiding something.
Zack told Tyler and I everything today. About the principal’s weird behavior and about the weird room.
I sat thinking about this in social studies while the teacher talked about our school’s history.
“…And the founder of this school, Michael Johnson, supposedly built the foundation of this school like a labyrinth, but we now know that this is only legend,” Mr. Henry said.
Wait, did he really just say that?
“On his deathbed, he wrote these jibberish letters.”
Mr. Henry began to write these seemingly random letters on the chalkboard:
“He then said, ‘Whoever finds meaning in this will be led to find my inheritance.’ Then, he passed.”
While the teacher droned on, I stared at the letters. I wrote them down over and over again. I tried to see if it was a substitution cipher, or maybe even a foreign language. Then, I began rearranging the letters. I took the first letter, then the last letter, then the next letter, then the next last letter, and so on. But I only got this:
Then, I started over. I separated every other letter from the rest and got these two groups:
That must mean TREASURE IN BARNES! I immediately went to tell Zack and Tyler.
Today, we tried to sneak into the not-so-secret room. We went down three flights of stairs and had to navigate through what felt like a maze of hallways. Finally, we made it to the room’s door.
A sign that read DO NOT DISTURB hung from the doorknob. I opened the door slightly and peeked inside.
“Guys! Ms. Watson is inside there!” I whispered.
Zack and DT leaned over to peek inside.
She was fiddling with wooden wheels, spinning them and looking frustrated. Then, she glanced at her watch and shot out the door without even noticing us.
One by one, we snuck into the room.
The walls were made of wood, some of which had rotted away. There was one lightbulb on the ceiling, but it had almost burned out. On one wall was a long wooden dowel with sixteen wooden wheels on it. Each wheel had the letters of the alphabet written on it. Above this, the wall read,
IF YOUR BELIEF IS THAT THE TREASURE LURKS,
SHOW WHAT YOU KNOW BY TURNING THE CIRQUES.
“What’s a cirque?” Zack asked.
“It’s something circular,” DT said.
“Okay, so there are sixteen wheels, or cirques, so maybe we need to enter sixteen letters,” I said.
“Hmm. The founder of this school was named Michael Johnson, and he built a labyrinth, so try JOHNSON LABYRINTH,” said DT.
I turned the wheels so that the letters spelled JOHNSON LABYRINTH.
We waited, then suddenly, I passed gas.
“Awwww! Gross, dude!” DT said.
“Try BARNES SECRET ROOM,” Zack said.
I turned the wheels so that the letters spelled BARNES SECRET ROOM.
We waited, and then, I passed gas again.
“Lay off the beans,” DT said.
“Hey, DT, what did the message spell when you unscrambled the letters?” I asked.
“TREASURE IN BARNES,” DT said.
I turned the wheels so that it spelled that.
The wheels locked together and began to turn. We heard lots of creaking as a trapdoor slowly opened in the floor. I could see the edges of a ladder barely sticking out.
“Guys, I think we’re on our way to finding our treasure,” I said.
Papers of Mass Destruction
By Ms. Watson (via a letter to the superintendent)
Dear Superintendent Lee,
A few of the students here attempted to sabotage our Family Night Extravaganza. Students have been causing this sort of trouble at both McQuarrie and Tolkien Middle Schools. One thing that all of the troublemakers had in common is that they all used origami finger puppets. Because we don’t want to have a school with such terrible influences and such an utterly unsafe environment, either cancel art class or I will find some way to end the school. It would be absolutely absurd to have a school with such distractions as this.
Mary Jane Watson
Zack’s note: Is anyone else creeped out by the fact that our principal is named Mary Jane Watson?
DT’s note: Really? Out of that whole letter, that’s what scares you?
Entrance to the Labyrinth
“So, who’s going to crawl into the scary trapdoor first?” Tyler said.
“Ummm… I’ll go,” I said, scared for my life.
I slowly climbed down the ladder, unable to see anything but my friends’ faces above me.
I had reached the end of the ladder, but I couldn’t fell anything below me. Where was the floor?
“Are you okay down there?” DT asked.
“No floor! Don’t know where… can’t find… Where’s the floor?” I said.
Then, my fingers started to slip and I accidentally let go.
“I’m falling! AAAAAAAHH!” I yelled as I hurtled toward the center of the Earth. Or it sure felt like it.
Suddenly, I fell on a mound of pillows that were only three feet below where my feet were. (I guess I screamed for nothing.) Below the pillows were clunky pieces of metal. Then, dim lights turned on.
“Guys! I fell on a switch! Come down here!” I yelled.
Tyler and DT climbed down the ladder. A book sat on a pedestal in the center of the room.
“Oooh! Maybe this is an instruction manual!” I said.
“No, don’t, Zack! It could be a…” DT yelled.
As I lifted the book off the pedestal, the trapdoor slammed shut.
“…Trap,” DT finished.
“Well, we have the book, so we might as well open it,” Tyler suggested.
I opened the book. “The first page reads, ANYONE WHO TRULY FAILS WILL NEVER FIND THEIR WAY OUT.”
“You know, I was kinda hoping for a warmer greeting,” DT said.
I read on.
“MY INHERITANCE SHALL BE FOUND
WHEN YOU FINISH THE CHALLENGES SAFE AND SOUND.
YOUR FIRST: REMEMBER THE JAPANESE ART OF OLD
ABLE TO INCREASE HEIGHT AND SPEED SEVEN-FOLD.”
“Oh, he must mean karate. There are lots of leaping kicks and speedy attacks,” Tyler said. “I’ll do some moves in that dark hallway.”
Tyler confidently strutted into the dark hallway and began jumping, kicking, and punching, but nothing happened.
“Do you think that there’s a reason that he wrote seven-fold and not sevenfold?” DT questioned.
“Because that’s the number of folds in a traditional paper airplane,” I said.
“What?” DT and Tyler said in unison.
“It makes sense! Origami is a Japanese art, and a paper airplane is very quick and can fly high!” I said.
I then tore the page from the book and carefully folded it into a paper airplane.
“Here goes everything,” I said and threw the airplane into the darkness.
I heard the sound of great doors opening, then another dim light turned on.
“Awesome!” I said.
We began to celebrate, until DT shushed us.
“Do you hear that?” he said.
We did. We heard footsteps and familiar grunts of frustration. We obviously weren’t alone.
To Prevent Disaster
By Superintendent Lee (via a letter to Mary Jane Watson)
Dear Mary Jane,
I understand your dilemna. However, I can’t end the art program. Kids need these creative classes. And as for your “close the school” idea, there’s only the small problem of money. We’d have to pay for teacher salary and refunds for the parents. (Guess that idea’s down the drain!)
Superintendent Stan Lee
Demise of a Hero
“You know, I feel like maybe this Michael Johnson guy is just trying to lead us to our doom!” DT said.
“Like Gollum?” I said.
“Exactly, but if I see any orcs, I’ll scream,” DT replied.
“Why would a nebula be down here?” Tyler asked.
“You mean the Oort Cloud?” I said.
“I didn’t know that there was a cloud made out of paintings!” Tyler said.
“You mean art?” DT asked him.
“No, art is the eighteenth letter of the alphabet,” Tyler said.
“No, that’s ‘R!'” DT and I said in unison.
The grunts of anger continued.
“Guys, I’m going to go check that out,” I said, then walked to the entrance and climbed up the ladder.
I opened the trapdoor and saw a familiar face.
“Zack! You and your ‘Paper Hero Squad’ won’t ruin my plans again!” Ms. Watson said angrily.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“You and Jerry sabotaged the Family Night Extravaganza, along with your sidekicks, DT and Tyler!” she continued.
“We were trying to-”
“To ruin the Family Night Extravaganza, I know! But you won’t today!”
I was still hanging from the ladder. Tired, I climbed into the room.
“You see, Zack, I’ve noticed how you’ve had a boost in confidence all of a sudden. I realised that it’s because of that kirigami that you keep on your finger!”
“It’s origami,” I said, then waved it in her face.
She snatched it, then tore it in half. “It isn’t anymore!” she yelled.
I was heartbroken. My hero was dead! R.I.P. Steven Rogers! No more Cap!
“How could you?” I said, horrified. I snatched away Cap’s ripped remains.
“Pretty easily, actually! And, I have a special surprise of my own!” Ms. Watson said, then pulled a red origami finger puppet out of her pocket. I am really starting to hate that color.
The puppet was folded very well. It was muscular, but not humanlike, though.
“Meet General ‘Thunderfold’ Ross, or Shred Hulk! You won’t stop us from getting enough money to shut down the school!”
And with that, she dove through the trapdoor.
“Oh, and if anyone asks why, you can tell them that it was because of distractions like you!” Ms. Watson yelled back to me.
“What’s taking Zack so long?” I asked Tyler.
The moment I said that, we heard thundering footsteps, like that of a rhinoceros, or some sort of beastly behemoth.
Frantically, I looked around. Suddenly, we saw the ferocious Ms. Watson storm into the room, angrier than ever!
“You two? Wasn’t almost putting Larry the Llama in the ER enough?” she said.
“What’s that on your finger?” I asked.
“My secret weapon, Shred Hulk!” Ms. Watson replied. She said it as though she were one of those cartoon villains, except more condescendingly.
“Yeah, and how will that help you?” Tyler asked arrogantly.
Suddenly, Zack ran in. “Guys! Ms. Watson has a finger puppet and-”
Zack stopped and stared.
“Zack, we’re kinda in the middle of something!” I said.
“Awkward!” Zack remarked.
“This is how Shred Hulk helps me!” Ms. Watson said, then grabbed us firmly.
“Stranger Danger! Stranger Danger!” Tyler yelled. Then, Ms. Watson began pulling duct tape from inside Shred Hulk.
“It’s a tape dispenser?” Zack said.
Then, she taped us to the wall. I know, that sounds highly unlikely, but she had lots and lots and lots of tape inside Shred Hulk.
“Looks like you’re in a sticky situation!” Ms. Watson said, then did an evil laugh. Not like a condescending chuckle, but more like an excessively evil laugh, with more “HA’s” then “MWA’s.”
“Really? A pun, now?” Tyler yelled.
Ms. Watson ran deeper into the catacombs out of sight.
“Man, I have a new respect for school authority figures,” I said.