December 3

The Manifestation (Part 2)

 

Watkins’ mother’s had been a teacher in this building, back during its brief tenure as an elementary school. She sometimes told the story of the day the power went out.

The idea of the school, in the seventies, was to create a controlled environment. Lots of concrete; large activity spaces; sleek, compartmentalized classrooms with no windows (to minimize distractions from the outdoors).

The school was as strong as a bomb shelter. When the storm hit, the kids were in the safest possible place.

Except the emergency lights malfunctioned.  Indoors, concrete, no windows: the classrooms were completely, utterly dark.

The kids were terrified. His mother would tell how she tried to calm her third‑grade students, asked them to hold each other’s hands and form a circle. From outside they heard muffled blasts of thunder from the storm that had surged their power lines. A siren sounded in the distance.

One child started screaming. He ran, not knowing where he ran. They heard his head knock against a concrete post.

Then other children screamed and ran. Small fists punched at cinder blocks that wouldn’t break away, wouldn’t open to admit the comfort of light.

After that well-publicized disaster, the building was no longer suitable as a school. His mother transferred to another district, another grade. The school board shifted selected high school students to the concrete building, particularly kids from “problem populations.” Many of the rooms were reinforced with locks and steel bars, which emphasized the prison‑like elements already nascent in the building’s original design.

Eventually the demographics of the district shifted. Couples with teenage kids left the area; older couples moved in, tempted by nearby discount stores; one neighborhood became popular with gay couples who sought a safe, quiet alternative to city life. There were fewer kids to feed into the school’s population.

Almost as if it had been planned that way, the school became obsolete.

But there it was, in the middle of everything. On a busy street, directly across from a strip mall with a giant pet store, two coffee chains, and a warehouse discount outlet.

On most weekends, the school’s parking lot became an impromptu showcase for used cars. It wasn’t clear how this practice began, but it quickly became a familiar diversion; halted at the traffic light, bored drivers would glance at the latest selections, prices hand‑lettered on slats of cardboard tucked behind front windshields.

The third weekend of every month, weather permitting, the grounds of the former school became the site of a gigantic, multi‑family rummage sale. Some antique dealers and oddity peddlers became regular vendors, which helped the event flourish. The stores across the street would post a “No Flea Market Parking” sign that weekend; otherwise, there’d be no spaces for their own customers.

In a morbid in‑joke, some locals still referred to the site as “the dead elementary school.” In general though, it was an unused building whose parking lot and grounds became useful on weekends. People saw it all the time — looking for cars, random weekend junk, or just enjoying the spectacle from a distance.

Always worth a glance as you drove by.

But, windowless and remote, right under peoples’ noses, the building itself wasn’t worth a second thought.

 

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[…continued in December 4 entry…]