Several weeks went by since his last adventure and Ryan tried to get into his normal school routine. Everything seemed the same – the kids would go back and forth to their classrooms like zombies entering their swamp. Ryan didn’t feel normal though. He kept his detective notebook in the back pocket of his jeans every day and now you could see the outline of it, as if it had been there for years. He was antsy for a new adventure. He could feel the hair on the back of his neck stand up and he knew one was coming soon. He had to be alert and cautious so he could spot clues before scaring away the source.
Tuesday arrived and Ryan braced for another long day at school. Tuesdays were the hardest for him because he had band after school then he had to walk home because his mother had late meetings at work. He prepared his backpack for his long day by throwing in some extra snacks and once again checking the back pocket of his jeans to make sure his notebook was in place.
The day sped by and only a few times he found his mind wandering to check the school clock. To ward off the sensation that excitement was brewing, he attacked the notes on the page as he played trumpet in band. As he was putting his instrument into its case, his friend Benny walked over to him. Benny always made him smile. The way he walked made you think he was skipping to a party. It made you want to look ahead of him to see what wonderful thing he was directing his attention towards.
“Hey, Ryan! My mom left me a note that you would be coming over to my house because your mom is tied up. Isn’t that great?”
“Super,” Ryan exclaimed. He loved going over to Benny’s house because his mom always managed to bring warm cookies out of the oven the minute they entered the door. Besides that, Benny made homework fun as he relayed silly stories in between each assignment. They darted off together towards Benny’s house.
They finished their homework in record time and Benny’s mom made them spaghetti for dinner. His mouth watered as she placed the steaming hot plate in front of him, complimented by the smell of toasted garlic bread. He swallowed the last bite of his dinner down, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and murmured a quick thank you to Benny’s mom. He slung his backpack over his shoulder and made his way out the front door, into the pitch black night. He smiled as he reached into his backpack and pulled out his flashlight.
You can never be too ready, Ryan mused as he lit the sidewalk in front of him. It reminded him of the episode of Indiana Jones when Indiana pulled out some hidden matches when he was inside a cave.
He decided to cut through the school parking lot to shave off a few minutes of his time to get home. It was funny how different the school seemed to him at night. The din of the kids chasing after each other was replaced by the sound of crickets in the distance. The normal glare off of the windows of the two-story building was substituted with eerie shadows and scurrying squirrels making their way back to their trees. He could hear his footsteps echoing off of the school building, making him tiptoe to muffle the interruption in the silent night.
That’s when he saw it – a flashing light coming from the multipurpose building. He panned the parking lot, searching for any evidence of someone being in the school. There was nothing there except the slight wind scurrying loose papers across the play yard. When he was within a few hundred feet of the main door, the lights changed color and he heard some screeching and howling noises.
What was that? he thought. Could the stage inside the multipurpose building be haunted?
It caused him to turn quickly and make a wild dash in the opposite direction. It wasn’t until he was coming up to his front door that he stopped to catch his breath. He rolled his shoulders to his ears and down and made himself calm down.
He yelled a “Hello” to his mom when he entered the house and bee-lined to his room. There he pulled out his notebook and began furiously jotting down notes to his next mystery.Location:
School Multipurpose Building Observations:
Bright light which changed to colors
Screeches and howling noises Time:
Satisfied that he had reviewed his observations, he made his way back downstairs to spend some time with his family.
“Hey Mom, do you know if there is anything going on at the school tonight? I thought I heard someone in the multipurpose building?” Ryan nonchalantly asked.
His mother glanced up from the shirt she was ironing and said, “No honey, I know Tuesdays and Thursdays are nights when the campus is dark because I just went over the calendar at the last school board meeting and we were discussing whether we could allow someone to use the hall during that time. No decision was made though.”
Ryan nodded and pulled his homework out of his backpack. He would need to decide a plan of action tomorrow.
The next day Ryan took out his notebook at lunch and reviewed his notes. He knew that there was a club meeting tonight in the auditorium, but there wasn’t supposed to be anything going on tomorrow night at the school. He decided to talk it over with Benny and see if he could join him to explore tomorrow night.
“Hey Benny, are you up for a little adventure?” Ryan coyly asked as they were on their way to class.
“What kind of adventure?” Benny questioned with a curious grin on his face.
“If you’re willing to help me out with my investigation, I’ll tell you all about it. Meet me in front of the school tomorrow night at 7pm sharp.”
“Okay,” Benny said slowly. “What should I tell my parents I’m doing?”
“Tell them we are doing an investigation at school and we’ll share our results with them at the end. That isn’t lying and that way if we need their help, they’ll know where to find us.”
“Sounds great, meet you there,” he shouted as they entered different classrooms.
The next day Ryan woke up antsy to begin his day. The day seemed to drag by as he checked his watch every five minutes. Finally, the bell rang and he sprang out the door. He ran all the way home so that he could finish his homework in lightning fast time. When called for dinner at 6:00, he shot into his seat. His parents looked at him with a surprised expression as they were used to calling him down to dinner at least three times before he arrived.
At 6:50 he told his parents he was off for his meeting at school and he shot out the door. Just like Tuesday evening, it was pitch black outside with just a sliver of a moon sending an interesting gray sheen onto the trees and sidewalk. Tonight the evening was quiet, as if someone had come before him warning everything of his advance. Just outside the school entrance gate he saw a shadow waving his arms wildly. He knew from the stance that it was Benny.
Once Ryan had explained the interesting occurrences of the prior evening, Benny was just as determined to figure out the cause as Ryan was. They set off together to the multipurpose building, avoiding the brighter areas and making sure to use their newly acquired detective slither that sent them forward with a silent whisper of a step.
Ryan quickly pointed to the rear of the building. There in the upper windows were shots of light, sometimes bold and persistent, other times fading into colors of blue and red. Ryan placed his hand on Benny’s shoulder as they braced for any sign of an intruder. Then the noises began, first muffled, then increasingly louder. They could hear creaking and moaning, then a booming baritone voice.
“Let’s go,” whispered Benny, with eyes as round as saucers.
“Not until we gather some more clues,” Ryan insisted bravely.
They moved slowly towards the noises and found a rear door to the building. The only time Ryan and Benny had ever used this door before was when they were presenting a speech at school and the principal shuffled them into the auditorium through this door. The unlocked doorknob turned easily in Ryan’s sweaty hand and they slowly entered. The doorway opened to a narrow hallway that led through some small rooms on either side to the stage. The old costumes made the area smell musty and the changing lights made shadows appear every which way they turned. They jumped with every strange noise and moved haltingly, their anxiousness apparent with every hesitant step.
Finally, they were near the stage. There were cords attached to drapes hanging from above that created a maze the boys had to step through. They peeked around the corner and their eyes were transfixed upon a creature – half man, half animal that appeared to engulf the stage. His eyes were red and fiery and his arms and legs were covered with a dark, thick, matted fur. What mostly kept them planted in their spots was the way this animal pranced around the stage, half galloping, half walking, as if he hadn’t decided which creature he truly was.
Ryan felt Benny’s hand tighten its grip around his arm. He glanced back to him and Benny’s terrified expressions made his tilt of his head to the exit sign seem almost comical. Ryan shook his head back and forth to let Benny know that they were stuck there – together.
Just then, the animal began a ferocious speech. “What are you staring at? So you’ve come to stare at the beast, have you?” With the last bit wrenched from his mouth, the animal let out a low, mournful growl that made Benny let out a slight whimper.
Ryan jerked and pulled them both back into the shadow. The animal’s eyes shot over to their side of the backstage.
Ryan and Benny thought the animal was going to pounce at them. They braced themselves against the wall, looking for some stick or other object they could use in their defense.
Instead, a spell had been broken and the animal stood up to the height of a six foot, one inch man. No longer were its shoulders rounded or teeth bared. The man/animal (manimal) came towards their space. Ryan and Benny tried to make themselves as small as mice, shrinking down to the floor against the wall, hugging their knees to their chests.
Just when they thought their existence might escape the animal, his eyes looked directly at them, piercing holes through their heads with the intense glare.
Then, the unexpected happened. The manimal called out, “Boys, what are you doing here inside the school?” The voice had lost all of the animalistic coarseness. Instead, it had a familiarity that the boys could not yet place. They both looked at the door, then each other. Without a signal, they both shot towards the door.
“STOP!” the manimal shouted.
The boys stopped dead in their tracks as if their feet had hit quicksand and their muscles were frozen in a block of ice.
“Come here,” the manimal beckoned.
The boys held their heads in a defensive posture, hands balled up at their sides, ready to defend themselves as necessary.
The boys stood there speechless, looking at this creature shaking on the floor from the enormity of his chuckles. Finally, something of the creature seemed familiar to Ryan. He inched closer and tipped his head so he could get a better look at his face.
“Mr. Ha..Ha…Hansen?” Ryan finally made out.
Benny made a snort then said, “NO WAY!” He reverted back to his half skip, half walk and quickly got right in front of the crumbled monster now sitting in front of them on the stage.
“Hi boys,” Mr. Hansen replied. “You’re the last two people I expected to run across here. I’m not sure if I scared you more, or if you scared me more.” He then began to chuckle again.
Mr. Hansen was the school janitor. To most people, he was the invisible worker that made the school sparkle every night. Ryan had noticed him though and Mr. Hansen always managed to shoot him a friendly grin and wave each afternoon as they crossed each other in the hallway after the last bell. No one knew much about him. There were rumors that he was a double agent and worked around the school as an undercover operative. Others said that he played pro ball when he was younger and now worked as a janitor because he hadn’t finished school. Ryan didn’t know the true story. All he knew was that Mr. Hansen was nice and not a monster at all.
“Mr. Hansen, what are you doing here?” Ryan asked the question on both his and Benny’s minds. “Why are you dressed up as a monster?”
Mr. Hansen motioned them to follow him into the back room. There were makeup mirrors ablaze that lit up a trunk. Inside the trunk were costumes, wigs and accessories of every kind. He pointed to the stools beside the main swivel chair.
“Boys, a long time ago I was a Broadway actor. I lived to be on stage, every performance a new adventure, every character a new person to explore. In the traveling show, we went all over the United States. Those were some of the best times of my life. I met my wife at the theatre and we had children. When they were ready to start school, I realized that a traveling actor was not the best way to be a great dad to my kids. I gave up acting and moved our family here. It was only recently that I stumbled upon my old acting trunks. On evenings when the school is dark, I explore the characters once again and bring them to life. You witnessed the rebirth of the Prince turned Beast, from the play Beauty and the Beast.”
“Mr. Hansen, you didn’t even seem like yourself. That is AMAZING!” Ryan gushed with his admiration spread across his face.
“I only perform to empty chairs now, Ryan. I am happy working with kids during the day and reliving my glory days at night now.”
“But Mr. Hansen, think of all you could do if you worked with kids AND shared your acting. Why don’t you put on a drama program after school?”
At first Mr. Hansen waved his suggestion aside with a quick movement of his hand, but then he slowed mid-air.
“Maybe it could work. I’m familiar with the lights and sound system of the stage already and I’ve explored your school’s drama closet of costumes. I think we could really put on a great production.” The words tumbled quickly out of Mr. Hansen’s mouth as his excitement began to rise.
For the next hour Mr. Hansen brainstormed with the boys about the ways they could make the idea work. They all left satisfied that a solution had been found.
The next morning both Benny and Ryan were called to the office. Their classmates did the traditional “oohing” at the sound of their names being summoned.
When they arrived they saw Mr. Hansen sitting across from the principal’s chair. He had a large grin across his face.
Mr. Hansen began, “Yes, Ms. Carroll, these are the two boys that gave me the idea. I really think we can make the drama program work. Not only can it generate money for the school but I think I can pass along many important acting skills to the kids.”
Ms. Carroll enthusiastically agreed with the suggestion and decided to put the program in place. Benny and Ryan were allowed to be part of the planning process and even caught the acting bug themselves. Only Benny and Ryan knew the true story behind Mr. Hansen and the new drama program, now interestingly called “Beauty and Beast Productions.”