P.E. Room 001 mystery
By Colleen Corter
Tanis’s vibrant red hair flew in her face as she came running up the cement steps that led from the locker room in the gray brick basement of the archaic gymnasium. Her face was void of all color, except for her flashing green eyes.
“It happened again! I saw her, I really saw her!” she shrieked, bumping into the P.E. teacher. “Calm down, Tanis,” Mrs. Breen, the young teacher said. “It must be your imagination. You were the last girl to get dressed for class and there’s no one else down there.”
“But Mrs. Breen, I really saw this girl, and she was staring right at me.” Tanis Hall, a Junior honor-roll student would not lie.” Meg said, sticking up for her long time friend.
Mrs. Breen shrugged her shoulders in exasperation and walked to the front of the class to lead exercises. Meg nudged her friend, “Tanis, did you really see someone?” she asked wide-eyed, tagging alongside with her petite frame barely coming to Tanis’s chin.
“Yes, and I’ll never go down to the basement again. Thank goodness the city is tearing down this ancient building to build the new school next year.”
After class, Tanis gathered her eleventh grade Spanish book and backpack and ran to the main school a block away.
I suppose everyone thinks I’m crazy, but I actually saw this pretty girl and… “Como esta, estas, estan, ustedes,” Mr. Mercer, the Spanish teacher orated, his dark eyes pouring over the half-sleeping students.
“Which tense is correct? Tanis, do you know?”
Feeling a rush of heat to a red face that matched her hair, Tanis looked up. “What did you say, Mr. Mercer? I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening.”
Her mind was on the images she’d seen out of the eye-level window in the basement. Tanis remembered seeing an old green and white Chevy. Leaning against the car was a young woman with a pony tail. She wore an ankle-length skirt, a white blouse and a yellow scarf around her neck. The girl looked right at Tanis. In an instant the scene had changed. Instead of the car and girl, a child whipped by on a skateboard wearing headphones.
Once before a peculiar silence had fallen in the Locker Room 001. About a month ago, as Tanis dressed, she glanced at herself in the age-spotted mirror; standing behind her by one of the lockers was the same girl. That time the girl wore an old-fashioned gym suit and seemed to be trying to tell Tanis something. Then she disappeared.
The memory chilled Tanis like a shot of cold air from an opened freezer.
The dismissal bel pierced through the room. Tanis jumped up with a start knocking her papers to the floor. As she picked up the last slip she realized with a true shock wave that she had left her purse with her house key in the locker room.
This is ridiculous, I have to go down and get it, she kept saying as she walked quickly to the gym. The birds singing and the cool breeze reassured her everything was normal.
Entering the old landmark of a building, she noticed the sun’s rays shot like golden arrows to the wooden floor. Dust particles floated like snowflakes within the brightness. The silence in the gym was so loud you could almost hear it vibrating with no sound. Tanis’s white tennis shoes squeaked along the gleaming gym floor.
“What are you doing here?” a voice softly said from behind her. It was Mrs. Breen in her white gym shorts, blonde Dorothy Hamill wedge cut and always present whistle hanging from a silver chain.
“Mrs. Breen,” Tanis blurted, shaking from surprise. “I left my purse in the locker room.” Tanis felt relieved to have company.
“I wanted to talk to you anyway.” Mrs. Breen said following Tanis down the solid gray steps. “I’ve seen something strange down here too.” Mrs. Breen almost whispered, sitting on the long bench that ran down the middle of the damp room. “One day last week, I was putting away equipment, and over my shoulder I felt a presence. I thought it was a student. Turning around, I saw a young man in light blue gym shorts and a t-shirt. He had a blonde crew cut and wore a whistle around his neck. He was bending over in one of the lockers. Then he just evaporated into thin air. Tell me, what exactly did you see?”
The words spilled out, “I only saw a girl in a pony tail, not a man. But the first time I saw her, she was standing by this locker,” Tanis walked over to the far end locker by the equipment room.
“That’s the same locker where I saw the handsome young man.” Mrs. Breen admitted not wanting to show her concern. “We’ll compare notes from time to time, and let’s keep this to ourselves, okay?”
“Here’s my purse,” Tanis replied, “I need to get home. School has been over for an hour and Dad will worry about me.”
Deep in thought, Tanis strolled down the sidewalk barely noticing the sign in front of the old building. It read, “Building to be excavated June 1st.”
Tanis arrived home in a reflective mood. The rattling of the newspaper told her that her dad was home. “Is that you, Kid?” Dad said peeking over the black and white of the daily news.
“Hi, Dad,” Tanis greeted him. “Did you know they are tearing down the old gym this summer.”
“Yes. I helped vote for a new gym at the school board meetings.” Dad replied. “There will be many memories going down with those falling bricks.”
“You graduated in 1978, or was it 1977?” Tanis asked.
“It was 1978, Kiddo, seems like yesterday!” Dad laughed.
“Dad, I need to ask you something,” Tanis began, seating herself on the cross-stitched footstool. “The last month or so in P.E., I’ve had some unexplainable experiences.” She saw Dad glance at her, concerned.
“While I dressed for class in the locker room, I saw a girl through the basement window. She was dressed in 50s attire and she was leaning on an old Chevy. I’d seen her once before by a locker in the locker room.
Now Mrs. Breen has seen a strange young man with blonde hair in a crew-cut, dressed in a P.E. teacher’s outfit, by the same locker. These images only lasted seconds for both of us and we’re scared and puzzled by them.”
Dropping his paper to his lap, Dad leaned forward listening intently. Then sitting up straight, he said. “When I was in school in the ’70s I heard a story about the old gym building. Around 1956-57, a Physical Education instructor, who happened to have a crew-cut, had a romance with one of the students. The two were only a few years apart in age, but it was a big scandal for the 1950s. The instructor drove a beautiful green and white 56 Chevy, his pride and joy. I heard he always parked it outside the gym, where he could keep an eye on it from his office in the basement. I remember the car because, tragically, the teacher and the student were killed in it one rainy spring evening.”
“Good grief, Dad, do you think that’s who we saw?” Tanis said, almost falling off the footstool.
During supper Tanis and her father discussed the possibility the two were trying to tell Tanis and Mrs. Breen something. Even as Tanis pulled her pink nightgown over her red hair, her mind was working on the enigma. The feathery comforter felt inviting, as Tanis slid into bed. Her mind went over the events.
Were the two lost lovers trying to tell us to look for something, would she ever get another chance to see them again?
“Good night, Sweetheart,” Dad said, sticking his head through the doorway. “By the way, I called your mother at work and told her your story. She said the girl you saw might be DeAnn Phillips, she was your grandmother’s best friend in high school. When no one else would talk to DeAnn, you know, the years before the sexual revolution, your grandmother stuck by her friend. I’m not sure I should tell you, but, Honey, you look just like your grandmother when she was your age.”
Chills made Tanis’s hair stand on end. Drifting off to a restless sleep, she was sure the lost lovers were trying to tell her something. Even more now since the girl thought I was Grandma!
The next morning Tanis got up at the crack of dawn, gulping down a breakfast drink, she ran all the way to the gym. The boy’s basketball team was already practicing. The shrill coach’s whistle and loudly squeaking shoes were a welcome comfort to her as she made her way down the dimly lit steps. The locker room was musty smelling in cool of the morning.
There must be something here, but where? Tanis thought to herself as she started opening lockers. When she reached the locker that Mrs. Breen had seen the man by she stopped. It has to be here. Her shaking hands pulled open the tiny brass knob. The locker creaked open from decades of use. It was empty!
Feeling every nook and cranny, Tanis’s fingers felt a sharp object on the bottom of the locker. She tried to pull out a piece of paper, no, it was an envelope. The paper wouldn’t budge. Loosening the metal bottom with a pencil she was able to lift out the metal floor.
Underneath was a yellowing envelope with the name Ruth on it, there was also a big bulge in the inside.
Opening the letter, Tanis read: “Dear Mom, please understand that I do not want to hurt you. Jim and I want to get married and no one understands our love. We are leaving tonight to be together. Here is my class ring for you to keep. Someday I will come home, but for now, please remember I love you. DeAnn, your loving daughter.”
Somehow the letter must have fallen behind the floor of the locker. I know this must have been her locker, Tanis mumbled to herself. I’ll make sure this gets to DeAnn’s mother. I think she’s living at the rest home, Tanis said to herself as she climbed the stairs. Looking up she saw Mrs. Breen heading for her office. “Mrs. Breen, I have figured out the mystery,” Tanis shouted, giving her a hug. “We have accomplished a mission before the destruction of P.E. Room 001!”