The First Day of School

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My father is a construction manager and because of his career, we have to move around the country every few years.

In my 15 years, I have lived in six different states: New Mexico, Illinois, Minnesota, Colorado, Louisiana, and now Kansas.

This past summer, my father was hired to work on a project near Wichita, Kansas. We moved to a small town named Whitewater that’s just about a half hour drive from the city. It’s a quiet, secluded place with nice people, but it’s close enough to Wichita that my dad doesn’t get stuck in a ton of traffic every day.

Anyway, this meant that I had to go to a brand new school where I knew nobody. I understand how it could be a rough experience for some kids, but I’m so used to it that it doesn’t really seem to faze me. I’m a sophomore now and I’ve only got three years to go until college. This will probably be the last time I switch schools.

Luckily, there aren’t exactly a ton of kids that go to Whitewater High. It’s not a very highly-populated town and everyone is pretty close. With how friendly everyone is here, I didn’t think I’d have a lot of trouble meeting some people I could hang out with.

The first day of school was actually the first time I had been to Whitewater High. It wasn’t too impressive; my last high school in Louisiana was much bigger.

The only thing that stood out was a large bronze statue of a basketball player in front with a No. 14 on his jersey. I didn’t have time to look at the plaque in front of the statue since I was running a little bit late, but I figured I better learn if I want to be a part of this community.

I introduced myself to the short, red-haired girl next to me, told her I was new, and asked her about the statue.

“Oh, that’s Kerry Gosselin,” she replied. “He’s the best athlete to ever come out of Whitewater, that’s for sure-”

“Cool, thanks,” I interrupted, stressed out about getting to class in time. “Nice to meet you!”

As I walked in I noticed a red and yellow banner hanging over the entrance.

“Welcome to Whitewater High: Home of the Comets – 2001 State Basketball Champions”

Wow, this town won a state championship? Hardly anyone lives here! That Kerry guy must have been amazing, I wondered.

On the wall next to the office was a huge picture of the 2001 team. I noticed Kerry and his No. 14 jersey right away: a gumpy-looking kid, pale as could be and with some visibly crooked teeth, but quite a bit taller than most of the other players.

After putting my backpack in my locker and grabbing some books for math, my first class, I realized I had more than enough time until class started. The clock in my mom’s car must have been running fast.

I decided to check out the school a little bit and I ended up in the gym.

A couple of men that seemed to be in their mid-30’s were shooting basketballs. One of them ran over to grab a drink and, to my amazement, it was Kerry!

He looked exactly the same as he did in the picture – and even the statue, albeit a little older. Whoever was hired to make that statue must have been pretty damn good, I thought.

He was extremely tall. I realized that I only came up to his shoulder, and I’m not short by any means.

“What’s up?” he said with that same crooked-toothed smile.

“Hey are you Kerry?” I asked hastily.

“Yeah,” he chuckled. “You must be new around here.”

Duh, of course he was Kerry, how stupid could I be?

“Just moved here from Louisiana, this is my first day,” I answered. “Are you the gym teacher?”

“Nah, I’m not the gym teacher, we just like to come back and shoot around every once in a while. What’s your name?”

“I’m Conner, nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too Conner,” he replied. “Hey, you’re new, I guess you haven’t heard about this gym being haunted?”

I laughed.

“No trust me, it sounds crazy but I’m telling the truth,” he reacted. “I’ve got stories I could tell you, but…I’ll just wait for you to find out on your own.”

With the time approaching 7:15, I had to get to class. We said our goodbyes and I headed off to math.

Haunted, I thought. That seems pretty cool! Once I get some friends, we’ll have to explore it before or after school some day.

I had heard my share about Voodoo when I lived in Louisiana, but never saw anything that suggested any of it was true. Maybe this place will live up to the hype. Kerry seemed like he was being pretty honest.

I sat down just before the bell rang. My teacher was an older man named Mr. Thomas. He had long, silvery-gray hair, a mustache, and glasses. He kind of resembled Albert Einstein in a way.

“Ok class, before we get started I see we’ve got a new student,” was the first thing he said. I guess literally everyone in this town knows each other.

After introducing myself, he asked what I thought of the school and the town so far.

“I’ve only been here a couple weeks, but everyone here seems really down-to-earth,” I said as he smiled and nodded. “I also just found out that the gym is haunted, so that’s pretty cool.”

Some of the kids in the class snickered. Shoot, Kerry was playing a trick on me. I should’ve known.

“Haunted? Who told you that?” asked Mr. Thomas.

“Kerry Gosselin,” I answered. “He’s in the gym with a couple other guys from that championship team.”

Suddenly, everyone’s snickering went silent. Their smiles all became glares.

“That’s not the way you want to start off here, Conner,” said Mr. Thomas. “Not funny.”

“What do you mean?” I said anxiously. “I just saw him in the gym right now. Same guy as the statue and on that picture by the office I’m sure of it.”

“Yeah, did you read what it said on the statue or the picture?” he snapped. “During their spring break trip to Hawaii, the team’s plane crashed into the ocean. Kerry and the rest of those guys have been dead for 15 years.”

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Theater Six

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During the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I had a job at the local cinema. I’m 26 years old now and well on my way to other, more important things in my life, but this is the first time I’ve told this story.

Mind you, the theater was very small since it was located in the small town where I grew up: North English, Iowa (population: just over 1,000). This made things easier for me since one of the jobs I had to do sometimes was clean up the theaters after each film was over. Unlike some cinemas in bigger areas that have upwards of 20 theaters, this one only had five.

The cinema was almost perfectly symmetrical. Once you give your ticket to the ticket-taker (another job I was given sometimes), the concession stand is in front of you. There is a hallway to the left (South Hallway) and another to the right (North Hallway).

The hallway to the left had three theaters. Once you walk down the hallway, Theater 1 is on your left, Theater 2 is on your right, and Theater 3 is straight ahead.

The hallway to the right, on the other hand, just had two theaters: Theater 4 (on your left) and Theater 5 (on your right). Instead of a third theater directly ahead like the South Hallway, there is nothing but a giant Pepsi advertisement poster stretching from the ceiling all the way to the floor.

The advertisement looked like it had hung there for quite some time. The blue and red colors had seemingly faded significantly and everything about it just kind of had that…older (for lack of a better word) look to it. It was a blue poster dominated by a huge image of a bottle of Pepsi. The word “Pepsi” was at the top and the bottom had a slogan  that I had never seen anywhere else: “Nothing Else is a Pepsi”.

I never really thought much of it. It’s a small town and therefore there aren’t going to be a ton of movie-goers, so why deal with the upkeep costs of a sixth theater when it probably won’t turn any profit? I’m sure the owners of the theater had some economic reasoning behind their decision.

One slow day at work, I was staring aimlessly at the poster waiting for something to do when I noticed a small bulge on the right side of it. It was barely noticeable, something you almost had to be looking for in order to see, but for the first time since I started working at the theater, it crossed my mind that something other than just a blank wall may in fact be behind the poster.

I went over and felt the small indentation and, to my amazement, it felt like a doorknob. Not just any doorknob – the same type of doorknob on the doors to the other five theaters. I pulled back the poster to look behind it and, sure enough, there was a door.

Tons of questions raced through my mind, but I eventually concluded that neglecting to use the theater was probably just an economic-based decision. As I had figured, the door was locked, so I didn’t get to see the inside.

Still, my curiosity wouldn’t go away. Why had I never heard of this? Why was the door covered with a poster? Did the door even lead to a sixth theater?

I decided to ask the owner, Kevin. Kevin was 12 years older than me, about 30 at the time, and also worked at the cinema when he was in high school. His father used to own the cinema, but it had been passed down to Kevin once he graduated from college.

“Nothing, just the wall,” he responded hastily when I asked him what was behind the Pepsi poster.

“Kevin, I saw the door.”

He looked at me for a couple of seconds and let out a sigh.

“Okay, come over here,” he said as he led me away from a crowd of people. “You can never tell this story to any of our customers, got it?”

“Yeah, sure, just tell me what happened,” I said anxiously.

He proceeded to tell me of one particular night the weekend after Thanksgiving when he was a senior in high school. Toy Story had come out a few weeks earlier and it was being shown in Theater 6 that night.

Oddly enough, I had never seen Toy Story. I was five, almost six, when it came out and I’m pretty sure I’m the only person from my generation who never went to go see it. I was supposed to go one night with a group of friends from kindergarten and their parents, but I was sick with the flu and my parents wouldn’t let me go.

Anyway, something apparently went wrong that night. Kevin told me about how he remembered the faces of the kids when they came out of the theater, saying they appeared to be in somewhat of a “trance-like state” and were all “white as ghosts.”

He also said that he overheard some of the parents making comments like, “I thought this was supposed to be a kids movie,” and saying other things along those lines.

It was the last showing of the night in Theater 6, and good thing it was. Some of the kids and parents had torn all the cotton out of some of the seats and thrown things at the screen, damaging it.

They closed the theater for the next few days since there were a lot of repairs to be done for it to be suitable for another showing any time soon. However, they never got around to fixing it and decided to shut down the theater for good given what happened in North English soon after.

Over the next couple of weeks, Kevin told me, there was a rash of child disappearances throughout the area.

“Their names and pictures were in the paper, and I just about lost my lunch when I saw who they were,” explained Kevin.

“I recognized pretty much every kid’s face,” he said. “They were the ones to come out of the theater that night.”

According to Kevin, none of the kids were ever found, dead or alive.

“Nice story, bro,” I chuckled. “Now tell me what really happened.”

“Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you,” said Kevin. “But come take a look at this.”

He proceeded to take me to his office and pull up a webpage on his computer. He showed me a picture of a young blonde girl with dark brown eyes, about upper-elementary age.

Under the picture, the page read:

Karen Wilson
DOB: August 11, 1985
Hometown: North English, Iowa
Last seen: November 29, 1995
Status: Still missing

“This is a database I found online that tracks missing kids,” Kevin told me as he showed me how he filtered the results on the site: North English for the town, 1995 for the year.

He clicked the “next” button to reveal a picture of another blonde-haired girl, this one a little bit younger.

Leah Hollinger
DOB: February 1, 1988
Hometown: North English, Iowa
Last seen: November 29, 1995
Status: Still missing

When Kevin clicked the “next” button again, I froze. This face, I recognized.

Kyle Shealy
DOB: March 18, 1990
Hometown: North English, Iowa
Last seen: November 30, 1995
Status: Still missing

Kyle was one of the friends I was planning on seeing Toy Story with. My parents told me he had to move schools and, as a kindergartner at the time, I never second-guessed anything they said.

Then, my stomach dropped. It finally hit me.

Jeff, Justin, and Aaron – the other three kids who went to see Toy Story that night – had also “moved away”.

As Kevin scrolled through the other missing kids – twelve in total – there they were.

Jeffrey Bates
DOB: October 5, 1989
Hometown: North English, Iowa
Last seen: December 2, 1995
Status: Still missing

Justin Webber
DOB: June 13, 1990
Hometown: North English, Iowa
Last seen: December 7, 1995
Status: Still missing

Aaron McPhee
DOB: April 3, 1990
Hometown: North English, Iowa
Last seen: December 8, 1995
Status: Still missing

Panic set in. Everything inside me felt cold, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and I ran to the bathroom certain that I was about to get sick.

I ended up being able to calm myself down, but I didn’t sleep much the next few nights.

About a week later, I still couldn’t get it out of my mind. It was a busy night at work as it was the opening weekend for the fifth Harry Potter movie, and I decided that I was going to do it.

I was going to enter Theater 6.

They had a few extra workers staffed to clean up the theater after the last Harry Potter showing was over, but about five minutes into the cleanup, I told them to all go home and that I’d take care of the rest. They all thanked me, packed up, and went home for the night.

My night, however, was just beginning.

Once I finished cleaning up Theater 2, where Harry Potter was being shown, I headed over toward the North Hallway and stared down the Pepsi poster.

After checking to make sure nobody else was in sight, I reached into my pocket to grab the paperclip I brought to pick the lock.

Picking locks wasn’t anything new to me. When you grow up in a small town like North English, you and your buddies are always looking to something to do and, well, I guess that’s a story for a different time.

After some finagling around, it worked. I took a deep breath, turned the knob, and opened the door.

Other than getting hit with a gust of cold air, the first thing I noticed was the smell. Instead of smelling like a weird mixture of popcorn and lemon-scented cleaner like the other theaters, this one had, as you would expect, a damp, musty smell.

Mice and rats had clearly been in the theater based on the smell, which kind of grossed me out since people just across the hall watched movies, ate popcorn, and drank soda every night…and I was one of the people in charge of keeping the place clean.

I turned on my flashlight and, sure enough, the theater was a mess. The screen was still cracked from having assorted objects thrown at it that night, just like Kevin had told me.

As far as the seats, they were still torn up; however, I couldn’t tell if the majority of them were destroyed by those moviegoers or by the mice and rats.

I still had goosebumps and was a little freaked out, but after some inspection of the theater, I didn’t find anything overly terrifying.

I decided to walk up to the top of the steps and check out the control booth. It looked just like the other five control booths; clearly we hadn’t made any renovations to any of them since the mid-90’s or before. I always thought the technology seemed a little outdated in the theater and this pretty much confirmed it.

After looking around the cobweb-riddled sound and light controls, I noticed, to my horror, a roll of film labeled “Toy Story”.

Another roll of film, this one unmarked, was on the reel.

2016 MLB Awards Picks

Washington Nationals v Boston Red Sox
BOSTON, MA – APRIL 13: David Ortiz #34 congratulates Mookie Betts #50 of the Boston Red Sox after he hit a home run against the Washington Nationals during the second inning at Fenway Park on April 13, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

An exciting MLB regular season has come to a close and an intense month of postseason action awaits us.

While we’re waiting for the postseason to officially kick off tomorrow, let’s take a look at who deserves to be nominated for and who deserves to win this year’s major awards.

 

American League Rookie of the Year
Nominees
SP Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers
OF Tyler Naquin, Cleveland Indians
C Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees

Winner: Michael Fulmer

While Sanchez set the baseball world on fire in his one-month rookie campaign, Fulmer proved his worth over the course of nearly the entire season, setting some records of his own on the way.

Had Fulmer thrown the three more innings he needed to qualify, he would’ve finished third in the American League in ERA.

 

National League Rookie of the Year
Nominees
SS Aledmys Diaz, St. Louis Cardinals
SS Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
SS Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies

Winner: Corey Seager

Sure, Story missed the last couple of months with an injury, but he batted twice as many times as Gary Sanchez did this season. Why shouldn’t he be nominated?

Anyways, Seager is pretty much a shoe-in to win this award, batting .308 with 26 homers and 72 RBIs. He’s a big reason why his Dodgers won the NL West.

 

American League Manager of the Year
Nominees
Jeff Banister, Texas Rangers
Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians
Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles

Winner: Jeff Banister

Texas was seen as a bit of a fluke in 2015, winning the division on the last day of the regular season.

Despite somewhat low expectations, Texas seized the American League’s best record by excelling in one-run games: the sign of a manager who knows how to scratch out wins.

 

National League Manager of the Year
Nominees
Terry Collins, New York Mets
Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs
Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers

Winner: Dave Roberts

Maddon is going to win this award because he is Joe Maddon and the Cubs are the Cubs. But this should really be a race between Dave Roberts and Terry Collins for taking their teams to the playoffs despite battling through a ridiculous amount of injuries.

After losing Zack Greinke in free agency, other Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw missed a huge chunk of the season with an injury. Still, Roberts led his team to a fourth-consecutive National League West title.

 

American League Cy Young
Nominees
Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox
Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Winner: Justin Verlander

There’s a lot of debate here between these three magnificent pitchers, but there really shouldn’t be.

Despite a shaky first two months of the season, Verlander finished atop the American League in both strikeouts and WHIP and second behind only Toronto’s Aaron Sanchez in ERA.

His win-loss record isn’t as impressive as Kluber’s or Porcello’s, but pitcher wins are one of the most overrated statistics in all of sports. Verlander did not have much run support from his team throughout the year, and his individual performance on the mound certainly exceeded Kluber’s or Porcello’s.

 

National League Cy Young
Nominees
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs
Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

Winner: Max Scherzer

Probably the closest race of any. Hendricks is very deserving after posting a 2.13 (!!!) ERA and a WHIP under one; however, Scherzer’s WHIP is even lower and his ERA is still under three.

You don’t need to be a strikeout artist to be a great pitcher, but the fact that Scherzer punched out a whopping 114 more batters than Hendricks gives him the edge.

 

American League Most Valuable Player

Nominees

2B Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
RF Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
CF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Winner: Mookie Betts

This has nothing to do with the fact that Betts is the only one of these three to make the playoffs and everything to do with the fact that he had the best season.

All three players are great with the glove (Altuve and Betts more so than Trout) and all three racked up the stolen bases, combining for 86.

Betts, however, popped more homers and drove in more runs than either Altuve or Trout and finished second to only Altuve in the batting race. He is a complete player who excels in every facet of the game.

 

National League Most Valuable Player
Nominees
3B Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
3B/OF Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
2B Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals

Winner: Kris Bryant

I nearly gave this award to Arenado, who led Bryant in all Triple Crown categories and arguably is an even better defender, but there is no denying that Coors Field inflated some of Arenado’s numbers.

Not to take anything away from Arenado – he’s a fantastic all-around player – but Bryant’s numbers away from home were far superior to Arenado’s.

The Cubs would still be a playoff team without Kris Bryant, but would they be World Series favorites? Tough to say yes.