I was always afraid of the lunch lady when I was a kid. I don’t know why; maybe it was the toxic stench of her breath, or the dead look in her eyes, or the unkempt hairs dangling off her chin. No matter what the reason was, my palms grew sweaty and my heart pounded every time I passed her in the lunch line. I never felt quite at ease until I had left the cafeteria, and even then I still was worried I would catch sight of her in the hallway between classes.
One day I got into a fight with another kid named Jeremy, and we both received detention. It was his fault really. I had been passing him in the hall when he quickly stuck out his foot in front of mine and sent me sprawling to the ground, all my books flying through the air. Samantha, the girl I had a crush on, happened to be standing in the hallway when it happened, and she joined everyone else in laughing and pointing at me. My rage got the best of me, and Jeremy and I were soon throwing punches at each other. After the teachers broke up our fist fight, we were sent to the principal’s office. Long story short, I would be spending my Saturday at school filling out worksheets instead of playing videogames with my friends.
Saturday came, and my mother, rather unpleased to be up so early, dropped me off outside the school doors at eight in the morning. I walked in and found my way to Room 126, where detention was always held. Jeremy was already there sitting at a desk, along with two other kids. One of them was Nick, the dumb ape who was the quarterback of our football team. The other was a quiet girl in glasses.
I found myself a seat at a comfortable distance from everyone else. No one spoke a word. The only sound in the room was the deafening ticking of the clock. I quickly grew bored after a few minutes, so I spun around in my chair and faced Jeremy. “Do you know who’s running detention today?”
“Kowalski, I think.”
“Mrs. Kowalski?” I repeated, gulping. But Jeremy didn’t have to affirm it. Immediately, the all too familiar odor of her breath filled my nostrils, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up. I slowly turned around, and in walked the lunch lady with a pile of worksheets under her arm.
“Now you turds listen,” she commanded in her thick accent. “I really didn’t want to be here today, so I don’t want any trouble. I’m going to pass out these worksheets, and you all aren’t going to make a peep. Understand?” We all nodded our heads. “Good. The first moment something goes wrong, one of you is going in the oven.” Then she laughed heartily and left us alone in the room. I shuddered as I tried to shake off the image of her hairy chin and her flabby arms.
We all sat silently in the room for about forty-five minutes, filling out our worksheets. The lunch lady still hadn’t returned by that time, so we then took the risk of chatting quietly.
“That lunch lady must be the ugliest living thing I’ve ever seen,” Jeremy chuckled.
“I bet she’s so hairy, when you take off her pants you can’t tell whether she’s a man or a woman,” Nick replied, snorting. No one laughed.
“She hasn’t even come back once to check on us,” Jeremy continued. “I bet she just went home as soon as she left the room. C’mon, we should see if we can sneak out.”
He had just stood up from his desk when we all heard the sound of grinding metal and hissing steam coming from somewhere in the building. Everyone froze. I had easily recognized the sound.
“That came from the cafeteria,” I said. “Someone is starting up the ovens.”
“Why the hell would someone turn on the ovens?” Nick asked.
“It must be Kowalski,” Jeremy said. “Maybe she got hungry. Maybe she’s getting the ovens ready so she can cook one of us up!”
“And you’d be the first person she’d throw in,” I replied, playing along. But in reality, I was rather unnerved. Why would she start up the ovens right now? Surely she could have just packed a lunch. Maybe she actually enjoyed eating the greasy shrimp and cardboard pizza she always served for lunch.
We tried to go back to our work, but at this point it was impossible to try and concentrate again, even for the quiet girl. We finally decided that we should send one person outside the room to check if the coast was clear. Jeremy tore up one of his worksheets into four pieces and then wrote one of our names on each. Then he shuffled the names in his hand and turned to Nick.
Nick took one of the pieces from Jeremy’s hand and flipped it over. “Ashley,” he read. The quiet girl’s face froze over with fear.
“Oh, c’mon guys, don’t make her do it!” I said.
“Then you go,” Jeremy replied.
“No way!” I answered. “It was your idea; you should go.”
“Shut up already, you pussies,” Nick interrupted. “I’ll go.” He left the room and disappeared down the hall, and we all gathered at the doorway, waiting for him to return. A few silent minutes passed; the suspense grew unbearable. I was about tell the others that we should go back in the room when Nick reappeared at the end of the hallway. He glanced over his shoulder and motioned for us to come to him. I quietly shut the door and we all tiptoed down the hallway, looking all about us. We finally reached Nick.
“I circled this whole part of the building,” he whispered to us. “She’s no where in sight. If we’re quiet, I think we can make it to the front door without being noticed.”
“Let’s do it,” said Jeremy. He took the lead, and the rest of us followed. We slowly made our way through the building, staying close to the walls and listening closely for approaching footsteps. The noise of the kitchen equipment was still traveling through the halls. We finally reached the front doors.
“Let’s get out of here,” Jeremy said. He pulled the door handle. The door wouldn’t budge more than half an inch. He kept pulling on all the doors, but they were stuck. “What the hell?”
“It’s chained,” whispered Ashley.
“Let me try.” Nick stepped up and grabbed the door handle, wrenching it back and forth furiously until the noise filled the hallway.
“You idiot!” I cried through clenched teeth, dragging the oaf away from the door. “What do think you’re doing?”
We all paused in silence, listening to see if she was coming. Surely enough, after a few moments, we could faintly hear her footsteps coming down the hall. She was approaching swiftly.
“Run!” I cried, and we all took off in different directions. Nick and the quiet girl headed left, while Jeremy and I went right. As we turned around the corner, we could hear Ashley scream and the lunch lady shout, “I’ve got ya!” We didn’t bother to look back.
“This way!” Jeremy called to me. I followed him as he turned down a smaller hallway and then came to a classroom. “We can hide in here.” We dashed inside the classroom and looked around frantically for hiding places. Jeremy dove under the teacher’s desk, while I took my chances behind the cabinet in the corner. Then we waited in silence.
For a few minutes we didn’t hear anything but the pounding of our own hearts. Still, we thought it best to wait it out a little longer. After a little while, we heard someone coming down the hallway. At first we could only hear a faint mumbling, too quiet to distinguish. We froze. The voice drew closer.
“Jeremy? Adam? Guys, where are you? Jeremy?”
Jeremy got up from under the desk on opened the door. “Nick! Get in here!”
Nick hurried inside and Jeremy locked the door. Then we all crouched down behind the teacher’s desk.
“Guys, you won’t believe it,” Nick whispered, catching his breath. “I saw her get Ashley. She grabbed her arm, and she tried to run, but then she hit her over the head with a wrench and was dragging her body down the hallway and-”
“Keep it down,” I hissed. “You said what?”
“She knocked her out, or killed her, I don’t know, but then she was just dragging her body down the hallway toward the cafeteria, and the blood was all over the floor, and then I came to find you guys.”
“You’re saying Kowalski hit the girl over the head and then dragged her to the cafeteria?”
“That’s exactly what happened. I was lucky she didn’t see me too. We need to get out of here. Now.”
“We need to get to a room with windows,” I said. “We can break out.”
“Forget it,” Jeremy interrupted. “I’ve seen guys try to break through glass like this, and unless one of you has a sledgehammer, we’re not going anywhere. There’s only one other way out of this school, and that’s through the back doors.”
“But that’s right next to-”
“The cafeteria,” I said, completing Nick’s sentence.
“It’s the only chance we’ve got,” said Jeremy. “We can do it if we’re quiet.”
“Then let’s go,” I replied. “No time to lose.”
We opened the door and looked up and down the hallway. “Follow me,” whispered Jeremy. We crept down the hall, making our way toward the cafeteria.
We were about halfway there when Mrs. Kowalski’s voice came resounding through the building over the intercom. “Hello there.” Her accent was even more obvious coming out of the speakers. “I see you have left your room. That is unfortunate. However, I promise that there will be no consequences if you will simply return to Room 126. Ashley is waiting for you there.”
“Ashley! We have to help her!” Nick cried.
“Forget it, she’s dead!” said Jeremy. “We need to get out of here!”
“You didn’t see what I saw!” Nick said. “This woman is insane! We have to save her!” Nick bolted down the hallway.
“Nick! What are you doing?” I shouted. I tried to run after him, but Jeremy held me back.
“No, Adam. Let him go. We need to leave, now.”
“What an idiot,” I muttered as we dashed through the halls. Within a minute we heard Nick give out a spine-tingling scream. I felt sick to my stomach.
“Hurry!” shouted Jeremy. “We’re almost there!”
We blitzed through the halls. I grew nauseous, and it was becoming hard to maintain my balance. The hallway started spinning in front of me.
“Come on! We’re almost there!”
I pushed on, wanting to vomit with each step I took. Then we turned a corner, and there it was: the back entrance.
“We made it!” cried Jeremy. “Let’s get out of here!”
We were going so fast we nearly ran right into the doors. I was about to hurl. Jeremy pulled on the door handles. “Oh God, no, no!” They were chained. We were trapped. I collapsed onto the floor, exhausted. “No! No! God, no!” Jeremy screamed, as he continued to yank back and forth on the door handles. Meanwhile I laid on the cold floor, looking down the hallway. The cool linoleum felt good against my burning cheek. My stomach was still churning.
And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a pair of black boots appear at the end of the hallway. I looked up; she had arrived. Jeremy was now wildly throwing himself against the doors. The lunch lady slowly approached, step by step, yielding a bloody wrench in her hand. It was too late; it was all over. I closed my eyes as the lunch lady passed over me and brought down her wrench upon Jeremy’s head. He cried out in pain. She hit him again; his blood spewed all over the walls and ran down to the floor. She kept hitting him, over and over again. I vomited. Then everything went black.
I opened my eyes. The brightness of the fluorescent lights made it hard to see at first. After a minute my eyes adjusted, and I saw that I was in the middle of the cafeteria. I looked down. I was tied to a chair. I squirmed about for a few seconds, but the rope was strong and I could hardly move at all. Sighing, I gave up and examined my surroundings. No one else was in sight. Chairs and tables were set out in the usual fashion. I could hear the kitchen equipment still running in the back.
“Awake, eh?” her voice called out. I bent my head back and saw out of the corner of my eye that the lunch lady was preparing a meal in the open kitchen. “Give me another minute. Lunch is almost ready.”
I squirmed around a little more, but the ropes were as tight as ever. I then sat still, patiently waiting. After a minute or two, the lunch lady came out. She was carrying a plate covered with a napkin.
“Did you have a nice nap?” she asked me with that disgusting accent. I remained silent. She set the plate on a nearby table. “You know, I could have killed you too. But out of the goodness of my heart, I decided to spare you. And on top of that, I’ve even cooked you a delicious meal.”
I remained silent.
“So what, I get no thank you? Is this how I am treated for feeding you? Is this how I am repaid for sweating away in a hot, dirty kitchen all day?” She paused. “You know, I have worked this job for nineteen years, and you turds are all the same. You come in line, you take your food, you walk away, and no thank you. You say, ‘Ew, she is smelly and weird. Forget that she cooks us delicious lunch.’ Well, that is over now. No more.”
I still remained silent. Then the lunch lady came behind me and pushed my chair to the table, right where the plate sat. I did not want to see what was on that plate. She unbound my arms so that I could only move them from the elbow up. Then she set a fork on the table next to the plate.
“I have made you a delicious lunch. You will eat now.”
She pulled off the napkin, and I gagged. I had to turn away. Sitting in the middle of the plate was an enormous sausage, surrounded by cooked fingers, toes, eyes, and ears.
“You eat,” she commanded.
“No, no I can’t do it.” I was growing sick again.
“You eat or I hit,” she said to me, holding up the wrench. I looked at the plate again, and I nearly vomited.
“I can’t do it. I can’t do it.”
She brought the wrench right down upon my head. I screamed in agony.
“Eat,” she commanded.
I picked up the fork, my head pounding with pain. Tears ran down my face as I cut off a bit of the sausage and stuffed it in my mouth. I chewed it up and swallowed it down.
“Good. Finish it all.”
I shook my head, sobbing. She brought down the wrench on my head again. I cried out in pain.
“Eat!” she shouted. I took another bite, and another, and another, blinded by my own tears. Whenever I paused she would raise the wrench again, and I would keep eating. It took all my strength to keep it down in my stomach.
When I finally had swallowed down the last bite, she took the plate. “Very good. I am glad you enjoyed it. Now that you have had your lunch, I will have mine.”
I looked upward as she raised the wrench in the air one last time, and I closed my eyes.