"Those who believe themselves to be enlightened and are deluded in thinking so are far more dangerous to your cause than those who could care less about enlightenment."
The building had once housed a school. The school had been closed when the population of school aged children in the town had dropped to the point where it made sense to have only one such school in town. It was shut down, abandoned and consistently low on the town's list of priorities. The buildings stood as if to remind those who had once been educated there of what once was. The hallways echoed with memories that took the form of ghosts.
The ghosts were not supposed to be literal. The way the story was written, they were meant to be a metaphor for the power of so many memories. Teachers, students and administrators had spent forty years walking its halls, filling its classrooms and making decisions that shaped lives for better or for worse. There were those who thought differently. There were those who had gained access to the locked and forgotten building and told stories about what they had seen and heard. They heard voices and sounds that could not be explained as the creaks and groans of a dying structure. They saw things move around. One intruder reported seeing a classroom filled with desks with a textbook open to the same page on every one of those desks in a room devoid of both books and furniture. Another reported a woman in white standing in front of a locker struggling to open the combination lock and becoming very frustrated by her inability to do so.
No one was supposed to be in the building, but the No Trespassing signs were ignored by thrill seekers and curious teenagers with little else to do in a dying town filled with empty and decaying buildings. Most assumed the old school and its property still belonged to the town, or the to state's Department of Education, as its sale had never been publicized. Only through an inspection of the records in the basement of the town hall could anyone learn differently. It had been almost twenty years since the building was sold. In those twenty years there had been no outward changes to the property. The building remained decrepit, the grounds overgrown, and the padlocks in place on every door. No one who passed by or inspected the property from the outside ever suspected anything was happening with the old school at all.
When those who entered the building reported it was haunted, it became attractive to thrill seekers and kept most other people away.
"Jack? Can you hear me?"
He could hear the voice, but knew his name was not Jack. There was nothing but the voice. There was no light. There was nothing to see, feel, taste or touch. There was just the sound of this voice. It was a strong, calm and comforting man's voice that put him at ease, but he knew his name was not Jack.
There was another voice. It came from elsewhere in the dark emptiness that surrounded him. This voice was female. This voice was filled with concern and uncertainty.
"We brought him in too late. He was in too far for too long. He isn't responding at all. We've lost him."
"Give him time," the first voice told the second.
After that the man who knew his name was not Jack found himself alone in the nothingness. He was conscious of his own existence but there was nothing beyond that.
He could not remember who he was or how he came to be in the nothingness that now surrounded him. Even his name eluded him, but he knew his name was not Jack. He focused on that, the only thing close to a memory he had, and meditated upon it.
My name is not Jack... my name is not Jack...
A memory surfaced. The voice of the woman was familiar, the second piece of a puzzle somehow connected to his knowledge that his name was not Jack. The name meant something. It was not his name but it meant something. The woman whose voice sounded familiar was connected to his knowledge of this. He focused...
He had been in his apartment eating dinner and watching something on television. There was a knock on the door. He was expecting someone else but could not remember who that someone else was. The woman whose voice he so recently heard had been at the door. She had been a teacher of his back when he was in public school. An English teacher. She was worried about him. That much he remember but he could not remember why she was so concerned. This was a woman he had not seen in over twenty years and he was shocked to see her at his door.
He could remember nothing beyond that.
"Jack? Can you hear me?"
It was her voice and not the voice of the man who asked the question this time. He tried to respond but could not. He had no sense of his physical being. He could not move or respond in any way.
Her name was Miss McGovern. She had been quite young when she taught English at his old school. Many of the male students developed crushes on her and fantasized about her. Very little fazed her, even the adoring, lustful eyes of the boys she taught, which she used to manipulate them into engaging with the subject matter.
She was a teacher who could inspire and encourage her students, who never showed weakness or emotion. The man who knew his name was not Jack remembered this and remembered how he later considered her a model in his own endeavors. What those endeavors were he could not recall, just as he could not recall why she had shown up at his door so many years later.
"I doubt very much he can hear you."
It was a new voice in the nothingness, a third voice sounding like that of a kindly old man.
"If we cannot bring him back they may take all the Jacks offline. It has become too dangerous."
"No! They can't. He was in too deep. I tried to pull him out but I was too late. He should never have been in so deep!"
"It isn't just him, Mary. You know that."
"The other three weren't mine."
Jack wasn't his name. He knew that and now felt this had been confirmed. It was a title of some kind or a description of what he was or what he did. There was a very vague memory of this. It was connected to the appearance of Miss McGovern at his door. He had no idea what it meant but it was a starting point. Whatever was happening, he knew he needed to find a way to communicate with these people and with Miss McGovern. They did not know he could hear them, but that was all he could do.
...they may take all the Jacks offline...
That meant something and it meant something very serious. It was a very big deal. He just had no idea what a Jack was.
There was no awake. There was no asleep. There was a single state, a state of nothingness in which he could hear voices but nothing more. There were memories, which were difficult to access and even harder to process. They came and went. He needed them, even though the deeper he probed and the harder he concentrated on bringing them to life the more difficult they became.
Chaos. There was yelling coming at him from every direction. Something was very wrong. He remembered trying to get control of the situation as something hit him in the side of the head. He was losing control of the situation and losing control of himself. He felt angry. He was calling for help. Something very bad was about to happen and he could not stop it from happening.
The memory stopped. He wasn't certain if he had intentionally escaped from it. Something about it made him very uncomfortable. Something about it was very frightening, but it had nothing to do with being hit in the head or about the yelling. It had to do with something else.
"His heart rate just shot up. We're going to need to sedate him again."
Sedate me? I'm not even here.
"He's going into cardiac arrest--"
I feel nothing.
Silence in the nothingness. No point of reference. The memories became stronger, more powerful, more defining. They remained unfocused.
"You were in too deep."
Too deep. There was an assignment. He felt himself losing control. That was when Miss McGovern had shown up at his door. She warned him but he disregarded those warnings. He was too confident and too cocky.
"You are a Jack. No more, no less."
The memory focused. The chaos. The yelling. Objects were flying at him. A girl was kicking him, spitting on him, trying to bite him as he restrained her. He held her down, her face pressed against the floor with his full weight on top of her. She tried to bite his hand, his fingers. He turned her head and looked into her eyes. Control had been lost, both of the situation and of himself. He told her he was going to break her neck and kill her. He took firm control of her head and prepared to do just that.
"Some oaths cannot be broken. Some oaths are more than just words, more than just promises."
He stopped, let her go and fell back against the wall. He was shaking. In that moment he did not care what happened to him. Nothing did. The chaos went silent. There was nothing, just as there was now.
"We've lost him."
"No. God willing he can still be saved."