Our church’s bell rings hollow through the night. Four chimes. One for every hour I’ve been out of bed when I shouldn’t be. I left my room at 11, thinking I’d be back in time for curfew, but I was consumed by what I found.
High in the recesses of the school- behind three locked doors, several warning signs, and a security camera- is the Closet of Death. At least, that’s what the students call it. The closet holds several thousand dollars’ worth of undiluted chemical reagents. Our professors water them down before use in the lab, but the pure stuff is all in that closet. For all the danger it holds, it's far too easy to sneak in.
Dust hangs thick in the air when I pick the final lock and slide into the closet. Lockpicking is a skill I picked up in freshman year so I could make it into the boys’ dormitory and hang out with Josh. Now, it gets me past the ancient padlock on the closet door. All I need to slip past the camera is a dark outfit and the cover of nighttime. It’s as ancient as everything else around here.
Weathered wooden shelves line the walls. They’re stained from years of minor chemical burns and dust collection. Each one holds rows upon rows of plastic jugs. I read the labels by the light of my phone’s camera. Sodium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid, silver nitrate. The list goes on. Some of these are harmless. They’re good for making cool colors in the lab and not much else. Others are a whole different story. Highly concentrated hydrochloric acid can cause some serious burns.
I’m here for the good stuff. The best stuff. I’m here for the kind of damage that will tear this school apart.
They keep what I came here for in a locked box in the back. In a shocking display of forethought, this box has a keypad on it instead of a padlock. No matter. Josh started a conversation Professor Bruns last week and oh so subtly managed to steer it towards this closet. Bruns punched the code in right in front of him.
37892032. The keypad beeps with each number, little green lights glowing eerily in the dark. That will register on the camera for sure, but my back is to it and my hood it up over my hair. All they’ll know is that someone snuck in. I’m safe.
The box clicks after I enter the last number. I lift the lid and rock back on my heels. Inside is a small plastic jug with a standard chemical label around the outside. “HF,” it reads. Hydrofluoric acid.
We shouldn’t even have this stuff. High school teachers aren’t qualified to work with acid this strong, much less with so little protection, but permits aren’t much of an issue when half your students are the children of billionaires. Our professors bring the HF out for one demonstration a year. The amount of protective gear we wear when they do is insane. It’s also necessary.
Hydrofluoric isn’t your average acid. It burns through to the skin quicker than most acids, especially at high concentrations. Once it’s in the body, all hell breaks loose. It reacts with calcium and magnesium ions in the body, burrowing into your bones and eating you from the inside out.
I pick up the jug carefully, like I’m holding a child. I shut the box and wait for the keypad to light up so I know it’s locked again. Then I slide into the hallway. No one else is mad enough to be awake this late, even teenagers, so my walk back to the dorms is deserted. I saunter down the empty corridors. A god was born this night.
Josh’s light is still on. I can see it through the windows on the second floor, bright against the midnight of the other rooms. I make my way to him and slip through the doors he left open for me. The door to his room swings open before I can touch it. Two dark eyes and a wicked grin greet me.
“You got it?”
I hold the bottle up between two fingers. “You doubted me?”
He laughs and shakes his head, moving to sit cross-legged on the floor. He beckons me down. “I was worried for a minute, but you’re right. I need to have more faith.”
“I forgive you.”
I set the bottle down between us and mirror his position. Neither of us dares to breathe.
“Samira,” he says quietly, “are you really going to do it?”
I was afraid of this. Josh is too nice, sometimes. Too afraid to destroy the things that anger him.
“Yes,” I snap. And then, softer, “Do you think I’m evil?”
He leans over the bottle and takes my jaw in his hand. “I think you’re beautiful.”
Every Thursday, the professors have one large meeting to discuss plans and for the coming week. They meet in the headmaster’s office. With its walls of priceless books and furniture of dark wood, it looks like something torn straight out of a Gothic novel. You can practically smell the money that went into building it.
I was in there on Wednesday morning to ask Headmaster Radmer a question. He spent half an hour showing off his latest additions to the library, just as I knew he would. It let me get close enough to the shelves to slip something behind one of the books. The device doesn’t look like much, but Josh assured me it will do the job when the time comes.
My job for this morning is much harder. The professors will meet in about an hour and a half. I need to get my work done before they meet, but not too far before, and then I need to be seen in public as far away from the office as I can get. Josh is in the East library arranging an all-class study group as I speak. I’ll join them as soon as I can.
In the name of environmental friendliness, our school draws some of our water from rainfall. We have huge vats out in the back that collect the water. Once the rain stops, the water is piped into a cleaning facility and filtered. The clean product gets channeled into a huge tank in the bottom of the main school building. The germophobes who run this place think it isn’t quite good enough for drinking or showering, so it’s filtered into the sprinkler system.
The doors to the water tank are easy to pick. No security cams here. All I had to do was avoid walking past anyone who might ask questions. I have the HF with me, as well as duct tape and a bag made from a type of plastic that the acid can’t corrode.
The top of the water tank is already on the ground by the time I get there. Josh was here early in the morning to remove it. He left the screws and tools on the ground for me so I can replace the lid when I’m done. There’s a step ladder perfectly placed against the outside of the tank. Two pipes feed into it- one from the filtration system and one that brings the water to the rest of the building. It’s only used in emergencies and for the plants out front, which means no one will realize anything is amiss until it's too late.
I slide on a pair of latex gloves from the box Josh left me and climb the ladder. Pouring the small bottle of HF into this tank would dilute it too much for the kind of damage I want. Since I can’t make the tank smaller, I’ll have to section it off somehow. That’s where the bag comes in. I lay it up against the side of the tank so it covers the end of the pipe leading to the building, filling it almost completely with water as I do. The duct tape creates a water-tight seal between the bag and the tank.
Josh helped me get the bag ready last night. It has a small opening in one side with a screw top that I can take off and on. I lift that side just barely out of the water and unscrew it. The bag is filled mostly with water, about four gallons worth. That’s perfect.
I pour the entire bottle of acid into the bag, careful not to splash a single drop on my fingers. Slowly, I screw the cap back on. The whole thing slides below the surface. Now, any water that’s pulled from the tank will be pulled from the supply within the bag. Except it won’t just be water.
The final gift Josh left me was a plastic box and a gallon of bleach. I fill the box with the bleach and throw in everything I’ve touched. The screwdriver, the gloves, and the sealed, empty bottle of HF go in together. Every trace of my DNA is chemically destroyed.
Five minutes later, I’m across the quad and headed to the library. Josh saved me a seat. I drop into the chair next to him and shoot the assembled group a smile. “Sorry I’m late, guys. I got caught up in an episode of Friends.”
Under the table, Josh squeezes my leg. The professors meet in an hour. I’ll wait for fifteen minutes after that, just to be on the safe side. With an alarm set, I turn my mind to calculus. Every problem crawls by. All I can think is that I hope the bag holds. I hope the acid is concentrated enough.
When the alarm goes off, I silence it politely. I turn to Josh and ask, “Can I borrow your phone for a second?”
He hands it over like he doesn’t know what I want it for. But he does. He designed the app I’m about to open. It’s a single black button. I tap the screen, just once. I hold my breath.
I can’t see it, but the app sends a signal racing through the air to the tiny device I left behind one of Radmer’s books. When the device receives the signal, it will create a tiny spark, igniting the gasoline inside of it. The metal walls will fall away, letting the flame spread to anything flammable nearby. And spread it will. The books will catch fire, then the shelves, and soon enough a flame will be blazing large enough to activate the sprinkler system.
It’s happening now. I can feel it. The fire is growing. The sprinklers are turning on. About four gallons of highly acidic water are traveling through an ancient pipe system, headed straight for the headmaster’s office. When it gets there, all the money in the world won’t save them. Barely diluted hydrofluoric acid will spray over every inch of exposed skin in the room. It will burn, and bubble, and eat through to the bone. Tissues will corrode. Skin will fall away. Death will follow swiftly, and she will leave no survivors.
A smile spreads across my face. It stays there as the screaming starts.