Boiler Room by Gregory Patrick Travers

Stacey is bullied at school after having had an abortion - is there anyone she can trust? By Gregory Patrick Travers.

Slut. Whore. Baby killer. The horrible names they called her and their cold, piercing stares remained burned in her brain, playing over and over in her head on repeat. When she was in class, when she was at her locker, when she was in the bathroom - there was nowhere Stacey was safe.

Even the teachers at St. Mary's seem to follow her with their eyes when she was in the hallways, standing at the threshold of their classrooms with their arms crossed, looking down on her.

The librarian scanned her books a little slower than she did the rest of the students.

The lunch lady splattered her mash potatoes onto her tray with a little more apathy than she did the rest of the lunch line.

Even the creepy old janitor, who the children had given the nickname "Old Man Frankenstein", due to his limp leg that dragged behind him as he walked, seemed to stare at Stacey deeply whenever they crossed paths.

And she could read their thoughts. They were all the same. That's the girl who had an abortion.

But it was on a cold, snowy day in February that a series of events were put in motion that would change the lives of everyone at St. Mary's forever.

The day started out quieter than most. Due to the blizzard outside, many of the students had decided to stay home, wrapped in a warm blanket, sipping hot chocolate and letting thoughts of tests and grades take a backseat to the pleasures of daytime television. But in the hallways of St. Mary's, those who were forced to attend their classes that day did so with heavy feet and little patience.

Stacey walked toward her chemistry class, her books close to her chest and her eyes on the floor. This way she could protect her books from being swatted at while avoiding the rows of eyeballs lit up on each side of her like lights on an airport runway.

If Stacey had been looking straight ahead, she may have seen the three girls approaching with Stacey dead in their sights. It was Tori, honor student and captain of the senior girls' volleyball team, and her sidekicks: Sarah and Veronica. Knowing how the girls felt about her, Stacey would have perhaps avoided the brash shoulder that came her way when Tori blew past.

"Watch it, slut," said Tori.

Stacey's books fell to the floor. A group of kids, boy and girl alike, started to gather around them with grins on their faces. Sarah and Veronica were showing teeth. Stacey kept her eyes on the floor, knelt down and started to pick up her books.

"Real mature, Tori," said a boy from the crowd.

Stacey was surprised to look up and see Logan Davis, of all people, coming to her defense. They never talked. Stacey didn't even know he knew she existed. He was a popular hockey player and she was just... Stacey. Naive, stupid, Stacey.

He knelt down beside her and helped her gather her books. The crowd disbanded. Tori and her sidekicks walked on. "Hey, grade eleven math. I'm in that class too," he said.

Stacey pulled herself from the floor and looked up to see Logan's well-chiseled face and beaming blue eyes gazing back at her. She hated jocks but always thought Logan was something different. He was kind. You could see it in his smile.

A smile will get you every time, she thought to herself. But she remained cool as ice. "Uh... yeah. I know."

"Don't mind Tori," he said as they got to their feet and he handed her back her textbook. "She can be a real bitch sometimes."

"Thanks," said Stacey, tucking her hair behind her ear before returning to a double handed squeeze on her books.

"Can I walk you to class?" Logan asked.

Stacey almost didn't understand the question. "Uh... yeah. Sure. Thanks."

As they walked, Stacey could once again feel the stares burning a hole through her back. This time though, they were all thinking about something else. They were thinking the same thing she was thinking. What is Logan doing walking with her?

Logan didn't seem to notice. Stacey guessed he must be used to it. He got looked at a lot too.

"Today's the first playoff game for the hockey team," he said as they went. "I play on the hockey team."

Stacey couldn't help but roll her eyes and grin ever so slightly. "I know. You're wearing the team jacket."

He looked down at his red letterman. "Oh yeah..." he chuckled. "You ever come watch?"

She told him she hadn't, but that was a lie. She had been to a game once before, with Steve. The night that changed her life forever.

Steve had snuck in a small flask of vodka and they passed it back and forth, high up in the stands. To keep warm, he said. By the third period it was gone and so were they.

Going back to his car seemed harmless.

The backseat seemed exciting.

But three weeks later, it all came crashing down. Everyone knew her name after that. The girl who aborted her baby. The family cast-out. The friendless. The unloved. And as for her babysitting career, the one thing she enjoyed in her dismal teenage years, no one in town was about to hire a baby killer to look over their precious gifts from God while they were away.

"You should come," said Logan, breaking her from her trance.

The invite stunned her. Every fiber of her being told her to say no. But that smile of his. Those kind blue eyes. There really was something different about him, Stacey thought.

"Sure," she said. And for the first time in a long time, Stacey smiled.

At lunch, Stacey would eat her sandwich and fruit in the boiler room below the school. For one thing, it was by far the warmest place in the institution, in what was one of the coldest winters in years. And for another, it let her eat in peace. Having people stare at you while you eat is like having people stare at you while you pee, she thought. It's perverted.

It was nice and quiet down there, with the exception of the whoosh from the water pipes and the random hisses and clanks that always followed. Even the reject sounds of the school found their way down to the boiler room. They gave her comfort and put her at ease.

Warm and quiet. Just the way she liked it.

As she drained the small carton of its last drops of chocolate milk, she heard the faint jingle of keys. Then silence for a moment before the jingle of keys returned, only louder this time. They soon were accompanied by a gritty scraping sound, like something heavy dragging on the floor. Someone was coming.

Stacey's first instinct was to hide behind the boiler, but she had burned herself on it her first time down and didn't want to live through that pain again. Before she could think of another plan, a figure, hunched over and pale, emerged from behind a row of pipes.

Old Man Frankenstein.

Surprisingly, Stacey was relieved it was him. At least he was harmless. The principal, on the other hand, was just looking for a way to suspend her from school. She relaxed and went back to her sandwich.

"What are you doing down here?" he grunted. He pointed at her with the wrench in his hand, his limp leg dragging behind him.

"Eating my lunch."

"Well, I can see that," said the custodian, not very amused at her reply. "You're not supposed to be down here. It's dangerous. What's wrong with the cafeteria?"

"It's even more dangerous for me up there."

Deciding to carry on with his business anyhow, he headed to a long vertical pipe near the boiler, grunting as he went, muttering something Stacey couldn't understand.

"Besides," said Stacey. "It's nice down here."

"It's too damn hot..."

Stacey watched the old man struggle to turn the valve on the pipe. After some harsh coughs and some sweat, he managed to get it going. Stacey's first instinct was to applaud the man, but she was still holding her sandwich.

"I don't know... I like it," she said.

The old man spun his head around and yelled at her. "Now, I'm serious! You can be badly hurt down here, you need to get gone, ya hear?"

Stacey didn't budge. "I know... burnt myself pretty bad on that boiler."

She pointed to the mammoth metal casing, with all its dials, valves, and industrial bolts. "That thing'll getcha."

The man retreated back to his pipe. "You're damn right. That thing will burn a face clean off."

What a strange thing to say, thought Stacey.

"You're not going to tell on me, are you?" she asked, swallowing a mouth full of PB and J.

"How come you ain't scared of me, like the rest of those students?" he asked her abruptly.

"Why would I be?" asked Stacey, wishing she had have made that carton of chocolate milk last a little bit longer.

"Most of you are. I hear what they call me. Old Man Frankenstein. They look at me like I'm some kind of freakshow."

"Are you?"

"Most underpaid freakshow in all the land then, I suppose."

"I know what it's like, you know... to be looked at like a freakshow."

"Is that why you're down here?"

Stacey nodded, biting into her sandwich.

"And what makes you so scary?" he asked. "You don't look that scary to me."

Stacey was surprised he hadn't heard.

What's one more? she thought.

"I had an abortion."

He stared at her for a moment, the same way he would when they passed each other in the halls. Then he snorted and shook his head as if a fly had flown in his face, suddenly becoming stern. "If you ask me, you all are too young for that kind of stuff. Now, you're gonna ruin your life acting like that, ya hear me?"

Stacey immediately regretted opening up to him and shoved what little of her sandwich was left into her lunch bag. "Forget it. Never mind. I'll leave you to your precious boiler room."

She put her lunch bag in her knapsack and threw it over her shoulder, hurrying past the old man.

"Wait..." he said.

But it was too late. Stacey was gone.

She could see her breath.

Stacey sat in the stands, blowing into her fist, yearning for the radiating heat of the boiler room. But when Logan skated onto the ice and waved up to her, she felt herself warming up pretty quick.

A few rows to her left, sitting behind the visitor net, Tori and her sidekicks, Sarah and Veronica, were sitting with some of the football team watching the game. Tori had been cheering Logan on as his shift took the ice, but when she saw how he waved to Stacey, her cheer turned to a scowl and her focus shifted from the game to a different type of competition.

Stacey pretended she didn't notice. But seeing Tori in such a state put a smile on her face that she just couldn't get rid of.

She kept her eyes on Logan, amazed at his athleticism. His speed and grace made the other team look slow and sluggish by comparison. Stacey could hear his blades scraping into the ice as he zigged and zagged through the other team and then, with the grace of a ballerina, spun around a defence-man and let off a hammering slap shot that whizzed right over the goalie's shoulder and exploded into the mesh of the top corner.

The crowd cheered. Stacey cheered.

Stacey was one of the crowd.

After the game, she waited for Logan at the hot chocolate counter like he had asked, her heart racing as if she had been out on the ice herself. When he came out from the change room, wearing that red letterman, hockey bag hanging off his shoulder, and a grin that showed off his dimples aimed right at her, she felt a tingle in her belly. She hadn't felt that tingle in a long time. She wouldn't allow herself to. Not after Steve.

But Logan's not like Steve, she lectured herself. Logan's different.

"Glad you came," he said as he approached. He was moving slower now. He put his elbow on the counter and leaned. "How was your first hockey experience?"

Stacey relaxed. "A little frigid. But not bad."

"Maybe we can get you warmed up. A few of us are going to Pinz to bowl some games. Jerry's got a fake ID, we can get pitchers."

He motioned behind him to the group of kids by the arcade game; more letterman jackets and a group of girls, including Tori, Sarah, and Veronica.

"Thanks. But I should probably be getting home. I have to babysit my little brother."

Stacey didn't have a little brother. But it rolled off the tongue pretty smoothly.

Logan understood. "Okay, well... see you in math, I guess. Thanks for coming."

Stacey watched him jog back over to the group who seemed relieved he was coming back alone. Everyone piled out of the rink, except for Tori, who hung back and waited until her friends were outside before she walked over to Stacey and said, "You know he's just paying you attention because he knows you're an easy lay, right?"

Tori left her alone with that thought and walked away with a satisfied smile on her face.

Stacey sat in the boiler room, finishing the last of her sandwich, when the old custodian limped out from a set of pipes, his one leg dragging behind. But she knew he was coming. She heard those keys jingling a mile away.

This time he didn't look upset to be seeing her, nor did he break into a lecture about why she shouldn't be down there. He just went about his business like she weren't even there. Stacey wondered why that seemed so odd to her and then realized that she could not remember the last time someone ignored her presence. She was almost offended by it.

"Come to give me more lectures?" she asked, watching him fiddle with the wrench on some bolts.

He shook his head a bit but said nothing. Focusing hard on the bolt lodged in the grip of his wrench.

"Are you tightening or loosening?" she asked, now a spectator at the event.

"Tightening," he coughed back between grunts.

She nodded as if impressed at his answer. "I'm more of a loosener, myself. But that's just me."

The custodian gave up on the bolt, took a big breath out and rubbed the wrinkles on his forehead. "I don't know what I'm doing... I'm not really doing anything. This bolt doesn't need to be tightened. I just..."

He kept his eyes on the floor, almost embarrassed to look up. "I just want to say, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have talked to you like that. Anyway, that's all I came to say. Enjoy your lunch."

He turned away and headed for the exit.

Stacey called out to him, feeling guilty for instigating. "Wait, man! You don't have to go just yet. You can chill."

He stopped and grinned, which made the lines on the side of his face curl and crease. "Chill? In the boiler room? Fine choice of words, kid."

"I'm sure you're not that busy, come chill, keep me company."

"I don't think that's allowed," he grunted.

Stacey was having fun with him now. "Come on. Do you seriously want me to only know you as Old Man Frankenstein? What's your name, dude... or sir? Do you prefer dude or sir?"

"My name's Will," he said. "And what's yours? Besides Sad Lonely Girl?"

"Sad Lonely Girl. I like that. My name is Stacey. As in, 'Did you hear? Stacey had an abortion.' And other famous phrases."

He raised his wrinkled palm. "Stacey will be just fine. Don't have to add all that, now."

Stacey liked Will right away. It was nice to have someone to joke with. You don't realize how much you miss the little social interactions when you're isolated, even a thing as simple as joking around. And she knew it was probably just as nice for Will to have someone to talk to as well.

She asked him about his limp, how he got it and where. He told her it was a war injury from his tour in Vietnam. Stacey was amazed and felt embarrassed and ashamed that she used to see this man as just a creepy old grump. People are so easy to judge and vilify from afar, it's only when you get close do you see that we're all just human beings. We all have stories. Good ones and bad.

He asked her if she was ever planning on eating in the cafeteria again.

"I'm actually thinking about bringing a bed and a TV and just moving in. Stay here forever," she said slyly.

His expression was flat. "This is not a place for a young lady."

"Well, it's safer down here. Trust me."

He paused to collect some thoughts. "Our past -"

"You have any kids?" Stacey asked over him.

Will bowed his head and said, "I do. A daughter. Somewhere out there. You actually remind me of her quite a bit."

"Somewhere out there? What, is she, like, in the navy or something?"

"Her mother took her from me. The war... messed my head up something awful. I came back a... darker person. It's probably better this way."

"That's terrible, I'm sorry to hear that. If it makes you feel any better, it kind of helps to hear how I'm not the only person who has it rough. Puts things into perspective, you know?"

"Our past makes us what we are. But we have the power to choose how."

"Like learn from it or let the loneliness, shame, and hatred consume you, kind of thing?"

He seemed almost entertained. "In so many words."

"Well, take your own advice, dude. Did we settle on sir or dude? Go see your daughter. Be less dark. It's your daughter. You're supposed to do anything for your daughter! You would sail the seas for her! You would kill for her!"

Her momentum halted. "Sorry," she said, deflated. "It's none of my business. But it would probably mean the world to her too."

Will, who looked a lot less like Frankenstein and a lot more humanoid, beat the wrench softly on his palm, then turned around and slowly limped away, the one leg dragging behind, scraping on the concrete.

She felt she had overstepped, but maybe, she hoped, her words might have helped him out in some way. It seemed like they got through.

Stacey stayed a while longer and listened to the wish-wash of the pipes. If she closed her eyes, feeling the warmth of the boiler radiating on her skin, she could pretend, if only for a moment, that she was on a deserted beach somewhere, lying in the sand, watching a sunset, and listening to the waves crash in and out. She could escape from this cold, cold winter at last.

Then she packed her things and headed for the stairwell. When she turned the corner into the corridor she ran smack into the brick wall that was Logan Davis. Before she stepped back and saw his face, she saw the "LD" embroidered on the breast of his red letterman.

"Logan... What are you doing here?"

He grinned. "So, is this where you're eating your lunches now? I just saw Old Man Frankenstein come up from here. He wasn't groping you, was he?"


"Good," said Logan. He put his hand on her waist and pulled her close. "That's my job."

He leaned in for a kiss. Stacey turned her head.

"Stop it, Logan. I need to get to class." He squeezed tighter. "Come on, Stacey. I know you like me. You can spare a few minutes."

She tried to press herself off him but he was squeezing too tight. "I'm serious, Logan! Let me go!" He kept going, "I know you want it, Stacey. I know you like to fuck."

Stacey managed to wiggle an arm free, wound up and smacked Logan hard across the cheek. He let go of her immediately and grabbed the side of his face, which was quickly turning red.

"You bitch!" he cried out. "What the hell is wrong with you, huh? You some kind of dyke or something? You'd rather be down here with Frankenstein?"

"His name's not Frankenstein, okay? It's Will. And don't you ever touch me again, you jerk, or I'll have your name in the papers and it won't be for scoring a stupid goal!"

She pushed passed him and ran up the stairs.

She never ended up going to class. Instead, she locked herself in a bathroom stall and cried.

"I heard you and Old Man Frankenstein got it on in the boiler room," teased Tori when Stacey passed her in the halls the next day.

"I know you like older guys, Stacey... but wow," giggled Sarah.

"Someone tell Rick James there's a new Super Freak in town," laughed Veronica.

Stacey kept on her way, paying them no mind. But it was clear that the atmosphere around her had changed. The students were still staring, that much was the same, but now instead of scowls and resentment, it was giggles and smiles. Not welcoming smiles, but patronizing ones. Humiliating ones.

She heard whispers as she walked. "Franky fucker" was the most common.

Stacey put her head down and picked up her pace. The stares and laughs were coming from all around her. It was suffocating. She needed to get somewhere safe, quick.

"I heard you made out with the janitor," said one of the boys from the football team as she turned a corner.

Stacey's teeth clenched and her fists tightened. She was furious. Not just at the students, who were so eager to gang up on her and strip her of any little dignity she had left, but at herself, for thinking Logan was anything different from any other high school boy. A liar and a jerk, that's all Logan was.

She was determined to let him know just how she felt about him the second she saw him in Math class. If he thought that slap in the face was bad, he was in for a rude awakening.

But when she got to Math class that day, Logan's desk was empty.

She didn't eat lunch in the boiler room that day. She didn't want to give the student body any more ammunition. But if she had, she would have found a body sprawled out next to the boiler in a red letterman jacket, the face unrecognizable from all the bubbles and scars that had disfigured the skin when his face was pressed against the steaming boiler, leaving pieces of flesh and blood still dissolving on the hot metal.

Though, if she turned the body over and looked at the initials embroidered on the red letterman jacket, she would have seen the letters 'LD' and beside the body, she would have seen a discarded wrench, stained in what looked to be crimson paint, and a pair of footprints in the same shiny, crimson shade leading away from the pool of blood.

One of the shoe prints was normal and defined, and the other was shapeless and streaked, like a limp leg dragging behind, scraping on the concrete...


  1. Looks like "the janitor did it" Stacey must have grown up in the seventies with that reference to Rick James and the reaction to her having an abortion.

  2. Thought this was simply a tale of unexpected friendship...and then it turned dark! Nice subtle use of foreshadowing in the initial boiler room scene, pointed toward an outcome that was still quite shocking and unexpected.

  3. Good dialogue and capture of the high school atmosphere. I didn't believe the ending. It didn't seemed justified given what what was told about the characters. Was the motive believable?

  4. I felt like I was watching this happen in real time. great writing and characters here. I didn't expect the ending, but liked it even more for that reason.

  5. Kept the readers' interest to the very end. Sad that the janitor was likely to end up in prison because of Stacey. To have this on her conscience would only have made her feel worse. Unfortunately there are bullies in every school who get away with it.

  6. This story has hung around in my head for several days. It's the unrelenting grimness of it all. Makes you want to watch Grease again, girls in flared dresses singing "Tell me more..." around Olivia Newton-John. Great atmosphere.
    But we're not told how Stacie herself felt about the abortion.

  7. Thanks for taking the time to check it out.