The Cursed Custodian: Dark Secrets of Middletown Middle

The Cursed Custodian
April 1953

Middletown Middle School has a secret. I know what you’re thinking, no duh, that school has more secrets than the Soviets. This one is a dark secret that gives me goosebumps every time I think about it. I think about it a lot. I guess I should explain.

My name is Benjamin Brown, and I’m in eighth grade at Middletown Middle. I was counting my days until I was done with this school. During the day, the place is kinda of like most schools, but at night it’s like no other and I was obsessed.

I recently discovered that Middletown Middle School has an incredibly bizarre policy regarding their janitors. They only hire a new janitor once every sixty-seven years. But it’s not just that they keep the same person employed for an extremely long tenure. No, the reality is even stranger – the janitors are never allowed to quit their jobs, even after death! The school forces each janitor to remain in their role until they can find a worthy replacement to take over the responsibilities. Only then is the previous janitor ‘released’ from their duties at the school.

This isn’t something they teach you. The school’s janitor is not allowed to interact with the children because the janitors know too much. So how do I know this? Well, it all started a few weeks ago when I made a huge mistake.
My friends and I were feeling bored, curious, and a little too rebellious. We were so close to graduating we wanted to leave a mark one night. So we decided to sneak into school and pull some pranks. I know, I know, it was wrong. But we didn’t hurt anything too badly. We released some frogs and bugs from their enclosures, sang into the school speakers, rearranged the classroom furniture, and switched out cleaning products with art supplies; harmless stuff.

This was back when the school had the elementary school attached. I wrote on the chalkboard in Mr. Peter’s first-grade classroom pretending to be the ghost of Chaska Washington. Using white chalk, I scribbled: “If you puke on my floor, I will haunt you. —Chaska the Dead Janitor.” Worse, I used some of the cleaning supplies we swiped to draw crude, obscene images across the board and desks. When the six-year-olds saw what I had scrawled, some burst into tears of fright while others began repeating the vulgar words aloud. I basically traumatized an entire class of innocent kids with my vile prank.

Looking back, it was too soon. Only yesterday, Chaska had fallen off a ladder and was found lying across the xylophone. Dead. Yeah, I know, it was a stupid thing to write. I probably scared a bunch of first-graders. I didn’t really believe in ghosts or the supernatural. And I felt bad about it in the morning. But by then, it was too late. The school holds a grudge.

That night I fell asleep in my bed in my house, but when I woke sometime after midnight, I was back at school. I suppose I could have sleepwalked. Not knowing how I got there was pretty terrifying. The school was supposed to be empty but there were noises. I heard instruments being played in the band room. What sounded like roller skates moving over tile down. I was freaking out.

I had to use the bathroom and when I entered, I discovered water covering the floor. Then I saw him—Chaska Washington—mopping away! Only he WASN’T alive. He looked just as he did, save for some caked blood on his head.
I remembered we had shoved paper towels into the sink and turned the water on.

“You did this, Benjamin Brown! This is your mess to clean!”

I tried to run, but Chaska grabbed my arm. He was no ghost. He was solid and with a supernatural grip that I could not even think about escaping.
“Okay, I’ll clean it!” My heart pounded.

The last thing I wanted to do was clean the mess, but I reached out and grabbed the mop from the ghost. Then Chaska started laughing. In my eight years at the school, I never saw the man smile, let alone laugh. It was a chilling laugh. The ghost, freed of his burden, walked into a toilet stall and disappeared into vapor.

I stood in the bathroom alone, with water covering my feet and an ice-cold mop in my hand. A frog I had released splashed in the water. I cleaned the mess and erased all the messages my friends and I had written in the classrooms.
I showered and lay on my bed, but I couldn’t get that weird ghost meeting out of my mind and it haunted my dreams. When I awoke, the place was strange and smelled like toilet bowl cleaner. My eyes watered and my stomach turned from the smell like some thin layer of grime coated everything in this space, dim and cramped.

The only light in that simply furnished room, with four walls, a bed, a desk, and a 13-year-old boy—me, was a small lamp perched on that same desk.”Was this a prison cell?” I wondered, looking down at my unchanged clothes and muddy feet. I was so freaked out and confused, that I wanted to cry.

The smell of cleaning products got stronger as I approached the exit. It led to a tiny janitor’s closet. Inside, I saw that same mop I had held the night before. Plus brooms and shelves stacked with cleaning stuff, kitty litter, and cans of bee spray. Beyond the overwhelming chemical smell, I heard the sounds of kids. And I saw light coming from under the closet’s second door. I opened it to find myself facing a blinding explosion of sunlight. My fellow students surrounded me, staring and pointing at my pajamas and muddy bare feet.

Principal Hopkins saw me instantly, blinking in the sunlight, standing in my pajamas in front of the inquiring eyes of my classmates. “Let’s get you home.” He ushered me outside quickly, with a concerned look on his face. As we approached his car, he said, “Benjamin, can you tell me how you got to school like this?”

I shook my head, words getting caught in my throat. “I. I don’t know, sir. I just woke up there.”

He nodded, as though he’d expect nothing more by way of explanation, and continued driving in silence for a few moments before speaking again. “Well, you see, Benjamin,” he said low, “the word ‘janitor’ is taken from the Latin word ‘ianitor,’ meaning ‘a doorkeeper’ or ‘caretaker.’ It’s a great role that holds great responsibility—more than just cleaning up.”

I frowned, “I thought that meant someone who cleans toilets.”

“‘There’s much more to it than that, especially at Middletown Middle. Our janitors have always been more than just cleaners. They’re guardians in their own right,”  he said, glancing over at me with a look of judgment.

We pulled up in front of the house to see my parents waiting at the door. The moment I stepped out, my mother enveloped me in a bone-crushing tight hug. “Ben, where have you been? We were so worried!”

“I’m sorry, Mom,” I mumbled into her shoulder. “I don’t know how I got there.”

“Must have been sleepwalking,” Dad chimed in.  “You’re Uncle Lou used to sleepwalk.”

We were all joined in the living room by the principal, who had an air of much greater seriousness as if rehearsing the words he’d need to say.

“Mr. and Mrs. Brown, there is something peculiar about Benjamin’s situation that needs to be addressed. It is not only sleepwalking. You both went to Middletown Middle. And as you know, there is this legacy in our school and a lot of  traditions that are hard to explain.”

My dad leaned forward impatiently, “What are you saying, Hopkins?”

“It’s about the role of our janitors,” explained Principal Hopkins. “They’re not just maintaining the school; they’re part of a deeper, older pact with the school itself. They watch over it, and sometimes, the school chooses them, not the other way around.”

My mom’s hand shot up to her mouth. “But, I mean, the school chose Ben? Why? He is only a boy!”

Hopkins sighed, his eyes are sympathetic yet firm. “That’s the school’s way. It’s chosen Benjamin because of what happened, because of his. connection now. He’s tied to it, just as it is to him.”

Dad rubbed his temples, frustration and fear mingling into his face. “You mean he’s taking Chaska’s place? What does he have to do?”

“There are responsibilities he’ll need to meet, secrets he’ll need to keep. It’s a burden, I won’t lie, but he won’t be alone. We’ll guide him,” assured the principal.

“What if we don’t let him go back at night,” My dad asked.  “If we hold him here.  Lock him away at night.”

“It’s within your rights as parents,” Principal Hopkins began. “But it’s only going to make it more difficult for Benjamin and yourselves.”

The Principal left. By the time I cleaned up and changed clothes, I had missed half the school day. Rumors about the sleepwalking kid were already spreading fast. I could see the jokes and mockery in the eyes of my classmates, but that didn’t bother me because underneath I was scared.

I didn’t blame everyone for gossiping. I was too distracted by the cleaning smells I couldn’t shake from my nose.
That night I tried to feel normal again. I played ball with friends and did homework. But when I ran out of stuff to do, I went to bed early. I couldn’t shake the smell of cleaning products.   I couldn’t shake the smell of cleaning products.

In the morning, guess where I woke up? On the stage inside school! Surrounded by the set for the play Our Town!
Since it was Saturday, the building was empty. I knew my house would be quiet too. So I “borrowed” some boots from the lost-and-found and walked home.

My dad was waiting on the porch. I begged him to believe me and help me. I swore this was no prank. And he could see how freaked out I was.

Dad promised to watch me that night to stop it happening again. My parents locked my door and guarded the room.  My dad slept in a chair next to me and my mom fell asleep on the floor outside my room.

But the next morning. I woke up in the school cafeteria! And found blood on my shirt—but it wasn’t mine!

A cop pulled up as I walked out of school. Turns out he was eating his breakfast in his car when he saw someone moving around in the school. The officer took me to the station where my dad waited.

Dad had a broken nose—that I’d punched hard enough to knock him out cold! The cops gave me a warning: one more sleepwalking incident and I’d spend a night in jail.

“I’m cursed, Dad!” I broke down in the car heading home.

“That ghost won’t set me free!”

Dad’s swollen face hurt too much to answer me.

That night, I handcuffed myself to my bed and told my parents to stay away. But the next morning? I woke up in the janitor’s room! Part of the bed was still cuffed to my wrist! Luckily it was a holiday, so no one saw me lugging that bed around the school.

The handcuff cut into my wrist, my struggles only making the metal bite deeper into my flesh. I could feel the curse digging its claws into me, pulling me back into its dark embrace no matter how hard I fought.

The cops arrested me again. And like they promised, I got tossed in a jail cell. I was totally cool with that. I was going to break this curse somehow. When I fell asleep that night I made another impossible escape! No one knew how I pulled it off, there were no witnesses, and decades before security cameras.

I was so tired and freaked out, I felt like I’d lost all control of my life! The police took me back to jail. I was spending my holiday weekend feeling like Al Capone.

This time, Principal Hopkins picked me up at the police station. But instead of home, he took me back to school.
“Remember what I said about the Janitor thing? What it means?” he told me. “You’re the doorkeeper now.”

“You’re making me the janitor?” I asked.

“Your parents didn’t like it either,” Hopkins said. “But they’re alumni. They understand.”

“How long?”

Principal Hopkins sighed. “This is an important job, Benjamin. More important than me. This is barely a school, it’s a living breathing-”

I asked again. “How long?”

“Sixty-seven years.”

“Do I get paid?” I asked.

“Of course,” Hopkins told me as we reached his office.

“And cleaning toilets?”

Hopkins nodded. “Yes. That’s part of the job. More importantly, it would be best if you befriended the things that go bump in the night and be sure they are gone by the first period. I don’t know the secrets of this place. I don’t wanna know. That’s your job.”

I had no choice. Hopkins gave me a ring with a hundred old keys. “Feed the raccoons too!” he ordered. “Chaska’s fed them for years so they expect a midnight snack.”

He put a hand on my shoulder, wished me good luck, and left me in my new home. I sank to the floor, harsh fluorescent lights buzzing overhead like mocking laughter. The weight of my new life – this eternal sentence – crushed me. I was truly alone now, a prisoner of Middletown’s grim secret.

My life was never going to be the same. I was the school’s new doorkeeper,  night watchman, and raccoon caretaker until the year 2020.

And all because of a dumb prank.

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