I’d been given a ride in by my boyfriend because his car was the only one with four-wheel drive and so I was waiting for him to pick me up, just hanging out in the teacher’s lounge with a few other staff and watching the storm blow in. When the last staff member left, my boyfriend called to tell me he was about fifteen minutes away. I went back to my classroom to make sure everything was okay and that the lights wouldn’t come blazing on when the power returned. At that time, my classroom felt safe to me. The rest of the building, with the wind shutting open doors and howling through the halls, made my hair stand right up.”
Finally, when I thought I should be waiting outside, I left the classroom and walked back down the hall. Suddenly the air turned as cold as ice, as if the storm itself had reached inside, and I heard a kick and the sound of a ball bouncing after me. I turned around to see an orange ball rolling down the hall. And, further down from that, was the silhouette of a young boy, backlit from the windows of the classrooms and the gauzy snowstorm outside. I asked who the boy was and he quickly turned around, as if spooked himself, and ran off down the hall until he disappeared.”
“That was all fine,” she said, catching her breath. “I was scared in a way but I wasn’t creeped out. It was weird. It was interesting. I’ve always had weird things like this, unexplained things, happen to me before so it wasn’t like it threw me for a loop. I just thought, oh, so that boy must have died here from TB. I was actually sad. Then the next day, before I even had a chance to ask Jody about it, she came up to me and said that Elliot was happy that I saw him. He hoped I would play next time.”
A shiver went down my spine. I remembered my dream, the bouncing ball, the girl asking if I would play.
“Did you?” Dex asked.
She smiled sheepishly. “Not really. Next time it happened—it was also when everyone had left one night—I tried kicking the ball back but he wasn’t too interested. He laughed that time, which I took as a good sign.” She exhaled and looked down at the floor. “For a few weeks that was the extent of it. To me, the only thing haunting this place was Elliot, and he was harmless. That was until Jody started…getting sick. Well, acting sick.”
“Which was it?” I asked. “Was she actually sick?”
She shook her head. “It’s hard to say. She started exhibiting all the symptoms that TB patients used to but when it came time to examine her, nothing was wrong. She’d act like she couldn’t breathe, yet Kelly would listen to her chest and say she was fine. She was kept home for a few days and when she finally came back…she wasn’t the same.”
I leaned forward in my seat, a chill on my limbs. “What do you mean, wasn’t the same?”
Brenna frowned. “I don’t know. She just…changed. When she came back, she was no longer the smiling, happy Jody. She was tired-looking, depressed. Scared. That’s really what it was, she was scared. She started painting things, beautiful images that were so…disturbing.” She got up, her chair pushed back with a loud groan, and went over to her desk drawer. She came back to us holding a stack of thick paper.
“It started with this one,” she said, holding out the first picture. It was of the school, from the outside. There was no doubt that Jody excelled at watercolors. The painting was fairly accurate and there was even some realistic shading.
“Nice work,” Dex said.
Brenna pointed at one of the upper windows. At first glance I thought Jody tried to paint in a window glare but I could see it was the face of a little girl, complete with a bow in her hair.
“Who’s that?” I asked, trying to keep my voice steady. I didn’t know how accurate the painting was, but it looked like the girl I saw in my dream.
“Jody said that was Shawna,” Brenna explained. “Which was fine. But then she said Shawna was stuck on the fourth floor because of the bad thing. She smiled after she said that, too, like she was happy about it. I asked about the bad thing but she shrugged and ran off, like she didn’t care anymore.”
She handed me the next piece of paper. “This is what she drew the next time.”
It was the school again, almost the exact same picture, only this time a few red lines were coming out of the fourth floor windows. The face of Shawna was now on the third floor. Though it was still just a kid’s painting, Shawna’s eyes were cold, hard dots.
“Plumbing problem?” Dex asked from behind the camera.
Brenna didn’t smile. “No. Jody said that was the blood of all the dead children. She said it came from the room with the big lights. Now, Jody has never been upstairs to the fourth floor—none of the students here have—so I don’t know how she knew that there’s an autopsy room there, complete with big lights and a table where they put the bodies.”
“Does the same table have a gutter around the edges to catch the blood from the, uh, deceased?”
She nodded. “You’ve done some reading.”
He shrugged. “Dikipedia.”
Finally she smiled. “What else? But you’re right. They used to bleed out the bodies and the blood would collect around them. Super disgusting.”
“I’m guessing she didn’t know about that,” I ventured.
“No. I thought maybe she heard it from someone so I asked her. She said she’s been there, in her dreams, and that Shawna was making her go up there. Then she said that Shawna was on the third floor now because the bad thing wanted to be closer to her.” She took in a shaky breath and looked at me. “And closer to me.”
“What does the bad thing look like?” I asked. “I mean, what exactly is it?”
“You can see here,” she said, holding out the third piece of paper. We all leaned in to get a closer look. It was nearly the same picture as before, only now Shawna was on the second floor and there was another face the next window down from her. This face was completely black and oblong, with long black hair and two white dots for eyes.
“That,” she said, tapping beneath the face, “is the bad thing. And when I asked Jody if it was still on the second floor, she said it was already here. She said it was standing behind me.”
I gulped loudly, nerves prickling down my back. “Did you look?” I whispered, totally terrified and totally enthralled.
She shook her head and gave us an embarrassed smile. “I couldn’t. I was too afraid. I could almost feel it there. Even the rest of the students in the room grew quiet, like they could sense something else in the room, something…not of this world. I told Jody I’d look some other time and she said it would be back.”
“And was it?” asked Dex.
Brenna looked down at the floor. She took in a deep breath and opened her mouth to talk.
Before she could say anything, there was a loud rap at the door. We all jumped in our seats at the noise, Dex swearing under his breath. I thought my heart was trying to make a run for it.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Ms. Davenport said, standing stiffly in the doorway and eyeing us with mild interest. “Brenna, can I have a word with you?”
She shot us an apologetic look. “Yes, of course. My class will start soon. Mind if we pick up with this tomorrow?”
“Not at all,” Rebecca said. We got out of our chairs and gathered in the hallway while Davenport stepped into the room, one fleshy hand on the door knob.
She paused there. “If you want, you can wait for me in my office. Or start making yourselves at home. You are staying here, aren’t you?”
My partners both looked at me. It was my decision, my call—Perry was the precious one.
“Sure,” I said, trying to sound breezy about it. “We can stay here. Will be a lot easier.”
“You sure?” Dex asked, stepping forward and putting his hand on my shoulder. “We can stay in the motel, no big deal.”
“I’m fine,” I said, harder this time. “Really.”
Dex didn’t seem too satisfied with that answer, watching me closely to see if I was lying. I stared right back at him. Obviously staying in a haunted sanatorium with the bad thing was asking for trouble, but trouble was exactly what we needed for the show. I’d been down this road a hundred times; it felt like it anyway, and this wasn’t any different. In St. Augustine, we stayed in a haunted B&B; in Eureka, we camped out in the library. Sure, I had those weird Pippa dreams that put me off the idea a bit, but Dex didn’t know about those dreams. I had to wonder if he was the one who was scared then.
“Well, good,” Rebecca said with a loud clap of her hands, trying to diffuse the strange tension. “Let’s take over this joint.”
We headed back outside to the Highlander and started unloading our gear. I couldn’t help but glance up at the top floors again, as if expecting to see a little girl’s face or rivers of blood streaming from the windows.
There was nothing there, just the glare from the windows, reflecting slices of the foggy sky.
And still, I knew something was there.
Our new sleeping quarters didn’t get any less sterile once we started to unpack. For some reason the cloth partition between the beds wasn’t movable, so when Dex and I picked our beds, it seemed like we wouldn’t be able to push them together.
“You can still squeeze in with me here,” he said, patting the middle bed. He gave me a wistful look that I found downright charming. “I don’t like sleeping without you.”
I smiled but said, “Dex, it’s a single bed. My ass barely fits on it as it is.”
“You might change your tune later.”
“And you’ll be the first to know about it.”
Rebecca peered at the third bed then looked over at us. “You know what, I really don’t feel like having a repeat of Eureka. Please try and keep your hands to yourself.”
“You are absolutely no fun,” Dex told her while I blushed furiously. One night when we were camped out at the haunted library, Dex broke out the Jack Daniels. One thing led to another and we ended up having sex in the library stacks—and not too far from Rebecca. Poor woman was probably traumatized from that.
After we’d put our bags on the shelves and Rebecca brought out her planner, discussing our goals and objectives for the shoot, the school bell rang and Davenport came to see us.
“I trust you’ve made yourselves comfortable,” she said with nary a smile. “You’re free to use the break room anytime you’d like. There’s a microwave, a hot plate, and a fridge. I know heading into town can be quite a pain, so I suggest you stock up at the Fred Meyer in Tillamook and have all your meals here.”
Great. A week of ramen noodles and microwavable mac and cheese. My thighs were going to love that.
“Please, no alcohol,” she added. “This is a school, first and foremost.”
Actually, it’s a sanatorium, I thought to myself. I looked over at Dex, knowing what he thought of that. His mug was tellingly impassive. I knew he had beer and whiskey under the bed already like a rebellious teen at a sleepover.
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