I do not have a lot of memories from when I was little, but I do remember sitting in my back garden one rainy afternoon. It was starting to get dark, and I was starting to feel a little scared, but I was too afraid to go back into the house. The wind was cold, and it was giving me an earache, as it whipped around me. My tears had dried in streaks across my dirty cheeks and I puckered my lips to blow the hair hanging in front of me away from my face. Sniffing loudly, I twirled the daisy in my hand between my fingers. It spun and spun until the colours made a blurry white circle. I was captivated by the brilliant white petals and the buttery yellow middle. Taking one of the small white petals between two of my fingers carefully, I pulled it away from the heart of the flower, because the daisy would tell me if Mommy loved me or not. The petal pulled away from its centre effortlessly and I looked at it in wonder.
She loves me.
There were days when she smiled, and she laughed. She told me I was pretty, and she spun me around in her arms so that I could feel the wind on my cheeks. On those days we were happy, my Mommy and me. We would cuddle together, and she would watch my cartoons with me. I loved her smell then, she smelt warm. She made me feel safe and sheltered. I loved her more than anything else in the whole wide world, even more than Daddy.
She loves me not.
I was excited when I ran to her to show her my new dance, and to sing her the new song I made up all by myself. She yelled and told me to shut up, because I was giving her a headache. She ignored me when the tears started welling up in my eyes, but I quickly forced them to go away when she warned me, “Don’t you dare start crying.”
She loves me.
She still makes me dinner. Sometimes she still hugs me close and smiles widely when she sees me, making me feel all happy on the inside, making those warm feelings want to crawl back. She makes sure I have a bath every night and that I am wearing my warm jacket and hat when we must go out to the shops.
She loves me not.
By accident, I dropped my Sippy cup of milk onto the floor. The milk squirted out of the teat in a spray of milk against the wall. It ran down the wall in a tiny little waterfall and I could only stare at it. I cringed when she screamed so loudly, it hurt my ears, and she told me to, “Clean that up! Clean it now!”
She loves me.
When she thought I was asleep, she told me she was sorry. She was only tired, and she did not mean the horrible things she yelled at me. She did not mean it when she told me I was a selfish little brat. She did not mean it when she said that if I do not clean up my mess, she was going to kill me. She told me she would always love me, and I would always be her sunshine.
There was only one petal left and even though my little heart did not want to believe it, deep inside, I knew it to be the truth.
She loves me not.
As I grew older, I learned to never be a scared girl. I never worried about things which went bump in the night but standing in front of this door, I could feel an awareness I had not known before making a connection to things yet unknown.
Before my mum dropped me off here at boarding school and drove away again without a backwards glance, she tried to convince me why it would be good for me to come here. I pretended not to see she did not want to admit me being out of the way would be good for her and my stepfather.
She met my father here, but they did not really get to know each other until they met at a Christmas party at her parents’ house approximately nine months before I was born.
Before my dad died and my mum married my stepfather, she used to tell me I was invincible, but if you replaced just two of the letters in that word it would be what I had become.
I was twelve when my mum remarried and that was when I became invisible. Not invisible in a haunting the living from the grave kind of way, more like the unseen living kind.
Maybe she only wanted me to follow in her footsteps, to be educated in the proper English way, to rub shoulders with snobs and lower royalties. Maybe she thought I would find the love of my life like she did until he died. Maybe, always so many maybes.
This was only one of the reasons I was standing here with a Ouija board under my arm.
I shivered when I heard the wind howling around the corners of the old boarding house and my eyes darted nervously toward the door with the painted over numbers: 13
Rachel reached to take my hand, the bangles on her scarred wrist made a jangling noise. She had a wild mop of short, blonde, curly hair and a round face to match. Even though the shape of her face was round, the rest of her was really skinny so she looked a little top-heavy. “Don’t be afraid, Alison,” she said. “Even if Lily is still in there, it’s not as if she can hurt you, you know.”
Rachel and Sinéad took me under their wing when I arrived a week ago, but they were both a year older and I did not know if they were trustworthy as they were essentially part of the group who instigated this initiation, a dare I had no choice but to accept.
It was rumoured, Lily, the girl who used to reside in this room, fifteen years ago killed herself on the thirteenth of February, the day before Valentine’s Day. Witnesses saw her walking into the mist shrouded lake behind the boarding house. They said, she killed herself because of a boy.
Rachel insisted, rubbing her wrist and making her bangles knock against each other like dull sounding Christmas bells, “If her ghost is in there, you can ask why she killed herself. Was it really just about a boy?”
Sinéad had the largest eyes I had ever seen. It was not ugly or humongous in a grotesque kind of way, it was breathtakingly beautiful. They were so green it looked eerie. Her long brown hair hung dead straight down past her shoulders and the tips brushed across her forearms. She said with an excited tone in her voice, “Last night, I read this magazine and in it, it says science has confirmed at the moment of death the body releases a sort of radiation. They called it an electromagnetic field. So… When somebody dies within a closed space, this force will imprint itself on the furniture and walls.”
“I thought you said she drowned in the lake?” I said.
I did not know if I could go into a room which had been standing empty for over a decade and a half after someone had died in it, even if I needed to prove myself.
She ignored me. “That’s why some people believe if somebody in the house died, all containers should be emptied of water because the water has been contaminated with the spirit of the dead person. It seems souls are attracted to water for some reason.” Her eyes darted between Rachel and me, to see if we could confirm whether this was true or not.
If I was going to go into this room, I had to ignore her stories of ghosts and souls. “You cannot believe everything you read,” I insisted.
Rachel asked, “Why then is this room always locked up? In all the years I’ve been here, no-one has ever stayed in it.”
“What if there isn’t even a ghost and the school board is just superstitious about the number thirteen?” I asked.
Rachel shrugged me off. “So, are you scared?”
“I wasn’t when I accepted the dare, but now the two of you are talking about all these supernatural things and it’s freaking me out.”
Since I had accepted the challenge, I had been dreading the night of February the thirteenth.
Every time I walked past the fearsome door, I felt shivers scurry down my back. I could not avoid the door and had to walk by it several times a day by no choice of my own.
The boarding house was a two-storey building in the shape of a capital I. I lived on the first floor, five doors away from door number thirteen. Room number thirteen was the last room next to the large staircase which connected all the floors, so if I wanted to go anywhere I had to walk past that door which always felt like a black hole waiting to suck me into its depths if I lingered too long.
Rachel pulled a key from her pocket. “It’s time,” she announced and inched past me.
It was too late to wonder but I had to know. “How come you have a key?”
“I’ve had this key for a while,” she said with a shrug.
Sinéad nudged me with her elbow and whispered, “Rachel has issues.”
Rachel looked over her shoulder and gave Sinéad an annoyed look.
Sinéad winked. “Just kidding.” She faced me and mouthed, “She really does.”
Rachel sighed. “I’m just interested in all things paranormal, so one day I’d like to come here myself.”
I said, hopeful, “You can take my place. Do the dare instead.”
“I’m not ready yet,” she said.
I felt insulted. She was not ready, but I was being forced to complete a dare just to prove I am worthy of being here at this boarding school, a place I did not even want to be in the first place.
She pushed the key into the lock.
I really did not want to do this.
Sinéad stood behind me and I felt a little claustrophobic standing between the two of them.
The only thought running repeatedly through my mind as I heard the key turn in the lock, was I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do this.
The door swung open on stiff hinges which had not moved for a long time and made a soft moaning sound.
A gust ruffled the bangs from my forehead. The air smelled stale and musty, undisturbed for ages. I wondered where the sudden blast of wind had come from.
Sinéad shrieked softly and Rachel turned around to face her as she stepped aside. “Shh, do you want to wake the dead?”
They both giggled as if it was funny.
I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do this. The words did not leave my lips.
Slowly I shuffled into the room, while they stayed on the other side of the threshold, being careful not to let their feet touch the boundary.
My breath frosted out of my mouth, just by stepping into the room and goose bumps erupted on my bare arms. The room was really cold, like walking out of a warm house on a cold winters’ day. I shivered as I tried to fold my arms across my chest whilst still holding on to the Ouija board.
The light from the corridor shined into the room and only fell on the standard single bed, bedside table, chest of drawers and study desk. I could see the faded, daisy-printed curtains like the ones decorating my room hanging in front of the window. In the dim light, the paint on the walls was the identical shade of dark with age eggshell and the tiles on the floor were the same green as outside in the corridor.
The light did not reach the corners of the small, rectangular room and where the shadows remained it was dark, devoid of any colour and gloomy. It was not dark enough so someone or something could hide in them, but it still made me feel fearful. The shadows moved like they were breathing, and I quickly lifted my hand to rub my eyes.
Even though everything looked the same, it was not. The room had a different feel. It felt empty, cold and lonely.
Copyright © Stephen Simpson (published by Fiction for the Soul). All rights reserved.