Chapter One: Receding Reality (Part One) - Izzy.
St, Diarmuid's Secondary School.
Sixteen-year-old Isabelle was late for class, but that wasn’t why she was tearing through the empty hallway of the school as though the Devil was on her tail.
Her class was upstairs.Good, she thought as she fled towards the staircase, clutching her books to he chest. Although she was well out of earshot of the locker room, she could still hear the noises echoing in her head. First, a banging right above her head as she frantically searched her locker for the books she needed. Then, as she locked up, footsteps running overhead, stopping by the door – right above where she needed to go!
And finally, as she was scampering on her short, unsure legs… she could have sworn someone, or something, whispered her name.
First the dream. And now this.
Izzy’s heart was pounding when she reached the classroom. She hoped her face wasn’t too flushed as she opened the door.
Butterflies rushed inside her as the class, and Mrs. Halligan, turned heads towards her.
“Why are you late, Isabelle?” Mrs. Halligan demanded. The French teacher was probably in her mid-fifties, with long, straight, jet-black hair. She almost always wore a thick white hairband, right on her hairline.
“Sorry, Miss,” Izzy stammered. “But – I was just at the lockers, and there were noises, and I… I swear, Miss, someone said my name.”
“Come on, Isabelle, sit down,” Mrs. Halligan snapped.
Izzy nodded, her shoulders rising slightly, and stumbled on shaky legs to her desk, which as next to her best friend Lauren’s, aware that the entire class was whispering. Izzy wondered what they were saying. Did they think she was crazy?
“Quiet down now,” said Mrs. Halligan, turning back towards the board as Izzy slumped into her chair.
Lauren was tall, slender, and had long, curly, chestnut-brown hair. She wore copious amounts of black eyeliner, pale foundation, and at least two black pewter pendants with her school uniform. Today, one was of a flaming electric guitar, and the other was a
Izzy herself, on the other hand, was small – and the constant hunching of her shoulders certainly didn’t make life any better for her. Her parents and Lauren were constantly on to her about it, but it was something she had no control over. It was like she just had to keep her head down. She also needed glasses – big, think, jam-jar style glasses. And her hair was frizzy.
Lauren poked Izzy’s side, and mouthed, “Are you okay?”
Izzy nodded, her shoulders hunching already, exposing her lie. She turned away from Lauren, hoping she didn’t notice, and focused her attention on the six auxiliary verbs Mrs. Halligan had already written on the whiteboard.
Everyone in Izzy’s year – and possible even in the whole Senior body of the school – knew about the presumably “haunted” Fifth Year locker room. Most had experienced the banging. Some had heard the pounding footsteps. Few had even heard different sounds like marbles being dropped on the floor overhead. But up until now, voices were unheard of.
The part of the building above the locker room was closed off, and had been for as long as the longest-serving teachers in the school could remember. It wasn’t owned by the school, and the current owners were unknown to the students. It had even been under construction for a short while, but one day the builders suddenly didn’t return to the school.
Now the old parts of the building were deserted – with nothing surrounding it but mystery and speculation.
In the back of Izzy’s mind during French, she wondered at how Mrs. Halligan had so quickly ridiculed Izzy’s excuse for being late. Of course, it wasn’t the first time. All the teachers had ever done was deny and deny and deny.
Which could only mean one thing.
They wanted to hide something shameful.
Walking outside to their usual lunch-spot by the football pitch, Izzy decided it was a good time to tell Lauren what was bothering her.
“I had a nightmare last night.”
Lauren turned understanding eyes towards her. Izzy suddenly felt funny. Lauren looked at her as though she were a kind of tiny, vulnerable animal that needed to be protected. And while Izzy was happy to let Lauren protect her, she quietly resented herself for it.
“What kind of nightmare?” Lauren asked.
“I was working,” said Izzy, as they reached the steps that led from the tennis courts to the football pitch. “I’m not sure where, and I can’t really remember what I was doing.”
Lauren sat down on the second step from the top. Izzy sat on the first step. That way she was pretty much at Lauren’s eye-level.
“My hands were wet,” said Izzy. “That’s all I remember.”
Lauren had taken a sandwich out of her schoolbag and was taking a bite as she listened.
“There were other girls there too. All working. And suddenly this woman in black clothes appeared, and grabbed the girl that was next to me, and started beating her with a whipe, or a cane, or something, and -”
“You alright, Izzy?” Lauren asked as Izzy’s breathing grew heavy.
Izzy nodded, fishing in her pocket for her inhaler. She took three deep puffs, and started to feel a little calmer. She nodded again.
“I’m fine,” she said.
Lauren smiled weakly and turned her head. Down on the grass, seven or eight girls were sitting in a circle, chatting loudly. Izzy knew Lauren would have liked to be down there with them, but they both knew that wouldn’t happen. They were the geek and the emo freak. Better off left alone, as far as everyone else was concerned.
“The woman took the girl away,” Izzy continued, voice trembling, and Lauren looked at her again. “I felt like I wanted to go after her, and stop her, but… I was afraid. And I don’t even know why.”
Lauren chewed, looking thoughtful. Izzy decided she couldn’t have been too surprised at the dream; Izzy often had nightmares. Though this was the first one in which she didn’t know what she was afraid of.
Izzy opened her schoolbag for a moment, thinking of eating some lunch, but then decided against it. “I’m gonna go for a walk, okay?”
Lauren looked surprised as Izzy stood up, pulling her schoolbag onto her back. “Oh, well – do you want me to come with you?”
“No.” Izzy shook her head. “No, I won’t be long. I just want to check something.”