Elizabeth Napoletano "The Coffin" 708-863-7179
"So what did you find?" Natalie asked me as I scanned the headlines of the Haunting Legends website. It was already three in the morning, and I was nowhere near tired. My best friend on the other hand was already leaning against the top of the Lazy-boy arm chair that I was sitting in, her eyes half closed.
"Nothing yet. Now shush," I commanded her as I typed away in the search box.
"You've been at it since eight last night, give it a rest would you," Natalie insisted yawning loudly. She stretched some, "Manda, don't you think you're going a bit overboard? It's not like the sites going to suddenly disappear tomorrow if you close down for tonight."
"Says the one who originally wanted me to go looking in the first place," I retorted, keeping my eyes on the screen, and clacked away at the keyboard. Natalie let out a loud, rather obvious sigh.
"Look all I said was that I think it would be fun to spend a week or two in Australia ghost hunting. That was it. I didn't expect you to go and try to find a haunted location you know."
"Uh huh," I muttered as I scanned the fourteenth page of newspaper headlines, trying to find the most exotic sounding one, or, at the very least, one that didn't sound like it was a hoax, or some sort of urban legend. I could feel Natalie's fingers drumming the cushion near my head as she waited for me to stop looking. I smiled; my best friend, for all the grief she gave me about being too determined, was just as stubborn as I was. She wasn't going to leave until I stopped searching, and I wasn't about to stop looking till I found an article that would seem tantalizing to her. She was, after all, rather picky about where we looked for ghosts.
"Soooooo….?" She asked after a couple of minutes had passed in silence, "Find something yet? Or are you determined to greet the dawn?"
"If it gets that late, then I'll stop, it's only what? Three fifteen?"
"Yeah, just about, and we do have class tomorrow you know." She pointed out. "Just because we're in college doesn't mean…"
"That we can get away without getting some sleep; Yeah, yeah, I hear you, you nagging old woman," I teased her as I shook out my wrists. Typing was a pain for them, and it didn't help that my first class that morning was going to be Data processing. "Okay fine, one more page, and then I swear I'll pack it up for the night. Fair enough?"
I glanced back and she gave a short nod.
"Good," I smiled and clicked to page fifteen. Like the ones before, it was all text; no pictures, no gimmicks, just the headline from a newspaper, and a short summary under that identified the haunting that was supposed to be happening.
"Man possessed by insect spirit," I read and snorted, "No, 'Local haunted lodge in Queensland.' Pirate Captain's possible treasure,' 'Poltergeist haunts…' no, no, and no."
Natalie clucked her tongue in a knowing way. "Having any luck?"
"Does it look like it," I griped. She shook her head and scanned the page, her eyes stopping on the article titled, "Woman killed in mystery fire. Found in unburned room…"
"That looks promising," she pointed to the link, so I clicked.
"Hummm, 'Greenwich Private College, North Sydney.' According to this, the woman that died was a 'Mrs. Beatrice Skeener, nee Bow Spector' who's family owned the college since the early 1900s. It was a private boarding school on the edge of the bush, and apparently the site for some very disturbing disappearances."
"What do you mean disappearances? Like abductions?" Natalie asked me as I shook my head and read.
"No, more like girls gone missing. Here, 'Greenwich Private College was recently shut down by the Board of Education, due in part to the disappearance of a young woman from the college just a few months ago. Her body was discovered in a pond, apparently a drowning victim. No suspects in the girl's murder were named, and there appears to be no links between the fire that ravaged the school and the recent case. This is not the first time that Greenwich Private College has been the subject of police investigation. Disappearances over the years at the school have been cause of concern by the Board.'"
Natalie stared at the page over my shoulder, "So...so other girls have gone missing?"
"Over the years apparently, but there's not much left of the school, see," I pointed out the shattered remains of the once proud looking boarding school. The photo gave me the creeps. Twisted wood that rose from the ground, much like that of corpse hands twisting from the grave. Almost victorious, and clutching in a fashion, as if someone or thing was proclaiming that it had won in the end. I shuddered some and was about to close the link, when Natalie grinned and stopped me.
"Amanda, that's it."
"What's it?" I asked then saw the excited glint in her gray eyes and shivered. "You don't mean? We're not going…?"
Natalie nodded slowly with a smirk. "Mmmhummm. We so are! It's perfect."
I shut off the computer and glanced at her. Something felt wrong about that place. Even with just the photo, I couldn't put my finger on it, but I didn't like the dreadful feeling I had. Natalie glanced over at me.
"Manda, don't tell me you don't want to go."
"Okay fine, I won't, but I don't like the idea, Natalie. That place, it seems…possessed." I rubbed my arm feeling cold. She laughed a kind of chortle that only she could produce at such a time.
"Oh come on, don't be such a wuss. Think about it, what better place than a creepy old mystery school, where there might be ghost girls wandering about."
"How about a nice creepy haunted restaurant or a hotel, in a big city, where we can't get lost?"
Natalie frowned some, "Manda, come on. This is just right. No one solved the mystery of those missing girls, and I'm sure that there's got to be more to it then it just burned down."
"Yeah, well…" I started to say and yawned some. "It's getting late, and class is in three hours so…"
She nodded, but the confident grin was still plastered on her face. "Yeah, sleep would be good for you. We'll talk about it in the morning okay?"
"And what are you going to do?" I asked her as she sat down and turned on the desktop computer once more. Natalie turned her head and put her finger to her lips.
"That's going to be my little secret."
I shrugged and headed for bed. Once in my room I shut the door, and lay down, but couldn't sleep. Images of the twisted ruins of the college danced in my mind. What was it that frightened me so much about the place? It wasn't like I hadn't visited haunted houses before, in fact, before I met Natalie I'd gone to cemeteries by myself to look for ghosts. The supernatural always had held some sort of appeal to me, in spite of the fact that I didn't like horror movies. Nothing on screen could compare to running into something that wasn't of this world.
I turned over thinking about what it would take to go there. The cost of the trip, the time to plan it, but most of all I thought of Natalie's excited face. While I was all for an adventure, Natalie was the sort that wanted more than just an easy scare. Her family owned and operated a funeral home, Strickley and Son's. Death was common place in her world, and I remember once asking her what drew her to want to seek out ghosts, considering she saw the dead on a daily basis. She would laugh, then smile some and say in a coy voice, "It's my secret."
I never asked her again, but somehow I always knew that it had to do with being around the dead so much. Maybe she wanted a way to retain her own life, to live on, even when her body faded away. To me ghost hunting was just a fun hobby, to Natalie, it was an obsession. She studied everything she could on ghosts. Ley lines, dream catchers, channeling, and ghost writing, as long as it had something to do with the occult she would study it. There were days on end when I would see her sitting in her room up to her neck in books on real ghost stories, or paranormal investigations. She believed herself to be connected to the 'Other World' and that she could see things other people couldn't. And I believed her.
I missed class that morning, and slept in till about noon. When I did wake up I found Natalie pouring over travel guides and cost-planning pages for the trip in our small kitchen. She was humming as she did so and seemed in a happy mood. I didn't want to disturb her, so I tried to slip out the apartment front door.
"Don't move," she suddenly instructed me, not looking up from her pages. "Turn around and come over here, Amanda."
"What?" I turned on my heels, walked over, and leaned on the tiled countertop. She smiled at me and held out a small black planner.
"Ta da, booked everything."
I stared at the book, then at her, scowling. "You did what?"
"I booked everything, for the trip…to Australia." She beamed and I caught a hint of a giggle as she watched me look over the itinerary. My brow furrowed with annoyance as I tossed the planner back on the counter.
"I thought we were going to talk this over, decide together."
"Well yeah, I know, but I found a great discount last night and I just had to book it." Natalie told me. I raised an eyebrow at her.
"Because it was available for May," she said nonchalantly. I crossed my arms and stared at her.
"You're not telling me something," I pointed out and Natalie paused. She smiled in her mischievous way.
"So what if I'm not?"
"Well that's a problem, considering I'm partly paying for this trip. So how about cluing me in as to what's really going on. You normally wait for me unless…" I paused and stared, then scowled. "Natalie you didn't."
"Didn't what?" She looked innocently at me as she poured herself a cup of coffee.
"You didn't find something did you?"
Natalie sipped her drink, and a small smile curled her thin lips. "Now whatever gave you that idea Miss Moore?"
"Just a feeling," I told her bluntly and she again gave me her mystery smile. I felt my lips curl downward. While Natalie and I got along for the most part, we always had issues about her buying items that dealt with our ghost hunting. Among other things in the house, we have a monkey's paw (which I refuse to touch), a deck of cards that bleeds when the moon is full, a cursed ring, and a chair from a haunted mansion. All of which Natalie bought insisting that they held connections to the paranormal. Now seeing the look in her eyes, I knew she had once more delved into our rent money to purchase some useless piece of tripe, which would be put into a closet or set in a corner, never to catch her attention again.
She grinned at me, "Alright I confess. I found something really cool."
Natalie nodded and ushered me over to the computer. "Here, take a look."
I waited till she pulled up the auction site she always went to. A place where people sold odds and ends they claimed were haunted. Natalie clicked on a link and brought up an image of a coffin. I stared at it, then back at her, then at the image again and the price. When I looked back at her, and her eager grin, I had to remark, "Are you out of your mind?"
"What now?" She pouted.
"A coffin? You bought a coffin? Why would you buy a coffin? Your family owns a funeral parlor; you can just get one from there." I said getting up, she pushed me back down.
"Yeah I can, but not one like this. This is the very coffin that they found the body of Beatrice Skeener in."
"So you bought the box where the poor woman died?! That's rather disturbing."
Natalie rolled her eyes, "It's not like they didn't clean it out and besides, it's a cool piece of memorabilia to have."
"Someone died in that thing, Natalie. I do not want it in this apartment."
"Too late," she stuck her tongue out at me. "I already bought it."
I bit my lip and got up. "I can not believe you. Is that why you booked our trip? Because you bought that piece of crap?"
"It's not crap, it's an antique, thank you very much," Natalie tilted her head to the side. "And mostly yes."
I threw my hands up not wanting to hear anymore, turned on my heels, and headed for the door back to my bedroom. Natalie followed me.
"Look, the guy gave me a really good deal, Manda."
"I'm sure he did," I muttered.
"And, well, I thought that it would make sense to go and get it while I had the chance. And if the price is right, you know…better to get it now then wait and see it go up." She told me and I stopped and glanced at her.
"Besides, I booked a great place to stay, and you wanted to check out Sydney yourself," Natalie smiled at me. "You know, shopping, seeing the tourist sights, the Opera house that you've been dieing to go to."
Her smile was infectious, and she knew exactly which buttons to press to cave me in. The thought of seeing some of the most talked about places in Australia seemed fun, and if anything, if our trip for ghosts came up empty we would certainly have memories of the place. I grinned and nodded.
"Alright, I'll come, but if this guy is trying to pull a fast one on us about that coffin, we're leaving it there. Okay?"
"Agreed," Natalie smiled at me. "I wouldn't buy anything that wasn't authentic."
I rolled my eyes and laughed.
Five weeks later we boarded a plane for Sydney Australia, in the hopes of getting some good ghostly images on camera, and one large coffin. I remember wondering what was going to be waiting for us, and staring out at the clouds. Natalie seemed happy just to curl up with her book and read the whole time. She had a folder filled with pictures of the missing girls, the old school, and the miraculous room that remained.
When I asked her about it the day before our trip, Natalie seemed intent on finding it.
"It was the room where Miss Skeener died. It was some sort of secret place. Someone bashed a hole into it before the school went up."
"So why did it survive?" I asked and she shrugged.
"Who knows, that's why were going though isn't it?"
"I suppose," I told her, and looked at the image of the school again. Something twisted in my stomach as I looked over the photos of the dilapidated ruins. "Are we going to wait till morning to see it?"
"Sure, I figured we could spend the day there and maybe part of the night." Natalie told me as I curled up in the seat. I nodded sleepily and closed my eyes.
I could remember falling to sleep, dreaming of woods with tall trees that bleed. The twisted ruins of the school stood behind me as I ran, panting, away from something. Something that was large, monstrous, and looming out at me from all directions. It was coming, faster and stronger then I could run. I could feel it's breath on me, laughter of girls surrounding me. Their hands touching my arms and legs as I tried to out run them. They called to me, if not by name, then by feeling, trying to get me to look at them. To stop moving so they could hold me. But I couldn't, I didn't want to. I was sure that if I ran fast enough, they couldn't find me, couldn't touch me. I soon discovered that I was very, very, wrong. Tangled tree roots rose up from the ground, twisting around my legs and holding me in place. I tried to scream, but found I had no voice. And the girls, with their haunted faces, reached out their hands to me poised to grasp hold, pulling me back with them into the blackness that they had come from.
That's when I felt a tap on my shoulder and screamed. Natalie looked at me shocked, the passengers disembarking stared, and I could feel a nasty glare coming from the stewardess at the door to the off ramp.
"Ah, bad dream," I said quickly and got up, pulling down my over head bag. Natalie followed me out, smiling some at the stewardess as I nearly ran down the ramp not wanting to look back. I had made a fool of myself, I knew it, and I knew that Natalie was giggling behind my back because of it.
"Why didn't you wake me up earlier?" I asked her as we walked through the airport.
She shrugged, "I figured you'd feel the bump when we landed."
"You know I'm a heavy sleeper," I muttered. Again, she shrugged.
"Well, whose fault is that? Not mine."
I groaned, "Must we?"
"Must we, what?" she asked as I glanced at the board for the luggage carrousel.
"Must we talk about whose fault it is that I sleep heavily and you can't seem to get me to wake up when I need you to?"
"And who's fault is that?" she asked again.
I clenched my jaw and walked away in a huff. This wasn't what I wanted to deal with after just having a nightmare that scared me bad enough to scream. Natalie followed calling out to me.
"Hey Manda, wait up huh? I'm just kidding."
"Yeah well it's not funny," I muttered. Pulling the luggage from the carrousel I set them down and handed Natalie hers.
"So where is this place that's selling the coffin?"
"Not to far from our hotel, actually," Natalie told me. "We can go there tomorrow morning okay?"
"I suppose," I said pulling the wheeled luggage out to the front of the airport and looking for a taxi. "But like I told you, if it's a fake…"
"I won't buy it," she told me, crossing her heart. I smiled some and waved down a cab. The drive to the hotel wasn't as long as I had anticipated, but the eerie quiet bothered me. The silence was broken when Natalie asked, "Sir, have you heard of Greenwich Private College?"
"You mean the place that burned down years ago? Yeah, it's a local hotspot for kids to go looking for a scare. Why?" The cabbie asked and Natalie just smiled.
"Just wondering about it, that's all. I've heard there's lots of stories about that place."
"Yeah well don't buy too much into it. Too many tragedies happened in that place. It's kind of creepy." He told us, and Natalie closed her eyes.
"We're used to dealing with things like that."
The cabbie looked over at us though his review mirror, "You two paranormal experts or something?"
"Not really," I told him before Natalie could say we were some sort of specialized ghost hunters. "We read about the Greenwich Private College's disappearances on the web, and decided to check out if the stories are true."
"Then you read about the Merriweather vanishings?" he asked and I shook my head. Not to my surprise, Natalie nodded.
"Apparently twelve girls disappeared when the school was first created. Then another twelve disappeared over the years before the place burned to the ground." Natalie quoted as if she were some sort of authority on the matter. "We're just here to see if the legends surrounding the place are true, you know."
"Stupid, if you ask me, no one's dumb enough to go to that place, unless they're looking for trouble. They say that people that go there wind up going crazy, or worse, some don't even come back," the cab diver told us.
I glanced at Natalie who seemed nonplused at the prospect that there had been weird incidents still occurring at the location we would be headed to tomorrow evening. Still it was a bit unsettling.
That night, as I lay back on the bed I decided to flip through what Natalie had gathered. Among the folder's contents were pages from an art catalogue from the school itself. I shifted though the pages and shuddered at the paintings. The first few were neatly drawn images of Victorian life. School life, tea time, then the images became frightening. Girls locking a young woman with no face into a coffin, and a strange one of the same faceless girl standing before a deformed shadow creature that was rising out of the lake, the last ones showed girls chasing one young woman with various knives, and a girl whose haunting eyes betrayed a look of utter insanity. As if she was possessed by something that lurked in nightmares. The candle in her hand illuminated her face in such a way that I was sure I was looking at some sort of demon. I shivered and shut the folder quickly, not wanting to see more.
Natalie peeked in from the bathroom where she was fixing her hair, "Something wrong?"
"No, where did you find those pictures?"
"Like them?" She grinned. "I got them off the net. Someone put them up on a website about the Merriweather Vanishings."
She nodded sitting on the bed with me, and pushed back her short bobbed black hair. I paused and tilted my head, "Why did you cut your hair?"
"Because I wanted to," she grinned. "Besides, you were asking about those paintings?"
"Yeah what are they?"
" They're paintings, by Mary Spector. She was the daughter of the owner of the college after the original Headmistress, a Miss Avril Merriweather disappeared. She was presumed dead. According to the story that I found, Mary had a twin sister named Beatrice, who later married a man named Skeener. Supposedly, Mary and Beatrice came to Australia to stay at the boarding school. Something terrible happened there because there were bad storms, and when a group of rescuers came to find them there was only one girl there. Beatrice. She was covered in blood, disoriented, and carrying an ax."
I went quiet as Natalie pulled out her nail polish and started to paint her nails.
"The story goes that she probably killed the other girls, and maybe her sister even. No one knows for sure."
"But that can't be true," I said quietly. "Why would anyone kill their own sister?"
"Who knows, jealousy, revenge, a love triangle? We may never find out. Anyway, those paintings were done by Mary apparently before her disappearance, and hung around the school after. Maybe it was a way to mark it as her grave." Natalie said in a knowing way, "Right now though I wonder what's going to happen with that coffin."
"You're really intending to buy that thing?" I asked still surprised by the fact that she wanted to. Natalie nodded.
"Yeah, why you think that it's a bad thing?"
"No, I just," I paused, "It's just kinda odd. This whole thing I mean."
She shrugged, "Look you don't have to go to the place tomorrow if you don't want to. I'm a big girl. I can go by my self."
"Yeah but still, we don't know this place very well. It's better if we stick together." I told her and she smiled at me.
"Right, so will you be up at seven?" she asked me, and I weakly nodded. Something in my stomach flip-flopped when I thought of going to see the coffin. There was a nagging feeling in the back of my mind. I persuaded myself into believing it simply worry over the cost of the item Natalie intended to acquire, and the dream I had had on the plane ride.
Natalie gave me a bright smile, got up and slipped into her own bed.
"You'll see Manda. Everything will be cool."
"Sure," I agreed and bid her good night.
Lying under the covers I tossed and turned, trying to fall to sleep. I tried to count sheep, and think about the most boring routine day I could to make myself tired. Yet I found myself wanting to stay awake, afraid I would see those girls again. I groaned sitting up and reached to turn on the light, knocking over the picture from the folder.
"Damn," I muttered and reached down to pick them up. My fingers brushed against the image of the haunting girl that stared out at me. Instantly I drew in an icy breath, and felt something catch in my lungs. The look chilled me, as if the young woman's eyes were piercing, beckoning me to keep silent as she ripped my life away from me.
I dropped the page, remembering reading stories about spirits that could steal souls by making contact with a person through eye contact. Shivering in the darkened room, I kept my eyes on the shadows. Pulling my knees up I glanced over at my companion, sleeping soundly, like I should have been. How easy it was for her to do things like this. Normally I wasn't afraid of the dark, but this night was making me on edge.
I got up and walked over to the bathroom. Turning on the cold water, I vigorously scrubbed my face, hoping to wash the memory of the dream from my mind. But the moment I closed my eyes, I could see faces. So many of them, each with a scared look as if they were lost, searching, for something. Maybe a way back from whatever had them trapped. I shuddered and felt nauseous.
Why did I ever agree to come along, I began to regret the trip, and whished I could be back in my own bed in our apartment. Crawling back to my bed, I laid back staring at the ceiling, praying for sleep to come to take the dreams away. Yet the moment I closed my eyes, I was plunged into the nightmare world. Only this time I was watched by the haunting eyes of the girl from the painting I had seen.
Once more I was running through the bush. Past trees that I didn't recognize, down a path I did not wish to be on, toward some unknown destination. The girls were chasing me again. I was sure of it. Only this time it was far worse. My feet were sinking as I ran, and I had to double my effort to pull myself out of the muck that began to draw me down farther into the ground. Still I ran as fast as I could, and raced for, what I thought was an exit, only to discover it was an illusion, and I slammed into a wall. I woke up just before the impact and turned on all the lights.
"What the…" Natalie sat up rubbing her eyes. "Manda, it's not time to get up yet."
"I…I don't care, I'm not going back to sleep." I told her. She gave me a funny look.
"What's your problem?"
I glared at her, "My problem is that I keep having bad dreams."
"So you're just nervous. Probably just jet lag or something, now, come on, go back to sleep." Natalie reached over and started to turn off the lights.
"Don't…please," I said and she paused.
"Urrrgh. Alright, you can leave your light on, but I'm turning mine off."
She rolled over and covered her head. I sat there quietly till morning, clutching my pillow, dreading the morning and more so the night to come.
The next day I found myself sleepwalking pretty much for our trip to see the prize that Natalie was so excited about. She was overly talkative, and I tried to remember as much of the conversation as I could.
"So then once we go to see the coffin, we should go out to get some lunch. I heard that there was a really good restaurant not to far from the shop," Natalie spouted as we rode the bus to our destination. I nodded my weary head, as I leaned my elbow against the window.
"Uh-huh, sure, why not."
"And we can check out some of the local boutiques, that'll be fun right?" She grinned.
"Yeah, fun," I intoned sleepily and yawned.
"And we can go check out the local guys," she pointed out nudging me.
"Sounds great," I yawned again and looked out the window, feeling my eyes droop.
"Then we can go to the Sydney Aquarium and stick our heads in the shark tank," she deadpanned.
"Sure why not," I replied and felt a hard thump on the side of my cheek.
"Ow! What did you do that for?!" I hissed rubbing my face. "Now I'm going to have a red mark."
"Well if you would have gone to sleep like I said, instead of staying up all night moaning about nightmares, maybe I wouldn't have to do that to make you pay attention to what I had to say." Natalie scolded me, crossing her arms. I huffed, nursing my now red cheek.
"Well you didn't have to hit me that hard. I was paying attention."
"No you were not. But it doesn't matter, because we're here already," Natalie got up and headed for the door as the driver stopped. I quickly thanked him as I got out and followed her down the street. The warm air, even in the winter, made me chuckle.
"This is nothing like home; it's nice here, even if it is winter."
"Well that's how it works," Natalie rolled her eyes at me. "When it's summer by us, it's winter here, and vice versa. I thought you knew that."
"I do," I said. "I just was commenting."
She let out a small laugh as she opened the door to the shop and walked in. The store was a tiny run of the mill antique dealer. Various wooden desks, chairs, and dresses decorated the floor. Mirrors and odd wall decorations were used in lieu of wallpaper. I examined the old fashioned toys that lined one shelf while Natalie walked up to the desk and rang the bell. A man of about fifty walked over and smiled at her.
"Can I help you miss?"
"Yes, you can," Natalie gave him one of her charming smiles and introduced herself. "I'm Natalie Strickley, and this is my friend Amanda Johnson. I'm here to look at the coffin you had for sale on line."
He stared at her for a while, taking in her face, nodded, and pulled out a yellow card. "So you're the young woman that wanted to see the coffin from Greenwich Private College. I was surprised when you called me. I didn't expect someone to honestly want this."
"Why's that?" I looked up from examining an old wooden pull duck. He shook his head slowly.
"Because of the stories behind that place, people around here think it's cursed."
"Cursed?" Natalie's eyes grew brighter, if that was possible and I felt something crawl up my throat.
"Yes, they say that people that touch anything from that school will be cursed by the Fairy Queen." He told us as he reached down to search for something behind the counter. Natalie grinned and clenched her fists with excitement.
"A Fairy Queen? How does that connect to a curse? You would think that something to deal with fairies would be good, right?" I inquired. The man sniffed loudly.
"That's what children believe in, but not all fairies are good. You're thinking more of the character from literature, but fairies, like spirits can be very malicious creatures." He said as I heard him slid open a drawer. "Ah here they are."
The man held up some keys and beckoned us to follow him to the back of the shop. As we did so he continued.
"The word Fairy is just a term that parents used so that spirits wouldn't seem so scary. But truth be told this Fairy Queen, is nothing but a destructive force. They say," he pushed past some old boxes labeled 'Dishes –fragile' as he opened a small door. "I keep all my large items down here."
Natalie nodded as he led us down some stairs to a dimly lit cellar.
"So what about this Queen?" she urged him to continue as we wound our way around a maze of odd hat racks, and large wardrobes, bikes that looked like they should be in a museum, and random items that could easily be seen as trash.
"Well," he pushed himself through a tight opening between a table and a large porcelain vase that stood at least five feet, and was as wide as he was round. We followed suit as he explained, "See there's a story that I've heard. Mind you it's been years since anyone's actually talked to the girls that were there at the time, they've probably even forgotten what really happened there. That's how memories work you know," –we both nodded as he walked over to a corner where some light came in from a thin grimy window high up on the wall –"as the story goes, there was this girl that came to live at Greenwich, pretty thing, they say she was an orphan and that she lived with ten other girls and the Headmistress at the time, a rather nasty woman by the name of…"
"Avril Merriweather," Natalie piped in looking rather pleased. The shop keeper nodded.
"That would be her; she apparently came all the way from England, trying to hide from some sort of scandal when she was a governess. So she bought some land, way out in the bush, and had this school built for young ladies. The tale goes that the orphan girl came to live there with the others, and was mistreated. Had her hair cut and was punished badly by the Headmistress, by locking her in here. Apparently one night she ran away, and they say she ran into some sort of demon in the bush. The apparition convinced her to let it help her gain revenge against the girls at the school. Things seemed fine at first at the school after the girl vanished, but then one day girls started to disappear. They say that the girl that ran away came back to haunt the school, intent on gathering the souls of the girls that had wronged her and sacrifice them to the creature that helped her so she could get revenge."
I shivered listening to the tale. The man ran his hand over a large item that lay under a cloth. It was set on a high table, and I didn't need to guess what it was he was petting under the cloth.
"After that there were two girls that came to the school, twins, but only one made it out alive. They found her covered in blood, holding an axe and going mad. Years later, girls started to vanish again, and the school closed after the death of a girl named Millie and a fire burned the place down. They say that the spirits of the missing girls now wander the ruins of the school, searching for a body to claim as their own so they can come back to life."
Natalie's grin broadened as she exclaimed, "We're going there tonight!"
"You're very brave then, I wouldn't go to that place if you paid me a million dollars." The man told her and Natalie smirked.
"Well that's the difference between us and you, right Manda?"
She gave me a poke, and I jumped.
"Huh? Yeah…uh…sure," I lied, my eyes firmly fixed on the large item below the cover. The shop keeper shook his head, muttering something like "Crazy college kids," as he pulled the sheet off. I shuddered when I laid my eyes on the coffin. The light colored wooden box seemed to glow with an eerie aura from the light that was cast from the window. I swallowed as Natalie moved closer to the old coffin and ran her hand over it.
"Wow, did she really die in here?" She asked him and the shop keeper nodded.
"Yes, they found her in there. Smoke got to her; you can see there are air holes on the side here."
He motioned us to look at the sides, and pointed out the holes which were large rectangular openings. I felt my heart drop. Anyone caught in a fire might have escaped the flames and heat, but there was no way they could survive being in such a box. I moved back, afraid to go near it. Natalie glanced over the coffin and with the man's help, opened it up.
"Hey what's this on the inside?" She asked.
"Finger scratches I think," he told me. "Might have been the old woman trying to claw her way out."
"Wicked," Natalie said and I lowered my brow.
"Since when is that cool, Natalie? A woman died there."
"So," she said with a shrug. "But I'd like to know if these are real. Manda get in here would you?"
I stared in horror. "NO!"
She blinked and laughed, "Oh come on, don't be a wimp, it's just a little box. Nothing to be scared of, it's even got air holes. Look I'll let you out in a minute. Just crawl in and tell me if you could scratch it that deep from the inside. Okay?"
I gulped and slowly nodded. She was right, what was I scared of. There was nothing to it. It was just a box after all, and it did have air holes, so it wasn't like I was really going to be trapped with no way of breathing. Still I felt ill as I came up to the coffin and crawled onto the table.
I reluctantly climbed inside and turned around so that my feet faced the bottom and I was staring face up at my friend and the shop keeper. Natalie gave me a big grin as she shut the lid.
"Now don't worry, I'll let you out eventually."
I shuddered and tried to relax. The inside was pitch black, and smelled faintly of slight decay and dust. The wood was smooth to the touch though, and I realized I didn't have much room for my arms or legs to move. I tried to shift but that only brought pain and I started to breathe faster. I could barely hear noise outside. Were they moving away from the coffin? What was going on? I couldn't see a thing and could barely hear. I felt my pulse in my neck and tried to swallow, but my throat was too dry.
I have to get out! I thought and tried to push the lid up. But it didn't move. I pushed harder, and the top wouldn't budge. Was it locked? Had she locked me inside? I felt nauseous and started to dig my nails into the top. I cried out, but nothing came out of my dry throat.
What did I do to deserve this? Why? Why me? Why are they so mean to me? I hate it here! I want to go home. Let me out, please someone help me! Let me out, please! I'm sorry, I'll behave more. Please, someone let me out! I'm sorry; I'll behave from now on. Please! Please, just let me out of here! I'm scared! I can't breath, it's too dark, I can't see. I'm going to die. I'm going to die in here! Let me out! It's too hot! Please, just let me out!
I clawed at the top, pushing as hard as I could. Sure that my fingers were bleeding from scratching the wood. I finally found my voice, and screamed. "Let me out! Natalie, Please! Let me out of here!"
The lid moved, and I felt it flung open as light came in from above and Natalie stared down at my sweaty face. She looked worried, a look I hardly ever saw on her.
"Manda, what's wrong?! Are you okay?"
I bolted up and literally leaped out of the wooden prison shaking. My legs nearly gave way, when I landed and Natalie caught me.
"I want to go home, please, Natalie lets just forget this. Something's very wrong. I want to go home."
She stared at me, surprised and helped me stand up.
"You're just tired," Natalie told me softly and looked back at the shop keeper. "I'll think about it."
He nodded, "Is your friend going to be okay?"
"Yeah, she just didn't get enough sleep," Natalie told him as she dragged me up the stairs. "Well go to the hotel and I'm sure after getting some food, and rest, she'll be okay."
I glanced back to see him nodding, clearly disturbed. As we neared the top of the stairs I asked in a dull, weak voice. "How long was I in there for?"
"What do you mean?" Natalie looked at me confused.
"How long was I in the coffin for?" I repeated as we walked to the door, my head hurt and I couldn't focus.
"About a minute, and then you started to freak out. What happened?" She gave me a worried pout as I sat down to wait for the bus.
"Just a minute, are you sure?" I asked her and she nodded. I felt a shiver run down my spine even in the heat. How was that even possible? It felt like I had been trapped in the coffin for hours, and I was sure she was going to leave me in there longer. I tried to breathe in deeply to calm my already rapidly beating heart.
Was that what it was like for the girl? Trapped in that box for hours, or who knows how long? I thought and bit back vomit that wanted to overwhelm me. Just thinking about the cruel woman who had subjected someone to such torture made me angry. How could anyone treat her students with such disregard, such vile intentions?
My thoughts were broken into when Natalie rubbed my shoulder with her hand. Her voice was soft and helped me calm down.
"Hey, Manda, the bus is here," she told me. I nodded slowly and rose, allowing her to help me get on. When we got to the hotel, I took a long hot shower then went to sleep. But my dreams were not peaceful. Rather once more I was being chased, only this time, I fell and a large coffin was there to swallow me as I fell. Natalie told me later that she had to pry the covers off of my arms and legs as I twisted them up so badly in my sleep that they were cutting off my circulation.
That evening came swiftly and I was sure that if I left the hotel things would never be the same. Still I refused to let myself be scared of a bunch of dreams. I would overcome them, I was certain, and Natalie was more excited then normal. Her cheerfulness gave me some much needed courage.
"When this is all over with I'm sure that we'll laugh at it, even you being trapped in a coffin."
"Yeah, I'm sure," I tried to smile, but it felt forced. Natalie had called for a taxi who met us outside the hotel. We'd packed what we thought we would need. Insect repellent, gloves so we wouldn't get our hands scratched up, a camcorder and a digital camera, a flashlight each, and our cell phones, the GPS set and ready just incase we got lost in the dark. I made certain we were dressed in long pants and shirts, to keep from being bitten, though Natalie insisted on wearing a tank top under the long shirt she had on.
"Well what if I get hot and sweat too much. I can't let the cute bellboy see me like that when we get back." She has insisted.
"You'll survive," I told her and we agreed that we would make sure that we would meet by where the front entrance of the school once stood in the event we were separated. The driver didn't seem as nervous as the first had been. As it turned out he was new to the area and had never heard of the events of Greenwich Private College, though he had been told that it wasn't a favorable place to take rides.
"You ladies sure you'll be okay? I can stay if you want," he offered when we got out at the ruins. Natalie gave him a charming smile and shook her head.
"No we'll be okay. We're professionals."
"Professional what?" I asked sarcastically after he had driven away. She stuck her tongue out at me and gave me a light shove.
"Come on, Missy, we have ghosts to find."
I gave a quick nod and turned on my flashlight. Checking the electronic compass on my phone I motioned to my left.
"That room should be to the west, so I think we should start there."
Natalie nodded and we carefully crawled over the moldy and rotten wood of the old school. It surprised me that no one had tried to actually clear the mess. But I supposed that one of the reasons was that no one was interested in disturbing the place. What could they build out there where so many young women lost their lives?
I could smell the stench of rain soaked wood around me; there was a hint of ash to the air, which I was sure, came from the remains of the burnt walls. The ground was littered with rotting pieces of carpet, scraps of wallpaper hung off long deteriorated walls, which looked ready to crumble at the slightest touch. Everything was ruined, and there was very little left that could identify the burnt pile of wood as once a school. Nature had been claiming the site over time, and we had to push around some of the plant life that was in our way. It was slow going, but Natalie kept insisting that once we found the room we would get some really good shots.
"Are you sure?"
"Of course," Natalie told me and held up the camcorder. "Can't you trust me for once?"
"Yeah, but the last time I trusted you I had a panic attack in a coffin."
"That was an accident, and I said I was sorry," she insisted as she pushed aside some rubble near a wall. "Hey flash your light over here."
"Okay," I did so and paused. Standing before us was a gapping hole in a still standing wall. I could make out window with a ripped and tattered curtain. Around the hole was the drawing of a long rectangle that indicated there was once a door there. My throat closed up looking at it. The wallpaper looked like it had not aged very much, and it was clear that the walls around the room were still rather solid. I bit my lip as I moved closer with Natalie who was already taking film. She nudged me hard, and I nearly dropped my camera.
"Start snapping pictures, and stop with the jaw dropping. We've got only a few hours."
"I know that," I said and pulled open the camera. Focusing the lens I stared out the view finder at the hole and for a moment I thought I saw a girl with black hair standing in a nightgown in the middle of the room. I quickly lowered the camera and blinked when I saw no one there. For a moment I suspected that my imagination was working over time, and shoved the image of the strange girl into the back of my mind. I took a deep breath and began to take more picture of the wall and the surrounding structure.
It was then that I noticed that Natalie had wandered away from my side and I looked about frantically. She was prone to getting lost easily and I called out to her.
"In here, Manda," her voice came from inside the room. I hurried over to the hole in the wall, and carefully climbed in. The moment I did, I had an unnerving feeling I'd seen the room before. The walls, while soaking wet from the rain that poured down over the decade, were just starting to show a sign of molding and worm rot. The floor was still in fairly good condition and was solid enough to walk on. Though I treaded carefully, Natalie on the other hand, nearly ran around, filming everything.
"Isn't this great," she spouted joyously as she filmed. "We're actually in the miraculous room. They said it was the only one to make it out of the fire. I'm sure that we'll get something on camera here."
"Right," I muttered, feeling a heavy weight putting pressure on my chest. I leaned against the wall to try to catch my shortening breath, while Natalie searched about for any signs of paranormal activities. She seemed rather pleased, and I didn't want to disappoint her by telling her that I was starting to feel chest pains. Not when we'd just gotten there.
"Isn't this so totally cool, Manda?" She asked as she turned to face me. Her happy look faded when she saw I was sitting on the floor, my hand clenched tightly around the camera. "Manda…?"
"I'm okay…really," I lied, sweat pouring down my face. What was wrong with me? I didn't understand it, and she didn't buy it.
"No you're not," she walked over, crouched, and felt my forehead. "You're burning up."
"It's just from the heat, it'll go away."
"Yeah well, wait here. I'll go call the cab, and see if there's any water nearby. I remember there was some lake around here. I can probably wet my shirt and you can use that to cool off." She got up and headed for the door. Giving me a smiled before leaving she said, "Wait right here, I'll be back."
I nodded weakly and laid my head back. Looking up at the stars I felt my eyes close in the peaceful night. Drifting off to sleep, I sensed something close. It didn't' feel threatening, but something about it didn't feel human either. There was nothing natural at all about the clammy feeling that came over my body, and I was sure that someone was right in front of me. When I dared to open my eyes, I was in pitch darkness, but I could see clearly. Before me was the girl I had viewed in the camera's viewfinder. The one that I had believed had been my imagination. She stared at me with dark eyes, but I never once got the sense that she was there to hurt me.
"Who are you?" I asked her.
"There's no time for that," she said seriously. Seeing her up close as I did then, I realized that she was younger then me. I knew that what I was seeing couldn't be real. We were way out in the middle of nowhere, there was no way a girl in a night gown could be outside in the middle of the bush, it made no sense. I was under the impression that she was normally rather shy and quiet, yet I kept my mouth shut when she spoke. "Your friend is in danger. You have to leave here. Get out of here, or you'll be lost too."
"Natalie? But why? What's here?"
"Quinkan…" I whispered. I'd heard the name before, in myths and stories. It was a shape-shifter, bent on taking the souls of children that wandered into the bush. Children, innocent people, like…
"Natalie!" I cried out, awakening from my dream and forced myself on my feet. I knew I had to find her and get us out of that place. My head felt dizzy, and my body refused to move. But I forced it to. The longer it took me to get moving, the more time this creature, the Quinkan, had to find Natalie.
I pulled out my phone and dialed, hoping that she would answer. All I got was a busy message, saying the phone was in use.
"Damn, Natalie. Off all the times to be on the phone, you had to pick tonight!" I cursed as I pushed myself against the rotting wood and pulled up the compass. I knew that she'd headed east of where I was, so I followed a small path that we'd made when we walked through the ruins. Every step felt as if I was dragging a pair of large rocks chained to my ankles. Using the wet rotting beams as leverage I made my way out of the ruined remains to a thickly covered path that lead out into the bush. Thankfully the ground was damp and I could make out Natalie's foot prints in the mud.
Here, away from the school, I felt lighter, and started to run, my pants were coated with muck from the wet ground, and I got snagged a few times on some low branches. But still I pushed myself to find my best friend. I knew she had to be out there somewhere. It was just a matter of time before I found her and we could leave.
"Natalie!" I called out, "Come on, I'm feeling better. We should leave now!"
Silence, was my reply. I called again and again, and still nothing. I was sure then that something bad had to have happened and I ran faster then before. I knew she had to be nearby, I was running out of path, and she wasn't dumb enough to venture too far from the school. So when I found one of her shoes near some bushes, I finally gave into my nausea and became ill. Oddly enough, I felt slightly better after it happened. But by then I wasn't alone.
The hairs on the back of my neck rose as I felt something shift behind me.
"Natalie…is that you?"
When there was no answer I slowly turned around, and saw the shadow of someone standing behind me. I couldn't see their face, and I was afraid I didn't want to. But the shape was that of a woman in a very old dress. My heart leapt into my throat and I carefully stood up.
"What do you want?" I whispered. The person said nothing, but I could feel a vile smile coming from this faceless being. My feet moved back some as she moved forward. Her hand outstretched towards me, and I could sense more then one of her around me. There were so many I wasn't sure which way to run.
It was just like the dream I had had and I knew I need to run, to get out of that woods as fast as possible. I don't know if I was shoved, or if I moved on my own, but some how I was running again. My feet were pounding the ground, not worrying where I was running to, just as long as it was away from them and to Natalie.
Please be okay! I thought desperately as I shoved various plants and foliage from my path. My head hurt, and it was growing harder to breath. The feeling of hands clawing at my hair, the back of my shirt and my calves, forced a scream from my lips as I rushed through the dark night.
I don't want to be like them. I don't want to die. I don't want to die. Let me wake up, please. Let me wake up!
I could feel my lungs on fire, my legs were numb from my body propelling itself forward, and I was sure that my heart would burst at any moment. I couldn't see. My eyes were hazy from the fever and the sweat that now poured into them from my brow. I could barely feel my feet, and my back hurt so badly I was sure that after this I wouldn't be able to walk. That's when I fell. I crashed head first through some dense bushes. They seemed to swarm, I could feel them pressing closer and closer, and I curled up in a tight ball, sobbing. I didn't want to die like this. I didn't want to suffocate. To be trapped inside something that I couldn't fight free of, to be buried from everything and everyone that I loved or knew of.
"Please, leave me alone. I don't want this, I don't want to be like you. Leave me alone!" I shouted out into the darkness. Maybe it was what I said, or something else. Maybe that girl I saw drove them away, or maybe it was the smoke that seemed to surround me. I wasn't sure, my mind was too far gone at the moment to recall everything clearly. But what I do remember was the smell of smoke, and the sound of footsteps, clear and concise, and a soft voice, calling out my name.
"Manda, I told you to stay back at the room."
The last thing I remember seeing before blacking out was Natalie's face, a sad sort of smile on it, and the feeling of a wet cloth touching my forehead.
I awoke several days later in the hospital. The sun was streaming into my room, and making my eyes hurt. I rubbed them weakly, and that's when I found the IV drip on my wrist.
"Don't do that," Natalie's voice scolded me. "You'll pull the drip out."
"Natalie?" I asked and she nodded.
"Yeah, it's me; you've been out for like four days."
I stared at her, "I have?"
She nodded, "Yup. You have."
It took me a day or two to really get a grasp on what happened after I blacked out. Natalie had found the lake and gotten some water from it, and found me lying on the ground, curled in a tight ball. She somehow managed to drag me from the spot she found me to near the old college. She had to call an ambulance to take me to the hospital, and they had fined us both for trespassing on what was private property.
"So you don't remember anything from after you passed out?" she asked me and I nodded.
"Yeah, the whole thing felt like some sort of weird nightmare. Natalie let's not do this again."
She contemplated it and then slowly nodded her head, smiling at me. "Okay, we won't."
I grinned leaning back against the pillow.
"About the coffin…" I started to ask and she waved her hand.
"Don't mention that. Some art dealer bought it two days ago. Considering how you reacted to it, I thought it best to not buy it, anyway."
I laughed some, though it hurt. "But I thought you said you really wanted that."
"Yeah, well, your health comes first." She said brightly and I raised an eyebrow.
"You used the money to pay the fine didn't you?"
"Pretty much, yeah," she admitted. I shook my head and stared at her.
"Hey Natalie, can I ask you something?"
"Sure," she said looking over my menu for dinner. "You like ham right?"
I nodded as she checked off the food. Taking a breath I slowly let it out as I spoke.
"I was wondering, why…why do you like hunting for ghosts? I mean, why do you want to buy all these things, and go to places like this? You know I do it for a hobby but you...I never understood."
Natalie paused, and set down the pen.
"I guess it's fair that I tell you huh?" I gave a nod as she cleared her throat. "It's because I want a way to cheat death."
"Cheat death?" I asked her puzzled and she nodded.
"I see it all the time at home. People come in, sad to have lost their loved ones, and I…I don't want to die. I want a way to keep living, even when I'm near the end of my life. I want a way to be around for my loved ones."
"I see," I said softly. "So this has all been serious for you then?"
She nodded some and closed her eyes.
"But this time, I nearly lost my best friend. I'm sorry; I shouldn't have dragged you into this. When we met and I found out you liked ghost too, I thought I had finally found someone who was as driven as I was. But, I didn't think it would wind up hurting you." Natalie looked at me and grinned, "So I've decided, to not hunt so much. If we do, it's going to be closer to home, and we're going to stick to things that are a little less dangerous okay?"
"Alright," I agreed and she gave me one of her bright smiles. I stared at her a moment then burst out laughing.
"What's so funny?"
"Nothing, just that I realized you didn't get anything from this trip," I pointed out. "You're not bringing back the coffin and I'm going to be stuck here for another day, and then we have to go home. So it seems like you're out of luck."
"Who says," she chuckled and pulled up a vile she had around her neck. It was filled with water and a bit of tree bark.
"What's that?" I asked, and she smiled some.
"It's from the lake and the weeping trees near it."
"Yeah, they bleed red sap, it's kind of gross in a way, but I thought this would be just as cool to have." Natalie looked at the small vile. "I'm gonna put it with the others when we get home."
I giggled, "Same old Natalie."
She ginned and tossed me her phone. "Oh that reminds me. You know how to pull up pictures on this right. Well I took some shots of the lake. I thought they would make a cool background you know."
I gave a nod and flipped open the phone. Hitting the right combination of buttons I retrieved the new photos. What I saw made me nearly drop her phone. Natalie excitedly gushed about them.
"Aren't they great? I thought the moon looked extra creepy. What do you think Manda?"
"Yeah…creepy," I said softly and stared at the image of a strange shadow creature looming out of the dark lake, and right before it, the image of a girl's face, pressing her finger to her lips and holding a candle to her face.
I stared at it a moment then frowned, and without an ounce of regret deleted the picture.