It was huge. There was no other word to describe it. There had to be at least two hundred windows just on this side of the building. It was all a dull, almost foggy grey with bars on all the windows and ivy climbing between the many windows. A real prison.
Carolyn Nightingale stared up at her new school and frowned, she wanted to turn on her heel and make a run for it. Maybe she had made a mistake and this was the wrong place.
"I believe the words you're looking for are get me the Hell outta here!" Carolyn turned and found herself facing another girl her own age. She was tall for a 15 year old with masses of blonde hair piled on top of her head in what used to be called a Beehive. She wore the same uniform as Carolyn, a white shirt under a grey jumper with a matching skirt and clumpy shoes. Carolyn smiled.
"Actually the words I was looking for involved a bit more swearing." The blonde laughed, she stuck a finger into her hair and scratched, vigorously. Carolyn watched, fighting back the jealousy. Carolyn herself was short but thin and very pale; the skin of her face was almost stretched too tightly across her skull. But it was hair that Carolyn missed the most. After the accident, they had had to shave her head to get at the fracture. It was barely an inch long now but so thin she might as well as stayed bald.
The blonde noticed her staring and smiled, shooting a sympathetic glance at Carolyn's head.
"Too much hairspray this morning. Itches like a motherfuck. Anyway, I'm Katie. Come on, I'll show round Hell High." Carolyn smiled and followed Katie towards the building, still quietly hoping that she was in the wrong place.
Katie left Carolyn at the Reception with a sour faced young man with a limp moustache. He helped her fill out the required paperwork and then he gave her a timetable and took her to her first class. The corridors were just as drab as the outside; it was as if all the light and fun had been sucked from the building.
Carolyn followed the receptionist into her first class and felt a huge surge of relief when she spotted a blonde beehive at the back of the class.
"This is Carolyn. I want you all to make her feel welcome. There's a spare desk at the back there, near the window" said the teacher. As Carolyn threaded her way between the desks she heard a few whispers and was sure the words chrome dome floated across to her. Carolyn squeezed her eyes against the tears that threatened and sat down, smiling at Katie.
The class turned out to be English and they were reading and discussing the collected works of Guy De Maupassant. Carolyn loved it and she soon forgot the whispers and name calling as she raised her hand and answered question after question. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.
Carolyn followed the others from the class as the bell rang; she was digging through her bag for her locker key when she noticed Katie leaning against a grey bank of lockers.
"You're lockers next to mine. Let's have your timetable." Carolyn handed the piece of paper to Katie and opened her locker, sorting books out of her bag as Katie compared the sheet to her own. "Nice. You're in all my classes. Wanna have lunch with me? Word of advice, don't have the Tuna Surprise."
"Nobody knows what the surprise is. Quinn reckons it's the missing students served up for lunch." Carolyn laughed and followed Katie along the corridor as they joined the queue for the canteen.
"Who's Quinn?" she asked, taking a tray and some cutlery. Katie smiled, looking very smug.
"My handsome and fabulous and awesome boyfriend." Carolyn laughed again.
They took their food over to a table with two boys already seated on it; Carolyn guessed one of them must be the marvellous Quinn. One was a tall lanky guy with black hair and green eyes; he wore a bored expression and seemed to look down his nose at the world. The other boy was plump, red headed and smiled at everyone that passed.
"This is Carolyn. She just started today. This is Quinn and Doyle." Carolyn couldn't help but wonder what her new friend saw in the lanky Quinn, he looked a right miserable sod.
"I thought I told you to lay off the hairspray. It stinks" snapped Quinn. Katie ignored him and tucked into her lunch, pausing every so often to dig a finger at her scalp.
"How are you getting on with locker 13? Any ghosts tried to pull your eyes out yet?" asked Doyle, he winked at Carolyn and ignored an icy stare from Quinn. Katie laughed and sipped from her can of Coke.
"You're lockers haunted?" asked Carolyn. She picked at her food; it was the same colour as the drab building they were in.
"Doyle thinks so. The last three girls that have had that locker vanished without a trace. Doyle reckons I'm next." Carolyn raised her eyebrows; she looked around the canteen and frowned. If three girls had gone missing then they must have been the only females in the whole school. All the teachers were lined up against the back wall and all of them were men. The only female students were Carolyn, Katie and two sisters sitting by the window and keeping their heads down.
"Did you just notice how sexist this dump is?" asked Quinn. He smiled and his face was suddenly transformed into something cheerful and pleasant, Carolyn suddenly understood how Katie could put up with him.
As soon as they got outside, Katie took a can of hairspray from her bag and emptied half of it into her beehive. She patted the curls and scratched a few places before tossing the can in the nearest bin. They walked across a small expanse of grass and headed back into the main building for their last few lessons.
Carolyn hoisted her bag onto her back and headed away from the school and into the woods. She looked around her and swallowed, suddenly feeling a little claustrophobic. The whole back to nature, village in the woods thing her parents had been so excited about suddenly seemed very stupid. Trees were creepy and that was a fact. Carolyn turned and looked over her shoulder at the retreating building, the image of a prison resurfaced in her mind and she shuddered.
The village was only a ten minute walk away and the little streets were choked with people coming home from the surrounding schools. Carolyn snaked her way through and jumped the stone wall into the garden of her cottage; she jogged across the grass that needed cutting and pushed open the front door.
"Anyone home?" she called. A faint voice responded from upstairs so Carolyn dumped her bag in the hallway and went to the kitchen. She made some tea and toast and went up to her room, flopping into a chair in front of her computer. She picked up a framed picture and ran her fingers over the glass.
Kelly, Ben and James had been her crew. They had done everything together, including getting in a car with Ben when he assured them that he could drive. Things had been okay at first but then, one wrong turn and they had hit the motorway. Everybody had panicked, the car was full of screams and then James had tried to grab the wheel. They had smashed through the guard rail and into oncoming traffic. An eighteen wheeler had hit them, causing a major pile up and twelve deaths in total.
Ben had been thrown through the windshield, breaking his neck and killing him instantly. James had been decapitated by a piece of flying glass; his head had been sitting in Carolyn's lap when she came too. And Kelly, she had lived for three days despite a pole from the eighteen wheeler skewering her into her seat. Carolyn had woken in the wreckage, blood covering her face from a deep wound on her head. She had screamed and screamed when she'd spotted James' head and that was how they found her. It wasn't until they had reached the hospital that they shaved her head and found the fracture, the doctors were surprised that she was still alive let alone awake and lucid enough to tell them what had happened.
Carolyn put the photo back on the back and patted at her head, feeling the tears flow down her cheeks. She sniffed and swiped at her face, dropping some books onto the desk she got on with her homework.
About an hour later, Carolyn sat back from her desk and tidied her things away. She grimaced as her back popped and crackled, that chair was going to have to go. Carolyn was halfway across the room when someone screamed behind her. She spun around and uttered a choked sob. The photo on her desk had changed; her friends were no longer smiling and happy. James had no head, Ben's hung at an odd ankle and Kelly had a large whole through her ribs.
"No. Please, no more" cried Carolyn, she flung up her hands and covered her ears but she could still hear them screaming. Then, two more people appeared in the photo. Ones was a brunette with hair spiked straight up from her head and the other had bright ginger hair piled up onto of her head in curls and waves. They both wore the same school uniform that Carolyn hadn't changed out of yet.
"Her hair! You have to check her hair!" They screamed. Spiders suddenly burst from the frame; they flowed like a wave over the edge of the desk and towards Carolyn. She screamed and -
Carolyn's eyes snapped open; she threw herself sideways and tumbled from the chair. She scrambled backwards, her head whipping from side to side but the room was empty. The photo was as it should be and there were no spiders in the room. Someone knocked on the bedroom door and Carolyn managed a croak in answer. It swung open and Katie stepped into the room.
"What's up, chicken puff? I wanted to ask – What happened?" she said. Katie dashed across the room and helped Carolyn to her feet. Katie scratched at her head with a long finger, still staring at her friend. Carolyn reached out and took a strand of Katie's hair between her fingers, it was hard as stone.
"How much spray do you put on here?"
"Two tins a day. Don't tell Quinn" replied Katie.
"When did you last wash it?"
"About a month ago. I use less spray if the old stuff is still in there."
"Where do you buy your spray?" asked Carolyn. She took Katie's arm and began to lead her out of the bedroom and towards the bathroom.
"I didn't' buy the first lot. It was in my locker when I first got it. Four full cans, so I used that first and then got some more from the chemists." They entered the bathroom and stopped beside the tub. Carolyn looked at Katie and smiled a little.
"Sorry about this, but it's for your own good." Katie frowned but before she could answer Carolyn had forced her head over the bath and turned on the hot water. Katie squealed but Carolyn ignored her and rinsed her hair with shampoo and hot water over and over again until she could run her fingers through it without finding a knot. Katie's scalp was red and very raw looking; it even seemed to have small holes in it in some places. Carolyn winced before grabbing a towel and wrapping it around Katie's head, helping her to stand up.
"What the fuck was that?" she cried but Carolyn wasn't listening. She was peering into the tub with a disgusted grimace on her face. Katie followed her gaze and felt her stomach do a lazy flip. Among the bubbles was little jelly like sacks, little black dots moved inside them as if they were alive.
"They were in my hair" whispered Katie. Carolyn picked up the long scrubber and prodded one of the sacks. It broke open and millions of tiny spiders flowed across the base of the bath. Katie screamed as Carolyn switched on the water and washed the spiders, the jelly sacks and the rest of the bubbles down the drain.
"Spiders? I had spiders living in my hair?" said Katie. Her legs suddenly gave way and Carolyn just managed to catch her before she brained herself on the edge of the sink. They staggered back to the bedroom and dropped onto the bed, Katie wrapped the towel around her head shivered. Carolyn picked up Katie's bag and took a can of spray from it; she picked up a piece of paper and sprayed a small amount on it. Tiny black dots showed across the white paper where it had been sprayed.
"The spiders are in the hairspray. Did the missing girls use this stuff too?" asked Carolyn. She was remembering her dream and the two girls with huge hair that had warned her. Katie thought for a moment before nodding, she took the last few cans from her bag and emptied them into the bin.
"Who would do this?" asked Katie.
"The teachers. It's like Quinn said, they just don't like girls. No boys have gone missing and all the staff are men" suggested Carolyn. Katie pulled her hair back into a band and stood up.
"Let's go ask them" she snarled. Katie stormed from the room before Carolyn could reply.
Once they were in sight of the school, the headed around to the back where the teachers' lounge was. They dropped onto their hands and knees and crawled under the windows until they found the right one. Luckily it was open, Katie put her finger to her lips and Carolyn raised an eyebrow. A sudden burst of laughter made them look up as several voices floated out to them.
"So any day now then?" asked Mr Pitt, the math teacher. Another rumble of laughter greeted this.
"I've got the money to plant in her locker. We do the search on Monday, give her detention and she collapses like the others. Spiders hatch, eat her face and we dump her in the woods with the others. Shame we just can't make this an all-boys school" said Mr Evans, the English teacher. Carolyn and Katie stared at each other, their eyes wide and their mouths open.
"You know we can't, Cyril. We're the only school in forty miles and we have to allow all sexes in. Whether we like it or not. Who gets 13 after Katie?" replied Mr Pitt. There was a little moment of dispute before Mr Bean the art teacher made a suggestion that made Carolyn's blood run cold.
"What about the new girl? Carolyn, is it?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Steven. She doesn't have any hair! It will have to be one of the sisters, we'll wait until the new term and then it won't seem weird if we swap her locker around" said Mr Patt. All the eyes in the room suddenly turned towards the open window, Katie had uttered a shocked squeak before she could get her hand up to smother it. Carolyn gave up trying to hide, she jumped to her feet and pulled Katie with her, and they took off across the grass and dived into the trees as shouts echoed after them.
Katie and Carolyn watched from behind a clump of bushes just inside the edge of the wood as their teachers fanned out trying to find them.
"I never took much notice of the fact that all our teachers were men. There were quite a few girls here when I started and female teachers but they just vanished, one by one. It was always the girls getting hurt too, when we went on trips and things. Oh my God I just want to go home" said Katie, she broke into silent sobs. Carolyn gripped her hand but she kept her eyes on the figures moving around the school. Suddenly, Katie shrieked as she was taken backwards. Carolyn tried to keep hold of her hand but they were wrenched apart and dragged into the undergrowth.
The next morning, Quinn and Doyle were a little surprised to find that both Katie and Carolyn were not in class. They probably bunked off to go shopping or something; bloody women were a pain in the arse.
"Right everybody. This is Laura, she'll be joining our class from today" said Mr Pitt from the front of the room. He sounded less than impressed with the new addition and the girl with long, black hair seemed to notice. Mr Pitt then handed her a little key.
"For your locker" he explained, and then he dropped his voice so nobody else would hear. "Number 13."
"13?" replied Laura in the same low tone. Mr Pitt smiled.
"Yes. Unlucky for some."