Author's note – This is a rewrite of a story I wrote around thirteen years ago. In those years, my talent for writing has grown stronger so the story has been vastly improved. I have also added in a few extra scenes for more scare factor. I hope you like it. Reviews welcomed.
It was hardly something to get anxious to the point of being overwhelmed, and definitely not something to render your appetite to nothing, but on this very morning, that's just what happened to Steph on the day that a new girl was starting at her year in school, in her own tutor group, no less. Her class had already been informed and had been told to be welcoming and supportive, something which barely ever happened, not with Miss Motor Mouth in the class, AKA Sadie Wright.
The new girl and her parents had set up home at the big old house at the end of Willow Lane, a place that had been derelict for well over twenty years. It always scared Steph. She always felt that there were eyes staring from the windows, with gazes that could pull you into a trance if you looked into the windows for too long. Dead ivy leaves hung limply from the walls, a grotesque carpet of rotten leaves. She wondered why anyone would ever want to set up home there.
Sadie had apparently seen them, but the girl was a compulsive exaggerator and had also seen everything, done everything and been everywhere. Steph had heard the short blonde talking about the new family with her band of pals, all of whom were bigger than her and girls you wouldn't want to cross. They weren't bullies, but they were loyal, and defended each other like a man of war would defend his comrades.
Steph had edged closer to the group, eager to know more, regardless of whether Sadie was blowing her account out of all proportion. She had told her friends that there was something very strange about the girl and her parents. The girl was taking the lead, her long black hair swaying as she walked, but also as if it had been weighted down by an invisible force. Her parents' faces were blank and they walked as if they were, Sadie's words, zombiefied. She led her parents into the dark alleyway that lay to the side of the house, where they promptly disappeared. Sadie hadn't seen them since and she had informed the group that she didn't want to either.
Steph forced the last dregs of porridge down, took a swig of lukewarm water, said goodbye to her mum and left through the front door. It was a crisp autumnal morning and leaves crunched under her feet. It wasn't cold enough to wear the coat she'd thrown on without thinking, so she wrapped it round her waist. Her backpack was laden with books, her lunchbox and other necessities and it weighed heavily on her back. She turned into Fairbank Road and saw the gleaming metal school gates at the end of the cul-de-sac and the school looming behind them, a metropolis of metal, grey brick and large windows. Dani was waiting at the foot of the gate and waved when she saw Steph.
"You heard about that new girl?" she asked almost immediately as if she had made an imprint on her mind.
"Yeah. She sounds bit creepy if you ask me. But then again, I got most of this off Sadie and you know what she's like."
She told Dani about Sadie's account and she bore a look on her face which made the butterflies in her stomach flutter wildly. It wasn't a look that accompanied casual banter between friends or the dismissal of a far-fetched and unbelievable rumour. Steph suspected that her friend believed it all. Had she seen them too?
"She's telling the truth," Dani responded, confirming Steph's suspicious. "My mum saw them last week when she walked down Willow Lane. She said the girl was leading her parents into that horrible scary mansion place rather than them going in together, if you know what I mean. Like, they were brain-washed and being led by her. Those were my mum's words. She was freaking me out so I told her to shut up, but she said to me, be careful."
"Man, I've not even met her yet and she's already creeping me out," whispered Steph, half afraid that the creepy new girl could hear every word she said. "And why the hell would anyone even want to live there?"
The bell rang twenty minutes later and only a few children took any notice. The playground was a babble of voices and laughter. Most children would say they hated school, but to look at them on this crisp October morning, you would have expected them to have lied about it, as if school was just something you were meant to hate. A second bell pealed, almost droned out by the overpowering noise of the playground, but this time more children took notice and started to form vague lines in their respective tutor groups.
The girls scanned for the new girl, but couldn't see her anywhere. When she failed to enter their line, they frowned at each other.
"There's definitely something odd about this whole situation," mused Dani.
"Hush!" boomed their teacher, Miss Cleaton, who was standing at the foot of the line. Miss Cleaton was a small, old woman with long grey hair that was all wispy and blew in the wind like smoke, with a hooked nose, small lips and dark grey eyes that looked very menacing. It was a joke between pupils that Miss Cleaton was the Anne Robinson of the schooling world. When she spoke, the last slip of sound coming from the line ebbed away.
The group led each other along the main corridor, turned left into another, smaller corridor and then turned right into their room. Miss Cleaton told them to be quiet, adding that after school detentions would be issued if anyone made a sound, and that she would be back in two minutes. Steph was already curious and as she turned to look at Dani, assumed that she shared the same mutual feelings.
The classroom was not quiet. A girl in the back started whispering to the girls in front, one of which responded in a fit of giggles. Within seconds, everyone had started to talk and laugh. The class clown, Karl, a tall, thin boy with a mushroom cloud of thick, ginger hair planted on the top of his head cracked a joke about farts and the whole room erupted into laughter. Then he shouted "Everyone shut up, footsteps!"
The door opened and their tutor walked in with a girl trailing behind her. Her figure was waif-like and with a harsh bone structure that seemed to penetrate the very fabric of her tight, white shirt. Her shoulders were high and bony and her legs were sparrow thin. Steph wondered if the girl ever ate, though looking at her, a sense of good health and well-being shone through her skin. She was pale, but she was radiant, glowing, like a re-animated porcelain doll. There was no doubt in Steph's mind that there was something strange about her.
Her hair was long, dark and straight. It seemed to move very slightly, like it was weighted down by invisible forces.
Just like Sadie said… thought Steph.
As she turned around to face the class, her eyes were the first thing that Steph noticed. They were palest blue and looked unnatural, more so in the artificial light of the classroom. The girl's gaze darted to Steph and she recoiled and looked down at her hands. Her face was sharp and diamond-like, the harsh points seeming to pull back her skin and making her look gaunt. She reminded Steph of a cartoon devil. All she needed to finish off the look was a set of horns and a pointed tail.
She had reduced the class to utter silence. Miss Cleaton broke the tension with her gravely voice, damaged over the years by excessive screeching and shouting, but nonetheless threatening, even when she was speaking not to threaten, but to simply inform.
"I'd like to introduce a new student into our group today. Please welcome Mercia Truman."
Instantly, giggles could be heard emanating from the back of the classroom.
"Mercia?" a female voice erupted from the depths. "What kind of a name is that? She sounds like someone out of a Shakespeare play! Oh Mercia, wherefore art thou, Mercia?"
The whole class burst into laughter but Mercia stood still, her facial expression stern and emotionless, either oblivious to the whole thing or uncaring.
"Sadie!" Miss Cleaton snapped. "That's enough! Do you understand?"
"Yeah miss," Sadie mumbled, an air of insincerity in her voice.
The teacher turned to the new girl and smiled. "Are you alright?"
"I am fine," she said. Her voice was nasal, unnatural and cold. So cold. Steph visibly shivered.
"That's good to hear. If there's anything bothering you, anything at all, then just tell me. I'll do my best to sort things out."
Mercia did not reply and the classroom was deathly silent once more, no one even seeming to breathe out of place or shuffle in their seats. The atmosphere was overwhelming.
Miss Cleaton's voice cut through the stiff, heavy air.
"Would you like to take a seat, Mercia?" She pointed to the empty table in front of Steph and Dani. "You'll receive your timetable in just a moment, as soon as I've called out the register."
Soon afterwards, Mercia had received her timetable and seemed to be scribbling something down on it. She was a fast writer; abnormally fast, Steph thought. She was finding it difficult to concentrate on the movements of Mercia's black fountain pen at times. Either bravely or stupidly, Dani tapped her on the back and Steph tensed up, expecting something bad to happen.
"Mercia is a really nice name," she lied. "Why did your parents decide to name you that?"
She turned around and glared at Dani with penetrating eyes. The silence that followed was worse than a slew of insults or a harsh brush-off. It was a silence that could eat you alive. Her bright-coloured eyes suddenly flashed with darkness so profound that for a moment, Steph felt she was being transported to another world, a dark place where light had never existed. Mercia's world, she thought.
"That is none of your business," she replied, her cold voice doing little to break the tense silence. Then she turned back to face the front of the classroom.
"Sorry…" mumbled Dani. Steph noticed her cheeks blushing slightly.
"Keep away from her," whispered Steph so quietly she could barely hear herself. "There's something… very strange about her. Did you see her eyes just now?"
"I thought it was just me, Steph."
"No, I saw it too. I think this school's just made a very big mistake, and we're the ones who are going to have to suffer."