Danny takes one last drag of his cigarette before flicking it onto the grass. He grabs my hands and pulls me up, exhaling the last of the smoke into my face.
“Sorry,” he grins, with absolutely no remorse. He knows I’m trying to quit.
My sister Harry walks ahead of us, side by side with Danny’s friend Charles. Harry keeps sneaking sideways glimpses of him. She’s always worn her heart on her sleeve, but I’ve never seen her look at anyone like this before. Charles is handsome, in a commercial, teeth-glint-when-he-smiles sort of way. But he’s too neat; his uniform is always immaculate, and every strand of his hair seems to be in just the right place. Danny, however, looks like he could have slept in his un-tucked shirt.
For the last seven years, Harry’s and my home was Wellington House boarding school, but it got closed down last term. We wanted to spend our final year at a local public school, but Roland, Mother’s husband, disagreed. He says children get their best education in boarding schools, and because Mother thinks Roland shits roses, she listened. Six weeks ago they sent us here, to The Hemingway School for Girls. It’s just like Wellington, another listed mansion filled with pretentious brats who believe their parents love them. It makes me sick.
Danny’s fingers come under my chin and tilt my face up to his.
“Where are you, Rosie?” His devilish smile rises higher on one side than the other.
Fortunately, Hemingway has a partner school, The Latford School for Boys, and it’s right next door. Harry and I have been meeting Danny and Charles three times a week since we arrived. We’re on lunch and they’re supposed to be playing hockey, but they’re never even in their kit.
“I was thinking about my mother,” I answer.
“She doesn’t visit much?”
“Ouch,” he says.
The boys sports teacher is staring at us, watching us walk along the edge of the field. But he won’t do anything. He never does.
Latford’s head teacher struts across the field, through the boys playing hockey. They are all distracted by him, passing the ball in slow motion. The Head reaches the sports teacher, and as they chat he glances at us. I hold my breath and wait for him to shout, but he looks away.
I give Danny a bewildered expression.
“We have an arrangement,” Danny says. “And besides, it’s their last day.”
“Both of them are leaving?”
“Retiring,” he corrects.
Neither of the men look anywhere near retirement age, but I can tell Danny’s not going to elaborate.
“So, do your family visit much?” I nudge into his shoulder. A silver pendant falls out over his loosely fastened tie. It looks like two spirals side by side.
“There’s no-one left.” He tucks the pendant back under his shirt collar. “I outgrew them.”
I roll my eyes. Danny’s one of those guys who thinks he’s more intelligent than everyone else, above and better. But I like that.
“Don’t worry about your parents,” Charles tells Harry. “You have me now,”
She must have told him about our crappy parental figures. At Wellington House, while the other girls were away every summer playing happy families, Harry and I were the only ones left.
The sun glints off a silver chain at the back of Charles’ neck, just below his pristine hairline. Maybe it’s a pendant like Danny’s, a sort of boy’s club thing they do in their school.
A whistle blows behind us. I look over my shoulder and see the boys on the field collecting up equipment. The sports teacher helps them, but the Head is standing in place, watching us.
We’ve reached the rusted gates of the old church. Danny said our schools were built around it, but over time funds and religion fell short, and it’s been left derelict. Apparently it’s haunted, but that sort of thing doesn’t bother me. I think it’s where boys from Latford take girls from Hemingway to be alone. Harry and I have been playing hard-to-get up until now, but we’ve finally agreed to go on ‘the tour’.
The large gates are chained shut and plastered with ‘keep out’ signage, but Charles pulls a key from his pocket and unlocks the padlock. He swings the gate open for Harry to step inside. She does, smiling at him, obviously impressed. We all follow. Then Danny takes my hand and leads me to the right, away from them.
“We’ll go in round the side,” he says.
Charles doesn’t bother hiding his smirk.
Danny guides me around the edge of the church, his hand on my back, burning hot through my blouse. We walk up a raised path towards a small door leading into the first floor of the church. A long line of statues accompany the path, covered in moss and white blotches. But they’re not the angelic forms I had expected. They cower, slight and childlike. Most of their faces are covered by their hands, and the few whose faces aren’t covered have crumbled off completely. The statues closer to the door look newer, like someone started to clean them but gave up just a few statues in.
“Harrowing, aren’t they?” Danny whispers. It makes me jump.
“Yes.” I rub my hands up and down my arms, over newly appeared goose-bumps.
“Come here.” Danny lifts his arm over my shoulders and pulls me into him, still walking me forward. I glue my eyes to the door ahead.
It’s just an old church.
He takes out a key and unlocks the door. I prepare to take in a dusty, stale breath, and step inside. Danny follows and shuts the door behind us.
We’re on a landing, standing on a clean red carpet. The air is clean too. Candlelight flickers from shelves around us and floats up the stairs from the floor below. I can hear Charles talking from somewhere down there.
“Don’t worry about them, they can wait.”
I hadn’t noticed how close Danny is, his hot breath sweeping down my cheek, onto my throat. I grab a handful of his shirt and pull him even closer. His mouth comes down onto mine and I slowly tug at his bottom lip with my teeth. A gratifying moan escapes him. He lifts me up and I wrap my legs around his waist. I’m lifted onto the ledge of a boarded window. One of my hands is behind his head, running my fingers through his dark, messy hair. My other hand slides along the surface of the thin window, trying to keep balance.
His lips move onto my jaw, my neck. I pull off his pointless tie and unbutton his shirt. Both of his hands are under my skirt.
A scream emanates from the floor below.
I pull away, hitting the back of my head against the window pane.
“What was that?”
Danny looks at me through narrowed eyes.
He pushes his lips hard against mine.
Then I hear it again, louder.
Harry is screaming.
I shove Danny away and jump off the ledge. I follow her screams down the stairs, yanking my skirt back down.
What is Charles doing to her?
My heart pounds hard against my chest and my blood thuds in my ears. I reach the bottom and glance back at Danny. He’s still standing on the landing, topless and pissed off.
How can he not hear her?
I run past rows of pews and through a door. A group of figures stand with their backs to me. I barge my way through to see Harry cowering beneath a man in a suit. It’s the head teacher of Latford. He opens his mouth wide, stretching the skin, distorting it, like a snake dislocating its jaw.
I lunge forward with no clue what I’m going to do. I’m grabbed by two boys in Latford blazers. I search along them, along the line of men and boys all staring at Harry and the Head, eagerly awaiting a show.
Bright blue light escapes from the Head’s pit of a mouth and pours towards Harry. She scuttles backwards, but the light jumps onto her face and forms a hand. Its fingers pry at her lips, opening her mouth.
All I can do is watch as the light invades her. It pulsates inside her body, illuminating her skin and veins, and flows back into the Head’s open mouth. He brings his arms out wide, letting the last of the light explode through his limbs.
Harry doesn’t move, or collapse, or cry out with pain. Her wide eyes are open, her screaming mouth stuck in place. She has turned grey.
Tears pour from my eyes and blaze down my cheeks.
“Thank you for your contribution,” the Head says.
His voice is younger than it should be. Then I see he is young, a boy of around twelve in an oversized suit. His once greying hair is curly and bronze, his wrinkles gone, his life rejuvenated.
Stolen from my sister.
“Chisel?” he asks the crowd, and someone hands him a hammer and chisel. He leans across to Harry and holds the tip of the chisel to the top of her forehead.
“No!” I cry out, but he brings the hammer down hard. Harry makes no sound, no movement, but for the tears rolling from her stony eyes. The boy smashes away at the chisel, over and over, until a crack forms in Harry’s head. Her face comes away and falls to the floor. The boy lifts his foot above what’s left of her face and stomps down hard, leaving just a pile of rubble.
“Next,” he says.
The bruising hands on my arms release and I almost fall, but someone grabs around my waist. Danny is by my side, holding me up, saving me. Relief floods through my body and I manage a breath.
But he walks me into the centre of the room, his grip tightening as I realise what’s happening. He’s part of this.
And I’m next.
My breaths turn to shallow gasps.
“Danny, let go.” My sweaty hands claw at his fingers. “Why are you doing this?”
“To live forever,” he answers.
He takes my shoulders and forces me down. My knees buckle and I’m made to kneel beside the faceless lump of stone that used to be my sister.
The boy in the ill-fitting suit steps to one side and a man in a tracksuit, the sports teacher, walks up to me. He hunches forward, his silver pendant dangling between us, two silver spirals.
I try to stand but Danny keeps me down, his knee between my shoulder blades. The mouth of the sports teacher opens; a fast spreading crescent of luminous blue light.
“Cover your pretty face,” Danny’s whispers in my ear.
I throw my hands up quickly. Cold fingers stab at my lips, prising open my mouth. Something climbs inside my throat.
I can’t breathe.
I’m frozen solid, too heavy and exhausted to try to fight back. With the last of my energy I spread my fingers and peek through the gaps. The sports teacher’s mouth is wide open, his tongue wagging through the pulsating blue light entering him.
His mouth closes and my vision goes blank.
I’m still alive, some small part of me, but I don’t think I should be. I wish I wasn’t. I’m outside. I feel the passing of the seasons, the warmth of the sun and the sting of winter ice. Time is different, it moves both fast and slow. I hear voices sometimes. I’ve tried to scream to them, but I’ve long since given up. I never make a sound. Most of the voices are unfamiliar, girls blindly following Latford boys inside the church. Then the screams. There are always screams. But sometimes I hear him, that addictive, teasing voice that belongs to Danny. And I look forward to the sweet scent of nicotine as he passes my cowering statue and blows smoke through my stone fingers, into my face.
© 2016 Rebecca Delphine
Rebecca Delphine is a Young Adult author from Thanet.