From the producer who brought you Paranormal Activity and Insidious. . .now brings you The Gallows – in theaters Friday, July 10th.
I was challenged by Wattpad and The Gallows Movie to create a creepy short story based on a high school urban legend. Here it is, my first attempt at writing paranormal!
This is a work of fiction. Characters, places, events and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual circumstances is purely coincidental.
Darly Jamison © Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Cover art courtesy of Amy Goelz.
Lunchtime at Apple Valley High was a catch-22. Either you sat through the ridiculousness of gossip and petty pranks, or you learned to go hungry.
I’d only enrolled as a new student a few weeks before, after Mom and I packed up our belongings to start fresh in a new town, but already I understood the annoying peer politics – they didn’t vary much from school to school. As nerve-wracking as it was being the new kid, suffering through lunchtime was the worst, whether you had friends to sit with or not. Luckily for me, I’d fallen in with a pretty good clique of kids that made dealing with the mystery-meat-of-the-day somewhat tolerable.
This wasn’t the first time we had “started over”. Mom wasn’t the greatest when it came to romantic commitments and her recent break-up had prompted yet another address change. But I had it better than a lot of kids in my situation. Each time I started a new school – Apple Valley being the sixth since Kindergarten – I’d always managed to slide in with the “cool” crowd. When you move around a lot, you learn to roll with the punches, and I had the Miss Vivacious act down to a T. Really, I had no choice. It was either that or become a social pariah.
Lunch on this particular day started out the same as the rest. The girls at the large circular table where I sat were involved in deep conversations discrediting different members of the student body, while the boys participated in a series of pranks, each one trying to out-trick the next. It was in the middle of all these antics when the bright LED lights overhead began to flicker erratically. I didn’t think much of it – I mean, lights quiver sometimes – but when I looked around at the wide-eyed faces in the packed cafeteria, I discovered they all seemed to have stopped mid-sentence to gape at the unstable bulbs. After a moment, the activity ceased and the cafeteria resumed its noisy, mid-day routine.
“That’s the third time this week I’ve seen that happen,” Jasmine announced, looking up at the lights on the ceiling. She stuffed the last of the carrot she’d been nibbling on into her mouth. “Rose must be pissed off, or something. She’s been showing up more than usual these days.”
“That’s nothing. Last week I walked into History and the place reeked of flowers. The smell was so overwhelming we ended up having class in the senior courtyard.” The look on Elliott’s face as he recounted the incident was a mixture of excitement and disbelief. He shoved a nail-bitten hand through his shaggy blonde hair. “Dude, I wanted to hurl! Ms. Carmichael blamed it on the Horticulture class, but I’m taking Horticulture this semester, and we’re growing tomatoes, not roses.”
The rest of the table began to speak at once, their animated tales crashing over one another. It seemed everyone had a story about flickering light bulbs or phantom scents. “Wait a minute,” I began, holding up my hands to slow them down. “I’m the new girl in school, remember? What’re you guys talking about?”
“That’s right!” Erica said, leaning in closer and threw an arm around my neck. “Chloe’s never heard the story of Rose Marie Foster.” She drug out the name in an eerie sing-song tone, making it as creepy sounding as she could.
“Fresh meat,” snickered Ben from across the table. He rammed his shoulder into Elliott’s and they broke out into full-blown laughter.
“Well, is someone going to tell me about her, or are you just going to sit there and laugh?” I stuck my tongue out and threw an empty chip bag into Ben’s face. He responded by puffing air into it and then smacking it against his hand, blowing out the side. The loud noise made the girl sitting behind him jump a mile high, and she gave him a nasty look before leaving the table to return her lunch tray.
Jasmine turned toward me, her face an earnest mask. “Rose Foster went to school here about forty years ago. Rumor has it, she died after an explosion in the science lab. The fire spread quickly and she was trapped. No one was able to save her.” Her brown eyes widened and she lowered her voice, as if she didn’t want the tables nearby to overhear. “Apparently, everyone in the lab watched in horror as she burned to death right in front of them.”
“God, that story gives me the creeps every time I hear it.” Rachel cringed. “And the weird shit that’s been happening lately doesn’t help!”
I turned back toward Jasmine, waiting for her to continue.
“They say her ghost still wanders the halls, messing around with students whenever she can. Sometimes, you’ll walk through an unexplained cold spot, or the electricity will act up, making the lights flicker on and off. Other times, students will smell roses – just like her first name. Everyone thinks she makes her presence known so no one will forget her, but for some reason she’s been more active lately.”
“Yeah, it’s like she’s trying to tell us something,” added Teddy. “I’ve heard so many weird stories these past few weeks. This isn’t the first incident,” he said, nodding his dark blonde waves toward the lights overhead.
Truth be told, I didn’t need my friends to tell me the school was haunted, I already knew. Since my first day at Apple Valley High, I could feel the presence of a ghost – it was the details I was a little sketchy on. I didn’t know who she was or how she had died, I just knew she was there. And every day her presence seemed to grow stronger and stronger, which made me wonder if my presence had something to do with that.
From the time I was a child, I could see ghosts. Well, I didn’t always see them. Sometimes, I could just sense them close by. When they were around, I’d feel a tingly sensation make its way up my back and move across my shoulders. Sort of like that feeling you get when you’re holding a sparkler in your hand on the Fourth of July – you know, when the shower of tiny flames inch closer and closer toward your fingers? When the slivers of fire finally touch your skin they sting a little. That’s how it felt when there was a spirit nearby – or at least, that’s how it’d always felt to me. It didn’t hurt exactly, but the feeling was unwelcome all the same. As frequently as the apparitions made themselves known, I could never get used to their visits. Images of them existed as stains on my mind, memories I couldn’t escape no matter how hard I tried to forget.
Ben leaned toward me. “I think Rose stuck around because she’s seeking revenge. She’s pissed no one saved her, they all just watched as she burned to death!”
“They did try to save her, they just couldn’t,” Jasmine scolded as she stood up from her chair, pushing it tight against the table. She turned toward me with an apologetic expression. “Sorry, Chloe, I can’t walk with you today. I have to get to class early. Mr. Snell wants to have a chat, most likely about that biology test I flunked.” Jasmine rolled her almond-shaped eyes and gave her head a toss, flinging wispy black bangs away from her forehead. “As if that’s gonna help my grade any.”
“It’s okay. I need to stop by the restroom first, anyway. I’ll see you next period.” I gave her a small wave before standing up from my seat. “I need to take off, too. I’ll see you guys later.” I said goodbye to my friends and made a quick exit out the door.
Leaving the cafeteria, I climbed the stairway to the third floor and followed the long hallway to the end, stopping briefly before entering the restroom. Most of the students were still in the cafeteria and the unusual silence that hung in the air felt a bit unnerving. The doorway to the lavatory was shrouded in shadows and the faint smell of tobacco seeped out, telling me someone had recently ignored the school’s “no smoking” policy. Walking into the empty room, I went straight for the mirror that overlooked the entire area.
Thanks to my father, I’d been cursed with an abundance of tight copper curls, or at least that’s what I’d always been told. But I’d never actually met him before or had even seen a picture, so I was forced to believe what little information my mom would occasionally share. My eyes narrowed as I considered the reflection staring back at me. Layers upon layers of untamed ringlets twisted this way and that away from my face, and no matter how much fancy goop I applied I just couldn’t curb their relentless enthusiasm. The only thing more annoying than my out-of-control fro, were the smattering of freckles across the bridge of my nose and the white-blonde lashes that framed my blue eyes. I’d gotten into the habit of wearing cover-up and mascara every single day, without fail. I would have rather died than let anyone see me rocking the natural look.
So there I stood, like I did numerous times a day, checking my makeup for the millionth time since breakfast, making sure my secret weapons were firmly in place. Leaning closer to the mirror, I gave my lashes a quick once-over before letting out a disgruntled groan. Just as I thought, I was in need of a midday touch up. I looked down and began fumbling with the purse I’d recently found at a second hand shop. Since Mom couldn’t afford to buy me the kind of bag most girls at my new school were carrying, it was important that mine had a unique, vintage-style charm that made even the most brand-conscious female desperate to find one just like it.
This particular purse had a zipper on it that liked to stick half-way up the track, making it impossible to open at times. But its Art Deco design made it a super cool find, so I decided to just deal with the minor inconvenience. After a moment of tugging, the link finally gave-way and I pulled out the tube of Blacker Than Black Mascara nestled inside.
I lifted my gaze back to the mirror and my eyes locked with the luminous green eyes of a girl standing behind me. I never even heard her approach. She wore her brown hair very long and parted down the center, and her skin was the color of alabaster, pale and translucent, which defined her delicate features in a most unusual fashion. She was pretty, in a retro sort of way, but there was something off about her.
She was dead.
The familiar rush of goose bumps made their way up my arms, just as they always did when I received a visit from someone no longer alive. If I’d been paying closer attention, I should have picked up on the electric sensation that accompanied her presence, but I’d been too preoccupied by my embarrassing eyelashes to notice. The girl continued to stare at me with an expression I couldn’t quite understand. Was it apprehension? Fear? Confusion? As hard as I tried, I couldn’t look away, which is what I normally did when a ghost made it’s unwelcome appearance. If I ignored them long enough, they would eventually leave – for a little while, anyway. But it would never take long before they, or another entity entirely, found its way back to me. As far as I was concerned, this otherworldly gift bestowed upon me from God knew where was not a blessing, and I would’ve been more than happy to have unloaded it onto someone else.
“Please, help me…”
The tiny hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, and I could feel my breathing grow ragged. The spirits… They didn’t normally speak. They just watched, until finally dissolving into nothingness. Terrified, I felt my eyes grow wide, and I knew I had to turn around and face her. What choice did I have? She was blocking the exit. I did a slow one-eighty, only to be met by an empty space.
She was gone.
Could it be that I had imagined her? No. Definitely not. The chilled air and scent of roses that dominated the small restroom proved I hadn’t been in there alone. Someone – or something – had been with me.
My eyes scanned the space looking for any sign of the apparition, and I felt my face blanch when I realized no one was there.
Just then, two freshmen I recognized from lunch entered the lavatory, chatting amicably about upcoming plans. They froze dead in their tracks when they saw my expression.
“What’s going on?” one girl asked, scrutinizing my face carefully.
“Do you smell that?” mumbled the other girl, turning to her friend with a wide eyes.
“Roses – I smell roses! Oh my God, I told you that ghost was around!” the first girl shrieked, tugging at her friend’s arm. “She just made the lights flicker in the cafeteria, and now she’s here in the restroom!”
“Do you think if I start taking pictures, maybe I’ll catch something? Like a misty figure or an orb?” The second girl reached for a cell phone stuffed into the back pocket of her jeggins and began to open the camera app, ready to play ghost-buster.
I cleared my throat, fighting for composure, and hid my shaking hands from their view. “Sorry girls. I just sprayed some body spray, that’s all. No ghost in here.”
Simultaneously, their faces fell, as if I’d just crushed their dreams of attaining guest spots on the next Ghost Adventures episode.
“Are you sure?” the first girl persisted suspiciously. “Then what’s got you so freaked out?”
I shrugged, trying my best to play it off. “I just remembered I have an Algebra 2 test this afternoon I forgot to study for,” I lied. “Sorry to get your hopes up.”
Quickly, I brushed past them, dashing out into the hallway. With my heart pounding in my chest, I didn’t stop running until I’d made it to Biology. As I sat through class, unable to concentrate on Mr. Snell’s lecture of electrochemical principles, I couldn’t shake the image of the dead girl I’d seen in the restroom. It had to be Rose Foster, it had to be. And she’d actually spoken to me.
“Please, help me,” the apparition had said.
The sound of her words played over and over, and I was concerned by the fact that she knew I was a sensitive. It was a secret I never told anyone. Ever. I didn’t want people to think I was a freak. But she could sense it. I guess all the spirits could, that must be why they visit. But what bothered me most of all was that this ghost thought I could help her.
A sickening sensation grew in the pit of my stomach, and I fought the urge to throw up my lunch. Why me? What had I ever done to deserve this kind of torture? No one understood what I went through on a daily basis, how frightening my life could be at times. The uncertainty of when the next ghost would show up. Never knowing if it would look like a normal person, or if it’d appear the way I imagined they had looked the moment they’d passed on. At least this time the spirit looked normal, not scorched like the legend told.
The uneasy feeling stayed with me the rest of the day and no matter how hard I tried to ignore it, I couldn’t stop thinking about Rose Marie Foster. Just the thought of her taking her last breath within the walls of the high school, and for whatever reason was unable to move on, tugged at my conscience. She obviously had something she wanted to tell me; why else would she have sought me out? Was it my responsibility as a sensitive to listen to what she had to say? Maybe I should try to talk to her? Only, I wasn’t sure I could do that. All my life I had been running away from communicating with the dead, the thought of actually speaking with one shook me to my core. On the other hand, I couldn’t deny my growing curiosity…
When the final bell rung for the day, I waited next to my locker until the hallways were empty. If I was going to go back into that restroom, I had to do it alone. There couldn’t be an audience. Not only was I afraid people would think I was crazy – and the last thing I needed was for rumors to circulate that the new girl needed a straight jacket – I was pretty sure the ghost would not appear unless I was by myself. Sighing heavily, I began to climb the staircase to the third floor, wondering if Rose could sense my plan. I walked down the long corridor and paused outside of the restroom entrance as a cool breeze circled around me.
She was in there waiting for me. I could feel it.
As I edged closer to the door, an uncomfortable prickle crept up the back of my neck. Biting my lip, my eyes darted around before I made up my mind to walk inside.
The sound of my name made me jump and I turned around to see Mr. Snell, my biology teacher, standing in the hallway staring after me.
“You seemed a little distracted in class today,” he began, running a hand over his thinning hair. “Is everything okay?” He was tall and lanky, with only a limited number of light brown strands left on top of his head. They were carefully arranged over to one side in a sad attempt to cover the growing bald spot.
I forced a smile, careful to look him square in the eye. I’d never been very good at lying, and I hoped that by making eye contact now my dishonesty would seem more believable. “Everything’s fine, Mr. Snell. I…uh…just haven’t been sleeping well lately. New bedroom and all.” I tried to shrug it off, and prayed my feeble excuse was enough to send him on his way.
He watched me for a moment, a skeptical look in his eye. “Well, if you ever need to talk, I’m always here. I have an open door policy, you know that, right?”
Silently, I nodded my head. Finally he relented and turned on his heel, continuing down the hall.
Waiting until he was well out of earshot, my gaze made it’s way back to the doorway of the restroom. I adjusted my backpack and forced myself forward, stepping inside. My eyes flashed across the empty room taking in the details of the blue and gray-checkered floor and sharkskin-colored walls. A fluorescent light on the ceiling danced unpredictably – a new tick since last I had been in there – adding to the uncomfortable ambiance. I’d never noticed before how depressing the tones of the room were, but now it’s heaviness felt suffocating. A familiar chill hung in the air, and I wrapped the sweater I was wearing tighter around my body.
Glancing toward my refection, my skin seemed almost ashen against the gloomy blue hues. Had it always appeared that way? I couldn’t remember. As my eyes collided with the mirror once again, I noticed the blonde of my lashes peeking out through the black mascara, but at that point I didn’t even care.
Nervously, I stepped deeper into the dimly-lit room. From where I stood, I could hear a steady stream of water dripping from the faucet and into the sink, and for some reason I felt annoyed that someone had not taken the time to tighten the handle properly. Setting down my backpack, I walked over and wrapped my fingers around the knob, twisting it tightly until the trickling ceased. Turning away from the mirror, I faced the center of the room where I’d seen Rose standing earlier in the day.
I knew she was there, I could feel her presence. Why wasn’t she showing herself to me? A thick feeling constricted my throat and I swallowed hard, trying to relieve the distressing sensation. Fear bubbled deep in my stomach as my eyes hurried left and right, searching for the girl I had seen before. Looking down at the floor, I silently pleaded for the strength to call her by name.
“Rose?” I whispered, slowly lifting my lashes. “My name’s Chloe. I’m here to help you.”
I inched backward closer toward the sink, my fingers grasping the cool, white porcelain. The center of the room seemed to grow hazy. Was that Rose, trying to appear? Without warning, water burst at full force from the faucet behind me and I jolted forward in surprise. The force of the pressure was so strong it caused the pipes hidden behind the wall to moan loudly in protest. I spun around, catching a glimpse of my wide-eyed reflection in the mirror. Terror etched its way across my face, and the sight sent chills up my spine.
Again, I turned the handle tightly, terminating the flow of water. Placing one hand on each side of the basin, I leaned forward, trying to catch my ragged breath. I was ready to run, to leave Apple Valley High School and never look back, but the thought of a girl, no older than myself, trapped in an existence she couldn’t escape convinced me to stay. I couldn’t leave. Not yet.
And then I felt her, stronger than before.
Lifting my gaze to the mirror, our eyes met for the second time that day. I stood there frozen, unable to move.
“Please, help me.”
My pulse began to race, I could feel it all the way down to my toes. I forced myself to straighten, turning on my heel until I stood face to face with the ghost. She was taller than me, by maybe an inch or so, and we wore identical expressions. Fear.
“Rose?” I whispered again, the sound of my voice shaky in my ears.
Her intense expression was filled with bewilderment. “You can see me.”
It was more of a statement than a question. As I watched her mouth the words, I knew somehow no one else would be able to hear them, even if they’d been standing right there. Her message was meant only for me.
“Finally, after all these years. How is it possible?”
Shaking my head, I gave a slight shrug. I didn’t know myself. I studied her carefully, talking in every inch of her appearance – it was the first time I’d allowed myself to look at a visitor up close. She was just as solid as you or I, but she emitted a soft glow that seemed to come from within. She didn’t look scary or menacing, like so many ghosts do in the movies. She looked like just another girl.
Rose’s emerald eyes fixed on mine and I could feel her desperation grow more vivid with every breath I took. The same desperation she’d felt for decades, roaming endlessly through the dank halls of the high school, passing by her peers unseen. Here and yet…not. Her despair was heavy and I knew in that moment – as scared as I was – I would do anything to help her move on.
“Please help me,” she repeated.
I opened my mouth, then closed it again. I’d never attempted anything like this before, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to now. Yet I knew I had to. If I could help this poor, trapped soul cross over, then I should. Right?
Finally, I gathered the courage to speak. “How?” I asked, hoping she might have the answers I didn’t.
“You can see me when no one else has been able to. After all this time…” she whispered, her voice trailing off. ” I knew you were here – I felt your arrival – and I’ve been waiting for you. I have not been able to let go of this world. Once I realized I…was no longer alive…I wasn’t able to leave. I’ve been stuck in between this life and the next, and I’m so tired. Please…help me.”
I took a step back as the realization of what was taking place sunk in. My heartbeat thundered loudly in my ears and it felt as if my head might explode. Rose stared at me, her eyes filled with agony. Inhaling what little air my lungs would allow, I made a confession. “But I don’t know how to help you.”
“Use your gift,” she pleaded.
“I’m not sure if I can, I’ve never done this before! I’ve always tried to ignore this part of myself. I never wanted to develop my abilities. I’d like to help you, but I don’t know how to.”
“Only you can help me, but you have to believe that you can! Everyone is born with intuition, but yours is special. Use it now as your guide. Close your eyes and let instinct tell you what to do.”
“How do you know it will work?”
“I know many things now, things I never recognized before. Equations that are so far beyond the realm of understanding in the living world. Your perception is stronger than most. You’re able to tune into a world apart from your own. Open yourself up to receive information. I can help you, if you let me. Then, you can help me cross over into the world where I belong.”
Open myself up? It sounded so scary! What if it got to the point where I couldn’t ever shut it off? What if all the ghosts that came to visit began talking and expected help, too? I didn’t think I was ready for that kind of commitment. Just because I wanted to help Rose move on didn’t mean I wanted to help every spirit! This was a special favor, to help a girl like me find peace after so many years of wandering.
“I want to learn how to control this ability. I don’t want to make myself susceptible to others and then not be able to turn it off.”
Rose nodded enthusiastically. “You can turn it off. You’ll have total control over your gifts – once you learn to understand them.”
The air temperature continued to drop, and I wrapped my arms tighter around myself to ward of the cold. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to calm my nerves. Talking to this ghost felt unreal, as if I were losing my mind. But I knew what was happening was real, and now I had a decision to make. No matter how scared I was, I needed to help her. Not only for Rose, but for me, too. I needed to prove I had could control these abilities. I knew if I didn’t get a grasp on them now, I would spend the rest of my life being afraid. Slowly, I opened my eyes and nodded my head. “I want to help you.”
A look of relief swept across Rose’s face and when she reached out her hand to touch my arm I shivered involuntarily. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Our gazes locked for a moment, both of us realizing the enormity of what we were about to do.
“First, close your eyes and concentrate. Take some deep breaths, very slowly, until you feel your pulse slow.”
I did as Rose suggested and it wasn’t long before I forgot I was in a gloomy high school restroom. A deep relaxation washed over me, in a way I had never experienced before. I opened my eyes and found Rose watching me.
“This time when you close your eyes imagine yourself opening, acknowledging the gifts you have inside of you. How do you feel?”
After several moments, an awareness consumed my body. “I feel weightless, as if I’m floating in the air.”
“It’s working! Keep doing what you’re doing,” Rose encouraged quietly. “Now, give yourself permission to help me. Let me use you as a vessel to cross over.”
In my mind, I gave myself consent to allow this interaction to take place. Helping Rose was something I felt drawn to do, so she could be released from the never-ending limbo she’d been trapped inside of.
It wasn’t long before I felt an inward shift, and I knew something had changed. My senses felt heightened in the most peculiar way. My hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching were all intensified, like I’d never experienced before, but when I opened my eyes my vision was blurred, as if it were overwhelmed by the meditation I had done.
As I fought to focus, I began to make out Rose’s petite figure standing in front of me, but she was clouded by a thick haze I couldn’t see past. And once the fog lifted, a deeper confusion set in.
It wasn’t Rose who was standing in front of me. It was…me.
Disoriented, I stared back at my reflection in the mirror, wondering how I had gotten so turned around, when I noticed something else odd. Everything was backward. The barrette I always secured to the right side of my head holding back my mess of curls, now appeared on my left side. And the beauty mark that sat in the center of my cheek had switched sides, too. A deep panic began to settle in my core.
I wasn’t staring into a mirror, I was staring at myself.
I steadied my gaze and met the same blue eyes I’d always known as my own – yet, they didn’t belong to me anymore. They belonged to her. I opened my mouth in protest, but the words felt trapped inside of my throat.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to happen this way,” I heard myself say. The voice sounded familiar and yet different at the same time. “You were just the first sensitive I’d ever encountered, and I knew you would be more vulnerable than the rest. If I wanted to live again I needed you to open, to allow me inside so I could take over.”
A sick realization began to unfold around me. Rose had never intended to cross over to the other side. Her plan had been to push me out of my body so she could claim it as her own. She’d tricked me.
I shook my head and stared at the image I’d always felt burdened by. The annoying red-orange halo of curls and blonde eyelashes I fought every day to cover up, didn’t seem as horrific as I had believed them to be. In fact, they fit perfectly on the angelic face of the girl standing before me. How could I have not seen that before? Why had I chosen to spend every day of my life fighting something I had no control over? I never appreciated what I had – and now it was too late.
A feeling of dread consumed me. I didn’t know what to do! I wanted to get away from this girl as quickly as I could, but I also wanted to take back what was mine. Instead, I did nothing – I was unable to move. My body felt thick and uncoordinated, weighted down by a force I didn’t understand. No – no – this couldn’t be happening!
“How could you?” I was finally able to ask, but my voice didn’t sound right. It was barely a whisper, bouncing like an echo inside of my head.
She stood motionless, vivid blue eyes staring deep into mine. “I told you. This was the only way. I didn’t want to die, it wasn’t my time to go. I belong with the living.”
“But… What about me?”
Shrugging, she reached down and grabbed the backpack from the floor, slinging it over her shoulder. “Now it’s your turn to haunt the halls of Apple Valley High.” I watched in horror as the corner of her lips turned up into a smile. “Thank you for helping me, Chloe. I couldn’t have done this without you. On the bright side, you won’t be burdened by your gifts anymore.”
I watched helplessly as she swiveled on the heel of her shoe and disappeared into the empty hallway, tight copper curls bouncing behind her.
And I turned toward the mirror, imagining the refection I would never see again.