I walked through the empty halls of what once roomed twenty-one girls. A private school, it was considered the ideal among the elite. I shivered as I walked past Mrs. Linfield’s office. I could almost hear the screams of the headmistress if I closed my eyes. I didn’t do so often. Sleep, that is. My dreams consisted of too much violence and evil come out to play.
I pulled my shawl tighter to warm me but it failed. My steps echoed as I climbed the staircase to the second floor, signs still visible of the fire that had once ravaged the school house. Twenty years. Had it really been that long? My fingers clenched. I should’ve come back long ago. I’d promised. The walls around me shook as I took the landing. I paused. One more flight to go.
“We’re waiting for you, Santana,” a little girl’s voice said.
Sweat beaded my forehead and the acrid smell of burnt flesh assailed me. The panic that night had left few survivors and in the aftermath, the board had shut the school down. No more laughter addressed the halls, no bang of doors or rush of feet along the corridors, and most of all, no more Jesse.
“You left me.”
The voice layered the atmosphere.
“I couldn’t—just come back,” I said. “People had to forget. The shadows needed to be banished first.”
A childish snicker answered me. “You didn’t plan to return.”
I stared down at my hands. “No.”
“Why did you then?”
“You haunted me dreams.”
Jesse growled. “I should have.”
I reached the next flight of stairs. The air was thicker here. Almost like I had to lift a curtain to proceed. The screams intensified as I approached the last door in the hallway. I could smell the smoke. Wisps of fog-material escaped the confines of the room. Jesse’s room. Taking a deep breath, I turned the knob.
A nine-year-old figure stood in the room. With a cry of rage, she rushed me.
“You did this.” Her fists beat at me, her ghostlike tendrils not disappearing through I as supposed, but rather hit solid. She’d become stronger than I thought. I must be careful, very careful in this.
“Yes,” I whispered.
“What are you doing here?”
“I came to make amends.”
Jesse paused in her attack. “How?” she asked skeptically.
I readied the vessel. “By taking back what should never have been.” In my mind, I saw two little girls clutch hands, chanting, praying to the dark gods for victory over their enemies. The fire had been unexpected, flames had rushed through the walls before either of us could react and pull our hands apart.
“You’re not welcome here anymore,” Jesse said.
I smiled. “You invited me. Don’t you remember?”
Words of long ago spilled into the room.
“And I need a new nest to play in.” I laughed. “You see, Jesse, I’ve bought the old school building. It will be fixed and filled with children once more. Can’t you feel it? The warmth of mortal bodies, the excitement of the chase? The feeding?”
Jesse wavered in and out. “I’ll stop you,” she said.
My laughter grew stronger. “I am thousands upon thousands years old, child. Do not presume to vanquish me.”
“I can’t alone,” she admitted. She waved her hand about the room. “That is why they’re here.”
The shattered souls of those who’d once lived within the halls and whose flesh had been feasted on the night of my release appeared. They linked hands. “What once was and is now, shall be no more alive,” they whispered, together, their voices growing louder.
I fought to hold onto the vessel but I was peeled from Santana’s body like a banana from its skin. She fell whole again, silent to the walls who chattered around her. And the ghosts tore at me, destroyed my essence, even as the girl Santana breathed again.