by CC ACROPOLO
hush, children: now listen.”
Sara watched Mr. Kyle at the front of the class. He stood and moved away from the desk. Sara sat at the front. There were eight children in the class. It was winter and cold. They were the only class in the school that day.
“Are you sure you want to hear this story? I’m not sure I should tell it.”
“It’s Halloween, Mr. Kyle!” Leo was the loudest boy in the class. Sara rolled her eyes.
“Is that more of a reason to tell it,” Mr. Kyle said, “or less? This is a… dangerous story.”
“I’m not scared,” Leo said. Mr. Kyle walked down to his desk.
“You’re not,” Mr. Kyle said, “but maybe you should be.” Leo looked down at his desk. Mr. Kyle walked back to the front of the class. No one spoke.
“Do you have mobile?” Mr. Kyle asked. Sara broke out into a nervous grin, along with all the others. “Take them out and keep them lit.”
“Really?” Sara blurted out and then blushed.
“Really, Sara.” Mr. Kyle motioned to them all to take their phones out of their pockets. Sara held hers out. It was older than those other children used. It felt alien, exposed. For a moment, everything felt out of place and wrong in her mind.
“Keep the screens lit,” Mr. Kyle said. Sara watched as his long arm snapped out and then, in the next moment, the room plunged into darkness.
Sara felt her heart quicken.
“The ghost in this school has lived here for a very long time,” Mr. Kyle said. In the near dark of the room Sara thought how the man in-front of her didn’t look like her teacher at all. Rather, he was a crude black and white sketch of her teacher, made of spiky angles and sharp lines. All the things that made him her teacher were missing; instead, there was only the outline of him.
“The ghost was a teacher who worked here a very long time ago. Long before you or I were here. She was a tall lady, taller than most, and thin. It was as if she was longer than the classrooms and was too wiry for the seats and cushions. She was all these things but she was not sharp. She was a kind woman who cared for her students. She was a soft thing.”
“What happened to her?” Leo called out. His voice seemed smaller in the dark and no one giggled at the interruption. Sara glanced back to Leo. He no longer looked like a teenager but instead a small boy. Mr. Kyle walked down the aisle, looking to each of them.
“She became unhappy. The children did not do their homework and she worried and worried. She grew thinner and thinner, until, one day, beset by worry, the other teachers did not even see her between the doorways of the rooms. They were startled when she spoke to voice her concerns; they did not even know she was there.
“She became leaner and leaner, almost skeletal. All of this grew worse and worse with the advent of one, terrible thing.” He stood at the end of the room. Sara wanted to turn around and look at him but felt that she could not. There was something in the story that held her bones tight and gripped her where she sat.
“What was it?” Leo asked.
“Technology,” he said and then began walking back down the aisle. He dipped in and out of the light of the phone screens. His long fingers obscured the screens one by one, plunging the room further into darkness. Sara suddenly thought, Have his fingers always been so thin and bony?
“Every time she spoke, someone else would talk over her. Teachers would talk about computers, interactive whiteboards and more besides.” Mr. Kyle brought his hand into the air. In the shadows, it looked twisted. “Finally, the headmaster even talked about replacing books entirely. ‘What about books?’ she would plead. ‘What about paper?’ And the headmaster would say that paper is the past and the children would say that paper is dead. And all these words would break her heart.”
“So what happened to her?” Leo’s voice sounded even younger now, to the point where Sara did not even recognize it. The loudest child grew quiet and the quiet teacher commanding.
“What happens to anyone with a heart that is broken? She…went away. She disappeared in plain sight; thinner and thinner she became, until she slipped inside the shadows themselves. She grew so thin that in the end she would slip into shadows of doors left only slightly ajar. In the end she was nothing, nothing at all, except for her voice. That was the only thing that remained; the echoes of her voice.”
“What did she say?” Sara flinched at her own voice. Mr. Kyle took both hands and raised them to his face. He faced her, his fingers climbing over his mouth, his features a collection of garbled shadows.
“Paper,” he said. Sara flinched in her seat. It was not Mr. Kyle’s voice at all. “Paper,” he repeated. It was the sound of static radios and faraway crying, of small children scared by hungry dogs. It was not a sound meant for a school. He brought his hands down.
“You can hear her still, at certain times, on certain evenings; when the computers stall or the pipes freeze. Or when you stand in the corridor when it's empty but you can still hear noise. She remains in the bones of the school, in the walls, beneath the paint, in the door frames and the desks.
“How do you keep her away?” Leo asked, his voice unsteady. “How do we get rid of her?”
“I don’t think you can get rid of her, not quite.” He stepped backwards, as if edging away from something unseen. To Sara, he seemed somehow far away. “Something like that stays in the bones, deep in the marrow. All I know is what brings her forward and what keeps her at bay.” Sara saw his face twitch, to the right, as if he’d heard something. She craned her neck, towards the ceiling. It was if something yawned in the pipes.
“What?” Leo asked.
“Two things,” Mr. Kyle said and then faltered. He glanced around again, as if distracted by the same sound Sara had heard. Something above her desk lurched. She gripped the desk with her free hand.
“Two things,” Sara said forcefully, trying to bring him back. He cleared his throat, nodded his thanks to her and adjusted his tie.
“What repels her is paper. Paper warms her spirit and gives her peace. Paper was all she had ever lived for.” Sara, for once in her life, was glad for the textbook sitting before her. She glanced down for reassurance.
There was nothing on her desk.
She glanced around and looked to the other children. They were frantically scanning their desks; in, under above, in all the nooks and crannies. No one said anything. Sara suddenly understood. Mr. Kyle, as he’d walked by, his crooked fingers obscuring their screens, must have collected up their books.
“That’s what repels her,” he repeated.
“And what brings her?” Sara said. She kept her voice steady, letting him know she was in on the game, that it was only a story.
“What draws her in,” he continued, “is fury. What draws her in is what she hates.” He took another step back, distancing himself from the desks. “What draws her in is the warm glow of technology.”
“This?” Leo said, holding up his phone. His voice was barely a whisper but everyone heard him. Overhead, the groan from the pipes grew louder, as if stirring.
“Turn them off,” Mr. Kyle said, gesturing to their phones. Sara caught the crack in his voice. “Be sure not to be the last one to turn it off!”
Each of them scrambled to their phones. Sara held the button down, not looking round to the other kids as she did. She kept her eyes on Mr. Kyle. He was standing even further away, frozen or waiting, in the corner. He was by the light switch but he was also by the door. She knew this was only a story…but overhead, the pipes rumbled again, as if they were alive. Mr. Kyle lunged for something, either the light or the door. The lights on the screens went off one by one.
Sara’s was the last.
Everything went dark.
C.C. Acropolo is well known at parties, pubs and night clubs the world over. He mixes an excellent Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster and strives to keep his writing skills and bar tending skills pretty much on par with one another. CC's short story Run appears in the Summer 2015 issue.
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