“Jessica! Get back here. Now,” not that I had much hope that my stepdaughter would turn on heel and submit to my logic.
She strode forward to the abandoned schoolhouse and slammed the door. The structure rocked. My heart stopped.
I pushed through the low, dysfunctional gate and walked toward the grey wood and sharp aspect of the ancient building. Of the structures in the ghost town, this was the most ill kept.
“Can’t do much with it,” the ranger had said. “Doesn’t ever seem to take.”
The overgrown weeds pulled at my legs, begging me to stay this side of the door that retained chips of scarlet in the divots of its surface. I took a deep breath as I opened the door; praying that the roof would stay above as I entered.
Jessica’s name caught in my throat as the door closed with a deafening clank. Jessica’s thin frame silhouetted the 1830s schoolhouse interior. All seven children were turned to peer at us. Their hollow eyes sent chills down my spine. Jessica stepped back into me as the school marm twisted to glare at us.
“Take your seats Jessica and Sally. You are late. You know the rules. You will write lines at lunch.” Her voice was icy. Her blue eyes frozen.
Jessica took my hand and we sat in the only bench left to us. I slid along the polished wood and looked down at my slate. Written in my hand were the words, “If this happens again, run. Break the rules and escape out the door. Do it now!”
My mind railed. Again? How could there be an again when there hadn’t been a before?
Swiping at her slate and then writing quickly, Jessica scanned the room and then looked down. She looked the model student. The others were dressed in what would complement the age of the furnishings: prairie dresses and pigtails, overalls and shaggy mops. I felt as though I had stepped into a film set – save for Jessica and myself. Our clothing and hair were just our travel clothes from earlier that day. Jessica’s Alex and Annie bracelets rung as she wrote.
“Again, now that everyone is here.” The teacher motioned to her writing on the board.
The entire group began to read the precise writing on the chalkboard.
“We come to stop the injustice. We come to take life. We come to consume those who offer discourse…”
Jessica’s soft tapping dragged my attention to her slate.
“We run or die.” And an arrow to the still tacky, bloody handprint on the edge of her board.
As one we stood and ran for the door. But the boys behind us barred that exit. Their eyes manic, teeth bared.
Jessica grabbed at me. “This way, Mom,” she turned toward the glass window. It was the first time she had called me that.
And the last, as our blood mixed upon the ground below the window of the ghost town schoolhouse.