As the last lesson of P.E arrived, we headed to the sports building to change into our swimming costumes. Though I wasn’t a huge fan of sports, I loved to swim and found it to have a therapeutic affect, calming my nerves after todays events. There were twenty of us in total and the pool had five lanes, meaning we were separated into four groups of five, swimming for a total of thirty minutes per group practising the front stroke, back stroke and butterfly stroke. Claudia was in the first group whilst I was in the second group with Emily. Once our group had finished, we were to get dressed and head to the library for a supervised study session with Miss Benton, the librarian, Mr Ford and Mrs Jupiter, where we would stay until all our private study was completed. If we finished our study before 5.30pm, we were allowed to read leisurely but were to remain in the library until the end.
The cafeteria opened for dinner at 6pm promptly. Whilst some students remained in the library reading, which was encouraged, others would take advantage of the current sunny weather and sit on the field. I finished all my study at 4:55pm. Emily was still working away and I thought this an apt opportunity to get a bit of space to gather my thoughts in private.
As I browsed through the fiction section trying to choose a book to read, it occurred to me that there might be copies of year books from previous years, thinking perhaps it would aide in my search to find out who the mystery girl with the doll was. With the school running for more than fifty years, however, it would take me an awfully long time to work my way through each and every student from every year. So that was out of the question, at least until I could find out more information.
I wondered whether there was a book about the history of the school, documenting pivotal moments that may be able to shed some light. If I’m seeing the ghost of a girl then it would have meant she had died here somehow, the thought making me shudder, but then surely that would be public knowledge and I’d heard nothing on the matter either before or after my arrival at the school. Saying that, I’d not even heard of Mrs Jeffrey until Emily mentioned her to me. Either way it was worth a try. I headed to one of the computers to access the school’s internal library catalogue, searching: “The History of Green Acres”.
Seventy five books came up. It was evident that the majority were the year books but as I scrolled down I noticed three particular book titles that stuck out. They were entitled: “A History of Green Acres”, “Green Acres Boarding School: A History” and “Green Acres and the legacy of Mrs Jeffrey”.
The first book, I assumed, documented the history of the little town of Green Acres, while the second and third could prove potentially useful in my research. I noted down their locations and headed into the stacks. As I searched the shelves, however, I came up empty handed. I was about to head over to Miss Benton to ask her, but a voice came from behind making me jump through my skin. “What are you looking for?” As I turned, Claudia was stood behind me, arms folded and leaning against one of the stacks.
“I was just looking for something to read.”
“In the historical section?”
I didn’t know whether to admit to her what books I was looking for or whether to lie but she unintentionally saved me from the dilemma.
“Emily told me about the girl you saw last night, the same one you mentioned to me before. What were you thinking mentioning it to her? I told you she was a skeptic.” The last of her words barely audible as she uncrossed her arms and leaned in to whisper them in my ear. “They don’t understand, not like we do.”
“Do you believe me?” I blurted out without thinking.
“I told you, Mrs Jeffrey is the only ghost here.”
“But what if she isn’t? What if there are others?”
Claudia looked at me, her eyebrows furrowing, as if unsure what to make of what I had seen in the night.
“Okay.” I began. “What about what happened in the classroom this morning, you were there, you felt it. I know you did.”
“Yes, I did, and so did a few others, but we don’t all go shouting it through the rooftops for all to hear. The ones who do, clearly haven’t seen a ghost before.” She let out a small laugh and rolled her eyes. Her words rang a solid truth. Ghosts really were scary and whilst I may have initially been excited on my first day, the more I witnessed in my few days here, the more afraid I became. “Why did you snap at Sophie at lunch?” I asked in an inquisitive whisper.
“For the same reason I’m telling you now. We shouldn’t be talking about ghosts in front of skeptics.”
“Have you ever spoken to her before about it?” I dared to ask.
“No.” Claudia’s response was blunt as she turned to look through the shelf she stood next to, running her fingers along the books. “What were you looking for?” Claudia asked, changing the subject as she eyed me suspiciously.
“I was just browsing, passing the time until dinner.”
“You don’t just browse the historical section. What were you looking for, honestly?”
I bit my tongue. Her tone told me she knew exactly the book I was looking for, no doubt she followed me here after seeing me look on the computer previously. “I was just curious about the history of this school, being new here. Learning more about Mrs Jeffrey and what happened to her.” I admitted honestly.
“I know the books you’re looking for, then, and I have them.” She crossed her arms again, showing a slight smugness and superiority over that fact. “I’ll let you see them, if you like.” A small wry smile spread across her face. There was clearly some catch here.
“When were you planning to return them?” I asked.
Her smile faded and her arms fell to her side. “If you want to take a look through them, come to my room tonight after we’ve left the common room.” She left abruptly without answering my question, clearly annoyed by it in the first place. She obviously didn’t want me to look at them without her present. I wondered how long she’d had the books out for, whether she’d kept renewing them every week so that others couldn’t look through them, or took them out when she realised I’d become inquisitive about the whole thing. Claudia, it seemed, wanted control over how much I found out and I didn’t like being controlled.
I stormed over to the front desk where Miss Benton stood scanning some books whilst Mr Ford and Mrs Jupiter continued to supervise the remaining few students finishing up the last of their private study.
“How can I help?” Miss Benton was a short lady, with cropped black hair, brown eyes and was very young looking. Her smile was warm and welcoming.
“I’m looking for a couple of books.” I showed her the sheet of paper with the names and locations written down. “But I can’t see them on the shelf. Do you know when they will be available to borrow, please, Miss Benton?”
“Ah, yes, the history of Green Acres, very informative. One moment, I’ll check on the system when they are due back.” She looked toward the computer screen and started tapping away furiously at the keyboard.
“They are due back in on Thursday, would you like me to reserve them for you?” She asked, another wide smile spreading across her face.
“Can I take your I.D card, please?”
I opened my bag, pulling out my purse and taking out the card and handing it over.
“Josy Appleton. You are the new student! Ah I am delighted to see you are taking an interest in the history of this school! Hang on a second.” She turned back to the screen, her eyebrows furrowing. “I see you are in Mrs Cronenboom’s form class. Claudia Wilkins currently has the two books out, I am sure she wouldn’t mind letting you peruse them!” Her voice said, enthusiastically.
The whole point in me asking her for the books in the first place was because I didn’t want to look at them with Claudia. “Thanks, Miss Benton, can I put them on hold anyway, please?”
“Yes of course.” She began tapping away again at the keyboard before swiping my I.D card through the card reader and handing it back to me. “They will be available to pick up on Thursday at 5pm.” She smiled again before continuing to scan away at the pile of books on the desk.
Thursday was only two days away and I hoped the time would pass. I debated whether to take Claudia up on her offer anyway but I was reluctant.
The bell rang. I put my bag over my shoulder and went to find Emily who was sitting at a one of the tables in the middle of the library reading.
“There you are! I wondered where you had wandered off to. Come on.” She closed the book, put it in her bag and stood up from her seat. “Let’s go get some dinner!”
All the remaining students from our class began to file out of the library, chattering and giggling amongst one another after the prolonged silence. We headed back to the cafeteria where Claudia, Olivia, Rebecca and Sophie were already seated at our usual table.
Today’s dinner choices included chicken thighs coated in garlic puree served with rice and roasted vegetables, seafood paella or a chicken breast burger served with mayo, lettuce and tomato in a seeded bun. I went for the paella and Emily the burger.
We sat down with the others, eating our food with small talk in-between mouthfuls.
“I’m so tired, swimming really takes it out of me.” Emily admitted.
Olivia, Rebecca and Sophie were in Mrs Wood’s form class so they took P.E on a different day to Emily, Claudia and I.
“Swimming’s my favourite! Better than maths, anyway.” Rebecca rolled her eyes as she cut vigorously at her chicken thighs.
I wondered whether they had heard about what happened in our form room today, whether any of the students mentioned anything to anyone else, but they hadn’t said anything. I looked over at Sophie who was busy eating her burger and rarely lifting her eyes from the plate. I reminded myself to approach her in the common room tonight, when Claudia was out of earshot.
There was one common room per floor of the dormitory building. We were all on the same floor, me with Emily, Rebecca with Sophie, Olivia with another girl who she didn’t get on with and Claudia had a room to herself. Before I started she shared the room with Emily, but Emily moved into the empty bedroom to share with me and show me the ropes in my first two weeks. Claudia didn’t seem particularly bothered about being on her own but from what I gather there is to be a new student starting soon who will share with her. We were meant to start at the same time but something happened and her start date got pushed back.
We changed into our pyjamas before heading to the common room at 7pm which was customary; no one wanted to stay in their uniform for longer than necessary and we didn’t see the point in changing into day clothes for two hours only to change into our pyjamas when we got back to our bedrooms.
I offered to make the tea again. “Sophie, do you want to give me a hand?” She obeyed obediently. As I looked over at Claudia her eyes were almost popping out of her face, clearly unimpressed with me, but Sophie was out of her seat faster than Claudia was able to interject.
We headed over to the worktop where the kettle was, filling it up and setting it to boil. I looked over at Claudia who was busy chatting to the others but giving the occasional glance in my direction. I turned back to Sophie, whom I finally had the opportunity to speak to alone.
Sophie was short with long flowing brown curls much like my own and slightly chubby but had a very pretty face. “We haven’t really had much of an opportunity to chat since I started.” I began, grabbing the mugs out of the cupboard.
Her eyes were glued on the kettle and she smiled. “I know.”
“Can I ask you something, privately?”
“Sure.” She peeled her eyes away from the kettle and looked up at me worryingly.
“What you said at lunch time, about feeling a presence at night time. Did you mean it?” I gave her as much of a reassuring look as possible. “I won’t say anything to the others, I promise.”
She was hesitant to respond, looking over at the other girls and then back to the kettle before meeting my eyes again. “You promise not to say anything?”
“Yes, I promise.” My eyes fixed on Sophie’s whilst offering an encouraging smile.
Sophie sighed. “Every night when I’m in bed, I can sense something in the room with me. It makes me feel uncomfortable like something is holding me down in my bed forcing me to go to sleep. I never see anything, I just feel it. I know it’s Mrs Jeffrey but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.” Her lips twisted to one side and she looked towards the kettle, willing it to boil. I could tell there was something else, something that she wasn’t sure whether to reveal.
“Have you ever seen a ghost before?” I asked, desperate to find out more.
She was silent for a while, taking another glance over at the girls before turning back to speak again, but as she did, her next words caused my eyes to bulge and my mouth to open and fall to the floor.