Irene Papadopoulos lived with her mother in a chic apartment in Mayfair. After her dad died, they thought it best to sell the beautiful big house and garden and move into the city. They had rebuilt their lives and were content. Until Mrs P, a solicitor, met Kenneth Ladler. He met her through work and they began seeing each other. Things took a different direction when Kenneth decided they should merge their homes and move into a bigger apartment. Irene was happy for her mum, but Kenneth caused her to rethink when he decided she should go to an exclusive boarding school for young ladies.
The new term and new school year saw Irene packed off to the school. She had visions of rooms with rows of beds flanked by chest of drawers. She was wrong. The dormitory comprised a narrow corridor lined either side by cubicles. They were small, a bed with a narrow space the width of the window and a small built-in cupboard and dressing table which could double as a tiny desk. A flimsy curtain provided the illusion of privacy for each cubicle
Irene placed her a few things on the dressing table to mark it as her space. She imagined nuns lived like this, but without the few knick-knacks she spread around to individualised her little area. She looked out the window, only the top opened a little, so no getting in and out of there. Equally, it meant her little domain was safe from external intruders.
She settled into the school way of life with no problem. The regulated pattern of life suited her and she considered the best thing was she did not have to do the washing up! They had a dishwasher, but just for the two of them, it made no sense to put it on and to fill it meant leaving dirty dishes there for days. When her mum was entertaining, which was often, then they needed it.
A few months into the school year, sometimes Irene heard scuffling footsteps and whispered conversations after lights out. Full of curiosity, she determined to follow the girls next time they went past her curtain. Two nights later, she was in luck. She heard them pass. She grabbed her dressing gown and silently slipped into the narrow passageway. She stepped carefully, making no noise, unlike the other girls. The doors were closed, gently she pushed them open, they creaked. She drew herself against the wall, hoping to look like a shadow. Nothing happened. She resumed her journey, but the ones before her had disappeared from view. As she wondered what to do, she noticed she was approaching the staircase. She debated if she should go up the stairs or continue along the corridor. She stood poised a moment, then she heard it, the creak of a step on the old staircase. Once again, she froze against the wall and held her breath, worried in case the noise of her pounding heart gave her away. A girl from a senior grade reached the foot of the staircase. She paused, glanced quickly around before heading off away from where Irene stood.
Irene watched as the other girl approached a door. She tapped a pattern of raps. Irene decided this was where the other girls were going too. She was sure that knocking was the entrance code. She continued to creep along until she was beside the door. It was where she had gone with the matron to draw her bed linen. As she approached the door, her stomach churned. There was a tightening of her chest that made her breath faster. She swallowed quickly and decided now was the time. She rapped out the same pattern of knocks she had heard earlier. She stood, heart thumping as she heard the key turning in the lock.
The door opened. A girl dressed in a black cloak with a hood pulled forward, so her face was hardly visible pulled her inside and whispered. “Who are you? How did you know the signal? Wait here.” She disappeared into the darkness of the room. Irene stood still, too afraid to move. What were these girls doing? What if they practised sacrifice? Or indulged in some other disgusting practice? Were they Satanists? She heard muted voices. The doorkeeper returned with another person.
The second girl enquired. “What’s your name? How did you know to come here? Who told you?”
Irene took a deep breath to still her pounding heart and wiped a hand over her forehead to mop up the beads of sweat, which had suddenly sprung up along her hairline. Quietly but confidently, she answered. “My name is Irene Papadopoulos. Ever since I came to this school, I heard footsteps late at night passing my cubicle, so tonight I determined to see where they went. I heard the last person knock and decided to see what happened if I did the same. It surprised me when the door opened. Who are you and what are you doing in here?”
The second girl caught her breath as if someone had punched her in the stomach. “You don’t ask the questions here, we do.” She looked at the doorkeeper. “Keep her here while we discuss what to do about her.” With that, she turned and melted away into the dark recesses of the room. Irene listened and thought she heard soft whisperings. She assumed the linen room was like a library with rows of shelves. She had no idea how big the room was or if there were any windows or other doors.
At last, four black shrouded figures returned. The girl who had spoken to her last said, “Since you know where we meet and the signal, we have decided you better join us.” With those words, the doorkeeper stepped behind Irene. She blindfolded Irene in one swift movement. Irene went to cry out and one of the other girls placed a hand over her mouth and whispered. “Be quiet; we will not harm you.”
Between them, they bundled Irene along, but not before they had spun her around a few times. They set off at a slow walk, guiding Irene. In the blindfold and after the spinning, she did not understand the direction they were heading. She supposed that was the intention. It worked.
A soft voice said, “Hold on to our arms. We are going down some stairs.”
Now Irene felt the cold sense of terror, gasping for air, she felt clammy all over. “What was this group she had strayed into?”
They reached the end of the steps. The place they were in was cold and smelt a little damp. Irene supposed it was a cellar. Then she felt a sharp instrument poking her chest.
Another voice said, “Do you feel this?”
Irene could only nod her head.
“Answer me, do you feel this?” Whatever the thing was, it jabbed harder. It was distinctly painful now.
Irene swallowed quickly and, in a soft voice, answered. “Yes.”
“Good. This is a dagger. If you try to move forward, it will go into you. You would be responsible for your own death.”
She wondered what these girls were doing. Was this some secret society? Could they really kill her?
She braved it out and answered all the questions put to her. She thought different people passed her asking questions as the voices changed. At last, the main one who had spoken first said, “Put your left arm out.”
Irene complied and stuck her arm out in front of her. She felt a thread tied around her wrist. Then the next command was to put out her right leg. She complied and felt another thread tied around just above her knee.
“Release her.” Came the next command. Irene was aware of some shuffling, then the blindfold was whipped off.
Although it was only a single naked bulb hanging from the middle of the ceiling, the sudden change from utter darkness made Irene blink and look around. She saw a dark circle of people, girls she supposed. Heads bowed with their hoods drawn forward. At a sign, they all lifted their heads and gazed at her for a moment before dropping their heads again.
The original speaker stepped towards her. “Now we have marked you as one of us. You are a member of the Half Moon Society. You have passed the first test of your initiation. Go back to your dormitory. We will collect you for the next meeting.”
They Blindfolded Irene again and guided her to the linen room door. The doorkeeper quietly opened the door, looked about and shoved Irene out quickly, locking the door again.
As before, Irene walked silently back to her cubicle. She had not been in her bed long when she saw the Matron shine her torch into each cubicle. There would have been hell if she found a vacant bed. Irene supposed the others made bolsters to cover their absence. As she lay there in the dark, her heart finally slowed down to its normal pace. She was now a member of a secret society!