It was around one in the afternoon when the lights went out.
Of course, that wasn’t the strangest thing about that day. After what had already happened, the power going out was almost expected.
It was the middle of the summer, and I was falling asleep in class. I had completed geometry the previous year and was taking summer classes to try to skip precalculus. It wasn’t my decision, but my guidance counselor had thought it would be good for me, so here I was, wasting my summer away, sitting in a sweltering hot room with very little AC and listening to the teacher drone on about sinusoidal functions or something like that. My friends were away, Amy was at the beach, Flora was in Kentucky visiting her grandparents, while I was shipped away to a summer boarding camp to learn math. I thought it would be the most boring summer ever.
And how wrong I was.
Around ten in the morning, Joan had burst into the classroom, exclaiming that it was snowing. No one believed her initially, since one, it was the middle of a hot, sunny day in July like every other one that month, and two, Joan had the tendency to make things up. But it was true.
We crowded around the windows of the classroom, yelling about the snow until Mrs. Megan finally corralled us back into our seats to continue learning about sine waves or whatever we had been learning, I don’t know, I wasn’t paying attention.
Snow in Florida was practically unheard of, even in the winter. In the summer, that was just impossible. Yet it was happening, not a gray cloud to be seen, but white flakes floating down from the baby blue sky.
Everyone had their own suspicions on why it was snowing. Someone claimed that it was an anomaly with the weather, that it happened every so often. That would have at least made sense if it had been very cold outside, but it wasn’t. Some joked that it was a gift from God or a message from the aliens. Most of the reasons were just plain absurd.
A few minutes later, the green grass had already been covered in a layer of knee-deep snow. We watched as other students trekked through the white powder, wearing thin orange t-shirts and shorts, trampling snow inside the mansion, sneakers squeaking across the floor. The teachers tried to get the derailed class back on track, but obviously, no one wanted to return to studying trigonometry, so they canceled classes for that day.
So as everyone does while trapped inside of a large, old stone mansion with nothing to do, we decided to explore.
Now, this was the first year I had gone here. My mom had been given a flyer for it and the campus looked nice enough so we decided on it. Being a boarding summer camp, of course, there are rules. It’s a nice school, an old stone mansion, built in the seventeen hundreds before it was abandoned until repurposed as a summer camp recently. We once looked it up. The old mansion used to be owned by a small, rich family, a mother, a father, and a young daughter. Not much is known about them, they were recluse and stayed out of the public light. Anya, the girl was around fifteen the last time she was heard from. She was a strange child, according to most, but not much was known about her since the people tended to steer clear from her. At some point, the mother and father disappeared, their bodies turning up at the edge of the town, the father covered in scorch marks, the mother frozen still, her skin milky white. The townspeople went to check on Anya, but she was simply gone.
This of course sparked conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory. We had a few of our own too. Many claimed that the mansion was haunted, that Anya had died mysteriously. Her old classmates claimed that she loved fire and always smelled faintly of smoke. Others claimed that her skin was ice cold and they never saw her take a breath. Of her disappearance, well there were plenty of theories. Cole swears that they died in a fire that Anya started in the basement. According to another source, the family froze to death. But that didn’t make any sense, seeing as the parents turned up on the side of the road. Some people wondered if it was possible that a serial killer had gotten to them. Others wondered if it was possible that Anya had murdered her parents.
Besides the ghosts and the legends, the main thing about our school is the fact that there are certain rooms that we aren’t allowed into. One being the faculty room, of course, and our teacher’s rooms. But the other is more interesting. Being an old house, built over three hundred years ago, the mansion is full of locked rooms and hidden passageways.
Believe me, we tried to get in. We tried all sorts of things. Sebastian knew how to pick locks, so we managed to get into many of them. They were mostly empty except for cobwebs and dusty furniture, our sneakers leaving a winding trail of footprints as we explored, trying not to sneeze. We found hidden hallways that connected the English room to the Math room and one that connected the girls’ to the boys’ one. That one we used quite a bit, smoking cigarettes in the small stone passageway late at night. At some point, Cole found a doorway that led to empty air, two stories above the yard in the back of the house. But most of the rooms and doorways were just abandoned because they weren’t in good enough condition. The floorboards were rotting or they were being used for storage, things that weren’t very interesting.
But the last room that we found was where everything went wrong.
In the library, there was a painting of a little girl. It was one of those paintings, the ones with the dark eyes that seem to follow you, watching you no matter how far away they move. The girl in the painting was young, probably around seven or eight with pale white skin and dark hair done up in braids, colorful flowers woven into it. She stared out, not exactly smiling, yet not frowning either, a watchful glint in her eyes. It was our guess that it was Anya since none of the teachers seemed to know where it had come from.
But the painting wasn’t the weirdest part. The weird part was behind it, there was a door. Sarah had found it when she accidentally ran a cart into it, causing the painting to swing to the side, revealing hinges. A small door was tucked neatly behind it, an ornate door made of dark wood, little patterns of flowers and swirls decorating the edges. She tried the brass knocker shaped like a flower, then the dusty handle. Not surprisingly, it was locked.
As if we all had the same thought, my little group congregated in the library. Me, Sarah, Cole, Sebastian. When Sarah tried the handle this time, it creaked open, revealing a staircase winding upward. That should have been the first sign that something was wrong.
But we went anyway, excited for the prospect of an adventure. The stairs were broken but we didn’t realize it until my foot went through a rotted board, the wood clattering down into the basement far below. Cole grabbed my arm and pulled me up, but I daresay we proceeded much more cautiously after that.
I hadn’t thought to bring a flashlight, but Sebastian had, so he led the way as we climbed up the twisting staircase that never seemed to end. It seemed like we were going to the roof possibly, or maybe the attic. I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t even realize that we had stopped.
It was the attic, a dusty space, the ceiling rafters stretching before us. I wrinkled my nose as I stepped inside, the floorboard creaking as we walked. An old chalkboard sat in one corner, a desk in the other, old papers piled on top. When Sarah touched it, the paper crumpled into dust.
We explored for a while, that’s not important, I doubt that you would want to hear what we found, just old belongings and toys, a doll in the corner, its waxen face crumbled in as if someone had hit it. A small round window let in a faint beam of sunlight. The snow was still thickly falling outside. But the important part was the large wooden box that sat in the corner.
It was around five feet long and one foot long and one foot wide. The dark wood of the sides was ornately carved with flowers and the letters AW. Anya Wilhelm. That was when we realized that it was a coffin.
“What the fuck,” Sarah whispered. “Why is that up here?” No one knew how to respond, why was the coffin up here? Who had built it? If it was Anya inside the coffin, why was she there? Why was she not with her parents when they were found? The whole thing was extremely unsettling.
“I’m going back down,” Sebastian called. I heard the others agree, but something drew me forward. I wanted to see what was in the coffin. Maybe I sound crazy, but I swear, it whispered to me, calling me forward and I couldn’t resist.
“Yeah, I’ll be down in a moment,” I replied. I heard them hesitate, but the sound of their footsteps echoed through the stairwell as they headed back down.
I moved forward, my fingers brushing against the dust, leaving marks in the thick layer that covered it. Before I could lose my nerve, I opened the coffin.
There was a girl inside.
She wasn’t human. That much was obvious from the moment she opened her eyes, staring at me with her strange, dark gaze. I don’t exactly know how to explain it, but whatever she was, she wasn’t human. There was just something…off about all of her features. Her eyes were slightly too big, her teeth slightly too pointed as she smiled. Even the sight of that smile sent a disgusted feeling through me like something was wrong. Believe me, I thought she was merely a dream, but when I stumbled back, my ankle twisted, shooting sharp pains through my leg and I knew that I was awake.
I glanced outside the small round window, almost screaming at the sight. The snow had changed to blood, flakes of scarlet melting against the ground. I wanted to yell, to scream, to move away, but I couldn’t. I was frozen still.
“Thank you for my freedom,” the girl said. As she turned and disappeared down the stairs, I couldn’t move to stop her, even though I knew I should have.
And when the screams reached my ears, echoing from the floors below, I felt a tear roll down my cheek, cold against my skin, but I still couldn’t move.