Nolan had gotten up early that day. This was unusual enough in itself.
He had grabbed the bag lying on his desk chair. He had only decided to leave a few hours earlier. He had resolved to do it... [+]
Kay stared in wonder at the sprawling castle that loomed larger and larger as the van bumped its way up the driveway. She had seen pictures of course—like the one on the front of the study abroad pamphlet that she had picked up months ago—but in person, in the glinting sunlight, it was magnificent. She couldn’t help the grin that spread over her face. I am going to be living in a real-life English castle for an entire summer, she marveled to herself. The van trundled through an archway, and then stopped in front of the huge door to the castle.
“All right, everybody out,” the driver announced.
There was a bit of a scramble as Kay and the other 6 students in the van frantically unbuckled their seatbelts, grabbed backpacks and purses, and then tumbled out of the van. Kay joined the others in standing behind the van as the driver unloaded the suitcases. She hurriedly grabbed her red suitcase and stepped back from the swarm. She craned her neck back to drink in the sight of the castle again. Movement in one of the many, many windows caught her eye, but before she could look closer, the driver slammed the trunk closed, and her attention snapped back. He gestured for the group to follow him, and they trooped up to the door.
Though the castle itself was in excellent shape, the door couldn’t help but give away its age. Thick wood slabs were reinforced with dark iron rods that twisted over its surface, while giant iron rings served as handles. Looking at it, Kay could almost hear the clanging of swords, the shouts of knights, the dull thuds of a futile attempt to breach the door from hundreds of years past. Both the driver and the door groaned as he heaved it open.
“They’ll show you lot a side entrance to use later. We only use this door when you kids first arrive ‘cause of all the luggage and such.”
Kay was relieved, and judging by their faces, everyone else was too. She trailed a hand over the old wood as she walked into the castle. It was worn and scarred. I bet this door will outlive me, she thought.
The rest of the day was a blur of orientation, room assignments, lunch, and group activities. Eventually Kay was free to explore the castle on her own. She was tired from travel—the plane flight from the U.S. was no joke—but the adrenaline of the day was carrying her forward. Kay felt a bit like a visitor to an alien world: everywhere she looked was something new and strange. She scurried from room to room, examining everything. One room had a luxurious rug with a border of trees and leaves. As she looked closer, she realized that there were faces hidden in the branches. Every so often, she would cross paths with a fellow student, and they would share delighted and baffled smiles before continuing on their way. Everyone seemed to agree that the first exploration should be something private, something personal.
Soon Kay found herself in a far-flung corner of the castle. She hadn’t seen anyone else for over an hour. “A few more rooms, and then time for dinner,” she said aloud to herself. She peered into a room on her left. A narrow bed was pushed against a wall with a bay window. The sun’s pale light illuminated the faded bedspread—and the girl sitting there. Kay startled. She hadn’t seen her at first. Then she frowned. This girl didn’t look familiar at all.
“Hello,” Kay ventured. “Are you another student?”
The girl ever so slowly turned her face from the window, like Kay’s voice was a snatch of a song heard from far away.
Kay stopped breathing.
She noticed two things: first, that as the girl turned towards her, the sun’s rays shone through her body. Second, there was a jagged scar stretching across her face.
The girl fixed blank gray eyes on Kay. Kay’s breath stuttered, and several thoughts skittered their way through her brain in rapid succession: oh my god is that a ghost? That’s definitely a ghost oh my god she’s dead I need- I need to- I need to RUN!
Kay’s foot twisted to send her hurtling down the hallway, away from the thing on the bed. The girl’s eyes flicked towards the motion. Every horror movie ever had taught Kay that now was when the ghost girl would lunge for her. Instead, the girl just looked sad. She wrapped her arms around herself like she was trying to make herself smaller. This was enough to confuse Kay. She didn’t sprint down the hall like her brain was begging her to, but instead stepped further into the room. The ghost girl lifted her head up in surprise.
“Hi,” Kay said again, nervously.
The ghost girl smiled faintly. “Greetings.”
Her hopeful smile made Kay think that possibly she didn’t know much at all when it came to ghosts. It must be so lonely, she realized, for everyone to die, or leave, or ignore you. And how many people must have fled from her, because they didn’t understand? She must be so used to people turning their faces away.
“I’m sorry I almost ran away,” Kay told the girl, twisting her hands together. “I’ve just never seen a ghost before.”
“Do not dwell on it,” the girl said, her smile growing stronger. “I am simply glad that you stayed.”
Kay returned her smile.
The conversation was awkward and stilted at first, and a bit strange, since the girl occasionally used words Kay wasn’t familiar with, but soon they were speaking as though they’d known each other for years. They likely would have gone on talking into the night if not for the frankly embarrassing sound that Kay’s stomach made. The girl, who Kay had learned was named Jane, giggled.
“Way past dinner time, I guess,” Kay laughed. “I should go. Can I come back tomorrow?”
Jane beamed at her. “I would wish for nothing more.”
Kay grinned as she made her way back to her room. She had already made one new friend. This was definitely going to be the best summer yet.