Original Meeting with the Headmistress
This scene was also deleted from my original submission; again I thought it slowed down the beginning. I did show this and the previous section to Nicola after our first meeting and she asked me to weave bits of the information into the final draft so some of it might seem familiar to those who have read the first book.
‘Miss de Salle,’ a voice said. I turned and a tall, thin woman gave me a nervous smile. ‘If you’d like to come this way Miss Mitchell will see you now.’
I nodded my thanks and followed her across to the Headteacher’s door. For a split second, as the woman leant forward to open it for me, I felt a momentary sensation of déjà vu. Last time it had been Mrs Payne showing me into the inner sanctum, her lips pursed and nostrils flared, disapproval oozing out of every pore.
On this occasion the woman gestured that I should enter and stepped back out of the way discreetly withdrawing and closing the door behind me.
Miss Mitchell was everything one would expect of a Headmistress of an all girls, private school. Tall, buxom with a ruddy complexion and short, but wild wavy hair. The expression “jolly hockey sticks” could have been made for her, although from the tightness at the corners of her mouth I could see that any jollity she had this afternoon was forced.
‘Miss de Salle,’ she said moving around the desk her hand extended, ‘I have heard so much about you.’
The surprise must have shown on my face because her lips curled into a small smile.
‘I don’t take Mrs Payne’s views on ex-girls that seriously I’m afraid and you do seem to have done quite well for yourself.’
‘I was expelled,’ I said.
Her rosy cheeks took on the resemblance of a small boy sucking gobstoppers. ‘Don’t tell anyone, but I very nearly was once,’ she said with a brisk, but firm shake of my hand. She gestured to a couch and coffee table in the corner of the room. ‘Now look at me; Headteacher of one of the best girls’ schools in the south of England.’
I perched on the edge of the couch and she sat opposite me in a low armchair. A tray of coffee and tea was already waiting for us and we passed a few pleasantries as she poured coffee for me and a tea for her.
I sipped my drink waiting for her to start. I had nothing to say, at least not yet.
‘I suppose you’re wondering why I asked for this meeting?’ she said.
I looked at her over the top of my cup as I took another sip of coffee; giving myself some time to consider my answer. I couldn’t see the point in playing games. I didn’t know this woman. She had only been in post about three years so didn’t know me – not me, Lucky de Salle the person. She almost certainly knew of me as Lucinda de Salle the disgraced ex-girl, Mrs Payne would have made sure of that, she may know of me as Lucky de Salle very minor celebrity – possibly, but she didn’t know me.
‘I’m guessing it’s because you have a rather annoying problem somewhere up near the upper sixth common room that won’t go away and you’ve been told I might know how to fix it for you.’
She gave me an odd sort of twisted smile, as though she was embarrassed. ‘I can see why you might not want to assist.’
I shrugged. ‘Water under the bridge,’ my eyes shifted upwards and I gave a little shiver, ‘but I’m not sure that I can help you.’
She took a sip of her tea. It was her turn to take time to think and take care how she should formulate her response. I waited.
‘Mrs Payne says it’s because of you that we have this – problem.’
I gave a mirthless laugh and shook my head. ‘Mrs Payne doesn’t know what she’s talking about.’
‘Then you explain.’
‘Somebody has been messing with things they really shouldn’t,’ I said, ‘that’s the only explanation.’
She regarded me for a few moments, a small frown wrinkling her forehead. ‘Mrs Payne said…’
‘For someone who doesn’t take the School’s secretary’s views very seriously you seem to have been listening to a lot of what she has to say,’ I said and I was beginning to think I should get up at leave. I doubted very much I could do anything that would help the woman or her school.
She gave a long and heartfelt sigh. ‘Miss de Salle, I have never believed in the occult or supernatural. I have never believed in ghosts, apparitions or the paranormal. Part of me says I still don’t,’ she glanced upwards, an involuntary flick of the eyes before they returned to me, ‘but the other part of me is more scared than you can believe.’
She reached forward to place her cup and saucer back on the table and the tinkle of the china as they chinked together gave away the slight tremor of her fingers.
‘You’ve been up there?’ I asked.
She nodded and her cheeks didn’t seem quite so rosy anymore. ‘I had to. I had to see for myself.’
‘And did you?’
She swallowed hard and gave another bob of her head. I think she was afraid if she spoke her voice would shake. We sat in silence, the only sound being the ticking of an old grandfather clock in the corner of the room. Tension hung in the room and, with every click of the second hand as it moved relentlessly around the clock’s round face, it seemed to thicken until my chest felt tight and it was difficult to breath. Oh dear God, what had they done?
It was almost as though I had asked the question out loud. I’m sure I hadn’t but the Headmistress answered me anyway.
‘Last weekend three of the boarders decided to go up into the attic room. They’d heard the rumours about what had happened up there before.’
I leant back in the chair and folded my arms. A defensive gesture I know but I had good reason to feel that I may just be about to come under attack. The rumours and stories would have been about me and what happened in that same attic room fifteen years ago.
‘What did they do?’
She gave a sigh. ‘As you know it was, and still is, against school rules to take part in any activity that could be construed as “dabbling with the occult”. It’s one of the few rules that if broken immediately warrant’s a suspension for the participants. ’
I nodded. It was why I was expelled, which was in fact grossly unfair as I had done no such thing.
‘One of the girls had managed to get hold of a Ouija board.’
I closed my eyes and shook my head. This was going from bad to worse. When I opened them again Miss Mitchell was staring at me. ‘Go on,’ I said.
‘I don’t know exactly what happened, even now. At the time the girls were too hysterical to make any sense. I have been to see them since and not one of them will talk about it. Two of the girls refused point blank to even see me.’
‘They’re at home?’
She nodded. ‘Even if I hadn’t excluded them from School they would have still had to leave. They were too terrified to stay and they were scaring the other girls. As it is another nine pupils have gone home. Their parents have taken them out for the rest of the term and to be honest I don’t expect them to return.’
‘What happened when you went up there?
The Headteacher stood crossing her arms, hugging herself tight and began to pace. ‘I’m not sure,’ she whispered.
‘Something frightened you,’ I said. It wasn’t a question; the capable woman who greeted me had suddenly become a very scared, little girl even though she was probably fifteen or so years my senior.
She clearly didn’t want to reply to my question, as instead she said, ‘I received a phone call at home from the staff who were on duty last weekend. They said I should come immediately.’ She paused then sat back down opposite me, still hugging herself. ‘When I got here the place was in uproar. They had put the three girls in the infirmary but I could hear their cries as I entered the building. All the other girls were terribly upset and by Saturday evening four other boarders had already been taken home.’
‘The three girls involved, did they go home Saturday?’
She shook her head. ‘Two did, but we couldn’t get hold of the other ones parents. She ended up spending the night in hospital under sedation.’
‘So when you went up there..?’
‘I don’t know. I really don’t. I thought it was just a case of three very silly, young girls scaring themselves half to death on a dreary Saturday afternoon.’ She got up and resumed her pacing. ‘I thought I should go up there and prove to the rest of the girls that there was nothing to be frightened of. Instead I think I may have made it worse.’
She sat back down and leaned towards me. ‘Miss de Salle, I really need your help because quite frankly I have no idea what to do.’
The clock tick, ticked, ticked marking time as I considered what she was asking of me. She watched me and then, I think for no other reason than she needed something to do, poured us both another drink. I accepted the coffee with a sigh. I really didn’t want to go upstairs to that room, not on my own, and I doubted very much that Miss Mitchell would volunteer to accompany me.
‘Did you see them?’ I asked. I wasn’t being cruel, although I knew she didn’t want to talk about it. She had so far avoided telling me what she had experienced up there but I needed to know.
Her eyes jerked to mine and her mouth clenched shut so tightly that her lips all but disappeared. Her head gave another little bob. ‘I saw… I saw something.’ Her eyes flicked up towards the ceiling and back to mine. ‘Children,’ she murmured, ‘two children, girls, both girls, twins I think.’
‘Did they speak?’
She shook head. ‘Not to me, though they apparently had plenty to say to my three students.’
‘I thought your girls wouldn’t talk to you.’
‘They didn’t, but when they first came running downstairs right after it happened they were hysterical. They kept saying that they’d been told they were all going to die. In fact they said they’d been told they were going to burn.’
‘Was it the Ouija telling them that or the children?’
She shook her head. ‘I don’t know. That’s as much as we could get out of them.’
I closed my eyes for a moment. I really would have preferred to have spoken to one or all of the girls before I paid a visit to the attic but as they were no longer on the premises that wasn’t an option.
I stood. ‘Are the students all in class?’
‘No,’ she said, ‘when you agreed to see me I arranged for all the girls to be out on field trips this afternoon.’
I nodded. Very sensible; if this went badly the less the girls knew about it the better. I was hoping it wouldn’t, but as last time it hadn’t gone so well I couldn’t be sure. I was fifteen years older and probably thirty wiser, but I didn’t usually do this sort of thing all on my own. Unfortunately my closest friend would under no circumstances enter this building and the fact that she was afraid scared the shit out of me.
Miss Mitchell got up from the chair. ‘Are you going..?’ she glanced upwards and back to me not finishing her question.
‘Your three girls didn’t close the gateway,’ I said, ‘they called upon the spirit world through the Ouija board but then abandoned it when it all got too scary. Someone has to finish what they started.’
That the someone was going to have to be me weighed heavy on my shoulders. Anywhere else I wouldn’t have hesitated. I would have been cautious, I would have been careful but this place – been there, done that and I remembered every moment through the eyes of a terrified ten year old.
I was starting to think too much. Dwelling on the past wasn’t helpful, but as I walked out of the Headteacher’s office and across the lobby it was only the click of my heels on the tiles that reminded me that I wasn’t ten anymore.
Miss Mitchell walked with me through the silent corridors and up the first two flights of stairs but when we got to the third that led up to the six formers’ common room and the attic beyond she hesitated, hand on the banister.Back to Deleted or Alternate Scenes