"Just one more? Please, just one more!"
Esther groaned as Monica waved the cybershot hopefully, prayer beads rattling at her arunt’s wrists. Ro grinned, glancing at Esther.
“Come on Es, say cheese! Cheese!”
"You girls just look so sweet in those uniforms!" The camera clicked, sending blinding light into the entryway.
"Yeah...sweet..." mumbled Ro, smile instantly fading.
"We’re going to be late." Esther grabbed her teddy bear eared hat from the peg by the door and rammed it on her head. Another flash vibrated she pupils.
"I'm sorry, I know. But I just wanted to see you off on the first day back."
"Well, you didn't."
"Um, it’s second week for Es, Miss Koven," Ro said carefully, as if not wanting to upset her.
"I know!" Monica moaned. "I miss all the good stuff with the shifts they make me run. Smile!"
"Ok, that's it for the paparazzi!" Esther took Ro's hand, steering her towards the door as the other girl rubbed her eyes.
"Oh, just one—"
"Definition of one is one!"
"Bye Miss Koven." Ro waved blindly behind her as she tripped on the broken step.
"Bye girls, have a great day. Be sweet!" She ran into the doorway, waving. "Remember I will be home very late."
Esther wrenched the gate open and yanked Ro out onto the sidewalk. "Geez..."
"Wish my mom was so enthusiastic," Ro said, taking off her backpack. Leaning it against her leg her fingers pulled out her uniform shirt and carefully began rolling up the top of her skirt.
"Aunt. And don't do that." Esther grabbed the top of Ro's skirt, trying to impede her fingers.
"If they insist on making us wear them I insist on making them comfortable."
"You look like a whore."
Esther's hands dropped from Ro's waistband. Ro gave her a grin and went back to hitching up her skirt. She caught up with Esther half way down the block.
"She said I looked sweet. That's like the kiss of death, Es."
"Whatever. You know what people say about you, Ro."
Ro rolled her eyes. "Like I give a shit." Esther felt her glare at her as she adjusted her jacket. "You care enough for the both of us any way. That's your problem, Es. You care too much about...everything."
"Oh, that's my problem?"
"Yep." Ro threw an arm over Esther’s shoulder. "That and you have really poor taste in friends."
“You don’t have to walk me up.”
“You’d be on time for once if you left now.”
“Yeah, but then couch would die of shock and we kinda need her for regional’s. The seniors would kill me.”
Esther gazed at her a moment. The tension in the girl’s shoulders, that determined look…
"You’re looking for Tobie,” Esther said quietly.
“Can’t put nothing past you.”
“If you’re going to say you can deal with it, you can shut up right now.” She scanned the quad, the grove and, seeing them threat free, turned to Esther with a smile. “Just gonna walk ya up, k? That’s it.”
“Alright,” Esther mumbled, adding, “Like I have a choice,” under her breath.
The 6th floor was bare save a group of three girls huddled together near the center of the hall. Rebeca Johansen stood in the middle, Sadie Cockrell and Isabella Ables, her gymnastic’s bag over one shoulder, on either side.
Esther turned into her classroom when she hear Ro’s voice.
“What’s going on ladies?”
Sadie looked up from her cell phone. “Becca’s gonna run the haunt!”
“Really.” Ro glanced at Rebeca, glaring with ferocious concentration at the closed stairwell door at the end of the hall. “Why?”
“Sinclaire dared her,” said Isabella, nervously twirling a dark blonde curl around her finger. “And it’s stupid. Becca, if you get caught…”
“And where is that prick?”
“Shut up!” Rebeca hissed. “How much time Sadie?”
Sadie held up her phone. “Minuet and a half.”
“You do know he only dared you to get you away from him, right?”
Isabella gasped, Sadie bit her lip. Rebeca regally inclined her head to Ro, her eyes still on the door down the hall, though Esther could see the disdain.
“He’s only doing it to prove he can get you to do stupid crap,” Ro said calmly.
A dark smile crossed Rebeca's angular face. “Jealous much? GTFO loser. And take that little freak with you.”
The girls tittered and Ro took Esther’s arm. She pulled her passed 12B and up to a door identical to the one the three girls stared at.
“She wants a Haunt Run, I’ll give her a Haunt Run,” Ro muttered. “What a stupid name. Such a stupid ritual. Why do they even call the 7th floor that?”
“Because it’s haunted.”
Ro paused, accidentally pulling Esther into her with the sudden loss of forward motion. “You don’t actually believe that, do you?”
“I…I don’t know.”
“Pfft, please.” Ro gripped the handle to the stairwell door; made sure the girls at the opposite end of the hall where still too focused to notice them, and stepped into the stairwell. "Hurry up!" She dropped Esther's arm and took the stairs two at a time, skirt swaying in a revealing bounce.
Esther hesitated, glancing back to the hall through the sliver of quickly closing door.
"Move your ass!"
Esther looked up. Ro hung over the banister above, feet dangling. Esther hurried up the stairs, following the sound of the 7th floor door hitting the landing wall.
Coming out of the stair well, slightly out of breath, she saw Ro glancing into empty classrooms, charting her attack plan.
"Here we go. This one. Come on!" She threw the door back and waved an urgent hand. Esther scurried into the classroom and Ro slid the door over, leaving a barely perceptible gap. She glanced at her watch.
"Thirty seconds." Ro pulled Esther down to the floor in a crouch below the door's window. "We're gonna scare the crap outta that bint."
Esther bit her lip. Though her breathing had slowed, an odd pressure lay across her chest. Ro muttered more scheming vengeance beside her, but the unnerving feeling scattered Esther's attention to the classroom.
Like most of the room on floor seven this one was used as storage, with piles of broken and graffiti covered desks in one corner, discarded obsolete history texts stacked half hazard along the wall and an ancient and battered dark wood cabinet. Esther's gaze roamed the large frame, chips of murky timber missing from its face and the oddly delicate beveling along each side. A soft layer of red dusted the floor at its carved feet, the hinges rusted. The pressure increased, making her feel thick and muzzy. She shut her eyes a moment. A spark of light sizzled in the dark of her eye lids. Her eyes flashed open, the cabinet once again in view.
It’s just your imagination. You're letting it run away with you. Again. It's okay. She tore her eyes from the rust and cracked frame. Concentrate on Ro. Just ignore the creepy cabinet that looks like a skeleton could jump out any—
A creek crawled through the room, igniting the hushed air. The cabinet door tilted on a loose hinge. A think strip of white slipped from the darkness and curled around the door, scraping against the wood. Finger bones clasped the edge of the cabinet, the strength of them causing the frame to shutter. A chatter of unhinged teeth.
The bell rang. Esther clamped Ro's arm, her face pressed to the girl's shoulder.
"What the hell!"
The door at the end of the hall burst open. Ro fell sideways. Footsteps pounded towards the classroom. Ro’s balance failed. The burden of both girls transferred to the door and then the handle at Ro’s finger tips. The door slid back and they fell across the threshold and tumbled out into the hall.
Rebeca's footsteps slowed for an instant. Esther glanced up, still sprawled over Ro.
"God, you're freaks." Rebeca sneered, then returned to full speed to beat the record down the hall.
"Es?" Ro muttered as the far door slammed shut.
Esther slid to the side. “Sorry.”
“Its fine,” Ro said in an exasperated tone. She picked up her books and shoved them back into her back pack. “You okay?”
“I’ll…I’ll see you at lunch.” Ro brushed off her rumpled skirt and headed towards the stairs.
Esther picked up her satchel and paused. The classroom door stood open. Don’t be a coward. It’s okay. Just shut the door. Just shut it. An eerily soft chattering jerked her gaze to the cabinet. The door hung wide, a gaping darkness beyond the carved wood. Esther's sweating hand held fast against cold metal. The cabinet door swung back, hit the wall, then slammed closed; rocking the cabinet on its frame.
Esther spun and fled down the hall.
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