Dull light seeped through the yellowed Perspex of the school toilet skylights. It was late, but the summer evening would linger for an hour yet. In sepia, the cracked, grubby surface of a mirror reflected the face of a living dead girl. Framed by bedraggled hair, soulless eyes stared dully from sockets surrounded by half-healed bruise smudging. The mouth hung slack, the split, swollen lips revealed teeth discoloured by blood, blood which was now slowly trickling down the chin.
A deep wrenching sob abruptly convulsed the frame of the girl and the sudden defocusing of the image shattered the illusion. She wasn’t dead, she just looked it and she knew it.
Her slim hands plunged into the sink of cold, grimy rainwater, wrists stinging where rope burns stood livid against the pale, bony flesh. Ignoring the pain, the girl cupped her hands and began tentatively cleaning her face, trying to remove all sign of the past hour, knowing that it would take more than cold water to wash away the shame and the scars. She had known this for a long time.
Turning from the row of sinks, the girl limped across the cold, tiled floor, wincing as she moved with the slow, unnatural gait of the systematically raped. Heavy boot marks stood livid over prominent ribs. Angry cigarette burns punctuated her body. All she wanted now was to curl up in the pile of blankets that made up her bed. She would stay hidden and ignored until, when they had gone, she would finally sleep.
The men had been kind at first, slowly winning her trust with their promises of protection and friendship. The girl stayed in the school during the day whilst the others went hunting for food and supplies, they brought her small gifts that they would find. Slowly, she began to be less afraid.
Once the men had won her trust she had pleaded with her companions to find a few tools and seeds whilst out foraging. In her old life she had helped her mother on her allotment and derived a great peace from tending to plants. One of the gyms doors lead straight onto four netball courts surrounded by chain link fencing. It would be the perfect place once the concrete had been torn up. The men had returned one day with a pick axe and the oldest one had spent the following day breaking the concrete for her. The earth was dark and looked rich and when he was done she had a fair sized patch of earth uncovered. Over the next few weeks the patch had become a serviceable vegetable garden, complete with water butt and a small greenhouse.
Her companions’ applauded her efforts as tomatoes and courgettes came into fruit and fresh vegetables supplemented their canned diet. They ate well that first summer, and for a while she thought she could be happy again.
Then autumn had come, and it was on the night of the first frost that everything changed. Two of the men returned that evening. The eldest man, they told her, had been scratched by one of Them and they had had to kill him for his own sake. Even a scratch, they said, and within minutes, you would be one of Them. They had had no choice. It would just be the three of them from now on. Alcohol had been in abundant supply and the men began to drink heavily. She had fallen asleep listening to their increasingly slurred voices speaking of things she did not want to understand.
Suddenly, the girl was wrenched out of her sleep and into the staff room. Before she had fully awoken, she had found herself being held face down over the coffee table. What followed had been terrifying and painful, and for days after she had avoided the two men as much as she could. Then it happened again; and again. Then one day the men returned early after having raided a sex shop and they began to degrade the girl in ways she could not fully understand.
An unusual day in the spring had given her the idea. One of Them had somehow found a way past the perimeter fence and, as the girl went to water her seedlings, she had discovered It, dully standing the other side of the chain link. It had spotted her and tried to force It’s hands through the fence, rotten fingers hungrily reaching for her. She had dropped her watering can and fled back into the school. It was still there when the men returned, grasping the fence. The men had dealt with it, hacking its head off with a spade before disposing of the body somewhere.
That night she had suffered no torment, the men distracted by the event. She went to bed early, hoping that in her silence they would forget her. As she was drifting into oblivion she heard the men discussing how fucked everything would be if only one of Them ever got into the school. The girl had dreamed, and after waking the next morning, had remembered.
It was the first time the girl had smiled in a long, long time.