Dead Girls Tell No Tales

  Villages have a way to forget: it took me years of investigating to reconstruct what happened to Luna. People wouldn’t know, people wouldn’t tell… But there had to be an explanation for what I saw that night, there just had to be.

  “Alright, Mrs Márquez, we’ll stay in touch. And if anything like this happens again, I’ll give you a ring, OK?”
  “OK, thanks. See you soon, then.”
  I smiled at her, winked. “Rather later, I hope.” She laughed, getting the joke. Her son, Mario, had been pretty troublesome lately, and we’d agreed on a number of rules. Mrs Márquez was a charming woman, a single mother and rather pretty, and my comment referred to my not wanting to have to take any more serious steps about her son, the big troublemaker in my headroom group this year.
  She was the last of the mothers and fathers to leave that evening, after a lengthy discussion. She and I had been the last living souls in the school building: even the principal had left about half an hour ago. This was highly unusual, to say the least, but as I had more than an hour’s drive home, with nobody awaiting me that night, I’d talked her into letting me stay in the school overnight. We had comfortable beds in the workshop for nursing assistants, after all. Speaking of nursing assistants, Mrs Márquez was one, and she couldn’t have come to the meeting any earlier -she had to work.
  So I took her to the door, locked it behind her, and slowly walked to the workshop, where I’d stashed a can of beer or two in the fridge. A night of binge-watching YouTube and sleeping in a hospital bed among practice mannequins awaited me. Still, better than taking that hour-long drive to sleep in a cold bed. That’s what I thought, at any rate.
  If you’ve never experienced it, you’ll find it hard to appreciate just how eerie an empty schoolhouse can be  at night. By day, teachers do their best to make kids learn things they’ll only appreciate years later, if that. There’s a constant hubbub of voices young and old, always some kid “going to the bathroom”, some teacher taking a walk or going for photocopies, the janitors doing whatever it is school janitors do (quite an intriguing question in most schools, that).
  But at night… The silence is absolute. Corridors stretch left and right, front and back. The only sound you hear is the squeaking of the soles of your boots on those empty floors whose wax coating you curse with every living breath, especially when you’re trying to sneak up on that kid you just know is cheating in the exam. There are echoes that shouldn’t be physically possible. You feel observed by eyes that aren’t there. You hear the laughter, the groans, the chitchat of the day, but not with your ears. Your step echoes along hallways that only now are empty enough to distinguish any sound at all. You inadvertently start patrolling, walking past the examination room under its cupola but somehow not daring to enter. You smell the fear-sweat of teens taking an exam, but the room is empty. You feel the hundreds of lives revolving around these halls, yet none of them are visible. And all the while, the echo of your steps in those empty rooms…

  The familiar H-shape of the building seemed anything but: there, to my left, was the cafeteria -but it was an abandoned wasteland. Ahead, the radio shack -a doorway into the unknown. I turned right, through doors I’d never noticed the creaking of, and into what, in this light, looked like a morgue. The mannequins were dead bodies now, the medical appliances, instruments of torture. And all the while, the squeaking of my boots on the accursed floor. I felt small.
  Well, what the heck! A grown man with a scientific education can’t be humbled by his own imagination! I put the mannequin in the bed opposite the door into another, got rid of those squeaking boots, my jeans and shirt. Went to the fridge, cracked my first can open, took a deep gulp of the amber liquid, belched. I don’t usually do that unless I can’t help it, but I just needed a profane noise to break this silence. It didn’t help much, though. Made me feel ridiculous instead. Taking another swig, I went to bed. Whipped out my phone, tapped up YouTube. The screen was full of Creepypasta, but for some reason I didn’t really feel like it. What about a documentary on ancient Greece instead? Soon, the voice of Bettany Hughes filled my ears, her face my vision, her ideas my mind, her presence… Well, if you know Bettany Hughes, you get the idea. She was talking about ancient Crete, by the way, and climbing out of the water must have been uncomfortable in those shorts.

  I was halfway through my second can and quite deep into ancient Crete when I heard a noise. It was faint, and for the life of me I couldn’t say what it sounded like. Snapped out of my contemplation of Bettany Hughes explaining about imperial purple, I pricked up my ears. To no avail: the sound didn’t repeat itself.
  I went back to Bettany, took a swig off of my can. She was standing on a windswept hill now, very photogenic, saying something about possible explanations for the Late Bronze Age Collapse. The wind was coming right at her in that simple yet beautiful green dress. She looked as if she really didn’t notice how…
  What the hell was that sound? As if someone had… Damn! Of all the nights in the year, why the hell would anyone pick just this one to smash a bloody window? Hurriedly, I silenced Bettany, got out of bed, jumped into my jeans, cursing whoever it might be. Grabbing my phone I noticed it had simply switched off. What the…? I pressed the button, but it wouldn’t come back on. So much for my torch. I stuffed the useless brick in my pocket, pattered towards the door. 

 The sound had come from the direction of the passage that links both wings of the building. Barefoot, I let myself out of the workshop and into the hallway. Hiding in the corner, I peered down the long passage. There was no sign of shattered glass: the huge windows seemed perfectly intact. Had I just imagined the sounds? Well, I had to investigate. Slowly, I went down the hall, towards the main entrance. Goosebumps crept up my bare arms. Why was it so cold all of a sudden? So far, it had been… Footsteps! I spun around.
  Nothing. The passage lay empty. My heart beating like a drum, I forced myself to listen. Was that…? Yes, a chair being moved upstairs! They were in the examination room!
 As fast as I dared, I traced back my steps, trying not to be heard. Turn right, up the stairs opposite the music room, left. The doors on the upper floor were all closed. Still, I had to move on. Where had those sounds come from? Straining my hearing, holding my breath, setting foot before bare foot. I could hear something new now, like soft crying. Yes, the examination room. I walked faster now -this didn’t sound like a burglar, or a vandal.
  When I reached the door, I stopped dead. There she sat, on the balustrade that separated the upper corridor from the drop down to the entrance hall. She looked about sixteen, but she was none of our students -I’d have recognised her, for sure. Her clothes looked a bit dated -the stuff teens her age would have worn, like, ten years ago. She just sat there, crying. There was a rope around her neck.
  I edged closer, crossing the endless miles under the cupola, past the stage on my right, carefully avoiding the desks and chairs left there after some exam today. She was still crying, oblivious of me. What the hell was I supposed to do? Any sound might scare her, make her lose her balance, push her over the edge. How do you talk down a sixteen-year-old suicide who doesn’t even know you’re there? Everything in me screamed for me to make a dash for her, pull her off of that balustrade, but what if I pushed her over instead?
  Just a few steps were missing now. I swallowed, preparing to say I knew not what.

  “I know you’re there.” Her voice, almost steady. But she didn’t turn around, just stared down.
  “What… what are you doing there?”
  “What does it look like?” Still, gazing ahead of her, down.
  “Well…, kinda like something … unwise?”
  She snorted, a desperate little laugh. For the first time she looked at me, her eyes blank. “You can’t stop me. You didn’t.” A twitch, and she slid down. I jumped towards her, reached her just in time to feel her long hair slap my face. My scream couldn’t drown out the sickening crack as the rope tightened. She hung there, motionless. She’d been right: I hadn’t stopped her.

  “So, Mr … David, isn’t it? Why did you really call us out here, and what …”
  “Davies,” I snarled. The interrogation had been going on for hours, and I’d told him and his brainless officers a hundred times already.
  “David, yeah. So, what were you doing there, and why did you call us out?”
  A deep breath, count to ten. “Inspector García, please. I’ve told you all of this before, haven’t I? She was there, for fuck’s sake. She fucking killed herself!”
  “I know what you’ve been saying, Mr David, but it doesn’t make sense.” He slid a tablet out of his pocket, over to me. “These are the pictures we took right after we arrived. If what you say is true, where’s the body?”
  Dazed, I looked at the tablet, the photos with their police timestamp. Just an empty hallway.
  “But… She was there!” Tears welled up again. This time, García let me cry.

 Villages have a way to remember. The slightest misstep, and nobody will ever forget.
 Luna should have known that. After all, she’d grown up in the village, as had her parents before her. But there’d been plenty of drink that night, and Enrique was just too hot.
  To make a short  story even shorter: that night Luna slept with the wrong guy. I can’t tell if it was good or bad, and who gives a fig? What I do know is that she found out just how wrong a guy Enrique had been the day she went back to school. She noticed the eyes on her, the sniggering, the anger in the eyes of some of the girls she usually hung out with. What was wrong?
  Nobody talked to her all morning -they just looked, sniggered, glowered. Then, at breaktime, it was like everybody just ran away from her. There she stood, in an expanding empty space. Empty, that is, until Rosa strode towards her.

  “He’s my boyfriend, bitch!”Rosa’s words stung harder than the slap across her face that accompanied it. Dumbfounded, Luna hardly noticed the blows that followed that first slap, but the kick that broke her nose still hurt.
  “What’s going on here?” Through red clouds of pain, Luna heard the voice of Luís, the Maths teacher, breaking up the fight.

  Things only got worse from that point. It seemed like everyone had the photos, and while Rosa did break up with Enrique, the boy had never been more popular. But Luna… Luna was the slut. Not a day went by without some snide remark, without some boy touching her arse, her boobs, commenting on the photos that everybody had seen, that had told Rosa what had happened, that were all over the porn sites everybody saw. Not a day went by without a girl pushing her aside, calling her names, spitting at her. Not a day, that is, until she broke into school one night, tied a rope to the balustrade opposite the entrance, and hung herself.