You loved me once. It’s the only thing I still believe. It sustains me, even now, in the darkness. Even now, after you’ve gone.
It was the first passage on the first page in the diary we found while exploring one of the basement rooms of St. Flora’s. My boyfriend, Damien, had been the one to spot its tattered red edge peeking out from beneath a pile of musty blankets, but I’d been the one to pick it up. Jagged edges still clung to the inner spine where pages had been ripped out and, inside the front cover, written in the same careful, spidery script as the entry, was the name Lavinia Cartwright and the date 1915.
Damien, uninterested in something as “boring” as an old book, wandered off to poke around while I held my flashlight between my teeth and turned the page.
You left the lantern with me. One last act of kindness. It burns low even as I write. I’ve fed a good half my words to the flame, but they vanish quickly, and again I am left with only your final favor to warm me and chase back the shadows. They creep ever closer and I fear it will not be long before I am forced to join them. My heart has become so heavy. What has become of us? Of you? Has there ever been so loud a sound as that lock you placed upon the door?
I looked up from the page with a small shiver. Damien and I had had to cut through a padlock to get into the room. We hadn’t thought much of it, a lot of St. Flora’s doors were locked in one way or another; the Catholic girl’s boarding school had been abandoned and shut up for almost seventy years and measures had been taken to keep people like us out.
Somewhere over my shoulder, I heard Damien rummaging about and took comfort in his nearness. Even if this was real and someone had been locked in here at one point, they’d have to have been let out at some point.
I turned the page again.
The silence makes it so I want to scream. I ache for voices, for laughter, for my mother and father and even my younger brother. It is an even worse pain than the burning dryness in my throat and the beast that growls in my stomach. Soon, all I will be is thirst and hunger and loneliness and all I will have are my memories of you. They grow as cold as the rest of me.
The next entry was written crookedly across the page and the penmanship was less precise.
The light is gone now. I am truly alone. I know I am next.
There was only one more entry after and it was almost carved into the page. The black ink that it had been written in had splattered and pooled in dark flecks around the words.
THEY WILL KNOW WHAT BECAME OF ME
Out in the hallway, the distant click of footsteps upon the concrete floor made both Damien and I freeze.
“Shit,” he whispered. “We’ve gotta go. Come on, Opal.”
I nodded and unconsciously tucked the diary under my arm as we crept back to the door. Damien poked his head around the corner and peered down the long hall. After a tense moment of holding our breath and listening for any more movement, he grabbed my hand and we made a run for the stairs that would us back up to the exit.
It was always an adventure sneaking into abandoned buildings, but I certainly didn’t want a trespassing charge over it. We had thought this place would be a pretty low risk bet given how far off the beaten track it was, but, apparently, we’d picked the day a security guy came to check it out.
We followed the beam from Damien’s flashlight to the steps and pushed through the swollen, reluctant door. Gray light streamed through the stained glass windows on either side of the front doors, casting the cavernous entryway in a dull glow, and our footsteps echoed loudly as we dashed for freedom. Damien grabbed the doorknob and yanked.
He pulled again, but it remained firmly shut.
“Stop fucking around,” I hissed with an anxious glance over my shoulder.
“I’m not, it won’t open!”
He twisted and turned the knob to prove it.
The grand staircase behind us creaked.
A woman dressed in a nun’s habit was slowly descending towards us. Barbed wire had been wrapped around her head, covering her eyes and her mouth and digging deeply into her mottled flesh. Blood stained her cheeks, dropped down her chin. In her hand, she held a long, thin knife. A pair of eyes had been skewered upon its tip.
I screamed and we whipped around to try the door again, but stopped short when we found that words had been scratched deeply into the wood.
Mother so superior, saw no evil
Damien stared at the writing, his mouth hanging open, and I dropped my flashlight and the diary to grab him by the wrist and haul him from the entryway, down a side corridor lined with open doors.
In the first, a room set up like a class with old desks and a blackboard. Girls, each wearing drab, dark Victorian gowns that made their pale skin all the more white, dangled above each desk, held aloft by thick ropes tied around their necks. Their purpled lips moved soundlessly as they swayed, as if they were reading the phrase etched on the blackboard.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves
In the next room, a skeleton in the tattered remains of a dress was sitting alongside a beautiful young woman with strawberry blonde hair and rosy cheeks, bony fingers entwined with long, slender ones. They were staring at the blackboard, just as the other girls had been.
Satan disguises himself as an angel of light
In the next room, the skeleton again, this time embracing a man in a fine suit. From behind, he looked like he might be handsome, striking, but then he half turned towards the door. A long tongue lolled wetly from his mouth, the only feature on his face other than countless eyes, all rolling and roving in their sockets. At the back of the room, the blonde girl was seated alone, staring at them with a smile that lit her features with darkness.
And upon the board, The mind governed by the flesh is death
The last room was empty, except for the writing on the board, drawn in careful, spidery script.
In their greed, they will exploit you with false words; their judgement is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep
We had reached the end of the hall. The door leading to the chapel was chained shut. Damien yanked at it anyway, hoping that age had taken its toll on the chain, but held fast even against his frantic pulling. I clung to his arm, my fingers digging into his flesh, urging him to get us out.
“I’m trying, I’m trying!” He shouted.
“Lavinia,” a sweet, sing song voice whispered into my ear from behind.
I whirled around. The hanging girls from the first classroom lined the hall, their ropes hanging limply around their necks. Their faces were fat and swollen, lips and tongues and eyes protruding, their throats bruised. Standing at their backs, I caught a glimpse of strawberry blonde hair.
“Witch,” one of the girls gurgled.
“Satan’s wife!” Another groaned.
“Consort of Lucifer, who has given her flesh freely to men!”
They reached for us and I shrieked, slapping at their hands, shoving at their stiff shoulders. Damien tried to get me behind him, but they pushed him easily away and I was knocked off balance in the scuffle. I fell against the doors and their cold fingers closed around my wrists and arms, tangled in my hair, and they pulled me away from Damien, back down the hall. He tried to chase, but was thrown hard against the wall and his head snapped against stone. He staggered, started to reach for me, and then slid backwards, his eyes rolling up.
A sound of such fear and distress, one I hadn’t even known I could make, escaped me.
I was dragged by those rooms with their open doors again, but now they had changed.
The first three were empty, but voices drifted from each.
“Lavinia was my dearest friend, but I can’t go on like this any longer. She has turned to darkness, she attempts to bring me to Satan’s side with her! She would see us all damned,” the same, sing song voice I had heard moments before was saying over unintelligible murmurs.
In the next room, “She cares not for you, Warren! Don’t you see? She is using you to pleasure her own flesh. She is using you to please the devil that she harbors inside of her! I am the one who is truly devoted to you! I’ve seen how you look at me, I know you feel the same, I know you know it’s the truth.”
In the next, “Mother Superior, you must believe me; Lavinia has cast a darkness over this house of God. I have seen it with my own eyes, I have heard her evil prayers deep in the night! She begs him to come for you, for me, for all of us.”
And then, in the final one, “Dearest Lavinia, you know that I hold none above you in my heart save for the Lord himself. Of course I do not covet what is yours; not your betrothed, not your friendships, not anything! You have nothing to fear, for we two are like sisters. Put to bed those rumors you’ve heard, they are meaningless gossip.”
In that doorway, the strawberry blonde girl was standing, her hands clasped contritely in front of her, and she scowled at me.
“Sinner! Corruption! She must be stopped!” She shouted, her voice still sing song even then.
I screamed and I writhed in the grasp of those girls, but they pushed and shoved and half carried me along, back into the entryway, back to the steps leading down to the basement. Terror like I had never known coursed through me and I cried out for Damien.
Mother Superior was still standing on the grand stairs. She turned pointedly away as we passed beneath her.
The basement was shrouded in total darkness without my flashlight and I couldn’t see anything, could only hear the low burbles and moans made by the girls surrounding me. I stumbled, tripped, and was dragged by my hair across the floor. I couldn’t stop my own screaming.
Hands grabbed at me from every direction, pulling and poking and pushing, until I was lifted from the ground and thrown. I landed hard on my back and the air was forced from my lungs.
In the dark, a nearby door slammed and a lock clicked noisily into place.
Has there ever been so loud a sound as that lock you placed upon the door?
I howled for ages, until my throat was raw and I thought it might bleed. I felt along the wall, found the door, and I pounded against it, threw my body against it, tried over and over to wrench it open, but it barely budged. I shut my eyes and slumped against it, tears slipping down my cheeks.
When I opened them again, a soft glow was coming from behind me.
I spun, my heart dipping low into my stomach, but all that awaited me was a small lantern sitting on the floor in front of the pile of blankets where we’d first found that diary. When nothing moved beneath them, I inched towards the welcomed light, never taking my eyes from those blankets. As I stared at them, another line from Lavinia’s diary came to mind.
Soon, all I will be is thirst and hunger and loneliness and all I will have are my memories of you. They grow as cold as the rest of me.
What would a girl trapped in an old storeroom do for warmth?
My hand shook uncontrollably as I slowly extended it towards those moth eaten blankets and made myself pull them aside.
Beneath, a skeleton in the tattered remains of a Victorian gown bared her teeth in an eternal grin at me. An old, rusted pen was lying beside her.
“Lavinia,” I whispered.
I sank back on my heels and held her empty gaze.
St. Flora’s had remained home to one girl, even after it closed its doors for good in the early 1920s. Betrayed by her best friend, abandoned by her fiancé in favor of his wandering eye, turned on by those she had trusted. All because that pretty girl with the strawberry blonde hair and rosy cheeks had wanted what she had.
Lavinia had died a terrible, slow death in the name of greed and lust and superstitious herd mentality, and in those final days, she had written four last diary entries so that people might know what she went through.
Out in the hall, I heard Damien call my name.
“In here!” I shouted back, all at once desperate again. “It’s locked, tho-”
Before I could even finish the sentence, he’d pushed the door open. The lantern light went out as soon as his flashlight found me. I scrambled to my feet and fell into arms, sobbing and telling him to get me out of there. Hand in hand, we raced back up the steps and to the front door, where I paused only once and only briefly before we fled.
Lavinia’s diary had still been sitting in the entryway where I’d dropped it. I couldn’t leave it there. I couldn’t leave her there.
I had to make sure that people knew what became of Lavinia Cartwright.