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I'm tired. Today's chapter may be short. Not that anyone cares.

Chapter the Fifth: Storytelling

Although she chose not to tell Lilly, Kathy's reason for joining the Goth scene was quite simple: she was afraid of the dark. For as long as she could remember, she had slept with her nightlight on, hunkering down in the tiny puddle of light that was her room to wait out the morning. If the bulb burnt out, she would call for her parents. Four years ago, when Kathy was a high school freshman, her sister Izzy - an infinitely more mature high school senior - had decided enough was enough and begun ragging on her about it. Her strategies were varied and sometimes cruel. There had been the reasonable face-your-fears pep talks. The 'Mom, the light from under Kathy's door is keeping me awake.' The humiliation and taunting. The environmentalist, conserve-energy rants. One day, Izzy had just broken the power cord of Kathy's lamp; that had been a horrible, terrifying night.

Kathy, meanwhile, had always known a thing or two about goths. There was a crowd of them down at the mall, hanging out by the pretentious, dimly lit stores; there was even a small group in her school, mopey girls who read Twilight and wrote bad poetry. It seemed to her, in her fourteen-year-old brain, that they came as close to embracing the night as anyone could, and maybe if she did the same, she could face her fear by becoming one with it. She began reading up on them. She began shopping at their stores, and dressing like them. She began listening to their music and gravitating towards their literature. She became one of the freaks, joined forces with the darkness.

Eventually it had all just become habit. She had stopped needing her nightlight, sure enough. Yet the whole goth thing never entirely ceased to feel like a shell, wrapping around who she really was and protecting it without fundamentally changing it. Deep inside, she was still terrified of the dark.

This would turn out to be a bad thing some time around sundown on her first day at Leshe.

Becca dragged her and Lilly out to dinner, forced them to converse, and made some new friends by what looked to Kathy like sheer force of will. By the end of the first week, Becca would probably be on a first name basis with thousand-and-change students attending Leshe. If she didn't know everyone on their floor of Benedict, at least, Kathy would have been very surprised. Then it was back to the dormitories and up to the fourth floor to track down Chris, pound on his door, and demand the ghost stories he had promised them.

He was napping at his desk, but Becca was nothing if not persistent, and she convinced him. They trooped down to room six.

The British boys across the hall - Alex and Nick, Kathy soon learned - seemed intrigued by the prospect when Becca invited them over. "My audience grows," Chris remarked in his lilting accent. "All right, but you've got to turn off the lights."

Becca offered him her neatly made bed to sit on, sweeping off stray CDs with one arm and lifting her guitar case with the other. "Hey, d'you play?" asked Alex, indicating the instrument.

"More or less. We can all roast marshmallows and hold a singalong tomorrow if you like," Becca joked, snatching one of her colorful pillows, flicking off the ceiling light, and making herself comfortable on the floor. Lilly settled onto the edge of her own bed, perching like a raven, and Alex sat on the floor next to her; Kathy climbed up to the top bunk and leaned over, twin braids swinging down like vines.

"Anyone else want a pillow?" she asked.

"Sure, chuck one over," said Nick; Kathy tossed hers down, and he seated himself on a patch of bare floor.

"All right, ghost stories," said Chris, taking a seat on Becca's quilted bedspread and crossing his legs, pretzel style. With the lights out and the sun nearly set, it wasn't easy to see in the room; he was little more then a glowingly white tee shirt and a pale smudge of skin, moving slightly. There was a jingle, as of a ring of keys, and then a harsh white light snapped on, shining from Chris's hand and striking a reflection off the window. Kathy thought she caught a glimpse of motion outside, but she blinked her eyes clear, closing them briefly. The dark wasn't frightening. It didn't conceal any monsters worse then her - costumed, with dyed hair and too much eye makeup.

Chris pointed the flashlight up, so it shone on his lean face from below, throwing shadows that made his cheeks gaunt and his eyes dark pits. "All right. There are many legends about this school. 'Tis to be expected, with so many people who immerse themselves in horror stories, to study and to write. They say they Leshe family, they who sold the school, were vampyres, or trafficked with demons and fey. They say the wolves who roam the forests take human form during daylight. They say spirits and corpses walk. I've not seen any of that, so I can't say yea or nay, but I can tell you a story of two years passed - of a girl named Claudette Dumas."

His accent, Kathy noticed, had gotten thicker. She was willing to bet that, like the flashlight, was for dramatic effect.

"I was not well acquainted with Claudette, but everyone in our class knew her - she was a rare beauty, tall and golden haired, so light and thin you would have thought a breeze would carry her off. And to add to that she was a recluse, didn't mingle much with us peasants. Descended from some monied French family, she was, or at least, that's what we were told.

"She had an unhealthy fascination with those portraits in the front hall of the castle - the ones no other student walks past twice." Kathy bit her lip at this - well, she had walked past them once, and once with Becca, that didn't count. "She went in by the front door every time, and some days, if you were to walk t'wards the entrance hall from the back and stand outside it with a sharp ear, you could hear her voice, as though she were speaking to someone.

"Then the girl found another painting - a family portrait, mind, with every Leshe in it - down in a basement storeroom, one with a padlocked door." At that Kathy nearly said something, but decided to let it go, let Chris finish. It was just a story, after all, probably something he had made up after seeing all these paintings himself. "If the portraits in the front hall had inspired an unhealthy interest, this painting obsessed her. One day, she hadn't shown up in any of her classes. The staff started to worry - aye, even they noticed her more then they noticed the other students. As I said, she was a beauty. They noticed when she went missing, and they set out to find her. Not in her room, no, and not sick was she - she was in the basement room where the painting hung, clawing at the padlock so's her nails were broken and her fingers were starting to bleed. You can still see it if you go down there, blood on the padlock."

He paused briefly. Kathy tried to remember if she had seen anything suspicious on the padlock. She hadn't gotten a very good look at it.

"They who found her called in the medical staff, who didn't take long to arrive; they decided she was mad. So they brought her to her dormitory to rest and called the hospital, the one in the city. But by the time the helicopter arrived-" Chris flicked off the light. Kathy dug her black-painted fingernails into the mattress and squeezed her eyes shut, so she didn't have to see the dark.

"Claudette Dumas was gone."

There was a small shriek, unmistakably Becca's. "Where'd she go?"

"No one knows," said Chris. "To this very day. But some foolish students who go in by the front entrance hall claim they meet someone there - a tall blonde girl, very strange and very beautiful."

Kathy felt as though her heart might leap out of her chest. Prank it might be - she suspected Chris and the girl she had met this morning might be in cahoots - but combined with the darkness, it was just too much. She dropped off the bunk bed, landing badly, and stumbled over to the door to switch on the light. Only when the red of her eyelids showed her the room was once again illuminated did she open her eyes.

Chris raised a shapely brow at her, and she realized the rest of the room was studying her as well. "Um. Think I dropped something," she said, walking back to her bed and going down on her hands and knees as if to search. "Give me a second."

"I've never seen Claudette myself since she disappeared," said Chris airily. "O'course, I don't go in by those doors. Perhaps someone who does would have a more interesting encounter." He yawned, stretching his hands over his head. "At any rate, I'm takin' advantage of the fact that I've yet got no homework to bank some extra sleeping time. Goodnight, Freshmen." His subtle smirk took in the whole room, but Kathy, looking up from her imaginary search, swore it was especially aimed at her. "Sweet dreams."

He turned off the light again as he left too, the son of a hamster.

All post art not specifically credited elsewhere is mine.

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