On a field trip to an old spooky castle, Lola meets a mysterious girl
The castle loomed large and ominous above me. I heard the tour guide blabber on about some people who had died inside the castle, probably trying to make it appear scarier than it was—something about ghosts and people hearing screams when no one was there. I wasn’t scared; I just didn’t want to be there. All I wanted to do was go home and be with my cat, the only being I felt I could trust.
A feeling of loneliness washed over me as I watched the girls in the class huddling up and whispering about how creepy the castle was. The way the girls all had their secrets reminded me of my old best friend, Olivia. We used to be like that, always sharing inside jokes.
When we were in fifth grade we began drifting apart, but honestly, she started drifting away. Every time I wanted to hang out with her, she would push me aside. She stopped inviting me over, stopped calling me, and before I knew it, we weren’t even eating lunch together. After that, I felt completely alone.
By then everyone else had already formed cliques.
The tour guide showed us through the door. As soon as we walked in, I noticed how dim the castle was. Engraved details covered the walls. I watched a mouse scurry from one hole in the wall to another. There were so many different passageways.
The group paused to look at a painting of another one of those old rich guys from the 1800s. “Arthur Livingstone.” He was the master of the castle, and he had been the seventh-most wealthy man in America at the time, the tour guide explained.
I didn’t care.
My eyes wandered, looking for anything more interesting than this. It was then that I noticed a dark passageway with a black piece of tape blocking off the entrance, and a sign saying DO NOT ENTER.
Do you know that feeling when you are being drawn toward something even though you know it’s wrong and every bone in your body is telling you not to do it, yet the pull feels stronger than you? That’s what I was feeling right then. The doorway grabbed my attention and pulled me in, just like a spider grabs its prey. I couldn’t look away. I stood there awkwardly staring at the hallway.
I should stop now, I told myself. Just turn around and go back to the class. But my feet kept walking.
One of the girls came up to me. “Staring off into space again?” She turned around and whispered to her friend, but loud enough so that I could hear: “Super weird.”
I had to get away. I hated this tour. The hallway seemed inviting, like a kind of escape. Plus, it wasn’t like anyone would notice I was gone. I wondered why it was closed off: was it just under repairs, or had something bad happened down there? It might sound weird, but in some ways I identified with the passage, separated from the rest of the castle, all alone.
Doorways lined the dark and dusty hallway. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling, almost concealed by the carvings. Before I knew it, I felt surrounded, trapped. Did I hear footsteps behind me? Was someone there? I turned my head to make sure no one was following me. I took a deep breath and kept walking. The hallway was becoming more ominous. I felt the urge to scream to hear my echo, but I didn’t. Shivers ran down my spine as I made my way through the darkness.
I should stop now, I told myself. Just turn around and go back to the class. But my feet kept walking.
I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was scared, but I noticed I was shaking. It felt almost as though I was at war with myself and being pulled in two different directions. Part of me wanted to turn around and go back to the tour, but the other part of me wanted to keep going.
I wondered what this passage led to, and what it had been used for back in the day. I imagined a servant girl walking through here holding a duster and stopping at one of the bookcases nailed to the wall to dust off shelves.
This hallway reminded me of when I was little and my family would drive through a tunnel. I would feel that the tunnel went on forever. I would ask my parents over and over how much longer, but they would brush off the questions and tell me we were almost there. That’s what this passage felt like, except no one was there to assure me that everything was going to be okay.
Looking ahead, a door caught my eye; it seemed to be glowing. I fastened my eyes shut and reminded myself that it was just a door. When I opened my eyes it still seemed to be glowing. Was I going crazy?
I walked toward it and noticed the dark-brown wood. It was curved at the top and covered with an immense amount of detail, swirls upon swirls tumbling on top of each other and making it hard to focus on one part; the swirls were intertwined, resembling vines or knots of messy hair strewn together.
I wondered what was behind the door. Did it lead somewhere else? I imagined walking inside. Maybe I would find some stairs that led to a series of underground tunnels? Walking away seemed out of the question—I had to take one quick look. It was different from the other doors: more intricate, more menacing. I was fascinated. My eyes searched for a doorknob. Instead, there was an old-fashioned door knocker. Every creak of the door made me flinch. My stomach was in knots.
As I pulled open the door, I took a step back and realized what a ridiculous idea this had been. Did I think I would find something in here? But as soon as I stepped back, I wanted to step forward again. It was the weirdest sensation—it was as if I couldn’t walk away; the force was too strong. The door creaked, gradually revealing more and more of the room.
It was just a closet. A bookcase stood nailed to the wall next to a trunk and a mirror. A map taped to the door caught my eye. Why would there be a map stored in a closet? The temperature must have dropped ten degrees as I stepped inside.
Just then, the door slammed and closed behind me. I heard the latch click before I realized what had happened. A ringing penetrated through my ears. I tried to scream, but nothing came out. I slammed my fists on the door until they started to turn red and hurt. I turned and sat down on the trunk. What had I done?
I stared at myself in the dusty mirror. My curly brown hair had fallen out of its ponytail. I wasn’t the type of girl who really looked in the mirror. Other girls my age would spend hours just staring at and admiring themselves in the mirror. I didn’t. I spent too much time inside my head to really focus on what I looked like. How people would see my personality seemed more important than what they would think about which outfit I wore.
I peered back at the door. Maybe if I concentrated hard enough it would open? Nope. Already it felt like an hour had passed.
* * *
The latch clicked. Was someone coming? As I hurried to the door, I could feel my heart skip a beat. The door was thrown open. A servant girl around my age stood in the doorway. Dust and grime covered her face, and she wore a black blouse with a white apron. She looked surprisingly similar to the girl I’d imagined walking through the hallway dusting the bookcases.
Relief flooded over me. I was saved! “Thank you! I’ve been trapped here for at least an hour,” I said.
She stepped inside and closed the door behind her. The latch clicked.
“What are you doing?” I asked. “Aren’t you here to let me out?!” I ran up to the door and tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. “What have you done?!”
She stared at me, her eyes unmoving. “How are you doing? My name is Jane,” she said with a slight accent I couldn’t identify.
I felt the anger swell up inside of me. I was suddenly sweating. It was infuriating how she had completely ignored my question. I took a long, deep breath and attempted to respond calmly. “It seems as though you hold the key. Would you mind letting me out of here?”
As I glanced back at her, I noticed that her eyes looked red and puffed. I realized she had been crying.
I didn’t even know this girl. She seemed like she didn’t belong here, like she was out of place—or time.
“Oh, don’t be mad, Miss. You have witnessed my sorrow. And you see, this is where I come when I am upset. No one can find me when I am here.”
The anger in me subsided. I suddenly felt compassion toward her.
“If I ask you why you are upset, will you let me out?”
“Oh certainly, Miss—”
“My name is Lola,” I interrupted.
“Well then, Lola. You see, no one ever uses this room, so I stole the key from my mother. My family takes care of this place. They are the caretakers. I come here when I am terribly lonely, as I am right now. I lost my dog a few weeks ago. He was my best friend. I miss him so much. Every time I look for him and come back alone, I come here and weep.”
Caretakers? She must mean security. “Oh, I’m sorry,” I replied. “I have a cat. She is my best friend.” I spoke calmly “Now, will you let me out with the key you have?”
There was a pause. A look of pleasure crossed over Jane’s face.
“Would you . . . do you want to be my friend?” Although she appeared oblivious to the fact that I wanted to get out, something moved in me.
She reminded me of Olivia. We used to tell each other everything. We would be at her house sitting on her purple and blue beanbags eating the oatmeal cookies her mom made. She was an only child, but she convinced her mom to buy two beanbags, one for her and one for me. I wondered if she still had both beanbags. Was one of her new friends sitting on it? Or had she simply thrown it away along with all the memories of our friendship?
Jane seemed like she could understand things the same way Olivia had, like I would be able to tell her anything and she wouldn’t judge. Suddenly I wanted, needed, to be friends with her.
I stopped myself. I didn’t even know this girl. She seemed like she didn’t belong here, like she was out of place—or time. Yet even though she was so mysterious, there was something familiar about her. It felt like there was a string connecting my heart to hers and if tried to pull away, I wouldn’t be able to. I felt a connection between us just like there had been between me and Olivia. We both had that emptiness only a friend could fill.
“Okay,” I said.
“Splendid! So what do friends do? I’ve never actually had one.”
Jane’s statement made me sad. Never had a friend? At least I’d had Olivia. But was that worse—having a best friend, then losing her?
I was about to tell Jane about Olivia, but suddenly I remembered where I was.
“Well, they usually help each other out. Like if one of the friends needed to be released from a certain closet, the other friend would help them get out.”
She just stared at me blankly.
I used to imagine this scale in my head that would show how “hot” or “cold” I was. The lowest level was “cool,” which meant I was calm; the highest level was “boiling,” which meant that whatever was happening needed to stop or I wasn’t going to be okay. I felt my meter creep up toward “very warm.” I wanted to leave—it felt like I had been in this room for hours.
What was wrong with Jane? Why wouldn’t she let me out? I envisioned going up to her and simply grabbing the key. It taunted me—right there in her pocket. But I couldn’t do it. Having a friend felt so good, and I didn’t want to make her cross. I didn’t want to lose this feeling of friendship and closeness.
Jane was strange, with her accent and her clothes. She could almost be from the 1800s or something. The thought passed through my mind, but I simply shrugged it off; that would be impossible.
* * *
There was a knock at the door. I heard my teacher’s voice, desperate. “Lola, are you in there?” I was saved, for real this time. My teacher threw open the door. How had it opened so easily? Had it been unlocked the whole time? There was no time to think about things like that. I needed to get out of this castle.
“What took you so long? I was in there for hours!” I shouted. I knew it was pointless to yell at my teacher, but I couldn’t stay in there any longer. She glanced at her watch. “It’s hardly been fifteen minutes,” my teacher said. Was I just imagining that it had taken that long? No. It had been longer than that.
I could think about that later. Now all I wanted to do was get out; this castle felt full of tricks. “I want to leave, now,” I said, with sternness in my voice. I wasn’t going to let the teacher persuade me to stay; this field trip was over. I turned to Jane.
What about you? Do you want to leave with me?” I asked.
“I simply couldn’t.”
“Oh, well. Bye.” I was disappointed but also eager to leave and finally be free.
“Maybe you can stay here with me?” she asked. “We can keep searching for my dog together. He must be around here somewhere. Even though Mr. Livingstone told me that there was no use in looking for him and that he was most definitely lost. We can be best friends.”
“Lola, who are you talking to?” my teacher asked.
“Oh, um . . . this is my friend, Jane.”
My teacher gave me a strange stare. “Come on. Let’s go,” she said. Then to herself, she muttered, “Her parents will be even more worried if they discover she has imaginary friends again.”
Somehow I didn’t care if my teacher didn’t see Jane. I knew she was there. I was torn: should I stay with her? It wasn’t like there was anything better back home. Plus, I did want a friend, and I longed for the feeling of a best friend. But the way Jane had said “best friends” made me shiver. Somehow I sensed that if I became friends with her, I would never come back.
I had to leave.
My teacher grabbed my wrist. Her hand was warm and clammy. She pressed her fingernail into the flesh of my arm. I knew she wanted to get out of there as much as I did. We began to walk away. I took a deep breath; things would be okay. I would get out of this dreadful castle.
Suddenly a memory flashed through my head. When I was eight, Olivia’s mom took us camping. We stayed up late telling scary stories. Olivia came up with this story about a deeply troubled boy who became possessed by a ghost. Olivia told the story with ghoulish relish. I couldn’t go to sleep that night or many nights after. But Jane wasn’t a ghost, was she?
I heard my heart beating. It rattled in my chest and drilled into my brain. I was sure that my teacher could hear it, and as a matter of fact, I thought I could hear hers. A droplet of sweat ran down my face. I could taste it, salty on my tongue. It was almost comforting; it reminded me that I was still in control of my body. The smell of dust was clogging my nostrils. My vision seemed to be cloudy, and my head hurt. I could barely see anything. I felt overwhelmed, forced to completely trust my teacher.
The walls were closing in.
As we rushed away, I pictured the invisible string connecting me and Jane snapping. We were practically running through the passage. I felt the string bend. Why wouldn’t it snap? Was Jane getting closer? There she was, hovering over the floor coming closer and closer to me. Every step I took she traveled two.
She was above me.
In less than a second, she vanished. A weird sensation hit me. It felt like my body was crowded. I heard a voice in my head, but it wasn’t mine.
“Now we can be best friends. Forever.”