(Eds. note: This is the Third Place winner of San Angelo LIVE!'s "It's A-LIVE!" writing contest. This story's author, Samantha Vanpelt is a freshman at San Angelo Central High, Freshman Campus)
The old schoolhouse resided on a lonely, abandoned hill. It had been there for as long as anyone could remember and had long since been forgotten. No one went near it. The story was legend. A thing told to frighten children. It wasn’t real. Or so they thought.
He was dead, died a long time ago, in the schoolhouse that everyone was afraid to go near. They used to make fun of him, the other students. They made fun of his name. And one day, he snapped. He set a fire in the one-room schoolhouse, tried to burn it to the ground. He died inside the blaze, taking his teacher and four students with him. Charlie Charley was his name.
The event became the talk of the town: Everyone recalled the story of Charlie Charley and the blackened schoolhouse. The elders whispered that the fire had been started with two pencils and a piece of paper. They said that Charlie Charley could be summoned with these items. But they dismissed it as legend, folklore. It wasn’t real. Or so they thought.
She was utterly alone. Her parents had filed for divorce and rarely acknowledged her. She had no friends. Her enemies were no more. She was the only one brave enough to approach the schoolhouse. She had no friends. Or so they thought.
She had proven them wrong though. For one day, a day long since passed, she took paper and pencils to the top of the hill. She wrote out “yes” and “no” on the sheet of paper, and she formed a cross with the two pencils on top of the paper. She sat there, staring at the marred schoolhouse, the bricks still black with ash. And then she closed her eyes and spoke. “Charlie Charley, are you here?” Wind tickled the leaves of the trees, but there was no answer. She was a patient girl though and tried again, knowing she had nothing to lose. The lonely girl tried five more times before standing and turning her back on the setup. She was about to run home when a sudden desire to turn overtook her. Slowly, she turned and peered at the paper on the ground. The top pencil had moved.
From that day on the friendless girl was no longer friendless. She had a friend now, a secret one. One that no one else could communicate with. She took pride in that. She and Charlie had spoken of a great many things, but every conversation would end with her speaking of the mean children at school. And one day, not really expecting a response, she said, “Charlie Charley would you rid me of my enemies?” She glanced at the paper expecting to see the pencils still perfectly balanced. But they were not. For the top one had fallen and the point was declaring yes.
That was when the deaths started happening. The police were called; the town went into mass panic. Children were kept home from school. Investigations were called to order. And justice was sought after desperately. She found herself spending more and more time at the abandoned schoolhouse. She didn’t want to speak to anyone. She just sat at the top of the hill and watched the town from afar. Police were driving themselves mad over the cases. They searched for clues, anything to lead them to a suspect, to someone with information. There was nothing. The cases didn’t seem to be related in any way. But they were. For they were all the friendless child’s enemies and Charlie had taken care of them.
When news of the deaths first reached her, she’d returned to the hill. Thanksgiving was upon them and she was thankful for finally having a friend, but fear tore at her. Remorse churned in her stomach. Often she sat at the top of Charlie’s hill and cried. More than once she had tried contacting him, planning to tell him to stop, but Charlie could not be called upon. It was as if he did not wish to speak with her. And his absence hurt worse than the knowledge of her enemies’ demise.
After many weeks of deaths, Charlie stopped. There were no more enemies to take care of. But all was not well. She came to the hill one day in the middle of winter. School was out, not that anyone had been going. She came with a backpack and a threadbare coat pulled tightly around her. It was snowing. Christmas was a few days away. She sat at the top of the hill and prepared the setup. Then she called out to him. “Charlie Charley, are you here?” The wind howled, blowing specks of snow around her. She pulled her coat tighter. The paper lay on the ground and was soaked through from the snow. But the pencils did not lie. Charlie was here. And he was listening. “Charlie, I can’t do this anymore,” she whispered, tears threatening to escape. “I can’t do it.” The pencils did not move. The only questions Charlie could answer were yes or no ones. She shook her head and reached for her fallen bag. Inside were a letter and a gun. She pulled the letter out first and leaned it against the backpack. She wiped her eyes, reached for the gun. Inside the chamber was a single bullet. She almost choked on her next words. “I told them, Charles. They know it was me; that it was my fault they died.” Tears fell and froze when they hit the cold ground. “They’re coming for me, Charlie.” In the distance was the sound of sirens. Over the hill, she could see lights. They were coming. There was still time. She wiped at her eyes. “Charlie Charley, are we friends?”
Yes. She had expected him to say that. Hoped he would. She had so desperately wanted it to be true. And it was. She sighed, her breath a white plume in the frosty air. She nodded to herself and swallowed the lump in her throat. The police sirens were closer now, only a few minutes away. The friendless girl placed the gun under her chin and closed her eyes. Sobs racked her body and she was starting to lose confidence. She pushed all thought from her mind and glared at the paper in front of her as if waiting for it to do a trick. Her index finger wrapped around the trigger.
“Charlie Charley, can I join you?” The sirens continued, getting closer every second. Getting closer, closer, closer. The wind howled. The pencil stirred. It started to spin. And when it stopped, she smiled. For Charlie Charley was her best friend in life. And he would be the same in death.