Old cement dust left her hands stained white, but she couldn’t leave a mark on the concrete. She smoothed out the ledge of the tower landing as if it were the bed sheet she tucked back every morning for fear of wrapped knuckles and dirty looks. Hospital corners pulled tight as a choke hold. A hundred immaculate beds in her dormitory and not enough concern for the young messes that slept in them.
Even the dirt at Farron Hall felt sophisticated, as if the grounds knew that being spotless was bourgeois. To be historic meant to have some cobwebs in the corner – even if they were manicured, too.
The girl shifted to feel more of the dirt slide underneath her Mary Janes. The soles sounded like a mother comforting a child. She looked down. So much empty between her and the earth.
Three times she whispered her name into the howling air. Inhaling spiny cold, she wondered if there were tracks in her make-up where tears had danced down her cheek in three-quarter time. She brushed the side of her face, feeling faintly like a young girl about to grow up, but mostly like a young girl behaving like a young girl. Her defiance forced the minority opinion to rise in revolution against her mind’s cautious side and face that wind as if she were carrying a torn flag across burnt-out rubble. Air whipping her face, she climbed onto the ledge.
Where were the minds of her generation now that they were enveloped by the scratch of pencils scrawling the same ten words all the way off the page? Why did no one care to hear her?
How long would it take her to fall?
She imagined standing there as a test of her own – administered with care to the people around her. This tower, her classroom. The wind, her lectern. She would stand on the ledge until someone came to save her only to laugh in their face for taking too long. She would say they were wrong for spelling out I Love Yous in chalk instead of etching them deep into the walls of pristine buildings with manicured cobwebs.
She felt the slap on her wrist that released them from her perch. She felt the gentle placement of a hand on her back pushing her toward infinity. She braced herself on the ledge and wondered if she’d leave a mark when she landed.
She took one step forward and stained a two-hundred-year-old sidewalk below.
After that, she became part of the walls, part of the grounds, part of the snow that fell each winter. She was the whisper from room to room, the shuffling of feet on the hurried ground, the ghost sung about in the great halls meant to thrill and to menace and to dare the others to stand at the tower ledge as she did and scream her name on freezing days three times into the wind.
Scott Beggs writes and edits at Mental Floss, Nerdist, and other fine sites, and his short stories have previously appeared in Dark Moon Digest, Mulholland Books’ Popcorn Fiction, and MYTHIC Magazine. Follow him on twitter @scottmbeggs and visit scottbeggs.com for more.