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Ghost In The Bathroom
I was inspired to write this piece because of a rumor I heard in third grade that a ghost haunted the elementary school bathroom. I've always loved ghost stories, so I decided to write one!
Your name is Tessa Bloom, and you are eight years old. You just moved to a new state, New York, to a new city, New York City, to a new house, a small apartment where you lived with your insane aunt and older sister, and to a new school, one of the ones where you have to wear collared pastel blue shirts and khaki skirts and kneesocks that hide the bruises on your legs from where you fell off the slide in the middle of a heated game of tag with your older sister. One of those schools.
Your teacher introduces herself as Mrs. Hermani, and the class choruses a “Good morning, Mrs. Hermani.” and soon you feel yourself being frog-marched up to the front of the room and your reddish brown pigtails flop against your shoulders as your feet involuntarily move to where the teacher stands smiling. “Class, this is Tessa, our new student. Why don’t you talk a little bit about yourself? This third grade class is very kind and would love a new friend to join them!” You notice two girls roll their eyes in the back of the classroom and mimic the teacher, making a few other girls snicker softly.
Your hands feel clammy and you wish you had one of your stuffed animals to cling to but they’re all in your backpack and you’re here in this scary new school that’s named after some ancient saint or something. “My name is T-tessa Bloom,” you say, your voice squeaking at the end of your sentence. “I moved here from Vermont.”
“How nice, dear! Would you like to tell us a fact about yourself?” Mrs. Herman-sherman or whatever states. Your legs shake and you stare at your feet in those stupid little shiny black shoes that pinch your toes.
“Well,” you manage to croak. “I like mythical creatures like dragons and phoenixes, I like pretending, and when I grow up, I want to be a licensed attorney. Or an artist. I can’t decide.” You offer a friendly, gap-toothed smile to the audience of preppy NYC third-graders.
“How lovely, Tessa! Why don’t you sit next to...Britney?” Mrs. Hermani says cheerfully.
“Sure,” the girl - Britney - says, chewing gum and blowing a huge pink bubble that she pops with one finger. She flips her blond hair and scooches over to make room for you. You plop down and sit in your seat with a huge grin on your face.
The next few hours seem like a blur to you. School has always been easy for you, so you don’t pay attention. Besides, if your sister wasn’t out with her boyfriend that night, then you could always ask her for help. She was older than you and better than you in every way. Your hair was red, while hers was auburn. Your freckles were cute, hers were natural beauty. You were smart, she was a prodigy. You were in third grade, she was in ninth. You were adorable little Tess-tess, and she was absolutely lovely Lanie. Your parents loved her more than they loved you. She was smarter, prettier, better in every way. You didn’t care though. As long as you had your stuffed dragons and phoenixes, you were perfectly content to spend hours alone in your room while your parents took Lanie to soccer games and beauty pageants and boy-girl parties where mysterious stuff took place that you didn’t dare ask your parents about. Lanie was nice to you unlike your parents, who took no notice in you. Lanie would play games with you and talk to you and help you with homework and fighting and drama. You admired her in that cliche sisterly way, despite you not wanting to admit it.
The recess bell snaps you out of your thoughts, and you follow the stream of children out to the playground. You skip about and settle down by a tree and pull your stuffed animals out of your backpack and start up a new game. You begin to think of a plotline when a hand grabs one of your pigtails. You look up to see Britney and the four giggling girls in class. “Hello,” you say politely. “Is there something you’d like?”
“Is there something you’d like?” mimics a girl, sniggering. Her friend punches her in the arm and mouths “Shut up, Lila!” while giggling herself.
“Hey, Tessa, can I be a fairy-princess unicorn? I wanna be a baby too!” the girl - Lila - says, laughing.
“She ain’t a baby, she’s a freaking fetus. No self-respecting baby would dare act like this loser over here.” says one of the girls who you think is named Chrissy.
By this point you are unable to speak. You just stare at the girls blankly trying to hold back tears.
Britney smiles sweetly, too sweet. “Girls, don’t be mean! She just is a little lost.” She then looks down at you. “Why aren’t you wearing it?”
“Wearing what?” you manage to choke out.
“Wearing your collar, of course. Do you not have an owner? Hey guys,” she hollers. “I found a stray dog on the playground. Does anyone want to claim it?” The girl posse shake their heads no and back away.
“I don’t want it,” yells a random kid. “It has fleas! We should take it to the pound! Have them euthanize it! No one’s gonna wanna adopt something like that!”
“Kill the fleas! Kill the fleas! Kill the fleas!” choruses the third graders on the playground as Lila and Britney kick dirt at you, soiling your precious stuffed animals. You clutch your backpack tightly and shove all of your animals inside, zipping it up as you race inside in tears. The hallways are empty and alone, and you keep running until you fall down a flight of stairs and land in front of a rickety looking door marked WOMEN. Perfect. A bathroom. You slip inside, turn on the lights, and walk into a stall, sobbing. “I hate it here,” you say in tears. “My parents were right. I really was just a mistake child. Those kids were right too. I’m stupid, I’m ugly, I’m immature.”
And at that moment, you realized that it wasn’t them you hated, it was yourself.
You continue sobbing for a long time. You hear the bell ring and you don’t care. You just sit in that stall with your bony knees pressed against your chest, huddling and accidentally impaling yourself with a pen, watching the ink and blood mix in a strange beautifully morbid swirl.
“Don’t do that.” A voice came from outside the stall, a strange, calming, childlike voice. You freeze, your pen clattering to the ground. “I don’t like it when people get hurt. I hope you’re not naked, I’d like to come in and keep you company.”
“Who are you?” You ask, your voice still choked with tears. You unlock the door and push it open to see a young girl, about your age, standing in a too-big collared white shirt with a too-big dark blue dress over it. Her black hair is wispy and long and swishes down to the middle of her back. You envy her hair. Yours can never grow much longer than your shoulders.
She walks right over to you - something with the way she walks bothers you - and sits down cross-legged in the middle of the bathroom floor. “Well, aren’t you going to come and join me?”
Your sister told you not to talk to strangers, but this girl seems nice. Unlike the other kids. You warily plop down next to her. She automatically reaches out and grabs your injured arm. Her hands are unnaturally cold and you feel a shiver go through you as her fingers brush your wound. “You really should wash that,” she says. “You might get ink poisoning and that would be scary.” She leads you to the sinks and turns on the faucet, thrusting your arm under the water. She pumps some soap out of the soap dispenser and rubs it on your injury, making sure to get off every last trace of ink.
“My name’s Tessa Bloom.” you say for some reason. “How ‘bout you?”
“I’m Rissa,” she replies, not looking up from your injury. She then turns to you. “The cut itself isn’t that big. You don’t need a bandage.”
You look at her and hope for the best. You fling your arms around her and hug her out of pure desperation and want for a friend that’s your own age. She’s so cold - you feel her stiffen under your touch then melt into the hug, her arms seeming to sink into your back making you even more chilly. “Why are you helping me?” you ask, finally breaking away from her.
“I saw what those girls did to you,” she says. “I was bullied too. I don’t want it to happen to you.” She pushes her hair out of her face and blinks at you with unsettlingly blue eyes.
“Well,” you say, dusting the soil off of your backpack. “I should get going. I want to get back to class.” You start to head towards the door but her arm shoots out faster than normal arms should.
“Don’t go!” Her voice is pleading and desperate. “It gets lonely in here.”
“You can come with me, silly. Don’t you need to get back to class?” you say, offering an outstretched hand.
“I can’t go this far from the bathroom,” she says. “I would need to draw off of your energy to leave since there’s not outside source of energy created through some form of necromancy, and drawing off of your energy would make you sleepy. I don’t want that.”
“What do you mean, ‘draw off of my energy’? Rissa…” Your voice trails off as she hangs her head, staring at her bare feet. “Rissa…” You stare at her, at the dress, her hands, her face, her smudgy cheeks.
“I’m dead,” she whispers.
You freeze. You feel entirely numb and cold and it’s not because your new best friend is a ghost. You then think. At least you have a friend, right? And you’ve read books about friendly ghost companions. Maybe this might be fun?
You take her cold dead hand and press it against your living one. “I don’t mind if you’re dead. I’ll stay here a bit longer,” you say even though you feel guilty for missing class. You then pull out a stuffed animal. “Would you like to play a game?”
And that’s how your friendship started.
You visit her every day. More and more time is spent in the bathroom and not in class. Class is stupid. You just want Rissa, Rissa, Rissa. You don’t need to learn all these things you already know.
She first started calling you Tessie after the first week of your meetups. You almost cried. You’ve never had a nickname before. You were addicted to her like the men on the streets were addicted to cigarettes. You couldn’t ever get enough. You would run around screaming and playing and dancing and ending up in a heap on the floor and laughing like a mental patient. She would pet your hair and tell you she loved being with you and she’d smile and wrap her cold arms around you and waltz you around the room, and you loved being limp in her arms like a rag doll. You sometimes stayed overnight, your sister not minding because with you gone, she could do “stuff” with her boyfriend. You would lug your sleeping bag to school and the other kids would tease you and you wouldn’t care. You had a real friend. They didn’t matter.
Your school went from third through eighth grade and you somehow managed to pass the third grade with straight A’s and B’s. Fourth and fifth grade were not much harder. Your sister taught you all these things that she learned in class to make you seem smart to your parents. Her teachings were useless now, seeing your parents had died, except for the fact that it got you out of class.
One night on the last week of fifth grade, you curled up in your glittery teal sleeping bag and cried. You cried because you hated how you looked and you hated how the girls in your class all had little “boyfriends” and everyone still called you “Fleas” after the incident in third grade. You cried because, to be honest, you missed your parents and longed for a real life with picnics and sports and phones and beaches and BFFs.
Rissa lay on the floor next to you, pressing up against you, and she scoffed when you told her this. “You don’t need any of that! Besides, if you were like them, you wouldn’t have met me.” She said them like someone would say vomit or pimple or mold. Or fleas.
You nod silently and climb back into your sleeping bag. Rissa pushes her way in and rests a cold hand on your shoulder. She buries her face in the back of your neck and you squeak, because she is cold. Her fingers comb through your hair and brush your bare neck which feels oddly intimate and strange. You feel her lips graze your cheek and you nearly whimper because she’s so cold. Her hands trace across your forehead and over your half-lidded eyes, gentle and confusing and...you don’t know what that other feeling is. Comfort? Pity? Love?
No, it’s none of those. It’s satisfaction, the satisfaction that you, Tessa Lillian Bloom, have a best friend. One that will last forever.
You leave for the summer and forget her like you always do, spending time with cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles, running through sprinklers and swimming and celebrating your eleventh birthday at your grandparents’ house back in Vermont. During the summer, you can be a child again. Except for the day where your older cousins and your sister introduced you to bikinis and boys and high-heeled shoes and makeup that irritates your eyes. They give you a makeover, and as you stare at your reflection, you realize that you have a chance. A chance to make new friends and have a chance at loving and living a real life. You don’t think about Rissa. Not once.
On the first day of school, you walk through the same building but into the older kids’ wing and someone compliments you on the neon green tank top you’re wearing and a few new kids introduce themselves to you and you realize that what you wanted was right in front of you.
You don’t go to the bathroom in your new wing. The bathroom in that wing is too nice for your liking. You go downstairs to the old bathroom during history class (where you sit at a table with Arianna and Thomas and Kyle, your new friends), and you skip in and bump into Rissa. She’s taller and older now, and her dress seems to fit better. “Hi Rissa!” you sing and frolic over to the sinks to wash your hands.
“Tessie, what are you wearing?” she asks, her voice icy. “You look like one of them.”
“My sister gave it to me,” you reply. “I like it.”
“You look like those girls who bully you. Why do you want to imitate them?” Rissa steps over to you, and holds your hand, sending a shiver through you.
“I made new friends,” you blurt out. “They’re really nice and they like the same stuff I do. Stop being rude or I’ll leave you.”
Her hands slip around your throat and give a slow squeeze. You choke for a split second then drop as she lets you go.
“What did you do that for?” Your voice is squeaky again as you clamber up from where you had fallen on the bathroom floor.
“Don’t leave me.” she says, and you swear you can see tears.
“How did you die?” you respond, wanting to change the topic and ask her the question you’ve pondered for years.
She looks you dead in the eye. “I was murdered,” she replies. “By bullies. They shoved me in a locker after school and sprayed hairspray in the locker with me. I was overcome by the fumes and I hit my head as I passed out and died.”
Your hands cover your mouth, which is shaped in a O. “Oh my god,” you whisper, and hug Rissa as tightly as you can.
“This is why I worry about you, Tessie. I don’t want you to end up the same way I did.” Rissa gently lets go of you.
“I’m not bullied anymore, Rissa. I’m in middle school and I’m not new anymore. Everyone kinda just ignores me.” you say sternly. “I don’t need you protecting me.”
“Fine,” she replies, turning around. “If you don’t want to be on my good side, then be on my bad side. But just saying, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Rissa, no, that’s not what I meant! Wait!” She turns to look at you, her eyes reflecting her confusion and anger. You walk up to her and take her hand. “Rissa, I’m growing up.” Your voice is barely a whisper yet it seems so loud. It cuts through the tension in the air like a knife cuts through food or flesh or whatever it’s used for.
She walks over to you, and c***s her head. “You’re a strange one, Tessie.” she states. And she pulls you into her arms, pressing you uncomfortably against her. She plants a kiss on your head and you feel your whole body tremble with...you don’t even know what anymore. Rissa makes you feel so strange and you’re used to it. “Now off to class with you,” she says and disappears, leaving you with a dumb look on your face and you in a heap on the floor.
You rarely speak to Rissa at all that year. You’re too busy spending time with Kyle. He’s just so...adorable and grumpy and you kind of sort of want to kiss him. He’s your new go-to for problems, seeing that he’s got some himself. When you’re not with Kyle you’re with Arianna and Thomas, who have been best friends for years. Arianna is obsessed with vintage photography and seances and weird Japanese horror movies and Thomas is obsessed with those weird community apps where you have to build some medieval monster palace and you have to battle them. It’s practically a cheap app version of Pokemon. You always invite those two over to your apartment to have seances for Thomas’s monsters that “died” in battle. It never worked, of course, but it was still fun to try to summon the ghost of a virtual winged horse-dragon-tiger mutation thing.
Seventh grade rolls around, the year where you can start to take electives. You choose law studies, of course. You still want to be an attorney or an artist. You shine in that class and your self-esteem reflects your grades, soaring high over everyone else. You realize you don’t care what other people think of you. You haven’t been bullied for years. Everything is peaceful and happy. That winter, your lips finally brush Kyle’s in a swift kiss at your school’s Winter Dance. You have never been happier. You dance around your room that night with your sister and her boyfriend, no, fiance. Lanie twirls you around and you laugh with joy. Her boyfriend, Minnow (you think that’s a nickname), smiles and challenges you to a round of Mario Kart and he finally lets you win. You got to move in with Lanie and Minnow that night into their larger apartment and you finally leave your aunt to sit around and knit by herself.
The next day at school, everything is somber. You’re confused. Your homeroom teacher tells you that today was the five year anniversary of the murder of one student and the suicide of another. You don’t think of Rissa. You barely think of her anymore. You use the bathroom in your wing, not the bathroom in the elementary school wing where she stays.
Articles are passed out on the desks and the headlines glares up at you: MURDER/SUICIDE COMBO AT ST. MARY’S SCHOOL FOR CHILDREN, and your eyes trail down the paper and then trace over the face of a young girl, probably twelve years old, with long dark hair and blood under her nails and a rope around her neck…
The body of twelve-year-old Tiffany Marie Hoffsten was found in a locker. The cause of her death was either inhalant overdose or the head injury that was found under her hair…was a planned murder...the murderer, overcome with guilt and regret, committed suicide...the body of seventh grader Clarissa Annelise Sargent was found hanging from the rafters in the women’s restroom of the elementary school wing…
You excuse yourself from class and race down to the bathroom, faster than you’ve ever run before. You fling open the door. Rissa stands there, a smile on her face. “Tessie! You’re back, you’re back, you’re back!”
“Clarissa is a nice name,” you say icily. She goes rigid and freezes, staring at you blankly.
“When did you find out?” she whispers.
“Just today,” you reply, equally as soft if not softer. “Why did you do it, Rissa? You killed someone!”
“You don’t understand!” she bursts out. “That girl hurt me, she made me do things I didn’t want to do, she hated me, she toyed with my feelings! It was only a little death! It’s not like I killed everyone in the school, Tessie, I just killed one girl!”
“You killed a girl, a twelve-year-old girl with a family at home and you felt no remorse? You’re heartless, Clarissa Sargent. Absolutely heartless.” You try to stay strong. You can’t break. Not until she does.
Rissa’s more frantic now. If she was alive her heart would be racing, but it just lays cold in her ghostly chest. “Tessie, I killed myself after I murdered her. I was so guilty and ruined and I d-didn’t deserve any of this. You know justice, right? You know it was unjust to me!”
“I know law, Rissa, and it says that you got what you deserved. An eye for an eye, right? She died and so did you.” Your voice is harsh and you feel tears pressing hotly in the corners of your eyes.
“Tessie…” Rissa’s crying now, her breath catching in gasping sobs. “Please, Tessie, please just listen!” She crumples onto the ground in a mess of dress and death.
A sharp pang of pity slices through your heart and you kneel down and help her up. She hovers sadly next to you, rubbing her eyes. “Tessie, I’m sorry I killed that girl. I didn’t mean to, it was in the heat of the moment, I’m sorry!”
“Rissa.” Her name flows off your tongue. “I’m sorry you felt that death was your only way out of this mess.”
“I’m sorry too.” She pulls you into a hug and you cling to her, burying your face in her dress, breathing in her scent of blood and earth and death and sugar. She tilts your head up towards hers, and you stare into those unsettling - unsettlingly beautiful - eyes of hers. And as you open your mouth to speak again, she closes the gap between you two and presses her cold lips against yours and part of you wishes she would go away but the other part realizes that this is what you have been missing.
You don’t speak to Clarissa again. You block her out of all your thoughts and memories and purposefully avoid her bathroom, even if it meant holding it in for longer. You begin dating Kyle and you’re best friends with Arianna and Thomas now. Over the summer, you guys went to parties and swam and you tried a cigarette (and puked afterwards). Eighth grade begins, your last year in that school before you go off to a specialized pre-Harvard high school. Again, you were happy.
Then came the day when after school you and Thomas and Kyle and Ari were all hanging out at your house and trying to do a seance. “We should do a seance for one of those girls who died at our school,” Ari suggests. “We’ve never done real people seances before.” You know her seances have never brought back the dead. You agreed. You never thought that she couldn’t bring back the dead because all the dead were knockoff Pokemon.
You do the normal procedures, and wait, chanting in Greek or Yiddish or Pig Latin or some other mysterious language. Then for the first time, the circle flares up, and she’s there, your Clarissa, your ex-friend, not a day over twelve. Her eyes are blank and white and her head is c***ed at an unnatural angle and you can see that it’s like that because of the invisible rope holding her up.
She pushes and emerges from the circle, stronger then you’ve ever seen her before. Your friends stare up at her in horror, Kyle’s arms protectively around you, and she screeches and soon Arianna’s choking on her own blood and she falls, unconscious. Thomas tries to attack her but Clarissa is way too strong and soon Thomas is slammed into the ground, tears on his childish face. He squeaks as he hits the floor and he lies there, whimpering. Soon Kyle drops like a stone and her claws rake across your face, scoring across eye and nose and lip and chin. Her hands claw down your chest and you scream in agony. Her hands slide lower, and you manage to whisper, “Why?”
She doesn’t stop. “Because,” she replies, her claws sinking into your hips. “I cared for you, Tessa. I cared. And you left me. Why?”
“You killed someone, Riss.” You attempt to squeak out a few words. “You murdered someone. How was I to know that you weren’t going to murder me?”
“I would never hurt you.” Her voice is soothing and calming and you feel yourself become puppeted by her again. You were so young when she first met you. She lied to you and tricked you and you believed everything she said because you were so desperate for a friend.
“You’re hurting me now.” You’re being lulled to sleep by her voice, and as her hands claw their way down your legs, you shudder and instinctively curl up despite the pain.
Clarissa looks down at you and stops, her claws ripping out of your legs. “Tessie, what have I done?” Her arms wrap around you and cradle you, rocking you gently like a little baby. You twist out of her grasp and get to your feet.
“No.” You feel yourself shaking in agony, and you reach for the phone to dial 911. “I’m not crawling back to you. Not this time. I can’t trust you, Clarissa. I’m sorry.”
Her eyes well with tears and she crumples. “Tessie, please, don’t you love me?” You take a deep breath. You glance back at Thomas, holding Ari in his arms, and at Kyle, rubbing his eyes and helping Thomas carry Ari back home. They know it’s not their battle. They understand it’s not your fault.
“No. I don’t love you. I loved who you were when you hid your real self. I loved that mask you made for me. But I don’t love you. Not one bit.” you say, trembling.
Clarissa steps back, her feet edging towards the wall, sobbing. Her eyes shone blue again and she shrunk in her skin, looking like the little child you once knew and loved. She clutched at her own dress and shivered.
You step forward, a new confidence coursing through you. “You can’t prevent me from living my life. You can’t become me. I’m not your puppet, and nobody is. What you want is impossible, so why do you keep trying to get it? Your unfinished business will never be finished, so why don’t you just give up and let us be ourselves? If you truly loved me, Clarissa, then you’d let go. You’d go and rest in peace.”
And with that, Clarissa slowly fades from existence, leaving behind no traces except for the scratches on your body and the memories in your mind.
“Tessa, you can’t be late for Thomas and Arianna’s wedding! They’re our best friends! Hurry up!” Kyle shouts up the stairs. You fix your red hair up into a bun and slide on your dress, joining your boyfriend of nine years near the door to your house. You follow him to the car and settle down in the passenger seat. He smiles and says, “How can you not miss murder trials or art shows but you can almost miss your best friends getting married to each other? It’s weird!” You laugh and ruffle his hair as he drives down the road until he gets to the church.
The ceremony is long and mildly uninteresting, but you like it anyways because Arianna’s dress is beautiful and Thomas is shy like always but then they kiss and he giggles and you laugh too, just because it’s so darn amazing to see your childhood friends get married.
It finally ends and there’s an outdoor luncheon right next to the church cemetery. For some reason, you feel drawn to it. You kick off your shoes and excuse yourself and walk out to the cemetery. Your feet skim the dewy grass until you almost walk into one gravestone. You look up to see a small cliche-looking headstone, but that’s not what makes you stop. What makes you freeze is the name engraved into it.
Clarissa Annelise Sargent
Born 8 October 2000, Died 8 October 2012
Not a day past twelve. Childhood memories resurface, memories of a pretty face with blue eyes and black hair. Of a too-big cerulean dress and an impish grin. Of tears and blood and lips against lips. And a name. Rissa.
You sit down and look at the grave, and think. You think about your childhood and of those girls who bullied you. You swore you saw Britney working at a Wendy’s you stopped off to eat at during a break during one of the trials you worked for.
“Rissa?” you ask to the grave. “Are you there?”
There’s no response, just a breeze that seems to whisper Tessie, Tessie, Tessie.
“I know nobody’s spoken to you in years, and you feel as if nobody loves you because of what you did, and you feel like nobody cares, but…” You take a deep breath. “I still think about you, Rissa. I always do. I miss you.”
“I forgive you, Rissa. And I hope you know that I’m sorry for all of this.”
There was no response except just a simple whisper: Thank you.
And you knew that she was sorry. You knew she felt remorse. You knew she still cared for you, because she let you live your life, which showed that she really did love you.
And to be honest? You loved her back.