The Girl in the Stairwell

There is a stairwell that all the students avoid.

It is in one of the humanities buildings, lost somewhere between 18th century Italian literature and Greek tragicomedies. Like it is with all such places where the lights blur and shadows dance of their own accord, stories spring up around it like wildflowers.

One of the students’ favorites is that she was a freshman who had taken her studies a tad too seriously, and who had then taken her own life just a little too eagerly. Others swear that she had been pushed down the entire flight of stairs, and that whoever had done it had left her there when she did not move. Left her there for days and weeks and months, until her bones sank into the concrete itself. Some even whisper that she had been there long before the school itself, and that they had raised the buildings around her to please her. Whatever the truth is – if there ever was a truth to begin with – she is still there now.

Most students are smart enough to avoid her stairwell whenever they can, even if it costs them precious minutes of class time. Even during the day, when the sun is at its peak, there is a chill in the hall just outside, and a draft blows constantly from beneath the sill, though it should not. Students have learned to keep their footsteps light when they pass by her door, waiting until their gossip is wisely out of earshot before resuming.

But every so often, someone is running late, and rather than waste any more time running through the winding halls, they would risk disturbing her.

It is always as cold as winter inside, regardless of the time of year, and it echoes as though it were many times larger. Those who have passed through without incident never describe it the same way twice. A church. A graveyard. A library. A crypt. A museum. Sometimes, she is at the top of the staircase. Other times, at the bottom. And sometimes, at certain times of the day – maybe when she has classes of her own to attend – she is not there. But there is always something there.

The faint footsteps of someone following close behind, almost near enough to touch. The brush of arms against elbows, as though someone were walking up the stairs at the same time one was walking down. A melancholy sigh, and the lonely smell of someone walking beside. The cool breath of a long exhale against the back of exposed necks. And sometimes, late at night, it is the sharp scratch of a shoe against concrete, the rustle of a dress, and finally, the weight of a cold hand on a shoulder.

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