On The Blue Floor

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic


A boy encounters a strange little girl on a disused floor of his school.


The building had been built in 1887 as P.S. 107 and so was not a new building when I went to school there in 1970; now of course it is older still and, like all things that reach a certain age, it has a past, a history. The things we build and inhabit hold memories, both for us and of us. They are catalysts for our recollections and repositories of human events. To return to a place one hasn't seen in years, is to unlock memories, some long forgotten, some best forgotten.

The school didn't remain P.S 107 long. Shortly after the first World War it was sold by the city to the Catholic Archdiocese of New York and became St. Veronica's, it was connected both administratively and literally to the church of St. Veronica's which stood back to back against the school.  The church, although it seems older, is actually a couple of years younger than the school, having been built in 1890.  The school remained St. Veronica's till the early sixties when it closed and was vacant  for several years until it became The West Village School in 1969.  It was extensively renovated and opened in 1970 as a private school.

I was among the first students who attended W.V.S. although not one of the oldest.  I was in the 4th grade, but there were 6th graders in attendance as well.  The school would eventually go from kindergarten up to 8th grade, but that first year there were not enough students to fill out all the classes; there were no 8th graders yet and the kindergarten was empty. Many of the classes were quite small with ten students or so.

The school had four main floors and an art studio in the penthouse.  The main floor housed the auditorium/lunch room and kitchen, the yellow floor (the 2nd) had the principal's office and four classrooms, the orange floor (the 3rd) had the science lab and four more classrooms, and finally the blue floor (the 4th) which  would contain the library and four more classrooms when finished; but that first year all the rooms on the blue floor were vacant. At the very top of the school was the art studio with its long tables and benches in which we also had shop class that first year, the wood shop also being under construction. Each floor was color coded with all the moldings, doorways and doors in the appropriate color. The walls were stuccoed and painted a pale institutional grey. Though it was an old building, it seemed new to me. The teachers with few exceptions were kind and dedicated to their calling. It generally seemed a cheerful place, or so I remember it.

Memories are funny things though, some are fuzzy and vague after only a few weeks, some are crisp and vibrant with every color and sound after many years; that's how that day is for me.  It was in September, school had only begun a few weeks before and it was raining.  It had started to drizzle as I had walked the nine blocks down Hudson street to school and by the time I had reached the school it was a veritable deluge.  I remember looking out of our classroom window (on the orange floor) and seeing the water gush from the broken water pipe on the building across the alley, run down the roof of the church and spill down onto the ground far below.  It seemed amazing that so much water could have ever been up in the sky.

The gym hadn't been built yet, so after the last lunch period the teachers organized games of dodge ball in the lunchroom on the first floor.  I was too interested in finishing the book I was reading (The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis) to want to play so I went upstairs to read in what would eventually be the library on the blue floor. I sat there for a while contentedly enjoying my book, the only sound that of the rain falling on the roof and dripping off the gutters.  The shelves of the library were up and there were some books on them although they looked pretty decrepit to me. There were no chairs or any other furniture however so I was sitting on one of the radiator casings when I heard the sound of feet running past the library door; that got my attention and I got up to see who it was.  As I looked out into the corridor I heard the footsteps again and this time laughter.  It sounded like a child's laugh to me, a girl's I thought.  It wasn't a kind laugh. I was always a curious child and so I went to investigate.  The classrooms along the hallway were all vacant, although some of them had been partly furnished and others had various toys in them.  I got to one of the corner classrooms which contained nothing but a large set of cardboard blocks all made to look like parts of a brick wall.  There were enough of them to make not just a kid size playhouse (or fort depending on your preference) but a small town of child size houses.  The blocks were scattered around the wall except for one corner where someone had half fashioned some kind of structure.  It was from this that I heard the crying and when I looked closer I saw the little girl.  I must have made some noise because the crying stopped and I could see a pair of frightened eyes peering out at me through a gap in the cardboard bricks. I walked to the back of the cardboard structure which had no rear wall and saw her sitting there, now with her head in her hands and weeping again. 

“Are you okay.” I asked.

She didn't say anything but just stared at me.  Her eyes were wild  and tear stained.

I repeated my question.

“They were chasing me. Did you see them?”

“Who.”

“Helena Garatano and her friends.” She said the word “friends” with great bitterness in her voice.

“I don't think I know her; but I don't know a lot of people here yet.  I'm in Miss Beal's class whose class are you in?”

“I'm in the cripple class.” She said and looked down.  It was only then I noticed that her left leg was enclosed in a nasty looking metal brace. I felt a wave of anger pass over me.  How could someone chase a crippled little girl? Who could be so cruel, but then I thought of how just the week before how a boy in my class had laughed at me and called me 'asthma ass' when I was too ill to participate in a kickball game in the yard. Kids can be cruel, some carelessly testing out what they think is funny but a few really savor the power of cruelty.

“Could you help me up?” she said and looked ashamed.

Without hesitation I reached down to grasp her proffered hand.  It was cold and dry to the touch and I felt a little tingle as  I grasped it. She held onto it with both hands and I pulled her to her feet.

“Thank you.” She said while smoothing her dress. “You're nice.” She didn't look me in the face; but as I saw her more clearly I could see how pretty she was and how sad. 

“I was sitting in the library,” I said “would you like to go…I won't let anyone bother you…I promise.” 

“I guess.” She said as she followed me to the door and looked nervously down the hallway. She seemed to steel herself as we walked down the hall toward the library.  She seemed to limp only a little even though her brace made her seem more debilitated than she actually was.

Only once did she grab at my shirt to steady herself.

“They really let you wear clothes like this to school?” She asked.

I must have looked puzzled.

“You know the sisters.”

I was even more puzzled.  “I don't have a sister.”

She did not say anything, but looked at me in a funny way. I thought her clothes seemed a little odd too, but in 1970 in Greenwich Village what was odd?  I was going to say something about it, but somehow thought better of it; girls could be prickly about such subjects, even at nine I knew that much.  We reached the library without any sign of her pursuers, but she still seemed nervous and kept looking at the door as if someone was about to burst through it. 

After a little while she spoke again. “What are you reading?”

I showed her my book, and she turned it over in her hands reading the comments on the jacket flaps and back cover. 

“Did you ever read this?” She asked and picked up a copy of the Wizard of Oz off one of the half empty metal shelves.

“No but I've seen the movie.”

Again she looked at me strangely with her dark penetrating eyes.

“You've been very nice,” she said “but I can't stay here too long or they will find me.” She paused and looked back at the doorway.

I thought for a moment that I could hear the sound of laughter and running feet far away down the hallway again, and went to look. “I'll see if the coast is clear.” I said, but she just looked at me. At the doorway I looked both ways down the dim grey corridor, but whatever sounds there were seemed to have vanished.

“They're just so mean.” I heard her say from behind me. “Why can't they let me be? I've never done anything to them.”

I turned to answer her, but she was gone. I looked around the library but there was no where in it to hide.  There was no other exit, but the one I had been standing in. Then out in the hallway I heard the sounds of running feet and mocking laughter.  When I looked there were only some quickly moving shadows which vanished near the #3 stairs as the sounds receded.

I guess the story could end there except for what happened after.  I didn't tell anybody what I had seen at school.  I knew better than to open that can of worms, I was already considered a strange, overly bookish child. But later I asked my nana some questions.

My nana was born in 1902 in the same house that I now live in and she had attended school in P.S.107 when it was housed in the same building my school now occupied.  She never left the old neighborhood and knew many of the people, the old neighborhood people, so many that as we would walk together through the streets she always seemed to run into some acquaintance or friend.  And having the gift of gab, as they say, she would engage them in conversation; and always as we carried on our separate ways she would say to me…

“That was Mrs. So and So. I knew her family back when… or that was Mr. Hobinsyglobindsy he got in trouble because he used to…”

Even after she and my grandfather bought the farm in upstate New York they still split much of their time between the two houses, so she never lost her feel for the city where she had grown up. She was a great one for stories, some of which were true and even the ones that weren't contained some tangential relationship with the events of the past at the very least.

When she would pick me up at school, she would comment upon what had changed since she was a girl and what was still the same. 

"See those wrought iron signs above the gates? The ones that say 'Boys' and 'Girls'?

"Yes nana."

"Those were the gates for where the boys and girls would enter and leave the school.  We had classes together in those days, when it was a public school, although they made us sit on opposite sides of the room. Silly really... of course when it became a Catholic school later, the classes were strictly split by gender. The boys and girls had to use different staircases and entrances as well."

"nana, what is a 'cripple class?'

She looked at me oddly. "What a strange question. Well, back when I was a child and for sometime after I'm afraid, children who were well enough to attend school but had some kind of condition were kept apart from the rest of the students. It was quite cruel really. Many of these children suffered from infantile paralysis, what is now called polio and had withered arms or legs. There was no vaccine yet and those who survived were often crippled by the disease."

"Like President Roosevelt?" I said feeling very clever.

"Yes, like president Roosevelt." She paused as if remembering something. "I knew a girl once who was in one of those classes… She was my cousin's age, about ten years younger than I was…"

"And?" I asked. The story seemed to be in danger of petering out.

"There was an accident and she was killed, the girl, not my cousin, you understand. They moved the "cripple class" children to a different building after the accident…and what came after."

"What came after nana?" I asked, but she wouldn't tell me no matter how much I pestered her.

 

It all happened the night of the Fall Festival, which was usually held, the Friday before Halloween. This year the 31st was a Friday however. The school had been transformed, hay bales were set up all throughout the big yard. Corn stalks were wrapped around every pillar in the auditorium and arched over the main doorways. Pumpkins, some carved with flickering candles illuminating their crude features and some still waiting to find their faces, were placed haphazardly about. Kids in costumes fresh from trick or treating roamed the halls. The whole place smelled of apple cider and cinnamon and echoed with the voices of the excited children. The school was still new and they were showing it off. Groups of parents milled about the auditorium eating, drinking, or toured the classrooms with their childrens’ teachers. My mother and nana were there that evening and talking to various teachers and parents. The principal, a formidable woman in her forties with steel colored hair, was listening to my grandmother talk about the history of the school building. She seemed genuinely interested, which wasn't surprising, my nana could be a charming raconteur when in the mood. My nana had just finished telling her about the wrought iron "girls" and 'boys" sign when another woman approached. 

"You're not the only one with a story to tell about this place Laurette." She said to my grandmother. The speaker was a middle aged woman younger than my grandmother but older than my mother. She must have been a striking woman in her day, she was tall with jet black curly hair, now touched with gray and dark eyes. There was something about her however that I could tell my grandmother did not care for.

"I'm sure you could Helena." She said coldly. "Which story would you dare tell I wonder?" She locked eyes with the younger and taller woman for a moment and then abruptly turned walked away. Helena looked a bit flustered and the principal vaguely curious as my grandmother stalked off.

"What has she said now." Asked my mother who had suddenly materialized next to me. She was always on the lookout for some inappropriate behavior on her mother's part and it must be said that she was rarely disappointed.

"I don't think nana

 likes that woman." I whispered nodding in Helena's direction. 

"I don't think I recognize her…" She shrugged. "I wonder…" But whatever she would have said was cut off by the announcement that the first part of the organized entertainment was about to begin.

The principal made some remarks that I don't recall. One of the 8th graders ably recited "The Raven" and then the first part of the musical program (a recorder duet) was about to begin. The players were just setting up the stands with their sheet music when someone began to scream on the main stairway just beyond the auditorium door.  I happened to be in the back and so reached the stairway with the first group. A woman lay on the first landing her head hanging down over the steps, her mouth open, her eyes open, but still and glassy. It was Helena. At first I thought she was dead, but my  teacher ran up to her and felt her pulse, by placing her fingers to the side of her neck. She turned to the assistant principal who stood in the doorway surrounded by a sea of open mouthed, faces both old and young, and asked her to call an ambulance.  

I will never forget the eyes of that stricken woman.  They seemed to stare at something with a look of awful terror; something above them on the stairs. I followed their trajectory with my own and saw the face of a young girl looking over the bannister. I recognized her at once.  It was the girl from the blue floor and she was looking down at the fallen woman with such a dark look on her face, a look of menace and hate. I turned away only for a second as the custodian Rudy pulled me by the shoulder to get me out of the way. When I looked back she was gone; but suddenly it felt very cold on the stairs.

I looked to see my mother looking at the same spot where I had seen the ghost, for that is what I was now convinced it was. Her face was pale. She grasped me strongly by the arm and dragged me back to the auditorium to find my nana. When we found her my mother explained what had occurred and both of them hurried me home. When we left the building the ambulance had just arrived and Helena was being carried out on the stretcher. Her eyes were still wide and staring.

"I guess the veil really was thin." My nana said but my mother just hushed her and we continued home in silence.

The next week at school I overheard the teachers gossiping in the office on the yellow floor. 

"They say it was a stroke."

"A stroke?"

"Yes, that's what caused her to fall."

"Well at least she is alive. What a ghastly thing to have happen at the first Fall Festival."

"Alive, yes, but they say she may never walk or speak again. Poor woman."

I told my nana what I had heard when I got home, but to her it was already old news.

"All sins cast long shadows." Was all she would say.

Once, years, later I heard footsteps running down the Corridor towards stair #3 on the blue floor; footsteps that no feet I could see had made. First one set and then quickly thereafter another, as though the second was in pursuit. I wondered who was chasing whom, but I guess I know. The following set made a distinctive sound; the sound of a metal leg brace clicking on the hard linoleum floor.


Submitted: December 18, 2017

© Copyright 2021 E. J. Woods. All rights reserved.

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