Since the death of her mother, fifteen-year-old Grace's life has been turned upside down. And now her father has sent her to a boarding school in the middle of the English countryside.

Oh, and she may or may not be seeing spirits of the dead.

Grace soon realises that she’s not the only student on campus who can see ghosts.

When she and her new roommate, Kasia, see the spirit of a little girl roaming the hallways, the two of them try to piece together the mystery of her death. But at what cost to their own lives?


2. One

I expected it to be like Hogwarts.

It wasn’t anything like Hogwarts.

I didn’t know much about boarding schools, apart from what I’d read in books and seen in movies. I expected a ridiculously big castle surrounded by luscious grass and beautiful gardens. Instead, what I saw when my father drove the car up the mile-long driveway was an old, creepy looking building surrounded by hills and twisting trees. Oh, and sheep. Lots of sheep.  

“At least the rain’s stopped,” I muttered as we got closer.

There was a wooden sign with the school’s crest printed on it, along with faded letters that formed the name of place, Oak Hill Academy. The sign looked like it had seen better days, much like the school itself.

“It’s a bit different from the pictures on the website,” Dad observed. “The building looked a little more…colourful.”

“Yeah,” I replied. “It’s called Photoshop. Lots of people use it to make something look better than it actually—”

“Grace, don’t start,” he warned. I went back to scowling out of the window.

It wasn’t my choice to come here. In fact, it hadn’t even been my choice to come to a boarding school full stop. When my dad told me that he had managed to get himself a job abroad, my first thoughts were ones of hot, sunny beaches. But no, I wasn’t going abroad. I was going to boarding school.

“It will be a very useful experience for you, Grace,” he tried to convince me when he’d first mentioned the idea a few months earlier. “And I’m sure you’ll make great friends for life.”

“I have friends here,” I’d argued.

I knew I sounded like a whiney brat, but it didn’t stop me. I didn’t know what part of moving here horrified me the most; the fact that I had to live at school, or the fact that I was moving to the countryside. I was a city girl. I’d lived in London my whole life. The busy streets, the daily struggle to squash onto the tube each morning, it was the only way I knew.

I’d been to this part of the Cotswolds before. Mum’s sister lived nearby and we came to visit once. It was probably the worst four days of my life. Miles to walk to the nearest shop, nothing around but a church and a river, and don’t even get me started on how slow the internet was. Mum always loved the open spaces, though, and the views.

I didn’t.

Dad finally found his way to the parking area and stopped the car. There were a few others parked nearby, looking remarkably more expensive than ours. Kids were running up to greet each other whilst parents retrieved piles of luggage.

I stepped out into the biting wind outside the warmth of the car. Glancing up at the huge, dull building, I ached for my school back in London. Turning around, I surveyed the area. Nothing but the school and the grounds. It felt more like a prison.  

“Give me a hand with these bags, will you?” Dad called as he opened the boot. I traipsed over to where he was standing and began to retrieve my luggage. Once the bags and boxes were out, Dad locked the car and we walked to the front of the building, heading towards the looming double doors.

“We need to register first,” Dad reminded me as we stepped into the foyer.

The sounds of echoed giggles and heels on polished floors filled the large hallways. The building had a cold feeling to it and I seriously doubted I’d be seeing this place as a cosy home in the near future. 

We spotted a sign that pointed to the admissions officers and walked over to one of them. Placing my boxes on the ground, Dad introduced us both.

The registration itself was pretty dull. The officer kept going on about what a wonderful time I would have and what wonderful new people I’d meet. I zoned out after a minute and looked around at the hall instead. Practically all of the kids registering were first years. I desperately hoped I wouldn't be the only Year 11 to be joining the school.

That was the part about all of this I was dreading the most. Everyone else in my year would probably have been here from first year. They’ll have had years of bonding and forming friendships. I thought back to the girls hugging each other outside. How was I going to find a place here?

Whilst I was lost in my world of worry, Dad must have finished the registration process because he was waving a pen in front of my face so that I could sign some papers. Once the forms were done, I picked up the two boxes I’d put on the floor, struggling to balance the one on top.

“Hello!” a cheery voice called out from behind us. We turned to see a girl who looked a little older than me. “I’m here to show you over to your dorm. Would you like me to take that?” She was already moving forward to grab hold of the box I was having trouble with. “I’m Ruth, by the way.”

Without waiting for me to respond, she started walking back towards the double doors. Dad and I followed her. When we stepped outside, Ruth began chatting away.

“You’ll be in one of the girls’ boarding houses, obviously,” she said as we made our way down a path that led through a small area of trees. “You’ve already been told which one, right?”

“Alcott House,” I replied, remembering the pictures on the website.

“Yep, that’s the one,” she confirmed. “Kipling, the boys’ boarding house, is on the other side of the school. There are mixed recreation areas in both houses, but that will all be explained to you by the housemaster.”

We came out into a clearing. There was a small field of grass and at the other side stood Alcott House. The place looked old, much like the rest of the school, but had a little more colour to it. The grey turrets stood out from the orange bricks of the walls. It was definitely prettier to look at. Surrounded by the trees, it didn’t even feel like part of the school.

As we approached the door, I noticed a guy in a blue shirt with a thin, maroon tie.

“Jason,” Ruth greeted him. “This is your new Year 11 student.”

The guy, Jason, broke into a friendly smile. “You must be Grace, am I right?” I nodded in response before he held his hand out to my dad. “I’m one of the assistants here at Alcott. I’m part of a great team that helps keep this place at its best.”

After a bit of small talk, he helped us with some of my luggage and led us inside.

“I’ll be able to give you a tour with the first years. I think you’re the only new Year 11 student we have joining this year.” Oh, so I really was on my own. “You’re lucky to be in this house because that means you can stay put for the next two years. We’re the one of the few houses on campus that homes girls from 13 to 18, so you don’t have to move to a different one next year like a lot of students.”

He said that like it was a good thing, but basically I was stuck here. I looked glumly up at the house before we made our way through the wooden door. We walked through the foyer and came out into the hallway. I expected the inside to look a lot like the main school building, dreary and cold, but surprisingly, Alcott House looked a lot more cheerful. The yellow walls lit up in the tiny slither sunlight that made its way through the floor-to-ceiling window at the very back of the hallway.

“We’ll get these into your room before I give you the grand tour,” said Jason, stepping in front of us. “There’ll be someone assigned to show you the ropes of the school. You could always join the first years on their tour, if you think it would help, but they’re part of the lower school so there are quite a few differences.”

The school was split into two sections; the lower years for kids aged 11 and 12, and then the rest of the school. I was thinking about how much easier it would be if there was a group of people who were new like me when I realised that Dad was following Jason up the staircase to the right of the hallway. I followed him reluctantly, with Ruth behind me.

We were led to another long hallway that had doors dotted on each side. It was the door right at the end of the hall that we stopped outside.

Jason knocked and called out, “Kasia, are you in there?”

All my hopes and dreams of having a single room came crashing to the ground.

After a moment of no response, Jason opened the door to find the room deserted. The place was a little larger than I’d expected it to be. There was a bed alongside the wall, to the right of the room, near the large window. The second bed was on the other side of the room and was stripped bare. I walked over to it and put my boxes down. Dad placed my bags on the floor, and Jason and Ruth did the same.

“I’m going to go find the housemistress,” Jason told me. “I’m sure she’s excited to meet you. Just come back downstairs when you’re ready.”

“Bye!” Ruth added enthusiastically as they both left the room. I mumbled a quick thanks to them for helping with my luggage.

“Can you at least try and be more enthusiastic, Grace?” Dad begged. “I know you’re not keen on all of this, but it really is a great opportunity for you.”

“I just don’t see why I can’t come to New Zealand,” I replied, knowing I didn’t have much time left to convince him what a bad idea this was.

“I’ll be moving around all the time, you won’t get settled anywhere,” he argued. “I don’t want that for you.”

I sighed and slumped down onto the bed, looking across at the bed opposite. The wall was covered in various posters and ticket stubs. There was a pin board with a bunch of pictures on it of groups of girls, sunsets, butterflies, and flowers. I noticed two desks against the wall, either side of the door. The one that clearly belonged to my roommate was scattered with make-up and a few textbooks. There was one untidy bookshelf, a large wardrobe, a small set of draws, and two chairs with white, fluffy cushions on them. 

“We should probably go downstairs,” said Dad, breaking the silence. “I’d stay for the tour with you, but I have to catch my flight.”

“I know, I’ll be fine,” I assured, avoiding his stare. It’s not like I actively wanted to blame him for any of this, but I couldn’t help feeling angry. I hadn’t even been given a say in this decision.

I forced myself up off the bed and followed my dad out of the room.  As we walked down the stairs, I spotted Jason standing by the foyer door with a woman. She was tall, really tall. She didn’t look like the type of woman I’d want to mess with. Her severe face turned to me as I reached the bottom of the stairs.

“Grace,” she said, holding out a hand for me to shake. “I’m Tracey, your housemistress.” She had a surprisingly friendly voice, despite looking so strict.

“Nice to meet you,” I replied.

Tracey turned to face my dad. “And you must be Mr. Alderman, I presume?”

He nodded enthusiastically and shook her hand. “It’s great to meet you. I’m sure you’ll have Grace settled in no time.”

“Indeed, I will,” she assured. I didn’t feel very assured. She quickly turned her attention back to me. “What was it that made you choose Oak Hill, Grace?”

She was asking me like I actually had a choice. Before I’d even opened my mouth to answer, Dad jumped right in.

“She has an Aunt who lives not too far away from the school,” he said. “We don’t get to see her as much as I’d like, so I thought it would be wonderful for Grace to be close to her.”

Tracey smiled and nodded her head as I tried not to roll my eyes. So I was here to be close to Aunt Missy? Of course I was. I mean, there couldn’t be any other reason, like a job in New Zealand or anything.

Tracey turned back to Jason. “You can show Grace and her father around now.”

“Oh, I, uh, can’t stay for the tour.” Dad’s eyes darted between Tracey and Jason, his expression guilt ridden. “I have a flight to catch, unfortunately.”

“That’s fine, Mr. Alderman,” said Tracey. “Grace is in safe hands. We’ll make sure everything is in order for her. I’ll let the two of you say goodbye.” She turned her gaze to me. “Come and find Jason once you’re ready.”

I nodded and followed Dad through the foyer and out into the grounds.

“I wish I could stay longer,” he said, looking solemn.

“I told you, I’ll be fine,” I replied. “Call me when you land, okay?”

“Of course I will.” He pulled me forward for a hug.

For the past few weeks I’d been nothing but mad at him for sending me here. Now though, for the first time in months, I wanted to cry. Cry because I was leaving the only home I’ve ever known, cry because I’d never felt so alone, and cry because as much as I’d been bitter towards him, Dad was just trying to do the best he could. But I couldn’t cry, not in front of him. I’d kept a brave face on for so long. Ever since my mother’s death, I’d been the one who had kept it together. I wasn’t about to let that fall apart now.

Dad finally took a step back. “If things don’t work out here, then please tell me. I don’t want you being miserable, Grace.”

“I know, Dad.”

“Don’t forget, you can always call your aunt if you need to,” he reminded me. “If you need someone to talk to in the next twenty four hours, she’s the woman to call.”

With a final goodbye, he turned to walk along the path back towards the school. When he reached the trees, he turned back to wave again, teary eyed. I watched as he walked out of sight, and stood there for moment longer. I felt lost.

Taking a deep breath, I turned back to Alcott House. I knew I had two choices. I could continue to be bitter and have a generally unapproachable attitude, or I could suck it up, put a smile on, and give it my best shot.

I stepped back into the house and saw Jason waiting for me.

“Ready for the grand tour?” he asked with a grin.

“Bring it on.”  

The house was a lot nicer than I’d expected it to be. The TV room was cosy, and there was even a games room. There weren’t many people around, mostly because they were still arriving or were busy unpacking. After the tour, Jason led me upstairs, to Tracey’s office.

She smiled when I walked in. “Take a seat, Grace.”

“I’ll see you around!” Jason said as he closed the door behind me. I walked over to the chair on the opposite side of the desk.

“So, I understand this is your first time boarding?” she asked. I nodded. “Of course, it’ll take you some time to adjust, as is the case with everyone, but I’m sure that you’ll settle in just fine.  There are so many great people around to help you during your time at Oak Hill, and the students and staff here at Alcott will become like a second family.”

I seriously doubted that. I tried to push the stereotypes of boarding schools out of my mind, but all I could think about was spoilt, rich kids who wouldn’t be interested in seeing me like family.

Tracey talked me through the schedule at the house and then gave me my timetable. She sent me off to unpack and told me to she’d arrange to have a student show me around the school, rather than send me off on a tour with the first years.

I left her office and headed back towards the stairs. The hallway to my door wasn’t empty this time. There was a girl standing at the far end. I heard footsteps behind and turned to see another two girls, linking arms and giggling. They noticed me but continued to walk past me, into their room.

I’m pretty sure they didn’t see the other girl at the end of the corridor. Because I’m pretty sure she was dead.

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