It was written on small signs low to the ground and, at intervals, on the ground itself. The girls saw the instruction a hundred times a day; so many times that the words meant nothing any more. All that mattered was making it past the house and resisting the urge.
But they didn’t need the signs; they knew well enough what it meant to flaunt the simple rule and none of them ever did.
Well, not until Evie.
They watched them drag her away; watched her heels kick up the dirt of the flowerbed and scatter petals like litter.
They watched her with their heads down; some of them their eyes straining to fill the frame, others their eyes on the floor. But they all heard her as they pulled her out of the line. Words that resonated like a blasphemy in the still air. Words that stung at some place so deep inside as to be beyond reasonable explanation.
“Look up!” She was pleading. “Look up you idiots!” But nobody did.
When they brought her back a few days later something had broken. She was poked back into place in the line and walked with the rest of them but her gait was heavy, like she was carrying some enormous weight and her swollen eyes were fixed on the ground.
Every time she passed one of the little signs or the writing on the floor she shuddered and drew in a sharp breath; seemed to fold herself into herself yet further.
“What did you see?” They asked her in muted tones. “What’s up there.”
Evie didn’t flinch when they spoke; didn’t turn to look at them, just kept her eyes on the ground and mouthed the words in silent prayer.
“Don’t look up. Don’t look up.”
The teacher stood, shaking his head. “I’ve got a bad feeling about it.” He was standing next to the window on the third floor looking down at the drop. It was sheer and continued past ground level to the flagstoned floor of the basement passage. Maroon metal railings spiked menacingly upwards.
A plush pouf was pushed against the window; a favourite with the girls as they flopped wearily back into their study at break times.
“It wouldn’t take much for one of the girls to lean back and go tumbling. It’s a long way down.”
He was talking to himself; the idea would not let him go. It gnawed at him in the dark hours and stole his sleep. In his dreams he saw it in painful detail. The overbalance; the scrabbling hands, the panic as she fell. The scream. It would not let him go.
That was why his route from the car park each morning took him past the house; so that he could look up at the window and reassure himself that no one was too close; that no one, god forbid, was leaning back against the frame.
And it was always ok, until today. Until this morning when he looked up.
She was slumped on the pouf with her back to him and, worse, the window was open. Had been pulled high up on old runners so that not even the thin skin of the glass protected her from the fatal fall.
He felt his own panic rise in his throat; saw the sharp teeth of the maroon railings grinning, waiting.
And he screamed.
It was the scream that he had heard in his dream and such was its force that it jolted the girl sitting at the window; made her turn and look for the sound. Made her overbalance, scrabble uselessly and topple outwards.
He saw the panic on her face as she fell; saw the iron railings waiting greedily to receive her. Saw them just as he had seem them in his dream.
The scream, however, was his own.
I was thinking about where I’m going to charge my phone when it all kicks off, you know. When it all goes to pot and the lights won’t turn on. At the moment there’s about a day of charge in it and it’s clear now that this is all part of the deal that’s about to go down.