01 Feb A Playlist for the Woman in the Cellar
I found this letter tucked away in the cellar of the Arts building. It was dated November of 2018.
Dear Evelyn Parker,
I hope it’s all right if I call you Evelyn. I don’t even know if that’s your name; the whispers say it is, but you can’t trust rumours. The news stories I read go between Eve and Evelyn and just the initial E., and mostly they call you Ms. Parker; I don’t even know if you were a Miss or a Mrs, and I feel like I should, somehow.
I have to admit, I didn’t believe in you at first. Thought you were just a silly story made up to scare Year Eights. I believed that for almost five years, to my regrets. Even when we were in Year Eight and told scary stories down here, or on the school camp, when our camp counsellors told us about you, I laughed and made stupid jokes, and refused to walk back to my cabin alone, but I never actually believed in you.
No offence. You’ve got to understand it just sounded like a joke.
Not the origin story, that sounded real enough. I found newspaper articles about it. Still couldn’t figure out your whole name. So I’m gonna call you Evelyn. Or would you prefer Ms. Parker? Mr. Llangowen doesn’t teach here any more, so I can’t ask him. The teachers don’t like to talk about it. I think they think it encourages us to scare each other. And I’m in Year Twelve now, the perfect time for me to scare a bunch of Year Eights and not have to face the consequences. Only I’m not going to do that, because it feels rude, now that I believe you’re real.
See, drama nerd lore dictates that whoever makes eye contact with the teacher has to come down into the cellar and find any requested props. The props room is small and overflowing, so most of it’s kept down here. As I was foolish enough not to heed Valjean’s advice of ‘Look down, look down, don’t look them in the eye’, I got to come down here and scurry around looking for green paint – we’re doing Into the Woods. The lid came off when I picked it up and I got paint on myself. And, thinking nothing of it, I said “Hello, Evelyn,” as a joke, really, while I was washing my hands, and then I looked at the mirror above the sink and there you were.
It was only half a second, then you were gone. That was the sharpest jolt of fear I’ve ever felt. Thanks a bunch. Nearly cacked myself. But in my mind’s eye I can still see you there, watching me. Not aggressive, not mean, just… there.
I felt crazy. Ghosts weren’t my first assumption, I thought I was too maxed out from exams to function and was having stress-induced hallucinations. But the thought of those stories passed around the school wouldn’t quite leave me alone, and I definitely didn’t think anyone would believe me. So I decided to look you up.
It seemed like the stories were true, what we’d heard on Year Eight Camp. I guess you’d like to know what people are saying about you, so here’s basically what I was told:
It was 2011. You were a mature student taking night classes at the school. You were thirty-three. You came back to school after working for several years because you’d had to drop out in Year Ten, to care for your sister, as your parents worked. You never got your graduation or your school formal. Eventually your parents were earning more and your sister had recovered, and was earning a degree. Your family and financial situation were finally stable enough to go back to school, but you couldn’t go to university when you didn’t have a SACE, so you decided to do a year of night classes to get yourself there.
You’d watched your little sister recover from her illness, and go to school. You’d seen her graduate and go to her formal, a shining teenager in a pretty dress, with all her friends. You wanted that. The achievement, the certificate – everything.
So, night school was the answer. Apparently the night school students have their own graduation and formal. I did not know this was a thing when I first heard, but apparently they do that here.
Life was going well. It was November, you were on track to graduate. You’d picked out a uni to go to, and a course to study.
And then one day, you were sent down here into the cellar to fetch something. The most innocuous request.
They did a whole revamp of the underground and storage facilities the year afterwards, by the way. But at the time, these stairs were slippery. They didn’t have the texture lines on the front. The handrail was thin and bendy. Something had been spilled and not cleaned up, leaving a slick of wetness on the stairs. Whatever it was.
It was two weeks before formal.
You walked down those stairs and fell to your death. It was an accident. You didn’t mean to, you just slipped. Fell down, grabbed for the handrail, it broke, you went down. Hit your head. No-one saw. You were there a while before someone came to find you. By the time you got to hospital you were gone.
Mr. Llangowen never forgave himself. He moved school halfway through the next year, said he couldn’t handle the guilt.
Now they say you haunt the cellar, and as much as I laughed it off over the years, I’m starting to believe that’s true. I was in a perfectly normal frame of mind when I saw you in that mirror, and the light was on. That was a safety feature they put in. Nice bright lights. They reviewed a lot of the safety practices after what happened. Too late, though.
And that reflection – it was far too clear to have been a trick of the light. I saw you. And you looked just like the picture I found in the newspaper.
You’re pretty, by the way.
Sorry. I hope that doesn’t come off as weird. It’s just, it’s nearly formal, and I thought someone should tell you.
That’s all I know. All that, and no-one’s even sure of your real name. I’m going with Evelyn. Not that I’ve talked about it much, my friends would probably think I was finally getting in on the joke. I know for certain the teachers don’t like to talk about it. Some of them feel responsible. I did try to ask Mrs. Braxton; she’s still the Head of Science, dontcha know, but she wouldn’t talk about it. Said she felt ashamed she hadn’t realised sooner, and reported it to OHS. But she didn’t know. She never went down there.
I probably would have left this well alone, but I didn’t want it to be something that would haunt me later, pun not intended. I didn’t want to just leave you there, because who wants that?
I ended up doing some reading about ghosts, and a lot of sources told me ghosts may be tied to the places they lived or died. The main website said you can encourage a ghost to move on from a place, if maybe their soul hadn’t been ready to leave when they’d died. Like they might need a little extra help. I don’t know how to smudge, and even if I tried the cellar has a fire alarm. Safety feature. I hope you don’t mind me bringing it up. Anyway, it got me to thinking, maybe I could help you. Maybe I could help you move on.
The formal is next week. I would like to invite you.
Let me explain. Graduation has already been, so I can’t invite you to that, but there are only a few days until formal and everyone is excited about it. It’s a big thing, you know? It’s the end of school and the beginning of something good and it’s fun, it’s a party, and everyone gets to dress up and eat and drink and dance, and your parents laugh and tell you to have fun and you have a night ringing in what comes next, and people look forward to it for all of school, and you never had that. And that’s okay, it’s not for everyone, but if what I heard is true then you wanted it. You wanted the formal. You waited thirty-three years for the formal. You’d already bought your dress. And I’ve heard that ghosts can’t leave the place they’re bound unless they’re given help to leave or invited somewhere. Plus, you know, I’m going with friends, so I don’t have a plus-one. Someone might as well make use of it.
I just thought maybe, if you got your formal, you’d feel okay about moving on.
Anyway, I made you a playlist. People do that, don’t they? I’m going to give it to the DJ and hopefully they’ll play everything. I though maybe you want to see it beforehand.
Playlist, Formal 2018.
1. Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO
(This was the top song in Australia in 2011. At least, according to Wikipedia. They probably played it then.)
2. Gangsta’s Paradise – Coolio
(One of the top songs in Australia in 1996, when you would have graduated the first time.)
3. Clair de Lune – Claude Debussy
4. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
5. Que Sera Sera – Doris Day
6. Seasons of Love – Rent
7. Shotgun – George Ezra
(One of the top songs in Australia for this year, 2018.)
8. You Will Be Found – Dear Evan Hansen
9. You’re the Voice – John Farnham
10. Time to Say Goodbye – Francesco Sartori and Lucio Quarantotto
I was going to explain why I chose each song, but Mrs. Ling says music speaks for itself, so I guess I should leave it here. I don’t really know how to end this, but the long and short of it is: You’re invited to the formal of 2018. I hope you have the most incredible time.
The funny thing was, Arthur did go to the formal. He went with his friends, and as far as I was aware they had a normal night. But Year Elevens are allowed to work at the formal, and I was at the entrance, checking people in. I saw Arthur come in with his group of friends. I saw him sign beside his name, and leave the plus-one space blank. I saw them move to the dance floor, and dance to every song on that list, and eat dinner while they chatted.
And afterwards, I helped pack up. I helped put the chairs away, helped tidy up the hall, all that. And as I was leaving someone handed me the sign-in papers and asked me to throw them on my way out. I shoved them in my schoolbag and totally forgot about it until today, when I looked through and found it again. And there it was, halfway down the page. Arthur Stafford.
There were two signatures next to his name.