Angry God

By: L.J. Shen

Lenora, 12; Vaughn, 13

You didn’t see anything.

He is not coming for you.

He didn’t even see your face.

Every bone in my body shivered as I tried to bleach the image I’d just seen from my brain.

I squeezed my eyes shut and rocked back and forth, curled like a shrimp on the hard mattress. The rusty metal legs of the bed whined as they scraped against the floor.

I’d always been a bit wary of Carlisle Castle, but up until ten minutes ago, I thought it was the ghosts that terrified me, not the students.

Not a thirteen-year-old boy with a face like The Sleeping Faun sculpture—lazily beautiful, impossibly imperial.

Not Vaughn Spencer.

I grew up here and had yet to encounter anything as scary as that brash American boy.

People said Carlisle was one of the most haunted castles in Britain. The 17th-century fort was supposedly the home of two ghosts. The first had been spotted by a footman who’d been locked in the cellar some decades ago. He swore he saw the ghost of Madame Tindall clawing at the walls, begging for water, claiming she’d been poisoned by her husband. The second ghost—that of said husband, Lord Tindall—had evidently been seen roaming the hallways at night, sometimes reaching to fix an off-kilter picture, though not moving it an inch.

They said Madame Tindall had pierced Lord’s heart with a steak knife, twisting it for good measure, the moment she realized he’d poisoned her. According to the tale, he’d wanted to marry the young maid he’d impregnated after decades of childless marriage to Madame. The knife, people swore, could still be seen in the ghost’s chest, rattling whenever he laughed.

We’d moved in when Papa had opened Carlisle Prep, a prestigious art school, a decade ago. He’d invited the most talented, gifted students in Europe.

They all came. He was the Edgar Astalis, after all. The man whose life-sized sculpture of Napoleon, The Emperor, stood in the middle of the Champs-Élysées.

But they were all scared of the rumored ghosts, too.

Everything about this place was spooky.

The castle loomed from a foggy Berkshire valley, its silhouette curling upward like tangled black swords. Ivy and wild rosebushes crawled across the stone exterior of the courtyard, hiding secret paths students often snuck through at night. The hallways were a labyrinth that seemed to circle back to the sculpting studio.

The heart of the castle.

Students strolled the foyers with straight backs, ruddy cheeks stung by the seemingly endless winter, and taut expressions. Carlisle Preparatory School for the Gifted frowned upon other public schools like Eton and Craigclowan. Papa said ordinary prep schools encouraged weak-minded, silver-spooned, middle-weighters, not true leaders. Our uniform consisted of black capes with Carlisle’s motto sewn in bright gold across the left breast pocket:

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis.

Art is long, life is short. The message was clear: the only way to immortality was through art. Mediocrity was profanity. It was a dog-eat-dog world, and we were leashed upon each other, hungry, desperate, and blindly idealistic.

I was only twelve years old the day I saw what I shouldn’t have. I was the youngest student at the summer session Carlisle Prep had opened, followed by Vaughn Spencer.

At first, I was jealous of the boy with the two slits of penetrating frosty stone instead of eyes. At thirteen, he already worked with marble. He would not wear his black cape, acted like he hadn’t the same mandate as other students, and breezed past the teachers without bowing—unheard of in this school.

My father was the headmaster, and even I bowed.

Come to think of it, I bent the lowest.

We were told we were a cut above the rest, the future of artists all over the world. We had the talent, the status, the money, and the opportunity. But if we were silver, Vaughn Spencer was gold. If we were good, he was brilliant. And when we shone? He gleamed with the force of a thousand suns, charring everything around him.

It was like God had carved him differently, paid extra attention to detail while creating him. His cheekbones were sharper than scalpel blades, his eyes the palest shade of blue in nature, his hair the inkiest black. He was so white I could see the veins under his skin, but his mouth was red as fresh blood—warm, alive, and deceiving.