top of page

Josslyn Ervin: Olivia Doesn't Know

No one gets away with a plain life for long. At some point, the unusual will crash in with no benefit of preparation. No forethought. No warning. Suddenly, everything can change, and we discover if it’s truly rock or sand beneath one’s feet.

2:27 pm. Gravel crunched beneath my black sneakers as I approached the front entrance of Meadow Street Baptist Church on August 21. I clutched a spiral-bound notebook in one hand and a camera in the other. Although it was 2017 and many of my colleagues had traded writing for typing, I still preferred paper, pencil, and camera over any new Apple product. This was a mature, black notebook that befitted my mature, nineteen-year-old self. It was nothing like my old, sky-blue diary with my name, Olivia Jenks, written in Crayola marker on the front.

2:28 pm. I climbed the four brick steps and observed the door, to which pale green paint battered by a century of exposure clung. Two rusty nails stabbed the wood. The shadows of a thousand hands cloaked the doorknob that my own must inevitably touch. Quaking, I forced myself to relax. My jitters were completely uncalled-for. Besides, there was no backing out now. Timothy Hubert had taken the task of covering the grand opening of the pet store, and I’d be out of my newfound job if I didn’t turn an article in by Friday. You get one chance, Ms. Jenks, I recalled Mr. Burgess growling at me as he begrudgingly gave me this lead, one chance!

A note to aspiring journalists of Lichentown – Mr. Burgess is a hard man. You’d best move away to make your writing debut, unless you want the talent violently squashed out of you like an insect’s intestines under a boot. The Lichentown Gazette ought to be the last place one searches for journalistic employment. Unfortunately, I didn’t possess the funds to escape my hometown, which meant I needed to meet Mr. Burgess’s deadline. So I needed to open that door.

2:30 pm. I tucked a loose strand of auburn hair behind my ear, took a deep breath, and opened the door, shivering as my hand made contact with the cool doorknob. The first thing that struck me about the sanctuary was the tall stained-glass windows on either side, glowering down on the worn pews placed as straight as a hymnal’s spine. The front of the room looked the way I had expected it to – a decrepit piano, a stoic pulpit, and a sinking organ. I walked through the room without interest. Nothing unusual here, and thus, no reason for an astute journalist to remain.

2:32 pm. I passed through the splintered doorway at the front of the sanctuary and continued down the dim hall. These must have been the Sunday school rooms, adorned with folding tables and miscellaneous, outdated chairs. The carpet felt crunchy underfoot as I peeked in musty, dusty room after musty, dusty room. How large the congregation of this church must have been. I stopped at the entrance of a grim bathroom with two toilet stalls on one side and two once-shiny sinks on the other. Still, this place appeared normal. I'd have to put a writer’s spin on it. Maybe, I could talk about the beneficial uniformity of Southern Baptist churches in the Bible belt, built to last and thrive. But who would want to read that? I needed something interesting. Newsworthy. Sensational. Like a ghost story.

2:35 pm. I stepped out of the bathroom and continued down the hall. Here was the nursery, the darkest place in the building. I hit a light switch nearby, but it didn't work. Figures, I grumbled. I dug a flashlight out of my purse and flipped it on. The beam fell on a picture frame on the wall in front of me. It held a blank sheet of white paper, like what church ladies would give to four-year-olds to draw Jonah in the whale on.

The hall was already dark. but I could see the light being sucked from it. I frowned and scratched my ear. The solar eclipse! I remembered my star-crazy cousin, Dalton, gushing about it at the Independence Day Barbeque. Personally, I didn’t appreciate the precise rarity of the moon blotting out the sun like black ink splashed on a masterpiece. Life is complicated enough. Why complicate night and day, the simplest things people can rely on?

2:36 pm. With an article to write, I didn't have time to philosophize. Blinking a few times, I went back to studying the picture frame. A small blue dot appeared on the paper. Wait, what? I rubbed my eyes and looked again. There was another blue dot, next to the first. Then, a squiggly yellow line, a pink circle… Astounded, I stared at the picture drawn by no one. It looked like a little kid’s drawing of another child. A green flower akin to a daisy came next. I smiled as comfortable memories of paper and crayon trickled into my head.

Suddenly, an angry red line slashed across the throat of the depicted figure. Then another. And another. Slowly, I backed away. I heard a small, aggressive, thudding sound all around. The other six picture frames had similar drawings, each depicting a child overwhelmed by red slashes. The sound began to bewilder me. In the darkness, I gripped my flashlight harder and fled through the hall. As I passed by the bathroom, the toilets flushed. Footsteps pursued me. A window broke in one of the rooms as I passed. I sprinted through the Sunday school hallway.

3:38. My logical journalist brain came back on. Would a proper reporter flee from a good story because she strained her eyes and the toilets malfunctioned? Of course not! I stopped running near the doorway to the sanctuary. There was another, smaller door adjacent to it, shadowy and curious. I stepped through it, shining my flashlight around the cramped space. A few stairs lead up to a baptismal pool. Warily, I mounted the stairs and peered into the water. A pale face stared back.

I jumped, jerking my head back and away from the atrocious sight. I uttered a strangled cry of revulsion and terror. When I hesitantly looked back into the water, I only had to study the face for half a second to realize it was a reflection of my own.

I laughed nervously. Why wasn't the pool empty? The church members must have been concerned about young children getting into it and drowning. I shivered at the thought of a drowned child's body hidden at the bottom of this caliginous pool. It wasn’t hard to believe. As I gazed into the stagnant water again, a warm, flickering light appeared. Was it a reflection, or did it originate from the pool itself? I leaned over to get a better look. It was a reflection. I spun around, and without warning, something struck the back of my head, and I tumbled down the stairs, helpless as a ragdoll. All I saw before I got knocked out was a single candle stick floating in midair.

I blinked and licked my dry lips. My watch read 3:46, which meant I had only been out for about five minutes. The eclipse was almost over, light ventured back in and re-conquered the stolen territory after the interruption of its reign. Slowly, I stood up. My head was sore, but that appeared to be the only damage. I stuffed my things into my purse and fast-walked out of the church.

Since that day, I have done my best to discount those spooky events as a dream, hallucination, or mirage, but to no avail. I got just what I wanted – a ghost story.

I am treated as all witnesses of the unbelievable are. Some call me crazy and shun me, and others believe and revere me. I’m not sure which is worse. After I published my article in the Lichentown Gazette, a group of skeptics visited the church and found evidence of what I had witnessed, such as the broken window, drawings covered in red slashes, and baptismal pool still full of dark water. They published their findings, and soon ghost hunters and stupid teenagers crawled all over that building. The goings on of Meadow Street Baptist Church became so blatantly ruinous that the city knocked it over.

I’m sorry they did. I’m sorry I can’t make sense of it, and I can’t tell all the people looking to me why it happened. I’m sorry I ever opened that green door in the first place.

I should have gone with the darn pet store.

About the Author:

Josslyn Ervin is a homeschooled high school senior from rural South Carolina. Her interests include classic literature, music, and thunderstorms. She's seventeen years old, and this is her first published story.

bottom of page