You Were: The Schoolgirl

November 1, 2010

You were born in a small town in Southern Italy. World War II had ravaged your part of the country. You were poor. Your neighbors were poorer. Everyone wore rags, and some went hungry. But there was one bright spot in your life. Believe it or not, it was school.

It wasn’t a large school (there were only thirty children in town). But even small schools need money to function. And the three wonderful teachers who taught you and your friends were among the town’s poorest citizens. Before the war, the local people had paid the teachers’ salaries by charging tourists a small fee to visit the village church, which was said to be haunted. After the war, no one seemed to recall your town or its ghost. Your beloved school was on the verge of closing.

You had big plans for your life, and dropping out of school at age nine wasn’t part of them. Even at nine, you weren’t afraid to take matters into your own hands. (I have a feeling this is a trait that you might still possess.) The next time you heard that a traveler was passing through town, you rushed over to the church, hoping to give him the scare of a lifetime. When word got out that your ghost was back, more tourists would journey to see it.

You were hiding under a squeaky pew when you heard someone approaching the altar. You let loose a blood-curdling moan and shook the pew, but you didn’t get a response. When you peeked out, you saw a small girl in a beautiful dress. She wasn’t one of your schoolmates, but she seemed to know the church well. She gestured for you to follow her.

She opened a door to the left of the altar and guided you down a set of stairs. At the bottom, a dark tunnel snaked underneath the earth until it ended at a pile of rubble. The way was blocked, but for a small opening between two fallen rocks. The little girl crawled into the opening. You refused to follow, and waited for her to emerge. (You’ve always known the difference between bravery and stupidity.) The girl never came out.

You ran to get your father. He and a few of the village’s strongest men spent the night pulling rubble from the pile. When the opening was finally large enough for a man to pass through it, your father crawled inside. You’d never heard a man scream the way he did when he reached the other side.

Beyond the rubble, he’d found a coffin. Inside lay a small girl in a beautiful white dress. She’d been dead for centuries and yet her body looked perfectly fresh. Three hundred people had been laid to rest in the catacomb. Each and every one of them looked as good (or grotesque) as the day they’d been buried. You had discovered the best-preserved mummies the world has ever known.

Of course the mummies became a major tourist attraction. Your town and school flourished. And though everyone in town encouraged you to become an archaeologist, you went to beauty school instead. (A wise choice, as it turned out. But I’ll leave that story for later.)

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