A Mystery at Birchtree
Excerpt from Horror Night
Mia slammed the door of her car and strode towards the darkened building. It was right after sunset and the sky still showed residues of light.
Everywhere else, the street lamps had come on, except here.
Mia brought her large purse closer to the chest and felt for her video camera. The thick bulge confirmed that she had indeed not forgotten to pack it and she walked faster towards where she saw the silhouettes of three boys waiting outside the entrance of the building.
"Finally." One of them said when she started to climb the stairs.
"Hey, Danny," She said, recognizing her classmate's voice.
"What took you so long?" Another complained.
The third boy stood up from the bench and blocked her path.
Mia sighed. "I'm here aren't I?"
"We were supposed to meet at five. It's seven now."
Mia rolled her eyes. She knew she and Jake weren't going to get along and if the circumstances had been different, she wouldn't have had him in her group anyway. But Professor Philips had been the one to form the groups and despite her opinion of him, she had to comply with the Professor's orders.
She could have called him out on his own tardiness, but then he would know that she had been here before and kept them waiting on purpose.
"What part of 'we're making a horror movie' don't you get?" Mia asked, trying to sidestep him, but he blocked her path again. Behind her, Danny and Ronit stood silently.
"That wasn't a group decision," Jake said.
Mia put her hand on his chest and pushed him away gently. "I make the rules here."
"Because you're the principal's niece?" Jake mocked.
Mia started to put the key in the lock and paused. She hated how the whole school seemed prejudiced towards her just because she was Principal Walker's niece and it bugged her to no end, but tonight, she decided that since Jake had thrown in that card, she might as well pick it up and play it.
"Yeah, now suck it up." She said, turning the lock and opening the door. Reaching into her large handbag, she took out her torch and switched it on.
The boys behind her sighed reluctantly and turned on their own flashlights.
"Why do you have the keys to this school, anyway?" Jake asked.
"My other Uncle is a principal too," Mia said. "He used to be…of this school."
"A family of principals." Jake mocked.
Danny snickered and nudged Ronit. "Principles, get it?"
"I think we should reconsider our project," Ronit said. "Professor Philips isn't going to be impressed by a horror movie. We should pick a social cause and do a movie..."
"Boooorrring." Mia interrupted then turned around to throw the light of her torch on his face.
Ronit squeezed his eyes shut and then adjusted his glasses.
"Literally everyone is doing a movie on some cause or the other. Gita is doing a movie on animal testing." Mia turned the flashlight away from Ronit's face and shone it on the wall beside them. "Sharona is doing a movie on teen pregnancies and Keith is doing one on racial discrimination."
"We could do one on..." Danny began but Mia interrupted yet again.
"No! Our best chance is to stand out."
"Horror is the lowest form of cinema," Jake mumbled.
"Says who?" Mia challenged. "In recent years low budget horror movies have earned more than big budget movies."
The boys didn't look convinced and Mia sighed. "Besides I have another motive."
"Go on..." Jake was being sarcastic again.
"There's going to be a horror film festival in a few months."
"I haven't heard anything," Ronit said.
"Of course not," Mia said. "My Uncle told me about it."
"Basically you want to enter this film in that as well?" Danny asked.
"Two birds with one stone." Mia smirked.
Ronit and Danny looked at each other and she could see that they were almost convinced. Jake, on the other hand, was raising his eyebrows at her and probably thinking of a sarcastic comment.
"You all in?" Mia asked.
"Fine," Danny said.
"Okay." Ronit nodded.
Jake shrugged and Mia took that as a yes.
"So what's the story?" Danny asked, removing his beanie cap.
Mia pressed her lips together. "Oh...well... Eight weeks ago there was a terrible tragedy in this private school. There was a fire and almost half the school was damaged by the fire."
"We all know that," Jake said. "What's the story of this movie?"
“Technically…” Danny interjected, “More than half the school was destroyed by fire. It even spread up till here before the firefighters subdued it.”
“You know what?” Ronit said. “I don’t think Professor Philips is going to go for this. He would want us to stick to something informative with an enlightening message. We should play it safe.”
Mia frowned at them. It seemed that if one of them agreed, so did the other. “Arrgh, okay fine!” she said. “Here’s what we’ll do.”
Jake leaned against the dusty wall and looked on at her dubiously as if she were just going to utter the most ridiculous plan. She knew this wouldn’t work with Jake, but now that they were both here…
“Look, we could do a short movie on fire safety in schools.” She said. “How about that?”
“Great, now let’s come here in the morning.” Jake turned to go and Mia imagined pulling him back and shaking him.
“Hold on a second!” she said. “I still want to enter that Horror festival that is for high school students only. This is the last year before I am no longer one, so I want to make that movie.” She adjusted her purse strap and sighed. “And I could use a little help from you guys.”
She said the last in a low mutter and Jake stepped closer. “What? Didn’t catch that?”
Mia shook her head and crossed her arms. “Are you guys in or out? Because I could find someone…”
“I’m in!” Danny said.
“Provided we get credited,” Ronit said.
“Of course.” Mia looked at Jake who shrugged.
“And like I said before- whatever.”