The Ballerina’s Bargain

By Logan Lynch

As the truck rolls to a stop, I find myself feeling nothing.
Not even fear or excitement as I stare up at the face of the abandoned convent.
Its rotting walls and deep pit windows have no effect on me, until I get out of
the truck. Then, it starts to weigh on me. A morose dread settles on my
shoulders, curling its fingers around my neck as the cool air surrounds me. I
notice too quickly that the only sounds are those of my girlfriend’s feet
hitting the gravel as she rounds the back of the pickup to stand next to me.

“You ready?” she asks, looking at the decrepit building. I
turn to look at her. In the twilight, Leah’s face is still easy to read. She’s
not scared or particularly happy to be here, but she’s not going to leave
without at least going in.

“I guess so,” I say, trying to sound as neutral as possible,
but I must have let something slip because the look she gives me is full of

“We don’t have to go,” she whispers, leaning in close. “I
can say we got a last-minute invite to Jade’s party, just the two of us?”

“No, no. I’m fine. I just—This whole thing is starting to
feel off,” I tell her, although the thought of being anywhere else alone with
Leah is enough to agree to Jade’s fictional party. Leah begins to say
something, but Kevin walks up to us, standing way too close and leaning into
our conversation.

“Well, what’s going on here? You two conspiring again? I
swear, your heads are always bent together. No wonder people say there’s a gay
agenda.” He bends back in a burst of laughter while we stare in vague confusion
and irritation.

“He thinks he’s so funny,” I say dryly as Greyson appears
over Leah’s shoulder.

“Yea. I am. And you better be grateful because we’re going
to need my impeccable humor tonight,” Kevin says matter-of-factly.

This whole thing was his idea—spending the night in the
abandoned convent just outside of town. There are tons of ghost stories
associated with it and, as we do, local teenagers have made it a challenge to
spend a full night here with just your phone and a flashlight.

“I hope you don’t actually expect us to stay until sunrise,”
Greyson says, wringing his hands.

Kevin’s smile drops. “Are you serious? Didn’t we already
agree on this? Come on, man, don’t tell me you’re trying to back out. We’ll be

“Actually, I’m with Greyson on this one,” I cut in, already
tired of Kevin’s voice. “That building looks disgusting, and I’ve got rehearsal
in the morning.”

“Oh my god, Carter, we get it. You’re a prissy ballerina who
can’t do anything fun ever. Loosen up,
girl, just once!” Kevin says exasperated. At something like this, I’d usually
berate him for being a prick and remind him that ballet could actually take me
somewhere, unlike his ‘ironic frat bro’ persona, but I don’t get the chance. He
turns to Greyson and slaps a hand on his slouched shoulder. “Greyson. Buddy.
You can do this. I know you’ve got that anxiety thing, but, trust me, this is
easy. We’re gonna go in, spend the night, and have a wonderful time.” He turns
back to me. “Aren’t we, Carter?”

I roll my eyes. “You know what-”

Leah cuts in before I can finish, “You know what? Why don’t
we just stay until midnight? That way Kevin can still try to get himself
possessed by a dead nun, and Carter can still sleep before rehearsal. Hm?”

Leah, always the mediator.

I lean against the side of the truck, nestled in the edge of
the woods that circle the property as night finally takes hold. The cool summer
air would be refreshing if it didn’t carry the scent of wood rot and mold. When
I look at a new text from Leah, I’m glad I decided to be the lookout in case
the ‘no trespassing’ policy is taken seriously. The building doesn’t just smell
awful, but it looks horrific. Leah’s picture shows dirt and fallen planks
everywhere littered with the detritus of secret parties: red solo cups,
cigarette butts, and crosses that may or may not have been flipped upside down
by rebellious teens.

I start typing a response, but another picture pops up. This
one is slightly blurred, but it’s obvious what I’m looking at: a decayed shrine
to a demon with goat horns and too many arms. Of course, the blurriness makes
it hard to tell if the statue is from the time when nuns actually lived here,
but I choose to believe that my fellow highschoolers are too lazy to build
something that intricate just to trick people, urban legends of Catholic nuns
turned devil-worshippers be damned.

Creeped out, I turn my phone’s screen off and look around.
It’s pitch black now, but my flashlight illuminates a small circle of my
surroundings. I shine it toward the windows in the building to see if anything
moves, but when nothing does, I shine the light on trees to my left. Sweeping
back and forth slowly, it takes a couple of minutes to see anything interesting
like a small animal or an oddly shaped tree.

But then the light lands on something I don’t have words
for. It looks like a person or rather something that used to be a person. Its
eyes glow yellow-white and its body is dirt-colored and tattered. At first, it
stares at me, but after a moment it lunges. Without thinking, I run into the
woods, instinctively looking for somewhere to hide. But it’s just my luck that
I trip on a fallen branch. I catch myself on my hands, nearly dropping my phone
and flashlight. When I look behind me, the thing I saw is gone, but I turn my
head and no more than two inches from my face is another…thing. I don’t have
time to note what it looks like because the second my eyes land on it, it
releases a blood-curdling scream. I shut my eyes and cover my ears, crouching
into a fetal position. For a second, it occurs to me that this could all be
some messed up prank from Kevin. But I doubt any of my friends would let the
scream go on for so long. They would have seen my reaction and burst out
laughing by now.

This can’t be real. This
isn’t real. This isn’t real.
I think over and over again.

“Oh, it’s very real,” a deep voice says. It seems to come
from everywhere and nowhere at once, external but also in my head somehow. It
still scares me half to death but it’s so much better than the screaming. I
open my eyes, but I don’t see anything except the trees until I sit up.
Standing, I grab my phone and flashlight off the ground. I look around and
still don’t see where or who the voice could have come from. I start walking
back to the truck, stumbling out of fear and lack of visibility.

“Where are you going?” the voice asks. It’s husky and
haunted, layered like multiple people are speaking at the same time. “We
haven’t made our deal yet.”

I stop walking and look around. “What?” I ask, beyond

“Our deal. Isn’t that why you told your friends you would
wait outside? So they could go in, and my friends could collect their souls?”
The voice seems to move now, starting on my left and sliding to my right,
passing through and around me at the same time. Suddenly, the air is too cold,
and it tingles on my skin like the light touch of someone’s hand.

“I didn’t bring them here. It-it wasn’t my idea. It was
Kevin’s,” my voice trembles as my body shivers.

“That part doesn’t matter, though. He went in and you’re
here. You see, your friends are going to die. They’re already dying. Don’t you
hear?” A fake pity taints its many voices.

“Hear what?” There is a bite in the question. This thing is
mocking me now, playing with me like a toy, or like food.

When the question passes my lips, I hear the scream again,
as deafening as the first time. I gasp and fall to my knees, eyes squeezed
shut. Soon, the darkness behind my eyelids morphs into a dirty room, much like
the one from Leah’s text. I scramble back on the ground, sliding in the
mysterious damp on the tile floor. Only it’s not me; it can’t be. I’m in the
woods doing who knows what. I try to look around, but I can only see what they
see. I try to speak but my mouth doesn’t work other than to release that awful

This must be Leah. It was

“Yes. It is your Leah,” the voice cuts in. “But it’s your
other friends, too. The loud one,”

At this, the vision changes. I think I’m still Leah, but now
I see, through her eyes, Kevin dangling in mid-air, his eye sockets bloody and
empty. His mouth hangs open as though he too were screaming.

“And the nervous one.”

Again, the vision changes. Only this time Greyson is still
alive. He runs toward Kevin’s body only to be thrown back against a wall, his
head landing with a sickening crack. His startled yell is cut short, and he
lands in a heap on the ground. The vision fades.

I open my eyes, but they are filled with tears. Kevin may
have been a prick, but he didn’t deserve this. And Greyson…but there’s still
Leah. I could save her if I play my cards right.

“Take me instead,” I say with surprising assuredness. “Let
Leah go and take me instead.”

“Oh, no, no, no. That’s not how this works. You only die if
you go into the convent. And your soul can only be offered up if you die here.
Only the ones who live can make a deal with me.” The voice sounds like it’s
talking to a child, and I lose my patience.

“Let her go and take me instead!” I yell, desperate for this
to end.

The voice must not like this because it materializes in
front of me. I fall onto my back and look up. It has taken the form of an
emaciated man. His head touched by a wisp of gray hair, his clothes more rags
than actual clothing. Worst of all are his eyes. Deep pits of absolute
nothingness, darker than the night around us.

“You don’t get to change the terms!” he bellows. “Whether
you like it or not, you let your friends go in there and you let them die!
Maybe there was a reason behind all those urban legends you people spread

“But I didn’t know! I thought they were just stupid
small-town ghost stories! Nobody actually believes that stuff!” I cry.

“Well, believe it now! You’ve got a deal to make! Your
friends are dying either way. Might as well make it worth something,” he

“No,” I say through gritted teeth.

“No?” he repeats, incredulous. “Hm. Maybe your Leah can sway
your mind.”

My vision fades again, and I’m back in the convent. This
time, my gaze floats like a camera and lands on an altar. The statue from
before is there, but there is something laid in front of it. When I realize who
it is, I nearly vomit. Leah lies on the altar with her shirt cut open and stab
wounds littering her torso. Her eyes have been cut out and the sockets are
bloody. Her mouth is frozen in a scream. Then, the vision disappears.

“See? There’s no saving them. And I know there’s something
you want. Something you’re dying to have. Waking up early every day, going to
bed late, all your free time bound to those pointe shoes. I can give you the
career you want. You’ll be prima ballerina in every ballet you want. And I’ll
even sweeten the deal for you. You see, normally your three friends would only
get you about thirty years before I get to claim your soul too, but since you
seem a little…sad, I’ll give you the rest of your natural life. How does that

And just like that, this mocking thing, whatever it is, hit
my Achilles’ heel. Like a surgeon, it cut right through my flesh to the thing
I’ve wanted most in this world: ballet. When I look at other dancers, I see
nothing but competition, other girls trying to take the career I want. What’s
worse is that they could do it. They could steal my dream if I slack off for
even a second. I put my body through hell everyday just to stay where I am.
Maybe this could give me a break.

“Fine. I’ll take the deal.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *