Becoming a Good Woman
When Martin Connors had first encountered the door, she told herself that attempting to open it would not be worth her time. She was not Alice and that door would not lead her to Wonderland or Narnia because she most certainly was not a Pevensie child; so then why couldn’t she explain what she was doing with the door wide open as a last resort?
The first rule when arriving to Bilstraud’s Academy of Fine Women was to never open the double oak doors on the fifth floor. Why? Well that answer they supplied stated that it let to the school’s abandoned shelter two cities away, but was now riddled with rather poisonous plants and other dangerous things, or something like that.
Bilstraud’s had been around for the last fifty or so years. It was founded by James Bilstraud, who is rumored to have executed promiscuous women in his hometown before fleeing. Of course, those were just rumors, but at Bilstraud’s, rumors are as close to the truth as anyone will ever get.
Martin was accepted at the ripe age of thirteen. Like her older sister before her, she was to attend and expected to graduate with outstanding achievement. Lucy never talked about her years at Bilstraud’s and came out the picture perfect at-home wife. Martin didn’t know what to expect and that should have been her first clue that something was amiss. Lucy never denied anyone the chance of gossip. The overlooking of this fine detail would later come back to haunt Martin.
Even thought the Academy was founded by a man, women have always headed the school. It is the belief of Bilstraud’s that only find young ladies will come out as competent women, ready to be what every man needs. There is no tolerance for any kind of risqué behavior or misdemeanor. The consequences are said to be severe, though no one actually knows what happens to those caught acting so wildly and no one ever speaks aloud at Bilstraud’s.
It started when Martin noticed Abby missing. It wasn’t the first time a girl just left, but Martin knew Abby and one is said to ever graduate within the first five years; only the most prestigious have ever completed quickly and those cases were rare. Abby continued to be gone for five more days when Cameron went missing as well.
“Stephanie,” Martin whispered as the two were setting up their room for sleep, “have you heard anything about Abigail or Cameron?” If there was anyone that would know, it would be Stephanie.
It was a risk the two girls were taking, talking this late at night when they should be sound asleep, and speaking about something that was clearly not their business. It did not involve them and at Bilstraud’s, if you are not included, do not include yourself. The distress clearly showed on Stephanie’s face. It didn’t matter how carefully they conversed, the walls had ears.
Stephanie shook her head. She may have heard something, but she wasn’t stupid enough to talk about it, even in the littlest of a whisper. There was something about the school that didn’t sit right. It was an ominous feeling that clung to every hallway and crept into every dream.
The next morning, Stephanie was gone. Whispers followed Martin around along with the sensation of being studied. Whatever happened to the other girls could very well get her next. It was only a matter of time. Martin had to watch every little action, but she wasn’t going to abandon her friends. Whatever got them, also struck two more girls a year ahead of her.
It was another day of attending classes and learning how to be a proper woman, but what made it different was that those analyzing eyes that Martin usually felt were gone. Martin wasn’t sure how she accomplished this feat, but during rest time, she managed to sneak away. At first her search proved fruitless until she stumbled upon a button off of Abby’s favorite night gown. She found it on the fifth floor. The girls had to be somewhere nearby then. No one who went into Bilstraud’s came out without graduation. It is said that they had to restart and repeat all over again until they passed, no matter how old they got. So somewhere within the building had to be Abby, Cameron, Stephanie, and the two others.
Martin returned the next day to the fifth floor, being very careful in her approach. This was how she found herself on the fifth level with the double oak doors just down the hallway. It still didn’t explain how she ended up with that door wide open, hoping for something fairytale-like on the other side, but the hurried footsteps of many heading her way, clearly indicated her predicament. There was no time for Martin to think over her actions as she stepped through the forbidden oak doors.
Deprivation. A long winding staircase greeted her in the total blackness of the passage way. No plants or poison or death touched her exposed ankles. The voices on the other side grew in volume, so Martin cautiously trekked down the stairs, keeping her right hand on the wall as support. It was just like the books, where the mysterious passage led out to a light, expect this one wasn’t a blinding white nor did a glorious adventure present itself when she made it to the end. However far in deep into the school she was, she didn’t know, but looking at the poorly lit almost dungeon like surroundings, she figured that it was somewhere near the faculty housing since the build looked so old.
A muffled scream of panic reached her ears and caused her pulse to cease for a second. When Martin followed the sound, she wished she had drowned five years ago.
“Martin!” The voices wailed. Bloody arms reached through the cell bars for her.
Martin stumbled back, a strangled and alarmed sound escaping through her throat as bile rose and choked her. She recognized those startling grey eyes. Cameron. She dared not let her eyes travel around the chambers.
“Martin, help me, please!” It was Abby. She looked petrified. Naked, bloody, and shivering. Her normally lustrous blond hair was matted brown. If Abby was in this condition, then . . .
“They’re going to kills us, Martin!”
Choruses of her name echoed in the dungeon-made-examination lab. The smell of feces, urine, and blood mixed with the sterilizing chemicals made her sway; nauseated, Martin collapsed back against a wall. It was too much. She couldn’t look away. Is this what happened to the others that had gone missing as well? Caught up by the whole situation, she almost missed the tall-tale signs of someone approaching.
“Darlings, what in the world has gotten you all so worked up?” The voice sent ice through Martin’s veins. “Are you going to beg for forgiveness, again? Begging is beneath women.”
Headmistress Rhonda was behind this? But why? Martin felt lightheaded and squeamish. The barrel next to her rattled at her sudden movement.
“I see we have a mouse. Is that what you were trying to tell me, lovelies?” Rhonda crooned.
Martin’s heart caught in her throat. NO, this couldn’t be happening. She covered her mouth to muffle her increasing gasps for breath. If she was found . . . the sight of Jamie strapped down on the slab and peeled like a potato burned into her mind. Those vacant white sheen layered eyes borrowing into her soul with her mouth opened in a silent, eternal scream . . .
A shriek caused her to jump. She had to find her way back to the stairs and get out. She had to escape Bilstraud’s.
“Martin, please,” Abby sobbed. There was a faint sound of a scuffle. Oh god, Rhonda was going to get another one. It wasn’t doing Abby any good by fighting back, she would be dead; she couldn’t be a woman with her floozy attitude and that’s what it all came down to.
“You have a friend down here?” Rhonda sounded positively delighted. A dull snap silenced Abby quickly. Martin felt the air rush out of her lungs and her legs jelly.
“Oh Martin dearie,” Rhonda called sweetly, almost singing, “I didn’t know you joined our party.”
No! No, she couldn’t get caught. That would be it. Martin pinched her forearm hard. She needed to get a reaction out of her body. She needed to run!
“Don’t be shy. We’ll have lots of fun. We’ll make a woman out of you yet.”
The second Martin moved, everything fell silent and caused her to freeze. One by one, the lights dimmed before blinking out. She pressed herself against the wet brick wall behind her and did her best to hold her breath.
“You don’t have to hide,” Rhonda whispered.
Martin screamed and bolted. Her body ice cold but pounding internally with the heat of fear. Rhonda was far quicker though, and snatched Martin’s rich auburn locks.
“Now, now love. If you run away we’ll have to do more than make you a woman.”
“No!” Martin shrieked in terror, clawing and scraping at the walls that let slip away. “NO!!”
A dull crack and Martin’s cries fell silent immediately. Rhonda caressed the sixteen year old’s cheek. “Welcome to Bilstraud‘s, Martin Connors.”