At the very southern tip of South America looms an isolated finishing school. Legend has it that the land will curse those who settle there. But for Mavi—a bold Buenos Aires native fleeing the military regime that took her mother—it offers an escape to a new life as a young teacher to Argentina’s elite girls.
Mavi tries to embrace the strangeness of the imposing house—despite warnings not to roam at night, threats from an enigmatic young man, and rumors of mysterious Others. But one of Mavi’s ten students is missing, and when students and teachers alike begin to behave as if possessed, the forces haunting this unholy cliff will no longer be ignored… and one of these spirits holds a secret that could unravel Mavi’s existence.
Simmering in Patagonian myth, Sara Faring’s The Tenth Girl is a gothic psychological thriller with a haunting twist. Available September 24th from Imprint.
It is the dead of night when I wake from a dream of draining the bathtub, full of frothy, rancid water, with my mouth. There’s a motherless one here, whispers a girlish voice from the closet as I splutter. I am covered in sweat, disoriented, and shivering. I curl my feet up only to feel the soles of my shoes rasp against the sheets. There’s a motherless one here. Because of the skylight in the shared bathroom, the moonlight bathes my room in a faint, otherworldly glow. My room door has been opened, a draft blowing through, and the closet door has been, too, exposing the gaping maw of the closet.
I see a sliver of white, slipping out of the darkness within. Her. A little girl, her long and greasy hair draped in front of her face and hanging over her shoulders like a yoke.
The intruder, I think. How did she get in? I swear I locked my room door. I swear it.
I squint my eyes at her in the dark. She’s pale and impossibly reedy; she wears a disintegrating and stained lace nightgown that exposes her skeletal arms and her knobby ankles.
She is unfamiliar—not one of the little girls I know here.
She shuts the closet door with a single finger, all while adjusting her neck with the other hand. The sound of each vertebra cracking sends a tremor through me. No, she’s not like the girls I teach. That’s when I stop breathing, hoping I won’t catch her attention. Hoping I can melt into my bed and become invisible. Hoping I can fall into a safer realm of sleep and forget this encounter.
Yet I continue to watch her, pinching my eyes into slits. Riveted and terrified.
She moves about my room with the self-possession of someone who does not feel the eyes of others on her, splaying the pages of my books, rifling through a pile of clean and folded clothes. I smell a rank waft, ripe and aged, like the meaty interior of a used plaster cast.
Could she be a ghost, or the ghost of someone lost to the curse sixty years ago?
She drops a crumpled shirt of mine and moves toward the chest, placing both hands on its fine wood with delicacy. Her feet are bare, lacy blue with cold or a strange form of rot, and none of her steps make a single sound on the floorboards.
In fact, as she moves, her feet do not brush the ground at all.
She lifts a book I’ve left on the chest and lets it slam onto the chest hard, her black eyes darting over to me with cold mischief.
She sees me startle. It was intentional—a trap. I shut my eyes tight and feel a surge of intense, bone-singing fear. There is only silence in the darkness, except for my heartbeat, which I wish I could stop. Will she touch me? Will she go? Have courage, Mavi. She can’t be older than twelve. She can’t intimidate me.
I open one eye, still praying she’s gone—only to muffle a shriek and shrink back into my sheets. She’s much closer, so close I can taste her foul breath, and she’s leaning over me like an otherworldly animal. She blinks her two dark eyes at me. There is a twisted hopelessness about her, a flattened affect to her that only exists in children who have cut themselves off from the world after terrible harm.
Is this creature the tenth girl? The tenth student?
“Who are you exactly?” I whisper.
“I don’t matter. I’m a memory,” she says, turning from me and gathering the hem of her nightgown in one swooping motion. Stepping toward my open door.
“Wait!” I call. “Where can I find you?”
“You can’t,” she says before rushing toward the hall and disappearing through the doorway.
I push to my feet and follow her, peering into the empty hall, and even drifting down its unlit length.
“What happened to Mrs. Hawk?” I call out into the dark. No one answers.
As my mind sharpens, I notice that my arms and legs shake so badly I cannot keep myself upright. This was all a waking nightmare, I tell myself. A nightmare brought about by drunkenness.
But she looked so real. The tenth girl, if that’s what I should call her.
I’m a few steps into the pitch-blackness—the moon, so temperamental, has disappeared again—when I feel a presence close.
“Is that you?” I ask, pushing my hands into the darkness.
Excerpted from The Tenth Girl, copyright © 2019 by Sara Faring.