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The Cracked Ceiling

Marshawn shook his head, sleep threatening to overtake his mind, as he swallowed a mouthful of porridge. Through sleep-deprived eyes, he sneered at a young girl named Ganga, who sat on the long wooden table across from him. Like Marshawn, she too was ten years old, but she’d been at the orphanage longer than him. Marshawn had only been there for about six years, while Ganga had been there since the day she was born.

Marshall liked Ganga. She was friendly, kind, and a delight to be around, but at night she became the most annoying thing Marshawn had even come across. As the moon would take to the skies and the lights in the orphanage would go out, Ganga would lay on her back and reach her hands up to the cracked ceiling, spinning them in tight circles as she mumbled something incoherently. She did this every night with religious ferocity and didn’t stop until the morning sun coloured the sky. Usually, Marshawn didn’t care about Ganga’s odd behaviour, but ever since a couple of months ago, when his bed was placed right beside her, Ganga’s nightly repetitions had utterly ruined his sleep. When he’d confronted Ganga about it, she’d apologized but told him that she couldn’t control it. Even the caretakers didn’t give Marshawn’s complaints a second thought. The young boy had had enough. His sleeplessness was starting to cost him his sanity, and he had to do something about it.

Marshawn’s mind took him back to the night before when he’d been woken up by Ganga’s chants, her hand towards the ceiling, spinning a chained pendant on her fingertips. Marshawn tried to think of a time when he’d seen Ganga perform her nighttime chants without the silver pendant and came up empty-handed. His eyes widened with realization. I need to take that pendant away. Marshawn knew it was a long shot, but at that moment, he was ready to try anything.

As the sun dipped below the horizon and the children cleared away their dinner plates, Marshawn ran into the tiny room that was currently empty and held eight beds in close proximation, including his own and Ganga’s. He stepped up to Ganga’s bed and started rummaging about. As he put his hand under Ganga’s pillow, he felt a metallic chain and tugged at it, pulling out the silver pendant that Ganga spun every night. Marshawn smiled to himself at the prospect of possibly having a good night’s sleep and turned to his bed.

As footsteps filled the corridor and children started to fill the small chamber, Marshawn quickly hid the pendant below his own pillow and got under the covers. Voices filled the room and slowly died as all the children, dressed in their pyjamas, got into their beds. Two caretakers switched off the lights and shut the door.

“Goodnight,” Ganga smiled at Marshawn, her brown eyes twinkling in the silver moonlight that shone through the window.

“Goodnight,” Marshawn exhaled, feeling the tension leave his body, and before he knew it, he was back in dreamland.

A panicked scream woke Marshawn. He sat up on his bed, shocked, and looked around. All the other children were waking up too, irritation and curiosity painting their faces. Marshawn turned to see the scream coming from the bed beside him. Ganga was on her knees, tears streaming down her face as she frantically rummaged through her bedding, throwing pillows on the floor.

“What happened?” a girl asked, kneeling by Ganga and trying to comfort her.

“My pendant,” Ganga sobbed, the panic rising in her voice.

“We can try finding it in the morning,” Marshawn offered, frustrated that his strategy to get some peaceful sleep had failed.

Ganga turned to him with fear in her eyes. “You don’t understand. If we don’t find it now, she’ll come for us.”

“Who?” Marshawn asked.

Before Ganga could respond, the crack on the ceiling started to expand, causing the entire room to shudder.

“It’s too late,” Ganga whispered, her eyes wide with shock, “I can’t protect us tonight.”

Marshawn stood upon his bed. “What are you talking abou—

A boom shook the room, and a gaping hole appeared in the ceiling.

All the children started screaming in panic as they lept off their beds and huddled together. Some of them darted to the door, desperate to leave, but it was bolted.

Marshawn gasped, the chaos around him filling his nerves with anxiety. He reached below his pillow and flung the silver pendant towards Ganga. “Stop all of this,” he pleaded.

Ganga looked at the pendant and then at Marshawn, her eyes red and swollen from crying. “You’ve doomed us all.” She looked up at the ceiling, and Marshawn followed her gaze.

Through the gaping hole, Marshawn saw the face of a woman peer into the room. Her skin was loose and ragged like old leather, with ugly warts in different places; She had a twisted nose and a pointy chin, and her mouth was twisted in a menacing grin that showed rows of pointed teeth. Grey hair, like wires, framed her narrow face, and her eyes were dark like holes in her skull, hunger shining through them. The sight was one of true horror that made fear surge through Marshawn’s veins, paralyzing him in place.

“Finally,” the woman on the ceiling said, a shrill cackle escaping her thin, cracked lips.

“I can’t save us from the witch tonight,” Ganga sobbed, helplessness looming over her like death. “This is the end.”

Marshawn swallowed, his throat feeling dry, like sandpaper. All this time, Ganga had been protecting the children of the orphanage, and his intervention had doomed them all. He wanted to scream like the other children, but he couldn’t. He wanted to run, but his legs failed him. Dread, heavy like molten metal, weighed him down, adhering him to the mattress. Tears filled his eyes as he looked at the witch on the cracked ceiling.

The witch met Marshawn’s gaze, and her dark eyes widened with hunger. Her chapped lips cracked like the ceiling around her as a predatory grin painted her face, causing blood, as dark as night, to mix with her saliva and run down her chin. She drew a sharp breath and lunged at the young boy. A second later, Marshawn finally had the slumber that he so desperately yearned for.

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