The Harrowing


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As a screenwriter, Alexandra Sokoloff has sold original mystery and thriller scripts and written novel adaptations for numerous Hollywood studios.  Her debut ghost story, THE HARROWING, was nominated for both a Bram Stoker award (horror) and Anthony award (mystery) for Best First Novel.   Her second supernatural thriller, THE PRICE, was called “some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre” by the New York Times Book Review, and her short story, “The Edge of Seventeen”, just won the International Thriller Writers' Thriller award for best short fiction of the year.  Her third spooky thriller, THE UNSEEN, is out now, and is based on real-life experiments conducted at the parapsychology lab on the Duke University campus.   Her fourth supernatural thriller for St. Martin’s Press is BOOK OF SHADOWS, out in June 2010, and she is writing a paranormal thriller for Harlequin Nocturne for a fall 2010 release.  Her book on SCREENWRITING TRICKS FOR AUTHORS, based on her popular workshop and blog (,  will be available on Kindle in October.



The memorial was buried deep in an oak grove in the heart of campus. A graceful circle of trees, and the curved marble bench.

On this late November day, the grove was dark and hushed, just a whisper of rain that dripped from the thick canopy of branches, leaked down onto the aged marble, streaking the stone with black, like tears.

Vines and brambles had crept over the path, cutting off access to the quiet circle, leaving the bench all but forgotten now, like the students whose names it bore. Above the layer of rotting leaves covering the seat, they were cut into the marble like etchings on a tombstone. Five names, a date, and a simple epitaph:


Five students dead, so long ago.

What could it matter now?




It had been raining since possibly the beginning of time.

In the top tier of the cavernous psychology lecture hall, Robin Stone had long since given up on the lecture. She sat hunched in her seat, staring out arched windows at the downpour, feeling dreamily disconnected from the elemental violence outside, despite the fact that every few minutes the wind shook the building hard enough to rattle the glass of the windowpanes.

In milder weather, Baird College was the very definition of pastoral. Wooded paths meandered between ivy-swathed stone buildings. Grassy hills rolled into the distance, dotted by trees… all unmarred by the slightest sight of civilization.

But now the old oaks lashed in the wind under roiling dark clouds that spilled icy rain on the deserted quad. In the bleak light of the storm, the isolation seemed ominous, the campus hunkered down under the pelting rain like a medieval town waiting for the siege.

The cold of the day had sunk into Robin’s bones. The wind outside was a droning in her ears, like the hollow rush of the sea. Inside, Professor Lister’s soft German accent was soporific, strangely hypnotic, as he quoted Freud from the wood-planked dais far below.

“’The state of sleep involves a turning away from the real, external world, and there we have the necessary condition for the development of a psychosis. The harmless dream psychosis is the result of that withdrawal from the external world which is consciously willed and only temporary…’”

Robin’s moody reflection stared back at her from the window: dark-eyed, somewhat untidy, elfin features framed by a tumble of nearly black hair. All in all, a chance of prettiness if she weren’t so withdrawn, guarded.

She pulled her eyes away from the glassy ghost of herself, blinked around her at a sea of students moored behind tiers of wooden desks. People were shifting restlessly, looking up at the clock above the blackboard. A little before three, Wednesday. Tomorrow was Thanksgiving, and everyone was impatient, eager to escape for the holiday. Everyone except Robin. The four-day weekend loomed before her like an abyss.

Thanksgiving, right. Thanks for what?

At least there would be no roommate.

She sat with the thought of no Waverly for four days, and felt a spark of something – not pleasure, nothing so life-affirming as that, but a slight relief, a loosening of the concrete band that lately seemed to permanently encircle her chest.

No mindless, venal chatter. No judging cornflower blue eyes.

And no one else, either, Robin reminded herself. No one at all.

The anxiety crept in again, a chill of unnamed worry.

Four days in creepy old Mendenhall… completely alone.

The professor’s soft voice whispered in the back of her head. “’In psychosis, the turning away from reality is brought about either by the unconscious repressed becoming excessively strong, so that it overwhelms the conscious, or because reality has become so intolerably distressing that the threatened ego throws itself into the arms of the unconscious instinctual forces in a desperate revolt…””

Robin glanced down at the professor, startled at the confluence of thought. She wrote slowly: “Reality has become so intolerably distressing…”

She stopped and quickly scribbled over the words, blackening them out.

The bells in the clock tower above the main plaza outside struck once, sounding the three-quarter hour. A hollow sound, reverberating over the campus.

On the podium below, the white-haired professor paused, listening to the bell. The chime died, and he turned back to the class.

“But while Freud contended that the forces that drive us come from within us, our own unconscious, his disciple and colleague Carl Jung believed there was a universal unconscious around us, populated by ancient forces that exist apart from us, yet interact with and act upon us.” He paused, looked around the class.

“So who was right? Do our demons come from without, or within us?”

He half-smiled, then closed his binder. “And on that cheery note, we’ll end early, since I know you’re all eager to get away.”

The class collectively surged to its feet, reaching for coats and notebooks and backpacks in an orgy of release. The professor raised his voice over the tide. “I’ll need all of you to discuss your term paper topics with me next week, so please make appointments via E-mail. Have a good Thanksgiving.”

Robin closed her notebook and stood, feeling as if she were rising through water, but only partway.

The surface seemed far above her.



(C)  Alexandra Sokoloff 2009

© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.