Fiction Horror

    The flat was cozy and the music mellow. The colors of the Moroccan rugs, floor pillows, and prints on the wall glowed in the candlelight. Nellie got up to refill glasses. In her handwoven caftan, with a long ponytail, and little round specs, she looked like the hippy poet that she was. Sandra had had enough wine to relax. She had kicked off her designer heels and was happily stretched out with her long legs draped over the arm of the saggy couch, her perfect coiffure slightly tousled. Diane had overcome her initial nerves about this reunion. Her six-year-old telling her that she made the best chocolate chip cookies ever seemed to pale as an accomplishment next to the ecstatic critics’ reviews of Nellie’s poems and Sandra’s appearances on the television as a local reporter. As darkness fell and the wind and rain were lashing outside, they were back in their college dorm as giddy twenty-year-olds. Nellie raised her glass in a toast.

       “Here’s to the three musketeers! I can’t believe how ten years have slipped away.”

        “I haven’t laughed so much in months,” said Sandra. “This is better than therapy.”

         “It’s nice to get away from planning Halloween costumes for a while,” said Diane.

          “I’d forgotten it’s Halloween tomorrow. Speaking of which, didn’t you just do a segment on the news about the campus being haunted the other day?” said Nellie. “Must have been a slow news day.”

          “Don’t remind me! I still get stuck with the silly stories,” said Sandra, with a laugh. “I tell myself everyone’s career had to start somewhere. It beats covering the local garden show though. It was fun to be back on the campus. Brought back some memories.”

           “I missed all this,” said Diane. “What’s the story?”

Sandra swung her legs down, and sat up on the couch, holding her glass out for Nellie to refill.

            “You know they are finally building a new library?”

            “How could we not, with all the emails and letters they keep sending begging for funds?” said Nellie sardonically. “Goodness knows that old library should have been knocked down fifty years ago. That place always gave me the creeps. I hated being there after dark.”

            “They probably would have done it long ago, except some alums with deep pockets got sentimental and put up a big fuss at the idea of demolishing it. They must have forgotten that it was icy cold in winter and stifling in summer,” said Sandra. “It was a fire hazard and didn’t meet all kinds of building codes. It would have cost a fortune to bring it up to standards, so they finally had to concede defeat. Demolition started last week.”

She paused to sip her wine.

         “Where does the haunting part come in? "said Diane. "The suspense is killing me!”

Sandra smiled mischievously, taking her time getting comfortable again on the couch, until Nellie threw a cushion at her.

         “They found skeletal remains of a female down in the basement of the library, way in the back behind the old boilers. Very old remains, probably at least eighty years old, based on what few scraps of clothing were left. They haven’t been able to identify her, but they could tell her death was due to trauma. Her skull was fractured.”

              “Do you remember how it was a rite of passage to dare the freshmen to go down into that boiler room without getting caught by the janitor? I still have nightmares about the spiders’ webs and beetles, and all those pipes clanking and gurgling overhead. It’s terrible to think someone was lying there dead that whole time,” Diane said in horror. “How could a dead body have been missed?”

            “Those boilers were monstrosities. You could easily stash a body out of sight behind them. The boiler room was either baking hot or freezing cold and dusty and nasty. No one would spend any time down there unless they had to,” said Sandra. “It was also very poorly lit, so hard to see anything out of the ordinary at a glance. I haven’t been able to locate reports of any missing persons in the local press for that time period. I went through some college records and found that the janitor at the time was an ex-con who had served time for assault. Apparently, the Dean was quite progressive and believed in giving people second chances. But no way to say if any of that is relevant to the victim.”

          “This is all very sad,” said Nellie. “But why are they saying the campus is haunted, other than for titillating headlines?”

           “Several people, students and staff, have come forward to talk about weird experiences they had in the library. Lights flickering on and off, hearing whispers, feeling like they were being watched, but nothing there when they turn around,” said Sandra. “Cold spots in certain parts of the room. One girl talked about hearing laughter when she was alone. Another said some books suddenly fell off a high shelf, just missing her head. Whether they want their fifteen minutes of fame, are having delusions, or plain old lying, is not for me to say. Diane, are you feeling alright?

Diane looked pale. She gulped some wine, took a deep breath, and looked at the others.

        “Promise me that this stays between us,” she said urgently. Nellie and Sandra nodded, puzzled.

       “I don’t think they’re making up stories. Things happened to me in that library that I have never spoken about. It sounded too insane. Especially now, when my ex and I are in a custody battle, I don’t need anyone thinking I’ve lost the plot.”

 She leaned forward, concentrating hard.

         “I worked as library assistant. Restocking shelves, that kind of thing. I’d get in trouble because books would turn up in the wrong place or go missing. I was ultra-careful, because I needed the job, but it kept happening. I thought I was losing my mind. Like Nellie, I hated being there after dark. I’d hear all kinds of little noises, but I told myself not to be stupid. Old buildings creak. The rustling was probably mice. The rattling was air in the pipes of those old radiators. The lights would flicker off, but just as I thought I’d have to call the janitor, they’d flare back on again. I was the first in my family to go to college and was feeling like a fish out of water. I wasn’t about to speak up when no one else seemed to notice anything odd.”

           A sudden blast of rain hit the windows. Shadows danced around in the flickering candlelight. Sandra shrieked as Nellie’s cat Bingo, who had slipped into the room unseen, leaped onto her lap. They collapsed in hysterical laughter as Bingo shot off in high dudgeon. Catching her breath, Diane continued.

         “It all came to a head at Halloween. This was before I got to know you guys. I didn’t have any social life to speak of. I hadn’t been asked to any of the Halloween events, so I decided to stay in the library and study. I didn’t like the library, but I didn’t want to be the wallflower sitting in the dorm by herself while everyone else got ready to party. I was absorbed in reading and didn’t realize how late it was when I first noticed the tapping noises. It sounded like someone tapping on the old metal radiators. I ignored it at first, but it got louder. It was irregular, like someone tapping out a code. Then I heard sobbing and clattering, scuffling noises which seemed to come from somewhere below me in the depths of the building. I remembered it was Halloween and assumed it was some of the frat boys trying to be funny. That made me mad. I marched to the front door, yanked it open, and was about to yell at them when I realized there was no one there. You remember how that library stood by itself among the old oak trees? There were lights in the distance on the other side of the campus, but it was pitch dark outside the library. The lamp by the gate had gone out and the only illumination was the moonlight.”

She paused to sip her wine, gazing into the distance.

       “I know old what’s name who founded the college loved the Gothic look, but that building was over the top. All those little towers and gargoyles. Quite picturesque in daylight, but it could have been the setting for a horror movie at night. Ugh,” said Nellie, with a shudder. “Go on.”

        “I’d had enough,” said Diane. “All I wanted was to get out of there. I grabbed my books and was turning to go when I heard the most awful scream from somewhere inside the building, like a woman in agony. I took off running to the dorm. I called the campus police, but they didn’t find anything when they searched the building. I could tell they thought I was hysterical and making it up to get attention. I was the butt of quite a few jokes and snide comments for a while after that. It was a lonely time. I quit the library job and never went there after dark again.”

             “I believe you,” said Nellie. “Perhaps that building always had weird vibes because that poor woman met her end there."

             “I’m still searching for information on the case. She’s gone, but we’ll make sure she’s not forgotten,” said Sandra.

They raised their glasses in memory of Jane Doe.

October 28, 2021 12:32

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.