“Up here!” Terry shouted. 

Marcus followed the sound of Terry’s voice as he wove between rows and rows of bookshelves. 

Terry yelled again, and this time Marcus saw him, his belligerent freshman roommate turned friend perched high above, head poking out of an opening in the ceiling Marcus had never noticed before. 

“How in the hell did you get up there, Terry?” he yelled, before tripping and falling into one of the ancient wooden bookshelves. Marcus looked back at what he’d stumbled on, and the method of Terry’s ascension became crystal clear. What is a ladder doing back here? He thought to himself. 

“Come up!” Terry shouted excitedly, his voice growing even louder. “Come see this!”

Marcus hesitated. “Why don’t you come on down instead?” 

Terry didn’t answer, so Marcus waited. After a few minutes passed, Marcus became worried. He called up to Terry once more, and when he still got no answer he propped up the ladder and made his way up the rungs.

At the top, Marcus hoisted himself in through the little rectangular opening where he’d last seen his friend’s face.

He got to his feet. Looking down, he saw the front of his blue corduroys and his gray sweater covered in powdery white dust. Marcus did his best to wipe himself down and looked up. The room was silent. He was able to make out some of it now, in spite of the vast darkness. It was cavernous, a wide expanse that must have covered the entire second floor of the library. The only light came from the room below, as well as a feeble light from the flame of a single taper candle burning on a little side table next to a twin mattress covered in neatly folded sheets and a patchwork quilt. 

“Terry!” he called. “Terry, come out, man!” Silence.

Groaning to himself, Marcus began searching his surroundings for any sign of life. This was just like Terry, who loved to startle unsuspecting victims — usually Marcus, who was now on his guard against any tomfoolery. The chill of the mostly empty room added a sense of urgency to his search. What little insulation there was up here had begun to peel off the roof in tufts, letting in the cool autumn air and sending a chill down Marcus’ spine.

He walked up to the makeshift bed and reached down to grab the candle to aid his search. 

“Who are you?” said a soft, sweet voice from behind him, causing Marcus to jump. He turned around and saw a girl perched on the edge of the mattress.

“M-Marcus,” he stammered. She smiled back at him. “You surprised me.”

“Did I?” she replied. “I could say the same to you. But not your friend. I’m Bina, by the way.”

Marcus nodded. “What is this place?” he asked. “Why are you up here?”

“I like it up here,” she said, still smiling. “Nobody bothers you up here — usually.”

Marcus nodded, then turned to scan the rest of the room, which looked walled off by the darkness that consumed everything beyond the faint light where he was standing. His gaze returned to his new companion, taking in her features in the candlelight. She had blonde hair that hung down around her waist at uneven lengths so that the hair that fell on her left side sat an inch or two lower than the hair on her right. It was unstyled but looked soft, and to his surprise Marcus yearned to reach out and touch it. 

She looked frail, with a severe jawline and sunken cheeks, though overall the face was beautiful. With her scrawny arms and twig-like legs, she looked like a baby bird fallen from the nest, dead before it even had a chance to fly. Her thinness was accentuated by the thin straps hanging off her shoulders, the only thing holding up a white dress that looked like an old-timey woman’s slip than the outfit. She had the kind of broken beauty that makes people write checks to charities. Must be on financial aid, Marcus thought. Not that he cared – he was, too.

“Aren’t you cold up here?” he asked. 

“No,” she shook her head. 

“I’m freezing,” he said. “And I have this jacket on.” He pulled it off, then finding his manners he held it out to her.

“No, thanks,” she said. “Though now that your jacket is off, why don’t you hang it up and stay a while.”

He followed her outstretched arm with his eyes until he saw the large chest of drawers to which she was pointing. He hadn’t noticed it before, standing just between himself and the darkness. He walked up to it obediently and opened the heavy wooden doors. Inside were a number of other coats of varying sizes … varsity jackets, fleeces, winter coats, all in different styles, clearly not belonging to just one person. Marcus grabbed a hanger and added his jacket to the collection. He parted the coats to make room for his own, and in doing so his hands touched Sherpa— he recognized Terry’s wool-lined jean jacket immediately. Terry never went anywhere in this weather without it. Class, the dining hall, parties, the Episcopal church at the edge of campus on Sundays after his mother called to guilt him into going. It was his staple, his signature look.

“This is Terry’s coat,” he said, pulling the jean jacket out on its hanger to show Bina. 

“Hm,” she said, lowering her gaze to the floor. Marcus put the jacket back into the dresser and closed the doors. He stepped around it and walked to the other side of the room, feeling the darkness envelop him, his only protection the meager light coming from the taper. 

“Terry,” he whispered. “Terry, are you here?”

He kept calling, his voice getting louder and more strained. No one answered. 

“Marcus, you’re being too loud,” Bina said softly. Marcus came back to the bedside where Bina sat, her hands behind her back on the mattress propping her up. With her back arched slightly, Marcus could see a row of narrow ribs pressing through the silky fabric of the dress. The cold had seemed to fade now, and he sank back into the mattress, fighting off the feeling that he just needed to rest for a little while. 

He turned his head and locked eyes with Bina, whose face had gone cold, her smile contorted into a snarl.

“Don’t worry,” Bina said. Marcus felt an arm wrap around his back from behind, guiding him down onto the quilt. Try as he might, sleep seemed inevitable, and as his eyes began to flutter he became aware that his body was now lying flat on the bed. He looked up through the tiny slits between his heavy eyelids and took in the dark rafters up above. A shape came in and out of focus, something big he didn’t recognize at first. It wasn’t until he felt something warm and sticky fall onto his cheek that his eyes opened enough to make it out.

Up above him hung a body that had been strapped firmly in place by thick ropes. The dripping came from its throat, and he realized the quilt was saturated with it as he sank down deeper into the oozing mattress. Marcus felt his vision come into focus and was able to make out the features of the body above, starting with the holes in the toes of dirty socks, the worn hem of blue jeans, the white tshirt drenched in a growing dark stain. Finally, Marcus saw the throat, torn out as if by a giant taloned bird, and the face of his friend Terry, eyes large with fright, mouth gaping open. His lips moved, emitting a silent warning as the little blood he had left fell softly to the floor below. 

Marcus felt his eyes becoming heavy once more in spite of the shock. With great effort, he turned his head to face Bina, whose smile had returned in force.

“You have to be quiet in the library, Marcus,” she said. 

November 10, 2023 21:00

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