Thursday, October 28, 2010
I'll say this for Tanya Capton: she's got guts. Everyone else gave me a wide berth in the student lounge while I gulped down the weak brown stuff the law school called coffee. Not Tanya. She walked right up to me in the student lounge while I was still sipping the first cup.
“Does your sour mood have anything to do with the library being haunted?” she demanded bluntly.
I stared at the petite blond woman from my class and took another gulp of coffee. “Who says the library is haunted?” I asked blandly.
“You did. Last night, when you and that snobby second year student came running out of the Pacific Reporter room.”
Crap. “Oh, you heard that?” I said out loud. “That was just...um, that is...it's almost Halloween and we thought it would be funny to pretend the library is haunted. Maybe spread a rumor or something as a prank.”
“No offense, Maryanne, but you don't seem like the type that could pull off a prank.”
That sounded like an insult. “What is that supposed to mean,” I demanded.
“You take yourself too seriously. Like at the scholarship dinner the Dean hosted before the school year started. You spilled some of your blueberry buckle on the tablecloth and spent the rest of the evening trying to scrub it out with salt and water...while the tablecloth was still on the table.”
“If you treat blueberry juice with salt and water it keeps the stain from setting. But you have to be quick.”
“I think the law school can afford another tablecloth.”
I poured myself a second cup of coffee. “Why do you care if the library's haunted or not?”
Tanya looked away. “I've got some experience with those kinds of things,” she said quietly.
Looking at her more critically I could see nothing about her that suggested she would be the type to believe in ghosts. “Yeah, right,” I said. “Let me guess: you're a medium.”
“No,” she said firmly. “But someone in the library last night was a conduit. It's the only explanation for the level of paranormal activity that occurred. You and that guy weren't the only ones to experience the effects – everyone felt the cold chills and saw the lights flicker. The only reason more people aren't talking about it is that they've written it off as some kind of stress-induced delusion.”
“What do you mean, a 'conduit'?”
“Someone with a deep connection to the after life. Someone who presence makes spirits comfortable about reaching into the living realm.”
I shook my head a little and blinked. “For a normal looking person you sure talk crazy,” I said.
Tanya frowned. “I knew you wouldn't believe me. No one ever does. Here,” she said, pulling a piece of crumpled paper out of her pocket and thrusting it at me.
“It's what I found stuck in the back of the Pacific Reporter lying on the floor near the haunted shelf.”
I took it from her, staring with disbelief. “You went in there?”
“After you and the second year went down to the first floor. I didn't see any harm in it. After the two of you left all the paranormal activity stopped.”
Tanya's eyes widened as she said, “That's your reaction? 'Huh'?”
“Am I missing something?”
“Yeah,” she said disgustedly; “The obvious. If everything stopped when the two of you left, then one you is the conduit.” She whirled around and walked away, head high.
Clearly the woman was nuts. There was no way that Nick or I had attracted the ghost hand. But the paper...that was real. I set down the coffee cup and smoothed the paper against the top of the table. The paper was really thin, so thin that you couldn't read the writing on one side without being distracted by marks on the other. I'd heard some of the upper level students talk about that kind of paper – onion skin, they called it. It had been the standard for legal documents decades ago, but no one used it now.
The piece I was holding was torn and frayed. On one side was handwriting, even but almost illegible. It seemed to be some kind of list. Hard to be certain, the way the paper was torn. I turned it over and studied the typing on the other side. It looked like clauses from...a will.
“Tanya,” I said, looking up. I wanted to ask her more about the paper. But she had left the lounge.
Everyone had left the lounge. Dang it, the break must be over!
Professor Thompson stuck her head around the corner. “Are you ready, Maryanne?” she asked.
“Yes, ma'am. And thank you,” I said meekly. Professor Thompson was the only likable first year professor; I didn't want to be on bad terms with her. I folded up the paper and stuck in into the right pocket of my jeans. “I'm sorry for the way I acted in class,” I said.
She smiled grimly. “I was about to take that pen myself,” she said.
“Seriously. Matthew Calif's little pen-clicking habit has been getting on my nerves all quarter. But if you feel a need to do some penance, you can volunteer on the next two review hypotheticals. If I get some volunteers we'll get through the review quicker. You students may not believe this, but I'm as sick of the material as you are.”
And I can get to the library and find Naomi sooner. “You can count on me,” I said.
It had to be the longest class I had ever attended. And not just because it was 8:00am Property Law focussing on review for the final exam. No. It was long because I hadn't had any coffee.
I glared at the law student next to me who was clicking his pen like a hyperactive four-year-old on a sugar high. "Stop that now or I will hurt you," I hissed. He glanced over at me and dropped the pen.
How could Nick be out of coffee? And what was he thinking, inviting Naomi and I to spend the night at his apartment when he was out of coffee?
Deep breath. Focus. I needed to get through the class and in the ten minutes before my next class started sprint across the law school to the library, hunt for the ghost, and try to find Naomi. Naomi, who had been sent for by the Dean.
The Dean was a control freak. He was obsessed with keeping the law school in pristine condition. It had been named a historic landmark not long ago - gothic revival architecture, big name architect, blah blah blah. The Dean forbade us from eating or drinking anywhere in the building except the chilly student lounge for fear that bugs and mice would be attracted by the crumbs, or that something would be stained.
Buildings are meant to have people in them. A building without people is a forgotten ruin. People need to eat and drink. So unless the Dean wanted his perfect law school to be perfectly devoid of life, he was going to have to allow food and drink.
Actually it was Naomi and I who allowed food and drink...in the library, when we were in a good mood. It had to all be gone by closing, and it couldn't be obvious when it was out. One girl tried to have a pizza delivered to the library - no way. And to make sure our point got across we confiscated the pizza.
Had some faculty member found out about the library food and reported Naomi to the Dean? Now I was worried. The Dean had a reputation for rescinding academic scholarships on a whim. Or maybe he had heard about the 'gun' incident in the library and wanted to hear the story directly from Naomi. That made sense. Yes, that must be what the meeting was about. I hoped.
Mr. Sugar-high-click-the-pen had picked up his writing instrument and resumed the inane button pushing. Enough was enough. He had been warned.
I grabbed the pen out of his hand and slammed it down on the desktop. The professor stared, and the classroom fell into stunned silence.
"Is there a problem, Miss Wells?" the professor asked.
"No, Professor Thompson," I said, picking up the pen and disassembling it. I dropped the pieces on Mr. Sugar-high's desk one by one. "No problem at all."
Proffessor Thompson studied me carefully. "Have we...had our coffee this morning?" she asked.
"Well I can't answer for you, ma'am. But I sure as heck haven't."
Professor Thompson glanced at her watch. "We're scheduled for a two hour review today, and we've already got an hour under our belts. Let's take a ten minute break."
A student in the front row raised her hand.
"Yes, Mrs. Black," Professor Thompson said.
Gretta Black stood up and said primly, "We never take breaks, Professor Thompson."
Sugar-high stood up quickly and said, "If we're not taking a break then Gretta has to change seats with me and sit next to Maryanne."
"We're taking a break and Maryanne is getting coffee from the student lounge," Professor Thompson said firmly.
The non-caffienated me has a reputation.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
“This is your grandfather's rifle. Don't ever touch it.”
Friday, October 22, 2010
Whoops! Spoke too soon. My bad.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
There's nothing creepy about a room. Unless it's that room. The southern room on the second floor of the library, the room too small to be called a hall but too big to be an alcove. The room with floor to ceiling bookshelves on three walls, crammed with dusty law books from other states. The room where the lights flicker for no good reason.
“Are you sure you didn't hear the noise somewhere else, Nick? Anywhere else?” I said.
Nick strode into the room and pointed to the bookcase across from the window. “There. The scratching sounds are coming from there.”
I walked over and peered at the spines of the books. Pacific Reporters. “West coast cases from the 1960s. Wow. I can see why you're drawn to this place.”
“It's quiet in here,” Nick said defensively.
“Except for the scratching.”
“Except for that,” he agreed
The lights dimmed and then flickered.
“Well, it's pretty quiet right now. Let me know if it gets weird again,” I said, backing out of the room.
Of course that was when the scratching noises started. It sounded like someone was dragging their fingernails down the back of the bookcase.
Nick glared at me.
“What,” I snapped.
“Do something,” he said, pointing at the bookcase.
I walked over reluctantly. The scratching continued.
“There! Second shelf, fifth book from the right,” Nick said.
I glared at him over my shoulder. Between studying, late hours and caffeine my nerves were strained to the breaking point. “Okay, genius. You've figured out where it's coming from so you deal with it,” I hissed.
“You work here.”
Great. Just...great. I reached out and carefully pulled the book from the shelf. The scratching stopped.
“There. I fixed it,” I said with relief. I put the book back on the shelf and turned away.
The scratching started again.
“Do you hear that?” demanded Nick.
“Of course I do! Don't ask me that.”
“I'm sorry, I just...I'm not crazy. If you hear it when I hear then I'm sane.”
“Maybe we're both crazy.”
“I tried helping; the scratching started again.”
Nick stared at the bookcase. “I have a twisted feeling in the pit of my stomach, a physical reaction to an impending brush with destiny,” he said softly.
Say what? “You know, you might be crazy regardless of scratching sounds,” I told him.
Nick took a deep breath and step forward. He reached out and touched the book with his fingertips. He tugged gently. The book didn't move.
“It's stuck,” he said.
I shook my head. “Can't be. I didn't have to force it back in. There's plenty of room on the shelf.”
Placing his whole hand on the top edge of the book, Nick gritted his teeth. “Hello, destiny,” he whispered. He pulled.
The book came off the shelf in his hand, but it brought something with it. A ghost hand was clutching the book from the other side.
I could lie about what happened next, but why bother? Truth is, I screamed. I screamed like a pig caught up by a twister.
Nick didn't scream. He shoved the book back into the bookcase and ran. Halfway down the stairs he realized I wasn't with him and he came racing back.
“Let's go, Maryanne,” he said, grabbing my arm.
“The book...the book fell out,” I gasped, pointing with a trembling hand at the volume on the floor.
I shook off Nick's hand and ran to the bookcase. I yanked out the books adjoining the empty space on the shelf and leaned in. A pair of eyes stared back at me.
That's when I screamed for the second time.
“Come on,” Nick shouted. He pulled me out of the room. Muffled cries came from the bookcase as we fled.
Three other law students peeked up from their study carrels, their heads bobbing up like nervous meercats.
“What's happening?” one of them asked.
“The Pacific Reporters are haunted,” I yelled, sprinting for the stairs.
“Oh. Okay,” he said, and sat down.
As we reached the top of the stairs all of the lights on the second floor began to flicker and the temperature dropped about twenty degrees. I stumbled on the steps and Nick caught me.
“Hey, what's going on with the lights?” someone shouted.
“Where's the library worker,” called out another.
“An anagram for library worker is 'A Brr Like Worry',” I gasped.
Nick looked at me strangely. “Anagrams?”
“It's what my brain does when I freak out,” I explained. I straightened up and took a hesitant step toward the haunted room.
“What are you doing?” Nick whispered frantically.
I didn't have a clue. Out loud I said, “I'm on duty. Safety in the library is my responsibility. So I'm...going back in there.”
Even the smartest girls can have bad ideas.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
“It's real, and I refuse to get my fingerprints on it,” Naomi said.
I stepped closer to the study carrel and bent over, angling my head for a closer look. “It's fake,” I said. “I think.”
“So pick it up.”
I straightened up and glared at her. “You pick it up. You've got seniority,” I said.
“You've got more experience with these things.”
“You found it.”
“Doesn't matter because I'm not touching it.”
I sighed. “Fine. We'll call campus police and let them figure it out.”
“That's what I said in the first place,” Naomi said, walking to the front desk. She picked up the phone receiver and dialed the campus safety department.
Naomi O'Conners was a year ahead of me in law school. We met working in the law school library. We were the crazy people who volunteered for the closing shifts, known with dubious affection as the 'graveyard shifts.'
I could never figure out why we were friends. On the surface we were completely different. She was a worldly city girl with a rocker chick look and fearless demeanor. I was the country girl, too smart for my own good and constantly worried that my classmates would discover how much younger than all of them I really was. But for some reason the friendship worked. I guess that deep down we were just the same kind of people. And by that I mean we were both a little off in the brain pan.
Following Naomi to the front desk I said defensively, “Well I wanted to look at it first. If it turns out to be a fake then we will have caused unnecessary trouble for a classmate.”
“Some idiot third year with a practice court case decides to leave all his study material and case evidence in a study carrel and you're going to be sympathetic? Maryanne, we are not responsible for the fate of personal items left in the law library. Everyone knows that. So if somebody leaves something here, they do so with full knowledge that it may be gone by the time they get back.” She gestured to the phone and said, “Still ringing. Can you believe it?”
“Maybe they're busting up some undergrad party that got out of hand.”
“Meanwhile we've got a possibly loaded firearm sitting out on a desk. Great,” Naomi said sarcastically.
I looked back at the study carrel. “I just hate to get anyone in trouble needlessly. What if we're being alarmist and jumping the gun? Maybe I'll pick it up and look closer.”
Naomi grinned. “Jumping the gun? Nice,” she said.
Dang it. I hate puns!
I turned around and strode back to the study carrel. Gnawing a little on my lower lip, I reached out my hand towards the gun. Really, I thought, my trepidation was stupid. I had grown up around guns. My parents had stressed gun safety since I was a kid. I'd been on hunting trips with friends and relatives since I turned twelve. So one little handgun sitting on the edge of a desk in the law school library shouldn't have freaked me out.
But it wasn't the gun that had me on edge. It was everything about the night. Final exams were just around the corner and every student was on edge. Library hours had been extended to provide more study time in a quiet environment. I'd been happy about that at first because it meant more work hours for me. But they were dark hours filled with strange shadows and pale, hollow eyed classmates. And then the noises began.
“I swear I'm not crazy,” a voice said.
I jumped and spun around in the air. “Don't do that,” I gasped. “Don't ever sneak up on me when things are creepy.”
“Sorry,” Nick said.
Nicholas “Nick” Porpington was in his second year at law school, like Naomi. When I first met him I thought him the definition of pretentious. Seriously, the guy was descended from Scottish nobility. And he had this effortless air of cool dignity. There was nobody like him back home in the Panhandle.
Underneath it all he was really nice, and Naomi and I counted him as a friend. Normally I'd be happy to see him, but when he startled me and started talking about his sanity he just added to the general creepiness of the library.
I pointed at the gun. “Real or fake?” I asked Nick.
He peered at the gun and said, “Don't know and don't care.”
“Some help you are.”
“How about helping me? The noises upstairs are getting louder. And I'm not crazy or delusional; something is up there.”
I rubbed my forehead and said, “I believe you. I heard the noises last night when I was closing. I found another student on the floor and dragged him over to the corner bookcase. He heard the scratching too.”
“So,” Nick said grandly.
“So what are you going to do about it?”
“Report it to the head librarian and let her call maintenance.”
“But the noises only happen at night,” Nick pointed out.
Yeah, when I'm on duty. Great. “What do you want me to do about it?”
“The noises are stronger tonight. I've been able to pinpoint the source to a single bookshelf. Come with me and look around,” Nick pleaded.
This job was supposed to be easy. Shelve a few books, study when you can. Why can't it be that simple?
Monday, October 18, 2010
Two authors will be writing this story - me (Maryanne) and Naomi. I'll be leading off with two episodes, Naomi will do one this week, we'll have a Friday mutant, and Naomi will post on Monday...and so on! To quote Naomi, "This should be interesting."
Monday, October 4, 2010
I hoped that it would not be Dani. She was too young, and, for my selfish part, I wanted to pursue someone who was alive and would continue to be that way for a reasonable human number of years. I hoped that the heir would not be me... How could it be, since she had known me only a couple of weeks? But she did seem to know a lot about me, and had ensured I got the particular job that I had. I wondered with some apprehension whether the “find the forger and make it stop” game was some kind of test.
I last checked my watch that night around 2:30 am. I woke up in my own bed in my apartment the next morning, alone and with no memory of how i'd gotten there. This fueled my sense of alarm. I felt the tingling on the back of my neck that usually signaled a panic attack... NECK! I must check my neck! I thought wildly and ran to the mirror. No bite marks. Check. Coffee will not do in this state. I have to have some food and then get out and do something, spend this nervous energy. So it was in my slightly frenzied, not all there state that left the apartment, but the rhythm of walking slowed and steadied me a bit, and I ended up back in the French Quarter without really realizing where i'd come.
On this Sunday morning there seemed to be a few new faces and a few I'd seen before... The sickly looking man was selling the same sketches... and a print of something that almost had to be Mara's. Now we'd get to see how good an actress I might be. He looked nervous. I tried to smile. It may have been more of a leer. I asked about the painting that I was pretty sure now was one of Mara's. I wanted to see how well he could cover. He came up with some vague answers that probably would have satisfied anyone who wasn't trying to probe and poke holes. I bought one anyway. I wanted to study it. I asked if he had a card, and he did. His name was Julius Ringe.
My brain (finally) kicked into gear: I have a name, I have evidence. If I could talk to Mara again, we could make some progress. I realized with annoyance that all my contact with her had been through Dani. I would have to get Mara's info. And so... I texted Dani.
Can I get Mara's email address or phone number or something?
A few minutes later:
She doesn't really like technology and doesn't want to leave a paper trail. That's part of the reason she keeps me around. What's up?
I was alert (perhaps bordering on paranoia) for clues about Dani and her relationship with Mara. “Part of”? What was the other part?
I texted back: found the seller. Have a name and a copy. Please tell M
I have to say, I was surprised when Dani showed up at my apartment that evening to collect the info. I had expected another meeting the next week with Mara.
“Wait, why are you here? I mean, that came out wrong. I'm glad you're here but--”
“I came to get the things you mentioned. Mara wants to look at them.”
“Shouldn't I bring them myself so I can talk with her?”
“She'll tell you if she needs you.”
Lovely, I thought. I'm a not-lawyer for a not-client, who is not-alive. And on top of it, she's pushy as hell. I thought I wouldn't have to deal with that until I had real clients. And on top of all that, i'm not getting anywhere with Dani. My life, as a friend of mine likes to say, is an endless trial. I suppose that's better than unlife being an endless trial. Because then it's a little more literal. Anyway.
In the end, Mara apparently didn't need me. Dani continued to be nice to me in the office, in a sort of confoundingly cheerful way that left me distracted, but she did not and would not talk about Mara at work. Ms. Devereaux was satisfied with my work, I suppose, but she never offered to write a recommendation, and I never asked. The criticism slacked off, but not the work. I wondered how much she knew about my moonlighting or my feelings toward her niece.
Once after work, I asked Dani about the copyright case, and all she would say was that the situation was being handled. That could mean almost anything. I tried not to think about the more unpleasant possibilities.
On my last night in New Orleans, Dani and I went to a club that was known for its burgers and its jazz. We split a burger that was as big as one of our heads. On this particular night, a singer/songwriter of Celtic music had the stage.
Some of her passion floated on the smoky air and echoed around my brain:
“when time finally tempers this heart sick and sore,
and your eyes no longer dance in my dreams any more
I will still sing your praises from a time long before...”
And I wondered if i'd even have a chance to get that close this time. As if she'd heard my thought, Dani started talking:
“I know you're leaving tomorrow. I wanted to tell you I'm studying in Europe this year.”
“With Mara.” it came out like an accusation. Part of me meant it that way, but I was embarrassed that I was so obviously jealous.
“Well, yes, she's offered me a job after graduation, and sort of as an advance, she's taking care of my school expenses this year. And she's going too. To France.”
I was disappointed and trying hard not to show it.
I walked her home. On her steps, she kissed my cheek, stepped back to look at me, and ran inside without saying goodbye. I didn't sleep that night and kept playing the scene over in my mind in the car the next day on the way back home from New Orleans. I almost chucked the mojo bag out the car window in frustration, but then, maybe I had been lucky. I hadn't been turned into a vampire, and did get a kiss. It could have been a lot worse.
A few weeks later I received a postcard from her. It took me a moment to figure out what it was. I'd never seen her handwriting before, since we'd always texted, and we typed most things at the office. I read it slowly two or three times, then turned it over. The picture was two people standing behind a wrought iron fence, out of which grew a willow tree. They were talking in the sunrise. And at the bottom was her signature. I guess the cards came out right, somehow.