Thursday, October 28, 2010

Black Letter Law – an Origin Story. Episode 6. Maryanne Wells.

This is part of a serial story.  The story began here.

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.

“What's this?”

“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.”

“Huh.”

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?”

“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.

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