The rest of the group maintained a wedge formation behind
Patrick after he cleared the door to Darlene’s floor. There the parade of
spectral students had stopped in their tracks; standing as if at rapt
attention, they watched some distant, unseen spot. Instinctively, the entire
group parted around them, shoulders to the wall—passing through the ethereal
people caused neither sensation nor reaction. After accidentally passing
through one student, Nathan crossed himself, mumbling a quiet prayer under his
breath. Megan stepped aside the moment she came out of the stairwell to avoid
trespassing in the same space as a shorter girl with a fedora who apparently
wanted to take the stairs, but stopped just beyond the threshold to stare with
“Do you think these are the missing people?” Megan asked.
Nathan glanced at her and shrugged, but nobody else seemed
The hallway beyond stood out with the humble nondescript
dress of every ASU dorm: bare walls that sprouted the occasional door, lumpy
brown carpets, and the persistent smell of sweat mingled with tension. Several
of the doors ahead hung slightly ajar, Patrick nudged them open when his foot
as they passed and peered inside. Each time waving the group forward after
latching them closed. After two such doors, Darlene spoke up after barely
dodging a broad shouldered student in a dark turtleneck.
“My room is around that corner and then one more turn,” she
said and forged ahead only to be stopped by Patrick.
“Stay behind me, please,” he said. “I have the gun.”
“I know where I’m—”
He cut her off by gesturing towards the wall not ten steps
away. A giant centipede glyph had been hewn through the drywall with something
sharp and then filled in with basted with red paint—from tail to antenna it stretched
from ceiling to floor. Even from the distance she stood, Megan could feel a
vibration coming from the thing, like an ache in her muscles, and a sound issued
forth. The building creaked—or perhaps the centipede did—like planks on the
bridge. As they watched, it writhed with the queasy motion of an optical
“It’s getting stronger,” Tiffany said from the reflection
of a nearby wall picture. Her image produced a funny portraiture with the
contents of the picture: a Daliesque painting of a farm scene involving twisted
houses and a melting sun.
The group made their way past the centipede single file,
nobody took so much as a breath until it was safely out of sight around the
corner. The rest of the corridor before them didn’t show any signs of other
drawings. Ahead, seven doors further, a T-intersection split into two further
brightly lit hallways. Two doors down, Megan spotted a familiar sign: WOMEN’S
“You go ahead,” he said as they passed. “I need to use the
little girl’s room.”
“Can it wait?” Patrick asked. “We should stay together.”
“You want to watch me pee?”
He shot her a dark look and she shrugged, pushing through
the door. The ghosts hadn’t done anything to anyone, and she figured with
Tiffany’s help she could deal with whatever came her way. How long could it
take to grab a violin anyway? She’d have precious little time to learn what
Tiffany wanted to teach her about sending a servitor to assist her parents, so
she didn’t want to waste any time. Especially arguing.
“Nathan, you stay with her, in the hallway,” Patrick said.
“Holler if anything comes this way. We’ll be right back.”
“Can do,” Nathan said.
“Get your keys out,” Patrick said to Darlene. “We should
get in and out as quickly as possible. I don’t want to stay here any longer
than we have to. Do you know where to look?”
“Oh yeah,” Darlene said. “No problem there.”
Megan let the bathroom door close behind her and went
immediately to the mirror. Tiffany stood next to her with a lopsided grin on
“It’s so much easier to do stuff out here, you know,” she
said. “Vex’s apartment has some sort of haze over it. Made me feel like trying
to work through antihistamines. This room is much more lucid. We’ll make this
The restroom, at least, was absent any apparitions.
Perhaps they didn’t need to use the facilities—whatever the reason, Megan felt
relieved she didn’t have to share the room with any of them. Not that they did
anything to them insofar, the sensation of being watched would have simply made
the next task impossible.
Tiffany began by directing Megan to summon a servitor by
reaching for a sweet-spot between her and the other place where they lived. She
had begun to sense them in her everyday activities, like wriggling things just
under the surface of unseen waters. “You’ll want a rather large one this time,”
Tiffany said. “You should be able to tell the difference by how bright it feels
against your hands, the slower and more muscular the movement the stronger it
is. Yes, like that one. Now pull.”
Closing her hand around pinched fingers, Megan felt as if
she were grabbing the center of a sheet rather than a ribbon. She pulled against
the resistance. Instead of a single thread of light, this time an entire fabric
webbed of differing thicknesses surged out. The thing spread away from her
fingers like a fluttering scarf, twining and writhing as it flowed into the
“Keep an image of your parents in your mind,” Tiffany
said. Her eyes twinkled in the mirror as she moved around the servitor spirit;
she looked clearly impressed by its appearance and nodded her approval. “Be
sure to include all the emotions that fill you when you think of them,
especially your desire to keep them safe and deliver them from harm.
“It’s…” Megan began to say, but she couldn’t quite
articulate the feelings she felt emanating through her. The scarf of energies
withdrew and reshaped into a vaguely bird-like shape, the head cocked and
turned two empty spaces that mimicked eyes towards her. “I think it’s asking me
“Grant it your will,” Tiffany said. “It needs some of your
own strength to its duty, much like a scalpel is the tool of the surgeon’s
will, the servitor will take your thoughts and direction to do its work.”
“Okay.” Megan closed her eyes and felt for the servitor
with her thoughts. Under her breath she whispered to herself directing it to
her parents and giving it the permission it wanted.
Make my parents safe, protect them from harm, take them
from this place. By my will this be done.
The manifestation of the servitor raised its bird head and
opened its beak; then it flowed once again into the webbed fabric of bright
threads and spilled upwards, vaulting itself through the ceiling. Megan
presumed this meant it sped on its way to her parent’s house in North Phoenix.
She could still feel the servitor tugging at her mind as it propelled itself on
task, and the disease in her stomach abated. She knew parents would be safe.
“Excellent,” Tiffany said.
“How did I end up with so much stuff?” Darlene said from inside
Patrick took up a position outside the door after making
sure it was empty of people—ghostly or otherwise—and let her get to work
hunting for her violin. An easy enough matter, he noted she was an organization
and neatness freak. Everything in the room had a place, either ensconced in a
tray or popped into a plastic container. He glanced in after her and saw that
she’d tossed several extremely large tubs onto her bed and strewn their
contents onto the floor. He shook his head. His mother was exactly like that.
She’d stow everything in its own place, forget where she put it, and then came
the emergency that made the store room look like a hurricane had passed
Down the hall, he could see Nathan lounging against the
wall where he could see both Darlene’s room and the restroom.
Nathan noticed Patrick’s gaze and nodded. Lifting his
head, he shouted, “You and Vex make a good team.”
“Thanks,” Patrick said. He hefted the gun in his hands; he
didn’t feel safe holstering the weapon, especially with the spectral students
walking past, and it only felt prudent to have the only weapon they had at the
ready. “I like her too. It’s been a totally new experience for me.”
“It’s been like that every day since high school,” Nathan
said. “I never thought she’d find a guy she’d bring along through stuff like
this. Sometimes she doesn’t even trust me.”
“I don’t think she had a choice.” Events as they were,
Patrick mused, it would have happened sooner or later.
“I guess not.”
“Hey,” Nathan said, his eyes tracking a ghostly student
with a torn jeans jacket. “I take Renaissance History with that guy.”
“How is it going in there?” Patrick asked Darlene.
“Another few boxes. It’s gotta be in here somewhere,” she
“She hears voices, you know,” Nathan said, looking away
down the hall. At first Patrick didn’t think he’d heard him right. “That’s what
she’s doing right now,” he continued. “She’s gone somewhere to talk to her
mother. She doesn’t think that I know, but it’s been her thing for a long
A chill flushed along Patrick’s arms. “Isn’t her mother
Nathan looked his way, a light glinting in his eyes.
“After everything you’ve been through, does talking to dead people really
“No, I reckon it doesn’t.”
“I’m just saying,” Nathan went on, “you need to be careful
with her. She can get wrapped up in her own world. You can’t let her listen to
them too much. She starts losing touch with reality when that happens.” He
paused. “Not that anything that’s going on is all that real right now, but you
know what I mean.”
“I found it!” Darlene said as she headed for the door.
Nathan turned his head towards the restroom and opened his
mouth to speak, when his eyes suddenly widened. His entire body convulsed as an
invisible hand struck him and threw him against the wall. Barely conscious, he
slumped down and fell over as a shadow, bleak as night, crept up from the
adjoining hallway. The ghost students that the shadow eclipsed lost solidity
and stopped walking, confused.
Patrick grabbed Darlene with his free hand and pushed her
back into her room. “Stay behind me,” he admonished. Obeying, she shrank away
and wrapped her fingers tighter around the violin. “Nathan!” he shouted. “Don’t
A figure, cloaked in a hungering darkness slid around the
corner—the ghosts of students it neared suddenly became blurry, twisted as if
in gale force winds, and vanished.
Patrick leveled the gun and fired.