My buddy dared me to do it. He dared me to stay in this creepy library overnight. All by myself.
No big deal. I’m fucking seventeen years old. It’s just a fucking library.
So why do I feel so on edge?
The librarian, Mrs. Morris, turned off all the lights about twenty minutes ago. She’s probably, like, a hundred years old. She’s got those giant glasses that make her eyes look huge. Wispy white hair. Walks real slow. Wears old floral dresses that look like they’re from the nineteenth century. She didn’t even see me hiding in one of the shelves.
I snicker to myself and pull out my lighter. This is too easy. But the queasy feeling in my stomach remains. I puff on the cig, inhaling deeply. If there’s one thing that calms me down, it’s my Marlboros.
I put my backpack against the shelf and sprawl out on the ground. It’s going to be a long night.
Stan said he’d give me a hundred bucks to stay in the library until morning. I can leave once the old lady comes back at 7 a.m. to open the place up. Stan’s going to wait outside before school, so he can see me walk out. He needs the physical proof. That bastard would never believe me.
A hundred bucks doesn’t sound like much, I know. But I have a pretty heavy weed habit. That shit adds up.
I pull an old book off the shelf next to me. It smells like dust. Yellowing pages, falling out of the worn red cover. The 10 Most Gruesome Murders of All Time. Oh, right. I’m in the Thriller section, way in the back. I flip through it. There are the classics, like Sharon Tate and Marilyn Reese Sheppard. There are a few I’ve never heard of. Grisly accounts of head bludgeons. Hatchets, axes and kitchen knives used for the killings. I shudder as I read it. I got to admit, this stuff creeps me out.
I close the book and put it back on the shelf. My mind runs wild. If I were to get murdered, who would do the murdering? Dad.
My pop isn’t a very fun guy. It’s such an old story, I know, but the whisky makes him angry. Sometimes he pounds on me and my younger brother Charlie. Not crazy bad. But bad enough.
Pop had a rough childhood, I guess. He was an orphan and had to fend for himself on the streets. North Dakota gets cold in the winter, especially in this stupid little town. It’s hard to even imagine.
I take a long puff on the Marlboro. Dad may be a mean sack of bones, but he doesn’t have murder in him. And anyway, me and Charlie are getting stronger. Charlie’s fifteen. We go to the gym at school every day and bench; it feels damn good. I can see a major difference in my body from a year ago, when I didn’t work out. My tat looks so much cooler with bigger guns. And soon Dad won’t be able to beat on us.
Whatever. I’ve learned to avoid him when he’s drinking, for the most part.
I swore I’d never touch the bottle a few years ago, when Dad first started getting bad. I may smoke a lot of things. I may eat a lot of fast food and pop a few pills here and there. But I’ll never have a beer, no matter how bad my buddies make fun of me for it.
I inhale one final time on my smoke and burn it out on the carpet. This place is so ghetto, no one will even notice the mark. All the smoke alarms are broken. This is just an old, busted building with some books in it, really. I could probably die in here tonight and no one would find me for weeks.
Suddenly, a loud thud. It scares the shit out of me, and I jump two feet off the ground.
What was that? My heart is beating hard. I check my watch. The old lady locked up an hour ago now. No one is in here. It’s impossible, Brandon. Calm down.
But if that’s true, what was that? It came from across the room, in the Biographies section. It sounded like … like someone had thrown a few heavy books. I slowly crawl to the end of my aisle and peer to the other side. There are three thick biographies strewn about on the floor. I know those weren’t there before. What the fuck?
Okay, I’m officially scared shitless. There’s no rational explanation for those books on the carpet. Mrs. Morris cleans this place spotless before she leaves.
I inch back to my post in the Thriller section. There are rumors about this library, secrets whispered in our town, but of course I never bought ’em. I don’t allow myself to think about them now. I have to stay level-headed.
My ears are sharp with heightened sensibility. I listen for every possible noise. My breathing sounds so shallow — I need to relax. I close my eyes and pretend I’m somewhere else. On a raft in the Pacific. My feet dangle in the cool, turquoise water. I can smell the salt in the breeze. The sun is warm on my face and my belly. I can hear the gulls in the distance, can see the leaves of the palm trees waving just past the beach. God, I’d give anything to be there.
Yeah, yeah. I know it’s stupid. My mom taught me to meditate before she died.
I open my eyes and take a deep breath. Maybe the books just fell of the shelf. These shelves are fucking old. Maybe they’re not holding up well.
Yeah, that’s got to be it. You’re a dumbass, Brandon.
I fluff up my backpack and lay my head down on it. I should probably get some sleep. I can’t get detention for sleeping in class again. I’ll get suspended.
I close my eyes and begin to drift off. I return to the Pacific. Back on the raft. The soft waves lulling me to sleep…
THUD. Right next to me now. My eyes shoot open.
Oh God, I’m going to throw up. I turn my head slowly to the right. My pulse is racing impossibly fast through my wrists; my arteries feel like they’re going to burst.
There. Right there, maybe six feet from me. Five books on the ground.
But no one’s there.
Okay, think, think, think. What should I do? Maybe I should approach it head on. Confront the demon.
“Hello?” I croak out. Silence.
“Is anybody there? I know you’re there!” I shout, louder now.
Silence. And then…
THUD. THUD. THUD.
Fifteen, maybe twenty books thrown on the ground. All around the library. In the Romance section across the room and to the right. The Historical Fiction zone, over there to the left. The Poetry aisle by the windows.
I cover my mouth to keep from screaming.
WhatdoIdowhatdoIdowhatdoIdowhatdoIdo?! I need to get the hell out of here. This isn’t worth a hundred bucks. Shit, this isn’t worth a thousand.
I take my hand off my mouth and bite my lip. I’m still this close to screaming.
I slowly, ever so slowly pick up my backpack. I stand up as quiet as I can, but my knees crack as I do so. Crap.
An ear-splitting shattering noise causes me to drop my backpack and fall to my knees. I bite my arm to keep from shrieking. I can taste blood.
One of the windows across from me is smashed. Completely smashed. Dark red liquid drips from the broken glass. Oh shit, is that…?
Fuck it. I whip the strap of my backpack on my shoulder and run toward the exit. Past the Romance, Biographies, Historical Fiction and Poetry sections. Past the bathrooms and the drinking fountain and the old wooden front desk. I’m sprinting as fast as I can. I shouldn’t smoke so much.
I get to the big, scratched up mahogany doors and tug on the handle. Tug as hard as I can.
It doesn’t budge.
Well, I’m fucked.
I slide down the doors, onto the ground. I pull my knees up to my chest and wrap my arms around my shins. I’m only seventeen. I can’t die yet.
I feel my body shuddering and then I taste salt. I’m crying. I haven’t cried since Mom died.
Pull yourself together, Brandon. Nothing is going to get solved by crying like a baby.
I wipe the tears away and rub my eyes. Time to form a plan. A real plan to get the hell out of here. There’s got to be another exit.
Wait, there is another exit. There’s an emergency exit in the bathroom. When I was twelve, I smoked a cig in one of the stalls and the alarms went off. That’s back when they actually worked. I panicked and darted out of a door near the sinks.
That’s it. That’s how I get out of here.
I grip the straps of my backpack and grit my teeth. The bathrooms are around the corner, about a thirty-second sprint away. I can do this.
I say a quick prayer. Jesus, help me. Mom went to church and prayed all the time. She made us pray before our meals and before bed every night. I don’t pray much anymore, but I could use all the help I can get right now.
I brace myself, and then I dash for the bathrooms. Past the front desk and the drinking fountain. I’m around the corner now. So close…
I push the door open and burst into the room. YES! I made i—
And then I scream. An ear-piercing scream that could make a man go deaf.
Hanging from the ceiling near the sinks, just in front of the emergency exit, is Mrs. Morris. Half of her face is torn off, her bloody cheekbones visible. Her fingertips are dripping blood. The tips have been cut off. Wispy white hair is on the ground, surrounding her in a circular white cloud. Her broken glasses have been shoved in her gaping mouth. Her old eyelids are pulled wide open, a look of utter terror in the glassy blue eye.
My knees give out and I crumble to the ground, dry heaving. My hands land in the white hair and I shriek again as the curly strands stick to my palms. The white tips are tainted with blood. I frantically brush them off, scratch them off as hard as I can. I can’t think straight; I can only howl from the deepest part of my gut, like an animal.
My wails subside to panicked sobs in my chest. I glance over at the sinks. There’s something on the counter. I stand up, trembling. Walk over to it.
The 10 Most Gruesome Murders of All Time.
“Do you think Mrs. Morris will make the list?” whispers somebody in my ear, hot breath on my neck. I jump and scream, the shrill noise of my vocal cords echoing off the bathroom walls. The voice rings in my ears. A familiar voice. I know I’ve heard it before…
I turn around. Stan?
Stan erupts in a fit of laughter. Deep laughter from his belly. He holds his sides, shaking. Tears stream out of his eyes.
“Gotcha, Brandon,” he says, still giggling. Mrs. Morris’ feet dangle out of the corner of my vision.
I can’t speak. I stutter, trying to formulate words. My brain is so jumbled. This can’t be happening.
“Wh- wh- wh- what?” Stan mimics cruelly. “You’re such a pussy, Brandon. You looked so scared when I threw those books around.”
Stan has an evil gleam in his eye. This isn’t the Stan I became friends with, the easygoing guy from detention. This is a different person.
“What have you done, Stan?” I scream. “What have you DONE!”
Stan looks at me for a moment, quiet. And then he chuckles.
“I made history, fuckwad,” he says, snickering. Pure evil.
I swallow hard, trying to comprehend Stan’s murder. The damage he’s caused. This can never be undone. “Stan, you’re … you’re messed up,” I stammer. “You need help. Professional help. This is … this is sick.” I back toward the exit.
Stan shoots his arm out and grabs my shoulder. His grip is so cold, death-like.
“Not so fast, Brandon,” he says softly, menacingly. His pupils are dilated, bigger than I’ve ever seen in my life. Bigger than when my neighbor got fucked up on coke a few months ago. I can’t even make out the color in Stan’s eyes. He looks … lifeless.
He pulls a long, silver knife from his pocket. A bloodied pocket, stained red. He holds the knife hard in his hand, his knuckles turning white.
“You think I could just let you go?” he asks, his voice hoarse. “So you can tell the cops what happened?”
He smiles wide, his mouth so red. “I don’t think so, bud.”
The next moment is a flash. I act on impulse, not thinking. Just doing. I reach over and grab Mrs. Morris’ heavy shoe, ripping it from her foot, and bash Stan across the head with it as hard as I can, over and over and over, the sharp heel denting his skull. Over and over, I don’t stop, silently smashing his temple. Stan is stunned. The knife drops out of his hand, and his mouth gapes. I beat him until he’s a bloody pulp on the floor, unconscious. Maybe dead.
I can’t believe I just did that. My hands are shaking. I grab the knife. I’m not a total idiot, like in scary movies when they leave the weapon with the psycho killer. I run to the exit, push open the door and burst into the clear night.
I run and I run and I run, past the parking lot and out onto 5th street, past the old Baptist church and the Dollar General and the supermarket. I run like I’ve never run before, all the way back to my house.
I shove open the door. Dad never locks it. That’s going to change, I think. I sprint up the stairs and into my room. I crawl in my bunk bed, pulling the covers over me. My breath is ragged.
Above me, Charlie rolls over, sighing loudly. “What is it, Brandon?” he murmurs.
“Nothing, Charlie,” I say. “Go back to sleep.”
That’s the last hundred dollar bet I’ll ever take.