Apollo steps out of the bushes and waves for his friends to follow, the security guard heading off to his next patrol stop. They hurry toward the science building and keep low even though the crouched walking makes them look suspicious. Harvey is the first to stop when he catches his reflection in a window and he whistles for the others to do the same. With everyone muttering about Thomas’s ridiculous suggestion, the four students cross the street and act like they are out for a stroll. Relaxing by the bottom of the stairs, Chris shows off the newest trick he has learned with his hockey stick. Flipping a puck from one side to the other, he gestures for the others to move away when he spots an attractive woman coming by. She smiles back at the handsome athlete, who promptly misses his next juggle and watches his last puck roll into a nearby storm drain. Leading their morose friend to the front door, they take a final look around before Thomas grabs the handle.
“I’ll keep watch and text you if anyone is coming,” Chris whispers as they step inside. He takes out his child psychology book and opens to a random page to pretend that he studying in the hallway. “If campus police come back then I’ll say I wanted a quiet place to study. Let’s not take too long though. They have pizza at the dining hall. We don’t want to miss that since the best pies will be gone in the first hour.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Thomas says, staring at his friend with his head cocked to the side. Looking at the far end of the hallway, he wonders if he can drag the stronger man to Professor Ramel’s office, but doubts his chances. “First of all, you never study, so nobody is going to believe that. Second of all . . . don’t be a coward. You agreed that something didn’t seem right about this and we should check it out. The fact that there’s no police tape makes this even stranger. Come on, Chris, or somebody else is going to get a chance to poke around before us. Even Harvey is coming.”
“Yes, but I feel like paying my respects to place where he was last alive,” the taller student admits, shying away immediately. Taking out an inhaler, he has a puff and relaxes before speaking again. “I don’t think we should force Chris to follow. After all, we do need a lookout and getting into trouble would cost him his scholarship. You two are paying to attend and I don’t care if I get kicked out, so he is risking more than the rest of us. Besides, standing here and arguing increases the chances of us getting caught. Not to mention the small office would make it difficult for three, much less four, people to escape. I alone would hog a single window given my size.”
Before Thomas can say anything, Chris holds up his phone and shows that it is already set with a warning text. “Trust me with this. I want to help, but I can’t be stupid about this. Much rather my last adventure with all of you being more than sneaking into a dead man’s office. I will stay right at that intersection where they have a desk. They won’t even see me texting from my pocket. Come on, Thomas. You know this is smart.”
“Fine, but . . . Where’s, Apollo?”
“He’s pretty good at disappearing.”
“I know. It’s like living with a ninja cat.”
“Do you mean a cat trained as a ninja or a ninja that turned into a cat?”
“I don’t even know how you could guess the second one.”
“Sounded wittier in my head.”
“Uh-huh . . . Good luck keeping watch.
Thomas heads down the hallway with his friends a few steps behind, Chris stopping to get comfortable at the desk. The other two press themselves against the wall until they come to a door. Harvey crawls across the hallway and stays low while continuing ahead, Thomas imitating him when he comes to the next room. The pair repeat the odd maneuver, both of them doing a clumsy combat roll when they reach an open doorway. Sweating in their heavy winter coats, they stop at a barely working water fountain for a drink and continue being what they assume is stealthy. By the time they reach Professor Ramel’s office, Thomas and Harvey are exhausted and rest for a minute before opening the door. Focused more on being quiet, they nearly crash into someone standing only a few feet inside. They reach up to cover their mouths, the muffled screams of fear still able to be heard in the hallway.
“You guys sure are loud,” Apollo says with his back to his friends. Seeing a clean spot, he jumps to it and crouches to check a toppled stack of books. “This place is a mess, but I heard Professor Ramel wasn’t much of a cleaner. My nose is clogged from a cold, but I swear there’s a chemical smell in the air. Almost like I taste it. Does anyone know what we’re expecting to find here?”
“Signs of foul play,” Thomas declares in a terrible British accent. Showing less concern than his roommate, he walks over the scattered papers to check the broken anatomy dummy. “There’s definitely the smell of bleach around here. Probably the murderer attempting to clean up all of the blood. That or the janitor wanted to disinfect everything. I think this used to be a hamburger, but I can’t tell. We might have made a mistake.”
“I found some black feathers and bird droppings over here,” Harvey announces as he checks the shelves. Trying not to step on anything, he trips and lurches to the desk that shifts with a loud screech. “Sorry about that. I think I’ve given enough respect to the late professor, so can I go wait with Chris?”
“There will be no more quitters here,” Thomas replies while he checks a cabinet. Whistling at what he found, the grinning young man pockets the small bartending book and turns around to find his friends scowling at him. “I’ve been looking for one of these and it isn’t like anybody will miss it. Fine, I’ll put it back, but you two better remember this for my birthday next month. Have we figured anything out?”
Taking a seat at the desk, Apollo cautiously taps at a warm can of soda that hisses when it is jostled. “The smartest idiot is the one who is probably taking a nap in the hallway. We have nothing that says anything funny happened. Considering how cold it is in here, it’s easy to assume the windows were left open and some birds must have come in. You know, this was a smart idea an hour ago. Now, it seems really stupid. I vote that we leave and take a walk to the newest fast food place. Harvey, do you have any coupons?”
“This isn’t the time for food.”
“Says the guy who ate my last donut.”
“You had the chocolate milk.”
“Which you left out of the fridge for a full day.”
“So about those coupons, Harvey.”
The windows slam shut with enough force to crack the glass, a single shard falling into the room. All three of their phones go off at the same time, the rapid beeps making them fumble to check their messages. Instead of a warning from Chris, they see gibberish and random pictures of puppies and kittens. The sound of flapping wings emanates from the shadows that shift around the room, the patches of darkness causing a chill whenever they pass over one of the students. A desk drawer rattles and bursts open to spew a fountain of saccharine-smelling soda. The last straw is when the anatomy dummy’s organs launch out of the body one at a time, the plastic pieces driving the students away.