“Can we really call this a club meeting without Professor Soleman?” Harvey asks as he drums his fingers on the table. Leaning back in his chair, he cranes his neck to see if Marcy is still at the reference desk. “Not that I’m confused on what we’re doing here. It’s only that we called it a club meeting when we aren’t talking about mythology and haven’t told our adviser about this. Besides, that librarian gives me the creeps and she could tell Professor Soleman about this. He wasn’t happy last time we met in secret.”
“That’s why this is nothing more than friends hanging out,” Thomas whispers, slipping the taller student a candy bar. Stretching his arms, he smiles at everyone who are patiently waiting for him to reveal the reason for the meeting. “Anybody else notice that something weird is going on? Putting aside everything that happened in Professor Ramel’s office, people keep disappearing around here. I’ve talked to a lot of students and everyone has a story of a friend or classmate disappearing. Not that they see them disappear, but one day the person is nowhere to be found.”
“I believe it’s called dropping out,” Aurora suggests, the book in front of her more appealing than the conversation. Looking at her friends for agreement, she senses that her brother is on Thomas’s side. “You can’t be serious. Let’s go through what happened. The windows slammed shut because the frame broke, you already knew that a bird was in the room, the cold was in your own heads, and Chris already admitted that something went wrong with his phone. Everything else was probably a prank left by students. Professor Ramel was a respected teacher, but he was tough. Someone must have failed his midterm and booby trapped the desk drawer. You four just happened to show up in time for it to go off.”
Jennifer timidly raises her hand, her legs curled against her stomach. “That doesn’t explain the anatomy dummy. I had that before Professor Soleman took it. As far as I know, nobody did anything to it. My roommate is a chemistry major, so she could have done something to get me in trouble. Unless another girl put remote control blaster caps in the dummy and set it off after seeing you guys inside. You know, never mind what I’m saying. Aurora is right that nothing strange is going on.”
Before Thomas can argue, Chris taps the underside of the table with his hockey stick and nods toward the front of the library. They can see Marcy heading towards them with a cart full of returns, the librarian moving with a slight limp. Not wanting her to overhear their conversation, everyone picks up the book in front of them and reads a random page. The woman is about to pass the group when she stops and slowly turns around, her eyes narrowing into slits. A chill ripples through the air as Marcy walks toward Chris, who is anxiously peeking at her over the top of his textbook. With a surprisingly firm grip, she takes the book and flips it around so it is no longer upside down. Fixing each student with a piercing gaze, the librarian smiles in approval and goes back to her returns.
“I know I shouldn’t ask this, Chris, but how did you make that mistake?” Apollo asks, shaking his head. He pulls out his notes and begins doodling, the pictures nothing more than mindless swirls on the page. “As ridiculous as Thomas sounds, I can’t shake the feeling that the answers to these mysterious are not that simple. It could be students dropping out, but that doesn’t explain why some of them left their stuff behind. What are the chances of two window frames breaking at the same time? Not to mention those booby traps would have been sitting there for at least twelve hours. Even if the anatomy dummy was remote controlled, it doesn’t explain the soda going off. That should have been flat no matter how much it was shaken the night before.”
“You’re also forgetting about Trina,” Bryce interjects, trying hard not to look Aurora in the eyes. Sensing that nobody is angry, she sits up straighter and puts her wringing hands on the table. “I’m with Thomas and Apollo on this because what happened to her doesn’t make any sense. Forgetting that there shouldn’t be a way for a human to . . . die that way, I was making out with her beforehand. Whether it was a disease or poison, I should have been affected too. Don’t try to say I’m immune because that would be too coincidental. Maybe this is nothing, but all of this is rather odd.”
“Why didn’t the anatomy dummy go off when Professor Soleman have it?” Harvey asks as if stirring from a dream. He jumps at the sound of a book falling on the floor, his breathing remaining rapid for a minute. “If the trapped dummy was supposed to get Jennifer in trouble then wouldn’t it make more sense to get Soleman than Ramel? She doesn’t take any science courses right now, so she would never be a suspect. I assume you were supposed to sneak it back into the office instead of giving it to another teacher. It’s entirely possible that what is going on is targeting people that we simply happen to know.”
“Or it could be accidents and embellishments,” Aurora snaps, the conversation making her nervous. Seeing big tears welling up in Bryce’s eyes, she sighs and puts a hand on her friend’s wrist. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but you were really drunk and Trina was found by someone else. By the time you got into the bathroom, somebody had put a jacket over her and you passed out. Please don’t believe the more outlandish stories, Bryce. Your girlfriend died a natural death and not as the victim of some madman. Believing the wilder stuff will only hurt you more.”
Thomas clears his throat and sneaks a sip of water into his mouth, the bottle popping slightly as he puts it back. “I have to agree with Aurora here. She also said it better than I could ever say it. Besides, everyone loved Trina. Nobody would ever target her for death. Well, bigots might, but they tend to use fists and blunt objects. Crap, I didn’t mean that, Bryce. It’s just that it really does feel like an accident while Professor Ramel doesn’t sit right. We should probably call it a night since we aren’t getting anywhere.”
“More that you got shot down too often,” Chris jokes while he reads a comic book.
“Let’s give Thomas some credit,” Apollo states with a smile. He pauses when his sister rolls her eyes and makes a small, indignant noise. “He put a lot of thought into this. So even if there are ways to poke holes in his ideas, it’s impressive that he could piece together such an interesting story. I mean, Thomas has put more thought into this than what major he is finally going to take. Until today, I had no idea he conducted interviews and had one of those conspiracy walls in his closet.”
Feeling embarrassed, Thomas leaves the table and heads for the door. With a sigh, Apollo grabs his friend’s jacket and hurries after him. Bryce and Harvey are not far behind, the pair curious to hear more about the mystery. The three remaining club members continue to read their books, all of them aware that Marcy is watching from the front desk. Feeling uncomfortable under the librarian’s hawk-like gaze, Chris mutters his goodbyes and leaves. He groans when his hockey stick knocks over a spinning display of romance novels, the crash causing everyone in the library to shush him. It takes the young man a few minutes to clean the mess, his pride pushing him to refuse help. Even though most of the novels are upside down, Chris wipes his hands on his pants and heads for the doors.
“My roommate won’t be in tonight if you want her bed,” Aurora says, snapping Jennifer out of her trance. She can see the hesitation on her friend’s face, but there is a spark of thankfulness for the offer. “I know you’re having trouble with Natalie. Take one night away from your room and pledging. Tell them you drank too much and passed out in my room. Heck, I can write you a note if you want.”
“That’s cute, but I’m only allowed to drank at the house. Unsupervised boozing means I get kicked out,” Jennifer replies with a half-hearted smile. Checking her watch, she licks her lips and briefly reconsiders the offer. “Maybe I can hang out with you for a few more hours. Part of me wants to contact the sisters and ask for permission, but I’m already feeling too much like a heavily controlled teenager. What possessed me to take on this challenge? Aside from my mom being so proud that her little girl is following in her footsteps. The one time that woman shows interest in what I’m doing and it has to be this.”
“I’ve figured something out about all of us.”
“What is that?”
“We really have some issues.”
“Guess we should have scouted a psychology major for our club.”
“To help us or see if we could make them regret their life choices?”
Laughing while putting on their jackets, they are immediately silenced by Marcy dropping a book on the floor. Standing on the front desk, the librarian glares at the loud students while crawling back down. Aurora and Jennifer cannot look away from the woman as she watches them, her unblinking eyes making them practically sprint from the library.