A piercing, elongated scream of terror attacked the ears next. Then a desperate, bloodcurdling plea for help was cast.
“Gladys the librarian!” Amogh cried.
“She must have had an accident!” calculated Yi.
“Dios mío!” Lucia shouted. “What do we do?”
Casey gave his answer, but taking off toward the direction of the distress call in a sprint. Amogh kicked himself into gear, chasing after his friend. Lucia and Yi were close in toe. Casey was not sure if it was a mere illusion made by the tight enclosure of the hall space, but he felt as if he was racing faster than ever before.
Arriving first at the third-floor railing, over-looking the library entryway and service desk, Casey spotted a sea of scattered shards below. In the middle of the jagged and glimmering clutter of glass sat a discarded flashlight. The beam from the artificial torch was left on, pointing to the toppled fixtures that the glass once protected beneath its encasing.
The rest of the leftovers club decelerated in stomping strides just before ramming into Casey and the railing itself.
“What happened down there, Casey? What’s that?”
“Something or someone smashed one of the library display cases into pieces.” Squinting his eyes and leaning over the barrier restraint, Casey informed, “I think that was the display the library was putting together for Black History Month.” Pointing his finger, Casey confirmed, “See there? Luckily, it seems the Art Department’s sculpture of John Lewis isn’t all that worse for wear. But who knows about the rest of it.”
“What about old Gladys? That scream?”
“I don’t know,” replied Casey. “There was no one down there when I got here.”
“Where could she have gone?” pointedly asked Lucia.
The cry of the aged woman reverberated from somewhere beneath the students’ high ground. Mid-outburst, the sound of anguish was choked into silence.
“Is that smear on the ground,” spotted Yi, “is that a trail of blood?”
“We have to get down there!” wailed Amogh. “I might be able to help her!”
“Didn’t you hear? That was the sound of murder! There was an attack here, Amogh! We have to get to campus security, now!”
Before any further word was voiced, a primal roar thundered upward from the ground level, shaking the students to their core. The cringe-inducing clamor convinced the band that the best course of action was indeed to alarm the authorities and bring armed assistance back to the scene of the crime.
“Let’s go! To the elevators!” rallied Amogh.
After the scramble to the lift system, Casey barked, “The button’s not working! The power outage must have caused a short or something. We’ll have to take to the stairs.”
Yi proposed, “We can take the emergency stairwell and avoid the main entrance—and whatever is down there—altogether.”
“Lead the way, Yi.”
Amogh took one final glance back down at the killing ground, reluctant to abandon a victim likely in grave medical need.
“Amogh?” it was shouted.
Before he could turn away, Amogh was pulled around by a double-take. A mass creature emerged, cracking shards of glass underfoot. Given the distance, angling, and poor lighting, it was impossible to accurately scale the figure to size; even so, the silhouette appeared entirely formidable. It appeared coated in some exterior of matted, mangy fur. It stood tall and carried a wide frame.
“Guys?” Amogh called out.
The figure below stood motionless, while Amogh peered over the third-floor railing. Amogh could not locate a countenance to the creature, but he instantly felt the burn of a perceptive glare turned squarely upon him.
Then, just as soon as it first appeared, evidence of the encounter vanished. Before Casey returned to yank Amogh away, the figure below bent down in a lowly crouched position. In a single bound, the mass vaulted onto the security desk. The library security gates were hurdled next. The shape landed on all fours, and then returned to a towering upright position. Timed perfectly with the flickering of the faulty emergency lights, Amogh lost sight of the obscure assailant.
“Amogh, what are you doing? Come on!” yelled Casey as he returned for his friend.
“Did you see that! There is something down there!”
Casey did not see the oddity. Amogh rubbed at his own eyes in self-doubt. The monitors, however, toppled from their stands upon the security desk, did manage to capture an unidentified blur rushing in and out of various camera feeds.
The air of the emergency stairwell was both stale and crisp. As Yi led the way down each flight of stairs, rapid breathing expelled puffs of exertion. At the same time, frantic flopping footsteps sent soundwaves bouncing throughout the entirety of the concrete shoot.
Yi slammed his body against the emergency exit. Immediately the blizzard rushed inside to nip the fleers. Each suddenly realized that in the haste of their escape, their overcoats were left behind back up at the library’s topmost floor. There was no time to make a return climb, but before letting the door of the fire escape slam behind them, Yi returned to the emergency stairwell to seize the small axe positioned next to the fixed fire extinguisher.
Trembling from fear and the sudden drop in body temperature, Lucia stuttered, “There is absolutely no one around.”
“Campus police still have to be here,” hoped Yi, more than he necessarily avowed.
“Of course,” Casey assured. “They have to secure the campus at all times.”
“Okay, so we make a break for the campus police station,” proposed Amogh. “It can’t be too far from here. This campus isn’t all that big.”
“Does anybody know where the campus police station is?” probed Yi.
Heads shook and shoulders shrugged.
“I never had the need to know before tonight,” disclosed Casey. “Honestly, I don’t even know if we actually have an on-campus police station.”
“I don’t know about a station,” Lucia stepped in, “but I think there’s a guard’s shack or something near the main parking lot.”
“That’s just a couple of buildings over!” shouted Casey. “We’ll check it out. Alright, everyone stay together.”
The cobbled walking paths that veined the campus were lost beneath the accumulation of crunchy grounded snow. The benches, now seemingly placed at random upon the sprawling field of white, were nearly swallowed in mounds themselves. The building structures that walled-in the runaways were lined with blackened windows.
“There, that’s the guard shack! And look, the light is still on!”
The charging students waved their hands and wailed at the top of their lungs, “Hey!” and “Help!”
With the speed and finesse of a walk-on student-athlete, Lucia was first to reach their hailed refuge. She banged on the frosted glass with abandon. Just as her bare knuckles were beginning to wear thin, Amogh took over. Through the clouded pane, the outline of a shadow could be spotted. The shadow refused to move an inch, despite the frenzy.
“The door seems jammed,” Amogh notified, “but I don’t think that it’s locked. Everyone at once, let’s give it a push.”
The coordinated effort worked. Slowly, the team was able to heave aside the obstruction that laid at the base of the door blocking their entrance.
Lucia rushed immediately inside to the guard shack to appeal to the swivel chair turned with its back to the door, while Casey peered slowly around the door to identify the source of the entryway blockage. Lucia turned the chair. Casey pulled away the door. Jaws were dropped wide open. Lungs were emptied in screams of unnerve.
Amogh and Yi were caught off guard by the concert of emitted fright.
“There’s a bear trap stuck in this guy’s back,” Casey barely managed to garble out before his mouth was overtaken by upchucked bile.
“His throat has been ripped completely open,” Lucia barely managed to mutter before collapsing in a faint that stole her cognizance.
After catching and easing Lucia down to the ground, Amogh demanded, “What happened here? Are they both really dead? Who would do this? Who’s going to help us now?”
Yi rushed back outside for answers. As suspected, he found the evidence he was looking for in the snow.
“Prints! There are footprints all around the shack. There are ours, coming from the direction of the library. But then there are those separate tracks, coming from the opposite direction.”
“Those footprints are huge!” blurted Casey.
“The blood is cold,” observed Amogh. “The attack must have been recent enough for the tracks to still be visible, but some time has passed since these men were killed.”
Amogh tried, but he could not remove the teeth of the bear trap from the flesh of the security guard’s backside. After a slip of his grip, Amogh managed to run his hand across the edge of the rusted metal, opening up a deep slice.
“Damn! I’m cut!”
Instantly, there was a dripping stream of red.
“Wrap it up with your scarf,” Casey directed.
“I’m going to need a first aid kit,” Amogh concluded after a quick self-examination.
“There should be one in here, right?”
The search was fruitless. All provisions for minor medical care were stored and lugged about in the patrol carts and the single campus cruiser, which were all now missing.
“Is the phone working?” Lucia asked after hazily returning to her senses.
“No,” answered Casey dejectedly.
Suddenly, the thump of a weighted hammering upon the tin roof of the guard shack shrunk the students down into recoiled defensive postures.
“It’s that leaping creature!” insisted Amogh. “It’s the beast from the library!”
“The murderer?” Lucia cried.
Calculated steps could faintly be heard from above. There was no rush made.
“We have to make a run for it,” whispered Casey.
“Where are we going to go?”
Looking up blankly, trying to track the stealth movements, Casey suddenly realized, “We can’t get trapped in here like sitting ducks! Back outside, everyone! We have to make a run for it! Let’s go!”
Casey dared to look back to make sure that the rest of his friends had made it safely out of the snare. Glimpsing toward the structure’s topside, Casey happened to catch the outline of what appeared to be a man draped in a long, heavy coat. The figure, apparently, was amused simply with toying with its prey.
“He’s not coming after us,” Casey yelled.
“Not yet, maybe,” Amogh hollered back. “But we are witnesses to the scene of a murder! We’re next!”
“To the Culinary department,” Casey proposed. “It’s just ahead. We can get knives or something to defend ourselves with.”
The runaways were able to put ground between themselves and the guard shack before the enigmatic trapper decided to drop down from the rooftop. There was a bounty of tracks and a trail of fresh blood in the snow to be readily scented out.
The door to the Culinary Department was locked, but after a few, though effortful, swings of Yi’s fire axe, he was able to break an entry. Down the freshly polished hallway, the students hid away in the most distant room, a mock kitchenette used for instruction. It was discovered, thereafter, that the power outage had indeed extended across the campus. Pots and pans were desperately thrown about, cupboards and dishwashers were wildly rifled through in the dark. Amogh succeeded in finding an ice pick for Lucia and for himself, a mallet otherwise used for meat tenderizing. Casey gripped tightly at a well-sharpened cleaver, but Yi remained the most well-armed with his miniature chopping axe.
“How’s the hand, Amogh?” Casey finally had a moment to ask.
“It’s going to need stitches, but we got bigger problems right now. What kind of beast native to the area could that have possibly been?”
“I don’t think it was a beast,” Casey replied. “I think that was some kind of crazed maniac of a man.”
“No,” rejected Amogh. “That can’t be. The thing is built like a bear and leaps like a Bengal.” Taking a moment to find the right term, Amogh continued, “If I didn’t know any better, I would have said that we just crossed paths with a North American yeti.”
“Yeti? I don’t think so, Amogh. I think it’s just some berserk winter hunter from the woods in a fur coat.”
“What does it matter?” Lucia interjected. “Man or beast, it’s after us! There’s nobody left to help us. We’re all alone.”
Casey attempted to assure, “We can’t be the only ones left.”
“We have to call for help, somehow,” voiced Amogh. “I know that the phones and internet are not working, but we have to send some kind of signal.”
“Smoke signal?” Casey thought aloud. “We could catch a light from one of the stove burners in the prep kitchen… if the gas is still on, I mean. We could build a bonfire.”
“That might be an idea.”
“Yeah, but a bonfire would attract the attention of that creature?” Yi critiqued. “We wouldn’t have the time. That thing is out there, just waiting for us.”
“Besides,” Lucia added, “there’s a damn blizzard out there too. Who will be able to see a trail of smoke in all that wind and snow?”
“I don’t know!” released Casey in frustration. “Who can come up with a better plan?”
“What about the 3-D printer they have in the Science Department,” Lucia halfheartedly suggested. “Maybe we can access it and whip up something to help us… a walkie-talkie… a gun—something?”
“Listen, Lucia,” Casey took his turn rejecting, “I don’t know how 3-D printers work, honestly, but I don’t think they work that fast and that easy. Would anyone here know the first thing about printing out a gun?”
“Yi’s from the Science Department, maybe he knows how to work the printer.”
“Sorry, Lucia, I don’t.”
“Well,” Lucia huffed, “I tried.”
“Take it easy,” Amogh pleaded. “We’ll come up with something if we put our heads together. We’re a bright bunch.”
“Maybe we are thinking too small,” said Lucia. “About setting a fire I mean. What if we turn on the gas to all the stoves and leave one of those chef’s torches, the ones they use to toast things up. Maybe we could get the whole building to catch fire.”
“Yeah,” assented Casey. “Then the fire brigade from town across the lake would have to come and save us!”
“Do you think that the fire department will be able to make it up the hill to campus,” challenged Yi. “I mean, the roads must be slick if not completely blocked up already.”
The sound of a door being entirely ripped from its hinges shot down the hallway. Whistling gusts first entered the culinary building, followed by the echoes of approaching steps.
“Bloody hell, he’s here! He followed us through the axed doorway!”
In silence, the crew of students initiated Lucia’s plan. Amogh spun the knobs to each of the instructional stoves, releasing a slow leak. Just in time, Yi fell upon the torch that Lucia had described.
Tables, racks, and countertop appliances were overturned as the hunt brought the stalker closer to the students, one culinary gallery at a time. Just as the seeker sniffed out the runaways, Casey had finished lifting and cramming each of his friends through the kitchenette window. A couple more moments and Casey would have cleared the room too, but now he was forced to turn and face his pursuer.
The butane torch was adjusted for maximum release and pointed right at eye-level. The axe that Yi dropped to the ground before squirming his way through the building window was retrieved and swung over Casey’s shoulder.
As soon as the door to the hideaway was bashed in, Casey’s thumb depressed the torch’s trigger without hesitation. There was no opportunity to get a closer inspection of the lurker. Immediately, a blue flame leapt from Casey’s aim. The figure was caught off guard, taking several steps backward while grabbing at its face. Casey took his chance, cleaving the miniature axe right into the pectoral region of the behemoth.
Animalistic grunts of rage turned Casey around with sights for escape through the window. During his dash, Casey dropped the butane torch in place, hoping that eventually, the trickling gas would touch the flame. The fit through the cut out in the wall was tight, but not as tight as Casey’s escape. Just as his boots were pulled through the window space, an extended swipe was cast for his ankles. Casey was not left unscathed. Three lines of ripped skin were carved across his Achilles tendon.