It’s another indie writer story blog hop!
Without further ado, here’s a Josie Tucker Christmas story.
Slay Bells Ring
“I thought you said the dorms were empty,” Benjy said.
Josie scowled at him. “You told me that.”
Bundled up in their snow boots and coats, the two of them crept down the unlit hallway of the undergrad dorm where they lived when school was in session. Because it was winter break, all students had gone home for the holidays.
“Is it just me, or does it smell like noodles in here?”
“It’s the souls of a hundred thousand ramen packs crying out in anguish.”
Josie and Benjy, along with a few other misfits with no place else to go for Christmas, were staying on campus to work as security. Josie’s aunt and uncle couldn’t spring for the airfare to get her home, so she’d told them a white lie about staying with a friend over break. When Benjy heard about it, he’d volunteered to stay, too.
Working as “security”—in finger quotes—meant they roamed up and down the unheated halls a couple of times a day to make sure everything was normal. Which was a joke. They didn’t have any training—they had a flashlight.
Other than the greenish exit lights at either end, the long stretch of hall was dark. A Purple Rain movie poster at the end of the hall was hanging by three corners instead of four today, but she didn’t think that warranted a call to the police station.
However, the weird moaning they had just heard might. Low at first, the sound grew into a wail and then cut off abruptly.
“For the love of all that’s holy, what’s that noise?” Benjy’s whisper was hoarse as he clutched her coat sleeve. They stood in the cold, dank hallway, their eyes going all Blair Witch in the dark. Silent now, the antiquated steam heat radiators usually clanked up and down the hall.
Another low, tortured wail ribboned through the air toward them. “Is that an animal? It’s coming from Rory’s room, isn’t it?”
Josie swallowed hard. If the creepy noise was coming from their classmate’s room, they might have a true problem on their hands. Rory Kepkey’s roommate was Adam Brazier, the guy who liked to wear a trench coat and fatigues. He knew about guns—he was from Wisconsin, which was the frozen tundra as far as Josie was concerned. What did they hunt in there anyway…moose…and cheese?
They headed toward Rory’s door.
“Hang on.” Benjy grabbed her sleeve again halfway there. “Maybe we should call the police. What if Adam’s in there slicing up Rory into bite-sized pieces, storing his brainstem in their mini-fridge?”
Robbed of words, Josie yanked her sleeve out of his grasp and glared at him. His empty hand fluttered as he was lost in morbid speculation, fueled by his X-Files obsession. “I bet he’s got a rope around a ceiling pipe and his neck, and he just kicked the desk chair out from under his toes.”
“What is wrong with you?”
His imagination was still running wild. “What if he stole Rory’s plane ticket home, chained him up in their room, and took his place. They kind of look alike. He could pass himself off as Rory.”
Rory was not much taller than Josie’s 5’2” while Adam was closer to six feet.
Josie stomped toward the door, as Benjy continued, “Should we call the police or run outside and hit the alarm? Which would be faster?” Emergency call buttons, marked with blue lights, had been positioned all around campus. Josie wasn’t sure what good the lights did, but if she ever found herself being attacked, she planned on being within reach of one of the “slay bells,” as she called them. While Benjy paced and weighed their options, Josie knocked on the door.
The wailing moan stopped.
Josie glanced at Benjy, who gave a nervous laugh. “See? Nothing. I think we imagined it—”
But then it started again—this time, a horrible keening.
“That’s definitely human,” Josie said, frowning at the door, fist poised to knock again.
“Don’t! Alien spawn might be in there, waiting to paralyze us with neurotoxins and wrap us in mucous cocoons.”
Hands on her hips, Josie glared at him until he looked away, shuffling his feet. He raked through his floppy hair with shaky fingers.
“Are you done?” she asked, to which he gave a nervous shrug. Which meant, no, he wasn’t, but he would at least shut up for now.
She took off her glove and knocked again. This time, she had to admit the sound was getting on her nerves, too. With a shiver zinging up her spine, she waited for the noise to stop.
But it didn’t. Instead, a raspy voice said, on a long, drawn-out breath, “Just kill me.”
“Oh my god.” Benjy looked like he wanted to sprint for the closest exit—it said a lot about his loyalty that he hadn’t ditched her. Yet.
Agitation washed through Josie, culminating in a painful tingle at the top of her head. Fear wasn’t an emotion she dealt with very well. A good number of people—normal people—reacted with dread, avoidance, or the inability to do anything at all, in frozen indecision. Not Josie. Instead, she got angry. The itchy tingle at the top of her head filtered down into her face, creating what she knew to be a bright pink flush across her cheeks.
“Hey,” she shouted, giving the door a SWAT-style pounding with the side of her first. “Open up. You’re not supposed to be in here.”
“Holy shitballs. You’re like Ripley from Alien.” Quivering, Benjy snapped his teeth together with a click like the Giger alien from the movie.
From the other side of the door, the tortured sound continued, louder this time. Then there was a crash and a bang that made them both jump. Like a rabbit, Benjy fled for the door at the end of the hall.
Blood pounding in her ears, Josie watched him disappear down the hall, his feet thudding on the carpet. Now fueled by anger and betrayal, Josie grabbed the door knob, intending to give it an impotent, angry rattle. But when she wrenched the knob, the unlocked door swung open.
She blinked, focusing her eyes. A scraggly, fully decorated Christmas tree stood in the center of the room, twinkling with lights and smelling of fresh pine. But a movement behind the tree drew her attention, where a red checked quilt was balled up on the floor. No. Correction—there was a person in the quilt huddled in a fetal position. Adam Brazier, face an alarming red, moaned long and low. Eyes closed, he rolled on his back, kicking a leg out at the lamp that had just crashed to the floor.
Josie dashed in and dropped to her knees, touching his feverish forehead with gentle fingers. Then she pivoted and ran down the hall. She slammed through the exit door. Outside in the snow, bypassing Benjy, she skidded down the icy steps. Then she ran across the quad where she mashed the button underneath the blue-lit slay bell with her fist.
Benjy slid across the icy ground toward her. “It’s bad isn’t it?”
Hands on her knees and panting, she had to catch her breath before she could explain that yes, it was bad. Adam, alone and squatting in his own dorm room for whatever reason, with a high fever, could have died. She knew it from his dry, cracked lips, his shallow breaths, and the way his eyes had rolled back in his head. He could have died, and no one would have known until January when Rory came back to school.
As they waited for the police, Benjy told her, “It’s like a…Christmas miracle or something.”
She started to shake her head, to deny it, but then realized it was kind of true.
What if they’d never heard the noise? What if it had been anyone other than her? Would someone else have been as stubborn? Would they have gotten pissed off at a stupid closed door and a dying animal sound? Maybe. But maybe not.
As she pictured Adam, dying in his dorm room friendless and alone, her legs got wobbly because she realized it could have been her. Easily. And as her knees buckled, Benjy wrapped his arm around her and held her up.
Want to read more about Josie Tucker? Try one of these…
Or the fantasy series, Rise of the Masks…