David had an hour before his next class. Since Gretchen didn’t have a phone, let alone text messaging, he had no idea where she would be. Maybe he’d buy her a phone. But then, she didn’t seem to have a problem with money. She had never once asked about the price of something at a restaurant, let alone what the actual price of the laptop was. Whatever strange cultist family she came from must have been loaded.
He wandered by the indoor pool and saw that the women’s swim team was practicing. They had the ice blue swimsuits of the school’s colors. Not one to pass by a glance at pretty girls in swimsuits he decided to go inside and act like he was heading to the men’s locker.
The smell of chlorine greeted him as soon as he opened the door along with that strange, humid feel in the air that was particular to pools. It was an older building and the bleachers were made of dark, polished wood. Some of the tiles on the floor were cracked and the place just felt antique.
As he made his way to the locker room he saw something. Getting out of the pool was Gretchen. She had on a cap that covered her hair but no one looked like her and he recognized her elfin features, her paler than pale skin and her silver eyes from across the pool. She was skinny but she had surprisingly nice legs.
How did all her ridiculously long hair fit in that cap?
Gretchen was toweling off in a shy, sort of way when she looked up and saw him. Her cold, inhuman eyes locked onto him and for a moment he wondered if she saw him like a shark would see him: mechanical and calculating.
Then she flashed a brief, embarrassed smile and gave a quick wave.
He waited for her outside the pool and when she finally came out he came up and walked beside her.
“I didn’t know you were on the swim team,” he said.
“Yes, a Miskatonic talent scout found me. I have a scholarship.”
“Not that you need it, right?”
“Have they recruited you for their play yet?”
“Don’t tell me they still haven’t decided on a play yet.”
“They haven’t decided on a play yet.”
“I said not to tell me. What are they waiting for? That snob group’s already rehearsing theirs. She said they even locked the doors to the theater while rehearsing.”
“Is their play still a secret?”
“Last I heard it was.”
“David, May I ask you a question about the war?”
“Sure, go for it.”
“Why did you go? I read about why the president went and what they claimed, but why did you go?”
He considered not answering. It was a lot to get into and he wasn't sure he wanted to get into it.
“All my life, even as a kid, I loved history. I’d read about heroes and battles and I always wondered what it would be like to experience what those people went through. I never really wanted to be in the army or go fight a war. Just from reading about it I knew it would be a horrible thing."
He looked over to make sure she was still with him. She was walking along and watching him with her unreadable eyes.
"But I wanted to be a historian and I didn’t think I could do it justice unless I knew what it was like to be a part of history as well. Now when I read about the long marches and the pitched battles or Roman legions or Napoleon’s armies, I know a little of what it was like. I felt a connection to them.”
“You went to war to prove something to yourself.”
“Did you succeed?”
“I think so. I learned Sherman was right. War sucks."
“I see. You don’t like violence.”
“Yet, when I was visiting your apartment last, I noticed a gun in your closet.”
“I'm not naive enough to think that just because I don't like violence doesn't mean other people shy away from it."
“I don’t understand. You don’t like it, so why not be a pacifist? Perhaps that might change others minds?”
“No, running away from problems never fixes them. Which would be more morally correct: stop someone from being murdered or let it happen?”
“Stop it, of course.”
“What if the only way to stop it was with violence? Yes, I may not choose to defend myself but I will always defend others.”
“I see. You don’t do it for yourself.”
“Correct. And I just love guns. They’re tons of fun.”
“I’ve never shot one.”
“Would you like to? I can teach you how?”
Her silver eyes narrowed to slits as she thought. He wondered what thought processes went through her brain. What was she thinking? Was she thinking about how much fun it would be? Was she scared of guns? Were her parents liberals that taught her to fear them? He had no idea. It was as if her brain spoke a different language than his.
“Yes, I think I would like that.”
“Excellent! We’ll go this Saturday if you’d like.”
“That sounds lovely.”
Then he had to rush off to class.
After classes they went to a Chinese place for dinner. He paid for Beth because she looked worried at the menu prices.
“You gotta try the steamed dumplings,” Beth said as she placed a few on Gretchen’s plate.
“Very well,” Gretchen said, not sounding convinced.
David loaded up on General Tso’s chicken and noodles. He could eat General Tso’s chicken for the rest of his life and be happy.
“Is that your third plate?” Beth asked.
“Why, I do believe it is.”
“How do you eat so much?”
“It says it’s all you can eat, so I’m eating all I can.”
“I like this. It’s very good,” Gretchen said.
“Hey, Gretch, I think my group’s decided on a play,” Beth said.
“Oh? Which play?”
“Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.”
“Is it new?”
“New? Well, kinda. The adaptation is new but the story isn’t. That’s what you meant, right? Everyone’s heard of Pride and Prejudice.”
“I haven’t,” Gretchen said and shrugged.
“Well, we got the perfect part for you. You will play Mary Bennet.”
“What sort of part would I play?”
“You’re a bookish nerd and younger sister to the main character. Here, check this out.” Beth pulled from her backpack a copy of the play. “Your parts are highlighted in yellow.”
Gretchen took the script and began flipping through it. Her eyebrows raised in interest.
“I see I don’t have very many lines. Good. I will do it,” Gretchen said.
“You will? Excellent!” Beth clapped her hands. Then she turned toward David. “Now for you, tough guy. We have a part for you.”
“Me? When did I get stuck in this?”
“Since now. We need you to play Mr. Darcy.”
“Is that a small part?”
“No, stupid. He’s the main love interest!”
“Wait, I’m not doing a main character.”
“Don’t worry. You actually don’t talk that much. You’re kinda the strong, silent, grouchy type.”
She handed him the script and he began flipping through it. There was far more yellow than he would have liked.
“Why me? Wouldn’t a theater person want this part?”
“We only have one guy in our group and…let’s just say that there’s no way he’d pull off a Mr. Darcy.”
“I don’t know…”
“Please! We need someone!”
She put her hands into a begging position.
“I want to ask what I’d get out of it, but I’ll do it. I’ll kick myself for agreeing to it, but the answer’s yes.”
“Wonderful! We just have a few parts left to cast. Most of us will be pulling double duty.”
After dinner he drove them to a movie theater where they caught a late movie. Gretchen seemed to enjoy the popcorn as much as the movie. He wondered if she’d ever had popcorn before. The movie was a mindless, blow stuff up, action movie. It was that or a romantic comedy and both he and Beth hated romantic comedies. Gretchen didn’t know what she liked.
After the movie they drove back to the dorm and let Gretchen out.
“Thank you for the lovely evening,” Gretchen said.
“No problem,” he said.
“Start reading the script. You need to know the story!” Beth said as the door closed.
He watched Gretchen to make sure she got inside alright.
“She’s a strange girl,” Beth said.
“So are you.”
“I know. That’s why I like her. What about you? You don’t seem like the type to hang around us weirdoes.”
“What type am I supposed to be?”
“You look like the gun-ho, jock type. The type that would normally pick on us.”
“Jock? You got to be kidding. I read comic books and play Dungeons and Dragons. I read history books on Friday nights.”
“Well, you sure don’t look like a nerd.”
“I am, trust me.”
He drove them to their apartment building and they said their goodnights. He watched her go inside and wondered if she would ever invite him in to spend the night. He wondered what he would say. It wouldn’t be unwelcome, but he didn’t know if that was what he would really want. A part of him sure, but maybe not the parts that mattered.
He spent the rest of the night watching Gundam and then went to bed.
Yeah, a jock would stay up till 2AM watching Japanese cartoons about giant robots.
David was awakened by the sound of someone screaming. He grabbed his 9mm Beretta and ran outside. The muffled screaming was coming from Beth’s room.
He ran over and pounded on the door. It was locked.
“Beth! Can you hear me?”
Beth kept screaming so he went to the window and tried it out. It slid open and he pulled himself inside. It was dark but the outside lights let him see the dark shapes.
Beth was sitting on her bed holding her head. He ran in and turned on the lights. She stopped screaming and looked up. Tears were running down her face.
He ran over and put his arm around her.
“What the hell happened? What’s wrong?” He asked.
“Nothing,” she said weekly.
“Bull crap. Tell me.”
“Ghosts. They’re always in my room.”
A year or so ago he would have instantly thought about getting counseling for her, but now he knew better. Now he knew that there were things out there that didn’t fit into the safe little established world people liked to believe.
“What kind of ghosts?” He asked.
“Bad ones. Gretchen’s seen them.”
He wasn’t surprised about that.
“I don’t want to stay here,” she said.
“Come over to my place. It’s safe there.”
He wrapped a blanket around her and led her across the way to his room. This wasn’t some lame attempt at seduction. She was terrified out of her mind and she needed help.
He sat her down on his bed and he sat down on the other end. He tucked the Beretta under the mattress.
“Want something to drink? I got some Dew in the fridge,” he said.
“That sounds nice.”
He got them both a can and sat back down.
“Now, tell me all about what’s going on.”
She explained to him all about the hauntings and how the demons followed her wherever she went.
“Tonight there were five of them, all standing around my bed. They began grabbing me like they wanted to take me somewhere.”
“That’s serious, Beth. We have to do something.”
“I know. Gretch says she’s working on it.”
He looked at his watch. 5:23AM. Gretchen would be getting up in another two hours or so.
“Lay down and try to get some sleep, alright?”
She nodded and lay down but she didn’t sleep.
In the morning he escorted her back to her room and cleared it with his pistol. He didn’t know what good a 9mm would do against a ghost but it made him feel better.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Get dressed and I’ll take you to Gretchen’s. Let’s go see if she can fix this problem.”
Once she was dressed he drove to Gretchen’s dorm room and knocked on her door. Gretchen answered it wearing a black bath robe and her hair was a tangled mess. Her eyes looked like they were still asleep.
“What’s the matter?” Gretchen asked.
“It’s getting worse. The demons tried to grab me and take me somewhere.”
Gretchen sighed and waved them in.
Her room was sparse with no decoration. Her clothes were meticulously hung in her closet and the only sign of anything going on was her laptop at the foot of her bed.
“Gretch, I can’t keep living like this. Something has to be done,” Beth said.
“I’ll go into the forbidden section. I know how,” Gretchen said.
“Please. I don’t know what to do. If this keeps up I’m going to go crazy.”
“I’ll take care of it tonight. For now, sleep in my room. They won’t find you here.”
“Don’t thank me until I fix this. Sometimes the cures are worse than the illness.”