|Note: This story is a part of a larger series of short stories and flash fiction. You can find these stories on the Oubliette home page.|
Linda sat in an uncomfortable student’s desk in the middle of a half-full room with other students. At the front of the room, sitting on a cheap metal and particle board desk, a gentleman spoke to the class. The man wore a dark brown sweater and a pair of new jeans that have yet to start fading. The elderly man was a cliché; his unkempt hair that encircled most of his balding head was gray and they offset his blue eyes.
“Before we go, I would like to ask the class a question. If you consider all the ways the textbook tells us how to keep employee loyalty, what is the underlying theme?”
There was a moment of silence before someone raised his hand. The gentleman nodded at him, and he spoke, “Could it be that we need to support our employees and let them know that we won’t betray them?”
The elderly gentleman smiled softly and said, “Yes. The underlying theme is trust. I don’t like how the textbook glosses over this and it is very important to know. You need to have the trust of your employees. When you don’t, that is when you see problems with employee turnover.”
Linda noted how Mr. Zeller pointed out the importance of the last sentence. At the beginning of the semester, he said that he would give important tips for the final during lectures. Looking about the room when she arrived, this warning did not keep half of the class from skipping. Not that was any of her concern. She scribbled in her notebook and continued listening.
The gentleman finished, “That is all I have for today. Be sure to have chapter 7 read for next week.”
As if he gave a silent command, everybody stood in unison and most of them headed towards the door. Linda was one of them that did not join the stampede. She looked out the window that overlooked the busy street. The sun had started sinking slowly behind the horizon and the sky was a hue of dark purple with a crimson band in the distance.
She rummaged through her purse; searching for her cell phone. Shortly after class began, she heard it vibrate. Being unable to answer at that time, she allowed it to go to voicemail. Even though this was the last class for the day, several students gathered in the hallway; reluctant to go out into the cold winter air until necessary.
Finding her phone, she opened its call history. It was Pete. Even though it was Griswold that would be the topic, she smiled for a moment at the prospect of speaking with him. As she joined the chaos in the hall, she tapped the redial button and held it to her ear. She imagined hearing Pete’s ringtone alerting him of her call. It was a remix of the X-Files theme that he used for members of SHIPS. The dial tone sounded a couple times and she heard him pick up before she could reach the exit.
“This is Pete.”
“Hey, Pete. What’s up?”
She was not sure he was able to hear her over the noise.
“Something’s going on with Griz. Things are getting strange”
“Griz? Strange? Hold on Pete, I’m having a hard time hearing you.”
She did not know if she heard Pete correctly with all the noise. Was he saying that something strange was going on with Griswold? She bumped into a couple other students as she made her way out the door. She involuntarily shook as she went from the warm air of the building to the cold winter air. Her breath formed a cloud in front of her face.
“Sorry about that Pete. What was that about Griswold?”
“Something happened this weekend with Griz. First, a couple FBI agents visited me at the funeral home.”
Linda stopped suddenly. Why would the FBI be visiting Pete?
“Yes, they accused us of posting a hoax video and that child spirit was really a missing child.”
Pete’s voice contained an element of uncertainty within it. She could not help but wonder what was going on and this visit did not sound legitimate.
“Pete, something does not seem right.”
“That’s what I’m thinking but they had a photo of the girl. Right now, they want to talk to Griz. He’s disappeared.”
“Hold on, Griz disappeared?”
“Yes! This is where it gets weird. The police came by asking if I knew where Griz could have gone as well. They told me that he is a suspect in the murder of his roommate and landlady.”
“Oh… my… holy shit!”
Linda looked around wide-eyed when she realized she said that loudly. She did not normally talk that way and hoped nobody heard her. There were other people walking in and out of the building, minding their business. If anyone heard her, they did not mind.
In a softer voice, “You don’t think it was…”
There was silence on the other end of the phone. She continued, “that thing? Is that possible?”
The silence continued but now she heard Pete breathing. She thought that he was at loss for words. If what he said about Griswold was true, things were even worse than she thought. Of all the people, she knew, Griswold would have been the last person she would have thought as a killer. He did not anger easily and his restraint surprised her with the bullying he received in high school.
When Pete finally responded, his voice was weak, “It had to be. What do you think we should do?”
Linda took a few deep breaths to clear her head, “I don’t know. We’re in over our heads. I was going to talk to the campus paranormal group tomorrow. Maybe they know something.”
“That is the best we can do for now. I’ll see what I can do from here. If you see him, remember that is not him.”
“I’ll call Grace and Chris. You be careful Pete and don’t try being a hero.”
“Sure, boss, good night.”
As she pressed the button to end the call, she felt a hollow pit in her stomach. She stood still as the cold air nipped at her nose and fingertips. If what Pete said about Griswold was true, she bore some of the responsibility. She did not know if the campus paranormal group could help, but there was something she could do now. She took a pair of gloves out of her coat pocket and put them on. She hefted her bag and started towards the library. The library was on the other side of campus and she needed the walk to think about the last few days.
She found it difficult to not think about what happened in the basement of that house. When she saw that thing, she panicked. She abandoned Griswold to that thing just like the rest of the team. She regretted not doing more. She should have been better than that.
She stopped at the intersection to a road and waited for the crosswalk sign to change. A pair of women stood there holding protest signs that were critical of the newly inaugurated president. Reluctantly, she had to agree with them. He was no leader.
She wondered what kind of leader she was and was going to be. If the last few days were any indication, not a very good one. She folded in the face of danger and ran. She could have stood up to that thing and gave everybody a chance to escape. Sure, it would have got her instead of Griswold but the captain goes down with the ship, so they say.
The light changed and she crossed the street. She saw the library in the distance. Her thoughts turned to Grace and Chris. She was going to have to call them soon. Yesterday, Grace was distant and hardly spoke on the almost three-hour drive to Morgantown. Chris emailed her this morning saying that he finally got her to talk about it. He told her that she was afraid for Griswold.
It did not surprise Linda that Chris could get her to open. He had a real talent with people. Sometimes Linda wondered if he could read minds with the way he always knew what to say. She caught herself smiling as she thought about how good of a lawyer he would be. She contemplated talking to him first because Pete’s news might be devastating.
Linda climbed the stairs leading to the main entrance of the library. She enjoyed visiting this library because there was a section of very old books on the second subbasement. She spent a lot of time with them because they were reference books that could not leave the library. One day she noticed that the books were not in the computer system and wondered if anyone would miss them if they disappeared.
She walked through the main doors and into the foyer. She decided that if she was going to call them, she should do it now. She had a habit of getting lost in those old tomes. She produced her phone from her bag and dialed Grace’s number. The phone rang for a while and Linda was sure it was going to go to voicemail but Grace answered.
Linda thought Grace’s voice sounded graveldly.
“Hey, Grace. Can you get Chris on speakerphone? I have news.”
“He’s at practice.”
Linda paused. She had hoped to have Chris on the call. Not only to minimize the chance of a miscommunication but to help with Grace if necessary.
“You can tell me,” Grace spoke, “I’ll let Chris know.”
Linda took a deep breath. Thoughts raced through her head as she debated each side of the argument. Finally, she decided that it would be best to let Grace know.
“It’s about Griz.”
She heard Grace say, “Oh,” in a hushed tone.
She attempted to deliver the bad news with a soft voice, “Griz has disappeared and the police are looking for him. Pete told me that they think he killed a couple people.”
There was silence. Then, the silence broke with a single word, “No,” and the call ended. Linda’s eyes widened and she looked at the phone’s screen. She had good reception. Did Grace hang up on her? She wondered if she made things worse and decided to call Chris later. She put the phone back into her bag and entered the library. She walked straight towards the elevators.
She sighed as she began thinking about SHIPS. To be honest, Linda had her doubts that the team was going to last much longer. She thought it was amazing that everyone kept in contact and continued to do investigations after they graduated from high school. Once she discovered his strengths, Chris became a valuable addition to the team. Even before the incident in the farmhouse, she knew that everybody was heading toward the next phases of their lives.
Chris was going to be heading to law school and his goal was to get into an Ivy League school. Linda had no doubt that he would succeed and Grace would be going with him to continue her education. Pete was becoming more involved with his family’s business and would be taking over some of the operations when he finished with his studies. She was going to be moving on soon to pursue her MBA and she did not know where she would be ending up. As for Griswold, she did not want to think about that now.
The fallout from the incident made things more complicated. Grace was not taking it well. She could tell that Chris had concerns of his own and for the wellbeing of Grace. Even she had struggled with guilt over what they did to Griswold. Only Pete seemed to be unchanged by the experience but she knew that it was an act and it had affected him on some level.
She arrived at the elevator and pressed the down button. A door opened immediately and she stepped inside. She pressed the button for the second subbasement and waited as she experienced the feel of the elevator descending in its shaft. She heard a chime and the door opened. She navigated past rows of bookshelves to a door in the back of the main room.
She opened the door and entered. The room was smaller as it had been a meeting room before being repurposed. Bookshelves lined all four walls and a pair of chairs with a folding arm sat in the middle of the room. An eclectic collection of books rested on the shelves. When she first found this room, she thought that she found someone’s personal collection of diaries and historical tomes. Many of the books were about the paranormal and occultism.
She began searching for a specific book. The saw the book a few months ago, she could not remember its title but the cover reminded her of a bible. As she scanned the books, she thought about her role as the leader of SHIPS. She thought she was doing a good job by making sure the team operated efficiently and handled the administrative tasks. Last weekend made her realize that she was wrong. There was more to being a leader than making decisions. When it came time for her to be a true leader, she failed and allowed a member of her team to fall victim to something evil.
She paused and stared at the book in her hand. It was an old well-worn black leather bound book. The cover had light spots where the outer layer of the leather had worn through. The lettering on the cover used to be gold leaf. All that remained now is a few flakes and etchings where the letters had been. She saw that at one time, there was a cross under which it read, “Praesidium Adversus Spirituum de Tenebris.”
She knew that there was not anything she could do for Griswold. If it happened again, the next time she would be ready.