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The story goes something like this:
Once upon a time there was a student named Thomas Locke. Young Locke went off to fight the mad, murdering bastards in Germany, and by all reports did a fair job of it, until he caught part of a grenade. With his face.
Locke survived this stroke of unluck, but was horribly scarred. His face looked like a pudding, in which someone had tried to dissolve a lumpy bowl of sugar, but only succeeded in making an ugly, lumpy pudding. Needless to say, this didn't make him very popular. He was hounded by his classmates, distained by his friends, and winced at on the street by complete strangers. A few months later, he was found in his hall library, swinging gently from a pipe on the ceiling.
Since then, there have been over sixty reported sightings of his ghost, usually in the library, wandering morosely back and forth behind the window. Your basic haunting. Until recently, at least.
Sarah looked eagerly at the cathedral-like hall. "I wish I could get inside, get some pictures of the library."
"It could probably be done, if you can fabricate a good excuse for going inside. 'We want to photograph ghosts' is somewhat less than viable, in most situations."
"Well, yes..." She looked thoughtful. "Anyway, I'm going to get some pictures of the hall from out here." I nodded, and sat down on a large stone turtle while she did her work. Eventually, she came back, looking a bit shaken.
"Nothing I can be sure of."
"That's always the way. Tell me what you saw."
"Someone opened the curtains over one of the windows, and I put down my camera, so they wouldn't call anybody about it. Before I could put it down, though, they were gone. Just...there one second, gone the next. Too fast for me to have missed it."
I nodded. "These things happen. Here- i'll hop off this turtle, and you can get a few shots of it."
"People have reported seeing a column of vaporous, slightly illumined smoke behind the turtle. No explanation for it. So take a few shots, just in case."
"You're serious about this?"
"Oh yes. These reports were valid."
"Hmm? Oh, things I've stumbled upon in my research." I was getting careless again. "It's a hobby, parapsychology. Anyway, snap a couple of the turtle, will you?"
"One more spot, tonight. It's just behind Lucinda Hall."
"Lucinda? I used to live there."
"I'll bet you've never walked around behind it."
"Well, no, now that you've mentioned it."
"I thought not."
"What's behind it?"
"Hmm?" What was THAT look for, I wondered.
"How do you know all of this?"
"I've been doing this sort of thing for a while now."
"So how old ARE you?"
I never even paused. "Old enough to buy alcohol without showing my card, and too young to retire from any job short of Disney Exec. That suit you?"
"Yes. Sorry I asked."
I wanted to tell her not to be, that it wasn't her fault, but I knew it would be a bad idea. Best to steer the conversation in a different direction. "Go ahead and cross the street here..."
"God it's ugly."
"It looks dead. I mean, it was never a living thing, but it looks dead."
"Blake, what IS it?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. Whatever it was, it was torn down before those benches were put in. The concrete down here is more faded."
We were standing on the outside of a concrete circle about twenty feet in diameter. In the center of this circle was a smaller circle of beaten dirt, roots, broken glass, mud, and metal. On the outside of this circle, stone benches ringed the place, so many, in fact, that it felt as if someone had been trying to instill a false cheeriness in the place. It hadn't worked. It felt dead.
"Blake, come here!" hissed Sarah.
"I've found something..."
I joined her. "All right," she said. "What the hell is THAT?" I looked.
Three small, whitish-yellow nodules poked out of the earth. The first, on the left, was about an inch long and slightly curved. The other two only showed about a half-inch, and were straight.
"Something buried in the dirt," I said. "Grab that largish root over there, would you?"
She handed it to me, and I went to work on the artifact. Five minutes later, I grasped the revealed half, pulled, and tore it away from the soil. I turned it over, scooped the mud out, and brushed it off as best I could. It was good enough. Sarah's eyes were wide.
"I know. It doesn't make any sense."
Actually, it did, but that's another story entirely. I hadn't been expecting to find any remains here, given the years since we'd buried anything. But here it was, whole and intact. A bleary, mud-covered skull, larger than that of a human. Elongated back, with a little bit of a ridge along the top. Nose and mouth extended away from the face. It looked decidedly wolfish, yet at the same time, not like a wolf at all.
"What is it?"
"Buggered if I know." Well, there were worse things than being buggered.
"We've got to take it with us."
"That could be dangerous," I said, lying wildly. "You know full-well it's probably here for a reason (true) and to remove it could be very dangerous (also true, in a way) for you (wait- not true!).
"We can't just leave it! What if someone else takes it?"
"Hmm. In that case, I'll take it. I'm willing to chance any ill effects." Not true, which is why I was taking the damn thing! "We'd better head back. It's getting late, and the weather's turning."
At the tower again. It was beginning to rain- I hadn't been lying about the state of the weather. Mind you, the weather in Serwood was subject to change at any given moment of any given day, but it seems to greatly prefer rain. I have no idea why.
Sarah rubbed at her eyes. "Blake, this is by far the strangest day I have ever had."
"Do you...want to meet again, maybe get some more pictures?"
"Yes. Well Er..."
"Could I have your phone number- just in case something comes up, you know..."
"I suppose..." I rattled it off to her. It really was my phone number, too.
"When should we meet again?"
"Give me two days. I want to look into a few things."
I cannot believe, even now, that I found that skull. Ghosts, spirits, undead things, all those I can deal with. It's when someone starts mucking around in my own past that I get bent out of shape. I took the skull home, washed it off, took outside, and smashed it to bits with a small claw hammer. Then I buried the bits.
I am not sure what my plans were at that time concerning Sarah Walden. My memories, while quite clear, are somehow distant, as if I was only a bystander. I cannot remember what my thoughts were during that time, or why I was so insistent on endangering my own position by
indulging a college girl's mild interest in the paranormal. But I was.
While at home, I recieved a call from town. It turned out to be Gideon, pissed-off and confused about my actions of the previous two nights. I pacified him by explaining that I intended to take Sarah Walden on as an assistant, though the thought had not crossed my mind until that point. Why not? She was intelligent enough, and possessed of instincts that, while currently dormant, could come in very handy. Besides, I liked her. There was something real about her.
I then placed a call to Randy Beeker, an old aquaintence and night watchman for Lucinda Hall. He assured me that everything would be fine, as long as we were gone by 5 a.m. Hooray.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.