glower at my murky reflection in the bathroom mirror as I slide a steel blade along my face, frosting it in soapy white suds. I wince, accidentally nicking my chin. I take a swig of whiskey, watch a crimson poppy bloom where the nick is.
It is 15 past 11. I’m meeting Kermit in the library at 11:30. We’re seeing about Callory’s urgent message from earlier today. She could be in trouble … or it could be a trap.
When I’ve finished shaving, I layer on my clothes so I look handsomely unkempt, then pull on my trench coat. Perfect. I glance at myself in the mirror again and ponder the complexity of man – what is a man, really? There’s what you see on the surface, staring back at you from across the glass pane. He is brooding, perpetually grimacing, yet handsome in that rugged, clearly-doesn’t-sleep-much kind of way. But what secrets does this antihero hide? What shall bring his inevitable downfall—
I hear the toilet flush behind me and see a dame clad in her nightclothes emerge from a stall. I clear my throat. She shuffles over sleepily and washes her hands in the sink beside me. I watch, wait for her to dust out.
This gal clearly takes hand-washing very seriously. It has been several seconds now. Finally, she shuts off the water. She turns to look at me.
“Is that a buck knife?”
I look down at my buck knife. “…No.”
She rolls her eyes, murmurs something about freshmen, and leaves.
Anyway, back to my inner monologue: Inevitable downfall. I look into the mirror again and notice that my face is bleeding profusely.
“Where have you been? It’s past midnight! I could have been studying for my religion test,” Kermit says as I walk into Rolvaag.
“Justice is my religion. Anyway, I was having a very important inner monologue.” I say, puffing on my cigarette.
Kermit stops short. “Why is your face covered in band-aids?”
“Larla, were you shaving your non-existent facial hair again?”
I change the subject. “Alright, so where’s Callory?”
“You don’t know? You didn’t see her come in?”
“Kermit!” I yell. The front desk worker eyes me. I grab Kermit’s arm. “Okay, she said to meet her in the reference room. Let’s scope it out.”
Kermit is about to just breeze in when I dive to the floor and pull him down with me. “Kermit, what do you think you’re doing?”
“Ouch,” Kermit yelps. “That’s gotta be a rug burn.”
“You can’t just waltz in like a regular boob. It’s embarrassing. We’re gumshoes, we have to be covert.” I begin crawling into the reference room.
“This seems more conspicuous than just walking, Larla,” Kermit whispers, crawling up to me.
I shake my head. “I’m not too keen on getting whacked tonight, pal. If you’d like a date with the big sleep, be my guest – but if you wanna stay alive, you’ll lay low like me.”
“No one is trying to kill us!” Kermit shouts.
Every head in the room shoots up at once and glares at us.
“Great, Kermit, now we’ve been made!” I whisper, hurriedly crawling out of the joint as fast as I can. Kermit stands up and surveys the place.
“Callory isn’t here.”
“What?” I say, standing up to see for myself. I scan the rows of heads – no Callory. “Well, then I think we’ve been conned.”
“Maybe she’s in the bathroom?”
“No,” I say, “Let’s face it. We’re patsies. The note was a fake, a set-up.”
“Who would set us up?” Kermit says, growing more and more concerned.
“Someone who knows I know Callory. And who can forge her handwriting …”
Suddenly, I feel something softly hit the back of my head. I swivel around to find nobody. I look down and there’s a wad of paper on the floor. I pick it up, unfold it:
Looking for someone? Come to Holland Hall and get her. Better hurry.
The hollowed-out shell of Holland Hall stands tall and majestic, a black silhouette against a light violet sky. Sheets of plastic billow in the gaping holes where windows used to be and scaffolding lines the perimeter of the building.
Kermit and I scale the surrounding chain-link fence and jump to the other side, the wet ground squashing beneath our feet.
“WHEW,” Kermit wheezes beside me. “I should get all my SPM credits for that.”
“No way, bub, you said you’d take modern dance with me next semester,” I say. “Now, how do we get in?”
“Larla,” Kermit says worriedly, “are you sure you wanna do this? Let’s just call Pub Safe and call it a night, yeah? I mean, we’re essentially breaking-and-entering right now and I really can’t have that on my record if I wanna work in the education system one day!”
“Don’t be a bunny, buster! We’re in this far. And you won’t catch me calling no copper! If you can’t handle the heat, scram.”
Kermit fidgets before shrugging and saying, “Fine, I’ll come.”
After climbing the scaffolding, Kermit and I bust in. It’s completely dark and smells like the seventies. “Callory!” I shout. No answer.
I strike a match to light the dive up and discover the place really is hollowed-out, held up by a wooden skeleton. But no Callory. No nobody. “Anybody there?”
“Yes,” echoes a voice. Kermit begins hyperventilating.
“Kermit, oh my god, shut up,” I say. “Who are you, mysterious disembodied voice? What have you done with my girl crush?!”
Suddenly, a figure appears before me. The man I bumped into in Mohn! As bearded and paisley as ever.
“You?! I expected you to be a red herring in all this. After all, I only ever saw you once!” I say, aghast.
“Yes, I thought you’d say that,” the man says. “Sorry to disrupt the fluency of your narrative. Anyway, I don’t actually have Callory. I just wanted to scare you.”
“Because I’m a ghost, idiot. Isn’t that your whole thing? You’re, like, a ghost-hunter?”
“Then this must be pretty embarrassing for you,” the ghost says, floating in mid-air. “Anyway, that’s all I really wanted to do. I’m out.”
“Wait!” I yell. “How did you know to use Callory as a lure?”
The ghost rolls his eyes. “You literally have ‘Me + Callory 4eva’ written on your hand right now.”
I look down at my hand. He’s right. When I look back up, he’s gone.
“Well, then,” Kermit says. “Mystery solved. Ghost found. What now?”
“Are you kidding, dude?! This is just the beginning! I WAS FRICKIN’ RIGHT ABOUT GHOSTS AND SHIT!!!!!”