“In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes,” Arthur remarked smugly, proud of his ability to remember what most might consider Benjamin Franklin’s most memorable quote.
Lina smirked to herself. Arthur, with his graying hair and curled mustache, always struck her as quite a character. She had never carried on a private conversation with him, but rather enjoyed watching him make a pompous fool of himself at large gatherings.
The dinner table was set meticulously, with all twelve of them tucked properly in. Behind Iris, the night’s elegant hostess, there stood a large wooden clock that ticked obnoxiously. According to its reading, dinner should have began twenty minutes ago, but none of the servants had come out of the kitchen yet. There was, however, plenty of red wine being consumed in the meantime. Lina was hungry, and well aware of her light-headedness and how the alcohol was contributing to it. Still, she kept sipping, and smiling sheepishly, following the many disparate conversations without partaking in them.
Twice a year they did this. The faculty would get together at Iris’ for an extravagant dinner, four courses, and chat about the many interesting facts they’ve learned, studied, or made up, since their last gathering.
Lina had been teaching in the English department, alongside Iris, for three years now. She liked it very much. Iris’ husband, Richard, taught in the anthropology department. He and many of his closest colleagues were what Lina would describe as armchair anthropologists. They were enthralled by their own capacity to study from a textbook, but had not the desire to venture outside of the university halls. All the same, Lina tried to be grateful to have been taken in by a group. She had moved to Portland for the job, and had not known a soul in town. Now, she sometimes felt she knew too many.
Outside, a storm was raging. Lina had never seen a sky open up like that. Thunder and lightening cracked through the deep grays, roaring passionately. The heavy rain had come down on her as she made her way from the taxi to the front door, and up the many steep steps that led to it. It was a fabulous house, really. She especially admired the gargoyles that adorned the exterior. But it was a most impractical design. She had rolled her ankle just as she reached the top, and it was still throbbing, although she hadn’t mentioned it to anyone.
“Sorry I’m late.” It was Jim, wet and smiling. “I had the longest route, delayed by a funeral procession that cut me off, if you can believe it.”
Jim’s voice boomed, his announcement taking over any background conversations. He caught Lina’s attention right away. She had seen him in the halls, the new professor in the Art History department, but she hadn’t worked up the nerve to say hello. A chair had to be brought out for him, the thirteenth guest. It was placed directly across from Lina.
“I’m sorry,” Jim continued, this time his words directed only to Lina. “I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Jim Melville.”
“Catalina Niles. Pleasure,” she nodded politely, intimidated by his dashing blue eyes.
They held each other’s gaze for a moment, but the spell was broken by the arrival of the salads.
It wasn’t until the meal’s third course that the electricity cut out. Iris had been in the middle of blabbing about her new haircut; she had gotten it that afternoon, and Lina supposed she was secretly upset that no one had yet commented. In the stark darkness though, the concern was moot.
Candles were immediately put out in abundance, but still, it was quite dark and some of the guests were visibly uncomfortable. With the music muted, there was only the crashing of the storm, threatening to come in. Voices became hushed; many lowered to a whisper. Dark and silence always seemed to go hand in hand.
Lina wished she could have gotten a good look at Jim and known what expression he was wearing when he asked her what her area of study was and she responded with: “paranormal literature.”
Before she could elaborate, there was a sudden cry from down the hall, and the girly-silliness Lina felt melted away behind the sudden terror. Erica had gone to the washroom; it had to be her screaming out.
The group rushed towards the sound and came upon a sight that nightmares are made of.
Friday, November 13th, 1964; it became a day that would haunt for generations to come.
Erica was sprawled on the bathroom floor, and in the blackness Lina almost missed all the blood. Shards of glass sparkled in the bit of moonlight seeping in through an open window. As she made her way to her colleague, Lina slipped on the hazardous layer of blood and rain that covered the floor. She went down hard, landing in the broken glass which she later discerned had not come from the window, but from the smashed mirror.
Just then lightening struck, momentarily brightening the room so that the grotesque scene became clearer. Face to face with Erica, Lina saw it all. Her eyes were wide, staring lifelessly into Lina’s; her hair was matted and untied as if yanked a number of times; her nose was smashed into her face; her head facing a direction it should not have been able to reach on its own.
Lina swallowed a scream, unsure of how she managed it. Panicked, the group all began to look around at one another. It was obvious to Lina that they were all doing what she was doing – counting.
They had been thirteen at the start, but in the darkness, they hadn’t realized how or when they had become seven. Not that it mattered; none of them would make it out alive that night. No one would live to tell their tale. And forever after, the gruesome details would remain a terrifying mystery.
Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©
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