ossibly, there was not enough coffee in the world to get her through this night. Certainly, there was not enough of it in her cup. But she knew that if she left her carrel at the library there would be no hope of return. In the Campus Center, friends had finished finals, or were ignoring the fact of their existence. Her only hope of avoiding a party was to stay here, insulated and low on caffeine.
Amanda re-read the sentence for the fourteenth time. It skimmed the surface of her brain but left no lasting impression. She went on to the next one anyway. And the next. And the next. Minutes burned by as students one by one accepted their defeat and headed for the door. Finally, she was alone.
An experimental shake of the head. Still functioning. Absentmindedly she took a drink from her empty cup, and spat out coffee grounds and stale milk. Amanda gagged slightly. In the background, a low chuckle. Slow shivers down her spine…wasn’t she the last one there? Her rational mind’s voice floated through her head, telling her to stop be silly and get back to studying. Deep breath. Best to stand and stretch, just in case. She turned three hundred and sixty degrees, just to be sure. Alone. As she had mostly expected.
She had to finish her review. She sat down, trying not to look over her shoulder but not entirely succeeding. Her eyes caught a flit of movement. Frantic, Amanda jumped up, and turned around again – still nothing. “Hello?” No response. Of course not. She wavered between checking the stacks where the air had moved, and heading straight for the exit. Bravery or idiocy won. She walked in what she hoped was a nonchalant manner over to the blue volumes of European history and early Communist theory, looking out of the corner of her eye down each aisle. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing…what was that?
In the middle of the third aisle was a sodden patch of carpet. Gross, thought Amanda, even as her feet carried her in that direction. It didn’t smell like anything. She knelt down next to it, stuck her finger on the edge of the wetness. The liquid was slightly greasy, and a very dark red. She gasped. The lights went out.
She wasn’t sure if the cackle she heard next truly emanated from the next aisle, or whether it was all in her head. Amanda ran with both hands out back to the end of the aisle and dashed to the door marked “Exit” in radioactive green. Her bag, notes, and empty coffee cup were forgotten. Tears streamed down her face as she told herself what a coward she was. She did not look back.
On the floor of the stacks, next to red bottle, her literature professor passed a joint to his colleague and giggled convulsively. “Undergrads are so easy,” he wheezed.