Starlight Spectre • Part 4: One Hundred and Three Years


This is Part 4 of a serial horror novella. Learn more about it here.

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Part 4: One Hundred and Three Years

Getting into the library was no challenge. He had the key and the alarm code. It wasn’t even full dark when they entered. Grey light from the dying day drifted in from the high windows. The ceiling fans rotated on low, and all the floor fans had been shut off. The light might be leaving, but the heat remained like a soup. The smell of paper and leather fumed in it.

“Woof, authentic aromatics, huh?” Gabriella said as she marched in, fresh beer in one hand, mini flashlight in the other. She also sported a backpack with all her sleuthing gear, which was 50% beer.

Barton had switched to water for now, concerned about hydration. His buzz was at bay, and he watched her goofiness with a fondness that was growing to an alarming intensity. She skipped into the gloom, swinging the flashlight like a sword. Without his help, she steered herself into the town’s historical section and began to pull at books and tomes, the little light now on and clenched in her teeth, the can of beer forgotten on the floor.

He let her work, content that she knew what she was doing. She was in a zone, and after a time, Barton wandered. It felt awkward to stand there watching her. He decided to seek out some obituaries, which might help round out the full picture. They were in some file cabinets in the back of the building.

As he walked, sharp black shadows played out along the tall shelves and ceiling, accentuated by the beam of Gabby’s light. The sound of her ruffling away faded fast, absorbed by the layers of tomes and aged wood.

He had been here at night before. It had always felt like some sort of friendly tomb. A place that was so quiet and respectful during the bright of the day took on a deeper sense of stillness during the darker hours. The books liked to sleep. So, there was something off about the way the flashlight cut through the room. It was unnatural, alien. Like it might wake something up.

He reached the filing cabinets and tried to shake off the silly feeling. It was probably just the idea of intrusion that bothered him. Someone might see the lights and call the cops, he thought, and that gave him anxiety.

A scuff and a footfall. He turned. Down an aisle between two shelves someone moved away, out of view. Barton's heart threatened to jump up out his throat, but he forced the feeling away: Gabby must be messing with him.

“Hey,” he called out, trying to keep his voice level.

No one responded, so he walked to the next aisle, in the direction he had seen the movement. He steeled himself for her to jump out at him or something. He came to the aisle and saw the dim outline of a person, much taller than Gabby, standing at the far end. Unmoving. Just there, shoulders hunched, posture fatigued. They had some sort of hat, and they began to look up.

“Rudy?” he heard himself say, while the rest of his body cinched up and froze.

Then there was a bright light in his eyes, ruining his vision, causing him to flinch and back up hard into the side of the shelf. A book thumped out of place and bumped against his shoulder.

“Yo, sorry,” Gabby said, lowering the light and strolling towards him, her face buried in an open book. Free of the beam, Barton fired a look down the aisle again. The light spots faded, and he saw the rough shape of the man again, but it was clear that it was just the pattern of shadows along the far wall.

He blinked several times, trying to process it, when she sidled up close to him so he could look at the book. She hadn’t noticed his jump, it seemed. And she was soft. The swell of her breast brushed against his arm, erasing the weird vision in an instant.

“Newspaper clippings. No mention of no bodies, but the fire is referenced,” she said. Her book was open to an article about a local train fire that killed several miners and tourists. The name ‘Starlight Spectre’ wasn’t mentioned either, but the train’s conductor was: Gordon McVee.

“Rudy was close, huh? And lookit this,” she tapped the date of the article. “One hundred and three years ago, to the night. We missed the centennial Barty, but it’s still an anniversary tonight. Spook-tacular, hey?”

Something about that didn’t sit well with him. He stole another glance down the aisle and said, “I was going to check obits.”

She whacked a fist into his shoulder. “Corroborate a mass death and related details, good thinking. Especially if we got ‘missing’ versus ‘deceased’ language in the obits, that’d help sell me on the lack of remains. They around here?”

“Yeah, right here,” he waved at the cabinets.

“You okay mister?”

“Heat and beer, just had a head rush is all.”

“No kidding. It’s gross in here. We’ll rock ‘n’ roll soon. Check these obits and then a map and then the hunt is on.” She clacked her teeth in a beautiful grin and he smiled back. It was hard not to.

Continued in Part 5: The Dare – April 13

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