[Mysteriousheartland.com] The University of Illinois campus in Champaign-Urbana bustled with activity as the Fallen slipped into the crowd with relative ease. Unknown to the young men and women walking to and from class, the five interlopers had come with motivations very different from passing a final exam.
In the main quad, Mike, Aurelia, Emmet, Greg, and Davin strolled down the sidewalk toward the English Building. Greg and Davin’s eyes wandered from coed to coed. Neither paid attention to what Mike was saying.
“Before I explain what we’re doing here, Emmet has something to tell us.”
“Yeah, okay, whatever,” Greg muttered as a long-legged woman wearing a short skirt and tank top walked past. “I love when the weather gets warmer.”
Emmet cleared his throat. “I managed to solve our coydog mystery,” he said. “I discovered my hunch was right. Dr. Wayne Gale was crossbreeding coyotes and dogs to make a perfect guard dog. He was going to sell it to the highest bidder like a designer pet gone bad. They must have locked him up before he could make the sale, and his creations escaped captivity.”
Greg chuckled. “I guess that goes to show, you shouldn’t become a geneticist if you’re insane.”
“So what’s the story with the University of Illinois?” Aurelia asked impatiently. “I never thought I’d set foot on school grounds again. This better be good.”
“Ah,” Mike said. “The U of I. This place supposedly has several ghosts. The ghost of a former student haunts the second floor of the English Building, for example. There’re also several other haunted locations around here. I want to check them all out.”
“Right,” Davin interrupted. “I think I’m going to go check out some of those bars on the main strip. The bar age is eighteen here, isn’t it?”
Greg perked up. “Good idea. I bet we can find some spirits there.”
“Yeah, good luck.” Emmet laughed and joined Greg and Davin as they began to walk toward Green Street and the commercial strip near the university. “Let us know if you find any ghosts. I won’t wait up for you.”
“Jerks,” Mike mumbled as his friends blended into the stream of students on the sidewalk.
“Let them go,” Aurelia said reassuringly. “They need a break. Besides, you know them. They’ll only screw around. We’ll never find anything paranormal with Emmet there.”
“We’ll never find any ghosts, anyway,” Mike added. He turned toward the gleaming white pillars of the English Building and began walking toward it, with Aurelia following close behind. A group of chatty Korean students exited the building. One of their over-stuffed book bags struck Mike in the side and he grunted. Aurelia laughed.
Inside, the hardwood floors creaked as the pair made their way to the stairwell. Mike and Aurelia pushed past another group of students who congregated at the bottom of the stairs, and after several minutes they stood on the deserted second floor.
“I think the graduate offices are here, and where the student allegedly committed suicide,” Mike explained. “The former rhetoric room played a role in the story, but I’m not sure which room used to be the rhetoric room.”
“Maybe we should ask someone,” Aurelia suggested.
“Nah,” Mike said. “Where’s the fun in that? We’ll just find it the old fashioned way.”
Aurelia grinned. “Is that where we don’t find anything?”
Mike ignored her comment and pulled a crystal pendulum from his pocket. He held the tip of the string and dangled the crystal several feet from the floor. It slowly began to spin in a clockwise motion. “Hm,” Mike said, “I’m picking up a faint trace of energy. What about you, do you sense anything?”
Aurelia closed her eyes and stood still for a few moments. Suddenly, her face began to register emotion. Her eyes jolted open. “The ghost is close by,” she whispered. “The girl, I mean. I can feel her pain. I think she feels guilty about whatever happened.”
“Are you sure?” Mike asked, but the pained look on his friend’s face answered his question.
Voices from down the hallway interrupted them and Mike pocketed the crystal. Moments later, a student and a professor left an office and walked in their direction. Mike and Aurelia nodded as the two passed.
Mike waited until he no longer heard footsteps and then whispered, “Which way?”
Aurelia pointed in the direction from which the student and professor had just come. The hallway pulsed and faded like a mirage. The dim, florescent lights flickered.
Mike swallowed hard. As he cautiously walked down the hall, the crystal—already jolted by his movement—spun out of control.
The two had not traveled more than a few yards before Aurelia stopped dead in her tracks. “Oh, crap,” she gasped seconds before the fliers and newspaper articles loosely taped to the office doors rustled and then tore free. The lights went dead for a moment and something hurled Mike against the wall. As his rear hit the hardwood floor, the lights returned to normal and the fliers fluttered slowly to the ground.
A middle-aged lady with thick glasses peaked out of her doorway. “Wow, that was some breeze!” she exclaimed. “Did someone open a window?”
“I don’t know,” Mike groaned as he tried to stand.
The lady shrugged and disappeared back into her office.
Aurelia grabbed Mike’s hand and hoisted him to his feet. “I tried to warn you,” she said, “but it happened too fast.”
“It’s okay,” Mike assured her. “At least we know something is here.”
“I think the ghost knows that we know she’s here,” Aurelia whispered. “She doesn’t seem happy about it.”
“She’ll probably move to a different floor now. Should we track her down?”
“What are we going to do if we find her again,” Aura inquired with a grin, “ask her to fill out a survey? You’re just going to make her mad.”
“We came all this way, we might as well introduce ourselves,” Mike replied. He determinedly wrapped the crystal pendulum’s black cord around his fingers and balled his hand into a fist.
Aurelia shook her head, but followed Mike back to the stairwell. The third floor appeared more abandoned than the second. Soft light beamed into the hallway from the windows. Each window sat in an alcove and looked out over the courtyard. Each corridor featured a relic of the past—a desk, heater, or even an old storm window. The Fallen apprehensively checked each one.
As they neared a window toward the end of the row, Aurelia clutched Mike’s arm with a death grip that told him she had sensed something. Despite the uncomfortable warning, his heart still leaped in his throat as he turned the corner and came face-to-face with a woman. She was in her early twenties and dressed in a drab blouse and long, dark skirt. Her empty eyes burned with fear and despair. She opened her mouth to speak, but no sound escaped.
Mike blinked and the spirit vanished. “Crowley’s ass,” he stuttered. “Was that her?”
“I think so,” Aurelia whispered before taking a few deep breaths. “It’s sad, you know. So much has changed since she died. I don’t think she knows where she is anymore. I think we scared her as much as she scared us. She’s fallen, just like us. She doesn’t belong anywhere.”
“I wish we could do more to help, now that we know the ghost story is real,” Mike said. “Maybe when we finally open that astral gate, we’ll be able to enter her world and guide her home.”
“Maybe,” Aura replied, “but we still have to find it. I’m getting more certain by the day the portal we opened at Monk’s Castle last December was just a local portal, not the one we were looking for.”
“Me too,” Mike added. “But meanwhile, we need to go find Greg and the others. I could use a few drinks. They won’t believe what just happened…”
[New episode every Friday…]
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