[Mysteriousheartland.com] The Fallen loitered on a bridge over College Avenue just outside the Bone Student Center eating ice cream. Young men and women in their early twenties strolled past, unaware of the five interlopers. “I love universities,” Mike said between scoops of mint chocolate chip. “So many young minds, all eager to absorb knowledge.”
“What universe do you live in?” Davin retorted. “When we were at college, the only skill anyone learned was how to play beer pong and build a tolerance for various substances.”
“That’s probably why they kicked you out,” Aurelia said with a snort. With back arched and arms folded across her black blouse, she stood apart from her surroundings. The passing crowd, clad in bright pinks, blues, and yellows; chatty with beaming smiles, made her acutely aware she did not fit in.
Davin became visibly agitated. “I dropped out, with Greg, to join you guys, remember? It hasn’t helped my social life or my job prospects—or my health, for that matter.”
Greg looked like he was about to respond, but Emmet cut him off. Emmet was a head taller than the others. He wore a Cubs baseball cap, jeans, and a black Green Carnation hoodie. “Not to bring up something relevant, but what are we doing here?”
“We’re eating ice cream,” Greg replied.
Mike cleared his throat. “We’re here to find a book. It’s an English translation of a manuscript written by French missionaries about the religious practices of the Illini Indians. It contains detailed rituals. As far as I know, there’s only one copy and it’s here in the archives.”
“I suppose there’s some ghost story you want to check out too?”
Mike smiled. “Of course.” Motioning to the others to follow, he finished his last scoop of ice cream, strolled over to the garbage bin, and tossed in the empty container. “But our primary goal is to secure this book. I’m looking forward to reading it—and not just because it might save our lives. The subject fascinates me. Algonquin religion was Manichean,” he started to explain.
“English, please,” Aurelia interrupted.
“Manichean means they believed good and evil equally divided the world. Those spirits, or manitou, are all around us, living in every rock and living creature.”
“Sounds just as crazy as every other religion,” Emmet scoffed.
“Have a little faith,” Mike said. He knew the phrase would get under his friend’s skin. If he succeeded, Emmet gave no reaction.
The Fallen walked through the quad, past Moulton and Hovey halls, until they came to the red brick, neo-Georgian façade of Williams Hall.
“Let’s make this painless,” Mike said. “There’s no reason we can’t just get this book and spend the rest of the evening relaxing at a bar.” He swung the door open and the quintet climbed the winding stairs to the third floor, pushing their way through crowds of students. Finally, they came to a glass door that marked the entrance to the university archive. Beyond it was a large desk. A lanky, freckle-faced young man sat behind the desk, staring at a flat screen computer monitor.
Mike cleared his throat. “Excuse me,” he said. “Excuse me.”
The young man looked up, disinterested. “Yes?”
Mike placed his hands flat on the counter and leaned forward. “I was hoping you could help me find a book. It’s a book of American Indian rituals. I’m not sure who the author is. It would be one of the oldest books in your collection.”
Fingers pecked at a keyboard, and the freckly young man became annoyed. “Can you be any more specific?” he snapped, but did not wait for an answer. More pecking, and then, “I think I found it. Can I have your ID?”
“My what?” Mike asked, feigning innocence.
“Your student ID? You are a student here, aren’t you?”
Greg stepped up to the desk. “We don’t have an ‘ID,’” he said, “but Alexander Hamilton has an ID.” He rubbed his thumb and index finger together.
“Who’s Alexander Hamilton?”
“What my friend is saying,” Mike explained, “is that we would be willing to pay you, if you simply allowed us to photocopy some pages.”
“Sorry, I can’t,” the student said. “It’s archive policy.” His eyes returned to the computer screen.
Temporarily defeated, the Fallen went back into the stairwell to regroup. “Ok, that didn’t go as planned,” Mike whispered.
“We need someone to seduce that guy,” Greg suggested. “He looks like he hasn’t gotten laid in… ever.” He hesitated. “Now which one of us could do that?”
All eyes fell on Aurelia, and then immediately found the floor, the ceiling, or any other place to look. “Any other ideas?” Greg asked.
“Humph!” Aurelia exclaimed, offended by both the suggestion and by her friends’ immediate rejection of it. Her voice echoed far down the corridor.
“Maybe we should just go home,” Davin said.
Mike looked around the hallway and through the glass window into the archive. The third floor was under construction, and the ceiling had a hole where a security camera would normally have been. “I have an idea. Greg, do you have any rope?”
“Why do you carry rope around with you?” Emmet asked, but was not sure if he wanted to hear the answer.
Greg smiled and pulled cord from the cargo pocket on his tattered, green shorts. “You never know when it’s going to come in handy.”
Determined, the Fallen marched back into the archive. Mike, Emmet, Davin, and Aurelia formed a wall in front of the desk, blocking it from view. Without warning, Greg climbed over the desk and tackled the unsuspecting grad assistant. Pens and paper clips flew, but after a few moments, he had the young man tied up next to his chair, with a sock stuffed in his mouth. “Sorry, buddy,” he said. “It’s nothing personal. We just need that book.”
Mike spun the computer monitor around and conducted a quick search. “Ok, I found it,” he said and wrote down the book’s call number. “Emmet and Davin, come with me. Aura, if anyone asks, tell them the guy is helping you find a book and won’t be back for at least 15 minutes.”
Mike, Emmet, and Davin raced around the desk and into the archive. The space between the shelves was tight, and a distinct smell clung to the air despite the room’s regulated temperature. An exhaust fan rattled in the background. Mike glanced at the piece of paper in his hand and back up at the numbers written or printed on the book bindings. “It’s around here somewhere,” he whispered.
Without warning, Davin—who was walking behind Mike and Emmet—plunged into their backs. The trio stumbled forward, but remained on their feet.
“Watch where you’re going!” Emmet snapped, but a confused look on Davin’s face greeted his rebuke.
“I think something pushed me,” Davin said.
Mike never took his eyes off the shelves. Excited, he stopped and ran his hand along the spines of the books on the second shelf down from the top of the bookcase. His fingers stopped. “This is it!” As he removed the box that contained the centuries-old volume, however, several books fell from the top shelf and struck his head and shoulder. He jerked back in pain and surprise.
“I have a feeling we should get out of here,” Davin suggested. The hairs stood up on the back of his neck. His voice shook and he edged slowly backward.
“I agree,” Mike said, nursing a goose egg growing on his forehead. He shoved the book under his arm and followed his friends toward the exit.
“Remember when we get outside, we’re just students like everyone else. Don’t do anything suspicious.”
Emmet grinned. “Oh, you mean like dress all in black and burst into the university archive like we’re in the friggen Matrix?”
Outside in the foyer, Greg finished untying the office assistant and told him it would be in his best interest to forget about what just happened. Mike signaled to Aurelia, and in another moment the Fallen were heading down the stairs.
“We’re one step closer to finishing this,” Mike said as the group strolled across the campus of Illinois State University toward the parking lot. “Let’s hope our luck holds out.”
“Luck?” Greg parroted. “Please. We’re just that good. We’ll be back in New Orleans before you know it, and it’ll be just like old times…”
[New episode every Friday…]
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