By Chauncey Haworth
Johnny yawned as Mary prattled on about school history and the campus’s numerous bathrooms as she gripped a stack of books in front of her like a flotation device. He tried his best to pay attention, but Johnny’s short attention span made just about everything tedious and boring.
Johnny was there as a member of a band, Ivan Rocket and the Blackness Between the Stars. They were there to play a dance at the college. How that led to being toured across the campus by the school’s odd couple was news to him.
It wasn’t uncommon that people would read Johnny as “some-dumb-jock-bro.” While that was the world he grew up in, as well as the world that molded his mannerisms, it was not the world that defined his life. When Johnny was young, fitting in was important. His family was poor, his mom was sick and his dad had run off. Not the ideal for any growing American kid, but doubly so for Johnny. As a first generation American, Johnny was held to very high ideals of success. His mother, as a Japanese immigrant, not only had high expectations for her and Johnny, but was also held to high expectations herself by her adopted Christian community, expectations that she had already failed in being impregnated and abandoned by Johnny’s Father.
While Johnny found it difficult to fit in with the community’s families, his father did give him one advantage. His father was a very big man, naturally athletic, tall, and muscular, and in this way Johnny took after his father.
For a while he found it easier to move amongst his jock friends than his community, even if that meant putting up with the subtle racism and the sometimes-not-so-subtle racism. At least there he knew where he stood.
As the years went on his loyalties drove the wedge further. High school eventually ended and all of a sudden kids were no longer forced to be around one another. He found himself without a metaphorical home.
In high school, guitar was also something that Johnny picked up. At the time he figured it’d get him in with some girls. It did, but in the end he found himself tuning out and getting lost in the chords. He wasn’t particularly good, he knew that, but he liked the melodic and percussive repetition of power chords, there was something cathartic about it..
In his metaphorical homelessness he scoured coffee shops and bars, trying to play a little and never finding much. For a while, he had a bit of popularity with the band Las Víctimas Nuevas. On one Friday night at CHUDs Coffee, a member of the band broke a string on his only guitar in the middle of the show. To fill time, Johnny played and sang A New England to the bored audience. They watched for a minute, but it wasn’t long until all of them went to the bathroom, or ordered drinks, or played pool… almost all of them. A few rows back in the dark audience area were four people, all wearing black. Three standing, and in front, sitting in a chair, the fourth. Ivan Rocket.
And that is how Johnny left his band and joined Ivan Rocket and the Blackness Between the Stars. All it took was one statement and one question from Ivan himself. After the show Ivan and his ebony clad compatriots approached Johnny as he was packing up and Ivan said, “I love the way you ride those crispy power cords, such magic. You wouldn’t wanna come play with us would ya?” That night Johnny packed his stuff from the stage to the RV and across the country they went.
Every once in a while, as Mary droned on, Johnny would make eye contact with Gladys and feel a shiver. She had a look in her eyes like she loathed him, but she chewed her gum in a way that implied otherwise.
“And finally this is the library,” Mary said as the trio stopped in front of the marbled, collegiate monstrosity.
“Finally,” Gladys sighed, rolling her eyes and twisting a bit on one of her high heels, which Johnny was sure wasn’t regulation height.
Johnny checked his discomfort, reminding himself he was several years older and should probably act like it. He turned to Gladys and said, “Well, Hell-on-Heels, I’d expected you to be as interested in the library as I am?”
“I’m glad cuz it’s the end you dolt,” She answered, the disdain in her voice as loud as the constant smacking of gum.
“I am a dolt,” Johnny agreed then turned to Mary. “In that case, I’m with Gladys, no offense. This has been nice and all but I’ll need to get some practice done.” The odd phrasing punctuating that he was lying.
Mary didn’t notice the lie. “None taken, but we aren’t quite done yet. There’s still this.” From under her tower of books, Mary pulled a large card back flyer and handed it to him. “It’s the dance this evening followed by the bonfire. We hope you guys will all be there. we were hoping you could play something at the bonfire after?”
“I’m sure that we can oblige. That is what we’re paid for,” Johnny said taking the flyer from her. He looked at it. In big letters, it said the word “Pyram.” The flyer was modern and obviously designed by a first year graphic design student. It had all the bells and whistles, bold lettering, poppy color contrasts, and Johnny? Johnny was a little shocked. Was it a man playing with fire in one picture? In the other, what Johnny was sure might have been a naked woman.
“What is Pyram?” Johnny asked.
“It’s Latin for Bonfire.” Mary answered with unreasonable pep.
“Well it looks like a lot of fun,” Johnny said with a skeptical tone verging on sarcasm.
“We better get back, would you like to walk with us?” Mary asked, changing the subject.
“Oh um, no,” Johnny said, wanting to get away from the snooze-fest as fast as possible. “Maybe I’ll step into the library here and use one of those awesome restrooms you told me about on the tour.” He gave them a wink and strolled off to the front entrance, immediately breaking into a whistle as he did. The two girls watched him as we went, their expressions unchanged.
Reaching the entrance, Johnny threw the door open to freedom from his capture while literally whistling dixie. As the massive metal and glass door came slamming shut with a high squeak and a crash he made eye contact with the librarian. Her piercing, laser eyes burning whatever scarlet letter represents agitator into his forehead. Probably an “R” for Rebel, Johnny thought.
She was a gaunt, pale older woman. One of those old ladies that one might still use a word like ‘marm to describe. She wore a black polyester knee length skirtsuit atop stereotypical black-buckled puritan shoes. With her glare unbroken, she brought up two fingers and pointed at her own eyes, and then at him. Johnny put his hands up and smiled in apology.
Beyond the librarian’s main desk was the massive reading floor of with scores of desks. At each desk sat a student holding a book, but none were reading, they were just all looking at him. Johnny alternated between mouthing and whispering the word “Sorry” as he slinked off to the side and down a row of books.
Johnny wandered the stacks looking for the restroom, or even an exit at this point, nothing more natural than pissing outside. At the end of a particularly long row of books he turned to see yet another long row of books. The further he delved into the stacks, the dimmer and less natural the light became, the gabled roof of the library pinching the atmosphere in closer and closer at the edges. He stopped, turning front, then back, then front again, not able to make up his mind to go forward or to head back at this point. He wasn’t dying to ask the bookworms up front for help, but nature called and he really needed to answer that call.
“Fuck,” he said out loud to himself as the sound cut though the silence, echoless, it’s reverberations absorbed by the varied surfaces of endless books.
What felt like a drip of freezing cold water ran down the ridge of his back as he heard the silence respond with an angry shush sound.
“Oh, hell no,” Johnny either said aloud or thought to himself, he wasn’t sure. He looked back the way he came, back toward the entrance, toward the students, toward the librarian. “Are you there?” He asked the silence. Again, he was audibly shushed by the nothingness.
“And, I’m out,” He thought, as the moment decided for him to move, and move quickly away from the shushing. He picked up his pace down the halls, through the stacks, weaving through books. The shelving, once perfectly organized, slowly gave way to haphazardly stacked books, sideways on shelves, the halls becoming more and more littered with taller and taller piles of books, piles on shelves and on the floor. Behind he thought he heard footsteps. He ran. He ran in a panic, half looking back, half not wanting to look forward.
He finally stopped himself at a four way intersection. Behind him, the garbled stacks and piles of tattered books, to his right another row that quickly slipped into darkness, ahead of him more of the same, and to his left, a long hallway.
The hallway was empty of books and of doors, just a tiled floor, institutional walls and lighting. Far away, at the end was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, at least recently. At the end was a glowing, pearlescent sign that read “Restrooms.”
Johnny’s sight went black with fear, or maybe white, like the contrast-grey of a television as the power shuts down. He stumbled back landing on his ass and hands, the stinging pain to his tailbone giving him the extra burst of adrenaline his body needed to see clearly again. As the world returned to his mind’s broadcast he quickly remembered his situation. His eyes darted to the shadow behind the door. There was nothing there.
The lights in the hall flickered creating pockets of shadow along it’s walls and corners. Johnny’s adrenaline-fueled tunnel vision created a stark vignette, zeroing in his sight to the corner where he had seen the reflective eyes.
His hands inched back, his feet pushed him back, and he repeated. Inch by inch he started scooting back down the hall, back the way he came, toward the exit sign. Each slide stinging his probably bruised coccyx.
With a heavy compression the silence was drowned out by the buzz of the fluorescent lights and the white noise of the room, but in it, in the silent din he could hear scratching. He looked at the corner and quickly found his focus pulled back to where he saw the eyes, but the scratching, the scratching was closer now. He looked to the other corner, he looked to the closed bathroom door. He saw nothing as his focus darted between shadow pockets and the black shadow at the back where the initial sighting occurred.
As the light flickered more and more, the strobe of the quick change from light do dark started to burn the light spots into his vision. A black corner line across the ceiling and walls where they met, same with the floor. A flickering bulb above him leaving an almost paisley shape of light engulfing him and his feet, the paisley light tail swooping out in front of him. And again that scratching noise. He used his feet as a focal point. Every time the light would flicker he would survey a different shadow, then return focus to his feet and push back another inch, mitigating the panic of fight and flight, a second to look for danger, a second to move away.
The left wall corner, back to his feet, the right wall corner, back to the light on his feet, the back wall, his feet, the door, and his feet, but they were different. His feet were no longer in the light, there was a shadow cast upon them.
Instinctively he pushed his legs out sending him sliding across the tile floor as the librarian dropped from the ceiling landing on the ground with a cracking sound as her nobbed, blackened knees knocked together.
She stood there, looking at him. She looked confused, partially trembling, her body looking like a ragdoll with a stick in it’s ass, like a dead person in a coat, both of which had been hung on a coat rack.
She started to walk toward him, her face still confused, but her black reflective eyes looking right at him, her eyes almost appearing to plead with him to help her, but her teeth and jaw were grinding back and forth, the sound of her teeth grinding cutting his ears like nails on a chalkboard. Her veins bulged and pulsated as she walked toward him, her once freckled white skin tainted by and engulfed in veins that flushed from red to black. She was silent other than the grinding of her teeth and the occasional knock of her knees and crack of her bones.
Johnny started to crab-walk backward in a panic, stumbling back to his ass as he went. The librarian moved toward him. She seemed to be in a struggle, as if half of her body wanted to move one way and the other half wanted to move another. Johnny wanted to believe that the woman was in there somewhere, struggling to gain control, struggling to free herself, struggling to not hurt him, but he couldn’t believe that. The look of confusion had been replaced with a look of terrifying joy. While it did appear that she had two faces struggling for control, each moment a different face won the battle for control, each had its own grimace of happiness; happiness that it was going to get Johnny.
Luck? Adrenaline? A strong constitution? What ever it was, Johnny got to his feet and ran. He ran down the hall, faster than he’d ever run before.
There was a lot of talk on the campus that day and the days that followed. Talk of the band that had come to the college to play, talk of the weird band members. Talk of strange happenings behind closed doors, questionings as to if Pyram had ever taken place before… and on top of that, there was the hilarious story about the weird, loud guy in all black that went screaming though the library claiming to have seen a “fucking monster.”