The lights were low and the smoke swirled round the room in a lazy arc, drawn toward the window. Being unseasonably warm, Jack had cracked the window slightly, which helped dissipate the cloying fumes of the sandalwood incense. Three sticks burned in the dragon shaped holder on Ray’s desk. Personally, I think three was a bit of overkill.
Four loud bangs shook the door. “RA, open up!” Mike Harmon, our Resident Assistant was on the prowl.
“It’s open,” Jack called back.
Mike rushed in, eyes flicking around the room at the three of us in search of any sudden moves to hide contraband, nose twitching, searching for the tell tale odor of pot. He waved a hand in front of his face and coughed. “God, almighty, what are you guys burning?”
“Incense,” Ray answered.
“It reeks. Open the window for crying out loud.”
“It is open,” Jack pointed out.
“You can’t burn incense in the dorm,” Mike informed us. “It’s a fire hazard, and…” he sniffed around again, “You guys weren’t smoking dope, were you?”
We all denied it almost in unison.
“Well snuff the incense, and open the frigging windows.”
As Ray begrudgingly dumped the three joss sticks into a nearly empty soda can I moved to open both the windows wide and stuck my head outside to suck in some fresh air. I have never been happier to get busted by the RA.
“So, why the mood lights?” Mike asked.
“Oh, we’re telling ghost stories. You know, that time of year,” Jack said.
“Oh yeah?” Mike’s face lit up. He kicked a chair around to sit down. “Cool. Have you heard about the zombies of Creighton Hall?”
We just returned him blank looks. I shook my head, no.
He leaned back and grinned.
Mike rocked back on the hind legs of the chair until it settled against the wall. There was a mischievous look on his face. “I thought everyone knew about them. That’s why no one,” he strongly emphasized no one, “goes into Creighton Hall after dark.”
“Oh really?” I asked in a snide voice. “I thought it was because it is the Admin building and they close at 5:30.”
Mike shot me a sharp glance. “There are two full-sized lecture halls in Creighton,” he countered. “Ever heard of them being used at night? Even for finals? No. Why do you think we have Saturday finals? Not enough lecture hall space for all of ‘em. But those two just go empty. Think about it, Kenny. No, the reason no one goes into Creighton Hall at night is because zombies come up from the cellars at night. About ten years ago one of the administrative assistants worked late, and they found her dead the next day. Something, or someone, ate her brain.”
Two days later Ray came back to our room with some interesting news. He had poked around and found out that ten years ago a woman named Janice Murray had indeed died in Creighton Hall at night.
“So?” I asked.
“So, ya think Mike might be telling the truth?” Ray asked me earnestly.
“Zombies? Ray, get serious. There are no such things as Zombies, and they sure as Hell don’t hang out in Creighton Hall.”
“Then why don’t they use the lecture halls for finals?” Ray asked.
“You have got to be kidding me. OK listen, we’ll prove Mike wrong. We’ll prove there are no Zombies in Creighton Hall.”
“How we going to do that?” he asked.
“We’ll stake it out,” I said. “We’ll be Kenny and Ray – Myth Busters. Bring your HD camcorder so we can prove it.”
So it was on a Friday night, just three days before Halloween, Ray and I found ourselves scaring the shit out of each other nearly every fifteen minutes.
“What was that!” Ray struggled to keep his voice low.
We hid in Room 105, one of the two underutilized lecture halls. We had staked it out earlier, pretending to study. Then as 5:30 approached we simply slid down to the floor. At some point someone, perhaps a guard, stuck their head into the room and called out, “Everybody out, locking up soon.” There was a brief moment of silence before he flicked the lights off and the door closed with a very final sounding thud.
It wasn’t long after that when the strange noises started.
They were easy enough to explain at first, slight clicking and popping sounds one would expect from an old building as it settled in for the night. Heating systems ticking as they cooled down. The sound of the clock at the front of the room exaggerated in the now silent building. Then there was an odd rattling sound. Ray, eyes big as saucers, grabbed me by the wrist. “What was that?”
“I don’t know. Be quiet, or the guard will hear.” I pried his hand from my arm.
“There is no guard,” Ray said. “Mike told me that they don’t even let the guards in here at night.”
Then there was an odd sound, like a round piece of metal spiraling down to the ground.
“What was that?”
I moved my arm before he could grab it.
“I don’t know. Somebody knocked over a… It’s nothing. Come on.” I stood up.
“Where are you going?” Ray asked.
“We need to explore, film the empty building, prove there is nothing out there. Got your Sony?”
Ray gulped and produced his camcorder. Just as he was about to rise we heard steps outside the door – clump, ca-lump, clump, ca-lump, like someone with a limp. I dropped back down next to Ray, my own eyes probably as big as his.
Clump, ca-lump. Clump, ca-lump. The steps got closer. Then the door creaked open. We looked at each other in sheer panic.
There was a low moan. Then a bright light hit me square in the face. We both screamed.
“What are you two doing in here?” The old guard held the beam of his Maglight on us. He took a few steps toward us: clump, ca-lump.
We both rose, hands in the air. “Ah, we were studying and sort of fell asleep…”
“Right there on the floor, huh?” He shook his head in obvious disbelief. “Two more Frosh that fell for the Zombies of Creighton Hall story, more like it. Come on down, I don’t feel like climbing all them steps to you. I ought to write you up. Come on, I’ll escort you out.”
Sheep-faced, we came on down, stepping in the pool of his flashlight. He checked our IDs and told us never to pull a stunt like that again. He directed us from behind as he walked us out. As we neared the door the clump, ca-lump, clump, ca-lump of his tread became more and more pronounced. We turned to see the now slack-faced guard stiffly raise his arms toward us as he moaned, “Brains.”
We both let out a yelp and bolted for the door. When we looked back the guard was nearly doubled over in a fit of laughter. He tossed us a friendly wave as he turned back into the darkened hall to continue his rounds.
© 2012 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.
Photo: Atchison, Kansas Restoration by Patricia D. Duncan, via the National Archives, no known restrictions.