Will You Be My Friend
by Leanne Fitzpatrick
Ricky looked up as lights started to go flicker off and stared at the dark sky outside the window. For a moment his mind was blank as his gaze travelled slowly from the window to the books laid out on the desk around him. He blinked and then, thoughts caught up to reality and his eyes widened.
“Oh shit!” he cursed, but quietly. Despite the lateness of the hour, he was in a library.
He scrambled to gather the books and papers, shoving them haphazardly into his backpack. At least he’d had the forethought to check them out- although saying that, wasn’t the librarian supposed to check the place was empty before locking up? It wasn’t even as if he’d been tucked away in a corner. He was in the main foyer. Why hadn’t anyone woken him up? Why had his friends just left him there?
He could imagine them leaving him for a couple of hours as a joke, but leaving him until three in the morning?
A shiver ran up his spine as he grabbed his jacket, swung the backpack over his shoulder and headed for the doors, dreading the thought of finding them locked. He didn’t relish the thought of spending the night on one of the battered ‘character’ sofas. Student diets- especially amongst the hippy kids that frequented that area- left a pungent aroma not even fabric spray could fully eradicate.
The library door opened easily and he breathed a sigh of relief, turning towards the stairwell. Security cameras followed his movements, but no security officer came looking for him- and that was weird too. The university had made a big fuss about hiring security after several other students had gone missing last term.
The lift didn’t work, and he groaned, turning to face the stairs. Seven floors of steps wasn’t his idea of getting out of the place quickly, but there was nothing for it. He set off down the steps, wincing every time his right foot landed, still tender after coming out of its cast a few days prior.
At the main entrance the security guard station was empty. A cold chill once more ran up his spine as he leaned over to look at the monitor. Maybe they were doing their round? Was that a thing security always did? Had films at least been accurate in portraying that?
The monitor was static snow. He frowned, smacked the top of the screen and watched the picture flicker only slightly, not even enough to create a fully formed image before it went back to grey snow.
“Hello?” he called out, readjusting the strap across his shoulder as he looked around.
Everything was silent. He could feel his body reacting- adrenaline starting to pump around his blood stream. He’d never realised just how big the place was, how much it echoed. He tried the main doors. Locked, not even scanning his student card opened them up, the little red light on the scanner almost seeming to mock him.
“Hello! Is there anyone around?”
He tried the monitor again, but the static fizzled over the screen in its own merry way.
He ran a hand through his hair, debating with himself before finally heading down the corridor. If he had to search the whole building to find someone to let him out, he would.
He was sure hours had passed. The building was huge and sprawling, multi-floored and none of the lifts were working. His leg was aching- a dull throb that he knew meant he’d been on it too long, and yet when he pushed through the double door into the glass corridor that connected the art department to the rest of the building, the moon had barely shifted. He checked his watch, which still said it was nine. Even his phone seemed frozen, clearly displaying the time as nine-oh-one. The dread and panic he’d been pushing down into the deepest pit of his stomach coiled. It was later than that. It had to be. His perception of time wasn’t that out of whack, was it?
He turned back to the art department, and his breath caught in his throat as a shadow that wasn’t his moved.
“Hey!” he called out, pushing through the second set of double doors. “Hey, you there? I fell asleep in the library and can’t get out-”
Silence greeted him. He looked around. There was no sign of the security guard he was sure had been here. Maybe in one of the classrooms?
He set off again, giving a wide birth to the statues that were dotted around the foyer. Not only did he not want to break them, but in the cold light of the moon there was something almost sinister about them.
He’d grown up with stories about the soft and shifting light of the moon and now, as he glanced up at a half formed figure on a pedestal, the shifting shadows and pearlescent translucence of the marble seemed to give the malformed face a light and life of its own. The eyes seemed to follow him wherever he went, and he could feel every hair on the back of his neck prickling with the feeling of being watched.
This time when he called out for the security guard, his voice was barely a whisper- almost as if he were afraid to draw the attention of something else. Something… Other.
He peered into a classroom, saw no security guard and let out a small huff of exasperation, pulling back.
From the corner of his eye he saw something move. He paused, gut clenching and stared in the direction of the movement. There was nothing there but a clay carving of a little girl reading a book.
He turned away, and from the corner of his eye he again saw something move.
When he snapped his head back, the statue was still. His scalp prickled. The statue was still, but something was off about it. He sucked in a deep breath, and tasted the pottery dust on the air. He looked away, and this time, when he saw movement, he kept staring ahead, watching from the corner of his eye, breaking out in a cold sweat and almost praying that it was just his eyes playing tricks as some essence inside the clay put its finger on the place in the book and turned its head to watch him, smiling gleefully.
He felt the scream building, and almost choked as he tried to swallow it back down. He pulled out of the classroom, not daring to look at the rest of the statues in the foyer.
It was too late. Even if he stared at the floor her knew they were moving, that there was something other than cold marble or dried clay in there with him.
He didn’t bother with the other classrooms. Instead he headed right for the double doors and the main part of the building.
His hand smacked against the glass and he pulled up short, grabbing the handle and rattling the door. Locked- why now?
He looked up. There, in the glass corridor the security guard was walking away, keys swinging in in the air.
“Hey!” he called, pounding the door. The security guard ignored him, whistling and slipping through the other doors before turning to lock them.
“Hey! Let me out! Hey!”
His fists thundered against the glass as he shouted, desperately trying to grab the guard’s attention.
“Have you come to be my new friend?” a childlike voice asked. He froze, not wanting to acknowledge that he heard it, that she was right behind him.
He pounded on the door again, screaming for the security guard to come back.
“He can’t hear you,” she murmured. “Or see you. You’re in my time now.”
He leaned his head against the door.
“You aren’t real,” he murmured. “This is just my mind playing tricks on me.”
“That’s rude. The others were rude too- but they soon wanted to be my friend.”
Ice crept through his hand and he felt the subtle pressure of clay that wasn’t quite their on his fingers as she slipped her barely corporeal hand into his.
He wanted to jerk away, to pound on the door again, but he could already feel this thoughts becoming sluggish.
“You can leave your bag and coat here,” she said at last. “You won’t need them.”
Unthinkingly, he let his bag slip off his shoulder and dropped them by his feet. The library books made a loud thud, and for a moment his interest was piqued before the cold soothing flatness of thoughtlessness took over again.
“My name’s Annabelle,” she said quietly, “and I’ve been here a long time. What’s your name?”
“Ricky,” he murmured.
“Hello Ricky. I’ve never had a black friend before. Would you like to come and see the others?”
He pulled away from the door, nodding slightly. He turned his face down to look at her, ghostly and pearlescent, like marble but not. The moonlight filtered through her, giving form to something that wasn’t there.
Her hand tightened around his fingers and she tugged.
“Come on. They’ll all be so excited to meet you.”
He let her pull him back towards the pottery department.
This time he didn’t look away from the figures inside the statues.
“Ignore these ones,” she murmured. “These aren’t my friends. Not anymore.”
He glanced at one- a mock roman figure of an emperor’s bust. The face that looked back at him was a young woman; hair pinned back in a style so old he barely recognised it. There was pity in her gaze, and her mouth formed words he couldn’t quite hear.
Run she seemed to say. Please, run.
“Here we are,” the girl murmured, voice coming from nowhere and everywhere. Was it in his head? Did he hear her voice? He couldn’t quite be sure.
It had once been a classroom. Now it was filled with old tables, stacked chairs and, more importantly, more little statues- the test runs. Everything perfectly formed in miniature, and in them he recognised the missing students from the previous term. In others there were people dressed oddly, all young, all his age, but souls out of time, trapped in this single room.
“These are my friends,” the little girl said, and he saw the quickly hidden fear and hate in their eyes. “Friends, this is Ricky. He’s come to live with us.”
They all turned to face him, and in their eyes he saw the same pleading as the woman outside.
It hit him right in the solar plexus and he swallowed.
“This is going to be your new home, Ricky,” the girl said.
Something inside him snapped and he snatched his hand out of hers, backing away.
He shook his head, backing away then turned on his heel and ran.
“You can’t leave Ricky!” the little girl shouted. “The door is locked!”
He shuddered even as he slammed up against the doors, yanking on the handles.
“You’re being silly. Why are you always so silly when you come here? Don’t you want to be my friend?”
He spun round, staring at her. She was still standing at the other end of the corridor but he could feel her ire lashing out at him.
He glanced around, looking for something, anything. His gaze landed on the roman bust.
“Sorry,” he murmured, picking it up.
He heard the girl scream as he launched it at the glass door and the air whipped around him. He felt something sting his cheek and then felt the wetness of blood.
The bust shattered, but he didn’t care- the glass door had shattered with it and he launched himself at it, feeling the tiny grasp of cold fingers on his t-shirt.
Fear propelled him. He raised his arms to protect his face and threw himself through the door.
The glass exploded- hundreds of tiny cuts lacerating his arms.
Behind him there was a furious scream and for a moment he couldn’t breathe, trapped in a vacuum.
Glass crunched underfoot, his already weak leg gave out and his ankle rolled, sending him crashing to the ground. Glass ground into him. He didn’t care as he scrambled to get as far away as possible.
At the threshold of the corridor the little girl stood and screamed her fury at him, demanding and then pleading that he come back, then turning angry again when he crab walked backwards, away from the pottery department.
Blood poured out of his arms and cheeks. He ignored it, adrenaline washing out of him, leaving him cold and shaking as he backed up to the glass doors, curling up in the corner and trying to keep warm.
He stared at the little girl as she raged, pleaded and raged again until his vision became blurred and exhaustion clawed at him, dragging him into a fugue that he couldn’t rouse himself from.
He stayed there as time passed, his cuts clotting, the silence returning as she too stopped screaming and instead focussed on trying to exert her will over him. He could feel it in the back of his mind, her voice urging him to come back.
He sat there, grateful for the exhaustion that stopped him from moving when his own will failed and he wanted nothing more than to crawl on hands and knees back to her and beg her forgiveness.
Eventually he stopped seeing altogether. His eyes remained open, but his minds checked out so much so that he wasn’t even aware of the moon passing overhead, or the lightening of the sky as dawn approached. He didn’t even register the door unlocking behind him as sunlight streaked through the glass walls and the little girl started to cry.
“I just wanted a friend,” she wailed as the sunlight pierced through her. What moonlight had made so substantial, the sunlight destroyed and, still in his fugue, he watched her fade away. Even her presence in his mind faded, until there was a lightness he hadn’t realised he’d missed.
Behind him he felt a looming presence, but he didn’t move. He couldn’t move.
“Jesus Christ- hey kid- kid? You alright? What are you doing here?”
He heard the jangle of keys, the turning of a lock and cool air swirled around him as the door behind him opened.
“Holy shit, what the hell happened?”
“They move,” he murmured.
“Bloody hell, have you been here all night?”
Slowly he looked up, uncurling from his foetal position just enough to see the security guard.
“Are you real?”
“What? Of course I’m real- what the hell happened to you?”
“They move,” he said again, staring down the corridor. “She’s trapped them there and they can never leave.”
“Okay. Look, you can’t stay here, and you clearly need a hospital. Can you move?”
He thought about it, and then achingly slowly, joints creaking from being cramped up tight for so long, he crawled to his feet. He scraped the loose glass from his arms, adding more grazes to his palms and opening several cuts.
“Man, you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” the security guard murmured, eying the corridor and the shattered glass on the other end. “Come on. We’ll call your parents- they’re probably worried sick.”
Ricky nodded, and paused, pulling his phone from his pocket. He stared at the shattered screen. Even if someone had been trying to call him, there was no way he’d have been able to answer.
He was starting to shake again.
“Come on,” the security guard murmured. “We’ve got a first aid kit- we can try and clean up some of the scratches on your face, and we’ll get you a cup of tea while we wait for your parents. What’s your name, kid?”
“Ricky. Ricky Birch.”
“Okay then Ricky. Follow me.”