In the quiet of the library, the whispering grew louder.
Harper slammed the book shut. Resting her head on her hands, she leaned against the book, the ornate cover digging into the elbows as she held it closed. Reading a book one had to close every few minutes was proving to be a hindrance to her research. The way the book spat out bookmarks was also unhelpful.
As the whispering subsided, Harper cracked open the book and cocked her head.
She opened the book the rest of the way and resumed her reading.
A distant susurration disturbed the still air.
Too soon. They were getting faster. Or maybe they never really left. Harper closed the book again; the risk was too great. Her research would have to wait.
After placing her book back on the shelf, Harper shouldered her satchel with a slight grunt. Her footsteps barely made any noise as she made her way out of the stacks. As she left the University library, Harper gave a wave to the tired-looking desk clerk, then she emerged into the cool night air. A light spray of rain bounced harmlessly off her umbrella as she walked to the bus stop.
White and red lights zoomed past, the black cars themselves almost invisible in the dark. Their wheels tossed up dirt and water from the damp street. The sound of tires on wet tarmac reminded Harper of the distant voices of the book. As another car whizzed past, she shook herself. A young woman alone at night should not get caught up in daydreaming.
When Harper reached the bus stop, she sat on the cold, metal bench and checked her watch. Still about half an hour to wait. Another car flashed by but this time the light lingered, a single white globe hovering in the middle of the road. It bobbed up and down slowly in the wind, unfazed by the increasing rain.
A battered cyclist sped past, his wheels creaking in protest. The globe swung violently, shrieking in reply. As the cyclist disappeared into the dark, the light resumed its slow bob but the creaking remained as if it swung from an antique chain.
Harper closed her eyes, adjusting her Sight. When she re-opened her eyes, she beheld the wispy outline of a small figure standing in the center of the road. It glistened softly in the lamplight, its bright eyes glittering. In one hand it held its lantern aloft, with the other it beckoned Harper closer.
Another car passed at speed, but the creature did not move. The car passed straight through it. IT smiled at Harper and beckoned again. She stood, her umbrella forgotten even as she stepped out of the meager sanctuary offered by the bus stop. Another car passed, the sloosh of its tires mixing with the rising wind.
This time the whispering she heard was more than the sound of the rain.
We’re behind you.
Harper glanced around but she could see nothing through the dark and rain.
No matter which way she turned, the voices taunted her, always hidden from her Sight. The figure caught Harper’s eye and it gestured again. Harper stepped forward involuntarily.
Off the curb.
When Harper reached the dusky figure is backed away, never breaking eye contact, beckoning her forward again. The ferocity of the rain drench Harper but she made no move to shield herself.
The voices still called.
Water thick with human detritus careened down the gutter, engulfing Harper’s shoes.
Harper stepped up, her legs moving on autopilot, her mind lost in the dream. Rain plastered her hair to her face, dripping onto her cheeks like forgotten tears.
Be with us.
Don’t look back.
Harper stepped onto water-clogged grass. High above, trees moaned and swayed.
The figure paused, its lantern the only lamination. It twisted its head, this way and that as if listening intently.
Words drifted to Harper, hidden in the howl of the wind. The lamp-bearer beckoned again and Harper took another step.
Harper dropped her bag as she walked forward, her belongings spilling out into the pooling mud.
She walked on, not heeding her blurred, dissolving notes. The light ahead winked out.
Her foot struck something solid and Harper paused.
As if in a trance, Harper lifted her foot.
We will love you.
We will keep you.
We will consume you.
Harper paused again, an internal battle waging as her foot hung, heavy and uncertain, caught between one step and the next.
Harper put her foot down.
The wind screamed through the trees all but drowning out a triumphant whisper.
The words clawed behind Harper’s eyes like rusty nails and her Sight blazed.
She took a step back.
As she dashed past, Harper scooped up her bag, barely paused to snatch up her scattered notes. She reached the bus stop just before her bus rolled up. She fumbled for her pass, ignoring the driver’s disbelieving look, then collapsed into a seat. It was only then she realised she had lost a shoe somewhere in the mud. Harper checked through her bag; her notes were ruined. Not a single word remained intact. Maybe it was for the best.
Far behind, one last voice whispered on the dying wind.
Next time, Harper……