The screaming started when Kyra was halfway down the hall. She was surprised it had taken this long for things to escalate. She’d been listening to the constant bickering between the two freshmen moving into dorm room 1411 for nearly thirty minutes. Based on past experience, she’d known it was only a matter of time before things got violent.
Picking up her pace, she made it to the open door just as a ceramic figurine flew out and crashed into the opposite wall, missing her nose by inches. One of the resulting shards nicked her right cheek. The brief jab of pain made her temper rise.
“Hey!” she snapped out, rushing into the room and forcing herself between the two females, who were now grappling in an embarrassing display of cat-fighting. “Knock it off!”
It took two solid minutes before she managed to separate them. The fact that they held fistfuls of each other’s hair made it particularly challenging. She wondered where the hell the dorm monitor was and why all of the other girls just stood in the doorway with unhinged jaws. Eventually, she forced the roommates apart and managed to hold them at arm’s length.
She glowered at them. “Seriously? You two have to spend at least a full semester together. You need to get over yourselves and work this out.”
“She’s hoggin’ all the space!” whined the blonde with a nasally southern accent. “These rooms are small enough as it is. Why should she get extra space just ‘cause she claims she needs a mini fridge? No one else is allowed to have one.”
“I’m diabetic,” retorted the brunette with more calm than her red-faced roommate. “My insulin has to be refrigerated.”
Kyra shot a pointed look at the blonde, who had the grace to look down at the floor. “You’re complaining that someone with a life-threatening disease needs extra space to keep her medicines?”
The blonde sniffled, moving quickly from anger to tears. “I just really hoped to fit the storage chest Gran gave me before she died. The fridge makes it impossible.”
Glancing at the brunette, Kyra saw a softening of her expression. She realized the two girls hadn’t discussed the specifics of why space was an issue. They’d gone straight to arguing. It was a scenario Kyra had seen too many times to count in her two years in the dorms. Young freshmen, especially, were already so stressed out about the many changes in their lives that every little thing set them off. It made her feel ancient in comparison.
Lord, she wouldn’t miss this next year.
“I’m sorry that I’m taking up more room than my side allows, Savannah,” the brunette said in a quiet voice. “If I could change things…”
“We can change things,” Kyra said when the brunette drifted off. “We can change the room’s layout.”
Both girls looked at her. The blonde—Savannah—shook her head. “Dorm policy states that the room can’t be altered from the condition we find it in.”
“You’re right,” Kyra agreed. “But in situations like these where one roommate has a special condition requiring the room to be altered, changes can be made until both of you are satisfied.”
Savannah’s mouth opened. Hope lit her eyes. “You mean I might be able to fit Gran’s chest after all?”
“We’ll make sure of it.”
Crisis averted, the hallway outside the room soon cleared. Kyra put a hand on her chin and surveyed the room and its contents. After a short discussion with the roommates about any remaining items they intended to bring into the room, she started directing them on furniture placement. In less than thirty minutes, the room had been arranged in a way that fit both the refrigerator and the chest while leaving room to maneuver.
“Thanks, Kyra,” said the brunette, whose name Kyra had discovered was Patrice. “You’re a life saver.”
Smiling, Kyra shook her head. “Nah. I just don’t like seeing two smart females resorting to violence in an attempt to get their way.”
“We’ve learned our lesson,” Savannah said, leaning over and giving Patrice a one-armed hug. “From now on, we’ll talk things out.”
Kyra thought they just might. In fact, judging by the way they exchanged grins and the earlier plans she’d heard about using part of the mini fridge to store energy drinks, she thought they’d become life-long friends.
That made her think of her own freshman and sophomore roommate, Avana. Kyra was supposed to be going out with her and their mutual friend, Sam, tonight. Her eyes shifted to the single window in the room. She finally noticed that the sunlight was dimming into a deep pink color. Glancing at her watch, she realized she was running late.
“Sorry, you two,” she said. “I’ve got to go.”
“Oh, sure,” Patrice said. “Thanks again. Sorry we kept you.”
“Are you in one of the neighborin’ rooms?” Savannah asked.
“I was, but I’m moving out.”
Savannah’s face fell. “Bummer. Well, it was nice to meet you.”
“It really was,” Kyra said with a smile. “I’m sure we’ll see each other around campus. I start my junior year next semester.”
Both of the girls smiled back. “Yay!” Savannah cheered. “We’ll catch ya at a party or somethin’.”
Waving and giving a vague commitment to see them again soon, Kyra hurried back down the hall to her former dorm room. She hadn’t gone ten feet before she spotted the dorm monitor, Rachel Ferris, stepping off the elevator with a distinct post-coital glow. She wore a self-satisfied smile, an incorrectly buttoned short-sleeved top, and a mussed hairdo. The sight of her had Kyra narrowing her eyes even as she debated whether to talk to her at all. She’d be out of this dorm forever in a few more minutes. It wasn’t like she had to say something.
Her mother’s censuring voice rang in her head, making Kyra sigh. “Hey, Rachel,” she said, halting the other woman’s progress. “I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“What?” Rachel said, her smile fading. “Surely you can’t have another complaint about the way I monitor the floor. You’re leaving…aren’t you?”
Kyra could tell Rachel was worried she wasn’t about to get rid of the bane of her existence. While others may have turned a blind eye to Rachel’s blatant disregard for campus policies about appropriate dorm room activity, Kyra hadn’t been able to do so. How could the person responsible for upholding the rules disregard them and expect everyone else to respect her?
“While you were out,” Kyra said, not bothering to answer the question, “there was an incident in 1411.”
Rachel didn’t comment as Kyra walked through the basics of the altercation and ultimate resolution. Her posture stiffened, though, as she realized she had missed something significant that had been witnessed by most of the residents on the floor. Kyra knew she was considering what this might mean for her future as dorm monitor.
“Anyway, it’s all resolved now, but I thought you’d want to know why the room had been rearranged,” Kyra finished.
Rachel’s eyebrow lifted. “That’s it?”
“What do you mean?”
“You aren’t going to spend ten minutes lecturing me on how I should have been here instead of spending time with my fiancé? You’re not going to threaten to report me to the dean? You’re not going to storm off in a huff to vent to your weird roommate?”
Kyra fought a wince. Was it her fault that she was a responsible person and expected other people to be the same? Her mother chalked it up to her being an old soul. She only knew that she had no patience for people who skirted rules and obligations.
Offering a deliberate shrug, she finally said, “My not-weird roommate is probably waiting for me in the quad, and I think the other things can take a pass in light of the fact that I am, indeed, leaving. But Rachel, these girls are counting on you to guide them. Don’t let them down.”
Rachel’s eyes widened. She seemed about to say something, then just nodded.
Seeing she understood, Kyra nodded back and hurried on to the room she’d shared with Avana for the past two years. She’d offered to supervise the move-out that afternoon because Avana had to attend a family function. She wanted to do a thorough walk-through of the small space to make sure nothing was overlooked. When she reached the door, she paused in the threshold.
Scanning the nearly empty room, she wondered how she’d ever managed to fit her belongings into half of the tiny space. Hell, she hadn’t even really had half. Avana had all but taken over the room by freshman year’s end. It was a rather accurate reflection of their overall friendship, she couldn’t help but think in an affectionate way.
She eyed the small bed with the rock-hard mattress she’d slept on and pitied the poor soul who would inhabit it next. She’d suffered on that sucker for much too long, but she’d be living the apartment life as a junior. Her new job as an admissions assistant would finally allow her the freedom to live off-campus. Well, that and Avana’s agreement to room with her and split the rent. Unlike Kyra, Avana never had to worry about money. Her parents were made of it. She’d only chosen to room in the dorms for the social element.
Walking over to each bed, Kyra looked underneath them and made sure she didn’t spot anything. She opened each of the drawers on the two small dressers and the shared nightstand, but didn’t find anything there either. Her search complete, she deemed the move-out acceptable and stepped back out of the room, closing the door behind her. An unexpected pang struck her as she realized that this was the last time she’d do so. Despite the hassles and headaches, she’d miss this place.
A faint noise reached her ears…the dull bonging sound of the university’s bell tower striking the hour.
Damn! It’s eight o’clock, she thought, running for the stairs.
She was supposed to meet Avana and Sam in the quad at quarter to eight. She hadn’t realized how much time it took to talk to Rachel and finish her inspection. Pulling her cell out of her purse as she descended the few flights of stairs, she texted Avana.
Sorry. Be there in 5.
The dorms were only steps away from the edge of the quad, but the spot where she’d agreed to meet Avana and Sam was on the far side of the heart of the campus. The three of them were headed to a party hosted by Sam’s fraternity, and she’d dressed before the move was finished to make sure she was ready on time. She was wearing a red and white knee-length sundress and matching red peep-toed heels. The adorable shoes added three inches to her five-foot-five height, but greatly hindered her ability to hurry across the grassy ground of the quad.
Her cell buzzed in her hand as she walked. K. C U then.
She smiled. Of course Avana wouldn’t have been worked up over her tardiness. She was a free spirit, more inclined to go where the wind directed her on any given day than to follow a compass or path. Punctuality had never been one of her hang-ups.
Kyra’s cell went dark. Looking up, she realized she was walking in shadow. Typically, the quad was well-lit by tall lights designed to look like old-fashioned gas lamps. The posts stood about twenty feet apart and surrounded the square area, offering plenty of luminescence and providing a sense of safety. Now, at least three of the lights along Kyra’s route had gone out.
Her steps faltered. She looked to her right, where the school’s science building stood. Rows of bushes cast deep, uneven shadows along the brick face. A muggy breeze rustled the leaf-covered limbs, generating an eerie scratching sound as they brushed the harsh surface of the wall.
Feeling as though someone was watching her, she cast a furtive look around the quad. On any normal evening, there would be plenty of people walking around the area. Now, however, not another soul was in sight. Kyra supposed they were all either still moving into their dorm rooms or had already left for the big party.
Despite the visual confirmation that she was alone, she had the pressing urge to call out and ask who was there. An image of herself acting like a horror movie cliché kept her lips firmly sealed, however.
Another scraping noise on her right had her starting. She clutched her purse closer to her body and picked up her pace. Surely the shadows were just making her jumpy, she reasoned. That didn’t explain why every hair on her arms and neck now stood on end.
Swallowing her rising fear, she almost broke into a run as she reached the last twenty feet of darkness. Her eyes didn’t move from the gloomy bushes. She couldn’t explain her reaction, as the university was in a small, sleepy town and had a low crime rate. But every instinct in her told her to run.
Just as she neared the halo of light cast by the closest lamppost, it went out. She staggered to a halt.
That was when the darkness moved.
Not possible, she thought.
She watched the shadows take shape, growing ever taller. Five feet, six feet, seven feet tall…like a creature advancing and casting a longer and longer shadow. Her heartbeat accelerated. The voice in her head ordered her to flee.
Before she could command her limbs to move, she felt her arm taken in a firm grip. She barely avoided issuing a terrified shriek over the contact. Her fear had escalated to a point where she couldn’t even get a sound past her throat.
Her head whipped to the side. She realized the man who had grabbed her was a good eight or nine inches taller than her, even in her heels. She got a sense of a chiseled profile and broad shoulders as he urged her to move. Her gaze flew to the ground as she tried to avoid breaking an ankle. Only when they emerged from the darkness did her sense of panic begin to ease.
Her unexpected companion’s pace also slowed once they reached the light. She turned her gaze to him once again. Had he been the one who had cast the shadow?
She didn’t think so. Although she couldn’t tell much about him from his profile, she didn’t sense that he would harm her.
“It isn’t me you need to worry about,” he said in a deep voice. “You were right to fear the dark.”