In Proximity of Murder
In Proximity of Murder
By Ethan Bean
© 2018 by the author
Terry strode through the dimly lit shelves of the library. On either side of her were rows of books reaching high into the darkness above. She came to pick up a request she made a few weeks ago; it was a history of medieval folk lore for a class on rituals throughout the ages. By far not her typical read, but it would get the assignment done.
Terry paused and sighed as she stared at the numbers on the edge of the shelf. At least I’m getting closer, she thought. The numbers were almost foreign to her now since she hadn’t needed to use them in quite some time. She had grown comfortable with the librarian retrieving books for her, but, unfortunately, the head librarian had been on leave for a few weeks.
She met her replacement upon first entering the library. He was fumbling around with a surprisingly tall tower of books he had constructed behind the front desk. She guessed he must have been new since, upon asking for her book, he gave a puzzled look and shakily passed on a small piece of paper with a number scratched on it.
“Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I can try to help if you need me to,” he said.
“No, that’s okay. I think I can manage, thanks,” Terry indicated, looking down at the number and turning on her heel. She took a small step forward, but then paused. “Oh, and this number here,” she said, pointing at the paper, “it tells you where to find the book.”
That was almost an hour ago, Terry thought, maybe I should go back and see if he can help. She peered into the darkness both in front of and behind her. If I can even find my way back there. Oh, what was his name?
Terry stopped and looked at the shelf on her left. Dust collected at the tip of her index finger as she dragged it along the numerous spines. She stayed her hand for a moment and realized that something was amiss. Her gaze focused on a fresh leather bound book that contrasted with the others. Odd, she considered. Why isn’t there any dust on this one?
Almost as soon as she started to rub the dust between her finger and thumb, Terry leapt back as a phantom voice approached her from the other side of the shelf.
“I’m the vooooiiicceeee of the libraryyyy. Doooo you neeed some help?”
Terry rolled her eyes. “I can’t seem to find what I need. What was your name again?”
The boy from before walked around the corner and into the light. “I’m Ben,” he said. “I see you found this old row, yeah? I was here earlier.”
“So I guess that explains this one then?” Terry asked, pointing to the book she had seen earlier.
Ben eyed the thick leather binding. “Yeah, I put it back on the shelf when I came in this morning.” He stepped closer and pulled out the book. “It had some weird title, but someone was interested in it I guess,” he said, running his fingers over the etched cover.
“May I see?” Terry asked, inching closer to Ben. She read the title out loud. “Knowledge and Blood Exchange: An Instruction Manual. Well that is definitely…interesting. Did you look through it?”
“I flipped through a few pages.”
Terry lifted her gaze towards Ben. “…and? Find anything fascinating?” she questioned.
Ben hesitated for a moment. “I mean, it was more of a history book than anything else. A lot of stuff about the use of blood in different societies and rituals. That kind of thing.”
Terry returned her eyes to the cover. “Hmm. I think I might be able to use this for class.”
Back at the front desk, Ben filled out the forms and slid the books back to Terry. “You’re all set. Anything else I can do?” Ben asked, hoping that there might be more.
“I think I got what I needed, thanks.” As she turned to walk out the door, the book slipped from her grasp and dropped to the cold tile below. Terry kneeled down, but paused when she noticed the open page. There were only a few lines, but they were in a foreign language.
“Are you okay?” Ben asked as he peered over the front desk.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Did you see this?” Terry placed the book in front of him.
“Looks like Latin or something. Hold on, I think I have something for that around here,” he stated. Ben disappeared around a corner and then returned waving a book. “It’s a Latin dictionary I was using earlier,” he explained, setting it down and staring at his watch. There was a worried look on his face as he began to look up the words.
Terry glanced at Ben’s wrist. “You have some place to be?”
“No, it’s just that we’re about to close soon and they told me to avoid getting involved with the security guard.”
“Did they tell you why?”
“I’ve only heard rumors, but apparently the guy who comes around here was suspected of the kidnapping and murder that happened about a decade ago. No one ever solved it, so he was let go. People have always thought he did it, though.”
Terry knew who Ben was referring to. She had recalled a time when her and a friend once passed the guard on their way to class. His towering presence almost froze them where they stood. He spun his baton in fierce circles until halting in front of the two students. He placed the baton on the friend’s shoulder, letting the weight sink in, and then ran it through her auburn hair.
“Keep out of trouble, now,” he would say with a menacing smirk as he placed his baton back at his hip.
Terry snapped back to the present. “Yeah, let’s get out of here before he comes around.”
Ben scratched his head. “So, if I got this right it says:
In Proximity of Murder
- Supply fresh blood from the host to the allotted area.
- Once provided, the blood will reveal your reality.”
“And if you didn’t translate it correctly?” Terry joked.
“Well, it looks like if you follow what it says then you somehow know when a murderer is nearby? We could see if the guard is a murderer,” Ben quipped.
Terry’s face tightened. “Who cares? It’s probably just a hokey spell people used to believe in anyway. Like I’m supposed to honestly consider that if we follow the list then we’ll know who around us is a killer?”
Ben looked down at the page. “I mean, I’m willing to do it if you are.”
Terry thought about it for a moment. All she wanted was a book for class, not to spill some blood for something that won’t even work. “I don’t know…”
Ben pulled out a small pocket knife and pressed the cold metal blade against his palm. After a little pressure, a few droplets of blood fell to the page. “Here, it’s your turn. Worst case scenario, you have a small cut,” he teased, closing Terry’s hand around the hilt.
Terry hesitated before making a small incision in her palm. After a few seconds, blood fell about an inch away from where Ben’s had landed. It remained motionless until it started swirling in a clockwise motion. She grabbed the page in astonishment. “This can’t be real.”
A sharp screeeeeech emanated from behind them, followed by the haphazard motions of a flashlight. “Hey! Who’s in here?” bellowed a guttural, yet familiar, voice. “You can’t be in here!”
The book plunged to the floor as Ben shot straight up. As it descended, the page Terry was holding ripped from its binding.
Ben whispered in hurried excitement. “Quick! Run! There’s a back exit over this way.”
Terry jammed the page into her side pocket and scurried halfway across the desk. She stopped, turned, and reached for the knife. Shoving it into her back pocket, she made her way beyond the table and through the other doorway.
Situated on the other side of the back entrance was a straight and narrow hallway that forced Terry and Ben into a single file. Between flickers of the overhead lights, Ben could barely make out a door on the far side maybe 50 feet away. Their careless heavy footsteps created a combined clamor unheard of in the otherwise desolate hallway.
“We’re almost there,” Ben huffed. He thrust his finger toward the door. “I think this opens up to somewhere behind the building. We can definitely lose him when we’re outside.”
At the last moment, Ben tripped over himself and lunged face first into the doorway. Terry failed to stop herself in time and fumbled over Ben. In what sounded like an explosion, the pair barreled through the door and rolled out onto a sidewalk on the other side.
Terry stood up and readjusted herself. “That’s just great. Now I don’t have a book for class, we’re being chased by a creepy guard, and all I have to show for it is this stupid piece of paper!”
Ben stared at the page and then back towards Terry. “Well? Did it work?”
Terry threw her arms up into the pitch black sky. “No it didn’t work! How could it? It’s a stupid fake spell from stupid fake people,” she fumed. “How could it ever have possibly…worked…?”
She glanced at the paper. Most of the page had been ripped off in their escape, but what remained was the area where her blood fell. It was no longer swirling in never-ending circles. The motions had stopped only to leave a faint numeral at the center of the page. It was the number one. Terry swiveled her head towards the door.
“Ben, we have to go. Now,” Terry snapped, taking his hand and pulling him away from the door.
Ben hesitated. “What is it? What did you see?”
“There’s a number, Ben. A number one. We need to get away from that guy chasing us.”
“What are you talking about? What do you mean a number one?”
Terry thrust the page in front of Ben and pointed. “See? You said the spell would show us if a killer was nearby, and I think both of us can agree that that guy fits the description.”
Ben stared in disbelief. “I don’t…what? It actually worked?”
“Ben! Let’s think about this later. We need to move. Come on, the train station is a few blocks over. We can get far away from here.” Terry took Ben’s hand once more as they continued running.
The station was bustling with people running back and forth trying to find their rides home. Near the center of the station were some children chasing a balloon while they waited for their train. The only perceived orderliness came from the seemingly hundreds of people lined up at either the ticketing station or the platform. Terry and Ben stepped inside and rushed through the revolving clicks of the turnstiles. Terry looked around. “I don’t think he followed us, so we should be good here.”
Ben gave a solemn look. “Well, I have to head east from here. What about you?”
Terry inspected the frantic departures list. “South,” she blurted.
“Will I see you again?” Ben asked.
Terry placed her hand on his shoulder and grinned. “Yeah, I think so.”
The deafening roar of the train interrupted their temporarily locked gaze. Terry turned to walk to her platform when she remembered the paper. Pulling it out of her pocket, she looked to see if the number had disappeared. To her dismay, the number one remained at the dead center of the page. Terry swung around, twisting her head in every direction. He’s not here, Terry thought. But, if he wasn’t the killer from before, then that must mean…
Shaking, Terry turned towards Ben. “Is it you?” she whimpered. “Are you the murderer?”
Ben’s eyes grew wide. “What? Of course not! Do you even hear yourself?”
“I…I…I’m not sure.” Terry looked to the right. Sitting on a bench was a woman flipping through a paper. Their eyes met briefly before the woman tossed the paper away and boarded a train.
Terry looked down and observed that the number was still the same.
“Ben, the number hasn’t changed. And you’ve been the only person near me this whole time.” She pulled out the knife and extended it in Ben’s direction.
“No! It must be a mistake, or broken, or something! I’m not a murderer!”
“Please, get away from me…” Terry pleaded with a quivering hand.
Ben inched closer to Terry and extended his arm, gently placing his hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, we can figure this out. Just give me the knife. Please, Terry.”
Suddenly, one of the children from before ran into Ben as they were chasing the balloon. Ben stumbled forward, knocking both him and Terry to the ground.
“No, get away!” Terry screamed, driving the knife into Ben’s abdomen over and over again. Ben expelled a painful shriek as Terry repeatedly stabbed him. Blood was spewing from his mouth and wounds when Terry managed to roll him off of her.
Terry rose to her feet and peered down at her blood spattered hands. What did I do? she thought. She looked over at a silent and motionless Ben when she noticed the piece of paper beside him. Terry grabbed it and turned it over. To her disbelief, there remained a number one at the center of the page. Tears rolled down Terry’s bewildered face. She violently shook the page in an attempt to force the number to go away. Those who were around simply stared or called for help, but Terry just stood there, waiting for a number that would not change.