Campus Chills

By Mark Leslie

Horror

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550
13 mins

 

Introduction
Robert J. Sawyer

What is scarier than leaving home for the first time?
What’s more frightening than facing a tyrannical professor?
What better way to raise goose bumps than by walking past empty classroom buildings late at night?
Welcome to the world of campus chills! Prepare to have your blood run cold, your heart race, and your brow bead with sweat: this anthology of horror stories ranges from the starkly terrifying to the tantalizingly creepy; there’s something here for every taste—so long as that taste runs toward the dark side of life. There’s magic mixed in with the chalk dust, evil lurking in the textbooks, malevolence biding its time in the labs—and probably something even more horrifying in the student cafeteria!
The authors in this anthology range from New York Times bestseller Kelley Armstrong to brand-new writer Brit Trogen (who won On Spec magazine’s recent young-writers’ contest), from Bram Stoker Award winner Edo van Belkom to multiple Aurora Award-winning science-fiction superstar Julie E. Czerneda, from cult horror favourites Nancy Kilpatrick and Sèphera Girón to award-winning short story masters Douglas Smith and James Alan Gardner. Indeed, it’s hard to think of any anthology published in 2009—including the Year’s Best volumes—that has a more prestigious roster of contributors. That they all happen to be Canadian just goes to show how preeminent our writers are in the speculative-fiction fields.
But that should come as no surprise. We are a big, empty nation, full of howling winds and dancing auroral skies, a place where—as everyone who has read Margaret Atwood’s Survival knows—the very land itself will try to kill you . . . if it can.
Publishing has changed a lot since I myself entered Ryerson University thirty years ago (and had my very first story published in my campus literary journal, the White Wall Review). There are all sorts of new ways to bring work to market, and what you’re holding in your hands is an example of one of the most exciting methods. Campus Chills is being produced exclusively at McMaster University, the University of Waterloo, and the University of Alberta, via print-on-demand through Espresso Book Machines, a revolutionary technology. Because of its limited distribution, this book is bound (that’s a pun!) to become a sought-after collectors’ item.
It’s a brave new world of publishing—the dawn of a new age for reading—and editor Mark Leslie should be commended for being on the bleeding edge; that he was able to bring such an amazing group of writers together (and that he was able to pay them professional rates!) is a testament to how much the landscape has changed
So, turn the lights down as much as you can, bolt the door shut, pull the blanket up around your neck—and dig in. Terror—and wonder—await.

Harbinger
Kelley Armstrong

As hard as Jenna tried to concentrate on the professor’s words, all she could hear was water dripping off the drowned girl behind her. She’d even tried threading her ear-buds up through her sweater, popping them in, and cranking the music as loud as she dared. But she could still hear it. That relentless plip-plop, plip-plop.
Jenna fought the urge to look over her shoulder again. She’d done it so often now that the students behind her had started to squirm and glower.
There was no use looking because she knew what she’d see. The dead girl, naked, her white and wrinkled skin hanging from her arms and legs like an oversized suit about to slide off. Long, dark hair hung to her shoulders. Her lips were blue. Part of her nose was missing, and one ear. But it wasn’t any of that that made Jenna shiver. It was the girl’s eyes. Empty and dead, staring straight into hers.
More than once in the last six hours, Jenna had considered the possibility that she’d lost her mind. Yet it seemed to her that if you were truly crazy, you wouldn’t consider that possibility. You’d see a drowned girl sitting behind you in Philosophy and ask if she had the notes from the lecture you missed last week.
When class ended, she called her roommate, Bree. No reason. She just wanted to talk, make a connection, preferably with someone alive.
It took four rings for Bree to answer, and even then she sounded groggy, her voice thick with sleep. Jenna turned her back on the
drowned girl and concentrated on hearing only Bree’s voice through the cell phone.
“Don’t tell me I woke you up again.” Jenna forced a laugh. “I swear, you’re worse than my little sister.”
“Mmm, no. Just resting my eyes.” Bree yawned. “What’s up?”
“Not much.” Jenna struggled to think up an excuse for calling. “Have you changed your mind about the party tonight?”
“Nah. I need to study.”
Jenna couldn’t argue with that. Bree was barely passing most of her courses. They’d both struggled at first—university was so different from high school—but it seemed that as Jenna started catching on and catching up, Bree only fell farther behind. One could argue, though, that Bree was still coping better than she was. At least she wasn’t being followed by a dead girl.
“Jenna!” a voice called.
She turned as the teaching assistant from her Classics course cut through a gaggle of students. Jenna struggled for his name, distracted by the water pooling around her feet.
“Just the girl I was hoping to see,” he said with a smile. Trey. She was pretty sure that was his name. He looked like a Trey, anyway—gleaming blond hair, crisp preppy clothes, blindingly white teeth. Not your usual teaching assistant. He certainly didn’t look like he needed the money. Maybe Daddy had cut him off after he totaled the Beamer. The snark was totally uncalled for, but she couldn’t help it. One look at Trey, and all Jenna could think was, “I bet he never needs to worry about being followed by dead girls.” Live girls, sure. Dead? Never.
“I just read your essay this morning,” Trey said. “I wanted to talk to you about it. Do you have time for a coffee?”
“Is something wrong?”
“No, no. It’s great.” His smile oozed reassurance. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
A soft, sighing hiss sounded behind Jenna. She glanced over her shoulder. The drowned girl just stood there, staring, empty-eyed, dripping, water puddling at Jenna’s feet, murky now, a thick brown rivulet trickling in from a stream off to the left.
Another hiss, and Jenna followed the sound to the source of the brown water. Another drowned girl. This one was bloated, like a grotesque doll inflated to twice its normal size, gray skin straining the seams of her sundress, decomposing flesh pillowing over the neckline. A faint pop, skin breaking, gas hissing out.
“Jenna?”
She turned back to Trey.
“You okay?” he asked, full lips pursed in concern.
“S-sorry. I thought I heard someone call me. Coffee, you said? Sure, coffee would be great. Lead the way.”
The dead girls fell in behind them, floating above the floor, water trailing in their wake.

According to Trey, Jenna’s essay was amazing. Which was bullshit. It was a B-plus effort, and that was stretching it.
If the guy didn’t look like he belonged on a prep-school brochure, she’d have thought he was hitting on her. As it was, she figured he was just trying to do his job. Overdoing it, but she couldn’t fault him for that. He poured on the praise, encouraging her, then asked about her day, her week, being friendly, taking an interest.
Not the most stimulating conversation ever, but it took her thoughts off the dead girls, who stood against the next table, dripping into the coffee cups of a laughing couple. Eventually, though, Jenna’s mind wandered back to them and she began to wonder if the girls were actually ghosts. The possibility didn’t shock her as much as she supposed it should. She’d grown up in a world where such things were always possibilities, where family and friends would tell stories of seeing Uncle Mike minutes before getting the call that he was dead or seeing Grandma by their bedside, telling them not to grieve for her. They didn’t necessarily believe the dead walked among the living, but they were willing to concede that they could return, briefly, to console the living or to pass on a message.

After coffee, Trey left for his last class of the day. Jenna walked through two buildings, then into a courtyard. In fall, it had been jammed with students, studying under the ancient maples, tossing Frisbees, grabbing a few minutes of fresh air before another stiflingly hot class in the old buildings. Passing through it earlier today, she’d noticed a few kids braving the March chill. Now, though, past five, sun dropping, it was empty. Just Jenna and the dead girls.
She found a spot under the biggest maple, tucked out of the way of anyone stepping from the building. Then she turned to the girls.
“What do you want?”
They stared at her, eyes as empty as ever, no indication they’d heard her, no indication they’d even seen her lips move.
“Do you think I know you? Do you think I had something to do with your deaths? Is that what you’re trying to do? Haunt me?”
The only answer was a hiss of gas, a fissure splitting on the bloated girl’s arm.
“The only person I’ve ever known who drowned was a guy who rented the cabin beside ours. Got drunk. Dove into shallow water. I was five.”
They continued to stare.
“Do you have a message? Something you need me to pass on?”
No reaction.
“Is it a message for me? Is there something you’re trying to tell me?”
A plink-plink as a puddle formed around the first girl’s bare feet.
“I can’t do anything if you won’t tell me what you want. You can stare at me all you want. I’m not psychic. I don’t understand.”
Jenna waved her hand in front of each girl’s face. They didn’t give any sign they noticed. When she stepped to the side, though, their gazes followed her.
She leapt forward, trying to startle them. Nothing.
She turned on her heel and headed back inside.

Jenna called Bree and said she was heading to the library. She wasn’t hungry, wouldn’t bother with dinner.
“Are you still going to Jackson’s party?” Bree asked.
“Probably not.”
“Why?”
I think I’m going crazy. I’m being followed by dead girls and I have no idea what to do about it, but I really don’t think a party is the answer. She sputtered a small, ragged laugh.
“Jen?”
Jenna turned the laugh into a cough. “I just think I’ll skip it.”
“Hey, I’m the one who has to study. Go have a few beers for me, meet some hot guys, let me know what I’m missing. You could use it.” A pause. “You’ve been a bit off lately.”
“Have I?” She looked at the bloated girl. That might explain a few things . . .
“Go. That’s an order.”
“Maybe. I’ll hit the library first.”

Jenna considered herself a serious student. But that day’s three-hour study stint was definitely a record. She was hiding; she knew that. Hiding not from the dead girls, but from what they portended and what she planned to do about it. She’d breezed through her day, trailed by spectres. Surreal. Ridiculous, too, but if she stopped, then she’d have to act. Better to just bury her head in a book stack and hope they went away.
She immersed herself in research, cranked up her iPod and eventually the plink-plink and the hiss faded into background noise. She was deep in a microbiology text when a crimson drop hit the edge of the table. She didn’t look up to see where it came from. She didn’t dare.
Another drop fell, next to the first. Then a third, joining the two into a tiny pool. A pool of blood.
Jenna steeled herself and looked up. The two drowned girls stood to the side of her table, silently, patiently waiting. A third figure had joined them. Another drowned girl, fresher than the others, looking no different than someone who’d been out for a long skinny-dip—naked and pale, with wet hair, skin wrinkling on her fingertips. Jenna couldn’t see where the blood came from, only that it streamed down the backs of her arms and dripped from her fingertips.
“I don’t suppose you’d care to speak to me either.” Jenna tried to sound jaunty, but her voice frayed at the edges. She swallowed and looked away. A deep breath. Then she closed her textbook.
If she really was going crazy, then locking herself away like this wouldn’t help. She needed someone else to judge. She needed to be around people. She needed that party.

When she got back to the apartment, Bree was taking a study break, napping on the couch. She hadn’t changed her mind about the party, but she was happy that Jenna was going, helping her pick out clothes, making Jenna promise to tell her all about it, then retreating to her books.
As Jenna fixed her hair in the bathroom, Bree came back.
“That’s a great shirt,” she said. “But it really needs something.” She held up her hand. Silver flashed in the light. “Something like this.”
From Bree’s fingers dangled her Celtic cross necklace, one Jenna had admired many times, teasing that if it ever went missing, Bree knew where to look for it.
When Bree reached to put it on Jenna, she protested, but Bree insisted.
“That shirt screams for a necklace.” She grinned as she fastened it around Jenna’s neck. “And if it disappears, I know where you live.”
Jenna laughed, then glanced at the three drowned girls crowded into the bathroom behind Bree. Was it her imagination or were they eyeing the cross nervously?
“Thanks,” she said.
“Anytime. Now go party.”

If the necklace had any effect, it was minimal. The girls didn’t go away. Didn’t even shy away. She’d tried waving the cross at them. Even struck one in the cheek with it. The girl didn’t flinch.
By the time Jenna arrived, the party was in full swing. She leapt in, almost hoping someone would say, “You seem a little off, Jen” or give her a strange look and find an excuse to retreat to the other side of the room. No one did.
No one noticed the dead girls, either, and Jenna was forced to admit that was really why she’d come to the party—the hope that with all those people around, the booze and dope loosening them up, someone would notice the girls.
As for the dead girls, if they even noticed they were at a party, they gave no sign of it. Just stood there, dripping, rotting, bleeding, leaving a trail on the carpet that no one else could see.
Trey was there, too. He’d come with friends and, while he did pop over and say hi, later bringing her a drink, he hung out with his buddies, only smiling and nodding if their eyes happened to meet.
The drink stayed untouched by her elbow, abandoned when she moved on to talk with a couple of girls she knew from high school. All things considered, adding booze to the mix didn’t seem wise.
She tried hard to relax, but it wasn’t happening. As long as she led the dead girl entourage, there was no way she could just kick back and party. Eventually she gave up, said her good-byes and slipped out.

Jenna paused on the sidewalk, taking a deep breath, icy air scorching her lungs, a bitter breeze bringing tears to her eyes. Definitely a night for the shortcut home. Common sense, though, kept tugging her toward the roundabout route, along the well-lit roads.
The front door slapped shut.
“Leaving so soon?” a voice called.
She turned to see Trey on the steps. He frowned into the dark night.
“Please tell me you’ve called for an escort.”
She shook her head.
He jogged down the steps. “You shouldn’t walk home alone.”
She looked at the dead girls and was tempted to say that, unfortunately, she wasn’t alone.
“Okay, I’ll save the speech,” he said when she didn’t respond. He took a card from his pocket and flashed it. “Luckily, you have a campus escort already here, ready for duty.”
“No, that’s—”
“I insist. Party sucks anyway. I was just going back to my place to study for midterms. Are you on campus?”
“Just off it.” She waved northwest. “But it’s a short walk, so you don’t have to—”
“—miss much study time. I appreciate that. Come on. We’ll take the shortcut.”

They walked along the riverbank, talking about the party. Trey admitted his friends had only gone for the booze. He’d mentioned the party and there weren’t many going on with midterms coming up, so they’d decided to crash and hang out with the sophomores for an evening.
It was a comfortable conversation, almost enough to make her forget the dead girls. She did glance back now and then, though, hoping they’d vanished. Once, as she twisted, her foot caught on a root. She stumbled. Her shoe slid on the mud. Trey grabbed her around the waist and yanked her back just as the edge of the embankment crumpled under her feet.
“Close call,” he said as she stared down into the fast-moving, spring-swollen river.
She tore her gaze away and looked at the drowned girls. Was that what they’d been trying to warn her about? A premonition of danger?
Trey tugged her back onto the bank. “That drink hit you pretty hard.”
She nodded, not saying she hadn’t touched it. Better for him to think she was tipsy. As they resumed walking, though, he kept his arm around her. She tried, subtly, to slide away from it. His grip tightened. Her heart picked up speed, but when she glanced over, he smiled and said, “Steady there.”
She nodded. A few more steps and his hand slid into her back pocket, which definitely wasn’t okay and when she moved away this time, there was no subtlety about it. He didn’t let go, though, fingers biting into her rear, tugging her so close she almost tripped again.
She realized, then, just how empty the riverbanks were, how far away the nearest buildings were. She thought of the drink he’d given her. Spiked with more than just vodka? And that escort card. She hadn’t taken a good look at it—didn’t even know if they carried ID cards.
She glanced at the drowned girls. They were no help, of course, just trailing along behind her like faithful hounds.
Keep going, she told herself. It’s not far now.
After a few more steps, though, Trey swung in front of her, cutting her short, his other hand going around her waist. When he leaned in, face coming to hers, she backed up so fast she stumbled. He only tightened his grip, chuckling as he held her steady.
He leaned in again and she was ready to kick, scream, bite, whatever it took, but at the last second, he averted his face, lips going to her ear instead.
“About that essay, Jenna? I lied. It sucked.”
She stiffened.
He continued, “That’s what I was going to tell you earlier. Warn you, but then . . .” He chuckled again, his breath warming her ear. “I couldn’t do it. You’re too pretty to get a failing grade.”
She tried to back out of his arms. He ignored her struggles and kept whispering.
“I noticed on your file that you want to minor in Classics. You can’t do it with essays like that. But I’m willing to give you a little . . .” His fingers slid under her shirt, skating over the back of her waist. “. . . assistance. That’s all it’ll take. A few weeks of tutoring. And, in the meantime, I can make sure you don’t fail that essay.” He lifted his head then, teeth glittering in the dark as he smiled. “Or I can make sure you do.”
Jenna trembled as his mouth lowered to hers. She forced herself to look up at him with terror-filled eyes. When their lips touched, she stood frozen. Then, as he relaxed and closed his eyes, she caught his lip between her teeth and chomped down with everything she had. Blood spurted into her mouth. He let out a yelp. She punched him in the stomach and wheeled to race away, but he caught her by the jacket.
“Stupid bitch!” He swiped his hand across his mouth, blood spraying. “Do you have any idea how many girls at that party would be happy to be out here with me?”
She wrenched away, dancing backward. “Lots, I’m sure. But that’s not the way you like it, is it?”
She tried to run. He caught her again, and dragged her to the embankment. She kicked and punched, but he hauled her to the edge and when she looked down at the water racing by, she knew what the dead girls had been trying to tell her.
“That water’s ice cold,” he said. “You’ll be dead before you know which way is up.”
She lashed out, her foot hitting him square in the kneecap. His leg buckled. They struggled. She managed to get free and, with one hard, backward kick, knocked him over the edge.
As she raced away, she heard him cursing, scrabbling to get back up the embankment, splashing at the edge of the water.

Jenna didn’t stop until she reached her apartment. She paused in the lobby to catch her breath. Only then did she notice the drowned girls, still following.
“It took me a while, but I figured it out.” She managed a smile. “Would have been nicer if I’d been a little quicker on the draw, huh?”
They didn’t answer. Didn’t react. By now she didn’t expect them to. She wasn’t even sure they were ghosts at all, not in the usual sense. Just spectral images of girls who had died, unable to do anything but, by their presence, warn of impending danger.
Harbingers of death.
She shivered.
“I’m safe now,” she said. “You can go.”
They followed her up the elevator. Outside her apartment, she stopped again.
“There’s more, right? You want to make sure I do something about it. Well, I will. I’m calling the police as soon as I get inside.”
No answer. No reaction.
She sighed and opened the door. It was quiet inside. The apartment was tiny, only one shared bedroom and a kitchen/living room combo. Both were dark. She tiptoed to the bedroom door and peeked in.
Bree’s bed was empty.
Had she gone out after all? Good. She deserved it. Jenna only hoped she hadn’t decided to go to Jackson’s party, expecting to catch up with her.
Jenna took out her cell phone. She was about to dial when, in the silence, she picked up a faint drip. Drip. Drip. Her gaze shot to the drowned girls. The first was still shedding water, but with a plip-plop so familiar Jenna had started to tune it out. This was a different sound . . . coming from a different room.
She stepped back into the hall. Her foot hit a slick spot on the wood and she had to grab the wall to keep from falling. She flipped on the light. There was water on the floor. A tendril stretched from the bathroom door.
“Bree? Bree!”
Jenna raced the few steps to the door. She grabbed the handle. Locked. Twisting it, she threw her shoulder against the wood. The door burst open.
The first thing she saw was the bathroom floor, a puddle of water around the old claw-foot tub. Pink-tinged water.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Almost reluctantly, her gaze followed the sound to the tub. Water trickled over the side. Bloody water, the tub filled to the brim.
She ran, sliding across the floor.
Bree lay at the bottom of the tub, face barely visible through the red water.
Jenna dropped to her knees, reached in and hauled Bree up as best she could, but as soon as the cold, bloody water enveloped her arms, she knew it was too late.
Bree’s head lolled back. Her eyes stared up. Dead eyes. Empty eyes. Eyes Jenna had been looking at all day.
Jenna turned on the drowned girls.
“Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you warn me!”
Their eyes met hers. Then, the faint outline of a fourth girl materialized behind them, a girl whose dead eyes passed over Jenna without pausing, with no flicker of recognition. Then as one, the harbingers turned and drifted away, off to warn someone else, someone who might understand in time.



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