The Bracelet: Part Two
During this time, I was working the night shift at the university library. The job did not pay well, but the late hour afforded me plenty of time for my studies and lent to my more nocturnal bent. Furthermore, a student such as myself was hard pressed to find better employment. Sure, there was manual work to be had that paid far better, but I have never been much of a physical person. Give me a hammer and I'm more likely to break something than build it. That said, my job did not entail much in terms of actual work. With the exception of finals, the library was mostly vacant by the time I clocked in, and so most of my hours there were spent in quiet solitude.
It was three weeks into spring semester when Jamal began his nightly visits to those otherwise empty stacks. He had Persian features (later I would learn his family had emigrated from Iran) and dressed in the manner so common to today's campuses, that is to say, more fit for a reggae concert than an institution of higher learning. His demeanor, however, was entirely not in keeping with a marihuana user, but rather of a man doggedly pursuing some secret scrap of knowledge that might explain every mystery unknown to man. At first, I felt it would be inappropriate to inquire about his frantic search, but when I noticed that most of the tomes he studied were of an occult nature, my curiosity got the best of me. While it was clear he was trying to conceal his activities, I could no longer restrain myself and sought to uncover this mystery, such is my inquisitive nature. If only I had sense enough then to leave well enough alone!
I approached him casually, not wishing to cause him alarm. The table at which he sat was strewn with books, many of which were familiar to me. I was pleased to see he had moved beyond the crystal gazing, Aquarian claptrap to works of some value. Presently, he was pouring over Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, though not the first edition that graced our collection. He was so focused on one of the diagrams, one of Doctor Dee's esoteric circles if memory serves, that he did not notice me approach. I cleared my throat a little so as not to startle him, though failing to do so as he snapped the book shut and stared at me through wild eyes. I took a moment to assume an officious and helpful tone.
"Pardon me, but was there anything I could help you find?"
He eyed me with some suspicion, but upon realizing that I was merely one of the staff, quietly replied, "no, no thank you."
Undeterred, I continued, "Ah, The Golden Bough, fascinating stuff. Are you taking Professor Richardson's American folklore seminar?"
I was lying, of course, but I needed a reason to continue the conversation. To be quite honest, I have no idea if there even is a Professor Richardson teaching at our fine institution, not that it much mattered; the young man was obviously not concerned with folk tales. Taking a closer look at his notes, I noticed the words "Malleus Maleficarum" written with some prominence. Therefore I was prepared when he rebuffed me and went back to his studies.
"You know, we have the first edition in our rare books collection. It contains some plates that aren't in the paperback."
That seemed to get his attention. He looked back up and asked, "really?"
"Yes. We also have a few other books back there you might be interested in. Have you heard of the Malleus Maleficarum?"
I was careful to maintain eye contact with him, lest he suspect me of surreptitiously examining his notes. Unfortunately, my seemingly prescient knowledge of his studies must have been too much for the nervous young man, who muttered something about having to wake up early the next morning, thus requiring his sudden departure. I bade him good night and cursed myself for being too forward. A week would pass before his eventual return to the library.
During his absence, I spent my nights reading the second volume of Sir Frazer's encyclopedia of the arcane. I completed the first volume over winter break and had intended to finish the second during the spring's, but my fellow student's obsession inspired me. It was early in the semester and my coursework was still relatively light. Granted, this caused me to get less sleep than usual, but I managed to stay awake during class. Looking back, the lurid imagery of that unsavory tome combined with sleep deprivation was the likely cause of the nightmares.
I should note that I have always had vivid dreams. As a child I suffered from night terrors, an extreme form of somnambulism. It runs in the family. My sister woke my parents on several occasions wandering unconscious throughout the house. I woke them by screaming uncontrollably, terrifying my mother who desperately tried to wake me from whatever horror was playing out in my mind even though my eyes were wide open all the while, staring at something only I could see. You might say I'm used to the more disturbing phantasms of the sleeping brain, but these were of a different sort entirely.
It was towards the end of that week when it first happened. After work I had to write a short essay for my rhetoric class the next day and as a result did not get to bed until five in the morning. Normally I would have stayed up for breakfast when the cafeteria opened at six, but I was far too tired to stay awake a moment longer. It was not a restful slumber. Praised be whatever defect of memory made me forget those awful dreams. When I finally awoke, I found myself covered in sweat and my alarm clock was not in its usual place. The sheets were a tangled mess, barely on the bed at all. My roommate, keeping a more traditional schedule, was already gone for the day so I searched the room for the clock in my pajamas, only to find it lying in the southwest corner, broken to pieces - no doubt flung there in a fit of unwaking confusion. Needless to say, I was late for my rhetoric class.
My countenance had therefore taken on a grimmer aspect when my desperate protégé returned. Having not yet completed The Golden Bough, I was unprepared and had no plan as to how I would approach him. Such concerns were quickly mooted when he walked directly to my desk, passing his usual table. Truth be told, it was his turn to startle me as my attention was wholly consumed by an unnecessarily detailed description of a Hopi sacrificial ritual. Foregoing pleasantries, he immediately asked, "you know about this stuff?"
He seemed calmer than before. His voice still carried a palpable fear; though it appeared he had mustered enough will to act rationally. Gathering my wits, I nodded and offered a hand. Jamal introduced himself by his first name only, as is common among students these days. Trying to purge my thoughts of Hopi madness, I bothered him with small talk until he started nervously glancing over his shoulder too often to suggest boredom. I offered to reconvene in one of the back rooms for privacy, which relieved him greatly. Setting out the "Back in 5 minutes" sign, I locked my computer knowing we would be much, much longer. I wasn't worried. Most nights were so sparse I could go the entire shift without speaking to a single person.
We made our way to a darkened conference room well removed from the main part of the library. Jamal insisted that the door be locked, then sat down with his back to the window, which I found a bit strange - most paranoiacs make a point of sitting with their backs against a wall. Then again, the poor man was so shaken that he very well may have welcomed whatever doom awaited him, so long as he didn't have to see it. I pulled the vertical blinds to further conceal us and took a seat across from him. We stared at each other in silence for some time. Excited as I was, I didn't want to rush him. For his part, he looked as though he wasn't sure if should even be here. Not wanting to lose him, I started, "I take it something happened, something you can't explain?"
"You could say that."
"Well, take your time." - it seemed like the appropriate thing to say, or maybe I just watch too many police dramas.
"Do you know the abandoned agricultural sciences building by Lockwood Hall?"
I didn't, but I nodded affirmatively anyway. I knew where Lockwood Hall was and figured the university didn't keep many abandoned buildings over on the East campus. Granted, I rarely spent any time there, most of my classes being on the west side of the university. The only reason I knew Lockwood was due to the rhetoric department's improbable grouping among the agro and bioscience departments. East campus is so far removed from the rest of the university that it is practically its own institution. Let's just say I was somewhat annoyed to discover my rhetoric class required a twenty-minute bus ride to and from my dormitory.
But I digress. Perhaps it is due to some reluctance in me to continue with this narrative, for what he revealed to me that night has become a painful reminder of the waking nightmare in which I now find myself. Let me find strength in these shaking hands to write out this awful tale so you, gentle reader, might share this heavy burden with me.