You know when you plan on ending a story a certain way and then something happens that surprises even you, the writer, and the story ends in a completely different way than originally anticipated? This is one such example. But I must say, I am not disappointed at all. Everyone knows a “Becca,” and everyone knows that every Becca should be reached. Here’s to the Beccas out there!
The conclusion of the Ghost of Pattee
Betsy Aardsma had been senselessly murdered in the stacks of Pattee Library on November 28, 1969, the day after Thanksgiving by an assailant who was never caught. Her unsolved homicide had been the source of countless ghost stories, but Becca had never put much stock in the supernatural. She had been intrigued by the murder of a young coed and had even researched the incident herself. She read books and even found old newspaper clippings in the archives. Although she was no closer to knowing for certain who committed the act, Becca had read enough to know that Betsy’s death was a tragedy and even more so that it had gone unsolved and no one punished for such a heinous act, but Becca did not actually believe the place was haunted.
Or did she?
That English book had not been on the floor in her row seconds earlier yet she had found it there all the same. That book belonged on a shelf in this part of the stacks. Then she remembered that Betsy had been an English Grad student. Had this been the book she was holding when someone approached her from behind and stabbed her?
Becca held her breath as she placed the book in its proper place on the shelf, listening to the silence that surrounded her and willing something to make a sound. What was she waiting for? A ghostly whisper? What would a long dead grad student have to say?
Betsy Aardsma had no final words. Witnesses said she made no sound at all, and most likely wouldn’t have if the knife had hit an artery and caused her lungs to fill with blood. The thought made Becca turn away. She started to walk away.
There was the sudden sound of falling books.
Becca screamed and turned to look at the row behind her, the row where Betsy was killed, and saw a dozen books now scattered on the floor. She could have sworn she saw a shadow quickly move down the aisle, toward the stairs. In the pile of books was the one Becca had just returned to its rightful place.
Becca, against her better judgement, turned to follow the shadow up the stairs. On the wall going up she saw a smeared bloody fingerprint. There had been one there decades before but the detectives attributed it to the emergency response trying to push the stretcher up the tight stairs with Betsy’s body lying on it. Now Becca realized it had in fact been left behind by the killer. She looked up and saw that the door to the next level was swinging slightly, as if someone had just walked through it. She was about to follow the shadow, and also find her way out of the creepy stacks when she heard a faint whisper on the stale library air.
Somebody had better help that girl.
The phrase had been muttered by an unknown male to bystanders who had been in the library at the time of the attack. The man had fled, pursued by one of the bystanders, but was lost in the crowd of people exiting the building. He was never identified and many speculated that he was the murderer. Becca could not understand why she stopped and even less why she turned and went back down the stairs to the place where the books had fallen.
The aisle was clear.
It was as if nothing had happened. But Becca had seen with her own two eyes the books scattered on the floor and had heard with her own two ears the sound of them crashing to the ground.
Before she could wrap her head around what had just happened, she heard someone shout from the top of the stairs.
She ran back down the aisle, arriving out of breath and looking as if she’d seen a ghost (she had hadn’t she?), she looked up into the face of a security patrol officer.
“What the hell are you doing down here after hours?” He asked, but his face hinted at more worry than irritation. “It’s not safe for students to be down here. What are you doing?”
“I’m sorry.” Becca stuttered. “I was rushing to get one book I needed for a paper before they closed and when I came upstairs the door got stuck. I couldn’t get out.”
“Well I already kicked your friend out, so she’s probably waiting for you outside. You should be more mindful of the time.”
“Friend? I don’t have a friend.”
The guard eyed her pitifully.
“I mean,” Becca corrected herself. “I have friends, but I came to the library alone tonight. I didn’t have a friend with me.”
“Oh well,” The officer continued carelessly. “Then you weren’t the only reckless student in the library after hours, I guess.”
Becca thought about the shadow. As she climbed up the stairs, she took one more glance down the aisle and saw the smiling apparition of Betsy Aardsma, standing next to the row where the books had fallen and wearing her bright red dress. Becca found herself smiling back, then turning to go back up the stairs.
As she parted ways with the patrol officer outside the library she called back to him.
“What was my friend wearing? The one you kicked out.”
“She had on a red dress.” He looked around. “I don’t see her though, so I guess she left without you.”
Becca smiled as she headed toward the bus stop that would take her back to her apartment. Her friend had not left, she was sure she would see her again, and she didn’t feel absurdly silly or irrational having those thoughts.