Community Writing Program Spotlight
In the dark, cold month of January, the Community Writing Program Spotlight will feature a month of horror leading up to the Otherworlds Horror/Fantasy Conference at the Crescent Hotel and the Writers' Colony January 27-29. See the complete schedule of Community Writing Program workshops at CommunityWritingProgram.com. See the schedule of the Otherworlds Horror/Fantasy Conference at writerscolony.org.
Cliff Sheldon had a true scientific nature. He was skeptical of untested theories and challenged illogical reasoning whenever it raised its foggy head. Thirty years old, Cliff had taught chemistry and physics for six years.
On a warm afternoon, in the summer of 1980, Cliff threw a duffel bag, his briefcase, and a three-speed fan into the back of his '65 Mustang. Chase College was fifty miles south of Minneapolis. Despite the Dark Shadows appearance of the buildings on the brochure, Chase offered summer astronomy.
When he arrived, Cliff thought that, with limestone buildings from the Victorian era, green lawns, and huge elms, Chase looked like Minnesota's answer to the Eastern Ivy League schools.
He easily found the registration office, where a bird-sized woman peered at him over her half glasses. She gave him his dorm assignment, saying, "I hope you brought a fan. Bryce is the oldest dorm on campus, and it's not air conditioned."
Following his map, Cliff found the massive stone structure with leaded windows and a marble archway over the main entrance. Verdant foliage drapes hung protectively over the building. Cliff walked through the double doors to a desk opposite the entrance. A solid man in his early twenties, wearing a Twins baseball cap, sat behind the desk chewing a pencil and reading the Minneapolis Tribune sports page. He gave Cliff a key to room 307 and returned immediately to his team statistics.
Cliff climbed the stairway to the third floor and walked the narrow, dark hall in search of his room. He could smell the age of the building, damp, oppressive, musty. The walls seemed to close in, as if Cliff were entering a telescope from the wide end. At the end of the hall, a blast of cold air came from the ceiling.
That's strange...I thought this place didn't have air conditioning.
The numbers 307 were attached to the final narrow door opening into a sparse room with a single bed, chair, desk and dresser. The curtains might have been yellow at one time, but now they resembled tobacco leaves.
Cliff unpacked, made his bed, and organized his study area. The closet emitted an odor similar to rotting ferns. He left the door open, hoping it would air out by the next day.
As he turned in, he thought, I won't need my fan tonight.
Sometime around 2:00 AM, Cliff's consciousness swam to the surface. He felt someone was staring at him. He rolled over and said, "What?
A middle-aged man, dressed in a Victorian suit, stood in front of the open closet door. He was clean shaven, with thinning, brown hair and sideburns.
Cliff had the distinct feeling he was needed. "What do you want?"
The man gestured toward the closet and began to fade. Soon, the figure, which had appeared to have substance, became vaporlike, and Cliff could see the closet through him. In a few moments, the man was gone.
Cliff rubbed his eyes again and looked around the room. Everything was just as he had left it before he went to sleep.
Well, I can't do anything about it now, he thought. The figure had not seemed threatening or malevolent. Ever pragmatic, Cliff decided to get some sleep and investigate tomorrow.
The next morning, he bounded out of bed and found the library, where a tall, painfully thin man, with pallid parchment skin, was filing envelopes in a cabinet.
"Do you have a history of Bryce Hall?"
The librarian removed his wire-framed eye glasses. "There's a file on each building." He produced a folder, which he referred to as the "pertinent information" on Bryce Hall, floor plans, building use, repair schedule, etc. Some of the papers were very old.
A yellowed document said that Bryce was built in 1890. Cliff paged through the architect's drawings and floor plans, finding an arrow pointing to 307 and something very faded written in the margin. Closed for repairs, June 1900. Reopened September 1905.
The folder also contained a few old newspaper clippings.
YOUNG WOMAN FOUND DEAD IN COLLEGE DORMITORY. Esther Randolph, a sophomore at Chase College, was found dead of an apparent suicide this morning in 307 Bryce Hall. An investigation will follow, due to the mysterious circumstances surrounding this tragic affair. This clipping was dated June 3, 1900.
CHASE COLLEGE PRESIDENT RETIRES. Dr. Winton Bryce, Chase College President since 1885, announced his retirement, effective after June commencement. Bryce, his lovely wife, Blanche, and their only child, Olive, will reside in Minneapolis. Dr. Bryce stated, "At forty-five, I still have a few good academic years left. I'm accepting a full professorship at the University of Minnesota." This article was dated June 8, 1900.
When he asked the librarian about pictures of past college presidents, Cliff was directed across the hall. He walked down the row of portraits and peered at each name. George Wilcox, 1870-1875. William McDaniel, 1875-1878. Charles Sotheby, 1878-1885. Winton Bryce, 1885-1900.
There was no doubt about it. Though Bryce appeared heavier in the portrait, he had the same thinning brown hair and sideburns. Even the suit was the same.
Five minutes later, Cliff entered room 307. Bryce stood right here, in front of the open door, Cliff thought. He seemed to point to the closet.
Cliff stepped into the closet, looked around. Nothing appeared unusual. He tapped the walls at one-foot intervals. After several solid feet, there was a sickeningly hollow sound. Cliff rummaged through his shaving kit and found a shoehorn.
Kneeling, he pried a panel at the back of the closet, nails screeching as they gave way. Behind the panel, Cliff found a very old and dusty box. He carried it to the bed. A faded and pealing Sears and Roebuck label was attached to one end. "Fine Ladies' Footwear."
Beneath the lid, nestled in a rotted, pale blue scarf, lay a tiny skeleton. A yellowed card was pinned to the scarf. In a faded but ornate hand, was written, Winton Bryce, Junior (Stillborn) June 2, 1900.
She started writing in high school and has won national recognition with her poetry and regional awards for her short stories. She moved to Eureka Springs with her husband, Carl, in March of 1997, where she has been a happily retired educator, sometime actor, journalist and writer ever since.