The Grammar bulged in my pocket, now. Dr. Ward opened his door and gestured me in.
“Cheshire, I’ll get right to the point. I’m hearing disturbing things about you. Master Matheson has said that you are disrespectful and difficult to work with, and I understand that you are responsible for taking books out of the Special Collections Stacks without authorization.”
I gaped. “Sir, that’s… Dr. Matheson told me to take those books.”
“To check them out, yes. But to take four very valuable Library books – on reserve – without even leaving a record? Mr. Cheshire, you have the scholarly background to know better. Miskatonic demands better. Is that clear?”
“Four books?” I echoed, dumbly. “It was only three!”
“So you admit to it?”
“No!” I was shaking. “Sir. Dr. Matheson told me to fetch him the books. Three books. And when I told him they were reserved, he screamed at me to get them no matter what! He said that…”
“Mr. Cheshire. Master Matheson is an old and valued member of this faculty. I am surprised that you, or any student on this campus, would accuse a professor – your designated mentor, no less – of such an ethical breach. Perhaps of a crime. Do you still have the books?”
I could see that he was going to have me arrested if I didn’t.
“Yes,” I croaked. It was stupid, but I just wanted out. Maybe I could find them. Maybe Thea would help me.
It was obvious no one else would. I drew the Grammar out of my pocket.
Dr. Ward exhaled. “Good. I want those books back in the library by tomorrow, and there will be no further questions asked. And Mr. Cheshire, I would hate to see your promising future damaged, but any more such behavior, and we will have to re-examine your relationship with this department.”
“Yes, sir.” I fled the building, trembling with fear and rage.
Matheson had lied to me. Set me up. I strode toward his office. I’d have it out with the bastard right now. And when I got my hands on him, I would tear his throat out with my teeth, and eat…
I staggered. Put my hand out and caught myself on the smooth trunk of a sycamore.
Where had that thought come from? I shook my head. I wasn’t a murderer! And yet the image crawled in my mind. If I concentrated, I could feel Matheson ahead of me, throbbing like an open sore, hidden in the Ancient Language Hall looming before me. I tore my glance away, looking across the street, where old houses made way for the newer high school. Miskatonic hadn’t even had time to become home before it had become a nightmare. I couldn’t confront Matheson now. Not like this.
The only person who might help me was Thea. I sent her a text asking to meet. There was no immediate response. Then Zeke’s words came back to me. Who was this great-aunt of Thea’s he was obsessed with? I wandered across the street to the high school.
The halls were deserted. It didn’t take long to find the ubiquitous class portrait gallery. Zeke looked about seventy-five, so… I started looking at the class of 1953 for a Sennie Waite. I didn’t find her there. Or in 1943. Or in 1933. I found her in 1922.
Only her name wasn’t Sennie. It was Asenath. At the opposite end from Ezekiel Bronson. And I recognized her immediately.
It was the dark lady.
I staggered out, forcing myself through the day like a puppet of flesh, waiting for a text from Thea that refused to come. Eventually, I slept.
I woke from the nightmare of tunnels to the chill of a concrete floor. In the distance, I heard an electric whine. Familiar. What was happening? I forced my eyes open. It was dark. I hurt all over from lying on the floor. Back, legs, arms, throat…
My hand went to my throat, and I dropped something that clanged off the floor with the ring of metal. I touched a warm wetness at the base of my throat. Blood. I sat bolt upright.
Fluorescent light streamed in through the chainlink gate. I was sitting among piles of books. Six of them, stacked like altars around me. Before me rose six bronze cylinders on pedestals. Lights winked on them.
They were watching me. Waiting for the Ritual. For me. I heard their call. To stay, and join them.
With revulsion, I looked down. The knife I had dropped glinted under a coating of my own blood. It flowed into the incised characters of the spell on which I now stood. I understood the sigils. They reached for me. Drew me.
And beyond the circle, I heard the skittering of the Lesser Servants as they waited to worship their gods, and celebrate the feast they would be granted. My flesh.