When Emily returned to her room, she felt good about being back at school. Yes, they still had Swenson’s laboratory to find, but she was willing to leave that to the people trained for it, like Lisa and Ashish. She was looking forward to going to new classes, having a latte with her friends, seeing Pierce and enjoying the full college experience, and seeing Pierce some more.
When she got her mail, she noticed a letter from the registrar’s office marked important. The letter had her updated class schedule and she was prepared not to give it a second glance. She saw her Earth Science class had a sub heading of Environmental Biology. She was ready to have global warming rammed down her throat, but she was not sure she could handle too much radical environmentalism. Then she noticed her class in Romance Literature was cancelled, and balked. In its place, she was put in Modern European History, from 1650 to the Present. They could at least have put her in another English class, she griped until she noticed the name of the history professor. It was H. Schultz.
“Now, that should be an interesting class,” she said aloud. The man had lived through all of those days.
“What should be interesting?” Emily was startled by the voice. When she turned, she noticed Maria had snuck up on her. They hugged and Maria wiggled her glasses while Emily ran her hand through her hair. It had grown a good two inches since September. It almost reached her shoulders and she just had it shaped.
“I vote for a nice, quiet semester where I actually have the time to learn something,” Emily said right off.
Maria nodded her agreement, but then grinned. “I have a single room again.”
“No more Melissa and the divine Abby stuff?”
Maria shook her head. “Melissa is home, in recovery. It appears Abby discarded her over Christmas break and she became suicidal.”
“Just temporarily suicidal, back home in Vermont. I talked to her on the phone. You know she really is a nice person. I think we might have gotten along if it wasn’t for the Abby thing.”
“So what happened?” They began the trek to their rooms while Maria related the story.
“Well, it seems Melissa did not want to leave the campus over break. Her parents had to drive all the way down here and force her. By the time they got to the New York line, Melissa was crying and saying things about being empty and unloved. By the time they got near the Vermont line she was looking for something to slash her wrists and screaming about how she could no longer feel the presence of the goddess and Abby abandoned her. They put her in the hospital right away. By the following day she was in her right mind and back to normal, but her memory of what she actually did last semester is only recovering slowly.”
“That is weird, I mean freaky,” Emily concluded.
Maria nodded. “She doesn’t remember much. She does not even remember the ride home. Somehow she eked out Cs last semester, but she will be taking this semester off, to say the least.”
“I would be surprised if her family let her come back here.”
“No, it’s not like that. Her parents think she just got sucked into some cult thing and they don’t blame the school. Her dad went here, so he is invested in her coming here. Then they seem to think she got some bad drugs that kept her from thinking straight, though none were found in her system by the time she got to the hospital and got tested.”
“Somehow I think there is more to it than that,” Emily said quietly.
Maria nodded again. “I told her parents I would call her once a week and keep her up-to-date with the happenings on campus. The doctors seem to think hearing about normal college type things from a stable person might help her. They want her to reintegrate here if they can get her into a good environment. That is like getting back up on the horse, I suppose. I’m not sure they know what to make of her condition though, because she started talking perfectly normal and rational after the first twenty-four hours, only she does not remember much.”
“So Tom and I broke up over Christmas,” Jessica said as soon as they came in. “There, I said it, it is out, now I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I’m sorry.” Both Maria and Emily expressed their condolences.
“What sorry? I dumped him.”
“He is a moron.”
Emily turned to Maria. “How long do you think it will be before she finds a new boyfriend?”
“Who says I haven’t got a boyfriend?” Jessica rolled her eyes as if to say going without was never an option.
“About now.” Maria smiled.
“He is good,” she said. “He is great,” she changed her mind. “I am going to see him in an hour.”
Maria stared at her. Emily’s eyes focused on the floor. She was thinking her own thoughts. Jessica stopped unpacking and spoke.
“She is drooling again.”
“Lost cause,” Maria agreed and went to her room.
What if she was? Emily wondered. She could hardly wait the hour.
When Emily stepped outside, she saw the last person she expected. It was Bernie the campus cop. He had been conspicuously absent during the zombie days. She imagined he took a job somewhere else, and she would not have blamed him.
“Miss Hudson. May I have a word with you?”
“Of course, Bernie. What’s on your mind?”
“New semester.” He looked troubled.
“A quiet one, I hope, where I can actually get some learning done.” She watched his face visibly relax.
“I just wanted you to know I am keeping my eye on Doctor Zimmer and that new Professor, Schultz. Something odd about him.”
“No. Captain Driver caught me on his way off campus. He said here is a third stripe. Why wait ‘till next year, whatever that means? He asked if you would put the sophomores through the obstacle course and he will be back by Monday.”
Emily was thrilled. She now outranked her brother, theoretically. “Did he say where he was going?”
“I axed the same thing. All he said was Washington and he took off in that little red pickup of his.”
“Message received.” Emily gave Bernie a crisp but informal salute and was not surprised he saluted back, properly. She figured he must have served in the past. “Glad you’re on our side,” she said.
“Glad you’re on our side,” he responded.
Five minutes later, Emily saw Pierce and ran to him, and she did not care about anything else.
Lisa looked at the chart on the wall as if studying it might bring a revelation. “So many missing persons,” she mumbled, “and so many murders, and not just on campus.”
“We have solved some,” Ashish picked up the mumble with his big ears. “The suck-face murders as the girls call them. Also, the cut-up murders where Julie Tam found some green residue on various organs. Julie says Professor Swenson was testing her life elixir to see how well it worked on various internal organs. Hopefully now all that has stopped.”
Lisa moved her eyes from the chart to the map when she spoke up. “I won’t consider the cut up murders stopped until we find that zombie lab and put it out of business, permanently.”
“Yes, but it is fair to say any number of missing persons sadly, but most likely fit into one or the other of those murder schemes. We just haven’t found the bodies yet.”
Lisa tapped the place where two pins were stuck in Philadelphia and one just on the edge of town. “But now we have found three old people like Missus Cox. One ninety-eight and the other two over a hundred. The only thing Julie and her friends in Philly can tell us is they died of old age, yet there are signs of post-mortem work. There was some endocrine disturbance, but also slices taken from several areas including the spine, no doubt for some sort of testing. They don’t fit either pattern, exactly.”
“What are you saying? There is a third group at work here?”
Lisa tapped the map and then lowered her hand again. “That does appear to be the most likely conclusion.”
Ashish nodded slowly. “Are you going to inform the girls?”
Lisa turned at last from the wall to face her partner. “No point until we have a better idea of what to look for. Only Missus Cox was found on the campus, and by the construction crew. The others do not appear to be campus related, though I feel they are.”
Lisa frowned and turned back to the chart and map. “But then there are so many missing children from day care on up through high school, and mostly from low income families and neighborhoods. We have busted well beyond the national average. If it wasn’t for Philadelphia, we would stand out like a sore thumb.”
“Should I alert the milk companies?”
“Sorry. I know. It is just you are talking about a world where family stability is a joke, and the main reason why so many of the families are low-income families. Latasha’s own siblings are the result of four different fathers.”
Lisa paused and turned once again to face Ashish. “For most of it, but some of it?” She closed her eyes for a minute and Ashish knew to be quiet. She spoke again after a moment. “You may be right. With so much going on at the university these past few months, I might just be getting paranoid and seeing shadows where they do not exist. Maybe Heinrich was right. Everything just moves these days and nothing keeps still.” Ashish nodded and stood up. He was late for his daily trip to the donut shop. “Then again, I may talk to the Sybil.” Lisa became introspective. She was curious about that girl.
“Yes,” Ashish paused as his curiosity temporarily overcame his donut addiction. “What exactly is a Sybil?”
“What psychics pretend to be. This one may be genuine. At least the girls think so.”
Ashish shook his head. “This world you have led me into.”
Lisa came out of her introspection and smiled. “My world still has donuts and coffee. My treat.”
“The least you could do.”