This would normally be where the story ends, if this were a story; the world has been saved, the prince has found his bride, and there’s nothing left to do. Only this isn’t a story and the loose ends that are left belong to people that aren’t the prince, or the dragon, or the little goose girl.
Open or closed, the university library tended to be a popular place for hookups. Hollis crept as close as she dared to the couple making out in the stacks. It wasn’t that she wanted to get up close and personal with them, but she needed to be near enough to them that when she caused her diversion, whichever disinterested student worker, assigned roust out stragglers from the library, would blame the noise on them. And more importantly, not notice that she’d and darted down the stairs toward the off-limits basement.
The arriving elevator’s chime didn’t slow the couple’s frantic groping. They either didn’t notice, or they didn’t care. Hollis slid her hand into the bookshelf that was at hip level with the couple as she peered through the space in the shelf above, hoping to see the kid from her theatre 202 class. He was always so busy memorizing audition pieces, an alien craft could land next to him, and he wouldn’t notice.
The doors slid open and Hollis’ breath caught in her throat. It was the hot T.A. from her history class. The exchange student with the Irish accent to die for. He was far more observant than theatre boy. Son of a bitch! But, she couldn’t put this off another day. She had to get down there and find whatever is was her grandmother wanted her to find. The stones in her grandmother’s rings glinted in the dimming lights of the library as if to urge her on.
Hollis fixed her eyes on Eoin, the T.A. and waited until he was almost on top of the aisle where the couple was still going at it. As his footsteps drew nearer, Hollis gave several unabridged volumes of Chaucer a good shove, almost startling herself as the thick tomes hit the hardwood floor. The couple jumped and cursed as Eoin’s footsteps stopped. Hollis took that opportunity to dash for the short hallway that held the door that led to the basement stairs. Behind her, she heard Eoin say, “Christ, right your clothes, pick up the books, and find someplace else to get laid.”
Hollis quietly closed the door behind her and jogged, as quickly as she dared, down the dimly lit stairs into the basement. The scents of old books and cleaning supplies mixed as she finally reached the bottom step and crept into the heavily shadowed room. According, to her grandmother’s note, there was a hallway around here labeled with a sign that said “No Exit”. Pulling the small flashlight from her jacket pocket, she shone it around the cavernous area. The basement appeared to be one giant room filled with endless boxes, filing cabinets and huge pillars.
Finally spotting the sign she was looking for, she picked her way around several old filmstrip projector carts—Shouldn’t those things be in a museum somewhere?—and inched down the crowded hallway until she was standing in front of the wrought iron cage front elevator her grandmother had described. Hollis lifted the cage and it slid upward on a surprisingly soundless track. Stepping inside, she closed the gate and pushed the only button in the car. The car descended soundlessly and so quickly that her stomach flipped. Apparently, it was in much better working order than anything else down here. Which she realized was a somewhat comforting thought considering she was descending into a sub-basement that didn’t appear on any maps of the university’s campus on the word of a dead woman.
As soon as the car stopped, Hollis raised the gate and stepped out, staring in awe at the seven locked doors arranged in a semicircle in front of her. Her grandmother had been completely serious. Up until this moment, Hollis hadn’t been truly sure.
Sensing movement, she glanced behind her as the elevator car ascended. It must have some sort of auto-return function. Slightly panicked, she looked for a call button. The last thing she needed was to be trapped down here without food or water. Finding what she was looking for, she turned back to the doors.
They were all wooden. All huge. And all seemed to represent different historical periods. The iron studded door to the far left looked as though it had been removed from a medieval castle. The one in the middle—the one she found herself inching closer to—looked like it belonged on gothic manor. Tall and arched, the dark wood door was elaborately carved. It was adorned with an elaborate, aged brass knocker and handle. That was the door. That was the one she knew she had to open. She pulled the key out from where it dangled on a cord inside her top then fit it into the lock and turned. Straightening, she tucked it back into her shirt and put her hand on the knob, her pulse skittering wildly beneath her skin.
She’d found what her grandmother had asked her to find. She’d completed her quest. This would normally be where the story ends, if this were a story; the world has been saved, the prince has found his bride, and there’s nothing left to do. Only this isn’t a story and the loose ends that are left belong to people that aren’t the prince, or the dragon, or the little goose girl.
“You’ll be happy to know you got an ‘A’ on your midterm.”
Hollis whirled and pressed herself against the door, stomach leaping into her throat. “What the fuck, Eoin?!”
“Well played, upstairs. Chaucer was a nice touch. I might have even fallen for it, but when you scooted past me, it was impossible to miss your scent.”
She blinked. “My scent…?”
Eion shrugged. “Perfume? Reminds me of wood violets back home.” He glanced around at the different doors, coming to rest on the one she was currently plastered against. “So…what are we doing?”
Hollis tried to ignore warm burr in his voice and focus on his actual words. “We’re not doing anything.”
He grinned, his bright blue eyes twinkling mischievously. “That’s where you’re wrong, love. This looks like the beginning of an adventure.”
She stood there with her mouth hanging open.
“Unless you’d rather be reported to campus security.” He shrugged again. “Your call.”
“Asshole,” she muttered. Somehow, she doubted this was what her grandmother meant when she said Hollis’ life would change forever.