One morning near the end of Summer I woke when it was still dark. I lay in bed trying to fall asleep again for some time before I finally sat up. I slipped my feet into my warm slippers and pulled my robe around my nightgown and peeked through the curtains over the window by my bed. The moon had set, but it was still very dark outside. I picked up the clay Samuel had given me and quietly slipped out of the room and down the stairs into the main room of our dorm. Sitting before the fire, I practiced shaping while letting my mind wander to the many things I could do once I mastered this technique.
As I molded the clay I noticed a small piece of paper by the fire. I picked it up and found that it was a letter addressed to me. “Miss Minerva Hilden,” it read, “Your presence is requested at a school meeting at sunrise on the twenty-seventh day of the month of the Sun. You have been appointed to represent the first level students. The meeting will be held in the last room on the fourth hall on the third floor of the north wing of the academy. I remain yours respectfully, Samuel Truman.”
“The twenty-seventh day on the month of the Sun,” I muttered to myself. Suddenly it dawned on me. “That’s today!” I said aloud. I ran to the window and saw the sun just peeking over the horizon. I raced up to my room and changed in a hurry. As I dressed, Molly opened her eyes.
“What are you doing?” she asked sleepily.
“I’m going to a meeting,” I said hurriedly. “I’ll be back soon.”
I dashed back down to the main room in my dormitory and out into the freezing halls. I didn't expect to be so cold in the summer, and my mind immediately raced back to the warm boots at the bottom of my trunk of clothing. I almost turned back for them, but I was already late. The cold forced me to run to keep warm, so I reached the north wing quickly. I began climbing the cold stone steps, and at once I wanted to stay on the carpeted halls on the main floor. At least the rugs had kept some of the cold from leaking through my thin shoes. Now there was no extra layer between my thinly clad feet and the hard, cold stone.
Slowly I climbed three flights of stairs. I hadn't been in this wing of the building often, and the stairs were much steeper than in the rest of the building. I had to lift my short legs high to take even one step. Panting from the long climb, I finally reached the third floor and began to make my way down the single, long hallway. Every so often I would find other halls stemming from this main hallway. I looked down at the letter I still held. The last room on the fourth hall, I read. I looked back over my shoulder to count the halls I had passed. In the dim light of the torches on the wall I could barely see the stairwell I had emerged from. How many halls were there? Two? Was there another one? I strained my eyes to see, not wanting to walk back through the dark hall. Yes, there were two. So I still had further to go. But at least there were carpets on the floor.
Timidly I continued on through the darkness. I passed another hall. I was going to the next one. The light from the torches on the walls barely reached a few feet, so there were long stretches of total darkness. I finally reached the fourth hall. The hallway I was in continued further, and I glanced around warily before turning. I stood right below one of the few torches to check the letter again. The last room, it said. There were doors on this hall. They were all of the same dark wood. I slid my hand down one and felt how smooth it was. But it seemed smooth in the wrong way, not as though it was well worn, but like it was forgotten. It was the smoothness of something that had been formed to perfection and then abandoned. I felt something haunting in this hall; something more than the uncanny way the other hall had been empty. I told myself that few people were up this early, so it made sense that no one would be there, but it still didn't feel right. There was a reason that this part of the building was empty, and it wasn't the early hour. That, I was certain of.
After a while there were no more doors, but the hall went on into the darkness. I glanced around for a moment before going on. There could be another room further down the hall. A few steps farther I saw a dark spot on the wall. I looked back over my shoulder, wanting to run. Was that blood? Biting my lip, I forced myself to take another step, then another.
I reached the end of the hall without seeing another room. Here the hall turned into a new hall, but I didn't go down it. I turned to go back down the hall I had come from to find the last door and stopped in my tracks. There was a wooden door in the stone wall. Not a smooth door like the ones I had seen before, but a door made of gnarled, beaten wood. It was old and battered, but it was certainly the last door on that hallway. Why hadn't I seen it before? Softly, I rapped twice on the door, but I was met with a booming sound. I jumped away, frightened by the noise that had come from my small hand. Then I heard a voice, quiet and old, but not quite gentle. “Come in,” it said.
I reached for the doorknob, but the door swung open before I could touch it. Slowly, I walked into the room and looked around. It had a large desk with a wooden chair behind it and the walls were lined with shelves full of books. It looked like an ordinary office. But where was everyone? I wasn't the only one who had been invited to the meeting.
I heard a slam as the door swung shut behind me. Filling with dread, I slowly turned to see Head Professor Hurtain standing between me and the door. “Miss Hilden,” he said, “How nice to see you.” His voice was harsh and raspy, and I took a step back.
He stepped toward me. “You’re late,” he pointed out. I opened my mouth to speak, but no sound emerged. “What? Surprised to see me instead of Samuel Truman?” When I still didn't speak he went on. “Don’t you know what his handwriting looks like? That note was not from him.”
“You what? Are you frightened, Minnie?”
I swallowed hard. “No,” I croaked.
He laughed a maniac laugh, cruel, insane and evil, and I started to cry. He stepped toward me again and I backed away, only thinking to stay away from him. Too late, I realized he had me backed into a corner with no escape. “Scared now?”
I shook my head, but my tears gave me away too easily and he laughed again, stepping closer, but this time there was nowhere for me to run. I stared into his eyes, captivated by fear. I could smell his breath, so disgusting I thought the scent alone would kill me. I searched the room with my eyes for some chance of escape, but there was not even space for me to duck under his arm or between his legs to run. I didn't know what he was going to do, but I could sense that his plans were terrible.
“So, Minerva,” he growled, “Any last words?” An evil smile spread across his face as the impact of his words hit me. I would die there. I was going to die. My tears flowed with even more force as I realized that my short life was about to end. What would he do to me? What was it like? Did it hurt?