Colin gripped the briefcase handle as he walked quickly across the Circle. “Lights! Why won’t you install a few lights here?” he muttered to himself as he moved through the cold darkness toward the monument, the only source of light on campus this close to midnight.
He made it to the middle and looked around. He was glad to be in the light, but the light was dim. Looking back toward the darkness, he realized he couldn’t see if anyone was coming toward him. He felt another panic attack well inside him, so he closed his eyes and just listened. He felt the cold wind on his face. He heard nothing at first, but then he noticed the slight hum of the monument.
Then he heard footsteps. He turned toward the sound and opened his eyes. Someone stepped out of the shadows. “Colin?”
“Sam? What are you doing here?”
“I was about to ask you that.”
Colin gripped the briefcase handle tightly. “I’m meeting someone.”
“I am too,” Sam said, staring at the scuffed and torn briefcase. “I’ve never seen you with anything like that. You always have a backpack?”
“Yeah, these things seem old-fashioned,” Colin said.
“So, what are you doing with it?”
“It belonged to my dad,” Colin said. “Why are you out here, Sam?”
“As I said, I’m supposed to meet someone.”
“No one comes out here in the dead of night.”
“You did,” Sam said.
“This is crazy,” Colin said. “Am I supposed to give this briefcase to you?”
“Why would you ask that?”
“Arrgh! Then why are you here?”
“I’ve got to tell somebody something,” Sam said.
A voice called from the darkness. “Sam? Colin?”
They both turned quickly to see Alice in the dim light holding a book. “What are you guys doing out here?”
“Why are you here?” Colin asked.
“I asked first,” Alice replied.
“And with a book,” Sam said. “Do you read here often—in the middle of the night?”
Alice stared at Sam and Colin. “This is weird.”
Sam laughed. “What’s weird about the three of us meeting in the middle of Mistleton by a mysterious monument at midnight?”
“That is the very definition of weird,” Alice said.
“Oh, very snarky Sam,” Alice replied.
“Alice, are you the person I’m supposed to give the briefcase to,” Colin asked.
“Why do you have a briefcase?”
“Fine. I’ll tell you why.” Colin lifted the briefcase. “Professor Taylor told me to bring what is in this case to the monument on this date, at this time. He didn’t say why. He just said I needed to do it.”
“That’s interesting,” Alice said. “He also told me I needed to bring this book here at this time, on this day.”
They stared at each other and said in unison, “Weird.” Then they looked at Sam.
“He sent me an email.”
Sam pulled a folded piece of paper out of his back pocket. “He told me to give someone a message.”
“Who?” Colin asked.
“I don’t know,” Sam said. “He just said it would make sense when I got here. So far, none of this makes sense.”
Suddenly they heard a loud metallic bang and scrape.
“What was that?” Alice said.
Colin looked all around them. Then Sam said, “I think it came from the other side of the monument.
“Come on,” Alice said as they carefully walked to the other side.
Then they heard a voice cry out. “What have you done?”
As they rounded the corner, they saw a man looking up at the monument. He stumbled and fell to the ground.
The three of them rushed toward him. “Who are you?” Alice asked. “Guys, he’s passed out.”
“Does he have a pulse?” Sam asked.
Alice checked. “Yes.”
“Is that blood?” Colin asked.
The three moved closer to check on him. “Oh yeah, that’s a lot of blood,” Alice said. “We need to get him to the clinic.”
Just then, another voice called out from the darkness. “Does someone need medical attention?”
The three looked up as a woman approached them. “I’m a nurse at the campus clinic. I got a call saying someone was hurt.”
“Weirder and weirder,” Alice said.
“He’s bleeding,” Colin said.
The nurse examined him. “He’s been cut. We need to stop the bleeding.” She opened her medical kit and started working on him.
While Alice helped the nurse, Sam wandered toward the monument. “I didn’t know there was a door here.”
Colin saw him and followed. “Yeah. I saw them working on it last year.” Colin stepped inside. “What’s in here?”
Sam followed him. The room was round with smooth walls. No other doors were inside. No windows. Traces of blood stained the floor.
“This might be the strangest day ever at Mistleton,” Sam said.
“Weird,” Colin said.
“And we’ve seen some strange things here,” Sam said. “But look around. No entrances or exits. Yet it seems that guy was in here the entire time we were out there.”
“He’s got to be the one we’re here for,” Colin said.
They walked back out to see the nurse finishing up. “This looks like a knife wound,” she said. “He needs an emergency room.”
“Might be quicker to call an ambulance,” Alice said.
“Where’s the nearest pay phone?” Colin asked, looking around.
“I’ve got a key to the campus clinic,” the nurse said. “I’ll go and call from there. If he wakes before I get back, make sure he doesn’t move. I don’t want those bandages coming loose.” The nurse ran toward the clinic, disappearing into the darkness.
“Alice, we think this might be the one we’re all here for tonight,” Colin said.
“Whoever attacked him must have run into the darkness before we made it to the other side,” Sam said.
“Do you guys know that nurse? I’ve never seen her before,” Alice said.
“I don’t know her,” Colin said.
“I’ve only been to the clinic a couple of times,” Sam said. “Flu shot and a—maybe she wasn’t working those days.”
“Professor Taylor must have called her too,” Colin said. “Just like he sent us here tonight.”
“How would he know there was someone here who needed medical attention?” Sam asked.
Alice gasped. “Do you think he was the one who attacked this guy?”
“Taylor is an irritable teacher, but he would never hurt someone,” Colin said. “I don’t think he would.”
“He seemed on edge the first time I saw him,” Sam said. “I figured he hated his job and was way past burnout.”
“Maybe something pushed him over the edge,” Alice said.
“If he did attack the guy and ran off, why would he call the nurse?” Colin asked.
“Guilty conscience,” Sam said.
“But why would he not call an ambulance?” Alice said.
Just then, the injured man let out a loud groan. The three moved quickly to him.
“Don’t move,” Alice said. “The nurse said you might mess up the bandages.”
“She went to call an ambulance,” Colin said. “They’ll be here soon.”
“I can’t stay here,” the man said. “I’m not supposed to be here.”
“You’ve already lost a lot of blood,” Sam said. “You passed out just a moment ago.”
“What’s your name?” Alice asked.
He looked at the three of them. “I need to get out of here.”
Alice picked up the book she had brought. “I was told to give you this.”
The man stared at the book in Alice’s hands. “Why? Who?” He winced at the pain in his side.
Sam reached into his pocket and pulled out the email he had printed earlier. “And I’m supposed to give you this message.” He stooped down. “Wheat and weeds. Too late to fix it. In the package, you’ll find my notes. They will guide you to do what I could not. Also, there’s a new watch with the current time.”
Alice and Sam looked at Colin. “I guess you have the package,” Alice said.
Colin handed the briefcase to the stranger. “The combination is just zero, zero, zero.”
He opened the briefcase with a double snap and lifted the lid so the three couldn’t see inside. He pulled out the watch and closed the case. As he put the watch on his wrist, he said, “I appreciate what you’ve done for me. Now I need you to do one more thing.”
“What’s that?” Alice asked.
Alice, Colin, and Sam looked at each other. “But—”
“I will be all right. You have to walk away right now.”
The three stood up. “But you need to stay still until the ambulance gets here,” Alice insisted.
“Go. Now. Leave.”
“Come on,” Colin said. “We were sent here for a reason. Now we’re being sent away.”
“This is so weird,” Alice said as she handed the book to the stranger and walked away, fading into the darkness.
Sam looked at the wounded man and crumpled the email printout. “Good luck with whatever this is,” he said, tossing the paper at the man. With that, he walked into the darkness too.
Colin tried once more. “Who are you?”
“Go,” the man said.
Colin sighed and walked away, darkness enveloping him as he moved farther from the monument.
Just then he heard a flutter.