It Begins, Again
Madeline Jameson was asleep; the quiet, almost imperceptible sound of her breathing the only noise to be heard in the room, and as she slept the shadows played on the wall from the night time light that found its way through the gap in the curtains.
Shadows that were perhaps darker than they should be.
Shadows that were wrong.
In amongst the regular shadows something was moving, stirring, coalescing into a form more solid, and as it continued to take shape it peeled itself away from the wall. The strange, dark shape glided silently across the room, tendrils that could almost be described as fingers stretching out from it, reaching towards Madeline’s sleeping figure.
‘Good morning Armitage!’
The radio clicked into life and the tendrils snapped back, the shadows retreating across the room and dissipating into the wall. Madeline awoke and rolled over lazily, pressing the snooze button and returning to her sleeping position for the nine minutes that her alarm clock would allow. When the radio sounded a second time she threw back the covers and swung her legs out of bed, stretching her arms and back and yawning widely.
Standing up, Madeline walked to the window and opened the curtains, blinking slightly at the bright autumn sunshine that lay low in the sky. She opened her top window a crack to freshen her room and began preparing for her morning jog. Retrieving a grey hooded sweatshirt and a pair of navy blue jogging bottoms out of her wardrobe, Madeline quickly changed and sat down on her bed to put on her trainers. After brushing the night out of her dark red hair Madeline fished a purple hair band out of her pocket and secured a ponytail through the hole in her Boston Red Sox baseball cap. Picking her keys up from the bedside table, Madeline put them in her pocket and left for her jog.
Madeline Jameson was a twenty four year old Undergraduate student at the University of Armitage, a somewhat prestigious educational institution in the North Eastern United States. She was studying in her final year towards a degree in History, and while she embarked on her morning ritual of a brisk jog around campus, a lone figure in a dimly lit room was studying her, or at least her name. The figure held a sheet full of names, one of which was Madeline Lorraine Jameson, and quietly he chuckled to himself.
‘Yes, she will do quite nicely.’
* * *
Madeline stepped out of her dormitory building into the crisp autumn air and set off at a moderate pace. There were not many people around at this time of the morning, save for fellow joggers and returning all night partiers, and Madeline appreciated having free reign over the campus grounds and not having to duck and dodge out of people’s way. She rounded the library and did a circuit of the playing field before heading behind the bleachers on her way back to her dorm. As the sun was blocked from view Madeline noticed what looked like a pile of forgotten rags lying tattered and forlorn next to one of the bleacher supports. She didn’t give it much thought as she passed, until it moved.
Stopping instantly in her tracks, Madeline watched in surprise as the pile of rags stood up and revealed itself to be a person. She could not tell whether it was a man or a woman, because there was not one place on this strange figure that was not either completely covered in ragged material or shrouded in shadow. Madeline turned to jog back the way she had come when the figure spoke.
‘Wait!’ it rasped, its voice denoting it as male. Madeline’s first instinct was to run back to her dorm as fast as she could, but her curiosity overcame her and she hesitantly turned around to face the robed figure.
‘What…what do you want?’ she asked.
‘It’s you,’ he hissed, almost as if he were afraid someone other than Madeline might hear him.
‘What?’ asked Madeline. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘You he has chosen, I must speak with you.’ The figure took a step closer to Madeline as she backed off, bringing her once again out into the pale morning sunshine.
‘Look buddy, I don’t have any money, okay? I’m sorry but I have to go.’ Feeling a little ashamed for assuming that he was automatically after money, Madeline quickly turned around and made her way back to her dorm, risking a glance over her shoulder as she went. The strange figure was nowhere to be seen and Madeline did her best to put him out of her mind. Concealed amongst the shadows of the bleachers, the shabby robed figure sat solemnly with his back against a support.
‘If only I were after your money,’ he said to himself. ‘If only it were that simple.’
* * *
Madeline tried to continue her jog as best she could but she found herself almost running back to her dorm, wanting to forget all about the unpleasant encounter she had just experienced. As she approached her building she retrieved her keys from her pocket, opened the door and climbed the stairs to her floor, wiping the sweat away from her brow with her sleeve as she went. As she unlocked her own door the door opposite to hers opened to reveal a bleary eyed and messy haired girl.
‘Morning Jennifer,’ said Madeline.
‘Oh, morning Maddie,’ said the sleepy looking girl, stifling a yawn. ‘Morning jog?’ she asked as she stretched slightly.
‘Yeah,’ said Madeline. She looked Jennifer up and down and smiled. ‘Late night?’ She was yawning again so all Jennifer could do was nod, mouth wide open.
‘Uh huh,’ she mumbled groggily. ‘I swear I don’t know how you do it.’
‘Do what?’ asked Madeline.
‘Get up so early. Aren’t you tired?’
‘I was, but the jog woke me up.’
‘Rather you than me,’ laughed Jennifer.
‘You got any classes today?’ asked Madeline.
‘Of course! Do you think I’d be up at this ungodly hour if I didn’t?’
‘Okay then,’ smiled Madeline. ‘See you around.’
‘Yeah, you too,’ said Jennifer, before retreating back into her room.
Madeline entered her own room and changed for a shower, kicking off her trainers and tossing her jogging clothes into the laundry hamper. She took the towel off of the radiator and disappeared into the bathroom.
Emerging around fifteen minutes later, Madeline towelled her hair dry and brushed out the troublesome knots that the drying always created. She reminded herself to ask her parents for a hairdryer for Christmas, as one would definitely come in handy. As she got dressed her mobile phone began to ring, she flipped it open and pressed Answer.
‘Hi Maddie,’ said a familiar, friendly voice.
‘Hi Ben,’ she said, trying to button her blouse with one hand.
‘Will you be joining us for breakfast?’ Madeline smiled to herself. Ben knew the answer to this; she always had breakfast with him and Abby. He was just fooling around as usual.
‘Of course, is Abby with you?’
‘Sure is,’ said Ben. A noise in the background indicated that Abby had shouted hello.
‘Tell her I said hi and I’ll be with you in about five minutes.’
‘Okie-dokie, see you then.’ Madeline closed her phone and finished getting dressed.
* * *
When Madeline arrived in the cafeteria of the main building she saw Ben and Abby sitting at their usual table and she smiled when they saw her. As she made her way over to them she noticed a poster on the bulletin board that had not been there yesterday. It was a serious looking warning poster advising students not to take unnecessary risks due to the spate of recent disappearances, some of which had turned into murder cases, involving young women. Madeline stopped momentarily and shuddered as she read it, thinking back to her encounter with the shrouded vagrant earlier that morning. Could he have something to do with this, she thought to herself. She tried to tell herself that she was being irrational and that the man who had stopped her was probably just a local homeless person, nothing more, but the poster unsettled her so Madeline left it to join her friends.
‘Morning,’ said Ben cheerfully.
‘Hi,’ said Abby, slightly absentmindedly. She was reading.
‘Morning guys,’ said Madeline, as she sat down.
‘Saw you checking out the new poster,’ said Ben conversationally.
‘Yeah, it’s terrible isn’t it?’
‘Big time, but they’ll catch whoever it is.’
‘I hope so,’ nodded Madeline. Her concern must have shown in her face because Abby looked up from her book.
‘Are you alright Maddie?’
‘Yeah, I guess,’ sighed Madeline.
‘Honey what’s up?’ said Abby, putting her book down and taking Madeline’s hand in her own.
‘It’s nothing, really.’
‘Come on Maddie,’ said Ben. ‘What’s up?’ Madeline sighed again.
‘I saw somebody this morning while I was out jogging.’
‘It was weird,’ said Madeline uncertainly. ‘I did my usual route and he was lying behind the bleachers.’
‘Who was he?’ asked Abby.
‘I don’t know,’ said Madeline, shaking her head slightly.
‘Well, what happened?’ asked Ben.
‘I didn’t even see him at first. Well I did but it wasn’t until he stood up that I realised he was there.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well he was wearing a tatty kind of robe that covered him from head to foot, so lying down he looked like a pile of rags.’
‘Nice,’ said Ben. ‘I always said this place attracts the cream of the crop.’
‘What happened?’ asked Abby, ignoring her boyfriend’s flippant remark.
‘He said something to me about needing to speak to me, and someone choosing me, I don’t know.’
‘Probably a religious nut,’ said Ben. ‘I got stopped once by this guy who yelled at me to repent.’
‘Yeah I wouldn’t worry too much about him Maddie,’ said Abby reassuringly. ‘He’ll move on and if he doesn’t campus security will sort him out.’
‘Yeah,’ said Madeline distantly.
‘And besides, you gals have me to protect you,’ said Ben as he put his arm around Abby, grinning lopsidedly.
‘What would you do? Hit the guy with your skateboard?’ retorted Abby sarcastically. Madeline stifled a laugh and Ben withdrew his arm, pretending to be hurt.
‘Fine,’ he said, ‘I’ll just let him take you.’
Abby stuck her tongue out at Ben, which prompted him to lean in and kiss her. Abby kissed him back but after a couple of seconds she hit him gently around the head with her book. Ben relaxed back into his seat and smiled at Madeline.
‘Don’t mind us,’ he said.
‘Oh, don’t worry, I don’t,’ said Madeline, still smiling. Ben was funny, Madeline found that she could just watch him and be amused; she liked being around him and Abby.
‘Have you guys eaten?’ she asked.
‘Not yet,’ said Abby, as she put her book and he reading glasses back into her bag.
‘We were waiting for you,’ said Ben.
‘Well that was very sweet of you,’ said Madeline, standing up. ‘What would you like?’
‘It’s okay…’ began Abby.
‘No no, you paid last time, remember?’
‘But still…’ continued Abby.
‘What do you want?’ insisted Madeline.
‘French toast please,’ interrupted Ben.
‘Okay, and for you Abby?’
‘Coffee,’ said Abby.
‘Nothing to eat?’
‘I’m not hungry.’
‘Okay, I’ll be back in a minute.’ Madeline made her way to the counter and ordered breakfast for the three of them. Placing it all on a tray and collecting the relevant condiments she returned to the table.
‘Here you go.’
‘Thanks Maddie,’ said Ben, taking his French toast and a couple of packets of butter.
‘Thank you,’ said Abby. She took her coffee and stirred in two packets of sugar.
‘So, what are you guys up to today then?’ asked Madeline while she tore the lid off her yoghurt.
‘Class,’ said Abby.
‘Ditto,’ said Ben, between mouthfuls of toast.
‘Same here,’ said Madeline.
‘Have you got Professor Mason today?’ asked Abby.
‘Yes, I have,’ said Madeline.
‘What is it with that guy?’ asked Ben.
‘What do you mean?’ said Madeline.
‘Well, he’s… you know… weird.’
‘No he’s not.’
‘Yeah he is. He’s just so proper.’
‘Why does that make him weird?’ asked Abby, suddenly taking more of an interest in the conversation.
‘Yes Ben,’ said Madeline, warming to the opportunity to tease Ben slightly. ‘Why does that make him weird?’
‘Well… he’s…err…he’s…’ stuttered Ben, realising he was fighting a losing battle.
‘Yes?’ chorused Madeline and Abby, making the silent agreement that they were going to watch Ben squirm. It took him a little while to realise what they were doing but a smile soon replaced his look of hunted confusion.
‘Oh you guys suck, leave me alone,’ he said jokingly, before taking a deliberately big bite of toast.
‘For your information,’ said Madeline. ‘Professor Mason lived in England for a while so that’s probably why he’s, as you say, proper.’
‘Well excuse me,’ said Ben theatrically. ‘Be sure to tell his lordship that I send my full apologies…ow!’ Ben was interrupted by Abby hitting him in the arm.
‘Ben, stop being a dumb ass,’ she said.
‘Anyway,’ said Madeline, finishing off the last of her yoghurt. ‘I’ll have to love you and leave you; I’ve got to get to class.’
‘So have we,’ said Abby.
‘Aw what’s the rush?’ asked Ben, as he leaned back in his chair and folded his arms behind his head.
‘No rush, but we’re going,’ said Abby sternly, grabbing Ben by the ear.
‘Ow ow ow! Okay okay, we’re going. See you around Maddie.’
‘Bye guys,’ said Madeline, smiling at the sight of Ben being dragged out of his chair by Abby. She watched them leave before throwing her empty yoghurt pot into a nearby bin, and then she left the cafeteria, heading for her first class of the day, which was with Professor Mason.- March 2007