The air outside the biology lab smelled ever so faintly of formaldehyde, but after three hours I’d mostly blocked it from my awareness. I sprawled on the hallway floor. My notebook was open in front of me, and to either side my papers fanned out in an arc.
They fluttered a bit as a Black girl in a Columbia sweatshirt dropped to the ground beside me. Ariella had been my first college friend. I still didn’t know what had made her single me out during orientation, but it was only thanks to her that I had any friends at all. She was as much a social butterfly as I was a social hermit. I smiled at her as she picked up a sheet, a diagram of the circulatory system of a fetal pig.
“So Lizzie,” she began, deceptively casual.
“On a scale of one to invading Russia during the winter, how screwed are we?”
I raised my eyebrows and spread my hands, the gesture encompassing my vast swathe of study materials. “Do you see this, Ariella? This ocean of material?”
She nodded, one side of her mouth creeping upwards into a half-smile.
I adopted a solemn expression. “We are going down like the Titanic.”
“Oh, is it time to whine about how badly we’re all gonna do?”
I looked up and winced. Sean was a perfect Irish redhead – complete with blue eyes, milk-white skin, and a profusion of freckles – and he was currently sporting a wicked sunburn.
He waved a hand. “I know, I know! I was studying on the steps and fell asleep. No sunscreen on.” The steps in front of Low library were a popular gathering place for students when the weather was nice.
Ariella gasped. “I’m gonna buy you some SPF 100.”
“All right,” I said. “Clearly study time is over.” I wasn’t going to get anything more done with this lot clowning around, and with ten minutes to go until class more cramming wouldn’t be productive, anyway. I gathered up my things.
Inside the classroom, the smell of formaldehyde was stronger. Unsurprising, given the number of specimens currently laid out on the tables. Every lab bench had ten stations to a side, and each pig had ten flags poked into various parts of its anatomy.
“…lovely,” Sean muttered.
“Why did you take this class if you’re so squeamish?” Ariella asked, brushing past him on her way to the coatrack.
Sean’s sunburn might have hid his blush, if I hadn’t been watching the tips of his ears. Head over heels, and too scared to say anything. I shrugged into a lab coat and shrugged off my friends’ romantic troubles.
Focus, Lizzie. Jejuno-ileum leads into the ascending colon leads into the descending colon… The Teaching Assistants were handing out copies of the exam. I took one, stifled a yawn, and made my way to an open station.
Henry made an appearance about an hour in, as I sat working on the written portion. A cold breeze tickled the back of my neck. I kept my eyes on my paper, but I could feel him leaning over my shoulder.
Trace the path of a molecule of glucose from its ingestion to the muscles of the left leg. I’d gotten as far as the descending aorta, but I was having trouble remembering the names of the arteries that branched off of it. “Henry,” I breathed. “Help.”
“You want me to help you cheat, Elizabeth?” I didn’t need to see Henry to imagine his disappointed expression; I could hear it in his clipped British accent.
“I didn’t study this because I was up all night doing research for you,” I whispered. I’d combed through my library — it wasn’t as extensive as my parents’, especially these days, but it had the advantage of being in my apartment and not, you know, upstate. I hadn’t found any mention of ghosts disappearing without breaking their anchors. Or ghosts returning after multiple exorcisms.
Or fetal pig anatomy. Which was the bigger issue right now, because I was trying not to fail out of college.
“Henry!” I hissed. The student across from me glared at me over his microscope. I made a face.
“Oh, Elizabeth! I’ll give you a hint. The bone at the top of your leg is…”
The femur. Femoral artery. I started scribbling again.
An hour later I walked out of the lab, circling my hands to limber up my wrists.
“Sore?” asked Ariella.
“It was a lot of writing,” I said.
“So it was. And now we will go to Bernie’s and do a lot of drinking.”
I scrunched up my face.
“No, Lizzie, you’re bailing on us again?” she exclaimed.
“Come on, Liz, it’s been forever since we really hung out,” said Sean. “We never see you anymore. I’m starting to think you’re not a student at all, just a ghost that haunts the library.”
Henry was still hovering over my shoulder. Normally he had better things to do than to watch me take a test, but I’d promised to go visit the site of one of the ‘disappearances’ with him that evening and he wasn’t going to leave me alone until I did. The situation had him totally rattled.
“I know, I’m the worst.” I said. “The absolute worst. I’ll make it up to you.”
“Sure,” said Sean dubiously.
“Before I die of old age, please,” Ariella added.
“I promise,” I said. “Now I’ve really got to run.”
As I stepped out of the biology building, I hugged my coat tighter against my body. It did okay against the October breeze, but I felt Henry’s icy presence all the way to the subway.