A short horror story about bullying and its underlying causes
What Lurks in the Library: A queer horror story by Duncan MacLeod
Julius Highbaugh loved books more than anything. He read a book every couple of days and listened to audiobooks when he walked to and from Midvale Junior High. School was a mixed bag. He liked math, science, English – all the classes except Gym. He was good friends with two of his teachers, but his fellow students were nasty and picked on him.
The worst bully was Dwayne Morales. In gym class, Dwayne made Julius’s life a living hell. He kicked him, spit on him, punched him and pinned him down. One day, when Dwayne had Julius in a choke hold, Julius locked eyes with him. It was a strange moment. Dwayne felt it, too, and pushed Julius away with disgust.
“Faggot! What’re you looking at?”
Julius didn’t say anything, because he didn’t know an answer that would prevent further physical abuse.
Dwayne shuddered and pushed him away. In that instant, Julius realized that Dwayne had been so focused on him because deep down he was into him. Julius hated Dwayne, but had to admit that he felt something for him, too. The thought was too scary. Julius was going to graduate college, get married, have kids, and retire early. He had always imagined doing that with a woman, but today he got a momentary glimpse into another side of himself he never knew existed.
* * *
The bell rang, signaling the end of the school day. Dwayne had vanished; Julius was alone in the locker room. He changed quickly. He had plans to stop at the library and swap out his stack of books for another. It was Wednesday. Budget cuts meant that the library was only open until four, so he would have to be quick about it.
As Julius trotted towards the library, he thought he heard something behind him. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Dwayne lumbering towards him. Julius broke into a run and made it two blocks to the library. Out of breath, he scanned the sidewalk. Dwayne had given up. He thought about calling the cops. His parents wouldn’t let him have a phone, but he begged them to let him use theirs. They agreed to one hour of phone time twice a week.
Relieved, Julius passed through the metal detector and dropped his pile of finished books on the returns counter. The librarian whose name he never remembered gave him a kind smile. Librarians love people who read.
* * *
The Midvale library was nearly as old as the town itself. It was an impressive brick structure with Corinthian columns flanking the entrance and a giant Dome like a Capital Building. Inside the two story structure were several rooms for different age groups. Julius had graduated from the kiddy book room. He spent a lot of time in the young adult section, perusing and selecting fantasy and horror books. He sometimes chose a book he had seen on Instagram, but he also let his instincts dictate his selections. He was seldom wrong. In truth, every book was worth reading, even the crappy ones. It was rare that Julius decided not to read a real stinker.
After getting the latest Cassandra Clare novel out of Young Adult, he moved over to the Horror section. He had read everything by Steven King at least three times, but there were plenty of other choices. These were grownup books, sometimes with graphic sex scenes, but the librarians never stopped Julius from borrowing them. He liked the sex scenes, but he really liked being scared while he read. It was much more manageable than the fear he felt at the hands of his tormentor. Thinking of Dwayne just then made him flinch.
* * *
There were no new horror books on the shelf, so Julius had to select something he hadn’t read yet from among a mass of books he had read once or twice. He found a fat collection of H.P. Lovecraft short stories hidden behind the L’s. Its title was new to him “Doomed Mountains and Whispered Shadows”. He checked the list of stories, and there were at least a dozen he had never heard of nor read. He jumped so high, he hit his head on the top shelf. He only had two books, and he needed at least one more to get him through the week. But something urgent was bubbling.
Julius was so stressed out at school that he had developed a nasty case of irritable bowel syndrome or IBS. It struck at inopportune moments; the pain was unbearable. The only way to relieve it was to take a dump. It was drawn out and never pleasant.
* * *
Julius climbed the stairwell to the men’s room on the second floor. He heard the announcement, “Library closing in fifteen minutes”. Damn. IBS was a merciless bully all its own. He knew he would be in the bathroom for a while.
“Screw it,” he said. “Two books is enough. I’m about to be in a world of hurt.
Julius suffered for half an hour or more before the horrible pain was gone. When he cleaned up and exited the bathroom, he saw the library like he’d never seen it before. Every light was off. There were no librarians, and no security guard in sight.
“Hello?” Julius’s voice reverberated off the rotunda of books. There was no answer. He tried it again louder and waited. This time he heard something, but it wasn’t a person. There was something in the library with him.
He whirled around when he heard the sounds of suction cups on glass. The second floor was boring. He never came up here. It was biographies, non-fiction, how-to, cookbooks and other nonsense. Julius mustered up some courage.
* * *
He heard a sound not unlike the revving of a car engine. It seemed mechanical until it coughed.
“That’s not funny, you’re scaring me.” Julius backed away until his back was against the balcony railing. He closed his eyes. “This isn’t real.”
If the Sasquatch could speak, that was the sound Julius heard next. His heart felt like a hummingbird. In the murky darkness, a shape emerged from behind Home Economics and Cooking. The library was too dark to make it out, but Julius could see that it was at least as tall as the bookshelves. Then it ran towards Julius.
Julius screamed like a rollercoaster rider. He hurried down the spiral staircase to the ground floor. The rotunda had dirty skylights which let in some of the late afternoon light. Julius was at a disadvantage. The Shape could see him, but he couldn’t see the shape. It was time to change that.
Julius bolted into the music room. There were a dozen cupboards, any of which could hold him. It felt like his best chance. He scurried across the marble floors and quietly opened the music room. Hopefully the Shape didn’t see him go in there. He chose a random cupboard and wedged himself in, closing the wooden door. He remembered reading a scene like this in The Shining and also in Jurassic Park, where a small child hides in a cupboard. He also remembered that in both cases, the child was found by the villain.
* * *
Julius pushed against the back of the cupboard, hoping that it led to Narnia, but it didn’t. He could hear The Shape roaring in the distance, knocking over shelves and crashing in to tables and chairs. It would find him. He knew it. His IBS started acting up again. He felt gas pressing hard against his insides. If he tried to let it out, it would be a mess. Ina flash, he remembered the ladies’ room was on the first floor, not far from the Music Room. He knew it was risky, but nature’s angry call was worse than whatever beast lurked nearby.
Like a mouse, Julius tiptoed rapidly across the carpeted floor. The ladies’ room was a few yards away. Undetected (he hoped) he gently opened the door, terrified that it would squeak. He silently thanked the custodian who must have oiled the hinges. Silence in a library is a precious commodity.
Julius was in agony, but he had to act smart. He entered the stall nearest to the door, locked it, crawled under to the next stall, and continued until he was in the last one, relieved. He kept his feet up off the floor like he had seen in a hundred Teen Rom-Coms and Horror movies. The jury was out on the hiding in the toilet stall maneuver. It worked in about one-third of the movies. Usually, the villain or monster or whatever menacing presence would find the girl. Julius realized it was almost never a boy. Boys in movies do brave things and die, but only the little boys hide.
As this sunk in, he heard a slurping noise coming from the foyer to the ladies’ room.
“Crap.” He was going to die.
Slowly, The Shape squished and sucked its way through the bathroom, dislodging sinks which caused a flood. Julius prayed silently. In the twilight coming through the dappled windows, Julius could see The Shape up close. It looked like something Lovecraft would have created but hadn’t. Maybe it was in the book he’d found.
The Shape reached the last stall and extended an eyeball under the stall. It roared and tore the door off. The Shape grabbed Julius, squeezing him firmly but not painfully. Its central eye was like a television screen. Images flashed across it – scenes from Julius’s short, soon-to-end life. It stopped on the locker room scene from earlier this afternoon. It was the exact moment when Dwayne and Julius had locked eyes.
The Shape howled in agony. Tears formed around the edges of his television eye. Dwayne Morales turned and looked right at present-moment Julius. Julius felt the fear of that earlier moment. He cried. Dwayne stood staring in amazement. The outline of his body beveled and formed a three-dimensional Dwayne, who leaned out of the eye. He was smiling. His face drew closer and closer, until they touched noses. Then Dwayne kissed him.
“Dude, we’re both gay.”
The Shape set Julius down on the cold tiles. It turned into smoke, then vanished.