Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Undercollege, Part 1: Flight

Originally posted on Facebook Notes, 14th October 2007

A new serial, hopefully with a new post every week. Hope you like it!

The white van swerved to avoid the dark figure on the bicycle, nearly slamming headlong into a tree by the road. Its driver, a short, stocky man whose balding pate gave him a monastic appearance, uttered a curse in the direction of the retreating figure. "Bloody cyclists!"

Dr. Delia Mainwaring barely registered the vehicle's presence. Her black gown streamed out behind her as she disappeared into the night, frantically pedalling down Garrett Hostel Lane. Must make it to the bridge. If I can get to the bridge, I'll be safe.

A long sequence of events had led to this moment. It had been tricky enough, in the first place, to gain Visiting Scholar status and then to be granted access to the University Library. Then she'd needed to strike up enough of a friendship with a young caretaker to be allowed access to the holiest of holies, the inner sanctum where the University's most precious books and manuscripts were stored in top security. Through all of this she'd tried to maintain as low a profile as possible, right up until it came to stealing the book and making away with it. But somehow her enemies had been following her every move, and now she was fleeing from a truly fiendish creature, the book tucked away in a satchel under her gown.

Orgasm Bridge, the students called it. The name referred to the ever more belaboured sounds made by cyclists attempting to reach its peak, and the exhilarating relief of cresting it. But orgasm was the furthest thing from Delia Mainwaring's mind as she powered up its western slope. Relief she did feel as she reached the top... and safety... but it was swiftly replaced by horror as she saw what awaited her on the other side.

Three human skeletons were standing there, waiting. The orange gleam of the street lamps was reflected in the smooth contours of their clean-polished bones. Each hefted a mace or other such crushing weapon, and each wore a black bowler hat atop the crown of their skull. Mainwaring briefly considered trying to ride them down and press through, but she knew that the risk was too great. She could not chance damage to the book. Reluctantly she slipped off her bike at the summit of the bridge and dared a glance behind her.

At the foot of the bridge on the western side, the form of her pursuer resolved itself: a tall, rake-thin man. He sported a narrow moustache and was dressed in immaculate black tie. The skin of his face and hands was every bit as pale as the crisp white shirt he wore, but the irises of his eyes were blood-red. When he spoke, there was only a slight hint of a foreign accent in his otherwise perfect newsreader English.

"Caught between a rock and a hard place, Dr. Mainwaring," he said with a toothy smile. "I am... truly sorry it had to come to this, but you have led us a merry chase. And now you have something that belongs to us, so I offer you a choice." Another grin. "Surrender the book to me and you can depart from here unharmed."

"I doubt that," Mainwaring shot back. "And it doesn't belong to you. Any more than it belongs to me."

The pale man shook his head. "Foolish," he whispered. "Well, you leave me no choice. We'll just have to do this the hard way." He extended a slender finger and beckoned, and behind her the three skeletal minions began their advance up the slope of the bridge.

You leave me no choice. Mainwaring considered her options, and knew that he was right. No choice. She'd really been hoping not to have to resort to what she was about to resort to. "I'm sorry," she breathed as her gown slipped from her shoulders and a warm golden light began to envelop her.

The arrogant smirk of the tall man slowly transformed into an astonished grimace as the aura gained in intensity. On the other side of the bridge, the skeletons' inexorable advance faltered and they drew back. "Crush her!" the pale man screeched, but his order went unheeded. It was too late.

As the corona reached its zenith, the skeletons turned away, scrabbling with skinless fingers at their empty eye-sockets. Only the pale man did not look away, and through the glare he fancied he saw broad white wings emerging from Mainwaring's upper back before the light became blinding and his vision momentarily obscured.

When his sight returned, all that was left at the apex of the bridge was an abandoned bicycle, a discarded gown... and a few white pinion feathers fluttering to the floor.

Glancing upward into the night sky, the vampire muttered an ancient obscenity under his breath. The Master will not be pleased. His red eyes roved the scene for a few moments more, then he turned on his heel and stalked away.

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