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What Could Go Wrong?

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‘It will be fun!’

‘We defeated an ancient, evil light that has been devouring girls for centuries just a week ago and now, you want to go to the Alchemy Club’s winter wonderland party?’ Laura shook her head and span around on her desk chair to face LaFontaine.

LaFontaine shrugged and grinned. ‘Come on, what could go wrong?’

Zombie-Santa Clauses.

Flesh-eating reindeers.

Human-engulfing baubles.

Hell, maybe even zombie-Santa Clauses that rode on flesh-eating reindeers and threw human-engulfing baubles. Those were the few things that could possibly grow wrong. It wasn’t like they were attending a university that rested on a hot bed of supernatural activity.

‘Fine, but you’re telling Perry that we can’t go to her movie night,’ blurted Laura, unable to say no. She threw down her pen and stacked up the notes she had been making on her new Lit assignment: The Left Hand of the Even Darker Side of the Gothic Genre.

Her paper could wait a few hours.

***

‘Seriously, why is it that everything we ever do involves some form of death and danger?’ yelled Danny, as she ran down the corridor with an unconscious LaFontaine on her back.

Oh, Perry was going to kill them for coming back with LaFontaine like this. That was if they ever got back. That movie night sounded a lot more appealing now.

‘Didn’t you read the terms and conditions of your student enrolment agreement?’ said Carmilla from over shoulder, who had taken point on their escape out of the underground labyrinth that was the Alchemy Department.

‘Only law students read the small print. Why do you think Silas doesn’t offer a law degree?’

‘Yeah, less snarky banter and more running, please!’ cried Laura.

She pumped her legs faster to keep up, but the creature with the sharp horns and froth spilling from its maw was dangerously close to snapping at her heels. She cursed her genetics for gracing her with only 5’2” in stature, as she sidestepped a pile of bones while Danny and Carmilla had jumped over it.

Apparently, Santa Clauses and baubles were far too primitive for the guys in the Alchemy Club to even consider creating. It was a shame, because Laura would have gladly fought off a hoard of zombies with a cricket bat if she needed to. The Alchemy Club had really outdone themselves this time round. It took creativity to reach an entirely new level of creepy. She only wished that the Alchemy Club used their powers for good, because growing dear Saint Nick’s alter ego, from leftover roast turkey mixed with the tears of naughty children and a rusty church bell, wasn’t what she wanted for the holidays.

They skidded round a corner and Laura saw, at the end of the corridor, the winding stairs that had led them down to this mess. She slipped on a puddle of water; her legs buckled from underneath her and she landed face first into what she hoped was water. The palm of her hands stung from breaking her fall and she had scraped her skin badly, but she pushed herself up off the damp flagstone floor anyway.

‘Cupcake, behind you!’

Laura froze and gulped when a hot, putrid breath drifted across the back of her neck. Chains clinked beside her ears and she closed her eyes tightly, as claws dragged against her cheeks and tucked her hair behind her ear delicately.

There was a seven-feet tall monster about to eat her and all she could think about was her unfinished Lit paper.

***

‘No, no, no, no! What is wrong with all of you?’ screeched Perry when she saw LaFontaine out cold and lying on Laura’s bed. She had taken one look at Laura and had decided that she did not need to know. ‘When are you going to learn that nothing is normal in this damn university?’

‘Keep it together, Floor Don.’

Laura slapped Carmilla on her left arm lightly, unintentionally flicking bile onto everyone else. ‘LaF’s going to be fine. It was a wayward Yule log to the head, nothing weird, and it was actually a pretty chill party.’

‘Tell that to the creature with the foot-long pointy tongue that tried to—’ Carmilla stopped talking and glared at Danny, who had punched her in the right arm.

‘What Carmilla is trying to say is that there is nothing to worry about,’ said Danny, wincing through the throbbing pain in her hand. ‘Geez, what the hell are you made of? Rock?’

‘How about you try staying dead for over three-hundred years without rigor mortis settling in?’

'Okay, this needs to stop!' Laura tried to step in between Danny and Carmilla, but they were firmly rooted to their spots and there was too much slime on her hands for her to push them apart. ‘We all need to relax, especially now that a real live Krampus is on the loose.’

She bit her lips at the sight of Perry’s unhealthy pallor, but the damage was done and Perry’s bottom lipped trembled like she was about to cry. She sighed wearily and wished that she had never said yes to LaFontaine’s invitation. Hindsight was a beautiful and useless thing.

Laura grabbed a change of clothes from her wardrobe and left Danny and Carmilla to their posturing in the middle of her room. They smelled of mouldy dungeon and desperately needed a shower, with Laura needing one the most. She was sure that the smell of rotting turkey and bad breath had seeped into her skin permanently, and that a whole bottle of shampoo was not going to get the gelatinous Krampus mucus out of her hair.

***

Laura frowned and rubbed her tired eyes. It was 5AM and she had got nowhere with her Lit paper. The research and planning were all done, but the words refused to come out.

‘Why is this so hard?’ Laura groaned and she laid her head on her keyboard.

‘You’re trying too hard.’

‘I managed a pass in my last exam, because of Danny. I have to do well in this assignment to boost my marks,’ murmured Laura into her laptop.

‘Then ask Xena to give you an extension again.’

‘What excuse do I have this time? It’s not like there’s another five girls waiting to be saved.’

Laura lifted her head and glared at Carmilla, who was standing at their little kitchenette making tea, but instead of angry, she looked miserable with a red mark in the shape of her spacebar on her forehead. She was tired and her deadline was in two days, and after that she needed to hand in her new topic idea to Professor Cochrane.

Fighting a vampire cabal should not have been easier than trying to spout out four thousands words for her assignment. Her friends wouldn’t believe her now, if she told them that she hadn’t wanted to go to university in the first place. Ever since she was eight and saw that travel documentary at her cousin’s house, she knew that she wanted to travel the world, going from country to country with a spare change of clothes in a ratty rucksack and a blank journal to write her adventures in. But her Dad had insisted and here she was, instead of in Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland as she had planned.

Surprisingly, it turned out that life at Silas was exactly how she imagined travelling would be. Instead of a pen and paper she had a low-resolution webcam (overprotective father and all) to document the weird and wonderful. The only thing she had not expected was the Scooby Doo-esque adventures coupled with her very own “gang”.

Laura smiled when Carmilla placed a mug in her hand and she sipped the hot tea carefully. She watched Carmilla slide underneath the covers of her bed, and how her glasses slid down the bridge of her nose when she bent over the side of the bed to grab a thick tome off the floor. It was JP’s latest recommendation from the stacks and given its cracked spine, it must have been popular read in its time.

‘Why don’t you go for a walk to clear your head?’ suggested Carmilla.

It was dark outside their dorm window and Laura was not going to become Krampus breakfast willingly. She had been lucky to escape the first time round on good behaviour. She wasn’t so sure that she would be as lucky the next time, since there was a sudden shortage of kidnapped students for her to save. Then again, maybe a good run was what she needed.

‘Probably leave that walk for when the sun’s up, Cupcake.’

Laura nodded quickly and looked at her blank word document once more before declaring it a failure. There was no way she could have expected herself to finish an assignment, especially after having escaped being eaten a few hours before.

One step at a time, Laura thought, as she joined Carmilla in bed to read the best harlequin romance of the antediluvian age.

 

***

The Quad outside the Gaistaz Building was grey and dreary in the winter, and without any leaves the trees looked malevolent with its gnarled and crooked branches. But the grass was frozen and crunched satisfyingly underneath Laura’s shoes, and she forgot about how creepy the Quad was supposed to be.

It was early December and it should have been bone-gnawing cold outside, but Laura felt oddly warm inside her coat, like someone had hugged her the moment she entered the Quad. The students generally steered clear of talking about the pockets of weird weather on campus, since it was a Tribunal offence. It was easier to blame it on the Alchemy Club’s ongoing experiments for their climate change project.

Laura chose an old bench on the East side of the Quad, because it had a good vibe to it and the inscription in memory of a “C. McFadden” had made her laugh. She placed her coffee on top of her books, which were bookmarked with various bits of paper and Carmilla’s feather dangler, and started typing away on her laptop. The change of environment was exactly what she needed and she found that the words flowed easily.

A light breeze sprung up and her hair kept falling into her eyes like it had a mind of its own. She brushed her hair out of the way, but it flicked and tickled at her face so much that she stopped typing and tied it up in a messy bun. She reached for her coffee without taking her eyes off the screen and thought that one thousands words in an hour was definitely progress. She groped for her coffee aimlessly before she turned around to find that it was on the bench.

Laura stared at her drink; she swore that she had put it on her books, but she ignored her gut and went back to her assignment. The bench creaked and the wooden slacks dipped slightly as someone sat down next to Laura. She was about to tell them to stop turning the pages of their book so loudly when they spoke first.

‘What are you working on?’

‘My Lit paper,’ replied Laura, not bothering to look up from her work.

‘That sounds boring.’

‘No, it’s actually really interesting.’

‘Hey, Laura!’

She looked up and saw a tall figure walking out of the Gaistaz Building towards her, swathed in a thick puffy coat with a furry hood covering its head. It took a moment before she realised that it was Danny wrapped up underneath all that fabric.

‘What are you doing out here?’ asked Danny, her voice muffled by the layers of her green woollen scarf. ‘It’s freezing.’

‘Really?’ Laura was sweating, but Danny’s nose was pink and she was shivering inside her thick coat. ‘I’m working on my assignment.’

‘Oh, right, I thought you were skyping with your Dad or something, ‘cause it looked like you were talking to yourself.’

‘No, I was talking to—’

Laura turned with her hand out to introduce the person she had been talking to, but apart from her opened notebook on the bench, there was no one next to her. Dread prickled the back of her scalp and she felt something tug at her bun insistently. And it wasn’t Danny.

***

‘What did you do?’ Books and pens and dirty laundry flew out from Laura’s room forcing Carmilla to drop to floor. ‘Tell it to stop!’

‘I can’t!’ cried Laura from behind an overturned table. ‘It’s not like it came with an instruction manual.’

How was she supposed to know that the uncomfortable warmth that she had experienced was from the poltergeist that had latched itself onto her back?

The poltergeist hadn’t been so bad when she brought it back to their dorm. It had been kind of nice, like having a heat therapy patch stuck to her entire back, but the moment LaFontaine had mentioned reporting their new friend to the Poltergeist Hotline, it had unlatched itself from her back and had used everything that Laura and Carmilla owned as ammo.

‘Didn’t you read your student handbook?’ shouted LaFontaine from inside their room. ‘The Gaistaz Quad is famous for poltergeist activity.’

‘Just ask JP who we have to call to get rid of this thing,’ said Danny through clenched teeth, as she batted Laura’s incoming phone back down the corridor with her quarterstaff.

‘JP said to text Perry,’ came LaFontaine’s confused voice through the door. ‘I think JP might have virus.’

An 18th Century bust sailed through the air at speed and smashed against the notice board, showering Carmilla with marble and dust. ‘Laura, I said to get some fresh air, not befriend Casper the unfriendly ghost!’

‘Carm, what a great idea! Let’s insult the incorporeal being that we all can’t see,’ hissed Laura. She peeked over the top of the table carefully, but the poltergeist had stopped throwing things. Every doorknob on their floor started rattling violently. ‘See, now you’ve made it angry.’

The rattling stopped and the door to Room 13 opened slowly, its hinges screeched its desperate need for oiling. Laura could not fault the poltergeist’s flare for the dramatic, but her eyes widened as the door opened to reveal an entire cutlery set and a broadsword floating in the air.

Carmilla swore as the knives, forks, spoons, and broadsword swivelled to face her.

‘Elvira, use this.’ Danny threw her wooden quarterstaff at Carmilla, who caught it easily in one hand.

Laura hid behind the table again and closed her eyes. She really did not want to watch this disaster.

***

Laura sat between Carmilla and Danny on the floor. She stretched her legs out, kicking away the debris, and rested her head against the wall with a thump. Their entire floor was quiet, having been evacuated earlier by Campus Security, who had been useless when it came to dealing with the poltergeist.

(‘Looks like you got it covered here, thanks!’)

‘I know,’ said Perry, puncturing the dejected atmosphere that had settled over them. ‘What we need is a night of the normal, like a movie and lots of brownies, after we clean up all this of course.’

Perry gestured at the destruction that surrounded them. The plaster on the walls were cracked and cratered from Danny’s punches when the poltergeist had possessed her. The broadsword was embedded in a large piece of rubble that used to be part of the ceiling, and the floor of one of the rooms above. There were ripped pieces of Laura’s notes and broken crockery everywhere, littered in between with tufts of Perry’s hair.

‘Sorry for pulling out your hair,’ muttered Danny, as she inspected her bruised and battered knuckles.

‘I accept you apology, even if it wasn’t really you who was doing the pulling.’ Perry massaged her scalp with her fingers and smiled, adding: ‘I did get you back good with the proton pack.’

In the midst of Carmilla’s battle against the sword and Danny’s sudden defection to the enemy side, Laura had crawled on her front to reach her phone to text Perry: “Possessed Danny in dorm. Come quick. Bring exorcist!” She needed to thank her Dad for giving her that phone instead of the iPhone she had wanted.

‘You looked badass when you stormed in with the proton pack and zapped that Polt with 500,000 MHz of awesome!’ LaFontaine grinned and threw their right arm around Perry’s shoulder, which had a pretty painful paper cut from when the poltergeist had whipped The Kiss at them.

The proton stream had knocked the poltergeist out of Danny (and the heating system in the entire dorm as well), and Carmilla had been able to keep her limbs long enough to trap it inside the Sumerian book. It turned out that Perry’s Professor in “Intro to German Linguistic” had a fully functioning proton pack that he carried around everywhere.

‘I’m sorry about your laptop though,’ said LaFontaine, as they handed one half of the laptop to Laura.

Laura took the remains of her laptop with a tight smile and forced down her urge to sob. The other half was lying somewhere outside the dorm having been used as a frisbee by the poltergeist. She sagged into Carmilla’s side and rested her head on Carmilla’s bony shoulder. Every muscle in her body ached and there was a lump on her forehead from when her TARDIS mug had hit her face. Her clothes were covered in brick and debris, but at least her shirt was intact; Carmilla’s had become a crop top and there was a nasty gash on her upper arm.

‘Danny?’ Laura’s voice wobbled and she swallowed down the sobs in her throat.

‘Yeah?’

‘Can I get an extension on my Lit paper?’