The guide’s mortarboard cap is crooked, the tassel falling over the shadow of his face.
Step lively. Keep close. These roads are a menace, particularly at dawn and dusk. You can never tell which way they’re going to come next.
He steps forward and is followed, feet crunching the leaves that the hem of his gown leave untouched.
It’s almost as if, he remarks as he reaches the other side, these buses have minds of their own…
All of a sudden, a stark headlight cuts through the sunset, accompanied by a scream of breaks and a blur of blue. A door opens with a groan and an arm emerges, fingers outstretched.
The guide turns back, just in time to watch the bus leave, and does a headcount.
Lost one already?
He tuts, impassively.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The next building he stops at is a slab of concrete with opaque windows. Angry spiked letters tumble out of the glass to pour down the sides, tangling in the bushes. From inside comes the hum of frantic pens scratching against paper.
Congregation Hall, the guide’s voice echoes. I expect you’ll all do an exam in here at some point.
He kicks an adverb out from under his feet and watches it sulk into the gutter.
Perhaps one day they’ll let you out.
The doors open and a pool of ink spills down the steps, black as blood and thick as tar. It is sticky, and once it touches your shoe it doesn’t let go.
The guide shakes his head as the ink is sucked back up through the hall.
Two more down?
He eyes his shrinking group, the setting sun behind his head obscuring his features.
I suppose we’d better get a move on.
Did you ever hear, he asks, of the little girl with her red dancing shoes?
He is leading them through a darkened hall, fill to the brim with writhing bodies. A strobe light flashes, showing the ivory white of his neck.
Too full of pride, that was her fault. Couldn’t stop herself from looking at her shoes, and so was doomed to dance for all eternity.
The floor underneath their feet is slippery with something that stinks metallic and the arms and legs that push against them are floppy, desperate. Hands grab, clawing at jackets to pull their owners back into the fray.
The music is so loud, the beat pounding so hard against their eardrums that the guide has to shout to make himself heard.
There was, of course, a way out for that little girl with her perpetually dancing red shoes.
He grimaces, but it is almost a smile.
Rather grim, mind you.
He steps out of the door, and as his gown lifts they see he has been hiding an executioner’s axe, it’s blade still wet with blood.
He is enthused, as animated as they have yet to see him.
The sun is almost fully set now, mist swirling around their feet as they tramp through the mud.
An excellent spot, one of the nicest on campus. I would advise you stick to the walkways, though.
This is spoken just as fingers of pond weed slither through the cracks of the walkways. They twine around legs, pulling taunt, and when they hiss they rattle like snake tongues.
There have been tales of tragedy on these paths, terrible stories that I won’t bother to bore you with. In any case, I’m sure none of you would dare to take your leave of the road most travelled.
He continues on without looking back, his gown gliding over the boardwalk planks with a rustle that drowns out the gulps of water moving further and further into the middle of the lake.
Behind him, the pond weed crushes the walkway and the path disappears into darkness.
He is pleased with himself, rubbing his bony fingers together as he comes to a stop next to a bridge.
Well, I think that concludes our tour.
Only one of you left?
He is evidently disappointed.
I was expecting at least three, you all looked like such a sensible bunch. Still, I have reached this point before and found I had been talking to myself since the LCR. The UEA isn’t for everyone, I suppose.
He smiles, and when he raises his head the moon illuminates the grooves in his face where his skin ought to be.