This is a quick scene, from an early draft of one of my works in progress, Echoes, a YA paranormal. It’s very rough, but it was a fun study in atmosphere.
At first, everything was distant and fuzzy and normal dream stuff. Thoughts from the day kept building in her mind, circling each other, taking on knew meaning. But suddenly, everything shifted. The dream became crisper, more focused, as if someone had adjusted a lense. Morgan blinked a few times, and looked around her.
She was in the school. But not the normal school, all filled with daylight and students. This was the school at night, with all the lights turned off. She’d only seen it like that a few times, on parent-teacher conference night. Those meetings were always eerie, and, despite the chore, there was something exhilarating about being in the school after-hours. Like somehow you were breaking the rules.
But this was different. The excitement was there, building in Morgan’s mind, but there was something else. At parent-teacher conferences, you had to go out of your way to find the dark hallways. They were unused and empty, but even a little light seeped in from the lit halls. But now the school was pitch-black, with only moonlight drifting in from the small windows along the edge of the ceiling. It was what the school would probably really look like if she was really in it.
But it wasn’t completely silent, she realized. There was a faint noise, a gentle “tap—tap—tap.” It was echoing through the otherwise quiet halls. And as Morgan listened, she realized it was getting closer.
Despite herself, Morgan could feel the hair on her arms stand on end. She wasn’t usually afraid of much, but a creepy, dark, empty school at night was enough to make her shiver. It didn’t feel like a dream anymore. It felt rougher, realer, like something so much more than a dream. Plus she could smell the hallways, the lingering trace of sweat and dirt and textbooks. She could taste it on the back of her tongue. You couldn’t taste in dreams, could you?
The lockers seemed larger than life. Morgan tried to get hers open, cycling through all the combinations she could remember—sophomore year, freshman year, gym, middle school lockers, even the ancient lock she used on her bike in elementary school. Nothing worked.
The tapping was getting closer.
Morgan had to move. She edged away down the hall. She couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from exactly, but she could tell where it wasn’t, and she headed that way. At first she backed, like a frightened deer, but finally she gave up all pretense of acting brave, and just ran for it.
Down the hall.
Past the courtyard.
Back and forth in front of the science hall, doubting herself, then finally off to the right and down the art hall.
Too late, Morgan realized she was running towards a dead end.
The art hall ended in a sharp turn to the right, which dead-ended with the orchestra room. She tried the door, but of course it was locked, and none of the windows would open either.
She had no choice. She had to turn back.
She wasn’t sure if she could hear the taps anymore. Maybe she was just imagining them there, just at the edge of her hearing, but she couldn’t take that chance.
She darted back along the art hall, wondering how much time she had wasted. Maybe the taps had gone away. But no, they were still there, just on the edge of reality, waiting for her.
At the junction, she zagged left, instead of right, holding her breath.
She ran right in to him.
She must have been going pretty fast, because the shock threw her back, almost into the wall. She would have fallen, but a firm hand grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back on balance.
Morgan closed her eyes, and tried to pull away, but the hand wouldn’t release her.
Oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god, thought Morgan.
“Are you ok?” said a voice.
Morgan squeezed one eye open, and then the other, and stared into stunningly blue eyes, blinking at her in concern.
Morgan let out her breath, all and once, and pulled away. This time, he released her.
“Sorry,” he said, blushing now. “It looked like you were falling.”
“Oh, no, uh, thanks,” Morgan said, but her heart was still racing from the chase.
The boy smiled, and flipped his shaggy blond hair out of his face. There was something oddly familiar about him, but before she could ask his name, she heard it again—tap, tap, tap, echoing louder down the hall this time.
Morgan recoiled, and the boy did too. He started to slide down the hall away from her. “I think we should go,” he said, and his voice sounded as freaked out as she felt.
She followed him this time. He moved smoothly through the halls, as if he was used to traveling them at top speed in the dark. All the sudden, he stopped short, and made an abrupt turn, pulling Morgan with him.
The ended up inside a recessed door, at what Morgan vaguely knew to be the AV room. But she wasn’t really thinking about that, because the boy had pulled her close into the shadows with him. She was pressed up against him, and she could hear the beat of his heart and the fast pant of his breathing.
“Be quiet,” he said, in such a low whisper Morgan, inches from his mouth, could barely hear him. She heard the words more as a rumble through his ribcage, than as actual spoken sounds. He was only slightly taller than her. Just enough so that her chin fit in the crook of his neck. Together, they blended into the shadows.
The sound kept coming. It was more distinct now, more like what it really was—slow, careful, footsteps. The kind of footsteps that could take their time, because they knew there was no hurry. There was nowhere to hide, after all, and its pray could only run for so long.
Morgan buried into the boy, and tried her best not to breath.