Professor Hawthorne's Hidden Chamber
"I have A Ouija Board." Meghan pulled it out from under her bed. We were both undergraduates at Hopkins University in Barton, Indiana, sharing A room in the dormitories.
"My parents would have A fit if they could see this." She shook my head as she closed my biology textbook. Studying seemed suddenly out of the question. Once Meghan got an idea in her head, it was hard to talk her out of it and to be honest, I needed A distraction. Biology made my mind foggy.
"I got something from my boyfriend after class." She held up A baggie with leafy green stuff inside it, "He claims it's killer weed."
"I don't do that." She begged off.
"Aubrey, don't be a prude." She began rolling a fat one, "Everyone is cool."
She lit it and took A hit as she passed to me. Reluctantly I took the cookie and inhaled. it tickled my throat, but I could feel the THC start to play with my brain cells. A minute ago was deep into the organic world of the living.
"Good shit, huh?" Her green eyes were red and watery, "This is how you Ouija."
She put her hands on the centerpiece, "Just do what I do."
Aubrey did as she was told. The centerpiece glided to a letter.
"It's an H." Meghan confirmed.
It took ten minutes and another joint before we spelled out an intelligible word.
"Hawthorne." She read the result.
"Like the library?" Aubrey was a bit disappointed.
But there was more and a chill ran up her spine.
"Get me out of here!"
Meghan and Aubrey looked at each other with alarm.
It felt like the air was being sucked out of the room. This no longer seemed like fun.
Get me out of here. Those words kept echoing through my head during the entire day as Aubrey shuffled from class to class like a full fledged Zombie.
"Ms. Abaghelli," Professor Glenda Holtz woke Aubrey up from her disturbing daydream,"Are you with us today?"
"I did not sleep well." Aubrey answered followed by a smattering of tittering from her fellow students.
When she finally flopped on my bed in my dorm room at the end of the day, Meghan was sitting at the desk leafing through a magazine.
“What a day.” She groaned.
“Got something I think you should see.” She said without turning her head.
“Now what?” She whined as she handed me a folded piece of paper. Aubrey opened the letter and read it:
To whom it may concern,
I wish at this time, being of sound mind and body, to affirm a great injustice that has taken place which will cost me my sanity and well-being. I have been working on a system of cryogenics that will revolutionize the process which so far has yielded very little progress. In an effort to silence me and all my hard work and research, the University of Barton has decided to censure me so that my breakthrough research can be covered up. I find this a disgrace not only to me as a tenured professor, but to science as well. In an effort to conceal my progress, the administration has decided to place my equipment and journals into a hidden chamber beneath the Library named after one of the university’s main benefactors, my grandfather Horace Hawthorne. If anyone is aware of this travesty, all of my hard work will be contained in the confines of this sealed off area.
Professor of Cryogenics
Signed September 12, 1977
“Are you serious?” Aubrey gasped now fully awake once again.
“I’m pretty sure he was the one talking to us through my Ouija board.” She shook her head.
“Now what?” I refolded the letter.
“I was hoping you’d know.” She gave Aubrey a sidelong glance.
“How should I know?” Aubrey threw my hands up in the air.
“We could just forget the whole thing.” She smiled, but it was a sarcastic smile at best.
Sleep would not come easy that night.
“Aubrey, come and help me escape. Get me out of here.”
“Have you ever heard of Professor Hawthorne?” She asked her advisor the next morning before her first class.
Mr. Druitt got out of his desk chair and walked over to the door. With a quick glance to make sure no one was listening in, slowly closed the door. She found this behavior quite strange and unusual to his even tempered manner.
“Professor Hawthorne passed away in 1977, long before I came to this university.” He said calmly though blinking his eyes several times. “I was an undergrad, much like yourself now. He was showing signs of dementia. It was pathetic to see him slip away like he did. I heard he sealed himself inside his office in the science department and was several hours dead when the police managed to gain access to his office.”
It struck her as strange how campus lore could change and shift from storyteller to storyteller.
“What about a hidden chamber?” She asked, remembering the letter.
“What chamber?” He blinked several times.
“You asked Druitt?” Meghan asked as we ate in the food court.
“Yeah, he was lying his ass off.” Aubrey shook her head.
“What did he say?” Meghan drew some lemonade on her straw.
“He denied the hidden chamber and told me Professor Hawthorne sealed himself inside his office.” She bowed her head.
“Like Fortunato in Poe’s ‘Cask of Amontillado?’” She could not conceal a smirk.
“Yeah, kind of like that.” Aubrey agreed.
“What do you suppose happened?” She asked, slurping her drink.
“I think he was murdered.” Aubrey deducted.
“Agatha Christie has nothing on you.” She chuckled.
“They put him in that room before sealing it up.” Aubrey theorized as she had learned to do when presented with a problem.
“Wouldn’t he be able to run out?”
“They had him bound, hands and feet.” She answered with arms folded across my chest confident I would solve this mystery. “I had several dreams last night. He was in them.”
“Who? Professor Hawthorne?”
Aubrey nodded, “Yup.”
The Hawthorne Student Library was one of the most modern prestigious learning centers anywhere in the country thanks in part to a generous grant from Horace Hawthorne, a man who grew rich on stealing native land to allow his cronies build railroads on the newly acquired land. There were a lot of subjects that the administration did not wish to discuss and the origins of the grant money was definitely one of them. Built in 1932 during the Great Depression, the library was rife with classic gothic architecture that included dark alcoves and a labyrinth hard to find passageways. Meghan and I spent the afternoon in some of these dark corridors where fierce long-tooth stone creatures sat along the ledges of the expansive open learning area.
“This place is creepy as hell.” Meghan said, but her voice echoed freely in the open spaces. “Better keep my thoughts to myself, then.”
The unevenness of the masonry was the first giveaway. Aubrey ran my hand across the amateurist brick inlay and told me something had been concealed behind these bricks, something that someone did not want anyone to see.
“What do you think?” She asked Meghan who did the same, running her fingers over the bricks.
“I think we have found the hidden chamber.” She whispered with her green eyes wide open in amazement.
“How do we-?”
“I am not an archaeologist, but I suspect we need to see what those bricks are hiding.” She glanced at Aubrey.
Aubrey’s grandpa Albert Abaghelli was right off the boat from the old country where craftsmanship was preferred over expedience and too many times working for construction companies in this country, he was let go for this.
“Just another slow WOP. I got the other guys to lay twice as many bricks in one hour as he does in an entire shift.” The foreman would complain to the contractor when the crew fell behind on production.
“You can’t put that over that.” He would complain about the job, but then someone would point to the back door and he would exit from the project.
When he finally retired, he would take her on rides through the Catskills and he would talk about his boyhood in Tuscany during the war. He would talk about how the American GIs would pass out Hersey candy bars like they were gold bars. She was only ten when he had been taken by cancer. There would be no more excursions into the hills, but she remembered how he would take time to show her the proper way to lay bricks. She admired his hands and the way he would use his keen eyes to make subtle adjustments. She would marvel at his skill and patience even when it took her several tries to do what he had done in one try.
“We need to take this wall down.” She put her fist on the rough masonry.
“Are you nuts?” Meghan asked with her face frozen in disbelief. “You and what army.”
“We got boyfriends.” She tilted her head.
“Yeah and neither one of them have ever done any manual labor that I am aware of.” Meghan shook her head.
“Well it’s about time we all learned.” She professed.
“When? This place always has people in here who may notice.” Meghan moved her flat palm in all four directions where students had perched themselves with open books.
“At night. After dinner.” Aubrey shrugged.
“When do we study?”
“Once we have this wall down.” She smiled as she patted the wall.
“What if the thing beyond that wall is evil?” She gritted her teeth.
“Do you really think that is the case?” Aubrey asked her roommate.
“I really don’t know for sure.” Meghan confessed.
“Where is your sense of curiosity?” Aubrey patted her on the shoulder.
Clint was Meghan’s boyfriend who did not seem eager to do what Aubrey proposed they do while Sean, her boyfriend did not seem fond of the idea either. Still their sense of male pride had been aroused and they followed the girls to the library.
“Library will be closing in ten minutes.” The librarian informed them at ten till nine o’clock. That was their cue to hideout in a small alcove that was never checked before the library closed. Their tools were hidden in the restrooms near the wall they had decided to demolish. The four of them did their best not to breathe or make any noise that would give them away. Their efforts paid off as they heard the click of lock just after the lights were shut off.
Waiting a few minutes before stepping out of their hiding place, the four of them fought to see in the darkness of the library.
“I had no idea how dark it would be.” Sean blinked several times, but still could not see Aubrey standing a few feet in front of him. Aubrey went into the Girl’s room to fetch the tools consisting of four pick axes and two long-handled shovels as well as a Coleman lantern.
Clint, in order to prove his masculinity, drove his pick ax into the brick which made a small dent in the masonry. After several strikes, he bent over with his hands on his knees and resting the handle of his pick ax on his bent legs.
“At this rate we’ll be there in a few years.” Aubrey shook her head. She remembered what her grandpa had taught her as a little girl.
“Find the seam, giovane.” She could still see his smile through his long bushy mustache.
She put her hand on the wall. There it was. With a mighty swing of the pick ax she tore a hole in the wall. After a couple of more strikes, some of the bricks began to crumble.
Meghan put her hand to her mouth. Whatever was on the other side of the wall could not see a beam of light from the lantern. If there was someone inside. The thought was unthinkable to her at this moment. Aubrey took another swing and some more bricks gave way until a gap appeared that was about a foot wide. With a little more, one of them could wiggle through the hole. Everyone noticed there was a thick cloud of dust in the air. Meghan pulled her shirt up like a mask as the four of them continued to hammer at the widening hole.
Aubrey picked up the lantern by the handle and moved it to the hole. As she entered the chamber that had been sealed off nearly fifty years ago, she was overcome with the musty air inside wondering if this is how the excavators felt opening the pyramids in Egypt.
There was a human form lying on what appeared to be a sarcophagus. Her heart began to beat wildly, making her gasp.
“Aubrey, are you alright?” Meghan, still afraid to follow her into the hidden chamber, asked in a feeble echo.
“I’m fine.” She was afraid to approach the human figure lying before her.
“What is in there?” Clint asked also a bit timid to follow her in.
“I think you’d better have a look for yourself.” She said over her shoulder.
Meghan was next inside the chamber. Blinking, she asked, “What is it?”
“Better question would be, who is it?” Aubrey took another step closer.
“My guess this is Professor Hawthorne.” Meghan swallowed hard and then asked, “Do you think he’s alive?”
“How the hell should I know?” You could hear the tremble in her voice.
“No fear, giovane.” He told her when they opened a small nest of rats, “God put them here for a reason. Just He put you and me here.”
“What do we do now?” Meghan asked.
“I’m kind of freaked out.” Clint looked down at the body on the stone tableau in front of him.
“How should I know? This is my first dead body.” Aubrey shook her head.
“It’s dark out here.” Sean complained as he entered the chamber at last. “Hey, that's a dead body.”
“No shit, Sherlock.” Aubrey put her hands on her hips.
“Maybe not so dead.” You could hear the fear in Meghan’s voice as the figure rose from the tableau still wearing his shroud.
“Oh my G--” Aubrey stood there with her mouth wide open as the ghostly image pulled away the sheer cloth of his shroud.
“Welcome.” The man said calmly as the four of them nearly jumped out of their skins, “I am glad you all came. I have been held prisoner here for a long time.”
A smile came to his wrinkled face.
“Are you Professor Humbolt Hawthorne?” Aubrey asked.
“I am.” He bowed his head.
“You spoke to us through the Ouija board.” Meghan's voice was merely a whisper.
“Yes, I did.” He chuckled.
“I’m just going to wait out in the car.” Sean thumbed toward the hole in the wall.
“Me too.” Clint nodded.
“I spoke to you two young ladies, because I needed to be set free from this place.” He tilted his head.
“Why were you here?” Aubrey dared to ask.
“I was told my studies defied the laws of God and I was to stop immediately.” He answered.
“Why didn’t you?” Meghan asked.
“Simple. I had discovered the secret between life and death and it was God Himself who had encouraged me.” He coughed, “Just like the Pope and Galileo, God set us here to discover His secrets. And that’s what I did. There are many who fear leaving the harbor.”
He paused as he struggled to his feet.
“I found out quickly that the faculty back then found that staying safely tucked in the harbor was the optimum. When I began to gain notoriety for my work, they wanted me to shut it down, but I had gone too far. Imagine being able to bring back someone you loved from the dead.”
Aubrey was suddenly overcome with grief.
“Come with me, cara, we pick tomatoes, no. Grandma makes the best sauce I have ever tasted.” He put his hand on her head as they headed for the garden. The sun was high in the sky and the sky was azure blue with wisps of clouds tumbling across the sky. The tomatoes appeared as big red rubber balls in a field of green twisted vines.
Cancer can be the cruelest word, especially for a young child.
“Aubrey, what’s wrong?” Meghan asked, putting her arm around her roommate, but Aubrey just shook her head.
“What do you want to do, professor?” She wiped her tears with the back of her hands.
“I don’t know. I have been wishing to get out of this chamber for a long time and now that it’s possible, I don’t know what to do.” He sat on the stone tableau he had been laying on just a few minutes before, “I have lost my place in the world…in time.”
It was true. If he walked out of the chamber, he would have nowhere to go. He didn’t belong like he did back then.
“What do you want us to do?” Aubrey asked. “I know people who’d love it if you would share your discovery with them.”
“I love to do that, but I feel they are still not ready. May never be.” He whispers as some of his skin begins to crumble from his face. Aubrey cries out as little by little, Professor Hawthorne’s essence turns to dust right in front of Aubrey and Meghan’s eyes until all that remains are his bones. From his hand, a small vial falls from the bones of his fingers.
Aubrey picks up the vial, realizing that it was the essence he had used to keep him alive all this time. It was all right there in his journal written in his own hand using his favorite ballpoint pen.