Once Upon a Time, there was a princess…
Alright, who am I kidding here, I’m no princess, and this isn’t a fairytale.
It all started a few years ago, the summer of 2015, to be exact. I had just graduated high school and was about to start at Iowa State University. Before I dive in, let me give you a little backstory on me. I was a nerdy kid, heavy into Dungeons and Dragons, a little robust and a whole lot of average. My hair was brassy and straight, and my eyes, though a vibrant blue, were different sizes. I had a sharp tongue and twisted wit that often left people wondering if they should make fun of me or call me a shrink. I acted out a lot, though I can’t say why; fear of rejection, maybe, but I knew college would be different.
Before heading to school I underwent a transformation of sorts. I didn’t want to become one of the “popular” girls, I actually like myself. I just wanted to be a little more normal, I guess. So, I fixed my beaver teeth and packed away my collection of dragon figures. I also asked my mom to help me shop for better clothes. Finally, after what seemed like forever, summer was over and it was time for me to move into my dorm. I had changed just enough to feel refreshed and I was so ready to move forward.
I met my roommate a few days before classes started. Talk about a strange one. A mortician’s daughter, which isn’t weird itself, but she had these “Wednesday Adams” vibes that made her somewhat creepy. Her name was Jill and she seemed nice enough despite outside appearances. I tried to make the best of things and overlook her somber attitude, including her in anything I could. The beginning of the year flowed along nicely, and with us being in so many classes together we fell into a natural pattern. We spent most of our time together, and despite first impressions, we actually had a lot in common.
It was about two months into the school year, and we were looking for jobs for the following term, when I met him. He was a professor teaching a biophysics course that had an assistant opening, and I was strangely drawn to him. He wasn’t considered a cool professor, nor was he exceptionally good looking. He held his own and seemed comfortable in his skin, and I admired that. Aside from that, I couldn’t tell you what drew me to him so much, and it was unsettling for me. Jill didn’t approve of my fascination at all. Looking back, maybe I should’ve listened to her, but at the time I didn’t see the harm in being his assistant.
The following term started smoothly enough, with Jill and I falling back into a similar flow between classes and hanging out. Neither one of us did much outside classes, so we just studied and hung out at the coffee house. About a month into the semester I started working as his assistant twice a week. He was actually pretty awesome. A no nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is professor who didn’t let his students mess around but was still well liked by everyone. Most of the girls swooned over him, and the guys all seemed jealous of him. I was just fascinated by how well liked he was. I studied him like a book, trying to figure out how nothing seemed to phase him. To an outsider I probably looked like a lovestruck Freshman who was trying too hard, but it wasn’t like that at all.
After a couple weeks of assisting him in the afternoon, Jill had started acting very strange toward me, back to being very withdrawn and somber all the time, like when we first met. She didn’t say much to me when I was around, no matter how much I tried, and I couldn’t figure out why. She wasn’t interested in him, at least not that she’d told me, and the few other friends she had liked me well enough. One day I’d come in after a long day of classes to find her snooping through my stuff. I was livid. She hadn’t so much as spoken to me in weeks and now I find her digging in my desk!
“What the hell is going on, Jill?”
“Oh, hey,” she said a bit sheepishly.
“Why are you digging through my stuff?”
“I was just, well, I was trying to find a pen you borrowed.”
“Oh really,” I said, eying her skeptically. “You have barely spoken to me in weeks and now I find you going through my stuff, what gives?”
“I don’t know,” Jill said. “You spend so much time with classes and then swooning over him, and you just don’t have time for me.”
“What? I try to talk to you everyday, and yuck, I’m not swooning over anyone.”
“Oh please, you’re so infatuated with him, it’s gross. I thought we were closer but suddenly you’re the cute Professors assistant and I mean nothing.”
“Wow, I don’t even get you right now, or these assumptions.”
“Oh please, don’t think I haven’t seen how he looks at you too. But whatevs, keep denying anything.”
I didn’t even respond as I turned and walked out of the room again, wondering what the hell just happened. Jill was implying that I was obsessed with him and that he had a thing for me, and that was weird. The man barely spoke to me, unless he needed assistance with extra work, and he certainly had never done anything to make me think he thought anything unprofessional. I briefly debated on asking her other few friends what was going on, because it was out of character for her, but decided against it. Things were going well for me, finally, and I didn’t want to let Jill bring me down. It was best to let it go and ignore it. Of course that proved to be more troublesome than I thought.
When I was with him a couple weeks later I was still dwelling on what Jill had said. Every time he spoke to me I watched for inflections in his voice and looked at his facial expressions, though I’m not sure what I expected to notice. I had let Jill get to my head and started to wonder if he was into me, despite all evidence pointing against that. After a few weeks of acting extra strange around him he finally said something to me.
“Hey Mary, can we talk for a minute?”
Ah, shit. “Of course, Professor, what do you need?”
“I just want to make sure you’re alright. You’ve been acting a little strange lately, jumpy even. Is there something bothering you?”
“Uh,” I stuttered, wondering if I should confess everything, “nope, everything is okay. Too much coffee I guess.”
“Alright. But you know you can always talk to me if there is something.”
“I appreciate it, Professor. Thank you.”
“No worries, and you can go now. Have a good evening.”
“Hey thanks, see you next week!”
As I left the building I felt a sense of relief enter me that had been missing since my fight with Jill. There’s no way this man was anything but a stand-up Professor and she was crazy if she thought otherwise. Jill and I hadn’t spoken much since that day a couple weeks ago, except a few words here and there, usually initiated by me. She had perfected the art of the cold shoulder and often acted as though I was a roach she wanted to step on. A few of her other friends had been around once or twice, but none had spoken to me, preferring to scoff at me instead. I’m not really sure when our relationship had taken such a dark turn, but I also wasn’t sure I cared. I had a few other friends in my classes without Jill and my assistant job kept me pretty busy, so there weren’t too many moments where I felt the loneliness of not having a close friend.
A few nights later Jill and I were sitting in our dorm, the silence around us deafening, when a note was slid under the door. She jumped up to grab it, and frowned when she read my name on it.
“Here,” she muttered, thrusting it in my direction.
I studied the envelope for a minute. It was plain white and pretty standard, with my name typed across the front. Opening it up I quickly scanned the contents, the blood draining from my face as I went. I let out the faintest gasp, barely audible, my hands beginning to shake. Jill must have noticed because she walked over and snatched the letter from me as soon as she saw my face.
“What the hell is this?” Jill practically growled. “You should leave school before I bury you,” she read. “Who writes shit like this and gives it to people? Wait, you probably had someone do this just to make me talk to you, so desperate.”
Tears threatened to fall from my eyes, from fear, maybe, but mostly from shock. I wasn’t sure where the note had come from and I couldn’t think of anyone who had any problems with me except Jill and her few friends. I didn’t want to believe that she would do something like this, but I wasn’t so sure she wouldn’t.
“I – I don’t know,” I managed to spit out between breaths.
“Crap, I didn’t mean it. Mary look, we can take this to campus police or something, and maybe they can help.”
“No,” I stopped to wipe the tears that had fallen, “I’m sure it’s just a stupid prank and it’s no big deal. I don’t want to tell anyone, and I probably did it to myself anyway, right?” I raised my eyebrows at her.
“Whoa, don’t look at me. I wouldn’t do this, even if I’m pissed at you. This is some sick shit. And hey, I’m sorry I said you did it.”
“Okay, fine, but I think it’s just a prank.”
“You know,” she began.
“Don’t even go there. We’ve already had this fight once.”
“Look, all I’m saying is that there are plenty of girls who would love to be in your shoes and spend ample time with the lovely Professor.”
“Ugh, but to go this far? Over him?”
“I’m just suggesting that you be careful, and maybe have someone walk with you around campus. Get pepper spray or something.”
“I’m a big girl,” I said with a sniffle.
“I know, but it wouldn’t hurt. For what it’s worth, I know we’ve been in a fight, but I’ve always got your back.”
Glancing over at her I wasn’t quite sure whether to believe her, but I had no reason not to and honestly, I was scared. “I appreciate it, thanks.” She gave me an awkward hug before I crawled into bed and cried myself to sleep.
The next couple weeks proved to be similar in nature, with letters coming at random times, and always saying something ominous and meant to scare me. I hadn’t brought myself to contact the campus police yet, because I still thought it was some kind of stupid prank. Jill started talking to me again and had been walking with me on campus whenever I needed someone, though I thought maybe she was just taking pity on me. It was a bit strange to have her acting like things were normal again, but I can’t say I was upset by it. It was reassuring to know that someone was watching out for me, especially since I kept getting letters. I tried not to let on that I was scared, but deep down I was terrified and wanted it to stop.
One night I was finishing up my assistant job when Jill texted to let me know she was running late. I was hesitant to say anything because I hadn’t told anyone but Jill what was going on, but the Professor was packing up to leave and I couldn’t stay behind without him. Despite it being early March it was still getting dark a bit early, and I didn’t want to stand outside alone.
“Jill is running late, would you mind if I stayed inside and waited?” I asked.
“I can walk you to your dorm if you’d like.”
“Oh no, that’s okay, she’ll be here soon.”
“Alright, but I really need to lock up and I’m already running late. Why don’t I just wait outside with you?”
As we walked out of the building to wait I realized that it was pretty dark already, and the light above the door was far too dim for my liking. After a few minutes I went to text Jill and realized my phone had died.
“My phone is dead, that’s all.”
“If you know her number, you can use mine.” He reached into his bag to grab his phone and muttered a few of his own colorful words.
“Looks like I left mine upstairs. Come on in and wait while I grab it.”
I hesitated, and I’m not even sure why, except I kept thinking about the letters and what Jill had originally said about him and I just wasn’t sure. I figured I’d be okay alone for a minute, and declined his offer, instead promising to stand right in front of the door.
I’m not really sure what happened next, to be honest. I don’t recall much except that I thought I heard Jill, and the door to the building opening; but mostly I remember being hit over the head really hard and blacking out. When I came to it was really dark and hazy looking. I couldn’t make out my surroundings at all, even as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. I remember hearing hushed whispers and what sounded like running water. I also remember a strange smell, though what it was is not as clear to me. I was sitting in a chair, but my hands and legs were free which I thought was strange, until I tried to move them. I couldn’t. It felt like I was paralyzed. Who was doing this to me? Why was this happening? What had I done?
I sat there, trapped in my own body, scared and staring into the darkness, waiting for anything to happen. How much longer before someone comes? I could feel the panic setting in, my breathing growing harsher with each inhale. There was a weight in my chest that was drowning me and I couldn’t do anything about it. Suddenly, an intense pain rips through my side, tearing my flesh. The pain was sharp and searing, like fire dancing across my skin. I tried to scream and pull away, but I was helpless to do anything but feel. The darkness started to set in and I knew in that instant I was going to die.
They still haven’t found my body.