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Ghost Monkeys – Melissa Flores Anderson

June pushed her sunglasses up on her head and checked the clipboard that hung outside the editing suite in the basement of Scott Hall. She cursed under her breath and scrawled her name under two time slots with the Bic pen tied to a string on the wall. Between the seniors who signed up the week before and her work study job at the student union, she could only book late-night windows on Friday and Saturday night.

She climbed the stairs from the basement out into a bright October afternoon. The southern California sun shone on her tank-top clad shoulders and she pushed the glasses down to shade her brown eyes. She walked by the succulent and native plants back to her dorm room for a study session for her psych stats class.

Charlie leaned against the white wall outside her room, his backpack slung over one shoulder. He doodled on her dry erase board with a green marker. June smiled and her nose crinkled when she saw him.

“Hey, you’re early,” she said and unlocked the door.

In her room, he settled down on her bed, his long frame stretched out across her comforter and his curly black hair on her pillow. Whenever he did this, the faint scent of his cologne lingered on her bed for days. She pulled out her stats book and tapped his thigh to get him to sit up, then sat next to him. They leaned against the wall, side by side, books and notepads in their laps.

“Thanks for helping me out,” she said.

“It’s a fair exchange. You help me study for the other psych classes.”

He tried to explain distributions and Z-scores to her. She chewed on the end of her pen and furrowed her brows.

“I hate math. I’m gonna flunk the midterm,” she said.

Charlie patted her shoulder.

“No, you’ll figure it out. Let’s keep focusing.”

After an hour, she stood up and stretched her arms high over her head. Charlie watched her.

“Are you going to the Harwood Party on Friday?” he asked.

“I can’t go. I got, like, the last editing block from 10 p.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday. I have to edit my video for media studies.”

“Isn’t the editing room down in the basement of Scott?”

“Yeah, it’s just down the stairs on the southside of the building.”

“You know what used to be down there, right?”

“Isn’t it just storage spaces?”

“Rumor is when the school first opened, there was a Harlow-like psychology lab down there.”

“You mean the guy with the wire mothers for baby Rhesus monkeys?”

She’d read about him in a child development class.

“Yeah, there are supposed to be a bunch of old cages in a locked room somewhere down there. It’s creepy at night.”

“Gee, thanks for sharing this with me right before I have to go down there alone.”

Charlie grinned at her.

“I gotta get to my next class. Good luck with your video.”

On Friday night, June packed her video camera and MiniDV tapes into her backpack and descended the stairs into the basement. The space seemed brighter at night with the fluorescent lights illuminating the long, white corridor. She heard a rustle and made a sharp turn to her right.

It was just the guy who had the 8-10 p.m. slot packing away his printed script.

“Hey, it’s all yours,” he said and walked past her. “Watch out for the ghost monkeys.”

“What did you say?” June asked before she entered the editing suite.

The guy paused on the steps and turned toward her.

“I didn’t say anything,” he said.

June closed the door of the editing suite and locked it behind her. She loaded her MiniDV tapes into the editing console and pulled out the notebook where she had recorded time marks for cutting the footage. The story idea seemed lame now. She’d enlisted friends to act out the story of a college girl who developed insomnia after her boyfriend broke up with her.

June watched too many indie films and she hadn’t even come up with a good ending.

It was too late to reshoot so she focused on making the most of her footage. She worked on cutting the video and then laying over the audio tracks when a loud noise rattled outside in the hallway. She thought maybe it was just the air conditioning unit kicking on, even though it was odd it would be on in the middle of a warm fall night.

She finished a rough cut and unlocked the door. The hallway lights had timed out and she exited into the dark. She heard a faint hoot down the hall. June peered in that direction and took one step toward the sound. 

A loud howl reverberated toward her and she turned on her heels. She ran up the stairs, her flip flops flapping against the linoleum. She jetted across the dark campus, past the fountain and collided with Charlie.

“Hey, hey, are you okay?” he asked and put both his hands on her shoulders to inspect her.

June relaxed under the warm breeze and the light from the clock tower that shone down on them. She gave Charlie a sheepish smile.

“Guess the ghost monkey story got to me.”

Charlie looked at her with amusement.

“I never said anything about ghosts.”

“Well, it is creepy down there in the basement alone.”

He walked her back to her room.

“Good night, June. Hope nothing haunts your dreams.”

In the morning, June flipped through her old textbook to the section on Harlow. In one picture, a baby monkey clung to a surrogate mother made out of terry cloth and foam. In another, a baby monkey sat alone in an isolated cage and cowered in fear. The experiments were supposed to have proved the importance of parental contact for babies, but by the current ethics, it seemed cruel to tear infant monkeys away from their mothers.

That night, June wore a long-sleeve shirt and jeans in case the a/c kicked on when she returned to the editing suite for her late block. As soon as she descended the stairs, a feeling of dread filled her. She wanted to put off her project, but she couldn’t imagine asking her professor for an extension to wait for a daytime editing slot because she was… afraid of ghost monkeys?

A student shuffled out of the room and June locked herself in again. She loaded up her video and watched the 10 minutes from start to finish while making notes of places to trim. 

She got into the groove of editing when she heard a tapping outside the door. She stood up and peeked out, but no one was there. She peered down the hallway and in the dark, she saw a shadow move and a burst of cold air billowed by.

June slammed the editing room door shut and pressed her back against it. She slid down the door onto the floor and pulled her knees up against her chest. The door thumped and it vibrated against her back. She squealed and scooted away.

“June, are you in there? Are you okay?” a familiar voice called.

She stood up and dusted off the seat of her jeans. She opened the door to find Charlie standing there in a pair of baggy shorts and a blue Quiksilver t-shirt.

“I thought you might want some company after last night,” he said. He titled his head to the side and smiled at her like a loyal dog might do.

“Yeah, I could use the company. There’s only one chair, though,” she said.

“That’s alright. I’ll hover over your shoulder and watch you work.”

June left the door open and sat back down. Her progress slowed at first with Charlie watching her, but she settled back into it. Having him close relaxed her nerves. She played back the full video and he watched.

“You’re a good director,” Charlie said, his hand on her shoulder.

“I’m slightly better at this than stats,” she said. “But not great by any means.”

She packed up her equipment and they stepped out into the hall. A howl pierced the quiet around them. June jumped into Charlie’s arms and he peered over her head in the direction of the sound.

“You heard, that right?” she said.

“Yeah, I heard it.”

He took her hand and took one cautious step in the direction of the noise. June followed him, her heart racing with every footfall. The lights flickered overhead and then turned off. June pushed her head into Charlie’s back.

“Let’s just go upstairs,” she said.

He continued to creep forward and as they neared a turn that lead east across the basement, a wave of smoke rippled around the corner. June strained at Charlie’s hand to stop him, but he kept moving forward and she followed him against all reason.

They stepped around the corner, hearts beating and hands clammy. They neared a doorway in the dark and June held her breath when suddenly a figure leapt out in front of their path. A scream pierced the hall and June realized she had released it from deep in her diaphragm. She pulled away from Charlie who stood still.

Then Charlie laughed and drew June back to him. The figured flipped a light switch and June saw it was a gorilla costume. The person inside lifted the head off and laughed.

“Hey, sorry to scare you guys. We’re setting up a haunted house for next weekend.”

June looked at Charlie who grinned back at her.

“Did you know about this?” she asked him.

“Honestly, no,” Charlie said.

“It’s the perfect place,” the guy in the gorilla suit said. “It’s eerie with the lights out and we have those old monkey cages stacked up in storage, doorways for people to jump out at you.”

“You had me going,” June said. “With the monkey howls and the hoots playing last night and tonight.”

The gorilla guy looked at her sideways.

“What do you mean?”

“The monkey noises. Do you have a CD or tape deck set up somewhere?”

“No. My buddy isn’t setting up the sound system until tomorrow,” he said. “You should come by next week once we’re all set up.”

Charlie looked at June with his eyebrows raised.

“Nah, I think I’ve had enough of ghost monkeys,” she said.

Charlie held her hand as they headed back to the stairs and into the dark night toward the dorms. June thought of another psych experiment she’d read about, the bridge experiment. In scary moments, sometimes people confused fear for attraction.

At June’s door, Charlie lingered against the frame. She looked up into his flushed face and saw his eyes wide, and couldn’t tell which emotion he was feeling.

“Do you want to come in?” she asked.

Charlie nodded and stretched out on her narrow bed. She laid down next to him, into the curve of his arm.

“No such thing as ghost monkeys, right?” he said. “But maybe I should stay tonight, just in case.”

Melissa Flores Anderson is a Latinx Californian and an award-winning journalist. Her creative work has been published by Vois Stories, sPARKLE&bLINK, Rigorous Magazine, Moss Puppy Magazine and Discretionary Love. Her work “Not a Gardener” was featured in City Lights Theater Company’s The Next Stage and Play on Words San Jose. She has read pieces in the Flash Fiction Forum and Quiet Lightning reading series, and has pieces forthcoming in Pile Press and The Ice Colony. Follow her on Twitter @melissacuisine or IG @theirishmonths.

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