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Many people who search for horror and strangeness think they need to look for it in faraway haunted houses and ghastly cemeteries. They perform absurd rituals and chant silly words thinking that that will summon a sort of specter or demon. Hardly anyone realizes that horror can lurk about at any corner, even in broad daylight, and surrounded by your closest friends.

My experience with horror is very brief. There were no ghouls or goblins or some sort of psychotic elderly woman who secretly was a sociopathic serial killer who kept her victims stowed away in her closet. In fact, I was not even searching after any sort of eerie phenomenon at all. Instead, all I was doing was my homework.

This fearful encounter didn’t happen in an ancient graveyard or in some sort of abandoned insane asylum. It happened at my school’s library.

My friend was with me that night. We were both honor students and we were completing a rigorous and extensive project in our history class. We had spent the entire weekend working voraciously, researching various components on the trial and execution of the detestable Gilles de Rais and his heinous crimes against youngsters and rewriting large portions of our essays about it.

It was very late—there was no one in the library except for me, my friend, and one another librarian who would be closing down the place in half an hour. We worked best in isolated corners and without the rowdiness of other students who would most likely be dawdling and making an annoying ruckus. We had gone up to the library right after classes to finish up our projects that were due the following morning. It was three in the afternoon when we came up here; it was 9:00PM at the time when the unexplainable thing happened.

Before I continue, let me first say that I am not at all a superstitious person. My love for science and mathematics, I believe, has always made me a person who demands evidence and sound reasoning. I’m not some sort of stickler who will only accept empirical evidence and nothing more (I’m aware that there’s many things science cannot explain), but I’ve always cast doubts on tarot cards, astrology, and ghosts.

The most absurd idea I found in all of this was demons and devils. Even as a child I felt unafraid of such silly nonsense. I suppose I was always precocious because I preferred plausible evidence rather than tales told to me by superstitious elders.

But what I’m about to explain still haunts me in my nightmares and has developed a phobia in me to become overwhelmingly afraid to be alone in dark places with one other person. I’ve not ruled out the possibility that I was simply tired from all of the schoolwork I’d done, but in all honesty, that’s the only solution I’ve come up with that makes any sort of sense--knowing that fact terrifies me.

Even penning this experience is enough to make my skin crawl and shudder as I recall that brief but hideous moment.

While I was writing my essay, my friend was putting together our presentation. It was late, so it had become so eerily quiet and the lights had been dimmed to, I’m guessing, conserve energy and prevent the electric bills from getting too high.

I was busy at work, typing away and eager to complete this written part of our assignment, so most of my attention was limited to this. I’d heard my friend push his chair from his computer and stand up. He called out, “I’ll be right back, I’m going to the bathroom.”

I merely nodded my head as a reply, not too focused on anything else but my work. Out of the corner of my eye I saw his back as he walked away and made a turn behind the book shelves.

And this is where the true horror begins.

As soon as I saw my friend leave, I turned to my work again, momentarily forgetting about him. Since I was exhaustively typing away and had all of my attention shifted to this, I didn’t begin to notice the subtle change in odor.

I hadn’t noticed it at the beginning; it just sort of crept up on me. At first it came very vaguely. Changes in odors happen all the time, so it naturally didn’t bother me. Although when I first caught, I thought it was a very peculiar scent in the library because it had a nauseating element to it. An appropriate way to describe the scene was that of rotting fish. I can’t truly say that that is what it was, since I had never truly smelled such a miasmic odor. For a moment, I had thought that a janitor was passing by with several bags full of the day’s wastes.

But no, it smelled far worse than any garbage. As I continued typing, it began to get progressively stronger and more unbearable. At one point, I stopped typing on my computer entirely and began to scan the library from my chair, trying to see if I could spot the source from where this wretched smell was emitting from.

My eyes began to water as the scent became more intense and I raised the collar of my shirt to my nose and mouth, and I felt vomit beginning to churn around in my stomach and scratch my throat. It became overwhelming and to this day, I’ve never got another scent as foul as this one.

I stood up and prepared myself to go find the sole librarian who was on duty at this hour. I figured that perhaps they knew the source of this odor. Either they themselves were doing something to trigger it or this is some sort of uncanny smell that occurs due to some custodial business elsewhere.

The hideous smell only became stronger with each passing moment. I felt as if my olfactory organs would burn out due to how overwhelming it was. Right before I could search the area for the librarian, I suddenly saw something moving erratically out of the corner of my eye.

I looked over and spotted a bizarre yet slightly familiar being seemingly shifting their head in all directions as if looking for something frantically. They had a somewhat mischievous appearance to them as they did so, and then, I noticed their head turn towards my direction.

As they began running towards me, I could see that it was my friend; His clothes and features appeared similar at a distance. The loathsome odor had made me momentarily forget about him and I momentarily thought he was either looking for the source of the scent or he was searching for the librarian.

But the first thing I noticed that was a bit unsettling was the fact that he was running. The library had a strict no-running policy and my friend was the last person I’d suspect of violating any rules. Secondly, as I observed him moving, there was something eerily off about it. He often walked in a calm manner and I could recognize him easily from his laissez-faire gait even from quite a few yards away.

But now, he was almost sprinting in a deviously playful and mocking way. It was as if he were not only running but dancing in a madly fashion at the same time.

However, the worst was yet to come. As I saw him quickly approaching, I noticed something that made my blood turn to ice. Something was undoubtedly different and unnerving about his face. He often had a mellow, calm expression on his face. His smile was an amicable one that showed a sort of warm shyness.

But at this moment, his eyes were wide and menacing, bulging and bloodshot with madness. I’d never seen such a horrid, demented look in the eyes of anyone I’ve ever met in my life.

His face was twisted in a grotesque shape and exhibiting a large, bizarre grin. His lips were curled back to reveal yellowish, thin, rotting teeth and blackened, swollen gums. The skin on his face appeared wrinkled along with the grin, as if the grin itself was deforming the flesh on his face.

His arms appeared slightly longer and lankier and the fingers appeared bony and crooked. His whole body seemed disproportionate with itself as he dashed along towards me. I merely stood there, thunderstruck with curiosity and fear.

As he got closer, the distinct putrid odor reached an all-time high, and I could no longer stand it. I immediately held my face tightly, trying my absolute hardest to shield it from the scent.

My friend went running right past me, and as he did, I swear I could hear a sort of chilling giggling and an eerie sort of heavy breathing as he sped by. I watched him go running by into the other side of the library and take a sharp turn towards the left and disappeared behind a large bookcase.

I quickly made my way towards the direction where he sprinted off to, but immediately when I checked around the corner, he had disappeared completely. This left a sickening feeling of nervousness in me, as there was much open space where he ran off to, yet he was nowhere in sight. He simply disappeared somehow.

I shook my head and asked myself numerous questions, such as why I saw my friend look so bizarre and about that terrible smell. That was when I realized that the rotting odor had vanished as well, and if I remembered correctly, it had gone away when my friend did.

Just as I was getting back to my computer, unsure of whether or not I wanted to go back to typing or even staying there another minute, my friend suddenly came back watching in his old familiar ways. Normally, I’d think this would bring me a bit of relief, but instead, I felt nervous and I was even trembling a bit.

When he saw me, his face suddenly became worried and afraid. He approached me and asked me what was wrong. He claimed that I appeared like I had just seen a ghost. My face was colorless and he said my eyes were wide and I could hardly speak properly and my voice was shaky.

I immediately inquired if he had caught that horrible smell, and to my surprise and horror, he said, “What smell are you talking about?”

I wondered endlessly how he couldn’t have caught it. It was disgusting and seemed to permeate the entire school. I almost vomited it was so bad, I found it almost like some sort of sick joke to deny having even smelled a small remnant of it.

Although this indeed did frighten me, the worst was yet to come. Nervously, I asked him why he had run past me so quickly, and although I worded it politely, I mentioned that the hideous odor seemed to be coming from him.

Before I go on with my friend’s response, let me say that after what had happened that night, I’ll never go back into the library. Not at night and not even in the brightest daylight. As said earlier, I’ve always considered myself a rational person who’s not willing to credit ghosts and supernatural entities for things that can’t be explained right away.

Just to ensure the weirdness and perplexity of this situation, I had asked the librarian before they closed if they had caught an awful scent or seen my friend running by appearing a bit “unusual” and although it terrified me even more, it didn’t surprise me when they said they hadn’t.

My friend’s response still resonates with me at late hours of the night as I stare at my ceiling, pondering what in God’s name I had seen that night or whether the whole thing was merely a result of stress and lack of sleep. I won’t dare admit that devils and ghouls exist just yet, because there’s still a million other responses that would make much more sense before I come to that one.

What my friend said when I asked him why he had gone running past me, all he replied was with, “What are you talking about? I was in the bathroom this whole time.”