Actually, this next section of the book I’m about to share is from the fourth chapter. That’s because as I have been writing this book, I realized that my main character has yet to be introduced, and shame on me for waiting so long!
The rules of writing dictate that the story’s MC be introduced as soon as possible, and the main plot should open by chapter three. But this story is my first narrative that isn’t told from a first-person perspective. It’s also controversial in nature, and I think that’s been throwing me.
That’s enough about me. On with the story!
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“Did Mr. Marcel come back yet?” Her question fell into the void of the nearly empty study area cut off from the rest of the library by a wall of foggy windows that marked the entry into the study rooms at the far end of the building.
The regular librarian, Lucy Vargas, was out. Jordan Marcel was filling in while she was on maternity leave. Mr. Marcel was a good substitute when you could find him.
Three more weeks until we get Lucy back, Lexi Gravez told herself, adjusting the chain of her charm necklace.
Ana-Lucia, the only student in first-hour study hall that morning, looked up from her work and shook her head, rotating one shoulder at the same time. Lexi couldn’t decide what this mixed gesture meant but didn’t bother with a follow-up.
She left the partitioned space and marched up-front to the circulation desk. Snatching a sticky note from the dwindling tablet Mr. Marcel kept in front of his computer, she wrote in neat script, ‘Please order a copy of ‘The Portable Henry Rollins.’
She’d always been a nosey-fart, was always picking up bits of conversations as she passed students in the halls. So when Miss Gravez heard Eric Halyan, a junior, saying how quotable the book was, it caught her attention.
Eric had never been much of a talker. As she passed him and his two friends on her way to the library, she made a mental note to check it out. But the school library didn’t have any copies. If there was a book out there that could make an introvert like Eric talk—make him want to quote—then she wanted to give it a read.
As a teacher, she knew that kids didn’t speak-up if they thought no one would listen, but they also bared their souls when they thought no one could hear.
Turning on her heel, she headed back towards the tutoring center. Mr. Marcel would be back eventually and she could check-in with him then.
Eric Halyan had always presented a sort of enigma to Miss Marquez. He was popular, but still on the fringes. Well-liked, as far as she could tell. He also drove a nicer car than she did. His parents seemed like good people, even if his father was sterner than she liked. Maybe that’s because she’d only run into him at football games. He was at the Rattlesnakes stadium every Friday night, even though Eric was not involved in sports. If she had to give him one of those trite High School labels, like in the movies, Lexi might say Eric was a ‘theatre rat.’
He only hung around with two people: Russell Simms and Peter Warren. Both were with him in the hall when she passed ten minutes ago. Eric was painfully shy. He never spoke up in class. Not even when directly addressed.
Once, when Miss Gravez was subbing for Nelson—Mr. Nelson—in AP English, she’d called on him. Eric just sat there, looking between her and the doodles on his worksheet.
She moved on quickly, but he’d made her feel like a jerk.
Once back at her desk in the tutoring center, she logged onto the computer and started searching Goodreads for information on the book. A page of quotes came up, Lexi skimmed them and picked one she particularly liked:
“It hurts to let go. Sometimes it seems the harder you try to hold on to something or someone the more it wants to get away.”
The Henry Rollins Lexi Gravez was familiar with was the eccentric frontman of Black Flag—an angry performance artist and radical theorist. He can write, too, Lexi mused.
She was deep into the third page when the kerplunk of falling objects tore her attention from the computer screen.
A heap of books splattered to the floor near table three, beneath Ana-Lucia, the only student that bothered to show for Study Hall that morning.
She’d spilled her coffee, which was not allowed in the library in the first place, but Miss Gravez looked the other way because she was addicted to the stuff and hated hypocrites. As far as she was concerned Coffee would always be allowed, everywhere. Ana had knocked her homework to the floor to keep it from getting wet.
The word “Chihuahua,” was muttered like a curse under her breath as Miss Gravez hustled to the staff bathroom. It was at the end of a short hall about ten feet behind her desk. She used a key from the ring around her wrist to unlock the door. Inside, there was a tall cabinet where extra toiletries were kept. She grabbed a bundle of paper towels and sprinted back out.
The study area was wrapped in warm vanilla and sugar scented greatness. Everything would get sticky.
Going low to catch the stream dribbling onto the carpet, Lexi—Miss Gravez—tossed Ana-Lucia Campos part of the wad of towels so she could get to work up top.
That’s when the banging started.
Lexi’s first thought was that of a car backfiring. No … maybe construction workers out on the street? They didn’t get those kinds of sounds back in the library. They were nowhere near the parking area or the road. The building was a four-story tower smack in the middle of campus.
-Bang-Bang-Bang- Like a beating drum that warned of coming danger.
There were screams mingled with panicked sounds.
“What was that?” Ana straightened.
Lexi, always one to keep a clear head in stressful situations, pulled on Ana Lucia’s pant leg, dragging her under the table as more warnings sounded off. More bangs and pops.
“What is that?” Ana-Lucia’s eyes were round, like a lost, scared puppy.
Lexi didn’t need to say it—couldn’t even if she tried. “Shh,” pressing a hand to the student’s chin, Lexi shook her head in the universal ‘shut it’ gesture.
Lexi’s mother’s side of the family were all cops and fireman. Her mom was the odd-man-out, so to speak since she was the only girl and a Registered Nurse. Emergency prep felt like part of her bloodline.
Before the fear took over, Lexi took a deep breath and detached herself from it. It was still there, plain as day, but she put a cap on it by pondering the answer to Ana-Lucia’s question. Forcing herself to think about the answer and their circumstances as separate, as if one had nothing to do with the other.
It sounded a lot like gunshots, Lexi had to admit. Not the first time I’ve heard them, she recalled, and then fear lashed out, grabbing her by the throat.
Slapping her cheek made her mouth work. “Ana.”
Ana-Lucia wasn’t looking at Miss Gravez anymore. Her eyes were on the foggy glass wall. Lexi looked there, too.
Long shapes moved along the other side. They couldn’t tell male from female, cop from criminal; saint from sinner. The gauzy glass deformed everything and there was no way to know just how far or close the shapes were to them.
Columbine, Lexi thought the name over and over through the noise blaring through the library. It was a long room with dozens of tall bookshelves in nice, neat rows. But it didn’t matter if the noises originated from the front of the library or just beyond the glass wall. They were gunshots and they were too close.
Grabbing Ana’s chin again, Miss Gravez forced her to pay attention. “Ana-Lucia, follow me.”
“What wa-as that?”
“Pay attention. Look only at me. We are going to crawl behind this row of tables, down the hall, to the bathroom. You’re going to follow me. Okay?”
So we don’t die.
Ana’s whole body was shaking. Her eyes were glossed, giving a blank gaze. There was nothing behind it, nothing but sheer panic.
Keep your head, so you keep your head, the family saying trickled through Lexi’s mind as another series of cries broke out from beyond the glass barrier. They mingled with loud crashes and a giant boom that shook the walls and floor. Their bones. It sounded like World War III had broken out in the library.
The curl of a low-pitched laugh unraveled them both.
Lexi’s hand covered Ana’s mouth just as a dark puddle at the crotch of the girls’ pants appeared and grew.
A sob caught in Lexi’s throat. She swallowed and wiped a tear from Ana’s cheek. “Let’s go.”
Lexi led the way between two chairs to the other side of the table. As soon as they cleared the edge, she felt naked and exposed. She wanted to stop and hunker down but kept crawling.
An odd wail ripped through the library—it sounded like a man.
On all fours, crawling, Lexi felt Ana’s breath on her leg and encouraged with a whisper, “Hurry, Ana,” as they turned between the side wall and a short row of reference books.
Then … something set Ana off. She released a howl; high-pitched and blood-curdling. By instinct, Lexi reared back, slapped her hand over Ana’s mouth and whispered in her ear. The intention was to soothe, but that’s not how it came out.
“You’re going to get us killed—”
Ana bit the flesh crossing her lips and broke free, running in a half-crouch back to the table, shouting, “my phone!”
A feeling like glue stuck Lexi to that little stitch of carpet between the back wall and the bookshelf. Every muscle in her body tensed, watching Ana.
Inside Lexi was screaming, “Get down!” But it came out low, barely audible over the racket coming from the other side of the clouded glass.
What the hell was going on over there? How long had it been? Where was campus Security? Where was Officer Leeland?
Ana grabbed her cell phone and Lexi let out a breath as Ana turned her direction. But instead of staying crouched, the girl stood up. Then in that same moment, she fell backward. Cell phone in-hand, Ana-Lucia toppled like a great tower, quick and unnatural.
Lexi’s vision tunneled. Her heart was beating so loud, that when the glass partition shattered into a million pieces, she didn’t hear it. Couldn’t see it. She felt a thousand needle-pricks all at once, mostly about her head and face, and released the fear she’d been holding back in a scream.
Thanks for Reading!