"It's the strangest thing." Penn spoke up from the floor. "It should be right here between The Dictionary of Angels and this god-awful Billy Graham fire-and-brimstone thing." She looked up at Luce. "But it's gone."
"I thought you said - "
"I did. The computer had it listed as on the shelves when I looked this afternoon, but we can't get online this late to check again."
"Go ask Todd-o out there," Luce suggested. "Maybe he's using it as a cover for his Playboys."
"Gross." Penn whacked her on the thigh.
Luce knew she'd only made the joke to try to downplay her disappointment. It was just so frustrating. She couldn't find out anything about Daniel without running up against a wall, She didn't know what she'd find inside the pages of his great-great-whatever's book, but at least it would tell her something more about Daniel. Which had to be better than nothing.
"Stay here," Penn said, standing up. "I'm going to go ask Miss Sophia if anyone's checked it out today."
Luce watched her traipse back up the long aisle toward the front desk. She laughed when Penn sped up to pass the area where Todd was sitting.
Alone in the back corner, Luce fingered some of the other books on the shelves. She did a quick mental run-through of the student body at Sword & Cross, but she couldn't think of any likely candidates for checking out an old religious book. Maybe Miss Sophia had used it as reference for her review session earlier. Luce wondered what it must have been like for Daniel to sit there, listening to the librarian talk about things that had probably been dinner-table topics of conversation when he was growing up. Luce wanted to know what his childhood had been like. What had happened to his family? Had his upbringing at the orphanage been religious? Or was his childhood anything like hers, in which the only things pursued religiously were good grades and academic honors? She wanted to know whether Daniel had ever read this book by his ancestor and what he'd thought about it, and if he liked writing himself. She wanted to know what he was doing right now at Gabbe's party and when his birthday was and what size shoe he wore and whether he ever wasted a single second of his time wondering about her.
Luce shook her head. This train of thought was heading straight for Pity City, and she wanted to get off.
She pulled the first book off the shelf - the very unfascinating cloth-covered Dictionary of Angels - and decided to distract herself by reading until Penn came back.
She'd gotten as far as the fallen angel Abbadon, who regretted siding with Satan and constantly bemoaned his bad decision - yawn - when a blaring noise rang out over her head. Luce looked up to see the red flash of the fire alarm.
"Alert. Alert," a monotone robotic voice announced over a loudspeaker. "The fire alarm has been activated. Evacuate the building."
Luce slid the book back on the shelf and pulled herself to her feet. They'd done this kind of thing at Dover all the time. After a while, it had reached the point where not even the teachers had heeded the monthly fire drills, so the fire department started really setting off the alarm just to get people to respond.
Luce could totally see the administrators at
Sword & Cross pulling a similar stunt. But when she started walking toward the exit, she was surprised to find herself coughing. There was actual smoke inside the library.
"Penn?" she called out, hearing her voice echo in her ears. She knew she'd be drowned out by the piercing shriek of the alarm.
The acrid smell of the smoke dropped her instantly back into the blaze that night with Trevor.
Images and sounds flooded her mind, things she'd stuffed so deep inside her memory they might as well have been obliterated. Until now.
The shocking whites of Trevor's eyes against the orange glow. The inpidual tendrils of flame as the fire spread through each one of his fingers. The shrill, unending scream that rang in her head like a siren long after Trevor had given up. And the whole time, she'd stood there watching, she couldn't stop watching, frozen in that bath of heat. She hadn't been able to move. She hadn't been able to do a thing to help him. So he'd died.
She felt a hand grip her left wrist and spun around, expecting to see Penn. It was Todd. The whites of his own eyes were huge, and he was coughing, too.
"We have to get out of here," he said, breathing fast. "I think there's an exit toward the back."
"What about Penn, and Miss Sophia?" Luce asked. She was feeling weak and dizzy. She rubbed her eyes. "They were over there." When she pointed up the aisle toward the entrance, she could see how much thicker the smoke was in that direction.
Todd looked doubtful for a second, but then he nodded. "Okay," he said, keeping hold of her wrist as they crouched down and sprinted toward the front doors of the library. They took a right when one aisle looked particularly thick with smoke, then found themselves facing a wall of books without a clue which way to run. Both of them stopped to gasp. The smoke that only a moment earlier had hovered just above their heads now pressed low against their shoulders.
Even ducking below it, they were choking. And they couldn't see as much as a few feet in front of them. Making sure to keep a hold on Todd, Luce spun around in a circle, suddenly unsure which direction they'd come from. She reached out and felt the hot metal shelf of one of the stacks. She couldn't even make out the letters on the spines. Were they in the D section or the 0's?
There were no clues to guide them toward Penn and Miss Sophia, and no clues to guide them to the exit, either. Luce felt a surge of panic course through her, making it even more difficult to breathe,
"They must have already gone out the front doors!" Todd shouted, sounding only half convinced.
"We have to turn back!"
Luce bit her lip. If anything happened to Penn
She could barely see Todd, who was standing right in front of her. He was right, but which way was back? Luce nodded mutely, and felt his hand tugging hers.
For a long time, she moved without knowing where they were going, but as they ran, the smoke lifted, little by little, until, eventually, she saw the red glow of an emergency exit sign. Luce breathed a sigh of relief as Todd fumbled for the door handle and finally pushed it open.
They were in a hallway Luce had never seen before. Todd slammed the door shut behind them.
They gasped and filled their lungs with clean air. It tasted so good, Luce wanted to sink her teeth into it, to drink a gallon of it, bathe herself in it. She and Todd both coughed the smoke out of their lungs until they started laughing, an uneasy, only half- relieved laugh. They laughed until she was crying. But even when Luce finished crying and coughing, her eyes continued to tear.
How could she breathe in this air when she didn't even know what had happened to Penn? If Penn hadn't made it out - if she was collapsed somewhere inside - then Luce had failed someone she cared about again. Only this time it would be so much worse.
She wiped her eyes and watched a puff of smoke curl out from underneath the crack at the base of the door. They weren't safe yet. There was another door at the end of the hallway. Through the glass panel in the door, Luce could see the wobble of a tree branch in the night. She exhaled.
In a few moments, they'd be outside, away from these choking fumes.
If they were fast enough, they could go around to the front entrance and make sure Penn and Miss Sophia had made it out okay.
"Come on," Luce told Todd, who was folded over himself, wheezing. "We have to keep going."
He straightened up, but Luce could see he was really overcome. His face was red, his eyes were wild and wet. She practically had to drag him toward the door.
She was so focused on getting out that it took her too long to process the heavy, swishing noise that had fallen over them, drowning out the alarms.
She looked up into a maelstrom of shadows. A spectrum of shades of gray and deepest black. She should only be able to see as far as the ceiling overhead, but the shadows seemed somehow to extend beyond its limits. Into a strange and hidden sky. They were all tangled up in each other, and yet they were distinct.
Amid them was the lighter, grayish one she'd seen earlier. It was no longer shaped like a needle, but now looked almost like the flame of a match. It bobbed over them in the hallway. Had she really fended off that amorphous darkness when it threatened to graze Penn's head? The memory made her palms itch and her toes curl.
Todd started banging on the walls, as if the hallway were closing in on them. Luce knew they were nowhere near the door. She grabbed for his hand, but their sweaty palms slid off each other. She wrapped her fingers tight around his wrist. He was white as a ghost, crouched down near the floor, almost cowering. A terrified moan escaped his lips.
Because the smoke was now filling up the hallway?
Or because he could sense the shadows, too?
And yet his face was pinched and horrified. Much more so now that the shadows were overhead.
"Luce?" His voice shook.
Another horde of shadows rose up directly in their path. A deep black blanket of dark spread out across the walls and made it impossible for Luce to see the door. She looked at Todd - could he see it?
"Run!" she yelled.
Could he even run? His face was ashy and his eyelids drooped shut. He was on the verge of passing out.
But then it suddenly seemed like he was carrying her. Or something was carrying both of them.
"What the hell?" Todd cried out.
Their feet skimmed the floor for just a moment. It felt like riding a wave in the ocean, a light crest that lifted her higher, filling her body with air. Luce didn't know where she was headed - she couldn't even see the door, just a snarl of inky shadows all around. Hovering but not touching her. She should have been terrified, but she wasn't. Somehow she felt protected from the shadows, like something was shielding her - something fluid but impenetrable. Something uncannily familiar. Something strong, but also gentle. Something - Almost too quickly, she and Todd were at the door. Her feet hit the floor again, and she shoved herself against the door's emergency exit bar.
Then she heaved. Choked. Gasped. Gagged.
Another alarm was clanging. But it sounded far away.
The wind whipped at her neck. They were outside! Standing on a small ledge. A flight of stairs led down to the commons, and even though everything in her head felt cloudy and filled with smoke, Luce thought she could hear voices somewhere nearby.
She turned back to try to figure out what had just happened. How had she and Todd made it through that thickest, blackest, impenetrable shadow? And what was the thing that had saved them? Luce felt its absence.
She almost wanted to go back and search for it.
But the hallway was dark, and her eyes were still watering, and she couldn't make out the twisting shadow shapes anymore. Maybe they were gone.
Then there was a jagged stroke of light, something that looked like a tree trunk with branches - no, like a torso with long, broad limbs. A pulsing, almost violet column of light hovering over them. It made Luce think, absurdly, of Daniel. She was seeing things. She took a deep breath and tried to blink the smoky tears from her eyes. But the light was still there. She sensed more than heard it call to her, calming her, a lullaby in the middle of a war zone.
So she didn't see the shadow coming.
It body-slammed into her and Todd, breaking their grip on each other and tossing Luce into the air.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com