“No!” I said, gripping his arm.
“There are too many, Jared!” Claire said. “Half of them wil slip past you.”
They both looked to Ryan, and then Jared grabbed Ryan’s coat with both fists. “Get Nina out of here. Get her to the al ey.” Ryan looked at Claire, and Jared jerked him again, demanding his ful attention. “Get Nina out! We’l hold them off.”
Jared pushed Ryan back, pul ing two Glocks from their holsters. Claire threw the duffel bag to me. “Make sure he doesn’t get himself kil ed, al right?”
“Okay,” I said, tugging on Ryan’s coat.
We descended the stairs, leaving the Ryels behind. Ryan didn’t take his eyes off Claire until she was out of sight, and then he focused, taking two steps at a time.
The screeching grew louder, more excited, and then the gunfire began.
Ryan stopped, held his pistol to his chest, and then slammed his back to the wal . “Shit!”
“We can’t stay here! We have to go, Ryan. We have...to...go!” I pleaded, tugging on him with each word.
“I can’t leave her,” he said, looking up.
“The only way you can help her now is to stay alive!” I said, emphasizing each word.
He closed his eyes tight, and then grabbed my arm, pul ing me down the last two flights of stairs.
“This is the door to the al ey!” I said, pointing.
Ryan tugged on the handle a few times. When it wouldn't open, he aimed his gun, shooting a few rounds into the handle. I looked away, protecting my eyes from splinters flying in every direction.
Ryan rammed his shoulder into the door, forcing it open. I ran out into the al ey, struggling for breath. The darkness outside was so quiet, like we had entered a new world. The normal sounds of Providence were al around us: car horns in the distance, motorcycle engines revving as they pul ed away from a stop light, the last bit of rain water fal ing into the gutters—it was like I was caught in one of my dreams.
“Wake up,” I whispered, closing my eyes. I focused on my bed, and Jared's warm body next to mine. I opened my eyes, but the same scene was before me. I shut my eyes tighter this time. “Wake up!” I screamed.
Ryan gripped my shoulders, startling me. “It's not a dream this time, buddy. We need to move!”
Something dark and swift caught the corner of my eye. Not smoke, and not a shadow, but thicker than the night air.
“What the hel is that?” Ryan yel ed, shooting once. The bul et ricocheted off the brick of the building.
“Watch out!” I screamed as the cloud rose above both of us, positioned to attack.
Ryan shoved me out of the way, and I landed hard on my knees and hands. His body flew backward, hitting the building on the other side of the al ey, and he then fel the fifteen feet to the ground.
“Run, Nina!” Ryan said, stunned.
I scrambled to my feet, but before running off alone, I hesitated. Ryan was human, and I promised Claire to keep him safe. The blackness focused on me, and Ryan shot another round to return its attention to him.
“RUN!” he yel ed, shooting again. The invisible enemy dragged him back into the building by one foot, and he held his gun in front of him, shooting at what he couldn’t see.
Everything inside me wanted to stay, to try to help somehow, but I held the duffel bag close and dashed down the al ey, into the street. Tears fil ed my eyes, blurring my vision, final y spil ing over my cold cheeks.
Another al ey was ahead, dark and forbidding, but it seemed the right way to go, so I kept running.
When my lungs couldn’t take in enough air, I stopped, hunched over and puffing. Whatever it was that had Ryan couldn't be far behind, so I leaned against the back entrance of a building, working up enough courage to move. A bus stop was just a half block away.
“Take a step, Nina,” I said to myself, wil ing courage to move my feet. “It's right there,” I breathed, “Go!”
The door opened, causing me to lose my balance and fal back. Something grabbed me from behind, wrenching me inside with so much force that my hands, legs, and head al fel behind, jutting straight out in front me.
“Ssshhh!” Bex said, covering my screams with his hand.
More tears streamed down my face, and I threw my arms around his neck, sobbing with uncontrol ed relief.
He held me at bay, searching my eyes. “Where is everyone else?”
I shook my head. “I don’t…I don’t know,” I choked out.
I held up the duffel bag.
“Okay,” he said, hugging me to him. “Okay, let’s get you out of here.”
He led me to his Ducati that was parked around the corner, and we sped off, fishtailing down the street. As Bex took roads that would lead us to Woonsocket, I fantasized that Jared, Claire, and Ryan would be at St. Anne’s waiting for us.
I replayed what happened over in mind, wondering if I could have done something different, or if I should have tried to help Ryan. Risking his life— and ultimately Claire’s life— to steal a book that would save me was the epitome of selfishness…until I remembered that it would spare Jared as wel . Even knowing that, I wasn’t sure I’d made the right choice. Even if I was part of some kind of prophecy, our lives weren’t anymore valuable than Ryan’s or Claire’s.
Father Francis held open the door, waving for us to come inside.
“Are they here?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
The priest closed the door, and then shook his head, sad. “Not yet. You have it?”
“I do. It’s here,” I said, opening the duffel bag. I handed the leather-bound book to Father Francis, and he held it gingerly, as if he were holding a bomb.
He retreated to the front of the cathedral, sitting on the first pew. “The Naissance de Demoniac of Shax the Duke,” he whispered. He completed the sign of the cross, and then prayed over the book.
Bex closed his eyes, and then smiled. “They didn’t like that.”
It was my turn to pace.
Father Francis and Bex poured over the pages, searching for something to present to Jared upon his arrival. But it had been almost an hour, and we were stil the only ones that had made it to the church.
Every parishioner that entered the large, wooden door was politely turned away by Father Francis. It was harder for me to be polite, because each time the door opened, my heart stopped.