Authors: Michelle Knudsen
I look for Annie in the halls between each class for the rest of the day, but it’s not until after eighth that I see her, standing by her locker with Leticia. I steel myself and decide to go over; maybe she won’t flip out at me with Leticia standing right there. I wonder if Leticia tried to talk to her about the Mr. Gabriel thing herself. I hope so. Maybe it will carry more weight coming from someone else.
I walk down the hall, pushing past the occasional slow-moving or not-moving student standing in my way. I’m still maybe twenty feet away when I see Annie reach out to touch Leticia’s hand. I stop, something inside me going small and cold and terrified. After one further agonized moment of paralysis, I throw myself forward, calling Leticia’s name, trying to run toward them, but now it seems like every student in the school is suddenly standing in that hallway, blocking my progress and obscuring my view of Annie and Leticia. It feels like forever before I shove the last person out of my way and stumble out of the throng toward Annie’s locker. Annie turns to look at me. Her eyes are cold and hard, and her mouth turns up in a tiny smile that is not a smile at all.
Leticia is leaning back against the locker, staring blankly at nothing.
I grab Annie, digging my fingertips into her arms. “What did you do?” I shout at her.
Her expression goes cloudy and then clears to reveal shock and anger. “Get off, you freak!” she shouts back, pulling at my hands.
“What did you do?” I shout again, slamming her back against the lockers behind her. Her hands drop away and she stares defiantly back at me. I search her eyes, trying to see if she’s really there. “Do you even know?”
“What are you
“Look!” I let go with one hand and point at Leticia. Annie shifts her eyes to where I’m pointing, and I can
her making herself not understand me. She knows, but she won’t let herself know. She looks back at me and then pushes me so hard that I stumble backward, tripping over my own feet and landing hard on my ass on the floor.
“Stay away from me!”
She spits the words and then takes off down the hall, the students parting before her like the Red Sea and closing up again behind her.
I stay on the floor for a few minutes, not really letting myself think about anything. Then I look up to where Leticia is still standing there, oblivious to what just happened. I swallow and climb back to my feet.
“L? Leticia? You okay?”
Her eyes turn to track across my face, but she doesn’t seem to be able to focus.
“Hey,” I say. “Hey. Leticia, come on. Come back.” I’m not sure what I mean by that, exactly. But I’m remembering that when Signor De Luca was all spacey after Annie touched him, he came back to himself after a few minutes. He didn’t seem quite as gone as Leticia does right now, though. But, surely, whatever . . . whatever the hell Annie did to her, it’s just temporary. She’s not going to
this way . . . .
“Leticia!” I scream suddenly into her face, and she blinks and jerks back.
“What . . .?” She shakes her head and then she seems to be there again. Mostly. “Cyn? What happened?”
Annie made you go away. My best friend sucked something out of you like a goddamn vampire, only it wasn’t blood, it was something else, and I don’t understand how any of this can really be happening.
“You — uh, I think you fainted. Standing up. You’re okay now, though.”
Be okay now. Please please please be okay now.
“I did? Huh. That’s . . . weird. I don’t . . .” She looks around. “Okay. I guess . . . I guess I’ll go home now.”
“Are you sure you’re okay? Maybe you should sit down.”
“Okay,” she says agreeably, not sitting down. I do my best to guide her gently down to the floor. We sit there in the emptying hallway for a minute.
“Are you really okay?”
“Sure,” she says. “I feel a little tired, though. I probably should go home now.” Her voice is kind of listless, not anything like her usual vivacious, teasing, energetic self. Slowly, she pushes herself back up to her feet.
I stand up, too. I feel like I should stop her, but I don’t know what to say. And maybe she should go home. Maybe she just needs to sleep it off or something.
She gives me a vague kind of smile. “See you tomorrow, Cyn.”
“Are you really —?”
“Yeah,” she says, waving her hand listlessly toward me. “I’m fine.” She smiles again and walks off down the hall. I watch her go. I do not feel fine at all.
I walk outside and drop onto one of the benches that line the scraggly front lawn of the school’s main entrance. It seems like maybe two of every ten kids who pass by me are walking slowly, not talking, sort of drifting along. I watch them, trying to think. Assuming for the moment that I haven’t actually lost my mind, and that Mr. Gabriel really is doing this to everyone, what would be the point? What could he possibly get out of it? Does he just like being surrounded by mindless zombie types? It doesn’t really make any sense.
A thought occurs to me, and I sit up a little straighter, staring intently at nothing in that way that people do when they are thinking very hard about something.
Maybe the zombie-ness isn’t the point. Maybe it’s just a side effect of something else. When I watched him earlier, he was touching people, seeming to take something out of them. Maybe
the point — whatever he’s taking. Which is . . .? Whatever makes people not like zombies most of the time.
But say that’s true. (I know. I know. But let’s just go with it.) He’s doing something else to Annie. Or something additional, I guess, since she was also kind of zombie-like in Italian. But she’s not usually like that. She’s altered around him, and a little starry-eyed, but not lethargic and sort of
Usually. Until today. And then she did to De Luca what Mr. Gabriel was doing to those students before first period. And then she did it again, to Leticia.
Is he turning her into whatever he is?
I want to skitter away from my own thoughts. I get up from the bench, too agitated to sit still. This is all very nuts. None of it makes any sense. What do I think he is? How could he possibly turn Annie into anything? And why? And how can I ignore the fact that all of this is absolutely
not actually possible
There’s a shout nearby, and I jerk out of my spirally reverie. I look up to see Ryan and one of his friends. Ryan’s the one shouting. At the friend. Who is kind of just drifting along, not paying attention to him. As I watch, he grabs Jorge’s arm — I think that’s his name — and spins him around to face him. Jorge stands there, looking at Ryan but not really seeming to see him. Like Leticia hadn’t really seemed to see me. Ryan drops his books and pushes Jorge. Jorge stumbles back and shakes his head a little. Then he starts drifting forward again like nothing happened, right past Ryan. Ryan shouts after him but doesn’t try to grab him again. Was Jorge one of the students I saw in the library earlier? I think maybe he was. He doesn’t seem to be snapping out of it as easily as De Luca did.
Because the librarian got Jorge, and only Annie got De Luca, and Annie’s effect is only a shadow of what Mr. Gabriel’s is.
I think that must be true.
At least for now,
my mind whispers relentlessly.
I scream at it.
You don’t even know what you’re talking about! None of this makes any goddamn sense!
My mind shuts up.
Ryan stands there for another minute, staring unhappily after his friend. Then he turns and sees me. For a moment we just stand there looking at each other. Then he picks up his books and walks over to me.
“Hey,” he says.
“Hey,” I say back. “So, um . . . that was weird, huh? With Jorge?”
“You saw that, huh? Yeah. I don’t know what’s wrong with him today.”
I sit back down on the bench, making sure to leave plenty of inviting empty space beside me. The sun is shining down behind Ryan, giving him a backlit Greek-god quality. I squint up at him. “You know it’s not just Jorge, right?”
He stands there a moment more, then sits beside me. His leg is mere inches from my own. He scratches at a corner of a textbook.
“Yeah,” he says after a minute. “I guess a lot of people were acting strange today. What do you think is going on?”
He turns to look at me. There are so many things I want to say.
An evil librarian is taking over the school. He appears to be making my best friend his special evil library monitor. I am afraid that he knows that I suspect him. I am also afraid that if this craziness continues, the school community will never get to experience your portrayal of Sweeney Todd, which I think would be a terrible crime. Also, I would like to kiss you.
Instead I say, “You mean the whole thing with everyone spacing out and wandering around like zombies?”
For a second Ryan seems about to laugh, but then he doesn’t.
“Yeah,” he says. “What’s that about?”
In that moment, I know I am going to try to tell him. I say a silent apology to my future self, since I’m fairly certain the tenuous connection Ryan and I have established between us since my hallway tackle is about to crumble into sad and tattered bits of broken dreams.
“I have a theory,” I say hesitantly.
“It’s going to sound crazy.”
“But I’m going to tell you anyway.”
He nods encouragingly. “Bring it.”
“Have you, um, met the new librarian?”
Ryan’s eyebrows seem to climb very high up onto his forehead. “Is he . . . very boring? Do you think he is boring everyone into this permanently glassy-eyed state?”
I smile uncertainly. He thinks I am kidding. “Um, not exactly.”
He waits. I take yet another deep breath.
“I don’t think he’s exactly, um, a regular kind of person.”
Ryan takes this in for a moment. “I’m not sure I know where you’re going with this, Cyn. Maybe you should just come out and say it, whatever it is.”
I bite my lip, look away, look back at him, look at the distant horizon. Finally I look down and say, “I think he’s some kind of monster or demon or psychic vampire or something, and he’s slowly sucking the life force out of all of the students in the school. Or, you know, something like that.”
I risk a glance up at Ryan’s face. His expression is carefully blank. “That is definitely not where I imagined you were going.”
“I told you it would sound crazy.”
“Yeah,” he says. “You weren’t kidding.”
“You don’t believe me.”
He runs a hand through his perfectly imperfect hair. “Well, no. I mean, a demon? A — what did you say, a psychic vampire? I don’t even know what that means.”
“I know. Not really possible. Right?”
“Seriously? That’s more than a little crazy. I thought you were going to say maybe he was poisoning the school lunches or something.”
“Jorge was there in the library with him today. I saw, through the door. Mr. Gabriel did something to all the students. Made them . . . well, like Jorge was. All spacey and out of it and not right. I’m not making this up. I swear it.”
His face is kind of closing before me, his desire to have an explanation eclipsed by his desire to not believe in crazy things. I am watching him slipping away. I can’t let that happen.
“Ryan, I swear, I know how it sounds. But I
“Saw him what? Sprout wings and fangs and dance around in the middle of a giant pentagram?”
I wince at his sarcasm. “Okay, yes, I get it. A demon librarian is not exactly something you talk about as being a real thing. But just bear with me here, just for a second. He did something to Annie, too. He’s practically brainwashed her!”
“You mean your friend who’s in Italian with us, right? That girl?”
“Yes. She’s started skipping classes, and hanging out in the library all day, and after school, and today, she —”
“Cyn, come on. Stop it.” He looks slightly concerned. And maybe a little annoyed. “I know you’re upset about this, your friend acting all different and everything, and the other kids, too, but this isn’t funny, okay? There’s got to be a rational explanation for what’s happening. What you’re doing, pretending there’s this . . . this demon stuff, it’s not helping.”
He can’t back away from our moment of shared understanding quickly enough, apparently. He was right there with me, knowing something beyond standard strangeness was going on. Right there, and then suddenly not.
“Look,” I tell him as calmly as I can. “I know how all this sounds. Do you think I don’t know how all this sounds?”
“Well, then, stop it, okay? Let’s try to think about what might
be going on.”
Suddenly I am very mad at him.
“Dammit, Ryan, open your eyes. What kind of rational explanation could possibly account for what’s happening to everyone? What do you think was wrong with Jorge just now? Do you think all the other students are involved in some elaborate prank, that they’re all just faking?”
He is taken aback by my outburst. “Well, no. And it’s not, I mean, it’s not like it’s
. . .”
“Cyn, come on. You can’t really expect me to believe —”
I get up off the bench. He’s right, of course. Why should I expect him to believe this? To believe me? He doesn’t know me. I’m just the awkward girl who tackles him in hallways and stares at him in Italian and at rehearsal.
“Come with me. Right now. I’ll prove it.” I hold out my hand.
He stares up at me, bewildered. “Prove what? How? What are you talking about?”
I’m getting so sick of that question.
“Just come with me. You’ll be able to tell, I’m sure of it. There’s something wrong with him.”
I want to shake him. “The
Just come up and talk to him and you’ll see.” I suddenly realize that Annie is probably up there right now, too. “My friend — Annie — she’s been spending a lot of time with him. I know that he’s been doing something to her. Something really bad. I thought I could talk to her, make her see it, but she won’t listen to reason anymore. Maybe, if you came with me, together, we could . . .”