Authors: Michelle Knudsen
He shakes his head. “I’m sorry, this is just too — I think I should just go. I need to go check on Jorge and the other guys, see how they’re doing.”
“Fine. Go do that. See how much good it does you. In the meantime, I’m going to go try to save my best friend.” Again. I grab my bag and stalk off toward the school’s main entrance.
“Cyn, wait! Come on, don’t be like that.” On any other day I would be doing little cartwheels in my head to have Ryan Halsey calling after me. But right now I’m just sad and angry and frustrated and disappointed. I didn’t realize how desperately I wanted him to believe me until he didn’t.
I push through the doors and take off down the hall, going fast so I won’t have time to stop and think. Suddenly I’m extra worried about Annie. What if she told Mr. Gabriel what I said? What if he decides to step up the pace on whatever he’s doing to her? What if he’s doing it to her right now? I try to conjure brave images of me dragging her out of there by force. It doesn’t matter if she’s pissed at me. She can forgive me later, after I save her.
I take the stairs two at a time. I emerge on the third floor breathing a little heavily and make myself slow to a walk. I don’t want to be all out of breath when I burst in there to save Annie. It would kind of ruin the effect.
The sound of someone coming up the stairs behind me makes me stop and turn around. It’s Ryan, looking angry and apologetic and confused, all together.
“Cyn, wait.” He’s not at all out of breath from the stairs, of course.
I try to get my breathing in check. I try to resist being filled with terrible hope.
“All right,” he says. “I’m coming with you, okay? I don’t know what you expect me to see, and I’m telling you straight out that I do not believe there’s some kind of evil demon librarian taking over the school. But —”
I start to walk again but then he touches my arm. I stop instantly, chills radiating from where his fingers rest lightly on my skin, still not immune to ridiculous swooniness, apparently. Not even now. He steps in front of me, blocking my path, looking down at me. I remind myself to breathe. God, he’s still so lovely to look at. Even when I’m mad at him.
“Look,” he says seriously. “I don’t want you to be mad. And I do want to know what’s going on with everyone. And if you think the librarian has something to do with it . . . well, I’m coming with you. But don’t be pissed at me if I’m not instantly convinced.”
I blink several times and make myself speak. “Okay,” I say. He doesn’t want me to be mad. He cares about how I feel about him. He cares enough to run after me to try to make me not-mad even when he thinks I’m crazy. Why couldn’t this be happening when I didn’t have to be distracted by evil-librarian zombie-student insanity?
Life is so unfair.
We resume our walk to the library. Just as we approach the doors, I feel Ryan’s eyes on me and turn to look at him. He looks uncertain and kind of nervous and embarrassed but he’s coming with me anyway, and then he gives me one of those delicious half smiles, and I don’t even glance at the doors as I reach out and pull them open.
And then we stop right there, staring.
Mr. Gabriel is standing in the center of the room, facing slightly away from us. The tables have been cleared away against the bookshelves, and a giant and disturbing shape has been drawn in chalk on the floor. Its unpleasant lines and angles form a kind of frame around the librarian, who seems to have sprouted large black bat-like wings. Also, long twisty black horns of some kind are now spiraling out of the top of his head. He is bending slightly forward, looking at the floor, muttering something incomprehensible in a low, guttural voice.
He’s not dancing around, at least. So that’s something.
After an eternity of standing there in the doorway, trying to take this in, I hear Ryan’s voice speaking from what seems a great distance.
“You were right. I was able to tell right away.”
Mr. Gabriel slowly turns, raising his head. The amount of blood spattered across his light-blue button-down shirt makes me gasp. Whose blood is that? Where did it come from? There is blood on the floor, too, I realize. A lot of it. There is so much that I think there cannot be very much left at all inside whomever it came out of.
“Oops,” Mr. Gabriel says. “Thought I locked those.” Then he grins. It is not a comforting expression. Especially because of the fangs.
“You’re —” Ryan appears to be trying to think of something appropriate to say.
“John Gabriel, the new librarian,” Mr. Gabriel says brightly. “Pleased to meet you!”
“But you’re — you’re not —” Ryan stops, swallows, starts again. “You’re not
” he says. He seems to feel it is very important to point this out. Perhaps in case Mr. Gabriel was not aware.
Mr. Gabriel’s terrifying grin grows even larger, stretching impossibly across his face. He begins to laugh. Then he stops laughing and winks at us.
“Strangely, the job description did not specify that as a requirement.”
“Time to go,” I hear myself say. My hand reaches out for Ryan’s and grips it tightly. “Time to go right now.”
For some reason Mr. Gabriel has not moved from where he is standing. Something about this fact seems significant, but the most immediate thing it seems to suggest is that we should run away, very fast, while we still have the chance.
Ryan is still staring in horrified fascination. I pull on his hand as hard as I can, trying to make the running away start happening. He stumbles, looks at my hand holding his, looks up at my face. Then he looks once more back at the librarian.
That is a mistake.
Mr. Gabriel’s eyes go big and dark and Ryan freezes, staring back into those eyes with a suddenly slack expression. I yank again on his hand, but it’s like I’m not even there.
Then Mr. Gabriel turns to look at me and I forget everything else.
His eyes are enormous, they are impossible black holes of nothing, they are so big that I start to fall into them. I can feel the floor shifting and tilting and I am going to plummet right into those gaping holes filled with darkness and disappear forever and I can still feel Ryan’s fingers laced with mine and —
I shake my head, blinking, stumbling a step backward and trying to clear the fog that seems to be filling my head. When I’m able to focus again I see that Mr. Gabriel is still staring at me, but the giant black holes are gone and he just looks — surprised.
Then his eyebrows draw down with renewed determination, and his eyes start to go black again.
I rip my gaze away. “Stop that!”
There is a moment of silence in which I keep my eyes firmly fixed upon the New Fiction shelf.
“Huh,” Mr. Gabriel says finally. Then something in his voice suddenly changes. “Oh. Oh, wow.
explains — wow.”
My gaze flicks back to him before I can stop it, and I see that his giant evil eyes of blackness are gone. He’s still looking at me, but now he just seems kind of — fascinated. I wait for whatever he is going to do next, but he just keeps standing there, staring at me.
“What?” I ask finally, starting to feel uncomfortable.
“You’re —” He shakes his head. “Huh.”
I’m what? What are you talking about?”
“You’re a —” He says a word here that isn’t a word, just a jumble of harsh syllables and consonants that hurt my ears.
He sees me flinch and shrugs. “Sorry. There’s not really a word for it in English. Or any human language. It translates roughly as
This is such an unexpected thing to hear that when I try to respond, it takes me a moment to make words come out. Finally I manage: “I — excuse me?”
He smiles. “I know. Not the most flattering of terms. Don’t take it personally. All humans are like insects, really — there are so
of you, and you get everywhere, crawling busily all about, intent on your tiny insect goals. Annoying and plentiful and easy to kill, at least in reasonably sized batches. But there are some of you, a very small number, who have an extra . . . resistance. Who don’t succumb to the usual methods of pest control.
is kind of the shorthand. It doesn’t come up that often, because there aren’t too many. You’re actually the first one I’ve ever encountered.”
I hold up my free hand. “Wait. Just — wait. What —?” There are
so many questions
that could go here. I pick the most obvious. “What
you? I mean . . .” I gesture helplessly at his leathery black wings. “Seriously?”
He stands up a little straighter, stretching his wings to their full impressive width behind him. “You like?” His expression is somehow both proud and a little sheepish.
I stare at him, standing there with his gigantic goddamn
in the middle of the library, shelves of books and desks and computers and other completely and totally normal everyday pieces of high-school existence all around him. “No! No, I don’t frickin’
! What — Why —” My hands try to go up to my forehead, perhaps to try to soothe my struggling brains and convince them to stay inside my skull and not explode with the impossibleness of everything that is happening here, and I realize I’m still holding Ryan’s hand, and that he is still staring vacantly at Mr. Gabriel. “What did you
“Oh, he’s fine,” Mr. Gabriel says dismissively. “Just mesmerized. You would be, too, except for the whole super-roach thing.”
“Stop calling me that!” I know it is ridiculous to feel insulted when there are far more important things going on, but I can’t help it.
“You should be glad,” he goes on. “It makes you much harder to kill than the other bugs. Although, of course, still squashable when one puts his mind to it.” Something in his playful expression shifts here, and he gives me a level and considering look that makes my stomach try to crawl out through my spine. I remember that we need to run away. That whatever Mr. Gabriel is, he is obviously not filled with happy good intentions toward my companion and myself.
And Annie? What are his intentions toward her?
“Where’s Annie? Is she here?”
He smiles again, a disgusting, knowing smile that my fingers ache to scratch right off his face. “Ah, Annie,” he says, speaking her name like a caress. It makes me want to throw up. “No, no. She’s safe at home. My task here was not one that required her assistance. Not yet.”
His task. His task, which is — what? I stare at him, at the chalk symbol, at the blood on his shirt and all around the floor.
Whose blood is that?
my brain whispers again. He must have killed someone. He’s doing some kind of demony witchcraft (demoncraft?), and there is someone’s blood all over the place, and do evil murdering demon librarians generally let witnesses to their crimes go running off into the late afternoon to tattle to the world? No. No, they do not. Why hasn’t Mr. Gabriel killed us already?
Oh, right. Because I’m a super-roach, and it’s not so easy.
But still possible,
my brain reminds me.
Right. Thanks. Shut up.
But Ryan —
“Aaaaanyway,” Mr. Gabriel says, breaking into my spiraling thoughts. “I’m kind of in the middle of something. So I’m afraid I’m going to have to —” He takes a step forward.
I take a step back, but Ryan doesn’t step with me.
on his hand, but he’s clearly still lost in the paralyzing memory of Mr. Gabriel’s gaping black-hole eyes. He’s not here with me, not able to help or even to move. I pull my hand from his and step in front of him. I am horribly conscious of Mr. Gabriel still standing a few feet away, but at the same time I finally register that his step forward was only a single step. I think about the chalk-drawn symbol on the floor. A million half-remembered movies and TV shows and horror novels race through my mind, and I think about pentagrams and portals and containment fields, and I start to believe that Mr. Gabriel can’t actually leave the lines of the shape he’s standing inside. Not right now. Which is why he went for the mesmerizing thing. Possibly to keep us standing there oblivious and helpless until he was able to move more freely and kill us at his leisure.
“Ryan!” I scream at him, the same way I did to Leticia earlier. Then I raise my hand and slap him across the face as hard as I can.
He staggers backward. He blinks and shakes his head and seems to be coming back to himself, finally. He looks at me, confused. “Cyn? What the hell —?” His eyes go wide and I see him start to remember, and then I see him start to shift his gaze over my shoulder to where Mr. Gabriel is and I grab his head with both hands.
“Hey!” I shout. “Eyes on me. Do not look anywhere else. I mean it.”
“Ryan goddammit just do what I say and keep your eyes right here on mine or I will kill you!”
He is a little startled by this rather harsh directive, but it does the trick. For the moment. Slowly I start to move to the side, drawing Ryan’s gaze with me, making him turn as I do, until he is facing the door.
“Okay,” I say. “Okay. Listen. I am going to let go of your head, and you are going to keep looking right there at the door, okay?