“Ungh. What hit me?”
“I think that it was a bookshelf, but I could be wrong.” Muscles straining, Carolyn and Jacqueline heaved the metal shelving unit, now bereft of books, off of Davon, who lay sprawled on the library floor, books all around him. Nearby, Rory was picking his way through the wreckage toward the doorway to the stairwell, which stood ajar, a yawning maw looking into a stairwell choked with drifting dust. The building wasn’t creaking, nor was there the sound of the masonry starting to crack. Maybe that was a good sign. Maybe.
It should be a good sign, right? Jacqueline started to pick her way down the row of what had once been the stacks, toward Rory and their way down and out of the building. Goosebumps rose along her bare arms. She wanted out of the building, suddenly silent and eerie as a tomb.
“How do the stairs look, Rory?”
“Uhm. Okay, I think. Give me a second.” He jerked the door a bit further open, casting a baleful glance toward Jacqueline. “This is the last time you’re ever getting me into a library. Ever.”
She tried to laugh, but it sounded like a bitter croak. Rory hated libraries, feared them. He’d always said they gave him a bad feeling, made his skin crawl, made him feel like someone was watching him. Marin usually just laughed at him and said he’d probably spent too much time in one in a past life, which usually earned her a dirty look. Jacqueline wasn’t sure what to think about that—then or now.
Carolyn had Davon on his feet, now, and was tucked under his arm, steadying the tow-headed young man. He looked like his head might still be ringing from the shelves and books falling on him, though his eyes were clear. Carolyn shook her head, looking bewildered, only half visible in the dim and the drifting dust.
“What was that, really?”
“I don’t know.” Jacqueline looked back toward the door to the stairwell, illuminated from the skylight above. Rory had pushed the door most of the way open and was standing near the top step of the stairway leading down, on the solid stone and steel landing.
“Looks okay from here,” he called back to the rest. He started down, slowly at first, then a little more quickly as it became clear that the stairwell was, in fact, stable. Eager to escape as ever. Jacqueline couldn’t blame him. She had to admit the idea of being entombed in a giant concrete box wasn’t a very appealing prospect.
Davon shook his head. “Guess there’s a reason it won design awards in the ‘70s.”
Carolyn shook her head, looking as grim as Jacqueline felt. The three started to slowly make their way down the stairs after Rory, down the single flight to the library’s main level.
It would have been pitch black but for the windows—most of them broken, now—along the outer walls. Dust drifted lazily in the air. The banks of computers were dark. No one was within sight.
“Guys?” A voice called from the far side of the circulation desk. Kellin peeked over the edge of it, her gray eyes wide. She must have heard their footsteps in the strange silence that blanketed the world. Her voice was almost shaky. “I think something really bad just happened.”
“You think?” Rory’s voice dripped with his usual sarcasm, but even that seemed strained. Jacqueline winced.
Something bad really did just happen. She cleared her throat, picking her way toward Kellin. “Were you the only one working circ desk today, Kel?”
Kellin nodded, raking lank tangles of brown curls out of her face as she straightened and climbed over the desk with Jacqueline’s help. “Drew was down in archives, I think, though, in the basement.”
“…not anymore.” The tall man looked about as tired as any of them had ever seen him. A bruise was forming on his cheekbone and one arm hung a little more limply than it should have. “Wrenched my shoulder pushing a fiche reader out from in front of the door,” he explained, slowly working the arm up and around in a circle. It popped sickeningly and he winced, then worked it around in an arc again—no sound the second time around. “Any of you see what happened?”
“Just a flash. Boom. Windows blown out.” Kellin frowned.
“Two flashes.” Davon rubbed his head. “I saw two. Was looking at the corner window on the second floor.”
“Sky’s red,” Rory muttered from near the shattered windows. “Come see.”
The friends crowded close, peering through the shattered window, craning their necks toward the sky. Clouds drifted lazily through the air, but not against blue. The sky was indeed red, deep and angry, streaked dark somewhere high above the normal summer clouds.
“It looks like blood,” Rory mumbled, staring at it. Jacqueline made the sign of the cross on herself, pressing a hand against the silver and gold crucifix she wore around her neck, a gift from her long-ago first communion.
Her heart fluttered. Is this the end of the world?
Kellin looked sidelong at her, brow furrowing slightly, and said softly, “No. It’s the beginning.”