Built into a hill, Port Azil High’s four floors sit upon it like steps. The top faces east with a little back road that leads to the faculty parking lot. The bottom overlooks both the stadium and the baseball field. The road from two larger parking lots to the south curves in a switchback between. The hill is so steep it requires hiking boots to navigate it with a reasonable expectation of not falling on your butt. Therefore, concrete steps lead from the school to the stadium and faded crosswalks intersect the roads between.
Even on Saturday, the high school bustles with activity. The Decathlon team tosses trivia questions at each other while cleaning and rearranging Mrs. Greenfeld’s room. Scales echo down the corridor from the band hall. Pep Squad, cheerleaders and Drill team clean the stadium before their day of practice on the field. Volunteers for the student-run school play run back and forth to the parking lot, pulling out tools and supplies to build the stage.
When the ancient-looking pickup pulls into the switchback, only a few guys notice the smooth roar of its engine, the complete lack of nasty exhaust normally puffing from the muffler on something so old, and comment on the random colors of its external pieces. The driver’s side door is black and the engine’s hood a deep blue. Beneath it all, the original frame seems to be a dark green. It looks like the boys just picked the best puzzle pieces from a junk yard, and buffed them all up.
This is where my vantage point works well. If I back up just a bit and let emotions and thoughts fade into the background, the foreground becomes full of interesting physical/magical responses.
No matter their physical locations, magical beings react to the boys as they park and get out of the truck strolling through the parking lot.
Werewolves sniff the air. Shapeshifters cock their heads, listening to the ether. Dreamwalkers lift their heads and turn in the boys’ direction as if they could see through walls. A semi-permanent substitute teacher rises from his chair behind a desk and moves to the window side of his room. He slides his fingers through the slits of the blinds and stares out into the parking lot.
A girl, pulling out a box from the trunk of her car, stares at the boys as they walk past. She lets the box slip through her arms and drop to the concrete, spilling its contents of random props for the play and tools for building and painting.
Nick reacts instantly moving quickly to her side, picking up hammers, tape, a staple gun, an empty liquor bottle with a cork. An old electric fan, the weight in the box, tilts precariously and Nick rights it before putting bits of the mess back inside. He lifts it with ease and no intention of returning it to the girl.
In the shadow of the trunk’s lid, the girl looks average if on the short side. Nothing spectacular draws anyone’s attention. But when she drops the lid and the sunlight hits her full on, her hair sparkles with natural highlights. All shades of red and blonde dazzle through the base brown. Large grey eyes study Nick through the strands that have come loose from the barrette holding back her amazing hair.
Nick barely keeps himself from flinching.
“Thanks,” she says softly. “I can take it.”
“It’s no problem. Just tell us where you want it,” Nick says.
The girl pauses for a moment. “Well, since you’re offering, there are a few other boxes that can go.” She meets Logan’s eyes over Nick shoulder.
“Sure,” says Logan hesitantly, as he moves to her car.
The girl pops the trunk again, falling again into its shadow, and pulls two more boxes from the darkness.
Logan stacks them and lifts them from the trunk. The boys wait while the girl closes the trunk and moves to the side of her car to wrestle out an old floor lamp from the back seat.
The car chirps when she presses the fob on her keychain. She walks to the front doors of the school not looking back.
“We’re going to the auditorium, if you don’t mind.”
“No problem,” Nick says again.
As soon as they pass through the glass doors, hallways open up on both sides of the foyer. In unison, all three heads swivel to the left where a teacher stands in the shadows of the unlit hallway.
The girl’s hand tightens on the lamp. She forces her eyes forward and keeps walking. She seems not to hear Logan’s whisper, “Vampire.”
Nick responds just as quietly, “Not our main problem right now.”
As they pass the front office, both boys examine the people inside through the glass wall. The person they are looking for is not there. Maybe this girl would know where to find Chloe.
They follow the girl up two flights of stairs and through double doors that open through the back onto the lively stage filled with students focused on individual and small group tasks.
“James!” The girl calls into the audience where a couple of people circle a light board and small table with a laptop open before them.
“Got the lamp and the fan. Where do you want them right now?”
The boy calls back, “Closet, down stage, left.”
The girl turns to the boys and pulls the fan easily from Nick’s box. She motions to a table to their left and says, “You can put those boxes there. I’ll be right back.”
The boys share a look as they watch the girl walk to a closet and hide the lamp and fan inside. They place the boxes on the table while watching her closely as she stops and talks to a few people on her return.
“Thank you guys so much. You just saved me a few trips. My name is Aidan. Can I help you now?”
Nick steps forward and takes her hand in an almost-but-not-quite-handshake. He wraps both of his hands around her small one. “I’m Nick and this is Logan.”
She pulls her hand from his and peers at his face.
Logan jerks her attention to him by stepping forward. “We’re looking for Chloe Hunt. Her brother says she volunteers here sometimes.”
“Sure she does. Don’t know if she’s here today, though. She mainly works the library.” Aidan swivels on her heel and finds the dark head of another girl. “Celia, have you seen Chloe today?”
“Nope, haven’t been by the library,” Celia responds without lifting her head from her position on the floor over a diagram, “That’s your haunt, not mine.”
There is a significant pause in the conversation. Celia looks up and takes note of the boys. She smiles warmly, if tentatively.
Nick feels a somewhat familiar tickle at the base of his neck. He rubs at it, notices the wrinkles between Logan’s eyebrows and tries to place where he’s felt this before. Then it is gone and Aidan turns back to them.
“I’ll show you where the library is. We’ll see if she’s here. Again, thank you so much for carrying those boxes. They were pretty heavy.”
The boys share another look as Aidan heads back the way they came, back through the stage doors, down the hallway and up another flight of stairs. Being Saturday, most of the lights are off and through the hallways lined with large windows, there is plenty of light so that no one notices the lack of electricity.
In the hallways that were built into the hill, it is so dark, Aidan flicks on the flashlight app on her phone. It dances as she walks, throwing shadows better than a torch. She never holds it up, never faces it forward. She merely carries it at her side and lets the light play in the darkness.
They pass an entrance to another hallway. Something flickers in the corner of Nick’s eye. He stops. He peers through the darkness to where the hallway opens up. Sunlight pours in rays through the windows. Nothing moves but the dust particles dancing in the light. Nick shakes his head and takes a few longer strides to catch up with Logan and Aidan.
They turn into the library that takes up half of one floor of the school. To the left, a row of windows overlooks an inner multi-leveled courtyard. To the right, the front desk stands empty. Stacks of books cover the desk. A wheeled shelf sits behind it half full of books. A closed laptop rests atop a random stack of papers. A desktop pc takes up part of the desk. A bobcat, the school mascot, paces back and forth in the screensaver on the monitor. The only light is the sun shining through the windows. The back of the library lies in darkness.
“Is anyone here?” Logan asks.
Aidan purses her lips. “Don’t know. But we could look around a bit.” She leads them in a systematic tour through the darkened part of the library. “There are smaller rooms off the main one, hiding behind all the contemporary fiction. We can check reference first. It’s just over here.”
As Nick takes a step to follow, again something catches in the corner of his eye. This time he glimpses a long blonde ponytail disappearing around a stack in the far corner.