The Cold Inside (a serial novel) Thirteenth Interlude
The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
Wednesday April 10, 1991
The screams woke him, the pain came after. When he lifted his head from the school library carpet rivulets of blood dripped form his chin. Something on Greg Fletcher’s side felt ripped. When he reached down to clutch at it his hands came back soaked
Someone was begging and sobbing, a single gunshot silenced them. From where Greg was lying he could just catch sight of the figure in a long dark coat calmly reloading. There was no mistaking him.
“Jeff?” Greg dared a whisper, “I think that’s Jeff.” He caught a glimpse of his girlfriend Janice Tillman. She was lying perfectly still behind the book return bin. Greg couldn’t see her face but she had to be playing possum like he was, she just had to be.
Please God. Anything, I’ll do anything.
Someone had pulled a fire alarm before they’d been gunned down, the empty ringing of bells filled the halls of Colonie Village Junior High. Greg tried to find hope in that sound, it meant help was coming. Someone would save him, and Jan.
She’s all right. Please God. Please.
The tickle of a cough hung on the edge of his every breath. He struggled to keep it in check. Greg wondered how much blood he had lost.
He had been standing in the library with Jan, surreptitiously holding her hand and making plans for their next date. Their first date without a chaperone, Greg’s Dad was going to drop them off at the roller rink at 7 and pick them up at 9. That left more than enough time for skating, some ice cream and a chance to follow up on those first kisses from last week. The gunfire had come from nowhere. The sight of a nearby student collapsing had frozen Greg in place. He hadn’t been able to do anything but stand there and get shot.
A student was crouched behind the microfiche viewer. He broke into a run but Jeff Hayes was ready, turning on his heel and firing twice. The first shot caught him in the shoulder, knocking him off his feet. The second caught him in the back of the head.
The survivors started groveling and sobbing all over again. Jeff started to make his way among them, firing a single shot at each of the prone figures.
None of this made any sense to Greg; he and Jeff had been best friends since grade school and there had never been a cruel thought in his head. They had shared a love of superheroes and a desire to enter the ministry when they got older. Things had changed recently, Jeff’s parents had pulled him out of school and changed churches. Greg had tried to keep in touch but every time he happened to catch Jeff on the street or elsewhere he’d found him distant and elusive.
Was this why? Had he been planning this all along? Greg risked another glimpse of Jan, Is this all my fault?
A cough escaped from his lips, he tried to stifle it but it was no use. He choked and gasped, blood filling his mouth. Before he could catch his breath Greg was kicked onto his back.
“Janice is dead.” Jeff Hayes said, “I’m sorry.”
“She loved you. She was pure, just like you. Just like everyone here.”
“If an innocent man is killed in the pursuit of sinners that makes him a martyr, they go right to Heaven no matter what.” Jeff looked around the library, “I saved everyone here.”
“You killed her.” Greg said, “You killed Jan.”
“I saved her. She’s with Jesus now. It’s ok that she’s a Jew.” A pencil rolled from a desk and clattered to the floor. Jeff Hayes straightened and went over to investigate. Greg clenched his eyes tight at the high pitched cry and the crack of the rifle shot.
Please God… I’ll do whatever you want…
“She was real too.”
Jeff’s voice startled Greg awake, he could barely keep his eyes open. It hadn’t felt like he was drowsy it felt like he was being overtaken by something, overtaken and swallowed whole. “Please... Jeff…”
“You can’t tell who’s pure and who isn’t until they bleed.” Jeff got on all fours and leaned in closer, “It was just like Reverend Ferdman said, there are people that look like us but inside they’re demons.”
“Demons?” Greg found pictures from the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual falling through his mind at the mere mention of the word.
“Sometimes I didn’t believe it either.” Jeff sat on the floor, “I think we were all of us looking in the wrong place.”
Greg tried to say something but he was too weak, it was an effort to just think. He couldn’t even keep his eyes open.
“Don’t be sad. You and Jan are going to Heaven, I made sure.” Jeff smiled, “The good guys always win in the end. You know, Magwier said-”
There was a crash as a half dozen policemen charged into the library knocking Jeff Hayes to the ground. In the mayhem one of the policemen stumbled and fell atop Greg Fletcher but Greg didn’t make a sound. He was barely breathing at all.