Spencer volunteers at the library. Sure, it’s community service, but he likes his work. Especially if it means getting to see Mallory.
Mallory spends a lot of time keeping her head down. When you’re sixteen and homeless, nothing matters more than being anonymous. But Spencer’s charm makes her want to be noticed.
Then sinister things start happening at the library. Mysterious symbols and terrifying warnings begin to appear, and management grows suspicious. Spencer and Mallory know a homeless teenager makes an easy target, and if they can’t find the real culprit soon, they could lose more than just their safe haven…
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THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19, 1:13 A.M.
Fairview Public Library
I’ve broken curfew for plenty of stupid reasons, but climbing the public library? I can’t really be thinking about doing this.
I am, though.
Not that I could tell you why. Why would a perfectly rational guy decide to take a jog at one o’clock in the morning? And why did that jog turn into a dead-panic sprint, until I stopped in this alley, sweaty and alone on the narrow strip of pavement between the parking lot and the book drop?
I can’t figure out most of tonight, but I know this: I want to climb to the top of the Fairview Public Library.
It’s not a good idea. Climbing that wall has Terrible Choice written all over it.
But it’d be easy. Thirty, maybe thirty-five feet tall, which I could scale in my sleep. Especially with all those chunky slabs of stone creating perfect crevices for my fingers and toes. I can’t believe I’ve never noticed them. Back in fourth grade, I walked here every other Tuesday for class visits. It was a building full of books then. Now it’s an unexplored vertical trail, my ticket to a view I’ve never seen.
I do this a lot: scan buildings for ascent routes. That’s what happens when you love climbing. I want to climb rocks and trees and the football stadium and the water tower. And apparently the library.
Seriously, I could do it in five minutes. Maybe less.
Which is still plenty of time to get arrested in this town.
Here, tucked close to the side of the building in the alley, I’m not easy to see from Main Street. Halfway up the wall, though, I’d be exposed.
So, don’t be stupid.
I wipe my sweaty hands down the front of my pants and move closer, dragging two fingers down the stone. Rough. Grippy.
A memorial plaque sits on the ground near a weeping cherry tree: Higher Knowledge for Our Best Future.
I flinch, images flipping through my mind like flash cards. Dad at his spreadsheet, Mom at her leather journal, and me typing as fast as my fingers will let me, stacking up rows of words that paint a pleasing story about who I am and what I want.
I don’t know that I decide to start climbing. I just kick off my shoes and socks, and it happens. I test the edge of a curved brick with one hand, and my toes find a natural perch on another. It’s a strong position. A good hold. One upward glance and the path reveals itself—a push with my foot, and my left hand will go to the slightly darker stone. My right will reach the slab below the first-floor windows. Then the edge above it. I see one smooth white stone that might give me trouble, but I can always go for the ledge of the second-floor window if I need to.
I start my ascent, slow and steady. The world slips quietly away. I can’t hear my mom listing college hockey stats, and I can’t see my dad’s postgraduation salary predictions. None of the things I should do and be matter up here.
Eyes open. Core engaged. Grip strong. There is only the steady hunt for the summit when I climb. Nothing else. And, so far, this hunt is easy pickings.
My fingers slip, and I frown, retreating to my former hold. I try again. The problem is the smooth, knobby bit I’d seen below; the one I feared might be trouble. A third attempt, and I pull back to reassess. I need an alternative, because I can’t grip that smooth section without rosin, and I don’t have rosin.
Or a harness.
I’m twenty-five feet up with no harness.
This fact hits me square in the chest, and in the span of one breath, my heart turns to a bag of worms. I grip my toes and push close to the wall to steady myself. Panic and stupidity lead to most climbing accidents, and I’ve already covered the stupidity bit.
“Not smart,” I tell myself, and that’s all I allow. I’ll have to rub this lesson in later, when I’m back on the ground without an assortment of broken bones.
When my heart slows to a steady thud-thud-thud, I start looking for a better route. I’m maybe ten or fifteen feet from the top. With my adrenaline wearing off, it feels doable. This is not a difficult climb. Once I’m up, the fire escape ladder on the back of the building will make for an easy way down. I just need to do it.
I relax into my feet and start up the path closest to the second-story window. I still have that sill if I need it.
I push off my right foot as I reach up, a good pinch at a comfortable reach. Excellent. Plus, I see a perfect lip for my left hand, so I push up through that leg to snag the next hold. My grip sticks, but something snaps. My left foot drops hard, leg scraping stone. I lurch in the opposite direction, forcing my center of gravity to the right.
Was it the brick? I glance down at the wall below, seeing freshly cracked stone where my foot used to be. Bits of mortar and rock lay in the grass, and my stomach drops into my feet.
I was standing on that seconds ago. If it had broken any earlier, I’d have fallen. I lick my lips, heart pounding. Nothing about that brick looked wrong. There was zero warning.
Which means there might not be a warning next time.
Who’s to say the one I’m on now won’t snap? My worry ratchets higher with every breath. I don’t know anything about this wall. These bricks could be painted hunks of mortar for all I know. Every last one could break.
Okay, new plan. I need to get up this wall before it falls apart.
The sill beneath it will be solid concrete. It’ll hold and give me time to breathe. When my body is in line, I swing my left leg up hard. I have to get high enough to catch the window sill.
I overshoot it. My knee hits the glass with a crack. I stop breathing, mouth dropping open at the neat hole my patella punched in the pane. Cracks spider from the hole in multiple directions. For one breathless instant, all I can do is stare, my bare toes resting on the concrete sill while bits of glass clink down from the opening.
Unbelievable. I kicked in the freaking window.
A shard hits my big toe, and it jolts me into action. I drag myself to the right of the mess, my face scraping mortar. The window I broke is tall and wide with arched glass that looks…expensive.
I’ll worry about it later. I need to finish this and get down before something else goes wrong.
Nothing does. The rest of the climb passes without incident. At the top, I haul myself over the concrete cornice and drop to my backside, panting in relief.
I should bolt for the ladder, but my legs have turned to jelly. I need a minute to catch my breath. I enjoy the view, which is nothing to sneeze at. Fairview is easy on the eyes from up here. A row of postcard-worthy businesses line Main Street, embellished with flower boxes and understated window displays. Here and there, iron benches rest under neatly trimmed trees—an invitation to linger.
Beyond Main Street, the streets give way to a sleeping patchwork of lush, green lawns with curving gardens and winding paths. And houses. Large, beautiful houses.
One of those houses is yours.
My throat squeezes, and I lean forward, staring at the soft glow of streetlights and curved streets. It is the definition of peaceful and safe, but I’m not feeling either of those things. I feel like I’m peering into another dimension. Like I’m seeing something I’ve never seen. Which is ridiculous. I live down there. Fairview has always been home.
A flash of blue and white lights. The police. There’s a single cruiser six or seven intersections down Main Street, so someone must have seen me. Adrenaline floods my senses.
Get up. I have to get up.
My body is heavy. Immobile. What the hell is wrong with me? I need to run!
But I don’t. Moments later, the cruiser turns into the library parking lot, and it’s like my body is frozen. My eyes follow the car as it parks, then trail the beam of the spotlight across the library wall. Shrubs and mulch are illuminated. Then, the cherry tree. Next, my discarded socks and shoes.
I wonder what they’ll do when they figure out I’m up here.
I wonder what it’ll feel like when they take me away.