Read (LB1) Shakespeare's Champion Online

Authors: Charlaine Harris

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BOOK: (LB1) Shakespeare's Champion
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I awaited a reply with interest. An armed militia? The problem was, just about every white man—and black—in town was already armed. Guns were not exactly scarce in this area, where lots of citizens felt you were wise to carry a weapon if you traveled to Little Rock. You could buy arms at Winthrop Sporting Goods, if you wanted a top-of-the-line piece. You could buy a gun at Wal-Mart, or at the pawnshop, or just about anywhere in Shakespeare. So the “armed” part wasn’t exactly a shocker, but the “militia” part was.

I wasn’t too surprised when Claude and Marty Schuster protested ignorance of any knowledge of an armed militia in our fair city.

The meeting was effectively over, but no one wanted to admit it. Everyone had had his or her say, and no solution had been reached, because a solution to this problem was simply unreachable. A few die-hards were still trying to get the lawmen to make some kind of statement committing the law to eradicating the group apparently inciting white Shakespeareans to some kind of action against dark Shakespeareans, but Marty and Claude refused to be pinned.

People rose and began to shuffle toward the two exits. I saw Marty Schuster, Claude, and the minister go toward the aisle on my left. I stood admiring the carved pulpit, at the end of the aisle to the right, before I stepped into the aisle. I had zipped up my coat and was pulling on my black leather gloves when I felt a hand on my arm. I turned to meet the magnified eyes of Lanette Glass.

“Thank you for helping my son,” she said. She looked at me unwaveringly, but her eyes suddenly swam in tears.

“I wasn’t able to help when it counted,” I said.

“You can’t blame yourself,” she said gently. “You can’t count the times I’ve cried since he died, thinking I could somehow have warned him, somehow rescued him. I could have gone out for milk myself, instead of asking him to run to the store. That was when they got him, you know, in the parking lot…at least that was where his car was found.”

His new car, still with its crumpled fender.

“But you, you fought for him,” Lanette said quietly. “You bled for him.”

“Don’t make me better than I am,” I said flatly. “You’re a brave woman, Mrs. Glass.”

“Don’t you make me any better than I am,” Lanette Glass said quietly. “I thanked the black Marine the day after the fight. I never thanked you until tonight.”

I looked down at the floor, at my hands, at anything but Lanette Glass’s large brown eyes; and when I looked up, she had gone.

The crowd continued to exit slowly. People were talking, shaking their heads, pulling on their own coats and scarves and gloves. I moved along with them, thinking my own thoughts. I pushed up my sleeve to check my watch: It was 8:15. Through the open doors ahead of me, I could see that the crowd was thick in the church’s foyer. People were hesitating before stepping out into the cold. There were about three people between me and the sanctuary doors, and there were at least six people behind me.

The stout woman on my left turned to me to say something. I never found out what it was. The bomb went off.

I can’t remember if I knew what had happened right away or not. When I try, my head hurts. But I must have turned. Somehow I had a sense of the pulpit disintegrating.

I was pushed from behind by a powerful wind and I saw the head of the woman beside me separate from her body as a collection plate clove through her neck. I was sprayed with her blood as her body crumpled and her head and I went flying forward. My thick coat and scarf helped absorb some pressure. So did the bodies of the people behind me. The wooden pews also blocked some of the blast, but they splintered, of course, and those splinters were deadly…some of them were as big as spears, just as lethal.

The roar deafened me and in silence I flew through the air. All this happened at the same time, too much to catalog…the woman’s head flew with me, we flew together into kingdom come.

I WAS LYING
halfway on my right side, on something lumpy. Something else was lying on me. I was soaking wet. There were cold winds blowing in the church, and flames were flickering here and there. I was in hell. I watched the flames and wondered why I was so cold. Then I realized if I turned my head a little, I could see the stars, though I was in a building. This was remarkable; I should tell someone. The lights were out, but I could see a little. I could smell smoke, too, and the sharp smell of blood, and even worse things. And there was a heavy chemical smell overlaying everything, an odor that was completely new to me.

My situation isn’t good, I thought. I need to move. I want to go home. Take a shower.

I tried to sit up. I couldn’t hear a thing. That made my state even more surrealistic. With some senses so drenched with input and others totally deprived, it was easy to convince myself I was in a nightmare. I lost my place for a few minutes, I think. Then I reoriented, after a fashion. Someone was near me, I could tell, I could feel movement but not hear it. I turned painfully onto my back, put my hands on whatever was lying on my chest, and shoved. It moved. I tried to sit up, fell back. That hurt. A face appeared through the gloom in front of me. It was the face of Lanette Glass. She was talking, I could tell, because her mouth was moving.

At last she seemed to realize that she wasn’t getting through. She moved her lips slowly. I decided she was saying, “Where—is—Mookie?”

I remembered who Mookie was, and I remembered seeing her earlier. She had been on the other side of the church—that was where I was, in the Golgotha A.M.E. Church—and I’d glanced across at Mookie as she’d passed from the sanctuary into the foyer.

“Can you hear me?” I asked Lanette. I couldn’t hear myself. It was overwhelmingly strange. I thought of going to the dentist, not being able to feel your own lips after he filled a tooth. I went off course for a minute. Lanette shook me. She was nodding frantically. It took me another moment to realize she was letting me know she could hear me. That was great! I smiled. “Mookie is on the other side of the church,” I said. “In the foyer.”

Lanette vanished.

I wondered if I could stand up and go to a warm place and shower. I tried to roll onto my knees; I pushed against the thing underneath me, to flip from my back to my stomach. When I’d gotten that done, I saw the lump underneath me was the body of a girl, about ten or twelve years old. Her hair was elaborately decorated with beads. There was a sharp splinter protruding from her neck. Her eyes were blank. I closed my mind to that. I pulled up on a bench upended and aslant, propped against another bench. I wondered at the multitude of benches. Then I thought, church. Pews.

I stood erect. Everything swung around me, and I had to hold on to the back of the pew, actually a leg, since it was upside down. I suspected that all the flashing I could see meant I was losing my vision; but it was blue flashing. I was looking through the sanctuary doors to the foyer, through the foyer door to the outside; all the doors were open. No. The doors weren’t there anymore. Maybe I was seeing police cars? Surely, in an emergency like this, they would help?

I wondered how I might get out of this place. Though the electricity had gone out, there was that big streetlight right outside, and its light was coming through the holes in the roof. There were flames in several spots around me, though I couldn’t hear them crackle.

I remembered I was strong. I remembered I should be helping. Well, there was no helping the girl beneath me. I had helped Lanette by telling her where Mookie had been the last time I’d seen her. And look at what happened. Lanette had left. Maybe I should just fend for myself, huh?

But then I thought of Claude. I should find him and help him. It seemed to me it was my turn.

I took a shuffling step, now that I had a purpose. My left leg hurt very badly, but that was hardly a big surprise. Didn’t make it hurt any the less, though. I looked down unwillingly, and saw there was a cut in my leg, a very long slicing cut down the side of my thigh. I was terrified I’d see another splinter protruding, but I didn’t. I was bleeding, though. Understatement.

I took another step, over something I didn’t want to identify. I could feel my throat moving and I knew I was making sounds, though I couldn’t hear them, which was fine. They were better unheard. The beams of the streetlight that came through the roof had a surrealistic air because of the dust, which swam and floated in their light.

I stepped carefully through debris where there had been order just minutes before; the dead and dying and terribly injured where there had been whole clean living people. My leg collapsed once. I got back up. I could see other people moving. One man had gotten to his knees as I neared him. I held out my hand. He looked at it as if he’d never seen a hand. His eyes followed the line of my arm up to my face. He flinched when he looked at me. I figured I looked pretty bad. He didn’t look so great himself. He was covered with dust, and he had blood flowing from a deep cut in his arm. He’d lost the sleeve of his coat. He took my hand. I pulled. He came up. I nodded to him and went on.

I found Claude in the far aisle of the church, where I’d last seen him talking to the sheriff and the minister. I’d been closer to the bomb on the east side of the church, but the sheriff and the minister were dead. One of the big barshaped lighting fixtures had fallen from the ceiling and hit them square. They’d been much the same height. Claude must have been a step ahead of them. His legs were under the long heavy bar and he was lying on his stomach. His hands and arms and the back of his head were covered with white powder and debris and dark red blood. He was motionless.

I touched his neck, couldn’t remember why I was doing that, and began to push the long lighting fixture that was pinning his legs. It was very heavy. I was in terrible pain, and wanted desperately to lie down. But I felt there was something wrong about that, something bad, and I had to keep on pushing and pulling at the light fixture.

I finally got it off Claude’s legs. He was stirring, heaving up on his arms. I made a connection in my mind between the flashing blue light and Claude. I saw a group of lights swinging around catching millions of dust motes, thought it was in my head. But I gradually worked out that these were flashlights in the hands of rescuers.

It seemed to me they would want to move the most seriously injured first; at the same time, I had to admit, I really wanted to go home and shower. Maybe an ambulance would drop me off at home. I was sure sticky and smelly, and I was so sleepy. Maybe Claude and I could drive together, since we lived side by side. I knelt down by him and leaned over to look in his face. He was in agony, his eyes wide. When he saw me, his lips began moving. I smiled at him and shook my head, to show I couldn’t hear. His lips drew back from his teeth, and I knew that Claude was screaming.

Oh, I had to get up again, I realized wearily. I made it, but I was pretty sick of trying to walk. I shuffled a few steps, saw an upright figure ahead of me in the uncertain gloom. He swung around, and my eyes dazzled in the sudden blast of the flashlight. It was Todd Picard, and he was talking to me.

“I can’t hear,” I said. He ran the flashlight up and down my length, and when I could see his face in its glow again, he looked sick.

“I know where Claude is,” I said. “You need him, right?”

He illuminated himself with the flash. “Where—is—he?” Todd mouthed. I took his free hand and pulled, and he followed me.

I pointed down at Claude.

Todd turned in another direction, and I could see his hand go up to his mouth, his lips moving; he was screaming for help. Claude was still alive; his fingers were moving. I bent down to pat him reassuringly, and I just fell over. I didn’t get back up.

I don’t remember being loaded onto the stretcher, but I do remember the jolt of being carried. I remember the brilliance of the lights of the emergency room. I remember Carrie, all in white, looking so clean and calm, and I remember her trying to ask me questions. I kept shaking my head, I couldn’t hear anything.

“Deaf,” I said finally, and her lips stopped moving. People were busy around me; there was near-chaos in the hospital corridor. Since I wasn’t the most seriously injured, I had to wait my turn, and that was fine, except I couldn’t have any pain medication until Carrie had looked me over.

I blanked in and out, waking to see people moving up and down the hall, gurneys rolling past, all the doctors in town and most all the medical personnel of any kind.

And then, very oddly, I felt fingers on my wrist. Someone was taking my pulse, and while that was not so extraordinary, I knew I had to open my eyes. With an effort, I did. The detective was bending over me. He was so clean.

I could not hear much, I found, but I could hear a little, and I could lip-read.

“Is your head hurt?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said slowly, every word an effort. “My leg is.”

He looked down. “They’ll have to stitch it up,” he told me, and he looked very angry. “Who can I call for you? Someone should be here with you.”

“No one,” I said. It was an effort to talk.

“There’s blood all over your face.”

“The woman next to me was…” I couldn’t think of
decapitated
. “Her head came off,” I said, and closed my eyes again.

When I opened them some time later, he was gone.

I hardly woke up when Carrie stitched on me, and it was a surprise to find myself in the X-ray room. Other than these travels, I was out in the hall all night, which was fine. All the rooms were filled with the more seriously injured. And I could tell by the constant flow of ambulance personnel that some people were being sent to Montrose or Little Rock. Carrie came by and shook me awake every so often to check my eyes, and the nurses took my pulse and blood pressure, and I wanted most of all to be left alone. Hospitals are not places for being left alone.

The next time I opened my eyes, it was daylight. I could see a pale watery morning through the glass doors of the emergency room. A man in a suit was standing by my gurney. He was looking down at me. He, too, was looking a little squeamish. I was really tired of people looking at me that way.

BOOK: (LB1) Shakespeare's Champion
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