By Ceresa Morsaint
He tensed as the ladder shook beneath him. His hands were filled with Frank McCourt and Ray Bradbury’s books, placing them into the Biography section. The store’s bell above the door jingled and a girl walked in sullen, with snowflakes melting into her dark hair. He watched as she paced past the bookshelves, clinging to her jacket. Her eyes followed the genre signs as she went, and ignored History, Science Fiction, Horror, library card in hand. She glanced at Christianity and pulled the collar of her coat upward. Her eyes were glazed over, almost as if they were glass. Adam could tell she had been crying, but he did not know her then. So he let her slip past as he rearranged the bookshelves.
As she came upon the Crime section, she took a deep breath and slung her bag off of her shoulder to the ground. The library had many commoners, her being one of them. But he couldn’t help but notice the cheerful disposition she no longer had. There was a weight in his chest whenever he watched her. It pulled him down from the ladder and over to where she stood.
“Hello. Can I help you find anything today?” he asked, as he stuffed his hands into his pockets.
“No thanks, Adam.” she said solemnly. “I found what I need.” She flipped the book closed and tucked it into the corner of her arm. He paused, smiled because she knew his name, and studied the half-visible letters of the book title.
“Interesting selection,” he laughed “Tryna solve a murder?”
He smiled jokingly, trying to remove the blanket of sadness that wrapped around her.
“Funny.” she huffed, sarcastically smiling. The weight in his chest flared to his cheeks and embarrassment took over.
“Hey, I was just kidding!” he said as he nudged her shoulder, knocking the bag on her arm to the ground.
Her cheeks flushed when the spilled bag tossed a pile of missing persons papers onto the floor. Adam gazed down at his feet in confusion, mentally connecting the dots of her situation. Emily Night, Vanessa Brooks sat as a header at the top of the page. Their faces youthful, their smiles comforting. Echo’s face turned red with anger and embarrassment.
“You should really watch what you’re doing,” she hissed.
“I- I’m sorry! Let me help!”
Adam bent down collecting the papers, and before Echo could snatch them away from him, he looked up at her.
“I know these girls,” he said. Echo’s face lightened, a puzzling look sprawled across her face.
“You do?” she asked. He nodded.
“I had bio with them last year before I graduated.”
She held her breath and blinked the tears away from her eyes before she broke down in front of him.
“What happened?” he asked.
“Listen,” she pulled him closer to her “I don’t know you very well,” she whispered “but I think someone is following me.”
Her eyes shifted across the room, tears brewing, breath held. Adam nodded and checked his watch.
“Do you have a ride home?”
She shook her head, “I walked.”
“Well, it’s too dark now. You can’t walk home alone.” He glanced outside, eyeing the fresh snow on the ground.
“Do you feel comfortable with me driving you home?”
She swayed where she stood, uncomfortably twisting the rings on her fingers.
“I had a class with you once. You probably didn’t notice,” she said.
She was right, he didn’t notice. But looking at her then, he wondered how that was remotely possible.
“But you seem nice… and I really don’t want to be alone right now.”
He nodded once more.
She followed him to his car in the December snow, her feet crunching as they went. Her smile was soft and subtle, but something still seemed wrong. He didn’t realize how much he was staring at her until she caught him, so from then on he avoided almost all eye contact. Adam slumped into the driver’s seat, and sighed.
“My name’s Echo, by the way,” she murmured.
“Interesting,” he teased.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Mysterious girl walks into a bookstore with a stack of missing persons papers, and she just so happens to be named Echo. A bit cliche, don’t you think?”
She smiled and shook her head.
“Understandable, I suppose.”
They drove down the snow-covered road, silently listening to music. He could see her watching him out of the corner of his eye. The tears she shed before him had faded and the car felt warmer with her there.
“I understand if you don’t want to, but I would like to know what’s going on.”
She frowned, twisted her rings again, and nodded.
“Like I said, someone is following me.”
“Yes, but what about the girls?”
She sighed. “They’re my best friends… and I don’t know where they are.”
He nodded, trying to follow along.
“They went missing a few weeks ago. The police think they ran away together, but I know that’s not right. They’d never do that, either of them. Especially without telling me first.”
“What do you think happened?” he asked, turning the heat down, feeling anxious.
“It has to be the guy that’s following me. I mean Em, Vanessa, and I saw him around a few times while hanging out but we just assumed that he lived in our neighborhood.”
“What makes you think differently now?”
She tensed, almost cried, and shook subtly in the passenger seat of his car.
“Yesterday morning, I saw him on my way to school. Then I saw him in the school park, during class. And then I saw him while walking home.” She paused, wiped her eyes.
“But last night… I saw him in my bedroom,” she shook uncontrollably and choked back the fear that she so desperately wanted to let go.
“What did he do? What did you do” Adam asked, anger rising in his chest.
“When I woke up, he was going through my things. He had a bag, and I know now that he stole some journals and pictures. But when he saw that I was awake, he hovered over me in my bed. But I screamed as loud as I could and, thank God, my dad happened to be in the bathroom right across the hall from me. He’s a cop and I guess his stomping scared the guy away, unfortunately. And he broke through my window, leaving in a car without a license plate. They’re still looking for him.”
“Wow,” he said. He felt fear for her, sorry for her, and felt the urge to hug her then. But he didn’t, instead, he got even more concerned.
“Wait a minute… your father, the policeman, let you walk alone to the library at night? Granted, I don’t know him, but that is not the typical dad move.”
She sighed, “They don’t exactly know I’m out.”
“What the hell, Echo!” he yelled.
“What? Dad’s at the station and my mom’s out of town on a business trip!”
“So no one is staying with you after that traumatizing situation?”
“Grammy, but she’s one foot in the grave and asleep in front of the TV.”
“Wow… seriously, I have no words.”
“I know. It was probably really dumb of me and I could have gone missing without a trace, like Em and Vanessa.”
“You think?” he said sarcastically, shaking his head.
He glanced over at her, only to see golden lights flashing across her face.
“What’s that?” she asked. There was a car on the side of the road, its blinkers were on, and a man was waving them down. He pulled behind him to see what was wrong.
“Wait here a sec,” he said, but as he left, Echo grasped onto his arm.
“What are you doing?” she asked, the same worry began to sprawl across her face again.
“I’m going to help him out,” he reassured, “just stay here.” She stopped him once more.
“Be careful,” she warned.
“I will,” he smiled. As he walked away, he heard the car doors lock and thought nothing of it. Adam bent down next to the man’s window and knocked.
“Hey man, do you need help?” he asked. The window rolled down slowly, revealing a familiar face. He stared back with the coldest, most hateful eyes Adam ever gazed into.
“Yeah. I’ve got some trouble with my engine. I’m not good with car stuff, can you take a look?”
His voice was dark and deep, hard to forget. The hood of his jacket was pulled over his head, and as he stepped out of the car, Adam noticed his worn boots. He popped the hood and found nothing. Adam could feel him creep behind.
“I don’t think there’s a problem here,” he doubted. In the reflection of the car, Adam saw the man pull down his hood and raise a crowbar to the back of his head.
“No!” Echo screamed. Her voice was muffled and forced through the glass. Her face distorted, she climbed into the driver’s seat as Adam fell to the ground. The man prowled towards her and all the terror that swarmed in the air, faded to darkness.
When Adam awoke, the headlights from his car worsened the pain that lingered in his head. There was blood all around him and Echo was gone. The driver’s seat window was shattered. Her bag had been taken, and all that was left was her journal.
About Ceresa Morsaint
Ceresa Morsaint is a writer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She studies American Sign Language and writes for a small newspaper, The Siren. Her work has been praised by American poet, Yona Harvey, and CNF writer, Lee Gutkind. In her spare time, she enjoys baking and reading Frank McCourt novels with her cat, Burt.