The sun quickly shields itself from the moons half-hidden face, escaping over the tops of the tall buildings. What seem to be miniature suns switch on in windows that reflect the approaching night sky. The smell of food wafts through the air, the variety of scents astounding the nose of any who pay attention to the smaller things in life; the smell of apple pie clashes with strong alcohol. Children are playing on the steps, their parents busy with small talk and last minute decorations. A busy crowd mills about an old library that is clearly not in the best condition. The library’s exterior is faded and weathered, and many of the windows are patched together with tape and cloth. Through one of the missing windows the shrill, grating voice of Dolores Smith can be heard. After a few moments, a man’s voice, calm and relaxed. The San Clemente Public Library Fundraiser has begun.
Scott had been pretty busy today. A short morning mass followed by a mound of paperwork sent by the local Baptist Convention, then fasting and prayer. Wearing a plain black cassock with the white band peeking out from under the small collar, the pair of brass knuckles hidden in a pocket is the only thing he still carries from the old days. Scott kept it as a reminder of his past and to urge him to a newer future. Now, he keeps his eyes on the man before him. John Smith stands outside the library’s entrance, checking tickets and greeting attendees. He smells strongly of cheap cologne and even cheaper alcohol, and his trademark cowboy hat is tipped to the side. Scott waved to John as he walked up and offered his ticket to the man. “How you doin’, John?”
John grins wide and kicks his heels on the ground. “’Bout the same as always, padre. Hope you don’t mind the drinkin’ and the partyin’. Could get crazy in there.” John doesn’t even bother to check the ticket, instead ushering Scott in. “I’ve no issue with drinking; just don’t see the need m’self.” He nods to John as he walks inside, taking in the party and watching for John’s wife; don’t need to start the party off badly, of course.
Behind him, another fundraiser guest strides up the stairs with his long legs, tall at 6’ 2”. Marcus was brown haired and green eyed, and wore chinos, brown shoes and socks, and a blue button down shirt with a brown sport jacket; appropriate dress for a dinner party for a young man. Earlier in the day, he arrived back in town from UT. He had spent the afternoon clowning around with some old high school friends having a good time. Although his mates were all the same body type as he, Marcus was used to comments about his height and the athletic build that was befitting a high school football player. His eyes sub-consciously scanned the crowd before resting on Mr. J. Smith. Marcus walked up and presented his tickets. Holding his breath somewhat, he smiles warmly at John. “Hey, Mr. Smith. How you doing today, sir? Want me to straighten that hat for you?” John smiles even wider at Marcus. “Shee-it, son. Glad you could make it.” He attempts to tip his hat, dropping it to the ground. “Mind you behave yourself in there.” Marcus grabs the hat for John and places it on his head. “Oh come on, Mr. Smith. Dad’s here! How much trouble can I get into?” Marcus grins wider and heads inside, checking to see who was attending, eyes passing over the blond haired man a few paces away.
Philip had hair slicked back on the sides. His eyes are blue-grey with never-fading bags under them. Many would see this as a doctor involved with his craft, but this was evidence of an obsession on the commonality of death. He carries himself tall as his father ground into him by smacking him in the back whenever he slumped; wearing a white suit with black polished shoes emphasises his stature. Philip tried to make out that he was at this lousy event for a purpose. In all actuality, he had came to the town for two reasons; one, was to act as representative for Milligan Foods since his family’s chain supermarket had donated to the town before. The other was to satisfy his interests on death. He was planning to flirt with death later on tonight in a small home owned by his family. Now, he was just going to appear, to chat and try to duck out early to the real main event. Before the library fundraiser, he was preparing for his project for the night. Facing the man unknown to him, Philip held his ticket up to have it checked by the tipsy doorman. “Evening,” he says with a slight, insincere, smile. Philip hopes no one will know who he is so can sneak out sooner. John pays Philip no mind, checking his ticket in a quick – if slurred and shaking – manner. “Go on in.”
A woman with long black hair, pink lipstick and intense blue eyes follows slowly, hands buried in her satchel. She’s attended the library wearing tight black jeans over knee high black platform boots, a white t-shirt with ‘play me.’ printed in red on the front, and a shortened jacket in black that barely reaches the small of her back. She had spent the morning sketching, but her heart wasn’t in it; she had been moping 24/7 since her parents died. Birgit walks over to John, hands still busy rummaging for the ticket. Finding it, she smiles slightly at John when he fumbles his hat. “Hey, I’ve got my invite here. Can I go in?” He nods to Birgit, waving her in. He pointedly avoids eye contact. Shrugging slightly, Birgit steps indoors and looks around. She’s got enough problems already.
The weeks of preparation seem to have paid off; Caicedo Hall is full of people in a mix of moderately fancy clothing to clothes thrown on in the last minute mingling about, taking barbecued foods from the buffet line and drinking far, far too much. Banners and posters cover the bookshelves, asking for money in a garish and obvious manner. The committee had done an excellent job hiding the fact that this is a place of learning and stood smiling broadly at their handy-work. They were oblivious to the fact that none of the guests were paying attention to them at all.
Birgit spots Dennis, the elderly librarian across the hall. He’s been here for years, but his mind is often gone; they really only keep him around as a nicety. Grinning for the first time in what felt like years, she quickly steps over to him and taps him on the shoulder. “It’s good to see you too Dennis, it’s been a few years hadn’t it? How’s your wife? I heard she’s got arthritis?” Birgit smiles down at the old man and gives him a quick hug. “Enjoying the party? I see you’re dressed to impress.” Dennis nods slowly. “The wife, the wife. She could be better. I’ll send her your regards.” He rubs at a spot on his shirt. “Did you come to check out a book?” He asks. “Honestly Dennis? I came to see you! This invitation was just convenient timing. Actually, I don’t know why they gave it to me. Maybe it’s because my parents donated or something, I dunno.” Birgit chatters away animatedly, she hadn’t realised how much she missed the old man.
Philip looks for the person who is running this event to make his howdy-do’s. He was hoping to make an appearance so people will know he was there and, more importantly, get his grandparents off his back. Philip doesn’t see anyone obviously in charge of the event; he’ll have to ask around. Philip walks to a random person in the room who seems to be the centre of the conversation and joins in making sure to make it obvious he is a bit overdressed for the occasion. But first, he had to look like he is actually enjoying the party and looks for the closest source of drink.
Scott grimaces, spotting congregation members and making a mental note to give a sermon on the dangers of overindulgence at a later date, before heading for the buffet and grabbing a bit of food to snack on while mingling. He keeps an eye out for Matt Acevedo. Matt Acevedo is in the back of the hall not far from Marcus and Paul Weiller. He is standing between Dolores Smith and Aaron Ramirez, who seem to be engaged in heated debate. Scott frowns; should’ve figured the debate would be where he’d be… He shrugs to himself and heads over, devouring a biscuit quickly before wiping his hands on a napkin and waving to Matt. “How goes the fundraiser, Matt?” Matt sighs. “God, you have no…sorry. Name in vain, right?” He runs a hand through his hair, unaware of the sauce stains on his fingers as he turns to Scott. “She’s at it again, and Aaron can’t resist riling her up… Hey, you seen Carter? He’s supposed to be here tonight.” “Not yet, didn’t expect him to come down honestly.” Scott stops to look over at Aaron and Dolores, then back at Matt. “Was inviting both of them such a good idea?” “Not much of a choice, Scott. Dolores was in charge of this event, and we could desperately use Aaron’s money.” Matt nods to himself. “Don’t stress over it. And Carter might just be out of sorts tonight. Enjoy the party – I sure can’t.” Scott pats Matt on the shoulder. “Oh don’t be like that, son. Such is life, but true strength comes from this sort of thing.” He flashes a smile before walking away, snacking and greeting some congregation members as he goes, making a full circuit around the room.
Marcus was looking around for something non-alcoholic to drink and wondering if he could spot his Dad when Paul Weiller waved to his son, almost spilling a plate of barbecue in the process. He was near the back of the hall by himself. Marcus crossed the hall and joined his Dad. “How goes it, Dad! Heck of party going on here.” Paul points to another plate. “Saved you one. These people are like animals! I spilled some barbecue sauce on my hand and I swear that Smith lady tried to take it off.” He groans. “Or she might just be mad at me.” Marcus chuckles and accepts the plate. As he begins to eat, the debate catches his attention, and he listens in. He asks Paul, “What are they so animated about?” Paul grabs a roll from his plate. “The usual. Probably trying to run us out of town.” His shoulders slump, and for a moment Paul looks like he regrets coming. Marcus gives his dad a one armed squeeze. “Dad, you told me yourself; ‘Marcus, progress and change are painful and not everyone likes it. Even if it’s for the best.’ Cheer up! You do good work here! Say, why isn’t Mr. Carter here?” “Right, right.” He runs one hand through his hair, balancing barbecue with the other. “I’ll see if I can find Carter, though, not really like him to be late…” Paul shrugs. “Don’t know. Nobody’s seen him for a while. Not like him to miss this.” He shakes his head for a moment. “You really mean that, about doing good work here? That Smith bitch makes it hard to believe sometimes.” “Dad! What’s your deal tonight? You never talk this way. Of course I mean it! When the expansion project completes its work, this town will have new jobs, more vitality!” Marcus hears the accident and turns around to see the scene. Paul manages a weak smile. “Don’t mind me. Go on, enjoy yourself a little bit. I’ll be fine.” Marcus gives Paul another squeeze and, after realizing he had cleared his plate, he began weaving through the crowd in the general direction to the buffet line for more barbeque.
Collecting herself a little, Birgit shrugs and puts her hand on Dennis’s shoulder. “Hey Dennis, you want something to drink? I’ll get you something, what’ll it be?” “A drink? Yes, that would be nice.” Dennis nods. His eyes scan through the room. “I’ll wait here, and then we can talk about what books you want to check out.” “Alright Dennis, I’ll be back soon.” Birgit wanders over to the tables and finds a couple of plastic cups of punch. She takes a more circuitous route back, but accidentally bumps into someone. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry!” “Oops, easy there! Sorry, my mistake… errah…” Philip ends the sentence like he knows the person who just dumped some rather red wine on his bright white suit but just forgot the name. Birgit was lucky, none of the punch got on her shirt, but Philip wasn’t so fortunate. “Birgit!” She bites her lip uncertainly; the guy’s suit was obviously decent quality. “Uhm…sorry? I think I tripped or something.” She drops her now empty punch cups and quickly pulls some tissues from her satchel and scrubs at the man’s shirt. It doesn’t help. Dolores and Aaron pause for a moment to take in Philip’s accident, and Dolores then goes right back to her tirade. Aaron walks over to Philip and Birgit while Dolores continues. “Careful now, children. Let us clean up this mess.” Birgit smiles appreciatively when Aaron arrives. “Thanks, I was a little lost on how to fix this.” Philip’s beams a smile at Birgit and Aaron at the same time. “Oh never you all mind. Dry cleaning will take it all out. I actually mourn more for the lost wine than this old thing” Philip keeps smiling knowing the $2000 suit was pretty much ruined at that point but at least the company would pay for it. “Are you all enjoying yourselves at least when not dumping things on me?” Aaron smiles and nods, but turns back to Dolores. She doesn’t even seem to have noticed he stopped paying attention.
“Well, I was just taking some drinks back to an old friend, you know Dennis? So yeah, things are alright.” Birgit says to Philip. “Actually, I have not met Dennis? Why not we go find him for you?” “Yeah, sure! We’ll need to replace these empty cups, though.” Birgit leads Philip over to Dennis, by way of the punch bowl, to introduce them. Momentarily, everyone in the room turns their gaze on someone. Philip pauses while trailing behind Birgit wondering why everyone just stopped to look at this one person. He sees a priest and makes a note to talk to him later as he seems to be a key member in the town. Philip turns back, smiling after Birgit. Dennis seems to have wandered off during Birgit’s drink splashing adventure. There’s a young woman in his place, Matt’s sister Jen. Her eyes are half shut and she’s absentmindedly scratching at her arm. Birgit turns to Philip apologetically. “Oh, he’s gone. Heh, he’s like that sometimes, he’s not ‘all there’, if you know what I mean.” Birgit frowns slightly, but replaces it with a smile quickly enough that nobody should have noticed. “Oh really? ” Philip looks over this woman who is staring through, to what seems, bored eyes. “Hello, lady. Am I interrupting?” Jen props her head on her arm. “You’re that, uh, Bridgette girl? And your boyfriend. Hmph.” She sighs loudly, looking around to see if anyone notices her frustration. “You don’t have anything better to do than waste time at this lame-ass party?” Birgit smiles, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. “Birgit, B-I-R-G-I-T. He’s not my boyfriend, though. You’re Matt’s sister, right? Jane?” Birgits smile becomes a little more real. Philip nods. “Yes, we just met after a little accident.” Philip stops smiling and takes on a solemn look, “But you don’t look all that well.”
Someone stops Marcus as he reaches the buffet line, a dark haired girl wearing a thick sweater and jeans. She reaches in her pockets. “You’re Marcus, right?” After a moment she fishes some gum from her pocket and offers a piece. Marcus takes the piece of gum. “I am; thanks. And to whom do I owe this pleasure? “
The assorted members of the congregation are thrilled to see Scott, though they make a show of hiding their drinks as he approaches. Scott remains pleasant despite seeing just how many of his congregation seem to enjoy getting blisteringly drunk at a library. Definitely giving that sermon… Matt taps Scott on the back. “You have a minute? I need to talk to you about something.” Matt keeps running his hand through his hair, and his eyes rapidly scan the party guests. Scott turns to Matt. “Of course, my son. What’s wrong? You don’t look too good.” Matt lowers his voice. “It’s, uh, about my sister. I need some advice.” Scott nods solemnly, leaning closer. “Do you want to speak somewhere more private?”
A loud scream echoes through the tall library, originating from outside – a common occurrence from those drinking in the graveyard, but it’s followed by a gunshot, and then more screaming. And in the library, Jen Acevedo begins convulsing. She falls to the floor, her head smacking hard against a shelf. Another scream; this from the back rooms. One of the guests, an older man, clutches his chest.
The room is thrown into a panic.
Philip drops his glass and tries to take in everything at once wondering what he should do. Marcus is stunned for a moment, hurling himself to the ground and then crawling across the room towards Jen Acevedo. He’s struck suddenly by the fact that he left his cell phone in his car. Aaron Ramirez rushes to the man having a heart attack, already clutching his cell phone. More screams as someone discovers Nina Sanchez, a local high school student, with a knife protruding from her back. Scott jumps, turning to the gunshot, then the crash, then the scream. “Shit. Matt, what was it!” He grabs the man, shaking him. “What’s wrong with her?!” Philip looks down at his feet and sees Jen had fallen over and cracked her head pretty bad. He kneels down and pulls her straight, not expecting any spinal injuries. Birgit whips around at the gunshot, then at a sickening thud turns back to find Jen on the floor, convulsing. “Oh shit, help me with her, something’s wrong!”
Matt seems frozen, eyes wide, as he stares at his sister. He keeps sputtering out a few syllables, but can’t quite finish any words. He pushes Scott aside and runs to Jen.
“Dammit!” Scott follows, trying to calm Matt down. Philip takes off his jacket and wraps it and puts her head on the white jacket, the faint red wine stain now being enveloped by darker red stain. The rest of the guests seem torn between watching events unfold and running the hell out the door, but he pays no mind. Philip just found himself back in the ER, trying to handle several emergencies at once. “Where’d that shot come from? Did anyone get hit? Let me know, I’m a doctor” he yelled out to the room looking around at the shocked faces. No one in the room seems to have been shot; the sound was muffled and probably came from the Loser’s Bracket.
Birgit watches as a small crowd forms around Jen. There’s nothing more keeping her here, so she runs, heading straight for the door with everyone else. “Oh god, oh god, oh god, f-fuck!” Reaching her Vespa, Birgit struggles to find her keys and shoves them in.
Despite best attempts, Jen Acevedo’s eyes roll back into her head and she stops convulsing. Philip focuses back on the girl on the floor and finds a man giving CPR, but Aaron Ramirez doesn’t look hopeful. “What the fu…” Philip gets down and checks for a pulse of Jen.
When Jen’s situation dawns on Marcus, he leaps up and runs looking for his father. Paul Weiller is in the back of the room, and he seems to be talking down Dolores Smith. The woman is kneeling on the floor, sobbing. Marcus grabs his father’s shoulder. “Dad! You ok?” “Marcus, go home. Quickly. You shouldn’t be seeing this.” “But Dad, you might need my help!”
“Mein lieber gott…” Birgit falls back into her native German as she gets on her scooter and revs it before taking off out of the car park. “I can’t deal with this, not now, oh Gott, mein lieber Gott.” Her hands shake on the handlebars as she whips down the road.
“I said to go, Marcus.” Paul pats Dolores on the shoulder, carefully, as if she might snap at any moment. “Do as I say.” “Alright Dad. I’ll see you later.” Marcus gets up and heads out to his car to drive home.
Matt turns to Scott. His lip quivers. “She, she…” “It’s okay, Matt. Let it out.” He pulls the man close, patting him on the back. Matt doesn’t resist, and he bursts into tears. The assembled crowd slowly moves away to give him room.
Philip tries to find some sign of life, but he finds no pulse at all. He begins CPR on Jen trying to keep a steady rate. He looks at the nearest person and orders to go call 911 as he quickly measures the safe distance and pushes down on her chest.
Birgit slams the front door of her home closed, locks it, sprints to her room and dives onto her bed, breathing hard. “Goddamnit. What the fuck happened?”
Philip hears sirens in the distance – from all areas of town. The phenomenon does not seem to be limited to the fundraiser. Philip finds nothing else he can do for Jen. He postpones the experiment for tonight for later as he checks in at nearest hospital and stays up the entire night.
Marcus gets home and locks the front door. His nerves are still shaky as he fishes out his hunting shotgun and loads it. He has a shot of his father’s bourbon to calm himself.
Birgit ran the night through her mind repetitively, chest heaving, body shaking. Then she realises a fact she had been trying to hide from herself. “Oh…oh no…Dennis…” Birgit begins to cry. An hour or so later, she falls into a fitful sleep.
At the end of the night, the authorities report eight casualties. They have yet to reveal names, but you know what happened at the fundraiser – Jen Acevedo, Nina Sanchez, and a John Doe from out of town who snuck his way into the library.