An Excerpt from The Girl in the Storm, Chapter 1: She Moves Through Shadow

She didn’t like the room, or the chair she sat on. The carpet beneath her feet was plain, a pale sort of blue designed neither to please nor upset, and yet her eyes were drawn toward it. Perhaps it was because of the clinical gaze fixed on her, the weight of that look recalling everything that had happened the week before. It was all so fresh, so painfully close that she felt it on her chest like cold hands trying to constrict her breathing. This room, the weight of it pressing in around her, was almost as bad as the memory of what happened. She let her gaze drift around her, over furniture that was placed with great care and along walls adorned with framed plaques of academic distinction, and as she did so she felt that weight again. “Am I supposed to say something?” She felt her lips move, heard the words drift beyond them, and yet she could not understand how she managed to find the nerve to speak.

            “If you want.” While the look in those eyes might be clinical and examining, the voice was anything but. The woman seated across from her spoke in a way that elicited calm, reflection, an ease that allowed the feeling of weight to lift somewhat. “We don’t have to talk about anything in particular. There are no rules, no expectations.” There was a softness to the woman’s voice that worked on her mind, pushing away at least some of the apprehension and, for a moment, distracting her from how much she disliked the room itself. “May I ask you about your name, Genevieve? Who chose it for you?”

“My mother,” she answered. Even that brought the shade of a smile to her face. “She’s French. I guess she figured I was owed that much at least.” She bit her bottom lip gently, resisting the urge to allow that shade of a smile to become more than that. She had a lot to thank her mother for, from the beauty of her name to the wavy, bouncy locks of auburn hair that fell so gently on her shoulders. She was pretty in an unassuming way, the way that could catch the eye of a boy or two, but never quite as much as others. Not that it mattered to her if it did. Her skin was fair, with a light dusting of freckles that spotted her cheeks along with her slender arms.

            “Genevieve Reidell.” It felt a little odd to hear the woman say her name aloud, to say it in a way that made Genevieve feel uncomfortably aware of herself. “It’s very nice.”

            “How…” She paused, only long enough to steady herself and draw a breath. “How many people have you spoken to?” The question tumbled out before she could stop it, her mind already imagining how many others had sat in this chair over the last forty-eight hours, already wondering how much had been said and how many tears had been shed along the way.

            “A few. Why?”

            “I don’t know what you’ve been told. There are so many stories…” Her heart hammered a little as she spoke, palms becoming sweaty as it took all the strength she had just to look the woman in the eyes. “Nobody knew what was going on, how could they? Just because you saw blood on someone it… it didn’t mean it was theirs.”

As she spoke, she was back in that hallway again, kneeling beside the trembling body of a young girl whose white shirt was soaked with blood. The girl’s face had already been growing pale by the time Genevieve stooped down and cradled her in her arms, each breath becoming shallower, each second growing closer to the last in her young life. “Anyway, whatever it is you’ve heard, it’s all just silly.”

            “What do you remember about the day it happened?” Ah, the dreaded question, the one she knew would be coming.

            “I remember… the sounds,” Genevieve shut her eyes tightly.

            “You remember the gunshots?”

            “No,” Genevieve said, grimacing. “I remember the screams.”

            “And what can you remember about Tatiana?”

Genevieve’s eyes flew open. The memory burned so vividly it was as if Tatiana were cradled in her arms again. Genevieve Reidell had never imagined that she might see that look in someone’s eyes. Tatiana had grabbed her sleeve, the blood on her fingers staining the fabric in dark, crimson hues, but only now could she recall what had been said.

            “Just… stay with me, okay? It’s going to be okay.” She didn’t want to lie but she didn’t know what else to say. What do you say to someone who is dying?

            “She was… lying on the floor, outside Mr. Parker’s math class.”

            “She was shot?”

            “No.” she said, the word a lie and a very careful one that left her lips with ease. “Everything was just… chaotic. I told you, nobody knew what was going on. She was covered in blood. A lot of people were. There was blood everywhere.” And that was no lie at all; there was blood everywhere she looked. Tatiana had been shot, that much she knew when Tatiana began to fade in her arms, but the tighter she clung to her broken form and the harder her own tears began to fall, the more that faint and distant look began to change.

            “What…. What’s happening?” when Tatiana asked that question, her voice was different too. Where at first, she could barely make out a single thing the girl was trying to say, Genevieve began to hear a strength returning to it then, a kind strength that mixed with confusion as much with fear.

            “I don’t know.” It was the quickest and truest answer that she could give, but one that didn’t quell the feeling that something very strange was going on. The color was returning to her face. Her eyes, that were so lost and distant a second or two before, looked deep at Genevieve with wonder and confusion. “Just don’t move, okay?”

            “I can feel my legs.” There was no way to shade just how Tatiana sounded when those words were said aloud, with a spark of bewilderment that began to drown out the chaos that had erupted in their school.  Even Genevieve could not deny the strangeness of what just happened, or how it felt when her fingers dragged down along the front of that blood-soaked shirt and found the bullet hole that marked it. “How did…” the two young girls looked at one another, mouths agape as neither could find a word strong enough to grasp what happened.

            “She was convinced that she had been shot.” Her brow furrowed, slender fingers tapping out a steady rhythm on the armrest of her chair, “And that, when you held her in your arms…”

            “And you believe that?” Genevieve asked the question point blank, and let it hang in the air before she answered it herself, “I didn’t think so. Like I said, it was chaos. She was probably in a panic. I mean, being covered in someone else’s blood, who wouldn’t be?”

            “She was very convinced.” The woman offered her a kind smile as she spoke.

            “She could be pretty convincing when she wanted to be. Matthew always liked her… she could convince him of just about anything.” She couldn’t understand why she felt compelled to say such things, or why she brought up Matthew like that quite so easily, but she felt an ache inside her when she did.

Published by Christopher Stanfield

Christopher Stanfield is a West Texas native whose love of writing began at the age of fourteen, inspired by a love of mythology, science fiction and fantasy. And though he’s spent the past twenty years in IT for a small bank, writing is the one passion that never quite let go.

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