This story is my entry for the March Flash Fiction Carnival. The theme is “Letters/Numerals.” I hope you enjoy!
“How abecedarian,” Marjorie jeered. “You always pick the basic elements, Malcolm.”
“Shut up,” Malcolm snapped, repeating ‘alpha, beta, gamma, delta,’ under his breath.
“Why do you want to know the Greek alphabet anyway?” she demanded, tossing her mane of blonde hair over one shoulder.
Malcolm, staring a little, met her gaze and then looked at the floor. “For the uprising,” he mumbled.
Marjorie let out a delighted peal of laughter. Malcolm flushed.
“The uprising. Of what? Nerds for School Service?” She turned her back on him to rummage in her backpack for lipstick or something.
Malcolm glared. She might be the prettiest girl in the university, but damn was she vapid! “They’re coming, you know,” he told her anyway, deciding to try to at least wake her up.
“Who’s coming?” she chirped brightly, smearing red on her lips while examining herself in a tiny makeup compact.
Malcolm looked around and dropped his voice. “The Nines.”
She stared at him, stunned for a moment into complete incredulity. Then she threw her head back and laughed and laughed and laughed.
Malcolm huffed and started to pack up his bags.
“No, Malcolm,” she huffed, still giggling. “I’m sorry, I am! It’s just – the Nines!” She dissolved in another fit of laughter.
“Never mind,” Malcolm snapped. “I’m sorry I said anything!”
A harsh boom startled him and he looked toward the front of the library. He heard some yelling and then the sound of running feet.
“What is that?” Marjorie asked, craning her neck to see. “Can you see anything?”
Malcolm felt himself smile. It wasn’t his usual smile, this was something more… feral. He resisted the urge to touch his face and feel it. Marjorie gasped when she looked at him.
“I told you,” Malcolm said. “It’s starting.”
He shoved his books back in his backpack and zipped it. Marjorie watched him, clearly distracted and beginning to be afraid.
“You coming?” Malcolm asked, standing.
“Coming where?” she asked in a small voice quite unlike her usual one.
Malcolm looked around the edge of the wide bookcase nearest them. “Here,” he told her over his shoulder. “Come on.”
He heard her rummaging with her stuff and then stand. Her perfume tickled his nose as she got close to him, something flowery with a hint of spice. It smelled clean and made him feel a little hot.
He sniffed, trying to clear his nose, and set out for the next bank of bookcases. They wound their way through the section on biology, not seeing anyone. Ahead of them, the windows glowed with late-afternoon light, grey from the overcast outside. He turned left before they reached them and crept down the wide space between the two bookcases toward the door at the end.
“You’re taking the stairs?” she demanded in a whisper.
“Shh, they’ll hear you. And yes, we are,” he murmured back.
The doorway to the stairs was heavy and stuck. The hinges usually squeaked loudly. Rumor had it the biology librarian kept them that way so she could keep an eye on students coming and going. No matter; Malcolm made quick work with some WD-40 and they were through.
“What is that stuff?” Marjorie wanted to know.
“WD-40,” he answered. At her blank look, he added, “Oil. For the hinges, so they don’t squeak.”
Her eyes widened, impressed. Malcolm grinned at her, that strange feral grin he’d found somewhere inside himself, and led the way upstairs. He stopped at each floor to make sure no one was about to barge in on them. He was pretty sure no one knew about this way up, since the other students didn’t routinely explore the library, but it paid to be cautious.
Fifth floor, literature. Sixth floor, fine arts. Seventh floor… they were there. He eased up to the door, every sense alert. He even put a hand palm-down on the door, to see if he could feel any vibrations of nearby footsteps. It didn’t work, but he felt safer having done so. He put his ear up to the door and heard nothing.
“Come on. Stay close, now. They’re probably up here by now.”
Marjorie nodded, eyes wide. Malcolm turned back and started. Her hand edged into his, a little sweaty. He smiled again, and opened the door.
There was no one nearby, but he could clearly see Thom Stacker, the largest guy in their year, standing at the far end. The atrium ceiling, far overhead, let in the silver-gray light for the plants grouped in the huge display in the center. Palm trees competed with a riot of other tropical plants, their perfume heavy in the room. Wrought-iron tables and chairs ringed the planter so library-goers could enjoy their book in the peace.
“Wow!” Marjorie whispered. “I never knew this was here!”
“Keep your voice down,” Malcolm warned softly. “Follow me.”
He lead the way around to the right, away from Thom. He saw his destination up ahead and slowed, careful now. He waited a moment and glanced at Marjorie.
“For what?” she asked, confused.
He just grinned at her and, after a moment, she smiled back. It lit her whole face.
Malcolm set off boldly, almost dragging Marjorie at first. After a startled squeak she trotted to catch up, her hand still gripping his.
“Malcolm Dennis, pledge,” Malcolm announced.
“Malcolm!” Paul Forbes cried, pleased. “Wow! You’re the first one back! And who’s with you?”
Malcolm looked at Marjorie. “Marjorie Willis. My date for the pledge dance, if she’ll have me,” he added, glancing at her.
“Pledge dance?” she echoed. “You did this for a fraternity?”
He nodded. “Alpha Chi Omega. It’s why I need to know the Greek alphabet,” he told her. He slipped off his glasses, blinking. Even though they had no prescription, they made his eyes a little sore.
“You pledged Alpha Chi Omega?” she demanded.
“Class of Nines,” Paul put in. “Congratulations, Dennis. You’re in.”
“That is so cool!” Marjorie blurted. She grinned at Malcolm.
She sure was pretty.