Prom Nights from Hell Chapter Ten
It worked perfectly.
Almost. There were six guards blocking the exits and another four at the door, checking everyone as they left. Ten total. All in body armor and masks, explaining patiently that there had been a bomb threat and it was important to evacuate as quickly as possible. No one questioned why they were armed with the automatic weapons they kept using to push the crowd along.
No one except Dr. Trope, who went up to one of them and said, “Young man, I ask you to keep your weapons away from my students,” distracting him just long enough for Miranda and Sibby to get swallowed into the middle of the crowd.
They’d navigated by the first two storm troopers, with only two left when Ariel yelled, “Dr. Trope? Dr. Trope? Look, there she is, Miranda Kiss. I told you she crashed the prom. She’s right there in the middle. You have to-“
Four men with automatic weapons suddenly swiveled and waded into the mass of students. Miranda whispered, “Duck,” to Sibby and the two of them bobbed beneath the surface of the crowd, crawling back into the Great Hall.
Behind her she heard Dr. Trope saying, “Where is she? Where did she go? I’m not leaving one of my pupils in there.” And the storm trooper saying, “Please, sir, you need to evacuate. We’ll find her. Rest assured.”
Miranda decided that if she got out of this alive, she’d be a lot nicer to Dr. Trope. If.
She dragged Sibby over to Old Faithful and said, “In there. Now.”
“Why can’t I hide in the White House? Why does it have to be in the volcano?”
“I might need part of the White House. Please, just do it. They won’t be able to make you out if they have night goggles.”
“What about you? You’re wearing white.”
“I match the decorations.”
“Wow, you’re really good at this. This planning stuff. How’d you learn how to-“
Miranda was wondering the same thing. Wondering why as soon as she’d heard the announcement some part of her brain had started measuring her distance to the exits, looking around for weapons, watching the door. Her senses going into overdrive was a relief; it meant some of her powers were cooperating. But did she have the strength to take on ten armed men? The most she’d ever taken on at one time before was three, and they hadn’t been toting machine guns. She’d have to be crafty rather than direct. She said to Sibby, “Give me your boots.”
“To get rid of some of our competition so we can get out of here.”
“But I really like these-“
“Give them to me. And also a rubber bracelet.”
Miranda set her trap, then held her breath as a guard approached. She heard him say into the walkie-talkie, “Southwest pillar. I’ve got one,” and saw the ribbons stir as he used the butt of his gun to push them aside.
Heard him say, “What the-“
And fired George Washington’s sugar nose at him with the slingshot she’d made out of Sibby’s rubber bracelet and a fork. All her target work paid off because it hit him at exactly the right point to send him plunging forward. He went down headfirst just hard enough to be disoriented and docile while she tied his hands and feet with the ribbons from the pillar. “I’m really sorry,” she said, flipping him over to gag him with a piece of dinner roll, then smiled. “Oh, hi, Craig. Not your day, is it? I hope your head’s feeling better. What? It’s not? It will. Try rubbing some insta-hot on your wrists and ankles when they untie you. Bye.”
She’d just grabbed the boots she’d used at the base of the column as a decoy when she heard another guard coming fast from her left. She threw a boot at him Frisbee style and heard a satisfying swack as he fell down, too.
Two down, eight to go.
She was apologizing to the one she’d hit with the shoe, who was out cold-it was nice to know ankle boots were good for something-when the walkie-talkie on his belt came to life. “Leon, this is the Gardener. Where are you? State your position. Copy?”
Miranda picked up the unconscious guard’s walkie-talkie and said into it, “I thought your name was Caleb Reynolds, Deputy. Why the Gardener stuff? Or, as my friend likes to call you, Plant Boy.”
A crackle. Then Deputy Reynolds’s voice through the walkie-talkie. “Miranda? Is that you? Where are you? Miranda?”
“Right here,” she whispered in his ear. She’d snuck up behind him, and now as he turned, her arm came around his neck with the heel of the boot pointed at his throat.
“What are you stabbing me with?” he asked.
“All you need to know is that it’s going to cause you a lot of pain and probably a bad infection if you don’t start telling me how many people there are here and what their plan is.”
“There are ten in here, five more watching the exits outside. But I’m on your side.”
“Really, Gardener? That’s not how it looked at the house.”
“You didn’t give me a chance to talk to the girl.”
“You’re going to have to do better than that. I’m not a mix tape, you can’t play me.”
“Do you have any idea what she is?”
” What she is? Not really.”
His heart rate sped up now. “She’s a real-life flesh-and-blood prophet. The Cumean Sibyl. She’s one of ten people who between them supposedly know and can control the whole future of the world.”
“Wow. I thought she was just an annoying fourteen-year-old with wild hormones.”
“The Sibyl operates through different bodies. Or that’s what they think. These people I’m working with. Wack jobs. They pretend they want to protect her, keep her prophecies from being exploited by the unscrupulous, but I think they’re actually into extortion. I heard one of them say they could ransom the girl for eight figures.” His heart rate slowed as he talked. “My job was to find out where she was supposed to be picked up, so they could send someone there with some trinket of hers to show we had her, and get the Overseer to pay up.”
Miranda didn’t like the sound of the word trinket at all. “But you weren’t going to?”
“They’re just using this religion stuff as a cover for their greed. It’s disgusting. I’m all set to stop them, and then you”-getting agitated, his heartbeat spiking-“you come along in the middle and mess it up.”
Miranda knew he was genuinely angry. “Stop them how?”
“I was supposed to be getting the location of her pickup place from her, right? When you crashed in, I was going to tell her what to say, a place I’d picked out with the task force, then when the wackos went there, they’d be picked up by the police. Meanwhile I’d get the Sibyl safely to the real rendezvous. But you come in and blow it. Months of police work down the tubes.” His heartbeat was slow and even again.
Miranda let him go. “I’m so sorry,” she said.
He turned to scowl at her, changing it to a half smile when he saw what she was wearing. “Nice look on you.” He paused for a second, then said, “You know, there’s a way we could still make this work. Do you have another outfit like that?”
“My skating uniform? Yeah. But it’s not the same color. It’s more blue.”
“That doesn’t matter as long as it’s close. With you two dressed as twins we’ll be able to fool them into thinking that you’re the Sibyl, use you as a decoy while we sneak her out to safety.”
Talking quickly, he outlined the rest of his plan. Miranda said, “It would be better if we wore the wigs and masks, too. To complete the disguise.”
“That’s right. Perfect. Go toward the employee entrance, the one you used to sneak in. There’s someone guarding the outer door but there’s a door on the left that is clear. It goes to an office. I’ll deal with these guys and then come-“
He stopped talking, lifted his gun, and fired behind her. Turning, Miranda saw he’d shot one of the guards.
“He saw us together,” he told her. “I couldn’t let one of those bastards get you or tell the others. I’ll distract them, keep them over here. You get the Sibyl, change, and wait for me in the office.”
She was already moving away when she paused and said, “How did you find us?”
His heartbeat slowed. “Put out a bulletin on your car.”
“I should have thought of that,” Miranda said, then took off as he radioed, “Man down-man down.”
Sibby was frantic when Miranda got back to her. “What happened? Did you get shot?”
“No. I got us a ride out of here.”
Miranda explained as they changed, then skirted the edges of the Great Hall toward the director’s office. As they moved, she heard Deputy Reynolds barking orders to the guards, keeping them busy in other parts of the room, saying at one point, “No, don’t turn on the lights-that will give them an advantage!” At another, heard a grunt of pain that sounded like someone being knocked out. She was impressed.
They reached the director’s office without running into anyone. Sibby sat in the desk chair. Miranda was pacing, walking back and forth to the ticktock of the big clock on the director’s mantelpiece, picking up and putting down objects, a crystal bowl, a box of stationery, weighing them in her hand. A family picture of a man, woman, two small boys, a dog sitting together at the edge of a pier with the sun setting behind them. The dog was wearing someone’s hat, a real full member of the family.
A hand came down in front of the picture. “Hello, Miranda? I was asking you something?”
Miranda put the picture down. “Sorry. What?”
“How do you know you’re right about him?”
“I just do. Trust me.”
“But if you’re wrong-“
The clock ticked. Miranda paced. Sibby said, “I hate that clock.”
Tick. Pace. Sibby: “I’m not sure I can do this.”
Miranda stopped and looked at her. “Of course you can.”
“I’m not brave like you.”
“Excuse me? The girl who got-how many guys is it now? Twenty-three?”
“Twenty-four guys to kiss her? You’re brave.” Miranda hesitated. “Know how many guys I’ve kissed?”
Sibby gaped at her, burst out laughing. “Gods, no wonder you’re so repressed. This had better work or you’ll have had one seriously sad life.”