Arcadia's sanctuary was the girls' restroom in the basement of the school. Since only a few art rooms, the boiler room, and the athletic director's office shared the hallway with the bathroom, hardly anyone ever used it. When she felt depressed or bitter or angry, or when she just felt like skipping class, she retreated to the windowless room and curled up in a cushy armchair that the custodians shoved in the bathroom when they were painting and then forgot about.
She wrapped her arms around her knees and closed her eyes. She was supposed to be in math class, but the weird encounter with Mrs. Stanton did not leave her in the mood for wrestling with a protractor. An anxious feeling nagged at her stomach, like when she had to give a speech in class. Something was not right.
A snicker penetrated the silence. Her eyes flew open. She was used to hearing weird noises coming from the boiler room next door, but this noise had come from inside one of the stalls, and it was definitely not made by a machine. But the laughter, though humanlike, didn't quite sound like it came from a teenage girl. It was garbled and high pitched.
She knelt down and peered beneath the stall, looking for a pair of Converse sneakers or ballet flats. What she saw stopped her breath. She leapt into movement, crossing the room in a fraction of a second. For a moment, she was afraid the door would be locked. It wasn't. She yanked the door open and ran all the way down the hall and up the steps to the main floor of the building before stopping to breathe.
She leaned against a locker and tried to digest what she'd just seen. Beneath the stall door was a pair of legs and bare feet. If she could call them feet. The skin was a dark, shimmering green. The toes of the thing could be more accurately described as claws. As she'd watched, one of the feet had stepped closer, as if the thing were about to open the door to greet her. Face to face. But she hadn't given it the chance. She pinched herself. What was this nightmare? Why couldn't she wake up?
Thus, LIFE AFTER AZAREL becomes THE PURPOSE. My next big project. Putting MATCHED on hold for a while, to simmer.