‘I don’t know. I was in the science lab. Someone said there was shooting. When I got down here the front doors were chained.’ He leaned in closer and whispered, ‘So is the fire exit by the bike shed.’
‘Do you think this is real?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Are all the doors locked?’
‘I don’t know. Principal Carmichael is checking the C Wing. I think we should get everyone outside.’
‘What can I do?’
‘You can help me get everyone outside and accounted for.’
She could see he was struggling to keep his voice calm. This alarmed her. Edwards was a tall man, good-natured but serious at the best of times and not one for panicking. More children were streaming in to the foyer. Jessie noticed the group she had spoken to outside her classroom.
‘I thought I told you to go outside,’ she said to the girl with the freckles.
‘The doors are locked. Someone locked them with a chain.’
Edwards raised his hands over his head.
‘Everyone, listen to me now. Stop pushing and slow down. Make your way to the rear emergency exit in a calm and orderly fashion. Come on now. I want everybody to move outside please. Everyone make their way to the basketball courts, nice and slowly. Miss Conway, can you make sure the cafeteria is empty?’
‘Sure.’ Jessie began to walk towards the cafeteria, but as she did, one of the swing doors opened and a tall youth she recognised as Kyle Saunders stepped out. He carried a semiautomatic weapon dangling from a long strap across his chest. Adam Edwards saw him; his eyes widened in surprise. He reacted fast. He grabbed the nearest child to him and shoved her towards a hallway.
Kyle Saunders raised the gun. His face was shiny and his lips were peeled back over his teeth. His eyes roamed over the teeming foyer.
‘Hey maggots! Yo! Maggots, remember me?’
‘Kyle—’ Edwards put out his hands out before him, chest high. ‘Put the gun down, Kyle. Put it down now. We can talk about this.’
Kyle stared at Edwards for a moment, smiling a weird smile. Jessie could see some doubt come into Edwards’ eyes.
‘Kyle, listen to me now—’
Kyle opened fire.
The first spray of bullets took out the glass bricks that ran the length of the wall above the lockers. Children ran screaming in every direction. Some fell and were trampled; others flattened themselves against walls, covering their heads with their hands as though this might save them. One or two stood and stared, rooted to the spot in disbelief.
The second burst of gunfire was lower. A piercing scream was cut short. A round hit Edwards directly in the chest, spinning him where he stood. He took a step and dropped to the floor.
Jessie stared at Alan Edwards’ body, her face frozen, unable to comprehend what had happened.
She took a step forward but blood was beginning to pool under him and his fingers were scrabbling for purchase on the tiled floor. Behind him, another boy lay twisted and broken, his backpack still on his shoulders.
Kyle Saunders threw back his head and whooped. He was still howling when Jessie Conway slammed into him at speed. The force of the impact sent Kyle crashing through the swing doors of the cafeteria, with Jessie practically on top of him. They smashed into a table, toppled over it and hit the ground hard.
Jessie recovered first. She slammed her knees into Kyle’s stomach and ripped the strap over his head. Before he knew what had happened, she grabbed the gun. She felt the heat of the muzzle blister the skin on her fingers, smelled cordite and sweat from Kyle’s body. She threw all her weight backwards, bracing hard against his gut, screaming as she leaned away.
Kyle was too strong and managed to reclaim his grip on the gun. He wrenched it free and snapped the stock up towards the side of Jessie’s head. He clouted her with it, but she twisted her body to one side just before he could land a full blow. Kyle scrambled to get his feet under him. Jessie rose first; she shouldered him and wedged her body between him and the gun. Spittle sprayed the side of Jessie’s face as Kyle tried to ram the gun up under her chin. She held on doggedly, keeping the weapon as close to her body as she could, the muzzle pointed up and away from her.
They tussled back and forth. Kyle loosened one hand and punched her in the back, above her kidney. In desperation, Jessie stamped down on Kyle’s foot and tried to get her shoulder into his chest and force his grip to break over her shoulder.
She kicked and kicked, aiming her heel for any spot she could reach. She landed a bone-crunching snap on his shin but Kyle punched her again, and this time it hurt, badly. Jessie’s grip began to fail. She tried one last desperate swing. As she twisted, she saw another boy standing on a table at the far side of the cafeteria near the drinks machine. He was slender and young, with a thin wispy moustache he had not yet grown into. He was dressed head to toe in black. All these things Jessie registered in the blink of an eye. There was one more detail.
He had a shotgun trained on them.
‘Shoot her!’ Kyle Saunders screamed. ‘Shoot the fucking bitch!’
There was a deafening blast. Jessie felt pain along the left side of her face seconds before she collapsed under Kyle Saunders’ full weight.
The gun was now in her hands and she blindly raised it and fired towards where she thought the other boy might be. Through the smoke, she saw him fall backwards off the table and drop out of sight.
Jessie lay still, dazed. Kyle Saunders’ lower body was twisted across her hips. She turned her head and saw that he was dead. There was nothing left of his head but a mass of bloody scalp and glistening bone fragments. Jessie’s ears fizzed and rang. She lowered the gun to the floor, crawled out from under Kyle and sat up. Blood spilled onto her chest and lap. She blinked at it uncomprehendingly. By the time she got to her feet and staggered across the floor her shirt was saturated. She fell down and landed close to two terrified girls huddled beneath an overturned table. She recognised their faces but could not remember their names.
‘Get out of here.’
The girls cringed, and huddled against each other. One of them mouthed something but Jessie could not decipher the words.
Jessie crawled across the floor to where the boy had fallen.
He lay on his back, panting. The shotgun was off to his right, out of range. One arm rested across his chest, the other curled by his side. The front of his shirt was slick with blood. His eyes were open and as she moved closer they clicked around to her.
‘Oh,’ Jessie whispered when she saw the damage she had inflicted.
He smiled, in reality a terrible grimace. A bubble of frothy blood appeared at the corner of his mouth, popped, and was replaced by another. Jessie leaned all her weight on her right hand and took his left hand in hers.
‘Why did you do this?’
But he did not answer and after a moment his eyes lost focus, his chest stopped moving and he was gone.
Jessie stared at him. She tried to stay upright, but could not summon the strength. She sank to the floor beside the dead boy and wiped the blood from her eyes. She saw Tracy Flowers lying by the drinks machine. She had lost a shoe and the back of her yellow sundress was drenched in blood.
Jessie wanted to go to her but could not. She vomited, closed her eyes and finally darkness took her.I don't know about you but this extract has certainly whetted my appetite for Last to Die so I'm really hoping my reading mojo comes back sooner rather than later so that I can read this book to find out what happens next for Jessie...