Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: The Book Store/Library (06/03/10)
TITLE: A Story about Grace
By Theresa Santy
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Little Nancy peered over the counter with her gigantic eyes and she plopped down her returned book.
“Charlotte’s Web,” said Grace with rising inflection. “What did you think of it?”
“I liked it, but it made me cry,” said Nancy. “I’d like another book please, one about the President.”
Grace took Nancy’s hand and led her to the reference section. She ran her fingers along a stunning maple wood bookcase, hand built and donated by the Heckman family. “Here it is—The World Book. You can’t check this one out, but you can read it here and take notes. Now let’s find the section on Eisenhower.”
An overpowering scent filled the room and Grace thought she might have left the percolator running again, but she had not. A commotion erupted from behind another rack of books. Robert and James came running out. The boys were dirty and unaccompanied as usual. But as always, Grace was glad they had visited.
“Sorry Miss Grace,” they said together. “We didn’t mean it.”
“It was his fault,” they said blaming each other. “No it wasn’t!”
“Stop,” said Grace. “What happened?”
The boys pointed toward the back of the room.
Miss Frances—an elderly woman who often came to read—looked in the same direction and calmly said to a group of children, “Get up quickly; we need to leave.”
Grace ran toward the disruption. The flames were small but hungry, and they licked their way through books and up the wall. It’s growing too fast, thought Grace.
She cried out to her assistant, piercing through the whirring sounds of panic and confusion, “Carol, run to the bakery and call the fire department!”
Swooping from one aisle to the next, Grace cleared the library of people. She ignored the smell of literature disintegrating into clouds of smoke. She disregarded the sight of a globe melting upon a crumbling stand. Time was limited.
Soon, half the library was ablaze. The air became thick and hot while Grace’s lungs filled with cotton. She dropped to her hands and knees and traveled in the less-polluted air. A light squeal came from the side room, the private room where Miss Lillian tutored people who have difficulty learning to read.
Miss Lillian was lying on the floor, gasping, and wondering why she had bothered to quit smoking. Ricky, an orthopedically impaired boy, was next to her. He was trying to shout but—as Miss Lillian had repeatedly instructed him—he needed to get quiet to speak clearly, because his larynx liked to hide.
Grace thought if she draped Miss Lillian over Ricky’s wheelchair, she could get them out safely. But smoke and flames had nearly reached the side room and there was no clear path. Grace shut the door to block the flames.
“Don’t worry Ricky,” she said. “We are going to get through this.”
She grabbed a chair and swung at the window. It shattered beautifully. With an impassioned roar, Grace screamed for help. Ricky also called out and Grace was overcome by the valiant and nearly inaudible sound of his voice.
Carol heard the cries, and with the aid of others Miss Lillian and Ricky were assisted through the opening. Grace crawled out last.
The emergency team arrived and whisked away Miss Lillian, who was diagnosed as stable. The crowd lingered and stared in disbelief at the fiery blaze previously known as Grace Library.
“My books,” Grace said quietly, almost to herself. “They’re all gone.”
“Not this one,” said Ricky.
With his less-crooked hand, Ricky held up a book to show Grace.
He was holding a child’s book of The Lord’s Prayer.
“You’ve been holding on to this the whole time?” Grace asked, amazed.
Ricky responded with a wide, adorable grin. Mr. Heckman placed his hand upon Grace’s shoulder, “We’ll built it again Grace,” he said.
Grace thought about the first time. She had never received government funds. The library was built and managed entirely from community support. Grace smiled the kind of knowing smile of a person humbled.
“Shall we read your book, Ricky?” she asked.
As they read, Mr. Heckman, Nancy, and others joined in.
"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…
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