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Nearly two hours had passed when Danny put the final defining words on the four-page essay. Beyond the windows, the sun was barely visible, sending the last, soft waves of light streaking into the cafeteria. It would be dark soon.
"I'm done," said Danny, holding the four pieces of paper up for Mr. Ingram to see.
Mr. Ingram moved toward Danny, retrieved the white pieces of paper and began to read.
Danny had been honest but, at the same time, he'd written the essay in an attempt to play to his teacher's point of view. He didn't want to have to write the paper over again.
After reading the last page, Mr. Ingram lowered the papers to his side and said, "Good, well-written, Danny. So the next time you find yourself in this situation, what are you going to do?"
"Walk away," he lied.
Danny had meant every word in their earlier conversation. Steven was a menace to all the students in the school, those who couldn't stick up for themselves, and Danny felt good about what he'd done.
"You're free to go," Mr. Ingram said, gathering up the paper and pencils. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Danny nodded. He slung his backpack over his shoulder and ran out of the huge room before Mr. Ingram could change his mind. He couldn't wait to get home, despite the scolding he knew was waiting for him. Quickening his step to a jog, he moved down the narrow hall, toward the entrance to the bottom half of the school, where he knew his mother would probably be waiting for him.
The hall was oddly quiet, as opposed to the usual collection of voices. The overwhelming silence was a little disturbing. Danny picked up the pace some more, almost turning his trot into an all-out sprint. He reached the glass doors faster than he thought possible. Peering outside, he failed to see his mother's car and sighed at the prospect of imprisonment within the deserted halls of the school for much longer than he cared to be there.
Time passed, with it so did the comforting light of the sun. Danny slumped down against the brick wall next to the glass doors. Boredom set in as he stared beyond, hoping with a pleading desperation that his mother would show up any second.
With time to kill, Danny retreated inward, working through the events of the day. Everything seemed so normal until... how could I have done what I did? Danny pondered the question, seeing the fight in his mind, trying to discover how he had bested the largest boy in his grade.
Unable to unravel the riddle, Danny sighed, resting the back of his head against the cool wall behind him. Whatever had happened, whatever he'd done, whatever it meant was lost to him. At the least, he would get the respect he deserved, maybe Steven would leave him alone from now on. This wish brought a slight smirk to Danny's face.
An abrupt rumble forced him from his thoughts, the walls quaked around him and the floor shook beneath him.
"Earthquake?" whispered Danny, struggling to regain his footing and find a doorway to shelter under. The shudder lasted for a second only. Danny peered out, underneath the threshold of the gym doors. "In Indiana, I doubt it," he said, answering himself. "What was that?" he asked the looming darkness.
Danny crept out into the middle of the hallway and glanced beyond the glass doors. Against his better judgment, he decided to investigate.
He stalked down the shadowy hallway. The overhead lights remained off, leaving the dull auxiliary lights to illuminate the way. To his right, he passed the door to the boys' restroom; to his left, a long line of blue lockers. Danny noticed his own locker as he skulked by.
Halfway down the hall, the school shuddered again. With nothing to dive under for shelter, he forced his back against the steel lockers, making a loud clang; he buried his face between his knees and wrapped his arms around the top of his head for protection. He'd learned the posture during tornado drills and figured it would work in his current circumstance.
Just as quickly as it had started, the shaking ceased, the floor stilled once again. Looking up from his cradled position, he noticed small pieces of the ceiling falling like snowflakes, shaken loose by the sudden tremor.