Karina is addicted to books. This is her story.

{Read it from the beginning by clicking here.}

Mist tickles her bare hands and settles on her clothes. She smiles at the cold, weaving between people who don't know she exists. There's time for a bite to eat before her next class.

She swims with the current toward the Student Union. She expects the throng to slow as they approach the bottleneck, but today feels different than usual, slower.

As she rounds the corner, angry black and red words, handwritten on gold poster board, jar her in the midst of the gray day:

You Deserve HELL!

Does she? Her mind gets stuck looping the phrase as she eats her lunch. Does she deserve hell? Food gone, she goes back.

Two strangers lie in wait — one holds the sign and the other holds a copy of The Book.

The one with The Book is kind. He says his name is Troy. His name means soldier but he doesn’t seem like one — not compared with the rough, loud other. Troy listens. She wonders if he cares, or if it is only a subtle tactic. One must watch those with names like Soldier.

The crowd thins as students rush to class. Karina will be late.

Troy makes eye contact. “What do you think? You’ve been listening awhile.”

She wants to turn away. For once, she wants to be at class on time. Instead she says, “The Book you’re holding, it says, ‘judge not,’ doesn’t it?”

The ugly one cuts in, his voice five times louder than necessary. “Read it in context, why don’t you?”

Troy ignores him, smoothly steps closer to Karina as if he’s trying to shield her from the attack. “Yes, it does. Have you read it?”

“Not really, but I know what I’ve heard.”

“What have you heard?”

“Enough to know I don’t want any more of it.”

She doesn’t stay to listen to his response. Still, Troy’s kind eyes, voice, and words stay with her through class and into the evening. The other’s harshness overshadows these memories when night falls, and his yellow, red, and black sign wallpapers her mind.