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The vault of dreamers, p.20
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       The Vault of Dreamers, p.20

           Caragh M. O'Brien
 
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  “You were just a kid,” I said. “You didn’t know.”

  “Didn’t I?” he asked. “Didn’t I sort of suspect? That’s what I can’t quite remember.”

  “Burnham, you can’t blame yourself,” I said. “He made the choice, not you.”

  He shook his head slightly. “You should have seen my mother’s face when she put it together that I was the one who got him the pills.” He cracked out a laugh. “And now I’ve said all this in public. Who am I punishing now?”

  His phone buzzed in his pocket. He didn’t move to answer it.

  “I’m so sorry, Burnham,” I said.

  His gaze, lonely and pained, met mine for an instant before he turned away. “Anyways,” he said, but didn’t continue. His phone buzzed insistently, but he still didn’t answer it.

  I came down a step, and reached awkwardly to give him a hug. “You’re still a good person,” I said.

  “Am I?”

  I gave his arms a little shake. “Of course you are.”

  He smiled tightly, withdrawing from me. “Thanks. I’m going to go dive.”

  “Good idea.”

  But he hovered another moment, like he wasn’t quite ready to go. A breeze whipped around us, and I dipped my knees as I shivered briefly. We stood there, not speaking, not even looking at each other. I could hear his phone start up again in his pocket.

  “Right,” he said finally. “I’ll see you around. Thanks.”

  “Of course,” I said, and I watched him take the steps two at a time and disappear into the pool building.

  * * *

  I headed slowly back to the dorm. I hoped, when Burnham talked to his parents, that they would be understanding. I felt sort of honored that he’d confided in me, and uneasy for him, too. I wouldn’t have had the guts to tell such a personal story on camera. And that thing he’d said about punishing somebody. I couldn’t tell if that was supposed to be his family or himself.

  As the hours brought me closer to bedtime, my anxiety kicked in again. My stomach churned too much for me to try to eat. Or maybe I didn’t want to risk running into Linus in the dining hall. Instead, I curled up on my chair in the dorm and pulled out my video camera from home. I had locked some old footage of Dubbs in the memory, and I flipped to it now. Watching her bright face brought me some comfort, and I was able to smile a little.

  Later that night, when we were all tucked in our sleep shells and the dorm was quiet, I dialed my walkie-ham to channel four and listened for the static noise to change. Every half hour, I pushed the call button. It was after midnight, finally, when I heard the static go brighter.

  “Linus?” I whispered.

  “I’m here,” he said quietly.

  “I read your letter,” I said.

  “So I gather. I noticed you didn’t come break up with me, so that’s something.”

  I rolled to face the direction of the door in case anyone came in, and tucked the little box of the walkie-ham under my ear, where it couldn’t be seen.

  “Where are you?” I asked. As usual, I kept my voice just barely audible.

  “The lookout tower again. I borrowed Otis’s keys. He’s still not happy with me, but he says I have to make my own stupid mistakes.”

  I supposed that was a good thing. Sort of.

  “I’m sorry about stealing your swipe key,” I said.

  “You could have asked me for it,” he said.

  “Would you have given it to me?”

  “I don’t know, honestly,” he said. “Now neither of us has it. I’ve been restricted to the public doors like a new employee again. What were you doing in the dean’s tower last night, anyway?”

  “I snuck up to the sixth floor,” I said. “You’ll never believe what I saw.”

  “Try me.”

  As I tried to explain, I wasn’t even certain how to put it all into words. I talked through the whole thing, from when I left my sleep shell until I returned. “I saw the virtual operation,” I added. “Somewhere nearby, Dr. Ash was operating on the kid.”

  “Are you sure it wasn’t a recording of a surgery?” Linus asked.

  “It wasn’t. It was happening live,” I said. “She was doing what Dean Berg told her to do, like he was teaching her.”

  “And why do you think she was mining the boy?” Linus asked. “Because of the white circles? Did they actually use the word ‘mining’?”

  I had to think. Huma had talked about mining and seeding, but that might have been during the earlier conversation I overheard. All day, I had thought talking to Linus would make this problem easier, but his questions were making it worse.

  “What’s it matter what they called it? What else could it be?” I asked.

  “To be honest, I don’t know what to think,” he said. “I’m sorry to say it, but it sounds a lot like you had a nightmare. The whole thing, the tunnel and everything. Isn’t that at least possible?”

  I was insulted. And hurt.

  “It was no nightmare,” I said. “I looked up Huma Fallon online, and she’s part of a clinic in Iceland that does brain surgeries on coma patients. She and Dean Berg talked like he’s been supplying her with something medical that she needs, and I think it has to be dreams. The medical version of dreams. And you know what really freaks me out?” I swallowed, licking my lips. I made sure to keep my voice down. “Dean Berg knew I was out of my sleep shell, and he hardly cared at all. When I came back to bed, they released a gas into my shell that knocked me out. I think they mined me, too.”

  “Last night?”

  “Yes.”

  “How can you tell?” Linus asked.

  I wanted to tell him about the voice, but I was afraid he would just think I was going mad. “I feel different to myself,” I said. “Like the core of me doesn’t line up straight anymore. Like it might be a relief to do something crazy.”

  In the silence on his end, I could hear Linus doubting me.

  “You’re not believing one word I’m saying,” I said.

  “I’m just trying to think,” Linus said. “I’m trying to put it together.”

  “I’m telling you the truth,” I said. “Every word.”

  “I hear you,” he said. “I’m just wondering if it might be related to something else I found out.”

  “What?”

  “This is why I wanted you to call me Tuesday,” he said. His voice turned ironic. “Before you stole my swipe key.”

  “I’m sorry. You know I never wanted to get you in trouble,” I said. “Tell me.”

  “There was a guy who came through town Monday night,” Linus said. “He’s this truck driver named Amby from St. Louis. He has a refrigerated truck and he delivers ice cream for the Forge dairy here sometimes. It turns out he also makes deliveries for a pre-morgue.”

  “What’s that?” I asked.

  “You know, if you’re an organ donor at the hospital and you’re dead, they harvest out your eyes or your heart or whatever,” he said. “This one pre-morgue in St. Louis realized it’s better to ship the organs in situ, and let the doctors harvest them at the other end right before they implant them in the new patient.”

  “Does in situ mean what I think?” I asked.

  “They ship the donors’ bodies intact,” he explained. “Instead of sending a heart on ice, they super-oxygenate the whole body, send it on ice, and take the heart out once it arrives.”

  I tried to grasp the concept of a whole body on ice. Transporting it would be costly and cumbersome.

  “Okay, this is grossing me out,” I said. I hardly knew where to begin with my questions. “Are you saying Amby delivers bodies in his ice cream truck?”

  “I know. It’s weird,” Linus said. “I just found out about this two days ago. Parker said something about Amby’s night job, and it seemed too strange, so I looked into it.”

  “Wait. Are you saying this guy Amby delivers bodies to Forgetown?”

  “I think he might deliver them to the school,” Linus said.

  22
<
br />   ROXANNE

  “THE FORGE SCHOOL?” I asked.

  “Yes,” Linus said. “I saw his truck behind the dining hall at two in the morning, but there’s no new ice cream in the freezer, and Chef Ted didn’t know anything about a delivery.”

  “Do you think Amby delivered the boy that Dr. Ash was operating on?” I asked.

  “That’s what I’m wondering,” Linus said.

  He didn’t seem dead. The vivid images coming out of that boy’s mind were too alive for him to be dead.

  A grumbly bark came from Linus’s end of the walkie-ham, and then a soft jangling, like from a collar.

  “Do you have Molly there with you?” I asked, surprised.

  “Yes.”

  “Do you always bring her with you?”

  “No. She just followed me tonight, so I had to bring her up,” he said. “Did you know Berg went to medical school in St. Louis before he came to the Forge School? He has connections there. He studied arts law, too. That’s what Parker said today. He had a long stretch of lucidity while Otis was out, and he got to talking about the old days.”

  “It sort of makes sense,” I said. I considered how Dean Berg’s background as a doctor and a lawyer suited him to running Forge.

  “You know what I can’t get my head around?” Linus asked. “The idea of a body in an ice cream truck.”

  I instantly pictured a blue, frosted body packed in among five-gallon tubs of mint chip ice cream.

  “That’s incredibly revolting,” I said.

  “I know.”

  I kept picturing it.

  “So why do I want to laugh?” I added.

  Linus laughed. “I know.”

  I rubbed the back of my thumbnail idly against my lips. “I feel like I’m supposed to do something about all this, like call the police.”

  “And say what, exactly?”

  “Wouldn’t you call them?” I asked.

  “Me? No. This will sound incredibly annoying, but you don’t have any proof.”

  I didn’t. It was true. I was worried about that boy. And myself, for that matter. And Janice, and everyone else. I exhaled slowly, trying to think what to do.

  “I have to look for more evidence,” I said.

  “Maybe videotape something,” Linus said.

  “I tried that once. Somebody erased it.”

  “Come again?”

  I told him about the night I’d seen Janice taken out. I’d run down to the basement with my video camera, and then back to the attic where I’d seen Dean Berg watching me from the dean’s tower, and the next morning, my footage had been erased.

  “But how would someone get to your video camera and delete the footage?” Linus asked.

  “I don’t know, unless someone took my camera out of my sleep shell.”

  “While you were sleeping?” he asked.

  I couldn’t tell if his raised voice meant he was angry or incredulous.

  “It frightened me,” I said.

  He didn’t answer.

  “What are you thinking?” I asked.

  He still didn’t answer.

  “Linus, are you still there?”

  “I don’t understand any of this,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s safe for you to get out of bed. I think you should say you’re sick and you want to go home.”

  “Leave the school?” I asked.

  “I think you should leave tomorrow.”

  “Now you’re scaring me,” I said.

  “Think about it, Rosie. If half of what you say is true, this school is being run by a madman. A genius, but a pathological one. Nobody’s safe here.”

  Now that somebody else was saying it, and it wasn’t only me thinking it, I realized why I couldn’t just leave. This wasn’t only about me.

  “I just have to get some proof,” I said. “Then we can go to the police and leave it up to them to get to the bottom of it.”

  “Don’t do anything tonight,” he said.

  “When else is any better? I have to go tonight,” I said.

  “No. Dean Berg called in a night crew to run an upgrade of the computer system. The fifth floor of the dean’s tower is lit up with techies, and they’re going building to building checking some of the cameras. You have to stay in bed.”

  I craned my neck, trying to see the dean’s tower out the nearest window, but the angle of my sleep shell was wrong. I eased my head back onto my pillow and slid the walkie-ham beside my ear again.

  “Could they be coming in here?” I asked.

  “Possibly, but they’re just regular techies. They can’t do anything to you,” Linus said. “There are too many people around. They wouldn’t dare.”

  “So you think they don’t know? What about the teachers and the rest of the staff?”

  “No, I don’t think so. You can’t have a lot of people keeping a secret. It has to be just Dean Berg and Dr. Ash, like you say.”

  “And one other guy,” I said. “There’s one other guy with a beard. I’ve seen him, too.”

  “Let me talk to Otis about this. We’re just making guesses,” Linus said. “He knows a lot about the school.”

  “He’ll tell. He works for Berg.”

  “Maybe Parker, then. His memory’s spotty, but when he’s on, he’s incredibly sharp.”

  I didn’t have high hopes for the man with Alzheimer’s.

  “Maybe I should write Burnham a note and get him on it,” I said. “He’s smart. He’s been interested in my surveillance of the school.”

  “The Fisters supply the sleeping pills for the school,” Linus said. “His loyalty would be to his family.”

  “Do you think the Fisters are involved?”

  “No, I’m only saying Burnham might not be the best person to confide in at this point. His family business is tied up with the school.”

  I chewed at the inside of my lip, considering. Burnham was a complicated person, but I trusted him. I needed to think things through before I made a decision. I wasn’t sure about Parker, either.

  “When’s the last time you donated blood to Parker?” I asked.

  “Last month. I’m due to donate again tomorrow.”

  “Really? Do you go to a clinic or something?”

  “We do it at home, in the afternoon, when Parker’s at his best,” he said. “Otis cooks meatballs and we put on Parker’s favorite old movie and watch it all together.”

  “What’s the movie?”

  “Shakespeare in Love.”

  “That sounds like a nice tradition.”

  “It is, actually,” he said, laughing.

  It made me envious. “Will I see you tomorrow?” I asked.

  “I’ll be around until lunchtime. Come surprise me.”

  I smiled slowly. “I can never surprise you. You can always see me on my way.”

  “Do you think I spend every moment of my day watching your feed?”

  “Well, not every moment. I thought you said Franny kept my profile up in the kitchen, though.”

  He laughed again. “She does. To torture me.”

  “It’s not torture.”

  “It’s something,” he said.

  I couldn’t tell quite what he meant. “Something bad?”

  “I’ve been trying to remember the story of Cyrano de Bergerac,” he said.

  “Non sequitur,” I said. “Tell me what you meant before.”

  Linus kept going. “That girl Roxanne thought she had just one boyfriend, but he was essentially two men and she didn’t know it.”

  “Cyrano had a big nose.”

  “Right. Anyway, Roxanne had one boyfriend during the day, and the other one at night,” Linus said. “The body and the voice.”

  “I never thought of it that way, but it’s true,” I said. “And your point?”

  “We’re like that, you and I,” he said. “By day, our bodies are together, but we can’t say what we’re thinking. By night, we can talk but we can’t touch.”

  I gazed out the window again, considering
the idea. “I think I like the night better,” I said.

  “Me, too,” he said. “I’ve been trying to remember if the story had a happy ending. I suppose I could look it up.”

  It was coming back to me. She lost him twice. “I think Cyrano died. In a convent.”

  “That seems wrong,” he said, laughing again. “You know what I’d do if I was there with you?” he asked.

  “What?”

  “I would talk to you, just like we’re doing, but together.”

  I smiled, closing my eyes. “That would be perfect.”

  “Who am I kidding? I’d make a move.”

  I laughed. “That would be perfect, too.”

  “Sweet dreams, Rosie. Molly says good night.”

  I whispered good night back.

  Then I turned off my walkie-ham and hid it under my pillow. With Linus no longer in my ear, I felt more alone than before. I was afraid to sleep, afraid to let go, afraid to hear a hiss of gas, afraid I’d drop into a nightmare. I tried to tell myself I was safe because the place was crawling with techies, and finally exhaustion released me.

  * * *

  I slept through the rest of the night, and woke with the other girls at six the next morning. I listened cautiously for any inner voice to offer a dire warning, but none came. No shadows of nightmares skittered at the edge of my consciousness. For once, I felt fine. Normal. With the sunshine bright outside the windows, I felt like wearing a skirt and leggings, with my brown sweater for warmth.

  At breakfast, when I saw Linus, he gave me a wary smile. “Did you like my poem, then?” he asked.

  I had to skim back past our conversation in the night and remember where we’d left off the day before. Yesterday morning, when he’d been so cold and angry about the swipe key, felt like forever ago. “Yes, very much,” I said.

  He pulled me in for a hug and a kiss, a real one, not the fake kind like yesterday’s. “You could have written me one back,” he said.

  “I guess I’m not as romantic as you are.”

  “Maybe that’s why I like you,” he said, and kissed me again.

  Soon after, when I arrived in Media Convergence, four of the students were playing Ping-Pong already. I had to give Mr. DeCoster credit. When people took breaks to play, it did seem to make them even more creative and productive afterward. He was listening attentively while the painter Harry talked to him about building a sand castle city against the rising ocean. Janice was lying on the couch in her Hamletta scarf with her eyes closed, mumbling. For her impossible project, she was writing a five-act play in iambic pentameter. Burnham, wearing earphones, was working intently at his computer.

 
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