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The vault of dreamers, p.24
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       The Vault of Dreamers, p.24

           Caragh M. O'Brien
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  “Give me the camera,” he whispered.

  Torn, I vacillated. I could leave my footage with Linus and hope he didn’t get caught, or I could keep it with me and take my chances with the guard. A flashlight beam shone in my eyes, and I lifted a hand against the glare.

  “Rosie?” the guard said. “Who else is there?”

  “Nobody,” I said, moving more fully into the open.

  “Linus? What is this?” asked the guard.

  I looked back to see he had stepped out, too.

  “What’s it look like?” Linus said. “Give me a break.”

  The guard was a big, strapping guy in a beige uniform with handcuffs and a billy club at his belt. He was shaking his head. “Why am I not surprised?”

  A second man came around the corner, a tall, thin guy with a hatchet face and a gray beard. My heart stopped. I knew him. He was the one who had helped Dr. Ash that first night, with Janice. He touched a hand to his earphone, and nodded. “Got that. Sandy wants us to hold them here. He’ll be out in a minute.”

  “Who would you be?” the security guard asked him.

  “Jerry Snellings,” said the bearded man. “I’m covering for Dr. Ash. We met a couple months ago, remember?”

  “Right. The nurse practitioner,” the guard said. “Can you believe these two? We’ll have drama on the show tomorrow, and that’s a fact.”

  The men didn’t normally work together. I made a flash decision.

  “Listen,” I said to the guard. “We need your help. Something’s wrong here at the school. Dean Berg is doing experiments on people.”

  Jerry laughed. “Not another one of these,” he said. “If you want my advice, just stick to the romantic tryst.”

  The security guard rested a hand on his hip and began to smile.

  I spoke directly to him. “You don’t believe me. But I can prove it,” I said. “I took footage that proves it.”

  “Let’s see that,” the guard said.

  I hesitated, looking again toward Jerry. “I just want to keep it until morning,” I said. “I’ll show it then.”

  The guard reached out his hand. “Nice try. Hand it over.”

  I backed up, but the guard moved in. When he grabbed my sore arm, I shrieked in pain and dropped my camera.

  “Leave her alone!” Linus said, and he dove at the guard.

  The guard spun to block him and I was thrown off balance. Linus and the guard wrestled in a tangle of blows. They banged up against the dumpster, but then the big guard pinned Linus facedown to the ground.

  “Let me up!” Linus said. “This is ridiculous!”

  “I’d watch myself if I were you, love bird,” the guard said. “Somebody’s about to lose his job, is my bet.” And he snapped handcuffs on Linus’s wrists.

  “Are you kidding me?” Linus exclaimed. “Get these off me.”

  But the guard left the cuffs on. He gave Linus a pull and he scrambled to his feet, breathing hard.

  “Are you all right, Rosie?” Linus asked.

  “I’m okay.”

  I was clutching my sore elbow, but I was more worried about the condition of Linus’s face. He rubbed his mouth awkwardly against his shoulder. I looked rapidly for my camera and I spotted it in Jerry’s hand.

  Hurried footsteps sounded around the corner as Dean Berg burst into view. “Rosie!” he said. “Unbelievable. And Linus. I expected better of you. I really did.”

  “Make him uncuff me,” Linus said.

  “Roosevelt? What’s going on here?” the dean asked. He pushed up the sleeves of his Forge sweatshirt.

  The guard was searching Linus’s pockets, and he pulled out the walkie-ham. “I caught them behind the dumpster,” he said. “The girl says you’re doing experiments on the students.”

  The dean turned to me. “I beg your pardon?”

  “What are you doing to us in our sleep?” I demanded. “Mining us? Seeding us?”

  Dean Berg’s expression turned from surprise to concern. “Was she like this when you met up with her tonight?” he asked Linus.

  “Don’t try that. You know exactly what I mean,” I said. “I saw you. You had Dr. Ash operating on a little boy. And you’ve got a whole supply of people sleeping in coffins down under the school. I’ve seen them.”

  The dean shook his head sadly. “They get addled when they skip their pills,” he said. “They have nightmares. I don’t know how this happened after I specifically asked Dr. Ash to be sure Rosie took her meds. Jerry, do you have a sedative?”

  “Stay away from me,” I said. “I didn’t have any nightmare. It was real. I filmed it. It’s there.” I pointed to my camera in Jerry’s hand.

  “Let’s see,” the dean said, beckoning.

  “I don’t want you to mess with it,” I said. “Don’t let him,” I said to Roosevelt.

  The guard was watching closely, but he didn’t intervene.

  “I think I can turn on a camera without messing it up,” the dean said mildly. “Jerry?”

  Jerry passed the video camera over. The dean opened the viewfinder and tapped the screen once. He gazed intently for a long moment, watching the footage. Then, with an unreadable look, he passed the camera to me. “Is this what you mean?”

  In the viewfinder, I saw footage of my dorm, with the girls all lined up and asleep in their sleep shells. I fast-forwarded through the clip, then clicked to the menu to locate the scene from the underground vault. It wasn’t there.

  “It was here,” I said. “I just shot it. What did you do to it?”

  “Did you see Dr. Ash operating on a little boy, too?” the dean asked Linus.


  “The operation wasn’t tonight,” I said, still checking the menu of my video camera again. “What I found tonight was the vault with all the sleeping bodies. What did you do to my camera?”

  “Nothing,” the dean said, raising his hands. “How did you get in the tunnels? Neither of you has a pass.”

  “We didn’t go in the tunnels,” I said, and I was about to tell him I had gone down the pit of the clock tower when I realized he was fishing for information.

  “We met right here,” Linus said quietly.

  I turned to him. With his wrists cuffed behind him, his shirt was twisted and bunched across his chest. A pocket of his jeans was turned out. His hair was messed and his lip was swollen, but worst of all, his gaze was hard.

  “We met to fool around,” Linus added. “But she was a little confused. I was trying to get her to go back to bed. Her own bed, that is.”

  I felt like I’d been punched. “You asswipe,” I said.

  He gave a crooked smile. “See what I mean about the confusion?” he said.

  I spun toward the guard. “You have to start an investigation. What I’m telling you is true. I don’t care what the dean or Linus says.”

  “It’s no use, Rosie,” Linus said. “They caught us.”

  “This is not about us!” I said.

  Jerry took a step nearer to me. “You want me to take her to the infirmary?” he asked the dean.

  “I think that’s best,” Dean Berg said.

  I backed away from Jerry, looking desperately from the dean to the guard to Linus who was now watching me through narrowed eyes. With a shock, I saw that he wasn’t only mad. Underneath his bogus claims about a tryst Linus was furious. Like he’d been duped or betrayed.

  But I was the one who had just been forsaken.

  “Thanks a lot, Linus,” I said. “That was a great night.”

  “Rosie, you have to admit—”

  I turned sharply away and took two paces before I realized I had nowhere to go. I had no one to help me and no one to believe me. I stared blindly toward the girls’ dorm, trying to think what to do.

  “Give him a ride home, Roosevelt,” Dean Berg said. “And get the cuffs off before Otis sees him. More trouble is the last thing I’d wish on Otis tonight, but there it is. Tell him I’ll give him a call in the morning.”

  “You’re not
firing me,” Linus said.

  “Obviously, I am,” Dean Berg said. “I warned you once already, remember?”

  I turned back to them. “You can’t fire him. It’s my fault. All of it.”

  “It’s not looking good for you, either, I’m afraid,” the dean said. “I can try to appeal to the board, but the trustees have little sympathy for students who skip their pills and meet up with their boyfriends.”

  “Good. Expel her and send her home,” Linus said, staring toward me. “She obviously doesn’t belong here.”

  “Linus!” I said.

  “Go on. Take him,” Dean Berg said.

  “No, wait, please!” I said. “Mr. Roosevelt, you have to believe me. You have to start an investigation.”

  “I hope you feel better soon, Miss. I surely do.” The guard prodded Linus in the other direction, and Linus turned away with him.

  I glared at Jerry and Dean Berg, just waiting for one of them to crack a satisfied, victorious smirk. Neither one did. Dean Berg merely made a gesture to guide me toward the infirmary.

  “Why’d you do this, Rosie?” Dean Berg asked. “Why couldn’t you just stay in bed like the other kids?”

  “You know why,” I said. “You don’t have to pretend anymore. Nobody’s watching.”

  He shook his head slowly. “I don’t think you understand,” he said. “Somebody’s always watching.”

  * * *

  It didn’t take long for a female medic to meet us at the infirmary, and Dean Berg left me in her care. She confiscated my walkie-ham, outfitted me with a nightie and a robe, and showed me to a small, tidy room where I found a sleep shell and a cupboard for clothes. Out the window, the dark shape of Otis’s tower loomed high against the night sky, while farther downhill, on its own knoll, the observatory hunkered with its smaller silhouette. It was hard to believe that not even twenty-four hours had passed since my accident there with Burnham.

  So much had happened. I pressed my forehead against the glass and tried to put things together. I knew I’d seen the bodies sleeping in the vault, but they didn’t show on my video camera. The dean, or more likely Jerry, now that I thought about it, had deleted my footage. After all I had seen, the proof of it was gone.

  How can you prove something is true when you’re the only one who knows it? Not even Linus believed me. That hurt. He had lied to the dean and the others without flinching, as if he sincerely believed it would make a difference if he could persuade them that we’d only met to fool around. Like that was the noble thing to do.

  An agonizing possibility occurred to me. If I had trusted Linus and left my video camera with him, he might have made it safely to Forgetown with my footage. I would have been caught out of bed, but the dean wouldn’t have known that I’d seen the vault.

  Instead, I was here, and Linus had lost his job.

  All those pitiful people down in the vault. Did they even know where they were?

  My elbow hurt, and so did my brain.

  We need to save them, came the voice from the back of my mind.

  I went quiet and alert.

  I think I blew it, I said. My discouragement was more than I could put into words, even to myself.

  I felt a faint plucking, deep in my mind, delicate as a trembling spiderweb.

  “Don’t leave me,” I said aloud.

  Then, unbidden, a barrage of images cascaded rapidly through my mind:

  the fat girl Jill from my old school trying to cover her naked body

  my mother weeping at the end of the kitchen table

  Ellen on the bathroom floor with her kitty purse

  Burnham on the pavers, all but lifeless

  Stop! I told her. What’s your point?

  It’s easier if you close your eyes.

  I did, pressing a hand to my forehead, and then, more vividly than in real life, I was back among the rows of sleep shells in the vault, with face after dreaming face, motionless and inanimate. These were the most helpless of all. I peered at one child, at the clear gel that covered her eyelids and clung to her lashes, and from deep inside her, I could feel her mute, desperate begging.

  Now do you see?

  I wanted to save them. All of them. It was what I had always wanted to do.



  I MUST HAVE slept, because when the clock tower chimed six that Friday morning, I woke in the infirmary. Even before I consciously remembered why I was not in the dorm, my gut pitched with anxiety. Burnham. Linus. The vault.

  Dr. Ash knocked on my door and gently opened it. “Rosie? You up?”


  “Dean Berg wants you over at the dean’s tower as soon as you’ve showered and changed.”

  I sat up, swung my legs over the side of the sleep shell, and rubbed my hands over my face. I felt god-awful.

  “How’s the elbow?” she asked.

  I tested my right arm, which was stiff and tender. “Okay.”

  “Let me see that.”

  I held up my nightie sleeve while she manipulated my elbow, and I winced at a new stab of pain.

  “Just as I thought,” she said. “You’re wearing a sling and I’m prescribing an anti-inflammatory with a pain killer.”

  “I don’t want anything.”

  “You’re taking it, anyway,” the doctor said.

  “No, I’m not. It’s my body, and I don’t want anything else in it,” I said. “Just tell me. Have you heard anything about Burnham?”

  For a moment the doctor considered me. “He made it through the night. The hospital in Chicago specializes in brain trauma, so he’s getting the best possible care.”

  I nodded.

  The doctor crossed her arms and briefly tapped her foot. “You puzzle me, Rosie. I saw you swallow your sleeping pill myself, so I can only assume you regurgitated it afterward on purpose. And then, sneaking out to meet your boyfriend was obviously wrong, but I can almost understand it. You had a near brush with death yourself. You’re naturally confused and upset. Is that what this is all about?”

  I watched her cautiously. It was like she was feeding me my own story, minus the trip to the vault, and she was doing it on camera. I ran with the hint.

  “I wanted to see Linus,” I said. “I just wanted to be with him.”

  The doctor nodded. “The dean is going to interrogate you,” she said. “He’s called a special session of the board, and four of the trustees have flown in.”

  I clued on the fact that the board could be watching my feed right now, overhearing this conversation. I needed to use that. I had to act as innocent as possible, like someone who knew nothing except the surface level activity of Forge.

  “Are they going to send me home?” I asked. “I don’t want to go.”

  “I suggest you tell them the truth, then,” she said. “You were still upset about Burnham, and you wanted to see your boyfriend.”

  I laughed. “Ex-boyfriend now.” It hurt to admit it.

  Dr. Ash tilted her face and smiled kindly. “I know it seems hard. You’ve been under a lot of stress. Let’s hope the trustees factor that into account.”

  She had her nice stage persona down perfectly.

  “Thanks,” I said. I shifted away from her and stood to reach for my clothes.

  “Now, about that anti-inflammatory,” she said.

  “No.” I stepped into the washroom to clean up and change.

  Soon after, I was headed out the door with Dr. Ash beside me. It was another bright, cool morning, and it was odd to stroll along the busy quad and see the rose garden, the clock tower, and the other students all unchanged. As far as they knew, last night could have never happened. The only difference was a janitor hosing off the stairs of the dean’s tower, spraying water where Parker had urinated.

  Inside the foyer of the dean’s tower, my gaze was drawn to the dome ceiling with its rippled squares of gold leaf. I’d been here not long before.

  “This way,” Dr. Ash said, and led me to the right, into an office.
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  I followed uneasily. “Is this meeting on camera?” I asked.

  “Of course,” she said. “You’re still a student here until the board decides otherwise.”

  The dean’s office was a plush, old-fashioned room, with a high ceiling and sweeping drapes. Shelves of books lined the walls, and a fireplace was capped by a portrait of a stern, old woman.

  Behind the desk, dressed in tweed and a silvery blue tie, Dean Berg removed a pair of glasses and rose to his feet. “And here she is. Good morning, Rosie,” he said. “I’d like you to meet a few of our trustees. All of them have come expressly to consider your case, and I’m indebted to them for their time.”

  Half a dozen people turned to appraise me while the dean made introductions. Mr. Thomas Joiner was a beady-eyed, balding man in a leather chair beside the fireplace. Across from him, Mrs. Peabody-Lily, a pale, elderly woman in frills, turned down the corner of her lips. Mr. Elliot O’Toole was a distinguished-looking man in his thirties, and his pretty wife, Barbara, a dark woman with a choker of dainty pearls, said hello from beside a tea cart.

  Last, a short, elderly man turned from a corner bookshelf, and I was surprised to recognize Otis. Without his hat or his camera, he looked oddly shorn.

  “Otis Fairwell, our staff representative, I believe you’ve met,” the dean continued.

  “How’s Linus?” I asked Otis.

  “About as you’d imagine,” he answered, unsmiling.

  Not a good sign.

  Dean Berg leaned back against his desk and crossed his ankles. His ruddy cheeks looked freshly scrubbed, and not a hair was out of place. “So, Rosie,” he said. “We’d like an account of what you did last night, from your perspective. Start from the beginning.”

  I glanced at Otis again before I spoke.

  “I was upset about Burnham,” I said. “I just wanted to be with a friend, so I called Linus on my walkie-ham and asked him to meet me.”

  “That’s what Linus says, too,” Otis said.

  Dean Berg gave a slight nod in Otis’s direction. “And how did you stay awake, Rosie?”

  “I regurgitated my sleeping pill after I swallowed it,” I said.

  “Have you done that before?” asked Mr. Joiner, the beady-eyed guy.

  “No,” I said. “It was my first time. I was just going to meet Linus to talk for a little and go back to bed. That’s all. But then we got caught.”

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