The summoning, p.16
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       The Summoning, p.16

         Part #1 of Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong
 
Page 16

 

  “Anyone versed in psychiatry will tell you it's the same for dreams. ” Dr. Gill's voice was level, but her look said she was sick of parents and guardians questioning her diagnoses and defending their children. “Even if Chloe is only dreaming she sees ghosts, it suggests that, subconsciously, she hasn't accepted her condition. We need to monitor her with urine tests. ”

  “I—I don't understand,” I said. “Why do I need urine tests?”

  “To ensure you're receiving the proper dosage for your size, activity level, food intake, and other factors. It's a delicate balance. ”

  “You don't believe—” Aunt Lauren began.

  Dr. Davidoff cleared his throat. Aunt Lauren pressed her lips into a thin line and started picking lint from her wool skirt. She rarely backed down from an argument, but these doctors held the key to my future.

  I already knew what she'd been going to say. The urine tests weren't to check my dosage. They were to make sure I was taking my pills.

  * * *

  Since I'd missed morning classes, I was assigned lunch duty. I was setting the table, lost in my thoughts, when a voice said, “I'm behind you. ”

  I spun to see Derek.

  “I can't win,” he said. “You're as skittish as a kitten. ”

  “So if you sneak up and announce yourself, that's going to startle me less than if you tap me on the shoulder?”

  “I didn't sneak—”

  He shook his head, grabbed two rolls from the bread basket, then rearranged the others to hide the theft. “I just wanted to say that if you and Simon want to talk, you don't need to do it behind my back. Unless you want to. ”

  “We were just—”

  “I know what you were doing. Simon already told me. You want answers. I've been trying to give them to you all along. You just have to ask. ”

  “But you said—”

  “Tonight. Eight. Our room. Tell Mrs. Talbot you'll be with me for math tutoring. "

  “Your side is off-?limits. Is she going to let me go up there, alone, with a boy?”

  “Just tell her it's for math. She won't question it. ”

  Because he had problems with math, I supposed.

  “Will that be… okay? You and I aren't supposed to—”

  “Tell her Simon will be there. And talk to Talbot, not Van Dop. "

  Twenty-two

  RAE AND I DIDN'T SPEAK much all day. She wasn't nasty; Rae wasn't like that. She sat beside me in class and asked questions, but there was no chatter, no giggling or goofing off. Today we were classmates, not friends.

  Before dinner, when we'd normally hang out or do homework together, she took her books, retreated to the dining room, and closed the door.

  After dinner, I followed her into the kitchen with my dirty plates.

  “It's my turn to do laundry,” I said. “Would you have a minute to show me how to use the machine?” I lowered my voice. “And I'd like to talk to you. ”

  She shrugged. “Sure. ”

  * * *

  “I'm sorry I didn't tell you,” I said as she demonstrated the dials on the washer. “I'm… I'm having a hard time with it. ”

  “Why? You can talk to the dead. How cool is that?”

  It wasn't cool at all—it was terrifying. But I didn't want to sound like I was whining. Or maybe I just didn't want to sound like a wimp.

  I dumped in the first load and added soap.

  “Whoa, whoa! You'll give this place a bubble carpet. ” She took the soap box from me and scooped some of the detergent back out of the machine. “If you can prove you're seeing ghosts, why not just tell them?”

  A perfectly logical question, but at the thought, some deep-?rooted instinct screamed Don't tell! Never tell!

  “I—I don't want to tell anyone the truth. Not yet. Not here. ”

  She nodded and set the box aside. “Gill is a pencil pusher with all the imagination of a thumbtack. She'd keep you locked up in here until you stopped this 'ghost nonsense. ' Better to save the spooky stuff for when you get out. ”

  We sorted a basket of laundry in silence, then I said, “The reason I asked to talk to you down here is, well, there's a ghost. ”

  She took a slow look around, wrapping a T-?shirt around her hand like a boxer taping up for a fight.

  “Not right now. I mean, there was a ghost in here. The same one I heard upstairs last night. ” Before Liz showed up. All day I'd been struggling not to think of Liz. If I was seeing her, didn't that mean…

  Why hadn't I asked Mrs. Talbot when I could talk to Liz? Was I afraid of the answer?

  “—he say?”

  I shook it off and turned to Rae. “Hmm?”

  “What did the ghost say?”

  “It's hard to tell. He keeps cutting out. I think it's the meds. But he said he wanted me to open that door. ”

  I pointed. Her head whipped around so fast she winced and rubbed her neck.

  “That door?” Her eyes glittered. “The locked basement door?”

  “Yes, cliché, I know. Whoooo, don't go into the locked room, little girl. ”

  Rae was already striding to the door.

  I said, “I thought maybe, we could, you know, check it out. Like open it. ”

  “Duh, of course. I'd have done that days ago. ” She jiggled the handle. “How can you live with the suspense?”

  “For starters, I'm pretty sure there's nothing in there. ”

  “Then why's it locked?"

  “Because it's for storing stuff they don't want us messing with. Lawn furniture. Winter bedding. Christmas decorations. ”

  “The bodies of Lyle House kids who never went home . . . ”

  She grinned, but I froze, thinking of Liz.

  “Geez, I'm kidding. You are such a girl. ”

  “No, I've just seen too many movies. ”

  “That, too. ” She walked back to the laundry shelves and rooted through a box. “Another crappy lock, so easy a six-?year-?old with a credit card can pick it. ”

  “Not many six-?year-?olds have credit cards. ”

  “I bet Tori did. That's who this house is made for. ” She lifted a sponge, shook her head, and dropped it back into the box. “Rich kids whose only use for a credit card is buying a new pair of Timbs. They stick cheap locks on the doors, knowing you guys will turn the handle and say 'huh, locked' and walk away. ”

  “That's—”

  She stopped me with a look. “Unfair? Uh, that's exactly what you did, girl. ” She brandished a stiff piece of cardboard, a tag ripped off a new shirt.

  “It's not perfect,” she murmured as she slid it between the door and the frame. “But it'll—” She jiggled the cardboard and swore. “Or maybe it—” she swiped it down sharply, a ripping sound as it tore in half “—won't. ”

  More curses, some of them quite creative.

  “There's a piece caught… Here, let me. ”

  I grabbed the edge between my fingernails, which would have been much easier if I had any. When I'd woken in the hospital, my nails had been filed to the pink, like they'd been worried I'd commit suicide by scratching. I managed to get hold of the cardboard, pulled… and ripped out another chunk, leaving the rest wedged in where no nails, however long, could reach it.

  “Get the feeling someone doesn't want us going in there?” Rae said.

  I tried to laugh, but ever since she'd mentioned “bodies,” there'd been a sour taste in my mouth.

  “We're going to need the key,” she pronounced, straightening. “It might be on the ring with the one for the shed in the kitchen. ”

  “I'll get it. ”

  * * *

  When I slipped into the kitchen, Derek was pawing through the fruit basket. The door hadn't made any noise opening and he had his back to me. The perfect chance for payback. I took three slow, silent steps toward him, barely daring to breathe—

  “The key you want isn't on that rin
g,” he said, not looking my way.

  I froze. He dug out an apple, took a bite, then walked to the fridge, reached behind it, and pulled off a magnetized set of keys.

  “Try these. ” He dropped them in my hand and walked past me to the kitchen door. “I have no idea what you guys are doing down there, but next time you want to secretly open a locked door, don't whale on it hard enough to bring down the house. ”

  * * *

  When I brought the keys downstairs, I didn't tell Rae that Derek knew what we were up to. She might have decided to abort the plan. Anyway tattling wasn't Derek's style. Or so I hoped.

  As Rae tried the keys, I rubbed the back of my neck, grimacing against the dull throb of a threatening headache. Was I really that anxious about what lay behind the door? I rolled my shoulders, trying to shake it off.

  “Found it,” she whispered.

  She swung open the door to reveal…

  An empty closet. Rae stepped inside. I followed. We were in a space so small we could both barely fit.

  “Okay,” Rae said. “This is weird. Who builds a closet, doesn't put anything in it, then locks it? There's gotta be a catch. ” She rapped on the wall. “Yow! It's concrete. Painted concrete. Scraped my knuckles good. ” She touched the adjoining walls. “I don't get it. Where's the rest of the basement?”

  I rubbed my temple, now throbbing. “It's a half basement. My aunt lived in an old Victorian place before she got sick of the renovations and moved into a condo. She said when her house was built, it didn't have a basement at all, just a crawl space under the house. Then someone dug out a room for the laundry. She used to have real bad problems with flooding and stuff. Maybe that's why this is empty and locked. So no one uses it. ”

  “Okay, so what does your spook want you to see? Overlooked storage space?”

  “I told you it was probably nothing. ”

  The words came out more sharply than I intended. I rolled my shoulders and rubbed my neck again.

  “What's wrong?” Rae laid her hand on my arm. “God, girl, you're covered in goose bumps. ”

  “Just a chill. ”

  “Maybe it's a cold spot. ”

  I nodded, but I didn't feel cold. Just… anxious. Like a cat sensing a threat, its fur rising.

  “There's a ghost here, isn't there?“ she said, looking around. ”Try contacting it. "

  “How?”

  She shot me a look. “Start with 'hello. ' ”

  I did.

  “More,” Rae said. “Keep talking. ”

  “Hello? Is anyone there?”

  She rolled her eyes. I ignored her. I felt foolish enough without having my dialogue critiqued.

  “If someone's here, I'd like to talk to you. ”

  “Close your eyes,” Rae said. “Focus. ”

  Something told me it had to be a lot more complicated than “close your eyes, focus, and talk to them. ” But I didn't have a better idea. So I gave it a shot.

  “Nothing,” I said after a moment.

  When I opened my eyes, a figure flashed past so fast it was only a blur. I wheeled, trying to follow, but it was gone.

  “What?” Rae said. “What'd you see?”

  I closed my eyes and struggled to pull a replay tape from memory. After a moment, it came. I saw a man dressed in a gray suit, clean shaven, wearing a fedora and horn-?rimmed glasses, like someone out of the fifties.

  I told her what I'd seen. “But it was just a flash. It's the meds. I had to take them today and they seem to… block transmission. I only get flashes. ”

  I turned slowly, eyes narrowing as I concentrated as hard as I could, looking for even the faintest shimmer. As I circled, my elbow hit the door, knocking it against the wall with an oddly metallic clank.

  Motioning Rae aside, I pulled the door forward to peek behind it. She squeezed in to take a look.

  “Seems we missed something, huh?” she said, grinning.

  The closet was so small that when the door opened, it had blocked the left wall. Now, looking behind it, I saw there was a metal ladder fastened to that wall. It led up a few steps to a small wooden door halfway up the wall, the gray paint blending with the concrete. I stepped onto the ladder. The door was secured only with a latch. One hard push and it swung open into darkness.

  A musty stink billowed out.

  The smell of the moldering dead.

  Right. Like I knew what the dead smelled like. The only body I'd ever seen had been my mother's. She hadn't smelled dead. She'd smelled like Mom. I shook the memory off.

  “I think it's a crawl space,” I said. “Like at my aunt's old place. Let me take a look. ”

  “Hey. ” She plucked at the back of my shirt. “Not so fast, It looks awfully dark in there . . . too dark for someone who sleeps with the blinds open. ”

  I ran my hand over the floor. Damp, packed dirt. I fell along the wall.

  “A dirt crawl space,” I said. “With no light switch, We're going to need a flashlight. I saw one—”

  “I know. My turn to get it. ”

  Twenty-three

  WHEN RAE GOT BACK, she spread her empty hands wide and said, “Okay, guess where I hid it. ”

  She even turned around for me, but I could see no bulge big enough to hide a flashlight. With a grin, she reached down the front of her shirt into the middle of her bra, and pulled out a flashlight with flourish.

  I laughed.

  “Cleavage is great,” she said. “Like an extra pocket. ”
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