The summoning, p.17
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       The Summoning, p.17

         Part #1 of Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong
Page 17


  She smacked the flashlight into my hand. I shone it into the crawl space. The dirt floor extended through the darkness as far as the beam pierced. I waved the flashlight. The beam bounced off something to my left. A metal box.

  “There's a box,” I said. “But I can't reach it from here. ”

  I climbed the remaining two steps and crawled in. The space stunk of dirt and stale air, as if no one had been there in years.

  The ceiling was really low, so I had to waddle hunched over. I maneuvered to the box. It was dull gray metal with the kind of lid that lifted off, like a gift box.

  “Is it locked?” Rae whispered. She had climbed the ladder and was peering in.

  I passed the light around the perimeter of the lid. No sign of a lock.

  “Well, open it,” she said.

  Kneeling, I gripped the flashlight between my knees. My fingertips slid under the lid's rim.

  “Come on, come on,” Rae said.

  I ignored her. This room was what the ghost had wanted me to see. I was sure of it. And this box was the only thing I could see in this barren, dark space.

  I'd seen boxes like this in movies, and what lay inside was never good. Body parts were usually involved.

  But I had to know. The lid started coming off, then stopped. I jiggled it. One side came up, but the other caught. I slid my fingertips around the edge, trying to find what it was catching on. It was a piece of paper.

  I tugged, and the paper ripped, leaving me with a corner. There was handwriting on it, but only fragments of words. I found the part of the paper still stuck in the box and pulled, prying the lid with my other hand. One sharp tug, and the paper came free… and so did the lid, flying off and landing in my lap. Before I could think about whether I wanted to look, I was looking, staring straight down into the box.

  “Papers?” Rae said.

  “It looks like… files. ”

  I reached into a folder marked 2002 and pulled out a sheaf of papers. I read the first.

  “Property taxes. ” I flipped through the other pages. “It's just records of stuff they needed to keep. They put them into a fireproof box and stored it here. The door's probably only locked so we don't snoop. ”

  “Or this isn't what the ghost was telling you about. That means there must be something else down here. ”

  We spent ten minutes crawling around, and finding nothing more than a dead mole that stunk so bad I nearly puked.

  “Let's go,” I said, crouched on my heels with my arms crossed. “There's nothing here, and it's freezing. ”

  Rae shone the flashlight in my face. I swatted it out of the way.

  “No need to get snippy,” Rae said. “I was just going to say it's not cold. ”

  I took her hand and wrapped it around my arm. “I'm cold. Those are goose bumps, all right? Feel them?”

  “I didn't say you weren't—”

  “I'm going. Stay if you want. ”

  I started crawling away. When Rae grabbed my foot, I yanked hard, almost toppling her over.

  “What's with you?” she said.

  I rubbed my arms. Tension strummed my nerves. My jaw ached, and I realized I was clenching my teeth.

  “I just—I was okay before but now . . . I just want to get out. ”

  Rae crawled up beside me. “You're sweating, too. Sweat and goose bumps. And your eyes are all glittery, like you have a fever. ”

  “Maybe I do. Can we just—?”

  “There's something here, isn't there?”

  “No, I—” I stopped and looked around. “Maybe. I don't know. It's just—I need to go. ”

  “Okay. ” She handed me the flashlight. “Lead the way. ”

  The moment my fingers closed around the flashlight, the light started to dim. Within seconds, it was giving off only a faint yellowish glow.

  “Tell me that's the batteries going,” Rae whispered.

  I quickly handed it back to her. The light surged, but only for a second. Then it went out, plunging us into darkness. Rae let out an oath. A swish. Light flared. Rae's face glowed behind the match flame.

  “Knew these things would come in handy someday,” she said. “Now…”

  She stopped, her gaze going to the flame. She stared at it like a child mesmerized by a campfire.

  “Rae!” I said.

  “Oh, uh, sorry. ” A sharp shake of her head. We were almost at the door when I heard the distant sound of the basement door opening.

  “The match!” I whispered.

  “Right. ”

  She extinguished it. Not by waving it or blowing it, but by cupping the flame in her hand. Then she tossed the dead match and the matchbook over her shoulder.

  “Girls?” Mrs. Talbot called from the top of the stairs. “Is your homework done?”

  Homework. Simon and Derek. I checked my watch. 7:58.

  I scrambled out of the crawl space.


  I KNEW RAE WAS DISAPPOINTED by what we'd found—or hadn't. I felt a weird kind of guilt, like a performer who failed to entertain. But she never doubted I'd seen a ghost or that he'd told me to open that door, and I was grateful for that.

  I returned the key, washed, then found Mrs. Talbot and told her I was going upstairs for math tutoring with Derek and that Simon would be there. She hesitated but only for a moment, then sent me off.

  I retrieved my newly arrived math text from my room and went around to the boys' side. The door was open. Simon sprawled on the bed, reading a comic. Derek was hunched over the too-?small desk, doing homework.

  The room was a reverse image of ours, set at the back of the house instead of the front. Simon's walls were covered in what looked like pages ripped from a comic book, but when I squinted, I realized they were hand drawn. Some were black-?and-?white, but most were in full color, everything from character sketches to splash panels to full pages, done in a style that wasn't quite manga, wasn't quite comic book. More than once Simon had gotten in trouble for doodling in class. Now I could see what he'd been working on.

  Derek's walls were bare. Books were stacked on his dresser and magazines lay open on the bed. Shoved to the back corner of his desk was some kind of contraption full of wires and pulleys. A school project, I supposed, but if I had to build anything that complicated next year, I was doomed.

  I rapped on the doorframe.

  “Hey. ” Simon slapped down the comic as he sat up. “I was just going to tell Derek we should go downstairs, make sure the nurses weren't giving you a hassle. They didn't, did they?”

  I shook my head.

  Derek set his math text on the bedside table, as a prop, then put his binder over it. “I'll be in the shower. Start without me. ”

  “Won't the nurses hear the water running?”

  He shrugged, and shoved back his hair, lank and stringy now, the dull sheen of oil glistening under the lights. “Tell them I was already in there. I'll only be a few minutes. "

  He headed for the door, circling as wide around me as he could manage, which made me wonder how badly he needed that shower. I wasn't about to sniff and find out.

  If he was showering at night, that might be part of his problem. Kari said she always used to have a bath in the evening, but she'd had to switch to morning showers or her hair would be gross by dinner. I wouldn't dare suggest this to Derek, but as he passed, I couldn't resist an innocent, “Why don't you just shower in the morning?”

  “I do,” he muttered as he left.

  Simon put away his comic. “Come on in. I don't bite. ”

  He lay back in the middle of his bed, springs squeaking, then patted a spot at the edge.

  “I'd say this is the first time I've had a girl in my bed… if I didn't mind sounding like a total loser. ”

  I reached over to put my books on the bedside table, hiding my blush. As I opened my text, to look like we were working on it, I knocked
the binder off Derek's. I glimpsed the cover and did a double take.

  College Algebra with Trigonometry.

  I flipped through the pages.

  “If you can understand any of that, you're way ahead of me,” Simon said.

  “I thought Derek was in tenth grade. ”

  “Yeah, but not in algebra. Or geometry. Or chemistry, physics, or biology, though he's only in twelfth grade in the sciences. ”

  Only twelfth… ?

  When he said that no one would question us working on math together, he hadn't meant that he needed help. Great. It was bad enough Derek thought I was a flighty blond, jumping at every noise. Apparently he figured I wasn't too bright, either.

  I put the binder back on top of Derek's text.

  “Tori . . . she didn't give you a hard time or anything, did she?” he asked. “About yesterday. ”

  I shook my head.

  He exhaled and crossed his arms behind his head. “Good. I don't know what her problem is. I've made it clear that I'm not interested. At first, I tried being nice about it, brushing her off. When she didn't take a hint, I told her I wasn't interested. Now, I'm downright rude to her and she still won't back off. ”

  I twisted around to see him better. “I guess that would be hard—having someone really like you and you aren't interested back. ”

  He laughed. “The only person Tori really likes is Tori. I'm just a stand-?in until she can get back to her football captains. Girls like Tori need to have a guy—any guy—and here I'm her only option. Peter was way too young and Derek's—Derek's not her type. Trust me, if another guy walks in here, she'll forget I exist. ”

  “I don't know about that. I think she might really—”

  “Puh-?lease. Do I look like diva bait to you?” He turned onto his side, head propped on his arm. “Oh, sure, when Derek and I start at a new school, I'll get some attention from the clique girls. Like”—he raised his voice to a falsetto—“ 'Hey, Simon, I was, like, wondering if you could maybe, you know, help me with my homework after school? 'Cause it's, like, math and, like, you're Chinese, right? I bet you're sooo good at it. ' ”

  He rolled his eyes. “First, my Dad's Korean and my mom was Swedish. Second, I totally suck at math. I don't like cuckoo clocks or skiing or fancy chocolate either. ”

  I sputtered a laugh. “I think that's Swiss. ”

  “Huh. So what's Swedish?”

  “Um, I don't know. Meatballs?”

  "Well, I kind of like those. But probably not Swedish ones.

  “So what do you like?”

  “In school? History. Don't laugh. And I'm not bad in English. I write mean haiku, which, by the way, is Japanese. ”

  “I knew that. ” I glanced up at the drawings on his walls. “You must ace art, though. Those are amazing. ”

  His eyes lit up, amber glinting in the deep brown. “Not sure about amazing, but thanks. Actually, I don't ace art. Last year, I barely passed. I pissed off the teacher because I kept handing in my comics. I was doing the assignments, just taking the techniques and using them for my stuff. She thought I was being a smart-?ass. ”

  “That's not fair. ”

  “Well, when I kept handing in my stuff even after the first couple of warnings, I probably was being a smart-?ass. Or just stubborn. Anyway, I'm not that great in school overall—a solid B minus student. Derek's the genius. My best class is gym. I'm into cross-?country, hurdles, B-?ball, soccer…”

  “Oh, I played soccer. ” I stopped. “Well, a while ago. A long while ago. Like back when we'd all chase the ball like a swarm of bumblebees. ”

  “I remember those days. I'll have to give you some brush-?up lessons, so we can start a team. The Lyle House soccer club. ”

  “A very small club. ”

  “No, a very exclusive club. ”

  I leaned back on my elbows, reclining on the bed. The last time I'd talked one-?on-?one like this with a guy was… well, probably back before I stopped thinking of them as “other kids” and started thinking of them as “boys. ”

  “Speaking of exclusive clubs,” I said, “I hope you asked me up here planning to answer some questions. ”

  “My company isn't enough?” His brows shot up in mock outrage, ruined by the gleam in his eyes. “Okay, you've been patient long enough. What do you want to know?”

  “Everything. ”

  We grinned at each other.

  “Okay, you're a necromancer and I'm a sorcerer. You speak to the dead and I cast spells. ”

  “Is that why you're here? You did something?”

  “Nah. ” He paused, a shadow crossing his face. “Well, kind of, but not magic. Something happened. With Der—” He cut himself short. From Derek's file, I knew why he was here, though I wasn't about to admit it. “Anyway, something happened, and then my dad disappeared and it's a very long story, but the short version is that we're stuck here until someone figures out what to do with us. ”

  And until Derek was “cured,” I supposed. That's why Simon didn't have a file or go to therapy. He wasn't here for any problem. When their dad left, the authorities must have brought Derek here, and decided to leave Simon with him.

  “So what else is there? What other kind of. . . ” I struggled for a word.

  “Supernaturals. The different types are called races. There aren't very many. The biggies would be necros, sorcerers, witches—which are the girl spellcasters. Similar, but a different race, and not as strong as sorcerers, or so everyone says. What else? Half-?demons, but don't ask me about them because I know next to nothing. Derek knows more. Oh, and shamans. They're good healers and they can astral project. ”
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