The summoning, p.2
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       The Summoning, p.2

         Part #1 of Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong
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Page 2

 

  The line went dead before I could argue. I shook my head and ran to catch up with Kari.

  School. Not much to say about it. People think art schools must be different, all that creative energy simmering, classes full of happy kids, even the Goths as close to happy as their tortured souls will allow. They figure art schools must have less peer pressure and bullying. After all, most kids there are the ones who get bullied in other schools.

  It's true that stuff like that isn't bad at A. R. Gurney High, but when you put kids together, no matter how similar they seem, lines are drawn. Cliques form. Instead of jocks and geeks and nobodies, you get artists and musicians and actors.

  As a theater arts student, I was lumped in with the actors, where talent seemed to count less than looks, poise, and verbal ability. I didn't turn heads, and I scored a fat zero on the last two. On a popularity scale, I ranked a perfectly mediocre five. The kind of girl nobody thinks a whole lot about.

  But I'd always dreamed of being in art school, and it was as cool as I'd imagined. Better yet, my father had promised that I could stay until I graduated, no matter how many times we moved. That meant for the first time in my life, I wasn't the “new girl. ” I'd started at A. R. Gurney as a freshman, like everyone else. Just like a normal kid. Finally.

  That day, though, I didn't feel normal. I spent the morning thinking about that boy on the street. There were plenty of logical explanations. I'd been staring at his lunch box, so I'd misjudged where he'd been running. He'd jumped into a waiting car at the curb. Or swerved at the last second and vanished into the crowd.

  That made perfect sense. So why did it still bug me?

  “Oh, come on,” Miranda said as I rooted through my locker at lunchtime. “He's right there. Ask him if he's going to the dance. How tough can that be?”

  ''Leave her alone,“ Beth said. She reached over my shoulder, grabbed my bright yellow lunch bag from the top shelf, and dangled it. ”Don't know how you can miss this, Chloe. It's practically neon. "

  “She needs a stepladder to see that high,” Kari said.

  I banged her with my hip, and she bounced away, laughing.

  Beth rolled her eyes. “Come on, people, or we'll never get a table. ”

  We made it as far as Brent's locker before Miranda elbowed me. “Ask him, Chloe. ”

  She mock-?whispered it. Brent glanced over… then quickly looked away. My face heated and I clutched my lunch bag to my chest.

  Kari's long, dark hair brushed my shoulder. “He's a jerk,” she whispered. “Ignore him. ”

  “No, he's not a jerk. He just doesn't like me. Can't help that. ”

  “Here,” Miranda said. “I'll ask him for you. ”

  “No!” I grabbed her arm. “P-?please. ”

  Her round face screwed up in disgust. “God, you can be such a baby. You're fifteen, Chloe. You have to take matters into your own hands. ”

  “Like phoning a guy until his mother tells you to leave him alone?” Kari said.

  Miranda only shrugged. “That's Rob's mother. He never said it. ”

  “Yeah? You just keep telling yourself that. ”

  That set them off for real. Normally, I'd have jumped in and made them quit, but I was still upset over Miranda's embarrassing me in front of Brent.

  Kari, Beth, and I used to talk about guys, but we weren't totally into them. Miranda was—she'd had more boyfriends than she could name. So when she started hanging with us, it suddenly became really important to have a guy we liked. I worried enough about being immature, and it didn't help that she'd burst out laughing when I'd admitted I'd never been on a real date. So I invented a crush. Brent.

  I figured I could just name a guy I liked and that would be enough. Not a chance. Miranda had outed me—telling him I liked him. I'd been horrified. Well, mostly. There'd also been a little part of me that hoped he'd go “Cool. I really like Chloe, too. ” Not a chance. Before, we used to talk in Spanish class sometimes. Now he sat two rows away, like I'd suddenly developed the world's worst case of BO.

  We'd just reached the cafeteria when someone called my name. I turned to see Nate Bozian jogging toward me, his red hair like a beacon in the crowded hall. He bumped into a senior, grinned an apology, and kept coming.

  “Hey,” I said as he drew near.

  “Hey yourself. Did you forget Petrie rescheduled film club for lunchtime this week? We're discussing avant-?garde. I know you love art films. ”

  I fake gagged.

  “I'll send your regrets, then. And I'll tell Petrie you aren't interested in directing that short either. ”

  “We're deciding that today?”

  Nate started walking backward. “Maybe. Maybe not. So I'll tell Petrie—”

  “Gotta run,” I said to my friends and hurried to catch up with him.

  The film club meeting started backstage as always, where we'd go through business stuff and eat lunch. Food wasn't allowed in the auditorium.

  We discussed the short, and I was on the list for directors—the only freshman who'd made the cut. After, as everyone else watched scenes from avant-?garde films, I mulled through my options for an audition tape. I snuck out before it ended and headed back to my locker.

  My brain kept whirring until I was halfway there. Then my stomach started acting up again, reminding me that I'd been so excited about making the short list that I'd forgotten to eat.

  I'd left my lunch bag backstage. I checked my watch. Ten minutes before class. I could make it.

  Film club had ended. Whoever left the auditorium last had turned out the lights, and I didn't have a clue how to turn them on, especially when finding the switch would require being able to see it. Glow-?in-?the-?dark light switches. That's how I'd finance my first film. Of course, I'd need someone to actually make them. Like most directors, I was more of an idea person.

  I picked my way through the aisles, bashing my knees twice. Finally my eyes adjusted to the dim emergency lights, and I found the stairs leading backstage. Then it got tougher.

  The backstage dissolved into smaller areas curtained off for storage and makeshift dressing rooms. There were lights, but someone else had always turned them on. After feeling around the nearest wall and not finding a switch, I gave up. The faint glow of more emergency lights let me see shapes. Good enough.

  Still, it was pretty dark. I'm afraid of the dark. I had some bad experiences as a child, imaginary friends who lurked in dark places and scared me. I know that sounds weird. Other kids dream up playmates—I imagined bogeymen.

  The smell of greasepaint told me I was in the dressing area, but the scent, mingled with the unmistakable odor of mothballs and old costumes, didn't calm me the way it usually did.

  Three more steps and I did let out a shriek as fabric billowed around me. I'd stumbled into a curtain. Great. Exactly how loud had I screamed? I really hoped these walls were soundproof.

  I swept my hand over the scratchy polyester until I found the opening and parted the curtains. Ahead, I could make out the lunch table. Something yellow sat on the top. My bag?

  The makeshift hall seemed to stretch before me, yawning into darkness. It was the perspective—the two curtained sides angled inward, so the hall narrowed. Interesting illusion, especially for a suspense film. I'd have to remember that.

  Thinking about the corridor as a movie set calmed my nerves. I framed the shot, the bounce of my step adding a jerkiness that would make the scene more immediate, putting the viewer in the head of our protagonist, the foolish girl making her way toward the strange noise.

  Something thumped. I started, and my shoes squeaked and that noise made me jump higher. I rubbed the goose bumps on my arms and tried to laugh. Okay, I did say strange noise, didn't I? Cue the sound effects, please.

  Another noise. A rustling. So we had rats in our spooky corridor, did we? How clichéd. Time to turn off my galloping imagination and focus. Direct the scene
.

  Our protagonist sees something at the end of the corridor. A shadowy figure—

  Oh, please. Talk about cheap thrills. Go for original… mysterious…

  Take two.

  What's that she sees? A child's lunch bag, bright yellow and new, out of place in this old, condemned house.

  Keep the film rolling. Don't let my mind wander—

  A sob echoed through the silent rooms, then broke off, dissolving into a wet snuffling.

  Crying. Right. From my movie. The protagonist sees a child's lunch bag, then hears eerie sobs. Something moved at the end of the hall. A dark shape—

  I flung myself forward, racing for my bag. I grabbed it and took off.

  Three

  “Chloe! Hold up!”

  I'd just dumped my uneaten lunch in my locker and was walking away when Nate hailed me. I turned to see him edging sideways through a group of girls. The bell sounded and the hall erupted, kids jostling like salmon fighting their way upstream, carrying along anything in their path. Nate had to struggle to reach me.

  “You took off from film club before I could grab you. I wanted to ask if you're going to the dance. ”

  “Tomorrow? Um, yeah. ”

  He flashed a dimpled grin. “Great. See you there. ”

  A swarm of kids engulfed him. I stood there, staring after him. Had Nate just tracked me down to ask if I was going to the dance? It wasn't the same as asking me to the dance, but still. . . I was definitely going to need to rethink my outfit.

  A senior whacked into me, knocking off my backpack and muttering something about “standing in the middle of the hall. ” As I bent to grab my bag, I felt a gush between my legs.

  I snapped upright and stood frozen before taking a tentative step.

  Oh God. Had I actually wet myself? I took a deep breath. Maybe I was sick. My stomach had been dancing all day.

  See if you can clean up and if it's bad, take a cab home.

  In the bathroom, I pulled down my pants and saw bright red.

  For a couple of minutes, I just sat there, on the toilet, grinning like an idiot and hoping that the rumor about school bathroom cams wasn't true.

  I balled up toilet paper in my panties, pulled up my jeans, and waddled out of the stall. And there it was, a sight that had mocked me since fall: the sanitary napkin dispenser.

  I reached into my back pocket and pulled out a five-?dollar bill, a ten, and two pennies. Back into the stall. Scavenge through my backpack. Find… one nickel.

  I eyed the machine. Drew closer. Examined the scratched lock, the one Beth said could be opened with a long fingernail. Mine weren't long, but my house key worked just fine.

  A banner week for me. Getting short-?listed for the director spot. Nate asking me about the dance. My first period. And now my first criminal act.

  After I fixed myself up, I dug into my backpack for my brush and emerged instead with the tube of hair color. I lifted it. My reflection in the mirror grinned back.

  Why not add “first skipped class” and “first dye job” to the list? Coloring my hair at the school bathroom sink wouldn't be easy, but it would probably be simpler than at home, with Annette hovering.

  Dying a dozen bright red streaks took twenty minutes. I'd had to take off my shirt to avoid getting dye on it, so I was standing over the sink in my bra and jeans. Luckily no one came in.

  I finished squeezing the strands dry with paper towel, took a deep breath, looked… and smiled. Kari had been right. It did look good. Annette would freak. My dad might notice. Might even get mad. But I was pretty sure no one was going to hand me a twelve-?and-?under menu anymore.

  The door creaked. I shoved the towels in the trash, grabbed my shirt, and dashed into a stall. I barely had time to latch the door before the other girl started crying. I glanced over and saw a pair of Reeboks in the next stall.

  Should I ask whether she was okay? Or would that embarrass her?

  The toilet flushed and the shadow at my feet shifted. The stall lock clicked open. When the taps started, though, her sobs got even louder.

  The water shut off. The towel roll squeaked. Paper crumpled. The door opened. It shut. The crying continued.

  A cold finger slid down my spine. I told myself she'd changed her mind, and was staying until she got things under control, but the crying was right beside me. In the next stall.

  I squeezed my hands into fists. It was just my imagination.

  I slowly bent. No shoes under the divider. I ducked farther. No shoes in any of the stalls. The crying stopped.

  I yanked my shirt on and hurried from the bathroom before it could start again. As the door shut behind me, all went silent. An empty hall.

  “You!”

  I spun to see a custodian walking toward me, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

  “Th-?the bathroom,” I said. “I was using the bathroom. ”

  He kept coming. I didn't recognize him. He was maybe my dad's age, with a brush cut, wearing our school janitorial uniform. A temp, filling in for Mr. Teitlebaum.

  “I—I'm heading to c-?class now. ”

  I started walking.

  “You! Get back here. I want to talk to you. ”

  The only other sound was my footsteps. My footsteps. Why couldn't I hear his?

  I walked faster.

  A blur passed me. The air shimmered about ten feet ahead, a figure taking form in a custodian's shirt and slacks. I wheeled and broke into a run.

  The man let out a snarl that echoed down the hall. A student rounded the corner, and we almost collided. I stammered an apology and glanced over my shoulder. The janitor was gone.

  I exhaled and closed my eyes. When I opened them, the blue uniform shirt was inches from my face. I looked up… and let out a shriek.

  He looked like a mannequin that had gotten too close to a fire. Face burned. Melted. One eye bulged, exposed. The other eye had slid down near his cheekbone, the whole cheek sagging, lips drooping, skin shiny and misshapen and—
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