The summoning, p.23
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       The Summoning, p.23

         Part #1 of Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong
 
Page 23

 

  The horror in the crawl space had been hovering over my head, cushioned by the shock and confusion and stress of dealing with the doctors and Aunt Lauren, but now that cushion began to sag, the weight sliding down, the memories returning.

  “I feel awful,” he said. “About Tori. I knew she was mad about seeing us together, so I tried setting her straight, but I think I only made it worse. ”

  “It's not your fault. She has problems. ”

  A small, sharp laugh. “Yeah, that's one way of putting it. ” After a minute, he glanced over at me. “You okay?”

  I nodded.

  He leaned over, his shoulder rubbing mine, breath warm against my ear. “If it was me, I wouldn't be okay. I'd have been scared out of my mind. ”

  I dipped my head, and a strand of my hair fell forward. He reached over with his free hand, as if to brush it back, then stopped. He cleared his throat, but didn't say anything.

  “It was pretty interesting,” I said after a moment.

  “I bet. The kind of thing that's really cool in the movies, but in real life…” Our eyes met. “Not so much, huh?”

  I nodded. “Not so much. ”

  He twisted, backing into the corner of the couch. “So, what's your favorite zombie movie?”

  I sputtered a laugh and as it bubbled up, the weight eased. I felt my thoughts shift, settling into a place where I could make some sense of them. I'd been trying to forget what happened, to push past it, be strong, be tough, be like Derek. Raising the dead? No biggie. Send 'em back, bury the bodies, next problem please.

  But I couldn't do it. I kept seeing them, smelling them, feeling their touch. My gut kept seizing up with remembered horror, then thinking about what I'd done to them, their horror. The best way for me to handle it right now was to get some distance. Don't forget it—just shift it aside with safe images of celluloid.

  So we talked about zombie movies, debating and discussing the merits of films that, according to the ratings board, neither of us should have seen.

  “It has the best special effects,” Simon said, “hands down. ”

  “Sure, if you make enough things blow up, you can hide plot holes big enough to drive a truck through. ”

  “Plot? It's a zombie movie. ”

  He was now sprawled on the floor, having moved there to demonstrate a particularly lame zombie “death scene. ” I lay on the couch, looking down at him.

  “Let me guess,” he said. “You're going to write the world's first art-?house zombie movie to premiere at Sundown. ”

  “Sundance. And, no. If I ever have to direct any art-?house film?” I shuddered. “Shoot me now. ”

  He grinned and sat up. “I'll second that. No art flicks for me. Not that I'm going to ever write or direct any film. So which is it you want to do? Write or direct?”

  “Both if I can. Screenwriting's where the story's at, but if you want to see that story come to life, you've got to direct, because in Hollywood, the director is king. Screenwriters? Barely even register on the radar. ”

  “So the director is at the top of the heap. ”

  “No, that's the studio. The director is king. The studio is God. And they just want something they can sell, something that'll fit their four little quadrants. ”

  “Quadrants?”

  “The four main demographic groups. Guys and girls, divided by young and old. Hit all four, and you've got a blockbuster… and a very happy studio. That is not, however, going to happen with a zombie movie, however cool it is. ”

  He flipped onto his stomach. “How do you know all this?”

  “I might be stuck in Buffalo, but I'm wired. I subscribe to Variety, Creative Screenwriting, a whack of industry loops, bookmark the blogs . . . If I want to be in this business, I have to know this business. The sooner the better. ”

  “Oh, man. I don't even know what I want to be yet. ”

  “I can hire you to do all my fog effects. ”

  He laughed, then looked behind me. “Hey, bro. Get enough fresh air?”

  “I wanted to talk to you. ” Derek swung his glare to include me. “Both of you. ”

  “Then pull up a chair. The current topic of conversation is zombie movies. ” Simon glanced at me. “Are we still on zombie movies?”

  “I think so. ”

  “Zombie movies?” Derek said, slowly, as if he'd misheard. His face darkened and he lowered his voice. “Have you two forgotten what happened today?”

  “Nope. That's why we're talking about it. ” Simon tossed a grin my way. “Kinda. ”

  Derek lowered his voice another notch. “Chloe is in danger. Serious danger. And you're lounging around, yapping about zombie movies?”

  “Lounging? Yapping? Good word choices. Very evocative. You making a point? I know perfectly well what happened and what it could mean for Chloe. But the sky isn't going to fall if we don't discuss it this very minute, Chicken Little. ” He stretched. “Right now, I think we could all use some time to just chill. ”

  “Chill? You do a lot of that, don't you?” Derek walked over to Simon. “In fact, that's pretty much all you do. ”

  I stood. “I—I'd better see if Rae needs help. With her chores. ”

  Simon sat. “Hold up. We're almost done here. ” He turned to Derek. “Right?”

  “Sure. Go ahead. Take it easy. I'm sure Dad will walk in that door any minute and rescue us. And if he's in trouble? If he needs help? Well, too bad, 'cause that would require effort and you're too busy… chilling. ”

  Simon sprang to his feet. Derek stood his ground. They faced off for a moment, then Simon nudged me toward the door.

  “Let's go. ”

  When I hesitated, he mouthed “please. ” I nodded and we left.

  Thirty-one

  AS WE WALKED DOWN THE hall, I glanced at Simon. His face was hard, expressionless. When he caught me looking, he managed a smile as if to reassure me he wasn't mad at me.

  “Mrs. Talbot?” he called. “Can I go out back? Shoot some hoops before dark?”

  “Of course, dear. ”

  We waited at the door. She stepped from the kitchen, drying her hands on a towel, and punched in the security code. Only then did she look over and realize Simon wasn't alone.

  “Oh, Chloe… I'm not sure you two should…”

  “It's basketball, Mrs. Talbot. ” He pushed open the screen door and held it for me. “You can watch from the window if you need to. ”

  “Just… just don't go anywhere I can't see you. ”

  He slammed the screen door shut behind us and marched into the yard so fast I had to jog to keep up. I glanced over my shoulder. The door was closed, no sign of Mrs. Talbot.

  He looked around. “You see the ball?”

  “I think it's in the shed. I'll go get—”

  He touched my elbow. “No. Unless you really want to play. ”

  I shook my head and he led me toward the stone bench near the central garden. “Talbot can still see us from there. ” He exhaled. “Derek sure knows how to push my buttons. Worst of it? I know he's pushing my buttons, trying to get a rise out of me, and I rise anyway. Stupid, stupid, stupid. ”

  For a moment, he said nothing, gaze moving across the yard.

  “Derek wants me to go looking for our dad. ”

  “How? Like, break out? You can't—”

  “That's no big deal. ” He settled back on the bench. “When you're raised like us, as supernaturals, it's… different. The rules are different. They have to be. If there's trouble, you have to run. ”

  “But you don't want to go?”

  “Oh, I want to. I've been chomping at the bit since we got here. My dad's out there—somewhere—maybe in trouble and I'm sitting around in a group home? Going to class? Hanging with Derek? Acting like nothing's wrong? It's killing me, Chloe. Derek knows how bad I want out. Like I said, he's pushing my buttons. ”

  “Where is your dad?


  He shook his head. “We don't know. He just—Things went wrong and he disappeared and we ended up here. It's a long story…”

  “Then it can wait. ”

  “Thanks. Point is, he's gone and I'm sure he didn't leave willingly. So we're stuck here, supposedly waiting to get released, but then what? Where would we go? There's no grandma or great-?uncle or family friend waiting to take us. We'd go into foster care and then we'd need to escape from there, so what's the point of waiting?”

  “You want out now, but you can't get out. ”

  “We can get out. Derek's got a plan. ” A small laugh. “Trust me, the man's always got a plan. But it's an escape plan for one—for me. He won't go. Flat-?out refuses. ”

  “What? He's making you feel guilty about staying when he won't go himself? Where does he get off?”

  “Yeah, I know, and I don't want to sound like I'm defending him, but he has a reason for not wanting to go. It's a stupid reason, but it's a big deal to him and there's no sense trying to change his mind. He just… freaks. ”

  “Freaks?”

  Simon flexed his hand, staring down at it. “It's complicated. Derek's idea, though, is for me to get out and find Dad. Dad taught me ways to get in touch with him. Spells and stuff. But I can't leave Derek. ”

  “Can't?”

  “Won't, I guess. I'm worried about Dad, but he can take care of himself, way better than Derek can. ”

  I must have looked skeptical, because he went on, “I know Derek seems like he can and in most ways he can, but in others…” He shook his head. “It's complicated. If I take off and something goes wrong, I'm afraid he'll just. . . let it. ”

  “I don't understand. ”

  “I know. ” He stared down at his hands. “I know I'm not making any sense, but…”

  “It's complicated. ”

  “Yeah. But—” He inhaled. “I'm starting to think I need to take that chance. Derek's right. Sitting on my butt isn't getting us anywhere. Now there's you to consider. You really need to get out. ”

  “I do?” The words escaped as a squeak.

  “Derek's right. It doesn't matter how hard we work to hide your powers, they aren't like mine. They can't be hidden. Not when you're living under a microscope. ”

  “If I get transferred to a hospital, I'll get through it. ”

  “But what if it's not a transfer?” He glanced over, worry in his eyes. “What you said about Liz keeps gnawing at me. Maybe she is a shaman. Or if she is dead, maybe it was an accident. Why would they kill kids who don't get better? It sounds nuts, but even Derek's worried. ”

  “Derek? But he said—”

  “I know what he said. But when I talked to him later, he wasn't so quick to brush it off. Even raised some questions himself. With Derek, that's as close to agreement as you can get. But you still need help. Say everything goes fine and you get released, what will you do? Who will you talk to? How will you learn how to get back to normal?”

  Normal. Such a simple, boring word. Funny how it shone now, like a brass ring on a merry-?go-?round, bright with promise, just out of reach.

  Getting out wouldn't solve my problems. Aunt Lauren would always be watching, misinterpreting every “abnormal” thing I did as a sign that I needed to return to Lyle House . . . or worse.

  But to run away?

  I knew what Derek would say. I could even picture his expression, that scowl of disdain and frustration. I wasn't Chloe Saunders, sheltered art-?school girl anymore. I wasn't even Chloe Saunders, schizophrenic. If Chloe Saunders, necromancer, followed the old rules, she could wind up in a padded cell, ranting about voices no one else could hear.

  I wasn't naive. I read the news. I knew what happened to kids who ran away, and it wasn't the wonderful life of freedom they imagined. How long would it take to find Simon's dad? How would we live in the meantime? What would we eat? Where would we sleep? I had some money, but how long would that last? What would happen when our pictures were splashed across the news? When every cop and concerned citizen was looking for us?

  I could hole up here, screw my eyes shut, and pray nothing bad happened. Or I could take matters into my own hands. Take action.

  Getting help from Simon's missing father wasn't exactly my idea of a firm plan. But if I got out of here, I could track down Liz. That would be easy. There were a limited number of hospitals in Buffalo. And if she wasn't safe in a hospital, what did that mean for the rest of us? Were we in danger? I couldn't keep plugging my fingers in my ears and pretending everything was fine.

  “If you're getting out of here, I'll go with you,” I said.

  “You don't have to. I just meant that I need to leave, for me and Derek and, now, for you. When I find Dad, he can help us. ”

  “Who will help you? Out there?”

  A twist of a smile. “I've got my killer fog spell. ”

  “You need back up. Derek would be a lot better at that, but you're going to be stuck with me. I'm going. ”

  Thirty-two

  I WAITED IN THE BOYS' bathroom, tucked in beside the storage tower. With every noise from the hall, my heart thudded, telling me I was about to make the biggest fool of myself yet.

  But I wasn't wrong. Like Derek, I could add two plus two and see the answer. I wiped my sweaty palms against my jeans, glanced at my watch, and prayed I'd come to the proper conclusion. And, in some ways, prayed I hadn't.
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