The summoning, p.4
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       The Summoning, p.4

         Part #1 of Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong
 
Page 4

 

  She continued talking, but I didn't hear it because all I could think was, What's wrong with her? If she was at Lyle House, there was something wrong with her. Some “mental condition. ”

  She didn't look crazy. Her long hair was brushed into a gleaming ponytail. She wore Guess jeans and a Gap T-?shirt. If I didn't know better, I'd think I'd woken up in a boarding school.

  She kept talking. Maybe that was a sign.

  She seemed harmless enough, though. She'd have to be, wouldn't she? They wouldn't put anyone dangerous in here. Or really crazy.

  Oh no, Chloe. They don't put any really crazy people in here. Just the ones who hear voices and see burned-?up janitors and fight with teachers.

  My stomach started to ache.

  “Come on,” she said. “Breakfast's in five minutes, and they get real snippy if you're late. ” Liz put out a hand as I opened a dresser drawer. “You can wear your pajamas down to breakfast. The guys eat lunch and dinner with us, but they have breakfast later, so we get some privacy. ”

  “Guys?”

  “Simon, Derek, and Peter. ”

  “The house is coed?"

  “Uh-?huh. ” She pursed her lips in the mirror and picked off a dry flake. “We all share the bottom floor, but the top one is divided. ”

  She leaned out the door and showed me how short the hall was. “They get the other side. There's not even a joining door. Like we'd sneak over there at night if we could. ” She giggled. “Well, Tori would. And I might, if there was someone worth sneaking over for. Tori has dibs on Simon. ”

  She scrutinized me in the mirror. “You might like Peter. He's cute but way too young for me. He's thirteen. Almost fourteen, I think. ”

  “I'm fifteen. ”

  She bit her lip. “Oh, geez. Um, anyway, Peter won't be around much longer. I heard he's going home soon. ” She paused. “Fifteen, huh? What grade?”

  “Ninth. ”

  “Same as Tori. I'm in tenth, like Simon, Derek, and Rae. I think Simon and Rae are still fifteen, though. And did I say I love your hair? I wanted to do that, with blue streaks, but my mom said…”

  Liz kept up the commentary as we headed downstairs, moving on to the whole cast of characters. There was Dr. Gill, the psychologist, but she only came for her office hours, as did the tutor, Ms. Wang.

  I'd met two of the three nurses. Mrs. Talbot—the older woman, whom Liz proclaimed “really nice,” and the younger Miss Van Dop, who was, she whispered, “not so nice. ” The third nurse, Mrs. Abdo, worked weekends, giving the others each a day off. They lived in and looked after us. They sounded more like the housemothers I'd heard boarding school kids talk about, but Liz called them nurses.

  At the bottom of the stairs, the overpowering stink of lemon cleaner hit me. It smelled like Gran's house. Even Dad never seemed comfortable in his mother's immaculate house, under the glare that said you'd better not expect any birthday money if you spilled your soda on the white leather sofa. One look in this living room, though, and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was as clean as Gran's—the carpet spotless, the wood gleaming—but it had a worn, comfortable look that invited you to curl up on the sofa.

  It was also painted the favored color for Lyle House—a pale yellow this time. Pillows covered the dark blue sofa and two rocking chairs. An old grandfather clock ticked in the corner. Every end table held a vase of daisies or daffodils. Bright and cheerful. Too bright and cheerful, really, like this bed-?and-?breakfast near Syracuse where Aunt Lauren and I stayed last fall—so desperate to be homey that it seemed more a stage set than someone's house.

  No different from this, I guess—a business eager to convince you it wasn't a business, to make you feel at home. To make you forget you were in a place for crazy kids.

  Liz stopped me outside the dining room so we could peek in.

  On one side of the table sat a tall girl with short dark hair. “That's Tori. Victoria, but she likes Tori. With an i. She's my best friend. She gets moody, and I've heard that's why she's here, but I think she's fine. ” She jerked her chin toward the other person at the table—a pretty, copper-?skinned girl with long dark curls. “That's Rachelle. Rae. She has this 'thing' for fire. "

  I stared at the girl. Thing for fire? Did that mean she set fires? I thought this place was supposed to be safe.

  What about the boys? Were any of them violent?

  I rubbed my stomach.

  “Someone's hungry, I see,” chirped a voice.

  I glanced up to see Mrs. Talbot coming through what I guessed was the kitchen door, milk pitcher in hand. She smiled at me.

  “Come in, Chloe. Let me introduce you. ”

  Before breakfast, Miss Van Dop gave us all pills, then watched as we took them. It was creepy. No one said a word, just held out their hands, gulped their pill down with water, and returned to their conversations.

  When I stared at mine, Miss Van Dop said the doctor would explain everything later, but for now, I should just take it. So I did.

  After we'd eaten, we trooped upstairs to dress. Rae was in the lead, followed by Liz and Tori. Then me.

  “Rachelle?” Tori called.

  Rae's shoulders tightened and she didn't turn. “Yes, Victoria?”

  Tori climbed two more steps, closing the gap between them. “You did get the laundry done, right? It's your turn, and I want to wear that new shirt my mom bought me. ”

  Rae slowly turned. “Mrs. T. said I could do laundry today, since we had to take off while—” her gaze lit on me, and she offered a tiny, almost apologetic smile “—Chloe got settled. ”

  “So you didn't do the laundry. ”

  “That's what I said. ”

  “But I want—”

  “Your shirt. Got that part. So wear it. It's brand-?new. ”

  “Yeah, and other people probably tried it on. That's gross. ”

  Rae threw up her hands and disappeared down the hall. Tori shot a scowl over her shoulder, as if this were my fault. As she turned, something flashed between us, and I stumbled back a step, grabbing the railing.

  Her scowl twisted. “Geez, I'm not going to hit you. ”

  Over her shoulder, a hand appeared, pale fingers wriggling like worms.

  “Chloe?” Liz said.

  “I—I—I—” I peeled my gaze from the disembodied hand. “I t-?tripped. ”

  “Listen—girl—” A man's voice whispered in my ear.

  Liz came down the two steps between us and laid her fingers on my arm. “Are you okay? You're all white. ”

  “I j-?j-?just thought I h-?h-?heard something. ”

  “Why is she talking like that?” Tori asked Liz.

  “It's called a stutter. ” Liz squeezed my arm. “It's okay. My brother stutters, too. ”

  “Your brother is five, Liz. Lots of little kids do it. Not teenagers. ” Tori peered down at me. “Are you slow?”

  “What?”

  “You know, do you ride the looong bus—” she pulled her hands apart, then brought them together again “—or the short one. ”

  Liz flushed. “Tori, that's not—”

  “Well, she talks like a little kid, and she looks like one so…”

  “I have a speech impediment,” I said, enunciating carefully, as if she were the slow one. “I'm working to overcome it. ”

  “You're doing great,” Liz chirped. “You said that whole sentence without stuttering. ”

  “Girls?” Mrs. Talbot peered around the hall doorway below. “You know you aren't supposed to fool around on the stairs. Someone could get hurt. Class is in ten minutes. Chloe, we're still waiting for notes from your teachers, so you won't be in class today. When you're dressed, we'll discuss your schedule. ”

  Lyle House liked schedules the way a boot camp likes discipline.

  We rose at 7:30. Ate, showered, dressed, and were in class by 9:00, where we did independent work assigned by our regular teachers,
supervised by the tutor, Ms. Wang. Break at 10:30 for a snack—nutritious, of course. Back to class. Break for lunch at noon. Back to class from 1:00 until 4:30 with a twenty-?minute break at 2:30. At some point during classes—the timing would vary—we'd have our individual hour-?long therapy session with Dr. Gill; my first would be after lunch today. From 4:30 until 6:00, we had free time… kind of. In addition to classes and therapy, we had chores. A lot of chores from the looks of the list. These had to be done during our free time before and after dinner. Plus we had to squeeze in thirty minutes of physical activity every day. Then after a snack, it was off to bed at 9:00, lights-?out at 10:00.

  Nutritious snacks? Therapy sessions? Chore lists? Mandatory exercises? Nine o'clock bedtime?

  Boot camp was starting to look good.

  I didn't belong here. I really didn't.

  After our talk, a phone call sent Mrs. Talbot scurrying off, calling back promises to return with my job list. Oh joy.

  I sat in the living room trying to think, but the unrelenting cheerfulness was like a bright light shining in my eyes, making it hard to concentrate. A few days of yellow paint and daisies and I'd turn into a happy zombie, like Liz.

  I felt a pang of shame. Liz had made me feel welcome and been quick to defend me against her friend. If being cheerful was a mental illness, it wasn't such a bad one to have—certainly better than seeing burned-?up people.

  I rubbed the back of my neck and closed my eyes.

  Lyle House wasn't so bad, really. Better than padded rooms and endless hallways filled with real zombies, shambling mental patients so doped up they couldn't be bothered to get dressed, much less bathe. Maybe it was the illusion of home that bothered me. Maybe, in some ways, I'd be happier with ugly couches and white walls and bars on the windows, so there'd be no false promises. Yet just because I couldn't see any bars didn't mean it was as open as it seemed. It couldn't be.

  I walked to the front window. Closed, despite the sunny day. There was a hole where there'd probably been a latch for opening it. I looked out. Lots of trees, a quiet street, more older houses on big lots. No electric fences. No sign on the lawn proclaiming LYLE HOUSE FOR CRAZY KIDS. All very ordinary, but I suspected if I grabbed a chair and smashed the window, an alarm would sound.

  So where was the alarm?

  I stepped into the hall, glanced at the front door, and saw it, blinking away. No attempt to hide it. A reminder, I guess. This might look like your house, but don't try walking out the front door.

  What about the back?

  I went into the dining room and looked out the window into a large yard with as many trees as the front. There was a shed, lawn chairs, and gardens. The soccer ball on one wooden chair and the basketball hoop over a cement pad suggested we were allowed out—probably for that “thirty minutes of physical activity. ” Was it monitored? I couldn't see any cameras, but there were enough windows for the nurses to keep an eye on anyone in the yard. And the six-?foot-?high fence was a good deterrent.

  “Looking for a way out?”

  I spun to see Miss Van Dop. Her eyes glittered with what looked like amusement, but her face was solemn.

  “N-?no. I w-?was just looking around. Oh, and while I was getting dressed, I noticed I don't have my necklace. I think I might have left it in the hospital, and I want to make sure I get it back. It's kind of special. ”

  “I'll let your father know, but he'll have to hold it for you while you're here. We don't like our girls wearing jewelry. Now, as for looking around . . . ”

  In other words, nice try on the distraction, but it hadn't worked. She pulled out a dining room chair and motioned for me to sit. I did.

  “I'm sure you saw the security system at the front door,” she said.

  “I—I wasn't—”

  “Trying to escape. I know. “ The smile touched her lips. ”Most of our residents aren't the sort of teenagers who run away from home, unless it's to make a statement. They're bright enough to know that whatever is out there is worse than what's in here. And what's in here isn't so bad. Not Disney World, but not prison either. The only escape attempts we've ever had are from kids trying to sneak out to meet friends. Hardly serious, but parents expect better security from us; and, while we pride ourselves on providing a homelike environment, I think it's important to point out the limits early. "

  She waited as if for a response. I nodded.

  “The windows are armed with a siren, as are the exterior doors. You are allowed out the back only, and there is no gate. Because of the alarm, you must notify us before going out, so we can disable it and, yes, watch you. If you have any questions about what you can and cannot do, come to me. I won't sugarcoat it for you, Chloe. I believe honesty is the first step to establishing trust, and trust is critical in a place like this. ”

  Again her gaze pierced mine, probing, making sure I understood the other side of that statement—that honesty went both ways and I was expected to keep up my end.

  I nodded.

  Six

  MRS. TALBOT SET ME up to peel carrots for lunch. I didn't dare tell her I'd never peeled one in my life. After hacking my thumb, I got the hang of it.

  As I peeled, my mind started to wander… into places I'd rather not visit. So I called in my best defense: turn it all into a movie.

  As traumatic experiences went, the last few days were my best film fodder ever. But what genre would it be? Straight horror? Or psychological suspense? Maybe a combination of elements, surprising the viewer with—
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