The summoning, p.9
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       The Summoning, p.9

         Part #1 of Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong
 
Page 9

 

  Miss Van Dop's severe face softened. “She needs to settle in, but we'll call her in a few days and you can speak to her then. ”

  See? Liz was fine. I was being paranoid.

  Paranoia. Another symptom of schizophrenia. I pushed back the stab of dismay.

  The nurse turned to go.

  “Miss Van Dop? Sorry. I, um, I was talking to Mrs. Talbot yesterday, about e-?mailing a friend. She said I needed to speak to you. ”

  “Just use the e-?mail program to write your letter and click send. It'll sit in the out-?box until I enter the password. ”

  Some instructions from my school had arrived, so after breakfast, I showered and dressed as the guys ate, then headed off to class with Rae.

  Tori stayed in her room and the nurses let her. That surprised me, but I guessed it was because she was upset over Liz. I remembered Liz saying Tori was here because she was moody. There'd been a girl at drama camp a couple years ago whom I'd overheard counselors calling “moody. ” She'd always seemed to be either really happy or really sad, with no in-?between.

  With Tori absent, I was the only ninth grader. Peter was in eighth; Simon, Rae, and Derek in tenth. It didn't seem to matter much. Kind of like running a one-?room schoolhouse, I guess. We shared a room with eight desks and we all worked on our separate assignments as Ms. Wang went around, helping and quietly giving short lessons.

  Maybe knowing Ms. Wang had been partly responsible for Liz's leaving influenced my opinion of her, but she seemed to be one of those teachers who trudges through her job, watching the clock, waiting for the day to end . . . or a better job to come along.

  I didn't get much work done that morning. I couldn't concentrate, couldn't stop thinking about Liz, what she'd done, what had happened to her.

  The nurses hadn't seemed at all surprised by the damage in our room. That's just what Liz did, like with the pencil. She got mad and threw things.

  But she hadn't thrown that stuff. I'd seen pictures fly from the wall when she'd been nowhere near them.

  Or had I?

  If I was schizophrenic, how was I supposed to know what I'd really seen or heard? And if paranoia was another symptom, how could I even trust my own gut feeling that said something bad had happened to Liz?

  Rae was in session with Dr. Gill for the first part of the morning. When she returned, I spent the rest of the class eagerly awaiting break time, so I could talk to her. Not about Liz and my fears. Just talk to her. About class, last night's movie, the weather… anything that would clear Liz from my head.

  But she was having problems with a work sheet, and Ms. Wang made her stay through the break. So I promised to grab her a snack, then trudged out, heading for the kitchen, sentenced to another hour or two trapped in my own head, thinking about Liz.

  “Hey. ” Simon jogged up beside me in the hall. “You okay? You seem quiet this morning. ”

  I managed a wan smile. “I'm always quiet. ”

  “Yeah, but after last night, you have an excuse. Probably didn't get much sleep, huh?”

  I shrugged.

  Simon reached for the kitchen door. A hand appeared over my head and grabbed it for him. I didn't jump this time, just glanced back, and murmured a good morning to Derek. He didn't answer.

  Simon headed into the pantry. Derek stayed in the kitchen, watching me. Studying me, again, with that spookily intense look of his.

  “What?” I didn't mean to snap, but the word came out harsh.

  Derek reached for me. I stumbled back… and realized he was reaching for the fruit bowl, which I was blocking. My cheeks burned as I darted out of the way, mumbling an apology. He ignored that, too.

  “So what happened last night?” he asked as he grabbed two apples in one big hand.

  “Hap-?p-?p-?”

  “Slow down. ”

  My face heated more—with anger now. I didn't like it when adults told me to slow down. From another kid, it was worse. Rude with a grating edge of condescension.

  Simon stepped from the pantry, a box of granola bars in hand.

  “You should have an apple,” Derek said. “That's not—”

  “I'm good, bro. ”

  He flipped one granola bar to Derek, then held out the box for me. I took two, with thanks, and turned to leave.

  “Might help if you talk about it,” Simon called after me.

  I turned back. Simon was unwrapping his granola bar, gaze averted, trying to look casual. Derek didn't bother. He leaned back against the counter, chomping into his apple, staring at me, expectant.

  “Well?” Derek said when I stayed silent. He gestured for me to hurry up, spill all the gory details.

  I'd never been one for gossip. Maybe that's not what they wanted—maybe they were just curious, concerned even. But it felt like gossip, and Liz deserved better.

  “Rae's waiting for me,” I said.

  Simon stepped forward, raising a hand as if to stop me. Then he glanced at Derek. I didn't catch the look that passed between them, but it made Simon pull back, nod a good-?bye to me, and busy himself unwrapping the rest of his bar.

  The door was still swinging shut behind me when Simon whispered, “Something happened. ”

  “Yeah. ”

  I let the door close, and stood there. Derek said something else, but his low rumble swallowed the words.

  “I don't know,” Simon said. “We shouldn't—”

  “Chloe?”

  I wheeled as Mrs. Talbot stepped into the hall from the living room.

  “Is Peter around?” she asked. Her broad face beamed.

  “Uh, in class I think. ”

  “Could you tell him I need to see him in the living room? I have a surprise for him. ”

  I glanced at the kitchen door, but the guys had gone silent. I nodded to Mrs. Talbot and hurried off.

  Peter's parents had come to take him home.

  He'd known it would be coming soon, but they'd wanted to surprise him, so we had a little party, complete with cake. Low-?fat, organic, frosting-?free carrot cake. Then his parents went upstairs to help him pack, while Simon, Derek, and Rae returned to class and I had my session with Dr. Gill.

  Twenty minutes later, from her office window, I watched his parents' minivan back out the drive and disappear down the street.

  Another week and I'd be doing the same. I just had to stop thinking about Liz and ghosts and concentrate on getting out.

  Twelve

  AFTER LUNCH, IT WAS time for math. That was one class where the tutor needed to know exactly where I was in the program and my math teacher hadn't sent over my work yet, so I was allowed to skip it for now. Math was also the class Derek had been sitting out the day before, and he did so again, taking his course work into the dining room as Ms. Wang gave a short lesson. I guessed he was doing remedial work and needed the quiet. He went his way and I went mine, into the media room to write that e-?mail to Kari.

  Getting the words right took time. The third version finally seemed vague but not like I was obviously avoiding anything. I was about to hit Send when I stopped.

  I was using a communal account. What would come up in the sender field? Lyle Group Home for Mentally Disturbed Teens? I was sure it wouldn't be that, but even just “Lyle House” would throw Kari off, maybe enough for her to look it up.

  I switched to the browser and searched for “Lyle House. ” Over a million hits. I added “Buffalo” and that cut my hits in half, but a scan of the first page showed they were all just random hits—a mention of a house on Lyle in Buffalo, a list of Lyle Lovett songs including the words “house” and “buffalo,” a House representative named Lyle talking about BuffaloLake.

  I moved my mouse over the Send button again, and stopped again.

  Just because Lyle House didn't have a cheerful Web site with a daisy border didn't mean Kari couldn't find it in the phone book.

  I saved the e-?ma
il as a text document with an obscure name. Then I deleted the message. At least with a phone call, I could probably block call display. There were no telephones in the common area, so I'd have to ask to use the nurses' phone. I'd do that later, when Kari would be home from school.

  I shut down Outlook and was about to turn off the browser when a search result caught my eye—one about a Buffalo man named Lyle who'd died in a house fire.

  I remembered what Rae had said last night about looking up my burned custodian. Here was my chance to settle the battle between the side that said you're hallucinating—take your meds and shut up and the side that wasn't so sure.

  I moused to the search field, deleted the words, then sat there, fingers poised over the keys, every muscle tensed, as if bracing for an electric shock.

  What was I afraid of?

  Finding out I really did have schizophrenia?

  Or finding out I didn't?

  I lowered my fingers to the keys and typed. A. R. Gurney school arts Buffalo death custodian.

  Thousands of hits, most of them random matches to A. R. Gurney, the Buffalo playwright. Then I saw the words tragic accident and I knew.

  I forced my mouse up the screen, clicked, and read the article.

  In 1991, forty-?one-?year-?old Rod Stinson, head custodian at Buffalo's A. R. GurneySchool of the Arts, had died in a chemical explosion. A freak accident, caused by a part-?time janitor refilling a container with the wrong solution.

  He'd died before I'd been born. So there was no way I could have ever heard about the accident.

  But just because I couldn't remember hearing about it didn't mean I hadn't caught a snatch of it, maybe someone talking in class, and stored it deep in my subconscious, for schizophrenia to pull out and reshape as a hallucination.

  I scanned the article. No picture. I backed out to the search page and went to the next. Same basic information, but this one did have a picture. And there was no question it was the man I'd seen.

  Had I seen the photo somewhere?

  You have an answer for everything, don't you? A “logical explanation. ” Well, what would you think if you were seeing this in one of your movies?

  I'd run to the screen and smack this silly girl who was staring the truth in the face, too dumb to see it. No, not too dumb. Too stubborn.

  You want a logical explanation? String the facts together. The scenes.

  Scene one: girl hears disembodied voices and sees a boy who disappears before her eyes.

  Scene two: she sees a dead guy with some kind of burns.

  Scene three: she discovers that the burned custodian is real and died in her school, just the way she saw it.

  Yet this girl, our supposedly intelligent heroine, doesn't believe she's seeing ghosts? Give yourself a shake.

  Still I resisted. As much as I loved the world of cinema, I knew the difference between reality and story. In movies, there are ghosts and aliens and vampires. Even someone who doesn't believe in extraterrestrials can sit in a movie theater, see the protagonists struggling with clues that suggest alien invasion, and want to scream “Well, duh!”

  But in real life, if you tell people you're being chased by melted school custodians, they don't say “Wow, you must be seeing ghosts. ” They put you someplace like this.

  I stared at the picture. There could be no question—

  “Is that who you saw?”

  I spun in my chair. Derek was there at my shoulder. For someone his size, he could move so quietly I'd almost think he was a ghost. Just as silent… and just as unwelcome.

  He pointed to the headline over the janitor's article. "A. R. Gurney. That's your school. You saw that guy, didn't you?'

  “I don't know what you're talking about. ”

  He fixed me with a look.

  I clicked off the browser. “I was doing schoolwork. For when I go back. A project. ”

  “On what? 'People who died at my school'? You know, I always heard art schools were weird. …”

  I bristled. “Weird?”

  “You want something to research?” As he leaned over to take the mouse, I caught a whiff of BO. Nothing flower wilting, just that first hint that his deodorant was about to expire. I tried to move away discreetly, but he noticed and glowered, as if insulted, then shifted to one side, pulling in his elbows.

  He opened a fresh browser session, typed a single word, and clicked Search. Then he straightened.

  “Try that. Maybe you'll learn something. ”

  I'd been staring at the search term for at least five minutes. One word. Necromancer.

  Was that even English? I moved the cursor in front of the word and typed “define. ” When I hit Enter, the screen filled.

  Necromancer: one who practices divination by conjuring up the dead.

  Divination? As in foretelling the future? By talking to dead people… from the past? That made no sense at all.

  I skipped to the next definition, from Wikipedia.

  Necromancy is divination by raising the spirits of the dead. The word derives from the Greek nekros “dead” and manteia “divination. ” It has a subsidiary meaning reflected in an alternative and archaic form of the word, nigromancy (a folk etymology using Latin niger, “black”), in which the magical force of “dark powers” is gained from or by acting upon corpses. A practitioner of necromancy is a necromancer.

  I reread the paragraph three times and slowly deciphered the geek talk, only to realize it didn't tell me anything more than the first definition. On to the next one, also from Wikipedia.

  In the fictional universe of Diablo 2, the Priests of Rathma…

  Definitely not what I was looking for, but I ran a quick search and I discovered a role-?playing game class called necromancers, who could raise and control the dead. Was that where Derek got it? No. He might be creepy, but if he'd misplaced the boundary between real life and video games, he'd be in a real mental hospital.
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