Where foundlings hide, p.9
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       Where Foundlings Hide, p.9

           KL Mitchelson
 
Chapter Nine

  The moon is full and bright, the grass dewy under my bare feet.

  The red amulet glows at my chest, its warmth spreading through me, protecting me from the chill of the night air.

  The girl ahead of me dances towards the forest, her white-blonde hair rippling down her back. I follow, mesmerised by the glow around her. It circles her head like a halo and streams from the tips of her fingers, leaving a trail of light.

  She stops near the edge of the scorched woodland and fixes me with a strange stare. I inhale sharply. Her eyes are solid black, like they absorbed the night sky, and the side of her face is etched with dark veins, spreading across her temple like a spider’s web. She takes off in the direction of the river and stops at the edge of the water, the hem of her white dress ruffling around her calves in the breeze.

  Before I can stop her, she jumps into the river, the water sloshing on to the grass as she disappears below the surface. I know she’ll be OK, she has to be, so I sit on the riverbank and watch the light rippling with the sway of the river where the girl disappeared.

  Something breaks the surface downstream and I am momentarily distracted by it, but then the light glows brighter, recapturing my attention. Another splash and then a blackened, skeletal hand shoots from the water. It grabs my ankle, its fingers sharp and pincer-like. I let out a scream as I am pulled below the surface, struggling against the grip of a strange, dark creature.

  It’s bony, yet strong. It wraps its legs around my waist and its fingers dig painfully into my skin. I am sinking and my lungs burn with the urge to breathe. The light is gone now; all I see is darkness. I feel one last surge of panic and then water floods my nose and mouth, my body goes limp and my eyes close.

  “CASEY! CASEY!” Strong hands roughly shake my shoulders.

  I cough and splutter, spitting water down my front. My chest aches with every breath and a bright, oppressive light makes my eyes sting.

  “Caleb.” My voice is hoarse.

  His hands are still on my shoulders; I can feel them trembling, sending his fear reverberating through me. “I think you have a death wish.” He gasps, the torch at his feet bathing us both in a white light.

  I draw in a rattling breath. “I don’t know what happened, I-” The image of Lana skipping through the grounds flashes behind my eyes and the familiar feeling of fear creeps over me. I clutch at my chest, wringing the water out of my sopping t-shirt. I try to breathe evenly, but every movement sends a fresh wave of pain through my ribcage. I look around in horror at the dark, empty grounds and the river, now bubbling innocently beside us. “I-I must’ve fallen in.”

  Caleb shakes his head again. “I watched you jump in. I followed you out here, I was calling your name.”

  “No, I-”

  “That pain you’re feeling in your chest, is from the pressure I had to apply to pump the water out of your lungs.” His voice is harsh and I cringe away from it.

  “I thought the river was shallow. How-?”

  Caleb releases his grip on me and rocks back on his heels. “What, so you thought you’d take a late night dip? The river is deeper because of all of the snow and rain we’ve had lately.” He is shirtless and water drips from his hair. He jumped in after me.

  “I saw Lana,” I blurt it out, because I can’t bear the way he is looking me. I need him to understand. “She jumped into the river and I sat down on the bank, but something pulled me in, some creature. It tried to drown me.”

  Caleb looks at me like I’m crazy, and now I’ve said it out loud, it sounds so stupid.

  “Do you have any idea how cracked that sounds?” He says incredulously. “You’ve just said you were dreaming. It was just a dream, there was no creature. I thought you were supposed to be smart?” He stands up and dusts the grass from his knees.

  “Why are you so angry, I told you-”

  “If I hadn’t pulled you out, you would have died. Do you get that? I thought I was too late and you’re telling me that it’s because you can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not?”

  I take deep breaths and clench my fists to stop my hands from shaking. “I didn’t jump in, OK?”

  Caleb mouth sets into a tight line, his green eyes blazing in the torchlight.

  “I didn’t ask you to save me,” I say. “What are you even doing here? Why did you follow me?”

  Caleb’s snatches his hooded top up from the ground and disentangles his t-shirt from inside. “I was looking out of my window and I saw you walking towards the forest,” he looks anywhere but at me, “I wanted to make sure you were OK.” He rakes his wet hair back off his forehead and shoves his t-shirt on.

  “Did you…. see anyone else?” I try to keep my voice even, but it’s shaky and my throat is raw.

  “Like who, your dead sister?”

  His words hit me hard, but I see regret flash immediately across his eyes. He extends his hand to me, but I bat it away and scramble awkwardly to my feet. I set off in the direction of the school, shivering in my wet flannel shorts and an old fencing club t-shirt that now clings to me. My lips tremble violently with every shallow breath.

  Caleb falls into step beside me. “I’m sorry, for what I said about your sister.”

  “You’re right, she’s dead. I’m just having a hard time dealing with it.”

  Silence falls between us, but Caleb’s cold hand finds mine and our fingers interlock. Behind his anger, I feel his relief, I feel it travel up my arm into my chest and I instantly feel a little warmer. “Thank you for helping me.”

  He gives a small nod of acknowledgement, but continues to look ahead.

  I glance down at our entwined hands, mine looks tiny encased in his. His fingers are long, elegant, his nails neat. He is the epitome of male perfection – tall, dark and handsome, ridiculously charming, at least when he wants to be, and he has just saved my life.

  “Lana’s been gone for nine months,” I say. “But it’s like suddenly she’s everywhere. I’ve seen her before tonight, in my room, in the fire in the woods. I know it’s not possible, but-” I swallow the tears gathering in my throat.

  Caleb glances sideways at me, his expression unreadable. “She was your sister, you spent all of your time together. You miss her, that’s all.”

  I look at him, wondering how much he knows about Lana and me.

  “Caleb, do you think we could keep what happened tonight between us? Ms Gould is already breathing down my neck after the fire and the fight with Molly.”

  He stops suddenly and whirls me around to face him. He hooks a finger under my chin, tilting my face towards his. For a second, I think he might kiss me and I hold my breath.

  “You think I’m a gossip?” His voice is low, soft, and there’s a smile playing around his lips. He lets go of my hand and drapes his hooded top around my shoulders. He wraps the sleeves around his knuckles and uses them to pull me towards him, planting a soft kiss on my forehead. He throws a casual arm around my waist and we continue up the path to the main building, our feet leaving a trail of wet footprints behind us.

  The front door opens as we reach the stone steps and Ms Gould appears in the doorway, her form dark against the lights inside.

  “Where have you been? You know the rules about being outside after curfew.” She gapes at my soaking wet attire and I cross my arms self-consciously across my chest. “What happened?” She asks, her voice high and shrill. “Why are you all wet?”

  I open my mouth to speak, but Caleb jumps in. “She slipped. We were walking near the river and she fell in.”

  Ms Gould sighs irritably. “For heaven’s sake, Casey, you must be freezing cold. Both of you inside, now.”

  We step around Ms Gould and the warmth of the foyer envelopes me.

  “Straight upstairs,” Ms Gould says. “Change out of those wet clothes.” She looks down at the polished floor where Caleb’s sodden trainers leave muddy footprints, each squeaky step echoing around the foyer.

  “We
got off pretty easy.” I whisper.

  Caleb smirks. “People are always sneaking out. She probably thinks it’s the most normal thing you’ve done since you got here.”

  I elbow him playfully in the ribs and he laughs. At the top of the stairs I take Caleb’s hooded top from around my shoulders and I hold it out to him.

  “Why don’t you keep it for a while?” He wraps it back around me, tying the sleeves in a loose knot over my chest. He tucks a stray strand of wet hair behind my ear, before sauntering off towards the boy’s corridor, leaving wet footprints on the red carpet.

  My stomach writhing with butterflies, I head to the bathrooms to shower off the dirty river water, standing under the flow until my body is warm again, then I return to my room.

  The digital face of the clock on my bedside table says that it’s just after midnight. I crawl wearily into bed, hoping to get some sleep before the alarm goes off, but every time I close my eyes I see the darkness of the river and I feel the wasted body of the creature on my back, it’s bony limbs wrapped around me, drawing me down into nothingness.

  “So, let me check that I’ve got this right,” Dr Parker take off her glasses and pinches the bridge of her nose. “You wandered out into the grounds in your sleep, dreaming that you were following Lana, she jumped into the river and you sat down on the riverbank, something grabbed your ankle and then pulled you in, you almost drowned, but then Caleb appeared and he fished you out.”

  I shrug my shoulders. “I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as Caleb said it was.”

  Dr Parkers looks at me incredulously. “You said he gave you CPR. You should have told someone last night; you should’ve been taken to hospital. I’m sorry, Casey, but I have to tell Ms Gould about this,” I start to protest, but Dr Parker holds up a hand. “I know I promised that I would keep what we discuss confidential, but you’ve disclosed something that indicates risk. I want you to get checked over, at least by the school nurse. Your ribs could be bruised, or worse.” She pulls out the pen that she keeps bound in the knot of her hair, and writes a note for the nurse. She hands it to me with a tight smile.

  “This isn’t necessary,” I say, looking briefly at her swirly handwriting. “I’m fine, look,” I take in a deep breath and exhale noisily. “My chest doesn’t even hurt anymore.”

  She narrows her eyes. “That’s impossible, the pressure that needs to be applied to pump water out of someone’s lungs can be enough to break the ribs, especially in someone as slight as you. Your bones might be fractured.”

  “But they aren’t.” I slump back grumpily in my chair.

  “Please just see the nurse,” she sighs. “For me.”

  “Fine.”

  “Is there anything else you want to talk about today, Casey?”

  I almost tell her about my visions of Lana, but I stop myself. What if she tells Ms Gould about that too? “No, there’s nothing else.”

  Dr Parker fixes me with an even stare. “Then you can go see the nurse now.”

  I snatch up my bag and trudge out of the room, but instead of heading along the corridor to the nurse’s office, I haul myself back up the stairs, figuring I may as well catch up on some sleep if I’m excused from lessons.

  As I reach the landing, I hear a murmur of excited voices. Curiosity draws me along the corridor and when I reach the small staircase, I find it blocked by students trying to peer over each other’s heads into the lounge.

  Ms Gould is trying to control the crowd, but when she spots me over the sea of heads her eyes narrow. “Casey, a word please. The rest of you, off to class.”

  She ushers the crowd away irritably, her hands flapping erratically, as though she is swatting at an invisible fly. When the stairs are clear, she gestures for me to follow her into the lounge with a jerk of her head.

  “Ms Gould, what’s going-” The words catch in my throat when I see.

  The paintings of Lana have been vandalised, her memorial display desecrated. The culprit has painted X’s across the eyes and mouth of every portrait, the paint running down her face like tears. Bile rises in my throat when I see that the vandal has also painted a noose around her neck, on a painting that is unmistakably Molly’s.

  Ms Gould’s expression is both hurt and indignant. She thinks I did this, I can feel the suspicion radiating from her, filling the space between us.

  “I didn’t do this.” I choke. Darkness taints the edge of my vision and I lower myself into the nearest chair. “I didn’t.”

  “I want to believe that, Casey,” Ms Gould says. “I really do, but this happened last night, probably around the time I caught you out of bed.”

  I take deep breaths to try and slow my rapid heartbeat. “How can you think that this was me?”

  “You’ve made it quite clear that you have no interest in the memorial display,” her eyes are wide now, like she’s unsure of my guilt. “And then there’s the painting you did in class. Your behaviour is just so unpredictable lately.”

  “I was with Caleb last night and I went straight to bed after you saw us.”

  Ms Gould sits down in the chair opposite, perching precariously on the edge. “I’ll speak to Caleb, if he confirms your story then… there’ll be an investigation, we’ll find out who did this.”

  I stand and my head spins a little. My eyes flit towards the vandalised paintings and anger starts to build inside of me. “I can’t believe you would bring me here to show me this, it’s sick.”

  Ms Gould wrings her hands “You’re right, I shouldn’t have shown you. I just thought….”

  “You thought that I would destroy paintings of my sister, that I would paint a noose around her neck?”

  Ms Gould looks abashed. “We’ll try to find out who’s responsible, I’ll-”

  I don’t wait for her to finish. I hazard one last glance at the paintings, then I stomp out of the lounge, my hands shaking at my sides. My steps falter when I see the figure standing in the corridor. Molly. “We need to talk.” I say, storming towards her.

  “I have nothing to say to you.” She starts off in the direction of the stairs and I storm after her.

  “Well I do. I don’t know what I did to make you hate me so much, but you need to know, it wasn’t me who ruined those paintings.”

  She stops at the top of the stairs and turns, her face contorted with rage. “Oh really?” Her voice is thick with angry tears, “Then who did?”

  “I don’t know, but I’m sick of you blaming me for everything. You had no right to say that Lana died because of me.”

  “What’s the matter? Does the truth hurt?” Her lip curls into a sneer. “Maybe you wrecked the paintings because you couldn’t stand the fact that Lana still gets more attention than you.”

  Something snaps and I launch myself at Molly. Then we’re falling.

 
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