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Chapter XXII: David
Chapter XXIII: Korey
Chapter XXIV: Mary Beth

 
 
 




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The cold air filled with chanting.

David, answer the phone.

I need to talk to you. Wake up.

David awoke with a start. He could feel the sweat glistening on his forehead and palms. He rolled over in bed and stared blankly at the alarm clock. It was three p.m., maybe. He never could see even that far without his glasses. Something clattered from his hand onto the floor; it rolled and bounced a few times before coming to rest, dangling against the dresser: his phone.

It whimpered out the lonely croon of the off hook tone.

He shook his head, trying to figure out how he’d managed to fall asleep clutching the phone. The previous night’s events were blurry: studying for finals, late-night gaming sessions, talks with Darlene, Korey, and Mary Beth—they all melted together into one tangled mess.

After putting the phone back in its cradle, he slipped his glasses on. Thick slats of buttery sunlight yawned into the room through the far window and lit the wall, setting its various mathematics posters aglow. Yawning, David collected his towel and shower bag from his dresser and made his way out into the hall. He didn’t let the door close and latch behind him until he checked to make sure he had his key.

The brown hallway carpet stretched far both ways; the cream colored wall spotted equally brown doors at regular intervals, each one glittering with gold letters. He headed towards the green door to the bathrooms—which were also communal showers. Hayden Dormitory rang quiet today. Many of the students would probably be out of their rooms, running out to Mill Avenue, eating, and spending time with their parents.

Parents. David stopped, letting his fingers rested the cold steel handle of the bathroom door. It was his mother’s birthday tomorrow—he’d almost forgotten. He and his brother were going shopping later tonight to match up their gifts. “Better late than sorry,” his brother, Timothy, had chided. His brother was more forgetful than he, which reminded David that he was going to have to remind him, again, to remember to feed his tropical fish.

The shower felt too warm on his clammy skin as David lathered the soap and closed his eyes against the agitated water spraying from the broken nozzle. In the past, he would sneak out to the showers in the dead of night, fearing running into another guy in the shower. The shower itself was a large room with four shower-heads to each of two walls and puce colored curtains that could be pulled to produce a sense of semi-privacy. His feet slapped loudly against the green tiles as he lifted each one to scrub them.

While he showered, David pondered. His mother liked orchids a lot and he could easily find some sort of kitchen set or a towel set sporting those flowers. When he was growing up he could recall her being somewhat domestic, and now that he was out of the house—although his brother wasn’t—she did spend more time in the kitchen. Orchids would make for an excellent birthday gift.

As he let the water rinse through his short brown hair a prickle went down his spine. Like the sensation that someone was watching him. Timidly, he turned and looked around. The opaque curtains didn’t cover everything, allowing a person peek over the tops to see the rest of the room. Steam had risen up in billowing clouds and hazy beams of light glimmered blearily through the privacy windows, but David could not make out any other figures in the foggy air.

He cut the water to both the hot and cold knobs. The sound of dripping water echoed all around, bouncing between the walls. Only his own breathing, and heartbeat, rushed loudly in his ears. Alone in the shower, as he thought he was. Still, he could not easily shake the sensation that someone had been looking at him a moment before.

Once he toweled himself dry enough to pull on his shorts and tug on a T-shirt, he headed out into the chilly bathroom to brush his teeth. During his shower, water had condensed on his glasses, but he wiped them clean with a cloth and ignored the drops that remained on the edges.

At the sink, David noticed something strange in the mirror. A dripping scrawl revealed itself in the steam: Answer the phone.

This seemed strange, someone writing a random message with their finger on the mirror so that when it fogged it would appear, but not unheard of. Shrugging it away, he wiped the mirror clear with his towel and went about brushing. His brother would be calling in a little over an hour so he really needed to get himself cleaned up and possibly pick up something to eat at the MU before heading out. Food was always the last thing on Timothy’s mind, once they were together and gift hunting there would be no time to stop and get a bite to eat.

Again he stepped into the empty hallway.

The feeling of emptiness struck David as nonsensical. He adjusted his glasses and peered both directions down the corridor. Each time he thought that he could barely see the ghostly afterimages of the other students who would have been entering and exiting their rooms. Yet when he looked directly at them, there was nothing there. Not even the comfortable presence of other warm bodies. Empty.

The temptation to walk to Mary Beth’s room and rap on the door felt strong. But David doubted that she would want to see him straight out of the shower and dripping wet. Plus, she might be in there with Korey, and that would be bad. He had to admit to himself that things had been weird since they did that ritual in the Hayden Stacks—the nightmares from when he tried to sleep seemed most vivid. “They’re your brain’s way of passing off the magickal energies,” Darlene had explained; she was the most knowledgeable on all these subjects. “We messed up somewhere that night, but this too shall pass.”

Even though she teased him mercilessly, David wished Darlene was with him now. He’d known her longer than either Mary Beth or Korey—they’d come from the same high school, Shumway in Chandler. Five years he’d known her and he still couldn’t admit to her that he had a crush on her. It was her sarcasm, he told himself. She couldn’t be interested in him—around her he felt stupid and inelegant. And the rejection would be devastating.

No, David wouldn’t bother any of the others today.

After he dressed in some shorts and a polo-shirt, he checked his answering machine. It had one message flashing. The playback only hissed static before it beeped and explained, in a calm monotone, that he had no further messages.

Back down the hallway he marched. Every closed door glared back at him and his footsteps on the thin carpet scraped against the silence.

Through the front glass doors, he could see the parking lot and the Best dormitories awash in yellow sunlight. The drying trees hung limply in the still air.

Go to the MU, get food, call Timothy to buy mom a birthday present—itinerary in mind, he pushed through the front doors in a meditative trance.

Suddenly it was raining; there was no transition. The moment he opened the doors he stepped into rain. Thunder rolled overhead as black clouds boiled, rain sluiced down in crashing waves, and puddles covered the parking lot. The chill of the air blew over David’s bare arms as he retreated back under the awning and looked around in confusion.

Like the dormitory, the lot was empty. Not a single car was parked in any of the spaces.

Well, I can always run to the MU, he thought to himself. He had totally neglected to dress in anything even approaching rainwear—the news broadcasts had spent all of their time talking about the drought and how no relief appeared to be coming. It’s not like a little water is going to hurt me.

David put his shoes in the first puddle and water soaked his pant leg. He shook his head. The payphone near the front of the building started ringing. He turned his head to look at it and heard footsteps splashing through a puddle in the other direction. He swung his gaze around and the footsteps stopped.

Nobody was there; the phone continued ringing.

Determined not to let rain, nor phantasmal footsteps, nor ringing phone keep him from getting his meal, David pressed into the downpour. It crashed all around him in a mad roar and shortly soaked through his shirt and fogged his glasses. After running as quickly as he could between the buildings of Best and going through—the totally empty—Farmer building, he decided to walk the rest of the way to the MU. It wasn’t like he could get any more wet.

Everywhere he walked the campus was utterly deserted. Not a person, not a car, not even evidence that there ever had been any presence. Even the round, concrete kiosks that contained advertisements and campus posters were completely bare, the nooks that held copies of the State Press yawned empty in their blank faces.

Once again phantasms haunted him, just out of the edges of his vision David could see people running through the rain, huddling underneath eaves, lounging at covered tables and chatting—but every time he turned his head to get a better look they were gone. Crackles of lightning cast fleeting silhouettes of non-existent people, followed by earsplitting peals of thunder.

In front of the MU one of the tall Maroon & Gold banners stopped David in his tracks. Instead of the usual ASU morale supporting message, the two foot tall letters delivered a note that he had seen before:

David, answer the phone. I need to talk to you.

Inside the MU, a phone rang.

Footfalls splashed in the water close behind him. He turned, again, nobody there. Except this time the footsteps didn’t stop: they advanced.

Terrified, David ran.

He yanked the MU doors open and half-slid, half-ran across the floor, his shoes squeaking wetly against the tiles as he did. The steady cadence of the ringing phone echoed in the empty.

“W-what’s going on?” he asked.

Suddenly he really wished that Darlene was here with him, or even Timothy, or his mom…anyone. The phantom emptiness surrounded him on all sides; the half-seen ghosts of people going about their daily business became more profound. The half-hearted echo of voices whispered in the air around him—but the ringing phone cut through it all.

The only real thing.

I need to talk to you. Wake up.

David walked through the smoky presences of the half-seen people and followed the sound of the ringing phone. It was the phone on the help desk. Manned now only by the half-seen presence of a girl with black hair and hollow eyes. She did not see him. He wished that he couldn’t see her.

He picked up the phone.

He listened. The quiet on the line stared at him like the non-eyes of the half-seen people walking past.

“H-hello?” he said. No answer. He continued, “This is David.”

David?” a woman’s voice said on the other end. “Thank whatever Goddess is on my side today. Where are you?

“Who is this?”

He couldn’t recognize her voice, but he got the impression she was very powerful. She sounded far-far away on the phone line, almost as if she was shouting across a great chasm—but her voice was strong, and it carried all the way across the distance, through the phone lines to reach him.

Listen to me very carefully.” The voice spoke gravely, slowly articulating every word. “You are in terrible danger. You are in the most dire danger you have ever been in your entire life. Tell me: where are you?

“I’m in the MU,” he said. “I was going to get something to eat.” He didn’t know why he felt like saying that, but he did feel hungry.

What is the last thing you remember before waking up this morning?

“Playing a game of Magic out at Coffee Plantation… I think.” The memory was fleeting, without substance; it slipped away from him as he tried to remember. “What’s going on?”

Were you in the Hayden Library a few nights ago doing magick?

“Yes… I was there, why?”

What kind of ritual was it?

“Something to give us good grades,” he said. The memory of his research snapped back into his mind in almost perfect clarity. “Iron and salt, the Magister’s Glyph, candles and violins. It was almost romantic.”

Who else was with you?

“And you know, the glyph was fifteen degrees off right, I noticed, but Darlene didn’t think that was a problem…” He paused. “Huh? Please tell me what’s going on?” he asked again. “I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”

You’re dreaming but you’re not asleep,” the woman said. “Your soul has been separated from your body. I can help you—but you must come to me.

“Okay…” The half-seen girl behind the desk shifted in her chair, the smoky outlines of the phone in her hands cabled to the same phone he was speaking on. She was now looking directly at him—through him. “Where are you?”

Do you know where the Secret Garden is?

“Yes, that’s—” David strained to remember, his head felt as indistinct as the people walking past him. “It’s inside of West Hall.”

Come to me now. Others are coming for you.

“David,” a new voice said beside him, a hand touched him. “I’m so glad I found you.”

“Darlene!” David cried.

Her blue eyes squinted at him as a smile crested her lips.

Wait, who?

“It’s Darlene,” he said, overjoyed. He nearly forgot the phone.

David. Listen to me. Listen more intently than you have ever in your life. That is not your friend.

“David, you can put down the phone now. We’ve found you,” said Darlene. “You can come with us now.”

“Us?” David said.

David! That is not your friend. You must run!

“But it’s Darlene.”

And Mary Beth. “You should come with us now,” she commanded. “Hang up the phone.”

Korey’s face hovered over her shoulder. He nodded.

All three of them stood out—real—against the backdrop of hazy persons walking past. Darlene hadn’t taken her hand off of his arm, her eyes locked into his. His heart raced.

“Orchids,” he said to nobody. “My mother likes orchids. I need to get her a birthday present.”

“I always liked your mother,” Darlene said.

“She likes you too.”

“—ask her why you’re there,” the voice on the phone pleaded hotly. “Make them explain what’s going on. They’ll slip up. Listen!

Darlene’s hand slid down his arm and she took his hand. Her fingers were warm against his palm and she was smiling. David wished he could remember what he was doing and why, but it didn’t matter—he was holding Darlene’s hand.

“I should remind my brother to feed my fish.”

The phone fell from his hand and clattered on the floor. The woman’s voice screamed impotently into the ether as the handset rocked on the empty tiles.

 

“Shit!” Vex screamed.

She convulsed and threw her hands violently down onto the carefully cast vévé where she sat in the midst of. Powered birch flew up around her, filling the air and causing everyone else to sneeze. The sensation of hands touching her shoulders and arms retreated from her instantly, falling away like leaves from a tree. The birch dust swirled and snapped in the candles as individual motes caught incinerated.

The skull white makeup worm by Andre became the first thing she could see in the dim light of the Secret Garden, his black lips parted, revealing the blood red of his mouth.

“Da boy be gone, woman,” he said, with an accent slathered so thick that his Doctor Moungeaux persona didn’t seem so far from the truth. “Given him up, the lwa say no more.”

Megan was looking at her hands, mystified. “I—” she glanced between Andre and Vex. “How much of that was real?”

“It all be real, woman,” Andre said, “and it all be dream.”

Patrick sneezed, his eyes were watering. “Jesus,” he said. “What is this stuff? And Jesus fucking Christ that was a trip. I actually saw him. I know—”

“We know where he is,” Megan said softly, tears were dripping down her cheeks.

Nobody wanted to say it, but not a single person sitting around the circle could shake the image remaining. The pale, perfect hollow of David’s face, as ghostly as the moon with small bubbles trapped along his skin. “You will find him where the water meets the road,” Madame Summer had said. Hidden, eyes closed in death, under the Mill Avenue Bridge, floating beneath the undisturbed waters of the Tempe Town Lake.

“Buckle up, boys and girls.” Vex leveled her gaze at Andre’s vivid white face. The anger from losing David still edged her voice. “This ride is just starting. We’re going after the other kids.”

Both Megan and Patrick frowned uncertainly. Doctor Moungeaux’s teeth blazed like white pearls as he grinned back.

 
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