The cold air filled with chanting.
David, answer the phone.
I need to talk to you. Wake up.
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.
whimpered out the lonely croon of the off hook tone.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the sink, David noticed something strange in the mirror. A dripping scrawl
revealed itself in the steam: Answer the
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.
he stepped into the empty hallway.
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.
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.”
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.
David wouldn’t bother any of the others today.
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.
down the hallway he marched. Every closed door glared back at him and his footsteps
on the thin carpet scraped against the silence.
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.
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.
the dormitory, the lot was empty. Not a single car was parked in any of the
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.
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.
was there; the phone continued ringing.
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.
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
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.
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.
the MU, a phone rang.
splashed in the water close behind him. He turned, again, nobody there. Except
this time the footsteps didn’t stop: they advanced.
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.
going on?” he asked.
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.
only real thing.
I need to talk to you. Wake up.
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.
picked up the phone.
listened. The quiet on the line stared at him like the non-eyes of the
half-seen people walking past.
he said. No answer. He continued, “This is David.”
a woman’s voice said on the other end. “Thank whatever Goddess is on my side
today. Where are you?”
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.
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?”
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.
is the last thing you remember before waking up this morning?”
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?”
you in the Hayden Library a few nights ago doing magick?”
I was there, why?”
kind of ritual was it?”
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.”
else was with you?”
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.”
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.”
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?”
you know where the Secret Garden is?”
that’s—” David strained to remember, his head felt as indistinct as the people
walking past him. “It’s inside of West Hall.”
to me now. Others are coming for you.”
a new voice said beside him, a hand touched him. “I’m so glad I found you.”
blue eyes squinted at him as a smile crested her lips.
Darlene,” he said, overjoyed. He nearly forgot the phone.
Listen to me. Listen more intently than you have ever in your life. That is not
you can put down the phone now. We’ve found you,” said Darlene. “You can come
with us now.”
That is not your friend. You must run!”
Mary Beth. “You should come with us now,” she commanded. “Hang up the phone.”
face hovered over her shoulder. He nodded.
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.
he said to nobody. “My mother likes orchids. I need to get her a birthday present.”
always liked your mother,” Darlene said.
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!”
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.
should remind my brother to feed my fish.”
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.
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
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.
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
was looking at her hands, mystified. “I—” she glanced between Andre and Vex.
“How much of that was real?”
all be real, woman,” Andre said, “and it all be dream.”
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—”
know where he is,” Megan said softly, tears were dripping down her cheeks.
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.
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.”
Megan and Patrick frowned uncertainly. Doctor Moungeaux’s teeth blazed like
white pearls as he grinned back.