As I Descended
“Hey.” Brandon crept toward Maria, trying to avoid the biggest chunks of glass, afraid of what he’d find if he got too close. One of the cats brushed against his leg, its back arched, hissing. Somewhere far away, footsteps pounded down the hall. His vision was adjusting to the darkness. “Talk to me, Ree. Say something.”
Maria was still sitting in her chair. Her eyes were closed. Brandon’s heart leaped in his chest.
“Maria!” He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her.
“What?” Maria blinked.
Brandon exhaled. He wanted to slap her for scaring him so badly.
Maria’s eyes were empty, but she could sit up, so she must be all right. Brandon went to the other side of the table to check on Lily.
It was a miracle the table hadn’t collapsed. The chandelier looked like it weighed about a thousand pounds.
Lily was on the floor, but she was sitting up too, rubbing at the dust in her eyes. “Did it work?” she said when Brandon reached her.
“I don’t know what the hell it did,” Brandon said. “But we are never, ever playing that game again.”
Bang. Bang. Bang.
Brandon’s heart sped back up. Then he realized this sound was normal, not whatever that bizarre knocking had been before. This time, someone—a human someone—was pounding on the door to the staff kitchen.
“Open up!” It was Ross, the first-floor dorm monitor. “Guys, open this door right now or this will be a lot worse for you!”
Wait. Wasn’t that door unlocked? Didn’t the cats come through it earlier? How did—
Never mind that. Brandon had bigger problems.
He stepped gingerly over the broken glass, cracked the door, and peeked through the gap. Ross pushed past him, slamming the door open wide and flicking on the overhead switch. Brandon blinked against the sudden light.
The shadows that had clung to the corners of the room were gone. All he could see were dust and cobwebs and some revolting fungus creeping along the edges of the rug.
This was it for Brandon. He’d been caught out after lights-out once already this year. Tonight would be strike two. And the empty wine bottle would mean an automatic phone call to their parents, which meant he could count on being grounded all summer long.
But Ross didn’t care about any of that. He hadn’t even noticed Brandon yet. His eyes were locked on Lily.
All the Acheron staff, even the twentysomething dorm monitors like Ross, who just worked here for the free housing, were obsessed with Lily. If the disabled girl got hurt on their watch, there’d be hell to pay.
Ross texted for backup and helped Lily to her feet. Brandon gathered up her crutches from where they’d fallen and passed them to Ross. Lily glared at both of them.
“See who all’s out there and get rid of them, will you?” Ross told Brandon, gesturing toward the main door. He picked up the wine bottle from where it had rolled under the table and shook his head.
Brandon wondered how much this would cost to clean up. Not to mention the priceless antique that had been destroyed. Antiques, if you counted the Ouija board.
He tiptoed over the glass shards and pulled on the knob of the main door. It was unlocked, but now it seemed to be jammed. He had to throw his shoulder into the door to crack it open.
On the other side, a group of pajama-clad freshmen were gathered in the hallway. Felicia was at the very front. She was his friend Austin’s kid sister, but lately Brandon had realized he liked Felicia a lot better than he liked her brother. Felicia brushed her tangled hair back from her face and smiled at Brandon, but she looked worried. That crash must’ve echoed through the whole building.
“Jeez, are you okay?” Felicia asked.
“Just an accident, guys,” Brandon told her and the others. “Ross is here. He said for you all to go back to bed.”
Felicia pouted. Brandon shrugged and whispered, “Sorry, Fee,” trying to make sure she knew it wasn’t personal. She gave him another small smile and left, pulling her friends with her. Brandon closed the door again—it moved easily this time—and turned back to the room. Maria was standing up, still blinking slowly.
“All right,” Ross said. “It’s a miracle none of you got hurt with all that glass flying, but since nobody needs to go to the health center you should just go back to your rooms. I’ll call maintenance and write up the incident report tomorrow, and the dean will call your parents. How the heck did you pull the chandelier down, anyway?”
“We didn’t pull it,” Brandon said. “It fell.”
“Uh-huh.” Ross ran a hand through his thick brown hair and sighed. “Just go. Watch out for the broken glass. Lily, do you need help getting back?”
“Like I said, I’m fine,” Lily snapped.
* * *
Maria could hear the others talking, but they were far away. It felt like she was alone at the bottom of a cave, listening to the faint echo of distant voices on the surface. By the end of the session, that was all she’d wanted. She’d pleaded silently, over and over, for the board, for everything, to go away, to leave her alone.
Now she’d gotten her wish. The thing in the corner was gone. The room was empty.
But the shards of the Ouija board on the table—something was nagging at her. Something important.
It wouldn’t be until hours later, when she was struggling to fall asleep, that Maria would remember what it was.
The board had been destroyed before she could tell it goodbye.
NOTHING IS BUT WHAT IS NOT (#ulink_b90aa292-4de6-5458-9a7b-b40c8af2ab8e)
“Ten!” Delilah whispered.
“Nine!” The dozen seniors squeezed into the tiny dorm room joined in. “Eight!”
Maria took another gulp as her friends cheered in hushed voices. She was the only girl who’d ever join the guys’ absurd beer-chugging contest.
“Seven!” everyone chorused. Maria coughed. Lily resisted the urge to snatch the beer can out of her hand.
“Six! Five! Four!”
Maria fist-pumped. The movement made her tank top ride up. Just a fraction of an inch, but enough to get appreciative looks from the boys sitting at her feet. Lily wanted to kick them.
“Three!” Emily, leading the chant, took a dainty sip from her drink. Lily could’ve sworn she was intentionally slowing the countdown to trip Maria up. “Two! . . . One!”
Lily gazed from face to face. Every single person in this room—except Maria, of course—was useless.
Lily hated Acheron to the depths of her soul. She longed to tell all these losers to shut up and get out of her room before she shoved them out the door herself. She bit her lip and took another sip of seltzer instead.
“Zero!” the group chorused. Maria lowered her empty beer can and wiped her mouth. She laughed as Ryan took the can from her and crushed it in that way guys did when they were being stupid.
The grin on Maria’s face almost looked real. She collapsed onto the bed next to Lily, fanning herself dramatically even though it was freezing in their room.