“You coming?” he asked breathlessly.
I took a deep breath and carefully composed myself. “Where?”
I rubbed my eyes and looked at the clock. “Yeah,” I said, much more brightly than I felt. I stood up and started to leave.
Joseph stared at my feet. “Um, shoes?”
“We’re going out.”
I just wanted to go to sleep and wake up with Noah back in Miami, back in my arms. But my parents thought I was getting better, and I needed to make them believe it. Otherwise I’d be sent away for problems I didn’t have. I was taking their drugs, drawing their pictures, passing their tests and it would all be for nothing if I was sent away now. I couldn’t bear that. Not when it would separate me from the one person who believed me. The one person who knew the truth.
I set the cup down. I put on my shoes and a big, fake smile. I laughed on the outside while I screamed on the inside. My body was in the restaurant but my mind was in hell.
And then we went back home. Daniel and Joseph were talking, my parents were joking, and I felt a little better, until I entered my room. I drank some more water from the cup I filled before we went out to eat and got ready for bed, trying not to be afraid. Fear is just a feeling, and feelings aren’t real.
But the disc I found under my pillow that night was.
My fingers curled around it in the dark. I began to hear the sirens of panic wail in my brain but I forced myself to shut them out. I stood slowly and turned on my light.
The CD was plain and unmarked.
Noah’s security guard, John, was outside.
Maybe I made the disc myself? And just didn’t remember? Like writing in the journal?
That had to be it. I glanced at the clock: It was midnight. Noah would be on the plane. My whole family was home and in their rooms, if not asleep. I couldn’t vaporize the healthy normal teenager facade by waking them and losing it, so I drained the cup of water, gritted my teeth, and put the disc in my computer. I could not panic. Not yet.
I moved the mouse and hovered over the file icon hoping for a flash of recognition, but it was just a series of numbers—31281. I double clicked, and a DVD application opened up. I pressed play.
The screen was grainy and black, and then a flash of light illuminated—
“It’s supposed to be in here, come on,” said a voice from the computer.
Rachel’s voice. My mouth formed her name but no sound came out.
“We could be in the wrong section?” Claire’s voice, from behind the video camera. “I don’t know.”
I leaned in close to the screen, the air vanishing from my lungs as the asylum appeared. The paint on my bedroom walls began to peel, curl, and flake off around me like filthy snow. My bedroom walls seemed to melt and new ones, old ones, sprang up in their place. The ceiling above me cracked and the floor beneath my feet rotted away and I was in the asylum, right next to Rachel and Claire.
“What if there’s no chalk?” Claire asked. The light from her video camera swung wildly over the hallway. No focus. No direction.
Rachel smiled at Claire, and held something up in her glove. “I brought.”
Muffled footsteps kicked aside old insulation. Another light flashed—it was Rachel, taking a picture. My eyes brimmed with tears and I couldn’t look away.
“Wait—I think it’s this one.” Rachel smiled wide and a thousand needles pierced my chest. “This is so creepy.”
Oh God oh God oh God.
“I know.” Claire followed Rachel into the room, her light resting on an old, enormous chalkboard, covered in names and dates written by dozens of different hands.
“I told you,” Rachel said smugly. “Wait—where’s Mara? And Jude?”
The image on screen jostled. Claire must have shrugged.
I tried to scream but no sound came out.
“I should get her,” Rachel said, moving out of the frame.
I gagged. I gasped for air, pushed back the hair from my face, covered my mouth with my hands and kept trying to talk, to tell them, to warn them, to save them, but I was mute. Dumb. Silent.
“I’ll go—write my name, okay? Take the camera.”
Rachel winked. “You got it.”
I fell to my knees.
Then she took Claire’s video camera—I couldn’t see her anymore—and pointed it at the blackboard. Scanned all of the names. She began to whistle. Her breath was white steam.
The sound echoed off the cavernous walls and filled my ears and mind. I crouched on the floor and hugged my knees to my chest, unable to breathe or speak or scream. The scrape of the chalk on the filmy, worn blackboard mingled with Rachel’s whistle and my mind processed nothing else until footsteps approached. The shot swung back away from the board to face Claire.
“The lovebirds are enjoying some private time.”
“Really?” Rachel asked. The camera tilted away from Claire. More jostling and chaos, then it pointed at Rachel again. “Mara’s okay?”
“Bad girl,” Rachel said suggestively.
A laugh. Claire’s.
And then a crack, so loud I could feel it.
“What was—” A panicked whisper. Rachel’s.
There was a metallic groan. Then the ringing, successive slam of thousands of pounds of iron fitting into frames.
“Oh my—” Panting. Screaming.
Interference and dust clouded my vision and the hiss and rush of static filled my ears. White letters appeared in the darkness that arranged themselves into the words FILE CORRUPTED. Then silence. The image on the screen went black. The scene in my mind went dark.
But just when I thought the footage was over, I heard the soft lilt of laughter. Unmistakably mine.
I didn’t know how much time passed. All I knew was that when I screamed again, there was sound but it was muffled. I tried to force my eyes to see, but I was trapped in darkness; there was no floor beneath my feet, no ceiling above my head.
Because I was not in the asylum. I was not in my room at home.
I was bound and gagged and in the trunk of someone’s car.
I DON’T KNOW HOW I GOT THERE.
One second I was in my bedroom, watching footage from Claire’s camera, hearing myself laugh, struggling to stay grounded and not let the flashback wash me away. And the next, I was covered in shadow as rough fabric scraped against my cheek, as my lungs were stifled by heat.
But I did know this: Jude was the only person with any reason to want to hurt me, and he had tried before.