Chapter Fourteen: Emily
I wake up in a sitting position at the foot of my bed. Someone is bending over me.
The shadow jumps backwards and makes a run for open window.
Something hits it in the back causing it to cry out.
And then jump.
Throwing off my blankets I hurry to turn on the light, debilitating my vision for a moment.
Violet is the smart one, and is already staring down the window when I join her.
Staring down at nothing but darkness and wind whipping at the tree.
“Did you… see anything?” I whisper. “Or was it just me?”
“Something more than just a nightmare scaled that tree with my knife in its back,” she answers, her voice almost in awe as she stares down at the night below.
I shudder. Then turn to her. “Wait, you threw a knife into it?”
“Sleep with one under my pillow.”
A shudder racks my body for a whole other reason. I feel suddenly less safe for another reason. “With your condition?”
She finally turns from the scene to narrow her eyes at me.
An extended mental list of all the things I’ve survived:
(1) A mob of angry third-graders after a certain teacher’s unwise announcement;
(2) Being bumped up to fourth grade where all the kids were bigger than puny, supposed to be in third grade me;
(3) Junior high (just barely);
(4) My first crush (also just barely);
(5) Being mugged;
(6) A certain zombie movie I wish I never watched;
(7) A shipwreck;
(8) Almost drowning;
(9) A bear attack;
(10) A hurricane… okay, so it was just a tropical storm, but hurricane totally sounds cooler;
(11) Almost being crushed by a massive sign;
(12) Almost being run over by a manic driver (Everyone’s trying to make an Emily pancake out of me);
(13) An ambush of some sort;
(14) A poisoned dart attack;
(15) The man Despair and his rocks;
(16) The entity despair and its poison;
(17) High school (finally!);
(18) WHATEVER THAT WAS!
(19) My sleep-walking roommate sleeping with a knife under her pillow;
“Never mind. I’m going to call Christopher.” Even as I say those words, anger flows through me, pushing out that very thought. “Actually, no I’m not. I can take care of myself just fine without him controlling me.”
Violet blinks. “Emily, are you felling all right?”
“Now that I’m free from his tyranny-” I reach up and grab the window. “Yes, yes I am.” I slam it shut.
The controlling man is at his usual breakfast seat, so I abruptly turn around and look for a new table.
I finally find an empty one in the corner.
Though it’s not empty for long. The domineering one moves to take the chair across from me.
Sliding my chair back so fast it falls over, I stand up. “Do I need to get a restraining order on you?”
The male creature blinks at me in confusion. “Seriously, Emily? What’s going on?”
I turn to walk away. “It was probably you who broke into our room last night.”
I keep walking.
Until his hand grabs my arm and yanks me out of the bustling cafeteria and into an empty anteroom and closes the door behind us. “Emily, please, talk to me.”
Whirling around to face him, I slap him so hard my hand stings.
He stumbles backwards, startled. “Emily, what under heaven is making you act this way?”
“You shadow my every move. You don’t want me to seek counseling-”
“I do. Just from someone we can trust-”
“You broke into my room and Violet stabbed you in the back-”
“I did not!” His eyes flash, and his fingers move to the buttons on his shirt. “Though I am very interested in knowing who this creature was.” His hands deftly descend his buttons, undoing each one.
I step back. “Well, he’s tall and blonde that curls giving him a deceiving innocent appearance and eyes so blue they betray a false view of his very diluted soul-”
Suddenly, Christopher is shrugging off his shirt, and I shriek and jump back.
But he merely turns around. “Look at my back! Do you see any knife wounds?”
Startled, I do look. And see nothing but flawless back. I reach to touch it. His skin is completely unbroken.
This knocks the fight right out of me. “I-I-” I shake my head, a migraine starting in the base of my skull. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over.”
Christopher turns back around to face me and then gently touches my face. “Emily, someone is playing with our heads here.”
A bit of anger rekindles. “Not my therapist-”
He touches his forehead to mine. “Someone is. Not necessarily him. But someone.”
Then the door opens to the cafeteria.
“You just left me with Mr. and Mrs. Talks-A-Lot and Miss Stank Eye,” Violet is saying as she steps into the room. Then she takes one look at Christopher’s shirtless body before spinning back around. “Guess I’ll go stank eye right back and leave you two to it.”
“Violet,” Christopher calls, not taking his eyes away from me. “Tell the others we’re skipping class today. We’re going to investigate that break-in.”
I hug myself against the cold breeze that shakes the tree Christopher is inspecting.
“You say he slid down this tree?”
“Violet’s the one who saw it. But there was no other we he could have left.”
Christopher frowns and inspects the tree closer. Then he takes a vial out of his pocket and scoops something into it.
I frown. “Is that from my science class?”
“I grabbed it while you were finishing breakfast. Had a feeling we might be able to find some kind of DNA.” He holds the vial up to the light, revealing a drop of rust-colored red. “I’ll have to break into the science lab when the class is over.”
“Or I could just take it with me when I go to class tomorrow.”
He considers this for a moment before shrugging. “Or that. And when you do, I’m going to give you some other pieces of DNA to test. See if it’s one of my suspects.”
“You mean the kids who disappeared? Why are you so obsessed with them?”
“Another boy just vanished from his dorm today.” Christopher turns to me and gives me a hard look. “Maybe someone broke into his room in the middle of night too.”
I shudder. “Or maybe he just went home early.”
“Maybe. But probably not.” Carefully pocketing the vial, he wraps his arm around the tree.
“Christopher, you’re not going to climb that thing.”
“Sure I am.” Christopher grabs the lowest branch and pulls himself up. “I need to see if this is a viable way to get into your room.”
“You have a bum leg.”
“I need to check the weaknesses of your defenses-”
I grab onto his good leg and pull at it. “I’m going to take you through the door and you can inspect from up there.”
Christopher pauses for a moment. “And the receptionist?”
“Will be a lot easier to distract than you climbing this tree will be. Come on.”
“Are you sure you don’t see any red?” I ask as well as I can despite my mouth being wide open.
Instead of looking for strep throat, the receptionist is curled up as far away from me as possible. “I really can’t say; it all looks red to me. Maybe you should see the nurse or something.”
Christopher is somewhere behind the couches waiting for the way to be clear again, and I’m losing her.
“Can you show me on the map where she is?”
The receptionist looks heavenward. “Why aren’t you with her already if you got released from your classes for this?”
“Because I’m terrible at directions. Can you please show me?”
Groaning, the receptionist bends over to grab a portable map.
And Christopher escapes the rest of the way into the dormitory.
“Here,” the woman groans, pointing to a place on the map.
“Thanks!” I grab it from her and move to follow Christopher.
“Yes, but I need to grab something first.”
The woman’s groan follows me up to the first floor.
Then I come to where Christopher is inspecting my door.
“Doesn’t look like there’s been any interference,” he says.
“So they came in the same way they left?”
“Or they have a master key.” Christopher pushes himself up and I unlock the door.
Christopher walks inside and goes straight toward the window.
I close the door behind us and go to follow.
But then I see something under the bed.
Reaching after it, I pick up a piece of paper and unfold it to a message inked in pen:
If you leave, Christopher gets hurt.
Choking back a gasp, I crumple the paper in my palm and look up to see for myself that Christopher is still all right, trying to force open the window.
“It couldn’t have been opened from the outside,” he says. “Do you remember if it was already open when you went to bed?”
I can’t. “We’ll make sure to keep it closed in the future.”
Shaking his head, he turns to me. “This is getting too desperate. I think we need to leave.”
I shake my head back at him. “Just because Violet and I- two known somnambulists- thought we saw someone in our room? It was probably just each other. Again.”
Christopher frowns. “Emily, why are you trying to explain this away?”
“Because it’s silly.” And I’m scared and I need a moment to process what’s happening before I tell you in just a moment and-
I sit down on my bed.
And suddenly, a feeling of serenity and safety and security washes over me. My mind calms and relaxes and goes fuzzy.
This place is safe. More than that, it’s joy. “Christopher, I don’t want to leave. And I don’t want to get mad at you. It’s just…. Something I can’t explain.”
He frowns as he steps toward me. “Emily, you’re the first to sense every danger. Why is this any different?”
“Because it’s not danger. I know that, deep in my mind. And you can sense people.”
“Yes.” He stops at the edge of my bed and crosses his arms. “And the people here are raising quite a few flags. I don’t trust them.”
I cock my head at him. “Do you trust me?”
Something flashes in his eyes. Doubt. It stabs my heart.
But his words are, “Of course.”
“Then don’t try to leave.” I pat my bed next to me.
He sits down. “But-”
“No buts.” I wrap my arms around him and pull him down with me. “Just hold me.” I close my eyes and breathe in the breath of fresh air that is Christopher.
“I don’t feel safe with you sleeping here, though,” he says, his breath playing with my hair as he adjusts us into a more comfortable position, one arm wrapping around me.
“I have Violet.”
“And that person pranced in here anyway.”
“If they were even here.”
I snuggle deeper into him. “Fine. We’ll compromise. We won’t leave, and I won’t stay here alone. You can camp out here. You’re already here, and Violet won’t mind. At least not after seeing you shirtless.”
“I’m not taking my shirt off for her.”
“Of course not. Now just relax for a moment and hold me. And keep your shoes off my sheets.”
“I’m glad you decided to stay.”
I glance up at Dr. Earnestine. “You knew I wanted to leave?”
“Of course I did. I know everything.”
“Do you know who broke into my room last night?”
“No one. You are imagining things. You are safe.”
I frown. “But Christopher doesn’t think so.”
“Christopher is jealous. Overbearing. Domineering.”
My head tingles in pain, and I grasp my chair. “That isn’t true. I need him-”
“You are stronger without him. Safer without him. The Emily you are meant to be.”
“I love him.”
“Then you won’t leave. Because if you leave, you will kill him.”
I wake with a start, limbs flailing upwards.
Strong arms touch my forearms. “It’s okay, Emily. Just a dream.”
I turn to see Violet closing the dorm room behind her with one hand, the other holding fast food. “I didn’t realize you two ditched school to cuddle, or I would’ve knocked. Or not come at all.”
“You had to,” Christopher says, sitting up behind me. “You had the food.”
“Uh-huh.” Violet tosses me a bag before dropping down onto her bed with the remaining bag. “Okay, so, did you find anything during your little investigation?”
“Some blood,” Christopher answers, taking the burger I hand him. “And a really bad feeling about this place.”
Violet nods and takes a big bite of her sandwich before gesturing to Christopher to continue.
“And I’m staying the night.”
She keeps chewing, studying him all the while. When she swallows, she says, “Well, I’m not staying with any neighbors, so-”
“You’re staying, Violet,” I say, my face going beat red. “We’re all three sleeping here as a security defense. To protect ourselves from future intruders.”
Violet rolls her eyes, like she knew this all along and was just messing with me. “Or at least evidence that he was here, because when I reported the incident to the administration, they were having none of it.” She grabs a ‘chip’ from her bag. “Idiots.”
“Or perpetrators,” Christopher offers.
She waves a chip at him in agreement. “Especially that hot therapist.” She turns her chip to me. “He was asking after you today.”
I blink. “He was?”
“Told him you were making out with your boyfriend behind the hedges somewhere. Didn’t realize I was half right.”
Smacking my hand over my face, I fall backwards to my pillows. “There was no making out.”
“You two.” Shaking her head, Violet grabs another chip. “Well, I’m taking the first shower. Have fun pretending you’re a Hallmark movie while I’m gone.”
Despite her suggestion, Christopher stands up and goes to the window. Resting his arm against it, he stares out to the world that will very soon be getting very dark. “It’s time to face the Bogey man.”