Chapter 1: where it all starts
Not for the last time, I checked and re-checked the text I had received the previous day on my phone. I thought the message was really strange, especially because the person who sent it was someone I really hadn’t talked to, or even thought about, for a few months. You often forget people you dislike, I suppose, when you’re not around them for months at a time.
Sent from Noah Miller, it read: I need your help. I was barely conscious of my fingers as they typed out a speedy reply. You need help from me? Barely two minutes had passed when I got another message. A little late there aren’t you?
I rolled my eyes. Does it really matter?
A bubble appeared and I impatiently waited for a reply. Meet me @ Flores’s Book Shop tomorrow at noon. We’ll discuss it there.
I drummed my fingers against my desk anxiously as I debated on whether or not I should go.
For one, Noah was really not a good kid. He was always getting into trouble when we were younger and my mom had always warned me against hanging around him if I could avoid it.
Secondly, I’d known him for as long as I could remember and we had never gotten along- and not without reason either. I would even go as far as to say that we bordered on hating each other.
But, as much as I tried to convince myself not to go, I couldn’t shake off the slight inclination I had to see what this was all about.
Lately- and by lately I mean since Tuesday when classes had started-things had been feeling a little peculiar on our college campus. It was hard to ignore the fact that weird things had been happening since before the new term had started too, before summer even. If I had to trace when I noticed things weren’t normal back to a specific moment in time, I would say it began over the winter holidays during a silly game. And I’d had no idea that it would have led to this.
Kade, my roommate, had suggested playing a game with some of the other students. That included Clementine and Mateo, my closest friends, who had stayed for the holidays.
Her shrill voice rang out among us and I refrained from making a face at the annoying sound. “It’s simple, really. The objective of the game is to retrieve a valuable object from one of the other dorms and not get caught. Everyone will take turns taking a slip of paper out of this bag and going to that specific residence hall for the game. Well, everyone except for me, that is, since I’ll be judging,” she said, flipping her long blond hair over her shoulder. “Since there are ten people playing in total, not including myself, a few will end up taking things from the same dorm because there are only six residence halls.”
Lyel, a very nice individual, passed me the bag and I pulled out a folded piece of loose-leaf paper that read “Reichenwood.”
I cursed under my breath. This crazy gringa is gonna end up killing me, I thought.
Of course it would be me that had the task of breaking and entering into the most haunted building on campus.
Lyel saw what was written on my paper and looked up at me. Their pretty blue eyes looking into my brown ones held an ocean of sympathy for me. Obviously, from the expression they were wearing so bluntly on their face, they could tell what a struggle it would be to break into Reichenwood and escape unscathed.
“Perdon- sorry,” I corrected myself, clearing my throat. “Kade, what if you don’t want to go to the dorm you got?”
She looked at me with her brows scrunched up. “What? What did you say? Sorry, it’s hard to understand you sometimes because of your accent.”
Clem and Mateo sent me a look at her words as if apologizing for her ignorance and I fought the urge to roll my eyes and growl at Kade. Instead, I repeated myself slowly. “What. If. You. Don’t. Want. To. Go. To. The. Dorm. You. Got?”
“Well, Cressentay,” she said, pronouncing my name wrong as usual. “You’ll just have to suck it up, won’t you?”
I sighed and got up, rolling my eyes. “It’s pronounced Cres-en-te,” I muttered as I took a few shaky steps towards the double doors and tried not to let my panic show as I opened them.
It would be unwise, suicidal even, to barge into Reichenwood without a well thought-out plan. Taking a deep breath, I steeled myself and walked outside into the chilly Los Angeles winter air.
“What did you guys get?” I called out to Clementine and Mateo, whom I spotted only a few feet ahead of me.
Unanimously they said,“Halloway Hall.”
“Wait- both of you?” I asked, astounded- and a little indignant.
They nodded. “Unbelievable,” I murmured, more to myself than to them. “Well good luck I guess.”
Mateo looked between me and Clem and said, “May the best one win,” before running off in the opposite direction with Clem right on his tracks. I turned and walked the other way.
Peeking around the corner of the building, I saw four beefy security guards standing outside the entrance of the hall.
Ugh, are you kidding me? I rolled my eyes.
On tonight of all nights, they had doubled security on campus because they were installing new exhibits around the school and couldn’t afford for something bad to happen to them.
I edged along the back of the building and crouched behind the bushes separating my residence hall from Reichenwood, trying to figure out the best course of action.
Going through the back door sounded seriously sketchy but it seemed like the best option, so I snuck along the grass to the other building.
I was halfway there when I felt my phone start vibrating in my pocket. Now this? Really? I thought as I looked at the screen, wondering who could possibly be calling me right at this very second.
It was my mom.
God, could this day get any weirder? I asked myself as I sent her a quick text saying that I couldn’t talk and resumed my trek to the back door.
Finally, I laid my hand on the cold handle and it opened with a cringe. Immediately I felt the AC pelt my face and I shivered in my sweater, feeling goose bumps sprout along my arms and legs.
The last time I had been in this building was during orientation when we were first applying for dorms and roommates. Even then, in the heat and light of a nice summer afternoon, I had felt cold and creeped out by the presence of the building itself. All throughout the tour I noticed the eerie noise the floorboards made when you stepped on them and the way the blowing wind sounded like faint whispers.
Reichenwood was notorious for creaking floorboards when no one was walking on them and ridiculously cold breezes in the middle of May. I had heard rumors, claro, but I had never really let myself believe them. Needless to say, once the tour was over, I was thoroughly convinced that everyone who had warned me had been telling the truth.
Through the hallway leading into the lobby from the back door, I noticed a map of the entire building and quickly snapped a few pictures with my phone. A sudden banging noise from down below me made me drop it soon after and I bent down to pick it up, all too familiar with the fact that the situation I was in sounded an awful lot like the beginning of a scary movie.
Making my way to the stairs, I hoped against all hope that I wouldn’t run into anyone that could get me in trouble for what I was doing. As I reached the basement, I let out a long breath that I hadn’t realized I was holding. “Gracias a dios,” I whispered.
To my amazement, it was literally teeming with unwanted trophies and plaques I could easily take for the game. My hand reached out for a small, rectangular plaque that could easily fit inside the back pocket of my jeans, but something caught my attention before I could put it safely away.
A low grumbling was coming from somewhere in the dimly lit hallway to the left of me.
It would have been a really good idea to haul ass back to my own residence hall right then and there, but I refrained from doing so and instead drifted closer to the sound.
A bang much like the one from before sounded from a room further down and I willed myself forward. I was only a few steps from the door when a chilling voice behind me called out and caused me to drop the plaque with a startled gasp.
I spun around and came face to face with a tall, muscular guy. As he stepped out from the shadows I instantly recognized his brown hair and hazel eyes.
It was none other than Noah Miller, resident asshole extraordinaire. Mierda.
He scowled. “What in the world are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same question!” I retorted.
“If you haven’t noticed, Crescente, I live here,” he said. “And you clearly do not. So what are you doing in here at nearly three in the morning?”
“It’s not really any of your business, Noah.”
“Well this is my- did you hear that?” he asked, startled. The low grumbling noise had started up again. “You need to go. Now.”
The look on his face was enough to almost persuade me to leave. Almost. “Excuse me?”
“Now! Really Crescente, you do not want to argue with me about this. It’s not safe,” he said seriously, his eyebrows knitting together.
“¿Por que?” I asked, kneeling down to pick up the plaque once more. As I brought it up to my face I could see that the name engraved on the wood was nearly illegible and I slid it into my back pocket. “Why is it not safe?”
“It’s better if you don’t know,” he said. “Now get out, before I call security on you.”
With one last eye roll, I hastily made my way back up the stairs and out the way I had gone in. I turned around just long enough to catch a glimpse of Noah as he pulled out a small flashlight and walked towards the source of the noise.
Ten minutes later I was back in the lobby of my own hall with six other kids, waiting for the rest to come back. I ended up not even winning the game, which was pretty awful because of all the trouble I had gone through to get that stupid piece of wood.
The only people I mentioned my strange encounter with Noah to were Clem and Mat and they didn’t spend too much time wondering about the strangeness of the situation before telling me to just forget it ever happened.
Yet there was something about that noise that wouldn’t stop bothering me for a long time. It had almost sounded like a voice, deep and guttural, whispering to anyone who dared to listen. I couldn’t get it out of my mind and I had no one to talk to about it either. The only other person who I knew to have heard it was Noah, and we weren’t friends or anything of the sort, so I couldn’t talk to him about it either.
The days went on and I became increasingly more and more disinterested.
Finally, I realized I couldn’t do anything about the situation, and since summer was only a few months away, and I had enough on my mind to worry about with exams and papers, that eventually I just put the whole thing behind me.
I didn’t forget it, but I didn’t really have a reason to keep thinking about it.
I didn’t have a reason, that is, until now.