The Seventh Series, 3
Somehow, my drawing had morphed into a picture of a flooding wave, crashing down across a town that looked unsettlingly like Etherall Valley. And I had no recollection of drawing it.
It’s been raining for weeks. The streets are under water and the dams about to burst.
For Mimi, each day is an eternity. With Drew away at an Astarion leadership course, she is stuck at school, missing him and longing for sunshine. When their guardian decides that the seven are in danger and assigns a couple of ‘bodyguards’ to watch their every move, Mimi wonders if things could possibly get worse.
They can: drawings Mimi can’t explain, and a sinister new ghost that seems oddly familiar. The enemy is building in strength and something bigger than them all is simmering, rising—pushing them toward an outcome over which they have no control.
Could it be that those flood prophecies were true all along?
14+ due to adult situations
After dinner, I went for my shower, trying to dispel thoughts of the strange drawing. I let the hot water run over my back and thought about how long it had been since I’d heard from Drew. It was a ridiculous rule of Martha Carrington’s, saying he couldn’t have his phone at all. I mean, why couldn’t the camp directors just keep the trainees’ phones locked up during skills sessions and let them have them back after the day’s activities had ended? Or at least let them write a letter home. I’d written him a letter every week, just as we arranged before he left. A pang hit me. Maybe he was allowed to write letters home, but he didn’t have the time. Or the motivation. Maybe there was a girl attending the camp—someone who’d been flirting with Drew, someone he was getting interested in as time wore on and he didn’t have any contact with me.
There may have been a few tears mixing with the hot water by now. I heaved a sigh and turned off the water, toweling off and pulling on my bathrobe. Back in my bedroom, I dumped my clothes and washbag and went to close the blinds, glancing out of the window as I did so—then practically jumped across the room when my gaze landed on a man’s face.
“Holy crap!” I flattened myself against the wall.
Was there actually a man outside my window? I clutched my bathrobe tighter around me and edged back across the room to check the darkness outside. Nothing.
I must have imagined him. Damn, I was so jumpy these days. I gave a shaky laugh and pulled the blinds closed. As I dragged my pajama top over my head, a thought occurred to me: maybe the face I saw wasn’t my imagination. Maybe it was a new ghost trying to come through. And I’d shut the blinds on him like I didn’t even care. I scrambled back over to the window and yanked the blinds back open.
There was someone there. He had his back to me now and was moving stealthily along the dormitory wall in the darkness, barely visible in the light from my bedroom window. He turned back and I saw his face. That was not a ghost.
Ponytail. The Astarion henchman from the orchard in Lydenburg.
He ducked and ran for the school gate.
I opened my mouth and screamed with all my might.
The Dorm Nanny, Mrs. Simkin, seemed doubtful that we’d had a prowler, but she called the police and school security anyway. The security guards did a patrol but found nothing suspicious. After a while, the police came. They agreed with Mrs. Simkin that if someone had been there, he was long gone now.
The cops suggested that one of the boys from the male dormitory might have even been playing a prank or trying to take a peep at the girls. I told them the intruder wasn’t a school student and gave them a solid description: at least twenty-five years old, long blond hair tied back, tanned skin, and the general appearance of a Nordic god. The cops exchanged a look like they figured I was just another deranged Chris Hemsworth fan, but Mona, Patience, and Cassie all backed me up, insisting there was no way I would have invented a prowler. The other girls in the dorm speculated about which Etherall Valley Prep boy was enough of a pervert to try for a glimpse of the girls around shower time.
Ms. Deering turned up after eleven and met with me in Mrs. Simkin’s office, much to our strict Nanny’s irritation. Ms. Deering closed the door with Mrs. Simkin on the other side and turned to me, her face tight with worry.
“Are you sure it was the man from the orchard, Mimi?”
“Absolutely one hundred percent sure,” I said. “There’s no way I could forget him. My shadow-things zapped him, remember? I was worried he was dead.”
“He’s clearly not.” Ms. Deering stared at the wall where Mrs. Simkin had a bunch of allergy details pinned up about various girls in the dorm. She wasn’t looking at the posters, though. “This is worse than anything we’ve dealt with before.”
That seemed a tad extreme. “He was just prowling,” I said. “And he ran off. We dealt with kidnap and attempted murder a couple of months ago, remember?”
“Yes, but this means they’re infiltrating our space,” she said. “I’ve always believed you kids were safe here—that EVP’s security and procedures would keep you safe. Now I feel like you’re in danger, even in the dormitories. I wish I could come and stay here, too, just so I’m around if anything happens.”
“But you can’t?” I said.
“It would look too strange,” she told me. “The other staff already mutter about the gifted program—about the fact that I can pull you out of other classes whenever I like, and that sort of thing. If I tried to muscle-in on the Dorm Nanny’s gig, there would be a lot of complaints.”
“There’s a Duty Teacher here for a few hours every afternoon,” I said. “To make sure we do our homework and stuff. Could you do that job?”
“There are two staff sharing that job already and they don’t want to change their shifts or lose the overtime pay—I’ve already asked. And it doesn’t solve the problem of keeping you safe overnight when you’ve only got Mrs. Simkin here. She’s pretty stern, but I don’t think she’d be able to protect you against an Astarion attack.” Ms. Deering stared unseeingly at the posters for a bit longer, then brought her bright blue eyes to me. “Are you okay, Mimi?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. He just gave me a fright, that ponytail guy.”
“And the drawing you did?”
I shrugged. “It was pretty weird. Maybe I’m getting subconsciously fixated on the flood idea, with all the rain—and with Mona in my ear.”
She nodded. “Oh, yes. Mona. Look, I’d better go before Mrs. Simkin gets too annoyed with me, but I’ll make sure the security guards do a few extra patrols overnight. And I’ll work out a solution to make sure you’re all protected whenever you’re in the dormitories from now on, I promise.”
Ms. Deering bade me goodbye and, since it was way past lights-out, Mrs. Simkin sent me straight to bed. Before I turned out the light, I grabbed my phone and sent a message to Drew to tell him about Ponytail. Maybe he would see it, somehow.
Part of me hoped that if Drew saw it, he’d be concerned enough to insist on coming home.
I didn’t sleep well at all, and Dot was restless through the night as well, so I felt a bit blah for school in the morning. It looked like Patience, Cassie, and Mona had similar nights, if the shadows under their eyes were anything to go by. We ate a quiet breakfast together while the other girls excitedly discussed the night-time prowler over their cereal.
It was strange that I’d imagined a ghost trying to come through to me the previous night, because this morning there really was one. I could see a slender figure—young, male—with darkened eyes. He stood in the distance when we trudged through the rain to school.
“Do you see someone over there, across the highway?” I asked Mona, immediately suspecting this was no regular teenager.
She squinted. “No.”
“Looks like another companion,” I muttered. “What do you reckon, Dot?”
She was trailing a way behind us, but I heard her voice in my ear. “Undoubtedly, dear.”
Mona demanded a description and scribbled it down in her ubiquitous notebook as we walked.
“I’m happy to speak to you,” I said softly, my eyes on the pale figure. “Whenever you’re ready.”
He nodded but came no closer.
Ms. Deering called us for a special gifted class meeting as soon as Homeroom was over. She was sitting on news; we could all see it. But she was still a teacher, so she marked attendance and collected our homework recounts, then waited while we got settled and Gabe exchanged friendly insults with Cassie. Ms. Deering smoothed her honey-colored hair behind an ear and sighed audibly to show her impatience.
An idea struck me. Is her news about Drew? Could he finally be coming home? Hope shot up inside me like the vinegar and baking soda rocket we’d made in science class that week, and the surge of feelings was enough to attract Gabe’s attention. He finally shut his mouth so Ms. Deering could talk.
“I have something to tell you,” she said, looking around at all of our faces. “Mr. Boxe and I spoke for some time on the phone last night. He agrees with me that you six are vulnerable to a rogue Astarion attack, and it would be wise to keep you under supervision at all times. I’m here to look after you during school hours, but we need to keep an eye on you after school as well, so we’ve decided to add another layer of security. There are a couple of capable young people—Mr. Boxe’s contacts—who can pass for students, and we’ll engineer their enrolment so they can stay in the dorms and defend you during the night if necessary.”
There was a general exchanging of dubious glances.
“Yeah, because planting Mr. Boxe’s Astarion contacts at school worked out great before, with Tyler and Axel,” Mona said.
“I’m fully aware that we had problems with both of those boys,” Ms. Deering said. “But remember—that was when Mr. Boxe didn’t know that Dr. Mayer had gone rogue, and it was Mayer who selected both of those boys. Things are different now. Mr. Boxe believes the rogue element has been mostly flushed out, and Martha Carrington has helped him select a couple of highly trustworthy individuals.”
Mona mumbled something, but Gabe voiced our concerns openly. “How can we trust anyone after what’s happened?” he said. “To be honest, you’re the only one I feel like we can really rely on, Ms. D. I’m not even sure about Mr. Boxe anymore.”
Ms. Deering frowned. “Mr. Boxe is on our side. He’s been completely open with me for months now. He has your best interests at heart.”
“What about Mayor Carrington, then?” asked Mona. “We don’t know much about her and yet you happily let Drew go off with her for his leadership course.”
“Actually, I wasn’t happy about it,” Ms. Deering answered, to my surprise. “Drew’s parents were very enthusiastic about him attending the mayor’s camp, Drew himself seemed keen, and Mr. Boxe has faith in Martha, so I consented. But I asked for weekly updates, so Drew sends me a photograph and a message each Sunday.”
I was hit with a massive pang of jealousy. Ms. Deering got weekly photos and messages from Drew? No fair. I was his girlfriend, for pity’s sake, and I got nothing!
“I thought Drew wasn’t allowed to have his phone at this training,” I said, trying to keep the whine out of my voice.
“He isn’t,” she told me. “He uses a trainer’s phone to send me the messages.”
“Have you even met Mayor Carrington?” Mona asked her.
“No,” Ms. Deering admitted. “I’ve spoken to her on the phone a few times. She seems genuinely devastated that her brother tried to hurt you. She told me she feels a duty to protect you, now that she knows the truth about Henry Mayer. Drew seems to like her, and Mr. Boxe has complete confidence in his cousin.” She sighed. “I’d like to be in two places at once—there with Drew as well as here with you lot—but I had to make a decision. At least, with these two Astarions coming in as boarding students, we’ll have some extra eyes on you.”
Patience was shaking her fair head. “I don’t want Astarions keeping watch over us, Ms. Deering. They might be spies.”
“Mr. Boxe and Martha Carrington are convinced these two can be trusted.” Ms. Deering looked down at her hands. “Kids, I can’t do it alone. I simply can’t be there with and for all of you, every hour of the day. I need help.”
We couldn’t exactly argue with that, but it was plain to me that none of us felt particularly cool about it. Part of me was worried and another part of me was wondering how stalky it would sound if I asked Ms. Deering to show me the photos and messages she’d received from Drew.
Ms. Deering squared her shoulders. “I’m sure you’d like to meet your new dorm-fellows. Why don’t I call them in?”