Afterlife Page 83

I should put a sheet over my head, I thought. Start going “Boo!” eve.ry time I see someone. I could haunt the girl’s dorm, or the great hall — And then it hit me. If our plan worked the way we wanted it to, this was the last night I would ever spend at Evernight Academy.E Despite every terrible thing that had happened here, I realized, I loved so much about this place. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like never to be here again. This school had become a part of me — literally, now that I was a wraith. I had bonded to the very stones of this place. Even when I left forever, part of Evernight would always be able to draw me back.

So I went to all the places I remembered, hearing words spoken long ago, seeing everyone as we had been then. Raquel, on her first day here, scowling in the back of the great hall while Mrs. Bethany gave the welcoming speech. Balthazar, learning how to take pictures with a cell phone in Modern Technology class. Vic and Ranulf, stargazing with me out on the grounds. Patrice, braiding my hair for my first — ever date. Courtney, gossiping in the stairwell. Mom and Dad, smiling at me as we passed each other in the hallways between classes. And everywhere, Lucas: whispering to me in the library, running to rescue me after the fire last year, kissing me for the first time at the gazebo.

But thinking of Lucas reminded me of the dilemma before him.

How can I ask him to face immortality, when it’s the last thing he ever wanted?

I decided that I needed to be solid for a while. Often it made me feel steadier about things, and there was just something comforting about being able to hug yourself. So I drifted up to the records room and began to take shape.

By that time of night, everyone else was in bed, so the records room was deserted.The traps had all been moved to the lower levels of the school, hidden in trunks; the room was just our hangout once more. Patrice’s German textbooks lay in the center of the beanbag chair, and Vic had left behind one of his hula — girl ties. Smiling slightly, I removed the brick in the wall where we’d hidden my coral bracelet — And a sick, horrible tidal pull seized me.

A trap! I tried to claw at the windowsill, the stones of the wall, anything, but I couldn’t solidify my hands. My bracelet had been taken out of its 21J cubbyhole, leaving the greenish copper trap in its place; my jet brooch was with Lucas, sound asleep, far away. I tried thinking of him as my anchor — of any of the other places I could go — but it was too late. The trap was too close, and I’d practically put my hand right into it. As I began slipping toward the shimmering sinkhole, I tried one last time to call out to Lucas — but I could only just manage to think his name before everything went black.

It was like sinking into hot tar. I couldn’t materialize, couldn’t dematerialize. I had no sense of the world around me, or whether I was anyplace in either the mortal or ghostly worlds. After I’d died, there had been a moment like this — and again when I had first traveled to the land of lost things but those terrible, depthless voids had lasted for only a second. This stretched on, and on, and on. A suffocation of the soul, made more horrible by fear.

No wonder they go crazy, I thought wildly, recalling the many shrieking spirits I’d sensed within Evernight’s traps. It’s going to drive me crazy, too, any second, and I’ve only been in here a few minutes — or has it been longer? Would I even know?Is this eternity? Is this the death beyond death?

Make it stop, Samuel had said. Make it stop. The ghost within him — the one that had been trapped like this — had lost the ability to think anything else. I would, too. Already I felt myself boiling down to the desperate instinct to escape, nothing more.

Then, in that formless void, a soft rectangle of light opened. I rushed toward it, not caring what it was or what it meant: It was something, in a world of nothing, and that was reason enough.

Then, in the frame of the rectangle, far bigger than life, I saw Mrs. Bethany.

“Miss Olivier.” She smiled as placidly as ever, but there was no mistaking the avid light in her eyes. “At last. I’ve been waiting for you.”

Chapter Twenty — one

I COULDN’T LASH OUT; I COULDN’T ESCAPE. ALL I could do was stare up at Mrs. Bethany — at this moment, quite literally the only thing in my world.

“I had thought Mr. Ross would be the one to bring you to me,” she said. “But he was more devoted to you than I’d imagined. Then I finally found your little trinket in the records room — after weeks of searching — and realized how simple it would be to replace it with a trap and claim you for myself.”

She had always known about our visits to the records room. She had always known about me. “How did you know I was here at the school?”

Mrs. Bethany tilted her head, as though she felt sorry for me. “Based on your past behavior, it was natural to assume that where Mr. Ross was, you would be also.”

I hated her so much at that moment, I was surprised the trap didn’t shatter. My anger was hot enough to melt metal. to break stone. “I’m the reason you gave my parents jobs here in the first place, aren’t I? You set us up from the beginning.”

“I gave you every chance, you know.” She sounded calm. Satisfied. “If I enjoyed victimizing the helpless. I’d hardly have founded a school such as Evernight. Furthermore, I quite liked your parents; they’re fine teachers. So I felt bound in honor to explore every other possibility. I changed the admissions policy in order to bring in students attached to other wraiths, irn case one of those spirits might work equally well. Whenever you deviated from the path your parents had in mind for you, I urged you back onto that path. This summer, I told you that throwing away your chances for the sake of love wasn’t worthwhile. But you would never Listen. You ran headlong toward your ultimate destiny. And now I am free to act as I see fit.”

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