The Calling Page 58

I surfaced from the cat’s memories. He was still on the windowsill, hissing.

“It’s okay,” I said. “Everything’s okay.”

Before I could try to calm him, he sprang. I leaped out of the way. He tore off down the stairs. I got to the kitchen just in time to see a cat door swinging closed behind him. I ran to the door and yanked it open. An orange blur flew into the underbrush and was gone.

I stood there, heart racing as I stared after the cat. I could still feel his terror. When it finally subsided, I stepped back inside, closed the door, and leaned against it.

They were gone. The Morrises had evacuated and hadn’t come back. Hayley’s cat must have been outside at the time and they couldn’t find him. No one had been home since.

Okay, so the families who had lost kids hadn’t returned after the evacuation. I guess that made sense. It had only been three days. There would be funerals to plan.

Funerals to plan. Oh God, my parents. Had they already held the service? Picked out a tombstone to mark an empty grave?

I couldn’t think about that. They’d know the truth soon enough. We just needed to speak to someone who had come back.

I ran back to Corey’s.

“They’re gone, aren’t they?” Sam said as I came in. She was standing by the front window with Corey. Daniel had met me at the door and ushered me inside.

I nodded. “It doesn’t look as if they’ve been back since the fire. I guess they’re staying somewhere else for a while.”

“I don’t think it’s for a while,” Sam said. “We just saw two moving trucks.”

The trucks—one behind the other—had driven along the street past the end of the court. Corey, Daniel, and I went out to check the other houses in the court. I looked in on Kenjii first, but left her in the garage for now. We jogged over to the Morrises’ house, then through the woods to another court behind it. The Hajeks’ house was there. All the windows were dark. We cut across the backyard to the deck and peered through the patio doors.

As still and silent as the Morrises’ house. There was no need for a key here—they’d left the patio doors unlocked.

We stepped into the kitchen. A hush fell around us and we found ourselves creeping forward, as if one squeaky shoe might disturb resting spirits. That’s what it felt like, too. Stepping into a mausoleum. Dust motes floated past. The stillness enveloped us as we walked into the living room. We stopped and stared.

Every piece of furniture was gone, only bright, clean squares on the carpet where they’d been, like a blueprint for an unfinished room. We backed into the kitchen and went through to the dining room. Empty. Bare wires hung from the ceiling, where a chandelier had been.

“Okay,” Corey whispered. “I’m officiallycreeped out.”

Daniel and I didn’t say a word. As if by mutual agreement, we all went outside and crossed to the next house. The Tafts were an older couple whose kids went off to college years ago. I only saw them at town parties, where they always brought homemade fudge. They gave out caramel apples for Halloween, and Serena and I used to sneak back for seconds, as if they wouldn’t recognize us. They never said anything, though, just played along and gave us another. Sometimes two.

The Tafts worked at the lab. Both of them. That meant they must have worked on the experiment. But I couldn’t reconcile that with the nice couple who made fudge and gave out caramel apples.

There was no car in the drive. No lights on in the house. That same hush seemed to seep from the very walls as we snuck up to the glass French doors. We peered into the living room. Empty.

Corey was flying off the porch before we knew it. We went after him, and caught up as he stepped from the forest onto the north end of the road that turned into Main Street.

Daniel grabbed his arm, but Corey shook him off, hissing, “There’s no one here.”

“But there might be—”

Corey spun on him. “There’s no one here. Don’t you get it? No one is here.”

When Daniel tried to take his arm again, Corey shoved him, hard, and strode to the top of Main Street. We joined him and the three of us stood there, looking down the road.

It was completely empty. Not a car, not a person, not even a bird perched on the wires.

Not just empty. Desolate.

The wind whistled down the street, making the awnings over the shops flap and groan. A paper whipped against my feet and I grabbed it. A spelling test from one of the primary students, big block printing and bright happy-face stars. I looked at the name. Stacey. One of the grade two students. I’d coached her in track last year.

“Everyone’s gone,” Corey whispered. “They just … left.”

A sudden snarl made us jump. A dog tumbled out from between two buildings. Another leaped on it, snapping and snarling. Wild dogs. They’d always been in the woods—dogs gone feral—but Dad kept them out of the park and the town. More dangerous than a bear or a cougar, he said, because they weren’t wary of humans.

The dogs stopped fighting and plunged back into the alley. They came out again, growling. One had something in its mouth and the other was trying to snatch it away. Something with long white fur.

There were no animals here with long white fur. No wild ones, that is.

Oh God.

I thought of the Moores’ Pomeranian. Merrie Grant’s white angora rabbit. Mrs. Tillson’s Persian cat. I stared at the shapeless piece of white fur being pulled between the dogs. Bloody white fur.

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