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First pages

1

The man had been watching Evelyn Cheng since he got on the train at the Prince Street stop. Evelyn thought he was homeless when he staggered onto the subway car, looking over his shoulder as if the devil himself were after him. He was old — like her dad’s age — and wearing a tan trench coat with a ripped pocket that flapped like a dog’s tongue and badly scuffed Chuck Taylor’s. He grabbed the overhead bar and lowered himself into a seat, wincing. When the train started again, he fished out a pack of crumpled cigarettes and put one in his mouth.

“Oh no, you can’t smoke that in here. Uh-uh, no way,” a nurse in blue scrubs said with the provoked air of a lifetime New Yorker.

The man opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, and slid the cigarette back in his pack — and that was when Evelyn broke the first rule of subway etiquette. Instead of ignoring him the way you’re supposed to, she watched the man open his coat and saw the dark patch of blood soaking through his shirt.

She glanced away, but it was too late. He’d caught her looking. He stared back with intense gray eyes that made Evelyn feel like she was being pinned to a dissection board. Wrinkles furrowed his forehead, giving him an apprehensive air. His spiky hair was more gray than blond, yet youth lingered in his features.

Evelyn broke contact, digging in her Strand tote for her purple Skullcandy headphones. This guy was definitely crazy; what else could explain the blood on his shirt? She found the headphones, and the screech of the N train was replaced by the frantic beat of Bauhaus’s “Dark Entries,” the latest musical salvo from her boss Lou.

The man watched her all the way to the next stop. When the car filled with passengers at Canal Street, she still felt his eyes probing her, though she was doing her best to ignore him and the other late-night riders.

Evelyn looked out the window at the tunnel rushing past. She caught quick glimpses of herself in the reflection, dressed in all black except for the red fingerless gloves she wore. Her inky-black hair was dyed purple at the tips. A silver chain ending in a skeleton key dangled around her neck. Thick mascara made her oval eyes appear darker than they were. It was easy to see herself as her parents did: disobedient and rebellious, with little regard for their ways. The last three years had been one pitched battle after another between her and her mother. The battlefield encompassed everything from her appearance to what she would study in college. Her parents had planned out her life from the cradle to the grave, but that plan had gone off the rails when Evelyn reached high school — where she didn’t fit in. The girl who never talked back to her parents mutinied against the life they envisioned for her. Her first rebellious act was shaving her head. That was the opening volley in a war that waged through her high school years. The latest battlefront was what she would major in at Columbia University when she started in the fall. Her parents wanted her to be a doctor; everything else was second-rate. They had already started telling their friends she was going to be a cardiologist. Evelyn wasn’t so sure, but it was hard to argue with her father when he said that he hadn’t worked 14 hours a day at the deli they owned so she could waste her life on something that wouldn’t make money.

While Evelyn was thinking about this and trying to ignore the creepy guy watching her, the lights on the train flickered; subtly at first, the way a bug zapper does when a mosquito flies into it, and then more rapidly in a crazy Morse code. The lights dimmed and the train slowed. She turned off her iPhone, and the conversations in the subway car filled her ears.

“…heading out to the Catskills this weekend …”

“…you think he really likes me …”

“…I stopped watching after season one …”

“…train stopping. Great, just what I need on Friday night …”

The train ground to a halt with a mechanical screech. Outside the windows, Evelyn saw grimy subway walls. A voice came over the scratchy speakers, “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience. We are being momentarily delayed due to train traffic ahead.”

Of course this would happen when she was stuck in a car with a leering weirdo — that was Law 2 of the subway. As she started pulling off her headphones, the lights flickered and the usual loud hum of the car’s electric engine died. Then the passengers found themselves blanketed in darkness.

A howl of protest went up from the car. “You gotta be frickin’ kiddin’,” someone cried. The person next to her jostled Evelyn. “Sorry,” a gravelly-voice muttered. The darkness was disorienting. A cell-phone blinked into existence, followed by other phones, tablets and e-readers. The car filled with the glow of a dozen screens.

In the dim light, Evelyn couldn’t help but glance at el creepo in the trench coat. He was looking out the subway window as if expecting late dinner party guests. He coughed and stood up, grabbing the bar for support. She wondered where he found the strength since he looked like he could fall over at any second.

The man turned to her and said in a soft Southern drawl. “Get away from the doors. They’re coming.”

“Um, yeah, sure, whatever,” Evelyn said, backing away in the car’s eerie glow.

“Be quiet or they’ll see you,” the man warned.

“See me — yep, that’s what they’ll do,” Evelyn said, stepping into the person behind her. “Watch it,” a woman in a rumpled business suit and white sneakers complained.

“You have no idea what they’re capable of,” the man in the trench coat coughed. “They’ll bind us, leech us dry.”

The man touched her arm and Evelyn jerked away. “Paws off, creep,” she said.

“Stay close, that’s the only way I can —.”

“She don’t have to do nothin’, buddy,” an off-duty security guard said, stepping between them. He loomed over the man in the trench coat. “Now why don’t you take whatever meds you’re on and buzz off, ’cause whatever you’re sellin’, she ain’t buyin’.”

“I’m not trying —,” the man started.

“Oh, I know exactly what you’re tryin’ to do,” the security guard responded.

Conversations fell silent. Entertainment had been provided for the riders — yet another law of the subway. El creepo in the trench coat continued his strange rant. “I didn’t believe it at first either,” he said. “I wish I had, it might have saved the people I loved.”

“Next he’ll be tellin’ us he sees flying monkeys,” the security guard cracked, and a couple of passengers tittered.

Something slammed against the subway car with the sound of a fist drumming steel.

“Tried to warn you,” the man in the trench coat mumbled, holding his side as if he were going to collapse.

Evelyn spun around to look at the closed subway doors, the hackles on her skin rising. Things moved in the tunnel, creatures that buzzed and were made of shadows. The Scream, Evelyn thought, her mind slipping towards madness. They look like the guy in the Scream painting. The beings wore tuxedos and ball gowns and crept along the outside of the train. They cast a sickly yellow light over the car’s interior.

“Get away from the doors,” the man in the trench coat whispered anxiously. “Don’t look them in the eyes, don’t —.”

The doors on the opposite side of the car swished open, and the first creature entered. He wore a pinstripe suit, white dress shirt and red tie. A silk handkerchief was folded to a point in his jacket pocket. The creature tilted its head and sniffed. Behind him, others clambered into the car.

The rest of the doors whooshed open and the beings filed in. Screens blinked off, and the unhealthy yellow light was the only illumination.

The creature in the pinstripe suit spoke in an ancient voice. “Redmond, I know you’re here. You’ve interfered for the last time.” The creature gargled the last word.

I’m going mad, Evelyn thought, looking for help. The other passengers stared slack-jawed with blank eyes. They were frozen, some with arms in mid-air, others clutching the dead screens of their electronic devices. A woman held an open bottle of aspirin, pills dumped into her hand and onto the dirty floor. Teenage lovers were stuck in an endless kiss. The security guard who came to her rescue had a perplexed expression petrified onto his features.

The man in the trench coat drew close enough that she smelled the aromatic spice of his aftershave as the strange beings walked the car, stooping to examine the passengers, once, twice, reaching out and feeling the jawlines of people in the car. Evelyn’s heart thudded so loudly that she was sure everyone could hear. The man in the pinstripe suit sniffed along the car.

“You’ve set us back, Redmond. No small feat. It’ll take weeks to repair the damage you’ve done. You and Keval will pay with the blood of the innocent. We’ll hunt you down like a dog and when we kill you, no one will mourn your loss,” the creature said, looking right and left. He was feet from them now, his face pulsating.

The man in the trench coat, Redmond, gripped her arm, his fingers digging into her flesh. His face was ashen and sweat beaded on his upper lip. He’s doing something to keep these things from seeing us, Evelyn thought.

Lights sprang on flooding the subway car. Evelyn would have jumped but Redmond held her arm in an iron lock. The train’s electric motors whirred and the air conditioning system whooshed to life. Phone screens blinked back into existence. The creature in the pinstripe suit gave a frustrated growl.

“Go now,” he said, to the others of his kind. The beings stepped down from the subway car to the tracks and began retreating. “The streets aren’t safe for you. This city is ours.”

With that, the creature in the pinstripe suit left. Evelyn and Redmond stood as still as statues until the doors to the subway car slid shut.

“What — who was that?” Evelyn asked, throat parched. She felt as if she could gulp a dozen bottles of Evian.

“Paddock,” Redmond said, his grip relaxing on her bicep. “Those things are Elyuum.”

The train started around them. People sprang back to life. The woman pouring aspirin into her hand dropped the bottle, and it skittered across the floor. The teen lovers sheepishly broke their embrace. Conversations resumed and music blared from headphones again.

“Forget about them,” Redmond continued. “Believe me, it’s better that way.”

How could I ever forget this? Evelyn wondered, thinking of Paddock and the others. What were Elyuum? Why were they after him?

“You can see them. Only a few of us are capable of that,” Redmond said. “But they can also see you. Stay away from the Upper East and Upper West sides. That’s where they live. They’re all over Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg too.”

The train set off for the next station. The conductor made an announcement over the PA system. “Sorry about the delay, folks. City Hall station is coming up next.”

Evelyn’s mind raced with everything that had happened. “You — you said that they wouldn’t just kill us, but that they would leech us dry?”

“That’s what they do to people like us. We’re rocket fuel to them,” Redmond said, staring out at the gloomy subway tunnel. “Look, you don’t want to know any more.”

“What if I can’t forget what I’ve seen?” she asked.

Redmond glanced away from her. “Then God help you. Because once you’ve seen Elyuum, you’ll begin to see the other things living hidden in the shadows of the city.”

The security guard unfroze. A dazed look was in his eyes as if shaking off sleep. “Un-frickenbelievable. That’s it, ace — no more mister nice guy.” Before Evelyn could stop him, the guard punched Redmond, knocking him into the subway doors as the train pulled into the station. “Get off, hoss, before I really get started,” he threatened.

Redmond wiped the blood from his nose, casting one last look at Evelyn. The doors opened and people poured out onto the platform. He exited with the traffic.

“Wait!” Evelyn said, propping her foot in the door to hold them open. “What if I can’t stop seeing them?”

The man in the trench coat gave a weary sigh, “The Dirty Magician on Avenue D. That’s where I work.” He headed towards the exit.

“One more thing,” she said. “What did you do to make them mad?”

Redmond turned as the doors started to close. “You’ll read about that in the papers tomorrow.”

2

Pharrell Kennedy ran for his life down Bedford Avenue in Crown Heights, cursing his brother Troy for getting him into this mess.

The sidewalk flew past under his feet and his lungs heaved for air as he neared Medgar Evers College, where students filed out of the last class of the evening. He swerved between a tattooed guy in a porkpie hat in front of a piercing shop and a delivery driver coming out of Billy’s Pizza, carrying a couple of boxes. Behind him, a cop shouted, huffing, “Stop, police!” Pharrell glanced back and was relieved to see the two cops chasing him were falling behind. One of them, a white guy, was severely overweight. His shirt had come untucked during the pursuit and he looked like he might have a coronary. The problem was the other cop. He wasn’t fast, but he ran at a determined clip, arms pumping up and down, eyes focused on his target.

Pharrell dodged in and out of students, wishing that he had never agreed to carry the olive rucksack to Marcus for his brother Troy. He cut right towards a block of crumbling warehouses. Several lights were busted out on the street. He stepped up his speed, passing a spice importer, where the smell of cloves and nutmeg wafted into the summer night. A barbed-wire fence circled a nearby vacant lot. Plastic bags were caught in the gleaming razor coils. High weeds grew in the lot, and gigantic sunflowers sprouted among the cracked concrete. Knowing his freedom hinged on the next few seconds, Pharrell scrambled through a gap in the fence that was invisible to most passerby, a secret kept by the kids who grew up in Crown Heights. Jagged metal ripped his shirt and clawed his flesh as he scrabbled through the opening and clambered through the weeds towards an abandoned building.

He was deep in the shadows when the young cop stormed past and down the block. He’ll come back when he realizes I’ve disappeared, Pharrell thought, searching for a place to hide the rucksack. The end of the loading dock was a mound of collapsed rubble. Iron girders stuck like decaying bones from catacomb walls. He bent under what remained of a loading dock overhang and shoved the bag into darkness.

The irony of the situation Pharrell found himself in was that he didn’t do drugs. He might run the occasional errand for his brother, but he had consciously avoided Troy’s pitfalls so far … except tonight. He had walked down Bedford Avenue and run into the cops who were randomly stop-and-frisking people near Eastern Parkway, patting them down to search for weapons and illegal drugs. Pharrell had panicked and bolted when the younger cop had called out to him. His first thought had been of his mother, who was a nurse at Kings County Hospital, and of how she would shake her head when she found out and disappointment would flood her soft eyes.

The second cop rounded the corner, trying to catch his breath. He pushed his cap back on his head while tucking in his shirt. A woman’s voice squawked from the walkie-talkie on his shoulder, and the overweight cop said something back that Pharrell didn’t catch. A squad car pulled up to the sidewalk, and the police officer on the passenger side leaned out as the car slowed.

“You look like hell, Mike,” the cop in the car said. He was middle-aged, black, with streaks of white hair on his temples.

“Feel like it too,” the overweight cop said, fanning himself.

“Not good to be breathing hard as you are at your age,” the cop on the driver’s side said. His face was obscured, but Pharrell could see hairy knuckles gripping the steering wheel.

“Save the lecture,” the stout cop said. “Try chasing some teenage punk for five blocks and tell me how you feel.”

“While you’ve been chasing a pantywaist, a seer bombed a fundraiser that Paddock was holding for the mayor,” the cop on the driver’s side said.

The overweight cop wiped his brow. “What are you talking about?”

“Just what he said,” the black cop responded, resting his arm on the window. “When they find out how he got in, someone’s head’s gonna roll.”

Seer? What were they talking about? Pharrell wished they’d go away before the young cop returned. The gibbous moon hung over the nearby Ebbets Field Apartments, where Pharrell lived. Green television light flickered behind the countless windows of the public housing high-rise. He thought of Troy safe inside their apartment waiting for him to return, probably eating the Entenmann’s red velvet cake his mother brought home from the grocery store — and he felt a surge of anger. Their whole life it had been this way. His older brother getting into trouble and dragging Pharrell along for the ride. Why do I still listen to him? But the answer was easy; for all the trouble he’d gotten him into, he loved his older brother. Wasn’t that what you were supposed to do?

“Anyone injured?” the fat cop asked, leaning against the car for support.

“Only Elyuum,” the driver said. His face a dark circle. “It’s like the bastard knew.”

The black cop turned to the driver. “You ask me, that’s not such a bad thing. They been getting soft, forgetting that they depend on us as much as we do them.”

“Hicks is right,” the fat cop said, his voice growing more enraged. “They been keeping us on too tight of a leash and I’m sick of it!” He slammed his fist on the hood of the patrol car and doubled over, clutching his chest as if were having a heart attack.

As Pharrell watched, the cop tilted his head and his features morphed— “dripped,” was a better word Pharrell thought. The flesh ran in waxen rivulets from the cop’s cheeks, pulling loose around his eyes to reveal the jittering muscles below the surface. A ridged spine burst through his uniform, the vertebrae like shark teeth. The cop grew smaller, more compact, muscled. His face fell off with a wet pop, revealing a bug-eyed nightmare. Tusks, yellow and curved, fanned from his mouth. “I’m tired of being their dog!” the creature bellowed. “They promised us blood and what have we had so far? Nothing.”

“Are you crazy? What if a human sees this? What about Martinez?” the black cop said.

“Then I’ll kill him,” the creature grunted, running its claws along the sidewalk. Its fingernails threw up sparks.

“Pull yourself together,” the officer on the driver’s side commanded. “Now’s not the time.”

The tusked creature growled a challenge, but began to morph again. Pharrell hugged the earth, pressing his face against cool soil. One of his legs tap danced with fear against the ground. He steadied it and held his breath, feeling all of his 18 years. It was a trick of the light, that’s all it was.

“Much better,” the driver said. “Here comes your partner. Try and keep yourself under control.”

Tires crunched gravel, and the patrol car pulled away from the curb. Pharrell peeked open an eye and saw the young cop approaching from the opposite direction.

“Lose him?” the overweight cop asked.

“These rats got a thousand holes,” the young cop said.

“I wouldn’t worry about it, Martinez,” the fat cop said, straightening his uniform. “Half of this hood is on drugs of some kind.”

“Yeah, and it’s our job to stop them, Mike,” Martinez said.

“Put a few more years under your belt, and you’ll be thankful for small victories,” Mike said, slapping his hand affectionately across the young cop’s shoulder. “Now, come on.”

Pharrell lay there listening to the distant honking of horns and the low hum of an airplane passing overhead in the starless Brooklyn sky. When he was sure the cops were gone, he pushed himself up, wiped the dirt from his hands and crept to the loading dock, where he retrieved the rucksack. What he saw wasn’t real, it couldn’t be. He decided then he wouldn’t tell anyone. Nobody would believe me.

He rose, imagining himself carrying the bag back to Troy, shoving it into his chest, and telling him that he could take the drugs to Marcus. Instead, he wriggled through the gash in the fence and headed the long way to Marcus’s apartment on Franklin Avenue. I’m done after this, he thought, trying to convince himself and not quite believing it.

3

All anyone at Greenbrier Academy wanted to talk about was what happened to Claudia Page. The chatter followed Neil Sullivan as he climbed the stairs to the library on the third floor where he hid after lunch.

“I heard she was off her meds,” a blond girl said conspiratorially, passing him with an armful of books. She wore the blue and yellow blazer of the school, matching skirt and white leggings. Bright red lipstick highlighted her plush lips.

“Oh, she was crazy, but that wasn’t it,” an identically dressed Asian girl said.

“What was it then?” the blond said, irritated that her theory was being debunked.

“Her dad was making her move back to St. Louis where she was from,” the Asian girl said.

“Missouri … I’d killed myself too,” the blond said cattily.

The Asian girl laughed, covering her mouth with her hand. “You’re terrible,” she said.

“I’m not the one who took a header out of the fourth-floor dorm window,” the blond replied, and then the two were out of earshot.

Neil paused on the third-floor landing, looking in either direction to make sure Sejan Croft and his crew weren’t waiting, and hurried to the library. The comforting aroma of aged books and leather reading chairs enveloped him. Tiffany lamps cast perfect light on the study tables. Stacks of books, old and new, ran into darkness. Ms. Forrester, the librarian, was filling out paperwork at her desk. The scratching of her pen was the only noise in the quiet. She looked up, smiling, “Hey Neil, I got that book you wanted.”

“The Richard Matheson?” he asked.

“Yep, his collected short stories,” she said, pulling a meaty book from a stack on her desk. A white hold slip stuck out from the book’s battered pages. He saw a flash of a red bird that was tattooed on her wrist. “Not exactly required reading, but I think it’s a good way to go out before school starts back.”

“Some of us never took the summer off,” Neil groused.

Ms. Forrester gave him her brightest smile. “I wouldn’t call one summer class hard labor or anything.”

“You’ve never taken Latin,” he said, shoving the book into his backpack.

The librarian eyed him through cat-eye glasses. “I suppose you heard what happened to Claudia.”

“Only a hundred million times,” Neil said, shuffling his feet.

“And — are you okay?” Ms. Forrester asked.

“Why? I didn’t know her,” Neil said, which wasn’t technically true. Claudia moved in the same small circle of misfits and outcasts at the school. She was a junior and he was a sophomore so there hadn’t been much reason for them to interact. Claudia, with her limp mousy hair, greasy skin and jittery eyes. Something about her screamed out to be bullied.

“You don’t have to know her to feel sad about what happened,” the librarian said, looking away. “Sometimes this place, the kids here — I overhear what they say — the way they speak. I know how cruel they are. That’s why you, Adelaide and Claudia and the others come here after lunch. I’m not blind to that.”

Neil wanted to tell her that she didn’t know anything about what it was like at Greenbrier Academy, one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country, especially for someone like him, who was here by grace of the fact that his father worked on campus — not as a teacher, but as the maintenance man. Of how the others spoke to him as if he was lower than dirt, of how he had one friend here and she had no friends. Ms. Forrester was only trying to help, so he mumbled thanks and headed into the stacks.

“Ogle much?” A familiar voice teased as he plunked his bag down on a table in a far corner of the room.

“What?” he asked, looking towards the history section where the voice came from. A tiny figure flitted in and out of view between the rows of books.

“Adelaide,” Neil said, his patience wearing thin.

“Wipe the drool off your chin,” the voice said laughing. “I mean, not that I blame you. She is hot.”

“Who?” Neil asked.

“Ms. Forrester, duh. She’s a sexy librarian rockabilly-type. You see her tats? Enquiring minds and all of that,” Adelaide said, popping her head around the shelf with a mischievous grin.

“Keep your voice down,” Neil asked, feeling his face heat up.

“Why? Afraid she’ll hear?” Adelaide stepped from behind the books and pirouetted to the table. Neil’s best friend was five feet tall if that. Her head was shaved close on the sides while long bangs fell into her vivid green eyes. She blew the bangs back and dropped into a seat where she began ripping notebook paper into strips. “Neil, Neil, Neil, you really are depressingly easy to read.”

“And you aren’t?”

“Nope, and that’s why it would never work out between us — that and I like girls. But anyway, you manage to dodge Herr Croft today?” Adelaide asked, finishing tearing the strips and folding them into neat origami shapes.

“So far,” Neil said, thinking, but my luck can’t hold out much longer on that front.

Adelaide finished the crane she was making and sat it on top of Neil’s Latin textbook before moving on to the next strip of paper. “Maybe you’ll get lucky,” she said, without much conviction.

“I’ll be fine,” Neil said, trying to shake off the thought. “What about you?”

“Oh, you know, I’m a dirty diesel dyke who’s going to corrupt the youth of America,” Adelaide said, cracking a smile. “Honestly, the numbskulls here need to come up with better material.”

“That would be too much to hope for,” Neil said. Adelaide Rose had been his best friend from the first time that he saw her hunched over her desk in sixth grade slaving over a drawing of their teacher Mr. Pittsfield dressed as Freddy Krueger, complete with bloody finger knife glove.

“True,” she said, folding the new strip of paper into a snake.

“What are you doing today?” he asked.

She grinned at him. “I thought we’d solve a mystery.”

“Let me guess, where the cafeteria meat comes from?” he joked.

“No, sheep-dip brain, I’m talking about what happened to Claudia Page.”

Neil groaned. “You too? She jumped out of a window and killed herself. End of story.”

“That’s what they would like us to believe,” Adelaide said, and her usual joking manner was gone. The library pressed dark around them. A chair scraped on the other side of the room.

“What are you talking about?” Neil asked. His arms were suddenly draped in goose pimples.

“Have you ever felt how thick those stained glass windows are? Do you know how much strength you’d have to use to go through one of those?”

“If you want to kill yourself badly enough, anything is possible. Maybe she got a running start,” Neil said.

“Wrong,” Adelaide said, shaking her head. “Claudia had a bad leg from falling off a horse when she was younger. She couldn’t have gotten a running start.” Neil pictured Claudia again, and there it was in his memory, her dragging one foot slightly behind the other, nothing major but enough to make it impossible to build up the steam necessary to burst through the century-old windows.

“What about using a chair to smash out the window and then jumping?” Neil asked.

Adelaide shook her head again. “They would have found the chair, but there was nothing there.”

“How do you know that?” Neil asked.

“Yeti told me,” Adelaide said.

“You spoke with your dad?” Neil asked, surprised. Yeti was Adelaide’s nickname for her father, since seeing him was as rare as spotting the abominable snowman. Adelaide’s dad was an entertainment lawyer who spent most of his time shuttling between New York and Los Angeles. She saw him maybe once a week, usually in the morning as he packed to head back to the West Coast.

“I know, surprising,” Adelaide said. “The school called to tell him what happened, and he rang to make sure I was all right.”

Neil searched for another theory but couldn’t think of anything. All he knew was that sometime late the night before, Claudia jumped from the fourth-floor window, splattering on the Fifth Avenue sidewalk across from Central Park. A doorman at a nearby building had seen her plummet to the ground.

“Okay, I’ll bite,” Neil said. “What do you think happened?”

“I don’t know,” Adelaide said, shrugging her shoulders. “That’s what we’re going to find out.”

“And why are we going to do that?” Neil asked.

“Because the school will bury this so deep you’ll need a bulldozer to find it, and I think someone owes it to Claudia to do the right thing,” Adelaide said, her eyes starting to tear up. “They tormented her, Neil. They pushed her to the point that she took her own life or someone did it to her. Either way, it’s wrong.”

Neil took a deep breath, realizing that he was getting sucked into another of Adelaide’s crazy schemes. “And what are you suggesting?”

“That we take a look at the crime scene,” Adelaide said, “right now while everyone’s uptown at the lacrosse field. This is the one time of day when everyone has to vacate so they can clean the dorm.”

“You mean sneak into the girls’ dorm?” Neil said shocked.

“I would say, ‘Don’t worry, there’s nothing there that you haven’t seen before,’ but that’s not true,” Adelaide said, wiping her eyes with her blazer. “Look, if you’re too afraid, you can wait outside and text me if you see anyone coming.”

“Who said I was afraid?” Neil asked. He picked up his bag and followed Adelaide out of the stacks. Ms. Forrester looked up as they approached, “Be sure and read ‘Death Ship’ — that’s one of my favorite Matheson’s,” the librarian said.

“Yummy, delicious,” Adelaide mumbled as they left the library.

Neil was on high alert for Sejan as they exited the building onto the quad, a leafy oasis that was capped with oaks and stone benches. The girls’ dormitory, where students from out of town lived, was on the opposite side of the quad. It was an imposing structure made of limestone that abutted Fifth Avenue. The muffled hum of traffic could be heard from beyond the building.

“And how are we supposed to get in there?” Neil asked.

“I have an entry pass. Poor Sheila Swanson will have to get a replacement when she discovers hers is gone.” Adelaide smiled impishly.

“You stole it?” Neil asked.

“Stole is such an ugly word. I prefer to think I borrowed it from the better part of herself — if she had a better part.”

Adelaide tapped the card against the scanner and the door to the girl’s dormitory clicked open. Neil followed her inside. A corkboard with advertisements for car services, delivery menus and photos of the girls who called the dorm home hung inside the door. A vacuum hummed on one of the floors above.

“A quick look, and we’re out of here,” Neil said. He was getting a bad feeling, and they hadn’t done anything yet. The air was charged with negative energy. The walls were a cheery yellow, but a weight pressed on him, dampening his emotions.

Adelaide licked her lips as if she too sensed it. “Follow me and try not to get distracted if you see any panties,” she joked, but it fell flat in the gloom. They passed a lounge with bean-bag chairs and a gigantic flat-screen TV. Adelaide started up the stairs to the second floor, running her hand along the polished bannister as she went. The only disturbance was the sound of the vacuum humming. They passed the second and third floors, coming to a halt on the fourth floor. The hallway stretched out on either side with closed dorm-room doors. At one end of the hall, yellow police tape fluttered against a broken window. Jagged pieces of colored glass twinkled in the August sunlight. Tiny shards were still embedded in the rug.

“We’ve seen it. Are you happy? Let’s get out of here,” Neil said, overwhelmed, now that they were in the spot where Claudia had killed herself. Footsteps creaked on the floor overhead, and a cleaning woman spoke in Russian. Another woman yelled back to her.

“Not yet,” Adelaide said, examining the crime scene. From where he was by the stairs she looked ludicrously small in her too-big blazer.

“Adelaide, this isn’t a joke,” he hissed. “I’m getting out of here, I’m —.”

A dorm-room door scraped open behind him, and he felt a presence looming over his shoulder.


 

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Allen Houston is a native Oklahoman who has also lived in Japan and Indonesia. He has worked as a journalist at the Dallas Morning News, New York Post and Metro New York. Allen lives in Brooklyn with his wife, daughter and a menagerie of animals.

Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
As far back as I can recall I’ve wanted to be a writer. I remember reading a story that I wrote about a boy who turned to stone to my 4th grade class. The moment when I looked out and realized that they were hooked has stayed with me.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
I was riding the subway home from work one day when the lights went out and the train stalled. We sat in the darkness for a good ten minutes and a scene formed in my mind of a punky Japanese girl on a similar train when out of the darkness monsters began to appear at the windows.
Q. What books are you reading now?
A.
I’ve got a couple of books in the hopper right now. I’m reading “The Bone Clocks” by David Mitchell and “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel with Stephen King’s “Bazaar of Bad Dreams” waiting in the wings.

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