Unmarked, p.2

Unmarked, page 2

 part  #2 of  The Legion Series

 

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  A familiar knot formed in my throat.

  He’s okay. He has to be. They all have to be.

  Jared, Lukas, Alara, and Priest knew how to take care of themselves, and each other. The last time I saw them at the penitentiary lingered in my mind.

  Thinking about them will just make you miss them more.

  I splashed cold water on my face and groped for a paper towel, blinking away the memories and the water in my eyes. A blurry reflection passed behind me in the mirror.

  I jerked back. “Sorry,” I said, embarrassed by my reaction. “I didn’t see you.”

  I turned away from the mirror, the reflection of the back of the room lingered in my peripheral vision. I looked for the person who had come in.

  No one was there.

  Battling vengeance spirits with Jared, Lukas, Alara, and Priest had taught me paranormal entities could be anywhere. The odds of running into an angry spirit on a hundred-year-old campus, like Winterhaven, were higher than most. But the likelihood of me randomly encountering one in the bathroom seemed exponentially lower, especially if I factored the nightmares into the equation.

  My experiences over the last few months had taught me that whatever I’d seen in the mirror would probably be back. I needed to be ready, and eating blueberry Pop Tarts three meals a day wasn’t exactly the diet of champions. Time to lift my ban on the dining hall.

  Ten minutes later, I stood in line, scooping unnaturally orange macaroni and cheese onto my plate. I grabbed a pack of cinnamon Pop Tarts to switch things up, and scanned the room for an empty table. Two Black Eyeliners nodded in my direction, inviting me to sit with them. Instead, I took a seat at the opposite end of the table. They didn’t realize I was doing them a favor.

  I dropped my notepad next to the congealed ball of noodles and flipped through the drawings. It felt like watching my nightmares in stop-motion—Priest’s hand reaching up from the well, Alara strapped in the electric chair, the spirits of dozens of poisoned children lined up at the ends of their metal beds. There were pages and pages of them, each image more disturbing than the next.

  When I reached an unfinished sketch from a few nights ago, a chill crept up the back of my neck. A figure loomed over me as I slept, just like it had in the nightmare. I hunched over the page, filling in the missing sections of the sketch. After a few minutes, features emerged—the feral eyes and elongated jaw of an animal, jutting out from a human silhouette.

  Andras.

  My fingers tightened around the pencil. I’d left out a detail in the sketch, one I couldn’t draw. In the nightmare, he spoke to me.

  I’m coming for you.

  It had sounded more like a promise than a threat.

  “Another newbie,” one of the Black Eyeliners called out from the other end of the table.

  A girl with stick-straight blond hair stood in the doorway, her eyes darting around the room like a frightened deer. She inched forward, her face still puffy and red from crying, and a Winterhaven Welcome Binder pressed against her chest. I recognized that look. Her parents had probably dropped her off this morning. Winterhaven was the last stop for the troubled daughters of wealthy East Coast families. From runaways and cutters to pill poppers and party girls, Winterhaven accepted them all—including me.

  Now the school was responsible for us, which wasn’t saying much. None of the teachers cared what kind of trouble we got into behind closed doors, as long as we didn’t kill each other. The party girls kept partying and the cutters kept cutting. Only the runaways lost out because the school was buried so deep in the Pennsylvania woods, there was nowhere to run.

  Whispers spread through the room in seconds.

  “Too young for drunk driving.”

  “Doesn’t look brave enough to be a runaway.”

  “I’m going with pills. Definitely.”

  “Final answer?”

  I tuned out the voices and shaded in the rest of the sketch. Bits and pieces of the nightmare flashed through my mind—the figure watching me in the darkness, its features emerging from the shadows, the paralyzing fear.

  It was too much.

  I wanted to rip out the page and tear it to shreds. I wanted to fall asleep without being tormented. More than anything, I wanted to forget. But I couldn’t let myself.

  “Is anyone sitting here?” The new girl stood across from me, the edge of her tray shaking. “I mean, is it okay if I sit here?” She looked even younger than Priest—fourteen maybe.

  The Black Eyeliners laughed. I had already passed on their invitation to sit with them. They probably assumed the new girl’s odds weren’t good, which was reason enough to let her sit with me.

  I gestured at the empty seat across from me. “Sit down before the vultures start circling.”

  The girl’s shoulders relaxed. “Thanks. I’m Maggie.”

  “Kennedy.” I started drawing again, hoping she could take a hint.

  “That’s a cool name.”

  “Not really.” I didn’t look up.

  She stayed quiet for a few minutes, pushing a scoop of orange macaroni around on her plate. I sensed her watching me, but I kept my eyes glued to the page. Eye contact encouraged conversation.

  “So why are you here? Sorry—” She bit her lip. “That’s none of my business. My dad says I ask too many questions.”

  Her dad was probably a heartless bastard like mine.

  “I ran away.” At least that was the story I’d told the police and Aunt Diane. Before the new girl had a chance to ask why, I turned the tables on her. “What about you?”

  She stabbed at the ball of noodles on her plate. “My dad just left me here.”

  “What did you do to piss him off?”

  A tear ran down her cheek. “I exist.”

  My pencil stopped moving. The anger in her voice was all mixed up with the pain, and it reminded me of the last time I saw my own father. The morning he drove away while his five year-old daughter watched from the window.

  She wiped her face on her sleeve and glanced at my notepad. “That’s cool… and kind of scary. I bet your drawings will be hanging on a gallery wall someday.”

  A familiar pain tugged at my chest. My mom used to say that all the time.

  “What is it?” she asked, still studying the sketch.

  “Something from a dream.”

  Her eyes lit up. “The easiest way to get rid of a nightmare is to tell someone about it. Your mind stops fighting the bad dream, and it will go away.”

  My nightmares weren’t going anywhere.

  “Real life doesn’t work that way. The sooner you figure that out, the better off you’ll be.” I snatched my notepad and stood up, the legs of my chair scraping against the linoleum. “There are some fights you can’t win.”

  I walked away without waiting for a response. The last thing I needed was a pep talk about positive thinking from a kid who was crying because her father dumped her at a fancy boarding school. My mother was dead, and I hadn’t seen my dad in years. My days were full of fear and guilt, dead birds and missing girls.

  And it’s only going to get worse.

  The new girl’s room was easy to find. Her door was the only one without any messages pinned to the corkboard, which made me feel like I’d kicked a puppy.

  I knocked, silently rehearsing the apology I’d practiced on the way over. “It’s Kennedy.”

  After a moment, I knocked again, listening for sounds inside the room. But I didn’t hear any. Either she wasn’t in there, or she didn’t want to talk to me.

  I flipped through the sketches at the beginning of the notepad, the ones I’d drawn right after Lukas gave it to me. Instead of the disturbing images from my nightmares, these pictures captured happier memories—half-finished drawings of Priest wrapping paintball guns in duct tape, Alara holstering a bottle of holy water in her tool belt, Lukas playing Tetris, a rare smile from Jared. Their specialties—the areas of expertise in which they had been trained—were as different as the four of them. Yet each
skill complemented the others; Lukas hacked into databases all over the country and used the information to track paranormal surges; Priest engineered the spirit-hunting weapons that Jared commanded with ease; and when weapons failed, Alara used wards and voodoo arts to protect them. Together, they were a Legion, and for a while, I’d thought I was one of them.

  One sketch stood out from the rest—a self-portrait. I ripped it out and pinned it to her board, along with a note.

  I’m sorry.

  —Kennedy

  Clad in military-issue cargo pants and black boots, the girl in the drawing looked brave and determined—like someone ready for a fight. I had already lost my battle, but Maggie still had time to win hers.

  As I stood in front of my own room minutes later, I tried to remember what it felt like to be the girl in the drawing. But I couldn’t. With the Legion, I had faced malevolent spirits and destroyed paranormal entities. Now I was alone, and I wasn’t even brave enough to face what was waiting for me on the other side of my door.

  3. BROKEN MIRRORS

  When I turned on the light, my reality came into view one terrifying image at a time. Newspaper clippings, maps, crime scene photos, and pictures of missing girls wallpapered my room. Chalk outlines, surrounded by yellow and black police tape, were layered over weather charts and mug shots of people who had been arrested for bizarre or brutal acts of violence.

  Every scrap represented an event that could potentially be traced back to Andras.

  I started collecting the articles in the hospital. I found the first one while scanning the newspaper for any mention of Jared, Lukas, and Alara, and Priest. The headline read Lightning Kills Seven in Fire at Holy Marters Church.

  What had started as an attempt to track the demon’s movements had developed into an obsession, self-inflicted penance. I had released Andras, which made his crimes my crimes.

  Part of me wished there was a way to send all this information to Lukas. He would know how to find the pattern in the madness, a skill I’d underestimated until I tried doing it myself. Though I searched for their names in every newspaper, a bigger part of me was relieved I didn’t know how to find them.

  They’re safer without me.

  As I added the finished sketch of my nightmare to wall, an image that looked like a music stand caught my eye.

  Andras’ seal.

  It was the demon’s unique signature. Each Legion member’s wrist was marked with a different section of the symbol. If they rubbed salt on their wrists and held them together, the marks re-created the demon’s seal. I ran my fingers over the unmarked skin on the inside of my wrist, a permanent reminder I wasn’t one of them.

  And the reason things would never have worked out with Jared and me.

  I scanned the wall for the portrait of his profile, taped above a chart of weather anomalies. The curve of his lips and the long eyelashes that framed his pale blue eyes. For a second, I forgot to breathe. I remembered the way his lips felt against mine, the sound of his voice when he had whispered to me in the rain, refusing to leave me behind. I remembered the promise I made to myself that night. The one I hadn’t kept.

  I’ll find you.

  Did he think about that night?

  Does he think about me?

  Maybe Jared had already moved on, continuing the search for the missing fifth member of the Legion. One thing I would never be.

  I peeled off the wool knee socks I wore every day, even though they itched like hell and made my room smell like wet dog. A web of white scars snaked across my legs like a tattoo, a permanent reminder of my mistakes. My fingers traced the ridges in my skin. I loathed them, but if there were a way to trade my mistakes for even more scars, I would’ve done it in a second.

  I wrestled out of my wet clothes and into dry ones, before flipping open my laptop, skimming news sites for signs of paranormal activity, the evidence of Andras at work. The Legion taught me that sudden increases in the number of murders and violent crimes were red flags, with suicides a close second.

  A photo of thousands of crows flocked on rooftops in downtown Pittsburg made me pause. I clicked on it, and a familiar message popped up on the screen: unauthorized portal. Winterhaven limited student Internet access to approved news sites and the National Archives. E-mail was non-existent, and phone use was restricted to calls home—or, in my case, to Aunt Diane. Not that I had called her.

  My inbox was probably overflowing with messages from Elle by now. Even if I figured out a way to contact her, what would I say? I unleashed a vengeful demon on the world, and no one knows how to stop him? She would forgive me because that’s what best friends do. But this wasn’t a failed midterm I could forget about after a pint of ice cream. The next headline made sure of that: High School Track Star Disappears Without a Trace. A brunette with delicate features smiled back from the screen, her name printed under the photo. Catherine Nichols.

  Number 15.

  The commentary didn’t provide any new information: After the disappearance of fifteen teenage girls, the FBI has issued a statement, calling the disappearances ‘serial abductions,’ confirming what the public had suspected.

  I found a clean page in my notepad and began the ritual that had become second nature. My pencil recreated the curves of Catherine Nichol’s face, her high cheekbones and brown doe eyes. As I lost myself in the gray charcoal lines, music blared from the room next door. My hand jerked, and a stray line dragged across her face.

  Winterhaven never ceased to annoy me. I pounded on the wall, but the girls laughing on the other side ignored me.

  I taped the drawing on the wall next to sketches of the other missing girls. The row of photos looked strikingly similar—dark-eyed girls with delicate features, wavy brown hair, and awkward smiles. Pretty in an understated way. There was one more thing—something impossible to ignore.

  They all looked like me.

  Another reminder the demon wasn’t finished with me, even if I didn’t understand why. Maybe he still believed I was the fifth member of the Legion, and I was first on his hit list.

  Next door, the music cranked up another few notches, followed by scratching sounds. Were they moving furniture in there?

  “Shut up.” I banged harder.

  Someone finally turned off the music. The scratching intensified and my neighbor’s door slammed at the exact same moment. The laughter moved into the hallway, and my skin went cold.

  The scratching wasn’t coming from next door.

  I whipped around as a jagged line etched itself into the mirror above my dresser. When it hit the bottom of the frame, the line—and the scratching—stopped. Within seconds, another mark dragged its way down the glass.

  There was something off about the sound. It lacked the nails-on-a-chalkboard intensity that would’ve made it impossible to mistake the location of the source. I inched closer and froze.

  The lines were being cut from inside the mirror.

  My eidetic memory snapped mental pictures as the row of lines hit the frame and changed direction, creating horizontal, diagonal, and curved slashes.

  Letters.

  Words formed, cut by cut, until the message stared back at me.

  HE IS COMING FOR YOU.

  The meaning registered slowly, one fragmented thought at a time.

  Andras knows where I am.

  After all the paranormal attacks I’d escaped, my dorm room was the place the demon finally found me? Had it really taken him this long to track me down?

  Nineteen days of fear, anger, and guilt turned to rage in a single moment. This was my life now—vengeance sprits and nightmares, missing girls and demons, unanswered questions and paranormal threats. I was sick of waiting for something to happen. I wanted it to happen now.

  “I’m right here!” I screamed, turning in a circle with my arms outstretched. “Come on!”

  Silence echoed back at me, louder than a hundred screams.

  “What are you waiting for?”

  The consequences of my mi
stakes surrounded me—layers and layers of them taped to every surface like a prison of my own making. I hurled myself at the closest wall, tearing down the photos of dead birds and chalk outlines, electrical storms and flooded streets, mug shots and maps.

  Slashes of pink and gray peeked out from beneath the bits of paper still stuck to the walls—a print of my favorite painting, Chris Berens’ Lady Day. A girl floating through the air under a glass dome.

  I taped it to my wall the moment the boxes marked school had arrived—the ones I’d packed before my house turned Poltergeist, and I took off with Jared and Lukas. She was the last shred of my old room and my old life. It hurt too much to look at her everyday, so I buried her under the scraps of my new life.

  I always believed the girl under the glass found way out in the end. But maybe I was wrong. I ripped the print off wall and tore it in half. The dome split down the center, tearing the girl apart along with it. The two halves fell to the floor, lost in a sea of articles about the tragedies my mistake had set in motion.

  Someone knocked on the door. “Everything okay in there?”

  The first print my mom had ever given me lay in pieces at my feet. I picked up the half with the girl’s face on it and folded it up, before slipping it into my notepad.

  “Kennedy, I know you’re in there. Open up.”

  I recognized the girl’s voice, but I couldn’t place it.

  “I’m not leaving,” she said.

  I cracked the door, and one of the Black Eyeliners stood on the other side looking bored.

  She glanced over my shoulder at what was left of my dorm room. “Rough day?” Her tone dripped with mock sympathy.

  “What do you want?” I asked, holding the notepad against my chest.

  “If you’re gonna be a bitch, I’ll just tell the hot guy who’s looking for you that you weren’t interested in his message.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  The girl sighed and rolled her eyes. “I caught him wandering around Anderson Hall. He said he needed to find you. That it was an emergency or something. You’re lucky he ran into me and not one of the dorm mothers.” She held up a damp scrap of paper. “He said to give you this.”

 
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