Ballad a gathering of f.., p.26

Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, page 26

 part  #2 of  Books of Faerie Series


Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie

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Page 26


  “You’re a regular meteorologist,” I said, a little pissed at him for showing Sullivan he cared about when the sun went down, and also for somehow changing his round demeanor while I wasn’t watching. “Or whoever it is who knows when the sunrise and sunset and moon phases are. ”

  “No harm to being informed,” Sullivan said, and shot me a look as if the statement was supposed to make me feel guilty. It didn’t. He took a bite of eggs and spoke around them. “So I heard from Dr. Linnet today. ”

  Paul and I snorted, and I said, “What’s she a doctor of? Ugly?”

  “Weak, James. She’s got a PhD in some sort of English or psychology or something like that. All you need to know is that those three letters after her name—P. H. D. —mean that she has the power to make our lives excruciatingly difficult if she wants to, because I have only two letters after mine—M. A. Which at this school, translates into ‘low man on the totem pole. ’” Sullivan swallowed some more egg and pointed with his fork to a folder on the table. “She brought me your outlines. Apparently they made a deep impression on her. ”

  “Yeah. She shared some of her impressions with us during class. ” I opened the folder. Our duplicate outlines were tucked neatly inside, one of the corners still crinkly where Linnet had bent it back and forth. That still pissed me off.

  “She brought up several … weighty points. ” Sullivan set his plate down on the table and rested his feet next to them. “First of all, she noted that your outline seemed to interpret my assignment rather loosely. She thought my approach to my class in general had been lax. And she also seemed to think that James showed quite a bit of attitude in her class. ”

  I didn’t say anything. It wasn’t like any of her weighty points were particularly untrue.

  “She recommended—let me see. Hand me that folder. I wrote them down, because I didn’t want to forget them. ” Sullivan stretched out his hand and Paul gingerly placed the folder in it. Sullivan pulled out a sheet of paper from behind our outlines. “Let’s see. Recommendations. ‘One. Establish narrow rules for your assignments and be prepared to enforce them diligently, particularly with difficult students, of which you have at least one. Two. Maintain strict teacher-student relationship to engender respect. Three. Be particularly unforgiving when grading difficult students; attitude problems arise from a lack of respect and excess of ego on their part. ’”

  Sullivan lowered the paper and looked from me to Paul. “Then she recommended that I tell you”—he nodded toward Paul—“to redo your outline, within the limits of the assignment, before Monday’s class for a chance to improve your grade from a C to an B, and to give you”—he looked at me—“a C and tell you to redo your outline before Monday to keep it from being an F. ”

  Paul’s mouth made a round shape that I’m sure he wasn’t aware of. I crossed my arms across my chest and didn’t say anything. Whatever Sullivan was going to do, he’d already made up his mind—a blind monkey could figure that out. And I wasn’t about to beg for a better grade anyway. Screw that.

  Sullivan slid the folder onto the table and crossed his arms, mirroring me. “So I have just one question, James. ”

  “Go for it. ”

  He jerked his chin toward the outlines. “Who do you have to play Blakeley’s character? I think I would make an excellent Blakeley. ”

  Paul grinned and I let one side of my mouth smile. “So does this mean I’m not getting a C for the outline?”

  Sullivan dropped his feet off the table. “It means I don’t do well with rules. It means some bitter drama teacher isn’t going to tell me how to teach my class. This play burns, guys. Even in the outline, I can see it. It could be wickedly self-deprecating satire and I don’t see why you guys shouldn’t do your best and get a grade for it. But you’re going to have to work harder for it than the rest of the class—they only have to write a paper. ”

  “We don’t care,” Paul said immediately. “This is way cooler. ”

  “It is. Where are you going to rehearse?”

  But neither of us answered right away, because in the distance, the antlered king began to sing, slow and entreating.

  With some effort, I spoke over the top of the song. “Brigid Hall. ”

  “Interesting choice,” Sullivan said. He slid his gaze over to Paul, who was drumming his fingers on the table in a manic, caffeine-inspired way and blinking a lot. Paul wasn’t out-and-out singing along with the king of the dead, but he might as well have put out a big neon sign saying “How’s My Driving? Ask Me About My Nerves: 1-800-WIG-N-OUT. ”

  I glared at him.

  “Something wrong, Paul?” Sullivan asked.

  “He—” I started.

  “I hear the king of the dead,” Paul blurted out.

  Well, that was just ace. I put my chin in my hand and tapped my fingers on the side of my face.

  Sullivan glanced at me and back at Paul. “What’d he say?”

  “It’s a list of the dead,” Paul said. With just his fingertips, he held onto the edge of table, white knuckled. He squeezed his fingers like he was playing a tune on the table. “Not the currently dead. The futurely dead. Do you think I’m, like, certifiable now?”

  “No. ” Sullivan went to the window and heaved his shoulder against it. It creaked and then gave. He slid it up a few inches; cold air rushed in along with the song. It tugged at my bones, urging me to rise up and follow. It took all my willpower not to jump up and run outside. “Lots of people—well, not lots—many people hear him in October, up until Halloween. ”

  “Why?” Paul asked. “Why do I have to hear it?”

  Sullivan shook his head. “I don’t know. He says different things to different people. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy. ” Somehow, though, it wasn’t reassuring. He said it like being crazy might be a more appealing alternative. He went to his counter and got a notepad; he laid it down in front of Paul’s face.

  Paul obediently picked up the pen from next to our papers. “What’s this for?”

  Sullivan shifted the window open a bit more and looked at me again before he answered Paul. “I’d be very grateful if you’d write down the names he’s telling you. ”


  The lobby of Seward was an immensely safe sort of space, and I was definitely needing womb-like security in a major way by that point. It had four of the world’s most comfortable chairs, which is important in a safe space, and four squashy ottomans to go with each of them. It also had four alcoves in each of the corners, each containing a wonder of the world. North corner: a piano older than Moses, that sounded like a calliope. South corner: a reproduction of a Greek statue—some headless chick with perfect boobs. East corner: a bookshelf with every piece of Important Fiction That You’ll Never Read in Impressive Hardcover. West corner: vending machine (because sometimes Doritos were all the breakfast you were going to get).

  It was two o’clock in the morning. Down the hall, Sullivan was behind his closed door, oblivious to my wandering. Somewhere on the fourth floor, Paul was snoring. I envied his ability to sleep. I felt like I ought to pace or scream or something; I couldn’t stop thinking about Halloween. Every time I did, my hair stood on end again and fresh goose bumps spread along my shoulders. Sleep was out of the question.

  The lobby held its breath, silent and dark, tinted weirdly red-orange by the streetlights outside the front windows. The world’s most comfortable chairs cast shadows that stretched and grew to ten times the size of the chairs themselves. I crashed in one of them and sat there, so motionless that it felt like I had forgotten how to move.

  I felt alone.

  I didn’t have a pen. I took the worry stone out of my pocket and ran my thumb over it until the urge to mark my skin faded.

  Nuala, are you here?

  “I’m here,” she whispered from one of the other chairs; she sat on the very edge of it, as if ready to jump up and run if she had to. I don’t know why she bothered whispering if I was the only on
e who could hear her, but I was too glad to see her to tease her about it. I hadn’t seen her since the practice on the hill, and I’d almost thought she’d gone for good. Sort of half-standing, I dragged my chair across the wood floor until our chairs faced each other and our bare knees were touching.

  I looked into Nuala’s face. I didn’t really want to ask her the question out loud. Do you really think we’re going to die, like Paul thinks? And do you think it’ll be Them that does it? I mean, not a freak dorm fire?

  In the dim light, Nuala’s pale eyes were black and I could see dark circles beneath them. “They’re killing faeries. Solitary faeries, like me. The ones that have a lot of contact with humans. I saw the bodies. Maybe they think we’ll warn you of something. Not that they’ve told us shit. ”

  It was weird to think that she looked tired. She looked very human and vulnerable, dwarfed by the sheer size of the chair behind her. If it had been Dee, I’d have needed to comfort her or make a joke, but with Nuala, I didn’t have to pretend. She could already see what was inside my head, so there wasn’t any point in showing her anything but the truth.

  And the truth was I was starting to feel like things were getting out of control. I dropped my face into my hands and rubbed my eyes until I saw sparks of color.

  “Haven’t you already seen it, though? You’re supposed to be super-great-seer-guy. ” Nuala’s voice was bitter, as if she thought I’d deliberately withheld tales of imminent death and destruction from her.

  “Nuala, all of Paul’s revelations, you telling me there’s worse than you here, something weird going on with Dee—it’s all news to me. I’m just not a good psychic. I can tell when something’s not right, sometimes, but I can’t tell what it is, or when it is, or if I’m supposed to do anything about it. I’ve tried to make it make sense, but I can’t. It’s just feelings instead of words. And you want the honest-to-God truth? There’s so much weirdness going on I can’t even pick out what makes my hair stand on end. I’m just—” I stopped.

  “ … overloaded,” Nuala finished for me, reading my thoughts. “Whatever’s happening has to be something big as hell. ”

  I jerked, thinking I heard sounds in the night. Both of us froze, sitting quietly, listening, until we were sure there was only the sound of trucks rushing distantly by on the highway and that it was just us.

  Even though the dorm was silent, I didn’t speak out loud again. Instead, I rubbed my thumbs over Nuala’s slender, bare knees, tracing the lines of her bones and the place where her kneecaps pushed against my kneecaps. I stared at the shadows we cast on the floor. What the hell’s going on, Nuala? Why won’t They leave us alone? What could They possibly want from us?

  She was silent a long moment, watching my lettered fingers on her skin. Her voice was a little uneven: “Power. She wants power. I think she’s made an alliance with the daoine sidhe. ”

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