Authors: Anastasia Hopcus
“Yeah, but nobody does it. BVs can go before the Council and ask them to perform a deletion if they consent to it themselves. It can be useful for removing really awful memories, but the person has to fill out a ton of paperwork and convince the whole board that their case is severe enough to warrant it. Outside of that, it’s strictly forbidden because it can be so harmful—BVs could commit crimes and then erase the victim’s memory or implant an alternate version of what happened. That’s why no one is allowed to manipulate memory except under the approval of the Council.”
At least I didn’t need to worry about Corinne doing that to
me. No matter how pissed she was, I couldn’t see her defying one of the key principles the BVs lived by.
Zach went on, “Manipulation of sensory perception is kind of an offshoot of the memory thing. Apparently it was Damon Gates’s specialty. It’s extremely uncommon: you have to be in such complete control of another person’s mind that you can maintain a moving, shifting image that isn’t there. It takes tremendous concentration to implant thoughts moment to moment without any gaps in time.”
“I don’t understand how that’s even possible.” It was an insane thing to try to comprehend.
“I’m not positive of the mechanics of it, but obviously the brain can make you see things that aren’t real, or else hallucinogens wouldn’t work and no one would have schizophrenic visions. The thing is, it’s almost impossible to keep the illusion going for an extended period of time without having physical contact with the person you’re deceiving. People say Gates was born with the ‘talent.’ I wouldn’t have believed it if my grandma hadn’t sworn that Damon Gates once took her to a fancy restaurant in Boston and made the waiter believe he was Mick Jagger. And he sustained it the entire dinner, all nonchalant.”
“So your grandmother dated him?”
“Only once. She said at first he was charming, but the more he talked, the more disturbing he got. Most of the Banished were in it for the money, but Damon’s supporters went further. They wanted to improve their powers and life span by stealing energy from other people. The human-depletion thing.”
“Wait.” I hoped my assumption was wrong. “How could they steal a person’s energy?”
“They’d put their hands on someone, pull his energy out, and absorb it. It made the BV stronger.”
“And they wouldn’t die as quickly?”
“But what did it do to the people they stole it from?”
“The person was weakened, and I think if it was continual, it made them insane.”
I thought about the senile BVs. When the Banished sucked energy from people, it was like they transferred their ill health to that person. It was awful but not inexplicable. Wouldn’t many people give death away if they could? Self-defense was innately human. “What happened to Damon and the rest of them?”
“They went to London after they were banished, and I don’t think they’ve been heard from in years.”
“Somebody heard from them.”
Zach frowned. “What do you mean?”
“The second day I was here, I went to the hospital to look at the museum, and I wandered down into that basement display area. While I was down there I overheard two guys talking about the Council and stuff. One of them was Mr. Carr, and he was arguing that the other guy needed to cut his ties to the Banished.”
Zach stared at me. “Are you serious? That’s a major offense.”
“Well, Mr. Carr was threatening to tell the Council about it. So there’s another person who might have killed him.”
“Who was the guy?”
“I don’t know; my vision was partially obscured by a supply shelf, and I didn’t realize at the time that it was important.” I stood for a moment, chewing on my thumbnail, then said, “I wonder if Mr. Carr ever actually went to the Council.”
“I think I know how we can find out.”
“How?” I prodded.
“My mother is on the Council.”
“You’re going to talk to your mom about this?” I squeaked. “I don’t want your mom to think I’m crazy!”
“No, I can’t tell her yet. She’s a lawyer; she needs actual proof. But I can look in her files.”
“She’ll let you do that?” I asked skeptically.
“You’re not the only one capable of breaking into an office.” Zach gave me a mischievous grin.
“I don’t want you to get into trouble with your mom, especially not over me.”
“My parents do date nights every Saturday and Tuesday. I’ll just look in her study after they leave tonight. If Mr. Carr told the Council about who was talking to the Banished, she’ll have a report on it.”
“Okay,” I agreed reluctantly. It was one thing to put myself at risk, but now that Zach was going to be doing my dirty work for me, I was more apprehensive than ever. “Promise me you’ll be really careful, okay?”
“I promise.” Zach bent down and kissed me tenderly. “I’ve got to go; my mom’s still pissed at me about being late yesterday.”
“Call me as soon as you find anything.”
“I will.” Zach gave me one last kiss, then tapped me lightly on the chin. “And don’t go breaking in anywhere while I’m gone.”
“I won’t.” I sank down on my bed as he pulled the door shut behind him.
. I was alone again with the file.
Trying to avoid looking at the photo of Damon Gates, I skimmed over the remaining pages. As I had thought, most of the information was biographical sketches of the people banished, and it wasn’t all that interesting—that is, until I got to the very last page. Scrawled at the bottom in the kind of fast, practically illegible handwriting that teachers all seemed to have was a notation. It took a few seconds for me to make out what it said, but when I did, I dropped the file like it was on fire. Even without looking at it, the words were seared into my brain:
Banished present—possible interest? P. Archer?
I spent the rest of the day waiting to hear from Zach. And when I wasn’t worrying about him, I was freaking out about the notation Mr. Carr had made. I tried to tell myself that what he’d written didn’t mean the Banished were interested in me, but I couldn’t make myself believe it.
It was the only plausible explanation for his phone call. Mr. Carr must have thought I was in danger. But I still didn’t see why he’d had my bracelet.
Maybe it didn’t mean anything. Maybe Mr. Carr had just found it and was going to give it back when he told me about the Banished. Of course, that was what made the least sense. Why would the Banished have any interest in me?
The evening seemed to crawl by more and more slowly as it wore on. I knew that nothing would happen until after Zach’s parents went out, but it didn’t calm my nerves any.
At eight fifteen my phone finally rang, and I nervously checked the number. It wasn’t familiar, but I was pretty sure it was a Shadow Hills area code.
“I think I may have found something.” It was Zach.
“What is it?” I whispered, an involuntary reaction to the soft way he was speaking.
“I’ll tell you when I get there. I’m in my mom’s office at the hospital, and I don’t want to risk anyone overhearing me.”
“You went to the hospital? Why?”
“I’ll tell you later. I’m coming back to your dorm now, but don’t let anyone in except me, okay?”
“Not even Adriana or Toy?” My stomach churned. Zach was starting to scare me with his cryptic instructions.
“No one. Just wait for me, okay?”
“I’m serious, Phe. No crazy schemes, no breaking and entering, nothing. I want you safe. Promise me.” Zach’s voice was low, but insistent.
“I’ll be there soon.”
“But Za—” The dull sound of silence on my cell told me he’d already hung up.
I paced back and forth at the foot of my bed. Now that I wasn’t supposed to leave, the room was getting smaller and smaller. I picked up an old issue of
and sat down on the bed, trying to ignore my increasing claustrophobia. But I couldn’t concentrate. The fashion spreads didn’t begin to hold my attention, and every time I tried to read an article, I felt like the words were dancing around on the page.
After thirty minutes had gone by, I jumped up and began pacing again. There was no use in pretending that I wasn’t freaking out. I certainly wasn’t going to fool myself. It was getting dark outside, and the dorm’s curfew time was rapidly approaching. Why wasn’t he here yet?
I wanted to call him, but since I didn’t know where he was, I was afraid his ringing cell might get him in trouble. What if he was hiding from hospital security or something?
I looked down at my cell again. It had been over an hour. There was no way that he was just running late. I couldn’t wait around like this any longer. I called Zach’s phone and, with every unanswered ring, became more and more frantic. If something happened to him, I didn’t know what I would do.
“Little Miss L.A., what a surprise. I knew you had to be involved somehow.” Corinne’s tone was unmistakable.
Why is she answering Zach’s phone?
“Not far from you, actually.” Her voice was like barbed wire. “He’s at Shadow Hills Memorial Hospital.”
“At your mom’s office?” Surely Zach hadn’t confided in Corinne; the last thing she would want to do was help me. Maybe he’d just run into her there.
“Interesting you would know that, but I guess that doesn’t really matter now. I found Zach in her office, unconscious and barely breathing. He’s in the ICU, and he still hasn’t woken up.”
My breath caught in my throat, and I felt as if my heart had stopped altogether.
“Are you serious?” I managed to croak out.
“No, I just thought that would make a hilarious joke,” Corinne snapped. “Of course I’m serious; this is my brother we’re talking about here!”
“I’m coming over there.” I tried to control it, but my voice was cracking around the edges.
“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s past curfew, and the nurses already kicked us,
, out of the room. No one can see him again until tomorrow morning. They’re still running tests trying to figure out what happened.” Corinne paused. “I don’t suppose you would know anything about that, would you?”
Silent sobs clogged my throat. I bit the inside of my cheek as I tried to regain my ability to speak.
“Is there anything I can do?” I finally asked. I didn’t even care how pathetic or feeble I sounded.
“I think you’ve done enough already,” Corinne told me. And then the line went dead.
Defeated, I sank onto my bed and dissolved into tears. Why had Zach gone to his mother’s office at the hospital? What happened after he told me he was coming over? I was certain that Zach had been hurt because of me. Worse, now he was trapped, alone, and unconscious, in the very hospital where I’d heard Mr. Carr arguing with some guy about the Banished. The person who might have killed Mr. Carr could be in Zach’s room right now, suffocating him with a pillow.
Don’t even think that
. I gave myself a shake.
Drawing a deep breath, I wiped the tears from my face. I wasn’t going to let myself become a quivering puddle of fear. There was no point in sitting here worrying and not doing
anything about it. I didn’t care what Corinne said; I couldn’t wait until tomorrow to see Zach. I was going over there tonight.
I pulled on my black hoodie and grabbed the pepper spray out of my purse—not that it was a lot of protection, but it was better than nothing. It was past curfew now, so I opened my window and flung my leg over, lowering myself softly to the ground. Then, keeping as low as I could, I took off toward the hospital.
At night the main doors to the hospital were closed, so I walked in through the emergency entrance. I half expected the security guard at the door to stop me, but he didn’t even look up from his book.
His salary is well earned
. The ER’s waiting room was deserted except for the security guard and a nurse who was behind a waist-high counter reading a magazine. She glanced my way as I walked in, and I made an immediate turn into the women’s restroom. After a few long seconds I peered around the corner to the front desk. The nurse had returned to reading, so I slipped farther down the hall, looking for some sign of where I should go.
I noticed that there were four different colored lines running along the floor. I suspected they meant something, but I didn’t know what. Fortunately, before I walked very far, I came upon a legend on the wall. The red line led to the ICU. I followed it until I came to a set of double glass doors with a metal plaque beside them that read
INTENSIVE CARE UNIT
The visiting hours were posted clearly on the door. I tried pulling on the handle anyway, but it was useless. There was a large button with a lock under it on the wall to my right. I pressed it, just in case. Nothing. I needed the key to make it work. I let out
a sigh of frustration. I’d just have to wait for a nurse to come in or out.
But how can I follow her in without someone noticing?
I thought about my escape from the creepy basement and how I’d hidden in an open supply room. Maybe I could find it or some other unlocked room down there. After a few minutes of searching, I located a set of stairs and went down to the basement. The corridors were empty and silent.
Wandering along the halls, I looked at the plaques beside the doors and there, across from me, was one marked
HOSPITAL PERSONNEL ONLY
. Crossing my fingers for luck, I turned the knob and pushed. It was open. Cautiously, I stepped inside and found myself in a sort of lounge area.
I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. Then a sign on the wall caught my eye. To the left were the men’s locker rooms; to the right, the women’s. Locker rooms meant clothes, and surely that meant surgical scrubs.
A set of scrubs was hanging in the last locker on the row. I threw the large green uniform on over my clothes, wrapping the drawstring of the pants around my torso twice in an attempt to keep them from falling off. It wasn’t the greatest disguise in the world, but hopefully it was good enough to keep anyone from looking too closely.
Within minutes I was back in the ICU wing, loitering near the double doors and watching the second hand inch around the clock on the wall. The squeak of wheels on linoleum preceded a gurney being wheeled down the hall.
. I turned and pressed the button on the water fountain, bending over to take a drink. The gurney whizzed past me, surrounded by nurses and doctors,
and went through the previously locked doors. I followed close behind them and caught the door with one foot, slipping in after they disappeared.