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Authors: Anastasia Hopcus

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BOOK: Shadow Hills
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Consort with the Banished? That sounded pretty biblical. My curiosity won out over my fear of discovery, and I inched up off the stool until I could see over the top of the wall. The supplies on the metal shelves in front of the wall hid me from the men’s sight, but they also obscured my view of the man closest to me. The other one I could see through a gap between the boxes. He was short and compact in an athletic way, with sandy brown hair and a nondescript face. Judging from the scowl and his stance, with his arms crossed over his chest, I figured he was the one doing the lecturing.

“I know what I’m doing,” the other one said.

“Yeah? What if you don’t? What if they get control of you? I’ve heard—”

“A lot of stories, that’s what you’ve heard. You don’t know anything for a fact, just the history that’s been handed down. How do we know it’s true?”

“It was handed down by men like your own father. And mine.
Do you doubt them? If you let the Banished get into your head, they can twist your mind into something unrecognizable.”

The man hidden from me let out a derisive snort.

Mr. Nondescript plowed on, “You’re at the center of the research. You possess critical information. What if they’re after that?”

“They won’t get it,” the other one retorted. “Give me some credit.”

“It’s not you I’m worried about. It’s—”

“Them. I know, I know.” Hidden Guy’s tone of voice was beyond patronizing.

Apparently Mr. Nondescript didn’t appreciate this. I saw his face get red a second before he stepped forward, out of my sight. “I’m serious here. Our whole future is at stake. You need to tell the Council about this.”

The other one heaved a sigh. “Fine. I’ll talk to the Council. But give me a few days, okay? I need to get all my ducks in a row.” He paused, then added in more pleasant tone, “Come on, let’s go grab some coffee before you leave. Talk about something else for a while.”

The other man hesitated. “Okay,” he finally agreed.

I crouched down again. I certainly didn’t want them to spot me after the conversation I’d just heard. The door closed behind them, and I stood up slowly, cautiously peering over the wall.

What the hell was all that about?

Instead of finding answers about why Athena had wanted to come to Shadow Hills, I only had more questions.

Chapter Four

By the time I found my way out of the mazelike hospital corridors, it was after one, and Graham had texted me about meeting up for lunch. I didn’t see him in the cafeteria, but I was getting hungry, so I grabbed one of the prepackaged sandwiches and a salad.

After a few minutes, Graham slid into the seat across from me and tossed his sandwich down on the table.

“Hey, sorry that took so long. I got conned into taking some new kid on a tour of the campus, and he was asking about his advisor and classes, blah, blah, blah.”

“Advisor?” I questioned.

“Yeah, they’re like your own little life coach.” Graham’s tone was ironic. “You should have been assigned one. I think I wrote it down on your classes page.”

I pulled the maps and stuff out of my purse and found my schedule. Graham cocked his head so he could read it.

“It’s right there.” Graham pointed to the bottom of the page. “You got Sherwood; he’s cool, and it looks like you have photography with him, too. They do that a lot, pair you with someone who teaches an elective you picked. I guess they figure you’ll be more compatible.”

“So what exactly does your advisor do?”

“They oversee your academic life.” Graham took a bite of his BLT, then continued. “Keep your parents updated on how you’re doing, make sure your classes are going okay … Don’t worry about it. Advisor meetings are on Friday, so you have a whole week to get to know him in class. Plus, Sherwood’s about the best advisor you can get; he’s really laid back.”

We ate for a moment in silence, then I said, “So I was at the hospital today, and I saw this stuff about an epidemic in Shadow Hills. I also heard something about ‘the Banished.’ Do you know who that is?”

“A band maybe?” Graham shrugged.

“Probably not. Some old guys were talking about them. Do they ever mention the epidemic at Devenish? Like in history class or something?”

“Not that I know of. My friend Toy loves anything related to death or horror movies, and she used to be obsessed with this graveyard behind the hospital. But I think the only information she ever found on it was a list of townspeople who died.”

“Hmm.”
That didn’t seem particularly helpful
.

“Oh! I do remember Toy saying that she figured out that all the settlers who died had moved here from other parts of Massachusetts, but apparently the people who immigrated straight from England just got sick, then recovered. That’s kind of weird, right?”

It was definitely weird, but it also didn’t explain anything.

“I guess the British have a stronger constitution.” I squashed down my empty sandwich wrapping.

After we were done eating, we headed back outside. Even though classes didn’t start until tomorrow, there were definitely more students milling around the campus. In fact, I’d never seen so many plaid shirts and khaki pants all congregated in one place before. It was kind of freaky.

Preps weren’t considered cool at my school in L.A., and these people looked like they had come from the country club for the bland.

“So what now?” Graham broke into my thoughts.

“You’re
the tour guide. Where do you think we should go?”

“Umm … I could show you the spot in the woods where all the secret parties are held.”

“Okay.” This
was something I wanted to know about
.

“Shit.” Graham shook his head. “I forgot, we need a GPS. I don’t have one.”

“You need a GPS to find the party spot?” I stared at him incredulously.

“The woods are huge, and the students purposely make the spot insanely hard to locate so teachers won’t find it.” Graham shrugged. “The longitude and latitude numbers are in my wallet.”

“I’m kind of a map geek—I have a Garmin handheld back at the dorm.”

“Okay. To Kresky, then,” he said, and led the way. “So, do you surf?” he asked as we walked.

“Sometimes. Not like you, though. I’ve never busted a tooth or anything,” I teased.

“Are your parents going to send your board with the rest of
your stuff? ’Cause there’s a great beach that’s only like an hour or so away.”

“I don’t know if they’ll think about it. I mean, I didn’t mention it, and if my mom is the one packing …” I trailed off. The Xanax they had given my mom to calm her down after the police came had now become a daily staple.

“Forgetful?”

“Monumentally.” I nodded. “Sometimes I don’t think she even knows what month it is.” I glanced away from Graham, afraid that if I looked into his eyes he would be able to tell how my family had fallen apart after Athena’s death.

“Yeah, well. Now you’re here.” Graham stopped in front of the door to my dorm. “And I, for one, am happy about it.”

I couldn’t think of what to say; I’d never been able to express my emotions in that kind of quick, easy manner. It was something we didn’t do much in my family. Luckily, it didn’t seem as if Graham was waiting for a response. He just held the door open for me, and we stepped into the foyer.

Which was filled with bags. About fifteen large pieces of Louis Vuitton luggage, to be exact. Not to mention a black leather trunk big enough to fit a dead body in.
Okay, today’s hospital trip had definitely put me in a morbid frame of mind
.

“How was I supposed to know that the singles here are the size of my shoe closet?” A slightly southern-accented but still commanding voice came from within the walls of luggage.

Ms. Moore was standing next to the ginormous trunk, looking like her head was about to explode. “There are dimensions for all
the rooms clearly stated on both the Web site and your admissions papers,” she said between gritted teeth.

I heard a bag zip shut, and the girl stood up. She was thin and toned, with a golden tan—definitely tennis team material. Her height also added to her athletic appearance; she looked to be around five feet nine, which gave her a good three inches on me.

“Well, that explains why I didn’t know the measurements of the room. My personal assistant filled out all the admissions papers.” The girl opened her whiskey-brown eyes in a wide, innocent manner. “I’d have never imagined that it would be so tiny.”

“Well, Adriana, that doesn’t change the fact that your room is the size that it is, and there is no way for me to make it bigger.” Ms. Moore’s smile was rigid.

“In that case, I guess we will just have to get me another room.” Adriana’s soft accent belied the asperity of her words.

“I’m sorry, but these are the largest singles on campus. Unless you would like me to try and place you with someone in a double.”

Adriana looked at Ms. Moore as though she had completely lost her already feeble mind.

“Ms. Moore, please don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t believe my father, the Virginia senator, paid a quarter of a million dollars to upgrade your athletic fields so that I can live in a
double.”
She said “double” like I would say “rat-infested sewer.” “Besides, I wasn’t implying that
I
change rooms. I don’t even know how we would arrange that with all the movers already gone.”

Graham and I exchanged a look.

“Movers?” he mouthed to me.

“What I am proposing is that you find me an additional room. For my things.” Adriana gestured at the bags, in case Ms. Moore was unaware of them clogging up the common room and foyer.

I could tell Ms. Moore was trying hard not to throttle this new girl. After a ten-second pause—
probably counting down to calm herself
—she took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders.

“There is a storage room on each floor. It’s usually reserved for seniors in good standing, but due to your … special situation”—Ms. Moore’s expression was pained—“you can store your bags there until we can find a more permanent solution.”

Adriana considered this a moment, then nodded her approval. With her problem settled, she looked over at the entrance to the foyer, where Graham and I had been watching in rapt attention.

“Well, hello there. I’m Adriana.” She gave us a glittering smile. Her perfect teeth were brighter than her white shift dress.

“This is Phe.” Graham pointed at me with his thumb. “And I’m Graham.”

“Sorry about all this mess.” She tucked a lock of her straight golden-brown hair behind her ear. “It seems
we
weren’t adequately prepared for my arrival.”

Why did I get the feeling that when Adriana said “we” she really meant “the total morons who run this school”?

“Well, I’ll leave you kids to get acquainted, then. Maybe you can help Adriana put her things up?” Ms. Moore was obviously in a hurry to be out of her presence. “Here’s the key to the storage room.” She dropped it into Adriana’s waiting hand. “It’s the door
next to the stairwell, directly across the hall from your room.”

“Perfect.” Adriana practically purred as she slipped the key into her black Fendi bag.

Ms. Moore gave us a cursory nod and escaped to her room, closing the door a little harder than was probably necessary.

“What room are you in?” I had a feeling I already knew the answer, since my room was across from the stairs.

“One-fourteen,” Adriana answered, confirming my thought.

“One-sixteen.” I pointed at myself.

“Well, isn’t that lucky?”

That, I’m not so sure about yet
.

I smiled, changing the subject. “So you’re from Virginia?”

“My family has houses all over, but Virginia’s home base during the school year.” Adriana shook her head. “Thank God I’m here now. I can almost bear the small-town thing, but the backwoods camo-crazed hunters are too much to deal with. You know what I mean?”

I shrugged. Having never been in her position, I couldn’t really say.

“We better get this stuff cleared out.” Graham motioned to the luggage.

After we—meaning Graham and I—had finished lugging the bags into the storage space, Adriana, who had been putting stuff away in her room, asked us to help her move the huge trunk. And by help, she of course meant do it for her.

“Just set it on the throw rug,” Adriana instructed as Graham and I carried the insanely heavy trunk into the room. “Do you
guys want to listen to some music?” she asked, without turning away from the iPod speaker system she was setting up.

“What do you have?” I inquired. Ariel had a saying for when I started switching out the CDs in her car changer: “All hail the music dictator.” I, however, preferred to think of it as having good taste.

Athena had started me listening to bands like Bad Brains, Buzzcocks, and the Pixies when I was a kid, moving me on to The White Stripes and other more recent stuff as I got older. By the time I hit middle school, discovering new bands had become a contest between us.
If only I could tell her about all the music I’d found in the past year; she would love that
.

Adriana pulled the iPod from her purse and handed it to me. The girl had some good music—she had some pretty bad stuff, too, but it was mostly outweighed by the good.

BOOK: Shadow Hills
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