Authors: Megan Atwood
Kayley sobbed on her bed. Everything was wrong.
All she wanted was to dance like she used toâinstead, everyone she cared about was getting hurt. And she couldn't deny it anymore; she didn't like who she was becoming.
She had no friends anymore, she thought, and no peace of mind. Everything had gone wrong from the moment she had read about the shoes.
She didn't even care anymore if she had the fairy godmother part. All she wanted was for those she loved to be safe.
She decided to skip breakfast and classes and do some more research on the shoes. She tried to remember where she put the book she'd discovered in the back room of the library and finally found it under her bed.
Should she try to find another book that would help? Now that her friends had been hurt, Kayley didn't trust the first book at all. When she picked it up, it felt heavy. Even evil, if evil had a feeling. She could swear even her mood darkened. Why did she ever start reading the book in the first place?
She walked out of her room and headed straight into the library, back into the dusty old shelves, through the twist and turns that had led her to the dark corner once before.
Even during the day, the little space was completely creepy. The frail shaft of light that shined through the corner's one high window only exposed a solar system of dust particles.
She stuck the book on the first dusty shelf she saw, shivering as she looked at the darkened space so hidden from the rest of the library. She couldn't even believe she had been back there once, and she sure wasn't going to do it again.
A voice startled her. “Can I help you?”
It was Geraldine, the librarian. Kayley had always liked Geraldineâabout twenty years younger than most other teachers in the school, she always had some fun fashion thing going on. Today, her glasses sported skulls on the sides. She worked only part-time, so Kayley was surprised to see her on school grounds so early in the morning.
“Um â¦ ,” she stammered, hoping Geraldine hadn't seen her put the book back on the shelf.
“This area isn't for you,” the librarian said. “No one, if you ask me, needs to ever go back here.”
Kayley saw Geraldine shiver.
Then Kayley had an idea. “Is there a book about the legends of this building? Superstitions?”
Geraldine looked at her closely. “Are you wondering about the shoes?”
Kayley nodded and swallowed. “How did you know?” she asked, hoping she sounded nonchalant.
Geraldine chuckled. “It's a popular topic around here lately.”
She squinted at Kayley. “I'll go ahead and tell you the current legend. But I hope you won't go spreading this nonsense around. I trust you to take it for the folderol it is.”
Kayley didn't know what folderol was, but she was anxious to hear the legend. She nodded her head.
“OK.” Geraldine's eyes twinkled. “Legend had it the shoes belonged to Headmaster Quincy's wife.”
Kayley nodded impatiently. She knew this part.
“Well, the headmaster had terrible luck toward the end of his life. His wife was an amazing dancer, but she was killed onstage. Quincy was so taken with grief, he became convinced the shoes were to blame. To save the schoolâin his mind, anywayâhe slept every night with the shoes by his bedside to make sure he alone would bear the bad luck. He nearly lost his fortune and everyone dear to him. Desperate, he took a glass case and locked the shoes inside.
“And legend has it, his luck turned around. He recovered his fortune and saved the school from closing. Supposedly, the case contained the bad luck of the shoes and kept them from infecting the grounds. In his will, the headmaster demanded that the shoes stay within the academy walls; the shoes can only be destroyed if the school is destroyed. The poor man was so delusional. He thought burning the shoes would send horrible luck out into the world. So Dario Quincy Academy keeps the shoes to this day! Or until a few days ago, anyway.”
Kayley was taken aback. That wasn't the story she had read at all. But how had her dancing improved?
“How do you know all of this?” she asked.
Geraldine winked at her. “Well, when you get the academy's librarian job, you also become the keeper of its secrets.” And then she walked away, leaving Kayley alone with her thoughts.
If what Geraldine said was true, she needed to get those shoes back in the case. And she would do it tonight.
She didn't care anymore if she danced well or notâit was time to do the right thing. It was time to take care of the people she loved instead of herself.
All throughout afternoon practice, Kayley was distracted. Madeleine had been promoted to the role of Cinderella, taking Ophelia's place. And Kayley was back in the fairy godmother spot.
It didn't feel good.
Although she danced well, her mind was elsewhere, thinking ahead to nighttime, when she could put the shoes back.
When it was Madeleine's turn to do her solo, Kayley's knees shook up and down. She started to chew on her fingernails.
As Madeleine did her piquÃ© turns, Kayley noticed an antique light fixture swinging above the dance floor. And with horror, she saw a bolt pop out, then another.
Without thinking, she rushed away from the wall and pushed Madeleine out from underneath the fixture. The light crashed down in front of her. Madeleine lay on the floor, legs in split position, fallen but unhurt.
Madame Puant gasped. “Oh my word. Madeleine, Kayley, are you all right?”
They both nodded. The entire class began talking hysterically. Madame looked almost panicked, her eyes wild. “Class dismissed. No practice tomorrow. This place has become dangerous! Patrick, will you please call Bert?”
Kayley walked over to Madeleine and put her shaking hand on Madeleine's shoulder. “Are you OK?”
Madeleine, also shaking, nodded. “You saved my life,” she said in wonder. Kayley felt tears behind her eyes.
“Can you come with me for a second?”
Madeleine's eyes got wide and she nodded.
Kayley pulled her into the hallway and waited until everyone was gone. Tears streamed down Kayley's face.
“It's my fault everyone is getting hurt.”
Madeleine shook her head in bewilderment.
“Madeleine, I'm the one who took the shoes.”
Madeleine gasped. “Kayley!”
Kayley hiccup-sobbed. “I know!”
The whole story came tumbling out of her. She realized then how isolated she'd felt.
“I wanted to become a better dancer, and I read this book that said the shoes would make you a better dancer, but then I just found out that they don't make you a better dancer; they just give the school bad luck and people get hurt! â¦ And it almost killed you, probably because I'm most jealous of how good a dancer you are and how you took Ophelia away.”
Madeleine wrapped Kayley up in a hug.
“First,” she said, her eyes boring into Kayley, “I didn't take Ophelia away. We've been talking a lot about why
have been so distant. She loves you, Kayley. You're her best friend. I can never take that away.”
Kayley wiped her nose as another tear slid down her cheek.
“Second,” Madeleine said, “You don't need any stupid shoes to make you a better dancer. You're a
dancer. You just got lazy. Don't be mad at me for saying it, but you stopped coming to rehearsal early. You just stopped
. The shoes had nothing to do with how you've danced lately. You just started putting some effort in!”
Kayley considered this for a moment. Maybe the electricity she felt wasn't about the shoes but about believing she could get to where she wanted to be.
“And third,” Madeleine said. “We need to get those shoes back into that case. When do you plan on doing it?”
“Are you saying you'll help me?”
Madeleine was at the academy on scholarship. If she were expelled, it was probably the end of her career. How could she offer something like that after Kayley had admitted to being so awful?
“You may not think so, Kayley, but people care about you. Including me. And as your friend, it's my duty to make sure I help you redeem yourself after something stupid.”
Kayley sniffled and then grinned. “Well, you have your work cut out for you.”
“I'll say. So, before we start planning, want one of these?” She pulled out a Twizzler, and Kayley's grin got bigger.
“Now we're talking.”
“Man, this place is creepy,” Madeleine whispered as she and Kayley sneaked into the lobby. At two in the morning, the red Exit light shone on the wall across from them. The glass shoe display stood empty and forlorn.
“You're telling me,” Kayley whispered back.
What she didn't add was how much less creepy it was with a friend. For the eightieth time that day, she thanked her lucky stars for Madeleine. And the rest of her friends.
After Madeleine and Kayley had their talk, they had visited Ophelia's room and grabbed Sophie and Emma too. Kayley came clean and felt a kind of relief that she'd been missing for ages. Of course, Ophelia had called her a couple of choice words, but Kayley could swear she saw a softness in the girl's eyes. Kayley really did have the best friends ever.
Now, in the lobby, she had a chance to put everything to rest. She put the key in the case's keyhole and turned its handle.
And an alarm sounded throughout the school, a whooping, screeching, horrible alarm.
Kayley turned to Madeleine with huge eyes and saw her friend mouth the word
So, Kayley ran. She ran so fast, she barely knew where she was running to. Until she realized she was running right toward the lobby staircase. A crowd had started to gather at the top.
Kayley skidded up to one of the stairway's outside curves and crouched down. She hoped-hoped-hoped no one would see her through the uprights of the banister. She hoped even harder that Madeleine had found a safe place.
Peeking between the banister's uprights, Kayley watched light flood the upper floor. Girls in pajamas stood whispering to one another. Madame Puant strode down the stairs with purpose and stopped in front of the glass case. Kayley backed up even farther against the wall, feeling exposed.
Just keep looking at the case, she prayed.
Bert stood by Madame Puant. Both of them looked disappointed.
Madame's eyes swept the room and, for a moment, Kayley saw Madame leaning over, Madame's back parallel with the slope of the stairs. But her eyes kept moving. Kayley breathed a sigh of relief.
Madame whispered something to Bert, then tapped her cane against the floor.
“To bed everyone! Nothing to see here.”
With the maintenance man behind her, she began her climb back up the staircase.
Kayley briefly saw Ophelia, Sophie, and Emma looking around at the top of the stairs. She knew they were worried about her and Madeleine. Finally, they also returned to their rooms, and the lights went out again.
Kayley's heartbeat slowed to a normal pace. She could only hope that Madeleine had joined the rest of the group and gone up to bed.
Since the case was already unlocked, Kayley told herself she still had a shot. Run over. Toss the shoes inside. Get away.
She tiptoed over to the case and opened it with care, cringing at the possibility that her touch would set the alarm off again. Setting the shoes back on display, she felt a gigantic weight lift off her shoulders.
Then she jumped about five feet in the air. Without a sound, Madeleine had appeared at her side. She grabbed Kayley's sleeve and said, “Let's go! That was way too close for comfort.”
Not waiting for a reply, Madeline moved toward the stairs.
“Where are you going?” Kayley said.
“To my room. I want to get out of here!”
Kayley sighed. “Well, we're not quite done. We have to get this key back to the maintenance man's room.”
Madeleine closed her eyes and whispered, “Are you serious?”
Kayley nodded. “Yes, but you don't have to come!”
“Didn't we resolve that earlier?” Madeline replied. “We're in this together.”
The warm feeling Kayley felt earlier flooded back. Yeah. Friends were pretty awesome.
“The stairway to his office is near the nurse's station,” Kayley said. “If you keep watch at the top of the stairs, I can run down and put the key back where I found it.”
Madeleine nodded, but Kayley could see her face was pale. Time to get this over with.
They tiptoed to the nurse's station, and Kayley peered down the dark stairs. No TV light came from Bert's room this time. Kayley's stomach tied itself in a knot.
Madeleine seemed to sense her unease. “Should I head down with you?”
Kayley shook her head. As much as she wanted Madeline by her side, it was time for her to take responsibility. She started down the lower stairway, aware of every creak.
When she got to the bottom of the stairs, she hesitated. Bert's office was pitch-black except for the bead of red light from his DVD/VCR player. She squared her shoulders and walked in.
In about a minute's time, her eyes adjusted and she could make out the outlines of shelves, a desk, a chair. She made her way over to Bert's desk, ducked down, and tapped her hand along the wall.
She couldn't feel the little door.
Frantically, she ran her hands all around the wall, squinting to see if she could make out the tiny cabinet door.
There was nothing there.
Then she heard footsteps coming down the hallâand whistling.
Bert was back. Kayley hid in the space under the desk, closing her eyes tightly. It was just a matter of minutes before he caught her.
A light came on in the office, and Kayley shut her eyes tighter. She waited to hear Bert's voice, yelling at her.
Instead, she heard a
, traveling like a strange wind through the office door. Kayley peeked under the desk and saw Bert's feet pointed toward the door.
In a shaking voice, Bert said, “Who's there?”
came again. This time Kayley recognized the voice: Madeleine. Her eyes teared upâMadeleine was saving Kayley's skin. And risking her own.
Bert grabbed something off the desk and said, “Quincy house, you won't get the best of me!”
His feet disappeared, and Kayley soon heard him running up the stairs. She wished with all her heart that Madeleine had hidden well again.
She turned back to the wall and spotted, in the light, the little outline marking the key's rightful home. As she crouched down to open the door, Kayley heard something else. The sound started like a whisper and seemed to come along a breeze toward her. A laugh, cold and evil.
Kayley dropped the key on the floor and dashed out of the room. The climb up the stairs to the nurse's station felt like the longest she'd ever taken. Even the chance of Bert being there didn't slow her down. As she reached the top, a hand crawled around the corner and grabbed her.
“It's me,” Madeleine whispered. “Just me!”
Kayley stepped back, her hand on her heart.
“I barely ducked out of the way of Bert. He tore down the hall in the other direction.” Madeleine gave a little smile. “I know why
was freaked out, but what got into you? You know that
sound was me, right?”
Kayley shook her head. “No time. Must go now.”
She grabbed Madeleine's hand and took off down the hallway, occasionally checking back to see that no monsters had followed them.
Kayley ended up sleeping in Ophelia's room, as did Madeleine, Sophie, and Emma. Kayley was way too freaked to be alone, and because it was Friday, academy rules said the students could have sleepovers. When Madeleine and Kayley had arrived at Ophelia's, they collapsed and said they'd answer questions in the morning. At breakfast the five girls huddled around the table together.
Madame Puant came into the dining hall just as breakfast started. “I want you to all know that the shoes have been located and are safely back in their case.”
Murmurs broke out among all the students. Sophie, Emma, Ophelia, Madeleine, and Kayley all gave each other knowing looks.
Madame went on. “Because of recent injuries, we are canceling the production of
, but we'll begin to prepare for
across the next few weeks.” Kayley could swear Madame looked directly at her. “Make sure you continue to practice and keep in shape until then.”
Madame swept out of the dining hall, and the normal chatter took over the room once again.
Ophelia leaned over the dining table. “So, you put the â¦ uh, things â¦ back. But what happened with the key?”
Kayley could feel her face lose color. “First, Madeleine saved my butt. Bert almost caught me. Second, I know I'm going to sound crazy. And you know me. I don't believe in this stuff. But when I was trying to put the key back? I heard this laugh. This super-evil laugh.”
The girls looked at each other. Not one of them laughed.
Ophelia sat back in her chair. “There is something very wrong at Dario Quincy Academy,” she said gravely. “We've all felt it. And I think it tried to hurt all of us. No matter what happens, no matter who gets what part, or whatever, we all need to stick together. Deal?”
Ophelia met eyes with everyone. They all nodded their heads and joined hands in the middle of the table.
Kayley didn't even care how weird it must have looked to the other students at breakfast. They had one another and that was all that mattered.