Page 9

It feels terrifying.

I know I should stay where I am—this castle is gigantic, and I have no idea where anything is—but I’m smart enough to know if I stay here staring at the ceiling, I’m going to end up having a full-blown panic attack. So instead, I take a deep breath and heave myself out of bed. I slip my feet into my shoes and grab my hoodie on my way out the door.

Back home, I’d go for a run when I couldn’t sleep, even if it was three in the morning. But here, that’s out of the question. Not just because it’s as cold as death outside but because God only knows what wild animal is waiting for me in the middle of the night. I haven’t been lying in bed listening to the roars and howls for the last half an hour for nothing.

But it’s a big castle with long hallways. I may not be able to run through them, but I can at least go exploring for a while. See what I find.

I carefully close the door behind me—the last thing I want to do is wake Macy up when she’s been so nice to me—then head down the hallway toward the stairs.

It’s creepier than I expect it to be. I would have thought the hallways would be lit up in the middle of the night, safety protocols and all that, but instead they’re dim. Like just enough light to see imaginary shadows sweeping along the corridors dim.

For a second, I think about going back into my room and forgetting about the whole walk/explore-the-castle thing. But just the thought has the merry-go-round starting in my brain again, and that’s the last thing I can handle right now.

I pull out my phone and angle its flashlight down the hall. Suddenly the shadows disappear, and it looks like any other hallway. If you discount the rough stone walls and old-fashioned tapestries, I mean.

I have no idea where I’m going, only that I want to get off the dorm floor. I can barely stand the thought of dealing with Macy right now—dealing with anyone else seems blatantly impossible.

I make it to the long, circular staircase without a problem and take the steps two at a time, all the way down to the ground floor. After my shower last night, Macy mentioned that’s where the cafeteria is, along with the library and a number of the classrooms. There are other classrooms in buildings around the grounds, but most of the core classes are taught here, inside the castle, which I am all for. The less I have to be out in that weather, the better.

Down here, the hallways are lined with more tapestries, worn and faded with age. My favorite stretches for yards and is vividly colorful. Purples and pinks, greens and yellows, all woven together with no apparent rhyme or reason—except as I step back and shine my flashlight on a wider swath of it, I realize there is a pattern. This is an artistic rendering of the aurora borealis—the northern lights.

I’ve always wanted to see them, and somehow, in all the pain and worry about moving to Alaska, I totally forgot that I’ll pretty much have a front-row seat out here.

It’s that thought that galvanizes me, that has me walking back toward the entryway and the giant set of double doors that lead to the front courtyard. I’m not foolish enough to go traipsing around in the snow in my hoodie and pajama bottoms, but maybe I can stick my head out, see if I can find any lights in the sky.

It’s probably a bad idea—I should just head back up to bed and save the aurora borealis for another night—but now that it’s in my brain, I can’t shake it. My dad used to tell me stories about the northern lights, and they’ve always been a bucket list item for me. Now that I’m this close, I can’t not take a look.

I use my flashlight to negotiate my way back down the hall. Once there, I hold it up so I can unlock the doors, but before I can do more than locate the first one, both doors fly open. And in walk two guys wearing nothing but old-school concert T-shirts, jeans, and lace-up boots. No jackets, no sweaters, no hoodies, even. Just ripped jeans, Mötley Crüe, and Timberlands. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen, and for a second, I can’t help wondering if this castle—like Hogwarts—comes equipped with its very own ghosts. Ones who died at an eighties rock concert.

“Well, well, well. Looks like we made it back just in time,” says the taller of the two guys. He’s got warm copper skin, dark hair tied back in a ponytail, and a black nose ring right through his septum. “What are you doing out of bed, Grace?”

Something in his voice has nervous goose bumps prickling along my skin. “How do you know my name?”

He laughs. “You’re the new girl, aren’t you? Everybody knows your name. Grace.” He takes a step closer, and I would swear he was sniffing me, which is completely bizarre. And also not ghostlike behavior at all. “Now, how about you answer my question? What are you doing out of bed?”

I don’t tell him about the northern lights—especially since I get a glimpse of the sky before he closes the door and it’s just the regular black sprinkled with stars you can see almost anywhere in the world. Just one more disappointment in a long string of them lately.

“I was thirsty,” I lie badly, wrapping my arms around my waist in an effort to combat the cold gust of wind that came in with them and still lingers in the air around us. “Just wanted to get some water.”

“And did you find any?” says the second guy. He’s shorter than the first and stockier, too. His blond hair is shaved close against his scalp.

It seems like an innocuous enough question, except he’s walking toward me as he asks it, getting into my personal space until I have to decide whether to stand my ground or back up.

I decide to back up, mostly because I don’t like the way he’s looking at me. And because each step I take gets me closer to the stairs and—hopefully—my room.

“I did, thanks,” I lie again, trying to sound unconcerned. “I’m just going to head back to bed now.”

“Before we even have a chance to get to know you? That doesn’t seem very polite, does it, Marc?” the short-haired one asks.

“It doesn’t, no,” Marc answers, and now he’s really close, too. “Especially since Foster’s been up our asses about you for weeks now.”

“What does that mean?” I demand, forgetting to be afraid for a second.

“It means we’ve had three different meetings about you, all warning us to be on our best behavior. It’s annoying as hell. Right, Quinn?”

“Absolutely. If he’s that worried about you being here, I don’t know why he didn’t just leave you wherever you came from.” Quinn reaches out, yanks one of my curls—hard. I want to pull away, want to shove him back and yell at him to leave me alone.

But there’s trouble here. I can feel it, just like I can feel the barely leashed violence rolling off these guys in waves. It’s like they’re desperate to hurt someone, desperate to rip someone apart. I don’t want that someone to be me.

“What do you think, Grace?” Marc sneers. “You think you can handle Alaska? Because I’m pretty sure it’s going to naturally unselect you pretty damn quick.”

“I’m just…trying to get by until graduation. I don’t want any trouble.” I can barely force the words out of my tight throat.

“Trouble?” Quinn laughs, but the sound is completely devoid of humor. “Do we look like trouble to you?”

They look like the very definition of trouble.

Like, if I looked trouble up in the dictionary, their pictures would be right there, front and center, along with a giant warning stamp. I don’t say that, though. I don’t say anything, actually, as my brain races to figure a way out of this terrifying situation. Part of me thinks I must be dreaming, because this feels like a scene out of every teen movie ever, where the school bullies decide to gang up on the new kid just to show her who’s boss.

But this is real life, not the movies, and I have no delusions that I’m the boss out here or anywhere. I want to tell them that, but right now answering feels like acquiescence, and that’s the last thing you’re supposed to do when dealing with a bully. The more you give them, the more they try to take.

“So tell me, Grace. Have you had a chance to see the snow yet?” Marc asks, and suddenly he’s way too close for comfort. “I bet you’ve never even seen snow before.”

“I saw plenty of snow on the way up here.”

“On the back of a snowmobile? That doesn’t count, does it, Quinn?”

“No.” Quinn shakes his head with a snarl that shows an awful lot of teeth. “You definitely need to get closer. Show us what you can do.”

“What I can do?” I have no idea what they’re talking about.

“I mean, it’s obvious you’ve got something going on.” This time, when he breathes in, I’m sure Marc is smelling me. “I just can’t quite figure out what it is, yet.”

“Right?” Quinn agrees. “Me neither, but there’s definitely something there. So let’s see what you’ve got, Grace.”

He shifts, braces himself, and that’s when it hits me. What they’re planning on doing. And just how much danger I’m really in.



Really Freaking Wicked

This Way Comes

I whirl around, adrenaline pumping, and make a break for the stairs. But Marc reaches out and grabs me before I make it more than a few feet. He yanks me hard against him—my back to his front—and wraps his arms around me as I start to struggle in earnest.

“Let me go!” I shout, bringing my heel back to kick him in the knees. But I don’t have much leverage, and he doesn’t so much as wince.

I think about stomping on his feet, but my Converse aren’t going to do much damage to his boots, let alone his feet inside them. “Let me go or I’ll scream!” I tell him, trying—and failing—not to sound scared.

“Go ahead,” he tells me as he wrestles me toward the front door Quinn is conveniently holding open for him. “No one will care.”

I throw my head back, slam it against his chin, and he curses, jerks one of his arms up to try to hold my head in place. Which infuriates me as much as it terrifies me. Bending down, I bite his arm as hard as I can.