He darted from one bush to the next, advancing to the front as quietly as he could. It was pitch black—and freezing. The tips of his ears, nose, and fingers all felt numb, and his breath materialized in white puffs. It was well after midnight, so the entire estate was quiet. Mrs. Hall would be patrolling downstairs, peeping through windows and making sure students weren’t out of bed, so he kept moving, staying low and holding his breath as often as he could, least he give himself away with a white cloud above his head.
Thirty seconds later, he was at the front door. Locked, of course. He skirted around the building and headed towards the back. If only he could get someone to see him, maybe they’d let him in. But the only person who would have been up this late was him. Then it hit him. He hurried back to the front door, whispered, “Aperte,” and slipped inside.
He let his eyes adjust to the dark as he stood in the entryway. It was so quiet he felt like his ears were plugged. The smell of toast and coffee, however, lingered in the air—someone had just been up. Whether it was Stanley or Mrs. Hall, he wasn’t about to find out and hurried to the wall by the stairs.
“Frealix.” A globe of light sprang to the tip of his key. But as he scanned the brick wall, his heart plummeted. Where the wall had been, a large wooden board had been erected over it with several other pieces of wood nailed to it in a zigzag pattern. He tugged at one of the boards, but it was like tugging on cement.
Luke whirled around. That had to have been a door opening. Quickly, he extinguished his key and froze in the darkness. The sound that followed sent chills down his entire body.
Click, click, click.
Heels—and he knew exactly to whom they belonged. Luke bolted up the stairs, taking them two at a time. So did she. Her heels followed him as if she knew he was there. He ran down the hallway, racking his brain for an idea when suddenly, he passed an all too familiar door. He ducked inside and waited.
“Who is it?”
Luke jumped, his heart somewhere now in his stomach. He couldn’t believe it. “Betsy?”
Whispers flooded the room. There was a thud, followed by the sound of something moving towards him. Before he knew it, someone had tackled him. “It’s you!” said Betsy, her voice raising above a whisper.
“Shhh! Yes it’s me!” A wide grin spread across his face, but he didn’t have time to chat. “I need a place to hide. And soon. Mrs. Hall’s coming.” She grabbed his hand, dragged him to her bed and shoved him under. Just as Betsy clambered back on top, the door flung open.
He could smell her cheap perfume from under the bed. She clicked her way down the room, hovering over each bed with a candle to make sure each kid was asleep. A deep desire to kick her when she approached overwhelmed Luke. Closer and closer the light crept until it stopped at Betsy’s bed and two red heels appeared in his line of sight. He held his breath as Mrs. Hall surveyed the sleeper. Betsy let out a loud snore.
Luke wanted to pinch her. Mrs. Hall seemed suspicious and lingered another ten seconds. It was the longest ten seconds in Luke’s life. He willed the light to move on. But to his horror, the light grew brighter as it dropped to the ground. Like it was hot lava, Luke recoiled from the light, tucking himself as far under the bed as he could. It must have worked. The light retracted and soon, she had left. Luke wiggled out from under the bed, his entire body feeling cramped. He’d hurt for a week.
But Betsy wouldn’t let him relax. She had already lit the candle by her bed. “What are you doing here?” she asked, giving him a punch on the arm. “And where’s Mark? That night, you two never came back, we’ve been really worried.” The rest of the kids nodded from their beds.
Luke felt his breath catch in his throat. He had felt guilty for weeks about leaving them, but there wasn’t time for an explanation. Not yet. He had to get back to that wall so he could figure out how to open it. With Mrs. Hall roaming the ward, however, he could use a distraction.
“I need your help.”
Several minutes later, and the kids had already gone downstairs to make a mess in the kitchen. Betsy and Luke hovered at the top of the stairs and on-cue, Mrs. Hall tore out of her office and raced towards the kitchen, yelling obscenities at the top her lungs. When she was out of sight, the two of them dashed down the stairs. Luke whipped out his key, waved it at the pieces of wood on the wall, and quickly began removing the bolts. It wasn’t until he had gotten the last one out and the wood had dropped that he realized Betsy had watched the whole thing. But she just stood there, not making a sound or asking a question. He could hear Mrs. Hall yelling; the kids were banging pots and smashing dishes. Suddenly her clicking, however, turned towards the hallway. Luke scanned the brick wall in a panic. Where was the spot to unlock the door? The clicking grew louder.
“Hurry, Luke!” urged Betsy.
And then he saw it. A tiny star on one of the bricks. He waved his hand over the spot and a golden doorknob appeared where the star had been. He gave it one sharp turn and instantly, two lines shot out from the knob in opposite directions, racing along the brick in the shape of a rectangle, until the lines collided and the brick within the rectangle morphed into wood, creating an actual door. He threw it open, grabbed Betsy’s hand and disappeared inside.
There was a gasp and then, “You can do magic. I knew it! I thought I had seen you and Mark do something before—I just didn’t know—“
“Betsy, I need you to stay here.”
“What? Why?” Once Luke had lit his key, he could see that her red mane was a mess and she looked at Luke with sheer disappointment. “I can help!”
“I have to find something quickly and get out, magically. I won’t be able to take you with me,” he said. She stared down at her feet.
“Will you come back?”
Luke felt his chest tighten. He never wanted to come back.
“I’ll do my best,” he said as honestly as he could. “Wait a few minutes and then book it to your room, OK?” She nodded. He gave her a quick hug and, with just the light from his key leading the way, he plunged into darkness.
* * *
[Readers. Please. Send me a blurb of a scene you’re proud of. A clipping. A chapter! I’ll proudly post it with credit. Would love, love, love to read favorite scenes of yours. Until then, I’ll continue the tradition with scenes of mine. (For those of you who are new, favorite scenes aren’t a creative power trip. They’re simply scenes I enjoyed writing.)]