Chapter One

               The squeaky voice of the office receptionist blared over the speakers.

               “As you all know, this time of year brings sketchy weather. The staff wants you all to be aware of the threat we have for high winds.”        

            Her alert fell on deaf ears; we heard this warning frequently in Peekskill during spring months. Every now and then New York citizens heard of hurricane threats, but I’d never seen one in my seventeen years.

           Wind whistled through the cracked windows as I tried to focus on the movie, Last of the Mohicans. I was the only history student watching. Everyone else toyed with their phones, including Mr. Rickets.

           The plot thickened, so I inched up on my seat.

          “Attention, teachers and students.” The principal’s voice now blared over the intercom. “We are dismissing school early. Please grab your belongings and make your way home quickly. Seniors, we’ll have final checkout on Tuesday unless you are notified otherwise. Remember all fees must be paid and books turned in to graduate. Graduation practice will be on Thursday as planned. And students, have a safe weekend.”

         Dismissed? But my movie wasn’t over. I wanted to find out what happened to the kidnapped Munro sisters.

         Mr. Rickets stood by his desk but turned his attention to me. “Darby, will you turn off the TV?”

        As I did what he asked, he announced to the class, “Your final grade will be posted online tomorrow.”

        I shuffled out the door, looking for Cora. Students hollered while they crowded the halls.

       “Darby!” Cora’s long blonde hair swung in my face as she wrapped her arms around my neck. “Can you believe it? We’re finally done. Parr-ty time!”

       She viewed life like a big party; I, on the other hand, felt uninvited.

       “Matt’s letting everyone come over and hang at his house.”

       I moved her arm away. “I have work.”

       “Are you kidding me? Isn’t it canceled?” Cora asked as she walked backward for a moment and high-fived the guys walking by.

       “Work ethics is what this town was built on.”

       Cora laughed. “You sound just like the Mayor.” She spun the combination on the lock. “You don’t have to be to the museum ’til three, right?”

      “Yeah.”

      “Then let’s grab a shake at Rita’s.” Cora threw her books inside the locker while I shoved all of mine into my bag.

      “Mrs. Hopkins wants me to come in as soon as I can,” I said.

      “Okay, Miss Valedictorian, you aren’t any fun.” Cora frowned.

      “Hey, I’m planning on going to the party tomorrow night, so chill.” I mumbled, “Even though Zac will be there with Marcia.”

      “Life’s happening now. Forget the past. After graduation, you won’t see either of them again.” Cora turned to leave. “I’ll call you later. Let’s watch a movie after your shift.”

       I nodded in agreement, knowing she avoided any talk of my ex-boyfriend and our former friend because of all the tears I’d already cried. Cora flashed me her jokester smile before walking away.

      “Shelly!” she yelled down the hallway as I shut the locker.

      I ignored the excitement surrounding me and weaved through the rowdy students out to my car.

      Zac and Marcia were pretzeled together on Marcia’s BMW, a mere two vehicles away from mine.

      “Just my luck,” I whispered, hurrying to unlock the door to my beat-up Honda. Heavy thoughts weighed down my foot as I drove, and I arrived in my driveway before I knew it.

      I spotted Mom when I opened the front door. She stood in the kitchen baking miniature muffins. “Yum, blueberry,” I said snatching one off the rack. She grinned as I took a bite. Definitely comfort food. “Tiny little things.”

      I swore my mom thought my brother, Jeb, and I were still under the age of five, so when the weather flared, mom baked. She believed hunkering down with sweets and family made the storms bearable.

      “You’re home early,” my mom said as my cat, Pepper, waltzed into the room, meowing.

      “Early dismissal,” I tried to say, but Pepper’s yelps intensified and muffled my response.

      “He’s been like that for about an hour,” Mom said.

      “Did you feed him?” The weight of my bag killed my shoulder. I never left my books in my locker in case I needed to look something up. We didn’t have any more homework to do, but my books brought me comfort.

     “Of course. You know how he gets. The stronger the winds, the louder the cries.”

     This was true, but he also had the habit of being loud.

     “Those winds are supposed to get violent. Is the mayor canceling the tea party?” asked my mother.

     “With the Westchester Youth Symphony scheduled? No way. It’s her favorite event of the year, and Mrs. Hopkins will do anything to please her.”

     “Well, with the principal canceling school and all, the mayor should cancel too.” My mom pulled another hot tray of blueberry muffins out of the oven. They smelled delicious.

      “The principal probably just wanted to get home early. Maybe his wife bakes on days like this as well.” I smiled at my mom and popped another muffin into my mouth. I headed down the hall for my room, Pepper right behind me, and Mom yelled something else.       I couldn’t hear her over Pepper’s ruckus. I threw my bag on my desk and sat on my bed to pet him. His incessant meow melted into a soft purr. So demanding.

      A second later he turned and bit my arm.

      “Ouch! You possessed cat!” I threw a pillow at him, and he scurried out. I hated how he attacked when I least expected it.

      Outside my window, the bush scratched the glass like it was protesting the wind. Peering out, I watched the dark clouds rush in. It reminded me of the high school halls a half hour earlier. Hopefully the storm wouldn’t get as unruly.

      I filed my books on the desk and then threw on my high-waisted pencil skirt and stood in front of my full-length mirror. The blue scribbles Cora and Shelly had written on the mirror the day before blocked my view, but I didn’t mind. My red polka-dotted blouse matched my skirt well enough.

       The branch screeched on the window again. Maybe I shouldn’t wear something that exposed my legs. I hung up the skirt and dug out my beige slacks out of the laundry basket. They weren’t too wrinkled. Satisfied, I grabbed my red leather purse from my dresser and shoved my phone in it, along with a new pack of gum and money, just in case. I strapped my purse over my shoulder and trotted down the hall.

       “See ya, Mom!” She wasn’t in the kitchen anymore. I paused and looked around just as she yelled from the den.

       “Are you sure you shouldn’t just stay home? I’m worried.”

      “When don’t you worry, Mom?” I laughed under my breath.

      “Well, all right. Be cautious . . . and come home early if you can.”

      “I’ll probably watch movies with Cora later since there’s no school tomorrow.”

      “Wake me when you get home, then.”

     “Gotcha.” I had to catch the side door to keep it from hitting the wall when I opened it, the wind was so strong. “Bye!”

Pepper snuck inside my car when I dashed in. He had a habit of following me everywhere. I grabbed under his belly and tossed him out. “You’re not going with me.”

      He retreated to the house and resorted to his usual loud ways. Mom opened the kitchen side door and barked, “Now what do you want, cat?”

      This bantering back and forth with him was normal. After Pepper snuck inside, Mom yelled, “Let me know when you’ve started your movie so I know how late you’re going to be.”

      I gave her a thumbs up and backed down the driveway.

      Peekskill Museum sat on Union Avenue a few blocks from my home. The yellow bricked Victorian house stood out like a beacon from the rest of the street, but the only thing occupying my mind was how Zac landed me this job. He knew of my passion for history and introduced me to the manager, Mrs. Hopkins, his family’s friend. I tried to let gratitude flood my heart, but a torrent of anger whipped it instead. Lying jerk-face!

      When I stepped out of the car, a gust of wind flung my door open, taking my arm along with it. Even using both hands, it took all of my might to close it.

      Mrs. Hopkins stood inside the front door and turned toward me when I entered the museum. Her eyebrows rose. I patted my head and discovered my long brown hair to be a ratted mess.

      She said, “Guess it’s a bit wild at the moment.”

      Not knowing if she referred to my newly-acquired ringlets or the wind, I offered a smile while straightening my hair with my fingers. “The youth group should be arriving in about two hours.” Mrs Hopkins looked at her watch. “I mean three hours. You’re early.”

       “Yes, we had an early dismissal.”

       “Good. That means we’ll be nice and ready for the event.” Doubt clouded her eyes as she glanced out the window, but she shrugged it off with the instructions, “Now, finish bringing in the Victorian hats.” She glanced down at my slacks, and her face crinkled. “I guess you’ll be helping cater the hors d’oeuvres this time around, since your attire won’t fit in with our event.”

       Like she had room to judge. I snickered to myself; her polyester dress looked more like the muumuu my grandmother wore around the house. I’d call them pajamas before anything professional.

       Mrs. Hopkins took a few steps forward. “Megan moved the tablecloths. I’ll show you where they are.” Her instructions halted when we heard a crash in the back room. She ran down the hall. “Fred, is that you?” she called to our handyman.

       Uncertain as to whether I should follow, I stood and listened. The house popped and shifted from the outside storm. Maybe this event should be canceled.

       Footsteps and yelling came from the second floor at the same time my phone rang. I grabbed it out of my purse. “Hello.” Nothing but loud static, so I said, “Hello,” again.

       “You’ve been selected to––” broke through the noise. And then, “Congratulations. See you next Wednesday.” The call ended. Confused, I looked at the number. It wasn’t one I recognized. Trying hard to place the female voice, I thought of graduation practice. Did this news have to do with my seating? I hit the recall button in hopes of a better connection, but it didn’t even ring.

Rain pelted over the roof while wind pounded violently against the windows. I dashed over to peek outside. The sky darkened. Fear sank into my soul as the shutters flew into the air.

       “I believe it’s a hurricane, Darby. Come away from the windows!”

       Mrs. Hopkins’ voice startled me and I stepped back, slamming into the display case behind me hard enough to send a fracture across the top glass and shatter the fragile shelves inside. Glass splintered over the Indian artifacts.

       “I’m sorry. I––”

       Fred grabbed my arm. I didn’t even know he stood behind me. I dropped my phone, and it landed on top of the cracked case, crashing in among the items.

       “We need to go,” he said with the certain innocence that only comes from a lanky man who obviously cuts his own hair.

       Wrestling free, I reached carefully inside the broken case for my phone. A glowing half-circle stone stuck to my cell like a magnet.          “Come on. We’re running out of time,” Fred said with impatience.

       Covering this mysterious artifact with my hand, I threw it in my purse away from Fred’s view. I’d return the item later. I just couldn’t risk Fred taking my phone. I fought with the broken zipper on my purse and noticed a new purple mark on my palm. It pulsated like a burn.

       Fred briefly tugged on me, so I said, “Where are we going? I’ll need to call my Mom. She’s the worrying kind.”

      “When we’re safe. Your mom would want you safe,” Mrs. Hopkins said in haste. She moved over toward Fred and I.

       “Let’s get to the underground storage.”

      “We have to hide out in the cellar.” Concern wrinkled Fred’s brow. “We’ll go out the back way.” He rushed toward the back door.

      Mrs. Hopkins pushed me slightly. “Follow Fred.”

      Shuffling forward, I said, “I have to check in with my family.” I didn’t want to settle for anything but the comforts of my own home, especially since they were only a few blocks away.

      “After the storm passes. Thank heavens no one else has come yet. Hopefully everyone’s tuning in to the weather report.” Moisture from Mrs. Hopkins’s sweaty hand seeped through my silk blouse.

      Fred opened the back door, and a vacuum of currents sucked us outside. We tried to hold onto the handrail as we stepped, but the pressure from the backdraft fought for our release. I saw the vicious whirlwind swirling blocks away from us, howling like a banshee.         Fred ran to open the hatch on the underground storage while Mrs. Hopkins fought to keep her flowered dress down. My hair flapped in front of my face. I sprang into action while Fred struggled with the latch.

       “I have to make it home. I can outrun the whirlwind in my car.” I slipped out of Mrs. Hopkins’s grip and ran to my Honda.

       Luckily the unlocked door made it easy for me to jump in. Mrs. Hopkins screamed something at me, and then Fred pulled her to safety. I unsnapped the front pocket of my purse for my keys. My hands shook as I turned the ignition. The greenish-black tunnel twirled closer.  I gunned the engine, but the car didn’t move. I glanced down. “Freak!” The car sat in park.

       In a blink, my vehicle was engulfed in a thick cloud. My screams paled to the boisterous roar vibrating in my eardrums. I tried to shelter them with my hands, but no amount of pressure could stop the savage sounds. I yelled my protest as the car lifted off the ground. My heart sank into my stomach. “I have to get my diploma! I worked much too hard for it.”

       My car spiraled, then tipped sideways. I gripped the steering wheel tightly, but my passenger car door swung open and then disappeared.

       “Nooo!” I yelled, but the force was too strong. The strange abyss swallowed both me and the car. 

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