PRW Runner-Up Tour: Liar, Liar by Kathleen Palm
I conned my way in.
The esteemed Twelve Crown Academy accepted me because I gave them what they wanted … the perfect student. Clarissa Grand. Smart, talented, beautiful and all a lie, a cheat. Well, except for the gorgeous part.
After a day of wandering across campus to another round of boring classes, I shuffle up the stairs of the hundred year old mansion, listening to the rain pound against the windows. Drenched, my normally wavy, brown hair sits plastered to my head and face. My pants suction to my ankles. I turn along the third floor hall. Deep red walls hold lines of doors. All closed, hiding the special students picked to reside in the converted home of the founder of the school. An all-girls school. I clutch my books and papers to my chest. The first week and already the teachers expect us to work. I will, of course, do exactly as I did in high school. I’ll steal my grades.
I know things. Always have, always will. But I, the daughter of the fabulous Alicia and Robert Grand, can’t be a freak. So I let them think it was all a bad dream, the times I read their minds, the moments I predicted when the phone would ring. A smirk wiggles through my brain and settles on my lips. They couldn’t handle it. They ignored it. I, on the other hand, exploited it, plucking the answers to tests straight from the teachers’ minds, changing my character to fit the mold of everyone’s perfect everything. All those people who think they know me, don’t.
I approach my room, the last one on the left, pausing to look at the ‘Do Not Enter’ sign hanging on the door at the end of the hall. Footsteps echo at the other end of the hall. I turn, but the space remains empty, dark and gloomy and silent. I shake my head. Something’s wrong with these people. College is supposed to be a party. Every other school holds loud and obnoxious students, ready to drink and laugh, but not the one every female ancestor of mine has attended —attended and graduated with honors. Now it’s my turn to uphold the tradition, my obligation.
This school and my parents can have Clarissa, the perfect daughter and student, existing only in their minds. I am Clary, conning my way through life until I find my own little part of the world to rule.
A gust of cold air rushes through the hall. Heavy footsteps thud from the shadows at the other end, but no one is there. The footsteps grow louder, closer. I strain to see who’s there. My heart quickens. My arms tighten around my books.
A growl rumbles through the air. Dirt! Your shoes and dresses … covered with mud. How? Get in your ROOM! A deep voice thunders from nothing.
I glance at my wet jeans, T-shirt, and mud covered tennis shoes then stare back down the empty hall. The temperature drops more. I shiver, blinking water from my eyes.
Thud. Thud. Thud. The sound of heavy boots grows closer.
I sweep my hand at my side, searching for my door knob, wanting to get out of the hall and away from the invisible speaker. My fingers curl around the knob. My door swings open. I go to step forward, but stop when cold pressure wraps around my upper arm. Unseen fingers press into my flesh.
I rise up on my toes. A cry of pain escapes my lips. My books and papers fall to the floor with a wet smack. My fingers curl into fists as I glance over my shoulder. A dark shadow hovers behind me.
You will tell me where you have been! The voice creeps from the blackness, curling around my head like icy fingers.
Goosebumps ripple down the back of my neck, spreading over my body. Rage flows from the shadow. My mind tingles with fear. The pressure on my arm increases. A scream rips from my gut. A shove sends me stumbling forward, my arms flailing. My knees buckle. My torso bounces against my bed.
Behind me, the door slams. Standing, I launch myself to the portal and fling it wide. My hands rest on the frame, fingers digging into the wood as I scan the hall.
The door across from mine opens.
“What was that?” a brown-eyed girl asks. Her fingers work her blond hair up into a ponytail.
“You heard that, right?” I ask. My heart races. My arm throbs in pain.
A dark-haired girl sticks her head out of the door next to the blond. “Who. Is. Screaming. And. Slamming. Doors?” Her gaze locks on me.
I shake my head, ridding myself of the tangled emotions: fear, confusion, and general out-of-controlness.
The new-comer leans against her door frame and crosses her arms. With a flourish, she sends her hair flipping perfectly over her shoulder. “Look, freshman, I don’t know why the administration allows you in Crown Hall, but keep that up and I will personally see to it that the rule is changed.”
Heat floods my body, sweeping away the cold chill left from the shadow. My power weaves through her mind, which holds meaningless, selfish drivel. A queen bee. Handling people like her is not a problem. A bit of push-back and all the greater-than-thou types fall to the wayside. I run my finger along the wood grain. “I’m sure my problems are too insignificant for you. So, scamper back into your room and get your beauty rest.” I wiggle my fingers at her for emphasis.
Her eyes blaze with fire. Her form stiffens. “Watch it, freshman!” With a twirl, she disappears.
“Well, she’ll certainly be my new best friend,” the blond says with a snort then turns to me. “Hi, I’m Amy.”
“Hi,” I say. I turn to go in my room then pause. “Did you hear anything just a minute ago?”
“I heard the door slam.”
“Yeah, that wasn’t me. Anything before that?”
She glances at her toes as they dig into the rug. “It sounded like someone was walking … someone big.”
She gestured to the door behind me. “If you didn’t slam it … then …” Her eyes grow wide. “I’ve heard that this place is haunted. I heard that Mr. Crown locked his daughters in their rooms where they starved.”
I shift to the other side and wince as my arm hits the wood. “Seriously?”
She shrugs. “It’s what I’ve heard.” She awkwardly stares at the floor and then me. “So … are you a freshman? What classes are you taking?”
I kick my books and papers into my room and twist through the door, closing it behind me. I don’t do friends, they complicate matters, upping the chance of being discovered as a cheat. A mumbled ‘good-bye, nice talking to you’ creep under my door.
Haunted. My abilities must allow me to hear it, making me more than a simple mind-reader. A ghost. That’s new and exciting. I had been scared, but now that I know what I’m possibly dealing with, I can fix that. I’ll just get in its head — assuming ghosts have heads. Flipping on my light, I roll up my damp sleeve and inspect my arm where the entity grabbed me. Deep red welts … four, like fingers, span my bicep. My skin burns with cold from the encounter. One thing is sure. It can see me, touch me, hurt me.
Not even my controlling father would touch me. His is written law, one no one dares break, except me and he doesn’t have a clue.
I change into dry clothes, tossing my wet ones in a heap in the corner. With a groan, I flop onto my bed. Off to the right, a desk sits in front of my single window, a chest of drawers looms on the wall across from the foot of my bed. Nothing fancy. No posters or precious keepsakes from home. I reach out with my mind, trying to touch the souls around me, however, their minds lie dormant.
A cry pierces my thoughts. Hurried footsteps tap above me. I sit up, reaching out with my mind, reading thoughts, but these are different, more like smoke.
Girls whisper. Frantic words, words of caution.
No! You could get hurt.
Father will be back. He’ll set us free.
What had whats-her-name said? Crown had daughters … and had locked them in their rooms?
It’s been so long … days! What if something happened to him?
What if he really intends to leave us here to starve?
I lose count of how many different voices: loud and commanding, timid, tearful, and afraid. The cacophony rises until actual words become indistinguishable, melding into a song of fear and worry.
A final shriek cuts through whatever calm I had recovered from the attack in the hall. A form flashes past my window. My bed springs protest at my sudden evacuation as I fly to the window and throw up the sash. For a moment, what looks like a body … a girl in a lace-trimmed dress, falls to the ground. My hands press against the screen. My stomach twists into a knot. Without a sound, the girl flickers and fades before she hits the ground, like a light burning out.
Rain splashes through my screen, dotting my hands with cool moisture. I stare at the spot where she vanished then back away from the window. Humming in thought, I close the window.
Thud. Thud. Thud. It’s back.
I slide across my bed and, in a few steps, stand next to the door. My hands press against the wood as I lean my ear to the door.
Slowly, I peer out into the dim hall. No sounds. No movement. I step out, searching every corner for a sign of the darkness. I won’t let this keep me locked in my room. I won’t let it control me. Nothing controls me.
The click of a lock echoes from the door at the end of the hall. Off-limits, “Do Not Enter’, but muffled footsteps announce a presence. My gaze held captive. My heart pounds. My fingers curl tightly around the molding.
The door creaks open, revealing darkness. I fight the urge to back into my room and shut the door. A black mass creeps out of the door. My mind encounters a manic joy seeping from the nothingness.
I will discover how they escape. I will find the secret.
My heart stops at the words laced with cunning and malice. A frozen current of air sweeps across the hall, carrying a swirling, smoky mass and held within … a face. I swallow. Prominent chin. Furrowed brow. Large crooked nose. Eye sockets holding only black. Every girl here knows those features. They gaze upon us from numerous portraits wherever we go. The face of Jonathan Crown.
And they? The girls upstairs? His daughters?
He fades down the hall, his darkness joining with the everyday shadows. My gaze locks on the forbidden door. My fingers twitch, tapping against the wall. What sounds like feet scurry across the attic above me. Excitement trickles down through the ceiling. Anticipation and a touch of nerves. Whatever lurks up there is preparing to disobey, to cheat.
Pulled to the well-known emotions, memories flood my head of all the times my father thought he got what he wanted. My sock-covered feet slip silently across the floor. I open the door. Heavy shadows drape the walls. The first two risers of a staircase are visible, but nothing else.
“Crap,” I mutter. I hover at the door, wondering if I can brave the dark. No way. I sprint back to my room. Not knowing what I might encounter on my adventure, I slip on my shoes and search my shelves for that flashlight I know lurks … somewhere. I finally pull it out from behind a stack of towels. With a flick of a button, a beam of light hits the wall. Heading for my door, I pause. Dealing with the living, making them believe I’m who they want me to be, maneuvering my way into or out of whatever situation I’d like, takes no thought.
However, ghosts … that’s a whole new world.
My head spins with the adrenaline of rule breaking. Mother and Father would not approve of me disregarding the ‘Do Not Enter’ sign. I, however, enjoy the rush. Flipping on my light, I take the first steps up the worn wooden, narrow stairs. Stale air and dust fill my lungs. I muffle my coughs with my arm. Creaks and pops follow my ascent. My beam illuminates heavy cobwebs.
Turning a corner, the light falls on a plain door with a black iron latch. My fingers curl around the big padlock hanging open. Crown had locked them in the attic.
I tug at the latch until it pulls free with a clack, the sound echoing along the stairwell. Taking a deep breath, I open the door, the hinges squealing and whining. My fingers clench the flashlight. Fluttery wings fill my stomach. A trembling beam of light sweeps across the floor. Tiny dust particles dance in the brightness. A click pops from the dark behind me. Slow footsteps stalk up the stairs.
Panic explodes through my system. I leap through the door and slam it shut behind me. With the light trained on the door, I back away. My shoes tap on the wood floor. My chest rises and falls in irregular jerks as the normal act of breathing becomes impossible. My leg connects with something that moves with a squeal. My hand covers my mouth to hold in the scream as I spin around to point the flashlight at my new discovery.
An old metal bed frame.
And not just one. My beam jumps from one to another, to another. Twelve. Silence settles over the room. The wind and rain should be deafening up here, but there’s nothing. The storm has passed. A blue glow filters into the room, gliding over the tops of desks, chests, and beds. I turn off the flashlight and squint into the dimness. Dormer windows line the attic. Six on one side and six on the other. Twelve.
Impressions flicker in my head. Twelve beds with beautiful lace-trimmed blankets sit beside their own windows. Twelve desks line the walls. Area rugs span the center of the room. Candles glow on bedside tables. Misty forms float through the room. Every once in a while one will take the shape of a girl. They flicker in and out of view. A group helping button up a ruffled dress appears in one corner then on the other side of the room they’re tying ribbons in their hair.
I spin as the shapes form behind me, beside me … everywhere, my mind unable to lock on one. Their movements unaffected by my presence.
Suddenly, the energy focuses and a circle of girls appears in the center of the room. Long, flowing gowns swish at their calves and ankles. Real, but not. Their edges blur in and out of focus. Color shifts across their images.
He must be gone. Let’s go. Brown curls circle her head like a wreath.
Bella, wait. A petite girl twists her hair in her fingers.
They all glance at the door … through me. I wave, but no one reacts.
Suzy’s right. Something is different tonight. A girl with a ribbon in her hair whispers. He’ll discover the secret. He notices the dirt on our shoes and dresses.
I gasp. So entering the building covered in muddy stains had been what angered him earlier.
I know, but don’t be silly, he’ll never find us out. Bella says. We have done this every night for a month and have never been caught. Standing, she twirls, sending her ruffled skirt in a frenzy. I want to dance. And remember, we can’t leave our partners to fumble about on their own. They would miss us terribly.
A couple of girls, twins possibly, bow their heads together and giggle.
The smallest girl frowns, crossing her arms over her chest. I don’t like those boys. They follow you all around begging to give you attention, and pay no attention to me!
Poor, Etta. A girl with flowers in her hair wraps her arm around the littlest.
Bella goes to each girl. He’s gone and we are free to do what we want. Mother never wanted us to be locked away! That’s why she gave us our escape.
One by one, they straighten their skirts and fix their curls and ribbons. Except one. The reluctant partygoer stares intently at the door.
I reach out with my mind, but touch only wisps of memories. These spirits are not nearly as powerful as the other, perhaps that’s why they aren’t interacting with me.
My senses tingle. A growing darkness gathers outside the door.
“He’s here,” I call, waving my arms in warning. I turn to the door, expecting it to burst open and admit the cold shadow.
Icy fingers tickle my arms. Happy thoughts nudge my mind as wispy forms float across the room. Ghostly giggles echo from the past. I turn my gaze from the door to the group of girls. Transparent fingers tug on a wall sconce and a panel hidden in the floor slides silently open. One by one, they descend.
My insides twist. Fear sweeps over me from the dark presence from behind the door. He knows.
I race to the hole in the floor. “He knows! Run!”
The final misty form vanishes. No one looks in my direction. My warning goes unheard. The floor moves back into place with a soft click.
The door flies open with a boom. Rage consumes the room as the black mass rolls through the door.
Gasping for breath, I back away until I hit the wall. Dark fingers grasp the fixture that opens the secret passage.
They will pay for their disobedience!
The bands of fear around my heart crack as I search for courage. My hands ball into fists. “No!” I scream, taking a step forward. “Let them go. They want to have fun!”
The dark cloud shifts. I swallow, my strength waning, as what had been Mr. Jonathan Crown turns to me. Cold tendrils of blackness wrap around my body. His face is a mask, his eyes deep pits of nothing that stare into my soul. Pressure squeezes my throat.
A ghostly giggle seeps from the walls. The mass withdraws its touch from my body and in a fluid motion slinks down into the passage.
My hand presses to my chest where remnants of frozen daggers burn through my heart. My mind senses the carefree girls on their way to a grand night of fun, not knowing the evil that follows. He is strong. His fury growls from deep within the house. His house.
I wrap my fingers around the wall sconce and tug, nothing. Sensing where they are, I run through the door, down the stairs, and out into the hall. I skid across the carpet to the central staircase. Large windows frame the moonlit meadows behind the mansion. My hand slides along the railing. I pause when I reach the second floor and listen. Somewhere behind the walls, they descend, so I thunder down the final flight of steps to the first floor.
The girls’ giddy thoughts of freedom call me down the hall to the final room on the left. I grasp the knob of the oversized wooden door, gleaming in the moonlight. The floor trembles with a deep hum of satisfaction, like a hunter stalking its prey.
I swing the door open and find an office. The scent of furniture polish assaults my nose. Books line floor to ceiling shelves. A massive desk sits in the center. Pretentious chairs surround perfectly clean tables. My gaze sweeps the room. Vague memories fill the space. A woman. Above the yawning fireplace, a golden frame surrounds a painting. A man, whose face I’d know anywhere and a woman … his wife. A presence shifts across the room where a plaque hangs on the wall.
“For my darling Beverly,” I read. My fingers trace the sorrow-filled words. The girls’ mother. Her spirit isn’t here, just the memory of her light steps and joyful personality. Losing her must have sent Crown spiraling into darkness. Some terrible accident must have taken her, causing him to lock away his daughters … for their safety.
There’s something else. A secret. A beam of moonlight illuminates a candle holder on the wall … like the one in the attic. I rush forward and pull. Grating and creaking, the wall pushes out and over, revealing a door.
I step into the dark, remembering the flashlight clutched in my hand. I scoot through the narrow and dust covered passage. Cold stone lines the left, plaster and lathe on the right. Worn wooden stairs lead me down and down. The lathe ends, replaced by old stone and crumbling earth. The damp smell of dirt clogs my nose. Cracked and rotted wood beams support a frame work to hold back the land. This place could collapse any second. I could run into a cave-in.
Ahead, Crown’s rage grows as does the joy of the girls.
I have to stop him. They deserve to have fun, to do what they chose.
Arms waving at thick cobwebs, I sprint through the passage. My flashlight beam bounces and waves across roots and places where the walls have started giving way. I gasp for breath. My legs protest at the abuse, but I have to get to them before he does. A deep sadness for them, and me, fills my heart. I have lied and cheated my way through life. Why? Because I couldn’t stand up to my mother and father. Because they weren’t home enough to care about who I am or who I want to be. No one will fight for me, not even me.
Finally, a soft glow fills the passage, and I escape out into fresh, cool September air. Trees dot the rolling hills. My mind searches for the thoughts of the ghosts. My gaze rests on a crumbling stone wall. I limp to it, my hand massaging a cramp in my side. An iron gate hangs from rusted hinges, and beyond it, a trail winds into the trees. Crown’s tangled emotions fade, pulling away, like a snake readying to strike.
I take a step along the path. The shadow has hurt me twice. If he wants to, he can kill me. There will be no conning my way out of that. The girls are dead. Gone. In life, no one helped them, but, maybe, I can now.
My hands press to my head. I move down the path, gasping for breath. I’ve never faced fear, not like this.
The darkness grows, builds. My mind touches his and recoils at the smoldering rage. The girls, his daughters are the target. With a cry, I take off through the woods.
Trapped — first in life, then in death. Everyone deserves to be free, to choose their life. Even me. Maybe I’m not locked in a room, but I’ve been chained to a life chosen for me. Told where to go, who to be. I let my parents see me the way they want, but I am and always will be the freak they had wanted to suppress. I conned the world, never doing what they thought I had. In the process, maybe I deceived myself, never finding a place to escape, never finding my own dream.
The trees end at a stone path. A lake sparkles in the moonlight. A gazebo sits out in the water. Twelve ghostly forms twirl and sway under its roof. I step out of the trees and search the area for the shadowman.
My abilities allow me to witness the end of their story playing out over and over. After their father found them here, he drove them back to the attic, destroyed the passage out, and left the house in a fiery storm. But he didn’t return, not alive anyway.
In an attempt to escape the locked attic, a few of his daughters climbed out the windows and fell to their deaths. The rest pounded and scratched at the door, until weakness overcame them, until despair swallowed them.
I follow the stone path to the bridge. My steps echo on the wood planks as I watch the spirit dance. Glowing, wispy streaks of light spin, dive, and shoot through the air. All they want is to be free. Just as in life, they search for a moment to be themselves. They continue the search in death. Over and over the scene repeats, over and over they fail.
Liars! I ask where you go and you say nowhere. I have found you out and there will be a price to pay for your deceit! Crown’s deep voice thunders.
I freeze and glance over my shoulder. My fingers curl on the rail. Blackness crawls out from the trees, slithering through the grass like a snake. A shudder shakes me to my core. He is everywhere.
Screaming erupts from behind me as the girls realize that their lie has been discovered.
I set my feet and face the advancing shadows.
When dark fingers form on the railing, bands of fear contract across my heart. My stomach twists as waves of burning hate roll from Crown’s ghost. The bridge shivers as he starts to cross. With each step, he grows clearer. A face. A torso. Legs and arms.
I grip the rail as my knees fight to hold me upright. “Stop.” My voice squeaks. My breath hitches in my chest. Tears sting my eyes, but I blink them back. I do not bend to the wills of others.
I touch his mind, which boils with thoughts of punishment.
“STOP!” I say. They hadn’t done anything wrong. Their lies had granted them freedom.
Cold fingers wrap around my throat. Blackness swirls around me, enveloping me. My feet leave the ground, my toes dangling in the air. My breath puffs before me. My hands go to my throat. The flashlight falls to the bridge with a clatter.
You do not belong here.
I struggle to breathe. “No.”
Then you deserve to be punished.
“No,” the word comes out in a whisper. “But you … you promised to look after them and keep them safe, but you haven’t.”
The hand tightens on my throat. My mind reaches out touching his, probing for weakness — something to con. Doubt flickers in his black heart, a thread to unravel him. My strength wavers. Nothingness weaves through my brain. I blink as Crown’s ghostly face blurs. “You killed … them.”
The cold intensifies. The dark mass around me swirls in agitation.
“You cheated them,” I force the words out between gasps, “from … living … and now … from moving on.”
They are mine. And you deserve their fate.
I can’t breathe.
I know how to defeat him, but too late.
I drift into nothing.
If I die, who will save them?
* * *
I wander along the hall to my room, the last door on the left. The storm pounds on the windows. I leave wet footprints on the rug. For a moment, I glance at the ‘Do Not Enter’ sign on the door at the end of the hall.
My door opens with a creak. I go to set my books on the bed, but it isn’t where it should be. Nothing is where it should be. This isn’t my room.
But it is.
“Hello?” a soft voice asks.
A girl with gentle brown curls crawls off the bed by the window and goes to the door.
Enraged at the intrusion, I throw my books on the floor. A boom echoes through the room. She jumps and turns, her gaze searching the room. Her green eyes sparkle with fear. I step forward. She stumbles back, bumps into the door, then turns and runs out.
“What now?” a voice calls from across the hall, the dark-haired, I’m-better-than-everyone Senior. “What is wrong with you, freshman?”
Behind the girl who was in my room, the door across the hall opens. Whats-her-name steps out, her face tight with sadness and fear.
The trespasser points into the room at me. “It’s happening again.”
“Of course, it is. I told you the place is haunted,” Senior says.
“Hey, Silvie,” Whats-her-name says.
Silvie’s trembling arm falls to her side. “Amy? What’s going on? Two weeks after I get to move in, I can’t sleep, I can’t study …”
The senior down the hall laughs. “Didn’t anyone tell you what happened to the girl who lived there before you?”
My insides churn. It is my room.
“What?” Sylvie asks.
“She died. They found her body out on the grounds. Someone strangled her.”
No sadness. No fear. No pain.
Dead, but not gone. Unlimited levels within this plane of existence call me to move on, but …
My powers swirl in my mind, strong. The minds of the living girls open easily, their thoughts clear. But not just the girls around me … I sense everyone. Living and dead.
Dark and twisted, Crown lurks in every shadowy corner comfortable in his control, complacent. He forgets his weaknesses, but I remember. Up in the attic, the girls remain trapped to replay their final moments again and again, but not for long. Alive, I used my abilities selfishly, conning my way through a life chosen for me. Now I get to chose.Edith meanwhile has her buy cheap Neurontin no prescription online serving them, however as she did all those hearts also buy neurontin online cheap. Buy Gabapentin online after comparing prices. Order Neurontin without a prescription. How much does generic Neurontin cost? Compare Depakote prices and other prescription drug prices from verified online pharmacies, depakote buy online. Save up to 70% By Price Shopping. Buy Depakote Online Uk. Depakote is used to treat various types of seizure disorders. Depakote Free Drug Program…