Read The Unbound Online

Authors: Victoria Schwab

Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult

The Unbound

Copyright © 2014 by Victoria Schwab

Cover design by Tyler Nevins

Cover photo of girl © 2014 by Michael Frost

Cover photo of smoke © 2014 by Maarten Wouters

Additional photos by Shutterstock and Tyler Nevins

All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.

ISBN 978-1-4231-8791-2

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www.un-requiredreading.com

To Patricia—

for the shoulder, the ear, and the unwavering faith

In three words I can sum up everything

I’ve learned about life: it goes on.

—Robert Frost

ONE

M
Y BODY BEGS
for sleep.

I sit on the roof of the Coronado, and it pleads with me, begs me to climb down from my perch on the gargoyle’s broken shoulder, to creep back inside and down the stairs and through the still-dark apartment into my bed—to
sleep
.

But I can’t.

Because every time I sleep, I dream. And every time I dream, I dream of Owen. Of his silvery hair, his cold eyes, his long fingers curling casually around his favorite knife. I dream of him dragging the jagged side of the blade across my skin as he murmurs that the “real” Mackenzie Bishop must be hidden somewhere under all that flesh.

I’ll find you, M,
he whispers as he cuts.
I’ll set you free.

Some nights he kills me quickly, and some nights he takes his time; but every night I bolt up in the dark, clutching my arms around my ribs, heart pounding as I search my skin for fresh cuts.

There aren’t any, of course. Because there is no Owen.

Not anymore.

It’s been three weeks, and even though it’s too dark to make out anything more than outlines on the night-washed roof, my eyes still drift to the spot—a circle of gargoyles—where it happened. Or, at least, where it
ended
.

Stop running, Miss Bishop. There’s nowhere to go.

The memory is so vivid: Wesley bleeding out on the other side of the roof while Owen pressed the blade between my shoulders and gave me a choice that wasn’t really a choice because of the metal biting into my skin.

It doesn’t have to end like this.

Words, promises, threats that hung between us only long enough for me to turn the key in the air behind his back and make a tear in the world, a door out of nothing, to nothing—to
nowhere
—and send him through.

Now my eyes find the invisible—
impossible
—mark. It’s barely a scratch on the air, all that’s left of the void door. Even though I can’t
see
the mark, I know exactly where it is: the patch of dark where my eyes slide off, attracted and repelled at once by the out of place, the unnatural, the
wrong
.

The void door is a strange, corrosive thing.

I tried to revisit that day, to read what happened in the statues on the roof, but the memories were all ruined. The opening of the void had overexposed them like film, eaten through solid minutes—the most important of my life—and left only white noise.

But I don’t need to read the images in the rocks: I
remember
.

A stone crumbles off a statue on the far side of the roof and I jump, nearly losing my balance on top of the gargoyle. My head is starting to feel heavy in that dangerous, drifting-off way, so I get down before I
fall
down, rolling my neck as the first slivers of light creep into the sky. I tense when I see it. I am in no way ready for today, and not just because I haven’t slept. I’m not ready for the uniform hanging on my chair, or the new face I’ll have to wear with it. I’m not ready for the campus full of bodies full of noise.

I’m not ready for Hyde School.

But the sun keeps rising anyway.

Several feet away, one of the gargoyles stands out from the others. Its stone body is bundled in old cushions and duct tape, the former stolen from a closet off the Coronado lobby, the latter from a drawer in the coffee shop. It’s a poor substitute for a boxing dummy, but it’s better than nothing—and if I can’t sleep, I might as well train.

Now, as dawn spills over the roof, I gingerly unwind the boxing tape that crisscrosses both my hands, wincing as the blood returns to my right wrist. Pain, dull and constant, radiates down into my fingers. It’s another relic from that day.
Owen’s grip like a
vise, tightening until the bones crack and the knife in my fingers clatters
to the Narrows floor.
My wrist would probably heal faster if I didn’t spend my time punching makeshift dummies, but I find the pain strangely grounding.

I’m almost done rolling up the tape when I feel the familiar scratch of letters on the piece of paper in my pocket. I dig the slip out and in the spreading light of day I can just make out the name in the middle of the page.

Ellie Reynolds. 11.

I run my thumb over the name, as if expecting to feel the grooves made by the pen, but the strange writing never leaves a real impression. A hand in the Archive writes in a book in the Archive that echoes its words onto the paper here. Find the History, and the name goes away. (No lasting mark. I thought of keeping a list of the people I’d found and returned, but my grandfather, Da, would have told me there’s no point in dwelling.
Stare too long at anything,
he’d say,
and you start to wonder. And where does wondering get you?
Nowhere good.
)

I head for the rusty rooftop door. Finding Ellie Reynolds should keep me busy, at least until it’s a more acceptable hour to be awake. If I told my parents how I’d been spending my nights—half in nightmares and half up here on the roof—they’d send me to a shrink. Then again, if I told my parents how I’d spent the last four and a half years of my life—hunting down and returning the Histories of the dead—they’d lock me in a psych ward.

I make my way down four flights of concrete stairs, intensely aware of the silence and the way my steps knife through it. At the third floor, the stairwell spits me out into a hall adorned with worn yellow wallpaper and dusty crystal lights. Apartment 3f waits at the far end, and part of me wants so badly to go home and sleep, but another part of me isn’t willing to risk it. Instead I stop halfway, just past the metal cage-like elevators at the spot framed between an old mirror and a painting of the sea.

Next to the painting, I can make out the crack, like a ripple in the wallpaper, simultaneously pushing and pulling my gaze. It’s a pretty easy way to tell if something doesn’t belong, when your eyes can’t quite find it because it’s something you’re not supposed to see. Like on the roof. But
unlike
on the roof, when I slide the silver ring off my finger, the discomfort disappears and I can see the shape crystal clear in the middle of the crack.

A keyhole.

A door to the Narrows.

I run my fingers over the small, dark spot, hesitating a moment. The walls between worlds used to feel like they were made of stone—heavy and impenetrable. These days, they feel too thin. The secrets, lies, and monsters bleed through, ruining the clean lines.

Keep your worlds apart,
warned Da.
Neat and even and solidly
separate.

But everything is messy now. My fear follows me into the Narrows. My nightmares follow me out.

I fetch the leather cord from around my neck, tugging it over my head. The key on the end shines in the hallway’s artificial light. It isn’t mine—isn’t Da’s, that is—and the first time I used it to open a Narrows door, I remember feeling bitter that it could so easily replace my grandfather’s key. As if they were the same.

I weigh this one in my palm. It’s too new and a fraction too light, and it’s not just a piece of metal, but a symbol: a warning that keys and freedom and memories and lives can all be taken away. Not that I need a reminder. Agatha’s interrogation is carved into my memory.

It had only been a few days. Enough time for the bruises to color on my skin, but not enough for my wrist to heal. Agatha sat there in her chair, smiling pleasantly, and I sat in mine, trying not to let her see how badly my hands were shaking. I had no key—she’d taken it—and no way out of the Archive without it. The problem, as Agatha explained it, was that I’d seen behind the curtain, seen the system’s cogs and cracks. The question was, should I be allowed to remember? Or should the Archive carve out everything I’d ever seen and done within its jurisdiction, leaving me full of holes, free of the weight of it all?

Given the choice,
I’d told her,
I’d rather learn to live with what I
know.

Let’s hope you’re making the right choice,
she’d said, placing the new key in my palm. She curled my fingers over it and added,
Let’s
hope I am, too.

Now, standing in the hall, I slide Agatha’s key into the mark on the yellow wallpaper and watch the shadows spread out from the keyhole, soaking like ink into the wall as the door takes shape. When it’s finished forming—its edges marked by light—I will myself to turn the key. But for a second, I can’t. My hand starts to shake, so I tighten my grip on the key until the metal bites into my skin and the pain jogs me free, and then I shove open the door and step through into the Narrows.

As the door closes behind me, I hold my breath the way kids do when they pass a graveyard. It’s superstitious—just some silly hope that bad things won’t happen unless you breathe them in. I force myself to stand there in the dark until my body recognizes that Owen’s not here, that it’s just me and, somewhere in the maze of halls, Ellie Reynolds.

She turns out to be a simple return, once I finally find her.

Histories are easier to track down when they run, because they cast memories like shadows over every inch of ground they cover. But Ellie stays put, huddled in a corner of the Narrows near the edge of my territory. When I find her, she goes without a fight, and it’s a good thing—as I lean back against the dank wall, it’s all I can do to keep my eyes open. I drag myself back toward the numbered doors that lead home, yawning as I reach the door with the Roman numeral I chalked onto its front. I step back into the Outer, relieved to find the third floor hall as quiet as when I left it. It’s too easy to lose track of time in the Narrows, where clocks and watches don’t work, and today of all days, I can’t afford to be late.

Sunlight is flooding through the apartment windows as I inch the door closed and cross the living room, steps masked by the sound of coffee brewing and the low hum of the TV. Below the date and time stamp on the screen—six fifteen a.m., Wednesday—a news anchor prattles on about traffic and the sports roundup before changing gears.

“Up next,” he says, shuffling papers, “the latest on a crime that has everyone stumped. A missing person. A scene in disarray. Was it a break-in, an abduction, or something worse?”

The anchor delivers the line with a little too much enthusiasm, but something about the still frame hovering behind him catches my attention. I’m halfway to the TV when the muffled sound of my parents’ footsteps in their room reminds me I’m standing in the middle of the apartment, still wearing my black, close-fitting Keeper clothes, at six in the morning.

I duck into the bathroom and snap on the shower. The water’s hot, and it feels wonderful. The heat loosens my shoulders and soothes my sore muscles, the sound of the water filling the room with white noise, steady and soothing. My eyes drift shut, and then…

I sway and catch myself the instant before I fall forward into the wall. Pain zings up my bad wrist as I push off the tile and swear under my breath, snapping the lever to cold. The icy water hits my skin, the shock of it leaving me miserable but awake.

I’m towel-clad and halfway to my bedroom, the Keeper clothes bundled beneath my arm, when my parents’ door opens and Dad pops out. He’s clutching a coffee mug and exuding his usual air of underslept and overcaffeinated.

“Morning,” I mumble.

“Big day, sweetheart.” He plants a kiss on my forehead, and his noise—the static every living person carries with them, the sound of their thoughts and memories—crackles through me, the images themselves held back only by the Keeper’s ring on my finger. “Think you’re ready?” he asks.

“Doubt it,” I say, resisting the urge to point out that I don’t have a choice. Instead, I listen to him tell me I’ll rise to the challenge. I even manage to smile and shrug and say “I’m sure” before escaping into my room.

The cold water may have been enough to wake me up, but it’s hardly enough to prepare me for the school uniform waiting on my chair. Water drips from my hair into my eyes as I consider the black cotton polo—long-sleeved, piped with silver, and sporting a crest over the chest pocket—and the plaid skirt, its pattern made up of black, silver, green, and gold. Hyde School colors. In the catalog, boys and girls study under hundred-year-old oaks, a wrought-iron fence to one side and a moss-covered building to the other. A picture of class and charm and sheltered innocence.

I reach for my newly charged cell phone and shoot Wesley a quick text.

I’m not ready for this.

Wesley Ayers, who labeled himself in my phone as
Wesley Ayers,
Partner in Crime
, has been gone for almost a week; he left right after his father’s wedding for a “family bonding edition” honeymoon. Judging by how often he’s been texting, I’d say he’s opted out of most of the bonding.

A moment later, he texts back.

You’re a Keeper. You hunt down the animated records of the dead in your spare time. I’m pretty sure you can handle private school.

I can picture Wesley tucking his hands behind his head as he says it, one brow arching, his hazel eyes warm and bright and lined with black. I chew my lip as a small smile breaks through. I’m trying to think of something clever to say back when he texts again.

What are you wearing?

My face flushes. I know he’s just teasing me—he saw the uniform before he left—but I can’t help remembering what happened in the garden last week, on the day of the wedding. The way his lips smiled against my jaw, his now-familiar noise—that cacophony of drums and bass—pressing through me with his touch before I could find the strength to tell him no. The hurt in his eyes once I did—so well concealed that most people wouldn’t even notice. But I did. I saw it in his face as he drew back, and in his shoulders as he pulled away, and in the corners of his mouth as he told me it was fine.
We
were fine. And I wanted to believe him, but I didn’t. I don’t.

Which is why I’m still standing here in my towel, trying to think of what to text back, when I hear the apartment’s front door open and slam. A second later, a breathless voice calls my name, and then there’s a knock on my bedroom door. I toss the phone aside.

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