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Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Action/Adventure · #2154249
The first chapter of my YA adventure novel. Enjoy, and I'd love feedback :).

Chapter One

Welcome to Brycean.

There's a tension that settles in between the last five minutes of class and the bell. It's an anxious kind of waiting, the kind that makes your toes curls and your fingers jump nervously on the desk. The present fades, and the mind opens up to the future just beyond the bell's ring. The tck-tck-tck-ing of the clock becomes a convulsing madman wielding a loaded gun, and everyone watches his trembling finger with equal excitement and fear, waiting for that second where everything explodes.


         The lunch bell rang, jolting Mr. Griffith's Shakespeare class awake.

Mr. Griffith glared at the clock from behind his copy of A Midsummer's Night's Dream. "It's that time again, class." He sighed theatrically. "For you to waste the precious knowledge that we work so tirelessly to force through your skull on the frivolity of youth."

The class stared at him blankly.

"Class dismissed," he added.

         With those two words, the class sprung to life. Students jumped out of their seats, swung their bags over their shoulders, and rushed out of the room to get the first swipe at lunch. Within seconds, twenty out of the twenty-one desks were empty.

         In the last desk sat a girl completely lost in her book. She had frizzy brown hair (the kind no amount of flat-irons or gel could tame) and a round face that made her look years younger than she actually was. The girl was so absorbed in her book that she was perched on the edge of her seat, nose inches away from the page. Her chair was tilted forward slightly, rocking gently between balance and disaster. 

         Mr. Christopher was too busy grumbling to himself to notice she was there until he turned to leave. "Jennifer?"

The girl didn't move.


Entranced, the girl slowly turned the page. Her eyes slid across the words with childlike excitement, savoring every word and completely tuning out the rest of the world.

Mr. Christopher let out an impatient hmph. "Jenny!"

Jenny Amberson startled so suddenly that Mr. Christopher screeched. "Sorry!" she said reflexively. "I just got caught up in Act Three, Scene Two, when Helena calls Hermia a-"

"Class is over, Jennifer," said Mr. Christopher. "You might want to get your lunch before those barbarians eat everything, including the lunch ladies."

Jenny shoved her books into her backpack, promising herself that she would re-organize later in order to beat the pre-lunch mosh pit.

Too late. The hallways of Brycean were already swarming with tightly-knit clusters of sophomores and juniors. They formed a dense, ever-moving mob that swallowed everything else in Jenny's line of sight. The only thing you could see were the Missing Person posters that papered the walls.

         Tammi Lupa wasn't a classic beauty. In the photo the police had chosen for the poster, Tammi's hair was dyed electric blonde, her olive eyes were circled with harsh makeup, and her thin lips were curled into a sneer. Around her neck hung a necklace with a green crystal heart dangling from it. The posters were plastered everywhere; in the hallways, in the classrooms, even in the bathrooms. Each one screamed in bright red letters Have You Seen This Person? Have You Seen This Person? Have You Seen This Person?

         Jenny cringed. It was bad enough to have her former friend glaring at her from every corner of the school, but seeing Tammi's face watch her face the crowds was even worse. It felt like Tammi was smirking at how much Jenny hated the sticky, sweaty mass of bodies pushing against each other.

         Jenny took a deep breath, fixed the collar of her sweater for courage, and plunged into the crowd.

The sickly warmth radiating off the crowd was enough to make Jenny feel lightheaded. She pushed her way through the human maze, trying to avoid damp armpits and swinging locker doors. Moist limbs pushed against her from all angles. For a second, Jenny's throat closed up and her heart beat wildly, desperate to jump out of her chest and escape into the crowd, but Jenny shoved the feeling down.

A sudden wave of B.O. made Jenny gag. A Physics textbook whizzed past her left arm. Someone bumped into her elbow.

         "Sorry!" she said.

         Just when Jenny thought she couldn't take it anymore, the crowd began to thin out. Jenny let out a sigh of relief when she finally reached her locker.

"I don't see why we can't just walk single file," Jenny said to herself as she spun her lock thirteen to the left, twenty-seven to the right, and nine to the right. Her locker clicked open, and Jenny stuck her head into her tidy, Purell-scented haven. She inhaled the cleansing scent, and instantly felt calmer. Jenny's stress melted away, and she was taken to a land where it was never crowded and everyone wore deodorant.

         Someone behind her laughed. "This wouldn't happen if you left class at a normal time, Jenn."

         "I was only one minute late! This school should really invest in wider hallways." Jenny turned around to see her best friend, Alexandra Curr. Alex was long and lanky with mahogany brown skin and long black hair that was swept into a no-nonsense ponytail. She wasn't skinny in that delicate, skeletal way supermodels are. Alex was built entirely of the lean muscle that came from years of soccer practice.

Alex flipped the hood of her Superman sweatshirt up. "Whatever helps you deal with the crowd. Hey, did you see the newest issue of The Scarlet?"

"Not yet," said Jenny.

"Heads up!" Alex tossed a copy of the school's newspaper at her. "Turn to page twenty-one."

Jenny did. The page was a spread of the varsity girls' soccer team. The team stood single file along the bleachers, arms folded stoically behind their backs. Jenny spotted Alex instantly in the sea of red jerseys and yellow shorts. While the other girls had the slouched shoulders and sleepy eyes that all seniors, Alex stared directly at the camera, eyes sharp and biting back a proud smile.

"It's you!" Jenny pointed excitedly at the tiny Alex.

"Read the bit at the bottom."  Alex jogged in place impatiently.

Jenny cleared her throat. "In her first varsity game, sophomore Alexandra Curr scored four goals, making her mark as the youngest member on the varsity team and displaying a promising talent for the Brycean Cheetahs-Oh, Alex!"

Alex puffed her chest out proudly.

"And they even spelled your name right!" Jenny squinted at the newspaper. "Although they say you're the only Indian player on the team…"

"What?" Alex grabbed the newspaper back. "I told them I was Blasian! How did they get Indian out of half black, half Asian?"

"Still! Your name is in the paper," said Jenny.

"And this is just the beginning." Alex stuck her leg in front of her and bent into a deep stretch. "Coach still has me playing defense. Once she moves me to midfield, she'll see that-"

Before Alex could finish her sentence, a senior carrying two steaming lattes crashed into her. Books, dirty gym clothes, and overpriced coffee went flying everywhere.

Alex's eyes widened in horror. "Shit! I'm so sorry, I just-shit." She tried to wipe off his dripping sweatshirt with her Geometry textbook.

"Get your hands offa me, bro!" The senior swatted Alex's hands away. "This sweatshirt was brand-fucking-new, asshole, and if you think-"

In the middle of Alex's attempts to grab her gym clothes, the hood of her sweatshirt fell, freeing her long ponytail. It almost hit the senior in his face when she stood back up.

The senior's eyes widened. "Oh, man, I thought you were a...shit, sorry, dude-I mean girl...I mean..."

         Alex stopped scrambling to pick up her things. Her eyes narrowed. Slowly, she got to her feet and drew herself up to her fullest height.

         "Finish your sentence," Alex said coldly, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

         The senior suddenly got defensive. "Sorry," he sneered, not sounding the least bit sorry. "I didn't know girls could be so...tall."

"And I didn't know that varsity pitchers could carry around this much pot and not get kicked off the team." Alex picked up a plastic baggie that had fallen out of the senior's pocket.

The senior's face drained of color. "Yo, if Coach catches me one more time, I lose my scholarship. Come on now."

Alex sighed and tossed the baggie back. "Next time, look where you're going. And maybe if you cut back on smoking, the baseball team could get out of that nine game rut."

Jenny shook her head as the senior stormed away. "You didn't have to be so mean."

"I wasn't being mean, I was being fair." Alex tightened her ponytail. "He thinks I look like a guy, so I-" her fingers froze at the back of her neck. She swore. "Where's my necklace?" Alex dove to the floor, pawing through her gym clothes. "It was just here, it was literally just here! I swear to God, if that little shit took it, I'll-"

"It's right here." Jenny scooped a copper-colored locket off the ground. "Look, no scratches or anything. Want me to help you put it back on?"

Alex let out a sigh of relief. "What would I do without you, Jenn? And no, thanks, I got it." she took the necklace out of Jenny's hands and re-clasped it around her neck. "This dumb thing gives me more trouble than Remedial English."

         "But why do you wear it if it gives you so much trouble?" Jenny asked as they walked into the cafeteria.

         Alex shrugged.

         "Family heirloom?" Jenny guessed, but she doubted it. The copper heart was crudely made and the gold chain it hung from looked fake.

         "Nope. How many gallons of salt do you think they poured in the mashed potatoes today?" Alex slid her plastic orange tray along the counter, where three options awaited them: meat loaf with mashed potatoes, carrot soup with garlic bread, and, as always, Chef's Corned Beef Hash Surprise. "I have to stay below a thousand milligrams when I'm training."

"I'm not going to find out." Jenny took one of the carrot soup trays. "My taste buds still haven't recovered from Pureed Pastrami Passover."

         "Always playing it safe." Alex grabbed one of the meatloaf trays. "Where's your sense of adventure?"

         "Being trapped on a deserted island is an adventure." Jenny told her friend as they made their way to the checkout line. "Sneaking into a masquerade ball to meet your true love is an adventure. Eating an over-seasoned lunch is not."

         "You read too much."

The duo carried their trays into the dining area. The dining room was a large circular room painted in a vulgar shade of pea soup green. Students gravitated towards their cliques' tables. The popular kids claimed the tables in the middle, trading Diet Cokes and inside jokes like they did every day. The Wannabees flocked to the tables closest to the popular kids in the hopes of catching some second-hand coolness. The other groups (the theatre kids, the junior varsity athletes, the gamers who are a little too into anime) had the tables on the outer edge of the circle. Above it all hung yet another Tammi Lupa Missing Person poster. Her eyes watched over the crowd, her silent plea being drowned out by the clutter and chatter of the students enjoying their normal lives. Have You Seen This Person? Have You Seen This Person?

Jenny and Alex sat at their usual table towards the back. On Mondays and Fridays, they sat with their four closest friends: Beth Amazon, Allison Klipspringer, Rita Cavalira, and Cassandra Shakes. But for the rest of the week, their lunch schedules didn't line up, so they sat with Alex's cousin, Gregory Curr and his best friend, Paul Von Dermenoff.

With thick brown hair and the voice of a 1920s crooner, Gregory could have

easily been the most handsome boy in the grade if it wasn't for the massive purple birthmark that swallowed up most of his right eye. Paul had neatly trimmed blonde hair and the collar of his pastel polo shirts were always popped. At the moment, Paul was trying to fit five Oreos into his mouth while Gregory recorded it on his phone. 

"Ladies." Gregory nodded at the girls as he filmed. "I'm taking bets on how many he can fit in his mouth."

"What if he chokes?" Jenny fiddled nervously with her fork.

"Go, man, go! You can make it to six!" said Alex.

Paul managed to fit a fourth Oreo into his mouth before spitting them all out. "Yes!" he high-fived Gregory. "New record!"

Jenny stirred her soup and looked up at the poster behind Paul. No matter how many times she saw the poster, her stomach still dropped every time she saw her old friend's face above the angry red letters. Jenny lost sleep every night picturing Tammi lost in some ever-moving mist, running from horrible monsters with grey teeth and curved claws that snatched at her arms and her legs, mouth open in a voiceless scream Have You Seen This Person? Have You Seen This Person? 

"Don't they have enough posters up already?" she asked.

"I can't take a dump without seeing her face." Paul took a huge bite of meatloaf. "Literally. There are posters on the insides of the stalls now." He winked at the poster. "Not that it's a bad face to look at. She's got gorgeous lips."

Gregory rolled his eyes. "So, Jennifer, are you-"

"And great boobs. Like really great boobs. They have to be double D at least-"

Gregory smacked Paul in the stomach. "There are ladies present. And close your mouth when you chew." He looked at something over Jenny's left shoulder. "Jenny, Claire seems to be… observing you again."

Jenny snuck a peek over her shoulder. Sure enough, at the table on the other side of the cafeteria, a bony girl was glaring at her. Claire Ossium was painfully thin, her hipbones and elbows jutting out meanly from her body. Scraggly brown hair hung to her hips, and her skin was a sickly yellow-white, like milk about to turn bad.

Everyone else at her table was in constant motion; leaning in closer to gossip, gnawing on the tough meatloaf, throwing their heads back in laughter. Not Claire. She sat perfectly still in the middle of the animated group. The only movement was in her eyes, jerking her vision between Alex and Jenny.

Claire had been friends with Jenny, Alex, and Tammi before the big fight. The four had been closer than sisters since first grade, spending every weekend at each other's houses, dreaming about their weddings, and making scrapbooks with titles like Best Friends 4Eva! And True Sisters. But after an explosive argument in freshman year, the group split off, Jenny and Alex sticking together while Claire and Tammi became even closer. After Tammi disappeared, Claire's hatred for the girls turned into acidic loathing.

Jenny turned back around, but she could still feel Claire's eyes staring at the back of her head.

The intercom at the front of the cafeteria made a terrible crackling noise as it sputtered to life. Everyone winced at the grating sound and turned around to face the intercom, as if it was Dean Baer perched above the cafeteria door instead of a rusting hunk of metal.

"Goooooooood afternoon, Brycean!" Dean Baer's voice was warm and strong, 

carefully scrubbed of the twangy Midwestern accent. Everyone in the cafeteria lowered their voice when they heard his. "It's your favorite dean here with your lunchtime update. The Yoga Club will be moving its Fire Flow meetings from seven to seven thirty. So, mark your calendars if you want to go with the Flow!"

Everyone groaned.

"You know you love me. Mrs. Hudson wants me to remind everyone that drinking anything besides water in class is against the rules. You have to be a dean to have latte privileges. Don't forget Concert Band had their October concert tonight at nine. And let's give a big Brycean Bravo to the girls soccer team for their 19-10 victory against Tinal last night!"

Several people clapped politely. Alex beamed.

"And finally, please keep in mind that the specialists from Mold-B-Gone will be here again today from ten to two, so don't freak out when you see men walking around in yellow hazmat suits. They'll be working in the Basement all day, which is still off-limits to anyone that doesn't want to get toxic mold in their lungs. Alright, that's all from me. Enjoy your lunch."  The sound of shuffling papers muffled his voice for a moment. "Oh, I almost forgot. Several of you have been asking for updates on Tammi Lupa's disappearance."

Jenny and Alex sat up a little straighter.

"I received a call from Detective Krikor this morning. Before I go on, I should give you fair warning that his report was alarming. When he and I first spoke in June, he was almost certain that Tammi had run away from home and would return soon. Today, however, he said he and his team are leaning heavily towards suspecting foul play."

In one slow, horrified movement, everyone in the cafeteria turned to look at Jenny and Alex.

Jenny quickly turned her head to see how Alex was handling it. Alex was glaring back at the crowd, ready to pounce on anyone who dared mention her involvement in Tammi's disappearance. On the other side of the room, Claire was smirking.

Jenny was used to people staring at her. As a child, it was because her mother died from an alcohol withdrawl seizure after attempting to quit drinking cold turkey. In middle school, it was because of her mental breakdown during gym class that led to dodgeball being banned from Brycean. And now, she and Alex were the prime suspects in the disappearance of the most popular girl at Brycean.

"But don't lose hope. Detective Krikor says that he is certain that they'll find her before Thanksgiving break."

Paul narrowed his eyes at the intercom. "Didn't he say on the first day of school that he was '100 percent certain' they'd find her by Labor Day?" he whispered to Alex.

"So, keep your eyes peeled and your hopes high. I'm always in my office if you need to talk. Enjoy your lunch and remember the Brycean motto: "Et splendida, audax esse, bonum esse". Be brilliant, be bold, be good."

Jenny looked down at her carrot soup. She tried to take another bite, but her stomach turned when she saw soup spill of the edge in thick, suety globs. In the florescent lighting, it looked like blood. Jenny put her spoon down and pushed her bowl away.

Jenny couldn't stop thinking about the last time she saw Tammi before she disappeared. It was the last day of freshman year. They'd passed each other outside of school. It had been a bright, windy day that made Jenny's eyes water and her nose run. Tammi had been sitting on a bench, legs crossed, scrolling through Instragram and sipping an extra -large iced coffee.  She had been wearing a blue cashmere sweater and leggings. She seemed like her normal self on a normal day. That was the last day anyone saw Tammi.

At first, no one suspected foul play. Everyone liked Tammi. She had a loving family and dozens of friends who adored her. The only two that had problems with her were Jenny and Alex. Dean Baer pulled them into his office shortly after Tammi's disappearance to assure them everything was going to be okay. But the more Dean Baer tried to comfort them, the clearer it became that if Tammi didn't turn up soon, Jenny and Alex's heads were the first on the chopping block.

Dean Baer insisted that everything was normal. He promised everyone that Tammi was fine, that they were all fine, that Brycean was fine. He swore that every school now had an armed guard at the entrance, that active shooter drills were now mandated by the city, and random locker checks were just to make sure students weren't hiding food. Jenny wondered if everything truly was fine, why Dean Baer spent so much time telling people that it was.

"I'm surprised he didn't say anything about the lockdown," said Alex.

"Brycean wasn't on lockdown," said Paul. "Right? I fell asleep during Advanced Trig, but I think I'd wake up if someone opened fire."

"Not Brycean. Tinal High," said Alex. "Last week, someone reported seeing Tammi lurking in the parking lot. They put the entire place on lockdown. Check it out." Alex pulled her phone out of her pocket and pulled up a Chicago Tribune article. Her screen was filled with the images of policemen in full riot gear surrounding Brycean's rival high school.

"All that for a possible Tammi sighting?" Jenny reached over and zoomed in on one of the pictures. One of the police dogs had been snapped mid-jump. Its jaws were wide, saliva glistening on his teeth, tongue.

This wasn't the first time Jenny had seen such an aggressive reaction to an anonymous tip. Two years ago, a freshman named Cindy Bloomington went missing from an elite boarding school in the north suburbs. The police had swarmed the area within hours of her disappearance, armed with army-grade assault weapons, helicopters, and attack dogs. Even when Cindy was found smoking pot in her girlfriend's car, the police still kept the school on lockdown for twelve hours. 

There were whispers around Chicago that the police were on edge. Brycean wasn't the only place where reality felt doctored. There was something evil germinating in the heart of the city. You could sense it by the way people hurried indoors as soon as the sun started to set, how they kept looking over their shoulders even in the middle of the day, how normally friendly dogs would suddenly drop low to the ground as if someone was hiding in the alley, how the mayor promised Chicago was a safe city while tripling the police force.

Everyone had their own theory about what had changed in Chicago. Some claimed the drinking water had been tainted. Others blamed the unseasonably cold October. Even more people believed it was the raw horror of mass shootings and violent politics seeping its way into everyday life. 

There was one final theory that only the men who huffed paint behind the preschool believed. They believed that deep in the bowels of the city, a gang that had disappeared over ninety years ago was plotting to take back total control over Chicago. The men who believed this stumbled through the streets, screaming at anyone who passed that Chicago would soon be nothing more than a mass grave. These men were often taken away by police for being 'public disturbances' and were never seen again.

"Do you think it's true?" Jenny asked. "About the return of the Black Mambas?"

"It's bullshit," said Alex. "That's just some crazy rumor stirred up by the same website that said the Cubs are a baby-eating cult."

"I don't know." Gregory swirled his cup around.

"Dude, are you agreeing with the one-armed flasher behind the Walgreens?" asked Paul.

"I'm not saying the Black Mambas are coming back to take over Chicago. I'm not crazy. I'm saying that ever since Tammi disappeared over the summer, something's been off at Brycean and I can't put my finger on it," said Gregory.

Paul chewed on his meatloaf thoughtfully. "Probably the toxic mold getting into our food."

"There probably isn't any toxic mold down there at all," said Gregory. "I'd be a hundred dollars Dean Baer just wants to keep us in plain sight until Tammi is found."

"I miss the Basement," said Paul. "They moved student government meetings to the art studio, and now we actually have to get stuff done." He nabbed a bit of meatloaf from Gregory's plate. "Plus, it's the only place in the building that doesn't have cell service, so it was the only place I didn't have to deal with Mother."

"And you don't have all the teachers breathing down your neck," said Gregory. He watched the intercom as if it was a sleeping creature that might jump to life and attack him.

"We have to be walked to and from practice by crossing guards," said Alex. "Like we're toddlers."

Jenny didn't say anything. She was just as frustrated as her friends by their Big Brother-eqsue school, but she was willing to put up with endless locker searches and security checkpoints if it meant the Basement stayed closed.

She'd only been to the Basement of Brycean once. Every Halloween, upperclassmen would dress up in costumes and lead "haunted" tours of the lower floors, starting with the boiler room, leading through the abandoned swimming pool, and ending at an unmarked, locked door. Jenny went on a tour in her freshman year. The upperclassman leading their tour, who had painted his face to look like Satan, told them the story of the Brycean Four.

Years ago, four Brycean seniors had snuck down to the Basement on Halloween night to party away from the eyes of their parents. But just when they got up to leave, the door locked suddenly, sealing them in without food or water for an entire weekend. No one could hear their screams over the roar of the pipes in the boiler room. When the janitor went down on Monday, they were all dead. 

Jenny had lasted five minutes into the tour before everything went blurry and she fainted. The next thing she remembered was Alex patting wet towels onto her forehead in the nurse's office.

Although fainting in public had been humiliating, that wasn't what kept Jenny from going down to the Basement. It was the unnamable fear that hung in the air, the feeling that you were being watched.

There was something about the room that reminded Jenny of a time long before she was born, back when Chicago was a breeding ground for unspeakable violence. When she was down there, surrounded by groaning pipes and breathing in the stale air, it felt like that time was still alive, waiting in the shadows for the right time to pounce.

A shiver crept up the back of Jenny's neck like cold fingers were walking up her skin.

"Let's talk about something else," said Jenny.

         Gregory grinned. "Scared? Don't worry, Jennifer, I'll protect you."

Paul noticed how wide Jenny's eyes had gotten. "Go easy on her, Greg," he said. "Let's talk about something else. Hey, Jenny, you'll like this. Guess who my science partner is? Here's a hint; he's a junior, he's got his own band, and you're desperately in love with him."

Jenny's heart lifted. "Nelson!"

Jenny loved Nelson Fitzpatrick with such loyalty, such adoration, such wholehearted devotion that it could make you sick. It would be sweet if Nelson knew Jenny existed when he didn't need help with French homework. It wasn't as if Jenny didn't try: she spent hours researching the bands he liked, reading articles about how to talk to boys, and perfecting her Francais so that he's always want to be her partner in class. She couldn't help turning red every time Nelson smiled at her, he was just so funny and smooth and handsome and perfect.

"Did he mention me?" she asked excitedly.

Jenny caught Alex and Gregory exchanging a look. Both had made it clear what they thought of Nelson. Alex thought he was a womanizer with bad teeth. Gregory thought he was a rude, underachieving, greasy-haired stoner who didn't deserve Jenny.

"We were more focused on the fetal pig we were dissecting," said Paul. "Ooh, you want to hear something really gross?"

"Not while we're eating," said Alex.

Paul was too excited to hear her. "So, when we were cutting into the pig's stomach, I accidently cut too deep, and the juices from the stomach squirted out and some got in Nelson's mouth!"

"Still want to kiss him, Jennifer?" asked Gregory dryly.

"And Nelson got so grossed out that he threw up all over the-"

"And we're done here." Gregory stood up and picked up his tray. "Ladies, as always, sorry you had to deal with Paul." He flicked his best friend in the back of the head. "The invitation to the Basement is still open."

         Jenny's mind was still reeling as she and Alex left the cafeteria. She could feel her legs moving as she walked up the stairs and the smooth railing passing under her hand, but her mind was still stuck in the Basement. She was trapped in that unforgiving darkness, reaching out blindly for an escape, any escape, eyes without bodies watching her from every corner as she ran desperately to escape the slithering blackness-


Jenny jumped. The real world came rushing back to her, and she was back in Brycean's neon-lit second floor, standing next to a very concerned Alex.

"Sorry," said Jenny. "I'm just-sorry. Sorry."

Alex grabbed Jenny by the shoulder. "Are you going to have a panic attack? You don't look too good."

Jenny shook her head. "I'm fine. Promise."

Alex squeezed Jenny's shoulder reassuringly. "Don't worry about all this Black Mamba nonsense. I'm sure Tammi just ran away for a weekend and smoked a little too much pot."

"For six months?"

"Maybe not that much, but you know Tammi," said Alex. "She's off chasing some party or following her new boyfriend across the country. She'll be back once her dad cuts off her credit card."

Jenny tried to believe what her best friend told her, but couldn't. She felt claustrophobic in her own skin. She hated the constant feeling of always being watched, waiting every hour to find out what happened to Tammi. She squeezed her lock. For a second, she wished that Tammi would just reappear and everything could go back to normal.

When Jenny opened her locker, her heart dropped. Almost everything was in its place: her books were still organized by color, her sweater neatly hung from the back hook, and the magnets holding up her pictures hadn't moved an inch. But laced between her books, almost artfully, was a green crystal necklace, the exact same one Tammi was wearing in her Missing Person picture.

Fingers trembling, Jenny picked the necklace up. She turned to show it to Alex, but Alex was transfixed by something in her own locker. Jenny hurried over to see what it was. Tucked between the pages of her math textbook was a large bronze key hanging from a scarlet lanyard.

"How did it get there?" Alex said in a hoarse voice.

Jenny took the key and turned it over. There was a small engraving on the head of the key.

Key No. 1673. Access to: Brycean Basement.

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