Sanctum (Asylum #2) by Madeleine Roux

It was a fantasy of lights and sounds and smells, crooked candy-striped tents, and laughter that burst like cannon fire out of the winding paths. Curiosities lurked around every corner. A man belched flames from a podium. The scent of fried cakes and popcorn hung sweet and heavy on the air, tantalizing until it became sickening. And in the very last tent was a man with a long beard—a man who didn’t promise riches or oddities or even a glimpse into the future. No. The man in the last tent promised the one thing the little boy wanted most of all.

Control.

You guys are not even going to believe this, Dan typed, shaking his head at the computer screen. A “memory manipulation expert”? Is that even a real thing? Anyway, just watch the video, and let me know what you think!

His cursor hovered over that last line—it sounded so desperate. But whatever, Dan was starting to get desperate here. His last three messages had gone unanswered, and he wasn’t even sure if Abby and Jordan were still reading them.

He hit send.

Dan leaned away from his laptop, rolling his neck and listening to the soft pops of his spine adjusting. Then he closed the thing—maybe a little too sharply—and stood up, shoving the computer into his book bag between loose papers and folders. The bell rang just as he finished packing, and he filed out of the library into the hall.

The students in the wide corridor surged forward in one long column. Dan spotted a few kids from his third-period calculus class, and they waved at him as he approached their bank of lockers. Missy, a short brunette with freckles splattered across her nose, had decorated the door of her locker with just about every Doctor Who sticker and postcard she could get her hands on. A tall, gangly boy named Tariq was grabbing books from the locker next to hers, and beside him stood the shortest guy in twelfth grade, Beckett.

“Hey, Dan,” Missy greeted him. “We missed you at lunch. Where’d you run off to?”

“Oh, I was in the library,” Dan said. “I just had to finish something for AP Lit.”

“Man, you guys have to do so much work for that class,” Beckett said. “I’m glad I stuck with regular English.”

“So, Dan, we were just talking about Macbeth when you walked up. Were you planning on going?”

“Yeah, I heard the set is amazing,” Tariq said, shutting his locker with a clang.

“I didn’t even know we were doing Macbeth,” Dan said. “Is it like a drama club thing?”

“Yes, and Annie Si is in it. That’s reason enough to go right there.” Beckett shot the boys a mischievous smile, one Dan only barely returned, and then the group started down the hallway. Dan couldn’t remember what classes the rest of them had next, but even if he hadn’t been doing any work in the library, he really was headed to the second floor for AP Lit. It wasn’t his favorite class, but Abby had read most of the books on the syllabus and had promised to give him a rundown at some point, which made it better.

“We should check it out,” Tariq said. He was wearing a sweater three times too big for him and skinny pants. It made him look a little like a bobblehead. “And, Dan, you should join us. I might be able to get us free tickets. I know the lead techie.”

“I don’t know, I’ve never really liked Macbeth. It hits too close to home for OCD people like me,” Dan deadpanned, rubbing furiously at an invisible stain on his sleeve.

Both Missy and Tariq stared back at him blankly.

“You know?” He chuckled weakly. “‘Out, damned spot’?”

“Oh, is that from the play?” Tariq asked.

“Yeah, it’s . . . It’s like one of the most famous lines.” He frowned. Abby and Jordan would’ve gotten it. Didn’t everyone have to read Macbeth for school? “Anyway, I’ll see you guys later.”

Dan peeled off from the group and headed upstairs. He pulled out his phone and sent off a quick text to both Jordan and Abby: “Nobody here gets my sense of humor. Help!” Twenty minutes later, when he was sitting bored in class, Jordan still hadn’t texted back and Abby had sent a lukewarm “LOL.”

What was wrong? Where had his friends gone? It wasn’t like they were that busy. . . . Just last week, Jordan had been telling him on Facebook chat how insanely tedious his classes were. Nothing was challenging, he’d said, after the classes at the New Hampshire College Prep program. Dan sympathized, but honestly, the classes were the last thing he remembered from their summer in New Hampshire. What he couldn’t stop thinking about was what had happened in their dorm, Brookline—formerly an insane asylum run by a twisted warden, Daniel Crawford.

When he wasn’t thinking about that small detail, though, he was thinking about Jordan and Abby. When they’d first returned from the college campus, he’d gotten texts and emails from them constantly, but now they hardly talked. Missy, Tariq, and Beckett were okay, he supposed, but Jordan and Abby were different. Jordan knew how to push his buttons, but it was always good-natured and made the three of them laugh. And if Jordan pushed a little too hard, Abby was there to call him out and restore the balance. Really, she was the linchpin that held their group together—a group that in Dan’s mind seemed worth keeping up.

So why were his friends ignoring him?

Dan glanced at the clock, groaning. Two more hours until the end of the day. Two more hours until he could dash home and get online to see if his friends wanted to chat.

He sighed and scooted down into his seat, reluctantly putting his phone away.