Home > The Archived (The Archived #1)

The Archived (The Archived #1)
Victoria Schwab

ONE

THERE IS NOTHING fresh about this start.

I lean back against the car and stare up at the Coronado, the hotel-turned-apartment building that my mother and father find “so charming.” It stares back, wide-eyed, gaunt. I spent the whole drive twisting the ring on my finger, running my thumb over the three lines etched into its surface, as if the silver band were a rosary or a charm. I prayed for someplace simple, uncluttered, and new. And I got this.

I can see the dust from across the street.

“Isn’t it divine?” squeals my mother.

“It’s…old.”

So old that the stones have settled, the cracks deep enough to give the whole facade a tired look. A fist-size piece of stone loosens before my eyes and tumbles down the side of the building.

I look up to find a roof dotted with gargoyles. Not at the corners, where you’d expect gargoyles to be, but perching at random intervals like a line of crows. My eyes slide over rippling windows and down six floors to the carved and cracking stone marquee that tops the lobby.

Mom hurries forward, but stops halfway across the road to marvel at the “antiquated” paving stones that give the road so much “character.”

“Honey,” calls Dad, following. “Don’t stand in the street.”

There should be four of us. Mom, Dad, Ben, me. But there’s not. Da’s been dead for four years, but it hasn’t even been a year since Ben died. A year of words no one can say because they call up images no one can bear. The silliest things shatter you. A T-shirt discovered behind the washing machine. A toy that rolled under a cabinet in the garage, forgotten until someone drops something and goes to fetch it, and suddenly they’re on the concrete floor sobbing into a dusty baseball mitt.

But after a year of tiptoeing through our lives, trying not to set off memories like land mines, my parents decide to quit, but call it change. Call it a fresh start. Call it just what this family needs.

I call it running.

“You coming, Mackenzie?”

I follow my parents across the street, baking in the July sun. Below the marquee is a revolving door, flanked by two regular ones. A few people—mostly older—lounge around the doors, or on a patio to the side.

Before Ben died, Mom had whims. She wanted to be a zookeeper, a lawyer, a chef. But they were whims. After he died, they became something more. Instead of just dreaming, she started doing. With a force. Ask her about Ben and she pretends she didn’t hear, but ask her about her newest pet project—whatever it happens to be—and she’ll talk for hours, giving off enough energy to power the room. But Mom’s energy is as fickle as it is bright. She’s started switching careers the way Ben switches—switched—favorite foods, one week cheese, the next applesauce.… In the past year, Mom’s gone through seven. I guess I should be thankful she didn’t try to switch lives, too, while she was at it. Dad and I could have woken up one day and found only a note in her nearly illegible script. But she’s still here.

Another stone crumbles off the side of the building.

Maybe this will keep her busy.

The deserted space on the first floor of the Coronado, tucked behind the patio and below the awnings, is the future home of my mother’s biggest whim—she prefers to call this one her “dream endeavor”—Bishop’s Coffee Shop. And if you ask her, she’ll tell you this is the only reason we’re moving, that it has nothing to do with Ben (only she wouldn’t say his name).

We step up to the revolving doors, and Dad’s hand lands on my shoulder, filling my head with a jumble of static and wavering bass. I cringe and force myself not to pull away. The dead are silent, and objects, when they hold impressions, are quiet until you reach through them. But the touch of the living is loud. Living people haven’t been compiled, organized—which means they’re a jumble of memory and thought and emotion, all tangled up and held at bay only by the silver band on my finger. The ring helps, but it can’t block the noise, just the images.

I try to picture a wall between Dad’s hand and my shoulder, like Da taught me, a second barrier, but it doesn’t work. The sound is still there, layered tones and statics, like radios tuned wrong, and after an appropriate number of seconds, I take a step forward, beyond his reach. Dad’s hand falls away, and the quiet returns. I roll my shoulders.

“What do you think, Mac?” he asks, and I look up at the hulking shape of the Coronado.

I think I’d rather shake my mother until a new idea falls out and leads us somewhere else.

But I know I can’t say this, not to Dad. The skin beneath his eyes is nearly blue, and over the last year he’s gone from slim to thin. Mom might be able to power a city, but Dad barely stays lit.

“I think…” I say, managing a smile, “it will be an adventure.”

I am ten, almost eleven, and I wear my house key around my neck just to be like you.

They tell me I have your gray eyes, and your hair—back when it was reddish brown instead of white—but I don’t care about those things. Everyone has eyes and hair. I want the things most people don’t notice. The ring and the key and the way you have of wearing everything on the inside.

We’re driving north so I’ll be home for my birthday, even though I would rather stay with you than blow out candles. Ben is sleeping in the backseat, and the whole way home, you tell me stories about these three places.

The Outer, which you don’t waste much breath on because it’s everything around us, the normal world, the only one most people ever know about.

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