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It was twelve-thirty--half past midnight--on the eighth day of September, and Kit lay sprawled across the bed, writing a letter to Tracy. She knew it was late to be writing letters. If she had been at home with her light on at this hour her mother would have been rapping at the door, calling in a worried voice, "Kit? Is anything wrong, honey? It's much too late for you to be up."
At Blackwood nobody sounded a lights-off curfew, and Kit was glad. Although she had been at the school for well over a week now and was adjusting well on most counts, she still did not feel at ease at night. The light at the end of the hall had not been fixed--"It's almost impossible to get electricians to come out this far," Madame explained apologetically--and though Kit's own room was often lightened by moonlight, she could not shut out a strange nervousness about the oppressive darkness on the far side of her closed door.
She did not sleep well at Blackwood. She dreamed. She knew that she dreamed, for when she woke in the mornings the feeling of the dreams still clung to the edges of her mind, and yet in most cases she could not remember what they had been. She needed to be very sleepy to turn off the light and settle into slumber, and so she had begun to form the habit of studying and writing letters during the early part of the night.
"Dear Tracy," she wrote now, "I'm sorry to have been so long in writing. I got a note off to Mom the first day here so that she would have mail waiting for her in Cherbourg, and then I got snowed under with schoolwork. The work here is harder than it was in public school, mostly, I guess, because the classes are so small. There are only four of us here--can you believe it? Four students in the entire school! So it's almost like having private tutors. I'm taking math and science from Professor Farley, a dear old goat of a man with a funny little bear --really sweet--and literature from Madame Duret. And piano from Jules! I guess I'd better put a row of exclamation marks--!!!!!!!--to give you an idea of what he looks like. All of a sudden I'm getting interested in music.
"The three other girls here are very different. My favorite is Sandy Mason--she's shy and quiet, but nice, and I've started to stir her up a little with plans to short-sheet the other girls' beds and maybe raid the kitchen one night and bring the food up to the rooms for a midnight feast. Lynda Hannah and Ruth Stark knew each other before. They went to the same prep school last year, and when Ruth's parents decided to switch her to Blackwood, Lynda persuaded her mother to let her change schools too. Ruth is homely but very bright, and Lynda is the opposite, awfully pretty but not much in the brains department. They seem to balance each other.
"I still don't understand how we four were selected. Professor Farley says we have the special attributes the were looking for in their students, but I can't imagine what they might be. We seem to have nothing in common with each other, and I don't see how you could have failed to get accepted if I was. I tried to ask Madame Duret about it, but she only said that she didn't discuss test results.
"I wish I could say I like it here. In a way I do. Everybody's very nice to me, and the classes are interesting. But there's something--I don't know how to put it into words, and you'd probably laugh if I did--but I've got this creepy feeling that something's wrong. I felt it first when we entered the gates and started up the driveway, and I feel it more and more every day, as though--"
Somebody screamed. Somewhere in the blackness on the far side of the door. It was a funny scream, choked off in an instant as though a hand had been pressed suddenly to cover the mouth.
It went through Kit like an electric shock. Her hand jerked, and the pen made a lurch across the page, so that the word "though" ran off the side of the paper.
Pulling herself upright on the bed, she sat, tense and shaken, listening. There was nothing but silence.
But I heard it, she told herself. I know I heard it.
Somewhere in the quiet dormitory someone had shrieked. In pain? In terror? Perhaps only from a nightmare, and yet, perhaps for some other reason. For--help?
I won't, Kit thought. I can't. I just can't open that door and go out there.
And yet, what if one of the other girls were ill? No one screamed without reason. Was someone lying even now in one of the rooms along the hall, wretched with fear or in physical agony, praying that her cry had been heard and would be answered?
Slowly, as though impelled by something other than her own will, Kit got off the bed and crossed the room and opened the door. The terrible blackness of the hall stretched before her, lessened only by the patch of lamplight that fell from her own doorway. Beyond this there was nothing but stillness and dark.
Kit stood with one hand on the door jamb, listening. The only sounds she could hear were the thud of her own heart and the quick, sharp noise of her breathing.
Perhaps I imagined it, she thought. Perhaps I dozed off a little, there on the bed, and dreamed.
And then she heard it--not a scream this time but a little moaning sound, half a sob, half a wail. It seemed to come from the end of the hall where Sandy had her room.
Well, that does it, Kit told herself resignedly. I have to go.
Drawing a deep breath as if in readiness for a dive into icy water, she stood poised for a moment on the edge of the patch of light. Then, bracing herself, she stepped out into the darkness.