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Authors: R. Lee Smith

The Scholomance

BOOK: The Scholomance
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“The imagination of this author…is
impressive and addictive…I enjoyed this book tremendously.”


—C . How


I have
never cheered and hated a character so much in my entire novel reading life…
couldn’t put it down, I couldn’t stop reading it. I just had to finish it…”


—Jade Williams


“I can’t remember the last time a
book had so much power over me. R. Lee Smith is writing what can only be called
masterpieces in a genre that sorely needs them.”


—Andi Devereaux


“R. Lee Smith is simply masterful
in plot, pace, character, dialogue, setting, suspense, and mythology—in pure


—P. Willson


Also by R. LEE SMITH:




The Lords of
Arcadia Series

The Care and Feeding
of Griffins

The Wizard in the

The Roads of Taryn

The Army of Mab







R. Lee Smith

This book is dedicated to my grandfather and to his habit of keeping books with
such marvelously terrifying illustrations down on the bottom shelf where any
little kid could read it.

© 2010 by Robin Smith

rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including, but not limited to,
photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without
permission in writing from the author.

[email protected]


book is a work of fiction. Names, places, locales and events are either a
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance
to actual persons, places or events are purely coincidental.




ara came home on a Wednesday with a mild
sunburn and a bank receipt for eighty-three thousand dollars stuffed
indifferently in the front pocket of her jeans. The house looked empty from the
street, but her mother was in, sitting in the front parlor with the lights off,
working on her second bottle of wine. Mara was tired and inclined to let her,
but when she walked in and dropped her bags at the foot of the stairs, her
mother said, “Your little friend sent you a letter,” and everything changed.

paused, one hand on the banister, and looked back. She wasn’t aware that she
had any friends at the moment. “Who?”

mother didn’t look up. Just sat and stared at the wall and sipped her wine. She
wasn’t thinking. She wasn’t even remembering things, although there were plenty
of photographs on the wall where her blank eyes rested. Caroline Warner was
empty tonight, and so much bigger than the space her skin enveloped.

was like this more and more often these days, whether or not anyone was around
to see her. Usually Mara was content to let important matters slide until her
mother felt like being lucid, but tonight she was jet-lagged and worn out, so she
reached in and gave the blackness inside her mother’s head a light slap. Her
mom jerked hard, spilling wine over her chest. In the darkness, the spreading
stain looked uncomfortably like blood. Immediately, a feeling that was not
guilt but probably should have been welled up and Mara thought, ‘There might
have been a better way to handle that.’

it worked. Color and life came slowly up from wherever they’d been buried. Caroline
Warner looked dully around and thought, ‘Such a strange child.’

was no love in the thought. Mara couldn’t remember if there ever had been.

have a letter?” she prompted.

you home?”

You got a letter for me?”

dreamed about you…I think.” She was fading out, thinking of the past, but in
ways so blurred, even Mara couldn’t be sure if the things she saw had really
happened. “Did you…take care of things?”

yet, but I put the money in the bank in Nevada. I can call the firm tomorrow. My
little friend…?”

little friend sent a letter. I had to…I had to pay the postage due.”

sorry,” Mara said patiently. “Where is it?”

mother drank wine and thought, ‘Those aren’t my eyes. Those aren’t Cade’s eyes.
Where did those awful, awful eyes come from? Jeepers creepers, just like the
song. Where did she get those eyes?’

she could be at this all night. Mara ignored her mother’s mental ramblings and
started looking for the damn thing herself.

kitchen was trashed, and unless the care service had just up and quit while
Mara was away, all this mess had happened after the girl left for the day at
six. She’d be tempted to make some angry midnight phone calls, except that
Jenny’s cheerfully illegible handwriting was down in the log:
good apetite
for din., quiet to-day but active!!
Active, right. It looked like her mom
had just opened up every Lunchsnax in the fridge, taken one bite, dropped it,
and opened up the next. When did this happen? When did her austere, somewhat brittle
mother turn into a crazy person? How did a woman go from a little chronic
depression to…to wallowing in her own frigging Lunchsnax?

needed to hire a live-in, that was all there was to it. Another damn brain in
the house, one that wasn’t prone to peaceful lapses into nothing. God damn it.

appeared in the doorway, lightly swaying on her feet. She wasn’t drunk. “Is
your father home?”

died two years ago, Mom. Where did you put my letter?” Mara dragged the garbage
bin over and started gathering up wrappers and food indiscriminately, her lips
pressed tight together, seething as she stared at the undeniable clarity in her
mother’s mind. It was laziness, pure and simple. Caroline wasn’t crazy any more
than she was drunk, she just wanted to be. Being crazy was easier than picking
up after herself, easier than living life and doing things. Who wouldn’t want
to be crazy and just let someone else pay all your bills?

is he coming back?” Her mother’s voice shook. She was thinking of the girls. There
had been a lot of girls. “I need to call him.”

dead, Mom.” The hell with it, she’d leave the mess for Jenny, along with
another hundred bucks. Two hundred, and orders for a refrigerator lock. And if
Jenny pocketed the change, as Jenny so often did (in her cheerfully dishonest
way), so be it. Mara was not in the mood to deal with it, and throwing money at
the things one was not in the mood to handle was the Warner way. “He’s not
coming back. He’s dead.”

Oh no.” Caroline Warner began to cry. Amazing that she could do that and drink
at the same time. She cried and wished she were back in Venice, back on her
honeymoon when Cade still loved her. She wished she were back in a time before
this horrible, ice-eyed person ever existed.

missed you too,” Mara muttered, and shoved herself into her mother’s head.

due’ meant the post office, so Mara started there, calling up an image of the quaint
little brick building to see what resonated. She thumbed through half a dozen
memories before she found one in the right time frame (or at least, one with
her mother in a stained blouse and uneven hair, looking vague as she walked
with fat, happy Rosalie up to the glass doors. Rosalie made this a Monday or a
Wednesday.), and pulled it open for closer inspection. The letter was a big
manila envelope. The amount due was $18.03. Seemed excessive.

let the memory spool out through her phantom hands, watching closely. Her mom
came home, made poor Rosalie work too damn hard to make sure she got fed, and
then went upstairs. She shuffled vapidly through the house and finally put the
letter in the linen closet where she picked up some clean sheets. ‘That
horrible person will be home soon,’ was the thought behind this lifeless act. ‘She’ll
be home and tired. She should have fresh sheets to sleep in.’

always when offered glimpses of her mother’s caring, however indistinct, Mara
felt a surge of hopelessly mingled pity and anger, and something else, something
that ought to have grown into some kind of tender feeling, if only it had known
nurture. She closed herself out more gently than she’d torn her way in, and
gave her mother a weary pat on the shoulder. “Go to bed, Mom,” she said, giving
the words a push to make them root. “Don’t drink anymore tonight. Just go to

waiting up for your father. He’s…working late tonight. He works so…so hard for

could have told the truth again. She probably should. But her mother would take
herself to bed as soon as she’d been ground down long enough by the command
Mara had left inside her, and anyway, she’d bullied her mother’s muddled brains
enough for one night. Mara left her bags where they were and went upstairs, rubbing
her tired eyes.

took the envelope from the linen closet into her room and sat down at the desk
where she used to do homework, where she kept all their financial papers now.
This was the only piece of personal correspondence she’d received in a long
time. Two years, at least.

Mara Warner
said the envelope, and it had to be a friend, all right. Her parents were not
nickname people; the whole rest of this wide world knew her as Kimara. Her
father had wanted a son. Her mother, thanks to a smudgy ultrasound, had
expected to give him one, and so they had planned out only boy’s names. Malcolm
Cade, she was supposed to have been. The delivering doctor’s name had been
Jonif Kimara, and that was good enough for the likes of her. Malcolm Cade would
be preserved for the next child, preserved forever as it turned out. Life was

Mara Warner
in the middle of the envelope. Neatly-lettered. She didn’t recognize the
handwriting. Beneath it, her mom’s address. Mara’s address, since she’d never
really lived anywhere else, unless you counted college. And in the upper
left-hand corner, another name:
Connie Vitelli.

‘Your little
friend,’ her mom had said, and God knew Mara only ever had the one—then, now,
or anytime in between—but all the same, she hadn’t expected to see this. Connie
was gone, run off to find some Romanian fairy tale from which there was only a
slim chance of coming back and, one would assume, no mail service at all. Gone
away with just six words left behind her and none of them goodbye. Gone away
when Mara’s back was turned, just like the sixteen years between them never

Mara’s hand
strayed up to her throat, touching the cheap gold-colored chain for a cheap,
gold-colored locket. Her birthday present. The very best birthday.
it said on the outside. “Best friends,” Mara murmured, looking at
her letter. “Right.”




friendship was, like all the great ones, a total accident. Mara never would
have met Connie if crusty old Mrs. Matsuo hadn’t forced her second-graders into
alphabetized double-rows for every possible occasion, even the walk to the
lunchroom. Every day, sometimes twice a day, Vitelli, Constance stood side by
side with Warner, Kimara.

who had been living with the worst faces of humanity all the years of her young
life, had already stopped trying to make friends and would have been content to
stand and stare at the back of Underwood, Trevor’s blonde head without ever
speaking, but Connie was lonely. Lonely was a bit of an understatement, really.
Little Connie was one of those friendless and fundamentally forgettable people
who are born under a cloud of gloom and are pretty much fated to go through
life unloved because of it. It used to be that such people could at least join
a monastery (or a convent, as the case may be) where personality didn’t much
matter, but in these fine and enlightened modern times, little Connie suffered ostracism
without end: shunned by her peers, misunderstood by her family and overlooked
by teachers, with nothing to look forward to but cruel jokes in the high school
crowd, dateless weekends rolling over into desperate sex with strangers, failed
efforts at counseling, and ultimately, a one-room apartment and half a dozen
cats. Connie Vitelli was one of Life’s Great Throwaways, even at the tender age
of nine, and yet one day, this wretched creature glanced over and interrupted
her own hazy funk of human misery to think, ‘She always looks so sad. I should
sit with her today. Maybe she’ll be nice to me.’

did not consider herself to be sad, but even then she knew she wasn’t happy. Who
could be happy, living like this? Over nine hundred kids went to Frieda Kahlo
Elementary School, along with sixty-plus adults. The little ones were nothing
but nerves, afraid of teachers, afraid of schoolwork, afraid of the buses, the
playground, the bigger kids. The older ones were already turning ugly on the
inside, learning how to lie, how to cheat, how to dominate and feed off each
other. The grown-ups were the worst of all, because even the ones who still
loved you had enough reasons to hate the job that it stained everything they
thought about you, and there weren’t too many left who loved you in the first
place. All those minds in constant motion, and the Panic Room back then was
still just concrete walls and one big-screen TV she couldn’t turn off. No, she
wasn’t happy.


didn’t sit with her that day, but she wanted to. She sat at the other long
table in the lunchroom and watched Mara eat her apple slices, wanting to be
with her, wondering if she would be nice. Those thoughts had a cringing
quality, all jumbled up with rejections both real and imagined, and yet Mara
found herself starting to listen for them if they didn’t come in clear enough
on their own. Through these slippery, frantic touches, she learned that Connie
was in the middle of seven children, that they were not only Eye-talian but
Eye-talian, that the world at home was noise and shouting all the time, whether
angry-shouts or happy ones, and everything was shared there, nothing new, nothing
her own, nothing special and for only Connie. There was no niceness, in other
words. There was love and there was family, there were hugs and kisses and
cookies, but never niceness, and never (maybe) would there ever be.

thought about this when she went home to her own big house behind the green
gate. Her mother was arranging flowers, thinking only of flowers, unaware of
Mara’s presence in the house even when Mara walked right by her. She thought
about this when she passed her father on the stairs, saw him give her one of
his distracted, polite nods, and heard him think, ‘Strange sort of child. Wonder
where she gets it from? Intelligent enough, but look at those eyes…if it wasn’t
for that nose, I’d wonder who’s been digging my potatoes,’ and then his mind
would go off first in fuzzy waves of blame for Wife, who could not keep the
babies he put in her except that one, the strange one, and never the son, never
the Name, and then to even fuzzier thoughts of whoever the girl was at the
moment and when he could get away, what reason he’d have to come up with this
time, and such a fuss such a damned-awful
but better than a divorce
by-God, and oh her thighs/hips/breasts, whatever. Mara’s room was always clean,
always tucked away and tidy, and the house was distant enough than everyone
else’s lives were only flashes of light and movement in her mind’s horizons,
unless the Robbersons got very drunk or that-Kimmy-girl-next-door snuck in her
boyfriend at night for the sexthing. Niceness was all around her, Mara thought,
but it sure wasn’t very pleasant.

BOOK: The Scholomance
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