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Authors: Caragh M. O’Brien

The Vault of Dreamers

BOOK: The Vault of Dreamers
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For my husband,

Joseph J. LoTurco




Title Page

Copyright Notice



1   Night

2   The Dishwasher

3   Fister

4   The Blip Rank Board

5   The Infirmary

6   The Losers

7   The Fifty Cuts

8   The Last Boxcar

9   The Furniture Movers

10   Fans

11   The Clock Tower

12   Fish Tank

13   Gorge on Forge

14   Walkie-Hams

15   The Noose

16   New Favorite

17   The Game

18   The Lady Knight

19   The Lookout Tower

20   The Cat Guillotine

21   Chimera

22   Roxanne

23   Ghosts

24   The Aftermath

25   The Yellow Pills

26   The Clock Tower Again

27   Tryst

28   A Deterrent

29   The Observatory

30   Real Use

31   Catcher

32   The Contract

33   The B Button

34   The Vault of Dreamers

35   Dolphin

36   The Leap


Also by Caragh O’Brien






I had other reasons to disobey, too, like wanting to escape the cameras, but most
of all, I missed the deep, vacant darkness of night.

We lined up as usual, shivering in our bare feet and nightgowns. Rain streamed down
the windows, obscuring the gray view of the prairie, and the patter sounded gently
on the vaulted roof overhead. Orly passed out the pills, starting at the far end,
and I watched as each girl obediently swallowed, climbed into her sleep shell, and
slid her lid closed with a soft swoosh.

When Orly reached me, I took my pill like the others but faked tossing it back. Instead,
I lodged the disk up alongside my gums before I took a sip of water and opened my
mouth for her inspection.

She turned and went on to the next girl.

I’d won. I climbed in my sleep shell, spit the pill into my hand, and wedged it under
my pillow.

“Close your lid,” Orly told me.

“Do I have to?” I asked. “I like the sound of the rain.”

“You can open it again after your brink lesson if you want,” she said. “Sleep well.”

When Orly switched off the lights, the room went the soft, gray color of childhood
naps. I pulled my lid closed to watch the brink lesson cast across the glass: a scene
of a woman laying bricks, tucking them evenly in a row. What I was supposed to learn
from it, even subconsciously, I couldn’t tell. Afterward, I slid open my lid again
and rolled over on my pillow. Across from me, the next girl fell asleep easily and
completely, and from the uninterrupted sound of the rain, I knew forty-eight other
girls fell asleep on schedule, too.

Myself, I was secretly, deliciously awake. As the hour brought the darkness closer,
I lay fidgety with hope and relished how it felt to be alone, stealing back the real
me. The windows darkened like a gift until I could see the faint, blue reflections
of our domed lids in the glass. A nearly invisible glow fell over the dormant faces,
making the girls’ skin gleam with faint phosphorescence, as if they had been chalked
and scanned under a black light. I slowly waved my fingers before my face, testing.
The glow gave my fingers a staggered trail of black shadows, like cartoon lines of
motion, tracks in the air.

Deep night came at last, bringing me more awake than ever. After nine nights of drugged
sleep, my nerves seemed to have lost the trick of falling asleep naturally on their
own, and now they worked in reverse, lighting me up within. To watch the night out
my window was not enough. I wanted more.

It was a risk, breaking the rules, but following them hadn’t done me much good, either.
I had to face facts. With the fifty cuts happening the next day, this could well be
my last night at Forge. I didn’t want to waste it sleeping. From outside, the bells
of the clock tower tolled midnight, until the twelfth bong resonated away to nothing.

Slowly, I sat up to look around the room.

No alarm went off. No warning lights. Orly did not come running. Our fifty sleep shells,
with their paneling below and full-length glass lids on top, were lined up in two
rows as straight and motionless as so many coffins. Cameras had to be picking up my
movements, but either no one cared that I was breaking the rules, or the night techies
didn’t watch carefully. A third possibility didn’t then occur to me: someone cared
very much, was watching very closely, and still let me continue.

Clutching my nightie close, I tiptoed the length of the room, past the other girls,
and peeked through the doorway to where the hall was dark, empty, and cool. Barefoot,
I crept across the smooth floor to the stairwell and touched a hand to the banister.
Downward, a wide, dark staircase led to the floors for the older students, but upward,
an old, narrow staircase led around a corner I’d never noticed. I took the old steps
up to an attic, where the roof was close and alive with the rain’s pattering.

I breathed deep. The aged, still air was faintly sweet, as if the missionaries who
had raised the roof long before had also left behind a trace of incense in the wooden
beams. I had just barely enough light to see, which also made me trust that the attic
was too dark for the cameras to find me. I was effectively offstage for the first
time since I’d arrived on the show, and the privacy was so palpable, it made me smile.

Two large, old skylights glowed in the slanted roof, setting edges to my blindness,
and I wound my way gingerly past a number of storage bins. Rivulets of rain were slanting
down the glass. With a hand on a rafter, I leaned close to the first skylight and
peered out. To the left, the dean’s tower was dark except for lights on the top floor,
where I’d heard the dean lived in his penthouse. The techies who worked in the building
must be gone for the night. It made sense, I realized. They couldn’t have much to
do in the twelve hours of night while
The Forge Show
was on the repeat cycle, rebroadcasting the feeds of the previous day.

With a shove, I pushed the heavy skylight upward on its hinge and propped its bar
in the opening. The rain dropped in a perfect curtain just beyond my touch, releasing
a rush of noise and tropical mist. The drenched roof tiles smelled unexpectedly like
the metal of the boxcars back home, or maybe I was smelling the wet grid of a catwalk
I spied running below the skylight.

I ached to go out and feel the soft blindness of the night touching my skin with the
rain. It would make me strong. When I rolled up my sleeve and reached a hand out,
clean, colorless droplets fell upon my skin. They were warm and irresistibly inviting.

Using a bin for a step, I hitched my nightie around me and crawled gingerly through
the skylight to the catwalk. I gasped. The rain drenched me instantly, and I hunched
against the downpour. It was so wonderful, so surprisingly not cold, that I had to
laugh aloud. After nine days of guarding myself, trying fruitlessly to please the
teachers and cameras, I was free.

I grasped the railing of the catwalk with one hand and pushed my wet curls out of
my eyes. This was good. Light from the dean’s tower cast outlines on the sloped roof
of the film building next door and beyond that, I could see the sharp roof of the
clock tower. A row of lamps illuminated the edge of the campus and separated us from
the darkness of the plains beyond. Except for the faintest flickers, the lights of
Forgetown were lost in the rain to the east, and my home, to the southwest, was impossibly

I looked, anyway, employing my filmmaker trick. I imagined my gaze forward, high speed
between the drops, to the boxcar where my kid sister was sleeping in the top bunk.
I zoomed in large to picture her rosy cheeks and her eyelashes. Then I scanned past
the curtain to the living room and put my stepfather in a stupor on the orange plaid
couch. My mother I bent over a calculator, with some paperwork from the cafeteria,
while the lamplight limned her profile. Home. In the next instant, I released them
all to dissolve in the rain, and I was back at Forge.

My homesickness wasn’t truly for home, I realized. It was for something more elusive.
A silent, low-grade, unnamed yearning persisted inside me. It was always there, a
reaching feeling that grew stronger when I was alone and listened for it. The rain
understood what it was.

I spread my arms wide and tilted my head back to let the night splash into my mouth.
Too little of it fell in to actually quench my thirst, but the few drops that passed
my lips tasted sweeter than anything from a glass. This moment was real, at least.
This was worth remembering. If they cut me the next day and I left Forge as a failure,
ashamed, I could always recall my invisibility on the roof in the rain this night,
and I would know this moment was my own.

“You like that?” I said, facing the sky. “Is that good enough?”

It was for me.

And the next second, it wasn’t. The truth was, I would do anything to stay on the

A gust of wind blew me into the railing of the catwalk. This was a mistake. My stupidity
astounded me. Why did I think, at any level, that doing something at night when the
viewers weren’t even watching could possibly help my blip rank?

I turned back to the skylight. Getting in was harder than getting out. I had to grab
my drenched nightie up around my waist, and then I crawled backward into the skylight,
reaching with my toes for the bin below. As I carefully reclosed the skylight, the
chilly air clung to my nightie and set my skin prickling. I wrung out the fabric as
best as I could and flicked drops off my legs with my fingertips. Then, quietly, I
descended the stairs again.

Wet and chilled, I raced silently along the length of the dorm. I hung my drenched
nightie on a hook in my wardrobe and swiftly pulled on a dry one. Soon I was back
in my sleep shell, burrowing into my quilt, and I waited, in dread, for someone to
come for me.

It took a long time. The rain made it hard to listen for footsteps, but finally, a
quiet voice came from farther down the room. I tried to calm my heart and breathe
normally. Another voice answered, just distant and soft enough that I couldn’t grasp
the words. I waited as long as I could, listening, and then I turned toward the voices
and slit my eyes open to see.

BOOK: The Vault of Dreamers
13.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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