Seven senior students.
We were given pseudonyms in the invitations. Miss and Mr, then our initials. So, for instance, I was Miss KB.
“Holy shit,” Bennett says.
“Shut up,” Hayes snaps. “Just hold your fucking comments.”
There was Miss CD, Miss SA, Miss EE, Mr. BY, Mr. CA, and Mr. HF.
We didn’t call each other that, but that’s how I was instructed to write the story.
“This is bad,” Bennett says. “And fuck you.” He points to Hayes. “I don’t take orders from you. This is fucking bad. She names the college. All people have to do is cross-reference every student in every senior class—”
“Calm the fuck down,” Kiera says.
Which makes everyone kinda look at her. Because that’s Hayes’ line.
“It’s two letters,” Kiera continues. “There’s got to be several people in each class with these initials. Essex College is over a hundred years old. No one will figure it out. And besides, it’s a private institution. They’re not gonna just hand over academic records. It’s fine.”
“Is that why you wrote it this way?” Sofia asks. “So you could justify it?”
“I didn’t write it.”
“Well, this book says otherwise,” Bennett adds, joining Sofia’s side. “This is very clearly Kiera’s point of view.”
Camille gets up and is halfway to the bar cart when Hayes snatches her by the wrist. “Sit down, Camille. You’ve had enough.”
I expect Camille to start spitting venom, but she is oddly subdued and just turns back to take her seat next to Bennett.
“Should I keep going?” I ask. “Or have we heard enough?”
Kiera says, “I’ve heard enough,” just as Hayes says, “Keep going.”
I sigh and keep going, scanning the next few paragraphs, then turning the page. “It’s just a bunch of stuff about how empty the place was and how she was excited.”
“Skip that,” Camille says. “Just get to the first real night.”
“That was the night—”
“Shut up,” Hayes tells Bennett, shooting him a warning look that says the next time he opens his mouth there’s gonna be consequences. “Let him fucking read.”
They were paired off. CA with SA—
“OK, just say our names, for fuck’s sake. The initials are too confusing.” Hayes again. I nod, exhale out a long, frustrated breath, and continue.
They were paired off. Connor with Sofia. Hayes with Emily. And Bennett with Camille. I didn’t have a partner. I wasn’t supposed to do anything but write down what happened each night in explicit detail.
There was no explanation for this and we spent the entire year wondering why it was set up this way. Everyone agreed it was going to be used to blackmail us at first. But by the end of the year, we were wavering on that.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Because there was an incident that changed everything the very first night. I was charged with reading the instructions written in the letter waiting in the second floor of the tower and it is transcribed exactly below.
Congratulations, Dirty Ones. You have been selected to climb the tower. All those who make it to the top will be rewarded with success. Don’t worry about failing. It’s not an option.
All but one of you have been assigned a partner.
Those of you with a partner have been assigned one night per month.
On that night you will show up here, read the instructions left for you, complete the task, and then leave.
One of you will show up every night, with the partners, to record what happens. There is a present in the storage room just inside the entrance. Go get it now. Come back upstairs, and open it in front of the group. All further instructions will be inside the gift.
So I went down to the storage room, found an exquisitely wrapped gift in black paper and gold ribbon, brought it back upstairs, and opened it up.
Inside was a notebook. About two inches thick. Canvas spine, lined pages inside, about three hundred of them. About the length of a novel.
Which is appropriate, because that’s what I’d written by the end of the year. Every page was full, every character had an arc, every plot twist revealed… except one.
Why? Why did the Keeper make us do this?
But don’t worry, dear readers. All the questions will be answered before you turn the last page.
Back in the tower that night Hayes took the book from me and read the first page out loud.
It was nothing more than assigned dates. Saturday night at midnight.
I spent one entire year of Saturdays up in that tower recording the actions of the partners.
This book is that book. This is our story and every bit of it is true.
But again, I get ahead of myself. There’s more to this story than you think. There are more twists than you could ever imagine. There’s more drama, and fear, and violence than you probably need.
But hear me, reader. And hear me well.
This is the truth of what really happened to us at Essex College in our senior year.