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Dickensen Academy isn’t a typical boarding school. The faculty is hiding an unbelievable secret within their fine arts program. When Autumn Mattison receives an invitation to attend the high school, she yearns to escape her overbearing father yet remains reluctant to leave her mother and brother. Her doubts fade away when a vivid dream convinces her she belongs there.
Away from home, Autumn discovers a unique school environment that awakens her creative potential, and her new friends become like a second family. However, as she uncovers more about the dark side of the school and struggles with its curriculum, she questions whether Dickensen Academy is truly where she belongs.
When tragedy strikes, Autumn must learn to believe in her own power and stand up to her greatest fear or risk having her memories destroyed to protect the school’s secrets. Caught between secrets and dreams, can she find her true self?
Page Count: 348
Word Count: 82686
Clues to the secret existed from day one, yet they appeared to belong to separate puzzles. Most students either missed these signs or chose to ignore them. We were busy acclimating—as the faculty called it—to a new environment. Some outsiders might call what they did to us those initial weeks a form of brainwashing or fostering a cult-like mentality.
But not me.
I agreed with Principal Locke. We weren’t ready. We needed time to separate from our families and become a cohesive group. And some of us, myself included, even needed a little nudge to accept the invitation. If someone had told us the truth on Day One why they’d brought us to Dickensen Academy, we would have never believed them. We’d think they were crazy. Or worse, we’d turn around and run back home. But if we left, we would have missed out on something extraordinary. Something worth the wait.
My first day was confusing enough. I hopped out of the backseat the moment our SUV stopped. The sun was bright without a cloud in the sky, but the air had a definite chill. Fall must have begun earlier in the mountains.
“Excited?” Dad said as he climbed out, along with Mom and my older brother Josh.
I nodded slightly as I took it all in. The parking lot occupied the edge of a huge clearing surrounded by towering evergreens and distant peaks. Birds sang a welcome and pine scent hung in the air. This place was larger than I’d imagined.
When I turned toward the cream-colored buildings, I gasped. Images of myself on campus flickered through my brain: walking between the dorm and the school, crouching below a huge modern art sculpture, and sitting near a pond reflecting this same wooded backdrop.
I’d been here before.
No. Impossible. The three largest buildings were plastered all over the academy’s brochure and website. That’s where I’d seen them. I ignored the fine hairs sticking up on the back of my neck. Must’ve been the breeze.
A young guy trotted toward us with a clipboard and gave us a school-portrait-worthy smile—likely one he’d practiced for the parents. He looked a few years older than me, probably a senior like my brother. “Welcome to Dickensen Academy. Can I get your name?”
As I opened my mouth to answer, Dad beat me to it. “Autumn Mattison.”
I forced a smile while my hands bunched into fists at my sides.
He scanned his list and marked something down. “All freshmen are assigned to O’Reilly Hall. That’s the dormitory off to the left.” He pointed the way. “Follow those people across the quad.”
We each grabbed a bag and headed toward the dorm. None of my friends went to boarding school. Most everything I knew about them came from books and movies. But this place might be a lot different. It would be packed with the most creative teens from the western side of the United States, not a bunch of rich kids since tuition was paid by the Dickensen Foundation. I jogged ahead, mentally urging my family to walk faster, but they carried the heavier items.
In the center of the grassy quad where multiple concrete paths intersected, I paused to inspect three life-size statues of students: one painting at an easel, one reading a book, and one writing at a desk.
I turned to Mom when she caught up. “I can’t believe this is actually happening.”
Her eyes glistened as she gave a tight smile. “Me neither.”
Dickensen Academy was invitation only to apply. My summer had been filled with testing and interviews, but the chance of acceptance had been slim. I didn’t know who was most shocked when two recruiters appeared at our house ten days ago to offer me a spot. But one thing remained clear. Mom was the least confident in my decision to move away from home just shy of my fifteenth birthday. Avoiding further eye contact with her, I continued toward the three-story building ahead.
Once inside, we found a spacious sitting room of dark woods and rich reds where several people milled about. Wide hallways led in opposite directions. A woman with gray hair, thick glasses, and a warm smile introduced herself as Margaret Humphrey, my resident advisor. She handed me a thick manila envelope. “You’ll be rooming with another freshman named Aditi Singh on the second floor.”
She proceeded to rattle on with some basic information, but my mind drifted. Thoughts of Aditi filled my head. What was she like? Would we get along?
Soon I realized Josh was no longer in our midst. I surveyed the room while pretending to listen to my RA. There he was already chatting with two girls. I couldn’t believe it. Well, yes, I could. This had been happening for years. Even though our olive green eyes, pale skin, and light brown hair marked us as siblings, his features came together more perfectly, as evidenced by the stream of girls who trailed him like groupies. I never had this problem with guys.