Despite all her flaws, Maria Farnham was a pretty good best friend. Sure, she was ridiculously self-conscious and was prone to shouting things out at inappropriate moments, but she was a good listener and didn't listen to heavy rock music, so I figured she couldn't be all that bad.

See, we'd known each other for a pretty long time before we decided miraculously one day that we'd be great best friends. Our mothers were friends, and in such a small town, everyone knew everyone else. It was a mile long at most, a quaint little place that people always swore they'd live in, then ending up in cement-locked suburbia. She lived in the house seven down from mine, and I remember when she moved in. I'd already had a best friend, Abby, and wasn't interested in a new one. So I hadn't paid her much attention until maybe fourth grade.

It was around that time that Abby started doing weird things. She used to burn ants for fun and listen to her older brother's rock music because she 'liked the drumbeat.' So one day, after we'd been playing for a while, I told her that she'd started freaking me out with all her weird behaviors. And then I left her house and didn't look back.

Maria had been waiting outside, dragging her sandaled toe through the dirt. "I've been waiting for ages," she admitted when I asked her what she was doing. "It's about time someone told that girl she's a weirdo."

After a few seconds of silence, she asked me if I wanted to see what she'd found. I'd agreed, being in need of a new best friend, and so we walked across the southern Illinois land to an old warehouse. Maria wasn't the first person to find it, obviously, but in later years we liked to pretend she had. I'd always been creeped out by the place myself, daring to venture only a couple paces in, at most. It gave off a strange vibe.

Looking back, I noticed things that must have set my internal radars off. For one, it was devoid of any graffiti at all. Not a single splotch of paint. It was old, with walls crumbling to nothing, and yet it looked like nobody had ever set foot on the premises. Another thing was that we could never find out what had been made there. There were no signs of machinery, or anything at all. Just stone walls and stone floor.

Even with all it abnormalities, I couldn't sever ties with the old warehouse; sort of like with Maria. I suppose that's why I forgave her for making me go in there, and making all of this happen.

It was the middle of summer, and we were just leaving Jessica Day's pool party. Maria had her hair pulled back in a lazy ponytail that I imagined didn't look much better than the bun I was sporting. The ends of our hair were still dripping wet: her chocolate curls even darker, and my pale brown hair looking black. The two of us were strolling along Collins Street when she asked if I wanted to go to the warehouse.

"Are you joking?" I asked with a laugh, hauling my swimming bag farther up my arm.

She looked hurt. "No. I just thought it would be fun. For old times' sake."

Shaking my head, I cast a look around my hometown of Virginia Hill. Up ahead of us was the Virginia Grocer, where my mother worked. She wouldn't be home until five, so there would be no one to notice I wasn't at home. I snuck a look at Maria. She looked so hopefully, begging me with her eyes to say yes.

"Fine," I sighed. "But you know that place gives me the shivers."

"You're just a chicken," was her only reply as we cut through Mr. Clarkson's grass (stealthily, of course. He had a wooden baseball bat he reserved for coaching baseball and whacking kids who left prints in his manicured lawn). By the time we'd reached the edge of town, she was bouncing with joy.

"I don't know what's gotten you so riled up," I said. "It's just a warehouse. You know that, right?"

"Come on," she pleaded. "You can't ruin this final trip with your cynicism! Next year we'll be freshmen, and we won't have time for all these best-friend things we used to do."

She'd gotten me there. So I controlled my unpleasant comments and let our talk settle into idle chatter was we walked. "Did you hear Kevin Fortner is coming back to Virginia Hill? Apparently his dad hated Chicago so much that they're moving back here."

Maria grinned crazily and clenched the straps of her tote. "I know, I'm so excited! He was always so funny, wasn't he?"

"And he had great hair," I added.

"His sister was nice, too…what was her name, Laura?"

"Yeah," I replied, bobbing my head and ducking under stray cornstalks. "She was such a sweet little girl."

We walked in silence for a while, simply enjoying each other's company. Then, with a shriek, Maria began to run. "There it is!"

Sure enough, the old warehouse rose like a giant springing up from the depths of the fields. I followed with less enthusiasm, and I turned the corner on the path to see Maria staring up at the building with wonder. She'd dropped her swimming gear.

After bending to pick it up, I picked my way over to my friend. She was still staring at the warehouse, but her eyebrows were scrunched low over her dark eyes. "Do you sense something….I don't know, off?" she asked me.

"I always sense something off when I'm here," I muttered. "I don't know why this would be any different." But even as I said it, I knew she was right. Something weirder than usual was making my stomach churn. "We should probably just head home," I said, beginning to back away.

"I dare you to go in there."

"Excuse me?" I'd gotten all the way to the trail through the corn when I heard her speak. "You just told me you felt something wrong, and now you want me to go in there?"


"I'll admit it, Maria!" I said, just a teensy bit of hysteria in my voice. This place was seriously freaking me out. "I'm afraid of that crumbly old building! Now can we go?"

"Please," my best friend begged, getting her puppy-dog eyes on. "I just want to have fun. Nothing's going to happen to you."

Biting my lip, I settled into thought. Nothing was going to happen to me, of course. It was just a weird old warehouse. And Maria was right. I was a chicken. And often times too prudent for my own good. "You're no fun," was Maria's complaint of choice. So today, I decided to humor her.

"Fine," I sighed, for the second time today. "But you're buying ice cream afterwards. Those are my conditions."

Maria nodded so hard I thought her curly head would fall off. "Face your fears, Jade! You can do this!"

Dropping our things onto the dusty ground, I squared my shoulders and stepped towards the hole in the corner of the building. Just as I set my flip-flop on the first square of musty stone, I heard Maria say, "Bring me back something from inside!"

Ignoring her, I stepped into the warehouse. I knew this part pretty well, as I'd been in here more than I liked. Around me, walls rose in varying heights, from my size to almost touching the soaring rafters hundreds of feet above my head. They ran and turned off into the gloom, which was lightened only by the occasional hole in the roof. Pulling out my phone, I used its light to guide me deeper into the belly of this monstrous building.

The stone walls got closer and closer together, turning more often than not. It felt suspiciously like a maze. I was now farther in than I'd ever thought about going before, with Maria and the outside world far behind me. For now, all that existed was the stone and the dust.

I would have walked past the narrow passageway if it hadn't been for the whispering. It was no wider across than I was, just a slender gap between two of the walls. Turning on my heel, I walked backwards until I was staring right at it. No, I hadn't been imagining things. There were people through this crack. I could hear their voices.

"Hello?" I hissed, trying to aim my phone so that its light pierced the heavy darkness. The voices on the other side stopped. Frowning, I wondered who might be on the other side. Owners looking to sell the property, maybe? Or perhaps it was just a bunch of druggies in their den.

Whatever those voices were, I fought against my internal warnings and pushed through the slit in the walls. Perhaps if they were going to buy it I could put in my vote for them to tear it down. It was a tight fit, but I sucked in my stomach and walked in sideways, keeping my head facing into the darkness.

Eventually the cramped passageway opened up, and I found myself in a large room, with walls reaching all the way up. All around me were doorways, shaped into perfect squares. There were six in all, placed around the barren room. It was very dark in there, except for the beams of light radiating from each of the doorways.

All the doorways had a different color. Though mixed up and not in order, I realized there was one for every color of the rainbow, excepting indigo. Squinting in disbelief, I watched as the light spilled in perfect rays from the doorways, shimmering and moving like the gates of heaven were opening up to reveal a bright white light inside.

I stood where I was, my sandals rooted to the stone. What could possibly make that kind of light? Curiosity got the better of me. Venturing to the closest door, I made myself look and see what was giving off that glow. In my mind I picture a light bulb submerged underwater, which would give it that blue shimmery feel. But when my eyes took in the whole of the room, I saw that there was nothing like that in here.

The room was completely empty except for a large crystal on a stand in the center of the room. With closer inspection, I saw that it was giving off the light that I saw from outside. But crystals don't give off colored light, not naturally. I wanted to run, get out of there, but something rooted me in place. Something I couldn't explain.

The crystal, which was about as large as my hand, was see-through, with blue particles like dust swirling and dancing around inside. I was mesmerized, watching the tiny particles shift around each other, casting off that blue light.

Immediately I knew I wanted it. I wanted to hold it, to hold onto it forever. I needed it. It made me cast aside rational thought without a second glance.

So I grabbed it out of its stand, as its light faded until it was almost nothing. I ran for the entry as fast as I could, but my haste made me clumsy. With just a few feet left before I made it to the crack in the wall, I slipped over my own foot and dropped the crystal.

Unlike in the movies, time didn't slow down. I watched as the precious gem crashed to the ground, breaking open like and egg, shattering bits of sharp jewel everywhere. Some of it scraped across my legs, leaving cuts that dripped blood onto the floor, but I hardly noticed.

Stupid! I shouted at myself in my head. Stupid, stupid, stupid! You're such a clumsy idiot? Why did you even pick that crystal up? In control of my head again, I realized the very big mistake I'd made.

Dropping to my knees, I watched as the blue dust particles rose into the air, swirling around and around. Against my will, I gave a sharp intake of breath.

All at once, the dust flew up into my mouth and nose, before I could stop it. I exhaled, trying to get it out, but I felt it burning all the way down my throat. There was nothing to do but keep breathing it in. All around me, the world felt like it was spinning. But one thought echoed clearly in my head.

You're in big trouble now.