Chapter 1: Prologue
A secret is a strange thing.
There are three kinds of secrets. One is the sort everyone knows about, the sort you need at least two people for. One to keep it. One to never know it. The second is a harder kind of secret: one you keep from yourself. Every day, thousands of confessions are kept from their would-be confessors, none of these people knowing that their never-admitted secrets boil down to three words: I am afraid.
Sarah Manning lived with every sort of secret.
Her first secret involved her mother – her birth mother. Amelia Manning was a familiar stranger, a woman Sarah had known for only a few weeks but who knew the things Sarah never said out loud. Amelia’s employment was mysterious. Though Amelia was a wanderer on the run, she never lacked for money. Despite this fact, she had never been stable enough, safe enough, to bring up a child. But she came to find the daughter she had carried, fifteen years later, in a ramshackle house in Henrietta, Virginia. When she found her daughter living in a house packed to the rafters with magic, Amelia did not bother with surprise. Like goes with like, after all.
The second morning that Amelia woke at 300 Fox Way, she found Sarah standing above her in the small white guest room. The morning sun made them both glow like angels, which was the better part of a lie already. Amelia’s face was smeared with blood and blue petals.
“I was just dreaming of the day you were born,” Amelia said.
She wiped the blood on her forehead to show Sarah that there was no wound beneath it. The petals snared in the blood were shaped like tiny stars. Sarah was struck with how sure she was that they had come from Amelia’s mind. She’d never been more sure of anything.
The world gaped and stretched, suddenly infinite.
Sarah said, “You can do what I do, can’t you?”
“Don’t tell anyone,” her birth mother said. “It’s dangerous.”
That was the first secret.
The second secret was carefully concealed. Sarah did not say it. Sarah did not think it. She never put lyrics to the second secret, the one she kept from herself.
But it still played in the background.
And then there was this: a year later, Sarah dreaming about the raven logo on the sweater of a girl she was destined to kill or fall in love with. The stitches became feathers and the raven flapped up from the patch covering Rachel’s heart, cawing a warning. Ravens swarmed the air, swooping again and again, beaks and claws tugging at Sarah’s hair. In the dream, Sarah raised her arms to fend off the screeching birds, but her arms had only a dream strength and the claws of the birds shredded her sleeves as easily as butter. She could barely see Rachel now, through the flurry of black wings. She was ghostly and fading, invisible eyes accusing, You did this.
The birds parted, wheeling up into the grey sky, and Sarah was alone, tattered and bedraggled. On the cobblestones before her crouched a baby bird, feathers askew – a raven left behind by the flock. It huddled against the cold air, impossibly small. Sarah approached warily; the tiny raven didn’t move away. She scooped it up, its crabbed claws scraping her fingers gently as it shuffled into the bowl of her cupped palms. The bird was light but shockingly real, her skin and feathers humid against Sarah’s palms. Holding her was frightening and lovely; she was such a small, tenuous little life, her pulse tapping rapidly against Sarah’s skin. The raven tipped her huge head back and goggled at Sarah, beak cracked open. Sarah looked away, but she could still feel the feathers, sparse and strange, the warm thing cupped in her hands.
Then she woke up.
When she opened her eyes, the little raven lay curled on one open palm. Dream to reality.
This was her third secret.
Chapter 2: One
Theoretically, Sarah Manning was probably going to kill one of these girls.
They were grouped around her on the hill, peering at the thing in her hands, none more intently than Rachel Duncan. Both Sarah and her mother’s clairvoyant ex-boyfriend had seen Rachel walking along the invisible corpse road this April, which meant Rachel was supposed to die in the next twelve months.
At the moment, though, Rachel Duncan looked pretty unkillable. In the humid wind at the top of the wide green hill, she nevertheless stood unruffled in her mint-green polo shirt and cream hiking shorts, not a hair out of place in her sharply expensive bob cut. Girls like her didn’t die, they got bronzed and installed outside public libraries.
Sarah mentally tested the danger level: Am I in love with her yet?
“Sarah. You’re trying our patience.” Rachel’s voice was full of the crisp accent of old British empire.
Sarah was decidedly not in love with her. She hadn’t been in love many times before, but she was still pretty sure she’d be able to tell if there were any warning signs with Rachel. Earlier in the year, she had had a vision about kissing her, and she could still picture that quite easily. But the logical part of Sarah knew that had more to do with Rachel Duncan having a nice mouth than with any blossoming romance.
Anyway, if fate thought it could tell her who to fall for, fate had another thing coming.
As the latest step in her quest to find Glendower, Rachel had requested hiking permission from local landowners. Today’s steep climb had brought them to a vast, grassy crest that arched above the forested foothills. Far, far below was Henrietta, Virginia. The town was flanked by pastures dotted with farmhouses and cattle, as small and tidy as a model railroad layout. From up here, it looked just like the miniature, model Henrietta that Rachel kept in her apartment. Everything but the soaring blue mountain range was green and shimmery with the summer heat.
But the girls were not looking at the scenery. They stood in a close circle around Rachel: Alison, windswept and irritable; Beth, smudgy and casual; Cosima, rosy-cheeked and alert; and Sarah herself, impractically dressed in black, Chainsaw perched on her shoulder. Cosima’s hand glided over Sarah’s bare elbow. The touch was a whisper in a language Sarah didn’t speak very well.
“Open it up,” ordered Rachel.
The tiny model plane in Sarah’s hand spanned the same breadth as her fingers. It was formed of pure white, featureless plastic, almost ludicrously lacking in detail: a plane-shaped thing. She opened the battery hatch on the bottom. It was empty.
“Well, it’s impossible, then,” Alison said. “It won’t fly if it has no battery and no engine.”
Sarah just snorted in the face of her doubt. She had told them all that she could take objects out of her dreams. Example A: Chainsaw. Cosima had been excited; she was the sort of person who didn’t necessarily believe everything, but wanted to. But Alison, who had gotten this far in life on the strength of pointed scepticism, wanted proof.
Rachel picked off a grasshopper that had hurled itself onto her collar. Everyone in the group watched her do it. Since she’d performed a strange ritual bargain the month before, they’d been scrutinizing all of her movements. If Rachel noticed this extra attention, she didn’t indicate it.
Sarah held out her hand. “Beth: the controller.”
Beth scuffled in the clumpy grass for the radio controller. Like the plane, it was white and shiny, all the edges rounded. Her hands looked solid around it. Though she had been dead for quite a while and by all rights should appear more ghostly, she was always rather living-looking when standing on the ley line.
“What’s supposed to go inside the plane, if not a battery?” Rachel asked.
Sarah said, “I don’t know. In the dream it was little missiles, but I guess they didn’t come with.”
Cosima snarled a few seed heads off the tall grass. “Here.”
Sarah stuffed them into the hatch. She reached for the controller, but Alison intercepted it and shook it by her ear.
“This doesn’t even weigh anything,” she said, dropping the controller into Sarah’s palm.
“It’ll work,” Sarah said, handing the plane to Beth. “It worked in the dream, so it’ll work now. Hold it up.”
Still slouching, Beth lifted the tiny plane between thumb and forefinger, as if she were getting ready to launch a pencil. Something in Sarah’s chest thrummed with excitement.
Beth said, “Count it down.”
Alison made a face, but Rachel, Beth, and Cosima obligingly chanted, “Five-four-three —”
On blast-off, Sarah pressed one of the buttons.
Soundlessly, the tiny plane darted from Beth’s hand and into the air.
Cosima laughed out loud as they all tipped their heads back to watch its ascent. Sarah shielded her eyes to keep sight of the tiny white figure in the haze. It was so small and nimble that it looked like a real plane thousands of feet above the slope. With a frenzied cry, Chainsaw launched herself from Sarah’s shoulder to chase it. Sarah pitched the plane left and right, looping it around the crest, Chainsaw close behind. When the plane passed back overhead, she hit another button. Seed heads cascaded from the open hatch, rolling off their shoulders. Alison clapped and reached her palm out to catch one.
“You incredible creature,” Cosima said. Her delight was infectious and unconditional, as broad as her grin. Rachel tipped her head back to watch, something still and faraway around her eyes. Beth breathed whoa, her palm still lifted as if waiting for the plane to return to it.
In that moment, Sarah was a little in love with all of them. Their magic. Their quest. Their awfulness and strangeness. Her raven girls.
Chapter 3: Two
Felix Dawkins, the middle sibling from the Mallone-Sadler-Manning clan, was practically never alone. He was not always at home, but he was never alone. He was a perpetual-motion machine run by the energy of socializing: here leaning over a friend’s table at a pizza joint, here drawn into an alcove with his boyfriend’s palm to his mouth, here laughing with a group of youths as they painted an illicit mural on the Henrietta exit sign. The congregation was so natural that it was impossible to tell if Felix was the magnet attracting or the filings attracted. Probably the magnet, though.
It was giving Detective Bell a not inconsiderable difficulty in finding an opportunity to speak with him. He had to loiter around the Mountainview High campus for the better part of a day. The shabby brick halls were emptier than they would have been during school term, but they were not empty. There were still gangly teens making use of the art studios and the poky darkroom, and bespectacled kids with nothing better to do than run lines in the empty classrooms.
Finally, the other art enthusiasts and theatre kids straggled out in bunches, leaving Felix alone and just visible through a second-storey window. The side door was meant to be accessible only with a key code, but Art found it propped open with a rubber stopper. The Detective frowned in disapproval. A locked door wouldn’t have kept him out, of course, but this was just lax.
Inside, the ground-floor corridor sported the neutral-toned decor of a decent hospital or a bad hotel, Laminex floor and blueish walls. From upstairs, muffled electropop filtered down. It wasn’t Art’s sort of music, but he could hear the appeal. He climbed the stairs, following the sound, mentally noting down numbered doors as he passed them. The Detective checked his watch. The rental-car place closed in an hour. This would have to be brief. He reached the door to the one art room still pulsing with music. He tried the doorknob, softly. It was unlocked.
Felix stood at an easel inside, his torso wrapped first in a low-cut singlet and then in a plastic apron. His dark hair was curled and his expression unconcerned.
“What’s this?” he said.
By way of answer, the Detective pulled out his badge and flashed it at the boy, too quickly for him to get a good look, but long enough to give him the idea.
“I’ve got a few questions for you,” he said, without easing up on the resting face he knew was fairly intimidating.
Felix promptly dropped his paintbrush and darted around Art, making a break for the door. The Detective kicked Felix’s legs from beneath him and then hauled him up from the floor by the straps of his singlet. It was an easy job; the kid was small and skinny, and Art was used to tangling with much stronger, heavier adversaries. Art dropped the boy back on his feet and Felix stumbled backwards, gasping. Seeing that he didn’t stand a chance of making it past him, Felix plonked himself onto an empty stool and glared at Art resentfully.
“Where,” the Detective said conversationally, “is the Greywaren?”
Felix said nothing. The Detective gave him some time to consider his reply. His hand rested lightly on the holstered gun at his belt.
“Destruction of property is a Class 1 Misdemeanour,” Art observed. “Punishable by up to 12 months in prison and a $2500 fine. Defacing a posted sign is destruction of property, just so you know. The Henrietta exit sign, for example.”
Felix’s eyes widened.
“Where is the Greywaren?” the Detective repeated.
“I don’t know,” the boy said. “I don’t know what that is.”
Art said, without vehemence, “I know where your sisters are right now. I know where your foster-mother lives. I know the name of your boyfriend. Are we clear?”
“I don’t know where it is.” Felix hesitated. “That’s the truth. I don’t know where it is. I just know it exists.”
Art clasped a hand around the boy’s shoulder and pulled him to his feet. The stool clattered to the ground. Felix tore out of the Detective’s grip, but his chest rose and fell calamitously as he scanned Art’s face.
Art said calmly, “I can have you arrested. I can have Sarah arrested. I can have Siobhan and Kendall arrested, and I can make sure they won’t make bail. And that’s just because I’m a nice guy. If you tangle with my boss, things will be…messy.”
To illustrate his point, the Detective drew his gun.
Felix flinched but didn’t try to move. There was no point.
“Here is the plan,” the Detective said. “You’re going to find the Greywaren for me, and when you do, you’re going to give it to me. And then I will be gone.”
Felix said bravely, “Who are you?”
The Detective looked around the room, gestured at the easels. “If you want, you can call me…Art.”
Felix didn’t smile. He said, “How do I find you to give it to you?”
“I don’t think you understand. I am your shadow. I’m the collar at your throat. I am the cough that keeps you up at night.”
Felix asked, “Did you kill Amelia?”
Art said, “No. My colleague.”
He couldn’t tell whether the boy believed him or not. He wasn’t sure why it mattered to him. Either way, the kid was afraid.
“Okay,” Felix said. “I’ll find it. Then you’ll leave us alone. All of you.”
Art put the pistol back in its holster and checked his watch. He had twenty minutes to pick up his rental car. “Yes.”
“Okay,” Felix said again.
The Detective withdrew from the room, shutting the door partway. He paced away down the corridor, then crept soundlessly back. He crouched and watched through the crack of the door.
There was still more to learn from Felix Dawkins today.
For several minutes, nothing happened. Felix slumped on his chair, watery-eyed and breathing hard. Then he retrieved his phone from where it had fallen when Art had tripped him. He didn’t call 911, though. He punched in another number instead.
Whoever it was didn’t pick up. And whoever it was made Felix’s already strained expression even tighter. The Detective could hear the tinny sound of the phone ringing and ringing, then a brief voicemail that he didn’t catch.
Felix closed his eyes and breathed, “Sarah, where the bloody hell are you?”
Chapter 4: Three
“The problem is exposure,” Rachel said, clipped and clear over the thrum of the engine. “If Glendower really could be found just walking along the ley line, I don’t see how he wouldn’t have already been found in the past few hundred years.”
They were headed back to Henrietta in Rachel’s furiously-shiny Bugatti. Rachel drove, because when it was the Bugatti, she always drove. The conversation was about Glendower, because when it was Rachel, it was almost always about Glendower.
In the backseat, Sarah’s head was tipped back in a way that gave equal attention to the phone conversation and her fatigue. In the middle, Cosima leaned forward to better eavesdrop as she picked grass seed off her crochet leggings. Beth was on her other side, although you could never be sure she’d stay corporeal the farther they got from the ley line. It was a tight fit, but it was eased by the constant smooth hum of the air-conditioning, keeping them in a separate world from the heat outside.
To the phone, Rachel said, “That’s the only thing.”
Sarah leaned on the passenger side door and let the cool flow over her. For her, it was only sometimes about Glendower. Rachel needed to find Glendower because she wanted proof of the impossible. Sarah already knew the impossible existed. Her birth mother had been impossible. Sarah was impossible. Mostly, Sarah wanted to find Glendower because the others wanted to find Glendower.
“No, I understand that.” Rachel was using her Ms. Duncan professorial voice, the one that exuded certainty and commanded rats and small children to get up, get up, follow me! It had worked on Alison and Cosima, anyway. “But if we assume Glendower was brought over between 1412 and 1420, and if we assume his tomb was left untended, natural soil accumulation would have hidden him. Starkman suggests that medieval layers of occupation might be under a sediment accumulation of five to seventeen feet…Yes, I know I’m not on a floodplain. But Starkman was working under the assumption that…right, yes. What do you think about GPR?”
Sarah looked at Cosima. Cosima translated in a low voice, “Ground-penetrating radar.”
Sarah said, “It’s Leekie again?”
Cosima nodded. Aldous Leekie was a stunningly old British professor Rachel had worked with back in Wales. Unlike Rachel, he was not using the ley lines as a means to find an ancient king. Rather, he seemed to study them for a weekend diversion when he had no lectures to give.
“Fluxgrade gradiometry?” Rachel suggested. “We’ve already taken up a plane a few times. I just don’t know if we’ll see much more until winter when the leaves are gone.”
Sarah shifted restlessly in her seat.
“What about a proton magnetometer?” Rachel asked Leekie. Then she added coldly, “I know that’s for underwater detection. I would want it for underwater detection.”
It was water that had ended their work today. Rachel had decided that the next step in their search was to establish Cabeswater’s boundaries. They’d only ever entered the forest from its eastern side and had never made it to any of the other edges. This time, they’d approached from well north of their previous entry points, devices trained on the ground to alert them to when they found the northern electromagnetic boundary of the forest. After a several-hour walk, the group had instead come to a lake.
Rachel had stopped dead in her tracks. It wasn’t that the lake had been uncrossable: It only covered a few acres and the path around lacked treachery. And it wasn’t that the lake had stunned her with its beauty. In fact, it was quite unlovely as far as lakes went: an unnaturally square pool sunk into a drowned field. Cattle or sheep had worn a mud path along one edge.
The thing that had stopped Rachel cold was the obvious fact that the lake was man-made. The possibility that parts of the ley line were flooded should have occurred to her before. But apparently it hadn’t. And for some reason, although it was not impossible to believe that Glendower was still somehow alive after hundreds of years, it was impossible to believe he was able to pull off this feat beneath all those tons of water.
Rachel had declared, “We have to find a way to look under it.”
Cosima had replied, “Oh, Rachel, come on. The odds –”
“We’re looking under it.”
Sarah’s plane had crashed into the water and floated, unreachable. They’d walked the long way back to the car. Rachel had called Dr Leekie.
As if, Sarah thought, a crusty old man three thousand miles away will have any bright ideas.
Rachel hung up the phone.
“Well?” Alison asked.
Rachel glanced across to the passenger seat. Alison sighed.
Sarah thought they could probably just go around the lake. But that would mean plunging into Cabeswater headlong. And although the ancient forest seemed like the most likely location for Glendower, the sizzling volatility of the newly woken ley line had rendered it a little unpredictable. Even Sarah, who wasn’t exactly the cautious type, had to admit that the prospect of being trampled by beasts or accidentally getting stuck in a forty-year time loop was daunting.
The entire thing was Rachel’s fault – she’d been the one to wake the ley line, though she preferred to pretend it had been a group decision. Whatever bargain Rachel had struck seemed to have rendered her a little unpredictable as well. Sarah, a sinner herself, wasn’t as struck by the transgression as she was by Rachel’s insistence that they continue to pretend she was a saint.
Rachel’s phone chirruped. She read the message before letting it drop next to the gearshift with a sound of extreme annoyance. She followed it with a heavy sigh. Sarah gestured for Cosima to pick up the phone. Cosima hesitated, and then leaned forward enough to snatch it. She read the message out loud: “ ‘Could really use you this weekend if not too much trouble. Ira can pick you up. Disregard if you have activities’.”
“Is this about Congress?” Alison asked.
The sound of the word congress made Rachel sigh again and urged Sarah to roll her eyes in derision. It hadn’t been long since Rachel’s mother had announced she was running for office. In these early days, the campaign had yet to directly influence Rachel, but it was inevitable she’d be called upon. They all knew that clean, attractive Rachel, intrepid teen explorer and straight-A student, was a card that no hopeful politician could avoid playing.
“She can’t force me,” Rachel said.
“She doesn’t have to,” Alison sniffed.
Rachel met Sarah’s eyes in the rear view mirror. “Dream me a solution.”
“Don’t have to. Nature already gave you a spine.”
Rachel’s expression turned frosty. Sarah shrugged.
In the far lane, a black Lamborghini caught Sarah’s eye, ugly and blunt as a battering ram. Sandwiched between them and the Lamborghini, another car pulled up beside the Bugatti. Sarah, ears attuned to its predatory rattle, noticed it first. A flash of red paint. Then a hand stretched out the driver’s side window, a middle finger extended over the roof. The other car shot forward, then fell back, then shot forward again. Bloody Vic.
“Is that hoodlum trying to race us?” Alison asked scornfully. Sarah slid down in her seat.
“He seems to be,” Rachel said, in a bemused tone.
Of course it was Vic Schmidt, fellow Mountainview High student and one of Henrietta’s most notorious troublemakers. Vic’s Chevy Cruze was a battered, ugly thing, blood red with a voracious black mouth of a grille. It looked absurdly clumsy next to Rudy Castor’s expensively ugly car. The Lamborghini had just been released from a month-long stint in the police impound. The judge had told Rudy that if he was caught racing again, they’d crush the Lamborghini and make him watch, like they did to the rich punks’ street racers out in California. Rumor had it Rudy had laughed and told the judge he’d never get pulled over again. There was nothing about Rudy that wasn’t despicable.
The window rolled down to reveal Vic in the driver’s seat, sporting a wide, lazy grin.
“Sarah…” he called. “Sarah!”
Alison wrenched her head around to look at Sarah. “You know him?”
Sarah shoved her boot against the seat divider. “Used to,” she said moodily. “He’s bad news.”
There was something darkly tempting in the way Vic revved the engine. It was right there, adrenaline waiting to happen. Every inch of Sarah’s skin tingled with useless anticipation.
Sarah didn’t make eye contact with Rudy or Rudy’s passenger, the ever-present Seth. The latter had always been friendly with his brother, in the sort of way that an electron was friendly with a nucleus, but lately, he seemed to have acquired official crony status. Presumably Rudy had led Vic into this wild-goose-chase search for a street race.
Sarah caught a glimpse of Rudy’s face, looking back at them through his sunglasses. Judging them all. Sarah’s hands felt itchy.
“Answer your phone, Sarah!” Vic yelled, and then the lights changed, and Rudy’s black Lamborghini shot off the mark. The Chevy charged after it in a faint cloud of smoke.
By the time the Bugatti reached the Henrietta exit, there was no sign of them. Heat rippled off the interstate, making a mirage of the memory of them. Like they’d never been.
Chapter 5: Four
Detective Bell had not always intended to be a heavy.
Point of fact, Art had been a straight-laced cop for years before they got to him. He had collected up a folder of photos of his daughter, which he brought with him on assignments, and whenever he needed a reminder of who he was – a little burst of fireworks to his heart – he would remove the folder from the bedside drawer and look at the contents.
After talking to Felix Dawkins, he checked into the Pleasant Valley Bed and Breakfast just outside of town. It was quite late, but Shorty and Avery Wetzel didn’t seem to mind.
“How long will you be with us?” Avery asked, handing the Detective a mug with an anatomically incorrect rooster on it. He eyed Art’s luggage on the portico: a black duffel bag and a black hard-sided suitcase.
“Probably two weeks to start,” the Detective replied. “A fortnight in your company.” The coffee was astonishingly terrible. He shouldered off his black jacket to reveal a dark grey V-neck. Both of the Wetzels gazed at his suddenly revealed shoulders and chest. He asked, “Do you have anything a bit stronger?”
With a giggle, Avery obligingly produced three Coronas from the fridge. “We don’t like to appear like lushes, but…lime?”
“No thanks,” Art replied. For a moment, there was no sound but that of three consenting adults mutually enjoying an alcoholic beverage after a long day. The three emerged from the other side of the silence firm friends.
“Two weeks?” Shorty asked. The Detective was endlessly fascinated by the way Shorty formed words. The most basic premise of the Henrietta accent seemed to involve combining the five vowels basic to the English language into four.
“Give or take. I’m not sure how long this contract will last.”
Shorty scratched his belly. “What do you do?”
“I’m a hit man.”
“Hard to find work these days, is it?”
Art replied, “I wish it were.”
The Wetzels enjoyed this hugely. After a few minutes of home-baked laughter, Avery ventured, “You have such intense eyes!”
“It’s the eyebrows,” Art replied, and they laughed again.
The Wetzels hadn’t had a boarder in several weeks, and the Detective allowed himself to be the focus of their intense welcome for about an hour before excusing himself with another Corona. By the time the door shut behind him, the Wetzels were decided supporters of the Detective.
So many of the world’s problems, he mused, were solved by sheer human decency.
In his new bedroom, Art unzipped the duffel bag. He sorted through slacks and button-downs and stolen artifacts wrapped in boxer briefs until he got to the smaller devices he’d been using to detect the Greywaren. On the small, high window beside the bed, he set an EMF detector, an old radio, and a geophone, and then he unpacked a seismograph, a measuring receiver, and a laptop from the suitcase. All of it was provided by his employer. Left to his own devices, the Detective used more traditional location tools.
At the moment, the dials and read-outs twitched crazily. He’d been told the Greywaren caused energy abnormalities, but this was just…noise. He reset the instruments that had reset buttons and shook the ones without. The readings remained nonsensical. It was possible, he thought without much dismay, that the instruments would be useless.
I have time, though. The first time Ferdinand had put him onto this job, it had sounded impossible: a relic that allowed the owner to take objects out of dreams? Of course, he’d wanted to believe in it. Magic and intrigue – the stuff of sagas. And in the time since that first meeting, the Detective had acquired countless other artefacts that shouldn’t have existed.
Beside him, the phone rang.
“Good evening, Arthur,” said the voice on the other end.
“That’s Detective Bell,” Art said tersely.
“Did you find it?” Ferdinand asked.
“I’ve just arrived,” the Detective reminded him.
“You could have just answered the question. You could have just said no.”
“No isn’t the same as not yet.”
Now Ferdinand was silent. A cricket chirruped on the ground just outside the tiny window. Finally, he said, “I want you to move fast on this one.”
For a while now, the Detective had been hunting for things that couldn’t be found, couldn’t be bought, couldn’t be acquired, and his instincts were telling him that the Greywaren was not a piece that was going to come quickly. He reminded Ferdinand that it had been five years since he had begun looking for it – before Art’s time.
“Why the sudden hurry?”
“There are other people looking for it.”
The Detective cast his eyes to the instruments. He said what Felix Dawkins had already known. “There have always been other people looking for it.”
“They haven’t always been in Henrietta.”
Chapter 6: Five
Later that night, sprawled on Cosima’s bed at Monmouth Incorporated, Sarah fell asleep. She hadn’t meant to, but warmth and exhaustion were enough to overcome her.
Sarah dreamed of her birth mother, of the day she had died – been killed, not died, stabbed to death with a carving knife that was still lying beside her when Sarah had found her, a weapon still coated in the blood that soaked Amelia’s clothes, pooled in the dip of her chin, the slack face that had been alive maybe only an hour before, two hours before, while Sarah was dreaming only yards away, a full night’s sleep, a feat never again to be performed –
She willed the dream to change, not to make her see it again, the body in the driveway, someone she had been dreaming of meeting for her whole life –
She was in a haunted old wood, blue flowers growing in the dapples. She walked through the whispering trees with an often-present dream companion, the little orphan girl who looked just like a young Sarah. And here, ahead of her, was Rachel’s silver Bugatti, tires motionless on the mossy ground.
Sarah’s hand closed around the driver’s side door handle. In real life, the passenger seat was the closest Sarah had ever been to this. But this was a dream. She tried her grip, opened the door, and sank into the driver’s seat. The trees and the mossy grass were a dream, but the smell of the interior was a memory: vinyl and carpet and a touch of mint.
The keys are in it, Sarah thought.
And they were.
The keys dangled from the ignition like metallic fruit, and Sarah spent a long moment holding them in her mind. She shuffled the keys from dream to memory and back again, and then she closed her palm around them. She felt the soft leather and the worn edge of the fob; the cold metal of the ring and the trunk key; the thin, sharp promise of the ignition key between her fingers.
Sarah woke like a sailor scuttles a ship on rocks, plunging, heedless, with as much speed as she could muster, braced for the impact.
At Cosima’s side, she struggled to move. Just after waking, after dreaming, her body belonged to no one. She looked at it from above, like a mourner at a funeral. The exterior of this early-morning Sarah didn’t look at all how she felt on the inside. She looked messy but tough, swathed in black, not quite managing to stay under Cosima’s sleep-curled arm.
Sometimes, Sarah thought she would be trapped like this, floating outside her body.
After a moment, she could move her fingers. Her body was hers again. She felt the cold press of the keys in her hand. Her pulse surged in her, the thrill of creation. The ragged awe of making something from nothing. It was not the easiest thing to take something from a dream. It was not the easiest thing to take only one thing from a dream.
To bring even a pencil back was a miracle. To bring any of the things from her nightmares – no one but Sarah knew the terrors that lived in her mind.
Sarah had no secret more dangerous than this.
Now she was beginning to shake a little. She remembered what Cosima had said:
You incredible creature!
Creature was a good word for her, Sarah thought.
Sarah pushed herself up from the bed, careful not to wake Cosima. She tucked the keys to Rachel’s Bugatti into her pocket – what could she need them for? She walked softly to the door with the vague plan of splashing cold water on her face and massaging away some of the fabric marks on her skin.
She was stopped by the sight of Rachel sitting cross-legged beside her model Henrietta, a slim paintbrush in her hand. At night, she looked particularly small or the warehouse looked particularly large. Lit only by the small lamp she’d set on the floor beside her journal, the room yawned above, a wizard’s cave full of books and maps and three-legged surveying devices. The night was flat black against the hundreds of windowpanes, making them just another wall.
Sarah made to retreat, but Chainsaw, scooped under her arm, gave her away with a soft caw. Rachel looked up. Sarah guiltily pushed the dreamed set of keys further down in her pocket.
Rachel looked from Sarah to the wall she was painting and back again and said nothing. But she did take out one of her earbuds as she continued running the tiny brush over the little wooden section she had selected.
Scrubbing a hand over the back of her neck, Sarah let Chainsaw down to entertain herself. She proceeded to turn over the wastebasket and go through the contents. It was a noisy process, rustling like a secretary at work.
“Couldn’t sleep?” Rachel asked.
Sarah shrugged. “Trying not to dream.”
Dipping her paintbrush into a brandy glass full of water, Rachel guessed, “You sometimes bring things out by accident?”
Sarah nodded. “It’s not always…safe.”
Rachel asked, “What was the first thing you took out? Did you always know?”
Sarah found herself pleased to be quizzed. “No. It was a bunch of flowers. The first time.”
She remembered that dream – the familiar wood with its scattered flowers. She’d been walking hand in hand with the little orphan girl, and then a huge presence had blown through the canopy, sudden as a storm cloud. Sarah, bereft with terror and the certainty that this alien force wanted her, only her, had snatched at anything she could before being ripped aloft.
When she’d woken, she’d clutched a pulpy handful of blue flowers of a sort no one had seen before. Sarah tried, now, to explain them to Rachel, the wrongness of the stamen, the furriness of the petals. The impossibility of them.
As Sarah spoke, Rachel’s eyes were half-closed, turned toward the night. Her thoughtless expression was one of wonder or of pain; with Rachel, they were so often the same thing.
“That was an accident,” Rachel reasoned. She capped the little paint tube. “But now you can do it on purpose?”
Sarah felt guilty again, self-conscious in front of this strange night-time version of Rachel. “I can sometimes control what I bring, but I can’t choose what I dream about.”
“Tell me what it’s like.” Rachel stretched to pluck a mint leaf from her potted plant. She put it on her tongue. “Walk me through it. What happens?”
From the vicinity of the wastebasket, there was a satisfying tearing sound as a small raven ripped a large envelope lengthwise.
“First,” Sarah replied, “I get drunk.”
Rachel shot her a withering look.
The truth was that Sarah didn’t understand the process very well herself. She knew it had something to do with how she fell asleep. The dreams were more pliable when she drank. Less like taut anxiety and more like taffy, susceptible to careful manipulation until, all at once, they broke.
She was about to say this, but instead, what came out of her mouth was: “In dreams, I understand Latin.”
“My dreams are mostly in Latin. I just didn’t know it was Latin until recently.”
“Is it your – your thoughts that are in Latin? Or the dialogue? Do other people speak Latin in them? Like, is Cosima in your dreams?”
Sarah snorted a laugh. “Sometimes,” she said, amused by Rachel’s embarrassment. Sarah sometimes dreamt of Rachel, too, the latter girl sullen and elegant and fluently disdainful of dream-Sarah’s clumsy attempts to communicate.
Rachel pressed on, “And she speaks Latin?”
“She speaks Latin in real life. That’s not a good example. Yeah, fine, if she’s there. But usually, it’s strangers. Or the signs – the signs are in Latin. And the trees speak it.”
“Like in Cabeswater.”
Yes, like in Cabeswater. In familiar, familiar Cabeswater, although Sarah surely hadn’t been there until this spring. Still, arriving there for the first time had felt like a dream she’d forgotten.
“Coincidence,” Rachel said, because it wasn’t, and because it had to be said. “And when you want something?”
“If I want something, I have to be, like, aware enough to know that I want it. Almost awake. And then I have to hold it.” Sarah was about to use the example of the Bugatti’s keys, but caught herself just in time. “I have to hold it not as a dream, but like it’s real.”
Rachel looked down at her knees. “I don’t understand.”
“I can’t pretend to hold it. I have to really hold it.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
It didn’t make sense to Sarah either, but she didn’t know how to say it any better. For a moment she was quiet, thinking, no sound but Chainsaw returning to the floor to pick at the corpse of the envelope.
“It’s like a handshake,” she said finally. “You know when some guy goes in for the shake, and you’ve never met him before, but you just know in that moment right before the shake if it’s going to be sweaty or not? It’s like that.”
“So what you’re saying is you can’t explain it.”
“I did explain it,” Sarah said, annoyed. “It’s like a nightmare – it’s when you dream of getting hit and when you wake up your arm hurts. It’s that.”
“Oh,” said Rachel. “Does it hurt?”
Sometimes, when she took something out a dream, it was such a senseless rush that it left the real world pale and unsaturated for hours after. Sometimes she couldn’t move her hands. Sometimes Mrs S found her and thought she was drunk. Sometimes, she really was drunk.
“Does that mean yes?”
Sarah shrugged. “I’m going back to bed,” she said, and turned away.
Chapter 7: Six
Felix was waiting for Sarah when she let herself into 300 Fox Way later that morning, sleep-smudged and a bit bedraggled.
“Sometimes, when I call you,” Felix said sourly, “I actually need you to pick up.”
“You sound just like Vic,” Sarah said, traipsing towards the stairs. Felix caught her arm and pulled her up short.
“No, listen, Sarah.”
Sarah stared at him. “What’ve I done now?”
“A cop came to school and threatened me yesterday,” Felix said. “He was looking for you. I’m fine, by the way, thank you.”
Sarah breathed, “Shit, Fe…What for?”
Felix tossed his head dramatically. “It’s nothing you’ve done, this time. For once. He said he’s looking for the Greywaren.”
Sarah flinched. “Amelia…”
“Amelia said that was you. I know.”
Sarah gave him a suspicious look and Felix shrugged. “I eavesdropped. The point is, he’s looking for the Greywaren, but he thinks it’s a thing – an object. And there’s more like him. One of them killed Amelia.”
“God.” Sarah sank onto the couch.
“This is serious shit, Sarah,” Felix said. “I think we need to tell S.”
Sarah shook her head immediately. “No way. She’ll never let me out of the house again.”
“You could die, Sarah.”
“You just said he doesn’t know it’s me,” Sarah countered.
“How long until he finds out?” Felix demanded.
Sarah closed her eyes. “I need a shower and a nap before work. We’ll talk about this later, yeah?”
Against Felix’s protests, she made for the bathroom.
“You’re an unbelievable phone tramp,” Sarah said.
Felix, unoffended, replied, “You’re just jealous that this isn’t your job.”
“I am not.” Sitting on the floor of the kitchen, Sarah glared up at Felix as she tied her shoe. “I’ve got enough messed up shite going on in my head without being a psychic on top of it all.” Felix stood over her in a shirt stunning both for its skintight fit and its loud floral print. His jeans were skinny enough that there almost wasn’t room for his already very skinny legs. He waved the phone above Sarah in a hypnotic figure eight.
The phone in question was the psychic hotline that operated out of the second floor of 300 Fox Way. For a dollar a minute, customers received a gentle probing of their archetypes – a slightly more than gentle probing if Felix answered – and a host of tactful suggestions for how to improve their fates. Everyone in the house took turns answering it. Everyone, as Felix had pointed out, but Sarah.
Sarah’s summer job required absolutely no extrasensory perception. In fact, working at Bobby’s Bar would probably have been unbearable if she’d possessed any more than five senses. Sarah generally had a policy of not doing things she despised, but she despised working at Bobby’s Bar and had yet to quit. Or to get fired, for that matter. Waitressing required patience, a fixed and convincing smile, and the ability to continuously turn the other cheek while keeping diet sodas topped up. Sarah had the soda bit covered, but that was about it. It didn’t help that the clientele of Bobby’s Bar was mostly Aglionby girls, who often thought rudeness was just a superior kind of communication.
The problem was that it paid well. Mrs S had expressly forbidden Sarah from pulling things from her dreams deliberately, an injunction which had been easy to follow after…after what had happened to Amelia. So, pulling stacks of cash out of her dreamspace was out, besides which, Sarah would have to coincidentally be dreaming about wads of cash to manage it. Unfortunately, Bobby’s Bar it was.
She glanced at the oven clock. Almost late. Practically late.
Felix picked up the now-ringing phone and blew Sarah a kiss.
Sarah said, “I don’t take it back. No one needs to hear their future in that voice you do.”
Felix shushed her and shooed her out of the room. From her perch in the reading room, Mrs S looked up. “Are you going to work? Come take a card.”
Despite her lateness, Sarah didn’t bother to resist. Unlike the elaborate Celtic cross tarot spreads Mrs S usually did for her clients, the single card readings she did for family members were playful, fond, and brief. It wasn’t so much a clairvoyant experience as a thirty-second bedtime story in which Sarah was always the hero. Not looking up from her tarot cards, Mrs S gave Sarah’s hand an affectionate shake and flipped over a card at random. “Ah, there you are.”
It was the page of wands, the card Siobhan always said reminded her of Sarah. In this deck, the art was of a fresh-faced youth holding a long, sprouting staff. The suit of wands represented endeavours and passions, and the page stood for curiosity, impatience, and bold action. Reversed, it meant that you were being held back by doubts, passing up opportunities, or had a lack of enthusiasm. This particular bedtime story was one Sarah had heard too many times before. She could anticipate exactly what Mrs S was going to say next: Look at all that potential!
Sarah cut her off. “When does the potential start being a real thing?”
Sarah shrugged, annoyed. “Don’t ‘oh, Chicken’ me. I just want to know when it stops being potential and starts being something more.”
Siobhan briskly shuffled the card back into her deck. “Do you want the answer you’re going to like, or the real one?”
Sarah huffed. She didn’t know which answer she wanted.
“Maybe you’re already something more. You make other psychics powerful just be being there. Maybe the potential you bring out in other people is your something more.”
Sarah snorted. “I’m not gonna be a sidekick.”
In the hallway, Felix repeated in Rachel’s upper crust tones, “I’m not going to be a sidekick. You should stop hanging out with millionaires, then.”
Mrs S made an ill-tempered tsss between her teeth. “Felix, aren’t you supposed to be on a call?”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m going to work,” Sarah said, trying to keep Felix’s words from digging in. But it was true that she felt like much more of a tagalong with Rachel’s clique than she did with her friends at Mountainview High.
When Sarah got to Bobby’s Bar, she discovered that Rachel, Cosima, Beth and Alison had already commandeered one of the big tables in the back. Because she couldn’t come to them, they’d brought the Glendower discussion to her.
Take that, Felix.
Cosima and Rachel sat in a cracked orange booth along the wall. Beth and Alison sat on chairs opposite. They were waiting for the something she’d said she had to show them.
With effort, Sarah compared her current image of the girls with the first time she’d seen them. They’d not only been strangers then, they’d been the enemy. It was hard to remember seeing them that way.
Sarah brought a pitcher of iced tea to the table and set down a small but surprisingly hefty wooden box beside it.
“Sarah,” Rachel said, pleased.
“What is that?” Alison asked.
“It’s a puzzle box,” Sarah told them.
“What does that mean?” Rachel asked, reaching for it.
“I think it’s supposed to translate things. That’s what it did in the dream.”
On each side of the box were carved words. The buttons were so small and the buttons so precise that it was impossible to see how it could’ve been made. Also impossible was how the wheels of characters could have been fixed into the box without there being any seams in the rainbow-striped grain of the wood.
“Latin on that side,” Rachel observed. She turned it. “Greek here. What’s that – Sanskrit, I think. Is this Coptic?”
Sarah said, “Who the hell knows what Coptic looks like?”
“You, apparently. I’m fairly certain that’s what this is. And this side with the wheels is English. But what is this side? The rest of these are dead languages, but I don’t recognize this one.”
“Look,” Sarah said, “You’re overcomplicating this.” She snatched up the box. She spun a few of the wheels on the English side, and at once buttons on the other side began to move and shift. Something about their progress was illogical.
“That hurts my head,” Alison said.
“Hold on,” Sarah replied. She left them to take the drink orders of a couple at table sixteen. They both wanted iced tea. Bobby’s Bar was unfairly famous for its iced tea – there was even a sign in the window proclaiming that it had the best in Henrietta – despite the fact that Sarah could attest to the tea-making process being completely unremarkable.
When she returned, she leaned on the table beside Cosima, who touched her wrist. She didn’t know what to do in response. Touch it back? The moment had passed. She resented her body for not giving her the correct answer.
Rachel had showed the various words on the puzzle box around the table while Sarah was gone. The English side read tree, the Latin said bratus, the Greek δέντροv.
Cosima ran a finger over the smooth wood of the box. “I still don’t know what language this is. T’ire? That sounds familiar somehow…”
Alison said, “Why is the tea so good here?”
“I spit in it. Is this useful for anything?”
“I think so,” Cosima said, smiling up at her.
At the front of the restaurant, the door opened. It would fall to Sarah to seat the new party, but she lingered by the table.
“What’s the language on this side?” Beth asked, pointing at the word T’ire.
Sarah shrugged one shoulder and indicated Rachel. “If Teen Prodigy Duncan can’t figure it out…”
Beth looked up at her. “I think you know what it is,” she said. “Somewhere in there.”
Sarah shrugged again, suddenly uncomfortable. She turned to the front of the restaurant. Her spirits sank as she saw who stood at the hostess stand: Vic the Dick, in the flesh. The dark arch of his eyebrows was mocking, amused. Sighing, she went over.
“Hey, Sarah,” he greeted her. He was already standing too close, moving restlessly. She hated the smell of him. Over his shoulder she spied Rudy Castor leaning against the side of his Lamborghini, his chin tilted down towards his chest, but failing to hide his smirk. There was something erratic and vulgar about the full line of his lips, like he’d swallow you if he got close enough.
Rudy was infamous, even at Aglionby. You wanted something to get you through your exams, he had it. You wanted a fake license, he could get it. You wanted something to hurt you, he was it. Sarah wondered how long he and Vic had been friends.
“Vic,” Sarah said tersely, picking up a laminated menu. “What d’you want?”
Vic smiled. “Table for two?” he said, cocking his head.
Sarah looked at the empty space beside him pointedly. “You’re alone.”
Vic smirked like she’d said something funny and nodded ruefully. “Thanks to you,” he said.
Sarah shoved the menu into his chest. “Table fourteen’s free,” she said bluntly. “Go.”
She wasn’t sure if she couldn’t forgive Vic for always making her feel so off balance, or herself, for knowing it was coming and being unable to guard herself against it.
As she headed towards the girls’ table, Vic snagged her sleeve from his seat at table fourteen. “Sarah. Sit down.” He clung on until she dropped into the seat opposite him.
“What do you want, Vic?”
Across the way, the postures of the other girls had all changed drastically. Alison looked at the table with a studied disinterest. Smudgy Beth ducked her head down into her shoulders, but didn’t take her eyes off of Vic and Sarah. Cosima’s casual position remained the same, but her shoulders were knotted with tension. Rachel stood, leaning against the table, and there was something threatening rather than respectful about it. Something about her eyes was ferocious and alive in the same way they had been when Sarah had launched that plane in the field.
“Did you switch History classes to avoid me?” Vic demanded, grabbing Sarah’s wrist.
Sarah scoffed and tore it out of his grip. “You went to class? You must really be obsessed with me.”
“Why’d you stop answering my calls, Sarah?” Vic dipped his head, trying to force Sarah’s averted eyes to meet his.
“You need to go, Vic,” Sarah said firmly. She stood up. “I’ll get Bobby to kick you out if I have to.”
Vic started up out of his seat. “Just listen, you stupid bitch! I need to talk to you!”
Sarah’s view of him was abruptly cut off by Rachel’s back. She had stepped between them, and her nails dug sharply into Vic’s wrist where he had started to reach for Sarah. She was the same height as Vic, but her heels lifted her above his eye level.
Rachel said with cold certainty, “You’re never going to talk to Sarah like that again.”
Sarah, feeling oddly warm around the cheeks, told Rachel, “It’s fine. I can handle it.”
Rachel released Vic’s arm; there were deep red marks where her nails had been. “Leave,” she said sharply, and Vic, seemingly to his own surprise, did.
Over his shoulder he said, “This isn’t over,” and pointed at Sarah.
As the door closed behind him, Rachel said, “The only thing that gives me any joy is imagining the used car dealership he’ll be working in by the time he’s thirty.”
Sarah, head down, said, “You didn’t have to do that.”
Rachel lifted one shoulder. “He was causing a scene,” she said.
“Like I said,” Sarah muttered. “Bad news.”
Chapter 8: Seven
Detective Bell hated his current rental car. He got the distinct impression it hadn’t been handled enough by humans when it was young, and now would never be pleasant to be around. Since he’d picked it up, it had already tried to bite him several times and had spent a considerable amount of time resisting his efforts to achieve the speed limit.
He would have returned it for another, but Art made a point of staying unmemorable if he could, now that he was a crooked cop with something to hide.
After dutifully filling the car with Ferdinand’s machines and dials, the Detective went on an electrical goose chase. He didn’t mind terribly that the flashing lights and humming alarms and scattered needles weren’t painting a coherent map to the Greywaren. Henrietta had considerable charms. The downtown was populated by daintily greasy sandwich shops and aggressively down-home junk shops, swaybacked porches and square columns, all of the buildings tired but tidy as library books. He peered through the car window as he passed by. Locals on porches peered back.
The readings continued to be meaningless, so he parked the rental car at the corner drugstore which advertised BEST TUNA FISH IN TOWN. He ordered a sandwich and a milkshake from a red-lipped lady, and as he leaned on the stainless-steel counter, the power went out.
The red-lipped lady used a meaty fist to thump the now-dormant milkshake machine and swore in a soft accent that made it sound affectionate. She assured him, “It’ll come back on in a minute.”
All of the shelves and greeting cards and pharmaceuticals looked eerie and apocalyptic in the indirect light from the front windows. “Does this happen a lot?”
“Since this spring, yes, sir. Goes out. Gets them surges, too, blows out them transformers and everything catches fire. Turns on the stadium lights, too, down at Aglionby, when nobody’s there for a game. Sure all those girls are gone for the summer. Well, most all of them. But you’re not staying, are you?”
Art nodded and gave her his best smile. “A few weeks.”
“You come down here and see the county show,” she said, giving his half-blended milkshake a dispirited twitch. “You get yourself a nice view of the fireworks from the courthouse. Don’t be fooled by those other ones.”
“The ones people do at home?”
“The Mountainview kids,” she said. “Some of them boys blow up all kinds of things they shouldn’t be getting into. Terrorize the old ladies. Don’t know why the sherriff don’t stop him.”
“Him?” Art was interested in how the plural Mountainview kids suddenly became a singular him.
She seemed to be in a reverie, watching cars go slowly by the windows. Eventually, she continued, “Probably it’s HEPCO’s fault; they knew their wires was old, but do they replace them? No.”
He blinked at the sudden shift in conversation. “HEPCO?”
“Beg pardon? Oh, Henrietta Electric Power Company.” Only, with her accent it sounded like Henretta Lektrick Poywurr Cuhmpuhnnay. As if invoked by her voice, the electricity came back on. “Oh, there it is back again. Told you there’s no need for worries.”
“Oh,” the Detective said, with a glance at the crackling fluorescent lights overhead, “I wasn’t worried.”
She chuckled. It was a deeply satisfied and knowing sort of laugh. “I reckon not.”
The tuna fish was good. It was the only one he’d had since he arrived, however, so he couldn’t say whether it was the best in town.
He kept driving. Victorians turned into fields as he crossed over the interstate, past steepled barns and white farmhouses, active goats and deceased pick-up trucks. Everything was painted in the same color palette, ruddy greens and deep-green reds; even the rubbish looked as if it had grown from the sloping hills. Only the mountains looked out of place, blue ghosts on every horizon.
Much to Art’s surprise, Ferdinand’s meters seemed to be coming to a consensus.
They led him onto another back road. Ramblers and mailboxes poked through the soil.
His phone rang.
It was Marty Duko.
Art’s stomach wrung itself out.
The phone rang only twice. Missed call. Duko had never intended for him to pick up; he merely wanted this: Art stopping the car, wondering if he was supposed to return the call. Wondering if Duko was going to call back. Untangling the wired threads in his gut.
Finally, a Labrador retriever barking at the door grounded him again. He shut the phone into the glove box, out of sight.
Back to Ferdinand’s devices.
They led him to a yellow house with an empty carport. With the EMF reader in one hand and a cesium magnetometer in the other, he climbed into the heat and followed the energy field.
He ducked under a desolate clothesline. There was a doghouse, but no dog. The air had the dry, complicated scent of a cornfield, but there was no cornfield. He was eerily reminded of the foreboding drugstore with the lights off.
In the backyard was an ambitious vegetable garden where seven impeccable rows flourished— textbook tomatoes, peas, beans, and carrots. The next four rows were not quite as productive. As he followed the increasingly frantic light on the EMF reader, the rows thinned further. The final three were merely strips of bare dirt pointed toward the distant fields. A few desiccated vines curled up the bamboo stakes, nothing but skeletons.
The instruments guided the Detective to a rosebush planted on the other side of the dead rows, directly in front of a concrete well cover. Unlike the dry vines, the rose was hyper-alive. Above an ordinary green trunk, dozens of twisted shoots clawed from the old canes, contorting tightly around one another. Each mutated cane was tinged the florid red of new growth; it looked eerily as if blood ran through them. The new shoots bristled with malevolent red spines.
The ultimate result of this furious growth was apparent in the blackened knots of branches above. Dead. The rose was growing itself to death.
Art was impressed by the deep wrongness of it.
A few waves of the meters confirmed that the energy was centred directly on the bush or the ground beneath it. An energy anomaly could possibly explain its hideous overgrowth. He didn’t see, however, how it could be connected to the Greywaren. Unless —
Glancing toward the house, he set down his machines and hefted up the well’s lid.
The EMF reader screamed, every light furiously red. The magnetometer’s reading spiked jaggedly.
Cool air spiraled out of the impenetrably dark opening. Art had a flashlight in the car, but he didn’t think it would begin to pierce the depths. He contemplated what it would take to retrieve an object hidden in a well, if it came to that.
Just as suddenly as they’d started, both of the machines went quiet.
Startled, he gave them an experimental swing of his arm — nothing. Carried them around the rosebush. Nothing. Hung them over the well. Nothing. Whatever spurt of wild energy had brought him here was gone.
It was possible, he thought, that the Greywaren was something that worked in pulses, and it had just shut off from its hiding place in the well.
But it was more possible, he thought, that this had to do with HEPCO’s little problem. The same energy surges that affected the stadium power might be at work here. Escaping from this water source. Somehow poisoning that blackened rose.
The Detective replaced the well cover, wiped a sheen of sweat from the back of his neck, and straightened.
He took a photo of the rose with his phone. And then he headed back to the car.
Chapter 9: Eight
Alison Hendrix had bigger problems than Sarah’s dreams. For starters, her new home. These days, she lived in a tiny room in her father’s apartment. The entire place had that smell of very old houses – plaster must and timber dust and forgotten flowers. Charlie Hendrix had provided the furnishings: an IKEA bedframe and mattress, a wardrobe from a garage sale, a pastel rug for the floor and matching pink curtains – Alison’s favourite part of the room. It was far humbler than her houseproud mother’s tidy suburban setup, but Alison woke up each morning free of sly insults and impressively backhanded compliments, and every day she spent away from her mother’s roof loosened the pinched muscles in her neck.
Her biggest worry now was whether her father could get custody of Oscar and Gemma. Alison missed, more than anything, the sound of their raucous voices in the house, and the responsibility of directing them from one activity to another, finding their drawings scattered where they weren’t supposed to be and pretending that her heart was in it when she scolded them for it.
And then there were the three part-time jobs that paid her Aglionby tuition. She crammed in the work hours now to afford a more leisurely fall when school started. She’d spent just two hours at the easiest of the jobs — her mother’s soap shop — and now, even though she was off, she was ruined for anything else.
Sticky and sore and, above all else, tired, always tired. Moving out had freed Alison of many hours in her mother’s company, but it had made her shifts at Bubbles more unbearable than ever. Once again Alison wished dearly for an end to the compromises she was forced to make.
The bathroom at Monmouth Incorporated was cold. Rachel was glad of the hot water running over her. From inside the shower, Rachel caught a half-image of herself in the mirror and startled. For a moment something about her own reflection had seemed wrong. Her wide eyes and pointed face stared back at her, troubled but not unusual.
And just like that, she was thinking of Cabeswater again. Some days she felt she didn’t think of anything else. She hadn’t owned many things in her life that she had gotten for herself, properly, without being given them, but now she did: this bargain. It had been a little over a month since she’d offered her sacrifice to Cabeswater in order to wake the ley line. The entire ritual felt swimmy and surreal in her mind, like she’d been watching herself perform it on a television screen. Rachel had gone fully prepared to make a sacrifice. But she wasn’t quite sure how the specific one she’d eventually made had come to her: I will be your hands. I will be your eyes.
So far, nothing had happened, not really. Which was almost worse. She was a patient with a diagnosis she couldn’t understand.
In the shower, Rachel scratched a thumbnail across her summer-browned skin. The line of her nail went from white to angry red in a moment, and as she studied it, it struck her that there was something odd about the flow of the water across her skin. As if it was in slow-motion. She followed the stream of water up to the showerhead and spent a full minute watching it sputter from the metal. Her thoughts were a confusion of translucent drops clinging to metal and rain trembling off green leaves.
There was nothing odd about the water. There were no leaves. She needed to get more sleep.
Some nights Rachel lured herself to sleep by imagining how she would word the favour for Glendower. She needed to get the words exactly right. Now she rolled the phrases around her mouth, desperately reaching for one that would comfort her. Ordinarily, words would tumble and lull through her mind, but this time, all she could think was Fix me.
Suddenly, she caught another image.
Right after she did, she thought, What does that mean? One couldn’t catch an image. And she certainly hadn’t done it more than once. But the sensation lingered, an idea that she had glimpsed, or felt, or remembered some movement at the corner of her eye. A snapshot captured just behind her eyes.
She had a strange, disconcerting feeling that she couldn’t trust her senses. Like she was tasting an image or smelling a feeling or touching a sound. It was the same as a few moments before, the idea that she’d glimpsed a slightly wrong reflection of herself.
Rachel climbed out of the shower. She dried and dressed herself quickly, hands shaking.
Then she caught another image.
Chapter 10: Nine
When Rachel arrived to meet them at the Dollar City, Sarah, Beth and Cosima were just loitering. Theoretically, they were there for batteries. Practically, they were there because Alison had work, Sarah was bored, and Dollar City was one of the few stores in Henrietta that allowed pets.
Rachel walked up to them as Sarah examined a package of erasers shaped like alligators. The Day-Glo animals wore an assortment of six aghast expressions. Cosima tried to skew her mouth to match as Chainsaw, buried in the crook of Sarah’s arm, eyed her suspiciously. At the end of the aisle, the clerk eyed Chainsaw with equal distrust. When Dollar City had said Pets Welcome, Dollar City wasn’t certain they’d meant carrion birds.
Sarah was studiously ignoring the clerk’s petulant gaze. Rachel looked startled and messy, and somehow that irritated Sarah. She was only half listening to the urgent conversation between Rachel and Cosima.
Cosima’s part: “If you’re not sure, it probably wasn’t. A strange man is hard to mistake for anything else.”
Sarah wasn’t exactly sure why she was angry. Although Rachel had done nothing to invoke her ire, she was definitely part of the problem. Currently, she stared intently at Cosima. Her unbuttoned collar revealed a good bit of her collarbone. No one could deny that Rachel was a glorious portrait of youth, the well-tended product of a fortunate and moneyed pairing. Ordinarily, she was so polished that it was bearable, though, because she was clearly not the same species as Sarah’s rough-and-ready family. But tonight, under the fluorescent lights of Dollar City, Rachel’s hair was scuffed and her outfit looked like a hasty afterthought. She was barelegged and sockless in her Top-Siders and very clearly a real human, an attainable human, and this, somehow, made Sarah want to smash her fist through a wall.
Sarah muttered to Beth, “What’s going on?”
Cosima told them, “Rachel thinks she saw an apparition at Monmouth.”
Sarah eyed Beth. “I’m seeing an apparition right now.”
Beth made a rude gesture, a hilariously unthreatening act coming from her, like a growl from a kitten. The clerk clucked audibly.
Chainsaw took the clucking as a personal affront. She plucked irritably at Sarah’s sleeve.
Beth had wandered down the aisle, but now she gleefully returned with a snow globe. Beth stood behind Sarah until she pushed off the shelf to admire the atrocity. A seasonally decorated palm tree and two faceless sunbathers were trapped inside, along with a painted, erroneous statement: IT’S ALWAYS CHRISTMAS SOMEWHERE.
“Glitter,” Beth snorted, giving it a shake. Sure enough, it was not fake snow but glitter that precipitated on the eternal holiday sands. Both Sarah and Chainsaw watched, transfixed, as the colourful bits caught in the palm tree.
“There was,” Rachel said, “a man in our bathroom. I think he was a messenger. I saw him in my eye.”
Next to Sarah, Beth said, “Oh!” in a very surprised way.
Then she flickered out.
The snow globe crashed onto the ground where Beth’s feet used to be. It left a damp, wobbly ellipse as it rolled away. Chainsaw, shocked, bit Sarah. She’d squeezed her as she leapt back from the sound.
The clerk said, “Come on.”
She hadn’t seen the travesty. But she clearly knew one had occurred.
“Don’t get excited,” Sarah said loudly. “We’ll pay for it.”
She would have never admitted how her heart pounded in her chest.
Rachel turned sharply, her face puzzled. The scene — Beth absent, ugly snow globe rolled half-under a shelf — offered no immediate explanation.
Abruptly, Sarah’s entire body went cold. Not a little chilly, but utterly cold. The sort of cold that dries the mouth and slows the blood. Her toes went numb, and then her fingers. Chainsaw let out a terrified creaking sound.
Sarah laid a frozen hand over Chainsaw’s head, comforting her, though she herself was not comforted.
Then Beth reappeared in a violent sputter, like the power crackling back on. Her fingers clutched Sarah’s arm. Cold seeped from the point of contact as Beth dragged heat to become visible. An absolutely perfect breath of Henrietta summer air dissipated around them, the scent of the forest when Beth had died.
They all knew that Beth could drop the temperature in the room when she first manifested, but this scale was something new.
“Way to ask first, you dick,” Sarah said. But she didn’t push her off. “What was that?”
Beth’s eyes were wide.
The clerk said, “Are you girls done yet?”
“Nearly!” Rachel called back in her reassuringly prim voice, “I’ll be up for paper towels in a minute! What’s happening here?” This last bit was hissed to Sarah, Cosima, and Beth.
“Beth took a personal day.”
“I lost . . .” Beth struggled for words. “There wasn’t air. It went away. The — the line!”
“The ley line?” Cosima asked.
Beth nodded once, a sloppy thing that was sort of a shrug at the same time. “There was nothing. . . left for me.” Releasing Sarah, she shook out her hands.
“You’re welcome, dude,” Sarah snapped. She still couldn’t feel her toes.
“Thanks. I didn’t mean to . . . you were there. Oh, the snow globe.”
Rachel swiftly retrieved the leaking snow globe and disappeared for the front counter. She returned with a receipt and a roll of paper towels.
Rachel said, “I think the ley line must be surging.”
She didn’t say, Or maybe something terrible happened to me that day I sacrificed myself in Cabeswater. Maybe I’ve messed up all of Henrietta by waking up the ley line. Because they couldn’t talk about that. Just like they couldn’t talk about Rachel leaving without them that night.
Sarah echoed, “Ley line surging. Right. Yeah, bet that’s it.”
All the whimsy of Dollar City was ruined. As Rachel led the way out, Beth said to Sarah, “I know why you’re mad.”
Sarah scowled at her, but her pulse heaved. “Tell me then, prophet.”
Beth said, “It’s not my job to tell other people’s secrets.”
Chapter 11: Ten
[Warning for internalised homophobia in this chapter]
“I was thinking you could come with me,” Rachel said carefully, two hours later. She pressed the phone to her ear with one shoulder as she unrolled a massive scroll of paper across the floor of Monmouth Incorporated. The numerous low lamps through the room made an array of search lights across the paper. “To the party at my mother’s house. There might be an internship in there, if you’re good at it.”
On the other end of the phone, Alison didn’t immediately reply. It was hard to say if she was thinking about it or being irritated about the suggestion.
Rachel kept unrolling the paper. It was a high-resolution print of the ley line as seen from a casually interested satellite. It had cost a fortune to get the images spliced and then printed in colour, but it would all be worth it if she spotted some oddity. If nothing else, they could use it to track their exploration. Also, it was very aesthetically pleasing.
From Cosima’s room, she heard Beth’s laugh. She and Cosima were throwing various objects from the second-story window to the parking lot below. There was a terrific crash.
“I’d have to see if I could get off work,” Alison replied. “I think I can. Do you think I should?”
Relieved, Rachel said, “Absolutely.” She dragged her desk chair onto the corner of the print. It kept trying to roll back up on itself. She put a copy of Trioedd Ynys Prydein on the other corner.
“I think Donnie wants to date me,” Alison said abruptly.
“Oh.” Rachel nudged the paper to keep it rolling out straight. It was surprisingly satisfying to see acres and acres of forest and mountains and rivers unrolling across her floorboards. If she were a god, she thought, this would be precisely how she’d create her new world. Unrolling it like carpet.
“I don’t know if I, uh, should,” Alison said hesitantly.
Another crash from Cosima’s room, followed by uncontrollable laughter. Rachel wondered if she should put a stop to it before vehicles with strobe lights did.
“Why is that?” Rachel asked, though she didn’t want to hear the answer. She was already tired of the conversation.
“I don’t know,” Alison said. “I don’t know what I’m doing. What do you think? You’ve dated more than me.”
Rachel abruptly remembered the moment she’d first approached Sarah at Bobby’s Bar on Cosima’s behalf. How disastrous it had been. Since then, she’d considered a dozen different ways she could’ve done it better.
Which was ridiculous. It had all worked out, hadn’t it? She was with Cosima now. Whether or not Rachel had made Sarah despise her the moment they met didn’t change anything.
She said, “I’m not dating now.”
“Except for Glendower.”
Rachel couldn’t argue that point. “It’s your prerogative, of course, but in my opinion you could do better.”
From the other room, Cosima shouted, “No way, dude!” but she didn’t sound like she meant it. Her words were most of the way to a laugh already. “No way —”
Rachel kicked the rolled print firmly enough that it teetered crookedly out to its end, yards away, out of the circles of light. Standing, she walked to the windows on the eastern wall of the factory. Leaning an elbow on the frame, she pressed her forehead against the glass, gaze on the great, black spread of Henrietta below.
Once, she had dreamt that she found Glendower. It wasn’t the actual finding, but the day after. She wouldn’t forget the sensation of the dream. It hadn’t been joy, but instead, the absence of pain. She couldn’t forget that lightness. The freedom.
“I just don’t want things to get messy,” Alison said finally.
“Are they messy?”
“No. I guess not. But somehow they always seem to get that way.”
Rachel watched tiny car lights diminish as they left Henrietta, reminding her of her miniature version of the town. An early, illicit firework sprayed up in the foreground.
“Rachel…” Alison hesitated. “Can I ask your advice?”
This was something Rachel definitely, 100 percent felt certain in her gut that she had no interest in giving.
Rachel’s shoulders collapsed; her breath fogged the glass and vanished. “Of course.”
“Do you think…” Alison paused. Then she said in a rush, “Do you think Beth can date? Even though she’s a ghost?”
“I don’t know,” Rachel said. “Would you like me to ask her?”
“Oh! No,” Alison said quickly. “Please don’t. No. I just…wondered.”
Rachel wondered if Alison might be gay. She wondered if Alison had a crush on Beth. Being gay was…well, fine, of course. Rachel wasn’t a bigot, and neither were her parents. But in Rachel’s mind being gay was neatly categorised under ‘other people’. That was for Cosima. Being gay wasn’t something that Rachel could do. Just the word lesbian made her skin crawl.
Rachel definitely didn’t ever think about Sarah and Cosima not-kissing, and she especially did not think about the possibility of Sarah not-kissing Rachel instead.
Cosima’s bedroom door burst open. Hanging on the door frame, Cosima leaned out to peer past Rachel. She looked worried and excited at the same time. “Is Beth out here?”
“Hold on,” Rachel told Alison. Then, to Cosima: “Why would she be?”
“She jumped out the window!” Cosima said.
Rachel closed her eyes. “Sorry. You have a dress suitable for the party?”
Alison’s response was buried in the sound of the second-story door falling open. Beth slouched in.
Cosima said, “I was worried!”
Beth shrugged. “I’m already dead.”
“What’s happening over there?” Alison asked.
Rachel eyed Beth. She didn’t look any worse for wear. “I have no idea.”
Chapter 12: Eleven
That night, Sarah dreamt of trees.
It was a massive old forest, oaks and sycamores pushing up through the cold mountain soil. Leaves skittered in the breeze. Sarah could feel the size of the mountain under her feet. The oldness of it. Far below there was a heartbeat that wrapped around the world, slower and stronger and more inexorable than Sarah’s own.
She had been here before, lots of times. She’d grown up with this recurring dream forest. Its roots were tangled in her veins.
The air moved around her, and in it, she heard her name.
Sarah Manning Sarah Manning Sarah Manning
There was no one there but Sarah, the trees, and the things the trees dreamt of.
She danced on the knife’s edge between awareness and sleep. When she dreamt like this, she was a king. The world was hers to bend. Hers to burn.
Sarah Manning, Greywaren, tu es Greywaren.
The voice came from everywhere and nowhere. The word Greywaren made her skin prickle.
“Charlotte?” she said. This was the orphan girl’s name, which she knew instinctively in dreams but sometimes forgot when she was awake.
And there she was, peering cautiously from behind a tree. When Sarah had first dreamt of her, she’d had short, dark brown hair, mostly hidden by a maroon beanie, but after a few years it changed to two long plaits on either side of her head. Although Sarah had aged, the dream girl had not. She looked exactly like Sarah in the old photos Mrs S kept in her bedside drawer. She had the same sort of forlorn, orphan look. Her hair was neater than Sarah’s had ever been, though.
Her presence made it easier to pull things from her dreams. Sarah reached a hand toward her, but the girl didn’t immediately emerge. She peered around warily instead. Sarah couldn’t blame her. There were terrifying things in her head.
“Sarah, manus vestras!” she said. Sarah, your hands!
Her skin shivered and crawled, and she realized it was crawling with hornets, the ones that had killed Rachel all those years ago. There weren’t many this time, only a few hundred. Recently, she had begun to dream of hornets regularly. Cars full of hornets. Houses full of hornets. Forests full of hornets. Sometimes these hornets killed Sarah, too, in her dreams.
But not tonight. Not when she was the most dangerous thing in these trees. Not when her sleep was clay in her fingers.
They aren’t hornets, she thought.
And they weren’t. When she lifted her hands, her fingers were coated with crimson ladybugs, each as vivid as a blood drop. They whirled into the air with their acrid summer scent. Every wing was a buzzing voice in a simple language.
Orphan Girl, ever cautious, emerged only after they were gone. She and Sarah moved from one part of the forest to the next. The little girl hummed a refrain of a pop song over and over again as the trees murmured overhead.
Sarah Manning, loquere pro nobis.
Speak for us.
Suddenly, she faced a striated rock nearly as tall as she was. Thorns and berries grew at its base. It was familiar in a way that was too solid to be a dream, and Sarah felt a ripple of uncertainty. Was this a dream she was in now, or was it a memory? Was this really happening?
“You’re sleeping,” Charlotte reminded her in English.
She clung to the words, master again. Facing the rock, she knew what she was meant to do — what she had already done. She knew it would hurt.
The girl turned her narrow face away as Sarah seized the thorns and the berries. Every thorn prick was a hornet sting, threatening to wake her. She crushed them until her fingers were dark with juice and blood, dark as ink. She slowly traced words on the rock:
Arbores loqui latine. The trees speak Latin.
“You’ve done this before,” the girl said.
Time was a circle, a rut, a worn tape she never tired of playing.
The voices whispered to her: Gratias tibi ago. Thank you.
Charlotte said, “Don’t forget the glasses!”
Sarah followed her gaze. Between the flowers and broken vines and fallen leaves was a black object, incongruously shiny. When she plucked it free, Rudy Castor’s sunglasses looked back at her, eyeless. She ran her thumb over the smooth surface of the plastic, fogged her breath over the tinted lenses. She did it until she could feel even the etched circle of the tiny screw in the earpiece. Dream to memory to reality.
She lifted her eyes to the miniature version of herself. The girl looked afraid. She always looked afraid, these days. The world was a scary place.
She said: “Take me with you.”
Sarah woke up.
That night, Art dreamt of being stabbed.
At first, he felt each individual wound. Particularly that first one. He was unbroken and entire, and then that wholeness was stolen by that thief, the knife. So that piercing was the worst. A half inch above his left collarbone, pinning him to the ground for half a breath.
Then, again, but closer to the knob of his shoulder, glancing off his collarbone.
Then Art was the assailant. The hilt of the knife was ridged and permanent in his hand. His hand moved without his permission. He’d been drawing his arm down for a lifetime. He’d been born when it started and he’d die when it was done.
Then Art was the knife. He was a blade in the air, gasping, and then he was a weapon inside, holding his breath.
That night, Rachel didn’t dream.
Curled on the mattress, she covered her face with her summerhot arm. Both regret and the memory of the brief apparition kept slumber at bay. The wrongness, the deadness, of the man still hung in the air at Monmouth. Or maybe inside her. What did I do?
She was awake enough to think of home — It’s not home, it was never home — and to think of Sarah’s face when she lost her temper. She was awake enough to recall precisely the smell of the forest as she sacrificed herself. She was awake enough to wonder if she’d been making bad decisions for her entire life. If she’d been a bad decision, herself, even before she was born.
She wished summer was over. At least when she was at Aglionby she could turn over her papers to see the grades, concrete proof of her success at something.
She needed a reset button. Just push the reset button on Rachel Duncan and start her again.
She didn’t sleep and when she did, she didn’t dream.
Chapter 13: Twelve
The following morning, Sarah had just woken up when Kendall brought a plate full of smouldering plant matter through her bedroom.
Sarah lifted her bleary eyes, her nostrils smarting from the smoke. “What are you doing?”
“Smudging,” Kendall answered. She held the plate in front of the Clash posters Sarah had stuck to her walls and blew on the bound herbs to direct the smoke at the paper. “That terrible man left so much bad energy.”
The terrible man was Carlton, Siobhan’s ex-lover, who had disappeared earlier that year after practicing black magic in their attic. And smudging was the practice of using the smoke of sympathetic herbs to clear negative energy. Personally, Sarah had always thought there must be better ways to get on a plant’s good side than by setting it on fire.
Now Kendall waved the lavender and sage in Sarah’s face. “Sacred smoke, cleanse the soul of this young woman before me and give her some common sense.”
“Oi!” Sarah protested, sitting up. “There isn’t mugwort in that, is there?”
Kendall said mugwort improved her clairvoyance. She didn’t seem to mind its temporarily mind-altering affects. Sullenly, sounding just like Felix, she said, “No, your mother wouldn’t let me.”
Sarah silently thanked Mrs S. Rachel and Cosima were supposed to be coming over later, and the last thing she wanted was to be responsible for getting them mildly high. Although, she thought that Cosima probably wouldn’t mind, and Rachel might be improved by something that took the edge off.
The smudging took longer than Sarah had expected, and she fled the smoke after a few minutes. In the hallway, she discovered Kendall had already opened the attic door in preparation for smudging Carlton’s old quarters. It felt like an invitation.
With a glance down the hall, she stepped into the stairwell and climbed. Immediately, the air warmed and began to stink. The grubby smell of asafoetida, one of the charms Carlton had used, still permeated the space, and the attic’s summer heat did nothing to improve upon it.
At the top of the stairs, she hesitated. Most of Carlton’s things were still up here, but they’d been heaped and boxed on the throw-covered mattress for later removal. All of the masks and symbols had been removed from the slanted, unfinished walls, and the candles had been carefully packed taper-side down in a plastic bin. But Carlton’s mirrors were undisturbed — two full-length mirrors pointed directly at each other. And there was a deep black bowl sitting on the floor beside them. Carlton’s scrying bowl.
The base was slicked with the memory of recent liquid, even though Carlton hadn’t been in this room for nearly a month. Sarah wasn’t sure who else would use it. She knew that Siobhan and Kendall generally frowned upon the ritual. The technique was theoretically simple: The scryer looked into a mirror or dark bowl full of liquid, drew their mind into a space outside itself, and saw the future or another location in the reflection.
In practice, Mrs S had told Sarah that it was unpredictable and dangerous.
The soul, she’d said, is vulnerable when it’s outside the mind.
The last time Sarah had seen this bowl, Carlton had been scrying into someplace hidden on the ley line. Possibly somewhere in Cabeswater. And when Sarah had interrupted him, she’d found Carlton possessed by whatever dark creature he’d discovered there.
Now, in the attic’s suffocating heat, Sarah shivered. It was easy to forget the terror that had accompanied their hunt for Cabeswater. But the shiny circle in the base of the scrying bowl brought it all back in a second.
Who’s using you? Sarah wondered. And of course, that was only the first half of the question.
The other half was: And what are you looking for now?
Alison Hendrix believed in heaven and hell. It was Sunday, and as with every Sunday, she was headed to St. Agnes. Rachel wasn’t with her – she belonged to some religion that only required church attendance on Christmas — but Beth came with. Beth had not been Catholic when she was alive, but recently she had decided to find religion. No one in the church ever noticed her and it was possible God didn’t, either, but Alison, as someone God possibly ignored as well, liked the company.
Today, Alison grimly stepped through the great old doors and clawed some holy water from the font while the choir members narrowed their eyes at her. She scanned the pews for her mother. It was God who drove her to church every Sunday, but it was Gemma and Oscar who drove her to a pew beside her mother.
As always, she’d dressed them all for church: shirts white as innocence, the knot of Oscar’s tie tight and sanctified, slacks obediently pressed.
“Surprising to see you here,” Connie said snippily to Alison, although it wasn’t. Her mother seemed to think she’d become a heathen automatically by moving in with her father. Alison just shook her head silently, tight-lipped.
The two women sitting three pews forward whispered to each other. The organ murmured in the background.
Beth slid into the pew, sitting at the very end, and Alison slid in beside her.
Alison gave in to the brief privilege of hating herself, as she always did in church. There was something satisfying about acknowledging this hatred, something relieving about this little present she allowed herself each Sunday. She knelt.
After a minute, the kneeler buckled as Oscar and Gemma joined her.
“Hey, Alison,” Oscar whispered. He was a teddy-bear of a boy, small and earnest. His head was covered with soft, dark curls and his straight teeth were showed off by an easy, dimpled smile. Females of all ages called him adorable. Males of all ages called him buddy. Oscar failed at many more things than either of his sisters, but he always tried his hardest.
Alison had dreamt one thousand nightmares about something happening to either of them.
Oscar and Gemma had unconsciously left enough room for Beth, but didn’t offer a greeting. Sarah had once asked Beth if she chose to be invisible, and Beth, hurt, had replied enigmatically, “Don’t rub it in.”
“By the way, Sarah Manning isn’t someone I want you being around,” Connie said. “Don’t snort. I’m being serious.”
Alison merely invested a look with as much contempt as she could muster. A lady reached over the top of Beth to pat Gemma’s head fondly before continuing down the aisle. Both Alison and Connie observed this interaction with the pleased expressions of parents watching their prodigy at work.
“That girl is beneath you,” Connie added, without turning her head.
“Oh, go to hell,” Alison snapped, just as the altar boys broached the rear doors.
“Guys,” Gemma pleaded. “Be holy.”
Both Connie and Alison fell silent. They were silent all through the opening hymn, which Gemma sang cheerily along to, and the readings, which Oscar smiled pleasantly through, and the homily, which Oscar slept gently through. They were silent through communion, as Beth remained in the pew and Connie walked briskly up the aisle and accepted the host and Alison closed her eyes to be blessed — please God what am I tell me what I am —and Oscar shook his head at the wine. And finally silent through the last hymn as the priest and the altar boys trailed back out of the church.
“Alison – ” her mother started.
“I was just leaving,” Alison said coldly. She grabbed Gemma and Oscar with one arm each and pressed them into a hug, whispering quick goodbyes.
“See you next week,” she told her mother.
It was not as easy as you might expect for Sarah to avoid Vic Schmidt. He went to her school, for one thing, and even on weekends, he was around. He showed up while Sarah was loitering by the skate ramp, watching Tony alternately do tricks and fall flat on his arse.
“Sarah,” Vic said appreciatively, as if they were both pleased to see each other.
Cicadas shrilled at one another. There were no shadows anywhere.
Sarah tossed the sunglasses she’d dreamt the night before in Vic’s direction. He caught them and studied them. He knocked his own sunglasses halfway down his nose and studied them some more. Sarah was gratified to note how closely the new pair resembled Rudy’s. The only thing she’d gotten wrong was that she’d made the tint a bit darker. Surely Rudy, master forger, should appreciate them.
Finally, Vic slid his gaze over to Sarah. His smile was sly. Pleased that Sarah was in on the game. “Well done, Sarah. Where’d you find them?”
Sarah gave him the finger.
“That’s how it’s gonna be? Hard to get?”
Tony crashed to the ground, mullet-over-heels.
“Yeah,” said Sarah. She pulled Tony up by one hand, shoved him back onto his board, and stepped on behind him. Without any particular prelude, she grabbed Tony by the shoulders and pushed off, hard, sending them both careening away from Vic.
He called after them, but his voice faded into the distance as they roared along the concrete.
Chapter 14: Thirteen
Sarah liked having the other girls over to her house.
Their presence at the house was agreeable for several different reasons. The absolute simplest one was that Sarah sometimes got tired of being 100 percent of the non-psychic population of 300 Fox Way, and that percentage improved dramatically when the other girls were over. The second reason was that Sarah saw all the girls, particularly Rachel Duncan, in a very different light when they were there. Rather than the glossy, self-assured girl she’d been when she’d first met her, 300 Fox Way Rachel was a reserved onlooker, at once interested and unsuited for all of the intuitive arts. She was a privileged tourist in a primitive country: flatteringly curious, unknowingly insulting, quite certainly unable to survive if left to her own devices.
And the third reason was that it suggested permanence. Apart from Tony, Sarah had acquaintances at school, but not really friends. While she was friendly with a lot of them, there was no one that she wanted to commit to for a lifetime. And she knew this was her fault. She’d never been any good at having casual friends. For Sarah, there was family — which had never been about blood relation at 300 Fox Way — and then there was everyone else.
When the other girls came to her house, they stopped being everyone else.
Currently, both Cosima and Rachel were situated in the narrow bowels of the house. It was a wide open, promising sort of sunny day; it invaded through every window. Without any particular discussion, Rachel, Cosima and Sarah had come to the decision that today was a day for exploring, once Alison arrived.
Rachel sat at the kitchen table in an aggressively crisp white polo shirt. By her left hand was a glass bottle of a fancy coffee beverage she had brought with her.
Beside Cosima was one of Mrs S’s healing teas. For several months now, Sarah’s mother had been working on a line of healthful teas to augment their income. Sarah had learned early on that healthful was not a synonym for delicious, and had very vocally removed herself from the test group.
Cosima didn’t know any better, so she accepted what she was given.
“I don’t think I can wait any longer. But I would like to minimize the risk,” Rachel said as Sarah rummaged in the fridge. Someone had filled an entire shelf with disgusting store-brand pudding. “I don’t think we can ever make it completely safe, but surely there’s a way to be more cautious.”
For a moment Sarah thought she was talking about the process of drinking one of Mrs S’s teas. Then she realized she was talking about Cabeswater.
Siobhan watched the girls carefully. Sarah suspected this was not because of anything Rachel was saying but because she was waiting for Cosima to take a drink of whatever horrid potion she had steeping in that cup in front of her.
“I know what you’re gonna say,” Sarah said, settling on a yogurt. It had fruit on the bottom, but she’d eat around it. She threw herself into a chair at the table. “You’re about to say, ‘Well, then, don’t take Sarah with you.’ ”
Mrs S flipped a hand like, If you knew, why’d you ask?
Cosima said, “What? Oh, because Sarah makes things louder?”
“Yes,” Mrs S replied. “But I actually wasn’t going to say that, even though it’s true. I was going to say that this place must have rules. Everything involved in energy and spirit has rules — we just don’t always know them. So it looks unpredictable to us. But it’s really just because we’re in the dark about it all. Are you sure you want to go back?”
Cosima took a drink of her healing tea. Mrs S’s chin jutted as she observed the lump of it heading down her throat. Cosima’s expression hardly changed, but after a moment, she made a gentle fist of her hand and thumped her breastbone.
“What did you say that was good for?” she asked politely. Her voice was a little odd until she cleared her throat.
“General wellness,” Mrs S said. “Also, it’s supposed to manage dreams.”
“My dreams?” she asked.
Mrs S raised a very knowing eyebrow. “Who else’s would you be managing?”
“Also, it helps with legal matters.”
Cosima put her teacup on the table with a clink. “Do I need help with legal matters?”
Mrs S shrugged. “Ask a psychic.”
“Mum,” Sarah said. “Seriously.” To Rachel, she prompted, “Cabeswater.”
“Well, no one else has to go with me,” Rachel said, “But the incontrovertible fact remains that I am looking for a mystical king on a ley line and it is a mystical forest on a ley line. I can’t discount that coincidence. We can look elsewhere, but I think Glendower’s there. And I don’t want to waste time now that the ley line’s awake. I feel like time’s running out.”
“Are you sure you still want to find him?” Mrs S asked.
Sarah already knew this question was irrelevant. Without cutting her gaze over to Rachel, she already knew what she would see. She would see a rich girl dressed like a mannequin and styled like a newscaster — but her eyes were like the dreaming pool in Cabeswater. She hid the insatiable wanting well, but now that Sarah had seen it once, she couldn’t stop seeing it. But Rachel wouldn’t be able to explain it to Mrs S.
And she would never really have to explain it to Sarah.
Rachel, like a lot of people, wanted to be special. Sarah, for her part, was sick of being special.
Very formally, Rachel said, “Yes, I do.”
“It could kill you,” Mrs S said.
Then there was the awkward moment that arrives when two out of four of the people in the room know that someone in the room is supposed to die in fewer than nine months, and the person who is meant to die is not one of the ones in the know.
“Yes,” Rachel said. “I know. I’ve done it once before. Die, I mean. Do you not like the fruit? That’s the most nutritious part.” She directed this last statement to Sarah, who had thrown away her mostly empty yogurt cup. Rachel was very clearly done with talking about death.
Mrs S sighed, giving up, just as Felix flounced into the kitchen. Felix was not annoyed. He merely flounced whenever possible. He opened the fridge and took a pudding cup from it.
As Felix spun with the hated store-brand pudding in his hand, he shook it at Rachel and said, “Just remember that Cabeswater is a video game that everyone in it has been playing for a lot longer than you. They all know where to get the level ups.”
He plowed from the room. Mrs S followed him more sedately.
“Well,” said Cosima.
“Yes,” agreed Sarah.
“A male, at last,” Rachel observed. “I was beginning to wonder. Do you eat all of the men in the family? Where do they go? Does this house have a basement?”
Sarah shoved out her chair and stood up. “It’s like boot camp. They can’t hack it.”
Rachel forgot herself and laughed. It was a powerful thing, that laugh. She only did it once, but her eyes remained shaped like it.
Something inside Sarah did a complicated tug.
Oh, shite, she thought. But then she calmed herself. Rachel Duncan has a nice mouth. Now I know she has nice eyes when she laughs, too. This still isn’t love.
She let herself smile back, just a bit.
Rachel glanced at Cosima with an odd look on her face. “I need some air,” she said abruptly, and left the room.
After a second, Sarah went to follow Mrs S, but Cosima stretched a hand out.
“Wait,” she said quietly.
With a glance out toward the hall and reading room, she said, “Um, Rachel.”
Instantly, Sarah thought of finding Rachel alone, sitting on Monmouth’s floor. Her cheeks warmed. “What about her?”
Cosima bit her lip. It was a pensive habit, performed so frequently that it was surprising she had anything left to cover her bottom teeth. “Have you told her about that no-kissing curse thing?”
If Sarah had thought her cheeks were warm before, it was nothing compared to the blaze raging in them now. “Yeah,” she said slowly. “Why?”
Cosima shrugged. “Well, just in case she wants to kiss you.”
Sarah balked. “What?”
Cosima said casually, “We don’t have to be exclusive, you know. It’s okay if you have a crush on Rachel.”
“Well, I don’t,” Sarah hissed. The kitchen didn’t seem very private, and they’d both unconsciously leaned as close as possible to keep their voices from carrying. “What gave you that idea?” She needed to find out, so that whatever it was, she could stop doing it before Rachel noticed.
“Oh, being open?” Cosima asked. “One time this girl was flirting with me in a bar, and I was there with my girlfriend, at the time. So I thought it was going to be, like, super awkward, but she goes, ‘It’s okay. I’m French. We enjoy lovers.’ Can you believe that?”
Sarah shook her head. “Not open relationships,” she said. “I meant Rachel.”
Cosima tilted her head. “Just, like, the way you two act around each other,” she said. “It’s kinda…gay.”
“Oh my god,” Sarah scowled. “Can you keep your voice down? Kendall’s in the next room.”
Cosima grinned. “Why? You don’t want to talk about your dating life with your grandmother?”
Sarah put her face in her hands.
“I’d talk about it with mine,” Cosima said cheerfully. “Actually, maybe not. She’s a lovely woman, I suppose. If you like them bald and racist.”
Sarah said wearily, “Try your other grandmother.”
“Can’t,” Cosima replied. “She’s dead.”
“Well, Jesus. What’d she die of?”
“Mom always said ‘meddling.’”
Sarah completely forgot they were being secretive and let out a broad laugh. Cosima looked at her in a way that made Sarah want very much to kiss her. She leaned back instead.
“Wait here,” she said. She was a little relieved to leave Cosima at the table; her pulse felt like she’d been running.
She found Mrs S, Felix and Kendall still in the hall, conferring in low voices. She told Mrs S, “Look. We’re definitely all going to Cabeswater. This afternoon, when Alison’s done. That’s the plan. We’re sticking with the plan.”
Mrs S appeared a lot less distressed by this statement than Sarah had feared. In fact, she didn’t look very distressed at all.
“Why are you telling me?” Mrs S asked. “Why is your face so red?”
“Because you’re supposed to tell someone where you’re going if you’re planning a dangerous hike,” Sarah said. And: “This is what my face always looks like.”
“Hm,” said Mrs S.
“Hm,” said Felix.
Suspiciously, Sarah asked, “You’re not going to tell me not to go?”
“Not this time.”
“No point,” Kendall agreed.
“Also, there’s a scrying bowl in the attic,” Sarah said.
Mrs S peered into the reading room. “No, there’s not.”
Sarah insisted, “Someone’s been using it.”
“No, they haven’t.”
With an edge to her voice, Sarah said, “You can’t just say it’s not there and no one’s using it. I know you hide things all the time, but I have eyes.”
“What do you want me to tell you, then?” Mrs S asked.
“The truth. I just told you the truth.”
“She did!” Cosima called from the kitchen.
“Shut up!” Felix and Kendall said at once.
Mrs S lifted a hand. “Fine. I used it.”
Kendall said, “To look for bloody John Sadler.”
Sarah probably shouldn’t have been surprised — Carlton had been asked there to look for Siobhan’s husband, and although Carlton was gone, the mystery of John Sadler’s whereabouts remained. “I thought you said scrying was a bad idea.”
“It’s like vodka,” Mrs S said. “It really depends on who’s doing it.”
With his spoon poised over his pudding cup, Felix peered into the other room, just as Mrs S had.
Sarah craned her neck to see what they were looking at. It was just Rachel. She sat in the reading room by herself, the diffuse morning light rendering her soft and dusty. She had removed one of the tarot decks from its bag and lined each of the cards faceup in three long rows. Now she leaned on the table and studied the image on each, one at a time, shuffling on her elbows to the next when she was through. She looked nothing like the Rachel who Sarah had first met and everything like the late-night Rachel she had been in dim Monmouth.
Mrs S frowned. In a low voice, she said, “I think I need to have a conversation with that girl.”
“Someone does,” Kendall replied, heading up the stairs. Each stair groaned a protest for which she punished the next with a stomp. “Not me. I’ve outgrown train wrecks.”
Sarah, alarmed, said, “Is she a train wreck?”
Mrs S clucked her tongue. “Ma likes drama. Train wreck! When a train takes a long time to go off the tracks, I don’t like to call it a wreck. I like to call it a derailment.”
From upstairs, Sarah heard Kendall’s delighted cackle. Sarah rolled her eyes and shoved Felix away. Mrs S followed him, still amused.
After a moment, Rachel said to her, without lifting her eyes, “I could hear you, you know.”
Sarah hoped fervently that she was only talking about Mrs S and Kendall and not about her kitchen conversation with Cosima. “Do you think you’re a train wreck?”
“That would mean I was on the tracks to start with,” she replied. “Have you heard anything from Alison yet?”
Cosima appeared beside Sarah in the doorway. Rachel shook her empty bottle at her.
“Fair trade,” she told them in a way that indicated she had selected a fair trade coffee beverage entirely so that she could tell Cosima that she had selected a fair trade coffee beverage so that whoever was listening could tell her Well done with your carbon footprint and all that jazz.
Cosima said, “Better recycle the bottle.”
Rachel dazzled a smile at her before standing up. “Alison should be done in half an hour. We’re going to Cabeswater.”
Chapter 15: Fourteen
You could ask anyone: 300 Fox Way, Henrietta, Virginia, was the place to go for the spiritual, the unseen, the mysterious, and the yet-to-occur. For a not-unreasonable fee, any of the psychics under its roof would read your palm, pull your cards, cleanse your energy, connect you with deceased relatives, or listen to the dreadful week you had just lived through. During business hours, clairvoyance was often work.
But on days off, when the mixed drinks emerged, it often became a game. Felix and Kira scavenged the house for magazines, books, cereal boxes, old decks of tarot cards— anything with words or images. One psychic selected an image and hid it from the others, and the other three experimented with how accurate they could get their guesses. They made predictions with their backs to one another, with the cards splayed, with different numbers of candles on the table, while standing in buckets of water, calling up and down three or seven stairs from the front hallway. Mrs S called it continuing education. Felix called it turning tricks. Kira called it that thing we could do if there’s nothing on TV?
That day, waiting for Alison to finish work and the other girls to set off to pick her up, there was no work to be done. Sundays were quiet, even for nonchurchgoers. After a few hours with no clients, the psychics abandoned work and set up the game in the shabby but comfortable living room.
“I’m very nearly drunk enough to be transcendent,” Kendall said after a space. She was not the only psychic drinking, but she was the closest one to transcendence.
Mrs S peered dubiously into the bottom of her own glass. She said, a little sadly, “I’m barely drunk at all.”
At that moment, the doorbell rang. Mrs S swore delicately: one well-chosen and highly specific word. Kendall swore indelicately: several more words with rather fewer syllables. Then Mrs S went for the front door and reappeared in the living room with a stocky, neatly-dressed man.
He wore a dark gray V-neck T-shirt that emphasized the muscular slope to his shoulders. His slacks were black. His black hair was a shade darker than his skin, and so was the line of facial hair along his jaw.
“This is —?”
“Art,” Felix said, crossing his arms over his skinny chest. He shot a significant glance at Sarah, which Mrs S didn’t miss but filed away to follow up on later.
The man smiled in a knowing sort of way. “You can just call me the Detective.”
Mrs S said, “He wanted a reading.”
“We’re closed,” Kendall said, utterly dismissive.
“Grandma is being rude,” Kira said. “We’re not closed, but we are busy?”
This was said with a question in her voice and an anxious glance toward Mrs S.
“That’s what I told him,” Mrs S said. “However, it turns out that the — Detective — doesn’t really need a reading. He’s a police officer, researching psychics. He just wants to observe.”
Kendall rattled the ice in her glass. One of her eyebrows looked exceptionally skeptical. “What’s this for?”
He smiled easily at her. “General knowledge.”
She merely tutted and tipped her glass toward him.
“Do you mind if he stays?” Mrs S asked. “He knows poetry.”
Kendall sneered. “Give me a stanza and I’ll fetch you a drink.”
Without the slightest hesitation or suggestion of self-consciousness, the Detective placed his hands in the pockets of his slacks and said, “Where has gone the steed? Where has gone the youth? Where has gone the giver of treasure? Where are the feasting seats, where the revelry in the hall? Alas, bright goblet; alas, mailed warrior; alas, prince’s glory! How that time has passed away, obscured beneath the crown of night as if it never were.”
Kendall went to get him a drink.
After she had returned and the Detective had been encouraged to sit on the worn couch, Mrs S said, “I’ll warn you that if you try anything, Kendall has Mace.”
By way of demonstration, Kendall handed him his drink and then removed a small black container of pepper spray from her large red purse.
Felix gestured toward his foster-mother. “And S has a rifle.”
Siobhan smiled. “And” — she made an extremely convincing fist — “I know how to punch a man’s nose into his brain.”
“What a coincidence,” the Detective said genially. “So do I.”
He watched with polite attentiveness as Mrs S scraped her cards up from the sofa cushions. He leaned to pick up one she had missed.
“This fellow looks unhappy,” he observed. The art depicted a man stuck with ten swords. The victim lay on his face, as most people did after being stuck with ten swords.
“That’s a fellow after Kendall’s done with him,” Mrs S said. “Good news for him is that the tens represent the end of a cycle. This card represents the absolute worst it’ll get.”
“Does seem like there’s not much worse than ten points in your back and dust in your mouth,” the Detective agreed.
“Look,” Mrs S said, “his face looks a little like yours.”
“A bit,” he acknowledged, meeting her eyes.
“Would you do the honours, Detective?” Mrs S handed him the deck of cards. “You’ll have to ask ‘top or bottom.’”
The Detective gravely accepted the responsibility. He asked Kendall, “Top or bottom?”
“Three of cups. And top, of course,” Kendall said, her smile thin. “The only place to be.”
The Detective removed the card from the top and turned it over. Of course it was the three of cups.
Mrs S smiled. She said, “Empress, bottom.”
Art removed the card from the bottom and showed it to the room. The Empress’s gown was suggested with a liberal swipe of charcoal, and her crown was studded with inky fruits or jewels.
The Detective clapped slowly.
“Four of wands, bottom,” Kendall said.
“Ten of coins, top,” Mrs S shot back.
“Ace of cups, bottom,” Felix fired out.
Kendall slapped the arm of the sofa. “The Sun, bottom.”
“Four of swords, top!” Mrs S returned, her mouth a deadly curl of humour. The Detective flipped the cards again and again, revealing the correct predictions.
Kira’s quiet voice cut through Siobhan and Kendall’s increasingly loud competition. “The ten of swords.”
Everyone turned to look at Kira, who sat with her knees together and her hands folded neatly in her lap. Occasionally, Kira appeared both eight years old and eighty at once; now was one of those times.
The Detective’s hand hovered obediently over the deck. “Top or bottom?”
Kira blinked. “Sixteen cards from the top, I think.”
Mrs S and Kendall both raised an eyebrow.
Art carefully counted the cards, double-checked his count, and then turned over the sixteenth card for the others to see. Ten swords pierced the man on the card through and through, under a pitch black sky.
“That’s his card,” Kira said.
Mrs S asked, “Are you sure?” At a wordless agreement from Kira, Mrs S turned to the Detective. “Do you think that’s your card?”
The Detective turned the card one way and another, as if it would reveal its secrets to him. “I don’t know much about tarot. Is it a terrible card?”
“No card is a terrible card,” Mrs S said. She eyed the Detective, fitting the ten of swords into the man before her. “And the interpretation can be very different at each reading. But. . .what I’m feeling is this: A power beyond your control is moving you – controlling you – without mercy. The ten of swords can indicate a difficult ending or release, but you’ll be better off afterwards. My advice is, don’t be resistant to change, even if it involves an initial risk. No, it’s not a terrible card. But I’m picking up something else off it. Something like . . .”
“Violence,” Felix finished.
It was a word that had an immediate effect on everyone in the room. For Mrs S, Kira, and Kendall, memories of Carlton came in first as they were the most recent, followed by Rachel and her broken thumb. The Detective recalled Felix crashing to the ground as Art kicked his legs out from under him. Violence.
“Yes, violence,” Mrs S said. “Is that what you meant, Kira? Yes.”
All four of them had leaned unconsciously toward one another. Sometimes Mrs S, Kira, Felix and Kendall seemed more like four parts of the same entity instead of four separate people. They turned as one to The Detective.
He admitted, “My work is sometimes violent.”
Art inclined his head. “Not always.”
“I thought you said you were a policeman.” Kendall’s tone was more than a little prickly.
“Only technically,” the Detective said. “That’s my job, but not my work here. I’m sorry. I had to think quickly when you said I couldn’t have a reading.”
“So what’s the truth?”
“I’m a hit man.”
This confession ushered in several moments of silence. The Detective’s answer seemed very flippant but his voice suggested otherwise. It was the sort of answer that required an immediate clarification or qualification, but he offered nothing.
Sarah said, “That’s not very funny.”
“No, it’s not,” the Detective agreed.
Everyone in the room was waiting for Mrs S’s response. She asked, “And does work bring you here tonight?”
Grimacing, The Detective said, “Everything is research for work. In its way.” It was impossible to tell if he was asking them to believe him, or to humour him, or to fear him. He merely laid out his confession and waited. Eventually, he said, “If it helps, I’d rather not be in this line of work. Quemadmodum gladius neminem occidit; occidentis telum est.”
Kendall said, “That’s Seneca, isn’t it? ‘A sword is never a killer; it is a tool in the killer’s hand.’”
They looked at the Detective and wondered who had made him into a sword.
Finally, Mrs S said, “I need another drink.”
“Me too,” Art said heavily.
She glanced at Art. He glanced back. There was a wordless, tacit agreement in it.
They all had another drink. The Detective asked knowledgeable questions full of wry humor. Some time later, he stood, took everyone’s empty glasses to the kitchen, and excused himself with a glance at his watch. “Not that I wouldn’t like to stay.”
Then he asked if he could return later in the week. Mrs S told him he could.
After he had gone, Kendall looked through his wallet, which she had stolen as he left. “The ID is fake,” she remarked, closing the billfold and stuffing it into the couch cushions where he had been sitting. “But he’ll miss his credit cards. Why in God's name did you say yes?”
“Something like that,” Mrs S replied, “makes me feel better if I can keep my eye on it.”
Chapter 16: Fifteen
Alison remembered how cruel she had thought Rachel would be. There wasn’t a day during her first month at Aglionby Academy when she hadn’t doubted her decision to come there. The other girls were so alien and daunting; she would never be able to look like one of them. How incredibly naive she’d been to think she would ever possess a room like one of the other Aglionby students did. And Rachel was the worst of them. The other girls attended Aglionby and fit in life around the edge. But Rachel — it was impossible to forget that she had arrived with a life intact, and instead fit Aglionby into it. She was the girl all eyes turned to when she walked into a classroom. She was the student with the smoothest answers when called on in Latin. She sometimes paused after classes to talk with the teachers like equals —Miss Duncan, would you hold up a moment? I found an article I think you’d be interested in — and she was the girl with the most beautifully expensive car and the most brusquely perfect filed nails. She was the opposite of Alison in every possible way.
They didn’t speak. Why would they speak? Alison slid into class and kept her head down and listened, trying to learn how to clip her accent. Rachel, an icily furious sun, glowed from the other side of the universe, her gravitational pull too distant to affect Alison. Although Rachel seemed to be envied by the entire school, it was Cosima who was always with her. And it was this friendship, all wordless glances and wry twists of the mouth, that made Alison think that Rachel must be cruel. Cosima and Rachel were laughing, she thought, at a joke where the rest of the world was the punch line.
No, Alison and Rachel didn’t speak.
They didn’t exchange a word until the day of the midterm exam, when Alison bicycled past the Bugatti on the way to school. Dark tire tracks pointed its path to the side of the road; the driver door stood open. It was an unusual sight: Rachel Duncan, back to the road, shoulders hunched and shaking. There was no reason at all to think that Rachel, head bowed and hands clutching the seat with a vice grip, would want Alison’s help. Probably she’d resent an intrusion.
But Alison stopped. She remembered how afraid she’d been right then. Of all of the agonizing days at Aglionby, that had been the worst moment so far: knocking down her old bike’s kickstand next to Rachel Duncan’s glorious polished silver Bugatti and waiting for her to turn. Her stomach had been a ruin of fear.
Rachel hadn’t noticed her, so she said quietly, “Worried about the midterm?”
Rachel had pivoted on the spot and stared at her, wide-eyed. Then she drew herself up, her shoulders unbending and her facial features uncrinkling. “No,” Rachel had replied curtly.
Alison remembered how her ears had burned, how she’d wished she’d never stopped, how she hated Aglionby. She was nothing, she knew, and of course Rachel, of all of them, could see it on her. The worthlessness of her. Her secondhand uniform, her shoddy bike, her stupid accent. She didn’t know what had possessed her to stop.
Then Rachel had said, “Alison Hendrix, isn’t it?”
There was something in it. A plea, or an apology.
Alison nodded, and Rachel took a shaky breath, wiping at her cheek with the back of one slender hand.
Alison passed her a bag of helpers and said nothing about Rachel’s puffy eyes.
Rachel said, “Gin?”
Alison replied, “Please,” and Rachel leaned down to retrieve several miniatures from her handbag.
It shouldn’t have happened at all, but their friendship had been cemented in only the time it took to get to school that morning — Alison knocking back a miniature while Rachel steadied herself, Rachel gesturing for her to lift her bike halfway into the trunk so they could ride to school together, Alison confessing she worked three jobs to put herself through Aglionby, and Rachel turning to the passenger seat and asking, “What do you know about Welsh kings?”
Sometimes Alison wondered what would’ve happened if she hadn’t stopped that day. What would be happening to her right now?
She probably wouldn’t still be at Aglionby. Surely she wouldn’t be in the Bugatti headed to a magical forest.
Rachel was giddy now that they’d decided to go back to Cabeswater. She hated nothing more than indecision. She ordered Alison to put on some terrible music — Alison was always too happy to oblige in this department — and then she pushed the Bugatti to dangerous speeds.
“Put your back into it!” Beth shouted breathlessly. She was talking to Rachel, or maybe to the gearbox. Cosima wailed each time the engine revved up, but not unhappily. Beth played the drums on the back of Alison’s headrest. Sarah wound down her window and let the wind whip through the car, her hair flapping and tangling.
They had not been back to Cabeswater since Rachel had made her sacrifice.
Alison rolled down the opposite window, sucking in a gust of hot air and the scent of asphalt and mown grass. Cosima followed suit. Already Rachel’s lower back was sweaty against the vinyl seat, but in her gut she felt abruptly chilly. Would Cabeswater claim her once she returned to it?
What have I done?
Rachel suddenly felt like she was watching it all from the outside. She felt like she was about to catch another image, like a flick of the tarot cards she’d looked at earlier. Was that someone standing by the side of the road?
I can’t trust my eyes.
The Bugatti charged down the gravel road that would take them to the forest, a cloud of dust parachuting behind it. As they climbed, the field stretched out, green and endless. Once they reached the crest, they’d be able to see the tree line where Cabeswater began.
Rachel’s stomach squeezed with sudden nerves, as ferocious as that day when Alison had found her hyperventilating by the road. She almost said something. She didn’t know what she would’ve said. Was that another image? A blank screen.
They crested the hill.
The field went on and on. Scrubby grass gave way to a wash where a stream must have been, and then continued on through more acres of grass. Hundreds of acres of field.
There were no trees.
The car fell quiet.
Rachel drove a few feet farther before pulling up the parking brake. Every head in the car was turned toward that endless field and the old stream. It was not that there had been trees and now they were gone. There were no stumps or tire tracks. It was as if there had never been trees.
Rachel held out her hand, and immediately, Alison opened the glove box and got the journal. Slowly, Rachel paged through to where she had neatly written the coordinates for Cabeswater. Cosima’s breath caught audibly.
This was all ridiculous. It was like checking the coordinates for Monmouth Incorporated. They all knew where it was.
“Sarah,” Rachel said, handing her phone back to her, “please check the GPS.”
Rachel read the numbers from the page. Then she read them again.
Sarah, thumbing through the map on the phone, read them back from the screen. They were the same. They were the coordinates that had brought them here every other time. The coordinates that had brought their Latin professor and Carlton here.
They hadn’t made a wrong turn. They hadn’t overshot the road or parked in the wrong place. This was where they’d found Cabeswater. This was where it had all begun.
Beth finally said it: “It’s gone.”
Chapter 17: Sixteen
And the Bugatti broke down.
Its sense of timing was impeccable. In ordinary circumstances, the car would’ve been full of sound: radio humming, conversation firing. There would have been no audience for the first subtle sounds of fluid filling the Bugatti’s lungs. But now, quieted by the impossible, they all heard the engine seize for a moment. Heard the turned-down radio stutter, like it had lost its train of thought. Heard the air-conditioning blower cough politely into its fist.
They had enough time to lift their heads and look at one another.
Then the engine expired.
Suddenly robbed of power steering, Rachel wrestled the coasting car to the shoulder. She hissed between her teeth, the sound identical to the noise of the tires in the grubby gravel.
Then there was absolute silence.
Instantly, the heat began to press in. The engine ticked like the twitch of a dying man’s foot. Cosima rested her forehead on her knees and curled her arms behind her head.
All at once, Sarah demanded, “If this car’s so fucking expensive, why can’t it keep running?”
Rachel felt that the Bugatti’s status perfectly encapsulated how she felt. It was not really dead, just broken. She was held inside the question of what it meant for her if Cabeswater was gone. Why can’t things just be simple?
“Cosima?” Rachel asked.
Cosima lifted her head. “Alternator. Maybe.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Rachel said. “Say it in a language I understand.”
“In indiget homo battery,” muttered Alison.
“She’s right,” Cosima said. “If we had a new battery to drop in there, we could make it back home until we looked at it.”
A new battery would only cost a hundred dollars, which was not much of a sacrifice.
“State inspections today,” Cosima replied. Boyd’s was the only tow company in town, and he only retrieved breakdowns when he wasn’t working in the garage. “It’ll be forever.”
Sarah leapt out of the car and slammed the door. The thing about Sarah Manning, Rachel had discovered, was that she often wouldn’t — or couldn’t — express herself with words. So every emotion had to be spelled out in some other way. A fist, a kick, a wordless shout. Now Cabeswater was missing and the Bugatti was hobbled and she needed to go have a silent shouting fit with her body. Rachel watched Sarah pick up a rock from the side of the road and hurl it into the creeper.
“Well, that’s helpful,” Rachel said tersely. She slid from the driver’s seat and shouted out, “That’s helpful!”
She didn’t quite catch all of Sarah’s growled reply, but she heard at least two of the swear words.
Alison, unimpressed, reached for Rachel’s phone. “Is there a place we can walk to?”
She and Rachel ducked their heads together to examine the screen and mutter about map options.
Sarah returned, leaning in the passenger window. Alison turned the phone to her. “Maybe we could walk to this place.”
“The Deering General Store?” Sarah said. “It’s a dump.”
“Do you have a better idea?” Alison demanded. “Maybe you can throw some more stuff! Or hit something! Maybe we can all act like thugs and break things!”
Rachel thought about the way the car had stammered before it died. Using up the last of the battery before it couldn’t go on. Then she thought about how Beth had disappeared in Dollar City in the middle of a conversation. And now Cabeswater was gone. Using up the last of the charge.
But that didn’t make sense. She’d activated the ley line. It kept blowing out transistors in town because it was so strong. There shouldn’t be a lack of energy.
“Cosima, can you call your parents?” Rachel asked. “And get them to bring a battery?”
Cosima nodded and dialled her mother’s number.
When she hung up, Rachel rounded on her, clutching her own headrest and looking behind her. “Why is it gone?”
Cosima blinked at her sudden nearness. “I don’t know.”
Releasing the headrest, Rachel turned to Sarah. “Why? Is it science, or is it magic?”
Alison made a dismissive sound.
“No,” Cosima said, “I know what you mean. Did it go, or was it taken?”
“Maybe it’s invisible,” Rachel suggested. She asked Beth, “Are you still there when we can’t see you?”
Beth just blinked at her from the dimness of the backseat, her eyes liquid and faraway. She was, Rachel noted, nearly disappeared already. She was more the feeling of Beth than actually Beth.
Sarah had been listening, because she spun and leaned in the window. “At the store, when she disappeared, she didn’t just become invisible. She went away. If you’re saying Cabeswater’s like Beth, it’s not invisible. It’s gone somewhere.”
There was a breath’s silence. This was where Rachel, if she were Sarah, would swear. Where if she were Cosima, she’d close her eyes. If she were Alison, she’d snap in exasperation.
But Rachel merely rubbed a thumb over her lip and then drew herself up. She was instantly cool and elegant, all true emotions placed in an undisclosed location. She drew out her journal, jotted a note in the margin, and caged it with terse brackets. When she closed the pages, whatever anxiety she had over Cabeswater was closed in with the rest of her thoughts on Glendower.
She said wearily, “Cosima, you’ll know how to put the battery in?”
She said it like it was an ordinary day, like they’d come back from an ordinary trip, like nothing was wrong.
In everything Rachel didn’t say, in every feeling she didn’t paint on her face, she was shouting:
Chapter 18: Seventeen
The mask was Amelia’s.
In reality, the mask was something Sarah had only seen once, tucked away in her birth-mother’s temporary bedroom, well out of reach of curious hands. But in her dream, it hung at eye-level on the wall of Rachel’s strange apartment. It was carved of smooth, dark wood and looked like a cheap tourist souvenir. The eyeholes were round and surprised, the mouth parted in an easy smile big enough for lots of teeth.
“This is cheating,” Orphan Girl said in Latin.
She hadn’t been there before, but she was now. Her presence reminded Sarah all at once that she was dreaming. This moment, the one when she realized she’d already created everything here with her own mind, that was when she could take something back with her. It was hers. She could do whatever she wanted to with it.
“It’s cheating,” Charlotte insisted again. “Dreaming a dream thing.” She meant the mask, of course. It was surely from Amelia’s mind.
“It’s my dream,” Sarah told her. “Here. I brought you some treats.”
And she had. She handed her a box of small pastries, which the girl contemplated with a bemused expression.
“I think I’m a psychopomp,” she said, picking at a pastry with her fingernail.
Sarah looked at her. “I don’t even know that that means.”
The girl lifted a pastry and took a bite. “I think it means I’m a raven. That makes you a raven girl.”
This irritated Sarah for some reason, so she took the rest of the pastries from her and placed them on a piece of furniture that vanished as soon as she turned away.
“Cabeswater’s gone,” she told the girl.
“Far away isn’t the same thing as gone.” This was Rachel. She stood at Sarah’s shoulder. She wore her Aglionby uniform, but her fingers were dark with soil. She pressed her filthy hands to the mask. She didn’t ask permission, but Sarah didn’t stop her. After the briefest of pauses, Rachel took the mask from the wall and held it up to her eyes.
Shrieking a terrified warning, Orphan Girl dove behind Sarah.
But Rachel was already becoming something else. The mask was gone, or it had become Rachel’s face, or Rachel was carved from wood. Every tooth behind the smile was hungry; Rachel’s elegant jaw was starving. Her eyes were desperate and incensed. A long, thick vein stood out in her neck.
“Occidet eum!” begged Charlotte, clinging to Sarah’s leg. It was becoming a nightmare. Sarah could hear the night horrors coming, in love with her blood and her sadness. Their wings flapped in time with her heartbeat. She wasn’t in control enough to drive them away.
Because Rachel was the horror now. The teeth were something else, Rachel was something else, she was a creature, close enough to touch. To think about it was to become immobilized with the horror of watching Rachel be consumed from the inside out. Sarah couldn’t even tell where the mask was now; there was only Rachel, the monster, a toothful queen.
Charlotte sobbed out, “Sarah, imploro te!”
Sarah took Rachel’s arm and said her name.
But Rachel lunged. Tooth upon tooth upon tooth. Even as she went for Sarah, one of her hands still tugged at the now-invisible mask, trying to free herself. There was none of her face left. Rachel seized Sarah’s neck, her fingers hooks in her skin. Sarah could not kill her, no matter how much Orphan Girl begged. It was Rachel.
The mouth gaped, door to bloody ruin.
She seized the mask. The only way she could find the edge was to snatch Rachel’s hand where it still doggedly clawed at the slender mask. Bracing herself for the effort, Sarah wrenched.
But the mask came away as easily as a petal from a flower. It was only for Rachel that it had been a prison.
Rachel staggered back.
In Sarah’s hand, the mask was as thin as a sheet of paper, still warm from Rachel’s gasped breaths. Orphan Girl buried her face in Sarah’s side, her body shaking with sobs. Her tiny voice was muffled: “Tollerere me a hic, tollerere me a hic . . .”
Take me away from here, take me away from here.
In the background, Sarah’s night horrors drew closer. Close enough to smell.
Rachel was making peculiar, dreadful sounds. When Sarah lifted her eyes, she saw that the mask had been all that was left of her face. When she’d pulled it from Rachel, she’d revealed muscle and bone, teeth and eyeball. Rachel’s pulse pumped a globule of blood from every place a muscle met another muscle. Rachel slumped against the wall, life leaking from her. Sarah gripped the mask, her limbs awash with adrenaline.
“I’ll put it back on.”
Sarah curled on her bed, half-propped against the wall, her headphones still around her neck. Her body was frozen, as it always was after dreaming, but this time she could feel fire through every nerve. The nightmare still pumped adrenaline through her, even though she couldn’t move to use it. Her breath came in great, uneven puffs. She couldn’t uncurl or answer or stop seeing Rachel’s ruined face.
It was morning. Early, grey morning, rain beating on the window beside her head. She floated above herself. The girl below her was locked in an unseeable battle, every vein standing on her arms and neck.
“Sarah,” said Felix. He crouched inches away, colourless in this light. “You’re awake, you’re awake.”
For a long minute, Felix blinked at her while Sarah looked back, wrung out. Gradually, her heart slowed. Felix worked Sarah’s fingers free of the dream’s spoils. The mask. Sarah hadn’t meant to bring it with her. She’d have to destroy it. Maybe she could burn it.
Felix lifted it into the window’s diffuse light and shivered. The mask’s surface was splattered with red-black drops. Whose DNA, Sarah wondered, would a lab find in that blood?
“Yours?” Felix asked.
Sarah shook her head and sealed her eyes again. Behind her closed eyelids, it was Rachel’s dreadful face she saw, not Felix’s.
In the corner of the room, there was a sound. Not the corner where Chainsaw’s cage was. And not a sound like a young raven. It was a long, slow scrape on the wood floor. Then a rapid sound like a drinking straw in bicycle spokes. Tck-tck-tck-tck-tck.
It was a sound Sarah had heard before.
She opened her eyes. Felix’s eyes were already wide. Felix said, “What were you dreaming about?”
Chapter 19: Eighteen
Siobhan Sadler was shaken awake at an ungodly hour by a wide-eyed Felix. He wouldn’t explain, only shook his head and said, “Just – get your gun!”
The small smells of the house — the ever-present incense, lingering wafts of last night’s baking, Felix’s perfume — had been overtaken by an unfamiliar odour. Something damp and strangely fertile and unpleasant.
Sarah stood facing her bedroom door with her back to them. This Sarah Manning was not the one Carlton had brought to her all those years ago. Everything about her posture suggested vigilance, distrust. This Sarah Manning was a dangerous and hollowed-out creature. She was volatile, a snare for you to step your foot in.
“What are you doing out here?” Siobhan asked.
Sarah’s posture didn’t alter at the sound of Siobhan’s voice, and Mrs S saw that it was because she was already wound to the utmost. A muscle stood out on her neck. She was an animal poised for flight.
Chainsaw rolled on the carpet between her feet. She appeared to be in the midst of ecstasy or seizure. When she saw Siobhan, she stilled and studied her with one eye and then the other.
Outside, thunder rumbled. A whiff of that humid scent came through again.
When Sarah turned, her eyes were shuttered and barred. Her hands were also coated in blood.
Siobhan had a pure, logicless moment where her stomach dropped and she thought, I don’t know who any of my family really are. Then reason filtered back in. “Jesus Christ, Sarah. Is that yours?”
“Dream Rachel’s,” Felix corrected quickly. “Mostly.”
Sarah said, “It was a nightmare. They tore me apart in my dream, and when I woke up —” She gestured with her bloody hands. “I brought it with me.”
Through the constant hiss of the rain, Siobhan heard a scrape across the floor of Sarah’s room, and a bang as something fell over.
“It’s not just the blood,” Sarah said. Her chest moved up and down with her breath. “Something else got out, too.”
A bookshelf had been emptied, tipped on its side, and pushed in front of Sarah’s bedroom door. The books were hastily piled in the hall. Everything was silent and gray as the rain beaded on the windows. The smell Siobhan had noticed downstairs was more prominent up here: mouldy, sweet.
Sarah held a box cutter. She extended and retracted the blade a few times before glancing at Felix.
“Are you ready?” Sarah asked.
Siobhan said warily, “What is it I’m preparing myself for?”
Behind the door, something scratched on the floorboard.
Tck-tck-tck. Like a mallet dragged across a washboard. Something in Siobhan’s heart thrilled with fear.
Sarah said, “What’s in my head.”
Siobhan wasn’t sure there was a way to steel oneself for that. But she helped Sarah push the bookshelf out of the way.
“Mum,” Sarah said. The doorknob was turning of its own accord. She reached out and held it still. “Watch — watch your eyes.”
“What’s our plan?” Siobhan’s attention was on Sarah’s grip on the doorknob. Her knuckles were white with the effort of keeping it from turning.
Sarah said, “Kill it.”
She flung open the door.
The first thing Siobhan saw was the disaster: Chainsaw’s cage flattened, the perch splintered. The mesh cover of a speaker was bent like a clam near the threshold. A tattered shirt and pair of jeans sprawled on the floor, at first glance a corpse.
Then she saw the nightmare.
It moved from the rear corner. Like it was a shadow, and then it was a thing. Fast. Black. Bigger than she’d expected. Realer than she’d expected.
It was as tall as she was. Two-legged. Clothed in something torn, black, greasy.
Siobhan couldn’t stop staring at the beak.
“Bastard!” Sarah snarled, and then she swung the box-cutter.
The creature twisted out of Sarah’s reach as she swung again. Siobhan became aware of a claw. No, claws, dozens of them. Massive, shiny, curled to needle points. They snatched at Sarah.
Siobhan raised the rifle. The creature leapt up, straight at Sarah, who blocked it with the box-cutter. With a mighty flap, the creature launched itself through the air and perched on the doorjamb, hands between its legs, clinging like a spider. There was nothing human about it. It hissed at them. Red-pupiled eyes snapped shut and open. A bird. A dinosaur. A demon.
No wonder Sarah never sleeps.
“Close the door!” snapped Siobhan. “We don’t want to let it out!”
The bedroom seemed too small to shut themselves in with a monster, but Felix obeyed. He slammed the door just as the creature flew at him. Hooks and beaks, black and twisted. At the same instant, Siobhan fired. The creature recoiled, drawn backwards by the force of the bullet in its shoulder.
The thing made no sound as it reared back. Sarah swung again with the box-cutter, and when it glanced off the creature, she aimed a fist instead. The two of them stumbled over the corner of the bed. The nightmare was on top of Sarah. Both of them fought soundlessly; Sarah could die, and Siobhan wouldn’t know it until after.
Siobhan fired at the monster’s head. Once. Twice. Three times.
Sarah cursed from beneath the monster.
Siobhan snatched one of the thing’s limbs — was it an arm? Was it a wing? Revulsion coursed up her throat, but she tightened her grip and tugged until Sarah was free of the creature’s weight.
Released, Sarah scrambled to her feet. She pressed the back of her hand to a wound on her chin. It was hard to tell what was her blood and what was its blood. All of them were out of breath.
A scratch came down Sarah’s temple and skipped across her eyebrow to her cheek. Watch your eyes.
A soft probe with Siobhan’s fingertips revealed that the actual wound under Sarah’s chin was quite small. The memory of her daughter being caught on the claw wouldn’t soon leave her, though. She felt perilously undone, like she needed to hold on to something or be washed away. She kept her voice even. “Is it dead?”
“If it’s not,” Sarah said, “it’s a worse nightmare than I thought.”
Now Siobhan did have to sit down, very slowly, on the edge of the torn-apart bedsheets. Because that thing had been impossible. The accidental things Sarah had dreamt over the years, all inanimate objects, had been far easier to accept. Even Chainsaw, in all respects an ordinary raven apart from her origin, was easier to take in.
Sarah watched Mrs S over the body of the creature — it seemed even larger in its death — and her expression was as unguarded as Siobhan had ever seen it. She was being made to understand that this, all of it, was a confession. A look into who Sarah really had been the entire time she had known her.
What a world of wonders and horrors, and psychics only one of them.
Shaking her head, Siobhan pointed at the scabs she had seen on Sarah’s arm during the fight. “Your arm. Is that from fighting with it while I was asleep?”
Sarah shook her head slowly. In the hallway, Chainsaw was making anxious noises, worried over the fate of her.
“There was another one,” she said. “It got away.”
Rachel had woken before dawn. Usually, she’d have spent those sleepless early morning hours quietly going through her books or surfing the Internet for new references to Glendower, but after the disappearance of Cabeswater, she couldn’t bring herself to be productive. Instead she had retreated outside through the drizzle to the Bugatti. Immediately, she had been comforted. The car smelled intimately of new vinyl and the heater made a familiar hum. As she sat, a single mosquito found its way into the car and worried at her ear, a high tremolo against the basso continuo of the rain and thunder.
Cabeswater’s gone. Glendower is there — he must be — and it’s gone. The drops pattered and dispersed on the windshield. She thought about the day she’d been stung to death by hornets and lived anyway. Rachel ran over the memory until she no longer felt the thrill of hearing Glendower’s name whispered in her ear, and then instead gave herself over to feeling sorry for herself, that she should have so many friends and yet feel so very alone.
Chapter 20: Nineteen
“Cos, how do you feel about doing something slightly illegal and definitely disgusting?” Sarah asked.
The bird man’s corpse was in the trunk of Mrs S’s car, and undoubtedly a dreadful scientific process was happening to it. Sarah didn’t know the details, but she had no doubt it was a process that was only going to get smellier as the day grew warmer.
Cosima said cautiously, “…Ambivalent? Do you need our help?”
Sarah sighed. “I think so.”
Cosima said, presumably to Rachel, “Are you free to help Sarah with something today?”
Rachel’s voice was faintly audible in the background. “What sort of something?”
Rachel’s voice again: “Charming.”
There was a bit of fuzz and then Cosima said, “Rachel wants to know if it involves physical labour.”
“It does, yeah. Me and S can do most of it, though.”
“…Okay. We’ll pick Alison up on the way.”
Rachel and Cosima stood beside the Bugatti and stared at Siobhan’s little Ford.
Rachel asked, “Why is there a bungee cord around the trunk?”
Sarah said, “It’s a long story.”
Then Rachel said, “Why are you looking at me like that?”
Because Sarah had been staring at Rachel in a way that was more conspicuous for the fact that she was trying to be inconspicuous about it. It was equal parts startled and impressed. It was true that Rachel rarely wore jeans and a T-shirt, preferring collared shirts and slacks if she wasn’t in a uniform. And it was true she wore them well; the T-shirt hung on her shoulders in a way that revealed all kinds of pleasant nooks and corners that a button-down usually hid. But Cosima suspected that Sarah was most shocked by how it made Rachel look like a girl, for once, something like one of them.
“I guess I’ve never seen you in a T-shirt before. Or jeans.”
“It’s for the distasteful thing,” Rachel said. She plucked at the T-shirt with deprecating fingers. “I’m rather slovenly at the moment, I know.”
Cosima said, “Yes, slovenly, that’s exactly what we were all thinking. Sarah, I see you’re dressed slovenly as well.”
This was a joke, as Sarah was in a fairly typical Sarah getup of ripped jeans and black tank.
Sarah ignored this. “Where’s Beth?”
Cosima said, “Same place Cabeswater is.”
“Nice, Cosima,” Alison said, annoyed.
Cosima shrugged. “What are we doing, by the way?”
“Well,” Sarah said, “The illegal part is that we’re…technically grave-digging.”
Cosima commented cheerily, “We’ve done that before, though.”
Mrs S craned her head towards them through the driver’s side window. “And the disgusting part is that we’re burying a body. Are you girls getting in or not?”
Sarah had not visited Amelia’s grave since the day of the funeral, even in her dreams.
The graveyard was as she remembered it from that afternoon, though, surprising clearly. Two stone pillars half-hidden in ivy, tangled banks like a wall around the property, the oaks huddled close on either side of the pitted gravel driveway. The gray sky above made everything greens and blacks, forest and shade, growing and mysterious. The effect was to give the entrance to the churchyard a sort of privacy. A reclusiveness.
As they ascended the drive, rain spattered on the Ford’s windshield. Thunder rumbled. Siobhan navigated the car up over a crest through the oak trees, around a tight turn, and there — a great sloping expanse, pure green, sheltered by trees on all sides. Headstones dotted the hillside, some furnished lavishly with flowers, others sparsely.
In the backseat, Cosima and Alison craned their necks, looking at the approaching church. It was homely, unimpressive, a country church that had been added onto every few decades. It was the gravestones scattered across the saturated hill that were memorable, most of them chalk-white and deeply engraved, some grey and mossed with time. They dotted the fields as if they’d grown from them: smaller ones clustered like mushrooms, larger ones standing apart.
It had been Siobhan’s idea to have Amelia buried in the last town she’d called home before Henrietta. It seemed right for her neighbours to have a chance to come to the funeral, and besides, the manner of her death encouraged S to keep her final resting place at a distance from her doorstep. She couldn’t know who might still be after the strange secrets of Amelia’s life.
In the oppressive light, the graveyard was so green and beautiful that Sarah felt sick.
In the rearview mirror, she caught a glimpse of Rachel, her expression dreamy and ill, and then of Cosima, her fingertips pressed to the glass as if she wanted to touch the damp grass.
The gravel parking area was empty, no churchgoers in evidence.
When Siobhan opened the door, the car was immediately filled with the damp-earth, green-walled, mold-stone scent of the churchyard.
Climbing out, their feet sank into the summer-soft turf beside the gravel. Fine rain caught in their hair. The drops murmured on the leaves of the surrounding trees, an ascending hum.
“Cosima, chicken, would you mind checking the buildings are empty?” Siobhan said, her eyes on Sarah.
“It’s O.K., Mum,” Sarah mumbled.
Mrs S touched her shoulder briefly. “We’ll go see her after, alright, love?”
Sarah nodded mutely.
“Shovels first,” Mrs S instructed Rachel and Alison. “Over there ought to do it, I think.” She pointed to a spot sheltered by trees and partially hidden from sight by a rise in the undulating hill.
It was strange to see Alison and Rachel toting shovels, stranger to join them at the tree line with the bird man carried between them. Cosima followed cautiously at their heels. Alison clapped her hand over her mouth and Rachel sucked in her breath at the first sight of the bird man. Sarah, Felix and Siobhan had stuffed it into a speaker box as best they could, but enough of the corpse poked out of both ends to abuse the imagination. Several hours of deadness had not improved its appearance in any way.
“What is it?” Rachel asked.
Sarah touched one of the ragged claws hooked around the edge of the box. It was terrible, chilling. She was afraid of it in a dull, primeval, permanent way that came from being killed by them again and again in her head. “They come when I’m having a nightmare. Like, it draws them. They hate me. In the dreams, they’re called night horrors. Or . . . niri viclis.”
Cosima frowned. “Is that Latin?”
Perplexed, Sarah considered. “I . . . don’t think so.” Alison looked sharply to her, and immediately Sarah remembered when Beth had accused her of knowing the other language on the puzzle box. It was possible she was right.
As the rain drizzled on, they took turns digging in the storm-damp soil. Alison took to it with surprising vigour, unknowingly smearing dirt across her forehead whenever she reached up to push her bangs out of her eyes. Sarah glanced up every few seconds to check on Chainsaw. She didn’t care for anything large and black, including herself, and so she kept her distance from the corpse, even after it was in the hole. But she adored Sarah above all things, so she loitered in the middle distance, poking the ground for invisible insects.
By the time they had tamped the last pile of dirt over the hole, they were soaked with rain and sweat. There was something warming, Sarah thought, about all of them burying a body on her behalf. She would’ve preferred it to stay in her dreams, but if it had to slip out, this was better than dealing with it alone.
“No one should disturb it here,” Mrs S said, satisfied.
With a gentle, euphemistic oath, Alison jammed the tip of the shovel into the ground and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. “I have blisters. Can we get out of here now?”
“In a minute,” Mrs S said gently, and she put her arm around Sarah’s shoulders. While the others wiped off the shovels on the grass and trailed them along the ground on the way back to the car, Siobhan wound their slow way over to a familiar headstone. Amelia Manning, World-Traveller and a Mother Dearly Missed.
Dearly missed after her death, dearly missed during her life, Sarah thought, and then felt guilty for it. Something in her throat ached.
“Is this how it ends up, then?” Sarah said bleakly, “For dreamers?”
Mrs S squeezed where she held Sarah’s wrist. “We’re not going to let that happen,” she said fiercely.
From behind them, Alison said cautiously, “Who’s this?”
“My mum,” Sarah said thickly. “Birth mum.” She wiped a sleeve jaggedly across her eyes and then dropped it again, not looking at any of them. Cosima took hold of her free hand and braced Sarah’s shoulder with her own.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Rachel said, oddly stilted and formal. Sarah half-expected her to follow up with My condolences.
The soft scrunch of a stranger’s footsteps on the grass made Sarah hurriedly wipe her eyes again and straighten up.
“Quite a crowd for Miss Amelia,” the little old lady observed. “You don’t see that often, sad as it is to say. You must be the folks that organised her burial, then, aintcher?”
Sarah nodded. “I’m her daughter,” she said, with a surge of strange feeling at how unfamiliar the words felt in her mouth. “Did you know her?”
“I were just her neighbour, but I come by every week for my William, so I like to put a flower or two on Miss Amelia’s grave anyhow. Don’t seem right, otherwise. It’s nice to see her having visitors, truly it is.”
Sarah nodded numbly.
The little old lady made her slow way to another grave a few rows over, and for a few minutes it seemed that the conversation was over. The woman bent to lay her flowers on the damp earth. Then, abruptly, she popped back up with a cry of, “Oh!”
Mrs S said, “Oh?”
“I only just thought, you might want to take a look at Miss Amelia’s things. George has tried to rent it out, you know – the apartment, I mean – but there’s no accounting for the strength of superstition in this town. No one would touch it, more’s the pity. It’s been a tough one for old George, make no mistake. It’s all still there, though – her things – if you wanted to take a look. I’m sure George wouldn’t mind, and I’ve still got my spare key from when I used to feed the cat.”
Mrs S looked to Sarah, who nodded.
Stepping over a low wooden gate, they crossed the lawn towards the apartment building that had been Amelia’s final home before her short and fatal visit to Henrietta, Virginia. The atmosphere encouraged silence. Cosima took a few hurried steps to walk beside Sarah, but neither spoke. On Sarah’s shoulder, Chainsaw flapped to keep her balance. She was getting heavy, this dream of hers. Beside Alison, Rachel’s head was ducked against the rain, her face pensive.
The key turned easily in the lock, and Sarah realised that until that moment she had somehow expected that it wouldn’t work, and now there was nothing left to do but open the door. Inside, it smelt of freezer meals and lemon cleaner.
Alison clucked at her bedraggled reflection in the darkframed mirror hanging in the front hallway. Chainsaw eyed herself briefly before hiding on the other side of Sarah’s neck; Rachel did the same, but without the hiding in Sarah’s neck bit.
Rachel looked fatigued. It wasn’t quite the same tiredness the others had acquired from an afternoon of digging. It was something deeper. It wasn’t at all impossible for Sarah to imagine that bargain nesting in Rachel’s bones.
Mrs S led them to the kitchen. It was a council flat kitchen, no frills, worn smooth by use. Nothing had ever been repaired or updated until it had stopped working, and so the room was an amalgam of decades and styles: plain white cabinets decorated with a combination of old glass knobs and brass handles, counters that were half new butcher-block and half dingy laminate, appliances a mixture of off-white and scuffed steel.
Sarah said, “Remember how I told you that Amelia—that my birth mum was like me?” She pointed to the toaster. It was an ordinary stainless-steel toaster, room for two slices of toast. Rachel raised an eyebrow. “That? Is a toaster.”
Cosima laughed soundlessly.
“How can you tell?” asked Rachel.
Sarah slid the toaster out from the wall. There was no wall plug, no battery panel. Yet when she pressed down on the lever, the filaments inside began to glow. Attuned to the impossible, she had spotted it quickly.
“What’s it run on, then?” Alison asked.
“Dream energy,” Cosima said. Chainsaw hopped untidily from Sarah’s shoulder to the counter and had to be smacked away from the appliance. “Cleanest there is.”
Sarah replied, “Politicians wouldn’t be pleased. No offense to your mum, Rachel.”
“None taken,” Rachel said cordially.
Sarah paged through the calendar on the front of the fridge. No one had been here to change over the month, but it didn’t matter. Every page was the same — twelve pages of April, every photo displaying three black birds sitting on a fence. If it had been in someone else’s house, Sarah might have assumed it was just a gag gift. With context, though, she could readily recognize the artifact of a frustration dream.
Cosima peered at the birds, her nose nearly touching the image. “Are these vultures or crows?”
At the same time that Sarah said, “Crows,” Alison said, “Vultures.”
“What else is here?” Rachel asked. She was using her deeply curious voice and her deeply curious face, the ones she normally reserved for all things Glendower. “Dream things, I mean?”
“Damned if I know,” Sarah replied. “Never been here before.” Rachel said, “Then let’s take inventory.”
The five of them pushed out from the fridge, pulling open cabinets and shifting through items on the countertop. “Phone doesn’t plug into the wall,” Siobhan noted, turning an old-fashioned rotary dial phone upside down to look at it. “But there’s still a dial tone.”
In the age of cell phones, Sarah found this discovery profoundly disinteresting. She had just found a pencil that was really a pen; even though an exploratory scratch of a fingernail on the side of lead revealed that it was a leaded pencil, the tip released a perfect line of blue ink when dragged across the note pad beside the pencil can.
“Microwave’s not plugged in, either,” Alison said.
“Here’s a spoon with two ends,” Rachel added.
A high-pitched whine filled the kitchen; Cosima had discovered that when the seat was rotated on one of the high stools, it emitted a wail that sounded a little like “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” played several times faster than it had ever been meant to be played. She gave it a few spins to see if it made it all the way through the tune. It didn’t. The product of another frustration dream.
“Christ!” said Mrs S, dropping a knife onto the counter. She shook her hand out. “It’s red hot.” Only it wasn’t. The blade was ordinary stainless steel, its heat only evident by the faint scent of the counter finish melting beneath it. She tapped the handle a few times to verify that it was the entire knife that was hot, not just the blade, and then used a dish towel to replace it in the knife block.
Sarah had stopped searching in earnest and was merely opening and slamming drawers for the pleasure of hearing them crash. She wasn’t sure what was worse: finding this evidence of Amelia’s life, or not knowing about it before.
“Well, this is useless,” Alison remarked, demonstrating a tape measure she’d found. The tape tugged out to two feet, six inches, and no more. “I would’ve thrown this out the morning after.”
“Perfect for measuring bread boxes,” Mrs S observed. “Maybe it had nostalgic value.”
“How about this?” Cosima, out in the hall, touched the petal of a perfect blue lily. It was one of a dozen gathered into a bouquet on the hall table. The vase they were displayed in didn’t contain any water. The white and blue lilies were oversized and spidery with frothy golden stamen, blossoms like nothing she’d seen elsewhere. Alison pinched off a bud and turned the moist end of the stem to the others. “They’re alive.”
This was the sort of thing that Cosima couldn’t resist, and so Rachel and Sarah moved farther down the hall toward the dining room while Cosima lingered over the flowers. When Sarah glanced over her shoulder, Cosima stood with one of the blossoms cupped in her hand. There was something humble and awed in the way she stood, something grateful and wistful in her face as she gazed at the flower. It was a strangely deferential expression.
Somehow it made Sarah’s chest ache to look at her. She quickly turned away before Cosima could catch her eye. In the pale gray dining room, Rachel was taking a wooden mask from a hook on the wall. It was carved of a smooth, dark wood and looked like a cheap tourist souvenir. The eye holes were round and surprised, the mouth parted in an easy smile big enough for lots of teeth. Sarah hurled herself through the air.
The mask clattered to the floor. Rachel, startled, stared at where Sarah’s hand gripped her wrist. Sarah could feel her own heart pounding and Rachel’s in her wrist.
At once, she released her and fell back. She snatched up the mask instead. She hung it back on the wall, but her pulse didn’t calm. She didn’t look at Rachel.
“Don’t,” she said. But she didn’t know what she was telling Rachel not to do. It was possible that Amelia’s version of the mask was entirely harmless. It was possible that it only became deadly in Sarah’s head.
Suddenly, she couldn’t stand it, any of it, her mother’s dreams, this strange empty home, her own skin.
She punched the wall. Her knuckles bit plaster, and the plaster bit back. She felt the moment her skin split. She’d left a faint impression of her anger in the wall, but it hadn’t cracked. Rachel said, “Are you trying to break your hand?”
“What was that?” Siobhan called from the other room. Sarah had no idea what it was, but she did it again. And then she kicked one of the dining room chairs. She hurled a tall basket full of recorders and penny whistles against the wall. Tore a handful of small frames from their hangers. She’d been angry before, but now she was nothing. Just knuckles and sparks of pain.
Abruptly, her arm stopped in midflight.
Siobhan’s grip was tight on it, and her expression, two inches away from Sarah’s, was unamused.
“Sarah Manning,” she said. It was the voice Sarah couldn’t not listen to. It was sure in every way that Sarah was not. “Stop this right now. We came here to see Amelia’s things, not destroy them.”
Sarah dropped her arm, shamed. Mrs S turned to Rachel. “Were you just going to stand there?”
“Yes?” Rachel said, the hint of a question hanging in her voice.
“Decent of you,” Mrs S said.
Rachel looked, if anything, flabbergasted.
Alison said nothing at all, but she waited at the doorway until Sarah joined her. And then, as the others began to tidy the dining room, she accompanied Sarah into the sitting room. It was not really a sitting room; no one needed a sitting room anymore. Instead it had become a repository for everything that didn’t seem to belong anywhere else. Three mismatched leather chairs faced one another on the uneven wood floor — that was the sitting part. Tall, thin crockery held umbrellas and dull swords. Rugs made tight upholstery scrolls in a corner; one of them was marked with a sticky note that said not this one in Amelia’s handwriting. A strange iron chandelier, reminiscent of planetary orbits, hung in the center of the room. Amelia had probably dreamt it. Certainly the other two chandeliers that hung in the corners, half light fixture, half potted plants, were dream things. Probably everything here was. It occurred to Sarah that no one had really looked in here, or they would have noticed how full of dreams it was.
Chainsaw saw the strange thing first. She remarked, “Kreck.”
“What’s that?” she asked. A yard away, a fuzzy brown object sat in the midst of all the furniture. It was ankle-high in size and mountainous in texture.
Dubiously, Alison asked, “Is that . . . a cat?”
It was obvious once she had said it. It was certainly a cat, curled up with its back to them. And it was certainly a cat that had occupied this apartment before Amelia Manning had died. Sarah couldn’t quite work out how it was still here.
Alison made a face. “Is it dead?”
Sarah pointed to the cat’s slowly moving side as she walked around it. Now she could see his head tucked in beside his front paws. His eyes were half-lidded. Both she and Chainsaw leaned in, heads identically cocked. When Sarah waved a hand in front of the cat’s eyes, he didn’t move.
“Non mortem,” Alison muttered, narrowing her eyes, “somni fratrem.”
Sarah whispered, “What?”
Alison translated, “Not death, but his brother, sleep.”
Sarah brushed a finger down the cat’s soft face, landing on his nose, which was still damp.
Alison held a palm in front of the cat’s nostrils.
“It is breathing.”
“S?” Sarah called, without turning. “You might wanna come see this.”
Rachel and Cosima followed on Siobhan’s heels, both of them stopping at the sight of the dormant housecat. It didn’t so much as twitch at their heavy footfalls. There was just the sound of several humans and one small animal breathing.
Huddled close, Cosima stroked the cat’s back, leaving flattened stripes on the mussed fur. “Poor thing. What do you think’s wrong with it?”
Sarah wasn’t certain there was anything wrong with it. It didn’t look ill, aside from its lack of movement. It didn’t smell terrible. And Chainsaw didn’t seem abnormally distressed, although she did press her body against the side of Sarah’s head as a warning to not set her down anywhere near it.
“Is this our fault, too?” Cosima whispered. “Like the power outtages?”
Rachel looked away.
“No,” Sarah answered, certain that this sleeping creature wasn’t because of the ley line. “We’re too far away. This is something else.”
Then Alison whispered, “Look!”
Sarah followed her gaze. Where the mantel shelf imperfectly met the edge of the finished wall, a dusty brown bird was tucked away in a cage. Its chest plumage was a peacock’s metallic emerald. Like the cat, its eyes were open, its head unmoving. Sarah’s pulse surged again.
On her shoulder, Chainsaw crouched low, pressing against her neck, a reaction to her reaction rather than to the other bird.
“Touch it,” Cosima whispered. “See if it’s alive, too.”
Sarah went over and investigated. “It’s breathing, too. Same as the cat.”
“Now check for eggs,” Cosima said.
Sarah rolled her eyes.
“She dreamed them up, and now they’re asleep without her,” Alison said.
The truth — she’d known it all along, really, if she thought about it — burrowed into her. Alison was right.
She needed to find out what happened to dreams who lost their dreamer.
Chapter 21: Twenty
Kendall was working, but Sarah interrupted her anyway and cornered her in the Phone/Sewing/Cat Room.
“What’s this all about?” she huffed, eyes darting from Sarah to Siobhan. Cosima, Rachel and Alison hung back, wisely cautious.
Sarah said, “We need your advice.”
“I’m sure you do,” replied Kendall, in not the warmest of ways.
“It’s about her dreams,” Mrs S said.
“Felix’s the one you’ll want for dream interpretation.”
“Ma,” Siobhan said, exasperated.
“What’s that?” Kendall said suspiciously, gesturing towards the bundle in Sarah’s hands. “Not another bloody bird.”
Sarah made an irritated noise. Taking two strides across the room, she pressed the emerald-chested bird to Kendall’s bare cheek.
Kendall was as traditionally clairvoyant as Sarah’s other relatives, but she had an additional, strange gift: psychometry. When she touched an object, she could often sense where it had come from, what the owner had been thinking when he or she used it, and where it might end up. As they seemed to be dealing with things that were both creatures and objects at the same time, Kendall’s talent seemed apropos.
Kendall’s eyes cut sharply to Sarah’s. She said, “Why didn’t you say so?”
Sarah said tersely, “I did.”
“This one’s Amelia’s,” Kendall said. It wasn’t a question. “It still feels like a part of her. Or – it feels exactly the same as her, more like.” She pointed to Chainsaw. “Give me the other one, then.”
“Don’t squeeze,” Sarah said, folding the raven’s wings against her body and relinquishing her.
Chainsaw promptly bit Kendall’s finger. Unimpressed, Kendall snapped her teeth back at the raven.
“Careful, chickadee,” she told Chainsaw. “I bite, too. Sarah?”
This meant she wanted to use Sarah’s invisible ability to hone her vision. Sarah rested one hand on Kendall’s shoulder. For a long moment, Kendall stood there with her eyes closed. Chainsaw was motionless in her hands, fluffed up over the ignominy of it all.
“This one’s part of you,” Kendall said. She stuffed the raven into Sarah’s hands, who did her best to placate her while still keeping her grip on the other, sleeping bird. “She’s like your nail clippings. So she shares the same life as you. The same soul. You’re the same entity.”
Sarah wanted to protest this — if Chainsaw fell off a table, she didn’t feel her pain — but she wouldn’t feel the pain of one of her nail clippings, either.
“So when you die, they’ll stop.”
“Stop? Not die themselves?” Rachel asked.
Kendall eyed the two birds with some dislike. “When you die, your computer doesn’t die, too. They never really lived like you’re thinking of life. It’s not a soul that’s animating them. Take away the dreamer and — they’re a computer waiting for input.”
Sarah put the emerald-chested bird into Kendall’s hands, her eyes pleading. “Will it ever wake up?”
Kendall met her gaze seriously. “It has no dreamer. You want it back, it has to go back in a dream.”
Siobhan’s jaw clenched, her eyes wet. “So that means…?”
Kendall nodded, her eyes hooded. “It does.”
Cosima glanced between the three of them, uncomprehending.
Sarah interrupted the silence. “Cabeswater. Cabeswater is a dream.”
She thought of all the times she had dreamt of Cabeswater’s old trees; how familiar it had felt to walk there; how the trees had known her name. She was tangled in their roots, somehow, and they, in her veins. “If I take the bird in there, it’ll wake up. And then we’ll know if it can be done.”
Alison said, “We still don’t know how to get Cabeswater back, though.”
“We will,” Sarah said. “We have to.”
Chapter 22: Twenty-One
Kira peered up at Sarah. The late evening light made her curls cherubic. At Siobhan’s request, the whole family were having a picnic dinner at the downtown park square.
Sarah hunched above her on the edge of the battered picnic table. She gestured to Kira’s paper-wrapped tuna fish sandwich with her own. “How’s your sandwich?”
“It’s okay…” Kira said slowly. It was not much of an endorsement. Possibly she was picking up on the underlying tension in Sarah’s body language. Sarah tried to relax.
Siobhan took one of Kira’s potato chips and gave it to Chainsaw, who mutilated it on the table’s surface, more for the sound than the taste. On the sidewalk, a lady pushing a baby carriage gave Sarah a dirty look for either sitting on top of the table or for looking disreputable while trafficking with carrion birds. Sarah reflected her look back at her after adding a few more degrees of shittiness to it.
Kira waved at the child in the baby carriage. It waved back.
This dinner wasn’t enough to restore Sarah’s balance. Her visit to Amelia’s apartment, her realization about the dream things, and Kendall’s assessment of the situation, had badly shaken her.
Sarah waited until both Kira and Chainsaw had gotten distracted by a circling pair of monarch butterflies, and then met Siobhan’s eyes over Kira’s head. She could not help a crawling feeling of panic.
“I’m gonna fix this,” Sarah told Mrs S and Kendall.
“I know you will, love,” Siobhan said. Felix squeezed her hand.
Probably she just needed to say it out loud so it would stop chewing a hole through her stomach. “I promise.”
Chapter 23: Twenty-Two
It took Art several days to realize he had lost his wallet. He would have noticed it sooner if he hadn’t been overcome by gray days — days where morning seemed bled of color and getting up unimportant. Art often didn’t eat during them; he certainly didn’t keep track of time. He was at once sleeping and awake, both of them the same, dreamless, listless. And then one morning he would open his eyes and find the sky had become blue again and somehow he would put one foot in front of the other.
He had several gray days in the basement of Pleasant Valley Bed and Breakfast, and after he’d roused himself at dawn and shakily eaten something, he reached into the back pocket of his pants and found it empty. His fake ID and useless credit cards — Art paid for everything in cash — all gone. It must be at 300 Fox Way.
He’d have to try to swing back there later. He checked his phone for messages from Ferdinand, let his eyes skip unseeingly over Duko’s missed call from days before, and finally consulted his jotted, coded notes to himself.
He glanced out the window. The sky was an unreal shade of blue. Sighing, the Detective pocketed his keys. Next stop: Monmouth Incorporated.
Rachel hadn’t been doing well with Cabeswater’s disappearance. She’d tried to come to grips with it. This was just another setback, and she knew she needed to treat it like every other setback: make a new plan, find another lead, throw all the resources in a new direction. But it didn’t feel like any other setback.
She had spent forty-eight hours more or less awake and restless and then, on the third day, she had bought a side-scan sonar device, two window air conditioners, a leather sofa, and a pool table.
“Now do you feel better?” Beth had asked drily.
Rachel had replied, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Hey, dude,” Cosima said, “I like the pool table.”
Rachel had also rented a boat, a trailer, and a truck to pull it with. Then she had asked Felix and hired Paul Dierden to accompany them on their latest trip. The rental truck required a driver over twenty-one, and the task required a psychic. Paul had a license, and Felix fit the second purpose and was more than willing. He had arrived at Monmouth dressed for work: sleeveless shirt, tiny shorts and a frilly blue scarf.
Paul Dierden, on the other hand, wore ordinary blue jeans and a grey shirt which adhered tightly to his pectorals. The acres of bare skin revealed by Felix’s pleather shorts were so clearly an invitation for admiration that he might as well drape himself over Paul: it would be just as subtle.
Rachel exchanged a glance with Alison, because it had to be done, and of course Sarah intercepted it. Her eyes narrowed. She wore two shredded tank tops and a pair of bleached cut-off cargo pants. In some parallel universe, there was a Rachel who could tell Sarah that she found the ten inches of her bare calves far more appealing than the thirteen cubic feet of muscle Paul sported. But in this universe, that was Cosima’s job.
Rachel was in a terrible mood.
Somewhere across Henrietta, something crackled explosively. It was either a transistor falling prey to the electric whims of the ley line or Rudy Castor having premature fun with one of his infamous Fourth of July explosives. Either way, it was a good day to get out of town.
“We should get moving,” Rachel ordered. “It’s only going to get hotter.”
Just a few dozen yards away, the Detective sat in the Champagne Monster on Monmouth Avenue, paging through a history book and listening to Muswell Hillbillies while the air-conditioning played across his skin. Really, it was productive to read up on Welsh history— his cursory research on Sarah Manning revealed that one of the girls she ran with was obsessed with it.
Art looked up as a girl emerged from Monmouth Incorporated. The overgrown lot was already a mess of teens and rental vehicles and boats; they were clearly getting ready to go somewhere. The girl who had just exited was the polished, showy one who looked like she was about to fall into Senate — Rachel Duncan. She didn’t notice the Detective’s rental car parallel parked in the shadows. Nor did she notice the black Lamborghini parked just down the road. Detective Bell wasn’t the only one waiting for the Monmouth Incorporated building to be vacated.
His attention snapped up as Sarah Manning stepped out of the old factory. She was clearly related to Felix: same slouched, insouciant walk, same heavy boots, same wary expression. But there was a carefully cultivated sense of danger to this Manning girl. This was not a rattlesnake hidden in the grass, but a coral snake striped with warning colors. Everything about her was a warning: If this snake bit you, you had no one to blame but yourself.
Sarah opened the passenger side door of the silver Bugatti hard enough that the car shook, then she threw herself in hard enough that the car kept shaking, and then threw her head back over the headrest as she was told off by Rachel. He caught her eye roll as the car pulled away.
The rental truck pulled out with rather more speed than the Bugatti had and headed down the street in the same direction. Then, although the lot was empty, the Detective waited. Sure enough, the black Lamborghini he’d spotted before pulled in, the bass from its stereo slowly liquefying the pavement beneath it. A kid climbed out, carrying a plastic baggie full of something like business cards. He was the sort the Detective preferred to steer clear of; he hummed with a restless, unpredictable energy. The Detective didn’t mind dangerous people, but he preferred sober dangerous people. He watched the kid enter the factory and return with only an empty bag. The Lamborghini tore off, tires squalling.
Now the Detective turned off the Kinks, walked across the street, and climbed the stairs to the second-floor apartment. On the landing, he discovered the contents of Lamborghini Boy’s bag: a pile of identical Virginia driver’s licenses. Each featured a sullen photograph of Sarah Manning beside a birthdate that would’ve had her a few months away from celebrating her seventy-fifth birthday. Aside from the clearly facetious birthdate, they were very good forgeries. The Detective held one up to the light coming through the broken window. Its maker had done a tidy job of replicating the most difficult part, the hologram. Art was impressed.
He left the licenses lying outside the door and broke into Monmouth Incorporated. He was careful about it. One could easily break a lock. One could not easily unbreak it. As he picked the lock, he dialed his phone and propped it on his shoulder. It only took a moment for someone to pick up.
“Oh, it’s you,” Mrs Sadler said. “Detective.” There was an edge of irony to her voice.
“And it’s you. Mother of multitudes. I seem to have lost my wallet somewhere.” The Detective let the compromised door fall open. A smell of musty paper and mint rolled around him. Dust motes played over a thousand books; this wasn’t quite what he’d expected. “When you were vacuuming under Kendall, did you happen to see anything?”
Mrs S clucked her tongue. “I’ll look. Oh. Look at that. There is a wallet in the couch. I imagine you’ll want to pick it up. How’s work?”
“I’d love to chat about it.” The Detective turned the lock behind himself. If the girls came back for something, he’d have a few seconds to make a plan of action. “Face-to-face.”
Mrs S said slowly, but with no trace of uncertainty, “Is that so?”
The Detective moved among the cluttered parts of Rachel’s quest. He pulled down a map rolled on the wall. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for yet.
“You could give me a reading.” He smiled faintly as he said it, paging through a book on medieval weaponry.
Mrs S heard the smile in his voice. “I most certainly will not. Neither of us want that, I can promise.”
“We might want,” Art said, “to find out whether our interests align.”
The Detective poked at a stack of books on the Welsh language. He was so very charmed by all of these things of Rachel Duncan’s. He wasn’t sure, though, that Rachel understood just how well Glendower would be hidden. History was always buried deep, even when you know where to look. And it was hard to excavate it without damaging it. Brushes and cotton swabs, not chisels and pickaxes. Slow work. You had to like doing it.
Mrs Sadler replied, “And what are your interests?”
“My interests,” the Detective said, “are not always aligned with my employer’s interests.”
“That does sound promising.” She was pleased; he could hear it in her voice. “Just a moment.”
While he waited, the Detective stooped to study Rachel’s miniature model of Henrietta. Such affection in these tiny recreated streets! He straightened, careful not to harm any of the fond buildings, and headed for one of the two small bedrooms.
Cosima Niehaus’s room looked as if a hurricane had swept through it. Every surface was covered with scattered papers and precariously-balanced potted plants; pieces of clothing lay scattered like a breadcrumb trail leading from the bed to the wardrobe and back again.
Mrs S returned to the phone. “Tell me this, then, Art: Are you dangerous?”
“To some people.”
“I have children.”
“Oh. I’m not dangerous to them.”
Mrs S said, “Best keep it that way.”
Art inverted a tall boot that seemed out of place. He gave it a shake, but nothing fell out. He couldn’t say whether the Greywaren was anywhere in the building. Looking for something without a single description . . . he had to imagine what a loaf of bread looked like based upon the trail of crumbs it left behind.
From the main room, the doorknob clicked audibly as the lock was tested. Someone was here. Someone without a key. He told Mrs S, “Hold that thought. I have to go.”
“To kill someone?”
“Preferably not,” the Detective said, in a much lower voice. He ducked behind Cosima’s half-open door. “There’s always another way.”
Someone kicked open the door. The Detective’s careful lock-work was rendered irrelevant.
“I will,” the Detective interrupted softly, “call you back.”
Standing in the shadows of Cosima Niehaus’s room, he watched two men stalk into the room. One man wore an oversized polo shirt and the other wore a T-shirt printed with a missile. The two men took in the scope of the space with obvious annoyance, and then they spread out. The oversized polo shirt clung to the area near the windows to keep watch out in the parking lot, and the other crashed through the girls’ belongings. They kicked over stacks of books and pulled out desk drawers and upended the mattress on the four-poster.
At one point, Missile turned to Polo Shirt. Missile Shirt held a pair of sunglasses up for inspection. “Gucci. Rich bitches.”
He dropped the sunglasses before stepping on them. One of the fractured earpieces skittered across the wide floorboards. It made it all the way to Art’s feet, but only Art was watching it. He leaned and picked the shard up, pensively thumbing the sharp, broken end.
So these were the people Ferdinand had warned him about. Fellow seekers of the Greywaren, whatever it might be. The Detective used his phone to take photos of the men for Ferdinand.
Something about them was making him lose patience. Perhaps it was that they still hadn’t noticed that he was watching them. Or perhaps it was the inefficiency of their process. Whatever it was, it solidified precisely as they began to trundle through the miniature model of Henrietta. He didn’t know what the Greywaren looked like, but he was certain that he could find it without kicking in the front of a miniature wooden courthouse.
He swiftly moved out of Cosima’s room.
“Whoa!” said Missile from the middle of the destroyed Henrietta. “Don’t move.”
By way of reply, the Detective stuck the sharp end of the earpiece into Polo Shirt’s neck. They fought briefly. The Detective used a combination of physics and the edge of the window air conditioner to gently lay the other man down on the floor.
It happened so quickly that Missile had only just reached them when the Detective wiped his hands on his slacks and stepped over the unconscious man.
“Jesus F. Christ,” said Missile. He pointed a knife at the Detective.
This fight lasted slightly longer than the first. It was not that Missile was bad; it was that Art was better. And once the Detective had relieved the other man of his knife, it was over immediately. Missile crouched in the wreckage of Henrietta, fingers braced on the floorboards, gasping for breath.
“Why are you here?” the Detective asked him. He rested the tip of the knife as far into the man’s ear as it would go without hurting him.
The man was already trembling, and unlike Felix Dawkins, he folded at once. “Looking for an antique for an employer.”
“Who is?” the Detective prompted.
“We didn’t get his name. He’s French.”
Art licked his lips. “French living in France or French living over here?”
“I don’t know, man, what does it matter? He’s got an accent!”
It would’ve mattered to Art. Maybe that was his training talking.
“Do you have a contact number? Of course you don’t. What was this antique?”
“A, uh, box. He said it was probably a box. Called the Greywaren. That we’d know it when we saw it.”
The Detective doubted that highly. He looked at his watch. It was nearly eleven; the day was racing by and he had so many plans. He put the thug in a choke hold and tightened his arm until the man passed out.
Chapter 24: Twenty-Three
“Would you like to explain, now, why we’re in the middle of this puddle?” Alison asked.
“Godforsaken puddle,” Sarah corrected from beside Rachel. As a pale-skinned British sort, she didn’t care much for the heat.
The six of them — plus Chainsaw, minus Beth (she had been present, but feebly, when they’d left) — floated in the boat in the middle of the belligerently ugly man-made lake they had found before. It was relentlessly sunny.
From shore, crows hollered apocalyptically at them. Chainsaw hollered back.
It really was some of the worst Henrietta had to offer.
“We’re looking under it.” Rachel eyed her laptop. She couldn’t get the sonar device to communicate with it, despite a cursory examination of the instructional manual. Vexation was beginning to bead at her temples and on the back of her neck.
Sarah, perched at the other end of the boat, asked, “Are we going to sonar every lake on the ley line? Or just the ones that piss you off?”
She was still angry about the couch and the pool table and Paul’s ridiculous muscles. Felix, fawning over Paul, wasn’t helping. He took up most of the boat, his legs trailing up one side of it and his torso draped up the other. Every so often he opened his eyes to smile coyly at Paul, twisting himself this way and that as if he were merely readjusting his spine.
“This is a pilot mission,” said Rachel. She was more profoundly uncomfortable with Sarah being angry at her than she cared to admit to anyone, least of all herself. “Odds suggest that Glendower’s not under this lake. But I want to have recourse should we find a body of water we suspect he’s under.”
“Recourse,” echoed Cosima, but without real force.
The water reflected the sun at Sarah’s face from beneath, rendering her a translucent and fretful god. “Shite, it’s hot.”
Rachel’s explanation was not precisely true. She occasionally had hunches, always about finding things, always about Glendower. They were a result of poring over maps and sorting through historical records and recalling the historical finds she’d made before. When you’d found impossible things before, it made the location of another impossible thing more predictable.
The hunch about this lake had something to do with this wide field looking like one of the only easy passes through this section of challenging mountains. Something to do with the name of the tiny lane at the bottom of the hill — Hanmer Road, Hanmer being the last name of Glendower’s wife. Something to do with where it sat on the line, the look of the field, the prickling of stop and look closer.
“Is it possible that you’ve bought a sixty-five-hundred-dollar piece of junk?” Cosima pulled a cord out of the back of the laptop and hooked it up in a different way. The laptop pretended it couldn’t tell the difference. Rachel hit some keys. The laptop pretended she hadn’t. The entire process had looked a lot more straightforward on the instructional video online.
From the deck of the boat, Felix said, “I’m having a psychic moment. It involves you and me.”
Distracted, Rachel glanced up from the computer screen. Paul said, “Are you talking to me?”
Felix blew him a kiss.
Sarah made a small, terrible noise.
“I would appreciate if you’d turn your inner eye toward the water,” Rachel said. “Because — no, Cosima, that made the screen go black.”
She was beginning to think she had bought a sixty-five-hundred-dollar piece of junk.
“How long are we in D.C. for?” Alison asked suddenly.
Rachel said, “Three days.”
She was glad Alison had agreed to go. There was plenty of opportunity to be had at a fund-raiser like this one. Internships, future positions, sponsors. An impressive-sounding name on the bottom of a college recommendation letter. So many pearls to be had, if you were in the mood to open oysters.
Rachel so hated oysters.
Sarah aggressively jerked a cable on the back of the laptop. The sonar device appeared on the laptop screen, shaped like a tiny submarine.
“Excellent!” Rachel said. “You’ve done it. What did you do?”
“Got tired of sweating is what I did. Let’s hurry this up.”
For a few minutes, they were all quiet as they puttered slowly through the water, watching the unspecific elements on the screen. Rachel felt the unpleasant and distinct sensation of a single drop of sweat rolling between her shoulder blades.
Felix declared, “I’m having a psychic moment.”
“No, really.” Felix opened his eyes. “Is there something on the screen now?”
There was. On the laptop screen, the images tantalized her. One was a disc of some sort and the other was an indistinct raven. In reality, it could be any sort of bird. But for the group in this particular boat, a suggestion was all they needed. They needed it be a raven. It was going to be a raven.
Rachel contemplated whether she could dive for the object. The first thing that occurred to her was her teal polo shirt — it would cling to her, after, and the colour might not deal with lake water well. The next thing that occurred to her was her pleated skirt — could that be removed in the presence of all these people? Dubious. She didn’t even have shorts on underneath.
Sarah peered over the edge into the brown water. “How deep is the water here?”
“It should say.” Rachel glanced at the laptop. “Ten feet.”
“Well, then.” Sarah tugged one of her boots off.
Alison said, “What! You can’t go in.”
Sarah snorted again and dumped the other boot in the bottom of the boat.
“But…” Rachel tried, “You won’t be able to open your eyes in that. Without irritating them.”
“Your highly cultured eyes, maybe,” Sarah replied. Pulling off her topmost tank top, she tossed it on top of Felix, ignoring his vague protests. Bare skin flashed through the tears in the remaining tank. “My swamp eyes’ll be fine.”
Rachel was stung, but before she could protest, she was forced to snatch the laptop as it toppled. Paul had suddenly and swiftly stood, sending the boat off-kilter. Everyone in the boat braced themselves and gazed up at the powerful column of his body.
“Stop, Sarah. I’ll do it,” Paul ordered. He pulled his shirt off. Even Alison was openly staring. “You’re wearing clothing. I’m happy to strip down to my bike shorts.”
Sarah replied ferociously, “Clearly.” If not for the sun, her voice would’ve iced the lake.
Paul gave her an inscrutable look and then bent to step out of his jeans so fast that everyone in the boat just stared at him, stunned. Rachel couldn’t understand the speed of it. One moment, he was wearing clothing, and the next moment, he was wearing skin-tight boxer-briefs. He was statuesque, an ideal, and Rachel felt nothing.
A tiny part of Rachel’s brain said: Why don’t I get it?
The larger part of her brain said: You have been staring for too long.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” Sarah said, and jumped out of the boat.
Cosima began to laugh, and it was so unexpected that the spell was broken. She laughed as Chainsaw hurled herself into the air to circle where Sarah had gone in, and she laughed as Paul let out an annoyed sound and dived into the water. She laughed as the image on the laptop distorted with the rollicking water. She laughed as she stretched out her arm for Chainsaw to return to, and then she sealed her lips with an expression that indicated she still found them all hilarious on the inside.
The boat, previously stuffed to capacity, now contained only three girls and one boy leaning over the side to catch a glimpse of Paul.
Alison looked at Rachel. “Is this really happening?”
It was really happening, because the side-scan sonar showed two forms below the surface. One of them was nowhere near the objects but was moving very purposefully in a downward direction. The other moved gradually toward the vicinity of the raven, moving in brief surges that suggested a breast stroke.
“I feel rather ashamed,” Rachel admitted.
Cosima ran a hand over her dreadlocks. “I didn’t want to mess up my hair.”
Alison just watched the ripples spread across the water.
Only a second later, Paul reemerged. Like his dive, his reappearance was smooth: a disembodied head and shoulders soon followed by chest and arms stroking towards the boat.
“It’s too dark,” he said. “I’ll try again.” He held onto the side of the boat for a moment as he rested. “Nice and cool, though.”
Rachel had no desire to join him. She peered anxiously over the edge of the boat. One more second and she was going to —
Sarah burst up beside them. Dark hair plastered her cheeks. With one white-knuckled hand, she clutched the edge of the boat, pulling herself half out of the water.
“Good grief,” Rachel said.
Sarah cheerfully spit a mouthful of brown water on Rachel’s boat shoes. It pooled in the canvas over her toes.
“Good lord,” Rachel said.
“Now they’re really boat shoes,” Sarah replied. Swinging her free arm, she tossed her prize in; it landed on the boards with a dense thud. Chainsaw immediately leapt down from Cosima’s shoulder to investigate. “There’s something else down there. I’m going back for it.”
Before Rachel had time to say anything to her, the murky water closed over her head. She was struck by what a glorious and fearless animal Sarah Manning was, and she made a mental note to remember never to say so aloud – that is, if Sarah didn’t drown getting whatever the second thing was.
She was only gone for a moment this time. The boat surged as she emerged again, gasping and triumphant. She hooked an elbow over the side. “Help me in!”
Cosima hauled Sarah in as if she were catch of the day, stretched out on the base of the boat. Although she wore much more clothing than Paul, Rachel still felt she ought to avert her eyes. Everything was wet and clinging in ways that seemed more scandalous than she’d come to expect from Sarah’s wardrobe.
Out of breath, Sarah asked, “What’s the first thing? Do you know?”
Rachel accepted the first object from Cosima. Yes, she knew. She rubbed her fingers over the slimy surface. It was a scarred metal disc about seven inches in diameter. There were three ravens embossed on it. The others must’ve been too buried in the silt to show on the sonar display. It was incredible that they’d seen even one of them. It would have been so easy for the disc to be completely obscured. Even easier for the identifying bird to be crusted and hidden by algae.
Some things want to be found.
“It’s a boss,” Rachel said with wonder. She ran her thumb around the uneven edge of it. Everything about it spoke to age. “Or an umbo. From a shield. This bit reinforced the middle of the shield. The rest of it must’ve rotted away. It would’ve been wood and leather, probably.”
It wasn’t what she would’ve expected to find here, or at all. From what she could remember of her history, shields like this weren’t in popular use by Glendower’s time. Good armor had rendered them unnecessary. It could’ve been a ceremonial shield, though. Certainly the fine workmanship seemed excessive for a working piece of weaponry. And it did seem like the sort of thing that would be brought along to bury with a king. She traced the ravens. Three ravens marked in a triangle — the coat of arms of Urien, Glendower’s mythological father.
Who else had touched this boss? A craftsman, his mind busy with Glendower’s purpose. A soldier, loading it into a boat to cross the Atlantic.
Maybe even Glendower himself.
Her heart was on fire with it.
“So, it’s ancient,” Sarah said from the other end of the boat.
“And what about this?”
At the tone in her voice, Rachel lifted her eyes to the large object that rested upright against the tops of Sarah’s thighs.
She knew what it was. She just didn’t know why it was.
She said, “Well, that’s a wheel off the Bugatti.”
And it was.
It looked identical to the wheels currently residing on the Bugatti — except this wheel was clearly several hundred years old. The discolored surface was pocked and lumpy. With all of the deterioration, the elegantly symmetrical wheel didn’t appear that out of place beside the shield boss. If you overlooked the tattered EB logo in the middle – the initials of Ettore Bugatti.
“Do you remember losing one a little while ago?” Cosima asked. “Like, five hundred years or so?”
“We know the ley line confuses time,” Rachel said immediately, but she felt undone. Not exactly undone, but unmoored. Released from the ruts of logic. When the rules of time became flexible, the future seemed to hold too many possibilities to bear. This wheel promised a past with the Bugatti in it, a past that both hadn’t happened and had. Hadn’t because the keys were still in Rachel’s pocket and the car was still parked back at the shore. And had because Sarah held the wheel in her still-damp hands.
“I think you should leave these with me while you go to your mum’s this weekend,” Sarah said. “And I’ll see if I can convince Kendall to do her thing on them.”
The boat was steered back toward shore, Paul was handed his shirt, the laptop was packed back into a bag, and the sonar device was dredged from the water. Alison wearily helped fix the boat to the trailer before climbing into the car — Rachel was going to have to talk to her, though she didn’t know what she would say; it would be good for them to get out of town together — and Cosima retreated to the Bugatti ahead of them all.
Sarah joined Rachel in the shade of the boat, the shield boss in her hand. This discovery was not Cabeswater, and it was not Glendower, but it was something. Rachel was getting greedy, she realized, hungry for Glendower and Glendower alone. These tantalizing clues used to be enough to sustain her. Now it was only the grail she wanted. She felt grown old inside her young skin. I tire of wonders, she thought.
She watched Paul’s thin clinging shirt disappear into the tow truck. Her mind was far away, though: still absorbed with the mystery of the ancient Bugatti wheel.
In a low voice, Sarah asked meaningfully, “Seen enough?”
“Of — oh, Paul?”
The question annoyed her. It judged her, and in this case, she didn’t feel she’d done anything to deserve it. She was not Sarah’s business, not in that way.
“What care is it of yours,” she asked, “what I think of Paul Dierden?”
This felt dangerous, for some reason. She possibly shouldn’t have asked it. In retrospect, it wasn’t the question itself at fault. It was the way that she’d asked it. Her thoughts had been far away, and she hadn’t been minding how she looked on the outside, and now, too late, she heard the dip of her own words. How the inflection seemed to contain a dare.
Sarah held her gaze, unflinching. Roughly, she replied, “None at all.”
And it was a lie.
It should not have been, but it was, and Rachel, who had grown up surrounded by deception, knew it when she heard it. Sarah Manning cared whether or not she was interested in Paul. She cared a lot. As she whirled toward the truck with a dismissive shake of her head, Rachel felt a dirty sort of thrill.
Summer dug its way into her veins. She got into the Bugatti.
“Let’s go,” she told the others, and she slid on her sunglasses.
Chapter 25: Twenty-Four
Of course, the Detective had to get rid of the two heavies. It was a nuisance, but nothing more. The sort who would break into a house for supernatural artifacts also tended to be the sort who didn’t get reported missing. Art hoped that he would be reported if he went missing, though.
In the trunk of the Champagne Abomination, the Detective had fuel cans and two Peruvian pots that were too hot to sell yet wrapped in Dora the Explorer blankets, so he put the unconscious men in the backseat, buckling them so they wouldn’t flop around too much.
While he drove, he called the Veranda Inn and Restaurant and canceled his dinner reservation.
“Would you like to change it to a later time?” the hostess asked. The Detective liked how she said later. It was something like lyter, but with a lot more vowels.
“Tonight just won’t work, I think. Can I reschedule for . . . Thursday?” He took the exit for the Sarah Ridge Parkway.
He hung up the phone, put on the Kinks, and drove out along the parkway. He took turn after turn until the rental car’s GPS was hopelessly confused. With the rental car, he made his own path into the woods past a copse of no trespassing signs (Art had never regretted paying for the additional damage insurance on a rental). He parked in a small, idyllic clearing, rolled down the window, and cranked up the stereo.
He had just climbed out of the car when his phone rang.
The Detective picked it up. “Do you know who those men were?” he asked in place of a greeting.
Ferdinand’s voice was frenzied. “I told you. I told you there were others there.”
“You did,” the Detective agreed. He unbuckled Polo Shirt’s seatbelt. “Are there more?”
“Of course,” Ferdinand said tragically.
The Detective switched to Missile’s side of the car. With effort, he pulled him off the seat and onto the damp ground. “Where are they coming from?”
“The readings! The machines! Anyone can follow the readings,” Ferdinand said. “We’re not the only ones with geophones lying about.”
In the background, the Kinks sang about demon alcohol. “How is it that you knew this thing existed, again?”
“Same way we know anything. Rumors. Old books. Greedy old people. What is that sound?”
“I didn’t know you were a fan. In fact, it’s strange to think of you listening to music at all. Wait. I don’t know why I said that. That sounded terrible.”
The Detective didn’t bother to be offended. It meant that Ferdinand thought of him as a thing instead of as a person, which meant that he might not predict disobedience. For a moment, they both listened to the Kinks sing about port, Pernod, and tequila.
“Will you be able to work around those two?” Ferdinand asked. “Will they be a problem?”
It took the Detective a moment to realize that he was referring to Missile and Polo Shirt.
“No,” the Detective said. “They won’t be.”
“You’re good,” Ferdinand said. “It’s why you’re the only one.”
“Yes,” the Detective agreed reluctantly. “Would you say that this thing is a box?”
“No, I wouldn’t say that, because I don’t know. Would you say that?”
“No. Probably not.”
“Why did you ask, then?”
“If it was a box, I could stop looking at things that weren’t boxes.”
“If I’d thought it was a box, I would’ve told you to look for a box. Would I say it’s a box. Why do you have to be so damn mysterious all the time? Do you get off on it? You want me thinking about boxes now? Because I am. I’ll look it up. I’ll see what I can find.”
Hanging up, the Detective assessed the scene. Missile and Polo Shirt lay in a heap, missing their shoes, their phones, and their wallets. Art considered, and then typed a note into Missile’s cell phone: Next time it’s a bullet. He set the phone on the man’s chest to make sure he noticed the message.
In a fortunate world, the threat would be enough to send these two on their way. But in a world where employers paid their pawns by reneging on deadly threats instead of offering a paycheque, it seemed unlikely. If they showed up again, Art would have to frame them for something or other. Maybe something they’d actually done, just to be fair. But that would get Art’s name involved, of course.
In a way, knocking them out and dumping them on the outskirts of town was simpler.
The Detective frowned and checked his watch. Hopefully these were the only bodies he’d have to dispose of in Henrietta, but one could never say.
Chapter 26: Twenty-Five
When Sarah arrived home in her soaking-wet clothing, Beth was kneeling in the tiny, shaded front yard of 300 Fox Way. Felix breezed right inside without stopping to talk to her. As a psychic, he probably saw her, but as Felix, he didn’t necessarily care. Sarah stopped, though. She was pleased to see Beth. She rearranged the Bugatti wheel under her arm and wiped damp hair off her forehead.
Beth was too busy being ghostly to attend to her, though. Currently, she was engaged in one of her most creepy activities: reenacting her own death. She glanced around the tiny yard as if appraising the forest glen containing only herself and her friend Evie Cho. Then she let out a terrible, mangled cry as she was struck from behind by an invisible baseball bat. She made no sound when she was hit again, but her body jerked convincingly. Sarah tried not to look as she bucked and jerked on the ground, struggling against ropes that weren’t there.
Sarah took a deep, uneven breath. Though she had seen her do it four or five times now, it was always unsettling. Eleven minutes. That was how long the entire homicidal portrait lasted: one young woman’s life destroyed in less time than it took to cook a hamburger. The last six minutes, the ones that took place after Beth had been tied down but before she actually died, were excruciating. Sarah considered herself a fairly steadfast, tough person, but no matter how many times she heard Beth’s torn-up breath seizing in her throat, she felt a little teary.
Between the twisted roots of the front yard, Beth’s body fractured and stilled, finally dead. Again.
Gently, Sarah asked, “Beth?”
Beth was a shattered thing on the ground and then, just like that, she was standing beside her. It was like a dream, where the middle part was cut out, the getting from point A to point B.
It was another of her creepy things.
“Sarah!” she said, and punched Sarah’s shoulder.
Sarah hugged her tight; she was chilly against her damp clothing. Sarah was always so worried she wouldn’t snap out of it at the end.
“Why do you do that?” she demanded.
Beth had reverted to her normal, safe self. The only evidence of her true nature was the ever-present smudge shadowing her body where her ribcage had been smashed in. Otherwise she was once again relaxed, sardonic, and eternally dressed in her Aglionby uniform.
She looked vaguely bewildered and pleased to have a girl clinging to her. “That?”
“What you did. Just now.”
She shrugged, formless and amiable. “I wasn’t here.”
But you were, Beth, she thought. But whatever part of Beth that still existed to pour thoughts and memories into this form mercifully disappeared for the eleven minutes of her death. Sarah wasn’t sure if her amnesia over the whole thing made it more or less creepy.
Beth draped an arm over her shoulders, too cold and weird herself to notice that Sarah was also damp and cold. They wandered to the door like that, a pretzel of dead girl and dreamer.
Of course, she wouldn’t come in. Sarah suspected she couldn’t. Ghosts and psychics competed for the same power source, and in an energy showdown between Beth and Siobhan, there was no doubt in Sarah’s mind who would come out the victor. She would have asked Beth to confirm this, but she was notoriously disinterested in the details of her afterlife. (Once, Alison had tersely asked, “Don’t you care how it is that you’re still here?” and Beth had answered with remarkable acumen, “Do you care how your kidneys work?”)
“You aren’t going to D.C., are you?” Beth asked with some anxiety.
“Nope.” She’d meant to just say it with no inflection whatsoever, but in truth, Sarah felt curiously bereft at the idea of Rachel and Alison leaving town together. She felt, actually, exactly like Beth sounded.
Daringly, Beth offered, “I’ll let you into Monmouth.”
Sarah blushed immediately. To cover her embarrassment, she huffed, “And Cosima wouldn’t?”
“She’s staying with her parents,” Beth said. “Since Rachel’s away.”
“Oh,” Sarah said, deflated again. “The houseboat. Right.”
Beth’s arm tightened around her shoulders. “Incoming.”
The Detective headed up the sidewalk toward them. At the same time that Sarah appraised Art, she got the idea that she was also being appraised.
At the end of the moment, they both eyed each other with a sort of mutual decision to not underestimate the other.
Then Art’s gaze moved across to Beth, and he stopped walking. The blood drained from his face.
He whispered, “Beth!”
So he could see her, which not everyone could. And more than that, he knew her.
Or – had known her.
“Hey, Art,” Beth said sadly. “Long time no see.”
Now it came to Sarah, where she had recognised him from. The dark-skinned young man, standing next to Ruth Childs.
“You were at the funeral,” she said.
“Yeah,” he said. He pointed to Beth. “And you were in a coffin.”
“You know how I was an atheist? And I said no way was there an afterlife?”
Beth shrugged one shoulder. “I’ve reconsidered.”
Art put a hand to his temple.
“Am I losing you, buddy?” Beth’s tone somehow inhabited the border between mocking and sad, and managed to stray into both at once.
Art said flatly, “Ghosts. You’re a ghost.”
Beth shrugged again. “Ley lines, man.”
Art frowned, paced away from them, then whirled back. “Who killed you?”
Beth backed up a step, her edges a little cloudy. “It’s embarrassing,” she said faintly. “But…Evie.”
It happened again, the thing where one moment Beth was there, and the next Sarah couldn’t recall quite where she had been standing, which empty space she had occupied last time she had looked.
Art looked at Sarah, possibly for confirmation of the bizarre conversation he had just had.
Sarah said, “…She does that.” Then, when he didn’t reply, she asked, “Are you here to threaten anyone?”
The Detective shook his head, distracted. “I’m here to see Mrs Sadler.”
Now she raised an eyebrow. “Okay. Come on. She’d better be expecting you.”
She led the Detective inside. As always, new visitors made her over-aware of the house’s unorthodox appearance. It was two houses knitted together, and neither structure had been a palace to begin with. Narrow hallways leaned eagerly toward each other. A stray toilet gurgled constantly. The wood floors were as buckled as the sidewalk out front, as if roots threatened to come between the boards. Some of the walls were painted in vivid purples and blues, and some of them maintained wallpaper from decades before. Faded black-and-white photographs hung beside Klimt prints and old metal scissors. The entire decor was a victim of too much thrift store shopping and too many strong personalities.
Oddly enough, the Detective— a serene spot of neutral color in the middle of the riot — didn’t look out of place. Sarah watched him watching his surroundings as they made their way into the bowels of the house. Although his mind was clearly still on Beth, his eyes constantly scanned his surroundings. He didn’t seem like the sort of person you could sneak up on.
“Oh!” croaked Kendall, at the sight of them. “I’ll get Siobhan.”
Sarah maneuvered him toward the kitchen, with all its mugs and halfpackaged tea and boxes of essential oils waiting to be mailed and decapitated flowers waiting to be boiled. She poured the Detective a glass of water. He flicked his eyes to the hall doorway, and a moment later, Mrs S appeared in it, phone in one hand.
“Hi, daughter,” she said warily. For a millisecond, her expression was sharp as she analyzed whether or not Sarah was in any danger from this strange man sitting at her kitchen table. She took in the glass of water in front of the Detective and Sarah’s casually folded arms. Only then did she relax. Sarah, for her part, enjoyed the millisecond of her foster-mother looking dangerous. “What can I do for you, Art?”
“I think we have more in common than I’d realised,” Art said.
“He knew Beth,” Sarah clarified. “When she was alive.”
Mrs S took this in. Then she said, “What, precisely, is your intention with this family?”
“That seems very frank,” Art said.
Mrs S crossed her arms. “Life’s short.”
“And so is your patience.”
Siobhan snorted. “Getting shorter every day.”
“I take your point.”
Mrs S pointed to a chair beneath the fake Tiffany lamp. “Sit.”
“I’d rather stand.”
She made a neat rack of teeth at the Detective. “Sit.”
The Detective sat. He glanced over his shoulder, back down the hall, then back to her. He had those bright, active eyes that Dobermans and bluejays had.
“My only intentions right now are to find an antique.”
Leaning her butt on the counter, Sarah crossed her arms and studied him. She was fairly sure that he wouldn’t have said that if he realised that the Greywaren was a person, and that person was in the room.
“I think,” Art said slowly, “That this family knows more than its fair share about certain magical happenings in Henrietta. Happenings connected to the item I’m looking for.”
Siobhan’s mouth twisted. “Maybe we do.”
“And you think we’ll help you find this thing?”
Art smiled comfortably. “Maybe. Given time.”
“You aren’t staying here, are you?” Sarah asked. She meant Henrietta, not the house.
She should’ve clarified, but he seemed to catch her meaning, because he replied, “I don’t stay anywhere. Not for long.”
“Sounds like a hell of a life,” Mrs S observed.
Art’s expression didn’t change. “Yes, it is.”
“What makes you think we’re on your side?” Siobhan said, not unkindly.
After a pause, Art said, “Þing sceal gehegan / frod wiþ frodne. Biþ hyra ferð gelic.”
It sounded like German, but from hearing Kendall’s whispers about the Detective, Sarah guessed it was Old English.
“A dead language?” Siobhan asked, with interest. They seemed to be hearing a lot of them lately.
Sarah asked, “What’s it mean?”
“‘Meetings are held, wise with the wise. Because their spirits are alike.’ Or minds. The word ferð has the sense of mind or spirit or soul. It’s one of the Anglo-Saxon Maxims. Wisdom poetry.”
Mrs S wasn’t certain that she and this Detective thought exactly alike, but she didn’t think they were that different, either. She could hear the pragmatic beat of his heart, and she appreciated it.
“I’ll hear you out,” Siobhan said. She looked down at her hand, as if suddenly remembering it wasn’t empty. “Sarah, this phone’s for you. It’s Rachel.”
Sarah noticed that the Detective was abruptly not interested in who was on the phone. Which was interesting because he had been so interested in absolutely everything else before.
Which Sarah took to mean that, really, he was very interested in who might be on the phone, only he didn’t want them to know he was interested.
Which was interesting.
“What’s she want?” Sarah asked.
Mrs S handed her the phone. “Apparently, someone broke into her place.”
Chapter 27: Twenty-Six
Although both Vic and Rachel were hopelessly entwined in the infrastructure of Henrietta, Sarah had always done a fine job keeping them separate in her mind. Rachel held court over the tidier, brighter elements of the town; hers was a civilised world of Aglionby desks, junior faculty waving at her car from the sidewalk, bespoke tailors knowing her name. Even the apartment in Monmouth Incorporated was typical Rachel: order and aesthete imposed on the ruined and abandoned. Vic, on the other hand, ruled the night. He lived in the places that wouldn’t even occur to Rachel: in the back parking lots of the public schools, the basements of McMansions, crouched behind the doors of public bathrooms. Vic’s kingdom was not so much conducted in the red-yellow-green glow of a traffic light, but in the black place just outside of the glow.
Sarah preferred them separate.
And yet here she was, the night before Rachel left town, taking her to one of Vic’s coarsest rituals.
“I can do this without you,” Sarah said, kneeling to pick up one of the dozens of identical fake licenses.
Rachel, pacing next to her ruined miniature Henrietta, set her eyes on Sarah. There was something intense and heedless in them. There were many versions of Rachel, but this one was rare, uncontrolled. It might be Sarah’s favorite. It was the opposite of Rachel’s most public face, which was pure control enclosed in a paper-thin wrapper of academia.
This was the Rachel who flattened the gas pedal in the Bugatti, the Rachel who asked Beth to teach her to fight, the Rachel who contained every wild spark so that it wouldn’t show up in other versions.
Was it the shield beneath the lake that had unleashed it? Paul’s nearly-naked body? The bashed-up remains of her rebuilt Henrietta and the fake IDs she’d returned to?
Sarah didn’t really care. All that mattered was that something had struck the match, and Rachel was burning.
They took Cosima’s Camaro. It would be easier to cope with a firework being inserted in its exhaust pipe than the Bugatti’s. They left Chainsaw behind, much to her irritation. Sarah didn’t want her to learn any bad language.
Sarah drove, since she knew where they were going. She didn’t tell Rachel why she knew where to go, and Rachel didn’t ask.
The sun had gone down by the time they arrived at the old county fairground, tucked away on a back road east of Henrietta. The site had not been used to host a fair since the county fair had run out of money two years previous. Now it was a great overgrown field studded with floodlights and strung with tattered bunting made colorless by months of exposure.
Ordinarily, the abandoned fairground was pitch-black at night, out of reach of the lights of Henrietta and far from any houses. But tonight, the floodlights splashed sterile white light over the grass, illuminating the restless forms of more than a dozen cars.
As Sarah turned into the old drive, the headlights illuminated the familiar form of Rudy’s black Lamborghini with it’s splattered white knife graphic on the side. The trip of her pulse became a kick drum.
“Don’t say anything stupid to him,” she told Rachel. Already the beat of Cosima’s stereo was being drowned out by Rudy’s, the bass pulsing up through the ground itself.
Rachel rolled her sleeves up and studied her hands. “What’s stupid?”
It was hard to tell with Vic and Rudy.
To their left, two cars loomed out of the darkness, one blue and one white, heading right toward each other. Neither vehicle flinched from the impending collision. Automotive chicken. At the last moment, the blue car swerved, skidding sideways, and the white blared a horn. A guy half-hung out of the passenger seat of the white car, clinging to the roof with one hand and flipping the bird with the other. Dust wallowed round them both. Delighted screams filled the space between engine noises.
On the other side of this game, a tired Volvo was parked beneath a tattered, fallen string of flagged bunting. It was lit from within, like an entrance to hell. It took a moment to register that it was on fire, or was at least working up to it. Boys stood around the Volvo, drinking and smoking, their forms distorted and dark against the smoldering upholstery. Goblins around a bonfire.
Something inside Sarah was anxious and moving, angry and restive. The fire ate her from the inside.
She pulled the Camaro up to the Lamborghini, nose to nose. Now she saw that Rudy had already been playing: the right side of the car was shockingly mutilated and crumpled. That felt like a dream — no way was the Lamborghini so mangled; it was a constant of the Henrietta landscape. Vic stood near it, bottle in hand, teeth flashing, the floodlights highlighting the gap in his right eyebrow. Rudy and Miller flanked him. When he saw the Camaro, Rudy snatched the bottle from Vic’s hands and threw it at the hood. It splintered on the metal, shivering glass and liquid everywhere.
“Animals,” Rachel said, a study in disdain. At least they hadn’t brought the Bugatti.
Hauling up the parking brake, Sarah threw open the door. The air reeked of melting plastic and deceased clutches and, beneath it all, the warm scent of pot. It was noisy, though the symphony was constructed of so many instruments that it was hard to identify any individual timbres.
“Sarah,” Rachel said, in the exact tone that she’d just said Animals.
“Are we doing this?” Sarah replied.
Rachel threw open her door and stepped out, heels stabbing the dirt.
Even that gesture, Sarah noted, was somehow wild Rachel, Rachel-on-fire.
This was going to be a night.
Catching a glimpse of Sarah heading straight for him, Rudy spread a hand over his rib cage. “Hey, Manning! This is a substance party. Nobody’s in unless you brought a substance.”
By way of reply, Sarah punched Rudy in the face. He rocked back with the force of it, hand coming up to shield his nose.
Sarah showed him her bloody knuckles. “Here’s your substance.”
Rudy wiped his nose on his bare arm, leaving a red streak.
Vic said, “Hey man, you don’t have to be so fucking antisocial.”
Rachel, at Sarah’s elbow, held up her hand in the universal sign for down, boy. “I don’t want to keep you from your revels,” Rachel said, cold and glorious, “so I’m just going to say this: Stay out of my place.”
Rudy replied, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Babe, get me a smoke.”
The last part seemed to be directed to a girl who lolled in the passenger seat of the crunched Lamborghini, her eyes deeply stoned. She did not dignify his order with a response.
Sarah flicked out one of the fake IDs.
Rudy smiled broadly at his own work. With his high arched eyebrows split by the thick rope of his scar, he was a ghoul in this light. “You mad because I didn’t leave you a mint, too?”
“No, I’m angry because you trashed my apartment,” Rachel said. “You should be glad I’m here and not at the police station.”
Rudy raised an eyebrow. “Whoa. I can’t tell which of us is high. I didn’t trash your place.”
“Don’t insult my intelligence,” Rachel replied, and there was just a hint of a glacial laugh in her voice. It was a terrifying and wonderful laugh, Sarah thought, because Rachel had measured out only contempt and not a touch of humor.
Their conversation was interrupted by the familiar, destructive sound of cars colliding. There was no other sound in the world like a car crash.
Vic caught the line of their attention. “You want in on this?”
“Where are these idiots from?” Rachel narrowed her eyes. “Is that Morris? I thought she was in New Haven.”
Vic shrugged. “It’s a substance party.”
Sarah scoffed. “They don’t have substances in New Haven?”
“Not like these. It’s Wonderland! Some make you big, some make you small . . .”
It was the wrong quote. Or rather, the right quote, done wrong. At 300 Fox Way, Sarah had grown up with several recurring stories, perennial favorites of her foster-mother. Mrs S had an extraordinary fondness for an ugly old edition of Alice in Wonderland, frequently read aloud to one or two reluctant, half-asleep children. Sarah had heard Alice in Wonderland so often that she no longer could judge whether or not it was any good, whether or not she actually liked it. The novel was history now. It was a piece of home.
So she knew the quote was actually, “one side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter.”
“Depends on which side of the mushroom you use,” Sarah said, more to Siobhan than to Vic.
“True point,” Rudy agreed. “So, what are you going to do about your rat problem?”
Rachel blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
This made Rudy laugh uproariously, and when he was through, he said, “If I didn’t trash your place, something else is infesting it.”
Rachel’s eyes flickered over to Sarah. Possibility?
Of course it was a possibility. Someone other than Rudy had threatened Felix, so theoretically, something other than Rudy could have broken into Monmouth Incorporated. Anything was possible.
“Sarah!” One of the other party-goers drew closer, recognizing her. Sarah, in turn, recognized him: Seth. His voice was milky with drugs, but Sarah would’ve recognized his face anywhere, patchy moustache and unfriendly eyes glaring balefully out at the world. “And Rachel D?”
“Yeah,” Rudy said, thumbs hooked in his back pockets, hip bones poking out above his low-slung waistband. “Mommy and Daddy came. Hey, Rachel, you get a babysitter for Hendrix? You know what, don’t answer that, let’s smoke a peace pipe.”
Immediately, Rachel replied with precise disdain, “I’m not interested in your pills.”
“Oh, Miss Duncan,” Rudy sneered. “Pills! First rule of substance party is, you don’t talk about substance party. Second rule is, you bring a substance if you want another one.”
“Lucky for you, Miss Duncan,” Rudy continued, in what was probably supposed to be a posh accent, “I know what your dog wants.”
Seth chortled again. It was the sort of chortle that meant he would be vomiting soon. Rachel seemed to understand this, as she edged a foot back from him.
Ordinarily, Rachel would have done more than edge away. Having achieved all they’d needed to, she would have told Sarah it was time to go. She would have been frostily polite to Rudy. And then she would have been gone.
But this was not Rachel as usual.
This was Rachel with a lofty tilt to her chin, a condescending quirk to her mouth. A Rachel that was aware that no matter what went down here tonight, she would still go back to Monmouth Incorporated and rule her particular corner of the world. This was a Rachel, Sarah realized, that Cosima would hate.
Rachel said, “And what is it my dog needs?”
Sarah found herself on the edge of laughter.
Rudy said, “Pyrotechnics. Boom!” He pounded the roof of his crumpled car. Amiably, he told the girl in the passenger seat, “Get out, bitch. Unless you wanna die. It’s all the same to me.”
It dawned on Sarah that Rudy meant to blow up the Lamborghini.
In the state of Virginia, fireworks that exploded or emitted flame higher than twelve feet were illegal, unless you had a special permit. It wasn’t a fact most residents of Henrietta had to remember, however, because it was impossible to find fireworks that did anything even slightly remarkable, much less illegal, within state borders. If you wanted something a bit more impressive for the holiday weekend, you headed for the city’s firework display. If you were like some of the rowdier Mountainview kids or better-off rednecks of Henrietta, you drove over the state line and filled your trunk with illegal Pennsylvanian fireworks. If you were Rudy Castor, you built your own.
“That dent will come out,” Sarah said, equal parts exhilarated and horrified to think of the Lamborghini perishing.
“I don’t care,” Rudy replied. “I’ll know it was there. Cherry, popped. Styles, make me a cocktail, man.”
“Take the edge off,” Rudy said. He turned to Rachel, a bottle in hand. It sloshed with liquid; a T-shirt had been wound and stuffed through the mouth of it. It was on fire. It was, in fact, a Molotov cocktail.
To Sarah’s surprise and delight, Rachel accepted it.
She was a striking version of herself, a dangerous version of herself, standing there before Rudy’s despoiled Lamborghini with a homemade bomb in hand. Sarah remembered the dream of Rachel and the mask: the more toothful version of Rachel.
Instead of throwing it at the Lamborghini, however, Rachel sighted a line toward the distant Volvo. She hurled it, high and graceful and true. Heads curved up to watch its progress. A moment later, the bottle landed just short of the Volvo’s rear tires. The simultaneous breaking of the glass and explosion made it seem as if the Molotov cocktail had sunk into the ground. Rachel wiped her hand on her skirt and turned away.
“Good throw,” Rudy said, “but wrong car. Seth!”
Seth handed him another Molotov cocktail. This one Rudy pressed into Sarah’s hand. He leaned close — too close — and said, “It’s a bomb. Just like you.”
It was like a dream, the sharpness of all this. The weight of the bottle in her hand, the heat from the flaming wick, the smell of this polluted pleasure.
Rudy pointed at the Lamborghini.
“Aim high,” he advised. His eyes glittered, black pits reflecting the small inferno in Sarah’s grip. “And do it fast, Sarah, or you’ll blow your arm off. No one wants half a tattoo.”
A curious thing happened when the bottle left Sarah’s hand. As it arced through the air, trails of fire-orange in its wake, Sarah felt as if she had hurled her heart. There was a rip, just as she released it. And heat filling her body, pouring in through the hole she’d made. But now she could breathe, now that there was room in her suddenly light chest. The past was something that had happened to another version of herself, a version that could be lit and hurled away.
Then the bottle landed in the driver’s window of the Lamborghini. It was as if there was no liquid, only fire. Flames poured across the headrest like a living thing. Cheers erupted across the fairground. Partygoers moved toward the car, moths to a new lamp.
Sarah heaved a breath.
Rudy, his laugh low and manic, dashed another bomb through the window. Vic threw another. Now the interior was catching, and the smell was becoming toxic.
Part of Sarah couldn’t really believe the Lamborghini was gone. But as the others began to add their cigarettes and drinks to the bonfire, the music abruptly vanished as the stereo melted. It seemed a vehicle was well and truly dead once the stereo had melted.
“Styles!” shouted Rudy. “Music!”
Another car’s stereo boomed to life, taking up where the Lamborghini had left off.
Rudy turned to Sarah with a sly grin. “You coming to Fourth of July this year?”
Sarah exchanged a look with Rachel, but the other girl was looking out over the numerous silhouettes, her eyes narrowed. “Maybe,” she replied.
“It’s a lot like a substance party,” Rudy said. “You want to see something explode, bring something that explodes.”
There was a dare there.
Rachel was moving toward the Camaro. Sarah shrugged. “Maybe,” she said again.
“You’re not leaving? Harsh.”
If Rachel was going, Sarah was going. She paused long enough to flick another fake ID at Rudy’s chest. “Stay out of her place.”
Rudy’s smile was wide and crooked. “I only come where they invite me, Sarah.”
“Sarah,” Rachel said. “We’re gone.”
“That’s right,” Rudy called after Sarah. “Call your dog!”
He said it like either Sarah or Rachel should be offended by it.
But Sarah felt nothing but that fiery, empty cavern in her chest. She slid herself into the driver’s seat as Rachel shut the passenger door.
Sarah’s phone buzzed in the door pocket. She looked at it — a message from Vic.
see you on the streets
Dropping the phone back into the door, Sarah let the engine rev up high. She backed out with a dramatic spin in the dirt. Rachel didn’t admonish her.
“Rudy Castor,” Rachel said, with a little laugh in her voice, still dismissive. “He thinks he owns this place. He thinks life is a music video.”
She gripped the door as Sarah let the Camaro have its head. The car galloped joyfully and recklessly toward Monmouth for a few miles, the speedometer setting the pace of their pulses.
Sarah unsurprised, said, “You don’t see the appeal?”
Closing her eyes, Rachel leaned her head back on her seat, chin tilted up, throat green in the dash lights. There was still an unsafe sort of smile about her mouth — what a torment the possibility in that smile was — and she said, “You know the difference between us and Rudy? We matter.”
Just then, in that moment, the thought of Rachel leaving for D.C. without her was unbearable. She couldn’t say it, though. There were a thousand reasons why she couldn’t say it.
“While I’m gone,” Rachel said, pausing, “dream me the world. Something new for every night.”
Chapter 28: Twenty-Seven
“Did you do a reading before I came? To tell you how it all worked out?” the Detective asked as Mrs S put the kettle on.
“Did you kill someone before you arrived?”
“Of course not. I don’t actually kill people,” he said, passing her two mugs. “Oh, so — what’s going on there?”
Mrs S glanced over her shoulder to where he pointed. Kendall leaned on the bannister at the top of the stairs, peering down at them with an unfriendly expression “Oh, Ma’s just spying on us to make sure you’re not about to black-bag me.”
Kendall gave a mean-spirited wave in his general direction.
“She likes you,” Mrs S said. “You should be glad. She’s a good friend to have.” Passing him his tea, she added, “Terrible enemy, though. I should know.”
The Detective asked, “What is it like, being a seer?”
“That’s an odd way to put it.”
“I only mean, how much do you see, and how clearly? Did you know I would ask that question? Do you know what I’m thinking?”
Mrs S’s smile curled in amusement. “It’s like a dream or a memory, but forward. Most of it is fuzzy, but sometimes we’ll see one particular element very sharply. And it’s not always the future. Oftentimes, when people come for a reading, we’re really telling them things they already know. So no, I didn’t know you would ask that question. And yes, I know what you’re thinking, but that’s because I’m good at reading people, not because I’m a psychic.”
It was funny, the Detective thought, how humorous she always appeared, how prominent the smile lines around her eyes. You really didn’t see the sadness unless you already knew it was there. But that was the trick, wasn’t it? Everyone had their disappointment and their baggage; only, some people carried it in their inside pockets and not on their backs. And here was the other trick: Mrs S was not faking her happiness. She was both very happy and very sad.
“What’s it like, being a hired heavy?”
The Detective sighed. “I guess you could say it pays the bills.”
“So you’re only a hit man to pay the rent,” Mrs S said. “Do you not care about hurting people?”
“I do,” he said. “I just — turn that part of my brain off.”
Mrs S set two slices of toast on the plate in front of her. “I don’t suppose I have to tell you how psychologically unhealthy that is.”
The Detective nodded. Then he said, “I once made an enemy of a man named Ferdinand. He is very intelligent. He can create a map of a place if he’s driven through it once. He can do great calculations in his head. Ferdinand is very good at hurting people. I believe he enjoys it. He told me in great detail about six targets he disposed of in Finland. He also killed thirty-two of their friends and family members. He made sure they suffered first.”
Mrs S pushed her plate away. “So he’s a sociopath.”
“Probably, yes. I work for a man who works under Ferdinand. He gives me my orders, and in return, my family remains unharmed. I have an eight-year-old daughter. Maya. If I don’t follow my orders...”
Mrs S sighed. It was a very sad sigh. “So now you’re a hit man.”
Art nodded. “I would rather not be,” he said. “Just so you know.”
Later, after he’d thanked her for the tea and returned back to the Pleasant Valley Bed and Breakfast, he discovered that Shorty and Avery Wetzel had been trying desperately to call him to let him know that his rooms at the bed and breakfast had been ransacked.
“Didn’t you hear us calling?” Avery asked urgently. The Detective recalled the buzz of his phone and patted his pockets. His phone was missing, however. Mrs Sadler had stolen it when she took his coat.
Chapter 29: Twenty-Eight
“You aren’t sleeping,” Kira said as she woke Sarah, “so would you come help us?”
Sarah opened her eyes. Her mouth was pasted shut. A fan in the corner of the room rotated back and forth, drying sweat on the backs of her knees. Kira knelt on the edge of her bed, draping a crimped cloud of hair around Sarah’s face. She smelled of roses and masking tape. The sky outside was black and blue. “I was.”
In her tiny voice, Kira pointed out, “But you aren’t now.” There was absolutely no point in arguing with her; it was like fighting with a cat. Also, it wasn’t strictly untrue. With an irritable stretch, she kicked Kira off her bed and tossed off her sheet. Together they padded down the midnight stairs into the musty glow of the kitchen. Mrs S and Kendall were already there, hunched over the table like a pair of conspirators, heads close together. The fake Tiffany lamp above them painted the backs of their heads in purple and orange. The night pressed in the glass door at their back; Sarah could see the familiar, comforting silhouette of the beech tree in the yard.
At the sound of Sarah’s footfalls, Mrs S looked up. “Oh, good.”
Sarah gave her mother a heavy look. “Do I have time to make myself some tea?”
Mrs S flapped her hand. By the time Sarah joined them at the table with her cup, all three women were drawn over a single object, one blond head, one brunette, one grey. Three people but one entity.
Sarah shivered a little as she sat down.
“Oh, mint tea,” Siobhan said meaningfully, ruining the mood.
Rolling her eyes, Sarah asked, “What is it I’m helping with?”
They opened their ranks enough for her to see what they clustered around: a cell phone. It was cupped in Kendall’s hand; clearly they’d been trying to get her reading on it.
“This is the Detective’s,” Mrs S said. “Will you help us?”
Wearily, Sarah placed her hand on Kendall’s shoulder.
“No,” Mrs S said. “Not like that. We’re trying to figure out how to access his e-mail.”
“Oh.” She accepted the phone.
Sarah thumbed through the screens. It took no particular skill to open Art’s email. She handed it back.
The three psychics leaned in.
“Did you steal that?” Sarah asked.
There was no answer. Their necks were all craned, looking.
“Shall I light some orris? And celery?”
Kira blinked up, her black eyes a little far away. “Oh, yes, please.”
With a yawn, Sarah pushed up from the table and prepared a little plate of celery seed and orris root from the cabinet. She used one of the candles on the counter to light it. Or sort of light it. The mixture smoked and popped, the celery seeds twitching like popcorn and the orris root smelling of burning violets. The smoke of them was meant to clarify psychic impressions.
She set the plate down on the table between them. It had begun to smell a little like fireworks. “So why are you going through his phone?”
“We all knew he was looking for something,” Mrs S replied. “We just didn’t know what. Now we know what.”
Sarah said, “Me.”
Mrs S looked at her sharply.
“He doesn’t know it’s you,” Kendall said. “He calls it the Greywaren and says it’s to take things out of dreams. You’re going to have to be careful, Sarah. This could get messy.”
As if it hadn’t already been messy when Amelia was stabbed to death in their driveway. That part Sarah already knew.
“Do you think he’s dangerous?” Sarah remembered Felix’s face after he’d been threatened. “I mean, if he finds out that the Greywaren is me and not a thing?”
Kendall said, “Absolutely,” at the same time that Mrs S said, “Probably not.”
“I’ll take that as a maybe,” Sarah said.
At that moment, the phone leapt from the table surface. All four of them jumped. Sarah was the first to calm; it was only ringing. Or rather, buzzing and vibrating its way across the table.
“Write down the number!” Kendall called, but she must’ve been talking to herself, because she already was.
In a small voice, Kira said, “It’s a Henrietta number. Do you want to pick it up?”
Kendall shook her head. After a moment, a voicemail buzzed through. “That we’ll listen to, though. Uh. Sarah? Make it work?”
Shaking her head, Sarah swiped the phone and thumbed to the voicemail. She handed it to Mrs S.
“Oh,” Mrs S said, listening. “It’s him. Do I push this button to call him back —? Yes.” She waited as the phone rang and then — “Ah, hello, Art.”
Sarah loved that voice of her mother’s, except for when it was being used on her. It was her authoritative, cheerful voice, the one that said she had all of the cards. Only now she was using it on a hit man whose phone she had just stolen. Sarah couldn’t decide if this was delightfully cheeky or incredibly foolish.
“Well, you didn’t think I was going to answer a call on your phone, did you? That would be awfully rude. Oh, yes, you can have it back now. I’m sorry if you needed it. Did you — oh.”
Whatever the Detective had said immediately shut Mrs S up. She dropped her eyes from the others and sucked her upper lip between her teeth. She listened for a moment, swatting Kendall and Sarah back.
“Well,” she said finally. “Any time. I’d say that you should call first, but — well. You know. I have your phone. Ha. All right. Goodbye.”
Mrs S pressed end.
“What did he say?” Sarah demanded.
“That we might as well just ask him which valuables we wanted from him next so he could plan for their absence,” Mrs S said.
Kendall’s lips pursed. “Is that all?”
Mrs S moved the phone from her left hand to her right and back to her left. “That’s all.”
That night, Sarah dreamt of her tattoo.
She had gotten the spreading, intricate tattoo only months before, a little to irritate Mrs S, a little to see if it was really as bad as everyone said, and definitely so everyone who glimpsed the hooks of it had fair warning. She had dreamt of a tattoo gun that operated itself, and the opportunity had seemed too good to pass up. The tattoo was full of things from her head, beaks and claws and flowers and vines stuffed into screaming mouths.
It took her a long time to fall asleep that night, her thoughts crowded with the burning Lamborghini, Rachel holding the Molotov cocktail, the enigmatic language on the puzzle box, the dark bags beneath Alison’s eyes.
And when she fell asleep, she dreamt of the tattoo. Ordinarily, Sarah only saw bits and pieces of it; she had not seen the full design since she’d gotten Felix to draw it. But tonight she saw the tattoo itself, from behind, as if she was outside of her own body, as if it was apart from her body. It was more complicated than she remembered. Spiked vines were threaded through it, and Chainsaw peered out from a thicket of thorns. Rachel was in the dream, too; she traced the tangled pattern of the ink with her finger. She said, “Scio quid hoc est.”
I know what this is. As she traced it farther and farther down on the bare skin of Sarah’s back, Sarah herself disappeared entirely, and the tattoo got smaller and smaller. It was a Celtic knot the size of a wafer, and then Rachel, who had become Rudy, said, “Scio quid estis vos.”
I know what you are. He put the tattoo in his mouth and swallowed it.
Sarah woke with a start, ashamed and euphoric. The euphoria wore off long before the shame did. She was never sleeping again.
Chapter 30: Twenty-Nine
The next morning, Ira came in the helicopter for Rachel and Alison. As they took off, Alison leaned her head in her hands, her eyes glassily terrified, and Rachel, ordinarily a fan of flying, tried to be sympathetic. Her head was a tumble of burning cars and ancient Bugatti wheels and the deconstruction of everything Sarah had ever said to her.
Below, she could still see Cosima where she lay on the roof of the Camaro, watching them ascend. It felt ridiculous to leave Henrietta, the epicenter of the universe, for her parents’ house.
The rest of the flight left no time for introspection, however. Ira handed Rachel his phone and spent the entire flight dictating texts to her through the headphones. It was impossible for Rachel to consider what they’d do about Cabeswater when Ira’s voice sounded directly in her head: Tell her the centerpieces are in the garage. The bay farthest away from the house. Of course not where the Adenauer’s parked! Do I look like an idiot? Don’t type that. What does she say now? The extra champagne flutes are being delivered by Chelsea. Tell her if the cheese isn’t in the fridge, I don’t know where it is. Don’t you have Beech’s cell phone? Of course I know what a vegan is! Tell her they have to use olive oil instead of butter. Because cows make butter and Italians make olive oil! Fine! Tell her I will pick her up some vegan hors d’oeuvres. Vegans vote, too! Don’t type that.
If Rachel hadn’t already guessed the scope of the party, she would’ve gotten all the clues she needed during the flight. Of course, it wasn’t just the party this evening. There was also the tea party the next morning and the book club speech the day after that. Alison looked as if she might throw up. Rachel wanted badly to tell her that she would be all right, but there was no way to be confidential with the headsets on. Alison would’ve been mortified for Ira to know how nervous she was.
Just forty-five minutes later, Ira landed the helicopter at the airfield and transferred himself, his overnight bag, the girls, and their garment bags to his silver Audi.
Rachel felt vaguely shell-shocked to be back in Northern Virginia. Like she’d never left. The sun seemed more unforgiving on the backs of all the clean, new cars, and the air through the vents smelled like exhaust and someone else’s cooking. Numerous archipelagos of stores thrust through seas of asphalt. It seemed like there were brake lights everywhere but nothing was actually motionless. Questing for hors d’oeuvres, Ira managed to find parking at the very back of the Whole Foods lot. He swiveled to face Rachel and Alison. “Do you want to come in and help me?”
They stared at him.
“What a shock. I’ll leave it running,” he said. As soon as he’d shut the door, Rachel swiveled in the passenger seat to face Alison in the back, resting her cheek against the cool leather headrest. “How are you doing?”
Alison had melted across the length of the backseat. She said, “Praying I haven’t grown since last year.”
Rachel had gone with Alison to get fitted for a gown the winter before. She said, “I tried mine on before we left. I don’t think you’re any taller. It’s only been a few months.”
Alison closed her eyes.
“Don’t talk to me about it. I can’t . . .” Alison clamped a hand to her jaw. “Talk about something else.”
“What else is there to talk about?”
She didn’t say anything. Stop it, Rachel.
Alison said, “Leekie? Did he ever get back to you?”
He hadn’t. Rachel dialed Leekie’s number. She heard the tinny, double ring of a UK number, and then Leekie answered, “Yes?” He sounded confused that his phone had accepted a call. There was a tremendous amount of undefined background noise.
“It’s Rachel. Is this a bad time?”
“No, no, no. No, no.”
Putting the phone on speaker, Rachel slid it onto the dash. “Did you have any more thoughts by any chance? No? Well, we have a new problem.”
“What’s the trouble?”
She told him.
“Give me a moment to think,” Leekie said. Commotion hummed on the line. A dreadful shriek rang out.
“What in the world is that noise?”
“Birds, Rachel, the king of birds.”
Rachel exchanged a look with Alison. “An eagle?”
“Don’t be blasphemous. Pigeons! It’s the regional today. I used to show them myself, you know, don’t have the time these days, but I still love the look of a quality Voorburg Shield Cropper.”
Rachel said, “A Pigeon show.”
“If you could see them, Rachel!” On his end of the line, a loudspeaker blared.
Alison’s mouth quirked. Rachel prompted, “The Voorburg Shield Croppers.”
“There is so much more on offer here,” Leekie replied. “Much more than the Croppers.”
“Tell me what you’re looking at right now.”
Leekie smacked his lips — he was really the absolute worst human to speak to on the telephone— and considered. “I’m looking at, what does this seem to be? West of England Tumbler, I should think. Yes. Lovely example. You should see his muffs. Right next to him is a dreadful little Thuringen Field Pigeon. I’ve never had them but I’m quite certain they aren’t meant to have that hideous stallion neck. I have no idea what this one is. Let’s read the card. Anatolian Ringbeater. Of course. Oh, and here’s a German Beauty Homer.”
“Oh, those are my favorite,” Rachel said. “I am a fan of a good German Beauty Homer.”
“Rachel, don’t make light,” Leekie said sternly. “Those things look like damned puffins.”
Alison’s body shook in silent convulsions of laughter.
Rachel took a moment to catch her breath before asking, “And what’s that sound in the background?”
“Let me take a gander,” Leekie replied. There was a crackling sound, and then his voice, rather louder than before, said, “They’re auctioning off some birds.”
“What sort? Please tell me German Beauty Homers.”
Alison, completely undone, bit her hand. Small gasps still managed to escape.
“Pigmy Pouters,” Leekie replied. “Feisty ones!”
Rachel mouthed Sarah at Alison. Alison let out a little wail of helpless laughter.
“You never took me to any pigeon shows while I was there,” Rachel said lightly.
“We had other tasks at hand, Rachel!” Leekie said. “Just like now. This is what I think about your ley line. I think your forest is like an apparition, if I had to guess about these things. Without a solid source of energy, an apparition can only flicker.”
“But we woke the ley line,” replied Rachel. “It’s so strong sometimes that it blows out the transistors here.”
“Ah, but you said that the electricity goes out as well, did you not?”
Rachel grudgingly agreed. And now she was thinking of Beth vanishing in the Dollar City.
“So you see how your forest might be starved as well as overfed. Good heavens, man, would you watch where you’re carrying that thing!” There was a scuffle, and then Leekie said, “I apologize, Rachel. Some people! I should think you need to find out how to stabilize your line. The surges I’d expect, but certainly not the outages.”
“I’ve had quite a lot of ideas in just the last minute,” Leekie said. “I should like to see this line of yours. Are you opposed, one day…?”
“You’re welcome anytime,” Rachel said, and meant it. For all his faults, Leekie was still Rachel’s oldest ally.
“Excellent, excellent. Now, if you don’t mind,” Leekie said, “I have just spotted a pair of Shield Croppers.”
They exchanged good-byes. Rachel turned her eyes to Alison, who looked more like herself than she had in ages. She silently vowed to do whatever it took to keep her that way. “Well. I don’t know how helpful that was.”
Alison said, “We found out German Beauty Homers look like damned puffins.”
The very first thing Sarah did after Rachel left was retrieve the keys to the Bugatti. She had no immediate plan other than to see if they actually fit into the lock.
In the summer sun, the Bugatti glistened like a gem in the scrubby grass and gravel. Sarah lay a hand on the rear panel and slid her palm lightly up over the roof. Even that felt illicit; this car was so much Rachel’s that it seemed as if, somewhere, Rachel must be able to feel this minor transgression. When Sarah lifted her hand, it was dusted green. She was struck by the details of the moment. This was something she needed to remember, when she dreamt. This feeling right here: heart thudding, pollen sticky on her fingertips, July pricking sweat at her breastbone, the smell of gasoline and someone else’s charcoal grill. Every blade of grass was picked out in sharp detail. If Sarah could dream like this moment felt, she could take anything out. She could take this whole damn car out.
She put the key in the door.
She turned it.
The lock popped up.
A smile was working over her mouth, though there was no one to see it. Especially because there was no one to see it.
Sarah sank into the driver’s seat. The vinyl was infernally hot in the sun, but she just filed that information away. It was yet another sensation that made the moment real instead of a dream. Slowly, she ran a finger around the thin steering wheel, rested her palm on the slick gearshift.
Rachel’s heart would stop if she saw Sarah Manning right here. Unless the key didn’t work in the ignition.
Sarah put her feet on the clutch and brake, inserted the key, and turned it.
The engine roared to life.
Half an hour later, Beth let Sarah into Monmouth Incorporated. The sun had made the space vast and musty and lovely. The warm, trapped air was scented with old wood and mint and ten thousand pages about Glendower. Although Rachel had been gone only hours, it suddenly seemed longer, like this was all that was left of her.
“Where’s Cosima?” she whispered as Beth closed the door behind her.
“Still with her parents,” Beth whispered back. It was strange to be here without anyone else: speaking felt a little forbidden.
She hesitated by the door. It felt like trespassing without Rachel or Cosima here.
Beth held her hand out. Sarah accepted it — it was bone cold, as always — and together they turned to face the huge room. Beth took a deep breath as if they were preparing to explore the jungle instead of stepping deeper into Monmouth Incorporated.
It seemed bigger with just the two of them there. The stark ceiling soared, dust motes making mobiles overhead. They turned their heads sideways and read the titles of the books aloud. Sarah peered at Henrietta through the telescope. Beth daringly reattached one of the broken miniature roofs on Rachel’s scale town. They went through the fridge tucked in the bathroom. Sarah selected a soda. Beth took a plastic spoon. She chewed on it as Sarah fed Chainsaw a leftover hamburger. Beth showed Sarah her room. They jumped on her perfectly made bed and then they played a bad game of pool. Beth lounged on the new sofa while Sarah persuaded the old record player to play an LP too clever to interest either of them. They opened all of the drawers on the desk in the main room. One of Rachel’s EpiPens bounced against the interior of the topmost drawer as Sarah withdrew a fancy pen. She copied Rachel’s elegant handwriting onto a Bobby’s Bar receipt as Beth put on a preppy sweater she’d found balled under the desk. Sarah ate a mint leaf and breathed on Beth’s face.
Crouching, they crab-walked along the aerial printout Rachel had spread the length of the room. She’d jotted enigmatic notes to herself all along the margin of it. Some of them were coordinates. Some of them were explanations of topography. Some of them were simply phrases that seemed to have no meaning at all.
Finally, they regarded Rachel’s elegant four-poster bed, which stood behind walls that were really just two dozen panes of glass mortared together. It sat in a square of sunlight to the left of the room, turned at an angle as if it had been driven into the room. Without any particular discussion, they curled on top of the blanket, each taking one of Rachel’s pillows. It felt illicit and drowsy. Only inches away, Beth blinked sleepily at her. Sarah crumpled the edge of the sheet against her nose. It smelled like mint and wheatgrass, which was to say, like Rachel.
As they baked in the sunlight, she let herself think it: I have a crush on Rachel Duncan.
In a way, it was easier than pretending otherwise. She couldn’t do anything about it, of course, but letting herself think it was like popping a blister.
Beth, her voice muffled, said, “Sometimes I pretend I’m like her.”
She considered. “Alive.”
Sarah draped an arm over Beth’s cold neck. There wasn’t really anything to say to make being dead better.
For a few sleepy minutes, they were silent, nested in the pillows, and then Beth said, “I heard about how you won’t kiss Cosima.”
Sarah turned her face into the pillow, cheeks hot.
“Well, I don’t care,” Beth said. With quiet delight, she guessed, “She smells, right?”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “Don’t be an idiot. Ever since I was little, every psychic I know has told me that if I kiss my true love, she’ll die.”
Beth’s brow furrowed, or at least the half of it that wasn’t buried in pillow. Her nose was more crooked than Sarah had ever noticed. “Cosima’s your true love?”
“No,” Sarah said. She was startled by how quickly she had answered. “I mean, I don’t know. I just don’t kiss anybody, just to be on the safe side.”
Being dead made Beth more open-minded than most, so she didn’t bother with doubt. “Is it when or if?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, if you kiss your true love, she’ll die,” she said, “or is it when you kiss your true love, she’ll die?”
“I don’t get what the difference is.”
Beth rubbed the side of her face on the pillow. “Mmmmsoft,” she remarked, then added, “One’s your fault. The other one, you just happen to be there when it happens. Like, when you kiss her, POW, she gets hit by a car. Totally not your fault. You shouldn’t feel bad about that. It’s not your car.”
“I think it’s if. They all say if.”
“Bummer. So you’re never going to kiss anyone?”
“Looks that way.”
Beth rubbed the smudge on her cheek. It didn’t go away. It never did. She said, “I know somebody you could kiss.”
“Who?” She realized Beth’s eyes were amused. “Oh, wait.”
Beth shrugged. She was maybe the only person Sarah knew who could preserve the integrity of a shrug while lying down. “It’s not like you’re going to kill me. I mean, if you were curious.”
She hadn’t thought she was curious. It hadn’t been an option, after all. Not being able to kiss someone was a lot like being poor. She tried not to dwell on the things she couldn’t have.
But now —
“Okay,” she said.
“I said okay.”
Beth blushed. Or rather, because she was dead, she became normal colored. “Uh.” She propped herself on an elbow. “Well.”
Sarah unburied her face from the pillow. “Just, like —”
Beth leaned toward her. Sarah felt a thrill for a half a second. No, more like a quarter second. Because after that she felt the too-firm pucker of Beth’s tense lips. Her mouth mashed Sarah’s lips until it met teeth. The entire thing was at once slimy and ticklish and hilarious.
They both gasped an embarrassed laugh. Beth said, “Bah!” Sarah considered wiping her mouth, but felt like that would be rude. It was all fairly underwhelming.
She said, “Well.”
“Wait,” Beth replied, “Waitwaitwait.” She pulled one of Sarah’s hairs out of her mouth. “I wasn’t ready.”
She shook out her hands as if Sarah’s lips were a sporting event and cramping was a very real possibility.
“Go,” Sarah said.
This time they only got within a breath of each other’s lips when they both began to laugh. Sarah closed the distance and was rewarded with another kiss that felt a lot like kissing a dishwasher.
“I’m doing something wrong?” she suggested.
“Sometimes it’s better with tongue,” Beth replied dubiously.
They regarded each other.
Sarah squinted. “Are you sure you’ve done this before?”
“Hey!” she protested. “It’s weird for me, ’cause it’s you.”
“Well, it’s weird for me because it’s you.”
“We can stop.”
“Maybe we should.”
Beth pushed herself up farther on her elbow and gazed at the ceiling vaguely. Finally, she dropped her eyes back to Sarah. “You’ve seen, like, movies. Of kisses, right? Your lips need to be, like, wanting to be kissed.”
Sarah touched her mouth. “What are they doing now?”
“Like, bracing themselves.”
She pursed and unpursed her lips. She saw Beth’s point.
“So imagine one of those,” Beth suggested.
Sarah sighed and sifted through her memories until she found one that would do. It wasn’t a movie kiss, though. It was the kiss the dreaming tree had showed her in Cabeswater. Her first and only kiss with Rachel, right before she died. She thought about Rachel’s nice mouth when she smiled. About her pleasant eyes when she laughed. She closed her eyes.
Placing an elbow on the other side of her head, Beth leaned close and kissed her once more. This time, it was more of a thought than a feeling, a soft heat that began at her mouth and unfurled through the rest of her. One of her cold hands slid behind Sarah’s neck and she kissed her again, lips parted. It was not just a touch, an action. It was a simplification of both of them: They were no longer Beth Childs and Sarah Manning. They were now just two girls. Not even that. They were only the time that they held between them.
Oh, thought Sarah. So this is what I can’t have.
Not being able to kiss whoever she fell in love with didn’t feel so different than it felt to grow up without any blood relatives. It didn’t feel very different from knowing that she was bringing danger into the lives of her family, just by living with them. It didn’t feel very different from knowing that she was never going to be in control of her own life.
Which was to say that it was unbearable, but she had to bear it anyway.
Because there was nothing terrible about kissing Beth Childs, apart from her being cold. Sarah let Beth kiss her, and kissed her back until she pulled back on an elbow and clumsily wiped away some of Sarah’s tears with the heel of her fist. Her smudge had gotten very dark, and she was cold enough that Sarah shivered.
Sarah gave her a watery smile. “That was super nice.”
Beth shrugged, eyes doleful, shoulders curled in on themselves. She was fading. It wasn’t that Sarah could see through her. It was that it was hard to remember what Beth looked like, even while she was looking at her. When she turned her head, Sarah saw her swallow. Beth mumbled, “I’d ask you out, if I was alive.”
Nothing was fair.
“I’d say okay,” Sarah replied.
She only had time to see Beth smile faintly. And then she was gone.
Sarah rolled onto her back in the middle of the suddenly empty bed. Above her, the ceiling glowed with the summer sun. Sarah touched her mouth. It felt the same as it always did. Not at all like she had just gotten her first and last kiss.