Girl of Nightmares

Page 25


Thomas bounds up the steps like an eager hound. This must've been what he was like as a kid too, coming to see his Aunt Riika. I wonder why she and Morfran lost touch. When he knocks on the door, my heart holds its breath, not only because I want my answers, but also because I don't want to see the disappointed look on Thomas's face if Riika isn't home.

I don't have anything to worry about. She answers on the third knock. She's probably been at the window since we drove up. I can't imagine she gets many visitors way out here.

"Thomas Aldous Sabin! You've doubled in size!" She comes onto the porch and hugs him. While his face is pointed toward me I mouth "Aldous?" at him and try not to laugh.

"What on earth are you doing here?" Riika asks. She's a lot shorter than I expected, barely over five feet. Her hair is loose and dark blond, shot through with white. Lines crack through the soft skin of her cheeks and pinch in the corners of her eyes. The cable-knit sweater she wears looks about three sizes too big and there's support hose bunched around her shoes. Riika is no spring chicken. But when she claps Thomas on the back, he still jolts forward from the force of it.

"Aunt Riika, this is my friend Cas," he says, and like he gave her permission, she finally looks at me. I push my hair out of my eyes and flash the Boy Scout smile. "Morfran sent us for help," Thomas adds quietly.

Riika clucks her tongue, and as her cheeks pull in, I get the first glimpse of the witch she must be underneath the layers of floral print knit. When her eyes dart to my backpack, where the athame rests in its sheath, I have to fight the urge to back off the porch.

"I should have smelled it," she says softly. Her voice is like the pages of a very old book. She squints at my face. "The power coming off of this one." Her hand snakes into Thomas's and she pats it firmly. "Come inside."

* * *

The interior of the farmhouse smells like blended incense and old lady. And I don't think she's updated the décor since the 70s. Brown shag carpet stretches as far as the eye can see, beneath cluttered furniture: a rocking chair and long couch, both in green velour. A glass hurricane light fixture hangs over a yellow Formica table in the dining area. Riika leads us to the table and motions for us to sit down. The table itself is a mess of half-burnt candles and incense sticks. After we sit, she squirts some lotion onto her hands and rubs them together briskly .

"Your grandfather is well?" she asks, leaning forward onto her elbows and smiling at Thomas, one fist curled up against her chin.

"He's great. He says hello."

"Tell him I say hello too," she says. Her voice bothers me. The accent and timbre are too close to Malvina's. I can't help thinking it, even though the two women look nothing alike. Malvina, when I saw her, was younger than Riika, and her hair was a black braided bun, not a mass of butterscotch and marshmallows. Still, looking into Riika's face, images of Anna's murder aren't far behind. They flash up in my memory of the séance, Malvina dripping black wax onto Anna's white dress, soaked with blood.

"This is not easy for you," Riika says to me severely, which doesn't help. She reaches for a tin with cardinals painted on it and pries it open, offering the gingersnaps inside to Thomas, who grabs two handfuls. A wide smile spreads on her face as she watches him stuff a few into his mouth before looking back at me impatiently. Was I supposed to say something? Was that a question?

She clucks her tongue again. "You are a friend to Thomas?"

I nod.

"He's the best, Aunt Riika," Thomas affirms over crumbles of gingersnap. She smiles at him briefly.

"Then I will help you, if I can." She leans forward and lights three of the candles, seemingly at random. "Ask your questions."

I take a deep breath. Where do I start? There doesn't seem to be enough air in the room for me to explain the situation with Anna, how she came to be cursed, how she sacrificed herself for us, and now, why she can't possibly be haunting me for real.

Riika slaps me on the hand. Apparently I took too long. "Give," she says, and I turn it palm up. Her grip is gentle, but there's steel beneath her fingers as she squeezes my bones together and closes her eyes. I wonder if she was the one who helped Thomas develop his mind-reading talent, if such a thing can be taught or developed.

I glance at Thomas. He's paused in mid-chew, his eyes intent on our joined hands, like he might see electricity or smoke passing between us. This is taking forever. And I'm not really comfortable with all this touching. Something about Riika, maybe the power emanating off her, is almost making me sick to my stomach. Just when I'm ready to pull free, she opens her eyes and lets go with a brisk pat on the back of my hand.


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