Girl of Nightmares

Page 27


"But Aunt Riika, even if you're right, how can Cas talk to her? How can he find out what she wants?"

Her smile is broad and warm. Almost joyful. "You must make the music come in clearer," she says. "You must speak the language of her curse. The same way we Finns have always spoken to the dead. With a Lappish drum. Your grandfather will know where to find one."

"Can you help us do that?" I ask. "I'm assuming we need a Finnish witch for this."

"Thomas is more than witch enough," she replies, but he doesn't look too sure.

"I've never used one before," he says. "I wouldn't know where to start. It would be better if you did it. Please?"

Regret clouds Riika's features as she shakes her head. She can't seem to meet his eyes anymore and her breath sounds heavier, more strained. We should probably go. All these questions have to be taxing. And really, she's given us the answers and a good place to start. I lean back away from the table and catch a draft moving through the room; it makes me realize how cold my fingers and cheeks are.

Thomas is babbling, quietly sputtering reasons why it shouldn't be him to do the ritual, and how he wouldn't know a Lappish drum if it smacked him in the face, and that he'd probably wind up channeling the ghost of Elvis. But Riika keeps shaking her head.

It's getting colder. Or maybe it was cold when we came in. She might not have a good central heating system in such an old place. Or she just keeps the heat turned down to save money.

Finally, I hear Riika sigh. It isn't an exasperated sound. There's sadness in it. And resolve.

"Go and get my drum," she whispers. "It is in my bedroom. Hanging on the north wall." She nods toward the short hallway. I can see a sliver of what looks like the bathroom. The bedroom must be farther down. Something's wrong here. And it has to do with the way she looked at the athame.

"Thanks, Aunt Riika." Thomas grins and gets up from the table to go after the drum. When I see her pained expression, I suddenly know what it is.

"Thomas, don't," I say, and push myself away from the table. But I'm too late. When I get to the bedroom, he's already there, standing frozen halfway to the north wall. The drum hangs just where Riika said it would be, an oblong shape a foot wide and twice as long, animal hide stretched taut . Riika herself sits looking at it, motionless in her wooden rocking chair, her skin gray and leathery, her eyes sunken in and lips peeled back from her teeth. She's been dead for at least a year.

"Thomas," I whisper, and reach out to grab his arm. He jerks away with a cry and bolts. I curse under my breath and grab the drum off the wall, then go after him. On our way out of the house I notice how it has changed, covered in dust and spots of dirt, a corner of the couch gnawed away by rodents. Cobwebs hang in the corners and suspend down from the light fixtures. Thomas doesn't stop running until he's outside, in the yard. He's got his hands pressed against the sides of his head.

"Hey," I say gently. I have no idea what else to do, or what I should tell him. His hand comes up defensively and I back off. His breath comes in hitches and gasps. I think he's crying, and who can blame him? It's okay that he doesn't want me to see. I look back at the farmhouse. The trees around it are sparse, and there's nothing in the flower garden but hard-packed dirt. The white paint on the siding is so thin that it looks like it was done in a quick wash of watercolor, leaving the black boards to show through.

"I'm sorry, man," I say. "I should have known. There were signs." There were signs. I just missed them. Or misread them.

"It's okay," he says, and wipes his face with the back of his sleeve. "Riika would never hurt me. She'd never hurt anyone. I'm just surprised, that's all. I can't believe Morfran didn't tell me that she died."

"Maybe he didn't know either."

"Oh, he knew," Thomas says, nodding. He sniffs and grins at me. His eyes are a little red, but he's got it back together already. The kid is resilient. He starts back toward the Tempo and I follow.

"He knew," he says loudly. "He knew and he sent me here anyway. I'm going to kill him! I'm absolutely going to kill him."

"Take it easy," I say once we're inside the car, Thomas still muttering about Morfran's impending demise. He starts the engine, and pauses.

"No way. Don't you get it, Cas?" He looks at me disgustedly. "I ate the f**king gingersnaps."


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