Girl of Nightmares

Page 41


I don't know whether Thomas and Carmel were actually dating. She might get out of the cheating title on a technicality. But that's all it is. A technicality. Because she and I and everyone else know that Thomas is in love with her. And for the past six months, she's done a pretty good job of acting like she was in love with him too.

"I, uh, just need to be alone for awhile, okay, Cas?" He talks without looking at me. "I'm not going to drive my car off the falls or anything," he says, and tries to smile. "I just need to be alone."

"Thomas," I say. When I put my hand on his shoulder, he lifts his arm and gently knocks it away. I get it. "Okay, man," I say, and open my door. "Just give a shout if you need anything." I step out.

There should be more to say, something better that I could do. But the best I've got is to keep my eyes straight ahead and not look back.


The house is a sad sort of quiet. That's what I notice when I walk in. There's nothing inside of it with me, nothing living and nothing dead, and somehow that doesn't make it feel safe so much as insubstantial. The sounds it makes, the whisper and click of the front door closing and the creaks of the floorboards, are hollow and ordinary. Or maybe it just seems that way because I feel like I'm suspended mid train wreck. Things are being crushed around me and there doesn't seem to be any action to take. Thomas and Carmel are collapsing. Anna is being torn to shreds. And I can't do a damn thing about any of it.

I haven't said more than five words to my mom since we had our last argument about me tracking Anna into Hell, so when I pass by the kitchen window and see her in the backyard, seated cross-legged in front of the bedraggled choke cherry tree, I almost jump. She's in a breezy summer dress, and there are a few white candles lit around her, three that I can see. Smoke from something, maybe incense, drifts up above her head and disappears. I don't recognize this spell, so I go out the back door. Mom's spell work these days is mostly commercial. Only under special circumstances does she take the time to do anything personal. So help me, if she's trying to bind me to the house, or bind me from doing harm to myself, I'm moving out .

She doesn't say anything as I approach, doesn't even turn as my shadow falls over her. A photo of Anna rests against the base of the tree. It's the one from the newspaper that I tore out this fall. I always have it with me.

"Where did you get that?" I ask.

"I took it from your wallet this morning, before you left with Thomas," she replies. Her voice is sad and serene, still tinged with the spell she was just performing. At my sides, my hands go slack. I was ready to snatch the picture back, but all of the will just leaked out of my arms.

"What are you doing?"

"Praying," she says simply, and I sink down beside her in the grass. The flames sitting atop the candlewicks are small and so motionless they could be solid. The smoke that I saw rising above my mom's head came from a piece of amber resin, set on a flat stone, burning a quiet blue and green.

"Will it work?" I ask. "Will she feel it?"

"I don't know," she answers. "Maybe. Probably not, but I hope so. She's so far away. Past the limit."

I don't say anything. She's close enough to me, linked to me strongly enough to find her way back.

"We've got a lead," I say. "The athame. We might be able to use it."

"Use it how?" Her voice is clipped; she'd still rather not know.

"It might be able to open a door. Or it is the door. We might be able to open it." I shake my head. "Thomas explains it better. Well, actually, he doesn't."

My mom sighs, staring down at Anna's photo. In it she was a girl of sixteen, with dark brown hair and a white blouse, wearing a smile that isn't quite there.

"I know why you have to do this," Mom says finally. "But I can't bring myself to want you to. Do you understand?"

I nod. It's as good as I'm going to get, and really, more than I should ask for. She takes a deep breath and blows out all the candles at once without turning her head, which makes me smile. It's an old witch's parlor trick she did all the time when I was a kid. Then she snuffs out the amber resin and reaches for Anna's photo. She hands it back to me. As I put it back into my wallet, she pulls out a thin, white envelope that was tucked under her knee.

"This came for you in the mail today," she says. "From Gideon."


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