Sarah Manning had been told that she would kill her true love so many times that she’d stopped listening. Again and again, she had her fingers spread wide, her palm examined, her tea leaves scrutinized, or her cards plucked from velvet-edged decks. All the psychics living in her house came to the same conclusion, blunt and inexplicably specific. What they all agreed on, in various clairvoyant languages, was this:
If Sarah was to kiss her true love, she would die.
At fifteen, Sarah tried to dismiss the predictions with the reasoning that they were fuelled by whiskey rather than otherworldly insight. But she knew better.
Her foster-mother had predicted Sarah's suspension on the third day of school. Her grandmother Kendall had predicted Siobhan's tax return to within ten dollars, and Felix always started humming his favourite song a few minutes before it came on the radio.
No one in the house ever really doubted that Sarah was destined to kill her true love with a kiss. It was a threat, however, that had been around for so long that it had lost its force. Picturing a six-year-old Sarah in love was such a far off thing as to be imaginary.
And by sixteen, Sarah had decided she was never going to fall in love, so it didn't matter.
But that belief was challenged when her mother's ex-boyfriend Carlton came to their little town of Henrietta. Carlton had gotten famous for doing loudly what Mrs S did quietly. Siobhan's readings were done in her front room, mostly for Henrietta residents and the surrounding valley. Carlton, on the other hand, did his readings on television at five o'clock in the morning. He had a website featuring old soft-focus photographs of him staring unerringly at the viewer. Four books on the supernatural bore his name on the cover. Sarah had never met Carlton, so she knew more about him from a cursory web search than from personal experience.
Sarah wasn't sure why Carlton was coming to visit, but she knew that his imminent arrival spurred a flurry of whispered conversations between Siobhan and Kendall - the sort of conversations that trailed off into sipping tea and tapping pens on the table when Sarah walked into the room. But Sarah wasn't particularly concerned about Carlton's arrival; what was one more obscure contact of S's, after a long line of them?
Carlton finally arrived on a spring evening when the already long shadows of the mountains to the west seemed even longer than usual. When Mrs S opened the door for him, Sarah thought for a moment that Carlton was an unfamiliar old man, but then her eyes grew used to the stretched crimson light coming through the trees, and she saw that Carlton was just a bit younger than Mrs S, which was not so old at all.
Mrs S greeted him by saying, “You really showed up, you old rogue,” in a pleased kind of voice. Carlton grabbed her in a bear hug as he stepped through the door. When they broke apart, his eyes settled on Sarah.
"You're Siobhan's girl, aren’t you?" Carlton said, and before Sarah could answer, he added, "this is the year you'll fall in love."
It was freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrived. Every year, Sarah and her foster-mother had come to the same place, and every year it was chilly. But this year, without S here beside her, it felt colder.
It was April 24, St Mark’s Eve. Most of the living were unaware that St Mark even had a day named in his honour.
But the dead remembered.
As Sarah shoved discontentedly off the stone wall, she reasoned that at least, at the very least it wasn’t raining this year.
Every St Mark’s Eve, this was where Siobhan and Sarah drove: an isolated church so old that its name had been forgotten. The ruin was cupped in the densely wooded hills outside of Henrietta, still several miles from the mountains proper. Only the exterior walls remained; the roof and floors had long ago collapsed inside. What hadn’t rotted away was hidden under hungry vines and rancid-smelling saplings. The church was surrounded by a stone wall, broken only by a lych-gate just large enough for a coffin and its bearers. A stubborn path that seemed impervious to weeds led through to the old church door.
“Ah,” breathed Carlton, chubby but strangely elegant as he leaned beside Sarah against the wall. “Tonight is a night.” He chuckled under his breath.
Sarah felt her skin creep a little. She had sat watch with her foster-mother for the past ten St Mark’s Eves, but tonight felt different.
Tonight was a night.
This year, for the first time, and for reasons Sarah didn’t understand (but protested anyway), S had sent Carlton to do the church watch in her place.
Sarah opened and closed her chilly fists. The top edges of her fingerless gloves were fraying, and her cutoff-shorts-over-fishnets ensemble was doing a poor job of keeping her legs warm. She could have worn something more practical, but by the time that had occurred to her, Mrs S had already suggested it in a lightly scolding tone, so there was no way she could change without looking like she was backing down. Sarah would tough it out, with no one to notice her shivering but Carlton and the dead.
Sarah glanced at her phone. A few minutes until eleven. The old legends recommended the church watch be kept at midnight, but the dead kept poor time, especially when there wasn’t a moon.
Unlike Sarah, who didn’t tend towards patience, Carlton was a regal statue on the old church wall: hands folded, feet kicked back against the stone. Sarah, huddled, shorter and smaller, was a restless, sightless gargoyle. It wasn’t a night for her ordinary eyes. It was a night for seers and psychics, witches and mediums.
In other words, the rest of her family.
Out of the silence, Carlton asked, “Do you hear anything?” His eyes glittered in the black.
“No,” Sarah answered, because she didn’t. Then she wondered if Carlton had asked because Carlton did.
Carlton was looking at her with the same gaze that he wore in all of his photos on the website – the deliberately unnerving, cheerful stare of a man perpetually amused at a joke you weren’t in on.
“There’s a lot to hear,” Carlton said, smiling.
“I don’t hear things like that,” Sarah said, a little surprised Carlton wasn’t already aware. In Sarah’s intensely clairvoyant family, she was a fluke, an outsider to the vibrant conversation her mother and brother and grandmother held with a world hidden to most people. “I hear about as much of the conversation as this does.” She held up her mobile phone. “I just make things louder for everyone else.”
Carlton still hadn’t looked away. “So that’s why your Ma was so keen for you to come along. Does she have you at all her readings as well?”
Sarah shuddered at the thought, kicking at the withered grass to show her displeasure. She had had fights with S over refusing to join in on readings, but nowhere near as many as she could have had. Mrs S held back from trapping Sarah in the house with clients too often, lest she trigger an explosion.
“Only important ones,” she replied.
Carlton said, “It’s something to be proud of, you know. To make someone else’s psychic gift stronger is a rare and valuable thing.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t ask for it.”
Carlton nodded. “Few people do.”
Sarah tugged at a loose string on her glove.
“And you have plenty of time to grow into your own talents,” Carlton added.
Sarah didn’t reply. There were enough magic going on in her house already, as far as she was concerned.
Tracing an idle finger through the dirt on the stones between them, Carlton said, “I passed by a school on the way into town.”
His attempt at small talk, Sarah supposed.
He continued, “Aglionby Academy. Is that where you go?”
Sarah’s eyes widened with brittle humour. But of course Carlton, an outsider, wouldn’t know. Still, surely he could have guessed from the massive stone great hall and the parking lot full of German-designed cars that it wasn’t the sort of school they could afford.
“It’s a private school. For politician’s daughters and millionaires’ daughters and for –” Sarah struggled to think of who else might be rich enough to send their kids to Aglionby – “daughters of mistresses living off hush money. Trust fund kids.”
Carlton raised an eyebrow without looking up.
Sarah shrugged and snorted through her nose. He wouldn’t change her mind. April was a particularly bad time for the Aglionby girls; as it warmed up, the convertibles appeared, bearing girls in shorts so tacky that only the rich would dare to wear them. During the school week, they all wore the Aglionby uniform, plaid skirts in khaki and a V-neck sweater with a raven emblem. It was an easy way to identify the advancing army. Raven girls.
Sarah muttered, “I wouldn’t be caught dead near any of them.”
Aglionby Academy was the number one reason Sarah had developed her two mottos: One, stay away from rich girls, because they were trouble. And two, stay away from Aglionby girls, because they were bitches.
In the ambient light from the nearby full moon, Sarah caught sight of what Carlton had drawn in the dirt. She asked, “What is that? Kira’s been drawing that.”
“Has she?” Carlton asked. They studied the pattern. It was three curving, intersecting lines, making a long sort of triangle. “Did she say what it was?”
“It’s just in her drawings. I didn’t ask.”
“I dreamt it,” Carlton said, in a flat voice that sent an unpleasant tingle along the back of Sarah’s neck. “I wanted to see what it looked like drawn out.” He rubbed his palm through the pattern, then abruptly held up his hand.
He said, “I think they’re coming.”
This was why Sarah and Carlton were here. Every year, Mrs S leaned against this wall, staring at nothing, and recited names to Sarah. To Sarah, the churchyard remained empty, but to Siobhan, it was full of the dead. Not the currently dead, but the spirits of those who would die in the next twelve months. Sometimes her mother would recognise the spirits, but often she would have to lean forward to ask them their names. Mrs S had once explained that if Sarah wasn’t there, she couldn’t convince them to answer her – the dead couldn’t see Siobhan without Sarah’s presence.
Sarah found being needed without being able to see what was happening at once boring and frustrating.
“Can you see anything?” she asked. She gave her numb hands a bracing rub before picking up a notebook and pen from the wall.
Carlton was very still. “Something just touched my sleeve.”
Again, a shiver thrilled up Sarah’s arms. “One of them?”
In a husky voice, Carlton said, “The future dead have to follow the corpse road through the gate. This is probably another…spirit called by your energy. I didn’t realise what an effect you would have.”
Mrs S had never mentioned other dead people being attracted by Sarah. Maybe she hadn’t wanted to scare her.
Sarah became uncomfortably aware of the slightest breeze touching her face, ruffling Carlton’s loose shirt.
“Are they –” Sarah started.
“Who are you? Justyna Buzek,” Carlton interrupted. “What’s your name? Danielle Fournier. What’s your name? Jennifer Fitzsimmons.”
Scrawling quickly to catch up, Sarah printed the names phonetically as Carlton solicited them. Every so often, she lifted her eyes to the path, trying to glimpse – something. But as always, there was only the overgrown crabgrass, the barely visible oak trees. The black mouth of the church, accepting invisible spirits.
She held the notebook up to her face, close, so she could read it in the dark. It was like a roster of names popular seventy and eighty years before.
Somewhere outside of Sarah’s thoughts, Carlton’s tone became more emphatic.
“What’s your name? he asked. “Excuse me. What is your name?” Out of habit, Sarah followed Carlton’s gaze to the centre of the courtyard.
And she saw someone.
Sarah’s heart hammered like a fist to her breastbone. On the other side of the heartbeat, the figure was still there. Where there should have been nothing, there was a person.
“I see her,” Sarah said. “Carlton, I see her.”
Sarah had always imagined the procession of spirits to be a slow, disorderly thing, but this spirit walked on a direct path, as if drawn against her will. It was a young woman in a pleated skirt and a sweater, hair rumpled. She was not quite transparent, but she wasn’t quite there, either. Her figure was as murky as dark water, her face indistinct. There was no identifying feature to her apart from her youth.
She was so young – that was the hardest part to get used to. As Sarah watched, she paused and put her fingers to the side of her nose and her temple. It was such a strangely living gesture that Sarah felt a little sick. The girl looked defeated, shoulders bowed even though her spine was straight.
“Get her name,” Carlton said urgently. “She won’t answer me and I need to get the others!”
“Me?” Sarah replied, but she slid off the wall. Her heart was still ramming inside her ribcage. She asked, feeling a bit stupid, “What’s your name?”
The girl didn’t seem to hear her. Without a twitch of acknowledgement, she began to move again, steady and resigned, toward the church door.
As Carlton began to call out questions to the others, Sarah made her way towards the girl.
“Who are you?” she called from a safe distance, as the spirit dropped her forehead into her hands.
Her form had no outline at all, she saw now, and her face was truly featureless. There was nothing about her, really, that made her human shaped, but still, Sarah saw a girl. There was something telling her mind what she was, even if it wasn’t telling her eyes.
There was no thrill in seeing her. Sarah wasn’t even afraid, the way she might have expected. All she could think was, She’ll be dead within a year. How did S take it?
Sarah stole closer. She was close enough to touch the spirit as she began to walk again, but still the girl made no sign of seeing her. This near to her, Sarah’s hands were freezing. Her heart was freezing. Invisible spirits with no warmth of their own sucked at her energy, pulling goose bumps up her arms.
The young woman stood on the threshold of the church and Sarah knew, just knew, that if the girl stepped into that church, she would lose the chance to get her name.
“Please,” Sarah said, softer than before. She reached out a hand and touched the very edge of her not-there sweater. Cold flooded through her like dread. She tried to steady herself with what she’d been told: Spirits drew all their energy from their surroundings. All she was feeling was the ghost using her to stay visible.
She asked, “Just tell me your name?”
The girl faced her and Sarah realised with a shock that she wore an Aglionby sweater.
“Rachel,” she said crisply. Though her voice was quiet, it wasn’t a whisper. It was a real voice spoken from someplace almost too far away to hear.
Sarah couldn’t stop staring at her mussed hair, the suggestion of worried eyes, the raven on her sweater. Her shoulders were soaked, Sarah saw, and the rest of her clothing rain spattered, from a storm that hadn’t happened yet. This close, she could smell something minty that she wasn’t sure was unique to her or unique to spirits.
She was so real. When it finally happened, when Sarah finally saw her, it didn’t feel like magic at all. It felt like looking into the grave and seeing it look back at her.
“Is that all?” she whispered.
Rachel closed her eyes. “Duncan,” she said. “Rachel Duncan.”
She fell to her knees – a soundless gesture for a girl with no real body. One hand splayed in the dirt, fingers pressed to the ground. Sarah saw the blackness of the church more clearly than the curved shape of her shoulder.
“Carlton,” Sarah said. “Carlton, she’s – dying.”
Carlton had come to stand just behind her. He replied, “Not yet.”
Rachel was nearly gone now, fading into the church, or the church fading into her.
Sarah’s voice was breathier than she would have liked. “Why – why can I see her?”
Rachel had vanished entirely. Already Sarah felt warmth returning to her skin, but something behind her lungs felt icy. A dangerous, sucking sadness seemed to be opening up inside her: grief or regret.
Carlton put a hand to his face and rubbed at his scrubby beard. “There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St Mark’s Eve. Either you’re her true love,” Carlton said, “Or you killed her.”
“It’s me,” said Rachel.
She turned around so that she was facing her car. The Bugatti’s polished silver hood was up, more as a symbol of defeat than for any practical use. Cosima, far more hands-on and down-to-earth than Rachel, might have been able to determine what was wrong with it, but Rachel certainly couldn’t. She took a certain pride in being above matters such as this. Still, it was inconvenient to be stranded four feet off the interstate.
On the other end of the phone, her roommate Cosima Niehaus replied, “You missed World History. I thought you might’ve died.”
Rachel flipped her wrist around to examine her watch. She had missed a lot more than World History. It was eleven o’clock, and already the chilliness of last night seemed improbable. There was perspiration gathering between her wrist and the watch’s strap. Rachel had camped, once, when she was younger. It had involved cabins. Sleeping bags. An idling Range Rover parked nearby for when she and her mother lost interest. As an experience, it had not been anything like last night.
She said, “You did get notes for me, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Cosima replied. “Although I wasn’t sure if you’d need them. What’s up?”
“My car broke down. Come and pick me up.”
A sedan slowed as it passed, the occupants staring out the window. Rachel was not an unpleasant looking girl and the Bugatti was not too hard on the eyes either, but this attention had less to do with comeliness and more to do with the novelty of an Aglionby girl broken down by the side of the road in an impudently shiny car. Rachel was well aware that there was nothing that little Henrietta, Virginia preferred over seeing humiliating things happen to Aglionby girls, unless it was seeing humiliating things happen to their families. More than anything, Rachel hated to be an object of ridicule.
Cosima said, “Seriously?”
“It’s not as though you mind skipping class. Actually, it’ll be lunch break anyway.” Then she added, perfunctory, “Please.”
There was a pause, during which Rachel leaned into the car to see if she had any food in the glove box. There was nothing but a solitary EpiPen. Rachel abhorred mess.
“Where are you?” Cosima asked.
“Next to the Henrietta sign on 64. Bring provisions. And a few gallons of gas.” The car had not run out of gas, but it couldn’t hurt.
Cosima snorted into the phone. “Yes, sir,” she said, not unkindly.
“Bring Alison, too.”
“Got it.” Cosima hung up.
Rachel removed her Aglionby sweater and placed it in the back of the Bugatti. The back of the car was a tidy marriage of everyday things – a chemistry textbook, a half-filled notebook, a zipped-up CD binder – and the supplies she’d acquired during her eighteen months in Henrietta. Carefully-folded maps, computer printouts, ever-present journal, flashlight, willow stick. Rachel lifted a digital recorder from the pile.
All night she’d sat outside the sleekly modern Church of the Holy Redeemer, recorder running, ears straining, waiting for – something. The atmosphere had been less than magical. Possibly not the best place to try to make contact with the future dead, but Rachel had maintained high hopes for the power of St Mark’s Eve. It wasn’t that she’d expected to see the dead. All of the sources said that church watchers had to possess “the second sight” and while Rachel’s first sight was 20/20, she possessed nothing beyond that. She’d just hoped for –
Something. And that was what she had gotten. She just wasn’t quite sure what that something was yet.
The digital recorder in hand, Rachel settled herself precariously against the side of the Bugatti, keeping her skirt from brushing anywhere near the dusty tyres. Here at least the car shielded her from the buffeting of passing vehicles. On the other side of the guard rail, a greening field stretched out and down to the trees. Beyond it all rose the mysterious blue crest of the mountains. Rachel traced on her knee the arcing shape of the promised supernatural energy line that had led her here. As the mountain breeze rushed over her ears, it sounded like a hushed shout – not a whisper, but a loud cry from almost too far away to hear.
The thing was, Henrietta looked like a place where magic could happen. The valley seemed to whisper secrets. Rachel Duncan was a connoisseur of secrets. It was easier to believe that they wouldn’t give themselves up to Rachel rather than that they didn’t exist at all.
Please just tell me where you are.
Her chest hurt with the wanting of it, the hurt no less painful for being illogical, difficult to explain.
Cosima Niehaus’ bright orange Camaro pulled in behind the Bugatti, its normally glossy paint dusted green with pollen. When Rachel stood up straight, lifting her chin, Cosima was just opening her door. In the passenger seat was Alison Hendrix, the third member of the foursome that made up Rachel’s band of friends. The knot of Alison’s tie was obsessively neat above the collar of her sweater.
Cosima hefted a gas can from the trunk, making only a vague effort to keep the greasy container from contacting her clothing. Like Rachel, she wore the Aglionby uniform, but she always managed to make it look off-kilter – maybe something about the combination of dreads and plaid, or the way her shirt wasn’t quite tucked in.
Alison joined them and held out a cautious hand for the digital recorder. Rachel handed it over.
“You found something?”
Cosima was grappling with the gas can and its lid, but Rachel could tell that she was listening too.
She nodded. “Something. I recorded about four hours of audio and there’s – something. But I don’t know what it means.” She gestured to the recorder. “Go ahead.”
Turning to stare out over the interstate, Alison pressed PLAY. For a moment there was merely silence, broken only by icy-sounding shrills of crickets. Then, Rachel’s voice:
“Rachel,” it said.
There was a long pause. Rachel smoothed down the pleats on her skirt. It was still strange to hear herself on the recording, with no memory of saying the words.
Then, as if from very far away, another girl’s voice, the words hard to make out: “Is that all?”
Alison’s eyes darted to Rachel, wary.
Rachel lifted her finger: Wait. Murmured voices, quieter than before, hissed from the recorder, nothing clear about them except the cadence: questions and answers. And then her disembodied voice spoke out of the recorder again:
“Duncan. Rachel Duncan.”
Alison cast a glance back over to Rachel beside the car, doing what Rachel thought of as her smoker breath: long inhale through flared nostrils, slow exhale through parted lips.
Alison did not smoke. She preferred her habits with hangovers. She stopped the recording and Cosima put down the fuel can.
“Aren’t you going to ask me what was happening when I recorded that?”
Alison didn’t ask. She just kept looking at Rachel, which was the same thing.
“Nothing was happening. I was staring at a parking lot full of bugs that shouldn’t be alive when it’s this cold overnight, and there was nothing.”
Rachel hadn’t really been sure if she’d pick up anything in the parking lot, even if she was in the right place. According to the ley hunters she’d spoken to, the ley line sometimes transmitted voices across its length, throwing sounds hundreds of miles and dozens of years from when they’d first been heard. A sort of audio haunting, an unpredictable radio transmission where nearly anything on the ley line could be a receiver: a recorder, a stereo, a pair of well-tuned human ears. Lacking any psychic ability, Rachel had brought the recorder, as the noises were often only audible when played back. The strange thing in all this was not the other voices on the player. The strange thing was Rachel’s voice: Rachel was quite certain she was not a spirit.
“I didn’t say anything,” Rachel said, in case she hadn’t been clear enough. “All night long, I didn’t say anything. So what’s my voice doing on the recorder?”
“How did you know it was there?”
“I was listening to what I’d recorded while I was driving back. Nothing, nothing, nothing, and then: my voice. Then the Bugatti stopped.”
“Coincidence?” Cosima asked. “I think not.”
It was meant to be a joke. Rachel had said I don’t believe in coincidences so often that she no longer needed to.
Rachel asked, “Well, what do you think?”
“Holy grail, finally,” Cosima replied with light-hearted sarcasm.
But the fact was this: Rachel had spent the last four years working with the thinnest scraps of evidence possible and the barely heard voice was all the encouragement she needed. Her eighteen months in Henrietta had used some of the sketchiest scraps of all as she searched for a ley line – a perfectly straight, supernatural energy path that connected spiritual places – and the elusive tomb she hoped lay along its path. This was just an occupational hazard of looking for an invisible energy line. It was…well, invisible.
And possibly hypothetical, but Rachel refused to consider that notion. In seventeen years of life, she’d already found dozens of things people hadn’t known could be found, and she fully intended to add the ley line, the tomb, and the tomb’s royal occupant to that list of items.
A museum curator in New Mexico had once told Rachel, you have an uncanny knack for discovering oddities. An astonished Roman historian commented, you look under rocks no one else thinks to pick up, Miss. And a very old British professor had said, the world turns out its pockets for you, girl. The key, Rachel found, was that you had to believe that they existed; you had to realise that they were part of something bigger. Some secrets only gave themselves up to those who’d proven themselves worthy.
The way Rachel saw it was this: If you had a special knack for finding things, it meant that you were made to look.
“Hey, is that Ms. Cho?” Cosima asked.
A car had slowed considerably as it passed them, affording them a glimpse of its overly cautious driver. Rachel had to agree that the driver did look a lot like their resentful Latin teacher, an Aglionby alumnus by the name of Evie Cho.
“Don’t bother to stop and help,” Alison snapped after the retreating car.
Unlike Cosima, Alison’s Aglionby sweater was second-hand, but she’d taken great care to be certain it was impeccable. She was shorter than Rachel by an inch, with dark bangs cropped above finely-plucked eyebrows.
She offered a package to Rachel; a well-wrapped deli sandwich.
“Best I could do,” she said.
“Thank you,” Rachel said, trying to conceal how ravenously she wanted to snatch the food out of Alison’s hand. She turned away from the others to take a slow bite. The warmth of discovery was spreading through her now.
“So, pop quiz, Miss Hendrix. Three things that appear in the vicinity of ley lines?”
“Black dogs,” Alison obediently supplied. “Demonic presences.”
“Camaros,” Cosima inserted.
Rachel continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “And ghosts. Alison, queue up the evidence if you would.”
The three of them stood there in the late morning sun as Cosima screwed the fuel-tank lid back on and Alison rewound the player. Yards and yards away, over the mountains, a red-tailed hawk screamed thinly. Alison pressed play again and they listened to Rachel say her name into thin air. Alison frowned distantly, listening, the warm day reddening her cheeks.
It could have been any one of the mornings in the last year and a half. Rachel’s teachers would forgive her for missing class, then she and Cosima and Alison and Beth would order in and eat dinner together-alone, in their various rooms at home.
Cosima said, “Try the car, Rachel.”
Rachel turned the key. The engine turned over once, paused for the briefest of moments – and then purred into elegant life. The Bugatti was back to its old self, streamlined and perfect in its expensiveness.
Cosima leaned into the car. “We’ll follow you back to the school. It’ll get you back, but it’s not done yet,” she said. “There’s still something wrong with it.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Rachel demurred. “So, suggestions?”
Reaching into her pocket, Cosima retrieved a piece of paper and offered it to her.
“What’s this?” Rachel studied Cosima’s erratic handwriting. Her letters always looked like they were running from something. “A number for a psychic?”
“If you didn’t find anything last night, this was going to be next. Now you have something to ask them about.”
Rachel considered. Psychics tended to tell her she had money coming her way and that she was destined for great things. The first one she knew was always true and the second one she strongly hoped would be. But maybe with this new clue, with a new psychic, they’d have something else to say.
“Very well,” she agreed. “So, what am I asking them?”
Cosima handed her the digital recorder.
“That seems obvious,” she answered. “We find out who you were talking to.”
Mornings at 300 Fox Way could be fearful, jumbled things. Elbows in sides and lines for the bathroom and people snapping over tea bags placed into cups that already had tea bags in them. There was school for Sarah, Felix and Kira, work for Mrs S, and energetic bouts of early-morning grumbling for Kendall. Toast got burned, cereal went soggy, the refrigerator door hung open and expectant for minutes at a time. Keys jingled as car pools were hastily decided.
Partway through breakfast, the phone would begin to ring and Mrs S would say, “That’s the universe calling for you on line two, Felix,” or something like that. A year ago Felix had decided that a call-in psychic line would be a lucrative addition and, after some brief skirmishes with Mrs S about public image, Felix won. “Winning” involved Felix waiting until Siobhan was at a conference over a weekend to secretively set up the line, and it was not so much a sore spot as the memory of a sore spot. Calls started coming in around seven A.M., and some days a dollar a minute felt more worth it than others.
Mornings were a sport. But the day after the church watch, Sarah didn’t have to worry about battling for the bathroom or trying to make a bag lunch while Kira dropped toast butter-side down. When she woke up, her normally morning-bright bedroom had the breath-held dimness of early afternoon. In the next room over, Felix was talking to either his boyfriend or to one of the psychic hotline callers. With Felix, it was difficult to tell the difference between the two types of calls.
Sarah took over the bathroom uncontested, where she gave most of her attention to her hair. Ten minutes was enough to remove the worst of the tangles, and after that she gave up.
“S,” she called as she clomped down the crooked stairs. Siobhan was at the kitchen counter making a mess of some kind of loose tea. It smelled appalling.
Mrs S didn’t turn around. On the counter on either side of her were green drifts of loose herbs. “You don’t have to thud everywhere you go.”
Sarah shrugged and dropped herself into a chair. “You didn’t wake me up for school.”
“I did,” Mrs S said. “Twice.” Then, to herself, “Dammit.”
From the table, Carlton’s rumbling voice said, “You want a hand, S?”
He sat serenely at the table with a cup of tea, showing no sign of having lost any sleep the night before.
“I’ll manage,” Mrs S said wryly. “It’s just a meditation tea.” To Sarah, she added, “I told the school you had the flu, not that I think they’ll believe it.”
Sarah pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes. She’d never slept this long after the church watch before. Been tired, maybe, but never wiped out like last night.
“Was it because I saw her?” she asked Carlton, lowering her hands. She wished she couldn’t remember the girl so clearly. Or rather, the idea of her, her hand sprawled on the ground. She wished she could un-see it. “That why I slept so long?”
“It’s because you let fifteen bloody spirits walk through you while you chatted to a dead girl,” Mrs S replied tersely, before Carlton could speak. “From what I’ve heard, anyway. Jesus, is this what these leaves are supposed to smell like?”
Sarah crossed her arms and turned to Carlton. “That true?”
“You did let them draw energy from you,” Carlton replied. “You have quite a lot, but not that much.”
Sarah breathed out hard through her nose. It wasn’t as if she had intentionally allowed the spirits to draw power from her.
“You should teach her to protect herself,” Carlton told Mrs S.
“I have taught her some things. I’m not an entirely wretched guardian,” Siobhan said, handing Sarah a cup of tea.
Sarah said, “I’m not drinking this. It smells disgusting.” She plucked an apple from the nearly-empty fruit bowl instead. Then she added, in vague solidarity with Mrs S, “I’ve never had to protect myself at the church watch before.”
Carlton mused, “That’s surprising. You amplify energy fields so much, I’m surprised they don’t find you, even here.”
“Oh, stop that,” Mrs S chided. “There is nothing frightening about dead people.”
Sarah was still seeing Rachel’s ghostly posture, defeated and bewildered. She said, “Mum, the church-watch spirits – can you ever stop them from dying? Like, by warning them?”
The phone rang then. It shrilled twice and kept going, which meant Felix was still on the line with the other caller.
“Damn Felix,” Mrs S said, though Felix wasn’t around to hear it.
“I’ll get it,” Carlton said.
“Oh, but –” Mrs S didn’t finish what she was going to say. Sarah wondered if she was thinking that Carlton normally worked for a lot more than a dollar a minute.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Siobhan said, after Carlton had left the kitchen. “Most of them die from heart attacks and cancer – things that just can’t be helped. That girl is going to die.”
Sarah was beginning to feel a phantom of the sensation she’d felt before, that strange grief. “I don’t think an Aglionby girl will die from a heart attack. Why do you bother telling your clients?”
“So they can get their wills in order and do everything they want before they die.” Her mother turned then, fixing Sarah with a very knowing gaze. She looked as impressive as someone could look while wearing a flannel shirt and holding a mug of tea reeking of rotting soil.
“I’m not going to stop you from trying to warn her, Sarah. But you need to know she’s not going to believe you, even if you find her, and it’s probably not going to save her, even if she knows. You might keep her from doing something stupid. Or you might just ruin the last few months of her life.”
“Cheers,” Sarah snapped. But she knew S was right – at least about the first part. Most everyone who met her thought her foster-mother did parlour tricks for a living. What did Sarah think she would do – track down an Aglionby student, tap on the window of her Land Rover or Lexus, and warn her to have her brakes checked and her life-insurance policy updated?
“I probably can’t stop you from meeting her anyway,” Mrs S said. “I mean, if Carlton’s right about why you saw her. You’re fated to meet her.”
“Fate,” Sarah replied, glowering at her, “is a pretty heavy word to throw around before breakfast.”
“Everyone else,” said Mrs S, “had breakfast a long time ago.”
The stairs creaked as Carlton returned. “Wrong number,” he said. “Do you get many?”
“We’re one number off from a gentlemen escort company,” Siobhan replied.
“Ah,” Carlton said, grinning. “That explains it. Sarah,” he added, as he settled down at the table again, “if you’d like, I can try to see what killed her.”
This got both Siobhan’s and Sarah’s attention in a hurry.
“Yes,” Sarah said.
Mrs S started to reply, then merely pressed her lips together.
Carlton asked, “Do we have any grape juice?”
Puzzled, Sarah went to the fridge and held up a jug questioningly. “Will cran-grape do?”
Mrs S, her face still complicated, reached into the cupboard and drew out a dark blue salad bowl. She set it in front of Carlton, not gently.
“I won’t be responsible for anything you see,” she said.
Sarah asked, “What? What’s that supposed to mean?”
Neither of them answered.
With a soft smile on his face, Carlton poured the juice into the bowl until it reached the edge. Mrs S turned off the light switch. The outside suddenly seemed vivid in comparison to the dim kitchen. The April-bright trees pressed against the windows of the breakfast area, green leaf upon green leaf upon glass, and Sarah was suddenly very aware of being surrounded by trees, of having a sense of being in the middle of a still wood.
Carlton asked, “What was her name again?”
Carlton leaned over the bowl, his lips moving, his dark reflection moving slowly in the bowl. Sarah kept thinking of what Mrs S had said:
I won’t be responsible for anything that you see.
It made this thing they did seem bigger than it usually felt. Further away from a trick of nature and closer to a religion.
Finally, Carlton murmured something. Though Sarah couldn’t hear any particular meaning in the wordless sound, Mrs S looked abruptly relieved.
“What did you see?” Sarah asked. “How did she die?”
Carlton didn’t take his eyes off Mrs S. He was asking a question, somehow, at the same time he answered. “I saw her. And then she disappeared. Into absolutely nothing.”
Mrs S tilted her head.
“One moment she was there, and the next, she didn’t exist.”
“It happens,” Mrs S said. “Here in Henrietta. There’s some place – or places – that I can’t see. Other times, I see,” – and here she didn’t look at Sarah in such a way that Sarah noticed that she was trying very hard not to look at her – “things I wouldn’t expect.”
Carlton said, “You didn’t tell me about this before.”
“It didn’t seem relevant,” Mrs S replied.
“A place where young women disappear seems quite relevant. Your daughter’s skill also seems quite relevant.”
Carlton levelled his gaze at Mrs S, who pushed off the counter and turned away.
“I have work this afternoon,” Sarah said finally, when she realised that the conversation had perished.
“How late do you finish?”
“Seven. Well, probably later.”
Mrs S began unstacking dishes from the draining rack and Sarah pushed back her chair. “Okay, I’m out.”
Mrs S was quiet in that heavy way that was louder than talking. Sarah tossed her apple core into the trash can and turned to go upstairs for her shoes.
“Sarah,” Mrs S said, halting her. “I don’t have to tell you not to kiss anyone, right?”
Alison had been Rachel Duncan’s friend for eighteen months, and she knew that certain things came along with that relationship. Namely, believing in the supernatural, co-existing with Rachel’s other friends, and keeping to a certain level of discretion about Rachel’s activities.
The former two were problematic only when they conflicted with important events on her schedule, and the latter was only a problem when she was drunk.
Right now, Alison was opening the door to someone who was decidedly not a friend of Rachel’s.
“Thanks for hanging out with me,” Donnie said.
Really, the reason that Alison had agreed to Donnie coming over had nothing to do with kindness and everything to do with a nagging hunch. Lately, Alison had felt as if someone had been…looking in on their search for the ley line. It was a stare caught out of the corner of her eye, a set of scuffed footprints in the stairwell that didn’t seem to belong to any of the girls, a library clerk telling her an arcane text had been checked out by someone else right after she had returned it. She didn’t want to say anything to Rachel until she was certain, though.
It wasn’t that Alison wondered if Donnie was spying on them. She knew he was, but she believed that it had everything to do with Alison and nothing to do with the ley line. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to do a bit of observation.
Currently, Donnie was glancing around in the furtive way that was more noticeable for its furtiveness. 1136 Monmouth was a huge, intimidating office building, all towering glass and knife-sharp edges. A clue to the building’s original identity was engraved on the eastern side of the building: MONMOUTH INCORPORATED. But for all their research, neither Rachel nor Cosima had been able to determine exactly what Monmouth Inc. had done. Something that had required twenty-five foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. Something that the world no longer needed.
It had been bold of Alison to let Donnie come here to Rachel’s domain; Alison didn’t live here, after all. But she was such a regular inhabitant of the place that it seemed more natural than inviting him to sit awkwardly at her mother’s coffee table in the suburbs.
Donnie tipped his head back, back, back. The high ceiling soared above them, stark iron beams holding up the roof. Rachel’s converted apartment was a minimalist’s dream, clean lines and gleaming surfaces spread out before them. The walls that weren’t made of windows were covered with maps: the mountains of Virginia, of Wales, of Europe. Biro lines arced across each of them. Across the floor, a telescope peered at the western sky; on a shelf nearby were stored rows of arcane electronics meant to measure magnetic activity. And everywhere, there were books. Here was the only break in the tidiness – some were shelved, leather-bound and respectable, but many others were piled about for easy reference. Some of the books weren’t in English. Some of them were dictionaries to help translate those languages.
Alison felt the familiar pang. Not jealousy, just wanting. One day, she’d have enough money and independence to have a place like this. A place that looked on the outside like Alison looked on the inside.
A small voice within Alison asked whether she would ever look this grand on the inside, or if you had to be born somewhere far from suburban mediocrity to achieve that. Rachel was the way she was because she had lived with money when she was small, like a virtuoso placed at a piano bench as soon as she could sit. Alison, a latecomer, a usurper, still stumbled over her clumsy Henrietta accent and kept her change in a jam jar under her bed.
Rachel herself sat at a long desk with her back to them, gazing out an east-facing window and clicking her pen absently. Her journal lay open near her, the pages folded neatly to reveal columns of notes in careful print. Alison was struck, as she often was, by Rachel’s agelessness: a grown woman in a young body, or a teenage girl in a grown woman’s life.
Alison led the way over to Rachel, carefully side-stepping the miniature wooden replica of the town of Henrietta that lay in the middle of the room. Rachel had had it custom-made, and sometimes she spent her sleepless nights painting a wall here and there, colour spreading like a glacial sunrise over the sculpted buildings.
Alison stopped just beside Rachel. The area around her smelled strongly of mint from the leaf she swirled in the top of her cocktail glass. Alison had long ceased to think of this as a strange activity for a seventeen-year-old. None of the inhabitants of Monmouth Incorporated paid much attention to the legal drinking age – or other restricted-substance laws, come to think of it.
Rachel looked up from her musings. “Hello, Alison,” she said. “And Mr Chubbs.”
Donnie, looking disconcerted, replied, “Hi…”
As always, there was an imposing, business-like look to Rachel, coded in the sleek line of her hair, her pencil skirt and matching blazer, the way she folded her hands in front of her. Everything about her suggested power and disdain and a knowing smile.
Alison remembered finding her intimidating when they first met. There were two Rachels: the one who lived inside her skin, and the one Rachel put on in the morning when she slid her wallet into her bespoke handbag. The former was troubled and studious, with soft English vowels, and the latter bristled with latent power as she greeted people with the crisp, handsome accent of old money. It was rare that Alison could see both versions of Rachel at the same time.
“I didn’t hear you knock,” Rachel said unnecessarily.
Donnie craned his neck around again. “You’re Aglionby, right? This place is crazy. Why don’t you live on the school grounds?”
“Because I own this building,” Rachel said. “It’s a better investment than paying for dorm housing. You can’t sell your dorm after you’re done with school. And where did that money go? Nowhere.”
Rachel glanced at Alison. Her eyes didn’t linger, but still, Alison remembered the fray on the shoulder of her sweater.
Don’t pick at it. She’s not looking at it. No one else notices it.
With effort, Alison squared her shoulders and tried to inhabit the uniform as effortlessly as Rachel or Cosima.
Rachel closed her journal neatly and slid it into a draw. Rachel could talk at length about Owen Glendower and the legend of his lost tomb, but she preferred not to let strangers in on it, keeping the information close to her chest. Glendower was everything Rachel aimed to be: wise, knowledgeable and powerful, sure of his path, touched by the supernatural, respected by all, survived by his legacy. But Rachel did not often bring his name out into the light for casual acquaintances – that would be perilously close to revealing her haunting need to find him, the midnight calls to Alison when she couldn’t sleep for obsessing about her search. She did not like to bring up the microfiche and the museums, the newspaper features and the metal detectors, the frequent flier miles and the foreign language phrase books. Always, she left out the parts about magic and the ley line.
“Do you need anything?” Rachel asked Alison, a request and a dismissal. Alison shook her head and Rachel politely used her headphones to exit the conversation.
This was why Alison could forgive that shallow, glossy version of Rachel she’d first met. Because of her money and her good family name, because of her poised smile and her polished laugh, Rachel could’ve chosen anyone she wanted for her inner circle. But she had chosen the three of them, three girls who would likely never have spent time together if it wasn’t for Rachel. Outsiders like their classmates, outsiders like Donnie, were not invited into Rachel’s confidence. As much as Alison resented Rachel’s cold power at times, there was something thrilling about the exclusivity – the feeling of being in on a secret.
While Donnie was on his stomach examining the model town, Beth – Monmouth’s reclusive third resident – emerged from the meticulous room directly next to the office that Cosima had claimed as her bedroom.
Beth looked Donnie over and snorted at Alison in amusement. Donnie got up hurriedly and extended his hand.
“Oh! Your hand is cold.” Donnie cupped his fingers against his shirt to warm them.
“I’ve been dead for seven years,” Beth said. “That’s as warm as they get.”
Donnie chuckled, disconcerted again.
Beth, like Cosima, dressed far less neatly than Alison, but she looked very put together compared to Donnie. There was something recklessly out of place about her clothing, expensive but askew. Her untucked shirt always made Alison feel a little less like she stuck out. It was hard to feel like part of the Aglionby crowd when standing next to Rachel, whose crisp-as-George-Washington white collared shirt alone cost more than Alison’s entire wardrobe, or even Cosima, who casually doled out hundreds on tattoos.
Alison glanced up, distracted. Her mind had wandered from Donnie to the search for Glendower, a frequent place for her thoughts to go, like a tongue to a missing tooth. Rachel and Alison sought Glendower for different reasons. Rachel longed for him like Arthur longed for the grail, drawn by a desperate but nebulous need to find her purpose, to make sure her life meant something beyond champagne parties and white collars, by some complicated longing to settle an argument that waged deep inside herself.
Alison, on the other hand, needed that royal favour.
Beth was in it for the chase, the puzzle and the investigation that solved it piece by piece; Cosima’s reasons hinged on a healthy sense of wonder and her nearly-insatiable scientific curiosity, while Alison’s were more to do with the practical considerations of what could be gained by finding Glendower. In any case, Rachel never needed to check whether they were still with her. She knew they were. In three different ways, she’d earned them all days or weeks or months before, and when it came to it, they’d follow her anywhere.
Rachel had her journal out again now that Donnie had been removed to a safe distance, and Beth’s eyes followed Alison’s to her racing pen.
“Excelsior,” said Beth, and her voice had lost its mocking tone.
Evie Cho was feeling less than sprightly as she stumbled down the hall of Whitman house, the Aglionby admin building. It was five P.M., the school day well over, and she’d only left her town house in order to pick up homework that had to be graded for the next day.
“Evie, I thought you were out today. You look terrible. You sick?”
Evie didn’t immediately formulate an answer. For all intents and purposes, she was still out. The question asker was Janis Beckwith, the well-scrubbed eleventh- and twelfth-grade Science teacher.
Evie replied, “Chronically.”
Teaching Latin to Aglionby girls was punishment enough. Teaching it while her immune system tore itself to shreds was excruciating. Evie held up the grubby stack of handwritten homework assignments to explain her presence. Janis’ face shifted into a smile at the sight of the name written on the topmost paper.
“Oh, Rachel Duncan! One of my top students.”
Evie dropped her eyes to Miss Duncan’s elegant calligraphy. As she did, a few girls on their way to crew team practice crashed past, pushing her onto Janis. The students probably didn’t even realise they were being disrespectful; Evie was barely older than they were, and her face made her look younger. It was still easy to mistake her for one of the students.
The mere mention of Rachel Duncan’s name had scraped something raw inside Evie. Because it was never Rachel by herself, it was Rachel as part of the inseparable threesome: Rachel Duncan, Cosima Niehaus, and Alison Hendrix. All of the girls in her class were affluent, poised, arrogant, but Rachel Duncan, more than anyone else, reminded her of what she’d lost. It was the way she swept the other two along in her wake, the cold, private smiles that indicated that the space at her flanks was reserved for them, and everyone else better make way. It was exactly how Evie had been, back then.
The days of the school year blurred together for Evie, one long and unending day that began with Evie parking her crappy car next to the beautiful Aglionby cars, shouldering her way past laughing, thoughtless girls, standing in front of students who were glassy-eyed at best and derisive at worst. And at the end of the day Evie, alone and haunted, never, ever able to forget that she had once been one of them.
“You have her with Cosima Niehaus, don’t you? Those two are tight as ticks.”
It was a strange, old expression, one that Evie hadn’t heard since her own days at Aglionby, when she, too, had been tight as ticks with her roommate Childs. She felt a hollowness inside her, like she was hungry, like she should’ve stayed home and gotten drunk to commemorate this miserable day.
She swam back into the present, looking at the attendance sheet the substitute teacher had left. “Cosima was in class today, but Rachel wasn’t. Not in mine, anyway.”
“Oh, that’s probably because of that St Mark’s Day hoopla she was talking about,” Janis said.
This got Evie’s attention. No one knew that today was St Mark’s Day. No one celebrated St Mark’s Day, not even St Mark’s mother. Only Cho and Childs, treasure hunters and future-forgers, cared about its existence.
Evie said, “Pardon?”
“I don’t know what all’s going on,” Janis replied. One of the other teachers said hi to her on the way out of the staff room, and Janis looked over her shoulder to reply. Evie imagined grabbing Janis’s arm, forcing her attention back her way. It took all of her effort to wait instead. Turning back around, Janis seemed to sense Evie’s interest, because she added, “I overheard them, you see. I wasn’t eavesdropping. Just couldn’t help – ley lines, it’s such an odd phrase.”
If no one knew about St Mark’s Day, truly no one knew about ley lines. Certainly not one of Aglionby’s richest pupils. Definitely not in conjunction with St Mark’s Day. This was Evie’s quest, Evie’s treasure, Evie’s teen years. Why was Rachel Duncan talking about it?
With the words ley line spoken aloud, a memory was conjured: Evie beside the train tracks, perspiring. She was seventeen and shivering. Every time her heart beat, red lines streaked in the corners of her vision, the trees darkening with her pulse. Childs was on the tracks. Not dead, but about to be. In Evie’s head, unearthly voices hissed and whispered, words blurred and stretched together.
Evie was suddenly afraid that Janis could see the memory on her, could smell it on her shabby clothes.
Evie schooled her features, though what she was really thinking was: If someone else is looking here, I must have been right. It must be here.
“What did she say she was doing with the ley line?” she asked with studied calm.
“I don’t know. You’d have to ask her about it.” Janis looked over her shoulder as the secretary joined them in the hall, her bag on her arm, her jacket in her hand.
“We talking about snooty little Miss Duncan?” the secretary asked. Her eyeliner was smudged after a long day in the office. “Do you know how much the Duncans are worth? Man, sometimes these entitled little bitches make me want to slit my wrists. Janis, are you coming with me for a smoke break or not?”
“I quit,” said Janis. She cast a quick, uneasy glance from the secretary to Evie, and Evie knew she was thinking about how much Evie’s father had been worth, once upon a time, and how little he was worth now, long after the trials had left the front pages of the newspapers. All the junior faculty and the admin staff hated the Aglionby girls, hated them for what they had and what they stood for, and Evie knew they were all secretly pleased that she had fallen down among their ranks.
“How about you, Evie?” the secretary asked. Then she answered her own question: “No, you don’t smoke, you’re too pretty for that. Oh well, I’ll go myself.”
Janis turned to go as well.
Evie didn’t bother to tell them the real reason she couldn’t smoke even if she wanted to.
“Feel better,” Janis said over her shoulder.
“I think I already do,” said Evie.
It was possible that Childs’ death wasn’t for nothing after all.
Sarah didn’t like being a waitress, but she didn’t have much choice in the matter. She did have an informal position as a dog walker for the elderly ladies of their neighbourhood, but that didn’t exactly make her a lot of money.
There was one main problem with Bobby’s Bar, and it was that for all practical purposes, it belonged to Aglionby. The restaurant was six blocks over from the iron-gated Aglionby campus. It wasn’t the nicest place in Henrietta. But nowhere else had managed to grip the school’s imagination like Bobby’s Bar. Just to know that Bobby’s Bar was the place to be was a rite of passage; if you could be seduced by Morton’s Sports Bar on Third, you didn’t deserve to be in the inner circle.
So the Aglionby girls at Bobby’s Bar were not just Aglionby students, but they were the most Aglionby that the school had to offer. Stuck up, pushy, entitled.
Sarah had seen enough of the raven girls to last a lifetime.
Tonight, the music was at least loud enough to drown them out. She tied on her apron, tried to enjoy the Beastie Boys as best she could, and wiped the scowl off her face.
Close to the beginning of her shift, four girls came through the front door, letting a cold hiss of fresh air into the room that smelled of oregano and beer. In the window beside the girls, a neon light that said Since 1976 lit their faces a Limesicle green. The girl in front was talking on her cell phone even as she showed Bobby four fingers to indicate party size. Raven girls were good at multitasking, so long as all tasks were exclusively to benefit themselves.
As Bobby hurried by, her apron pocket stuffed with tickets to deliver, Sarah handed her four greasy menus.
Sarah asked, very unwilling, “Do you want me to take that table?”
“I’ve got it covered,” Bobby said, eyeing the four girls. Having finally ended her call, the first one slid into one of the orange vinyl booths. The one with bangs knocked her head on the green cut-glass light hanging over the table; the others laughed generously at her.
Sarah didn’t want them anyway.
What she wanted was a job that wouldn’t suck all the thoughts out of her head and replace them with the leering whine of a synthesizer. Or better yet, no job at all. Sometimes, Sarah would creep outside for a break, and as she lay her head back against the brick wall of the alley behind the restaurant, she’d think about running away. Somewhere. Anywhere.
But she always trudged back inside again. The manager signalled to Sarah from the kitchen. Tonight it was Bobby herself. Bobby’s Bar had about fifteen managers, all of them related to the owner and none of them in high school.
Bobby managed to both lounge and offer the phone at once. “Your mother. Uh, foster-mother.”
But there was no need to clarify, because Sarah’s birth mother was gone. Sarah tried not to picture it. She tried not to remember the blood on the driveway, the twist of horror in her gut, the blood on the driveway –
Sarah blinked away tears, fast.
Taking the phone from Bobby’s hand, she tucked herself back into the corner of the kitchen, next to a terminally-greasy fridge and a large-basined sink. Despite her care, she still got jostled every few minutes.
“S, I’m working.”
Mrs S replied, “She called. To schedule a reading.”
“Who? Talk louder. It’s noisy here.”
For a moment, Sarah didn’t understand. Then realisation tumbled down, weighting her feet. Her voice was a bit faint.
“When…did you schedule it for?”
“Tomorrow afternoon. It was the fastest I could get her in. I tried to get her in sooner, but she said she had school. Do you have a shift tomorrow?”
“I’ll change it,” Sarah said.
“Yes, you will. Now go work.”
As she hung up, she could feel her pulse jumping. It was real. She was real.
It was all true and terribly, terribly specific.
Something touched her shoulder. Touching was strictly against Sarah’s policy. No one was to touch her person while she was at Bobby’s Bar, and especially no one was to startle her.
She whirled. “Oi!”
Before her stood the multitasking cell phone Aglionby girl, looking tidy and presidential. Her watch looked as if it had cost more than Mrs S’ car, and every area of exposed skin was a flattering shade of tan. Sarah had never figured out how Aglionby girls managed to tan earlier than locals. It probably had something to do with things like spring break and places like Costa Rica and the Spanish coast.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” the girl said in an amused tone. Bitch.
Sarah said, annoyed, “Can I help you?”
“I certainly hope so,” she said, in a way that indicated less hope and more certainty. She spoke very clearly to be heard through the noise, and she had to incline her head to meet Sarah’s eyes. There was something annoyingly impressive about her, an impression that she was very tall, although she was no taller than most girls. “My socially inhibited friend Cosima thinks you’re…cute.” She said this in a way that indicated that her friend’s opinion was inexplicable to her. “…But she’s unwilling to make a move. Over there. With the dreadlocks.”
Sarah, largely against her will, glanced to the booth she pointed to. Three girls sat at it: one looked smudgy, rumpled and bored, the next prim and stiff-shouldered against the vinyl. And the third was – smiling, head ducked a little, covering her face out of either shyness or embarrassment. Her glasses glinted a reflection of the bottleglass light, dreadlocks swaying as she gave Sarah a small wave. One sharp incisor poked over her lip, a bump in her broad smile. It was…well, endearing, actually.
Despite her better instincts, Sarah felt a flutter of interest.
“So?” she asked.
“So, I’m asking you to come over and talk to her.”
Sarah used one microsecond of her time to imagine what that might be like, throwing herself at a booth of raven girls and wading through awkward, vaguely demeaning conversation. Despite the cute girl still looking at her, it was not a pleasant microsecond.
“What would I even have to talk to her about?”
Ms. President Cell Phone looked unconcerned. “We’ll think of something. We’re interesting people.”
Sarah doubted it. But the cute girl was rather cute. And she looked genuinely horrified that her friend was talking to Sarah. Sarah briefly considered telling Ms. President when her shift ended. But then Bobby called her name from the kitchen, and she snapped back to reality.
Sarah said, “I’m working. For a living.”
The unconcerned expression didn’t flag. She said, “I’ll take care of it.”
“How much do you make in an hour? I’ll take care of it. And I’ll speak to your manager.”
Sarah snorted. “Yeah, no thanks. I’m not your call girl.”
The Aglionby girl looked taken aback, and then her face settled back into her customary light amusement. It was definitely at Sarah’s expense. “That certainly wasn’t my intention.”
“Look,” Sarah said hotly, “don’t be a condescending bitch.”
In the background, she caught a glimpse of the rumpled girl making a plane of her hand. It was crashing and weaving towards the table surface while Bangs told her off. The cute girl held her palm over her face in exaggerated horror, fingers spread just enough that Sarah could see her wince.
“Good God,” said Cell Phone girl mildly. “I mustn’t take up any more of your precious time, then, I see.”
“Bye,” Sarah retorted, but it didn’t feel like a victory.
As President Uberbitch headed back to her table and picked up a slim leather journal, Rumpled Girl laughed and Sarah heard her mimic, ‘…don’t be a condescending bitch.’” Beside her, the girl with the dreads ducked her head. Her ears were bright pink.
Not for a hundred dollars, Sarah thought. Not for two hundred dollars.
But she had to confess she was a little undone by the blushing ears. It didn’t seem very…Aglionby. Did raven girls get embarrassed?
She’d stared a moment too long. The girl with the dreads looked up and caught her gaze. Her eyebrows were drawn together, remorseful rather than cruel, making Sarah doubt herself.
But then she flushed, hearing again Ms. President Uberbitch’s voice saying I’ll take care of it. Sarah shot her a foul look and whirled back toward the kitchen. Carlton had to be wrong. She’d never fall in love with one of them.
By the time Sarah made her slow way outside, weariness had extinguished her anxiety. She sucked in a huge breath of the cool night air. It didn’t seem possible that it was the same substance that filtered through the air-conditioning vents at Bobby’s Bar.
The chain was cold as Sarah unlocked her bike. Across the parking lot, muffled conversations faded in and out. Footsteps scuffed across the asphalt somewhere close behind her. Out here, something in the sharp air tugged at Sarah, the lure of away, anywhere, somewhere-not-here. Maybe she just needed more city and less horizon.
“Excuse me, um – hi.” The voice was soft and local; all the vowels had their edges sanded off. Sarah turned with a lukewarm expression. To her surprise, it was the girl with the dreadlocks. She was alone. One hand steadied her bike. Her uncertain posture didn’t quite track with the Aglionby sweater.
“Hey,” Sarah said.
“Um, awkward. I’m Cosima.” She gave Sarah a little wave.
“Yeah, your friend said.”
Cosima squinched up her eyes, a wince and a rueful acknowledgement.
“Yeah, I, uh, I wanted to say sorry. Rachel can be kind of, um…” she sighed heavily. “…Rachel. I didn’t, like, tell her to do that, by the way.”
Her hands moved as she spoke, illustrating her words, and she had to catch her bike mid-sentence as it wobbled unsupported. She blushed a bit at that; her smile was shy but quick to emerge. “I mean, I can’t let her take all the blame. I did think you were cute.”
Sarah pushed her hands into her pockets. “It wasn’t you,” she said. “It was – she wanted to pay me off.”
Cosima bobbed her head in acknowledgement. “I guess I could have saved us both a lot of trouble by coming up to talk to you in the first place. Other people’s ideas are always getting me into trouble.”
Sarah snorted. “Better than me. I’m always getting myself into trouble.”
Cosima laughed, body tilted forward, her eyes soft on Sarah’s face. Out of nowhere, Siobhan’s voice was in Sarah’s head. I don’t have to tell you not to kiss anyone, right?
Cosima said, “Can I…can I give you my number?”
“Uh, yeah. Go ahead.”
Sarah watched as Cosima keyed the number into her phone, her face lit by the bright square of the screen, bent close in concentration. She passed it over when she was done and said, “I’m glad I came back.”
Cosima waved again as she went, a farewell fluttering of her fingers, a sharp grin thrown over her shoulder.
She’s still a trust fund kid, Sarah reminded herself. A raven girl.
She jumped when the rear door of the restaurant cracked open. But it was only Bobby, her expression clearing when she saw her. In her hand was a slim leather-bound book that Sarah recognised. She’d seen it in Madame President’s hands.
Bobby asked, “Do you know who left this behind? Is it yours?”
Meeting her halfway across the lot, Sarah accepted the journal and flipped it open. A newspaper clipping was accompanied by margin notes (Luray Caverns a spiritual place? Crows = ravens?) and beneath it a neatly boxed list titled ‘Welsh Influenced Place Names Near Henrietta’.
“I didn’t really read it,” Bobby said. “I just wanted to see if there was a name in there to return it. But then I saw that it was – well, it’s your stuff.”
By this, she meant it was what she expected of a psychic’s kid.
“I think I know whose it is,” Sarah said. “I’ll take it, if you want.”
After Bobby had returned inside the restaurant, Sarah reopened the journal. Everything was neat, meticulously labelled and self-referential, circled and underlined in places, with occasional abbreviated notations in the margins. The obsessive organisation pointed to a quest that was, above all, important. It took Sarah a while of flicking back and forth to make sense of what the journal was about. There was a section on ley lines, invisible energy lines that connected spiritual places. There was a section on Owain Glendwyr, the Raven King. There was a section about sleeping knights who waited beneath mountains for discovery and new life. There was a section of strange stories about sacrificed kings and ancient water goddesses and all of the old things that ravens represented.
More than anything, the journal wanted. It wanted more than it could hold, more than it could describe, more than diagrams could illustrate. Longing shone from the pages, but it was chained down in long, elegant pen strokes, restrained and corralled into order. There was something painful and melancholy about it.
A familiar shape stood out from the diagrams. Three intersecting lines: a long, beaked triangle. It was the same shape Carlton had drawn in the graveyard dust. The same shape Kira scrawled over and over in her drawings.
It couldn’t be a coincidence.
Chapter 9: Eight
Chapter by sage-major (Cinza_Snicholls)
This chapter contains reference to an attempted suicide.
Rachel woke in the early hours of morning to the sound of her phone ringing. She found it on the bedside table and brought it close to her face to read the caller ID: LEEKIE, A. Now Rachel understood the bizarre timing of the call. Dr Aldous Leekie lived in Sussex, a five-hour time difference from Henrietta. Midnight in Virginia was five in the morning for Leekie-the-early-riser. Leekie was one of the prime authorities on British ley lines. He was either eighty or one hundred or two hundred years old and had written three books in the (very limited) field. They’d met the summer Rachel was splitting her time between Wales and London. Leekie had been the first one to take fifteen-year-old Rachel seriously, a favour which she would not soon forget.
“Rachel,” Leekie said warmly.
“Hello, Aldous,” Rachel replied.
He chattered to her for some time about the weather, his research, and the historical society’s last four meetings.
Then: “I found a very interesting textual source,” he said, “who suggested that the ley lines are dormant. Sleeping. Sound familiar?”
“Like Glendower,” Rachel observed. “So what does that mean?”
“It could explain why they’re so hard to dowse. If they’re still present but not active, the energy would be very faint and irregular.”
Rachel asked, “Did your source say anything about waking the ley lines? If Glendower can be woken, the ley lines could be too, surely?”
“That’s the thought.”
Rachel hummed discontentedly. “But all it takes to wake Glendower is discovery. People have been walking all over the ley lines for years.”
Leekie said proprietorially, “That’s where you’re mistaken, Rachel. The spirit roads are underground. Even if they weren’t always, they’re now covered by meters of dirt accumulated over the centuries.”
“Mm,” Rachel said thoughtfully. Leekie’s theory had the ring of plausibility, and really, that was all she needed. She wanted to start scouring her books for further support of this new idea, putting sleep schedules aside. She felt a stab of resentment at being a teenager, being tied to Aglionby; all the petty responsibilities beyond the one thing that really mattered. “So we go to them underground. Caves, perhaps?”
“Caves…” Leekie said. “Do you know how many people die in caves every year?”
Rachel replied that she was sure she didn’t.
“Safer to stay above ground,” Leekie advised. “No, this source was all about a ritual way to wake the spirit roads from the surface, letting the ley line know of your presence. You’d do a kind of, a symbolic laying on of hands there in Virginia.”
“Mm,” Rachel said again.
“Think how easy it would be to follow that spirit road to Glendower if it’s shouting loud instead of whispering. You find it, perform the ritual, follow it to your king.”
When Aldous said it, it sounded inevitable.
Follow it to your king.
Rachel closed her eyes to calm her pulse. She saw a dimly grey image of a king in repose, hands folded on his chest, a sword by his right side, a cup by his left. This slumbering figure was dizzyingly important to Rachel in a way she couldn’t begin to understand or shape. It was something more, something bigger, something that mattered.
“Now, the text was not quite clear on how to perform the ritual,” Leekie admitted. He rambled about the vagaries of historical documents, and Rachel paid little attention until he finished with, “I’m going to try it on the Lockyer road. I’ll let you know how it goes.”
“Excellent,” Rachel said. “I’ll await your call.”
“Give my regards to your mother.”
“I will. Goodbye, Aldous.”
Now Rachel felt infected by urgency; she needed to talk to someone before the unfinished feeling of the search ate her from the inside out. Cosima would be best, but the odds were good that Beth, who swung wildly between insomnia and hypersomnia, would already be awake.
She’d only made it halfway to Beth’s room before it struck her that it was empty. Standing in the dark doorway, Rachel said Beth’s name quietly, and then, when that got no response, sharply.
Beth’s room was not to be broached, but Rachel did it anyway. Putting her hand on the bed, she found it unmade and cool, the blankets thrown aside with the speed of Beth’s going. Rachel knocked hard on Cosima’s door while she dialled Beth’s number with the other hand. It rang twice before Beth’s voicemail said merely, “Beth Childs.”
Rachel cut off the recorded voice mid-word. Cosima emerged, blinking fuzzy-eyed behind her glasses. Her voice was low with sleep and confusion.
Rachel waited while Cosima pulled on a jacket and shoes. The little replica of Henrietta was eerie in the half-light, the die-cast cars parked on the streets appearing as though they had just paused. Rachel always thought that, after dark, it felt like anything might happen. At night, Henrietta felt like magic, and at night, magic felt like it might be a terrible thing.
Cosima re-emerged. “Did you call Alison?”
Rachel shook her head.
Six months ago, the only time it had ever mattered, Alison had found Beth with cold, cold skin and all her empty pill bottles, and so she was exempt from ever having to look again. Rachel was the one who had driven her to the hospital, but Alison had wheeled her in. It had been a long time ago, but also, it was no time at all.
Sometimes, Rachel felt like her life was made up of a dozen hours she could never forget.
They headed out into the greenish light of the chilly parking lot. Wherever Beth had gone, she’d gone on foot. The church, its spire illuminated by dusky yellow light, was within walking distance. So was Bobby’s Bar. So was the old bridge with the fast current rushing away beneath it.
Rachel started to walk. Her mind was logical, but her traitorous heart stuttered from beat to beat. She wasn’t naïve; she had carried no illusions that Beth was better – she was still a fundamentally damaged version of Beth Childs. But Rachel didn’t want to lose the Beth Childs she had now.
Despite the icy morning light, the entrance to St. Agnes lay in darkness. Shivering a bit, Cosima put her hand on the great iron ring that pulled open the church door, unsure if it would be unlocked. Rachel had only been to St. Agnes once, on Easter; this was more Alison’s territory. She was not at all sure that Beth would be inside, but then again, who could predict Beth?
Stepping through the black arch of the entrance, Rachel thought, Cosima is good at finding people. She hoped that Cosima was right about Beth.
The church enveloped Rachel in an incense-scented pocket of air, a rare enough smell that it instantly evoked half a dozen memories of family weddings, funerals, and christenings, every one of them in summer. How strange that a season should be held captive in one breath of trapped air.
“Beth?” the word was sucked into the empty space. It echoed off the unseeable ceiling far overhead so it was only her own voice, in the end, which answered her.
“It’s empty,” Cosima whispered. “Sorry, I chose wrong.”
“It’s alright,” Rachel said, with a calm she did not feel. “Where next?”
“The tracks are closest.”
Cosima led the way through thickets of looming trees, cutting across to the overgrown train track that looped the town, defunct but still only hesitantly reclaimed by nature. The shadows and uncertainty crushed Rachel’s ribs as small as a fist, her breathless lungs reminding her of yet another long-ago summer day, the afternoon she had realised there was such a thing as magic in the world.
Rachel thought, Not tonight. Please don’t let it be tonight.
And there Beth was, standing in her stockings on the wet grass, marooned. Her handbag lay lopsided on the ground, Beth’s shoes placed inexplicably beside it as Beth stared fixedly at the tracks where they glinted silver in the dawn light.
Please turn around, Rachel silently willed her. Beth’s shoulder shifted and her face turned. For a brief, unchained moment, Rachel had a sudden thought that they were too late and Beth was dead after all, and that her corpse turned now only because Rachel commanded it to. But then Beth’s eyes opened, and Rachel saw that she was crying, and the moment dissipated.
“Hey,” Cosima said softly. “Hey, Beth.” She shrugged off her coat and then went to Beth and draped it around her shoulders. Her arm stayed loosely latched around Beth’s waist, head leaning in to murmur. Rachel was still meters away, unable to access affection in the easy way Cosima did, hands useless at her sides.
“What’re you doing all the way out here?” Cosima asked gently, guiding Beth in Rachel’s direction.
“I…don’t remember,” Beth said, a tear dripping off the end of her nose. Cosima wiped another with her crocheted sleeve.
“We were worried about you,” Cosima said, but it was a comfort not a reproach, and her hand rubbed small circles on Beth’s back.
“It isn’t…like last time,” Beth said. “You guys don’t have to worry about me. I think I’m stuck here for good.”
“Don’t say it like that,” Rachel said. She added, like prodding at her own bruise, “…Please.”
“Okay,” Beth sighed. “Okay, yeah.”
Evie Cho was not sleeping.
Back when she was an Aglionby student, sleep had come easily – and why shouldn’t it have? Like Childs and the rest of her classmates, she slept two or four or six hours on weekdays, up late, up early, and then performed marathon sleeping sessions on the weekend. And when she did sleep, it was hours of easy, dreamless sleep. No – she knew that was untrue. Everyone dreamed, only some forgot.
But now, her autoimmune disorder had reared its ugly head once more, and she rarely managed to close her eyes for more than a few hours at a stretch. She rolled in her bedsheets. She nodded off on her leather couch, the only piece of furniture the government hadn’t seized. Her sleep pattern seemed dictated by something larger and more powerful than herself, ebbing and flowing like an uneven tide. In her mind, she imagined that it was the magnetic pulse of the ley line itself, somehow invited into her body through Childs’ death.
Sleep deprivation made her life an imaginary thing, her days a ribbon floating aimlessly in water.
For the first time in years, Evie retrieved her old county maps from her tiny hall closet. She had no table, so she spread them out across the countertop.
Evie stood back and crossed her arms, studying the dozens of marks and notations she’d made on the maps over the course of her search. Childs’ handwriting noted energy levels along the possible path of the ley line. Back then, it had been a game, a treasure hunt. A play for glory. Evie was Aglionby’s most promising student and the heiress to a dynasty; the world was her oyster.
Were the legends true? It didn’t matter. It was an expensive exercise in strategy with the East Coast as the playing field. Looking for patterns, Evie had painstakingly drawn circles around areas of interest on one of the topographical maps. A circle around an old copse of ash trees where the energy levels were always high. A circle around a ruined church that wildlife seemed to avoid. A circle around the place where Childs had died.
Of course, she had drawn the circle before Childs had died. The place, a cross-section of ancient oaks and modern industry, had been notable because of old words carved into one of the tree trunks. Latin. It seemed incomplete, difficult to translate, and Evie’s best guess was “the second road”. The energy levels were promising there, though, if inconsistent. Surely this, then, was on the ley line.
Childs and Cho had returned a half-dozen times, taking readings (next to the circle, there were six different numbers in Childs’ handwriting), digging in the dirt for possible artefacts, watching overnight for signs of supernatural activity. Evie had constructed her most complicated and sensitive dowsing rod yet, two metal wires bent at a ninety-degree angle and inserted into a metal tube handle so that they could swing freely. They’d dowsed the area around it, trying to establish for certain the path of the line.
But it remained spotty, coming in and out of focus like a distant radio station. The lines needed to be woken, to have their frequencies honed, the volume turned up. Childs and Cho made plans to attempt the ritual beside the oak grove. They weren’t quite sure of the process, though. All Evie could find out was that the line loved reciprocity and sacrifice, but that was frustratingly vague. No other information presented itself, so they kept pushing it off. Over winter break. Spring break. End of the school year.
Then Evie’s mother had called and told Evie that her father had been arrested for unethical business practices and income tax evasion. It turned out the company had been trading with war criminals, a fact her mother knew and Evie had guessed, and the FBI had been watching for years. Overnight, the Chos had lost everything.
It was in the papers the next day, the catastrophic crash of the Cho family fortune. Both of Evie’s boyfriends left her. Well, the second one was technically Childs’, so perhaps that didn’t count. The whole thing was all very public. The favoured daughter of the Virginia elite, heir to the Cho fortune, suddenly evicted from her Aglionby dorm, relieved of her social life, freed from any hope of her Ivy League future, watching her car being loaded onto a truck and her room emptied of speakers and furniture.
The last time Evie had looked at this map had been as she stood in her dorm room, realizing that the only thing she had left was the ten-dollar bill in her pocket. None of her credit cards meant anything anymore.
Childs had pulled up in her black Jaguar. She hadn’t gotten out of the car.
“Does this make you a hobo now?” she’d asked. Childs didn’t really have a sense of humour. She just sometimes said things that happened to be funny. Evie, standing in the wreckage of her life, didn’t laugh this time.
The ley line wasn’t a game anymore.
“Unlock your door,” Evie had told her. “We’re doing the ritual.”
One hour and twenty-three minutes before Sarah’s alarm was supposed to go off for school, she was woken by the front door closing. Grey dawn light filtered in her bedroom window, making diffuse shadows of the leaves pressed against the glass. She lay there and resented her lost one hour and twenty-three minutes of sleep.
Footsteps started up the staircase. Sarah caught the sound of her foster-mother’s voice.
“…was up waiting for you.”
“Some things are better done at night.” This was Carlton. “Henrietta is quite a place, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t ask you to look at Henrietta,” Mrs S replied, in a stage whisper. She sounded – protective.
“It’s difficult not to. It shouts,” Carlton said. His next words were lost in the sound of a creaking stair.
Siobhan’s reply was obscured as she, too, started to climb the stairs, but it sounded like, “I would prefer if you left Sarah out of this.”
Sarah went very still.
Carlton said, “I’m only telling you what I’m finding. If he vanished at the same time that…possible they’re linked. Do you not want her to know?”
Another stair groaned.
Mrs S snapped, “I don’t see how that would be easier for anyone.”
Carlton murmured a reply.
“This is already getting out of hand,” Mrs S said. “It was barely more than typing his name into a search engine, and now…”
It was possible, Sarah thought, that Mrs S meant her husband, John Sadler. None of the awkward conversations Sarah and Felix had attempted with their foster-mother had ever gotten them any information about where he had gone.
Somewhere in the depths of the house, a door closed, and then there was once more the sort of night-silence that is hard to disturb. After a long moment, Sarah reached over to the plastic bin that served as her nightstand and retrieved the journal. She rested a hand on the cool leather cover. The surface of it felt like the cool, smooth bark of the beech tree behind the house.
Sarah didn’t mean to fall asleep, but she did, for another hour and twelve minutes. It wasn’t her alarm that woke her this time, either. It was a single thought shouted in her brain:
Today is the day Rachel Duncan comes for her reading.
At first, Sarah couldn’t move. Which meant –
As feeling came back to her fingers, Sarah slowly brought her free hand to join the one that held, cupped in her palm, a tiny baby raven. I’ve done it again.
Sarah delayed going downstairs for as long as she could. She put the little raven in a nest of blankets while she pulled on her jeans. She stopped before scooping it back up, to reread one of the quotes she had skimmed in the journal.
The king sleeps still, under a mountain, and around him is assembled his warriors and his herds and his riches. By his right hand is his cup, filled with possibility. On his breast nestles his sword, waiting, too, to wake. Fortunate is the soul who finds the king and is brave enough to call him to wakefulness, for the king will grant him a favour, as wondrous as can be imagined by a mortal man.
She closed the pages. A favour. If she had a favour, what would she ask? To bring Amelia back? To know what to do with Kira? To know why she could do the things she could?
The thought rang through her brain again:
Today is the day Rachel Duncan comes for her reading.
What will she be like?
Maybe, if she was standing before that sleeping king, she should ask the king to save this stranger’s life.
“Sarah, I hope you’re awake!” Felix yelled from downstairs. Sarah needed to leave soon if she was going to make the bike trip to school on time. In a few weeks, it would be an uncomfortably hot ride.
Possibly, she would ask the sleeping king for a car. She could dream one, probably, but Mrs S would skin her alive.
I wish I could just cut class today.
Sarah dreaded school. It felt like…a holding pattern. It wasn’t as if she was friendless; it hadn’t taken her very long to discover that there were plenty of other kids who didn’t want to be there. But still, school was a chore, and Sarah remained secretly hopeful that, somewhere out there in the world, there were other people like her – or at least someone who could explain all the ways that Sarah was odd.
It was possible, she thought, that Cosima was also odd.
“SARAH!” Felix bellowed again. “SCHOOL.”
With the journal in one hand and the raven held tight to her chest, Sarah headed toward the red-painted door at the end of the hall. On her way, she had to pass the frenzy of activity in the Phone/Sewing/Tea Room and the furious battle for the bathroom. The room behind the red door belonged to Kira. The door was ajar, but still, Sarah knocked softly. Kira was a poor but energetic sleeper; her midnight mumbling and nocturnal leg-paddling meant that she never had to share a room. Somehow, though, she was always up before Sarah, and sure enough, she was sitting on the bed fully-dressed, brushing her hair. When pressed, people often remembered Kira’s hair: a long, wavy mane that fell to the back of her thighs. If they got past her hair, they were unsettled by her eyes, which had an extraordinarily ageless quality, and often seemed to be looking at something no one else in the room could see.
“Hey, Monkey,” Sarah said softly.
“Morning,” Kira said, entirely too cheerful for the early hour. She patted the bedcovers. Most of the bed was covered with drawings and spelling practise sheets, but Sarah found a place to lean her butt on the edge.
“You sleep okay?” Sarah asked.
“Yeah,” Kira said, putting down her hairbrush. She took up a pencil in her child’s grip instead.
“What are you working on?”
Kira tilted her paper up so Sarah could see it. She’d just written the word three three times, in three different handwritings, in purple pencil.
“Important things come in threes?” Sarah suggested. It was one of Mrs S’s favourite sayings.
“Yeah,” Kira said, laying the paper aside.
“Sarah!” Mrs S shouted up. “Are you gone yet?”
Sarah didn’t reply. She didn’t want to yell while in the room with Kira, and she also didn’t want Mrs S to follow her voice and come find her. Instead, she said, “I found something. If I show it to you, will you promise not to tell anyone about it?”
Kira nodded agreeably.
When Sarah handed over the journal, Kira asked, “Do I open it?”
Sarah flapped a hand. Yeah, quickly. She fidgeted back and forth on the bed while Kira paged through, her face curious.
Finally, Sarah asked, “What do you think?”
“It’s very nice,” Kira said politely.
“It’s not mine.”
Kira said, “I know.”
“It was left behind at Bo – wait, how do you know?”
Kira paged back and forth. “You wouldn’t write this much.”
“Oi,” Sarah said, and Kira giggled.
“It’s taking them forever to find this thing,” Kira added. “You would have already found it.”
“SARAH,” yelled Kendall. “I’M NOT BLOODY SHOUTING AGAIN!”
“What should I do with it?”
“Well,” Kira said, “Find out whose it is.”
Sarah’s shoulders sagged. It was a relentlessly proper answer, and one that she might have expected from Kendall or Mrs S.
Kira gave her that wise, ageless look. She added, “And then, find out if it’s true.”
Sarah didn’t reply, because Kendall trundled into Kira’s room and shepherded them both out, saying, “Get a move on, then!”
Sarah took a piece of toast from Felix’s abandoned plate for her breakfast, snatched up her black satchel, and turned to find Mrs S staring at her.
“What?” she said.
Mrs S pointed to the dark bundle in Sarah’s right hand. “Is that a bird?”
“She’s a raven,” Sarah said. Then she added, defensively, “It was an accident.”
Felix popped back into the room at the scent of trouble.
Mrs S said, “What if I implement a no-pets policy?”
Felix said mischievously, “You can’t just throw out Kendall like that.”
Mrs S threw a pillow at his head. Sarah snorted as he ducked behind the couch. When Mrs S swung back around, Sarah held the tiny foundling up for her to inspect, featherless mouth still a baby’s smile, wings still days and nights and days away from flight.
Mrs S sighed. “We will discuss this in the car,” she said finally. “You’re both so late that I’ll have to drive you, but don’t think I’ll be making a habit of this.”
Felix emerged from his hiding place and told Sarah, “For someone so irresponsible, you really do dream up a lot of responsibilities.”
Sarah was promptly kicked out of Geography for having a school bag that screamed. She carried it out to the quadrangle gingerly, careful not to jolt it around too much.
“Whatcha got there?” Tony Sawicki was huddled by the wall of the administrative building, scratching something into the brick with a coin, but he abandoned the project and sidled over to inspect her cargo.
Tony shook his head. “Kicked out. You?”
“Same.” Sarah put her bag down and excavated the raven. “Because of this little bastard.”
“Whoa,” Tony said, leaning in to peer at the baby bird. She hunched down in Sarah’s hands, becoming all beak and body, no neck. Tony patted her head with one finger. “What’s its name?”
Tony grinned, sharp-toothed. “Sick.”
“I should just give you away,” Sarah said to Chainsaw. Already the raven looked up at her, beak cracked hopefully, dependent. “She has to be fed every two hours,” Sarah complained.
“How do you know?”
“The Internet, idiot.”
He grinned at her again. “Where did it come from?”
“I found it,” Sarah said. Tony was a fellow scoundrel and therefore trustworthy on most counts, but there were some things that she couldn’t tell anyone at all.
“In my head,” Sarah said, deadpan, and Tony laughed with his head back.
“Dangerous place,” he commented.
Sarah snorted. “Don’t I know it.”
Of all the places Rachel had attended boarding school – and she’d attended many in her four years of underage wandering – Aglionby Academy was her mother’s favourite, which meant it was most likely to land its student body in the Ivy League. Or the Senate. It also meant that it was the most difficult school Rachel had ever been to. Before Henrietta, she’d made her search for Glendower her primary activity, and school had been a distant second. Rachel was clever, and she was good at studying if nothing else, so she had kept abreast of things admirably even when she hadn’t really been trying. But at Aglionby, there were no failing grades. If you dropped below a B average, you were asked to leave. And Susan Duncan had let her know that if she couldn’t hack it in a private school, Rachel was cut out of the will.
She said it nicely, though, over a plate of fettucine.
So today Rachel worked double-time to make up for missing school the day before. She barely looked up until third period, which she shared with both Alison and Cosima. Latin was a class that Rachel studied for with some enjoyment, because it was both necessary and useful. She’d originally taken Latin in order to be able to translate historical texts for Glendower research; she was top of the class now. Cosima’s understanding of the language was clumsier but more intuitive, so Rachel could almost have justified switching to French, if she had wanted to. Alison, on the other hand, lagged behind them both, no matter how joylessly and relentlessly she studied. The irony was that Alison needed those top marks more than either of her friends; her scholarship depended on it. Rachel could have dropped the class to allow Alison to be bumped up to second in the class, but she enjoyed it too much. Besides, she supposed competition was healthy, as her mother had always said.
The three of them took their usual seats at the front of the navy-carpeted classroom. At the front of the room, Ms. Cho was writing verbs on the board.
When they had come in, Ms. Cho had stopped writing mid-word: internec –
Though there was no reason to think Evie Cho cared about their conversation, Rachel had the strange idea that the lifted piece of chalk in Ms. Cho’s hand was because of them, that the Latin teacher had stopped writing merely to listen in. Alison’s paranoia really was beginning to rub off on her.
Ms. Cho was often overly…combative in her approach to teaching, but Rachel, for her part, usually relished the chance to shoot her classmates down over a verbal joust with Latin phrases. Today, though, she was distracted, and Ms. Cho continually shot questions at her, like she sensed the weakness and wanted to pry at it while she had the chance. Rachel found herself snapping out answers instead of delivering them with her usual cool disdain, and it bothered her. School was a ball-and-chain, a bothersome delay keeping her from consulting the psychic until she was freed from its halls. This morning her quest didn’t feel like magic, it felt like years spent piecing together coincidences, and all she had made from it was a strange cloth – too heavy to carry, too light to do any good at all. Her elder brother Ira had accused her of escapism, and maybe he was right. Rachel had been overseas, she remembered, when her mother had left them.
Susan Duncan had decided, for some reason, that her teenage children were too much responsibility. Heaven knew why, since Rachel was almost never at home and Ira had always been a tiny bureaucrat, ironing his own slacks since he was eight or nine. Or maybe it was Ethan Duncan who was too much for her, with his bouts of forgetfulness and half-finished projects, his wandering mind. Either way, she had been missing without explanation for three days before a chance meeting with a friend (and Susan’s inability to make satisfactory small talk) had reminded her of the shame she would be bringing to the family name, the scandal and the inevitable gossip. So she had come back to her mansion and to her husband, and it was fully expected that none of them would ever mention it again. Rachel followed the strict code of silence.
But she never forgot.
“S, why’s Carlton here?” Sarah asked. Like her foster-mother, she was standing on the kitchen table. The moment she’d come back from school, Mrs S had enlisted her help with changing the bulbs in the badly designed stained-glass creation that hung over the table. The complicated process required at least three hands and tended to be left until most of the bulbs had burned out. Sarah had given the obligatory grumble, but she didn’t mind helping. She needed something to keep her mind off the looming appointment. And off Cosima’s number in her phone. When she thought about Cosima giving it to her the night before, she felt weightless and uncertain.
“I invited him,” Mrs S said. She savagely gripped the fixture’s chain as she wrestled with a stubborn bulb.
“You invited him to come and go in the middle of the night?”
Mrs S shot Sarah a dark look. “You were born with larger ears than I remember. He’s just helping me look for something while he’s here.”
The front door opened. Neither of them thought anything of it, as both Kira and Kendall were about the house somewhere. Kira was less likely, as she’d been told not to open the door to strangers or go wandering outside without company, but Kendall slipped out every so often for a cigarette.
Adjusting her grip on the stained glass, Sarah asked, “What sort of something?”
“What sort of something?”
“A someone,” Mrs S said finally.
But before Siobhan had a chance to reply, they heard an unfamiliar voice:
“That is a strange way to run a business.”
They both turned slowly. Sarah’s arms had been lifted for so long they felt rubbery when she lowered them. The owner of the voice stood in the doorway to the front hall, surveying them. She was not old, maybe mid-twenties, with impressive cheekbones. She was Asian, neatly dressed, and her hair was cut in a sleek bob.
Mrs S glanced at Sarah, an eyebrow lifted. Sarah lifted one shoulder in response. It didn’t seem like she was here to murder them or steal any portable electronics.
“And that,” Siobhan said, releasing the beleaguered light fixture, “is a strange way to enter someone’s home.”
“I’m sorry,” the young woman said, in a tone that suggested she wasn’t really. “There is a sign out the front saying this is a place of business.”
There was indeed a sign out front, hand-painted – though Sarah didn’t know by whose hand – that read PSYCHIC. And, beneath that:
“By appointment only,” Mrs S told the woman.
The woman said, “Well then, I’d like to make an appointment.”
A voice from the doorway to the stairs made all three of them turn.
“We could do a triple reading,” Kendall said. She stood at the base of the stairs, small and hunched and becardiganed.
The woman tilted her head with a small, polite smile. “What is that?”
Sarah jumped off the table, the impact of her boots rattling the glasses in the cabinet. Mrs S climbed down more sedately. She was, after all, holding a box of lightbulbs.
Siobhan explained, “It’s when three of us – Kira, Kendall and I – read your cards at the same time and compare our interpretations. She doesn’t offer that to just anyone, you know.”
The woman inclined her head. “Alright,” she said. Sarah noticed that she had a small scar on her cheek, then looked away quickly as the woman’s eyes flicked in her direction.
Mrs S set down the lightbulbs and said, “Sarah, would you get Kira, please?”
There was no need, however, because Kira had heard her name and poked her little head around the door.
Mrs S eyed Sarah, asking a question with her expression. Sarah shrugged an agreement.
“My daughter, Sarah, will be in the room, if you don’t mind. She makes the reading clearer.”
With a disinterested glance at Sarah, the woman gave her assent.
Kendall asked, “What’s your name, then?”
“I’d prefer to leave this anonymous,” the woman said smoothly.
Annoyed, Kendall said, “We’re psychics, not strippers.”
Sarah suppressed a snort, but the woman showed no reaction.
“We’ll be discreet,” Mrs S promised. She gestured for them to follow her. In the reading room, the woman looked around with clinical interest. Her gaze passed over the candles, the potted plants, the incense burners, the rustic table and its doilies.
Kira wriggled onto the couch, taking her deck of cards from the pocket of her overalls.
Mrs S said, in a kind voice, “Have a seat,” and Kendall said, in an unkind one, “What is it you want to know?”
The woman perched on an armchair and crossed her ankles. “I’d rather not say,” she said. “Perhaps you’ll tell me.”
Kendall rolled her eyes. “ ‘Perhaps!’ ”
Mrs S slid her deck of cards across the table to the woman and told her to shuffle them. She did so, with proficiency and little self-consciousness. When she was done, Kira and Kendall did the same.
“You’ve been to a reading before,” Mrs S noted.
The woman merely made a small noise of assent. Sarah could see she thought that any information would let them fake the reading. Still, Sarah didn’t think she was a sceptic. She was merely sceptical of them.
Mrs S slid her deck back from the woman. She’d had her deck for as long as Sarah had been paying attention, and the edges were fuzzy with handling. They were a standard tarot deck, only as impressive as she made them. She selected ten cards and laid them out. Kendall did the same with her slightly crisper deck – she’d replaced them a few years ago after an unfortunate incident made her lose her taste for her previous deck. The room was quiet enough to hear the rustle of their cards against the uneven, pocked surface of the reading table.
Kira held her brightly-coloured cards up, her small hands giving the illusion that the cards were giant. She gazed at the woman silently for a moment. Finally, she contributed only two cards, one at the beginning of the spread and one at the end.
Now that the cards were laid out, Kendall, Siobhan and Kira studied the shape of them. Sarah struggled to see over their huddled heads. She tried to ignore the fact that, this close to the stranger, she had the overpowering chemical scent of a cheap perfume.
Kendall was the first to speak. She flipped the three of swords around for the woman to look at. On her card, the three swords stabbed into a dark, bleeding heart. “You’ve lost someone close to you.”
The woman looked down at her hands. “I have lost…” she started, then considered before finishing, “…many things.”
Kendall pursed her lips. One of Siobhan’s eyebrows edged towards her hair. They darted glances at each other. Sarah knew them both well enough to interpret the looks. Mrs S’s asked, What do you think? Kendall’s said, This is off. Kira’s said nothing, but she glanced over her shoulder at Sarah.
Mrs S touched the edge of the five of pentacles. “Money’s a concern,” she noted. On her card, a man with a crutch limped through snow beneath a stained-glass window while a woman held a shawl beneath her chin.
The woman’s gaze was unflinching. “My parents,” she said, “had considerable resources. My father was implicated in a business scandal. Now they’re divorced and there is no money left. Not for me.”
It was a strangely unpleasant way to put it. Relentlessly factual.
Mrs S wiped her palms on her jeans. She gestured to another card. “And now you’re in a tedious job. It’s something you’re good at but tired of.”
The stranger’s lips were thin with the truth of it.
Kira touched the first card she had drawn. The knight of pentacles. An armoured man surveyed a field from the back of a horse, a coin in his hand. Sarah thought if she looked closely at the coin, she could see a shape in it. Three curving lines, a long, beaked triangle. The shape from the churchyard, from Kira’s drawings, from the journal.
But no, when she looked harder, it was just a faintly drawn, five-pointed star. The pentacle for which the card was named.
Kira finally spoke. In her small, unconcerned voice, she told the woman, “You’re looking for something.”
The woman’s head jerked towards her. Kendall’s card, beside Kira’s, was also the knight of pentacles. It was unusual for two decks to agree exactly. Even stranger was to see that Siobhan’s card was also the knight of pentacles. Three cold-eyed knights surveyed the land before them, one dull, one bright, one shadowy.
Kendall said bitterly, “You’re willing to do whatever it takes to find it. You’ve been working for years.”
“Yes,” the woman snapped, surprising them all. “But how much longer? When will I find it?”
Three generations scanned the cards, looking for an answer to her question. Sarah looked, too, if only for something to do. She might not have had the sight, but she knew what the cards were supposed to mean. Her attention moved from the Tower, which meant the woman’s life was about to change dramatically, to the last card in the reading, the page of wands. Sarah glanced at her frowning foster-mother. It wasn’t that the page of wands was a negative card; in fact, it was the card Mrs S always said she thought represented Sarah when she was doing a reading for herself.
You’re the page of wands, Mrs S had told her once. Full of potential, but prone to recklessness. Look, she even looks like you.
And there was not just one page of wands in this reading. Like the knight of pentacles, it was tripled. Three young people holding up stout weapons, all wearing Sarah’s face. Mrs S’s expression was troubled.
Sarah’s skin prickled. Suddenly, she felt there was no end to the fates she was tied to. Rachel Duncan, Cosima, that unseeable place in Carlton’s scrying bowl, this strange woman sitting opposite her. Her pulse raced.
Mrs S stood up. “I think that’ll be all for today,” she said brusquely. “The reading’s done.”
Kira’s gaze wandered up to Mrs S’s face, bewildered, and Kendall looked confused but delighted at having an ally in her dislike of their visitor.
“Excuse me?” the woman asked. “The other cards –”
“You heard her,” Kendall said bluntly. Sarah didn’t know if Kendall was also uneasy, or if she was just backing Mrs S up.
“It’s time for you to leave,” Mrs S said. Then, with an obvious attempt at solicitude, “Thank you. Goodbye.”
Kendall moved aside for Siobhan to stride over to the door. She opened it pointedly.
Rising to her feet, the woman said, “I’m insulted.”
Mrs S didn’t reply. As soon as she was clear of the doorway, Mrs S closed and latched the door behind her.
Kira had moved to the window. She drew the curtains aside and leaned her forehead against the glass to watch her leave.
Mrs S paced back and forth beside the table. Sarah thought of asking a question, stopped, then started again.
Kendall said, “What a stuck-up young lady.”
Kira let the curtains drift shut. “I memorised her license plate number,” she offered, and Sarah went over to scoop her up.
“I hope she never finds what she’s looking for,” Mrs S said.
Retrieving her two cards from the table, Kira said, a little regretfully, “She’s trying very hard. I think she’ll find something.”
Mrs S turned to her. “Kira – no, both of you,” she said, “if you ever see that woman again, you just walk the other way.”
“No,” Kendall corrected. “Kick one of those pointy heels out from under ‘er. Then run the other way.”
Ira called right as Rachel was unlocking the door to Monmouth Incorporated. She had to balance her phone between shoulder and cheek as she negotiated the door, answering rather tersely as a result.
“When is Mother’s birthday?” Ira asked. Rachel was simultaneously pleased to hear his voice and annoyed to be bothered with something so trivial. For the most part, Rachel and her brother got on well enough; Duncan siblings were a rare and complicated species, and they didn’t have to pretend to be something they weren’t around each other.
“You’re the wedding planner,” Rachel said, lowering her satchel to the floor and stepping aside so Cosima and Alison could follow her in. “Shouldn’t dates be your realm of expertise?”
“That means you don’t remember,” Ira said primly. “And I’m not a wedding planner anymore. Well. It’s part-time.”
Ira did not need to be anything. He didn’t have careers, he had hobbies that involved other people’s lives.
“Of course I remember,” Rachel said. “It’s May tenth.”
Cosima had disappeared into her room to change; the phone call meant that Rachel wasn’t going to have time to do the same.
“Father said one of your strange New Age books was delivered to the house yesterday. Are you coming home anytime soon?”
“I’m not sure,” Rachel said. Somehow seeing her parents always reminded her of how little she’d accomplished, how similar she and Ira were, how purposeless her life was without her quest. She didn’t want to grow up to be her mother. “Maybe for Mother’s birthday. I have to go. I have an appointment.”
Ira said petulantly, “Do you really?”
“Goodbye, Ira,” Rachel said.
Of course, Rachel Duncan was perfectly on time for her reading. Two minutes before she was due to arrive, Felix called from the front room, “There’s a Bugatti in front of the house, and it matches my nails!”
Sarah wasn’t sure what that meant, apart from: shiny. She couldn’t remember what colour polish Felix was wearing today, since he changed it so often.
“Well, here we go,” Mrs S said, putting down the potato she had been peeling. Kendall appeared beside her, exchanging a wary look with her daughter.
Sarah’s stomach dropped to her feet. The doorbell rang.
“You ready?” Felix asked her.
Rachel Duncan was the person she either killed or fell in love with. Or both. There was no being ready.
Mrs S opened the door. There were three girls in the doorway, backlit by the evening sun as Carlton had been so many weeks ago.
“Good evening,” said the girl in front, with the slashed bob haircut. The scent of mint rolled in with her, just as it had in the churchyard. “I assume you’re ready for us.”
Sarah knew that voice.
Cosima had said Rachel a couple of times, but Sarah had assumed that it was a different Rachel – maybe even a ‘Rachael’ – not Rachel Duncan.
She banged her hipbone into the stair rail stepping backwards as Madame President Uberbitch stepped into the hallway. Chainsaw squawked in alarm, almost unseated from her perch on Sarah’s shoulder.
Not her. All this time she’d been wondering how Rachel Duncan might die and it turned out Sarah was going to strangle her. At Bobby’s Bar the blare of the music had drowned out the finer points of her voice and the odour of garlic had overwhelmed the scent of mint.
But now that she put two and two together, it seemed obvious.
In their hallway, Rachel looked slightly less presidential, but only because the heat had made her messily roll up the sleeves of her button-up shirt and remove her tie. Her bleached blonde hair was not mussed, though, in the way that the Virginia heat normally managed. A smile played about her lips in a way that said I have never been poor, my father has never been poor, and neither has my father’s father, or my mother’s father, or my mother’s mother, or anyone I have ever known. Sarah couldn’t tell if Rachel was actually good-looking or just very, very rich. Maybe they were the same thing.
Rachel Duncan. This was Rachel Duncan.
And that meant the journal belonged to her.
That meant Cosima belonged to her.
“Come into the reading room,” Mrs S said. “Can I get some names?”
Because of course Madame Uberbitch had brought most of her posse from Bobby’s Bar, everyone but the smudgy girl. They filled the hallway to overflowing, somehow, the three of them. They were a pack of sleek animals armoured with their watches and their Top-Siders and the expensive cut of their uniforms. Even Rachel’s lip gloss somehow cut at Sarah.
“Rachel Duncan,” she said, reaching out to shake Siobhan’s hand. “This is Cosima, and Alison.”
“Siobhan Sadler,” Mrs S offered politely. “This is my daughter, by the way. She’ll be present for the reading, if you don’t mind.”
Rachel’s eyes found Sarah. She’d been smiling politely, but now her face closed over and went blank.
“Hello again,” she said. “How…inopportune.”
“You’ve met?” Mrs S shot a scandalised look at Sarah. Sarah felt unfairly persecuted.
“Yes,” Rachel replied calmly. “We had a discussion about alternative professions for women. I didn’t realise she was your daughter. Cosima?”
She shot a poisonous look at Cosima, whose eyes were large. Cosima was the only one not in uniform, instead wearing a short red dress with some kind of flimsy, ethereal scarf wrap draped over her shoulders.
Rachel’s eyes moved to take in the bird on Sarah’s shoulder, and her expression shifted.
“I didn’t know, either!” Cosima said. She was staring at the line of Sarah’s tattered crop top.
Felix looked from Rachel to Sarah and then laughed out loud until Mrs S glared him into silence.
“Enough of that,” Mrs S said. “Everyone sit down.”
They obeyed, sinking into the various pieces of mismatched furniture that filled the reading room. Alison sat with her spine perfectly straight, hands clasped in her lap. Cosima adjusted her glasses on her nose nervously. Rachel sat in an office chair at the head of the table, her hands steepled like the chairman of the board, surveying them all. Sarah felt as if Rachel’s very presence robbed something from her. She’d made her family dingy just by coming here.
“It is,” Kendall said, “Too damn loud in here.” The way she said it, though, holding two fingers to a spot just below her jawbone, told Sarah that it was not their voices that were too loud. It was something she was hearing inside her head. Kira, too, was wincing.
Sarah said reluctantly, “Do you need me to go?”
Cosima, misunderstanding, immediately asked her, “Why would you have to leave?”
“She makes things louder for us,” Mrs S said. She was frowning over all of them as if she was trying to make sense of it. “And you three are…very loud already.”
Sarah’s skin was hot. She could imagine herself heating like an electrical conduit, sparks from all parties travelling through her. What could these raven girls have going on under their skins that could deafen Kendall and Kira? Was it all of them in conjunction, or was it just Rachel, her energy screaming out the countdown to her death?
“I don’t follow,” Rachel said. “What do you mean by ‘loud’?”
She was, Sarah thought, very clearly the ringleader of this little pack. They all kept looking at her for cues of how to interpret the situation.
“I mean that there’s something about your energies that’s very…” Mrs S trailed off, losing interest in her own explanation. She turned to Kendall. Sarah recognised the look exchanged between them. It was, What is going on? “How do we even do this?”
“One at a time?” Kira asked.
Kendall said, “One-offs. You’ll have to, or some of them will have to leave. They’re just too damned noisy.”
Rachel and Alison glanced at each other. Cosima fiddled with the silver bangles on her wrist.
“What is a one-off?” Rachel inquired. “How is it different from a regular reading?”
Kendall spoke to Siobhan as if Rachel hadn’t spoken. “It doesn’t matter what they want. It is what it is. Take it or leave it.”
Mrs S had a hand pressed to her temple. She told Rachel, “A one-off is where you each draw just one card from a deck of tarot cards, and we interpret.”
Cosima said, “Whatever you’re comfortable with.”
“Wait,” Mrs S said, as Kendall produced her deck of cards. “Have Sarah deal it.”
Sarah was overly aware of the girls’ attention as she took the cards from her mother. She shuffled quickly but thoroughly.
No one volunteered immediately to go first, so she offered the deck to Cosima. She met her gaze and held it for a moment.
Selecting a card, Cosima presented it to Kendall.
“The Lovers,” Kendall said scornfully.
Cosima blushed pink and avoided looking at Sarah.
“Hm,” Siobhan said gently, “I think you might want to draw again.”
Sarah offered the cards again and this time Cosima drew the Empress. In a lush forest clearing, the Empress sat on a stone throne, wearing a crown made of stars.
Kendall tapped a finger on the card. “You’re a caretaker, not a leader,” she said. “This is the card of the earth mother and the natural world.”
Cosima pointed to a heart-shaped shield that leaned against the throne. “What does this part mean?” she asked. “The symbol on the shield.”
“That’s the symbol of Venus,” Mrs S said. “Ruler of love, art and beauty.”
“Awesome,” Cosima said. “Um, thank you.”
Cosima’s politeness was different than Rachel’s politeness. When Rachel Duncan was polite, it made her sharp and powerful. When Cosima was polite, it just made her seem softer.
It seemed right to leave Rachel for last, so Sarah moved on to Alison, though she was a little wary of her. Something about her conveyed judgement, even though she hadn’t spoken. When Sarah fanned the cards, Alison scanned the women in the room.
“Can you tell me something, first?” she asked. “Something specific – about me? So I can tell if it’s real.”
“Beg your pardon?” Kendall said stiffly.
Alison’s voice was brittle glass. “Those things you told Cosima could apply to anybody. Tell me something no one else can tell me.”
Kendall shifted with annoyance. “You’ll get what you’re given. We don’t do specif–”
Felix said lazily, “You feel trapped in your mother’s house.” He met Alison’s eyes. “You pretend you don’t have an addiction.”
Alison’s jaw went tight and she blinked fast. Rachel gave Felix an icy stare.
Leaning between them and breaking the eye contact, Mrs S said to Alison, “I think we’ll stick to choosing a card, don’t you, chicken?”
Alison nodded, a fast one-two bob of the head. She pulled out a card without looking and handed it over.
“The Page of Pentacles,” Siobhan said. “This is an ambitious card. It means that you’re dedicated to your goals. I’m thinking this is all about learning, and searching, and making something of yourself.” Alison nodded.
“On the other hand,” Kendall added, “this card laid in reverse represents financial uncertainty and impractical ideas.”
Alison let out a breath. “Oh,” she said, then, quieter, “Well isn’t this just a bundle of joy.”
Kendall shrugged. “You asked. Sorry it isn’t puppies.”
Rachel glanced sharply from Alison to Kendall; Cosima laid a hand on her arm. Sarah saw her shift back into President Cell Phone; she hadn’t been aware, before, that she’d been anything else. Now she wished she’d been paying better attention, so she could’ve seen what was different about her.
“Shall we continue?” Rachel said, her voice betraying nothing. She sounded so old, Sarah thought. So formal compared to other girls her age. There was something intensely discomfiting about her sudden veneer of calm.
As Sarah moved to where Rachel sat, she caught a glimpse of her car at the curb: a flash of spotless silver. It was exactly what she would have expected a raven girl to drive – they liked expensive, shiny things. She stopped in front of Rachel. This close, she again caught the scent of mint, and that made Sarah’s heart trip unsteadily. Rachel looked down at the fanned deck of cards in her hands.
When Sarah saw her like that, she saw the bend of Rachel’s shoulders and the back of her head, and she piercingly remembered Rachel’s spirit, the girl she’d been afraid she’d fall in love with. That shade hadn’t worn any of the cool, effortless confidence of this raven girl in front of her.
What happens to you, Rachel? she wondered. When do you become that person?
Rachel looked up at her. “Could you choose a card for me? Will that work?”
Kira answered from behind Sarah. “If you want it to.”
“It’s about intention,” Mrs S added.
Rachel inclined her head. “Please.” It was a command more than a request.
Sarah fanned the cards across the table; they slithered loosely over the varnished wood. One card stuck out further than the others, and Sarah chose that one.
As she flipped it over, she let out a helpless laugh. The page of wands looked back at Sarah with her own face.
When Mrs S saw it, her voice went still and remote. “Not that one. Make her choose another.”
“Siobhan,” said Kendall quietly, but Mrs S just waved a hand, dismissing her.
“Another one,” she insisted.
“What’s the problem with that one?” Rachel asked.
“It has Sarah’s energy on it,” Siobhan said. “It wasn’t meant to be yours. You’ll have to pick it yourself.”
Kendall peered out at Rachel from under furrowed eyebrows, but didn’t say anything.
When Sarah offered the cards once more, Rachel grazed her fingers along the edge of them, contemplative. She selected one, then flipped it over to show the room.
It was the page of wands.
She looked at the face on the card, and then at Sarah’s face, and Sarah knew she’d seen the similarity.
Kendall leaned forward and snatched the card from her finger tips. “Pick another one.”
“I don’t understand,” Rachel said, in a vaguely peevish tone. “What’s wrong with this card?”
“Nothing’s wrong with it,” Kendall replied. “It’s just not yours.”
Flippantly, Rachel snagged another card, clearly finished with this exercise. With flourish, she turned the card over and slapped it on the table.
Kendall said, “That’s your card.”
The card on the table had a bone-white background, a black-corseted woman in the foreground. She carried a long, curved scythe, and her face was a skull with gaping, empty sockets for eyes.
“Death.” Rachel read the bottom of the card. She didn’t sound surprised or alarmed. She just read the word like she would read eggs or Cincinnati.
“Good job, Ma,” Siobhan said. “You going to interpret that for her?”
“Maybe we should just give her a refund,” Felix said, although Rachel had not yet paid.
“I thought psychics didn’t predict death,” Cosima said quietly. “I read that the Death card was only symbolic.”
Kendall and Siobhan and Felix all made vague noises. Sarah, utterly aware of the truth of Rachel’s fate, felt sick. Aglionby girl or not, she was only Sarah’s age, and even though Sarah found her deeply unlikeable, she obviously had friends who cared about her and a life that involved a very shiny car, and it was hideous to know she’d be dead in less than twelve months.
“Actually,” Rachel said, “I don’t care about that.”
Every pair of eyes in the room was on her as she stood the card on its end to study it.
“Of course, the cards are very diverting,” she said. She said the cards are very diverting like someone would say this is very interesting to a very strange sort of cake that they didn’t quite want to finish. “I’m not discounting what you do. But I’m quite content with finding out my future for myself.”
There was a brief pause where Sarah and Felix both looked at Mrs S to see if she was offended. They didn’t bother looking at Kendall, because it was already certain that she would be offended.
“Really, I came because I was hoping to ask you a question about energy,” Rachel continued. “I know you deal with energy work, and I’ve been trying to find a ley line I believe is near Henrietta. Do you know anything about that?”
“Ley line?” Mrs S repeated. “Maybe. I don’t know if I know it by that name. What is it?”
Sarah was a little stunned. A bare-faced lie, right in front of Kira.
“They’re perfectly straight energy lines that crisscross the globe,” Rachel explained. “They’re supposed to connect major spiritual places. Cosima thought you might know about them because you deal with energy.”
It was obvious that she meant the corpse road, but Siobhan didn’t offer any information. She just pressed her lips together and looked at Felix and Kendall. “Does that ring a bell for you two?”
Felix said, “I hear the phone ringing,” and withdrew from the room.
Kendall said, “I’d have to think about it. My memory’s not what it was.”
There was a faint, amused smile on Rachel’s face that meant she knew they were lying. It was a strangely wise expression; once again Sarah got the sense that Rachel seemed older than the girls she’d brought with her.
“I’ll look into it,” Mrs S said. “Leave your number, and I’ll give you a call if I find out anything about it.”
Rachel replied, coldly polite, “That won’t be necessary. How much for the reading?”
Standing, Siobhan said, “Oh, just twenty.”
“Each,” Sarah added.
Kendall coughed into her fist.
Rachel’s face cleared and she handed Siobhan sixty dollars. Quite obviously this was more what she’d been expecting to pay.
Cosima caught Sarah’s eye and suppressed a smile. She clearly saw what Sarah had done, but she said nothing, silently amused.
“I’ll show you out,” Mrs S said. She was plainly eager to see them on the other side of the door.
Rachel tilted her chin up to look Siobhan in the eye. “We’re all adults here,” she started – although Kira was sitting right there. Kendall made a face as if she disagreed, anyway.
Rachel made a firm line of her mouth and then continued, “I think we deserve the truth. You know something, but you don’t want to help me.”
It was a brave thing to say, or an arrogant one, or maybe there was not enough of a difference between the two things to matter.
Every head in the room swung to Mrs S.
She said, “I know something. Yes. But I don’t want to help you.”
Rachel nodded, looking no more or less distressed than when Sarah had retorted back to her at the restaurant. “I see. No, stay where you are. We’ll see ourselves out.”
And just like that, they did, Cosima sending Sarah a last look that she couldn’t easily interpret. A moment later, the Bugatti roared into life, and the tires squealed Rachel’s true feelings. Then the house was quiet. It was a sucked-out silence, like the raven girls had taken all the sound in the neighbourhood with them.
Felix said appreciatively, “Oi, oi, Mrs S. Who knew?”
Mrs S said, “Hush, you.”
“Siobhan,” Kendall said, “that was very rude.” Then she added, “Good on you.”
Mrs S turned to Sarah as if Kendall hadn’t spoken. “I don’t want you to ever see her again. Do you hear me? This is the same as me telling you not to walk in front of a bus.”
Sarah said, “Why? Carlton didn’t see me on the corpse road. I’m not going to die in the next year.”
“First of all, the corpse road is a promise, not a guarantee,” Siobhan replied. “Second of all, there are other terrible fates besides death. Shall we talk about dismemberment? Paralysis? Endless psychological trauma?”
Sarah crossed her arms over her chest.
Mrs S said emphatically, “Sarah, listen. The best-case scenario here is that you make friends with a girl who’s going to die. I’m telling you now, stay away from them.”
Rachel lay awake in the dark. She reached for her journal, but it wasn’t there; she’d left it at Bobby’s Bar. She thought about calling Dr Leekie, but she didn’t know what she wanted to ask. Something inside her felt like the night, hungry and wanting and empty. She remembered the dark eyeholes of the skeletal woman on the Death card.
An insect was buzzing against the window, the sort of buzzing that came from an insect with some size to it. She thought about her EpiPen, far away in the glove box of the car, too far away to be a useful antidote if it was needed. The insect was probably a fly or a stink bug or yet another crane fly, but the longer she lay there, the more she considered the idea that it could be a wasp or a bee.
It probably wasn’t.
But she opened her eyes. Rachel climbed softly from the bed, bending to retrieve a shoe that lay on its side. Walking cautiously to the window, she searched for the sound of the insect. The shadow of the telescope was an elegant monster on the floor beside her.
Though the sound of buzzing had died away, it only took her a moment to find the insect on the window: a wasp, crawling up the narrow wooden frame of the window, swivelling back and forth. Rachel didn’t move. She watched it climb and pause, climb and pause. The streetlights outside made a faint shadow of its legs, its curved body, the fine, insubstantial point of the stinger.
Two narratives coexisted in her head. One was the real image: the wasp climbing up the wood, oblivious to her presence. The other was a false image, a possibility: the wasp whirring into the air, finding Rachel’s skin, dipping the stinger into her, Rachel’s allergy making it a deadly weapon.
Long ago, her skin had crawled with hornets, their wings beating even when her heart hadn’t.
Her throat was tight and full.
Beth’s voice was just behind her, the timbre of it strange and initially unrecognisable. Rachel didn’t turn around. The wasp had just twitched its wings, nearly lifting off.
“Shit!” Beth said. There were three footsteps, very close together, the floor creaking like a shot, and then the shoe was snatched from Rachel’s hand. Beth shoved her aside and brought down the shoe on the window so hard that the glass should’ve broken. After the wasp’s body had fallen to the floorboard, Beth sought it out in the darkness and smashed it once more.
“Shit,” Beth said again. “Are you stupid?”
Rachel didn’t know how to describe how it felt, to see death crawling inches from her, to know that in a few seconds, she could have gone from “promising student” to “beyond saving.” Rachel merely stood and waited for Beth to say something else.
When she finally did, she didn’t look at Rachel. “The other night. There’s something –”
But then she stopped without saying anything else. It was a full stop, the sort that Rachel associated with pain and guilt. It was the stop that happened when you’d made up your mind to confess, but your mouth betrayed you in the end.
“There’s what, Beth?”
She said, “Something happened. A long time ago. I don’t know how to – Anyway, there’s something strange going on.”
Rachel couldn’t keep the exasperation from her voice. “‘Strange’ how?”
“I don’t know what to tell you. I mean strange like your voice on that recorder,” Beth replied. “Strange like the psychic’s daughter. Something’s…something’s starting.”
Rachel folded her arms. She stared at the dark spot where the body of the wasp had fallen. She waited for Beth to elaborate, but all the other girl said was, “I catch you staring at a wasp again, though, I’m going to let it kill you. Screw that.”
“Thank you,” Rachel said, meaning to be sarcastic but coming out genuine.
Something about Beth’s pale face in the half-light reminded her of the frightened faces surrounding her, hornets on her skin, the sky blue as death above her. A long, long time ago, she’d been given another chance, and lately, the weight of needing to make it matter felt heavier.
Beth was right. Things felt bigger. She may not have found the line, or the heart of the line, but something was happening, something was starting.
Beth said, “Don’t throw it away.”
Several days later, Sarah woke up to an unfortunately familiar sound. It sounded like one of her family members was being killed by a possum, or possibly the final moments of a fatal cat fight.
Chainsaw wanted feeding again. It was sometime well before dawn. Her room was cluttered with jagged shadows from the hall night-light.
Sarah fumbled in the half-light for the tweezers on her nightstand. She pushed herself upright, and Chainsaw hopped eagerly into her lap. Sarah dipped the tweezers into a plastic baggy of vaguely grey meat. As soon as the raven heard the rustle of the bag, she made the sound again – a rasping squeal that became a gurgle as she slurped down the offering. At once, she inspired both Sarah’s compassion and her gag reflex.
Chainsaw gargled down another bite. This time it sounded a lot like vacuuming potato salad. Sarah grimaced in disgust. The little bird tilted her head to the side.
Sarah disliked having her kindness appealed to, especially when it had to war with her desire for sleep. There was, of course, no way that she could force the raven downstairs. It looked bite-sized and improbable. She wasn’t sure if it was extremely cute or appallingly ugly, and it bothered her that it managed to be both.
For several minutes, she fed the raven grey slime and tried not to pull faces at it. She was not the same Sarah who had been faced with feeding and changing a baby Kira, not the same Sarah who had existed while Amelia had still been alive. The girl she was, sitting cross-legged on her bed, eyes heavy with sleep, fragile bird in her hands, felt like a compromise.
With the food finished, Sarah lifted Chainsaw back into the nest she had made in Sarah’s sock draw, threatening to close it if she didn’t settle down.
Sarah sat back, her head against the cool wall. As they had every night since the reading, thoughts about Cosima’s self-conscious smile and the memory of Rachel’s bowed head crowded into her mind as soon as sleep relinquished its hold. Sarah couldn’t help replaying the chaotic episode over and over in her mind. Felix’s sardonic reaction to Alison, Cosima quietly restraining Rachel from impoliteness, the silent communication between all three of them, the fact that Rachel was not just a spirit on the corpse road. But the thing that seized her the most was the idea that Mrs S had forbidden her to do something. It pinched like a collar.
Sarah pushed off the covers. She was getting up.
She bore a grudging fondness for the weird architecture of 300 Fox Way – it was a sort of halfhearted affection born of nostalgia more than real feeling – but tonight she felt the need to push out and away, to feel the night air and breathe it in. Sarah made her way down to the kitchen. She pushed open the back door, using two hands to close it silently behind her.
A great, spreading beech tree sheltered the entire backyard. Its canopy stretched from one fence line to the other, so dense that it tinted even the hottest summer day a lush green. After dark, the yard was its own world, private and dim. The high wooden fence, covered with messy honeysuckle, blocked out the lights from neighbouring back porches, and the inscrutable canopy of the beech blocked out the moonlight. Ordinarily, she would have had to wait several long moments for her eyes to adjust to the relative dark, but not tonight.
Tonight, an eerie, uncertain light flickered on the trunk of the tree. Sarah hesitated just outside the door, trying to make sense of the sputtering light as it shifted on the pale, grey bark. Laying a hand against the side of the house – it was still warm from the heat of the day – she leaned forward. From here, she saw a candle around the other side of the tree, nestled in the snake-roots of the beech. A tremulous flame vanished and lengthened and vanished again.
Sarah took a step off the cracked brick patio, then another, glancing behind her to see if anyone watched from the house. A few feet away from the candle was another tangle of smooth-skinned roots, and a pool of black water had gathered in them. The water reflected the flickering light, like another candle beneath the black surface.
Sarah held her breath tight inside her as took another step. In a loose sweater and old jeans, Carlton knelt near the candle and the little root-pool. With his hands folded in his lap, he was as motionless as the tree itself and as dark as the sky overhead.
Sarah’s breath came out in a rush when she first saw Carlton, and then, lifting her eyes to Carlton’s barely visible face, her breath jerked out of her once more, as if the surprise were fresh again.
“What are you doing?” Sarah said.
But Carlton didn’t reply. When Sarah looked closer, she saw that Carlton’s eyes were unfocused. It was his eyebrows that really did it, though; they had no expression to them somehow. Even more vacuous than Carlton’s empty eyes were those formless eyebrows, waiting for input, drawn in two straight, neutral lines. It was the first time she’d ever seen him unsmiling.
Sarah’s first thought was something medical – weren’t there seizures where the symptom was just sitting there? What were those called? – but then she thought of the bowl of cran-grape juice on the kitchen table. It seemed far more likely that she’d interrupted some kind of…ritual.
Her foster-mother did not do rituals. Mrs S had once told a client sharply, I am not a witch. And once she had said sadly to Kendall, I am not a witch. But perhaps Carlton was. Sarah wasn’t certain what the rules were in this situation.
“Who’s there?” asked Carlton. But it was not Carlton’s voice. It was something deeper and farther away.
A nasty little shiver ran up Sarah’s arms. Somewhere in the tree above, a bird hissed. At least Sarah thought it was a bird.
“Come into the light,” said Carlton.
The water moved in the roots, or maybe it was only the moving reflection of the solitary candle.
“I know you are there,” not-Carlton said, in the voice that sounded like dark places, far away from the sun. “I can smell you.”
Something crawled very slowly up the back of Sarah’s neck, on the inside of her skin. It was such a hideously real creep that she was badly tempted to slap it or scratch it.
She wanted to go inside and pretend she had not come out, but she didn’t want to leave Carlton behind if something –
Sarah didn’t want to think it, but she did.
She didn’t want to leave Carlton behind if something had him.
“Fine. I’m here,” Sarah said.
The candle flame stretched very, very long.
Not-Carlton asked, “What is your name?”
It occurred to Sarah that she wasn’t exactly certain that Carlton’s mouth moved when he spoke. It was hard to look at his face.
“What’s yours?” she said defiantly.
“Come where I can see you.”
There was definitely something moving in the little black pool. The water was reflecting colours that were not in the candle. They shifted and moved in a pattern completely unlike the movement of the flame.
Sarah bit her lip. “I’m invisible,” she lied.
“Ahhhhhhh,” sighed not-Carlton.
“Who are you?” Sarah asked again.
The candle flame reached tall, tall, thin to the point of breaking. It reached not for the sky but for Sarah.
“Siobhan Sadler,” said not-Carlton.
There was something crafty now, to the dark voice. Something knowing and malicious, something that made Sarah want to look over her shoulder. But she couldn’t look away from the candle, because she was afraid the flame would touch her if she turned away.
“Where are you?” Sarah asked.
“On the corpse road,” not-Carlton growled.
Sarah became aware that her breath clouded in front of her. Goose bumps pricked her arms, fast and painful. In the half-light of the candle, she saw that Carlton’s breath was visible too.
The cloud of Carlton’s breath parted over the pool, like something physical was rising from the water to break the path of it. Rushing forward, Sarah kicked over the empty bowl, knocked over the unlit candle, scuffed dirt in the direction of the black pool.
The candle went out.
There was a minute of complete blackness. There was no sound, as if the tree and the yard around it were not in Henrietta anymore. Despite the silence, Sarah did not feel alone, and it was a terrible feeling.
Slowly, her eyes adjusted to the darkness – though it felt like light leaching back into the world- and she found Carlton, still kneeling by the pool of water.
“Carlton,” Sarah said in a harsh whisper.
For a moment, nothing happened, and then Carlton lifted his chin and his hands.
Please be Carlton. Please be Carlton.
Sarah’s entire body was poised to run.
“Sarah?” Carlton asked. His voice was quite normal. Then, with sudden understanding: “Oh. You won’t tell your mother about this, will you?”
Sarah stared at him. “What was that? What were you doing?” Her heart was still going fast and she realised that she was terrified, now that she could think about it.
Carlton took in the broken pentagram, the knocked-over candle, the overturned bowl. “I was scrying.”
His mild voice only infuriated Sarah.
“Scrying is what you did before. This wasn’t the same thing!”
“I was scrying into that space I saw earlier. I was hoping to make contact with someone who was in it to find out what it was.”
Sarah’s voice was not nearly as steady as she would’ve liked. “It talked. It was not you when I came out here.”
“Well,” Carlton said, “that was because of you. You make everything stronger. I wasn’t expecting you to be here, or I would’ve…”
He trailed off and looked at the stub of the candle, his head cocked.
“Would’ve what?” Sarah demanded. She was angry, once again, that she was somehow being blamed for whatever had just happened. “What was that? It said it was on the corpse road. Is that the same thing as a ley line?”
“Of course,” Carlton said. “Henrietta’s on a ley line.”
That meant Rachel Duncan was right. It also meant Sarah knew exactly where the ley line ran, because she’d seen Rachel’s spirit walking along it only a few days earlier.
“ What did you see? When you were –?”
“Scrying,” Carlton finished for her, though Sarah wasn’t at all sure that was how she would’ve finished it. “There’s someone who knows your name there. And there’s someone else who’s looking for this thing that you’re looking for.”
“That I’m looking for!” Sarah echoed, in protest. There was nothing she was looking for. Unless Carlton was talking about the mysterious Glendower. She recalled that feeling of connection, of feeling tied up in this web of raven girls and sleeping kings and ley lines. Of Mrs S saying to keep away from them.
“Yes, you know what it is,” Carlton replied. “Ah. Everything seems so much clearer now.”
Sarah thought about that stretching, hungry candle flame, the shifting lights inside the pool of water. She felt cold somewhere very deep inside her. “You still haven’t said what that was. In the pool.”
Carlton looked up then, all of his supplies gathered in his arms. His gaze was the unbreakable one that could last an eternity.
“That’s because I have no idea,” he said.
Evie took the liberty of going through Rachel Duncan’s locker before school the next day.
Rachel’s locker, one of the few in use, was only a couple doors down from Evie’s old one, and the feeling of opening it brought back a rush of memory and nostalgia. Once upon a time, this had been her – one of the wealthiest kids at Aglionby, with whichever friends she wanted, whichever Henrietta boys caught her eye, whichever subject prizes she felt like winning. Evie longed for her old car. The cops here had known her father well; they hadn’t even bothered to pull her over.
And now Rachel was queen here, and she didn’t even know how to use it.
Thanks to Aglionby’s honour code, there were no locks on any of the lockers, allowing Evie to open Rachel’s without any fuss. Inside, she found several spiral-bound notebooks with only a few pages used in each. In case Rachel decided to come into school two hours early, Evie left a note in the locker (“Belongings have been removed while we spray for roaches”) and then retreated back to one of the unused staff bathrooms to examine her find.
Leaning against the pristine but dusty tile wall beside the sink, what she found out was that Rachel Duncan was more obsessed with the ley line than Evie had ever been. Something about the entire research process seemed…frantic.
What is wrong with this kid? Evie wondered, and then immediately afterward felt strange that she had grown old enough to think of Rachel as a kid.
Outside the bathroom, she heard heels clicking down the hallway. The scent of coffee drifted under the doorway; Aglionby was beginning to stir. Evie flipped to the next notebook.
This one was not about the ley line. It was all historical stuff about the Welsh king Owen Glendower. Evie was not interested. She skimmed, skimmed, skimmed, thinking it was unrelated, until she realised that Duncan was making for tying the two elements together: Glendower and the ley line. Stooge or not, Duncan knew how to sell a story.
Evie focused on one line.
Whoever wakes Glendower is granted a favour (limitless?) (supernatural?) (some sources say reciprocal)
Childs had never cared about the ultimate outcome of the ley line search. At first, Evie hadn’t either. The appeal had merely been the riddle of it. Then one afternoon Childs and Cho, standing in the middle of what seemed to be a naturally formed circle of magnetically charged stones, had experimentally pushed one of the stones out of place. The resulting sizzle of energy had knocked both of them off their feet and created a faint apparition of what looked like a woman.
The ley line was raw, uncontrollable, inexplicable energy. The stuff of legends.
Whoever controlled the ley line would be more than rich. Whoever controlled the ley line would be something that the other Aglionby girls could only hope to aspire to.
Childs still hadn’t cared, not in the way Evie had. She didn’t have a mite of selfish ambition in her. These days, when Evie was trying to comfort herself, she told herself that Childs was a sheep, but sometimes she slipped and remembered her as loyal instead.
They didn’t have to be different things, did they?
“Glendower,” Evie said aloud, trying it out. The word echoed off the bathroom walls, hollow and metallic. She wondered what Rachel Duncan – strange, desperate Rachel – was thinking she’d ask as a favour.
Pushing away from the bathroom wall, Evie gathered the notebooks back under her arm. It would only take a few minutes to copy them in the staff room, and if anyone asked, she’d tell them Duncan had asked her to.
If Evie found him, she’d ask for what she’d wanted all along: to be cured, to be herself again, to be more powerful than anyone. Fix me.
The following afternoon, Sarah waited until Kendall patted her pocket and went outside, and then followed her. All afternoon Carlton had been locked up in his room and Mrs S had been doing angel-card readings for a group of out-of-towners on a writing retreat. So Sarah had taken all afternoon to contemplate what to about finding Carlton in the backyard. And what to do involved Kendall.
“Are you putting yourself out with the trash?” Kendall asked as she lit up her cigarette.
Sarah snorted. “I need to ask you a question.”
“You shouldn’t be breathing this shite in,” Kendall said, waving an arm at the smoke cloud she was making.
“Neither should you,” Sarah pointed out.
Kendall shrugged. “I’m old as the hills, though. Why couldn’t you ask me a question inside?”
“The house is full.”
Kendall raised an eyebrow. “The house is always full.”
Sarah said, “I want to know why Carlton is here.”
Kendall blew smoke into the air. “Well, excuse you,” she replied, not very pleasantly. “I’d like to know the cause of climate change, too, but no one’s telling me that.”
Sarah said, “I’m not six anymore. Maybe everyone else can see what they need to see in a pack of cards, but I’m sick of being left in the dark.”
Now both of Kendall’s eyebrows had risen.
“Damn right,” Kendall agreed. “Aren’t you supposed to be the rebellious one?” She took another drag and said, “Why aren’t you asking your mother?”
Sarah shrugged. “I’m pissed off at her for telling me what to do.”
Kendall shifted her weight. “What do you propose?”
“That you just tell me?”
Kendall flicked ash off the end of her cigarette. “The only thing is, I’m not sure that what we’ve been told is the truth.”
Sarah felt a little lurch at that. It was very difficult to lie to Siobhan or Kendall – she knew from experience. Even if they didn’t know the truth, they’d hear a lie. But there did seem to be something secretive about Carlton, about him scrying after hours, where he thought it likely no one would see him.
Kendall said, “He was supposed to be here looking for someone.”
“John Sadler,” Sarah guessed.
Kendall didn’t say yes but she didn’t say no either. Instead, she replied, “But I think it’s become something else for him, now that he’s been here in Henrietta for a while.”
They regarded each other for a moment, co-conspirators.
“I have a different idea for you, then,” Sarah said. “We go through Carlton’s stuff. I stand next to you, and you use your thing. Your psychometry thing.”
Kendall looked out over the neighbourhood, pursing her lips around the cigarette. One of Kendall’s strangest gifts was one she rarely used: the uncanny ability to hold an object and sense its origin, feel its owner’s thoughts, and see places the thing had been. Her psychometric reflections were often vague, but with Sarah beside her, making her gift stronger? They might get some concrete answers.
“He’d have to be out of the room for at least an hour,” Kendall said. “And Siobhan would need to be kept busy.”
“But you’ll do it?”
“I’ll find out more today,” Kendall said. “About their schedules. What’s this?” Her attention had shifted to a car pulling up at the end of their walk. Both Kendall and Sarah tilted their heads to read the magnetic sign on the passenger door: FLOWERS BY ANDI! The driver rummaged in the backseat of her car for a full two minutes before heading up the walk with the world’s smallest flower arrangement.
“It’s hard to find this place!” the woman said.
Kendall looked away. She had a bitter hatred for anything that could be classified as small talk.
“What’s all this?” Kendall asked. She made it sound as if the flowers were an unwanted kitten.
“This is for…” the woman fumbled for a card.
“Felix?” guessed Sarah.
“Sarah?” the woman asked. “Sarah Manning?”
At first, Sarah didn’t understand that the woman meant that the flowers were for her. The woman had to thrust them towards her, and Sarah automatically opened her hands so that she could take them. As the woman headed back to her car, Sarah turned the arrangement around in her hand. It was just a spray of baby’s breath around a white carnation; they smelled prettier than they looked.
Kendall commented, “The delivery must’ve cost more than the flowers.”
Feeling around the wiry stems, Sarah found a little card. Inside, a woman’s scrawl had transcribed a message:
I’d still like you to call. – Cosima
Now the tiny, delicate bunch of flowers made sense. They suited Cosima.
“And you’re blushing,” Kendall said disapprovingly. She held out a hand for them, which Sarah smacked. With sarcasm, Kendall added, “Whoever it is went all out, did they?”
Sarah touched the edge of the white carnation to her chin. It was so light that it didn’t feel like she was touching anything at all. Sarah was inwardly pleased that Cosima hadn’t made an expensive gesture. This felt more genuine. These little flowers were pretty but understated, just like Cosima.
“Who is she?” asked Kendall.
Sarah sighed. “Not the one you have to worry about,” she answered.
Kendall shook her head, but she didn’t look displeased. Deep down, Sarah suspected she was a romantic.
“Kendall?” Sarah asked. “Do you think I should tell those raven girls where the corpse road is?”
Kendall gazed at her for as long as a Carlton gaze. Then she said, “What makes you think I can answer that question?”
“Because you’re a psychic,” Sarah replied. “And you’re supposed to have learned things on your way to old age.”
“What I think,” Kendall said, stubbing her cigarette out, “is that you’ve already made up your mind.”
Sarah dropped her eyes to the ground. It was true that she was kept awake at night by Rachel’s journal and by the suggestion of something more to the world. But more important was her face on that page of wands card, a girl’s rain-spattered shoulders in the churchyard, and a voice saying Rachel Duncan in a desolate tone.
Once she’d seen Rachel’s death laid out for her, and seen that she was real, and found out that she was meant to have a part in it, there had never been a chance that she would just stand by and let it happen.
“Don’t tell Siobhan,” Sarah said.
With a non-committal grunt, Kendall wrenched open the door, leaving Sarah and her flowers on the step. The blossoms weighed nothing at all, but to Sarah, they felt like change.
“Sarah, if you get to know her –” Kendall started. She was standing half-in, half-out of the doorway. “You’d better guard your heart. Don’t forget that she’s going to die.”
At the same time that Cosima’s flowers were being delivered to 300 Fox Way, Alison was arriving at Monmouth Incorporated in her somewhat pathetic hand-me-down car. Only Beth and Cosima were home when she knocked. Beth let her in, Cosima staring distractedly at her phone.
“What’s up with you?” Alison asked.
“Sarah just texted me her number,” Cosima said, clearly trying to suppress her grin. She wasn’t succeeding.
Beth said, “Cosima sent her flowers.”
“How did you know?” Cosima demanded, more curious than embarrassed. Beth merely smiled. She put her feet up on Rachel’s coffee table, looking triumphant.
“To the psychic’s?” Alison said. “How do you know the deliveryman didn’t get robbed on the way? In that neighbourhood.”
Beth said, “You’re being judgemental.”
Cosima said, “Sometimes you sound just like Rachel.”
She wasn’t really being serious, and Alison was, all at once, bitterly disappointed by how far off she really was from being anything like Rachel Duncan.
Some people envied Rachel’s money. Alison envied her time. To be as rich as her was to be able to go to school and do nothing else, to have luxurious swathes of time in which to study and write papers and sleep. Alison wouldn’t admit it to anyone, least of all Rachel, but she was tired. She was tired of squeezing in homework between her part-time jobs, of answering to her mother, of squeezing in sleep, squeezing in the hunt for Glendower. The jobs felt like so much wasted time: In five years, no one would care if she’d worked in her mother’s soap shop. They’d only care if she’d graduated from Aglionby with perfect grades, or if she had a loaded resume of extracurriculars for her college applications, or, she supposed, if she had found Glendower. And Rachel didn’t have to worry about that.
Two years earlier, Alison had made her decision to come to Aglionby, and, in her head, it was sort of because of Rachel. Her mother had sent her to the grocery store with her bank card (she said she was too tired to do the weekly shopping – as if Alison wasn’t) and the cashier had told her that there were insufficient funds in the bank account to cover the purchase. Though it was not her failing, there was something peculiarly humiliating and intimate about the moment, hunched at the head of a shopping line, turning out her pockets to pretend she might have the cash to cover it instead. While she fumbled there, a sleek-haired girl at the next register moved swiftly through, swiping a credit card and collecting her things in only a few seconds.
Even the way the other girl had moved, Alison recalled, had struck her: confident and careless, shoulders rolled back, chin tilted, an emperor’s daughter. As the cashier swiped Alison’s card again, both of them pretending the machine might have misread the magnetic stripe, Alison watched the other girl go out to the curb where a shiny silver car waited. When the girl opened the door, Alison saw the other two girls inside wore raven-breasted sweaters and ties. They were despicably carefree as they divvied up the drinks.
Alison had had to leave most of the groceries on the conveyor belt, eyes hot with shamed tears that wouldn’t fall.
She’d never wanted to be someone else so badly.
In her head, that girl was Rachel, but in retrospect, Alison knew it couldn’t have been. She wouldn’t have been old enough to have her driver’s license yet, and besides, Rachel had all her groceries delivered. It was just some other Aglionby student with a working credit card and expensive car. And also, that day wasn’t the only reason she’d decided to fight to come to Aglionby. But it was the catalyst. The imagined memory of Rachel, careless and shallow but with pride fully intact, and Alison, cowed and humiliated while a line of old ladies waited in line behind her.
She still wasn’t that other girl at the register. But she was closer.
Alison looked at her battered silver watch to see how late Rachel was. “Call her, then,” she said to Cosima, suddenly irritated.
“Sarah?” Beth asked.
Alison had meant Rachel, but she said, “Fine, Sarah, then.”
“Put it on loudspeaker,” Beth said cheerily.
Cosima looked at her with a mixture of amusement and suspicion, but punched in Sarah’s number and hit the loudspeaker button anyway.
It rang six times, and then a voice said, “Cosima?”
Startled at the sound of her name, Cosima replied, “Sarah?”
“No,” the voice said, “Kendall Malone. The bloody thing kept ringing.” Then, to someone in the background, “Ten dollars, Felix. That was the bet. No, I didn’t look at the caller ID until after, you cheeky little bugger.” Then, back to Cosima, “Never mind all that. You’re the red dress one, ain’t yer?”
It took Alison a moment to realise that she meant the dress Cosima had worn to the reading.
Cosima said, “Oh, um. Yeah.”
Kendall sniffed and then said, “I’ll go get Sarah.”
There was a brief, uncomfortable moment while voices murmured in the background of the telephone.
“I didn’t think you’d call,” Sarah said. “I shouldn’t have left my phone where these blighters could – ow! –get it.”
Cosima must not truly have expected to get Sarah on the phone, because she looked like her stomach had suddenly dropped out. Beth was smirking.
Cosima said, “I wasn’t sure I should leave it to you.”
Sarah snorted. “Fair enough. Thanks for the flowers.” Then she growled: “Fe, get out!”
“It seems busy there.”
“It’s always busy here. There are three hundred and forty two people who live here, and they all want to be in this room. What are you up to?” She asked it very naturally, like it was the most logical thing in the world for them to have a conversation on the phone, like they were already friends.
Cosima said, “We’re going exploring, whenever Rachel shows up. Do you want to come with?”
Alison’s eyes widened, and she opened her mouth, but Cosima motioned for her to shut up.
“What sort of exploring?”
Cosima lifted her eyes to the sky beyond the wall of windows. “Mountains. How do you feel about helicopters?”
There was a long pause. “What d’you mean?”
“As a mode of transportation.”
“Uh, noisy, I think. Is there gonna be a helicopter?”
“Yeah. Rachel wants to look for the ley line, and they’re usually easier to spot from the air.”
“And she just…got a helicopter.”
There was another long pause. Finally, Sarah said, “Okay, I’ll come. Is this a…What is this?”
Cosima replied, “I have no idea.”
It was fairly easy to disobey Siobhan. She was listening out for the front door, but Sarah just went into the backyard, hopped the fence, and met Cosima out the front.
“You look nice,” Cosima said, walking with her down the sidewalk. Sarah wasn’t sure if she was being serious. Sarah wore heavy boots she’d found at Goodwill, ripped black jeans, and a leather jacket over the same crop top from the other day. Cosima, on the other hand, wore a skirt-and-top-and-shawl-thing combo with lots of drapey layers. Some of them transparent. Some of them crochet.
They did not, Sarah mused with a bit of unease, look like they belonged together.
“Thanks,” she said, embarrassed. Then, fast, before she could lose her nerve, “Why did you want my number?”
Cosima kept walking, but she didn’t look away. She seemed shy until she didn’t. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Sarah said. Her cheeks felt a little warm, but she was well into this conversation and she couldn’t back out now. “But I’m not the kind of person Aglionby girls seem to like.”
“I go to Aglionby,” Cosima said.
Cosima did not seem to go to Aglionby like other girls went to Aglionby.
“I like you,” she said.
When she said it, Sarah heard her Henrietta accent for the first time that day, I stretched into Ah and like verging on becoming lark.
“You’ll learn,” Sarah said, to ease the tension. “But thanks.” Then she said, quickly, “I like you too.”
Cosima laughed her surprised laugh.
“I have another question,” Sarah said. “You remember the last thing my foster-mum said to Rachel?”
Cosima’s rueful face made it clear that she did.
“Right.” Sarah took a deep breath. “She said she wouldn’t help. But I didn’t.”
After Cosima had called, she’d hastily scrawled an unspecific map to the unnamed church where she’d sat with Carlton on St. Mark’s Eve. It was just a few scratched parallel lines to indicate the main road, some spidery named cross streets, and finally, a square labelled only THE CHURCH.
She handed Cosima this map, unimpressive on a wrinkled piece of notebook paper. Then, from her bag, she handed her Rachel’s journal.
Cosima stopped walking. Sarah, a few feet ahead of her, waited as she frowned at the things in her hands. She held the journal very carefully, like it was important to her, or perhaps like it was important to someone who was important to her.
“Rachel left that at Bobby’s Bar,” Sarah said quickly. “The book. I would’ve given it back at the reading, but Mum…well, you saw her. She doesn’t normally – she isn’t normally like that. Anyway. I want to be in on this thing, that you guys are doing. Like, if there’s something supernatural going on, I want to see it. That’s all.”
Cosima merely asked, “Why?”
Sarah blew out her breath. “I’m the only person in my family who’s not psychic. But I…I make things stronger for them. Sometimes I attract ghosts. I could make finding things easier, I reckon.”
Cosima nodded and tilted the notebook paper this way and that.
“That’s the way to the corpse ro– the ley line,” Sarah explained, pointing at her scratchy map. “The church is on the ley line.”
Cosima frowned. “You’re sure?”
Sarah gave her a withering look. “Either you believe me or you don’t. You’re the one who asked me to come. ‘Exploring’!”
Cosima’s face melted into a grin, which seemed much more natural for her features. “So you don’t do anything quiet, do you?”
The way she said it, Sarah could tell she was impressed with her in the way that boys were often impressed with Felix. Sarah shrugged. “Nothing worth doing.”
Cosima pointed to a fiendishly orange car. “That’s our ride.”
Sarah snorted. “Seriously?”
Cosima grinned again, happy to be ridiculed.
It turned out that Sarah had walked or biked past Rachel’s apartment every single day of the year, on the way to school and to Bobby’s Bar. Cosima pulled up outside the massive old office building, and Sarah spotted, in the overgrown parking lot, only a hundred yards away, a glistening navy blue helicopter.
She hadn’t really believed the part about the helicopter. Not in a way that prepared her for seeing, an actual, life-sized helicopter, sitting there in the lot, looking normal, like someone would park an SUV.
Sarah stopped in her tracks and breathed, “Holy shite.”
“I know,” Cosima said.
And here, again, was Rachel Duncan, and again Sarah had a strange shock of reconciling the image of her as a spirit and the reality of her beside a helicopter.
“Finally,” she said, clipping towards them. She was wearing an idiotic pair of white loafers, paired with denim shorts and a pure white Ralph Lauren polo shirt. She looked as if she was prepared for any emergency, as long as that emergency involved falling onto a yacht. In her hand she held a container of organic apple juice.
She pointed her no-pesticides juice at Sarah. “You’re coming along?”
Just as at the reading, Sarah felt cheap and small and stupid just by being in her presence. “Yeah, yep,” she said. “Guess I am.”
Rachel slung a burnished leather backpack over her burnished cotton shoulders. Her smile was gracious in a way that was pleased with itself for being so inclusive.
Behind her, the helicopter began to roar to life. Cosima stretched out her hand to give the journal to Rachel, who looked startled. Just a tiny bit of her composure slid, enough for Sarah to see once more that it was part of her Madame President mask.
“Where was it?” she called above the noise. Now that it was running, the blades of the helicopter didn’t so much roar as scream. Air beat against Sarah’s ears, more feeling than sound.
Cosima pointed at Sarah.
“Thank you,” Rachel said. It was a default answer, Sarah saw; she fell back onto her powerful politeness when she was taken by surprise. Also, she was still watching Cosima, taking her cues from her as to how she should react to Sarah. Cosima nodded, and the mask slipped a little more. Sarah wondered if the President Cell Phone demeanour ever vanished completely when she was around her friends. Maybe the Rachel she’d seen in the churchyard was what lay beneath. She wasn’t sure she liked that thought.
The air rumbled around them. Cosima’s shawl-thing looked like it might fly away.
Sarah asked, “Is this thing safe?”
Cosima shrugged. “Safe as life.”
“We’re behind schedule,” Rachel said. As she ducked to approach the helicopter, her shirt, too, flapped against her back.
“I’ve never flown,” Sarah confessed to Cosima, a shout to be heard over the whine of the helicopter.
“Ever?” Cosima shouted back.
She shook her head. Cosima put her mouth right against Sarah’s ear so that she could hear her. She smelled like summer and shampoo. Sarah felt a tickle go all the way from her belly button to her feet.
“I’ve flown once,” Cosima said. Her breath was warm on Sarah’s skin. Sarah was paralysed, all she could think was This is how close a kiss is. It felt every bit as dangerous as S said it was. Cosima added, “Don’t worry!”
A moment passed, both of them motionless. Sarah needed to tell her that she couldn’t kiss her – just in case Cosima was her true love – but how could she? How could she tell a girl that before she even knew if Cosima wanted to kiss her at all?
She felt Cosima take her hand.
At the door to the helicopter, Rachel looked back at them, her smile complicated when she saw them holding hands.
“We’re nervous,” Cosima shouted at Rachel.
“I can see that,” she called back, amused.
Inside the helicopter, there was room for three passengers on a bench seat in the back, and one in a utilitarian seat beside the pilot. The interior would have resembled the backseat of a really big car if the seat belts hadn’t had five-point fasteners that looked like they belonged in an X-wing fighter. Sarah didn’t like to think about why passengers had to be strapped down so securely.
Alison was already installed in a window seat. She didn’t smile when she looked up. Cosima took the middle seat, while Sarah took the remaining window seat.
When Rachel climbed into the front seat beside the pilot, Sarah saw that she had on a strangely ferocious smile, incredibly pleased to be going wherever they were going. It was some private joy that she nevertheless shared with them all by virtue of being in the helicopter with them.
Cosima leaned towards Sarah as if she was about to say something, but ultimately, she just shook her head, as if Rachel was a joke too complicated to explain.
In front, Rachel turned to the pilot, who surprised Sarah a little – a young man with an impressively straight nose, his hair swept into a careful wave, headphones clamping down any loose strands. He seemed to find Sarah and Cosima’s proximity far more interesting than Rachel had.
The pilot called to Rachel, “Aren’t you going to introduce us, Rachel?”
Rachel made a face.
“Sarah,” she said, “I’d like you to meet my brother, Ira.”
There wasn’t much Rachel didn’t like about flying. She liked airports, with their sleek lines and masses of people all doing things, and she liked planes, with their humming engines and their ability to make anyone and everyone below look like ants. The way that a jet charged down a runway reminded her of how the Bugatti pressed her back in the driver’s seat when she hit the gas. The whine of a helicopter sounded like productivity. Rachel derived a large part of her pleasure from meeting goals, and a large part of that large part was pleased by meeting goals efficiently. There was nothing more efficient than aiming for your destination as the crow flew.
Below them, the surface of the world was deeply green, and cutting through the green was a narrow, shining river, a mirror to the sky.
Something prickled at Rachel. With Sarah here, the thought occurred to her that the helicopter could be seen as an extravagance rather than a practical necessity. She wondered if it would make Sarah feel better or worse to know that it was Ira’s helicopter, that she hadn’t paid anything today for the use of it. Probably worse.
“There she is,” Ira’s voice reported directly into Rachel’s ears; in the helicopter, they all wore headsets to allow them to converse through the ceaseless noise of the blades and the engine. “Rachel’s only love.”
Cosima’s snort barely made it through the headset, but Rachel knew her well enough to know it was there.
Sarah said, “She must be pretty big to see her from up here.”
“Henrietta,” Ira replied. “Her lawfully wedded wife.”
“If you’re going to embarrass me, I’ll throw you out and fly myself,” Rachel said from the seat beside him. He threw her a disbelieving look.
“Did you buy Mother a birthday present?” Ira asked.
“Not yet,” Rachel said. “Are minor children required to get gifts for their parents? I’m a dependent.”
“You, a dependent!” her brother said, and laughed. “You haven’t been a dependent since you were four. You went straight from kindergarten to middle-aged woman with a studio apartment.”
Rachel made a dismissive hand gesture. “What did you get her?”
“It’s a surprise,” Ira replied loftily, tapping some sort of toggle switch with a white-sleeved arm. This was his standard colour, along with grey. There was nothing fanciful about Ira. He was handsome in the way a super-computer was handsome, sleek with elegant but utilitarian styling, full of top-notch technological know-how, far too expensive for most people to possess.
“That means it’s a Westmoreland book.”
Rachel’s mother collected the rarer works of the historic scientist P.T Westmoreland with the same obsessive fervour that Rachel collected facts about Glendower. Rachel had a hard time seeing the appeal of Westmoreland’s outdated theories, but her mother’s collection had been featured in magazines and was insured for more than her father, so clearly she was not alone in her passion.
Ira was stony-faced. “I don’t want to hear it. You didn’t get her anything.”
Rachel, amused, said, “I didn’t say anything.”
Ira said, “It’s a different scientist. Not Westmoreland. One of his contemporaries. He’s mentioned.”
“Then she won’t like it.”
Ira’s face shifted from stony to very stony. He furrowed his brow at his GPS. Rachel didn’t like to think of how much time Ira had invested in his non-Westmoreland Westmoreland book. She didn’t like to see Ira or Susan disappointed; it ruined perfectly good meals.
Ira was still silent, so Rachel moved her attention elsewhere.
“Cosima,” she said. There was no answer, and Rachel looked over her shoulder. Cosima’s headphones were looped around her neck, and she was leaned over beside Sarah, pointing something out on the ground below. As she’d shifted, Sarah’s crop top had hitched up and Rachel could see a long, slender triangle of her side. Cosima’s hand was braced a few inches away on the seat. There was nothing particularly intimate about the way they sat, but something about it made Rachel feel strange, like she’d heard an unpleasant statement and later forgotten everything about the words but the way they had made her feel.
“Cosima!” Rachel shouted.
Her friend’s head jerked up, her face startled. She hurried to pull her headset back on. Her voice came through the headphones. “Are you done talking about your mom’s racist old scientist dude?”
“Very. Where should we go this time? I was thinking perhaps the church where I recorded the voice.”
Cosima handed Rachel a wrinkled piece of paper. She flattened the paper and found a crude map. “What’s this?”
Rachel looked at Sarah intently, trying to decide if she had anything to gain by misdirecting them. Sarah didn’t flinch from her gaze. Turning back around, she spread the paper flat on the controls in front of her. “Make that happen, Ira.”
Ira banked to follow the new direction. The church Sarah directed them toward was probably forty minutes’ drive from Henrietta, but as the bird flew, it was only fifteen. Without a noise from Sarah, Rachel would have missed it. It was a ruin, hollowed and overgrown. A narrow line of an old, old stone wall was visible around it, as well as an impression on the ground where an additional wall must have originally been. “That’s it?”
“That’s all there is left.”
Something inside Rachel went very still and quiet.
She said, “What did you say?”
“It’s a ruin, but –”
“No,” she said. “Say precisely what you said before. Please.”
Sarah cast a glance towards Cosima, who shrugged. “I don’t remember what I said. Was it…That’s all there is?
Is that all?
That was what had been nagging her all this time. She knew she recognised Sarah’s voice. She knew that accent, she knew that cadence.
It was Sarah’s voice on the recorder.
Is that all?
Duncan. Rachel Duncan.
“I’m not made out of fuel,” Ira said waspishly, as if he’d already said it once, and Rachel had missed it. Maybe he had.
What does this mean? Once more, she began to feel the press of responsibility, awe, something bigger then herself. At once she was anticipatory and afraid.
“What’s the lay of the line, Sarah?” Cosima asked.
Sarah, who had her thumb and forefinger pressed against the glass as if she was measuring something, answered, “There. Toward the mountains. Fly…See those two oak trees? The church is one point, and another point is right between them. If we make a straight line between those two, that’s the path.”
If it had been Sarah she’d been talking to on St. Mark’s Eve, what did that mean? This girl who raised a baby raven, of all things, in her spare time. It couldn’t be a coincidence.
“Are you certain?” This was Ira, in his brisk super-computer voice. “I only have an hour and a half of fuel.”
Sarah sounded indignant. “I wouldn’t’ve said it if I wasn’t.”
Ira inclined his head and pushed the helicopter in the direction Sarah had indicated.
It was Alison’s voice, for the first time, and everyone, even Ira, twisted their heads toward her. Her head was cocked in a way that Rachel recognised as dangerous. Something in her eyes was sharp as she stared at Sarah. She asked, “Do you know Rachel?”
Rachel remembered Alison leaning against the Bugatti, playing the recording over and over again.
Sarah looked defensive under their stares. She said reluctantly, “Only her name.”
With her fingers linked loosely together, elbows on knees, Alison leaned forward across Cosima to be closer to Sarah. She could be unbelievably threatening.
“And how is it,” she asked, “you came to know Rachel’s name?”
To her credit, Sarah didn’t back down. She said, “First of all, get out of my face.”
“Why should I listen to you?”
“Alison,” said Rachel.
Alison sat back.
“I would like to know, though,” Rachel said. Her heart felt like it weighed nothing at all.
Looking down, Sarah fiddled with a loose thread coming from the rip in her jeans. Finally, she said, “Okay. Fine.” She pointed at Alison and scowled. “But that is not happening again. Next time she gets in my face, I let you find this thing on your own. I’ll – listen. I’ll tell you how I knew your name if you explain to me what that shape is that you have in your journal.”
“Tell me why we’re negotiating with terrorists?” Alison asked.
“Since when am I a bloody terrorist?” Sarah said, outraged. “Seems to me I came bringing something you girls wanted, and now you’re being right bitches.”
“Not all of us,” Cosima said.
Rachel said, “What is this thing you want to know?”
Sarah reached her hand out. “Hold on. I’ll show you.”
Rachel let her take the journal again. Leafing through the pages, Sarah turned it to her so that she could see the one in question. The page detailed an artefact she’d seen in Pennsylvania.
“This,” Sarah said, tapping the three intersecting lines Rachel had drawn beneath the description.
“They’re ley lines.” She stretched out a hand for the journal. For a strange, hyperaware moment, she realised how closely Sarah watched her as she took it. She didn’t think it missed Sarah’s notice how quickly and easily she found her place, without even looking. The journal and Rachel were clearly well-acquainted, and Rachel didn’t mind her knowing. This is who I am.
She flipped it open to the page she wanted – a map of the United States, marked all over with curving lines.
She traced a finger over one line that stretched through New York City and Washington, D.C. Another intersecting line that stretched from Boston to St. Louis. A third that cut horizontally across the two, stretching through Virginia and Kentucky and on west. There was, as always, something satisfying about tracing the lines, something that called to mind scavenger hunts and childhood drawings.
“These are the main lines,” Rachel said. “The ones that seem to matter.”
“How much of this did you read?”
“Um. Some. Most.”
She continued, “The ones that seem to matter as far as finding Glendower. That line across Virginia is the one that connects us to the UK. The United Kingdom.”
Sarah rolled her eyes dramatically enough that Rachel caught the gesture without turning her head. “I know what the UK is, thanks.”
She’d managed to offend again, with no effort at all. She concurred, “Of course you do. Those other two lines have a lot of reports of unusual sightings on them. Of…paranormal things. Poltergeists and Mothmen and black dogs.”
But her hesitation was unnecessary, Sarah didn’t scoff.
“Kira drew that shape,” she said. “The ley lines. So did Carlt – a friend of my mum’s. They didn’t know what it was, though, only that it would be significant. That’s why I wanted to know.”
“Now you,” Alison said to Sarah.
“I – saw Rachel’s spirit,” she said. “I’ve never seen one before. I don’t see things like that, but this time I did. I asked you your name, and you told me. ‘Duncan. Rachel Duncan.’ It’s part of the reason I agreed to come with you.”
This answer satisfied Rachel fairly well – Sarah was, after all, the daughter of a psychic, and it matched the account her recorder gave – though it struck her as a partial answer. Alison demanded, “Saw her where?”
“While I was sitting outside with my mum’s visitor.”
There was a moment of silence, occupied only by the continuous droning whine of the helicopter. They were waiting, Rachel knew, for her verdict. Did she believe Sarah’s answer, did she think they should follow her directions, did she trust her?
Her voice was on the recorder. Rachel felt like she didn’t have choice. What she was thinking, but didn’t want to say with Ira listening in, was, Beth was right, it’s starting, something’s starting. She was also thinking, Tell me what you think of her, Cosima. Tell me why you trust her. Don’t make me decide for once. I don’t know if I’m right. But what she said was, “I’m going to need everyone to be straight with each other from now on. No more games. This isn’t just for Sarah, either. All of us.”
Cosima said, “I’m always straight,” and then immediately laughed. She added, “Oh man, that’s the biggest lie I’ve ever told.”
Alison said, “Okay.”
The headsets fell silent as Sarah, Cosima, and Rachel all stared intently out the window. Below them was green and more green, everything toy-like and quaint from this height, a play-set of velvet fields and broccoli trees.
“What are we looking for?” Ira asked.
Rachel said, “The usual.”
The usual more often than not turned out to be acres of nothing, but Rachel said, “Sometimes, the ley lines are marked in ways that are visible from the air. Like in the UK, some of the lines are marked with horses carved into hillsides.”
She’d been in a fixed-wing plane with Leekie the first time she’d seen the Uffington Horse, a three-hundred-foot horse scraped into the side of an English chalk hill. Like everything associated with the ley lines, the horse was not quite…ordinary. It was stretched and stylised, an elegant, eerie silhouette that was more suggestion of a horse than actual horse.
Cosima told Sarah, “In Peru, there are hundreds of lines cut into the ground in the shapes of birds and monkeys and men and imaginary creatures. Thousands of years old, but they only make sense from the air. They’re too big to see from the ground. When you’re standing next to them, they just look like scraped footpaths.”
“You’ve seen them in person?” Sarah asked.
Cosima shook her head. “Rachel has.”
When Rachel had seen the Nazca Lines for herself, massive and strange and symmetrical, she’d known that she wouldn’t be able to give up until she found Glendower. The scale of the lines was what had struck her first – hundreds upon hundreds of feet of curious drawings in the middle of the desert. She’d been stunned by their precision. The drawings were mathematical in their perfection, faultless in their symmetry. And the last thing to hit her, right in her gut, was the emotional impact, a mysterious, raw ache that wouldn’t go away. Rachel felt like she couldn’t survive not knowing if the lines meant something.
“Rachel,” Alison said. “What’s that, there?”
The helicopter slowed as all four passengers craned their necks. By now, they were deep into the mountains, and the ground had risen to meet them. All around them were rippling flanks of mysterious green forests, a rolling dark sea from above. Among the slopes and gullies, however, was a slanting, green-carpeted field marked by a pale fracture of lines.
“Does it make a shape?” Rachel asked. “Ira, stop. Stop.”
“Do you think this is a bicycle?” demanded Ira, but the helicopter’s forward progress stopped.
“Look,” Alison said. “There’s a wing, there. And there, a beak. A bird?”
“No,” Sarah said, voice cold and even. “Not just a bird. It’s a raven.”
Slowly the form became clear to Rachel, emerging from the overgrown grass: a bird, yes, neck twisted backwards and wings pressed as if in a book. Tail feathers splayed and claws simplified.
Sarah was right. Even stylized, the dome of the head, the generous curve of the beak, and the ruffle of feathers on its neck made the bird unmistakeably a raven.
Her skin prickled.
“Put the helicopter down,” Rachel said immediately.
Ira replied, “I can’t land on private property.”
Rachel gave him a disparaging look. She needed to write down the GPS coordinates. She needed to take a photo for her records. She needed to sketch the shape of it in her journal. More than anything, she needed to touch the lines of the bird and make it real in her head. “Ira. Two minutes.”
His return look was knowing; it was the sort of condescending look that might have caused arguments when Rachel was younger and more easily riled. “If the landowner discovers me there and decides to press charges, I could lose my license.”
“Two minutes. You saw. There’s no one around for miles and miles; no houses.”
Ira met her eyes with a level gaze. “I’m supposed to be at our parents’ house in two hours.”
Shaking his head, Ira turned back towards the controls.
“Thank you, Ira,” Cosima said.
“Two minutes,” Ira repeated. “If you aren’t done by then, I’m taking off without you.”
The helicopter landed fifteen feet away from the strange raven’s heart.
As soon as the helicopter had touched down, Rachel leapt from the cabin and strode into the thigh-high grass as if she owned the place, Alison by her side. Through the open door of the helo, Sarah heard Rachel say Beth’s name to the phone before repeating the GPS coordinates for the field. She was energized and powerful, a queen in her castle.
Sarah, on the other hand, was a little slower. For a multitude of reasons, her legs felt a little gelled after flying. She wasn’t sure if not telling Rachel the entire truth about St. Mark’s Eve was the right decision, and she anticipated more confrontations with Alison.
She climbed out. Beside her, Cosima shielded her yes. She looked at home here, her skirt and shawl flowing with the same gentle breeze as the grass. Sarah thought about how Cosima had taken her hand earlier, and considered how much she’d like her to do it again.
With some surprise, Cosima said, “Those lines are pretty invisible from here.” She was right, of course. Though Sarah had seen the raven as they touched down beside it, whatever geographical feature had made the shape was now completely hidden.
A shout echoed off the tree-covered slopes around the field. “Are you listening, Glendower? I am coming to find you!” It was Rachel. Sarah and Cosima found her in the middle of a clear, pale path, her arms stretched out and her head tilted back. Cosima’s mouth made the silent shape of a laugh.
Rachel smiled at them both. She was hard to resist in this form: glowing with rows and rows of white teeth, a college brochure in the making.
“Oyster shells,” she said, leaning to pick up one of the pale objects that made up the path. The fragment was pure white, the edges blunt and worn. “That’s what makes up the raven. Like they use for roads down in the tidewater area. Oyster shells on bare rock. What do you think of that?”
“I think that’s a lot of oyster shells to bring up from the coast,” Cosima replied. “I also think Glendower would’ve come from the coast too.”
Rachel pointed at Cosima by way of reply.
Sarah crossed her arms over her chest. “So you think they put Glendower’s body in a boat in Wales, sailed over to Virginia, then brought him up to the mountains. Why?”
“Energy,” Rachel replied. Rummaging in her bag, she removed a small black box that looked a lot like a very small car battery.
Sarah asked, “What’s that? Apart from expensive.”
Rachel twiddled with switches on the side as she explained, “An electromagnetic-frequency meter. It monitors energy levels. Some people use them for ghost hunting. It’s supposed to have a high reading when you’re near a spirit. But it’s also supposed to read high when you’re near an energy source. Like a ley line.”
Most of Rachel’s attention was on the meter, which showed two faint red lights. She continued, “One of the other names for the ley line is corpse –”
“Corpse road,” Sarah interrupted. “I know.”
Rachel looked pleased and magnanimous, as if Sarah were a star pupil. “So tell me. You probably know better than I.”
As before, her accent was the broad, glorious old money accent, and Sarah’s words felt clumsy beside her.
“I just know that the dead travel in straight lines,” she said. “That they used to carry corpses in straight lines to churches to bury them. Along what you call the ley line. It was supposed to be really bad to take them on any other route than the way they’d choose to travel as a spirit.”
“Right,” Rachel said. “So it stands to reason there’s something about the line that fortifies or protects a corpse. The soul. The…animus. The quiddity of it.”
Cosima laughed at that, to Sarah’s relief. “Nobody knows what quiddity is.”
“The whatness, Cosima. Whatever it is that makes a person who they are. If they removed Glendower from the corpse road, I think the magic that keeps him asleep would be disrupted.”
Sarah said, “So he’d die for good if he was removed from the line.”
“Yes,” Rachel said. The blinking lights on her machine had begun to flash more heavily, leading them over the raven’s beak and toward the tree line where Alison already stood.
Sarah asked, “And why not just leave him in Wales? Isn’t that where they want him to wake up and be a hero?”
“It was an uprising, and he was a traitor to the English crown,” Rachel said. The easy way she began the story, at once striding through the grass and eyeing the EMF reader, let Sarah know she had told it many times before. “Glendower fought the English for years, and it was ugly, all struggle between noble families with mixed allegiances. The Welsh resistance failed. Glendower disappeared. If the English had known where he was, dead or alive, there’s no way they’d treat his body the way the Welsh wanted it treated. Haven’t you heard of being hung, drawn, and quartered?”
Sarah asked, “Is it as painful as conversations with Alison?”
Rachel cast a glance over at Alison, who was a small, indistinct form by the trees. Cosima audibly swallowed a laugh.
“Depends on if Alison is sober,” Rachel answered.
Cosima’s eyes slid sideways at that, so Sarah changed the subject back to Glendower.
“They’d really go to all this trouble to hide his body?”
Rachel said, “Well, look at Ned Kelly.”
She delivered the nonsensical statement so matter-of-factly that Sarah felt abruptly stupid, as if maybe the public school system really was lacking. Or maybe Sarah just didn’t go to enough classes.
Then Cosima said, with a glance towards Sarah, “Nobody knows who Ned Kelly is either, Rachel.”
“Really?” Rachel asked. She seemed so genuinely surprised that Sarah decided that this time she really hadn’t meant to be condescending – she was certainly capable of doing it on purpose, too, but it seemed as though most of the time that was just the way she spoke. “He was an Australian outlaw. When the British caught him, they did awful things with his body. I think the chief of police used his head as a paperweight for a while. Just think what Glendower’s enemies would do to him. If the Welsh wanted a shot at Glendower being resurrected, they would’ve wanted his body unmolested.”
“Why the mountains, then?” Sarah insisted. “Why isn’t he right on the shore?”
This seemed to remind Rachel of something, because instead of replying to her, she turned to Cosima. “I called Leekie about that ritual, to see if he’d tried it. He said he didn’t think it could be performed just anywhere on the ley line. He guessed it had to be done on the ‘heart’ of it, where the most energy is. I’m thinking that someplace like that is also where they’d want Glendower.”
Cosima turned to Sarah. “What about your energy?”
The question took her by surprise. “What?”
“You said that you made things louder for other psychics,” Cosima said. “Is that about energy?”
Sarah was absurdly pleased that she’d remembered, and also absurdly pleased that Cosima had replied to her instead of Rachel, who was now swatting gnats out of her eyes and waiting for her response.
“Yeah,” she said. “I guess I make things that need energy stronger. I’m like a walking battery.”
“You’re the table everyone wants at Starbucks,” Rachel mused as she began to walk again.
Sarah blinked. “What?”
Over her shoulder, Rachel said, “Next to the wall plug.” She pressed the EMF reader into the side of a tree and observed both objects with great interest.
Cosima shook her head at Sarah. To Rachel, she said, “I’m saying that she could maybe turn a regular part of the ley line into a doable place for the ritual. Wait, are we going in the woods? What about Ira?”
“It hasn’t been two minutes,” Rachel said, although it clearly had been. “That’s an interesting idea about the energy. Though – can your battery get drained?”
“Well, this is interesting,” Rachel remarked. She straddled a tiny stream at the very edge of the trees. It was really just water that had bubbled up from an underground source, soaking the grass. Rachel’s attention was focused entirely on the EMF reader she held directly above the water. The meter pegged.
“Ira,” Cosima reminded her. Alison had rejoined them, and both girls looked in the direction of the helicopter.
“I said this is interesting,” Rachel repeated.
Alison said, “And she said Ira.”
“Just a couple of yards.”
The stream trickled sluggishly out of the woods from between two diamond-barked dogwoods. With Rachel in the lead, they all followed the water into the trees. Immediately, the temperature dropped several degrees. Sarah hadn’t realised how much insect noise there was in the field until it was replaced by occasional birdsong under the trees. This was a beautiful, old wood, all massive oak and ash trees finding footing among great slabs of cracked stone. Ferns sprang from rocks and verdant moss grew up the sides of the tree trunks. The air itself was scented with green and growing and water. The light was golden through the leaves. Everything was alive, alive.
Cosima breathed, “This is lovely.”
“What are we even looking for?” Alison asked.
Sarah felt oddly defensive, her posture hunching instinctively.
Rachel was a bloodhound, the EMF reader leading her along the widening stream. The moving water had become too wide to straddle, and now it ran in a bed of pebbles and sharp fragments of rock, and, strangely enough, a few of the oyster shells. “What we’re always looking for.”
Alison warned, “Ira is going to hate you.”
“He’ll text me if he gets too annoyed,” Rachel said. To demonstrate, she slid her phone out of her pocket. “Oh – there’s no signal.”
Given their location in the mountains, the lack of signal was unsurprising, but Rachel stopped short. While the four of them made an uneven circle, she thumbed through the screens on her phone. In her other hand, the EMF reader glowed a solid red. Her voice sounded a little strange when she said, “Is anyone wearing a watch?”
Weekends, of all times, were not generally days of precise timing for Sarah, so she was not, and Cosima had only a collection of bangles on her arm. Alison lifted her wrist. She wore a slim, silver watch.
“I am,” she said, “but it doesn’t seem to be working.”
Without speaking, Rachel turned the face of her phone to them. It was set to clock function, and it took Sarah a moment to realise that none of the hands were moving. For a long moment the four of them just looked at the three still hands on the clock’s face. Sarah’s heart marked off every second the clock didn’t.
“Is it – ” Alison started, and then stopped. She tried again, “Is it because the power is being affected by the energy of the line?”
Cosima said slowly, “Affecting your watch? Your windup watch?”
“It’s true,” Rachel answered. “My phone’s still on. So’s the reader. It’s only that time has…I wonder if…”
But there were no answers, and they all knew it.
“I want to go on,” Rachel said. “Just a little farther.”
She waited to see if they would argue. No one said anything, but as Rachel set off again, vaulting over the top of a slab of stone, Alison beside her, Cosima glanced at Sarah. Her expression asked, Are you okay?
Sarah stretched her hand out.
Cosima took it without hesitation, like she’d been waiting for her to offer it. Cosima said in a low voice, just for her, “My heart’s going so fast right now.”
Strangely enough, it was not her fingers twined in Sarah’s that affected her the strongest, it was where Cosima's warm wrist pressed against hers above their hands.
I need to tell her that she can’t kiss me, Sarah thought.
But not yet. Right now, she wanted to feel Cosima’s skin pressed against hers, both of their pulses rapid and uncertain.
Hand in hand, they climbed after Rachel. The trees grew even larger, some of them grown together into trunks like castles, turreted and huge. The canopy soared high overhead, rustling and reverent. Everything was green, green, green. Somewhere ahead, water splashed. For one brief moment, Sarah thought she heard music.
Rachel’s voice sounded forlorn. She’d stopped by a mighty beech tree and now searched around herself. Catching up to her, Sarah realised she’d stopped by the shore of a mountain pool that fed the stream they’d been following. The pool was only a few inches deep and perfectly clear. The water was so transparent that it begged to be touched.
“I thought I heard – ” Rachel broke off. Her eyes dropped to where Cosima held Sarah’s hand. Again, her face was somehow puzzled by the fact of their hand-holding.
Rachel turned to the pool of water. In her hand, the EMF reader had gone dark. Crouching, she hovered her free hand over the water. Her fingers were spread wide, millimetres from the surface. Beneath her hand, the water shifted and darkened, and Sarah realised that there were a thousand tiny fish just underneath. They flashed silver and then black as they moved, clinging to the faint shadow Rachel cast.
Cosima asked, “How are there fish here?”
The stream they’d followed into the woods was far too shallow for fish, and above them, the pool seemed to be feed by rainfall from higher up the mountain. Fish didn’t come from the sky.
Rachel replied, “I don’t know.”
The fish tumbled and coursed over one another, ceaselessly moving, tiny enigmas. Again, Sarah thought she heard music, but when she looked at Cosima, she thought maybe it had just been the sound of her breathing.
Rachel looked up to them, and Sarah saw in her face that she loved this place. Her bald expression was something new: not the raw delight of finding the ley line or the sly pleasure of making digs at Sarah.
Sarah recognised the strange happiness that came from loving something without knowing why you did, that strange happiness that was sometimes so big it felt like sadness. It was the way she had felt when she first held Kira.
Just like that, she was a little bit closer to the Rachel that Sarah had seen in the churchyard, and Sarah found she couldn’t bear to look at her.
“Cosima.” This was Alison’s voice. Cosima pulled her hand free from Sarah’s to follow Alison slowly and cautiously around the edge of the pool. The sound of snapping branches became softer as they moved farther away.
“I don’t think these fish are real,” Rachel said softly.
It was such a ridiculous thing to say that Sarah turned to look at her again. She was tipping her hand back and forth as she watched the water.
“I think they’re here because I thought they ought to be here,” Rachel said.
Sarah replied sarcastically, “Okay, God.”
Rachel twisted her hand again; she saw the fish’s forms flash in the water once more. “At the reading, what was it that the little girl said? Your sister? She said it was about – perception – no, intention.”
“Kira. Intention is for cards,” Sarah said. “That’s for a reading, for letting someone into your head, to see patterns in the future and the past. Not for fish. How could intention work on a fish? That’s ridiculous.”
Rachel asked, “What colour were the fish when we arrived?”
They’d been black and silver, or at least they had looked it in the reflection. Rachel, she was certain, was reaching for signs of inexplicable magic, but Sarah wasn’t going to be swayed so easily. Blue and brown could look black or silver, depending on the light. Nonetheless, she joined Rachel, crouching in the moist dirt beside the pool. Rachel’s white loafers were somehow still pristine. The fish were all dark and indistinct in the shadow of her hand.
“I was watching them and wondering how they’d gotten here and then I remembered that there was a kind of trout that often live in smaller creeks,” Rachel said. “Wild brook trout, I believe they’re called. I thought, that would make a little more sense. Maybe they were introduced by man, somehow, in this pool, or in a pool further up the stream. That’s what I was thinking. Brook trout are silver on top and red on the bottom.”
“Okay,” Sarah said.
Rachel’s outstretched hand was very still. “Tell me there were no red fish in this pool when we arrived.”
When she didn’t answer, Rachel looked at her. Sarah shook her head. There’d definitely been no red.
Rachel pulled her hand back quickly.
The tiny school of fish darted and leapt for cover, but not before Sarah saw that every single one of them was silver and red.
Not a little red, but bright red, sunset red, red as a dream. Like they had never been any other colour.
“I don’t understand,” Sarah said. Something in her ached, though, like she did understand, but couldn’t put words to it, wrap her thoughts around it. She felt like she was part of a dream this place was having, or it was a part of a dream of hers.
“I don’t, either.”
They both turned their heads then, at the sound of a voice from their left.
“Was that Cosima?” Sarah asked. It seemed strange that she had to ask, but nothing felt very definite.
Again they heard Cosima’s voice, more clearly this time. She and Alison stood on the other side of the pool. Just behind them was an oak tree. A man-sized rotten cavity gaped blackly in its trunk. In the pool at her feet was a reflection of both Cosima and the tree, the mirror image colder and more distant than reality.
Alison rubbed her arms fiercely, as if chilled. Cosima stood beside her, looking over her shoulder at something Sarah couldn’t see.
“Come here,” Cosima said. “And stand in there. And tell me if I’m losing my mind.” Her accent was pronounced, which Sarah was beginning to learn meant that she was either nervous or very happy.
Sarah peered at the cavity. Like all holes in trees, it looked moist and uneven and black, the fungus in the bark still working away at enlarging the crater. The edges of the entrance were jagged and thin, making the tree’s continued survival seem miraculous.
“Are you alright?” Rachel asked Alison.
“Close your eyes,” Alison told her. Her arms were crossed, her hands gripping her biceps. The way she was breathing reminded Sarah of the way it felt to wake after a nightmare, heart pounding, breath snagging, legs aching from a chase you never really ran. “After you stand in there, I mean.”
“I’ll go,” Sarah said. Stepping into the cavity, she turned so that she faced the outside world. The air inside the cavity smelled damp and close. It was warm, too, and although Sarah knew it must be because of the rotting process, it made the tree seem as warm-blooded as her.
In front of her, Alison’s arms were still gripped around herself. What does she think is gonna happen in here?
Sarah closed her eyes. Almost at once, she could smell rain – not the scent of rain coming, but the living, shifting odour of a storm currently waging, the wide-open scent of a breeze moving through water. Then she became aware that something was touching her face.
When she opened her eyes, she was both in her body and watching it, nowhere near the cavity of the tree. The Sarah that was before her stood inches away from a girl in an Aglionby sweater. There was a slight slump to her posture, and her shoulders were spattered darkly with rain. It was her fingers that Sarah felt on her face. She touched Sarah’s cheeks with the backs of her fingers.
Tears coursed down the other Sarah’s face. Through some strange magic, Sarah could feel them on her face as well. She could feel, too, the sick, rising misery she’d felt in the churchyard, the grief that felt bigger than her. The other Sarah’s tears showed no sign of stopping. One drop slid after another, each following an identical path down her cheeks.
The girl in the Aglionby sweater leaned her forehead against Sarah’s. She felt the pressure of the girl’s skin against hers, and suddenly she could smell mint.
It’s alright, Rachel told the other Sarah. She could tell that Rachel was afraid. It’ll be okay.
Impossibly, Sarah realised that this other Sarah was crying because she loved Rachel. And that the reason Rachel touched her like that, her fingers so careful with her, was because she knew that Sarah’s kiss could kill her. She could feel how badly the other Sarah wanted to kiss her, even as she dreaded it. Though she couldn’t understand why, her real, present day memories in the tree cavity were clouded with other false memories of their lips nearly touching, a life this other Sarah had already lived.
Okay, I’m ready – Rachel’s voice caught, just a little. Sarah, kiss me.
Shaken, Sarah opened her eyes for real, and now she saw the darkness of the cavity around her and smelled the dark, rotten scent of the tree again. Her guts were twisted with the ghostly grief and desire she’d felt in the vision. She was sick and embarrassed, and when she stepped out of the tree, she couldn’t look at Rachel.
“Well?” Rachel asked.
She said, “It’s…something.”
When she didn’t explain further, Rachel took her place in the tree.
It had seemed so real. Was this the future? Was this an alternate future? Was this just a waking dream? She couldn’t imagine falling in love with Rachel, of all people, but in that vision, it had seemed not just plausible, but indisputable.
As Rachel turned inside the cavity, Alison took Sarah’s arm and dragged her closer. She wasn’t gentle, but Sarah didn’t think she meant to be rough. She did startle, though, when she realised that Alison was crying.
“I want you to know,” Alison whispered furiously. “I would never do that. It wasn’t real. I’d never do that to her.”
Her fingers were tight on Sarah’s arm, and she felt her shaking. Sarah blinked at Alison, wiping her own cheeks dry. It took her a moment to realise that Alison must have seen something entirely different than she had.
But if she asked what Alison had seen, she’d have to tell her what she’d seen.
Cosima was staring at them, raw, and Sarah wondered if there was a third vision that she had seen.
A few feet away in the cavity, Rachel’s head was bowed. She looked like a statue in a church, her hands clasped in front of her. There was something very ancient about her just then, with the tree arched over her and her eyelids rendered colourless in the shadows. She was herself, but she was something else, too – that something Sarah had first seen in her at the reading, that sense of otherness, of something more, seemed to radiate from that still portrait of Rachel enshrined in the dark tree.
Alison’s face was turned away, and now, now, Sarah knew what the expression was: shame. Whatever she had seen in her vision in the hollowed tree, she was certain Rachel was seeing it too, and she couldn’t bear it.
Rachel’s eyes flicked open.
“What did you see?” Sarah asked warily.
Rachel cocked her head. It was a slow, dreamlike gesture.
She said, “I saw Glendower.”
As Alison had warned, it had not taken two minutes to explore the raven cut into the ground, follow the creek into the woods, watch the fish change colours, discover a hallucinatory tree, and return to Ira.
According to Rachel’s watch, it had taken seven minutes.
Ira had been coldly furious. When Rachel told him that seven minutes was a miracle, and really, they should’ve been gone forty, it had caused such an argument that Alison, Cosima and Sarah had removed their headphones and left the siblings to their sniping. Without the headphones, of course, the three of them in the rear seat were robbed of the power of speech. It should have created an awkward silence, but instead, it was easier without words.
“It’s impossible,” Sarah said, the moment the helicopter had left the lot quiet enough to speak. “Time…stopped.”
“Not impossible,” Rachel replied, crossing the parking lot to the building. She opened the door to Monmouth’s first floor and called up the dim stairwell, “Beth, are you home?”
Cosima said, “According to ley-line theory, time can be a fluid thing right on the line.”
“What about that thing in the tree?” Sarah asked. “Was that a hallucination? A dream?”
Glendower. It was Glendower. Glendower. Glendower.
Rachel couldn’t stop seeing it. She felt excited, or scared, or both.
“I don’t know,” she said. She pulled out her keys and swatted Cosima’s hand away when she reached for them. It would be a cold, cold day in a Virginia summer when Cosima was allowed to drive the Bugatti. She’d seen Cosima on the phone while driving, talking with her hands while driving, and the idea of what she could do with Rachel’s car in her command was unthinkable. “But I intend to find out. Come on, let’s go.”
“Go? Where?” Alison asked.
“Anywhere,” Rachel said. The other two girls were already jostling toward the Bugatti. She felt high as a kite, euphoric. “The dentist. Someplace awful.”
“I have to be back by…” Alison trailed off. “I don’t know when. Sometime reasonable?”
“What’s reasonable?” Rachel asked, and Sarah laughed.
“We’ll get you back before you turn into a pumpkin,” Cosima said.
Rachel had a sense of incredible rightness, then, with everyone assembled in the Bugatti. Like Sarah, not the ley line, was the missing piece she’d been needing all these years, like the search for Glendower wasn’t truly underway until Sarah was part of it. She was right like Cosima had been right, like Alison had been right, like Beth had been right. When each of them had joined her, she’d felt a rush of relief, and in the helicopter, she’d felt exactly the same way when she’d realised it was Sarah’s voice on the recorder.
“Where are we going?” Cosima asked.
“Gelato. Also, Sarah’s going to tell us how she knew where the ley line was,” Rachel said. “We’re going to strategize and decide what the next move is and we’re going to pick Sarah’s brain about energy. Alison, you’re going to tell me everything you remember about time and ley lines, and Cosima, I want you to tell me again what you’d found out about dreamtime and song lines. Before we go back there again, I want to find out everything we can about making sure it’s safe.”
But that wasn’t what happened. What happened was they drove to Harry’s and parked the Bugatti next to an Audi and a Lexus and Rachel ordered flavours of gelato until the table wouldn’t hold any more bowls and Cosima convinced the staff to turn the overhead speakers up and Sarah laughed for the second time at something Rachel said and they were loud and triumphant and kings of Henrietta, because they’d found the ley line and because it was starting, it was starting.
Rachel, energized, sent the girls out on Glendower-related tasks for the next three days, and to Cosima’s surprise, Sarah managed to come along for each of them. Though she never said as much, it was clear she was keeping them a secret, because she communicated with them via text or hushed phone conversation, and she never met up with them near 300 Fox Way. Despite their lack of formal planning and psychic ability, they all had schedules largely dictated by school, so they managed to meet up to explore with remarkable precision.
Exploring, however, did not include going back to the strange wood. Instead, they spent time at the courthouse, finding out who owned the land under the raven. Looking up microfiche in the Henrietta library, trying to determine if the strange wood had a name (Kira came along for this expedition, playing Minecraft on one of the publicly-available computers, which Cosima got the impression was Sarah’s excuse to her foster mother for being there at all). They discussed the history of Glendower. Marked the ley line on the map, measuring how wide it seemed to be. They tramped around in fields, turning over rocks, making circles of stones and measuring the energy that came from them.
They also ate a lot of cheap food from convenience stores; this was Sarah’s fault. After that first triumphant gelato party, Sarah insisted on paying for all of her food herself, which limited where they could eat. She frowned when any of the girls tried to buy food for her, but she seemed to hate it the most when Rachel offered. Sarah paid her own way, though it was clear the price was dear to her and nothing to Rachel. Cosima was proud of her, and she thought she saw grudging respect on even Alison’s face.
After the first day, too, Beth came with them, and this also pleased Cosima, because Beth and Sarah got along well. Beth was a good bellwether for people. She was so odd and quick-humoured that not everyone knew what to make of her, but Sarah found her hilarious and joined her in ribbing Rachel and Alison at every opportunity.
The days slid easily by with the five of them doing everything but returning to the strange pool and the dreaming tree. Rachel kept saying, We need more information.
Cosima told Sarah, “I think she’s afraid of it.”
She knew Alison was afraid of it. She got a sharp-edged, nervous look at the suggestion of going back.
By the end of the second week, the girls had settled into a routine of waiting for Sarah at the end of the school day, then setting off into whatever mission Rachel had assigned them. It was an overcast spring day that felt more like fall, cold and damp and steel grey.
While they waited, Cosima had decided to finally take up the task of teaching Alison how to drive a stick shift. For several minutes, it seemed to be going well, as the Camaro had a relatively easy clutch, Cosima was calm and reassuring in her instruction, and Alison was determined to be a quick study.
From a safe vantage point beside the building, Rachel and Beth watched as Alison began to make ever quicker circles around the parking lot.
Then – it had to happen eventually – Alison stalled the car. It was a pretty magnificent beast, as far as stalls went, with lots of noise and death spasms on the part of the car. From the driver’s seat, Alison began to swear at herself and the universe. It was a long, involved swear, substituting various innocuous objects and foodstuffs for every forbidden word possible, often in compound-word form. Cosima laughed uproariously, but before Alison had time to snap at her, they both heard Rachel call, “Sarah! I thought you’d never show up. Cosima is tutoring Alison in the ways of manual transmissions.”
Sarah, her hair pulled every which way by the wind, stuck her head in the driver’s side window. She said wryly, “Looks like it’s going well. Is that what that smell is?”
Without replying, Alison climbed out of the car and slammed the door.
Beth appeared beside Sarah. She looked relaxed and amused, hands tucked in pockets. She bumped shoulders with Sarah.
“Okay, lets go,” Rachel said. She was being theatrical about it, flipping open her journal, checking her watch, waiting for someone to ask her where they were going.
Through the car window, Cosima asked, “Where today?”
Rachel swept up a backpack from the ground. “The wood.”
Sarah and Cosima looked at each other, startled.
“Time,” Rachel said grandly, striding past them toward the Bugatti, “is wasting.”
Sarah stepped back as Cosima scrambled from the passenger seat of the Camaro. Sarah hissed to her, “Did you know about this?”
“I didn’t know anything.”
“We have to be back in three hours,” Sarah said. “I just fed Chainsaw but she’ll need it again.”
Cosima grinned. “We’re practically co-parenting.”
Rachel said, deadpan, “You’ll let me know how much I owe in child maintenance.”
They bundled into the Bugatti with the comfort of routine. Cosima scuffled briefly and unhopefully for a chance at the keys, and then Rachel won, as she won everything. Beth, Cosima, and Sarah climbed into the broad backseat. Beth moved over to give Cosima space, but Sarah leaned on her and let her head fall to Cosima’s shoulder.
Everything was the same as before, but for some reason, Cosima’s heart was thumping. New spring leaves, jerked from the trees by the suddenly cold winds, scurried across the lot. She could see goose bumps through the generous slashes in Sarah’s jeans. Sarah reached to take hold of both Cosima’s sleeve and Beth’s, and tugged them both to her like blankets.
“You’re always cold, though, Beth,” she said.
“I know,” Beth replied, bleak.
Cosima wasn’t certain what came first with Sarah – her treating them as friends, or them all becoming friends. It seemed to Cosima that this circular way to build relationships required a healthy amount of self-confidence to undertake. And it was a strange sort of magic that it felt like she’d always been hunting for Glendower with them.
Cosima twined their hands together and said to Rachel, “Don’t we have any heat?”
Rachel started the car. “We do now.”
Because they were travelling by Bugatti, not by helicopter, it took longer to get to the coordinates Rachel had marked in her journal. When they arrived, parking the car at an empty vacation cabin and walking the rest of the way, they found the woods had a far different character under a cloudy sky. The raven was stark and dead among the grass, bony white shells in the foliage. The trees at the forest’s edge seemed taller than before, giants even among the towering mountain trees. Everything was in shadow on the sunless day, but the stretch of scrubby grass at the edge of the forest seemed darker still.
Cosima’s heart was still a flighty thing. She had to confess to herself that until now she probably had never really believed Rachel’s supernatural explanation for the ley line, not in a way that she’d really internalized. She’d never thought of herself as a sceptic, but maybe she’d needed to see it with her own eyes. Now, it was real. Magic existed, and Cosima didn’t know how much that changed the world.
For a long moment, they all silently stared into the woods as if facing an adversary. Alison clutched her arms around herself, jaw clenched with the cold. Rachel picked at the skin around her nails. Even Sarah looked disquieted. Only Beth looked as she always did, her arms loose and shirt rumpled.
“I feel watched,” Alison said finally.
Rachel replied, “High EMF readings can do that. Haunting cases have often come down to old, exposed wiring. High readings can make you feel watched. Unnerved. Nauseous, suspicious. It plays with the hardwiring of your brain.”
Cosima tipped her head back to look at the slowly moving tops of the trees, noticing as she did so that Beth was searching between the trunks of the trees for movement.
“But,” Cosima added, “it can go the other way, too. High readings can give spirits the power they need to manifest, right? So you are more likely to be watched or haunted even as you’re feeling watched or haunted.”
Rachel said, “And of course water can reverse that, too. Makes EMF and energy into positive feelings.”
“Hence,” Beth chipped in, “all the healing springs crap out there.”
Sarah rubbed her arms. “Well, the water’s in there, not out here. Are we going in?”
The trees sighed. Rachel narrowed her eyes.
“Are we invited?” Cosima asked.
“I think,” Beth replied, “you invite yourself.” She was the first to take a step. Sarah plunged in after her.
“Wait.” Rachel looked at her watch. “It’s 4:13. We need to remember that later.” She followed Beth and Sarah in.
Cosima’s heart pounded. Sarah stretched out her hand, and she took it. Don’t crush her fingers, she thought.
And they went in.
Under the canopy, it was even dimmer than in the field. The shadows behind fallen trees were flat black, and the trunks were painted in chocolate, charcoal, onyx.
“Beth,” Alison whispered. “Beth, where did you go?”
Beth’s voice came from behind them. “I didn’t go anywhere.”
Cosima spun, still clutching Sarah’s hand, but there was nothing there but branches quivering in the faint breeze.
“What did you see?” Alison asked. When Cosima turned back, Beth was standing just ahead of Rachel.
Plays with the hardwiring of your brain.
Sarah, hunched, asked, “Where are we going?”
Rachel poked in the dirt for signs of the stream they’d followed before. “Back the same way, I suppose. Proper experiment re-creates the conditions, doesn’t it? The creek’s shallower this time, though. Harder to see. It wasn’t far, was it?”
They had only been walking along the shallow stream bed for a few minutes, however, when it became apparent that the landscape was unfamiliar. The trees were tall, thin, and spindly, all slanted as if from some great wind. Great crags of rock shoved up from the poor soil. There was no sign of the streambed, the pool, the dreaming tree.
“We’ve been misdirected,” Rachel said.
Her tone was accusatory, as if the wood itself had done it.
“Hey,” Sarah said, dropping Cosima’s hand, “did you notice the trees?”
It took Cosima a moment to realise what she meant. A few of the leaves that clung to the branches were still pale yellow, but now it was the yellow of fall, not spring. Most of the leaves that surrounded them were the dusky red-green of shifting autumn. The leaf litter at their feet was brown and orange, leaves killed by the early frost of a winter that shouldn’t be near.
Cosima was torn by wonder and anxiety.
“Rachel,” she said, “what time do you have?”
Rachel twisted her wrist. “It’s 5:27 P.M. Second hand’s still running.”
In a little over an hour, they’d walked through two seasons. Cosima caught Sarah’s eye. Sarah just shook her head. What else was there to do?
“Guys!” Beth called. “There’s writing over here!”
On the other side of a rock outcropping, Beth stood by a great block of chin-height stone. It’s face was sheared and cracked, striated with lines like Rachel’s ley sketches. Beth pointed at a few dozen words painted low on the rock. Whatever ink the author had used, it was worn and uneven: black in some places, deep plum in others.
“What does it say?”
Rachel’s eyes darted back and forth as she scanned the text. “Abores loqui latine,” she read. “Nomine appellant. – S. Manning.”
Sarah said, “What?”
Cosima asked, “Why is your name written on a random stone?”
“Dunno,” Sarah said, frowning.
“Perhaps it’s signed,” Rachel said, “In case you didn’t recognise your own handwriting.”
Sarah stared at her, and then at the rock. She traced and retraced the letters, badly shaken. “I don’t get it,” she said. “How did I write this?”
She had recognised the handwriting now, as out of context as it was, painted on this rock with an arcane pigment, smudged and worn by the weather.
In an attempt to lighten the mood, Cosima commented, “I didn’t know you knew Latin.”
Sarah turned to her. Her face was wide open, guilelessly frightened. She said, “I don’t.”
Rachel rallied. She couldn’t bear to see any of her outfit rattled. Voice firm, like she was certain, like she was lecturing on world history, she said, “We saw before how the ley line played with time. We can see it right now on my watch. It’s flexible. You haven’t been here before, Sarah, but it doesn’t mean you didn’t come here later. Minutes later. Days, years, leave yourself a message, sign it so you’d believe it was you. Knowing there was a chance time might fold you here to find it.”
Well done, Rachel, Cosima thought. Rachel had crafted this explanation to steady Sarah, but Cosima too, felt more reasonable. They were explorers, scientists, anthropologists of historical magic. This was what they wanted.
Sarah asked, “What does it mean? Abores loqui latine?”
Rachel said, “The trees speak Latin.”
They all glanced at the trees that surrounded them; they were fenced by one thousand different shades of green fastened to a million wind-blown claws.
“Nomine appellant,” Cosima continued. “Call it by name.” She pointed to the last word.
Sarah read, “Cabeswater.”
“Cabeswater,” Rachel repeated.
There was something about the word itself that was magical. Cabeswater. Something old and enigmatic, a word that didn’t seem to belong in the New World. Rachel read the Latin on the rock again, and then, like the others, she looked around at the surrounding trees.
What is this thing you’ve done? She asked herself. Where have you brought them?
“I say we find water,” Sarah said. “To make the energy do whatever Rachel said it would do that was better. And then…I think we should say something in Latin.”
“That’s a plan,” Rachel said, wondering at the strangeness of this place, that such a nonsensical statement should seem so practical. “Should we go back the way we came, or farther in?”
Beth said, “Farther.”
Since Beth rarely expressed an opinion, her word reigned. Setting off again, they doubled back and forth across their own trail in search of water. And as they walked, the leaves fell around them, red and then brown and then grey, until the trees were naked. Frost appeared in the shadows.
“Winter,” Alison said.
It was impossible, of course, but again, so was everything that had come before it. It was no more impossible than anything else that had happened.
They had come to a stand of naked willow trees on a gentle slope, and below them was the twist of a slow-moving, shallow creek.
“And there’s water,” Cosima said.
Rachel turned to Sarah. “What did you want to say in Latin?”
Sarah shrugged one shoulder. “Uh…”
Cosima said, “Salve.” To Sarah, she said, “That means be well.”
Sarah chewed her lip. “Ask…ask if they’ll speak with us.”
Cosima tilted her head back to the treetops and said, “Loquere tu nobis?”
They all stood quietly. A hiss seemed to be rising, as if a faint, winter breeze rustled the leaves in the trees. But there were no leaves left on the branches to rustle.
“Nothing,” Alison said. “What did you expect?”
“Quiet,” ordered Rachel. Because now the hissing was definitely more than a rustle. Now it had resolved into what sounded like whispered, dry voices. “Do you hear that?”
Everyone but Beth shook their heads.
“I do,” said Beth, to Rachel’s relief.
Rachel, no longer afraid of appearing ridiculous, asked the trees to say it again.
The hissing rustle came again, and now, it seemed obvious that it was a voice, obvious that it had never been leaves. Plainly, Rachel heard a crackly statement in Latin.
“They say they’ve been speaking to us already, but we haven’t been listening,” she translated.
The trees hissed again and Rachel repeated the words in Latin. Cosima said, for Sarah’s benefit, “They said they’re happy to see the daughter of the earth. Whatever that means.”
Sarah said, “…Beth? You’re pretty grubby,” and Beth shoved her shoulder.
Rachel frowned as the trees made their rustling speech again.
“I don’t know what that means,” she said. “They’re also happy to once more see – I don’t know the word. Greywaren? It’s not Latin.”
Sarah, whispered the trees. Sarah Manning.
“It’s you,” Rachel said with wonder, her skin creeping. “Sarah Manning. They said your name. It’s you they’re happy to see again.”
Sarah’s expression was guarded, her feelings hidden.
Alison asked, “Why can only you and Beth hear them?”
In her best Latin, Rachel said, “Quid dicam nisi ut aliquid ex nobis?”
The trees’ hushed answer was simple enough.
“The road isn’t awake.”
“The…ley line?” Sarah suggested.
The trees murmured, Si expergefacere via, erimus in debitum.
“If you wake the line, they’ll be in your debt,” Rachel said.
For a moment, then, they were all quiet, looking at one another. It was a lot to take in. Because it wasn’t merely that the trees were speaking to them. It was that the trees themselves were sentient beings, capable of watching their movements.
It was happening. All of these years, she had been looking for this.
Rachel asked the trees if they knew where Glendower was. Cosima looked startled as she mentally translated the question, and then Alison a second later.
It took a moment for the hissing voices to reply, and Rachel translated hollowly, “No.” Something inside her had tightened and tightened until she’d asked the question. She’d thought hearing the answer would release it, but it didn’t. Everyone else was looking at her; she wasn’t sure why. Maybe something in her face was wrong. It felt wrong. She looked away from them all and said, “It’s very cold. Valde frigida. What’s the way out, please? Gratias tibi, ubi exitum?”
The trees whispered and hissed, and Rachel realised she might have been mistaken; it might have only been one voice, all along. She wasn’t entirely sure she’d ever heard it aloud, either, now that she thought about it. It was possible that it had been said directly into her head all this time. It was a disconcerting thought, and it distracted her listening. Beth had to repeat most of what had been said, and Cosima translated it slowly.
“It’s – they said that we need to go back through the year. Against…the road. The line. They said if we go back along the creek and turn left at the big…sycamore? Platanus? I think sycamore. Then we’ll find something they think we want to find. Then we’ll be able to walk out of the woods and find our way back to our…to our day. I don’t know. I think that’s it.”
In a low voice, Rachel asked Alison, “Do you think we should do it? It occurs to me they might not be trusted.”
Alison’s furrowed brow meant that this had occurred to her as well, but she replied, “Do we have another choice?”
“I think we should trust them,” Sarah said. “They knew me, and one of you four. Somehow. And the rock didn’t say not to. Right?”
She had a point. Sarah’s handwriting, with its great care to prove its origin to them, had given them the way to speak to the trees, not a warning.
“Back we go,” Rachel said. “Careful not to slip.” Then, louder, she said, “Gratias. Reveniemus.”
“What did you say?” Sarah asked.
Alison replied for her. “Thanks. And that we’d be back.”
It wasn’t difficult to adhere to the instructions Cosima had translated. The creek was wide here, the water cold and slow between white-frosted banks. Following it took them steadily downhill, and gradually, the air around them began to warm. Sparse leaves spotted the branches, and by the time Cosima pointed out a massive sycamore, the peeling white and grey trunk too wide for her to put her arms around, they were in the sticky grips of summer. The leaves were full and green, moving and rubbing against one another in a constant murmured rustle.
“We missed summer before,” Alison pointed out. “When we came the other way. We went straight to fall.”
“Magical mosquitos,” Sarah said, smacking her arm. “What a great place this is.”
Following the voice’s directions, they turned left at the massive sycamore. Rachel wondered what it was that the trees thought they would want to find. She had thought there was only one thing she was looking for.
Then the trees opened up into a summery clearing, and it became obvious what the voice had meant.
In the clearing, entirely out of place, was an abandoned car. A black Jaguar. Newer model. At first, it appeared to be covered with mud, but a closer inspection revealed that it was, in fact, coated with layers and layers of pollen and leaf litter. Leaves had caught in drifts in the cracks of the hood and under the spoiler, gathered over the windshield wipers and bunched around the tires. A sapling grew out from under the car, wrapping around the front fender. The scene was reminiscent of old shipwrecks, ancient boats turned into coral reefs by the wiles of time.
Behind the car stretched a badly overgrown track that seemed to lead out of the woods; this must have been the way out the trees meant.
“Bling,” Sarah remarked, kicking one of the tires. The Jaguar had massive, expensive wheels, and now that Rachel looked more closely at the car, she saw it was covered with aftermarket details: big rims, new spoiler, dark window tint, gaping exhaust. New money, her mother would’ve said, burns in the pocket.
“Look,” Alison said. She rubbed a finger over the dust of the back window. Next to a Crime Stoppers sticker was an Aglionby decal.
“Figures,” Sarah said.
Cosima tried the driver’s side door; it came open. “There’s a mummified hamburger in here.”
They all crowded around to see the interior, but apart from the dry, half-eaten hamburger on the passenger seat, still sitting on its wrapper, there was not much to see.
This car, too, was a riddle, like Sarah’s voice on the recorder. Rachel felt as if it was directed specifically at her.
“Pop the trunk,” she ordered.
The trunk had a jacket in it, and beneath that, an odd collection of sticks and springs. Frowning, Rachel withdrew the contraption, holding it by the largest rod. The pieces swung into place, several sticks hanging and twisting beneath the main one, and she understood all at once.
“It’s a dowsing rod.”
She turned to Cosima, wanting verification.
“Coincidence,” Cosima said, because it wasn’t.
Rachel had the peculiar sensation she had first felt in the parking lot outside Bobby’s Bar, when Alison had warned her that she thought someone else was looking for the ley line. Then she realised that Alison and Beth were no longer in sight. “Where are Beth and Alison?”
At her name, Alison reappeared, stepping over a log and back into the clearing. She said, “Beth’s throwing up.”
“Why is she doing that?” Rachel asked. “Is she sick?”
“I’ll ask her,” Alison replied. “As soon as she’s finished puking.”
Cosima went after Beth.
“I’ll think you’ll find that Rachel prefers the word vomiting. Or evacuating,” Sarah said brightly.
“I think retching is the most specific word, in this case,” Alison corrected pointedly.
Sarah looked at the contraption in Rachel’s hands. “A dowsing rod?”
Rachel shouldn’t have been surprised Sarah knew what it was; even if she wasn’t psychic, her mother was, and this was technically a tool of the trade. “So someone else was looking for the ley line.”
On the other side of the Jaguar, Alison drew her fingers through the pollen on the side of the car. She looked disquieted. “And they decided it was more important than their car.”
Rachel glanced up at the trees around them, then back at the expensive car. In the distance, she heard the low voices of Beth and Cosima. “I think we’d better go. I think we need more information.”
Sarah got ready to go out the following Sunday morning furtively, even though her purpose was innocent. As innocent as sitting around day-drinking while she watched Tony skateboarding down staircases at Mountain View High, anyway. She needed to duck out beneath the notice of Mrs S, avoiding a barrage of questions about where she had been disappearing to the last two weeks, and knowing what an earful she would be in for if she was caught. Sarah had the laces of her boot still in her hand when the phone rang. She grabbed it.
“I’d like to speak to Sarah, please, if she’s in.”
It was Rachel’s unmistakeable, polite voice, the one she used to turn straw into gold. Clearly, she had known what she risked calling here, and clearly, she had been prepared to speak to someone other than Sarah about it. Despite her growing suspicion that her secrecy couldn’t last, Sarah wasn’t sure how she felt about the fact that Rachel could’ve blown her cover.
“Get my mobile number off Cosima, next time,” she said, tugging on the boot, phone shoved between her ear and her shoulder. “Anyone could’ve answered.”
She could have just given Rachel the number herself, but she wasn’t sure she liked the implications of giving Rachel Duncan her phone number.
“I was prepared for that eventuality,” Rachel said. “Still, I’m glad I caught you. How are you doing? Well, I trust?”
She doesn’t mean to be condescending, Sarah told herself. She told herself several times. “You trust right.”
“Excellent. Look. Cosima’s working today and Alison’s at church with her mother, but I’d like to go out and just…look around.” She added, quickly, “Not to the woods. I was thinking of that church on your map. Would you like to…”
She faltered. Rachel was faltering? It took Sarah a moment of silence to realise that Rachel was asking if she wanted to go with her. It took her another moment to realise she’d never been anywhere with her without the other girls.
“I’m meeting a friend,” Sarah said.
“Oh,” Rachel replied, sounding deflated. “I see.”
“But it’ll only take an hour.”
“Oh,” Rachel repeated, several shades brighter. “Shall I pick you up, then?”
Sarah glanced over her shoulder toward the living room. “I’ll, uh, meet you in the parking lot near Mountain View.”
“Excellent,” Rachel said again. “See you in an hour.”
Rachel without Cosima – Sarah wasn’t sure how this would work. Despite Cosima’s obvious interest in Sarah, the girls seemed to act as a unit, a single, multiheaded entity. To see any of them without the presence of the others felt a little…dangerous.
But there wasn’t an option of not going with Rachel. She wanted to explore as much as Rachel did.
No sooner had Sarah hung up than she heard her name being called.
It was Siobhan’s voice, and it was in a tone that could not be disobeyed. With a sinking sensation, Sarah followed it into the living room, where she found Mrs S, Kendall and Felix drinking beverages of varying alcohol content. When she walked into the room, both Siobhan and Kendall looked up at her with frighteningly calm smiles. A pack of lionesses.
Mrs S said, a thinly veiled iron beneath her tone, “Sit with us a moment, Sarah. Talk to us about yesterday. And the day before. And the day before. And – oh, lets just talk about these past few weeks.”
Sarah realised then that Siobhan was furious. Mrs S was often irritated, or angry, but Sarah had seen her truly furious only a few times before, and having it directed at her made her skin go instantly clammy.
“Well, I was…” She trailed off. A lie seemed pointless.
“I’m not your dungeon master,” interrupted Mrs S. “I’m not about to bolt you in your room or send you off to a convent, though I don’t doubt it’d do you good. So you can just stop all the sneaking around right now.”
“I wasn’t –”
“You were. I have lived in this house with you a good few years, Sarah Manning, and I promise you, you were. So I take it you and Rachel get along, then?” Siobhan’s expression was annoyingly knowing.
“Felix told me about her muscle car,” Siobhan continued. Her voice was still angry, her eyebrows sky high. “You aren’t planning on kissing her, are you?”
Sarah snorted. “Yeah, right. You did meet her, didn’t you?”
“I wasn’t sure if peroxiding your hair was the Aglionby equivalent of shredding your T-shirts and wearing jeans that are more gap than fabric.”
“Trust me,” Sarah said. “Rachel and I are nothing alike. Can I go now? Are we done?”
“I told you to stay away from her and you didn’t,” Mrs S said. “I should ground you.”
Sarah shrugged. “It wouldn’t work, though.”
Mrs S rubbed a hand over her face. Her anger had burned itself out. “You’re well into it, aren’t you? That didn’t take long.”
“Don’t tell me not to see them, then I won’t have to go against you,” Sarah suggested.
Mrs S sighed. “How about we make a deal: you stop skipping classes, get your grades up to passing levels, and quit hanging around with that scumbag Vic, for good, and I won’t try to stop you from seeing those raven girls.”
Sarah sighed even more heavily than Siobhan had. “Fine,” she said.
“And Sarah? Don’t do anything stupid.”
Kendall added, “More than usual.”
“Okay,” Sarah said hurriedly, “I’m out.”
“You could at least pretend to be sorry,” Mrs S said. Sarah wasn’t sure how to reply to this.
Kendall caught Sarah’s wrist, and for a moment Sarah was worried that Kendall would sense the amount of strangeness surrounding Rachel’s quest. But she merely swallowed the rest of her drink before muttering, “What with all this running around, don’t forget our movie night on Friday, Sarah.”
“Our – movie – night –” Sarah repeated.
Kendall’s eyebrows hardened. “You promised.”
For a shapeless moment, Sarah tried to remember when she had ever talked about a movie night with Kendall, and then she realised what this was really about: the conversation from days and days ago. About tossing Carlton’s room.
“I forgot that was this week,” Sarah replied.
Mrs S swirled her drink. “Which movie?”
“Casablanca,” Kendall replied immediately. “In the original black-and-white.”
Mrs S said, “Just as well. Carlton and I are out that evening.”
Kendall raised an eyebrow and Felix picked at his collar.
“What are you doing?” Sarah asked. Looking for your husband? Scrying in pools?
Mrs S stopped swirling her drink. “Not hanging about with Rachel Duncan.”
At least Sarah could be sure that her foster-mother wasn’t lying to her.
She just wouldn’t say anything at all.
“Why the church?” Sarah asked from the passenger seat of the Bugatti. She’d never ridden in the front before, and in the passenger seat, the sensation of the car being levitated – or flying along – was even more pronounced.
Rachel, installed comfortably behind the wheel with expensive sunglasses and Top-Siders, took her time answering. “I don’t know. Because it’s on the line, but it’s not as…whatever Cabeswater is. I need to think more about Cabeswater before we go back.”
“Because it’s like we’re going into someone’s house.” Sarah tried not to look at Rachel’s boat shoes. She felt better about her as a person if she pretended she wasn’t wearing them.
“Exactly,” Rachel said.
“Turn here!” Sarah ordered, as Rachel nearly passed the ruined church. With a widening smile, she hauled on the wheel and dropped down a few gears. They slid into the overgrown drive. As they did, the glove box fell open and politely dropped its contents onto Sarah’s lap.
“I thought this car was too fancy to do shit like that,” Sarah commented.
Rachel gave her a sardonic look but didn’t bother to reply. Sarah replaced the car’s registration and an EpiPen in the glove box. The Epi-Pen was unused and in-date.
“Whose is that?” she asked.
Rachel was already out of the car, holding the EMF reader and stretching. Sarah noticed that she had impressive arm muscles, but it was difficult to imagine Rachel Duncan playing sports. Glancing over her shoulder at Sarah, she replied, dismissive, “Mine. Close the door gently, please.”
Sarah did as instructed, though she was half-tempted to slam the door just to see what would happen.
On the other side of the car, Rachel tipped her head back to look at the clouds: living things, moving towers. In the very deep distance, they were nearly the same colour as the blue edge of the mountains.
“I hope the weather holds,” Rachel remarked.
Standing beside her, Sarah found the church eerier in the daylight, as she always did. Growing inside the ruined walls among collapsed bits of roof, knee-high grass and trees as tall as her strove toward the sunlight. There was no evidence that there had ever been any pews, or any congregation. There was something bleak and meaningless about it: death with no afterlife. She thought about the spirits walking into the church and wondered if Rachel –
Rachel said, “I feel like I’ve been here before.”
Sarah didn’t know how to answer. She’d already told Rachel one half-truth about St. Mark’s Eve, and she wasn’t sure it was right to tell her the other half. Moreover, she wasn’t sure it felt true. Standing next to Rachel in her very alive state, she couldn’t imagine that she would be dead in less than a year. She was wearing a butter-yellow polo shirt, and it seemed impossible that someone in any shade of yellow polo shirt could perish of anything other than heart disease at age eighty-six, possibly at a polo match.
Sarah asked, “What’s your magic-o-meter doing right now?”
Rachel turned it toward her. Her knuckles were pale, bone pressed through skin. Red lights flashed across the surface of the meter.
She said, “It’s pegged. Same as in the wood.”
Sarah surveyed their surroundings. In all likelihood, all of this was private property, even the ground the church was on, but the area behind the church looked more remote. "If we go that way, we’ll be less likely to be shot for trespassing.”
“Lead the way," Rachel said. But her voice was a bit thin, and she glanced back at the church again. Just then she looked younger than Sarah had ever seen her, her eyes narrowed, hair messy, features unstudied. Young and, strangely enough, afraid.
Sarah thought: I can’t tell her. I can never tell her. I have to just try to stop it from happening.
She found a stick to poke at the ground for snakes before they set off through the grass. The wind smelled like rain, and the ground rumbled with thunder, but the weather held. The machine in Rachel’s hands blinked red constantly, only flickering to orange when they stepped too far away from the invisible line.
“You’re the only one who doesn’t seem fazed by this,” Rachel said after a moment. “It’s not that I’m accustomed to it, but I’ve run across some unusual things before and I suppose I just…but Cosima and Alison and Beth all seem…nonplussed.”
Sarah nodded. “I live with this, though. I mean, my foster-mum’s a psychic. My grandma’s a psychic; my brother’s a psychic.” She didn’t mention Kira. “This is – well, it’s not like it’s normal. But it’s not too far off from the usual shitestorm.”
“Eloquently put,” Rachel said, and Sarah was about to be annoyed, but then she continued, “I spent years trying to get it to do this.” There was something about the timbre of her voice that surprised Sarah. It wasn’t until Rachel spoke again that she realised it was the tone she’d heard her use with Cosima. “I’ve spent eighteen months trying to find the Henrietta line.”
“What d’you think of it?”
“I don’t know what I expected. I’d read all about the effects of the line, but I never thought it would be so pronounced. I’m used to getting one clue every month, and then stagnating until another comes along. Not this.” She paused, not quite looking at Sarah. “It’s down to you. Putting us on the line, finally. We’re all –” She stopped again. “We’re grateful. Relieved. Cosima looked like she could kiss you.”
Though she said it offhandedly, a joke, Sarah froze.
Rachel looked back at her, confused. “What’s wrong?”
Sarah asked, “Do you believe in psychics?”
“Well, I went to one, didn’t I?”
“That doesn’t mean anything. Plenty of people go to psychics just for a laugh.”
“I went because I believe in ones who are good at what they do. I just think there’s quite a lot of nonsense you have to wade through to get to them. Why?”
Sarah viciously stabbed the ground with her snake stick. “Because my foster-mum’s told me, for as long as I can remember, that if I kiss my true love, she’ll die.”
“Don’t laugh, you – ” Sarah was going to say bitch but it felt too strong and she lost the nerve.
“Well, it’s just a very precautionary-sounding sort of thing, isn’t it? Don’t date or you’ll go blind. Kiss your true love and they shuffle off this mortal coil.”
“It’s not just her!” Sarah protested. “Every psychic I’ve ever met tells me the same thing. Besides, S wouldn’t just play around with something like that. It’s not a bloody joke.”
“I’m sorry,” Rachel said, realising Sarah was genuinely angry with her. “Do you know how she’s supposed to die, this unlucky lady?”
“Ah. Devil’s in the details, I suppose. So you just kiss nobody, in a precautionary way?” Rachel watched her nod. “That seems grim, Sarah. I won’t lie.”
She shrugged again. “I don’t usually tell people. I don’t know why I told you. Don’t tell Cosima.”
Rachel’s eyebrows spiked up towards her hairline. “It’s like that, is it?”
Sarah’s face went instantly hot. “No. I mean…No. No. It’s just, because it’s not – because there’s no way to know – I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
Sarah fantasized that time had begun again with them getting out of the car and her instead striking up a conversation about the weather or which classes Rachel was taking. It didn’t seem like her face would ever stop burning.
Rachel said quietly, “Well, if you killed Cosima, I’d be quite upset with you.”
“I’ll do my best not to.”
For a moment, the silence was uneven and uncomfortable, and then Rachel said, her voice more ordinary, “Thank you for telling me. I won’t say anything.”
Sarah breathed out. “Thanks,” she said. Then, “I still want to know…Why are you looking? For Glendower?”
Rachel smiled ruefully, and for a moment, Sarah was afraid that she was about to flip over to flippant, glossy Rachel Duncan, but in the end she just said, “It’s a difficult story to summarise.”
“You’re in a pre-Ivy League high school. Try.”
Rachel picked at a fingernail. “Where to start? Maybe – you saw my EpiPen. It’s for bee stings. I’m allergic. Badly.”
Sarah stopped, alarmed. Hornets nested on the ground, and this was prime territory for them: quiet areas close to trees. “Rachel! This is the countryside. Do you have a bloody death wish?”
Rachel made a dismissive gesture, as if eager to be off this particular subject. “Just keep at it with your stick and it’ll be okay.”
Sarah said, “All week we’ve been walking in the woods. That seems pretty –”
“Cavalier?” Rachel suggested. “The truth is that there’s not even really a point having an EpiPen. The last they told me was that it would only work if I got stung once, and even then, they don’t know. I was four the first time I had to go to hospital for a sting, and the reactions only got worse after that. It is what it is. It’s this or live in a bubble.”
Sarah thought about the Death card, and how Mrs S hadn’t actually interpreted it for Rachel. It was possible, she thought, that the card hadn’t been about Rachel’s foretold tragedy but rather about her life – how she walked side by side with death every day.
With her stick, Sarah thwacked the ground ahead of them. “Okay, go on.”
Rachel sucked in her lips and then released them. “Well, seven years ago, I was at a dinner party with my parents. I can’t remember what it was for. I think one of my father’s friends had gotten the party nomination.”
The ground beneath their feet or the air around them vibrated with thunder.
“Yes. I don’t remember. You know how you sometimes don’t remember everything right? Anyway, the party was dull – I was nine or ten. It was all little black dresses and red ties and any sort of food you wanted, as long as it was shrimp. A few of us children started to play hide-and-seek. I remember thinking I was too old to play hide-and-seek, but there was nothing else to do.”
Sarah and Rachel entered a narrow copse of trees, sparse enough that grass grew between them instead of brambles. This Rachel, this story-telling Rachel, was a different person altogether from any of the other versions of her Sarah had encountered. She couldn’t not listen.
“It was hot as Hades. It was spring, but it had suddenly decided it was summer. Virginia spring. You know how that is. Heavy. There was no shade in the backyard, but there was this great forest that bounded it. Dark and green and blue. Like diving into a lake. In I went, and it was wonderful. Only five minutes and I couldn’t see the house.”
Sarah stopped poking at the ground. “You got lost?”
Rachel shook her head a little.
“I stepped on a nest.” Her eyes were narrowed in that way people do when they’re trying hard to appear casual, but it was obvious this story was anything but casual to her. “Hornets, like you said. They nest on the ground. I don’t have to tell you. But I didn’t know back then. The first thing I felt was a little prickle on my sock. I thought I’d stepped on a thorn – there were a lot of them, those green, whip-shaped ones – but then I felt another. They were just such small hurts, you know?”
Sarah felt a bit sick.
Rachel continued, “But then I felt one on my hand, and by the time I jumped away, I saw them. All over my arms.”
Somehow, she’d managed to take Sarah there, to put her in that moment of discovery. Sarah’s heart felt dragged down, snared with venom.
“What did you do?” she asked.
“I knew I was dead. I knew I was dead before I started to feel everything start to go wrong in my body. Because I’d been to the hospital for just one sting, and this was about a hundred. They were in my hair. They were in my ears, Sarah.”
She asked, “Were you scared?”
Rachel didn’t have to answer. Sarah saw it in the hollow of her eyes.
“I died,” she said. “I felt my heart stop. The hornets didn’t care. They were still stinging me, even though I was dead.”
Rachel stopped. She said, “This is the difficult part.”
“Those are my favourite,” Sarah replied. The trees were quiet around them; the only sound was the growl of thunder. After a pause, she added, a little ashamed, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to be…but my whole life is the ‘difficult part’. Nobody believes in what my family does. I’m not gonna laugh.”
Rachel exhaled slowly. “I heard a voice. It was a whisper. I won’t forget what it said. It said: ‘You will live because of Glendower. Someone else on the ley line is dying when they should not, and so you will live when you should not.’”
Sarah was very quiet. The air pressed on them.
“I told Ira. He said it was a hallucination.” Rachel brushed a hanging vine from her face. The brush was getting thicker here, the trees closer. They probably needed to turn back. Rachel’s voice was peculiar. Formal and certain. “It was not a hallucination.”
This was the Rachel who had written the journal. The truth of it, the magic of it, possessed her.
Sarah asked, “And that’s enough to make you spend your life looking for Glendower?”
Rachel replied, “Once Arthur knew the grail existed, how could he not look for it?”
Thunder growled beneath them again, the hungry snarling of an invisible beast.
Sarah said, “That’s not really an answer.”
Rachel didn’t look at her. She replied, voice terrible, “I need to, Sarah.”
Every light on the EMF reader went out.
Equal parts relieved to be back on safe ground and disappointed not to pry deeper into the real Rachel, Sarah touched the machine. “Did we step off the line?”
They retreated several yards, but the machine didn’t turn back on.
“Is the battery dead?” she suggested.
“I don’t know how to check.” Rachel switched it off and on again.
Sarah stretched out her hand for the reader. The moment she took it, the lights burst red. Solid red, no blinking. She turned from side to side. Orange to her left. Red to her right.
They met each other’s eyes.
“Take it back,” Sarah said.
But as soon as Rachel touched the EMF reader, the lights went dead again. When the thunder came this time, seductive and simmering, she felt like it started something in her trembling that didn’t stop until after the sound had died.
“I keep thinking there must be a logical explanation,” Rachel said. “But there hasn’t been all week.”
Sarah thought there probably was a logical explanation, and she thought it was this: Sarah made things louder. Only she had no idea what she was amplifying at the moment.
The air shuddered again as thunder grumbled. There was no sign of the sun now. All that was left was the heavy green air around them.
She asked, “Where’s it steering us?”
Letting the solid red light lead them, Sarah stepped hesitantly over the old train tracks. They had only made it a few yards when the machine went dead again. No amount of switching hands or manipulation would encourage it to flicker again.
They stood with the machine between them, heads bowed close, looking silently at the dark face of it.
Sarah asked, “What now?”
Rachel stared down between their feet, directly below the machine. “Step back. There’s –”
“Oh, God,” Sarah said, jerking away from Rachel. “Oh shit –”
She had just stepped off something that looked an awful lot like a human arm bone. Rachel was the first to crouch, brushing away the leaves from the bone. Sure enough, beneath the first arm bone there was a second. A filthy watch encircled the wrist bone. Everything looked fake, a skeleton in the woods.
This isn’t happening.
“Oh shit,” Sarah breathed. “Don’t touch it. Fingerprints.”
But the corpse was long beyond fingerprints. The bones were clean as a museum piece, the flesh long since rotted off, and there were only threads remaining of whatever the person had worn. Picking carefully at leaves, Rachel uncovered the entire skeleton. It lay crumpled, one leg crooked up, arms sprawled to either side of its skull, a freeze-frame of tragedy. Time had spared strange elements and taken others: the watch was there, but the hand was not. The shirt was gone, but a tie remained, rippled over the hills and valleys of the collapsed rib bones. The shoes were dirty but unchanged from exposure. The socks, too, were preserved inside the leather shoes, ankle-height bags of foot bones.
Most of the ribcage was smashed in. Sarah wondered if that was how the person had died.
“Rachel,” Sarah said, voice flat. “This was a kid. This was a kid from Aglionby.”
She pointed at the ribcage. Crooked between two bare rib bones was an Aglionby patch, the synthetic fibres of the embroidery impervious to the weather.
They stared at each other over the body. Lightning lit the sides of their faces. Sarah was very aware of the skull beneath Rachel’s skin, her cheekbones so close to the surface, high and narrow like those on the Death card.
“We have to report it,” she said.
“Wait,” Rachel replied. It only took her a moment to find the wallet beneath the hip bone. It was good leather, spattered and bleached, but mostly unharmed. Rachel flipped it open, eyeing the multicoloured edges of credit cards that lined one side. She spotted the top edge of a driver’s license and thumbed it out.
Sarah heard Rachel’s breath catch in naked shock.
The face on the driver’s license was Beth’s.
At eight P.M., Rachel called Alison at her mother’s house. “I’m coming to get you,” she said, and hung up.
She didn’t say it was important, but by the way she spoke, it had to be.
Outside, the Bugatti idled on the street, the uneven tripping of the engine echoing across the darkness. Alison got in.
“I’ll explain when we get there,” said Rachel.
She put the car into gear, pressing the gas hard enough that the back tires squeaked on the asphalt as they left. From Rachel’s expression, Alison thought that something had happened to Beth. Maybe, at last, Beth had happened to Beth. But it wasn’t the hospital they drove to. The Bugatti tore straight into the lot outside Monmouth Incorporated. Together, they climbed the dark, creaking stairs to the second floor. Under Rachel’s hands, the door fell open, hitting the wall.
“Beth!” she shouted.
The room stretched out, limitless in the dark. Against the windows, the miniature Henrietta was a false skyline. Cosima’s alarm clock beeped continuously, sounding a warning for a time that had long ago passed.
Alison’s fingers searched unsuccessfully for the light switch.
Rachel shouted again, “We need to talk. Beth!”
The door to Cosima’s room opened, releasing a square of light. Cosima was silhouetted in the doorway, one hand pulling a set of headphones down to loop around her neck. “You’re back late. Alison? I thought you were home today.”
So Cosima knew no more than Alison did. Alison felt a cold bit of relief over this, which she quickly extinguished.
“I was.” Alison finally found he light switch. The room was transformed into a twilight planet, the corners alive with sharp-mouthed shadows.
“Where’s Beth?” demanded Rachel. She jerked the alarm clock’s power cord out of the wall to silence it.
Cosima took in Rachel’s state and furrowed her eyebrows. “She’s out.”
“No,” Rachel said, emphatic, “she is not. Beth!”
She backed into the centre of the room, turning to look at the corners, the rafters, searching places no one would ever find a roommate. Alison hesitated by the door.
Rachel stopped searching and turned to Alison.
“Alison,” she demanded, “what is Beth’s last name?”
Before Rachel had asked, Alison felt as if she must have known. But now the answer slid away from her mouth and then from her thoughts entirely, leaving her lips parted. It was like losing her way to class, losing her way home, forgetting the phone number for Monmouth Incorporated.
“I don’t know,” Alison admitted.
Rachel pointed at Alison. “It’s Childs, by the way. Elizabeth Childs.” Throwing her head back, she called into the air, “I know you’re here, Beth.”
“Dude,” Cosima remarked. “You’re flipped.”
“Open her door,” Rachel ordered. “Tell me what’s in there.”
With a graceful shrug, Cosima slid out of her doorway and turned the knob on Beth’s door. It fell open, revealing the corner of an always-made bed.
“It looks like a nunnery as usual,” Cosima said. “What am I looking for? Drugs? Girls? Guns?”
“Tell me,” Rachel said, “which classes you share with Beth.”
Cosima shrugged. “None.”
“Me neither,” Rachel replied. She looked at Alison, who shook her head minutely. “Nor Alison. How is that possible?” She didn’t wait for an answer, though. “When does she eat? Have you ever seen her eat?”
Cosima said, “Uh…”
Rachel shot questions at both of them. “Does she pay rent? When did she move in? Have you ever questioned it?”
Cosima shook her head. “Dude, what are you going for here?”
“I spent the afternoon with the police,” Rachel said. “I went out with Sarah to the church –”
Now jealousy stabbed Alison, deep and unexpected, a wound that kept stinging, no less painful for her not being certain, what, precisely, had inflicted it.
Rachel continued, “Don’t look at me like that, both of you. The point is this. We found a body. Rotted to the bones. Do you know whose it was?”
Alison’s gaze held Rachel’s, solid.
Behind them, the door to the apartment suddenly slammed shut. They whirled to face it, but there was no one there, only the fluttering map corners on the wall to show that it had moved.
The girls stared at the subtle movement of the paper, listened to the echo of the slam.
There was no breeze. Alison’s skin crawled.
“Mine,” Beth said.
As one, they spun back around.
Beth stood in the doorway to her room.
Her skin was as pale as parchment and her eyes were shadowed and unspecific, as they always were after dark. There was the ubiquitous smudginess about her torso, only now, it looked like dirt, or blood, or possibly like a hollow, her bones crushed underneath her ever-present Aglionby sweater.
Alison’s posture was wound tight. “Your room was empty. We just looked in it.”
“I told you,” Beth said. “I tried to tell you.”
Alison had to close her eyes for a long moment.
Rachel, if anything, looked finally back under control. What Rachel needed out of life was facts, things she could write in her journal, things she could state twice and underline, no matter how improbable those facts were. Alison realised that all along Rachel had not really known what she was going to find when she’d brought Alison back here. How could she have? How could anyone truly believe –
“She’s dead,” Rachel said. Her arms were tight over her chest. “You’re really dead, aren’t you?”
Beth shrugged. “I told you.”
They stared at her, just feet away from Cosima. Really, she was so much less real than Cosima, Alison thought – it should have been obvious. It was ludicrous that they hadn’t noticed. Ridiculous that they had not thought about her last name, about where she came from, about the classes she did or did not go to. Her cold hands, her pristine room, her unchanging smudgy appearance. She had been dead as long as they’d known her.
Reality was a bridge breaking under Alison.
“Shit, man,” Cosima said, finally. A little desperate. “All those nights you gave me grief about keeping you awake, and you don’t even need to sleep.”
Alison asked, barely audible, “How did you die?”
Beth turned her face away.
“No,” Rachel said, purpose crystallized in the word. “That’s not the question, is it? The question is: Who killed you?”
Now Beth wore the retreating expression that came when something made her uncomfortable. Her chin turned, her eyes hooded and alien. Alison was suddenly profoundly aware that Beth was a dead thing and she was not.
“If you can tell me,” Rachel said, “I can find a way to put the police on the trail.”
Beth’s chin ducked farther, her expression somehow black, her eye sockets hollowed and skull-like. Were they looking at a girl? Or something that looked like a girl?
Alison wanted to say, Don’t push her, Rachel.
Beth said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Her shoulders were drawn up around her ears, and she looked, now, like the Beth they had always known. The Beth they had never questioned as being one of them.
“Okay,” said Alison. Then, again: “Okay. What would you like to do?”
“I’d like…” Beth began, but trailed off, shrinking back into her room. Was this what Beth did when she was alive, Alison wondered, or was this a function of being dead, of trying to hold an ordinary conversation?
Cosima and Alison both glanced to Rachel at once. It seemed like there was nothing to be done or said. Even Cosima seemed subdued, her usual quips nowhere to be found. Until they were sure what the rules were, she, too, seemed reluctant to find out how otherworldly Beth could be when provoked.
Looking away from the others, Rachel asked, “Beth?”
The space in Beth’s doorway was empty.
At the threshold of Beth’s room, Cosima pushed the door all the way open. The room inside was stark and untouched, the bed rumpled in the same pattern that it always was.
The world hummed around Alison, suddenly charged with possibilities, not all of them pleasant. She felt like she was sleepwalking. Nothing was the truth until she could put her hands on it.
Rachel’s thumb worried over her lower lip. She asked Cosima, “What’s going on?”
Cosima replied, “We’re being haunted.”
Sarah was more distressed than she thought she would’ve been by the fact that Beth was dead. From talking to the police, it was clear that she’d never been alive, at least not since she’d met her, but still, she felt a curious grief over it. For starters, Beth’s presence in Monmouth changed distinctly after they discovered her body. They seemed to never get the entire Beth anymore: Rachel would hear Beth’s voice in the parking lot, or Sarah would see her shadow fall across the sidewalk as she headed over to Monmouth, or Alison would find scratches on her skin.
She had always been a ghost, but now she was acting it.
“Maybe,” Cosima had suggested, “it’s because her body’s been removed from the ley line.”
Sarah kept thinking of the skeleton with its ribs smashed in, of Beth retching at the sight of the Jaguar. Not throwing up. Just going through the actions of it, because she was dead.
She wanted to find whoever did it and she wanted to hit them so hard they blacked out.
Sarah was so engrossed in Beth’s plight that she nearly forgot that she and Kendall were supposed to search Carlton’s room on Friday. Kendall must have recognised that she was distracted, because she’d left a dangerously obvious note on the fridge for Sarah to find before school: SARAH – DON’T FORGET MOVIE NIGHT TONIGHT. Swiping the sticky note from the door, Sarah stuffed it into her satchel bag.
“Sarah,” Carlton said.
Sarah jumped and spun. Carlton sat at the kitchen table, a mug of tea in front of him, a book in his hand. He wore a cream shirt the precise colour of the curtains behind him.
“I didn’t see you there!” Sarah gasped. The sticky note in her bag felt like a burning confession.
Carlton smiled mildly and placed his book facedown. “We haven’t seen much of you this week.”
“I’ve…been out with friends.”
“I’ve heard about Rachel Duncan,” Carlton said. “I advised Siobhan that it wasn’t wise to try to keep you apart. You’re clearly meant to cross paths.”
“Oh. Uh. Thanks for that.”
“You seem distressed,” Carlton said. He patted the seat of the chair beside him. “Would you like me to look at anything for you? Do a reading?”
“I can’t – I have to make it to school,” Sarah said quickly. Part of her wondered if Carlton asked her these things out of kindness, or if he asked them out of reverse psychology, because he knew what Kendall and Sarah were planning. Either way, Sarah didn’t want any part of the scrying Carlton did. Bundling her things toward the doorway, she half-waved to Carlton. She had made it only a few steps when Carlton said to her back, “You’re looking for a god. Didn’t you suspect there was also a devil?”
Sarah froze in the doorway. She turned her head, but didn’t quite face him.
“Oh, I haven’t been poking around,” Carlton said. “What you’re doing is big enough for me to see while I’m looking at other things.”
Now Sarah faced him. Carlton’s mild expression hadn’t changed; his hands were cupped around the mug.
“Numbers are easy for me,” Carlton said. “They came first, really. I could always pull them out of thin air. Important dates. Telephone numbers. They’re the easiest. But death’s the next easiest. I can tell when someone’s touched it.”
Sarah clutched her bag strap. Her family were strange, yes, but they knew they were strange. They knew when they were saying something weird. Carlton didn’t seem to have that filter.
She replied finally, “She’d been dead a long time.”
Carlton shrugged. “There’ll be more before it’s done.”
Lost for words, Sarah just slowly shook her head.
“I’m just warning you,” Carlton said. “Watch for the devil. When there’s a god, there’s always a legion of devils.”
For maybe the first time ever, Cosima wasn’t happy to have a day off from Aglionby. With Friday a scheduled teacher workday, Rachel had reluctantly gone to her parents’ for her mother’s belated birthday, and Alison had come over to ‘study’ but was instead drinking herself into oblivion in Beth’s empty room. The public school had classes as normal, but Cosima could always hope that Sarah would come over when she was done.
The apartment felt oppressive without anyone else in the main room. Part of Cosima wanted to lure Alison out of Beth’s room for company, but most of her realised that Alison was, in her own haphazard way, grieving for Beth. So Cosima remained at Rachel’s desk, scratching at some Latin homework, aware that the light that came in the windows didn’t seem to light the floorboards as well as it ordinarily did. The shadows shifted and clung. Cosima smelled the mint plant on Rachel’s desk, but she also smelled Beth – that combination of her deodorant and shampoo and sweat.
“Beth,” Cosima said to the empty apartment. “Are you here? Or are you out haunting Rachel?”
There was no response.
She looked down at her paper. The Latin verbs looked, for once, nonsensical, a made-up language. “Can we fix it, Beth? Whatever’s making you like this, instead of how you were before?”
Cosima jumped at a crash directly beside the desk. It took her a moment to realise that Rachel’s mint plant had been swept to the floor. A single triangle of the clay pot had fractured, and lay beside a dusting of soil.
“That’s not going to help,” Cosima said calmly, but she was shaken. She wasn’t sure, however, what would help. After they’d discovered Beth’s bones, Rachel had called the police to find out more, but they hadn’t learned much – only that Beth had been missing for seven years. As always, Alison had advocated for secrecy, and Rachel had concurred, withholding their discovery of the Jaguar from the police. The car would lead them to Cabeswater, and that was too complicated, too public.
Cosima sighed and went back to her Latin.
Several hours away, Rachel was just losing interest in her mother’s birthday. It hadn’t taken long for Ira and Susan to become engaged in a full-on politely disappointed conversation that they both pretended wasn’t over Ira’s non-Westmoreland Westmoreland book. During a particularly tense non-exchange, Rachel stood up, smoothed down her skirt, and walked out to her parents’ garage.
Ordinarily, home – a sprawling, Cotswold-stone mansion out of Washington, D.C. – had a sort of nostalgic comfort to it, but today, Rachel had no patience for it. All she could think about was Beth’s skeleton and EMF readings and trees that spoke.
Rachel had always felt as if there were two of her: the Rachel that was in control, able to handle any situation, able to talk to anyone, and then, the other, more fragile Rachel, brittle and unsure, embarrassingly earnest, driven by naïve longing. That second Rachel loomed inside her now, more than ever, and she didn’t like it.
She punched the key code (Ira’s birthday) into the pad by the garage door. The garage, almost as large as the house, was all stone and wood and arched ceilings, a stable housing several thousand horses tucked away under their hoods.
Like her father, Rachel Duncan saw the value in old cars, when they had been returned to elegant perfection by teams of restoration experts who were in no way expecting her to get her hands dirty. Ethan Duncan, on the other hand, collected rundown relics and took many, many interminable pauses in the process of restoring them, leaving a strange playground of half-shiny, half-decrepit vehicles.
Rachel settled on a Peugeot the colour of vanilla ice cream that sat on stumps instead of wheels. Leaning back in the seat, her feet resting on the pedals, Rachel took out her journal. She ran its edge over the steering wheel. The interior of the entire car reminded her a lot of her mother’s kitchen mixer. The gearshift looked like it might make a serviceable meringue when it wasn’t moving the car from first to second.
The Peugeot rocked as someone got into the passenger seat. For a breathless moment, Rachel thought, Beth?
But then, her father said, “What do you think of this beauty, eh, Rachel?”
Rachel opened her eyes. Beside her, Ethan ran a palm over the dash and then inspected it for dust. He squinted at Rachel as if he could determine the state of his daughter’s health and mental facilities merely by looking at her.
“It’s nice,” Rachel said. “Not really me, though.”
“Mmm,” Ethan said, “you go in for shinier things, don’t you?”
Rachel wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or a criticism, so she said nothing.
“Do you have any idea why your brother purchased that inane old tome for three thousand dollars? Is he angry at your mother? Is he trying to play a practical joke?”
“He thought Mother would like it.”
“It’s not Westmoreland.”
Rachel said, “I tried to warn him.”
Her father asked, “How are you doing in school?”
“What’s your favourite class?”
“How’s your scholarship friend doing? Finding the classes harder than public school?”
Rachel turned the driver’s side mirror so that it reflected the ceiling. “Alison’s doing well.”
“She must be pretty smart.”
Rachel agreed, “Very.”
“And the other one? The…house-boat one?”
Rachel smiled thinly. “Always competing with me for top of the class.”
Ethan didn’t ask about Beth, and Rachel realised she couldn’t remember him ever doing so. In fact, she couldn’t remember mentioning Beth to her family at all. She wondered if the police would call her parents about her finding the body. If they hadn’t already, it seemed unlikely that they would. They’d given Rachel and Sarah cards with the number of a counsellor on it, but Rachel thought they probably needed help of a different variety.
“How’s the ley line hunt going?”
Rachel considered how much to say. “I’ve actually made some breakthroughs that I hadn’t expected. Henrietta is looking promising.”
“Just so long as you’re happy, and keeping busy,” her father said.
“Oh,” Rachel said, retrieving her phone from the dash. Already her mind was churning over how to return Beth to her former self, how to remove Alison from under her mother’s influence, how to wake a sleeping king, what clever thing she could say to Sarah when she saw her next. “I’m keeping busy.”
When Sarah knocked on the door of Monmouth Incorporated after school, Alison opened the door.
“You guys weren’t waiting outside,” Sarah said, feeling a little self-conscious. After all this time, she’d never been inside, and she felt a little like a trespasser merely by standing in this rundown stairwell. “I thought maybe you weren’t here.”
“Rachel’s celebrating with her mother,” Alison said. She smelled like wine. “And Beth’s f…fudging dead. But Cosima’s here.”
“Ali, let her in,” Cosima said. She appeared at Alison’s shoulder. “Hey, Sarah. You’ve never been up before, have you?”
“Yeah. Should I not – ”
“No, come – ”
There was a bit of a fumble and then Sarah was inside and the door was shut behind her and both of the girls were watching her reaction carefully.
Sarah gazed around the second floor, and Chainsaw on her shoulder did the same. It was like the office of a CEO merged with the storage facility of an explorer; knowing Rachel, she suspected that was fairly accurate. She said, “What’s the downstairs look like?”
“Dust,” Alison replied. “And concrete. And more dust. And dirt.”
“Also,” Cosima said brightly, “dust.”
For a moment, Alison and Cosima craned their necks, looking around the spread-out space as if they, too, were seeing it for the first time. The vast room, painted red with afternoon sun through the dozens of windows, was streamlined but stark, controlled. It reminded Sarah of the scrupulously neat columns in Rachel’s journal.
For the first time in days, she thought about the vision of Rachel’s fingers resting on Sarah’s face.
Sarah, kiss me.
For one half of a breath, Sarah closed her eyes to reset her thoughts.
“I’m getting more,” Alison said, holding up her still half-full wine glass. She sloshed away.
“We’re not doing anything today, obvs,” Cosima said. “Do you wanna hang out?”
Sarah looked around for a couch. It would be easier to hang out if there was a couch. There was a four-poster bed tucked into a corner, behind a wall of glass panes, a very expensive-looking leather armchair (the sort with glossy brass bolts holding the leather in place) and a desk chair with papers scattered across it. No couch.
“Has Beth – ”
Cosima shook her head.
Sarah sighed. Maybe Cosima was right about Beth’s body. Maybe moving it off the ley line had stolen her energy.
“Is she here?” she asked.
“It feels like it. I don’t know.”
To the empty air, Sarah said, “You can use my energy, Beth. If that’s what you need.”
Cosima said, “That’s brave of you.”
Sarah didn’t think so; if it was something that she needed to be brave about, she was certain Mrs S wouldn’t have her along to the church watch. She shrugged. She considered an answer, but Alison was back, glass topped up nearly to overflowing.
Sarah asked her, “So, do you live here too?”
Alison shook her head, her eyes on the spread of Henrietta outside the windows. “Rachel would like me to. She likes all of her things in one place.” Her voice was a little bitter.
Cosima said, not unkindly, “You shouldn’t say things like that. She doesn’t mean it badly.”
Alison nodded unsteadily. “We’re – it’s just, this place is Rachel’s. Everything in it is Rachel’s.”
“Where do you live?”
Alison sighed into the rim of her glass. “With my mother.” Then she added, “When I get out on my own, it’ll be to someplace I made myself.”
“And that’s why you go to Aglionby.”
Alison levelled her gaze on Sarah. “That’s why I go to Aglionby.”
“Even though you’re not rich.”
“Alison, I couldn’t give a shit,” Sarah said.
Alison made a little face, and then inclined her head in the slightest of nods. “Even though I’m not rich.”
“True confession – ” Sarah said. “I’m not rich, either.”
Alison laughed out loud at that, nearly spraying them both with wine. It burst out of her and seemed to surprise her, but she just squashed it with her hand, giggling into her palm.
“Okay, but you live here,” Sarah said to Cosima. “Right?”
“Uh, yeah,” Cosima said. “My parents live on a houseboat, so this was a lot more convenient, for getting to school and stuff.”
“So you just moved to a more normal place like an office building, then.”
Cosima snorted. “Oh, hey. Come over here. You’ll like this.”
The floor creaking under her, she led the way past the desk to the windows on the far side. Sarah felt a sense of dizzying height here; these massive old office windows began at the floorboards, and the first floor was much taller than the first floor of her house. Crouching, Cosima extracted a cardboard file box from a shelf against the window.
She pulled it across the floor and gestured for Sarah to sit beside her. Sarah sat down gingerly, careful not to unsettle the bird on her shoulder. Cosima readjusted her posture so she was more settled; her knee rested against Sarah’s. She was not looking at Sarah, but there was something about her posture that betrayed her awareness of her. Sarah swallowed.
“These are things that Rachel has found,” Cosima said. “Things not cool enough for museums, or things they couldn’t prove were old, or things she didn’t want to give away.”
“In this box?” Sarah asked.
“In all the boxes. This is the Virginia box.” Cosima tipped it enough that the contents spilled between them.
“Virginia box, huh? What are the others?”
There was something of a child’s delight in Cosima’s smile. “Wales and Peru, Australia and Montana. And others.”
Sarah took a forked stick from the pile. “Is this another dowsing rod?”
Cosima shrugged one shoulder. “I guess. Might just be a stick.” Cosima showed her an old Roman coin. She used it to scrape some ages-old dust off a tiny sculpted stone dog. The dog was missing a back leg; the jagged wound revealed stone lighter than the rest of the grubby surface.
“He looks a bit hungry,” Sarah commented. The stylised dog sculpture reminded her of the raven carved into the side of the hill – head bent back, body elongated.
Cosima picked up a stone with a hole in it and looked at her through it.
Sarah selected a matching stone and looked at her through its matching hole. One side of Cosima’s face was red with the afternoon light. “Why are these in the box?”
“Water bored these holes,” Cosima said. “Seawater. But she found them in the mountains. I think she said they matched some of the stones she found in the UK.”
She was still looking at Sarah through the hole, the stone making a strange eyeglass to add to her regular ones. Sarah watched her throat move, and then, Cosima reached out and touched her face.
“You sure are pretty,” Cosima said.
“It’s the stone,” Sarah replied immediately. Her skin felt warm; Cosima’s fingertip touched the very edge of her mouth. “It’s very flattering.”
Cosima gently pulled the stone out of her hand and set it on the floorboards between them. Through her fingers she threaded one of the flyaway hairs by Sarah’s cheek. “My mom used to say, ‘Don’t throw compliments away, so long as they’re free.’” She raised her eyes to look at Sarah. “That one wasn’t meant to cost you anything, Sarah.”
Sarah plucked at the hem of her shirt, but she didn’t look away. “I don’t know what to say when you say things like that.”
Cosima’s cheek dimpled with her smile. “You can tell me if you want me to keep saying them.”
Sarah was torn by the desire to encourage her and the fear of where it would lead. “I like it when you say things like that.”
Cosima asked, “But what?”
“I didn’t say but.”
“You were going to. I heard it.”
Sarah looked at her face, earnest and bright. Should she tell her about the curse? It had been so much easier to tell Rachel, when it felt like it didn’t matter. The last thing she wanted to do was scare Cosima off by tossing around phrases like true love right after she’d met her. But if she didn’t say anything, there was a chance that Cosima might steal a kiss and then they’d both be in trouble.
“I like it when you say those things, but – I’m afraid you’ll kiss me,” Sarah admitted. Already this seemed like an untenable path to set off on. When Cosima didn’t immediately say anything, she hurried on, “We’ve just met. And I…I’m…I’m very young.”
Halfway through, she lost her nerve to explain the prediction, but she wasn’t sure what part of her felt this was a better confession to blurt out. I’m very young. She winced.
“That seems…” Cosima sought words. “Very sensible. If out of character.” There was a smile tucked into the corner of her mouth.
Sarah laughed in outrage. “Oi, you bitch!”
Both Sarah and Cosima looked up at the sound of footsteps crossing the floor toward them. It was Alison, now holding the half-empty wine bottle in lieu of a glass. She cautiously lowered herself until she sat cross-legged beside Cosima and then sighed heavily, as if she had been part of the conversation to this point and it tired her. Sarah was equal parts relieved and disappointed at her presence effectively ending any more talk about kissing.
Alison peered blearily at Chainsaw.
“Do you wanna hold her?” Sarah asked. Alison nodded.
She carefully bundled the raven into Alison’s cupped palms. If nothing else, it had gotten her to finally put the wine bottle down. Cosima reached over to stroke Chainsaw’s feathers.
The raven opened her beak wide, goggling up at them.
“She wants you again,” Alison said, because it was clear that she did. Sarah accepted the bird and stroked the feathers on the back of her head.
“You look like a super villain with her familiar,” Alison said.
They all heard a door open on the other side of the room. Sarah and Cosima looked at each other. Alison ducked her head, just a little, as if she was waiting for a blow.
No one said anything as Beth settled in the gap left between Alison and Sarah. She looked as Sarah remembered her, her tie loosened and shirt rumpled. The ever-present murky smudge was clearly where her ribcage was supposed to be. The longer she stared at her, the more certain Sarah became that she was at once seeing Beth’s dead body and her live one. That smudge was her brain’s way of reconciling those facts.
Cosima was the first to say something.
“Beth,” she said. She lifted her fist.
After a pause, Beth bumped knuckles with her. Then she rubbed the back of her neck.
“I’m feeling better,” she said, as if she’d been ill instead of dead. The things from the box were still spread out all over the floor between them; she began to sort through them. She picked up something that looked like a carved bit of bone; it must’ve had a larger pattern on it once, but now all that was left was something that looked like the edge of an acanthus leaf and possibly some raised scrolling. Beth held it against her throat like an amulet. Her eyes were averted from Cosima and Alison, but her knee touched Sarah’s.
“I want you to know,” Beth said, pressing the carved bone against her throat, hard, as if it would squeeze the words from her, “I was…more…when I was alive.”
Cosima chewed her lip, looking for a response. Sarah thought she knew what she meant, though. Beth’s resemblance to the crookedly smiling photo on the driver’s license Rachel had discovered was akin to a photocopy’s resemblance to an original painting. She couldn’t imagine the Beth she knew driving that tricked-out Jaguar.
“You’re enough now,” Alison said. “I missed you.”
With a wan smile, Beth reached over and petted Alison’s hair.
Cosima said, “Hey, all those times you said you didn’t need a lift to school, that was because you didn’t go at all?”
“But you did, didn’t you, Beth?” Sarah interrupted, thinking of the Aglionby badge they’d found with her body. “You were an Aglionby student.”
“Are,” Beth said.
Sarah was beginning to feel a deep sensation of cold, as Beth pulled energy from her. “The police said you’d been missing seven years. Does that seem right?”
Beth blinked at her, vague and alarmed. “I don’t…I can’t…”
Sarah held her hand out.
“Take it,” she said. “When I’m at readings with my mum, and she needs to get focused, she holds onto my hand. Maybe it’ll help.”
Hesitant, Beth reached out. When she laid her palm against Sarah’s, Sarah was shocked by how chilled it was. It was not merely cold, but somehow empty as well, skin without a pulse.
Beth, please don’t die for real.
Beth let out a heaving sigh. “God,” she said.
And her voice sounded different from before. Now it sounded closer to the Beth she knew, the Beth who had passed as one of them. Sarah knew she wasn’t the only one to notice it, because Alison and Cosima exchanged sharp glances.
She watched Beth’s chest rise and fall, her breaths coming more even. Sarah hadn’t really noticed before, if she’d been breathing at all.
Beth shut her eyes. She still held the carved bone loosely in her other hand, rested palm-up on her Top-Siders. “I can remember my grades, the date on them – seven years ago.”
Seven years. The police had been right. They were talking with a girl who had been dead for seven years.
“The same year Rachel was stung by hornets,” Cosima said softly. Then she said, “‘You will live because of Glendower. Someone else on the ley line is dying when they should not, and so you will live when you should not.’”
“Coincidence,” Alison said, because it wasn’t.
Beth’s eyes were still closed. “It was supposed to do something to the ley line. I don’t remember what she said it was supposed to do.”
“Wake it up,” Sarah suggested.
Beth nodded, her eyelids still pressed closed. Sarah’s entire arm felt chilled and numb.
“This is the ritual Rachel was talking about,” Cosima said to Alison. “Someone did try it. With a sacrifice as a symbolic way to touch the ley line. You were the sacrifice, weren’t you, Beth? Someone killed you for this.”
“My body,” Beth said softly, and she turned away, hiding her ruined chest. “I can’t remember when I stopped being alive.”
Sarah shuddered. The late afternoon light bathing the girls and the floor was spring, but it felt like winter in her bones.
“But it didn’t work,” Alison said.
“I almost woke up Cabeswater,” Beth whispered. “We were close enough to do that. It wasn’t for nothing. But I’m glad she never found that. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know where it is.”
Sarah shivered unconsciously, a product of both Beth’s cold hand in hers and the horror of the story. She wondered if this was what it felt like for her mother and her grandmother and her brother when they were doing a séance or a reading.
Do they hold hands with dead people?
She had thought dead was something more permanent, or at least something more obviously not alive. But Beth seemed unable to be either.
Alison said, “Who did it, Beth?”
In Sarah’s grip, Beth’s hand shook.
“Seriously, Beth,” Cosima said. “You can tell us.”
There was humiliation in Beth’s voice when she answered, “We were friends.”
Alison said, rather more ferocious than she’d been a moment before, “A friend wouldn’t kill you.”
“You don’t understand,” Beth whispered. Sarah was afraid that she would disappear. This, she understood, had been a secret, carried inside Beth for seven years, and she still didn’t want to confess it. Beth Childs was used to carrying things alone. “We were friends like – are you afraid of Rachel?”
The girls didn’t answer; they didn’t have to. Whatever Rachel was to them, it was bulletproof. Again, though, Sarah saw the shame flit across Alison’s expression. Whatever had transpired between the two of them in her vision, it was still worrying at her.
“Come on, Beth. A name.” This was Cosima, head tilted keenly. “Who killed you?”
Lifting her head, Beth opened her eyes. She took her hand out of Sarah’s and put it in her lap. The air was frigid around all of them.
Beth said, “But you already know.”
It was dark by the time Rachel left her parents’ house. She was full of the restless, dissatisfied energy that always seemed to move into her heart after she visited home these days. It had something to do with the knowledge that her parents’ house wasn’t truly home anymore – if it had ever been – and something to do with the realisation that they hadn’t changed; she had.
Rachel rolled down the window and felt the breeze as she drove. The radio was off and so the only music was the engine; the Bugatti was louder after dark.
She still had a half hour to go until she reached Henrietta. At a tiny town that consisted only of an artificially bright gas station, Rachel got caught at a traffic light that turned red for invisible cross traffic.
Rachel checked her phone. No signal. She wanted to talk to the others.
The breeze through the open window scented the interior of the car with leaves and water, growing things and secret things. More than anything, Rachel wanted to spend more time in Cabeswater, but class would take up much of the coming week. The world was opening up in front of Rachel, and Beth needed her, and Glendower seemed like a possibility again, and instead of going out there and seizing the chance, Rachel had to sit in school.
The light turned green. Rachel punched the accelerator. The Bugatti exploded off the line. The engine drowned out the pound of her heart. The needle climbed on the speedometer.
Rachel hit the speed limit. The car had plenty more. The engine did well in this cool air and it was fast and uncomplicated and Rachel could have kept going.
Beneath her, the Bugatti abruptly shuddered. Rachel let off the gas and stared at all the badly lit gauges, but nothing stood out to her. A moment later, the car shuddered again and Rachel knew she was done for.
She just had time to find a fairly flat place to pull off when the engine went dead, just as it had on St. Mark’s Day. As she coasted off the abandoned road, she tried the key, but there was nothing.
Rachel allowed herself the meagre pleasure of a breathed out curse, and then she climbed out of the car and opened the hood. The engine was an enigma.
She removed her phone from her back pocket and discovered that she had merely a sliver of reception. Enough to taunt her, but not enough to place a call.
She wasn’t certain how much distance she’d covered since the gas station at the light, but it felt like she must be closer to the edge of Henrietta. If she started walking toward town, she might get reception before she found a gas station. Maybe she should just stay put. Stay with the car.
But she was too restless to sit.
She had barely finished locking the car, however, when headlights pulled in behind the Bugatti, blinding her. Turning her face away, Rachel heard a car door slam and footsteps crunch in the loose fill by the highway.
For a blink, the figure in front of her was unfamiliar, a homunculus instead of a person. Then Rachel recognised her.
She said, “Ms. Cho?”
Evie Cho wore a dark-coloured jacket and practical shoes, and there was something strange and intense about the elegant features of her face. It was as if she needed to ask a question but couldn’t find the words.
She didn’t ask “car trouble?” or “Miss Duncan?” or any of the things Rachel thought she might say.
Instead, she said, “I want that book of yours. And you’d better give me your phone, too.”
Rachel thought she must have misheard. “Excuse me?”
Ms. Cho produced a small, impossibly real-looking handgun from the pocket of her dark jacket. “That journal you bring to class. And your cell phone. Quickly.”
It was somehow difficult to process the fact of the gun. It was hard to go from the idea that Evie Cho was strange in a way that was entertaining to joke about with Alison and Cosima to the idea that Evie Cho had a gun and was pointing it at Rachel.
Rachel said, “Alright.”
There didn’t seem to be anything else to say. She preferred her life to nearly all of her possessions. Rachel handed over her cell phone.
“My journal’s in the car,” she explained.
“Get it.” Evie pointed the pistol at Rachel’s face.
Rachel unlocked the Bugatti.
The last time she had seen Evie Cho, she’d been turning in a quiz about fourth declension Latin nouns.
“Don’t even think about trying to take off in that,” Evie said.
It hadn’t occurred to Rachel that if the Bugatti had been operating properly, fleeing would have been an option.
“I also want to know where you’ve been going this week,” Ms. Cho said.
“Pardon?” Rachel asked politely. She had been rummaging in the backseat for the journal, and the crinkling papers had drowned Cho’s voice out.
“Don’t push me,” Evie snapped. “The police called the school. I can’t believe it. After seven years. Now there’s going to be a thousand questions. It’s only going to take them two seconds to answer a lot of questions with my name. This is all on you. Seven years and I thought I was – you’ve ruined me.”
As Rachel emerged from the Bugatti, her journal in her hands, she realised what Evie was saying: Beth. This woman in front of her had killed Beth.
Rachel was beginning to feel something somewhere in her gut. It still didn’t feel like fear. It was something strung out like a rope bridge, barely supporting weight. It was the suspicion that nothing else in Rachel’s life had ever been real except for this moment.
“Ms. Cho –”
“Tell me where you’ve been.”
“Up the mountains near Nethers,” Rachel said, her voice remote. It was the truth, and in any case, it didn’t matter if she lied or not; she’d entered the GPS coordinates into the journal she was about to hand over.
“What did you find? Did you find Glendower?”
Rachel flinched, and the flinch surprised her. Somehow she’d convinced herself that this was about something else, something more logical, and the sound of Glendower’s name shocked her.
“No,” Rachel replied. “We found a carving in the ground.”
Cho held her hand out for the journal. Rachel swallowed.
She asked, “Ms. Cho – are you sure this is the only way?”
There was a soft, unmistakeable click. Though Rachel had never heard it in person before, she knew exactly what sound a pistol made when the safety was taken off.
Evie placed the barrel of the gun on Rachel’s forehead.
“No,” Evie said. “This is the other way.”
Rachel had that same, detached feeling that she’d had in Monmouth Incorporated, looking at the wasp. At once she saw the reality: a gun pressed against the skin above her eyebrows, so cold as to feel sharp – and also the possibility: Evie’s finger pulling back, a bullet burrowing into her skull, death instead of finding a way to get back to Henrietta.
The journal weighed in her hands. She didn’t need it. She knew everything in it.
But it was her. She was giving everything she’d worked for away.
I will get a new one.
She let Ms. Cho take the journal from her.
“You disgust me,” Evie said, holding the book to her chest. “You think you’re invincible. Guess what. So did I.”
When she said that, Rachel knew Evie was going to kill her. There was no way someone could have that much hatred and bitterness in her voice while holding a gun and not pull the trigger.
Evie’s face tensed.
For a moment, there was no time: just the space between when one breath escaped and another rushed in.
Seven months before, Beth had taught Rachel how to throw a hook.
Hit with your body, not just your fist.
Look where you’re punching.
Elbow at ninety degrees.
Don’t think about how much it will hurt.
Rachel. I told you: Don’t think about how much it will hurt.
Rachel forgot nearly everything Beth had told her, but she remembered to look, and it was only that, and luck, that knocked the gun into the gravel by the road.
Evie gave a wordless shout.
They both dove for the gun. Rachel, stumbling onto one knee, kicked blindly in the direction of it. She heard her foot connect with something. Evie’s arm first, then something more solid. The gun skittered in the direction of the rear wheels, and Rachel scrabbled around to the far side of the Bugatti. The lights from Cho’s headlights didn’t reach to this side. Her only thought was to find cover, to be still in the darkness.
There was silence on the other side of the car. Struggling to keep her gasping breaths in check, Rachel laid her cheek against the cold metal of the Bugatti. Her thumb throbbed where she’d hit the gun.
By the road, Evie swore again and again. The gravel crunched as she crouched by the car. She couldn’t find the gun. She swore again.
In the far-off distance, an engine hummed. Another car, possibly, coming this way. A rescuer or, at least, a witness.
For a moment, Evie was completely silent, and then, abruptly, she broke into a run, her footsteps softening as she made it back to her own car.
Ducking her head, Rachel peered under the body of the Bugatti, which was ticking as it cooled down. She saw the slender silhouette of the gun between the rear tires, illuminated from behind by Cho’s headlights.
She wasn’t sure if Evie was retreating or going for a flashlight. Rachel backed farther into the darkness. Then she waited there, her heart crashing in her ears, grass scraping at her cheek.
Evie’s car charged onto the highway, roaring toward Henrietta.
The other car passed right after. Oblivious.
Rachel lay in the grass of the ditch for some time, listening to the humming of insects in the trees around her and the breathing sounds the Bugatti made as the engine settled. Her thumb was really starting to hurt where she’d hit the gun. Really, she’d gotten off lightly. But still. It hurt.
And her journal. She felt raw: the chronicle of her fiercest desires stripped from her by force.
After Evie’s car failed to return, Rachel climbed to her feet and went around to the other side of the Bugatti. She hunkered down awkwardly and crawled as far under the car as she could manage, hooking the edge of the gun with her good thumb. Gingerly, she put the safety back on. She could hear Sarah’s voice when they found Beth’s body: fingerprints!
Rachel, moving as in a dream, opened the car door and dropped the gun on the passenger seat. It felt like another night, another car, another person she’d left at her parents’ house.
She closed her eyes and turned the key.
The Bugatti’s engine hummed awake.
She opened her eyes. Nothing about the night looked the same as before.
She turned on her headlights, and then drove back onto the road. Pressing the gas pedal, she tested the engine. It held, no stutters.
Slamming down the accelerator, she raced toward Henrietta. Evie Cho had killed Beth, and she knew her cover was blown. Wherever she was heading next, she had nothing to lose.
Sarah had never been a big fan of the attic, even before Carlton moved in. Numerous slanting roof lines provided dozens of opportunities to hit your head on a sloping ceiling. Unfinished wood floorboards were unfriendly to bare feet. Summer turned the attic into an inferno. And there generally was nothing up there but dust and wasps. There was really no reason to visit the attic.
As it grew late, Sarah had left Alison, Cosima and Beth behind to discuss if it was possible to implicate their Latin teacher in Beth’s death, if the police had not already established a link. Cosima had called only five minutes after she’d gotten home to tell her that Beth had vanished the instant she’d left.
So it was true. She really was the table at Starbucks everyone wanted.
“I think we have an hour,” Kendall said as Sarah opened the attic door. “They should be back around eleven. Let me go first. In case…”
Sarah stared at her. “What are you expecting to find?”
Kendall grumbled ominously and shot Sarah a look that Sarah suspected was more dangerous than anything they’d find in the attic. She eased by Sarah and began to climb the stairs. The single lightbulb that illuminated the attic didn’t reach far down the stairs. “Oh, it smells.”
“Smells like sulfur,” Sarah said. “Or a dead body.”
Thinking of the horrid voice coming from Carlton’s mouth before, she wouldn’t be surprised by either.
“Smells like asafoetida,” Kendall corrected grimly.
“Either something that is delicious in curry, or something that is very useful in witchcraft.”
Sarah tried to breathe through her mouth. It was hard to imagine something that smelled so convincingly of a dead person’s feet being delicious in anything. “Which do you think?”
Kendall had reached the top of the stairs. “Not curry,” she said.
Now that Sarah stood at the top of the stairs, she could see that Carlton had transformed the attic into something quite different from what she remembered. A mattress covered with throw rugs lay directly on the floor. Around the room, unlit candles of different heights, dark bowls, and glasses of water were gathered in groups. Bright painters’ tape made patterns on the floor between some of the objects. In one of the narrow dormers, two full-length, footed mirrors faced each other, reflecting mirrored images back and forth at each other in perpetuum.
Also, it was cold. The attic should not have been cold after the day’s heat.
“Don’t touch anything,” Kendall told Sarah. Which Sarah found ironic, considering why they’d come.
The entire room was giving her a crawling feeling. “She must be making a lot of curry.”
Behind them, the stairs creaked, and both Kendall and Sarah leapt.
“We’re snooping on Carlton?” Felix asked. He carried a pair of black gloves in his hand.
“Felix,” Kendall thundered. She’d gotten over her shock and was now merely angry at being shocked. “You should make some noise when you come into a room!”
Sarah said, “You’re meant to be watching Kira.”
Felix rolled his eyes. “Relax, she’s sleeping. S said she’ll be back at midnight, so be done by then.”
Felix crouched to look at a black leather mask with a long pointed beak. He lifted one shoulder in an elegant shrug. “S knows everything.”
Sarah and Kendall exchanged a look. This meant Mrs S wanted to know more about Carlton as much as they did.
Felix pulled on his gloves. Sarah looked at him askance.
“What?” he said. “I don’t leave prints when I burgle.”
“No one’s burgling,” Kendall said. “This is my bloody house.”
Sarah asked, “Before we start, are you gonna tell us why Carlton said he was coming to Henrietta?”
Kendall moved around the room, rubbing her hands together as if she was either warming herself or planning what to pick up first. “Simple. Your mother had her out here to find that scumbag of a husband.”
Kendall added, “Siobhan told me that Carlton reached out to her first. Said he might be able to find Mr Sadler.”
“Out of the blue?” Felix asked.
“Out of the blue,” Kendall repeated. She picked up a candle. “Seems strange, doesn’t it?”
Sarah crossed her arms. “We’re still missing a lot of details here.”
Looking beleaguered, Kendall switched the candle from her right hand to her left. “John Sadler showed up eighteen years ago, swept Siobhan off her feet, drank himself useless every night, married her, and then vanished. I assumed he was trailer-park trash with a police record.”
Sarah asked Kendall, “What’s that candle telling you?”
Holding the candle out from her body, Kendall squinted. “Just that it was used for a scrying spell. Locating objects, which is what you’d expect.”
Sarah said, “I heard S telling Carlton that the search was meant to be like looking him up online.”
“Curiosity,” Felix said. “It’s not like she’s been pining for him or anything.”
“Oh,” Kendall murmured darkly, “I don’t know about that.”
“What, you think S is still in love with John Sadler?”
Turning to Sarah with extremely jagged eyebrows, Kendall said, “Don’t you?”
That silenced her.
Kendall stepped over to one of the mirrors. There was something unnerving about the utter impracticality of two reflecting surfaces pointed only at each other.
“Don’t stand between them,” Felix warned.
“I’m not an idiot,” Kendall retorted.
Sarah asked, “Why not stand between them?”
“Who knows what he’s doing with them. I don’t want my soul put in a bottle in some other dimension or something.”
Kendall gripped the edge of the closest mirror, careful to stand out of the view of the other. Frowning, she pawed a hand toward Sarah. Sarah obligingly stepped forward and allowed Kendall to press her fingers over her shoulder.
A moment passed, quiet but for the insects outside the window.
“Our little Carlton is quite ambitious,” Kendall growled finally, tightening her fingers on both Sarah and the mirror’s edge. “Apparently his level of fame is not enough for him. Television programmes are for nobodies.”
Felix said, “Okay, but tell us what you see.”
“I see him wearing that black mask over there, standing in between these two mirrors. I must be seeing him back wherever he came from, because he has four mirrors. Two other bigger ones behind each of these. I can see ‘im in each of the four mirrors, and he’s wearing the mask in all of them, but he looks different in each one. He’s thinner in one of ‘em. He’s wearing black in one. His skin looks all strange in another one. I’m not sure what they are…They might be possibilities.” Kendall stopped. Sarah felt a little chill at the idea of four different Carltons. “Bring me the mask. No, not you, Sarah, stay here. Felix – ?”
Felix gingerly retrieved the mask. Again, there was a pause as Kendall read the object, her knuckles pressed white.
“He was hopeful when he bought this. He was comparing himself to Leila Polotsky.”
Sarah looked at her blankly. “Who’s that?”
“A psychic more famous than Carlton,” Kendall said.
“Seriously?” A television show and four books seemed more famous than any psychic could hope for in a disbelieving world.
Kendall blew onward. “Anyway, our man Carlton wishes she could travel the world and get some respect. And this mask helps him visualise that.”
Sarah shook her head. “What’s this got to do with him being here, though?”
“I don’t know yet. I need a better object.” Kendall released the mirror and returned the mask to its hook on the wall.
They poked around the room. Sarah found a switch made of three sticks tied together with a red ribbon, and a red mask to match the black one. Near the window, she found the source of the hideous smell: a little cloth bag with something sewed into it.
She gave it to Kendall, who held it for just a moment before saying dismissively, “That’s the asafoetida. It’s just a protection charm. He got spooked by a dream and made it.”
Crouching, Felix hovered his gloved hands over one of the bowls. The way he held his palms out, fingers barely moving, reminded Sarah of Rachel holding her hand out over the shallow pool of water in Cabeswater.
“Maybe he did come to help Mrs S,” Felix said. “But he’s just getting carried away by Henrietta.”
“Because of the corpse road?” asked Sarah. “I caught him scrying in the middle of the night and he told me the corpse road made it easy to be psychic here.”
Kendall sneered before turning to rummage in the things beside the bed. “Harder too, though. It’s got a whole lot of energy, so it’s like having you in the room all the time. But it’s like your raven girls. It’s damn loud.” Then she said, “Felix, what are you getting?”
Felix’s back was to them as he replied, “Eleven months ago, a woman called Carlton on the phone offering to bring him back to Henrietta for an all-expenses paid trip. While he was here, he was supposed to use any means at his disposal to pinpoint a ley line and a ‘place of power’ that she knew was close by but couldn’t find. Carlton told her he was interested but then decided to investigate on his own instead. He guessed Siobhan might let him stay in town if he came offering to help locate her missing husband.”
Kendall and Sarah wore matching astonished expressions.
Sarah said, “Holy shit, Fe.”
Felix turned around. He was holding a small notebook, which he waved at them. “This is Carlton’s day planner.”
“Oh, technology,” Kendall said, although it wasn’t. “I thought I heard a car. I’ll be right back.”
Sarah sidled over to Felix, hooking her chin on Felix’s shoulder so she could catch a glimpse for herself. “Where does it say all that?”
Felix flipped back through pages of Carlton’s handwriting and showed her the pages of mundane notes on appointment times, publishing deadlines, and lunch dates. Then he flipped back to the notes for the call with the Henrietta woman. It was all as Felix had said, with one notable exception. Carlton had also jotted down the woman’s name and phone number.
Every muscle in Sarah’s body went slack.
Because the name of the woman who’d called Carlton all those months ago was one that Sarah, by now, knew quite well: Evie Cho.
Behind them, the stair creaked. Kendall said, “I have two lots of bad news.” She turned to Sarah. “First of all, your raven girls are here, and one of them seems to have broken her thumb on a gun.”
Behind Kendall, there was another creak as a second person climbed the stairs. Felix and Sarah both twitched a little as Carlton appeared beside Kendall, his gaze eternal and unwavering.
“Second,” Kendall added, “Siobhan and Carlton came home early.”
The kitchen was quite full. It had never been a large kitchen to start with, and by the time a man, four girls, two women, and one Felix were in it, it felt like it hadn’t been made with enough floor. Rachel sat quietly at the table, but Alison more than made up for her calm – she was a hurried whirlwind, intent on making tea for everyone in the room with fanatical focus, though she had to keep asking, Where are the mugs? Okay, where are the spoons? What about the sugar?
Alison and Cosima looked just as they had when Sarah had seen them last, but Rachel’s eyes were different. Sarah spent a minute too long trying to figure out what was different – it was a combination, she decided, between them being a little brighter, and the skin around the edges of them a little tighter.
Her arm lay along the table. Her thumb was splinted.
“Could someone cut this hospital bracelet off?” Rachel asked, deliberately offhand. “I feel like an invalid. Please.”
Kendall handed her a pair of scissors.
“Okay,” Mrs S said from the doorway, rubbing her forehead with her fingers. “There are a few things going on here, obviously. Someone just tried to kill you.” This was to Rachel. “You two are telling me that your friend was killed by the woman who just tried to kill Rachel.” This was to Cosima and Alison. “You three are telling me that Carlton had a phone call with the woman who killed your friend and just now tried to kill Rachel.” This was to Sarah, Felix, and Kendall. “And you’re telling me that you’ve had nothing to do with her since that phone call.”
This last one was to Carlton. Though Siobhan had spoken to each of them, they all kept looking at Carlton.
“And you let them go through my things,” Carlton replied.
Sarah expected Mrs S to look chastened, but instead she seemed to grow taller. “With good reason, it turns out. You lied to me, Carlton. If you wanted to play around on the corpse road, why didn’t you just ask? How do you know I would have said no? Instead, you pretended that you were actually committed to finding John Sadler.” Her voice lessened in strength as she got to this last bit, and she had an expression on her face that Sarah didn’t like; it was a little too emotional.
Cosima asked cautiously, “Who’s John Sadler?”
Mrs S replied, “My husband.”
Carlton’s voice, calm as always, cut through the kitchen. “I was spending time looking for John Sadler. It’s just not all I was looking at.”
Kendall snapped, “Then why all the secretive behaviour?”
Carlton looked pointedly at Rachel’s splinted thumb. “It’s the sort of discovery that lends itself to danger. You’ve been keeping secrets too, Siobhan, from your children.”
Mrs S replied immediately, “I was keeping my flock safe. That’s different.”
“You also didn’t tell me,” Rachel said. She was looking at her thumb, her eyebrows pulled together. She looked somehow older and more serious than the first time she had visited 300 Fox Way, although maybe that was just the effect of her expression. Though she would never, ever tell her, Sarah preferred this Rachel to the wind-tossed, effortlessly confident one. Rachel went on, “At the reading, when I asked about the ley line, you withheld information from me.”
Now Mrs S looked a little chastised. “I couldn’t know what you would do with it. So, where is this woman now? Evie Cho?”
“At the hospital, the police told me they’re looking for her. Henrietta police and state police,” Rachel said. “But they said she wasn’t at her house and it looked like she’d packed.”
“I think you call that on the lam,” Cosima said.
“Do you think she still has interest in you?” Mrs S asked.
Rachel shook her head. “I don’t know that she ever cared about me. I don’t think she had a plan. She wanted the journal. She wants Glendower.”
“But she doesn’t know where Glendower is?”
“No one does,” Rachel replied. “I have a colleague” – Sarah suppressed a snort when Rachel used the word colleague, but Rachel pressed on – “in the UK who told me about the ritual that Evie Cho used Beth for. It’s possible she’ll try it again in a different place. Like Cabeswater.”
“I think we should wake it up,” Carlton said.
Again, everyone stared at him. He seemed unperturbed, a sea of calm, hands folded in front of him.
“Excuse me?” Kendall demanded. “I’m pretty sure I heard it involved a dead body.”
Carlton cocked his head. “Not necessarily. A sacrifice isn’t always death.”
Rachel looked dubious. “Even assuming that is true, Cabeswater is quite a strange place. What would the rest of the ley line be like if we woke it up?”
“I’m not sure. I can tell you right now that it will be woken, though,” Carlton said. “I don’t even need my scrying bowl to see that.” He turned on Kendall. “Do you disagree?”
Kendall clenched her hands around her tea mug. “No, that’s what I see as well. Someone will wake it in the next few days.”
“And I don’t think we want it to be Evie Cho,” Carlton said. “Whoever wakes up the corpse road will be favoured by the corpse road. Both the one who sacrifices and the one who is sacrificed.”
“Favoured like Beth is favoured?” Sarah interrupted. “She doesn’t seem that lucky to me.”
“From what I’ve heard here, she was living a physical life in an apartment with these girls,” Carlton remarked. “That seems far preferable to a traditional spirit’s existence. I would count that as favourable.”
Cosima said, “I’m not sure about this. Beth’s favour is also tied to the ley line, isn’t it? When her body was moved, she lost a lot of her…presence. If one of us did the ritual, would we be tied to the ley line the same way, even if the sacrifice didn’t involve death? There’s a lot we don’t know. It seems more practical to stop Evie Cho from performing the ritual again. We could just give the location of Cabeswater to the police.”
Both Rachel and Carlton said it at once.
“I thought you went to Cabeswater,” Carlton said.
“Didn’t you feel that place? Do you want it destroyed? How many people do you want tramping through it? Does it seem like a place that can exist full of tourists? It’s…holy.”
Cosima put her head in her hands. “I don’t want to do either,” she said. “Sending the police, or waking it up. I want to find out more about Cabeswater.”
“What about Evie Cho?” Felix asked.
“I don’t know,” Cosima admitted. “I just don’t want to bother with her at all.”
Several exasperated faces turned on Cosima. Mrs S said, “Well, she’s not going to go away just because you don’t want to deal with her.”
“I didn’t say it was possible,” Cosima replied, not looking up from the table. “I just said it’s what I’d like.”
It was a naïve answer, and she knew it.
Rachel said, “I’m going back to Cabeswater. She took my journal, and I’m not letting her take Glendower, too. I’m not going to be outmatched by Evie Cho. And I’m going to fix Beth. Somehow.”
Sarah looked at Mrs S, who was just watching, her arms crossed. And she said, “I’ll help you.”
“Home sweet home,” Cosima said, pulling up the hand brake.
In the dark, the Hendrix family’s suburban shoebox was a dreary grey square, two windows illuminated. A silhouette at the kitchen window drew aside the curtains to look at the Camaro. She and Alison were alone in the car; Rachel had driven the Bugatti from the hospital to Fox Way, so she drove it back to Monmouth Incorporated as well.
Alison reached in the back for her messenger bag. “Thanks for the ride.”
The silhouette, distinctly Alison’s mother, pushed apart two blinds to peer out at them. Alison’s stomach curdled. She tightened her grip around the strap of her bag, but she didn’t get out.
“You could come stay at ours,” Cosima said. “You don’t have to get out here.”
Alison shook her head tightly. “That would make it worse,” she said.
Still Alison didn’t get out. But it was unwise to loiter in the car – especially this car, an unmistakeably Aglionby car – flaunting her friendships.
“Do you think they’ll arrest Evie before class tomorrow?” Cosima asked. “Because if they do, I’m not doing the reading.”
“If she shows up for class,” Alison replied, “I think the reading will be the least of her problems.”
Cosima looked down at the gearshift, eyes unfocused. She said, “I keep thinking about what would have happened if Ms. Cho had shot Rachel today.”
Alison hadn’t let herself dwell on that possibility. Every time her thoughts came close to touching on the near miss, it opened up something dark and sharp-edged inside her. It was hard to remember what life at Aglionby had been like before Rachel. The distant memories seemed difficult, lonely, more populated with late nights where Alison studied alone until her eyes ached, blinking tears out of her eyes and wondering why she bothered. She’d been younger then, only a little more than a year ago. “But she didn’t.”
“Yeah,” said Cosima.
“Lucky Beth taught her that hook.”
“Beth never taught her to break her thumb.”
“That’s Rachel for you.” They both laughed at that, and were themselves again.
Alison said, “See you tomorrow. Thanks again.”
Cosima said, “No problem, dude.”
With a sigh, Alison climbed out.
The front door opened before she reached it, light flashing out across the front steps. “What are you thinking?” Alison’s mother’s voice rose in a high-pitched stage whisper. “Coming home at midnight!”
“I’m sorry,” Alison started, “It was the soonest I could –”
But Connie Hendrix would not be stopped once she was on a tirade. “Did you ever think about your poor mother sitting up waiting for you? Or the stress for Oscar and Gemma? Now – ”
“Oscar and Gemma have been asleep for hours,” Alison said hopelessly.
She considered telling her mother that Rachel had almost been killed tonight. She wasn’t sure that her mother would ever let her leave the house again if she did.
“It’s those girls you associate with,” her mother continued, “it’s their influence. You might be passing for now, but you and I both know that you’re not private school material, Alison. You’d do well at public school standards, and that’s just the truth. Anyone can see it.”
Alison balked. “Have you ever looked at my grades, Mother?”
Connie flapped a hand at her. “Don’t be ridiculous, Alison. I really should have put my foot down when you started with all this nonsense; if I hadn’t been so distracted…”
This was an unspecific jab at Alison’s father, though Alison was never sure whether his greater crime was supposed to be leaving Connie or the fact that doing so doomed her to the life of merely a middle-class single mother.
Alison said, “My friend was in the hospital. There was an emergency. I couldn’t avoid it.”
This caught her mother’s attention. “Which one?” she demanded. “The ethnic one? Or that high-and-mighty girl, the Duncan one? She’s got airs, that girl, airs I don’t like.”
Alison had long ago given up trying to explain to her mother that dreadlocks were not a determinant of one’s ethnicity, so she just heaved a sigh and shouldered past her mother to get inside.
Evie missed the good food that came with being rich. When she’d been home from Aglionby, neither of her parents had ever cooked, but they’d hired a chef to come in every other evening to make dinner.
Currently, she sat on the curb of a now-closed service station, eating a dry burger she’d bought from a fast food joint several miles away. Uncertain of just how hard the police might be looking for her car, she’d parked out of the reach of the streetlight and returned to the curb to eat.
As she chewed, a plan was falling into shape, and the plan involved sleeping in the backseat of her vehicle and making another plan in the morning. It was not confidence inspiring, and her spirits were low. She should’ve just abducted Rachel, now that she considered it, but abduction took much more planning than theft, and she hadn’t left the house prepared to put someone in her trunk. She hadn’t left the house prepared to do anything, actually. She’d merely taken the opportunity when Rachel Duncan’s car had broken down. If she’d considered the matter at all, she would’ve abducted Rachel for the ritual later, after she’d gotten to the heart of the ley line.
Except that Rachel would never have been a good target; the manhunt for her killer would be monumental. Really, the Hendrix girl would have been a better bet. Not many people would miss a kid from the suburbs. She always turned her homework in on time, though.
Evie grimly took another bite of her dusty burger. It did nothing to lift her mood.
Beside her, the pay phone began to ring. Until then, Evie hadn’t even been aware that the phone was there; she thought cell phones had driven pay phones out of business years before. She eyed the only other car parked in the lot to see if anyone was awaiting a call. The other vehicle was empty, however, and the sagging right tire indicated that it had been parked in the lot for longer than a few minutes.
The phone rang twelve times, the noise absurdly irritating. She was relieved when it stopped, but not enough to remain where she was. She wrapped up the other half of her burger and stood up.
The phone began to ring again.
It rang all the while that she walked to the trash can on the other side of the service station’s door (COME IN, WE ARE OPEN! lied the flip-around sign on the door), and it rang all the while she returned to the curb, and it rang the entire time that she walked back to where she’d parked her car.
Evie was not prone to philanthropy, but it occurred to her that whoever was on the other side of that pay phone was really trying to get ahold of someone. She returned to the pay phone, which was still ringing, and, if only to make it stop, removed the phone from its cradle.
“Miss Cho,” Carlton said cheerily. “I hope you’re having a good evening.”
Evie clung to the phone. “How did you know where to contact me?”
“Numbers are a very simple thing for me, Miss Cho, and you aren’t difficult to find.”
“Why are you calling me?”
“I’m glad you asked,” Carlton remarked. “I’m calling about the idea you brought up last time we spoke.”
“The last time we spoke, you said you weren’t interested in helping me,” Evie replied.
She turned her back to the service station and looked out into the night. Possibly he was out there, somewhere, perhaps he had followed her and that was how he knew where to call her. But she knew that was not true. The only reason she’d contacted him in the first place was because she knew he was the real thing.
“Yes, about helping you,” Carlton said. “I’ve changed my mind.”
When Sarah first arrived at Monmouth Incorporated the next afternoon, she thought it was empty. Without either car in the lot, the entire block had a disconsolate, abandoned feeling. She tried to imagine being Rachel, seeing this colossal warehouse of an office building for the first time and deciding it would be a great place to live, but she couldn’t picture it. No more than she could imagine looking at the Bugatti’s price tag and deciding to buy it, or making friends with Alison Hendrix. But somehow, it worked, because the apartment was quintessentially Rachel, and Alison was starting to grow on her, and the car…
Well, Sarah still didn’t understand the car.
Sarah knocked on the door to the stairwell. “Beth! Are you here?”
She was unsurprised when the voice came from behind her instead of from the other side of the door. When she turned, she seemed to see Beth’s legs first, and then, slowly, the rest of her. She still wasn’t sure she was actually all there, or if she had been there all along – it was hard to make a decision about existence and Beth these days.
“Hey,” she said. “Glad you’re here.”
Beth crossed her arms, then uncrossed them and put them in her pockets instead. “I only ever feel normal when you’re around. I mean, normal like I was before they found my body. That still wasn’t like when I was…”
“I don’t believe that you were really that different when you were alive,” Sarah told her. But it was true that she had trouble reconciling this Beth with the reckless one who would drive her Jaguar into the forest.
“I think,” Beth said cautiously, remembering, “that I was a real mess.”
This line of discussion seemed in danger of making her vanish, so Sarah asked quickly, “Where are the others?”
“Picking up Alison,” Beth said. “I think she might stay over. Her mom’s being a bitch again.”
The phone rang then, clearly audible through the floor above them.
“You should pick that up,” Beth said abruptly. “Hurry!”
Sarah had lived too long with the residents of 300 Fox Way to question Beth’s intuition. Jogging quickly to keep up with her, she followed Beth into the stairwell and then up the stairs to the doorway. It was locked. Beth made a series of incomprehensible gestures, more agitated than Sarah had seen her.
Beth burst out, “I could do it if – ”
If she had more energy, Sarah thought. She touched Beth’s arm at once. Immediately fortified by her energy, Beth threw her shoulder at the door, cracking the latch and throwing the door free. Sarah hurled herself at the phone.
“Hello?” she gasped into the receiver. The phone on the desk was a sleek silver machine, completely in keeping with Rachel’s love of the elegant and ruthlessly functional.
“Oh, hello,” said an unfamiliar voice at the other end of the line. Already she could hear an English accent reflected back at her. “Is Rachel Duncan there?”
“No,” replied Sarah. “But…I can take a message.”
Beth prodded her with a cold finger. “Tell him who you are.”
“I’m working with Rachel,” Sarah said. “On the ley line.”
“Oh!” said the voice. “Of course. What did you say your name was? I’m Dr. Aldous Leekie.”
“Sarah. My name’s Sarah Manning.”
“Nice to meet you, Sarah,” Leekie said jovially. “I’m afraid I have bad news for Rachel. Would you let her know that I attempted that ritual with a colleague, and it did not go well. My colleague will recover, it will just be a few weeks before the skin heals. The grafts are working splendidly.”
“Wait,” Sarah said. “This is the ritual to wake the ley line, right? What exactly went wrong?”
“That is very hard to say, Sarah. Suffice to say the ley lines are even more powerful than Rachel and I had anticipated. They may be magic, they may be science, but they are undoubtedly energy. My colleague stepped quite easily out of his skin. I was certain I’d lost him; I didn’t think a man could bleed that much without perishing. Uh, when you tell Rachel all this, don’t tell her that. She has quite a thing about death, and I don’t like to upset her.”
Sarah hadn’t noticed Rachel having a “thing” about death, but she agreed not to tell her.
“But you still haven’t said what you tried,” Sarah pointed out.
“Nope. Which means we might do it by accident, if we don’t know.”
Leekie chuckled. “Right you are, indeed. It was quite logical, really, and it was based on one of Rachel’s ideas from long ago, to tell you the truth. We set up a new stone circle using stones we found to have excellent energy readings. Seven of them. On what we hoped was the centre of the ley line and we twiddled them about in position until we had a quite high energy reading in the middle. Sort of like positioning a prism, I think, to focus the light.”
“And that’s when your partner’s skin came off?”
“Round about then. He was taking a reading in the middle and he – I’m sorry to say I cannot remember exactly what he said, given what came after – but he made some sort of light remark or joke or what-have-you. You know how young people are, Rachel herself can be quite one for the levity –”
Sarah wasn’t sure that Rachel was quite one for the levity, but she made a mental note to look out for it in future.
“ – and he said something about losing his skin or shedding his skin or something along those lines. And apparently these things are quite literal. I’m not certain how his words triggered any sort of reaction, and I don’t think we’ve woken this line, at least not properly. Disappointing, but uh, there it is.”
“Apart from your partner living to tell the tale,” Sarah said.
“Oh,” Leekie said, taken aback. “Yes, of course.”
Sarah thanked Leekie, told him goodbye, and hung up.
“Beth?” she asked the room, because Beth had disappeared. There was no reply, but outside, she heard car doors slamming and voices. A moment later, she heard the door clap shut on the first floor and feet stomping up the stairs.
Rachel was first into the room, and she clearly hadn’t expected to find anyone there, because her features hadn’t been arranged at all to disguise her intense worry. When she saw Sarah, she immediately managed to pull a cordial smile from somewhere.
And it was convincing. She had seen Rachel’s face just a second before, but even having seen her expression, it was hard to remind herself that the calm countenance was false. Why a girl with a life as untroubled as Rachel’s would have needed to learn how to build such a swift and convincing false front of happiness was beyond her.
“Sarah,” she said, and Sarah thought she heard a little of her discomposure in her bright voice, even if her face no longer betrayed it. “I’m sorry you had to let yourself in.”
Sarah shrugged. “Beth was here.” Alison and Cosima followed Rachel in, Alison carrying a hefty duffel bag. Cosima gestured grandly for Alison to follow her into Beth’s room.
“This guy called,” Sarah said. “Dr. Leekie.”
“Aldous,” Rachel said. “What did he want?”
“He tried the ritual on the ley line and he said it went wrong and the other person – his, um, colleague – got hurt.”
Rachel looked at her sharply. “Hurt how?”
“Just hurt. Badly hurt. By energy.”
Rachel kicked off her shoes. One high heel flew over her miniature Henrietta and the other made it all the way to the side of her desk. Sarah had never seen Rachel do something so recklessly messy before.
Sarah said, “You seem upset.”
“Do I?” Rachel mused. “Forgive me.”
“It wasn’t – I didn’t mean – it wasn’t a criticism.”
Rachel said suddenly, “Can you believe I’m only alive because Beth died? What a fine sacrifice that was – what a fine contribution to the world.” She made a little twirling hand gesture that was probably meant to make it look as if she was only joking. She went on, “I know I’m being self-pitying. Ignore me. So, Aldous thinks it’s a bad idea to wake the ley line? Of course he does. I enjoy dead ends immensely.”
“You are being self-pitying.” But if Sarah was honest, she liked it. She’d never seen anything like the real Rachel for so long at one time. It was too bad she had to be miserable to make it happen.
“Aldous said this man was badly hurt?”
“Yeah,” Sarah said. “Sorry.”
“Well, then, that’s out.” Rachel leaned against the wall in her stockinged feet. “It’s not worth the risk.”
“I thought you said you needed to find Glendower.”
“I do,” Rachel said. “They don’t. We’ll find another way. What sort of hurt was Leekie’s man?”
Sarah made a noncommittal noise, remembering Leekie’s instruction to spare her the details.
“Sarah. What sort?” Her gaze was unflinching.
“He said something about losing his skin and then, um, his skin came off. Leekie didn’t want me to tell you that.”
Rachel’s mouth pursed. “He still remembers when I…never mind. His skin came right off? Gruesome.”
“What’s gruesome?” Alison asked, coming across the floor.
“Sarah said Leekie tried to wake the ley line and the man with him got seriously hurt. So we’re not going ahead with it. Not at the moment.”
Alison chewed her lip. “How big is the risk?”
“Big,” Sarah said.
Rachel sighed. “Waking the ley line is not the only way to find Glendower.”
“We don’t have time to find another way,” Alison insisted. “If Evie Cho wakes it up, she’ll have an advantage. Plus, she speaks Latin. What if the trees know? If she finds Glendower, she gets the favour, and she gets away with killing Beth.”
Cosima said softly, “…Game over, bad guy takes all.”
All trace of vulnerability had vanished from Rachel’s countenance as she straightened up. “It’s a bad idea, Alison. A clumsy risk.”
Cosima nodded. “We wait.”
Evie Cho was not pleased with Carlton. For starters, since getting in the car, he had done nothing but eat hummus and crackers, and the combination of the garlic odour and cracker chewing was incredibly aggravating. The thought that he was filling her driver’s seat with crumbs was one of the more troubling ones she’d had in a week of troubling thoughts. Also, the very first thing he’d done after they exchanged hellos was to use a Taser on her. This was followed by the ignominy of being tied up in the back of her own car.
It is not enough that I should have to put up with an embarrassing car, Evie thought. Now I have to die in it.
Carlton hadn’t told her he intended to kill her, but Evie had spent the last forty minutes unable to see much but the floor behind the passenger seat. Lying there was a wide, flat clay bowl containing a collection of candles, scissors, and knives. The knives were sizeable and sinister, but not a guarantee of imminent murder. The rubber gloves that Carlton wore now, and the extra set inside the bowl, were.
Likewise, Evie couldn’t be certain they were headed toward the ley line, but from the amount of time Carlton had spent perusing the journal before setting off down the road, she suspected it was a good guess. Evie was not much for speculation – but she thought her fate was probably meant to be the same as Childs’, seven years earlier.
A ritual death, then. A sacrifice, with her blood seeping down through the earth until it reached the sleeping ley line below. Rubbing her tied wrists against each other, she turned her head toward Carlton, who held the wheel with one hand as he ate crackers and hummus with the other.
Her death on the ley line would, Evie thought, have a sort of circularity to it.
But Evie didn’t care for circularity. She cared for her lost car, her lost health, her lost respect. She cared for the ability to sleep at night. She cared for the guacamole her parents’ long-gone chef used to make.
Also, Carlton hadn’t tied her tightly enough.
Chapter 40: Thirty-Nine
After leaving Monmouth Incorporated, Sarah returned home and retreated to the far side of the beech in the backyard for some quiet. She was supposed to be doing homework, but she found herself spending less time solving for x and more time solving for Beth or Rachel or Cosima. She’d given up the pretence by the time Cosima appeared.
“Felix said you were out here.”
“Hey,” Sarah said, stretching out a hand toward her. Cosima took it and settled beside her.
“I love this,” Cosima said, sweeping her arm to take in the whole of the backyard under its green canopy. She leaned her head back against the smooth bark of the beech tree and looked up, up through the branches where they twisted in corresponding paths across and over each other, her eyes moving with the leaves as they fluttered lightly. A glint of green reflected off the surface of her glasses. Sarah was abruptly infected by her wonder.
“It blocks out the rain, this tree,” Sarah told her. She had a satchelful of memories of standing by the massive, smooth trunk in the rain, hearing it hiss and tap and scatter across the canopy without ever reaching the ground. She described it to Cosima as best she could, the words feeling clumsy coming out of her mouth, but the light in Cosima’s eyes meant that she understood.
“Do you know what a fractal is?” Cosima asked.
Sarah said, “Uh, maybe vaguely?”
“It’s a pattern made by the same shape repeated over and over, but in a different scale, like fern leaves that get smaller and smaller, yeah? Look.” She showed Sarah the tattoo on her forearm, a spiralling shell that Sarah traced partly for the feeling of Cosima’s soft skin under her hand.
“So this spiral, this is the golden ratio and it's a mathematical pattern that just repeats itself, in flower petals and honeybees and, you know, the stars in the galaxy and in every molecule of our DNA.”
Cosima lay down, the back of her head resting on Sarah’s knee where she sat cross-legged. Startled, Sarah didn’t immediately react, other than to glance over her shoulder to make sure the tree hid them from the house.
“Sometimes,” Cosima said, “If I look up at the trees for long enough, the – the branches all crossing over and the way the leaves overlap, I feel like I could be this tree. I feel like – science and magic are maybe the same thing, really. They’re not so different.”
Sarah ran a finger over some stray hairs that slipped across Cosima’s forehead. It felt dangerous, but not as dangerous as it would have been to touch her while she was looking at Sarah.
Cosima’s eyes moved, following the shifting light through the leaves above. The wind moved through them, turning them upside down in a way that meant rain later. Without lifting her head, Cosima said, “I’d quite like to kiss you right now.”
Sarah’s fingers stopped moving.
“I can’t,” she said. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
Cosima pulled herself free of Sarah, sitting just a few inches away. “Why would you hurt me?” she said quietly. Her hand rested on Sarah’s where it had fallen.
If I’d been anyone else in the world, Sarah thought, this would’ve been my first kiss.
Sarah turned her head away and spoke painfully, “I can’t – I can’t with anybody, because there’s a prediction that – don’t laugh – that if I do, it’ll kill the person. They’ll just die.” She swallowed. She still couldn’t look at Cosima.
Cosima’s hand brushed her jaw, gently turning Sarah’s head to look at her. She leaned close enough that Sarah could feel her breath, and let her forehead rest against Sarah’s skin. “It’s okay,” she said huskily. Her eyes looked a bit wet. “I’m sorry. It must be…it must be hard.”
Sarah stifled a sniff and said, “It – it wasn’t, until I wanted to kiss somebody.”
They sat in their strange lean-to of girl bodies, Sarah sighing into Cosima’s shoulder, Cosima touching her hair, Sarah busy not kissing Cosima while Cosima was busy not kissing her.
Rachel was surrounded by white.
Her mother said, I should never have left you. Is that what you want to hear?
Beth stood amidst a halo of light, glinting off the silver train tracks. She turned to look over her shoulder as she stepped forwards, her face bleak, eyes exhausted. We do terrible things for the ones we love, she said. Stop asking why. Start asking who. The train smashed into her and Rachel flinched away.
Something hard dug into her back. It was the sharp line of a kitchen counter, sleek and coldly modern. The kitchen is the heart of the home, after all.
Susan looked down at Rachel, taller than she had ever been in real life.
Rachel said desperately, You created me to be your heir, didn't you?
Susan replied pensively, Of all my mistakes, and all my triumphs, I regret making you.
Rachel jolted awake, the room icy around her. She huddled into her blankets, but the layers of glass walls didn’t keep any warmth in here.
She didn’t let herself dwell on the dream. The spectre of Glendower and the ley line hung in Rachel’s mind. They seemed closer than ever before, but the possibility of a successful outcome also felt more tenuous than ever before. Evie Cho was out there, and she’d been searching for this for even longer than Rachel. Surely, left to her own devices, she’d find what she wanted sooner than they would.
I need to wake up the ley line.
Rachel’s head was a jumble of thoughts: her father’s retreating steps, hornets crawling over her skin, disappointment cold as flint in her mother’s eyes, Sarah crossing her arms over her chest, Alison huddled shaking after she had seen a vision in Cabeswater.
She was full of so many wants, too many to prioritize, and so they all felt desperate. To get into a good college, to be noticed by her mother, to stop feeling hungry, to go home, to have stopped Evie Cho in her tracks, to belong somewhere, to be a child again, to feel at home, to feel at home, to feel at home.
If she woke the ley line, if she found Glendower, she could still have those things. Most of them.
But again, she saw Alison’s wounded form, Cosima’s fragile smile, Sarah’s shoulders bowed with tension. There just wasn’t a way that Rachel would put them in peril.
But there also wasn’t any way that she was going to let Evie Cho slide in and take what she’d worked so hard for.
She was decided, then. Moving quietly around the room, Rachel put things in her bag. It was hard to predict what she would need. Rachel slid the gun from beneath the bed and looked at it for a long moment, a black, sinister shape on the floorboards. Earlier, Cosima had seen her putting it away.
“You kept it?” she’d demanded, horrified.
“I’ll find a way to get rid of it,” Rachel had promised. “But I wanted to have it, for now.”
Rachel didn’t want to bring it along with her tonight, not really.
But she didn’t know what she’d need to sacrifice.
She checked the safety and put it in the bag. Climbing to her feet, she turned toward the door and just managed to stifle a sound. Beth stood directly in front of her, hollow eyes on level with Rachel’s eyes, breathless mouth inches from Rachel’s sucked-in breath.
Without Sarah there to make her stronger, without Cosima there to make her human, without Alison there to make her belong, Beth was a frightening thing.
“Don’t throw it away,” Beth whispered.
“I’m trying not to,” Rachel replied, picking up her messenger bag. The gun made it feel unnaturally weighted.
When she straightened, Beth was already gone. Rachel walked through the black, frigid air where she had just been. Behind her, the soft sound of sleep-driven movements came from Cosima’s room, and from Beth’s, where Alison lay huddled.
I’m not betraying them, Rachel thought. We’re still doing this together. Only, when I come back, the danger will be over. And I’ll have done something no one else could.
Her friends didn’t stir as she let herself out of the door. As she left, the only sound was the whisper of the night wind through the trees of Henrietta.
There was blood everywhere.
Are you happy now, Alison? Sarah snarled. She knelt beside Rachel, who convulsed in the dirt. Cosima stared at Alison, and the horror in her face was the worst thing. It was her fault. Sarah’s face was wild with loss. Is this what you wanted?
At first, when Alison opened her eyes from the gory dream – the tree vision that had haunted her ever since – her limbs tingling from the adrenaline of it, she wasn’t sure where she was. She felt like she levitated: the space around her was all wrong, too little light, too much space overhead, no sound of her own breath coming back at her from the walls.
Then she remembered where she was, in Beth’s room with its close walls and soaring ceiling. She thought she heard Beth’s voice, distantly. The hairs on her arms slowly prickled.
“I can’t understand you,” she whispered. “I’m sorry. Can you say it louder, Beth?”
The hair on the back of her neck rose as well. A cloud of her breath hung in the suddenly cold air in front of her mouth.
Beth’s voice said: “Rachel.”
Alison scrambled out of bed, but it was too late. Rachel was not in her room. Some of her things were scattered about. She’d packed a bag in the night.
“Cosima, wake up,” Alison said, shoving open Cosima’s door. Without waiting for a response, she moved to the stairwell and pushed out onto the landing to look out the broken window that overlooked the parking lot. Outside, the rain misted down, a fine spray that made halos around the distant house lights.
She already knew what she’d find, but still, the reality was a jolt: the Bugatti was missing from the lot. The rumble of the engine starting was probably what had woken her in the first place.
“Jeez, Alison, what?” Cosima asked. She stood in the doorway to the stairwell, scratching her neck sleepily.
Alison didn’t want to say it. If she said it out loud, it was real, it had happened, Rachel had really gone without them. It wouldn’t have hurt if it was Sarah; this was the sort of thing she expected from Sarah. But it was Rachel. Rachel.
I did hear her, didn’t I? She said we were going to wait.
Alison tried several different ways to think of the situation, but there wasn’t any way she could tilt it that made it hurt less. Something kept fracturing inside her.
“What’s going on?” The tone of Cosima’s voice had changed.
“Rachel’s gone to wake the ley line.”
Just a mile away at 300 Fox Way, Sarah looked up as a tap came on her cracked bedroom door.
“Are you sleeping?” Mrs S asked.
“Yeah,” Sarah replied.
Siobhan let herself in. “Your light was on,” she observed, and with a sigh, she sat on the end of Sarah’s bed, a familiar weight. For several long minutes, she didn’t say anything at all, just picked through Sarah’s unused text books on the card table shoved against the end of the mattress.
“I think it’s about time I was straightforward with you,” Mrs S said finally.
“About my husband,” she said. “John Sadler. I don’t know all that much, mind. I think that he has something to do with Cabeswater or the ley line. Way back before you came to live with me, Kendall and I were messing around with things we probably shouldn’t have been – ”
Sarah snorted. “Drugs?”
“Rituals. Are you messing around with drugs?”
“No. But maybe rituals.”
“That might be worse.”
Sarah said, “Anyway…”
“Well, John showed up after this ritual. I think he was trapped in Cabeswater, and we released him.”
“You didn’t ask?”
“I didn’t know, back then.”
Sarah said, “Why did he leave?” and then realised just afterwards that might have been too blunt.
“He didn’t leave,” Mrs S said. “He disappeared. Right when you arrived.”
“That’s called leaving.”
“I don’t think he did it on purpose. Well, I did, at the time. I thought Ma might have finally driven him off. But now I’ve been thinking about it and getting to know more about Henrietta and I think…I’m not exactly sure we didn’t accidentally do another ritual. It might have gotten him stuck back in there.”
“So that’s why you called Carlton.”
Mrs S nodded. “That’s why I called him.”
Sarah said, with uncharacteristic frankness, “How well do you know him, Mum?”
Mrs S shook her head. “Not as well as I thought I did. We’ve gotten together a few times over the years since, just a day or two here or there. But he was the one who brought you to me, you know.”
Sarah hadn’t known. “What did he – what did he tell you about me?”
Mrs S shook her head again, warily. “I don’t know who your birth father is, Sarah.”
“Yeah, no, I know.”
“He said the same thing Amelia said when she tracked us down, love. He said that you were one to hide.”
Footsteps moved softly in the hallway, and then Kendall stood in the doorway. Mrs S sighed and looked down at her lap, as if she’d been expecting this.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Kendall said bluntly, “but in about three minutes, Sarah’s raven bunch are going to pull down the street and sit in front of the house while they try to find a way to convince her to sneak out with them.”
Mrs S rubbed the skin between her eyebrows. “I know.”
Sarah’s heart raced. “That seems very specific.”
Kendall and Mrs S exchanged a quick glance.
“That’s another thing I wasn’t exactly straightforward about,” Mrs S said. “Sometimes we’re very good with specifics.”
“Only sometimes,” Kendall said. Then she added gloomily, “More and more often, lately.”
“Things are changing,” Mrs S said.
Another silhouette appeared at the doorway. Felix said, “Carlton still hasn’t come back. And he scuttled the cars. Neither of them will start.”
Outside the window, they all heard the sound of a car pulling up in front of the house. Sarah looked at Mrs S entreatingly.
Instead of replying, Mrs S looked at Kendall and Felix. “Tell me we’re wrong.”
Kendall said, “You know we can’t tell you that, love.”
Mrs S stood up. “You go with them, chicken. We’ll take care of Carlton.”
Felix said, “Just – don’t die, Sarah, okay?”
There were trees, and then there were trees at night. Trees at night became colourless and sizeless and moving things. When Rachel got to Cabeswater, it felt like a living being. The wind on the leaves was like the bellows of an exhaled breath and the hiss of rain on the canopy like a sucked-in sigh. The air smelled like wet soil.
Rachel cast a flashlight beam into the edge of the trees. The light barely penetrated the woods, swallowed by the fitful spring rain that was beginning to soak her hair.
She didn’t have a phobia of the dark. A phobia meant that the fear was irrational, and Rachel suspected there was plenty to be afraid of in Cabeswater once the sun had gone down. At least, she reasoned, if Evie Cho is here using a flashlight, I’ll see her.
It was a cold comfort, but Rachel had come too far to turn back. She cast another glance around herself – she always felt observed here – and then she stepped over the invisible gurgle of the tiny creek, into the woods.
And it was bright.
Jerking her chin down, eyes squeezed shut, she shielded her face with her own flashlight. Her eyelids burned red with the difference from black to light. Slowly, she opened them again. All around her, the forest glowed with afternoon light. Dusty gold shafts pierced the canopy and made dapples of the insubstantial brook to her left. In the slanting light, the leaves were made yellow, brown, pink. The furred lichen on the trees was a murky orange.
The skin of her hand in front of her had become rose and tan. The air moved slowly around her body, somehow tangible, gold flaked, every dust mote a lantern.
There was no sign of night, and there was no sign of anyone else in the trees. Cabeswater had become bright just as Rachel had wished it wouldn’t be dark, just as it had changed the colour of the fish in the pool as soon as she had thought it would be better if they were red.
Switching off the flashlight, Rachel dropped it into her bag and moved along the tiny creek they’d first followed. The rain had swelled it, so the creek was easier to follow toward its source, wending a way through newly flattened grasses down the mountain.
Ahead, Rachel saw slowly moving reflections on the tree trunks, the strong, slanting afternoon light mirroring off the mysterious pool they’d found the first day. She was nearly there.
She stumbled. Her foot had turned on something unforgiving and unexpected.
What is this?
At her feet was an empty, wide-mouthed bowl. It was a glistening, ugly purple, strange and man-made in this place.
Puzzled, Rachel’s eyes slid from the dry bowl at her feet to another bowl about ten feet away, equally conspicuous among the pink and yellow leaves on the ground. The second bowl was identical to the one at her feet, only it was filled to the brim with a dark liquid. No leaves or silt or twigs or insects marred the black surface of the liquid. Which meant the bowl had been filled only recently.
Which meant –
The adrenaline hit her system a second before she heard a voice.
Tied in the back of the car, it had been hard for Evie to know when she should make a play for her freedom. The fact was, Carlton clearly had a plan, which was more than Evie could say of herself. And it seemed extremely unlikely that he’d try to kill her until he’d set up the finer details of the ritual. So Evie allowed herself to be driven in her own car, now reeking of garlic and full of crumbs, to the edge of the woods. Carlton was not brave enough to take her car off-road – a fact for which she was very grateful – so he parked it in a little gravel turn-around and made them both walk the rest of the way. It was not yet dark, but still, Evie stumbled over hummocks of field grass on the way.
It was a strange feeling for Evie to be back inside the woods where she’d last seen Childs alive. She’d thought that woods were woods and she wouldn’t be affected by returning, especially at a different time of the day. But something about the atmosphere immediately took her back to that moment, the baseball bat in her hand, Childs tied down to the tracks as the train roared around the bend.
She missed her life. She missed everything about it: the careless power, the extravagant Christmases at home, the gas pedal beneath her foot, free time that felt like a blessing instead of an empty curse. She missed skipping classes and taking classes and getting astonishingly drunk on Martinis at her birthday party.
She missed Beth Childs.
She had not let herself think it once in the past seven years. She had tried instead to remind herself of Childs’ uselessness. Tried to remind herself of the practicality of the death instead.
But instead, she remembered the sound Childs made as the train hit her.
Carlton didn’t have to tell Evie to sit quietly while he arranged the ritual. Instead, as he laid out the five points of a pentagram with an unlit candle, a lit candle, an empty bowl, a full bowl, and three small bones arranged in a triangle, she sat with her knees pulled up to her chin and her hands still tied behind her and wished she could find it in herself to cry. Something to relieve this terrible weight inside her.
Carlton caught a glimpse of her and imagined that she was upset over her approaching death. “Sorry,” he said, then, “Don’t be like that. It won’t hurt very much. It has to be done.”
When he turned his back to get his knives, Evie slipped her hands from the binding. Then she selected a fallen branch and crashed it down on his head with as much force as she could muster. She didn’t think it was enough to kill him, because it was still green and flexible, but it certainly brought him to his knees.
Carlton moaned and shook his head slowly, so Evie gave him another blow for good measure. She tied him up with bindings she’d removed from herself – she did them up rather tightly, having learned from his mistakes – and dragged his semi-unconscious form into the middle of the pentagram.
Then she looked up and saw Rachel Duncan.
It was the first time Sarah had felt as if it were truly dangerous for her to be in Cabeswater – dangerous because she made things louder. More powerful. By the time they got to the woods, the night already felt charged. The rain had given way to an intermittent drizzle. The combination of the charged feeling and the rain made Sarah look quite anxiously at Cosima and Alison’s damp shoulders, but surely Rachel wouldn’t be wearing her Aglionby uniform out here in the middle of the night. She had definitely had rain-splattered shoulders when Sarah saw her at the church watch, but she had just as definitely been wearing the raven sweater. Surely Mrs S would not have let them go if she’d sensed that tonight was the night Rachel died.
Making a path with their flashlight beams, they found the Bugatti parked near where they’d found Beth’s Jaguar. Several trampled paths led from the car to the woods, as if Rachel had been unable to decide where she wanted to enter.
None of them spoke as they broached the boundary of the trees. Between one blink and the next, they found themselves surrounded by dreamy afternoon light.
Even having braced herself for magic, Sarah was shocked by it.
“What is Rachel thinking?” Alison muttered, but not to anyone in particular. “How can you mess around with…” She lost interest in answering her own question.
Before them was Beth’s black Jaguar, in the unearthly golden light looking even more surreal than the first time they’d found it. Shafts of sun punched opaquely through the canopy, making stripes over the pollen-coated roof.
Standing by the front of the car, Sarah caught the others’ attention. They joined her, staring at the windshield. Since they had last been in the clearing, someone had written a word on the dusty glass. In round, handwritten letters, it said: MURDERED.
“Beth?” Sarah asked the empty air – though it didn’t feel so empty. “Beth, are you here with us? Did you write this?”
Alison said, “Oh.”
It was a breathy little sound, and instead of asking her to clarify, Sarah and Cosima followed her gaze to the driver’s side window. An invisible finger was in the process of tracing another letter on the glass. Though Sarah had felt that Beth must’ve been the one to write the first word on the glass, in her head she had pictured her having a body while she did it. Far more difficult was watching letters appear spontaneously. It made her think of the Beth with the dark hollows for eyes, the smashed-in torso, the barely human form. Even in the warm afternoon woods, she felt cold.
It’s Beth, she thought. Drawing energy from me. That’s what I’m feeling.
On the glass, the word took shape.
It began another word. There was not enough space left between the D and the new word, and so the second word partially obliterated the first.
And again, again, across each other:
The writing continued until the driver’s side window was clear, entirely swept clean by an invisible finger, until there were so many words that none of them could be read. Until it was only a window into an empty car with the memory of a burger on the passenger seat.
“Beth,” Cosima said. “I’m so sorry.”
Alison sniffled. “Me too.”
Stepping forward, leaning over the hood of the car, Sarah pressed her finger to the windshield, and while they watched, she wrote:
Without any comment, she put her hands in her pockets and strode deeper into the woods. Beth whispered in her ear, cold and urgent, but Sarah couldn’t understand what she was trying to say. She asked her to repeat it, but there was silence. She waited in vain for another few seconds, but still – nothing. Cosima was right: Beth was getting less and less.
Now that Sarah had a few moments’ head start, Alison seemed anxious to get going. Sarah understood entirely. It seemed important to keep them all within sight of one another. Cabeswater felt like a place for things to get lost at the moment.
“Excelsior,” Cosima said bleakly.
Sarah asked, “What does that even mean?”
Alison said defeatedly, “Onward and upward.”
“For the love of God,” said Evie Cho when she saw Rachel standing beside the bowl she had just kicked. Evie held a very large and efficient-looking knife. She was scruffy and messy-haired and looked like an Aglionby girl after a bad weekend. “Why?”
Her voice held genuine aggravation.
Rachel had not seen her Latin teacher since she had held a gun to her head by the side of the road. She was surprised by the rush of emotion the sight of Evie caused. Here she was: Rachel’s opposite, the rival who had laid hands on her. She was ready to do a ritual, with yet another sacrifice in the middle of it.
In this context, it took Rachel a moment to place Carlton’s face – that night at 300 Fox Way. Carlton gazed at her from the centre of the circle made from points on a pentagram. He didn’t look quite as afraid as she thought someone tied in the middle of a diabolical symbol might be expected to look.
Rachel had several things she thought about saying, but when she opened her mouth, it was none of those things.
“Why Beth?” she asked. “Why not someone horrible?”
Evie closed her eyes for a bare second. “I’m not having this conversation. Why are you here?”
It was obvious that she wasn’t sure what to do with the fact of Rachel – which was fair, because Rachel had no idea what to do with the fact of Evie. The only thing she had to do was keep her from waking the ley line. Everything else (disabling Evie, saving Carlton, avenging Beth) was negotiable.
Rachel withdrew the gun from her bag. It felt heavy and malevolent in her hand. “I’m here to prevent this from happening again. Untie him.”
Evie let out a heavy sigh. She took two steps towards Carlton and put her knife against the side of his face. His mouth tightened, just a very little. She said, “Just put down the gun so that I don’t slice his face off. Actually, throw it over here.”
Rachel said, “I’ll throw it out of my reach, but I’m not going to throw it into your reach.”
“Then I cut his face off.”
Carlton said, “You’ll ruin the ritual if you do.”
Rachel had the curious, discomfiting sensation of seeing something unusual when she looked at his eyes. It was like she saw a brief flash of Siobhan and Kendall and Kira in them.
Evie said, “Very well. Throw the gun over there. Don’t come any closer, though.” To Carlton, she said, “Why wouldn’t it work? Is this a bluff?”
“You can throw the gun away,” Carlton told Rachel. “I won’t mind.”
Rachel tossed the gun into the brush. She felt terrible as she did, but she didn’t see what other choice she had.
Carlton said, “And Evie, the reason why it won’t work is because the ritual needs a sacrifice.”
“You were planning on killing me,” Evie said. “You expect me to believe that it doesn’t work the other way around?”
“Yes,” said Carlton. He didn’t look away from Rachel. Again, she thought she saw a flash of something when she was looking at his face: a black mask, two mirrors, Kendall Malone’s face. “It has to be a personal sacrifice. Killing me wouldn’t accomplish that. I’m nothing to you.”
“But I’m nothing to you,” Evie said.
“But killing is,” he replied. “I’ve never killed anyone. I give up my innocence if I kill you. That’s an incredible sacrifice.”
When Rachel spoke, she was surprised by how clearly the contempt came through. “And you’ve already killed someone, so you don’t have that to give up.”
Evie began to swear, very softly, as if no one else were there. Leaves the colour and shape of pennies drifted down around them. Carlton was still staring at Rachel. The sensation of seeing someplace else in his eyes was now undeniable. It was a black, mirrored lake, it was a voice as deep as the earth, it was two obsidian eyes, it was another world.
Sarah’s voice had come from just behind the hollowed-out vision tree, and then the rest of her followed. Behind her were Alison and Cosima. Rachel’s heart was a bird and a stone; her relief was palpable, but so was her shame.
“Ms. Cho,” Alison said. Even in her tracksuit and with her bedhead, she looked strangely determined. She didn’t look at Rachel. “The police are on their way. You’d better step away from that man to avoid making this any worse.”
Evie looked as if she was going to reply, but then she didn’t. Instead, everyone looked at the knife in her hand and the ground below it.
Carlton was gone.
At once, they all looked around the pentagram, at the hollowed-out tree, at the pool – but it was ridiculous. Carlton could not have slithered away without anyone seeing, not in ten seconds’ time. He hadn’t moved. He had disappeared.
For a moment, nothing happened. Everyone was frozen in a diorama of uncertainty.
Evie plunged from the pentagram. It took Rachel only a bare second to realize that she was lunging in the direction of the gun.
Sarah hurled herself toward Evie at the same moment that Evie rose with the gun. Evie smashed the side of it into Sarah’s jaw. Sarah’s head snapped back.
Evie pointed the pistol at Alison.
Cosima shouted, “Stop!”
There was no time.
Rachel threw herself into the middle of the pentagram.
Curiously, there was no sound here, not in any reasonable way. The end of Cosima’s cry was muffled, as if it had been shoved under water. The air was still around her. It was as if time itself had become a sluggish thing, barely existing. The only true sensation she felt was that of electricity – the barely perceptible tingling of a lightning storm.
Carlton had said that it wasn’t about the killing, it was about the sacrifice. It was obvious that stymied Evie completely.
But Rachel knew what sacrifice meant, more than she thought Evie or Carlton had ever had to know. She knew it wasn’t about killing someone or drawing a shape out of bird bones.
When it came down to it, Rachel had been making sacrifices for a long time, and she knew what the hardest one was.
On her terms, or not at all.
Being Rachel Duncan was a complicated thing, a tight bundle of repression and expectation, manoeuvres and anxieties, control and control and control. She was a powerful miracle, a study in the art of getting ahead. The most important thing to Rachel Duncan, though, had always been the ability to be her own master.
This was the most important thing: her personhood.
It had always been the most important thing.
This was what it was to be Rachel.
Kneeling in the middle of the pentagram, digging her fingers into the soft, mossy turf, Rachel said, “I sacrifice myself.”
Alison cried, “Rachel, no! No.”
On her terms or not at all.
I will be your hands, Rachel thought. I will be your eyes.
There was a sound like a breaker being thrown. A crackle.
Beneath them, the ground began to roll.
Sarah was thrown into Alison, just as she had been getting to her feet after Evie hit her. In front of her, the great stone slabs among the trees rippled as if they were water, and the pool tipped and splashed from its banks. There was a great sound all around them like a train bearing down.
The trees heaved toward one another as if they would pull free from the soil. Leaves and branches rained down, thick and furious.
“It’s an earthquake!” Cosima shouted to them. She had one arm thrown up over her head and the other hooked around a tree. Debris coated her hair.
“Look what you’ve done!” Alison shouted to Rachel, whose gaze was sharp and wary as she stood in the pentagram.
Will it ever stop? Sarah wondered.
An earthquake was such a shocking thing, such a wrong thing, that it didn’t seem impossible to believe that the world had been inherently broken and that it would never be right again.
As the ground shifted and groaned around them, Evie staggered to her feet, the gun in her hand. It was a blacker and uglier thing than it had seemed before, from a world where death was unfair and instant.
Evie was able to keep her footing. The bucking of the rocks was beginning to slow, though everything still looked tilted like a fun house.
“What would you know about what to do with power?” she snapped at Rachel. “What a waste. What a colossal waste.”
Evie pointed the gun at Rachel, and, without any ceremony, she pulled the trigger.
Around them, the world went still. The leaves quivered and the water lapped slowly at the pool’s banks, but otherwise, the ground was quiet.
Every set of eyes was on Rachel, who remained standing in the middle of the pentagram. Her expression was perplexed. She cast her gaze over her chest, her arms. There was not a mark on her.
Evie had not missed, but Rachel also had not been shot, and the two were somehow the same thing.
Something was inherently different, irretrievably altered. If not about the world, then about Cabeswater. And if not about Cabeswater, then about Rachel.
“Why?” Cosima asked Rachel.
Rachel said, “I had to.”
“But, Rachel,” Alison cried, “what have you done?”
“What needed to be done,” Rachel replied.
From her place several feet away, Evie made a strangled noise. When the bullet had failed to wound Rachel, she’d dropped the gun by her side, defeated as a child in a game of pretend.
“I think you should give that back to me,” Rachel told Evie. She was shaking, a little. “I don’t think Cabeswater wants you to have it. I think if you don’t give it to me, it might take it.”
Suddenly, the trees began to hiss as if a breeze was coming through them, though no wind touched Sarah’s skin. Alison’s and Cosima’s faces wore matching shocked expressions, and a moment later, Sarah realized that it was not hissing: It was voices. The trees were speaking, and now she could hear them too.
“Take cover!” Cosima yelled.
There was another sound like rustling, only this resolved itself very quickly into a more concrete noise. It was the sound of something massive coming through the trees, snapping branches and trampling underbrush.
Sarah shouted, “Something’s coming!”
She clutched at both Cosima and Alison, snagging their sleeves. Only a few yards behind them was the craggy mouth of the hollowed-out vision tree, and it was there that she pulled them. For a moment, before the tree’s magic enveloped them, they had time to see what was bearing down on them – a tremendous rippling herd of white-horned beasts, coats glinting like ice-crusted snow, snorts and cries choking the air. They were shoulder to shoulder, hectic and heedless. When they tossed their heads back, Sarah saw that they were somehow like that raven carved into the hillside, like that dog sculpture she’d held, strange and sinuous. The thunder of them, of their pressed bodies, rumbled the ground like another earthquake. The herd, snorting, began to part around the pentagram-marked circle.
Beside her, Cosima breathed a soft swear word, and Alison, pressed up against the warm wall of the tree, turned her face away as if she could not bear to see them.
The tree pulled them into a vision.
In this vision, the night smeared jewelled reflections across wet, steaming pavement, stoplights turning from green to red. The Bugatti sat on a curb, Sarah in the driver’s seat. Everything was soaked in the smell of gasoline. She caught a glimpse of a collared shirt in the passenger seat; this was Rachel. She leaned across the gearshift toward Sarah, pressing fingers to the place her collarbone was exposed. Her breath was hot on Sarah’s neck.
Rachel, she warned, but she felt unstable and dangerous.
I just want to pretend, Rachel said, the words misting on her skin. I want to pretend that I could.
The Sarah in the vision closed her eyes.
Maybe it wouldn’t hurt if I kiss you, Rachel said. Maybe it’s only if you kiss me –
In the tree, Sarah was jostled from behind, jolting her from the vision. She just had time to see Alison with wide eyes as she pushed past her and out of the tree.
Cosima only allowed herself a confused moment of a vision – Rachel’s fingers touching Sarah’s face – and then she threw herself out of the tree, jostling the real Sarah accidentally. She needed to see what had happened to Rachel, though in her heart she felt a dreadful premonition, like she already knew what she would see.
Sure enough, Rachel stood in the circle, unharmed, her arms adrift by her sides. The gun hung in one of her hands. Just a few feet away, outside of the circle, Evie lay broken. Her body was covered with leaf litter, as if she’d lain there for years, not minutes. There was not as much blood as one would expect in a trampling, but there was something broken in her appearance nonetheless. A sort of rumpled look to her form.
Rachel was just staring at her. Her usually-even hair was mussed in the back, and it was the only hint that Rachel had moved at all since Cosima had last seen her.
“Rachel,” Cosima gasped. “How did you get the gun?”
“The trees,” Rachel said. That chilling remoteness was in her voice, the sound that meant that the girl Cosima knew was pressed somewhere far down inside her.
“The trees? God! Did you shoot her!”
“Of course not,” Rachel said. She put the gun on the ground, carefully. “I only used it to stop her from coming in here.”
Horror was rising up inside Cosima. “You let her get trampled?”
“She killed Beth,” Rachel said.
“No.” Cosima pressed her hands over her face. There was a body here, a body, and it used to be alive. They didn’t even have the authority to choose an alcoholic beverage. The couldn’t be deciding who deserved to live or die.
“She would have pushed me out,” Rachel said bleakly.
Cosima couldn’t begin to explain the size of this awfulness. She only knew that it burst inside her, again and again, fresh every time she considered it.
“She was just alive,” she said helplessly. “She just taught us four irregular verbs last week. And you killed her.”
Rachel shook her head sharply. “I didn’t save her. What else could I have done?” she shouted, but her face looked as miserable as Cosima felt. “Now the ley line is awake and we can find Glendower on it and everything will be as it should be.”
“We have to call the police. We have to – ”
“We don’t have to do anything. We leave Evie Cho to be worn away, just like she left Beth.”
Cosima turned away, sickened. “What about justice?”
“That is justice, Cosima. That’s the real thing. This place is all about being real. About being fair. Don’t be naïve.”
This all felt inherently wrong to Cosima. It was like the truth, but turned sideways. She kept looking at it, and looking at it, and it still had a young woman dead who looked an awful lot like Beth’s crippled skeleton. And then there was Rachel, her appearance unchanged, but still – there was something in her eyes. In the line of her mouth.
Cosima felt loss looming.
Sarah and Alison had both emerged from the tree, and Alison’s hand covered her mouth at the sight of Evie. Sarah had an ugly bruise rising on her temple.
Cosima simply said, “She died.”
“I think we should get out of here,” Sarah said. “Earthquakes and animals and – I don’t know how much of an effect I’m having, but things are –”
“Yeah,” Cosima said. “We need to go. We can decide what to do about Evie outside.”
They all heard the voice this time. In English. None of them moved, unconsciously doing precisely what the voice had asked.
Girl. Scimus quid quaeritis.
(Girl. We know what you’re looking for.)
Though the trees could have meant any of the girls, Cosima felt as if the words were directed particularly at Rachel.
Rachel said, “What am I looking for?”
In response, there was a babble of Latin, words tumbling over each other. Sarah crossed her arms over her chest, hands fisted. She looked to Cosima for a translation.
“They said there’ve always been rumours of a king buried somewhere along this spirit road,” Cosima said. Her eyes held Rachel’s. “They think he may be yours.”
It was a fine, sunny day at the very beginning of June when they buried Beth’s bones. It had taken several weeks for the police department to finish their work with evidence, and so it was the end of the school year before the funeral took place. A lot had taken place in between Evie’s death and Beth’s funeral.
Rachel had recovered her journal from police evidence and been promoted to president of the Aglionby debating club. Alison, with probable help from Cosima, had tracked down her father and talked to him on the phone for the first time in three years. Sarah successfully scraped through her finals to Mountain View’s satisfaction and triumphantly welcomed the end of the school year and the beginning of more freedom. Power failures plagued the town of Henrietta a total of nine times, and the phone system failed half as many times. Siobhan, Kendall and Kira went through the attic and dismantled Carlton’s things. They’d told Sarah that they still weren’t precisely sure what they’d done when they rearranged the mirrors that night.
“We’d meant to disable him,” Mrs S acknowledged. “But we seem to have disappeared him instead. It’s possible he’ll reappear at some point.”
And slowly their lives found an equilibrium, though it didn’t seem they’d ever return to normal. The ley line was awake and Beth was all but gone. Magic was real, Glendower was real, and something was starting.
“Sarah, this is a funeral!” Alison hissed to Sarah as she made her way across the field toward them. She and Rachel looked like Victorian widows in their impeccable black dresses.
Sarah, lacking wardrobe options, had worn her usual ensemble of rips and leather. At least it was all black. Sarah replied, low and furious, “This was all I had!”
“Like Beth cares,” Cosima said. She wore a black tuxedo, the neatest thing Sarah had ever seen her in.
“Did you bring something else for later?” Rachel asked.
“This’ll be fine.”
Beth’s bones were being buried in the Childs family plot in a remote valley graveyard. Her newly dug grave lay near the edge of the long, sloping graveyard on the side of a rocky hill. A tarp covered the fresh heap of dirt from grieving eyes. Beth’s family, such as it was, stood right next to the hole. There was a young, dark-skinned man with his brow furrowed in grief, and a woman who must be Beth’s mother. She stared off into the trees, dry-eyed. Sarah didn’t have to be a psychic, though, to see how sad the woman was.
Beth’s voice, cool and barely-there, whispered in her ear. “Please say something to them.”
Sarah didn’t reply, but she turned her head in the direction of Beth’s voice. She could nearly feel her, standing just behind her shoulder, breath on her neck, hand pressed urgently to her arm.
“You know I can’t,” she replied in a low voice.
“You have to.”
Sarah closed her eyes. “They’d think I was crazy. What good could it do? What could I possibly say?”
Beth’s voice was faint but desperate. Her distress hummed through Sarah. “Please.”
“Tell her I’m sorry I drank her birthday schnapps,” Beth whispered. “And that I’m…glad Dad’s not here.”
“What are you doing?” Alison reached out and caught Sarah’s arm as she started toward the grave.
“Making a fool of myself!” She tugged free. As Sarah approached Beth’s family, she rehearsed ways to make herself sound less insane, but she didn’t like any of them. She’d been with Mrs S long enough to suspect how this would go. Beth, only for you…She eyed the sad, shattered woman. Up close, she looked hollowed-out, disconnected from the reality of the day.
Both heads turned to look at her, Beth’s mother and the young man. Sarah self-consciously ran a hand down her shredded shirt. “I’m Sarah Manning. I, uh, wanted to say that I’m sorry for your loss. Also, my mother’s a psychic. I have a” – already their expressions were transforming unpleasantly – “message from your daughter.”
Immediately, the young man’s face darkened. He shook his head and growled, “No, you don’t.” He looked like an angry bull-dog.
“Please don’t do this,” said Mrs Childs. “Please just go.”
Tell her, whispered Beth.
Sarah took a breath. “Mrs Childs, she’s sorry for drinking your birthday schnapps. And she’s…she’s glad her dad isn’t with you.”
For a moment there was silence. The young man looked from Sarah to Beth’s mother. The man opened his mouth, and then Mrs Childs started to cry.
Neither of them noticed when Sarah walked away from the grave.
Later, they dug her up. At the mouth of the access road, Rachel reclined beside the Bugatti with its hood ajar, acting as both road-block and look out. Alison operated the backhoe Rachel had rented for the occasion. And Sarah transferred Beth’s bones to a duffel bag while Cosima shone the flashlight over them to be certain they were all there. Alison reburied the empty casket, leaving a fresh grave identical to the one they’d begun with.
When they ran back to the Bugatti, giddy and breathless with their crime, Sarah told Rachel, “This will all come out and bite you in the arse, you know, when you’re running for Congress.”
Cosima laughed and Alison slapped Sarah’s arm lightly. Rachel merely snorted through one nostril.
They reburied Beth’s bones at the old ruined church, which was Alison’s idea.
“No one will bother them here,” she said, “And we know it’s on the ley line. And it’s holy ground.”
“Well,” said Cosima, “I hope she likes it. I’ve pulled a muscle.”
Alison scoffed, “Doing what? You didn’t even dig.”
Cosima smirked. “Carrying this bag.”
After they’d finished covering the last of the bones, they stood quietly inside the ruined walls. Sarah stared at Rachel, in particular, her head tilted down toward where they had just interred Beth. It seemed like no time and all the time in the world since she’d seen Rachel’s spirit walk this very path.
She wouldn’t, she vowed, be the one to kill her.
“Can we go home? This place is creepy as shit.”
Euphoric, they all spun. Beth, rumpled and familiar, was framed in the arched doorway of the church, more solid than Sarah remembered ever seeing her.
“Beth!” Cosima cried gladly.
Alison hurled her arms around Beth’s neck. Beth looked alarmed, and then pleased.
“Childs,” Rachel said, trying out the word.
“No,” Beth protested, around Alison’s arm. “I’m serious. Can we go?”
Sarah’s face broke into a relieved, easy grin. “Yeah.”
“I’m still not eating pizza,” Beth said, backing out of the church with Alison.
Sarah, still in the ruins, looked over her shoulder at them. In the dim light of the flashlights, her black clothes merged into the surrounding darkness.
“I guess now might be a good time to tell you,” she said. “I took Chainsaw out of my dreams.”
I am a Fool and accidentally missed a chapter out when I posted this, so if you've read this and been confused by like....where Chainsaw came from, for example...take a look at chapter 11 (titled 'Ten' bc of the prologue bumping all the numbers along)! That's the one that was supposed to be there all along! It's like...plot-relevant, actually!
in other news I'm...very smart