Chapter Twenty-five. Sacred

I woke myself up shivering, curled awkwardly on the picnic bench. The ache in my neck was unreal and my toes had fallen asleep. It was six o’clock in the morning. I had nine missed calls from Emma and two from Roswell.

School wasn’t exactly a priority for the day. My hands and feet were freezing, and I needed to go home, to take a shower and sleep in a bed. But in the daylight, I knew that I had to talk to Tate first, so I took the long way home, down Welsh Street so I’d pass her house.

She was out in the garage with the door up and I guessed that she was either planning some truancy of her own or, more likely, someone had notified the administration that she’d kicked the holy hell out of Alice. The punishment for fighting on school property was suspension.

The hood of the Buick was propped open and she was knocking around under it. As I came up the driveway, she hit her head on the underside of the hood and dropped a wrench. It clanged against the cement, then bounced under the car.

She kicked the bumper and hopped back a little, wincing.

“Tate,” I said. And then I didn’t say anything else. My voice sounded hoarse and used up.

She turned, already starting to smile, and then the smile faded. “What’s wrong? What are you doing here?”

I shook my head, catching her by the sleeve, pulling her away from the car and toward the weak daylight. “Have you seen this before?”

“Hey—” She reached for the zipper pull. “Hey, where’d you get that?”

I tried to make her see the answer in my face, no completely inadequate explanations, no words, but she just stared up at me with a panicked look.

“No, where did you get it? Did you find it somewhere? Where the hell did you get that?” Then she snatched it out of my hand and held it up. “You see this? Do you see this piece of plastic in my hand? You need to tell me where you got this.”

I looked down at her. The truth was awful and I had no name for myself and none for what was happening under our town. “Wherever you think it came from, that’s where.”

She looked down at the little charm, and I could see the change happen on her face, like something inside her cracking and then, just as fast, fusing back together. “You saw her.”

I was struck, suddenly, by how dry my mouth was. “Underground.”

Tate stared at me. “But you saw her. Right now, she’s alive, and you saw her and you didn’t do anything—you didn’t bring her back?

I shook my head, feeling helpless and ashamed. “I couldn’t, Tate. They’re so used to just being allowed to do this, and no one ever stops them, no one does anything. I don’t know how.”

“Well, you better figure it out!”

I thought of my mom, weird, distant, cold, and sad. “Are you sure that’s what you want?”

“Yes, I’m fucking sure. She’s my sister!” Tate screamed it, slamming her hands down on the hood of the car. “Why would I not do everything I can to get my sister back?”

I didn’t know how to explain life at my house, how bad and weird and creepy it could get. How my mom was still being punished just for surviving, and they’d waited fifteen years to get revenge, because to people like them, fifteen years was two seconds and nothing was ever really forgiven. They could make you pay for the rest of your life.

“It’s just going to mess up your family,” I said.

Tate took a long breath and reached for my hand, not like a girlfriend, but hard and panicked like someone drowning. “Mackie, my family is already so messed up that I can’t think of a single thing anyone could do right now to make it worse.” She squeezed my fingers, staring up at me, and everything smelled like metal. “Just tell me what to do.”

I shook my head. Tate never asked anyone what to do, and I had no answer, no secret knowledge. This was just what always happened and what had been happening for decades. Maybe centuries.

Tate’s eyes were hard and shiny, but not like tears. Her gaze was brutal, and she wasn’t the kind of girl who begged for anything. “There has to be something I can do because I’m not going to just sit around and do nothing!”

I held her hand in both of mine, gripping her by the wrist, holding her still.

They’d had to work on Kellan Caury a long time before they finally made him their man, but the Cutter had figured it out eventually. You can get a lot from a person if you cut the fingers off his girlfriend.

“Stay inside,” I said with my hands locked around hers.

The look she gave me was terrible. “No—no way. You’re talking about my sister. There is no way I’m just going to sit home like a good little girl and wait for you to decide whether or not you’re going to do something!”

She was so brave and so reckless, and I wasn’t lying when I said, “Look, this is how it is, and you can’t do anything to help her. You need to go in the house and lock the doors. I’ll figure something out.”

Then I kissed her fast and ducked out the open garage door before I could see the look on her face.

I’d been relatively sure that Tate would follow me, but she didn’t. When I’d gone a block and a half without her screaming obscenities at me or chasing me down, I let myself hope that for once, she might actually be listening to me.

I headed home, making a mental inventory of my resources. They weren’t very encouraging. The Morrigan might hate her sister, but she wasn’t going to help me save Natalie because apparently human sacrifice didn’t fall under her classification of inappropriate reasons to steal kids. Or maybe it was just that the Morrigan was scared of her sister—like everyone else. Scared of what happened when the Lady caught someone doing something she didn’t like.

I didn’t have a solution, I didn’t have a plan. I had half a bottle of analeptic and an old paring knife, neither of which was that much help in the greater scheme of things.

At the corner of Concord and Wicker, I stopped. I stood on the sidewalk for a long time, looking at my house like it was one of those find-the-hidden-picture games. The yard wasn’t right, and there were too many wrong things to count.

The stepladder was out, but it was tipped over, open so it made a capital A on the lawn. There were long smears of dirt on the front walk. The grass was mashed down flat in places. The gutter was stopped with twigs and dead leaves, and water ran in a steady fall down onto the front steps.

I tried the door, but the knob was locked and so was the dead bolt, and I had to go scraping around in the bushes for the hide-a-key. Some of the edging was torn up and tulip bulbs lay brown and papery on the cement.

A jack-o’-lantern lay smashed in a pulpy mess on the porch. Its eyeholes gaped up at me, candle scorched, half caved in.

When I stepped into the front hall, I was struck by how deserted the house was. My dad was probably at the police station or maybe helping Jenna’s family make preliminary arrangements for the funeral. He’d be comforting the masses, managing the chaos, and my mom would be at the hospital, working the morning shift, but Emma didn’t have class until noon. Her bag was hanging on a hook behind the door. I waited a second and then called her name.

There was no answer. Her coat lay on the bench by the mail table. All the lights were out and I moved slowly, staying close to the wall.

The kitchen was empty, but I had a soft, creepy feeling on my neck, like I wasn’t the only one in the room. I listened a long time before I heard it. Not a cry, but a breathless gasp. Then nothing.

“Emma?” I flipped the light switch and knelt on the floor.

She was sitting under the table. All the stainless steel flatware and the good knives were lined up in a circle around her, and she had her arms pulled close against her chest. She was holding a butcher knife. There was a bruise coming out on one cheek.

“Emma, what happened?”

She opened her mouth but didn’t say anything, looking out at me from under the table, shaking her head.

I reached for her and the metal circle sent a flash of pain up my arm. I sat back hard on the floor, closing my eyes as the kitchen spun. “You have to move that stuff.”

She shook her head again, a quick, frantic little shake.

I yanked my sleeves down over my hands and raked away the knives, reaching for her, pulling her out from under the table and dragging her across the linoleum into the light.

Dead leaves and little twists of brown grass were stuck all over her clothes and in her hair. Her T-shirt was muddy. Her arms were bare, covered past the elbow in thin, spiral burns. They ran in crazy squiggles, oozing clear and yellow. When I touched one of them, she gasped. The skin around the burn felt sticky. I didn’t do it again.

I put my hands on her shoulders. “Did they come in the house?”

“No,” she whispered. “They were out in the yard. I was on the ladder, you know, to clear the gutter. It was running over. They—uh, they were laughing.”

“What did they look like? Were they like me?”

The look she gave me was agonized. “No, they weren’t like you. They were—” She took a short, hitching breath. “They were ugly.”

I realized I was squeezing her and made myself stop. “Ugly like how?”

“Like bony and white and . . . rotten.” Without warning, she mashed her face against my chest so she was talking into my shirt. “They were dead, Mackie.”

Pain seared across my ribs and I gasped. “Ow. Put that down.”

She looked at the knife in her hand like she was surprised to see it there. Then she tossed it away. It spun like a dial on the floor. When it stopped, it was pointing to the refrigerator.

She took a deep breath. “They came up on the lawn and stood around the ladder.” Her voice was hard. “They asked me if I wanted to come and visit them. They said they ran a sanitarium and I was just the kind of girl they needed on their staff.”

“Then what?” I was brushing at the grass on her T-shirt, picking leaves out of her hair. “What did they do to your arms?”

“They knocked me off the ladder. They had fingernails—long fingernails—and then . . .” She held out her arms and didn’t finish.

The burns were wet and raw. They gave off a bright ozone smell that reminded me of lightning storms. “How did you get away?”

She smiled and it was the most ironic expression I’d ever seen. “I said the Twenty-third Psalm.”

“You chased them away by quoting Bible verses?”

“I read, Mackie.”

“So, what you’re telling me is, you have a book that says if a pack of rotten girls shows up at your house and starts burning graffiti all over your arms, recite a couple of psalms and they’ll go away?”

“Revenants,” she said, with her head against my shoulder. “When a person comes back from the dead, they’re called a revenant.” She sounded fussy and serious, even with her scorched arms, her wet hair soaking through my shirt to the skin. She squeezed me hard and raised her head again. Her arms were a raw, oozing mess and she was holding them stiffly away from her body like she was trying not to show how bad it hurt. “It’s . . . I just didn’t know what else to do.”

“Emma, I’m sorry. I’ll get you peroxide or iodine or something. We’ll get you cleaned up. Just tell me what to do.”

“It’s okay,” she said. Water was dripping down the sides of her face. “I’m okay. They didn’t even come in the house. And it’s not as bad as it looks. It hurt a lot, but it’s better now. I can hardly feel it.”

I looked at her arms again, then held her away from me, staring at her hands. “Are you cold?”

“A little. Not too bad, though.” Then she looked down.

Her hands were pale blue and going bluer as we watched. The veins stood out in a dark network under the skin. Her fingernails had turned a deep bloodless gray.

“They took my work gloves,” she said in a thin, shuddering voice. “They have my gloves.”

I stood up. “Okay, turn on all the lights and lock the doors. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

She reached out, grabbing at my sleeve. Her fingers slipped and fumbled on my jacket, like she couldn’t quite make them work. “Wait, where are you going?”

“To get your gloves back.”