The sequel to Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood is coming on August 7th, but that’s not fast enough. We’ve shown you chapter one, and you deserve a second boost for waiting all this time — here’s chapter two of Girl of Nightmares!:
It’s been months since the ghost of Anna Korlov opened a door to Hell in her basement and disappeared into it, but ghost-hunter Cas Lowood can’t move on.
His friends remind him that Anna sacrificed herself so that Cas could live—not walk around half dead. He knows they’re right, but in Cas’s eyes, no living girl he meets can compare to the dead girl he fell in love with.
Now he’s seeing Anna everywhere: sometimes when he’s asleep and sometimes in waking nightmares. But something is very wrong…these aren’t just daydreams. Anna seems tortured, torn apart in new and ever more gruesome ways every time she appears.
Cas doesn’t know what happened to Anna when she disappeared into Hell, but he knows she doesn’t deserve whatever is happening to her now. Anna saved Cas more than once, and it’s time for him to return the favor.
The athame is resting in its jar of salt, buried up to the hilt in white crystals. The morning sun coming through the window hits the glass of the jar and refracts in every direction, bright gold, almost like a halo. My dad and I used to sit and stare at it, stuff ed into this same jar, having been purified by moonlight. He called it Excalibur. I don’t call it anything.
Behind me, my mom is frying eggs. A set of her freshest spell candles are stacked on the countertop. Th ere are three different colors, each with a different smell. Green for prosperity, red for passion, white for clarity. Next to them are three small stacks of parchment bearing three different incantations, to be wrapped around the candles and tied with string.
“Toast or no toast?” she asks.
“Toast,” I reply. “Do we have any more saskatoon jam?”
She gets it out and I pop four pieces of bread into the toaster. When they’re done, I layer them with butter and jam and take them to the table, where my mom has already set our plates with eggs.
“Get the juice, would you?” she says, and as I’m halfburied in the refrigerator, “So, are you going to tell me how things went Saturday night?”
I stand up and pour two glasses of orange juice. “I was on the fence about it.” The ride back from Grand Marais was near silent. By the time we got home, it was Sunday morning, and I immediately passed out, only regaining consciousness to watch one of the Matrix movies on cable before passing back out and sleeping through the night. It was the best avoidance plan I’d ever come up with.
“Well,” my mom says chirpily, “get off the fence and dive in. You have to be to school in half an hour.”
I sit down at the table and set down the juice. My eyes stay trained on the eggs, which stare back at me with yellow yolk pupils. I jab them with my fork. What am I supposed to say? How am I supposed to make sense of it for her, when I haven’t made sense of it myself? That was Anna’s laugh. It was clear as a bell, unmistakable, falling out of the farmer’s black throat. But that’s impossible. Anna is gone. Only I can’t let her go. So my mind has started making things up. That’s what the daylight tells me. That’s what any sane person would tell me.
“I messed up,” I say into my plate. “I wasn’t sharp enough.”
“But you got him, didn’t you?”
“Not before he pushed Thomas out a window and almost turned Carmel into shish kebab.” My appetite is suddenly gone. Not even the saskatoon jam looks tempting. “They shouldn’t come with me anymore. I never should have let them.”
My mom sighs. “It wasn’t so much an issue of ‘letting them,’ Cas. I don’t think you could have stopped them.” Her voice is affectionate, completely lacking in objectivity. She cares about them. Of course she does. But she’s also pretty glad I’m not out there by myself anymore.
“They were sucked in by the novelty,” I say. Anger flies to the surface out of nowhere; my teeth clench down on it. “But it’s real, and it can get them killed, and when they figure that out, what do you think is going to happen?”
My mother’s face is calm, no more emotion there than a slight furrow of her eyebrows. She forks a piece of egg and chews it, quietly. Then she says, “I don’t think you give them enough credit.”
Maybe I don’t. But I wouldn’t blame them for running for the hills after what happened on Saturday. I wouldn’t have blamed them for running after Mike, Will, and Chase got murdered. Sometimes I wish I could have.
“I’ve got to get to school,” I say, and push my chair away from the table, leaving the food untouched. The athame has been purified and is ready to come out of the salt, but I walk right past. For maybe the first time in my life, I don’t want it.
The first sight I catch after rounding the corner toward my locker is Thomas yawning. He’s leaning against it with his books under his arm, wearing a plain gray t-shirt that is ready to rip through in a few places. His hair points in completely contradictory directions. It makes me smile. So much power contained in a body that looks like it was born in a dirty clothes basket. When he sees me coming, he waves, and this big, open grin spreads across his face. Then he yawns again.
“Sorry,” he says. “I’m having trouble recovering from Saturday.”
“Epic party, right, Thomas?” snickers a sarcastic voice behind us, and I turn to see a group of people, most of whom I don’t know. The comment came from Christy something or other, and I think, who cares, except that Thomas’s mouth has pinched together and he’s looking at the row of lockers like he wants to melt into it.
I look at Christy casually. “Keep talking like that and I’ll have you killed.” She blinks, trying to decide whether or not I’m serious, which makes me smirk. These rumors are ridiculous. They walk on, silent.
“Forget them. If they’d been there they’d have pissed themselves.”
“Right,” he says, and stands up straighter. “Listen, I’m sorry about Saturday. I’m such a dope, leaning out the door like that. Thanks for saving my skin.”
For a second, there’s this lump in my throat that tastes like gratitude and surprise. Then I swallow it. “Don’t thank me.” Remember who put you there in the first place. “It was no big deal.”
“Sure.” He shrugs. Thomas and I have first period physics together this semester. With his help, I’m pulling an A-minus. All of that shit about fulcrums and mass times velocity might as well be Greek to me, but Thomas drinks it up. It must be the witch in him; he has a definite understanding of forces and how they work. On the way to class, we pass by Cait Hecht, who makes a point of looking as far away from me as she can. I wonder if she’ll start to gossip about me now too. I guess I’d understand if she did.
I don’t catch anything more than a glimpse of Carmel until our shared fifth period study hall. Despite being the third leg in our strange, ghost-hunting trio, her queen bee status has remained intact. Her social calendar is as full as ever. She’s on the student council and a bunch of boring fundraising committees. Watching her straddle both worlds is interesting. She slides into one as easily as the other.
When I get to study hall, I take my usual seat across from Carmel. Thomas isn’t here yet. I can tell immediately that she isn’t as forgiving as he is. Her eyes barely flicker up from her notebook when I sit down.
“You really need to get a haircut.”
“I like it a little long.”
“But I think it gets into your eyes,” she says, looking right at me. “Keeps you from seeing things properly.”
There’s a brief stare down, during which I decide that almost getting pinned like a butterfly in a glass case deserves at least an apology. “I’m sorry about Saturday. I was stupid and off. I know that. It’s dangerous—”
“Cut the crap,” Carmel says, snapping her gum. “What’s bothering you? You hesitated in that barn. You could have ended it all, up in the loft. It was a foot away, its guts bared like it was serving them up on a platter.”
I swallow. Of course she would notice. Carmel never misses anything. My mouth opens, but nothing comes out. She slides her hand out and touches my arm.
“The knife isn’t bad anymore,” she says softly. “Morfran said so. Your friend Gideon said so. But if you have doubts, then maybe you should take a break. Someone’s going to get hurt.”
Th omas slides in next to Carmel and looks from one of us to the other.
“What’s the what?” he asks. “You guys look like someone died.” God, Thomas, that’s such a risky expression.
“Nothing,” I say. “Carmel’s just concerned about why I hesitated on Saturday.”
“He hesitated,” Carmel replies. “He could have killed it, in the hayloft.” She stops talking as two kids walk by. “But he didn’t, and I wound up staring down the wrong end of a pitchfork.”
“But we’re all okay.” Thomas smiles. “The job got done.”
“He’s not over it,” Carmel says. “He still wonders if the knife is evil.”
All the talking about me as if I’m not here is getting on my nerves. They go back and forth for a minute or so, Thomas defending me feebly and Carmel asserting that I need at least six sessions of paranormal counseling before I return to the job.
“Do you guys mind catching a little detention?” I ask suddenly. When I jerk my head toward the door and stand, they both get up too. The study hall monitor shouts some question about where we think we’re going, or what we think we’re doing, but we don’t stop. Carmel just calls out, “Uh, I forgot my note cards!” as we go through the door.
We’re parked in the lot of a rest stop off 61, sitting in Carmel’s silver Audi. I’m in the back, and both of them have twisted in their seats to look at me. They wait, patiently, which makes it worse. A little prodding wouldn’t hurt.
“You’re right about me hesitating,” I say finally. “And you’re right that I still have questions about the knife. But that’s not what happened on Saturday. Questions don’t keep me from doing my job.”
“So what was it?” Carmel asks.
What was it. I don’t even know. In the instant that I heard her laugh, Anna bloomed red behind my eyes, and I saw everything she had ever been: the clever, pale girl in white, and the black-veined goddess dressed in blood. She was close enough to touch. But the adrenaline is gone now, and there’s daylight all around. So maybe it was nothing. Just a wishful hallucination. But I brought them all the way out here to tell them, so I might as well tell them something.
“If I told you that I couldn’t let go of Anna,” I say, looking down at the Audi’s black floor-mats, “that I need to know she’s at peace, would you understand that?”
“Yeah, absolutely,” Thomas says. Carmel looks away.
“I’m not ready to give up, Carmel.”
She tucks her blond hair behind her ear and looks down guiltily. “I know. But you’ve been looking for answers for months. We all have.”
I smile ruefully. “And what? You’re tired of it?”
“Of course not,” she snaps. “I liked Anna. And even if I didn’t, she saved our lives. But what she did, sacrificing herself—that was for you, Cas. And she did it so that you could live. Not so you could walk around half dead, pining for her.”
I have nothing to say. The words bring me down, far and fast. Not knowing what happened to Anna has driven me close to insane these past months. I’ve imagined every imaginable hell, the worst possible fates. It would be easy to say that’s why letting her go is difficult. It would be true. But it’s not all. The fact is, Anna is gone. She was dead when I met her, and I was going to put her back in the dirt, but I didn’t want her to go. Maybe the way that she left was supposed to wrap things up. She’s deader than dead and I should be glad; instead I’m so pissed off that I can’t see straight. It doesn’t feel like she left. It feels like she was taken away.
After a minute, I shake my head and words fall out of my mouth, practiced and calm. “I know. Listen, maybe we should just cool it for a while. I mean, you’re right. It isn’t safe, and I’m sorry as hell for what happened on Saturday. I really am.”
They tell me not to worry about it. Thomas says it was nothing and Carmel makes a joke about getting harpooned. They react like best friends should, and all of a sudden I feel like a total dick. I need to get my head straight. I need to get used to the fact that I’m never going to see Anna again, before someone really does get hurt.
Girl of Nightmares © Kendare Blake 2012