May 30 2012 11:15am
Girl of Nightmares (Excerpt)
The sequel to Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood is coming on August 7th, but we’ve got something to help make the wait seem a little shorter — the first chapter of Girl of Nightmares! Take a look:
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.
I think I killed a girl who looked like this once.
Yeah. Her name was Emily Danagger. She’d been murdered in her early teens, by a contractor working on her parents’ house. Her body was stuffed into the attic wall and plastered over.
I blink and mutter a vague answer to whatever question the girl next to me just asked. Emily’s cheekbones were higher. And the nose is different. But the shape of the face is so similar, it’s like I’m staring at the girl I tracked into the upstairs guest room. It took the better part of an hour, hacking with the athame at wall after wall as she seeped out of it, quietly trying to get behind me.
“I love monster movies,” says the girl beside me whose name I can’t remember. “Jigsaw and Jason are definitely my favorites. What about you?”
“I don’t much care for monster movies,” I reply, and don’t mention that neither Jigsaw nor Jason is technically a monster. “I like explosions, special effects.”
Cait Hecht. That’s this girl’s name. She’s another junior at Winston Churchill. She has hazel eyes, sort of too big for her face, but pretty. I don’t know what color Emily Danagger’s eyes were. By the time I met her, all the blood had leaked out of them. I remember her face, pale but not sightless, materializing through faded flower-print wallpaper. Now it seems dumb, but at the time it was the most intense game of dead-girl whack-a-mole ever. I was covered in sweat. It was a long time ago, when I was younger and more easily rattled. It would still be years before I’d go up against ghosts of any real strength—ghosts like Anna Korlov, the girl who could have torn out my spine anytime she liked, but wound up saving me instead.
I’m sitting in the corner booth of a coffee shop off Bay Street. Carmel’s across from me with two of her friends, Jo and Chad, who I think have been a couple since seventh grade. Gross. Beside me, Cait Hecht is supposed to be my date. We just saw a movie; I don’t remember what it was about but I think there were giant dogs in it. She’s talking to me with oversized gestures, cocked eyebrows, and teeth made perfect by a childhood full of retainers, trying to keep my attention. But all I can think is how much she looks like Emily Danagger, except far less interesting.
“So,” she says awkwardly, “how’s your coffee?”
“It’s good,” I reply. I try to smile. None of this is her fault. Carmel’s the one who talked me into this farce, and I’m the one who went along with it to shut her up. I feel like an ass for wasting Cait’s time. I feel like a bigger ass for secretly comparing her to a dead girl I killed four years ago.
The conversation stalls. I take a long drink of my coffee, which really is good. Full of sugar and whipped cream and hazelnut. Under the table, Carmel kicks me and I almost spill it down my chin. When I look up she’s talking to Jo and Chad, but she meant to do it. I’m not being a proper date. There’s a tic starting underneath her left eye.
I briefly contemplate making polite conversation. But I don’t want to encourage this, or lead Cait on. It’s a mystery why she wanted to go out with me anyway. After what happened to Mike, Will, and Chase last year—Mike getting murdered by Anna, and Will and Chase eaten by the ghost that killed my father—I’m the pariah of Winston Churchill. I was never linked to their murders, but everyone suspects. They know that those guys hated me, and that they ended up dead.
There are actual theories about what might have happened, big, swirling rumors that circulate and grow before finally reaching epically ridiculous proportions and dying off. It was drugs, people whisper. No, no, it was an underground sex ring. Cas was supplying them with amphetamines so they could perform better. He’s like a druggie pimp.
People pass me in the halls and avoid my eyes. They whisper in my wake. Sometimes I second-guess my decision to finish high school in Thunder Bay. I can’t stand that these idiots have all these theories, most of them outlandish to the extreme, yet none of them have thought to mention the ghost story that they all knew. No one has ever talked about Anna Dressed in Blood. That, at least, would be a rumor worth listening to.
Some days, I open my mouth to tell my mom to get ready, to find us another house in another city where I could be hunting any number of the murderous dead. We’d have packed up months ago had it not been for Thomas and Carmel. Despite all efforts to the contrary, I’ve come to rely on Thomas Sabin and Carmel Jones. It’s weird to think that the girl across the table, giving me secret dagger eyes, started out as just a mark. Just a way to know the town. It’s weird to think that I once saw Thomas, my best friend, as an annoying, psychic tagalong.
Carmel nudges me again and I glance at the clock. Barely five minutes have passed since the last time I looked. I think it might be broken. When Cait’s fingers slide against my wrist, I pull away and take a drink of my coffee. I don’t miss the embarrassed and uncomfortable shift of her body when I do it.
All of a sudden, Carmel says loudly, “I don’t think Cas has even researched colleges yet. Have you, Cas?” She kicks me harder this time. What is she talking about? I’m still a junior. Why would I be thinking about college? Of course, Carmel has probably had her future planned out since preschool.
“I’m thinking about St. Lawrence,” Cait says when I just sit there. “My dad says St. Clair might be better. But I don’t know what he means by better.”
“Mm,” I say. Carmel’s looking at me like I’m some kind of idiot. I almost laugh. She means well, but I have absolutely zero to say to these people. I wish Thomas were here. When the phone in my pocket starts buzzing, I jump up from the table too fast. They’ll start talking about me the minute I’m out the door, wondering what my problem is, and Carmel will tell them I’m just nervous. Whatever.
It’s Thomas calling.
“Hey,” I say. “Are you mind reading again, or is this just good timing?”
“That bad, huh?”
“No worse than I thought it would be. What’s up?”
I can almost feel him shrug through the phone. “Nothing. Just thought you might want an escape route. I got the car out of the shop this afternoon. It could probably take us down to Grand Marais now.”
It’s on the tip of my tongue to say, “What do you mean, probably?” when the door of the coffee shop opens and Carmel glides out.
“Oh, shit,” I mutter.
She stops in front of me with her arms crossed over her chest. Thomas’s tiny voice is chirping, wanting to know what’s going on, whether he should swing by my house and pick me up, or not. Before Carmel can say anything, I put the phone back to my ear and tell him yes.
Carmel makes our excuses for us. In her Audi, she manages to keep up the silent treatment for all of forty seconds as she drives through the Thunder Bay streets. As we go, there’s that odd coincidence of the streetlights turning on just ahead of us, like an enchanted escort. The roads are wet, still crunchy with lingering ice patches at the shoulders. Summer vacation starts in two weeks, but the town doesn’t seem to know it. Late May and temps still dip below freezing at night. The only indication that winter is ending are the storms: screaming, wind-driven things that go out over the lake and swing back in again, rinsing away the wreck of winter sludge. I wasn’t ready for so many months of cold. It clamps around the city like a fist.
“Why did you even bother to come?” Carmel asks. “If you were just going to act like that? You made Cait feel really bad.”
“We made Cait feel really bad. I never wanted to do this in the first place. You were the one who got her hopes up.”
“She’s liked you since chemistry last semester,” Carmel says, scowling.
“Then you should have told her what an ass I am. Made me sound like a moronic jerk.”
“Better to let her see it for herself. You barely said five words to anyone.” She’s got this disappointed squint on her face that’s hovering close to disgust. Then her expression softens and she pushes her blond hair off of her shoulder. “I just thought it would be nice if you got out and met some new people.”
“I meet plenty of new people.”
“I mean living people.”
I stare straight ahead. Maybe she meant that as a jibe about Anna, and maybe she didn’t. But it pisses me off. Carmel wants me to forget. To forget that Anna saved all of our lives, that she sacrificed herself and dragged the Obeahman down to Hell. Carmel, Thomas, and I have been trying to figure out what happened to her after that night, without much luck. I guess Carmel thinks it’s time to stop looking and let her go. But I won’t. Whether I’m supposed to or not doesn’t matter.
“You didn’t have to leave, you know,” I say. “I could’ve had Thomas pick me up there. Or I could have walked.”
Carmel chews her pretty lip, used to getting her way. We’ve been friends for most of the year now, and she still gets this puzzled puppy face when I don’t just do what she says. It’s strangely endearing.
“It’s cold out. And it was boring anyway.” She’s unruffled in her camel peacoat and red mittens. The red scarf at her neck is carefully knotted, despite the fact that we left in a hurry. “I was just doing Cait a favor. I got her the date. It isn’t our fault if she couldn’t dazzle you with her charm.”
“She has good teeth,” I offer. Carmel grins.
“Maybe it was a bad idea. You shouldn’t force it, right?” she says, and I pretend not to notice the hopeful glance she gives me, like I should keep this conversation going. There’s nowhere for it to go.
When we get to my house, Thomas’s beat-up Tempo is parked in the driveway. I can see his silhouette inside, talking to my mom’s. Carmel pulls in right behind it. I expected to be dropped at the curb.
“We’ll take my car. I’m going with you,” she says, and gets out. I don’t object. Despite my best intentions, Carmel and Thomas have joined the ranks. After what happened with Anna, and the Obeahman, cutting them out wasn’t really an option.
Inside the house, Thomas looks like one big wrinkle plopped down on the sofa. He stands up when he sees Carmel, and his eyes do their usual googly routine before he adjusts his glasses and goes back to normal. My mom is sitting in the chair, looking comfortable and motherly in a wrap sweater. I don’t know where people get these ideas that witches all wear a metric ton of eyeliner and bounce around in velvet capes. She smiles at us and tactfully asks how the movie was, rather than how the date went.
I shrug. “I didn’t really get it,” I say.
She sighs. “So, Thomas tells me that you’re going to Grand Marais.”
“Seems like as good a night as any,” I say. I look at Thomas. “Carmel’s coming too. So we can take her car.”
“Good,” he replies. “If we take mine we’ll probably wind up on the side of the road before we even cross the border.”
There’s a brief moment of awkwardness as we wait for my mom to leave. She’s not a civilian by any means, but I try not to bother her with details. After my near death this past fall, her auburn hair has become peppered with white.
Finally she stands and presses three small but very smelly velvet bags into my hand. I know what they are without looking. Fresh, herbal blends of her classic protection spell, one for each of us. She touches my forehead with a fingertip.
“Keep them safe,” she whispers. “And you too.” She turns back to Thomas. “And now I should get to work on more candles for your grandfather’s shop.”
“The prosperity ones have been going faster than we can get them on shelves.” He grins.
“And they’re so simple. Lemon and basil. A lodestone core. I’ll stop in with another batch by Tuesday.” She goes up the stairs, to the room she’s taken over for spell work. It’s full of block wax and oils and dusty bottles of herbs. I hear that other mothers have entire rooms designated for sewing. That must be weird.
“I’ll help you pack the candles when I get back,” I say as she vanishes up the stairs. I wish she’d get another cat. There’s a cat-shaped hole where Tybalt used to be, floating in her footsteps. But I suppose it’s only been six months since he died. Maybe that’s still too soon.
“So, are we ready?” Thomas asks. Under his arm there’s a canvas messenger bag. Every scrap of info we get on a particular ghost, a particular job, he stuffs inside that bag. I hate to think how quickly he’d be tied to a stake and burned if anyone ever got hold of it. Without looking into the mess, he reaches in and does his creepy psychic thing, where his fingertips find whatever he’s after, every time, like that girl from Poltergeist.
“Grand Marais,” Carmel murmurs as he hands the papers to her. Most of it is a letter from a professor of psychology at Rosebridge Graduate School, an old crony of my dad’s, who, before buckling down and shaping young minds, expanded his own by participating in trance circles led by my parents in the early 80s. In the letter, he talks about a ghost in Grand Marais, Minnesota, rumored to inhabit an abandoned barn. Six deaths have occurred on the property over the last three decades. Three of them have been deemed as under suspicious circumstances.
So what, six deaths. Stats like that don’t make my usual A-list. But now that I’m rooted in Thunder Bay, my options are limited to a few road trips a year and places I can get to over the weekend.
“So, it kills by making people have accidents?” Carmel says, reading over the letter. Most of the barn’s victims appeared to be accidental. A farmer was working on his tractor when the thing slipped off the bricks and pinned him. Four years later, the farmer’s wife fell chest-down on a pitchfork. “How do we know they aren’t really accidents? Grand Marais is a long drive for a no-show.”
Carmel always calls the ghosts “it.” Never “he” or “she” and rarely by name.
“Like we have anything better to do?” I say. In my backpack, the athame shifts. The knowledge of it there, tucked into its leather sheath, sharp as a razor without ever needing to be sharpened, makes me uneasy. It almost makes me wish I were back on that damned date.
Ever since the confrontation with the Obeahman, when I found out that the knife had been linked to him, I . . . I don’t know. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. It still feels like it’s mine. And Gideon assures me that the link between it and the Obeahman has been severed, that the ghosts I kill now no longer go to him, feeding him and increasing his power. Now they go where they were supposed to go. If anyone would know, it would be Gideon, over in London, kneedeep in musty books. He was with my dad since the beginning. But when I needed a second opinion, Thomas and I went to the antique shop and listened to his grandfather Morfran run through a speech about how energy is contained on certain planes, and that the Obeahman and the athame don’t exist on the same plane anymore. Whatever that means.
So I’m not afraid of it. But sometimes I feel its power reach out and give me a shove. It’s a little bit more than an inanimate thing, and sometimes I wonder what it wants.
“Still,” Carmel says, “even if it is a ghost, it only kills once every few years? What if it doesn’t want to kill us?”
“Well,” Thomas starts sheepishly, “after the last time we came up empty-handed, I started working on this.” He reaches into the pocket of his Army surplus jacket and pulls out a circular piece of light-colored stone. It’s flat and about one inch thick, like a large, fat coin. There’s a symbol carved into one side, something that looks like a modified Celtic knot.
“A runestone,” I say.
“It’s pretty,” Carmel says, and Thomas hands it to her. It really is well done. The carving is exact, and he’s polished it so it shines white.
“It’s a lure.”
Carmel passes it to me. A rune to lure them out, sort of like ghostly catnip. Very clever, if it works. I turn it over in my hand. It’s cool to the touch and heavy as a hen’s egg.
“So,” Thomas says, taking the runestone back and pocketing it. “Do you want to try it?”
I look at the two of them and nod.
“Let’s get going.”
The drive to Grand Marais, Minnesota, is long, and boring in the dark. Boughs of pine trees flicker in and out of the headlights, and watching the dotted line is starting to make me motion-sick. For most of the ride down I try to sleep in the backseat, or at least feign sleep, alternately eavesdropping on and tuning out their conversation. When they whisper, I know they’re talking about Anna, but they never use her name. I hear Carmel say it’s hopeless, that we’ll never find out where she went, and that even if we could, maybe we shouldn’t. Thomas doesn’t argue much; he never does where Carmel is concerned. That kind of talk used to make me angry. Now it’s just commonplace.
“Turn off,” Thomas says. “I think that might be the road.”
I crane my head over the seat as Carmel tries to navigate the Audi down something that isn’t so much a road as a mud-rutted four-by-four trail. The car has all-wheel drive, but this still poses a high risk of getting stuck. They must’ve had heavy rain here in the last day or so, and the tracks are covered over with puddles. I’m just about to tell Carmel to forget it, and to try to back out, when something black flashes up in the headlights.
We skid to a stop. “Is that it?” Carmel asks. “It” is an enormous black barn, standing at the edge of a barren field with dead stalks of plants shooting up like stray hairs. The house that it must have belonged to, along with any other buildings, has long since been torn down. All that remains is the barn, dark and alone, waiting for us in front of a forest of silent trees.
“Matches the description,” I say.
“Description nothing,” Thomas says, rooting around in his messenger bag. “We got the sketch, remember?” He pulls it out and Carmel flips on the dome light. I wish she hadn’t. There’s an instant sensation of being watched, like the light just gave away all of our secrets. Carmel’s hand jerks to turn it off, but I put my hand on her shoulder.
Thomas holds the sketch up to the window, comparing it to the shadowy figure of the barn. In my opinion, it isn’t much use. It’s rough, and done in charcoal so everything is just a different shade of black. It came in the mail along with the tip, and is the product of a psychic trance. Somebody drew out his vision while he was having it. He probably should have opened his eyes and looked down at the paper. The sketch has a definite dreamlike quality, a blurring of the edges and lots of harsh lines. It looks like it was done by a four-year-old. But as I compare them, the barn and the sketch start to look more and more similar, like it isn’t really the shape that matters so much as whatever is behind the shape.
This is stupid. How many times did my father tell me that places can’t be bad? I reach into my backpack and grab the athame, then get out of the car. The puddles reach up to my shoelaces, and my feet are soaked by the time I get to the Audi’s trunk. Both Carmel’s and Thomas’s cars have been outfitted and stocked like survival outposts, with flares and blankets and enough first-aid supplies to satisfy the most paranoid hypochondriac. Thomas is beside me, stepping gingerly through the mud. Carmel pops the trunk, and we grab three flashlights and a camping lantern. We walk together in the dark, feeling our feet go numb and listening to our socks squelch inside our shoes. It’s wet and cold. Stubborn snow patches still cling to the bases of the trees and around the sides of the barn.
I’m struck again by how ominous the barn looks. Worse even than Anna’s falling-down Victorian house. It crouches like a spider, waiting for us to get just close enough, pretending to be inanimate. But that’s stupid. It’s just the cold and the dark getting under my skin. Still, I wouldn’t necessarily give a thumbs-down if someone decided to come out here with gasoline and a match.
“Here.” I hand Thomas and Carmel their fresh protection spells. Thomas puts his in his pants pocket. Carmel holds hers like a rosary. We turn on the lantern and flashlights just outside the door, which creaks back and forth like a come-hither finger. “Stay close,” I whisper, and they press in on either side.
“I tell myself every time that we’re crazy for doing this,” Carmel mutters. “Every time, I think that I’ll just wait in the car.”
“It’s not like you to stay on the sidelines,” Thomas whispers, and on my other side, I sense Carmel’s smile.
“Get a room,” I mutter, and reach forward to pull open the door.
Thomas has this annoying habit of going in hot, flashing his beam of light every which way at a million miles an hour, like he’s expecting to bust a ghost mid-haunt or something. But ghosts are shy. Or if not shy, at least cautious. Never in my life have I opened a door and found myself staring directly into a dead face. I have, however, stepped inside and instantly known I was being watched. Which is what happens now.
It’s a strange sensation, that feeling of intense awareness from somewhere behind you. When you’re watched by the dead, the sensation is weirder, because you can’t pinpoint which direction it’s coming from. It’s just there. Annoying, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Sort of like Thomas’s strobe-flashlight.
I walk to the center of the barn and set the camping lantern on the ground. The air smells heavy with dust and old hay, which is scattered across the dirt floor. When I turn a slow circle, my flashlight beam steady and careful, it whispers and crunches beneath my feet. Carmel and Thomas pay close attention and stay right beside me. I know that Thomas at least, witch that he is, can feel that we’re being watched too. His flashlight beam zips up and down the walls, seeking out the corners and the places to hide. He’s giving too much away, instead of using the light as a decoy and paying attention to the dark. The sounds of clothing are loud; Carmel’s hair rustling back and forth over her shoulder as she looks around is like a fricking waterfall.
I put my hands out and step away, letting the light from the camping lantern break through our huddled mass. Our eyes have adjusted, and Carmel and I turn off our flashlights. The barn is empty except for what looks like the skeleton of an old plow in the south corner, and the camping lantern colors the room a muted yellow.
“Is this the place?” Carmel asks.
“Well, it’s good enough to stay in for the night,” I say. “In the morning we’ll try to walk somewhere with better reception and call a tow truck.”
Carmel nods. She’s caught on. The stranded traveler act works more often than you’d think. Which is why it shows up in so many different horror movies.
“It isn’t any warmer in here than it is outside,” Thomas comments. He shuts his flashlight off too, finally. There’s a rustle of commotion overhead, and he jumps a mile, does the quick-draw on his flashlight, and points the beam at the ceiling.
“Sounds like pigeons,” I say. “Good thing. If we’re stuck out here too long we might have to do some yard-bird rotisserie.”
“That’s . . . disgusting,” says Carmel.
“It’s low-rent chicken. Let’s check it out.” There’s a rickety, rotting ladder that leads up to a trapdoor. I assume that all we’ll find is a hayloft and a bunch of roosting pigeons and sparrows. But I don’t need to tell Thomas and Carmel to be alert. They stay right behind, in constant contact. When Carmel’s toe strikes the tines of a pitchfork, half-buried in the hay, she makes a face. We look at each other and she shakes her head. It can’t be the same one, the same pitchfork that the farmer’s wife fell on. That’s what we say to ourselves, though I guess there’s no real reason it can’t be.
I go up into the hayloft first. A sweep of my flashlight shows a large, flat expanse of hay-covered floor, and a few tall stacks of bales along the south wall. When I cast my light up toward the slanted roof, I see what has to be close to fifty pigeons, none of whom appear to mind the disturbance.
“Come on up,” I say. Thomas climbs up next and we both help Carmel. “Watch it; this hay is loaded with bird shit.”
“Nice,” she mutters.
Once we’re all up, we look around, but there isn’t a whole lot to see. It’s just a vast, open space, lined with hay and bird turds. There’s a pulley system they must’ve used to move hay suspended from the ceiling, and thick ropes are looped over the rafters.
“You know what I hate about flashlights?” Thomas asks, and I watch his beam move around the room, revealing sudden bird faces and shifting wings, then nothing but cobwebcovered boards. “They always make you think about the stuff that you’re not seeing. The stuff that’s still in the dark.”
“It’s true,” says Carmel. “That’s the worst shot in a horror movie. When the flashlight finally finds whatever it was looking for, and you realize that you’d rather not know what it looks like.”
They should both shut up. Now is not the time for them to be trying to freak themselves out. I walk off a little way, to hopefully put an end to the conversation and also to test out the quality of the floor. Thomas walks a little in the other direction, staying close to the wall. My flashlight moves over the hay bales, paying close attention to places something might hide. I don’t notice anything except how gross they look speckled with brown and white. Behind me, there’s a long creaking sound, and when I turn a rush of wind hits my face. Thomas found one of the hay doors and opened it up.
The feeling of being watched is gone. We’re just three kids, in an abandoned barn, pretending to be stranded for the benefit of no one. Maybe this wasn’t even the right place to begin with, and the feeling I got walking through the door was a fluke.
“I don’t think that rune of yours is working too well,” I say. Thomas shrugs. His hand drifts absently to his pocket, where the runestone weighs on the fabric.
“It was never a sure thing. I don’t work with runes very often. And I’ve never carved one myself before.” He bends down and looks through the hay door, out into the night. It’s gotten colder; his breath is a foggy cloud. “Maybe it doesn’t matter anyway. I mean, if this is the place, how many people are really in danger? Who comes out here? The ghost of whoever it was probably got bored and went to fake accidental deaths somewhere else.”
Accidental deaths. The words scratch at the surface of my brain.
I’m an idiot.
A rope falls from the rafter. I turn to yell at Thomas but the words don’t come out fast enough. All I get out is his name, and I’m running, sprinting toward him because the rope is falling, and the ghost attached to the end of it becomes corporeal half a second before it shoves Thomas through the hay door, headfirst to a forty-foot drop to the cold, hard ground.
I dive. Hay needles into my jacket, slowing me down, but I’m not thinking of anything besides that glimpse of Thomas, and when I vault myself through the hay door I manage to catch hold of his foot. It takes every ounce of strength in my knuckles to hold on to him as he bangs into the side of the barn. In the next moment, Carmel’s there with me, hanging half out of the door too.
“Thomas!” she shouts. “Cas, pull him up!” With each of us holding a foot we jerk him back inside, first to the toes, then to the knees. Thomas is handling all this very well, not screaming or anything. We’ve almost got him back up when Carmel screams. I don’t need to look to know it’s the ghost. There’s an icy pressure against my back and all of a sudden the air smells like the inside of a meat locker.
I turn and he’s right in my face: a young guy in faded overalls and a short-sleeved chambray shirt. He’s fat, with a gut paunch and arms like pale, overstuffed sausages. There’s something wrong with the shape of his head.
I’ve got the knife out. It flashes from my back pocket, ready to go straight into his belly, when she laughs.
She laughs. That laugh that I know so well even though I heard it only a handful of times. It’s coming out of this fat hillbilly’s gaping mouth. The athame almost falls out of my hand. Then the laugh cuts out, abruptly, and the ghost backs off and roars, something that sounds like English played backward though a bullhorn. Overhead, the fifty or so pigeons erupt off of their roosts and flap down toward us.
In the middle of feathers and musty bird smell, I shout at Carmel to keep pulling, to not let Thomas fall, but I know she won’t, even though tiny beaks and claws are getting caught in her hair. As soon as we have Thomas back inside I shove them both toward the ladder.
Our feet tramp down in a panic of flapping wings. I have to remind myself to look back, to make sure the bastard isn’t going to try another push.
“Where are we going?” Carmel shouts, disoriented.
“Just get out the door,” Thomas and I shout back. By the time my feet hit the bottom rung of the ladder, Carmel and Thomas are way ahead, running. I sense the ghost materialize to our right, and turn. Now that I have a closer look, I can see that what’s wrong with the shape of his head is that the back of it is caved in. I can also see that he’s holding the pitchfork.
Just before he throws it, I shout something at Carmel. It must be the right thing, because she whirls to see what it is and jerks her body to the left just before the tines of the pitchfork impale the wall. She finally starts screaming and the sound sharpens me; I draw my arm back and throw the athame in a snapping motion. It flies through the air and finds its home in the farmer’s gut. For an instant, he looks my way, at me and right through me, with eyes like tepid pools of water. I don’t feel anything this time. I don’t wonder where the knife is sending him. I don’t wonder whether the Obeahman can still feel it. When he wavers right out of existence like a ripple of heat, I’m just glad he’s gone. He almost killed my friends. Fuck that guy.
The athame hits the ground with a soft thud and I run to pick it up before going to Carmel, who is still screaming.
“Carmel! Are you hurt? Did it get you?” Thomas asks. He inspects her as she whips her head back and forth in a panic. The pitchfork came just that close. So close that one of the tines stabbed through the shoulder of her coat and pinned her to the wall. I reach up and yank the pitchfork loose, and she jumps away, brushing at her coat like it’s dirty. She’s equal parts scared and pissed off, and when she screams, “You stupid asshole!” I can’t help but feel like she’s screaming at me.
Girl of Nightmares © Kendare Blake 2012