Beautiful Darkness

Page 13


"You shoulda brought more fried chicken along. Cats dig chicken. They eat birds in the wild." Link was driving slower than usual so I could keep an eye out for Lucil e while he beat time to "Love Biscuit," his band's terrible new song, on the steering wheel.
"Then what? You'd drive around while I hung out the window with a chicken leg in my hand?" Link was so transparent. "You just want more of Amma's chicken."
"You know it. And Coca-Cola cake." He hung his drumstick bone out the window. "Here, kitty kitty ..."
I scanned the sidewalk, looking for a Siamese cat, but something else caught my eye -- a crescent moon. It was on a license plate stuck between a bumper sticker of the Stars and Bars, the Confederate flag, and one for Bubba's Truck and Trailer. The same old South Carolina plates with the state symbol I had seen a thousand times, only I'd never thought about it before. A blue palmetto and a crescent moon, maybe a Caster moon. The Casters real y had been here a long time.
"Cat's stupider than I thought, if he doesn't know about Amma's fried chicken."
"She. Lucil e Bal 's a girl."
"It's a cat." Link swerved, and we turned the corner onto Main. Boo Radley was sitting on the curb, watching the Beater rol by. His tail thumped, one lonely thump of recognition, as we disappeared down the road. The loneliest dog in town.
At the sight of Boo, Link cleared his throat. "Speakin' a girls, how're things with Lena?" He hadn't seen much of her, though he'd seen more than most people had. Lena spent most of her time at Ravenwood under the watchful eyes of Gramma and Aunt Del, or hiding from their watchful eyes, depending on the day.
"She's dealing." It wasn't a lie, exactly.
"Is she? I mean, she seems kinda different. Even for Lena." Link was one of the few people in town who knew Lena's secret.
"Her uncle died. That kind of thing changes you." Link should've known that better than anyone. He'd watched me try to make sense of my mother's death, and then a world without her in it. He knew it was impossible.
"Yeah, but she hardly talks, and she's wearin' his clothes. Don't you think that's sorta weird?"
"She's fine."
"If you say so, man."
"Just drive. We have to find Lucil e." I looked out the window at the empty street. "Stupid cat."
Link shrugged and cranked up the volume. His band, the Holy Rol ers, shuddered through the speakers. "The Girl's Gone Away." Getting dumped was the theme of every song Link wrote. It was his way of dealing. I stil hadn't figured out mine.
We never found Lucil e, and I never got the conversation with Link, or my dad, out of my mind. My house was quiet, which isn't what you want a house to be if you're trying to run away from your thoughts. The window in my room was open, but the air was as hot and stagnant as everything else today.
Link was right. Lena was acting strange. But it had only been a few months. She'd snap out of it, and things would be the way they were before.
I dug through the piles of books and papers on my desk, looking for A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy , my go-to book for taking my mind off things. Under a stack of old Sandman comics, I found something else. It was a package, wrapped in Marian's signature brown paper and tied with string. But it didn't have GATLIN COUNTY LIBRARY stamped on it.
Marian was my mother's oldest friend and the Gatlin County Head Librarian. She was also a Keeper in the Caster world -- a Mortal who guarded Caster secrets and history, and, in Marian's case, the Lunae Libri, a Caster Library fil ed with secrets of its own. She had given me the package after Macon died, but I had forgotten al about it. It was his journal, and she thought Lena would want to have it. Marian was wrong. Lena didn't want to see it or touch it. She wouldn't even let it into Ravenwood. "You keep it," she had said. "I don't think I could bear to see his handwriting." It had been col ecting dust on my desk ever since.
I turned it over in my hands. It was heavy, almost too heavy to be a book. I wondered what it looked like. It was probably old, made of cracked leather. I untied the string and unwrapped it. I wasn't going to read it, just look at it. But when I pul ed the paper away, I realized it wasn't a book. It was a black wooden box, intricately carved with strange Caster symbols.
I ran my hand over the top, wondering what he wrote about. I couldn't imagine him writing poetry like Lena. It was probably ful of horticultural notes. I opened the lid careful y. I wanted to see something Macon had touched every day, something that was important to him. The lining was black satin, and the pages inside were unbound and yel owed, written in Macon's fading spidery script. I touched a page, with a single finger. The sky began to spin, and I felt myself pitching forward. The floor rushed up to meet me, but as I hit the ground, I fel through it and found myself in a cloud of smoke --
Fires burned along the river, the only traces of the plantations that had stood there just hours ago. Greenbrier was already engulfed in flames. Ravenwood would be next. The Union soldiers must have been taking a break, drunk from their victory and the liquor they had pillaged from the wealthiest homes in Gatlin.
Abraham didn't have much time. The soldiers were coming, and he was going to have to kill them. It was the only way to save Ravenwood. The Mortals didn't stand a chance against him, even if they were soldiers. They were no match for an Incubus. And if his brother, Jonah, ever came back from the Tunnels, the soldiers would have two of them to contend with. The guns were Abraham's only concern. Even though Mortal weapons couldn't kill his kind, the bullets would weaken him, which might give the soldiers the time they needed to set fire to Ravenwood.