Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia

  No matter what, I couldn’t handle that. Not for Aunt Prue. Especially not for my Aunt Prue.

  Without another word, I stepped past Lena and into my aunt’s room.

  My Aunt Prudence was the smallest person in the world. As she liked to put it, she bent with every passing year and shrunk with every passing husband—and so she barely came up to my chest, even if she could stand up straight in her thick-soled Red Cross shoes.

  But lying there, smack in the middle of that big hospital bed, with every possible kind of tube snaking in and out of her, Aunt Prue looked even smaller. She barely made a dent in the mattress. Slits of light broke through the plastic blinds on one side of her room, painting bars across her motionless face and body. The combined effect looked like a prison hospital ward. I couldn’t look at her face. Not at first.

  I took a step closer to her bed. I could see the monitors, even if I didn’t know what they were for. Things were beeping, lines were moving. There was only one chair in the room, peach-upholstered and hard as a rock, with a second, empty bed next to it. After what I’d seen in the other rooms, the bed looked like a waiting trap. I wondered which variety of broken-down person would be caught in there the next time I came to see Aunt Prue.

  “She’s stable. You don’t need to worry. Her body’s comfortable. She’s just not with us right now.” A nurse was pulling shut the door behind her. I couldn’t see her face, but a shock of dark hair twisted out from beneath her ponytail. “I’ll leave you for a minute, if you’d like. Prudence hasn’t had a visitor since yesterday. I’m sure it would be good for her to spend some time with you.”

  The nurse’s voice was comforting, even familiar, but before I could get a good look at her, the door clicked shut. I saw a vase of fresh flowers on the table next to my aunt’s bed. Verbena. They looked like the flowers Amma had resorted to growing inside. “Summer Blaze,” that’s what she called them. “Red as fire itself.”

  On a hunch, I walked over to the window and pulled up the blinds. Light came flooding in, and the prison disappeared. There was a thick line of white salt lining the edge of the glass.

  “Amma. She must have come yesterday while we were with Aunt Grace and Aunt Mercy.” I smiled to myself, shaking my head. “I’m surprised she only left salt.”

  “Actually—” Lena pulled a mysterious-looking burlap bundle, tied with twine, from under Aunt Prue’s pillow. She smelled it and made a face. “Well, it’s not lavender.”

  “I’m sure it’s for protection.”

  Lena pulled the chair closer to the bed. “I’m glad. I’d be scared, lying here all by myself. It’s too quiet.” She reached for Aunt Prue’s hand, hesitating. The IV was taped across her knuckles.

  Spotted roses, I thought. Those hands should be holding a hymnal, or a hand of gin rummy. A cat’s leash or a map.

  I tried to shake the slow-sinking wrongness. “It’s okay.”

  “I’m not sure—”

  “I think you can hold her hand, L.”

  Lena took Aunt Prue’s tiny hand in both of her own. “She looks peaceful, like she’s sleeping. Look at her face.”

  I couldn’t. I reached out for her, awkwardly, and let my hand grab what I guess was her toe, where the lump of her foot poked the blanket up like a pup tent.

  Ethan, you don’t have to be afraid.

  I’m not afraid, L.

  You think I don’t know how it feels?

  How what feels?

  To worry if someone I love is going to die.

  I looked at her hovering over my aunt like some kind of Caster nurse.

  I do worry, L. All the time.

  I know, Ethan.

  Marian. My dad. Amma. Who’s next?

  I looked at Lena.

  I worry about you.

  Ethan don’t—

  Let me worry about you.

  “Ethan, please.” There it was. The talking. The talking that came when the Kelting became too personal. It was one step back from thinking, and one step away from changing the subject entirely.

  I didn’t let it drop. “I do, L. From the second I wake up until I fall asleep, and then in my dreams every second in between.”

  “Ethan. Look at her.”

  Lena moved next to me and put her hand on mine, until both of us were touching the tiny bandaged hand that belonged to Aunt Prue. “Look at her eyes.”

  I did.

  She looked different. Not happy, not sad. Her eyes were milky, unfocused. She looked gone, like the nurse said.

  “Aunt Prue isn’t like the others. I bet she’s far away exploring, like she always wanted to. Maybe she’s finishing her map of the Tunnels right now.” Lena kissed me on the cheek and stood up. “I’m going to see if there’s somewhere to get a drink. Do you want something? Maybe they have chocolate milk.”

  I knew what she was really doing. Giving me time alone with my aunt. But I didn’t tell her that, or that I couldn’t stand the taste of chocolate milk anymore. “I’m okay.”

  “Let me know if you need me.” She pulled the door closed behind her.

  Once Lena left, I didn’t know what to do. I stared at Aunt Prue lying in the hospital bed with tubes threaded in and out of her skin. I lifted her hand gently in mine, careful not to disturb her IV. I didn’t want to hurt her. I was pretty sure she could still feel pain. I mean, she wasn’t dead—that’s what I kept reminding myself.

  I remembered hearing somewhere that you’re supposed to talk to people in comas because they can hear you. I tried to think of something to tell her. But the same words kept playing over and over in my mind.

  I’m sorry. It’s my fault.

  Because it was true. And the weight of it—the guilt—was so heavy I could feel it bearing down on me all the time.

  I hoped Lena was right. I hoped Aunt Prue was somewhere making maps or stirring up trouble. I wondered if she was with my mom. Could they find each other, wherever they were?

  I was still thinking about it when I closed my eyes for a second….

  I could feel Aunt Prue’s bandaged hand in mine. Only when I looked down at the bed, Aunt Prue was gone. I blinked, and the bed was gone, then the room. And I was nowhere, looking at nothing, hearing nothing.


  “Ethan Wate, that you?”

  “Aunt Prue?”

  She came shuffling out of the absolute nothingness. She was there and not there, flickering in and out of sight in her best housedress, the one with the loud flowers and the pearly-looking snaps. Her slippers were crocheted in the same rainbow of browns as Aunt Grace’s favorite afghan.

  “Back so soon?” She waved the handkerchief in her curled hand. “Told you last night, I got things ta do while I’m out an’ about like this. Can’t keep runnin’ ta me every time you need the answer ta some durned question I don’t know.”

  “What? I didn’t visit you last night, Aunt Prue.”

  She frowned. “You tryin’ ta play tricks on a old woman?”

  “What did you tell me?” I asked.

  “What did you ask?” She scratched her head, and I realized with a rising panic that she was beginning to fade away.

  “Are you coming back, Aunt Prue?”

  “Can’t say just yet.”

  “Can you come with me now?”

  She shook her head. “Don’t you know? That’s up ta the Wheel a Fate.”


  “Sooner or later, it crushes us all. That’s what I told you, remember? When you asked ’bout comin’ over here. Why’re you askin’ so many questions today? I’m bone tired, an’ I need ta get me some rest.”

  She was almost gone now.

  “Leave me be, Ethan. Don’t ya be lookin’ ta come downside. The Wheel ain’t done with you.”

  I watched as her brown crocheted slippers disappeared.

  “Ethan?” I could hear Lena’s voice and feel her hand on my shoulder, shaking me awake.

  My head felt heavy, and I opened my eyes slowly. Bright light poured in from the u
nblinded window. I had fallen asleep in the chair next to Aunt Prue, the way I used to fall asleep on my mom’s chair, waiting for her to finish up in the archive. I looked down, and Aunt Prue was lying on her bed, milky eyes open as if nothing had happened. I dropped her hand.

  I must have looked spooked, because Lena looked worried. “Ethan, what is it?”

  “I—I saw Aunt Prue. I talked to her.”

  “While you were asleep?”

  I nodded. “Yeah. But it didn’t feel like a dream. And she wasn’t surprised to see me. I had already been there.”

  “What are you talking about?” Lena was watching me carefully now.

  “Last night. She said I came to see her. Only I don’t remember.” It was becoming more common, and more frustrating. I was forgetting things all the time now.

  Before Lena could say anything, the nurse rapped on the door, opening it just a crack.

  “I’m sorry, but visiting hours are over. You’ll have to let your aunt have some rest now, Ethan.”

  She sounded friendly, but the message was clear. We were out the door and into the empty hall before my heart had time to stop pounding.

  On the way out, Lena realized she had left her bag in Aunt Prue’s room. While I waited for her to get it, I walked through the hallway slowly, stopping at a doorway. I couldn’t help it. The boy in the room was about my age, and for a minute I found myself wondering what it would be like to be in his place. He was still sitting up at the table, and his hand was still writing. I looked up and down the hall, then slipped into his room.

  “Hey, man. Just passing through.”

  I sat down on the edge of the chair in front of him. His eyes didn’t even flicker in my direction, and his hand didn’t stop moving. Over and over, he had written a hole into his paper, even into the sheet underneath.

  I tugged on the paper, and it moved, an inch or so.

  The hand stopped. I looked at his eyes.

  Still nothing.

  I tugged the paper again. “Come on. You write. I’ll read. I want to hear it, whatever you have to say. Your masterpiece.”

  The hand began to move. I pulled the paper, a millimeter at a time, trying to match the speed of the writing.

  this is the way the world ends this is the way the world ends this is the way the world ends on the eighteenth moon the eighteenth moon the eighteenth moon this is the way the world

  The hand stopped, a thin line of drool spilling across the pen and the paper.

  “I got it. I hear you, man. The Eighteenth Moon. I’ll figure it out.”

  The hand began to write again, and this time I let the words write over themselves until the message was lost once again.

  “Thanks,” I said quietly. I looked past him, to where his name was written in dry-erase marker on the little whiteboard that was not and would never be on the door of anyone’s dorm room.

  “Thanks, John.”


  End of Days

  It’s some kind of sign.” I was driving Lena home, and we were tearing down Route 9. She kept glancing at the speedometer.

  “Ethan, slow down.” Lena was as spooked as I was, but she was doing a good job of hiding it.

  I couldn’t get away from County Care fast enough, the peach walls and sickening smell, the broken bodies and empty eyes. “His name was John, and he was writing ‘the world ends on the Eighteenth Moon’ over and over. And his chart said he was in a motorcycle accident.”

  “I know.” Lena touched my shoulder, and I could see her hair curling in the breeze. “But if you don’t slow down, I’m going to do it for you.”

  The car slowed, but my mind was still racing. I took my hands off the wheel, and it didn’t even swerve. “You want to drive? I can pull over.”

  “I don’t want to drive, but if we end up in County Care, we won’t be able to figure this out.” Lena pointed at the road. “Watch where you’re going.”

  “But what does it mean?”

  “Well, let’s think about what we know.”

  I dragged my mind back to the night Abraham showed up in my room. The first time I really believed John Breed was still alive. The night that started it all. “Abraham comes looking for John Breed. Vexes destroy the town and put Aunt Prue in the hospital. And I meet some guy named John there, who warns me about the Eighteenth Moon. Maybe it’s some kind of warning.”

  “It’s like the Shadowing Song.” She was right. “And then there’s your father’s book.”

  “I guess.” I still couldn’t bring myself to think about how my dad fit into any of this.

  “So the Eighteenth Moon and John Breed are connected somehow.” Lena was thinking out loud.

  “We need to know when the Eighteenth Moon is. How do we figure that out?”

  “Well, that depends. Whose Eighteenth Moon are we talking about?” Lena looked out the window, and I said the one thing she didn’t want to hear.


  She shook her head. “I don’t think it’s mine.”

  “How do you know?”

  “My birthday is a long way off. And Abraham seems pretty desperate to find John.” She was right. Abraham wasn’t looking for her this time. He wanted John. Lena was still talking. “And that guy’s name wasn’t Lena.”

  I wasn’t listening anymore.

  His name wasn’t Lena. It was John. And he was scribbling messages about the Eighteenth Moon.

  I almost swerved off the road. The hearse righted itself, and I gave up, taking my hands back off the wheel. I was too freaked out to drive. “Do you think it could be about John Breed’s Eighteenth Moon?”

  Lena twisted her charm necklace around her finger, thinking. “I don’t know, but it fits.”

  I took a deep breath. “What if everything Abraham said was true, and John Breed is still alive? What if something even worse is going to happen on his Eighteenth Moon?”

  “Oh my God,” Lena whispered.

  The car jerked to a stop in the middle of Route 9. A truck horn blared, and I saw a blur of faded red metal spin around us. For a minute, neither one of us said a word.

  The whole world was spinning out of control, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

  After I dropped Lena off at Ravenwood, I wasn’t ready to go home. I had some thinking to do, and I couldn’t do it there. Amma would take one look at me and know something was wrong. I didn’t want to walk into the kitchen and pretend everything was okay—that I hadn’t seen Amma making some kind of deal with the voodoo equivalent of a Dark Caster. That I hadn’t spoken to Aunt Prue while she was lying, unresponsive, in her peach-colored prison. Or watched a random guy named John send me a message saying the end of the world was coming.

  I wanted to face the truth—all the heat and the bugs and the driedup lake, the broken houses and busted roofs and cosmic Orders I couldn’t fix. The consequences Lena’s Claiming had brought on the Mortal world and Abraham’s wrath had brought on my town. As I drove down Main, it looked a hundred times worse in the daylight than it had a few nights ago in the dark.

  The shop windows were all boarded up. You couldn’t see Maybelline Sutter chatting up her customers while she cut their hair too short or dyed it a shade of bluish white at the Snip ’n’ Curl. You couldn’t see Sissy Honeycutt stuffing vases full of carnations and baby’s breath at the counter of Gardens of Eden, or Millie and her daughter serving up biscuits and red-eye gravy a few doors down.

  They were in there, but Gatlin wasn’t a town of glass windows anymore. It was a town of locked doors and stockpiled pantries, a town full of folks waiting for the next twister or the end of the world, depending on who you asked.

  So I wasn’t surprised to see Link’s mom standing in front of the Evangelical Baptist Church when I turned down Cypress Grove. Close to half the folks in Gatlin were there, Methodists and Baptists alike—on the sidewalk, the lawn, anywhere they could elbow themselves a spot. Reverend Blackwell was standing in front of the chapel doors, underneath the words ONLY ROOM FOR T
HE RIGHTEOUS IN HEAVEN. The sleeves of his white button-down were rolled up, his shirt wrinkled and untucked. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days.

  He was holding a bullhorn—not that he needed it. He called out into the crowd of people, who were waving their own cardboard signs and crosses as if he was Elvis back from the dead. “The Bi-ah-ble”—he always gave the word three syllables—“tells us there will be signs. Seven seals to mark the End a Days.”

  “Amen! Praise the Lord!” the crowd shouted back. One voice stood out above the rest, of course. Mrs. Lincoln was standing at the base of the steps, her DAR lackeys huddled around her, arm in arm. She was carrying her own homemade sign, with the words THE END IS NEAR written in bloodred marker.

  I pulled over next to the curb, the heat smacking me in the face the second the car stopped moving. The crooked oak shading the church was swarming with lubbers, the sun shining off the armor of their black backs.

  “Conflict! Drought! Pestilence!” Reverend Blackwell paused, looking up at the pathetic, dying oak. “ ‘Fearful sights and great signs from heaven.’ That’s the Gospel a Luke.” He bowed his head respectfully for a second, then lifted it with a renewed sense of determination in his eyes. “Now, I have seen some fearful sights!”

  The crowd nodded in agreement.

  “A few nights ago, a tornado came down from the heavens like the finger a God! And it touched us, crushed the very framework a this fair town! A fine family lost their home. Our town library, home to the words a God and man, burned to the ground. You think that was an accident?” The reverend defending the library? That was a first. I wished my mom was here to see it.

  “No!” Folks were shaking their heads, at rapt attention.

  He pointed out into the crowd, moving his finger across the sea of faces as if he was speaking to each person individually. “Then I ask you, was it a great sign from heaven?”


  “It was a sign!” someone else shouted.

  Reverend Blackwell clutched the Bible to his chest like a life preserver. “The Beast is at the gates, with his army a deeemons!” I couldn’t help but remember what John Breed had called himself. A Demon Soldier. “And he’s comin’ for us. Will you be ready?”

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