Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia

  Mrs. Lincoln thrust her flimsy sign into the air, and the other disturbingly distinguished ladies of the DAR did the same in a show of solidarity. THE END IS NEAR knocked into HONK FOR THE HOLY GHOST and nearly ripped I BRAKE FOR REDEMPTION right off its taped-up yardstick handle.

  “I’ll be ready to fight the Devil back to his own door with my bare hands if I have to!” she shouted. I believed her. If we were actually dealing with the Devil, we may have stood a chance with Mrs. Lincoln leading the charge.

  The reverend held the Bible over his head. “The Bi-ah-ble promises there will be more signs. Earthquakes. Persecution an’ tortures a the e-lect.” He closed his eyes in rapture, a sign of his own. “ ‘And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, an’ lift up your heads, for your re-demption draweth nigh.’ Luke 21:28.” He dropped his head dramatically, his message delivered.

  Mrs. Lincoln couldn’t contain herself any longer. She grabbed the bullhorn in one hand, waving her sign in the other. “The demons are comin’, and we have to be ready! I’ve been sayin’ it for years! Lift your heads up and watch for them. They may be standin’ at your back door! They may be walkin’ among us now!”

  It was ironic. For once, Link’s mom was right. The Demons were coming, but the folks in Gatlin weren’t prepared for this kind of fight.

  Even Amma—with her dolls that weren’t dolls and her tarot cards that weren’t tarot cards, her salt-lined windowsills and bottle trees—she wasn’t ready for this fight. Abraham and Sarafine, with an army of Vexes? Hunting and his Blood Pack? John Breed, who was nowhere and everywhere?

  Because of him, the end was near, and Demons were walking among us. It was all about him. He was the one to blame.

  And if there was one thing I had become so intimately acquainted with that I could feel it crawling around under my skin, the way lubbers were crawling all over that oak, it was blame.



  It was getting late when I finally made it home. Lucille was waiting on the front porch, her head tilted to the side as if she was waiting to see what I was going to do. When I opened the door and headed down the hall toward Amma’s room, I finally knew. I wasn’t ready to confront her, but I needed her help. John Breed’s Eighteenth Moon was too big for me to face on my own, and if anyone would know what to do, it was Amma.

  Her bedroom door was closed, but I could hear her rummaging around in there. She was muttering, too, but her voice was too soft for me to make out anything she was saying.

  I knocked on the door lightly, my head pressed against the cool wood.

  Please let her be okay. Just tonight.

  She opened the door far enough for her to peek through the crack. She was still wearing her apron, and she held a threaded needle in one hand. I looked past her into the dim light of her bedroom. Her bed was covered with scrap material, spools of thread, and herbs. She was making her dolls, no doubt. But something was off. It was the smell—that awful combination of gasoline and licorice I remembered from the bokor’s shop.

  “Amma, what’s going on?”

  “Nothin’ you need to worry about. Why don’t you get on upstairs and do some a your schoolwork?” She didn’t look me in the eye, and she didn’t ask where I’d been.

  “What’s that smell?” I searched the room, looking for the source. There was a thick black candle on her dresser. It looked exactly like the one the bokor had been burning. There were tiny hand-sewn bundles piled up around it. “What are you making in there?”

  She was flustered for a second, but then she pulled herself together and shut her door behind her. “Charms, same as I always do. Now you get on upstairs and worry about what’s goin’ on in that mess you call a room.”

  Amma had never burned what smelled like toxic chemicals in our house before, not when she was making her dolls or any kind of charms. But I couldn’t tell her I knew where that candle had come from. She would skin me alive if she knew I’d been in that bokor’s shop, and I needed to believe there was a reason for all this—one I just didn’t understand. Because Amma was the closest thing I had to a mother, and like my mother, she had always protected me.

  Still, I wanted her to know I was paying attention—that I knew something was wrong. “Since when do you burn candles that smell like they belong in a science lab when you make your dolls? Horsehair and—”

  My mind was completely blank.

  I couldn’t remember what else she stuffed inside those dolls—what was inside the jars that lined her shelves. Horsehair, I could picture that jar. But what were in the other ones?

  Amma was watching me. I didn’t want her to realize that I couldn’t remember. “Forget it. If you don’t want to tell me what you’re really doing in there, fine.”

  I stormed down the hall and out the front door. I leaned against one of the porch beams, listening to the sound of the lubbers eating away at our town—the way something was eating away at my mind.

  Out on my front porch, the growing dark was equal parts warm and sad. Through the open window, I could hear pans clattering, floorboards complaining as Amma beat the kitchen into submission. She must have given up on the charms for tonight. The familiar rhythm of her sounds didn’t cheer me up like it usually did, though. It made me feel guiltier, which made my heart pound harder, which made me pace faster, until the floorboards on the porch were groaning almost as loud as the ones in the kitchen.

  On either side of the wall, we were both full of secrets and lies.

  I wondered if the worn wooden floor in Wate’s Landing was the only place in Gatlin that knew all the skeletons in my family’s closet. I’d ask Aunt Del to take a look, if her powers ever started working again.

  It was dark now, and I needed to talk to someone. Amma wasn’t an option anymore. I pressed number three on my speed dial. I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t remember the number I’d called a hundred times.

  I was forgetting things all the time now, and I didn’t know why. But I knew it wasn’t good.

  I heard someone pick up. “Aunt Marian?”

  “Ethan? Are you all right?” She sounded surprised to hear my voice on the other end of the line.

  I’m not all right. I’m scared and confused. And I’m pretty sure none of us are going to be all right.

  I forced the words out of my head, lowering my voice. “Yeah. I’m fine. How are you holding up?”

  She sounded tired. “You know, Ethan, your mom would be proud of this town. I’ve had more people come in and volunteer to help rebuild the library than ever came in the whole time it was standing.”

  “Yeah, well. I guess that’s the thing about burning books. It all depends on who burns them.”

  Her voice lowered. “Any luck with the answer to that? Who burned them?” The way she said it, I could tell it was all she’d thought about—and this time, she knew Mrs. Lincoln wasn’t the culprit.

  “That’s why I’m calling. Can you do me a favor?”

  Can you make everything the way it used to be, when my biggest problem was getting stuck reading car magazines at the Stop & Steal with the guys?


  Anything that doesn’t get me involved in a way I can’t be. That’s what she meant.

  “Can you meet me at Ravenwood? I need to talk to you and Macon—and everyone, I guess.”

  Silence. The sound of Marian thinking. “About this?”

  “Sort of.”

  More silence. “Things aren’t good for me right now, EW. If the Council of the Far Keep thought I was violating the rules again—”

  “You’re going to visit a friend at his house. That can’t be against the rules.” Could it? “I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important. It’s about more than the library, the heat—what’s happening in town. It’s about the Eighteenth Moon.”

  Please. You and Amma are all I have, and she’s gone darker than she ever has. And I can’t talk to my mom. So it has to be you.

  I knew the answer before she said
a word. If there was one thing I loved about Marian, it was how she always heard what was being said, even if no one was saying it. “Give me a few minutes.”

  I snapped my phone shut and tossed it onto the step next to me. Time for another call, no phone required. I stared up at the sky. The stars were starting to come out, the moon already waiting.

  L? Are you there?

  There was a long pause, and I could feel Lena slowly begin to relax her mind into mine until we were connected again.

  I’m here, Ethan.

  We need to figure this out. After what happened at County Care, we can’t waste any more time. Find your uncle. I already called Marian, and I’ll pick up Link on my way over.

  What about Amma?

  I wanted to tell her what happened tonight, but it hurt too much.

  She’s in a bad place right now. Can you ask your gramma?

  She’s not here. But Aunt Del is. And it will be hard to leave Ridley out.

  That wasn’t going to help the situation, but if Link was coming, it was going to be impossible to keep her away.

  You never know, we might get lucky. Maybe Rid will be too busy sticking pins in little cheerleader voodoo dolls.

  Lena laughed, but I didn’t. I couldn’t imagine dolls that didn’t smell like the poison burning in Amma’s room. I felt a kiss on my cheek, even though I was alone on the porch.

  On my way.

  I didn’t bring up the name of the other person who would be there. Then again, neither did Lena.

  Back inside, Aunt Grace and Aunt Mercy were watching Jeopardy!, which I hoped would be a good distraction, since Amma knew all the answers and pretended she didn’t. And the Sisters knew none and insisted they did.

  “It sleeps for three years? Well, conchashima, Grace. I sure as sin know that one, and I ain’t tellin’ ya the answer.” Conchashima was Aunt Mercy’s made-up curse word, which she saved for occasions when she really wanted to irritate one of her sisters, since she refused to tell them what it meant. I was pretty sure she didn’t know either.

  Aunt Grace sniffed. “Conchashima yourself, Mercy. What did all a Mercy’s husbands do when they were supposed ta be makin’ a livin’? That’s the answer they’re lookin’ for.”

  “Now, Grace Ann, I think they’re really askin’ how long you slept through the sermon last Easter Sunday. Droolin’ under my good cabbage rose hat.”

  “It said three years, not three hours. And if the good rev’rend didn’t like ta hear his own voice so much, maybe it’d be easier for the rest a us ta hear it. You know I can’t see anythin’ but feathers an’ flowers sittin’ behind Dot Jessup in that big old Easter bonnet, anyhow.”

  “Snails.” They looked at Amma blankly. She untied her apron. “How long can a snail sleep? Three years. And how long are you girls going to make me wait to have my supper? And where on God’s green earth do you think you’re goin’, Ethan Wate?”

  I froze at the door. There was no distracting Amma, ever.

  True to form, Amma had no intention of letting me go out alone at night—not after Abraham and the fire at the library and Aunt Prue. She hauled me into the kitchen so fast you would’ve thought I’d sassed her.

  “Don’t you think I don’t know when you’re full a blue mud.” She looked around the kitchen for the One-Eyed Menace, but I had beaten her to it and stuck it in the back pocket of my jeans. She didn’t have a pencil either, so she was unarmed.

  I made my move. “Amma, it’s nothing. I told Lena I’d have dinner with her family.” I wished I could tell her the truth, but I couldn’t. Not until I figured out what she was doing with that bokor in New Orleans.

  She cocked a hip and let me have it. “On pulled pork night? My own three-time blue-ribbon-winnin’ Carolina Gold, and you’re expectin’ me to believe that claptrap?” She sniffed and shook her head. “You’d settle for a peacock patty on a gold plate over my pulled pork?” Amma didn’t think much of Kitchen’s cooking, and she had a point.

  “No. I just forgot.” It was the truth, even though she had mentioned dinner this morning.

  “Hmm.” She didn’t believe me. Which was understandable, considering that on a normal night this would be my idea of heaven.

  “D. I. S. S. E. M. B. L. I. N. G. Eleven across. As in, you’re up to somethin’, Ethan Wate, and it’s not dinner.”

  She was up to something, too. But I didn’t have a crossword for that.

  I leaned down and put my arms around her. “I love you, Amma. You know that?” It was true.

  “Oh, I know plenty. I know you’re about as far from the truth as Wesley’s mamma is from a bottle a whiskey, Ethan Wate.” She pushed me off, but I’d gotten to her. Amma, standing in this sweltering kitchen, scolding me whether I deserved it or not and whether she meant it or not.

  “You don’t have to worry about me. You know I’ll always come home.”

  She softened for a moment, putting her hand on my face, shaking her head. “That peach you’re peddlin’ sure smells sweet, but I’m still not buyin’ it.”

  “Be back by eleven.” I grabbed the car keys off the counter and gave her a peck on the cheek.

  “Not a hair past ten or you’ll be givin’ Harlon James a bath tomorrow—and I mean all a them!” I backed out of the kitchen before she could stop me. And before she noticed I had taken the One-Eyed Menace with me.

  “Check it out.” Link was hanging out the window of the Volvo, and the car started tilting in his direction. “Whoa.”

  “Sit down.”

  He flopped back down into his seat. “See those black ditches? It looks like someone set off napalm or shot a flamethrower all the way up the road, heading straight for Ravenwood. And then it stopped.”

  Link was right. Even in the moonlight, I could see the deep grooves, at least four feet wide, on both sides of the dirt road. A few feet from the gates of Ravenwood, they disappeared.

  Ravenwood was untouched, but the full scale of the attack on Lena’s house the night Abraham unleashed the Vexes must have been massive. She never said it was this bad, and I hadn’t asked. I was too worried about my own family, and my house, and my library. My town.

  Now I was staring at the damage, and I hoped this was the worst of it. I pulled over to the side of the road, and we both got out. It was a given that pyrotechnics on this scale were worth a closer look.

  Link squatted next to the black trail in front of the gate. “It’s thickest when you get up close to the house. Right before it disappears.”

  I picked up a black branch, and it crumbled in my hand. “This isn’t what Aunt Prue’s house looked like. That was more like a tornado. This was some kind of fire, more like the library.”

  “I don’t know, man. Maybe Vexes do different things to different—people, or whatever.”

  “Casters are people.”

  Link picked up another branch, inspecting it. “Yeah, yeah. We’re all people, right? All I know is, this thing is fried.”

  “Do you think it was Sarafine? Fire is sort of her thing.” I hated to consider it, but it was possible. Sarafine wasn’t dead. She was out there somewhere.

  “Yeah, she’s hot, all right.” He noticed me staring at him like he was nuts. “What? I can’t call it like I see it?”

  “Sarafine’s the Queen of Darkness, dumbass.”

  “Seen a movie lately? The Queen a Darkness is always totally hot. Third Degree Burns.” He wiped the ash from the crumbling branch off his hands. “Let’s get outta here. Somethin’ around here is givin’ me a headache. You hear that buzzin’ sound, like a whole bunch a chainsaws or somethin’?”

  The Binding Casts. He could feel them now.

  I nodded, and we started the car. The rusty, crooked gates opened into the shadows, as if they were expecting us.

  You here, L?

  I shoved my hands into my pockets and looked up at the great house. I could see the windows, the splintering wood shutters overgrown with ivy, as if Lena’s room hadn’t changed at all. I knew it was an ill
usion, and from where Lena stood in her bedroom she could see me through the glass walls.

  I’m trying to get Reece to stay upstairs with Ryan, but she’s being as cooperative as usual.

  Link was looking up at the portico to the window opposite Lena’s.

  What happened with Ridley?

  I asked her if she wanted to come. I figured she’s going to notice everyone showing up. She said she would, but who knows? She’s been acting so weird lately.

  If Ravenwood had a face, Lena’s room would be one blinking eye, and Ridley’s window, the other. The ramshackle shutters were open, though they hung unevenly, and the window behind them was filthy. Before I turned away, a shadow passed behind Ridley’s window. At least I thought it was a shadow; in the moonlight it was hard to tell.

  I couldn’t see who it was. They were too far away. But the window began to rattle, harder and harder, until the shutter swung off its hinge and slid down beneath the window entirely. Like someone was trying really hard to yank it open, even if it meant bringing the whole house down. For a second, I thought it was an earthquake, but the ground wasn’t moving. Only the house was.



  “Did you see that?” I looked at Link, but he was staring up at the chimney now.

  “Look. The bricks are fallin’,” he said.

  The shudder grew stronger, and some kind of energy surged through the entire house. The front door shook.


  I took off running for the door. I could hear things crashing and breaking inside. I reached up and pushed on the lintel, the Caster carving hidden above the door. Nothing happened.

  Hold on, Ethan. Something’s wrong.

  Are you okay?

  We’re fine. Uncle Macon thinks something is trying to get in.

  From out here, it looked more like someone was trying to get out.

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