Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia


  But I was wrong.

  The gravestones weren’t falling over.

  They were being pushed up from underneath.

  Stones and dirt were flying into the air and coming back down like bombs being dropped from the sky. Rotted caskets forced their way out of the ground. Hundred-year-old pine boxes and black lacquered coffins were rolling down the hill, breaking open and leaving decaying corpses in their wake. The smell was so disgusting, Link was gagging.

  “Ethan!” Lena screamed.

  I grabbed her hand. “Run!”

  Link didn’t need to be told twice. Bones and boards were flying through the air like shrapnel, but Link was taking the hits for us like a linebacker.

  “Lena, what’s happening?” I didn’t let go of her hand.

  “I think Abraham opened some kind of door into the Underground.” She stumbled, and I pulled her back to her feet.

  We reached the hill that led to the oldest part of the cemetery, the one I had pushed Aunt Mercy’s wheelchair up more times than I could count. The hill was dark, and I tried to avoid the huge holes I could barely see.

  “This way!” Link was already at the top. He stopped, and I thought he was waiting for us. But when we made it up the hill, I realized he was staring out into the graveyard.

  The mausoleums and tombs had exploded, littering the ground with hunks of carved stone, bones, and body parts. There was a plastic fawn lying in the dust. It looked like someone had dug up every grave on the hill.

  There was a corpse standing at the far end of what used to be the good side of the hill. You could tell it had been buried for a while by the state of decay. The corpse was staring at us, but it had no eyes. The sockets were completely empty. Something was inside it, animating what was left of the body—the way the Lilum had been inside Mrs. English.

  Link put up his arm to keep us behind him.

  The corpse cocked its head to one side, as if it was listening. Then a dark mist poured out of its eyes, nose, and mouth. The body went slack and dropped to the ground. The mist spiraled like a Vex, then shot across the sky and out of the graveyard.

  “Was that a Sheer?” I asked.

  Link answered before Lena. “No. It was some kinda Demon.”

  “How do you know?” Lena whispered, as if she was afraid she might wake more of the dead.

  Link looked away. “The same way a dog knows when it sees another dog.”

  “It didn’t look like a dog to me.” I was trying to make him feel better, but we were way past that.

  Link stared at the body lying on the ground where the Demon stood only moments ago. “Maybe my mom’s right and this is the End a Days. Maybe she’s gonna get a chance to use her wheat grinder and her gas masks and that inflatable raft after all.”

  “A raft? Is that what’s strapped to the roof of your garage?”

  Link nodded. “Yeah. For when the waters rise and the Lowcountry floods and God takes his vengeance on all us sinners.”

  I shook my head. “Not God. Abraham Ravenwood.”

  The ground had finally stopped shaking, but we didn’t notice.

  The three of us were shaking so hard, it was impossible to tell.

  12.17

  Passing Strange

  Sixteen bodies were lying in the county mortuary. According to the Shadowing Song from my mom, there should have been eighteen. I didn’t know why the earthquakes had stopped and Abraham’s army of Vexes had disappeared. Maybe destroying the town had lost its appeal once we were gone and the town was, well, destroyed. But if I knew anything about Abraham, there was a reason. All I knew was that this kind of broken math, the place where the rational met the supernatural, was what my life was like now.

  And I knew without a doubt that two more bodies would join the sixteen. That’s how much I believed in the songs. Number seventeen and number eighteen. Those were the numbers I had in the back of my mind as I drove out to County Care. The power was out there, too.

  And I had a terrible feeling I knew who number seventeen would be.

  The backup generator was flickering on and off. I could tell by the way the safety lights were flashing. Bobby Murphy wasn’t at the front desk; in fact, nobody was. Today’s catastrophic events at His Garden of Perpetual Peace weren’t going to raise too many eyebrows at County Care, a place most people didn’t know about until tragedy struck. Sixteen. I wondered if there were even sixteen autopsy tables at the mortuary. I was pretty sure there weren’t.

  But a trip to the mortuary was probably a regular event around here. There was more than one revolving door between the dead and the living as you made your way down these hallways. When you walked through the doors of County Care, your universe shrunk, smaller and smaller, until your whole world was your hallway, your nurse, and your eight-by-ten antiseptic peach of a room.

  Once you walked in here, you didn’t care much about what happened out there. This place was a kind of in-between world. Especially since every time I took Aunt Prue’s hand, it felt like I ended up in another one.

  Nothing seemed real anymore, which was ironic because outside these walls, things were more real than they’d ever been. And if I didn’t figure out what to do about a few of them—like a powerful Lilum from the Demon world, an unpaid blood debt that was destroying Gatlin, and a few larger worlds beyond—there weren’t going to be any antiseptic peaches left to call home.

  I walked down the dark hallway toward Aunt Prue’s room. The safety lights flashed on, and I saw a figure in a hospital gown standing at the end of the hallway, holding an IV. Then the safety lights flashed off, and I couldn’t see anything. The lights came on again, and the figure was gone.

  The thing is, I could have sworn it was my aunt.

  “Aunt Prue?”

  The lights went out again. I felt really alone—and not the peaceful kind of alone. I thought I saw something moving in the darkness, and then the safety lights flashed back on.

  “What the—” I jumped back, spooked.

  Aunt Prue was standing right in front of me, her face inches from mine. I could see every wrinkle, every mark from every tear, and every road, like a map of the Caster Tunnels. She beckoned me with one finger, like she wanted me to follow. Then she held her finger to her lips.

  “Shh.”

  The lights went out, and she was gone.

  I ran, fumbling my way through the darkness until I found my aunt’s room. I pushed on the door, but it didn’t open. “Leah, it’s me!”

  The door swung open, and I saw Leah holding a finger to her lips. It was almost exactly like the gesture Aunt Prue had made in the hallway. I was confused.

  “Shh.” Leah locked the door behind me. “It’s time.”

  Amma and Macon’s mother, Arelia, were sitting next to the bed. She must have come to town for Aunt Prue. Their eyes were closed, and they held hands over Aunt Prue’s body. At the foot of the bed, I could barely make out a shimmering presence, the flutter of a thousand tiny braids and beads.

  “Aunt Twyla? Is that you?” I saw a flash of smile.

  Amma shushed me.

  I felt Aunt Prue’s gnarled hand clutching mine, patting me reassuringly.

  Shh.

  I smelled something burning, and realized a handful of herbs was smoking in a painted ceramic bowl on the windowsill. Aunt Prue’s bed was covered with her familiar bedspread, the one with the little balls stitched all over it, instead of her hospital sheets. Her flowered pillows were behind her head. Harlon James IV was curled by her feet. There was something different about Aunt Prue. There wasn’t a tube or a monitor or even a piece of tape attached to her body. She was dressed in her crocheted slippers and her best pink flowered housecoat, the one with the mother-of-pearl buttons. As if she were going out for one of her drives, to inspect every front yard on the street and complain about who needed a new coat of paint on their house.

  I was right. She was number seventeen.

  I pushed between Amma and Arelia and took Aunt Prue’s hand. Amma opened one
eye and shot me a look. “Hands to yourself, Ethan Wate. You don’t need to go where she’s goin’.”

  I stood taller. “She’s my aunt, Amma. I want to say good-bye.”

  Arelia shook her head, without opening her eyes. “No time for that now.” Her voice sounded like it was drifting into the room from far away.

  “Aunt Prue came to find me. I think she has something to tell me.”

  Amma opened her eyes, raising an eyebrow. “There’s the world a the livin’, and there’s the world a the done-livin’. She’s had a good life, and she’s ready. And right now, I’ve got enough trouble keepin’ the folks I care about here with the livin’. So if you don’t mind…” She sniffed, as if she was trying to get dinner on the table and I was getting in the way.

  I gave her a look I’d never given Amma before. One that said: I mind.

  She sighed and took my hand in one of hers, my aunt’s hand in the other. I closed my eyes and waited. “Aunt Prue?”

  Nothing happened.

  Aunt Prue.

  I opened one eye. “What’s wrong?” I whispered.

  “Can’t say as I know. All that fussin’, and those Demons makin’ all that racket, probably scared her off.”

  “All those bodies,” Arelia whispered.

  Amma nodded. “Too many folks movin’ to the Otherworld tonight.”

  “But it’s not finished yet. There’ll be eighteen. That’s what the song said.”

  Amma looked at me, her expression broken. “Maybe the song’s wrong. Even the cards and the Greats are wrong sometime or another. Maybe not everything rolls down the hill as quick as you think.”

  “Those are my mom’s songs, and she said eighteen. She’s never wrong, and you know it.”

  I know, Ethan Wate. She didn’t have to say it. I could see it in her eyes, in the way her jaw was set and her face was lined.

  I held out my hand again. “Please.”

  Amma looked over her shoulder. “Leah, Arelia, Twyla, come give us a hand here.”

  We joined hands, creating a circle—Mortal and Caster. Me, the lost Wayward. Leah, the Light Succubus. Amma, the Seer who was lost in the darkness. Arelia, the Diviner who knew more than she wanted to. And Twyla, who had once called the spirits of the dead, a Sheer in the Otherworld. The light to show Aunt Prue the way home.

  They were all part of my family now.

  Here we were, holding hands in a hospital room, saying good-bye to someone who was in so many ways already long gone.

  Amma nodded to Twyla. “You mind doin’ the honors?”

  Within seconds, the room disappeared into shadow instead of light. I felt the wind blowing, even though we were inside.

  Or so I thought.

  The darkness solidified, until we were standing in an enormous room, facing a vault door. I recognized it immediately—the vault in the back of Exile, the club from the Tunnels. This time, the room was empty. I was alone.

  I put both hands on the door, touching the silver wheel that opened it. I pulled as hard as I could, but I couldn’t make the wheel turn.

  “You’re gonna have ta put a little more muscle inta it, Ethan.” I turned around, and Aunt Prue was standing behind me, in her crocheted slippers and her housecoat, leaning heavily on her IV pole. It wasn’t even attached to her body.

  “Aunt Prue!” I hugged her, feeling the bones behind her papery skin. “Don’t go.”

  “That’s enough a your fussin’. You’re as bad as Amma. She’s been here ’most every night this week, tryin’ ta get me ta stay. Keeps putting somethin’ that smells like Harlon James’ old diapers under my pillow.” She wrinkled her nose. “I’ve had my fill a this place. They don’t even have my stories on the TV here.”

  “Can’t you stay? There are so many parts of the Tunnels left to map. And I don’t know what Aunt Mercy and Aunt Grace are going to do without you.”

  “That’s why I wanted ta talk ta you. It’s important, so you pay attention, ya hear?”

  “I’m listening.” I knew there was something she needed to tell me, something none of the others could know.

  Aunt Prue leaned in on her IV and whispered. “You gotta stop ’em.”

  “Stop who?” The hair on the back of my neck was standing up.

  Another whisper. “I know exactly what they’re fixin’ ta do, which is invite half a the town ta my party.”

  Her “party.” She’d mentioned it before. “You mean your funeral?”

  She nodded. “Been plannin’ it since I was fifty-two, and I want it ta go just the way I want. Good china and linens, the good punch bowl, and Sissy Honeycutt singin’ ‘Amazin’ Grace.’ I left a list a the D-tails underneath a my dresser, if it made it over ta Wate’s Landin’.”

  I couldn’t believe this was the reason she’d brought me here. But then again, it was Aunt Prue. “Yes, ma’am.”

  “It’s all about the guest list, Ethan.”

  “I get it. You want to make sure all the right people are there.”

  She looked at me like I was an idiot. “No. I want ta make sure the wrong ones aren’t. I want ta make sure certain people stay out. This isn’t a pig pick at the firehouse.”

  She was serious, although I saw a sparkle in her eye that made it seem like she was about to break out into one of her infamously unharmonic fake-opera versions of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”

  “I want you ta slam the door before Eunice Honeycutt sets foot in the buildin’. I don’t care if Sissy’s singin’, or that woman brings the Lord Almighty on her arm. She’s not havin’ any a my punch.”

  I grabbed her in a hug so big that I lifted her tiny crocheted feet right off the ground. “I’m going to miss you, Aunt Prue.”

  “’Course ya are. But it’s my time, and I got things ta do and husbands ta see. Not ta mention a few Harlon Jameses. Now, would you mind gettin’ the door for an old woman? I’m not feelin’ like myself today.”

  “That door?” I touched the metal vault in front of us.

  “The very one.” She let go of the IV stand and nodded at me.

  “Where does it go?”

  She shrugged. “Can’t tell you. Just know it’s where I’m meant to go.”

  “What if I’m not supposed to open it or something?”

  “Ethan, are you tellin’ me you’re afraid ta open a silly little door? Turn the durned wheel already.”

  I put my hands on the wheel and yanked on it as hard as I could. It didn’t move.

  “You gonna make an old woman do the heavy liftin’?” Aunt Prue pushed me aside with one feeble hand and reached out to touch the door.

  It sprang open beneath her hand, blasting light and wind and spraying water into the room. I could see a glimpse of blue water beyond. I offered her my arm, and she took it. As I helped her over the threshold, we stood there for a second on opposite sides of the door.

  She looked over her shoulder, into the blue behind her. “Looks like this here’s my path. You want ta walk me a ways, like you promised you would?”

  I froze. “I promised I’d walk you out there?”

  She nodded. “Sure did. You’re the one who told me ’bout the Last Door. How else would I know ’bout it?”

  “I don’t know anything about a Last Door, Aunt Prue. I’ve never been past this door.”

  “Sure ya have. You’re standin’ past it this very minute.”

  I looked out, and there I was—the other me. Hazy and gray, flickering like a shadow.

  It was the me from the lens of the old video camera.

  The me from the dream.

  My Fractured Soul.

  He started walking toward the vault door. Aunt Prue waved in his direction. “You goin’ ta walk me up ta the lighthouse?”

  The moment she said it, I could see the pathway of neat stone steps leading up a grassy slope to a white stone lighthouse. Square and old, one simple stone box on top of another, then a white tower that reached high into the unbroken blue of the sky. The water beyond was even bluer. The g
rass that moved with the wind was green and alive, and it made me long for something I had never seen.

  But I guess I had seen it, because there I was coming down the stone pathway.

  A sick feeling turned in my stomach, and suddenly someone twisted my arm behind me, like Link was practicing wrestling moves on me.

  A voice—the loudest voice in the universe, from the strongest person I knew, thundered in my ear. “You go on ahead, Prudence. You don’t need Ethan’s help. You’ve got Twyla now, and you’ll be fine once you get up there to the lighthouse.”

  Amma nodded with a smile, and suddenly Twyla was standing next to Aunt Prue—not a made-of-light-Twyla but the real one, looking the same as she did the night she died.

  Aunt Prue caught my eye and blew me a kiss, taking Twyla’s arm and turning back toward the lighthouse.

  I tried to see if the other half of my soul was still out there, but the vault door slammed so hard it echoed through the club behind me.

  Leah spun the wheel with both hands, as hard as she could. I tried to help, but she pushed me away. Arelia was there, too, muttering something I couldn’t understand.

  Amma still had me in a hold so tight that she could’ve won the state championship if we really were at a wrestling match.

  Arelia opened her eyes. “Now. It has to be now.”

  Everything went black.

  I opened my eyes, and we were standing around Aunt Prue’s lifeless body. She was gone, but we already knew that. Before I could say or do anything, Amma had me out of the room and halfway down the hall.

  “You.” She could barely speak, a bony finger pointing at me. Five minutes later, we were in my car, and she only let go of my arm so I could drive us home. It took forever to figure out a way to get back to the house. Half of the roads in town had been closed off because of the earthquake that wasn’t an earthquake.

  I stared at the steering wheel and thought about the wheel on the vault door. “What was that? The Last Door?”

  Amma turned and slapped me in the face. She’d never laid a hand on me, not in her entire life or mine.

 
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