Dream Dark by Kami Garcia


  “You think this is funny?” Link was smart enough to keep his mouth shut this time. Amma turned to me. “I was there when you lost your first tooth in that apple, and your wheels in the Pinewood Derby. I’ve cut up shoe boxes for dioramas and iced hundreds a birthday cupcakes. Never said a word when your water collection up and evaporated like I said it would.”

  “No, ma’am.” It was true. Amma was the constant in my life. She was there when my mom died, almost a year and a half ago, and when my dad lost himself because of it.

  She let go of my shirt as suddenly as she had taken it, smoothed her apron, and lowered her voice. Whatever had brought on this particular storm had passed. Maybe it was the heat. It was getting to all of us.

  Amma looked out the window, past Link and me. “I’ve been here, Ethan Wate. And I will be, long as you are. Long as you need me. Not a minute less. Not a minute more.”

  What was that supposed to mean? Amma had never talked to me that way before—like there would ever be a time when I wasn’t here or I wouldn’t need her.

  “I know, Amma.”

  “You look me in the eye and tell me you’re not as scared as I am, five miles down.” Her voice was low, nearly a whisper.

  “We made it back in one piece. That’s what matters. We can figure everything else out.”

  “It’s not that simple.” Amma was still talking as quietly as if we were in the front pew at church. “Pay attention. Has anything, even one thing, felt the same since we got back to Gatlin?”

  Link spoke up, scratching his head. “Ma’am, if it’s Ethan and Lena you’re worried about, I promise you as long as I’m around, with my superstrength and all, nothin’s gonna happen to them.” He flexed his arm proudly.

  Amma snorted. “Wesley Lincoln. Don’t you know? The kind a things I’m talkin’ about, you could no more keep from happenin’ than you could keep the sky from fallin’.”

  I took a swig of my chocolate milk and almost spit it out all over the table. It tasted too sweet, sugar coating my throat like cough syrup. It was like my eggs, which had tasted more like cotton, and the grits more like sand.

  Everything was off today, everything and everyone. “What’s wrong with the milk, Amma?”

  She shook her head. “I don’t know, Ethan Wate. What’s wrong with your mouth?”

  I wish I knew.

  By the time we were out the door and in the Beater, I turned back for one last look at Wate’s Landing. I don’t know why. She was standing in the window, between the curtains, watching me drive away. And if I didn’t know better, and I didn’t know Amma, I would have sworn she was crying.

  9.7

  Mortal Girls

  As we drove down Dove Street, it was hard to believe our town had ever been anything but brown. The grass looked like burnt toast before you scraped off the black parts. The Beater was about the only thing that hadn’t changed. Link was actually driving the speed limit for once, even if it was only because he wanted to check out what was left of our neighbors’ front yards.

  “Man, look at Mrs. Asher’s azaleas. Sun’s so hot, they turned black.” Link was right about the heat. According to the Farmers’ Almanac, and the Sisters, who were Gatlin’s walking almanac, it hadn’t been this hot in Gatlin County since 1942. But the sun wasn’t what had killed Mrs. Asher’s azaleas.

  “They aren’t burnt. They’re covered in lubbers.”

  Link hung out the window to get a better look. “No way.”

  The grasshoppers had shown up in droves three weeks after Lena Claimed herself, and two weeks after the worst heat wave in seventy years hit. Lubber grasshoppers weren’t your run-of-the-mill green grasshoppers, like the ones Amma found in the kitchen every now and then. Lubbers were black, with an angry slash of yellow running down their backs, and they traveled in swarms. They were like locusts, devouring every inch of green in town, including the General’s Green. General Jubal A. Early’s statue was standing on a brown circle of dead grass, his sword drawn and covered with a black army of its own.

  Link sped up a little. “That’s nasty. My mom thinks they’re one a the plagues a the apocalypse. She’s waitin’ for the frogs to show up and the water to run red.”

  For once I couldn’t blame Mrs. Lincoln. In a town built on equal parts religion and superstition, it was hard to ignore an unprecedented infestation of grasshoppers that had descended on Gatlin like a black cloud. Every day seemed like an End of Days kind of a day. And I wasn’t about to knock on Mrs. Lincoln’s door and tell her it was most likely the result of my Caster girlfriend splitting the moon and disrupting the Order of Things. We were having a hard enough time convincing Link’s mom that his new physique wasn’t the result of steroids. He had already been to Doc Asher’s office twice this month.

  When we pulled into the parking lot, Lena was already there, and something else had changed. She wasn’t driving her cousin Larkin’s Fastback anymore. She was standing next to Macon’s hearse, in a vintage U2 T-shirt with the word WAR written across the top, a gray skirt, and her old black Chucks. There was fresh Sharpie inked across the toes. It was crazy how a hearse and a pair of sneakers could cheer a guy up.

  A million thoughts ran through my head. That when she looked at me, it was like there was no one else in the world. That when I looked at her, I noticed every detail about her while everything else faded away. That I was only myself when we were together.

  It was impossible to put into words, and even if I could I wasn’t sure the words would be right. But I didn’t have to try, because Lena and I never had to say the things we felt. We could think them, and Kelting took care of the rest.

  Hi.

  What took you so long?

  I climbed out of the passenger seat, the back of my shirt already soaked with sweat. Link seemed immune to the heat, another perk of being part Incubus. I slipped into Lena’s arms and breathed her in.

  Lemons and rosemary. The scent I had followed through the halls of Jackson before I saw her for the first time. The one that had never faded, even when she walked into the darkness and away from me.

  I leaned down carefully to kiss her without brushing against any other part of her body. These days, the more we touched, the less I could breathe. The physical effects of touching her had intensified, and even though I tried to hide it, she knew.

  I felt the jolt as soon as our lips met. The sweetness of her kiss was so perfect and the shock of her skin so powerful that my head was always left spinning. But now there was something else—the feeling she was inhaling my breath every time our lips met, pulling an invisible string I couldn’t control. Lena arched her neck and pulled away before I could move.

  Later.

  I sighed, and she blew me a kiss.

  But, L, it’s been…

  A whole nine hours?

  Yeah.

  I smiled at her, and she shook her head.

  I don’t want you to spend the first day of school in the nurse’s office.

  Lena was more worried about me than I was. If something happened to me—which was a pretty big possibility, since it was becoming harder to kiss her, and even harder to stay away—I didn’t care. I couldn’t stand to think about not touching her. Things were changing. That feeling—the pain that wasn’t pain—was still there even when we were apart. There should be a name for it, the perfect ache I felt in the empty places she usually filled.

  Is there a word to describe that? Heartache, maybe? Is that how they came up with the word? Except I felt it in my gut, my head, my entire body. I saw Lena when I was looking out windows and staring at walls.

  I tried to focus on something that didn’t hurt. “I like your new wheels.”

  “You mean my old ones? Ridley threw a fit about riding in a hearse.”

  “Where’s Rid?” Link was already scanning the parking lot.

  Lena gestured at the hearse behind her. “She’s in there changing her clothes.”

  “She can’t change at home like a normal person?” I asked.
r />   “I heard that, Short Straw,” Ridley called out from inside the car. “I am not”—a ball of crumpled fabric flew through the driver’s side window, landing in a heap on the steaming asphalt—“a normal person.” She said it like normal was an affliction. “And I am not wearing this mass-produced piece of mall crap.” Ridley was squirming around, the leather seat squeaking as flashes of blond and pink hair whipped in and out of view. A pair of silver shoes flew out the window. “I look like I belong on the Disney Channel.”

  I bent down and picked up the offensive piece of clothing. It was a short, printed dress from a chain store at the mall in Summerville. It was a variation of the same dress Savannah Snow, Emily Asher, Eden Westerly, and Charlotte Chase—the queens of the cheerleading squad—and therefore half the girls at Jackson High, wore.

  Lena rolled her eyes. “Gramma decided Ridley needed to dress more appropriately now that she would be going to a Mortal high school.” Lena dropped her voice. “You know, as a Mortal.”

  “I heard that!” A white tank top flew out the window. “Just because I’m a disgusting Mortal doesn’t mean I have to dress like one.” Lena glanced over her shoulder and moved away from the car. Ridley stepped out of the hearse and adjusted her new outfit—a bright pink T-shirt and a black sliver of material that she was passing off as a skirt. The shirt was slashed all over and safety-pinned in a few places, hanging down on one side to show off Ridley’s shoulder.

  “I don’t know if you’ll ever look like a Mortal, Babe.” Link tugged uncomfortably on his own T-shirt, which looked like his mom had shrunk it in the wash.

  “Thank God for small favors. And don’t call me Babe.” Ridley grabbed the dress, holding it between two fingers. “We should give this thing to Goodwill. Maybe they can sell it as a Halloween costume.”

  Lena stared at a belt buckle slung low around Ridley’s waist. “Speaking of Goodwill, what’s that?”

  “What? This old thing?” It was an oversize buckle on a battered black leather belt, with some kind of insect caught in a rock or plastic or something. I think it was a scorpion. It was creepy and weird, and very Ridley. “Just trying to fit in.” Ridley smiled, smacking her gum. “You know. All the cool kids are wearing them.” Without her signature lollipops, she was about as cranky as my dad when Amma switched him to decaf.

  Lena let it go. “You’re gonna have to change back before we go home, or Gramma will figure out what you’re up to.” Ridley ignored her and dropped the crumpled dress onto the hot asphalt, stepping on it with her superhigh sandals.

  Lena sighed and held out her hand. The dress flew up toward her fingers, but before it reached them the fabric burst into flames. Lena yanked her hand back, and the dress hit the ground, the edges already charred.

  “Holy crap!” Link stomped on the material until there was nothing left but a smoldering black mess. Lena turned red.

  Ridley was unfazed. “Way to go, Cuz. Couldn’t have done it better myself.”

  Lena watched the last curl of black smoke disappear. “I didn’t mean—”

  “I know.” Ridley looked bored.

  Lena’s powers had been out of whack ever since she Claimed herself, which was dangerous, considering she was both Light and Dark. Her powers had always been unpredictable, but now she could cause anything from downpours and hurricane-force winds to forest fires.

  Lena sighed, frustrated. “I’ll get you another one before the end of the day, Rid.”

  Ridley rolled her eyes, digging through her purse. “Don’t do me any favors.” She pulled out her sunglasses.

  “Good idea.” Link slid on his scratched black wraparound shades, which had been cool for about ten minutes when we were in sixth grade. “Let’s groove, Sugar Cube.”

  They turned toward the steps, and I saw my chance. I reached for Lena’s arm and pulled her close. She pushed my brown hair, which was always a little too long, out of my eyes and looked up at me from under her thick black lashes. One perfectly gold eye and one dark green one stared back at me. Her eyes had never changed back after the night Sarafine called the Seventeenth Moon out of time. She looked up at me with the gold eye of a Dark Caster and the green eye of a Light one—a constant reminder of the moment Lena realized she possessed both types of power. But her eyes were also a reminder that her choice had changed things for both the Caster and the Mortal worlds. And for us.

  Ethan, don’t—

  Shh. You worry too much.

  I wrapped my arms around her, and the feel of her burned through my veins. I could feel the intensity of it as I struggled to keep my shallow breaths even. She tugged gently on my lower lip as we kissed, and I was light-headed and disoriented in seconds. To me, we weren’t standing in the middle of the parking lot. Images flashed through my mind, and I had to be hallucinating, because now we were kissing in the water, in Lake Moultrie—on my desk in English—at the lunch tables—behind the bleachers—in the garden at Greenbrier.

  Then a shadow passed over me, and I felt something that wasn’t the result of her kiss. I’d had the same feeling before, on top of the water tower, in my dream. A suffocating dizziness wrapped itself around me, and Lena and I weren’t in the garden anymore. We were surrounded by dirt, kissing in an open grave.

  I was going to pass out.

  As my knees buckled, a voice cut through the air and our kiss, and Lena tore herself away from me.

  “Hey there. How y’all doin’?” Savannah Snow.

  I collapsed against the side of the hearse, sliding to the ground. Then I felt someone pulling me up, my feet barely touching the asphalt.

  “What’s wrong with Ethan?” Savannah drawled. I opened my eyes.

  “The heat, I guess.” Link grinned and put me down. Lena looked shocked, but Ridley looked worse. Because Link was smiling like someone had just offered him a record deal. That someone being Savannah Snow—cheer captain, Third Degree Burns–level hot—and the Holy Grail of unattainable girls at Stonewall Jackson High.

  Savannah stood there, squeezing her books against her chest so hard her knuckles turned white. She was wearing almost the same dress Ridley had tossed onto the asphalt seconds earlier. Emily Asher was trailing behind her, wearing her own version of Savannah’s outfit, looking confused. Savannah stepped closer to Link, with only her books between them. “What I really meant was, how are you?”

  Link ran his hand through his hair nervously and took a step back. “I’m good. What’s up?”

  Savannah flipped her blond ponytail and bit her lower lip suggestively, sticky pink lip gloss melting in the sun. “Not much. Just wonderin’ if you’re goin’ to the Dar-ee Keen after school. Maybe you can give me a ride.”

  Emily looked as surprised as I was. Savannah was more likely to give up her position on the cheer squad than agree to ride in Link’s rusted shell of a car. Since riding around with Savannah was one of the requirements of being her sidekick, Emily spoke up. “Savannah, we have a ride. Earl is takin’ us, remember?”

  “You ride with Earl. I think I’d rather ride with Link.” Savannah was still staring at Link like he was a rock star.

  Lena shook her head at me.

  I told you. It’s the John Breed effect. Not too shabby for a quarter Incubus. You can’t expect a Mortal girl not to feel it.

  That was an understatement.

  Just Mortal girls, L?

  She pretended not to know what I was talking about.

  Not all Mortal girls. Look—

  She was right. Link didn’t seem to be having the same effect on Emily. The more Savannah licked her lips, the more nauseated Emily appeared.

  Ridley grabbed Link’s arm, jerking him away from Savannah. “He’s busy this afternoon, sweetheart. You should listen to your friend.” Her eyes weren’t yellow anymore, but Ridley looked as intimidating as her former Dark Caster self.

  Savannah didn’t think so, or she didn’t care. “Oh, sorry. Are you two together?” She paused for a second, pretending to appear thoughtful. “No. That’s right,
you aren’t.”

  Anyone who spent any time at the Dar-ee Keen knew that Link and Ridley’s on-again, off-again relationship was off at the moment. Savannah hooked her arm through Link’s other arm. A challenge. “I guess that means Link can make his own decisions.”

  Link untangled himself from both of them and draped his arms over their shoulders. “Ladies, ladies. There’s no need to fight. There’s plenty a this to go around.” He puffed out his chest, even though it was big enough already. Normally, I would’ve laughed at the idea of two girls fighting over Link, except they weren’t just any two girls. We were talking about Savannah Snow and Ridley Duchannes. Supernatural or not, they were the two most powerful Sirens mankind had ever been lucky—or unlucky—enough to encounter, depending on how they used their powers of persuasion.

  “Savannah, let’s go. We’re gonna be late for class.” Emily sounded disgusted. I wondered why Link’s Incubus magnetism didn’t work on her.

  Savannah wedged herself tighter under his arm. “You should find yourself a guy who’s more”—she looked at Ridley and her safety-pinned shirt—“like you.”

  Ridley shrugged Link’s arm off her shoulder. “And you should be careful who you talk to like that, Barbie.” Savannah was lucky Ridley didn’t have her powers anymore.

  This is about to get ugly, L.

  Don’t worry. I’m not going to let Rid get kicked out on her first day. I won’t give Principal Harper the satisfaction.

  “Ridley, let’s go.” Lena walked over and stood next to her cousin. “She’s not worth it. Trust me.”

  Savannah was about to fire back, when something distracted her. She crinkled her nose. “Your eyes—they’re two different colors. What’s wrong with you?”

  Emily wandered over to get a better look. It was only a matter of time before someone noticed Lena’s eyes. They were impossible to miss. But I had hoped we would make it past the parking lot before the first wave of gossip hit. “Savannah, why don’t you—”

 
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