Dream Dark by Kami Garcia


  “How did you manage that?” I asked as Ridley settled into her seat.

  “Manage what?” She looked at me innocently, clicking and un-clicking her creepy scorpion belt buckle.

  Lena wasn’t letting her off that easy. “You know what he’s talking about. Did you take a book from Uncle Macon’s study?”

  “Are you actually accusing me of reading?”

  Lena lowered her voice. “Were you trying to Cast? It’s not safe, Ridley.”

  “You mean not safe for me. Because I’m a stupid Mortal.”

  “Casting is dangerous for Mortals, unless you’ve had years of training, like Marian. Which you haven’t.” Lena wasn’t trying to rub it in, but every time she said the word “Mortal,” Ridley cringed. It was like pouring gasoline on a fire.

  Maybe it was too hard to hear from a Caster. I jumped in. “Lena’s right. Who knows what could happen if something went wrong?”

  Ridley didn’t say a word, and for a second it seemed like I had single-handedly put out the flames. But as she turned to face me, her blue eyes blazing as bright as her yellow ones ever had, I realized how wrong I was.

  “I don’t remember anyone complaining when you and your little British Marian-in-training were Casting at the Great Barrier.”

  Lena blushed and looked away.

  Ridley was right. Liv and I had Cast at the Great Barrier. It was how we freed Macon from the Arclight, and why Liv would never be a Keeper. And it was a painful reminder of a time when Lena and I were as far away from each other as two people could be.

  I didn’t say anything. Instead I stumbled over my thoughts, crashing and burning in the silence while Mr. Littleton tried to convince us how fascinating World History was going to be. He failed. I tried to come up with something to say that would rescue me from the awkwardness of the next ten seconds. I failed.

  Because even though Liv wasn’t at Jackson, and she spent all her days in the Tunnels with Macon, she was still the elephant in the room. The thing Lena and I didn’t talk about. I had only seen Liv once since the night of the Seventeenth Moon, and I missed her. Not like I could tell anyone that.

  I missed her crazy British accent, and the way she mispronounced Carolina so it sounded like Carolin-er. I missed her selenometer that looked like a giant plastic watch from thirty years ago, and the way she was always writing in her tiny red notebook. I missed the way we joked around and the way she made fun of me. I missed my friend.

  The sad part was, she probably would have understood.

  I just couldn’t tell her.

  9.7

  Off Route 9

  After school, Link stayed to play basketball with the guys. Ridley wouldn’t leave without him as long as the cheer squad was in the gym, even though she wouldn’t admit it.

  I stood inside the gym doors and watched Link dribble down the court without breaking a sweat. I watched him sink the ball from the paint, from the top of the key, from the three-point mark, from center court. I watched the other guys stand there with their mouths hanging open. I watched Coach sit back on the bleachers with his whistle still stuck in his mouth. I enjoyed every minute, almost as much as Link.

  “You miss it?” Lena was watching me from the doorway.

  I shook my head. “No way. I don’t want to hang out with the rest of those guys.” I smiled. “And for once, no one’s looking at us.” I held out my hand and she took it. Hers was warm and soft.

  “Let’s get out of here,” she said.

  Boo Radley was sitting at the corner of the lot by the stop sign, panting like there wasn’t enough air in the world to cool him off. I wondered if Macon was still watching us and everyone else through the Caster dog’s eyes. We pulled up next to him and opened the door. Boo didn’t even hesitate.

  We drove up Route 9, where Gatlin’s houses disappeared and turned into rows of fields. This time of year, those fields were usually a mix of green and brown—corn and tobacco. But this year there was nothing but black and yellow, as far as the eye could see—dead plants, and lubbers eating their way right onto the road. You could hear them crunching beneath the tires. It looked wrong.

  It was the other thing we didn’t like to talk about. The apocalypse that had settled over Gatlin in place of fall. Link’s mom was convinced that the heat wave and the bugs were the results of the wrath of God, but I knew she was wrong. At the Great Barrier, Abraham Ravenwood had promised that Lena’s choice would affect both the Caster and Mortal worlds. He wasn’t kidding.

  Lena stared out the window, her eyes locked on the ravaged fields. There was nothing I could say that would make her feel any better, or less responsible. The only thing I could do was try to distract her. “Today was crazy, even for the first day of school.”

  “I feel bad for Ridley.” Lena pushed her hair up off her shoulders, twisting it into a messy knot. “She’s not herself.”

  “Which means she’s not an evil Siren secretly working for Sarafine. How sorry should I be?”

  “She seems so lost.”

  “My prediction? She’s gonna mess with Link’s head again.”

  Lena bit her lip. “Yeah, well. Ridley still thinks she’s a Siren. Messing with people is part of the job description.”

  “I bet she’ll bring down the whole cheer-amid before she’s done.”

  “Then she’ll get expelled,” Lena said.

  I pulled off at the crossroads, turning off Route 9 and onto the road to Ravenwood. “Not before she burns Jackson to the ground.”

  The oak trees grew and arched over the road leading up to Lena’s house, bringing the temperature down a degree or two.

  The breeze from the open window blew through Lena’s dark curls. “I don’t think Ridley can stand being in the house. My whole family is acting crazy. Aunt Del doesn’t know if she’s coming or going.”

  “That’s nothing new.”

  “Yesterday Aunt Del thought Ryan was Reece.”

  “And Reece?” I asked.

  “Reece’s powers have been all over the place. She’s always complaining about it. Sometimes she looks at me and freaks out, and I don’t know if it’s because of something she’s read in my face or because she can’t read anything at all.”

  Reece was already cranky enough, under normal circumstances.

  “At least you have your uncle.”

  “Sort of. Every day Uncle Macon disappears into the Tunnels, and he won’t say what he’s doing down there. Like he doesn’t want me to know.”

  “How is that weird? He and Amma never want us to know anything.” I tried to act like I wasn’t worried even as the tires rolled over more lubbers.

  “He’s been back for weeks now, and I still don’t know what kind of Caster he is. I mean, except Light. He won’t talk about it, not to anyone.” Not even me. That’s what she was saying.

  “Maybe he doesn’t know himself.”

  “Forget it.” She looked out the window, and I took her hand. We were both so hot I could barely feel the burn of her touch.

  “Can you talk to your grandma?”

  “Gramma spends half her time in Barbados, trying to figure things out.” Lena didn’t say what she really meant. Her family was trying to find a way to restore the Order—banish the heat and the lubbers and whatever we had to look forward to in the Mortal world. “Ravenwood has more Binding spells on it than a Caster prison. It’s so claustrophobic that I feel as Bound as the house. It gives new meaning to being grounded.” Lena shook her head. “I keep hoping Ridley doesn’t feel it, now that she’s a Mortal.”

  I didn’t say anything, but I was pretty sure Ridley felt it, because I did. As we got closer to the great house, I could feel the magic—buzzing like it was a live power line, the weight of a thick fog that had nothing to do with the weather.

  The atmosphere of Caster magic, Dark and Light.

  I had been able to sense it ever since we came back from the Great Barrier. And when I pulled up to the crooked iron gates that marked the boundaries of Ravenwood, the a
ir around us crackled, almost as charged as an electrical storm.

  The gates themselves weren’t the real barrier. Ravenwood’s gardens, so overgrown while Macon was gone, were the one place in the whole county that was a refuge from the heat and the bugs. Maybe it was a testament to the power of Lena’s family, but as we passed through the gates, I could feel the energy from outside pulling one way while Ravenwood pulled the other. Ravenwood was standing its ground—you could tell by the way the endless brown outside its grounds gave way to green within, the way the gardens remained uneaten, untouched. Macon’s flower beds were blooming and brilliant, his trees trimmed and orderly, the broad green lawns clipped close and clean, stretching down from the great house to the Santee River. Even the paths were lined with new gravel. But the outside world was pushing against the gates and the Casts and Bindings keeping Ravenwood safe. Like waves crashing on the rocks, battering the same reef over and over, eroding a few grains of sand at a time.

  Eventually, waves always get their way. If the Order of Things was really broken, Ravenwood couldn’t remain the only outpost of a lost world for long.

  I pulled the hearse up to the house, and before I could say a word, we were out of the car and into the damp air outside. Lena threw herself onto the cool grass, and I dropped down next to her. I’d been waiting for this moment all day, and I felt sorry for Amma and my dad and the rest of Gatlin, trapped in town beneath the burning blue sky. I didn’t know how much more of this I could take.

  I know.

  Crap. I didn’t mean—

  I know. You’re not blaming me. It’s all right.

  She moved closer, reaching for my face with her hand. I braced myself. My heart didn’t just race anymore when we touched. Now I could feel the energy draining from my body, as if it was being sucked out. But she hesitated and let her hand drop. “This is my fault. I know you don’t feel like you can say it, but I can.”

  “L.”

  She rolled onto her back and stared at the sky. “Late at night I lie in bed, close my eyes, and try to break through it. Try to pull the clouds in and push the heat away. You don’t know how hard it is. How much it takes from all of us to keep Ravenwood like this.” She picked a blade of green grass. “Uncle Macon says he doesn’t know what will happen next. Gramma says it’s impossible to know, because this has never happened before.”

  “Do you believe them?”

  When it came to Lena, Macon was about as forthcoming as Amma was with me. If there was something she could have done differently, he’d be the last person to tell her.

  “I don’t know. But this is bigger than Gatlin. Whatever I did, it’s affecting other Casters outside of my family. Everyone’s powers are misfiring like mine.”

  “Your powers have never been predictable.”

  Lena looked away. “Spontaneous combustion is a little more than unpredictable.”

  I knew she was right. Gatlin was teetering dangerously on the edge of an invisible cliff, and we had no idea what was at the bottom. But I couldn’t say that to her—not when she was the one responsible for putting it there. “We’ll figure out what’s going on.”

  “I’m not so sure.” She held one hand up to the sky, and I thought back to the first time I followed her into the garden at Greenbrier. I had watched her tracing clouds with her fingertips, making shapes in the sky. I hadn’t known then what I was getting myself into, but it wouldn’t have mattered.

  Everything had changed, even the sky. This time there wasn’t a cloud to trace. There was nothing but the threatening blue heat.

  Lena raised her other hand and looked over at me. “This isn’t going to stop. Things are going to keep getting worse. We have to be ready.” She pulled on the sky with her hands absentmindedly, twisting the air slowly, like taffy between her fingers. “Sarafine and Abraham aren’t going to just walk away.”

  I’m ready.

  She looped her finger through the air. “Ethan, I want you to know that I’m not afraid of anything, anymore.”

  I’m not either. Not as long as we’re together.

  “That’s the thing. If something happens, it will be because of me. And I’ll have to be the one to fix it. Do you understand what I’m saying?” She didn’t take her eyes off her fingers.

  No. I don’t.

  “You don’t? Or you don’t want to?”

  I can’t.

  “You remember when Amma used to tell you not to pick a hole in the sky or the universe would fall through?”

  I smiled. “C. O. N. C. O. M. I. T. A. N. T. Eleven down. As in, you go ahead and pull on that thread and watch the whole world unravel like a sweater, Ethan Wate.”

  Lena should’ve been laughing, but she wasn’t. “I pulled on the thread when I used The Book of Moons.”

  “Because of me.” I thought about it all the time. She wasn’t the only one of us who had pulled on the one piece of yarn that tied up all of Gatlin County, above and below the surface.

  “I Claimed myself.”

  “You had to. You should be proud of that.”

  “I am.” She hesitated.

  “But?” I watched her carefully.

  “But I’m going to have to pay a price, and I’m ready to.”

  I closed my eyes. “Don’t talk like that.”

  “I’m being realistic.”

  “You’re waiting for something bad to happen.” I didn’t want to think about it.

  Lena played with the charms on her necklace. “It’s not really a question of if but when.”

  I’m waiting. That’s what the notebook said.

  What notebook?

  I didn’t want her to know, but now I couldn’t stop it. And I couldn’t pretend we could go back to the way things were.

  The wrongness of everything came crashing down on me. The summer. Macon’s death. Lena acting like a stranger. Running away with John Breed, and away from me. And then the rest of it, the part that happened before I met Lena—my mom not coming home, her shoes sitting where she’d left them, her towel still damp from the morning. Her side of the bed not slept in, the smell of her hair still on her pillow.

  The mail that still came addressed in her name.

  The suddenness of it all. And the permanence. The lonely reality of the truth—that the most important person in your life suddenly ceased to exist. Which on a bad day meant maybe she had never existed at all. And on a good day, there was the other fear. That even if you were a hundred percent sure she had been there, maybe you were the only one who cared or remembered.

  How can a pillow smell like a person who isn’t even on the same planet as you anymore? And what do you do when one day the pillow just smells like any old pillow, a strange pillow? How can you bring yourself to put away those shoes?

  But I had. And I had seen my mother’s Sheer at Bonaventure Cemetery. For the first time in my life, I believed something actually happened when you died. My mom wasn’t alone in the dirt in His Garden of Perpetual Peace, the way I’d always been afraid she was. I was letting her go. At least, I was close.

  Ethan? What’s going on?

  I wished I knew.

  “I’m not going to let anything happen to you. No one will.” I said the words even though I knew I wasn’t capable of protecting her. I said them because I felt like my heart was going to rip itself to shreds all over again.

  “I know,” she lied. Lena didn’t say anything else, but she knew what I was feeling.

  She pulled down the sky with her hands, as hard as she could, like she wanted to rip it away from the sun.

  I heard a loud cracking sound.

  I didn’t know where it came from, and I didn’t know how long it would last, but the blue sky broke open, and though there wasn’t a cloud in sight, we let the rain fall on our faces.

  I felt the wet grass, and the raindrops in my eyes. They felt real. I felt my sweaty clothes dampening instead of drying. I pulled her close and held her face in my hands. Then I kissed her until I wasn’t the only one who was breathl
ess, and the ground beneath us dried and the sky was harsh and blue again.

  Dinner was Amma’s prizewinning chicken potpie. My portion alone was the size of my plate, or maybe home plate. I punctured the biscuit crust with my fork, letting the steam escape. I could smell the good sherry, her secret ingredient. Every potpie in our county had a secret ingredient: sour cream, soy sauce, cayenne pepper, even parmesan cheese straight out of the shaker. Secrets and piecrust went hand in hand around here. Slap a piecrust up top and all the folks in town will kill themselves trying to figure out what’s hiding underneath.

  “Ah. That smell still makes me feel about eight years old.” My dad smiled at Amma, who ignored both the comment and his suspiciously good mood. Now that the semester had started up again at the university, and he was sitting there in his collared teaching shirt, he looked downright normal. You could almost forget the year he spent sleeping all day, holed up in his office all night “writing” a book that amounted to nothing more than hundreds of pages of scribble. Barely speaking or eating, until he started the steep, slow climb back to sanity. Or maybe it was the smell of the pies going to work on me, too. I dug deep.

  “You have a good first day of school, Ethan?” my dad asked, his mouth full.

  I examined the pie on my fork. “Good enough.”

  Everything was chopped up real small, underneath the dough. You couldn’t tell diced chicken from diced vegetables in the tiny chaos of mashed-up pie guts. Crap. When Amma had her cleaver out, it was never a good sign. This potpie was evidence of some kind of furious afternoon I didn’t want to imagine. I felt sorry for her scarred cutting board. I looked over at her empty plate and knew she wasn’t about to sit down and make small talk tonight. Or explain why not.

  I swallowed. “How about you, Amma?”

  She was standing at the kitchen counter tossing a salad so hard I thought she was going to shatter our cracked glass bowl. “Good enough.”

 
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