Unbreakable by Kami Garcia


  “Why didn’t they disappear like the little boy in the well?” I asked. He had seemed at peace.

  “Sometimes spirits don’t know how to move on. They’re lost and need help finding their way.”

  Lukas frowned. “And you’re going to be their guide?”

  “More like their travel agent.” Alara pulled four packages of Red Cap tobacco out of her bag. “If you guys want to help, I’m going to need a bucket.”

  The spirits crowded around Alara as she emptied one of the tobacco packets into a bucket of water and stirred it with her hand. “We have to make a floor wash and cleanse the room of negative energy or the loas won’t come.”

  “The what?”

  “The loas are intermediaries in the spirit world. Some of them guide lost souls to the other side,” she explained, her arms soaked to the elbows. “But they won’t show up unless we scrub this room down.”

  Jared studied the brown water. “And this is what we’re using to clean the place?”

  “Florida Water makes the best floor wash. But unless you have bergamot oil, rose water, oil of neroli, and about seven other ingredients stashed in the van, we’re going with this. Lots of cultures use tobacco to purify sacred spaces.” She handed Jared a wet towel. “Start purifying.”

  Lukas walked up and down the stairs, refilling the bucket in the kitchen until Alara ran out of Red Cap and the floors were clean, at least according to her standards. He didn’t say a word to Jared and not much more to me. When he caught me watching him, his usual playful expression was gone.

  Alara lit a novena candle in the center of the room. By now, some of the children were sitting cross-legged around her, fascinated. “We need something to offer the loas.”

  I glanced at the stripped beds and the IV poles, the bare bulb and the dirty faces of the spirits. There was nothing here. Lukas and Jared looked through their pockets, but weapons and salt probably weren’t the right sort of offerings.

  I only had one thing of value.

  My hand shook as I slipped my mother’s silver bracelet off my wrist and handed it to Alara. I heard a rip and turned in time to see Jared tearing something off his father’s jacket. He dropped the white patch bearing his last name next to the candle.

  Alara shook her head. “I’m not sure if it’s enough.”

  One of the smaller children scrambled to her feet and disappeared behind a metal bed frame. She scurried back and handed Alara a dirty bundle with two circles drawn on the front, and a piece of IV tubing wrapped around it. A crude doll made from one of the bed straps.

  Alara’s eyes glistened in the candlelight as she opened her journal and read from a page written in Haitian Creole, the language of the loas. The children listened intently and she turned to the next page, written in English—Psalm 136.

  Her voice was quiet, and I only heard snippets as she spoke.

  “To him who alone doeth great wonders:

  for his mercy endureth for ever…

  With a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm:

  for his mercy endureth for ever…

  And hath redeemed us from our enemies:

  for his mercy endureth forever.”

  Their bodies started to fade, two or three at a time. Until there was nothing left but a patch, a silver bracelet, and a doll lying on the floor.

  Upstairs, I lingered by the front door, trying to sense the change within the house. Part of me wanted to open the pantry in the kitchen to see if the spirit of the little girl was still locked inside. But I knew she was just a fingerprint left behind, and I wanted to remember the real spirits who had finally found a way out.

  Jared was standing in the center of the rusty merry-go-round, staring past the gates over which no child would’ve been tall enough to see. From where I stood, the world was framed by those black bars. Had the children ever seen the world without them? Would they be able to see it now?

  “When I was little, I wanted to be a superhero so I could protect people from the bad guys,” Jared said. “I couldn’t even protect you from a dead kid.”

  “If you’re talking about what happened today—”

  “We could’ve died, Kennedy.”

  The front door slammed behind me.

  “And whose fault is that?” Lukas stalked across the yard toward his brother.

  “Do you really want to go there right now?” Jared stepped off the edge of the merry-go-round, sending it spinning gently without him.

  “I want to know how many people are going to get hurt because of you. Are you gonna get her killed, too?” Lukas asked.

  Time seemed to slow down as Lukas closed the distance between them. He lunged, tackling Jared, and they hit the ground hard. They rolled in the dirt, both grappling for the upper hand.

  Jared made it to his feet first and grabbed Lukas around the waist, lifting him in the air. He slammed his brother’s back into the dirt and pinned Lukas’ arms down with his knees.

  I ran down the steps just as Jared punched his brother in the face. “Stop it!”

  Jared looked up at me. It was only a second, but it was enough time for Lukas to free one of his arms. His hand closed around Jared’s throat.

  “What happened in there wasn’t Jared’s fault or mine,” I said. We all knew I was talking about more than getting trapped inside a wall.

  Lukas relaxed his grip and Jared scrambled away from him, coughing. “Don’t worry, Luk. You made your point.”

  Lukas stood up and wiped the blood off his face with his sleeve before he walked away.

  I knelt down next to Jared, and he dropped his head. “He’s right.”

  “About what?”

  “How close I came to getting us killed.”

  I didn’t want to think about what it felt like inside that wall. “We’re both fine.”

  Jared looked at everything but me. “Because Lukas saved us.”

  “He had help.”

  “Lukas would’ve found you somehow. He protects people,” Jared said, falling silent for a moment. “I get them killed.”

  “Don’t do this to yourself. It was an accident.”

  He raised his head, eyes dark and shining.

  “Five people are dead, and there was nothing accidental about it. I knew there was a risk, and I kept looking anyway. I led Andras right to them.” Jared leaned his head against the wall. “I don’t want you caught in the cross fire the next time I screw up.”

  It felt like my heart stopped beating.

  “What are you saying?” But even as I asked, I knew the answer.

  He studied the weeds and dead grass at his feet. “I care about you—”

  “Just not enough to stick around,” I said.

  “You don’t understand.”

  My hands curled into fists at my sides. “Three hours.”

  “What?” he asked.

  “That’s how long it took for you to walk away.”

  Whenever I cared about someone, I imagined them leaving—the words they’d say, the way it would feel when they left. I thought if I prepared myself, it would be easier when it finally happened. I was wrong.

  “Kennedy—”

  I held up a hand to silence him. “Now let’s see how long it takes you to forget me.”

  CHAPTER 29

  Sons of Disobedience

  I stared out the window as the winding back roads led us closer to the coordinates etched in the sledgehammer. I tried to lose myself in drawing, anything to forget Jared’s arms around me inside the wall, or how easily he had given me up outside it. We hadn’t spoken a word to each other since I left him standing in front of Hearts of Mercy.

  There wasn’t anything else to say.

  I sketched the woods along the Maryland state border, where towering oaks guarded the remnants of charred brick buildings. According to ghost stories, the houses belonged to witches, until they were burned to the ground with the women trapped inside them. Now people believed the scorched remains were haunted.

  It was hard
to imagine we were going somewhere with a history more disturbing.

  Lukas had spent most of the ride searching websites on his cell phone, so he didn’t have to talk to his brother. When he finally lost the signal, he went back to studying the map.

  He drew a line connecting the red circles, while Jared scanned through the static on the radio.

  “There’s probably no reception out here.” Priest looked up from his own sketch, some kind of tube loaded with canisters.

  “That’s because this is the edge of the world, and we’re about to fall off,” Alara said.

  Jared turned the dial again and this time a voice cut through the static. “The shooting occurred at eleven fifteen this morning at the Walmart in Moundsville. Three people were killed and two others injured before the gunman exited the store, turning his weapon on police. The gunman was killed in the standoff, and no officers were injured.”

  “We must be getting close,” Priest said.

  “I found something else.” Lukas held up the map. He had added blue Xs inside the boundary line.

  Alara frowned. “You’ll have to elaborate.”

  “The circles represent the places that had major surges in the last month, the cities and towns where we ended up looking for Kennedy.” He traced the line with his finger. “The Xs are the locations where we found pieces of the Shift.”

  Priest froze. “They’re all inside that red line.”

  “So what does that mean?” Alara asked.

  “I think the Marrow is in there, too,” Lukas said. “And if I’m right, Andras is closer than we thought.”

  Alara nodded. “Then we need to find the last piece.”

  Another newscaster’s voice replaced the first. “Eastern West Virginia is still under tornado watch. Two tornadoes touched down in Morgantown yesterday, destroying three homes and a community center. The National Weather Service is working to determine the cause—”

  “It’s like we’re headed into it,” Priest said.

  Alara stared at the black clouds looming in the distance. “Or we’re already there.”

  MOUNDSVILLE, WEST VIRGINIA

  POPULATION 9,835

  Jared glanced at the sign as we passed. “Only a few more miles.” They were the first words he’d spoken since we left Hearts of Mercy.

  The road curved and the sky turned black, but this time it had nothing to do with the clouds.

  Alara leaned over the front seat to get a better look. “Please tell me I’m seeing things.”

  Hundreds of crows crowded the telephone wires, perched in the trees, and circled the sky.

  Alara didn’t take her eyes off the birds. “Black rain. That’s what it’s called when murders of crows gather in one place like this.”

  “Because they turn the sky black?” Priest asked.

  “Because it’s just as unnatural.”

  We moved closer to the birds churning purposefully over one spot in the distance. I didn’t need to see the words etched in the sign we passed to know it was the West Virginia State Penitentiary.

  The Gothic facade was flanked by high stone walls, and the building looked more like a European castle than a prison. Tangled razor wire littering the grass was the only clue that murderers, rather than holy men, once resided inside.

  Lukas pointed at the arched entrance. “The coordinates are on the other side of that wall.”

  Alara shook her head. “I don’t like this. My grandmother believed that crows could carry evil spirits to hell and back.”

  I looked up at the dark sky moving to the rhythm of thousands of black wings. “Then there were a lot of evil spirits in this place.”

  “Or they’re still here.”

  We parked the van and stood in front of the concrete wall. ARE YOU BRAVE ENOUGH? was spray painted above a cracked hole that reminded me of the one in the basement of Hearts of Mercy. The names of people that had accepted the dare surrounded the opening. It was probably a rite of passage in a small town like this, something I could’ve imagined Elle persuading me to do with her.

  Now I was checking my pockets for paintball cases filled with holy water and kitchen spices, and a marker in case I needed to bind a spirit with a voodoo symbol.

  Alara watched the crows, transfixed, as though she saw something more than their glossy black feathers and sharp eyes. “I have a bad feeling.”

  “Of course you do,” Priest said, checking the pocket of his hoodie for batteries and ammo. “We’re about to break into a prison where hundreds of criminals died. This is the definition of a bad feeling.”

  “Are you saying we shouldn’t go in?” she asked.

  “I’m saying my granddad is dead because of Andras, and the Shift can stop him. I’m not leaving without it.” Priest sounded older than when I first met him a few days ago.

  Alara took one last look at the world on this side and followed Priest through the hole. “May the black dove always carry us.”

  Lukas glanced back at me before he climbed through the hole, his eyes full of questions I knew he wouldn’t ask. Questions that had been lurking around the edges of every look since the moment he broke through the boards at Hearts of Mercy and found me in his brother’s arms.

  I made a choice inside those walls, and there was no way to take it back. Because even if it was the wrong choice, how could I say that to Lukas when I had feelings for Jared?

  “Kennedy.”

  I didn’t turn around.

  Jared put his hand on the stones above my shoulder, his breath warm against the back of my neck. “I think we should talk before we go in there.”

  “We’ve talked enough.” I slipped through the opening without looking back. I couldn’t afford to give him the chance to hurt me again.

  Lukas waited on the other side with his hand outstretched, offering to pull me up. I didn’t look back at Jared when I heard him behind me.

  The five of us walked across the cracked concrete basketball court, the only break in a sea of dead grass and twisted silver razor wire.

  “Which way?” Priest asked.

  “Northeast.” Lukas pointed to the far corner of the building.

  “Is there anything we should know before we go in?” I asked.

  Other than the fact that we’re walking into a haunted prison?

  “Over a thousand men died here.” Lukas had researched the location during the ride. “This prison put more inmates to death in the electric chair than any penitentiary in the state. Add that to the inmates who committed suicide and the ones that killed each other.”

  “That’s a serious body count.” Priest examined the heavy double doors in front of us.

  “And that doesn’t include the six people Darien Shears murdered,” Lukas said.

  “Who?” Jared eyed the crows pecking one another on a broken picnic table in the corner of the yard.

  “A couple of websites mentioned that Moundsville had its own serial killer.”

  Alara waved a hand in the air. “I’ve heard enough. This is a paranormal minefield. Be careful where you step.”

  I never expected to see the inside of a prison.

  The rows of thin rectangular windows didn’t provide much in the way of light, for which I was secretly grateful. I didn’t want a closer look at the dark stains on the concrete floors. Knowing people died here and seeing the evidence were two different things.

  At the end of the narrow hallway, the metal door marked CELL BLOCK A was wide open. Four floors of barred doors rose above and around us. Chain-link fencing covered the walls and the ceiling, creating one enormous cage. Trash, torn strips of bedsheets, and scraps of orange fabric littered the floor.

  Something flickered at the end of the room—a blurry man in a jumpsuit the same fluorescent shade of orange. He was pushing a mop along the floor, when his head jerked up like he heard a sound from above. A second later, another hazy form fell backward over the top railing. The man with the mop screamed silently and tried to shield himself, crumpling beneath the weight o
f the falling man.

  They both disappeared, and within seconds the man was pushing the mop again, the gruesome scene repeating itself in a never-ending loop.

  I squeezed Priest’s arm. “A residual haunting?”

  “See, you’re a pro now.”

  Even though I knew the men were nothing more than energy—handprints on a dirty window reaching out for help—the sight of the fall still made my pulse race.

  Empty cigarette packs and burnt paper crunched under my boots as we followed Lukas to a door at the north end of the cell block. It opened into a hallway, part of the labyrinth of concrete tunnels burrowing through the guts of the prison.

  Lukas found the northeast corner easily, a laundry room with industrial washers and dryers lining the back wall and a few wheeled laundry carts. More blood stained the floors beneath the rusted white machines.

  Alara closed her eyes and ran her hand along the wall. “I don’t think the Shift is in here.”

  Priest lifted an eyebrow. “Since when can you tell that from touching the wall?”

  “It’s just a feeling.”

  Lukas checked behind another washer. “I’d feel better if we checked the machines anyway.”

  Alara rolled her eyes and opened one of the dryers. She seemed more intuitive since the mark had appeared on her wrist, the same way Priest seemed braver after he earned his.

  Did the marks change them, or did they change because of the marks? I wanted to ask, but the sting of envy stopped me.

  “There’s nothing here,” Jared said. “We should go up to the second floor. There was a stairwell at the end of the hall.”

  Priest jumped onto the first grated-metal step. “We’re getting warmer.”

  “I’m not.” My breath came out in white crystalline puffs.

  The temperature continued to drop dramatically every few steps, and when we reached the second floor, I understood why. The words Death House were spray painted in red on a windowless white door directly above the laundry room.

  I rubbed my hands over my arms. “What do you think it means?”

 
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