Unmarked by Kami Garcia

  “Your grandparents lived there right?” Lukas asked.

  I nodded. “They lived in Boston.”

  “It’s a connection.” He sounded hopeful.

  Alara crossed her arms. “You aren’t actually suggesting we go to Massachusetts because of a sticker? To look for what exactly?”

  “I agree with Alara,” I said. “It’s a long shot.”

  Priest took off his headphones and hooked them around his neck. “My granddad used to drag me to all these weird places he loved when he was a kid. Maybe Kennedy’s father took her there for a reason.”

  “Like to see the world’s largest bottle cap?” Alara rolled her eyes.

  Lukas pocketed his coin. “The Shift is gone. Andras is orchestrating a murder spree, and we don’t even know where to find him. So unless you know something the rest of us don’t, this is about as dead as dead ends get.”

  “I’ll pay the check.” She slid out of the booth.

  Lukas nodded at Priest and they followed her, most likely a tag team effort to sell her on the road trip idea. Otherwise, we were looking at ten hours trapped in a car, on the receiving end of Alara’s sarcasm.

  Ten hours in the car.

  “Elle, did you bring any extra clothes?” I asked.

  “There’s a pair of jeans and a some other stuff in my purse.” She held up her gigantic black, patent leather bag. “Take it with you. It’s totally stocked. Face wash, moisturizer, disposable toothbrushes.” She paused dramatically as I took the bag. “Make up.”

  Definitely a hint.

  “Did you bring the prom dress to go with all that stuff?” Jared teased.

  Elle put her hand on her hip. I stifled a smile and hauled her purse to the bathroom.

  As the door closed behind me, I heard her say, “You obviously never read 10 Rules for Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse. Rule Number one.…”

  When I came out a few minutes later, Elle was talking to someone in hushed tones. I stopped in the narrow hallway leading back into the restaurant and listened.

  “She watched him go.”

  “I don’t get it.” The other voice belonged to Jared.

  “I mean literally watched,” she said.

  “You’re not serious?”

  “I shouldn’t be telling you any of this.” Elle sounded nervous. “Kennedy would kill me.”

  That’s right Elle. So stop talking.

  Elle always had my best interests at heart, but her attempts to protect me had resulted in over-sharing, once or twice—something I should’ve thought about before I left them alone. I held my breath, praying the conversation was over.

  “That’s why she won’t let anyone get too close,” Jared said.

  Because I’m screwed up and broken and there’s no way to fix me.

  “If Kennedy gets scared, she pushes people away,” Elle said. “It’s what she does. But you can’t let her—”

  Jared cut her off. “I did everything wrong.”

  Elle responded after a long moment. “Then I guess you’d better start doing them right.”

  You need to kill this conversation fast.

  I opened the bathroom door and slammed it, as if I had just come out. They stopped talking immediately.

  Thank god.

  Jared and Elle had relocated to the front of the restaurant by the time I came out.

  They were staring up at a cheap TV mounted on the wall, while the waitress tried to close out a check.

  “Come on, Henry, I was off at one. I gotta get home.”

  The trucker pointed at the TV. “Hold on a minute.”

  A reporter stood in a parking garage, red and blue lights flashing behind her. I couldn’t hear what she was saying from where I was standing, but I knew the moment the girl’s photo filled the screen.

  The trucker tossed a ten-dollar bill on the counter, shaking his head. “Another one of them missing girls.”

  Her name was printed under the picture. Hailey Edwards.

  Number 16.


  The museum is closed.” Elle cupped her hands around her face and peered through the window.

  Priest fished a twisted piece of wire out of the pocket of his hoodie. “I prefer to think of it as temporarily inaccessible.”

  Alara rubbed her gloved hands over her arms and huddled closer to the side of the house. “Hurry up. I’m freezing.”

  During the ten-hour drive to Massachusetts, the relentless rain that followed me everywhere had turned to snow. I couldn’t pinpoint the moment when the New England temperature won out, because my lack of sleep over the last nineteen days had finally conquered my nightmares.

  “Think anyone will show up?” Alara glanced down the empty, dirt road.

  The museum turned out to be a three-story, butterscotch-colored Tudor at the end of an unmarked road. We hadn’t seen a single car since we turned off the highway.

  “Doubtful.” Lukas pointed at the brass placard next to the door.



  HOURS: 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM





  “What kind of museum is only open twice a week?” Alara shot Lukas an I-told-you-so look.

  He tapped on the front window. “One that’s full of revolutionary taxidermy.”

  Priest wiggled the wire and a small screwdriver inside the lock. Elle hovered behind him, which seemed to be slowing him down.

  “After we destroy the demon and save the world, I totally need a tutorial,” Elle said. “I can never get into my locker.”

  “We’re in.” Priest opened the door and waved Alara over from where she was standing at the edge of the porch. “Alara, let’s go.”

  She held up one finger, with her phone to her ear.

  Elle grabbed the elbow of my jacket. “Come on. She’s on her cell again.”

  “Who’s she talking to?” I’d never seen Alara call anyone except her parents.

  “No idea. But every other day, she calls someone.”

  Inside, the museum looked like a cross between an eighty-year-old woman’s cluttered living room and a display at a natural history museum. Glass cases, full of Revolutionary War memorabilia, were crammed between antique curios that held everything from pocket watches and thimbles to a shoehorn and a butter dish.

  The bizarre taxidermy collection appeared to be the only thing that wasn’t behind glass. A deer dressed in a wedding gown stood on its hind legs behind a Victorian dollhouse. Inside the miniature rooms, chipmunks positioned in classic fencing stances wielded tiny epee swords.

  Elle backed away from a squirrel bronco-riding a saddled rattlesnake. “That is wrong on so many levels.”

  Priest poked at it. “Some people have too much free time.”

  Alara made her way toward us from the front of the store, dodging two white mice with unicorn horns, and a beaver wearing a golden crown.

  “Talking to your sister again?” Jared asked.

  “When who I call becomes any of your business, I’ll let you know,” Alara snapped.

  “So where’s this giant bottle cap?” Elle asked in one of her not so subtle attempts to change the subject.

  “In here,” Lukas called from the next room.

  Four cables secured the bottle cap to the ceiling.

  Elle sighed, unimpressed. “I expected it to be bigger.”

  Lukas knocked on the red metal. “It’s the size of a monster truck tire. How big did you think it would be?”

  Elle dug through her gigantic purse and pulled out a plastic camera.

  Alara started to say something, when Elle waved the camera in the air. “It’s disposable. I don’t need to hear the ‘only use your cell to call your mom’ speech again.” She handed me the camera and stood in front the bottle cap. “Take my picture. And I want one of those stickers that says: I visite
d the world’s biggest bottle cap.”

  I snapped the photo before World War III could break out between them.

  Priest stared into one of the display cases that ran the length of all four walls. “You can take your picture with John Hancock’s shoelace, too, if you want.”

  Someone had taped a laminated note to the glass.

  Historical artifacts generously donated by

  the residents of Topsfield, Massachusetts

  and their families.

  According to the labels, the cases lining the walls held the personal effects of Revolutionary War patriots: an assortment of muskets and bayonets, tattered flags, broken dishes, a bible, and a wooden leg. The highlight of the exhibit featured John Hancock’s shoelace, a halfpenny that supposedly belonged to Samuel Adams, and a page from Paul Revere’s Bible.

  Priest pointed at the random items. “All three of them were members of the Sons of Liberty and the Freemasons. John Hancock was a Grand Master. His signature showed up on lodge ledgers years before he signed the Declaration of Independence. Samuel Adams was Illuminati, too.”

  Alara’s head shot up when he said the word Illuminati. “That’s a joke, right?”

  Jared and Lukas looked at Priest, waiting for his answer.

  “No, it’s true.” Priest’s eyes darted between Lukas, Jared, and Alara, who were all frowning at him. “Lay off. I didn’t vote for the guy.”

  “Back up,” Elle said. “Does someone want to explain the difference between the Freemasons and the Illuminati for the regular kid in the class?”

  Alara looked unamused.

  “In 1776, the Illuminati surfaced in—” Priest began.

  Elle held up her hand to stop him. “I just want the Cliff Notes.”

  “My granddad used to say the devil is in the details. Along with the truth.” Priest gave her a sheepish smile. “But I’ll do my best. The Freemasons and the Illuminati are both secret societies that date back to the 1700’s, but they had different agendas. The Illuminati wanted to overthrow the existing governments and churches, so they could create a new world order.”

  “So the Illuminati were the bad guys?” Elle asked.

  “Definitely,” Lukas said. “And it was the Legion of the Black Dove’s job to stop them.”

  “What about the Freemasons? Good or bad?”

  Lukas grinned at her. “The Freemasons were stonemasons. They formed a group in the Middle Ages to protect their trade secrets and pass down their skills. So they were good guys.”

  “Why would Samuel Adams be a member of both?” I had trouble believing the man who planned the Boston Tea Party was in the Illuminati.

  “The Illuminati was a lot smaller, and they needed a place to hide from the Catholic Church and the Legion,” Priest explained. “They infiltrated Freemason lodges, and they’ve been hiding ever since.”

  “Are you saying they’re still around?” I always thought of the Illuminati as a bunch of bearded Leonardo da Vinci types, who were long gone like the Knights of the Round Table.

  “My granddad had a run-in with a couple of them when he was a student at Yale,” Priest said. “He was studying in the Beinecke Rare Book Library late one night, when two guys broke into one of the cases. He tried to stop them, and they beat him up pretty bad.”

  “How did he know they were Illuminati?” I asked.

  Priest held up his ring finger. “Their rings. Not the crap they sell online with pyramids and pentagrams all over them. These were the original design. The Eye of Providence surrounded by the Rays of Illumination. Between the rings and what they stole, it was obvious. At least to a Legion member.”

  “What did they steal?” Lukas’ tone hardened.

  “The Grimorium Verum.”

  “One of the oldest and most dangerous grimories in history.” Alara shuddered. “A true book of black magic. It deals specifically with methods for harnessing the powers of demons.”

  “Why would they want it?” Elle asked.

  Alara shook her head. “No idea. All I know is that my grandmother didn’t trust the Illuminati. She called them ‘demons among men.’ ”

  Elle walked over to the last case labeled Modern Patriots, looking more than a little spooked. “The Illuminati totally sounds like a Legion thing. I’ll stick with John Hancock and the patriots.” She peered into the case. “I don’t believe this junk is real. That shoelace could’ve belonged to anyone.”

  “This is definitely a fake.” Jared grabbed me around the waist affectionately, and gestured at the case in front of us. Behind the glass, a framed poem attributed to Edgar Allan Poe hung prominently in the center. “I’m pretty sure Poe didn’t use a roller ball.”

  We had studied the poem in English class the previous year, and my eidetic memory flashed on the mental images of the text. As I scanned the actual poem behind the glass, my mind tripped over the last few words.


  Edgar Allan Poe


  From childhood’s hour I have not been

  As others were—I have not seen

  As others saw—I could not bring

  My passions from a common spring—

  From the same source I have not taken

  My sorrow—I could not awaken

  My heart to joy at the same tone—

  And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—

  Then—in my childhood—in the dawn

  Of a most stormy life—was drawn

  From ev’ry depth of good and ill

  The mystery which binds me still—

  From the torrent, or the fountain—

  From the red cliff of the mountain—

  From the sun that ’round me roll’d

  In its autumn tint of gold—

  From the lightning in the sky

  As it pass’d me flying by—

  From the thunder, and the storm—

  And the cloud that took the form

  (When the rest of Heaven was blue)

  Of an angel in my view—

  “The last line is wrong. It should say, ‘Of a demon in my view.’ ”

  Jared looked at his brother. “Think it’s a code?”

  Lukas started writing on his hand. “I need some paper.”

  Elle riffled around in her junk drawer of a purse until she found an old history test. “Here.”

  Lukas flipped over the test and held it against the display case, copying the last line of the poem. Then he began systematically crossing out letters and scribbling words beneath them. After a few minutes, it seemed like he had exhausted the possibilities. “It’s not letter substitution.”

  Priest studied the poem. “Try unscrambling it.”

  Lukas tried different combinations, while the rest of us called out words with letters that weren’t even in the line of the poem.

  “What if you use the right version—‘of a demon’ instead?” Alara asked.

  I stood in front of the poem again. This time, I visualized the words as if they were images in a painting—focusing on the shapes of the individual letters, the shape of the poem as a whole, and the negative space around them. Nothing jumped out at me, but the label above the poem caught my eye: DONATED BY RAMONA KENNEDY.

  It can’t be a coincidence.

  Lukas crumpled up the paper and chucked it on the floor. “The person who forged it was probably an idiot and screwed up.”

  Priest stared up at the ceiling. “Or we need the Shift to read the message. It’s probably sitting on some fire fighter’s mantle.”

  “Then we’re screwed.” Jared slammed his palm against the display case.

  I couldn’t take my eyes off the label. “My dad wrote the poem, or he had someone else do it for him.”

  The script didn’t match the handwriting on the note he left for my mom twelve years ago, but the forger had obviously copied Poe’s style.

  Jared interlaced his fingers with mine. “How can you tell?”

  I pointed at the label. “I hated my name as a kid.
Whenever I complained about it, my mom said the same thing: Maybe I should’ve let your father choose.”

  He wanted to name me Ramona after his favorite band. The Ramones.”

  Mom was sipping coffee at the chipped, round table in our kitchen, while my dad stood in front of the stove, in his Jane’s Addiction T-shirt, flipping pancakes.

  “Ramona is a solid name, and the Ramones were punk rock gods,” my dad said over the sizzle of bacon frying in the next pan.

  Mom balled up her napkin and tossed it at him, smiling. “Be happy I let you pick Kennedy’s middle name.”

  “From your list. Rose was your grandmother’s middle name.” My dad crunched on a piece of bacon, and winked at me. “Kennedy Ramona would’ve been my pick.”

  I forced their voices out of my mind, as Alara marched past me. She returned moments later, carrying a taxidermy goat with a mermaid tail from the front of the store. She stepped in front of us and pulled her sleeve down to cover her hand. “Back up.”

  Elle covered her ears. “What if someone hears the glass break?”

  Alara turned the goat so its horns faced the glass. “Like Lukas said, this place is closed, and it’s in the middle of nowhere.”

  Jared reached for the mer-goat. “Why don’t you let me—”

  Alara swung the goat by its mermaid tail, releasing it just as the horns hit the case. A crack zigzagged down the middle of the case, from the spot where the tail was still sticking out of the glass.

  “Nice.” Jared shook his head at Alara. “I could be blind right now.”

  “Except you’re not.” She walked over and kicked the rest of the glass out from below what was left of the mer-goat. The poem fell off the wall and crashed to the floor, along with the animal.

  “Feeling a little aggressive today?” Lukas elbowed Alara and picked up the broken frame. He handed it to me, trying to keep it from falling apart.

  Without the glass to hold it in place, the page slid out. Another piece of paper was folded in thirds behind the poem.

  “What is it?” Elle asked, as I unfolded it.

  Black ink covered the crinkled white sheet of paper, with a symbol in the bottom corner indicating it had been made from recycled materials. Roads twisted through stick-figure trees and hand-drawn houses that reminded me of scavenger hunts at summer camp.

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