The Reckoning / Page 7

Page 7


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So we left. Margaret’s car was some fancy European model, like the kind my dad always leased, which made me think about him. Dad and I had never been real close. I was Mom’s baby, and after she died, well again, it was that instinct thing. Some people have the instinct to be parents and some don’t, and Dad didn’t, though he tried his best.


He traveled a lot, which didn’t help. He did care about me, though. More than I realized. After my breakdown he flew from Berlin to stay at my bedside until I went to Lyle House. He only went back when he had to, and he thought I was safe in Aunt Lauren’s care.


“So this necromancer stuff,” Tori said from the backseat. “Chloe doesn’t know a lot about it.”


She motioned for me to start asking questions. I’d fantasized about meeting another necromancer, and here I had one and hadn’t asked a single thing. Worrying about Dad wasn’t going to help me any.


I started by asking Margaret about the ghostly reenactments I’d seen. Residuals, she called them, but she didn’t tell me anything else I hadn’t already figured out. They were leftover energy from a traumatic event that played over and over again, like a film loop. Harmless images, not ghosts. As for how to block them…


“You won’t need to worry about that for a few years. Concentrate on ghosts for now. Deal with residuals when you’re old enough to see them.”


“But I am seeing them.”


She shook her head. “I suspect what you’re seeing is a ghost reverting to his death form-how he appeared at the moment of his death. Ghosts can do that, unfortunately, and some like to do so to intimidate necromancers.”


“I don’t think that’s what this was.” I told her about residuals I’d seen-a man jumping into a saw in a factory and a girl being murdered at a truck stop.


“My God,” Tori said. “That’s…” When I glanced at her, she’d gone pale. “You saw that?”


“I’ve heard you like movies, Chloe,” Margaret cut in. “I suspect you have a very good imagination.”


“Okay, so can you tell me how to block them when I do start seeing them?”


I must have let a little sarcasm sneak into my tone, because Margaret looked over sharply. I fixed her with my best wide-blue-eyes look and said, “It helps if I know what’s coming. So I’ll feel ready to handle it.”


She nodded. “That’s a good attitude to take, Chloe. All right then. I’ll let you in on the trade secret. When you see a residual, there’s a surefire way to deal with them. Walk away.”


“Can I block them?”


“No, but you don’t need to. Simply walk away. They aren’t ghosts, so they can’t follow.”


I could have figured that out by myself. The problem was: “How do I know it’s a residual? If it looks real, how do you know it isn’t? Before you see…the dying part.”


“One sign is that residuals don’t make any noise.”


I knew that.


“Another is that you can’t interact with them.”


Knew that, too.


So if I noticed a guy about to jump into an industrial saw, I should stop and listen for any noise? Yell at him and see if he answered? By then, if he was a residual, he’d have already jumped, and I’d see exactly what I’d been trying to avoid. And if he was real, I could let him die while trying to spare myself an ugly sight.


If I could tell it was just a ghost-residual or not-I’d know the person wasn’t in danger and I could get out of there. So, while she drove through a small town, I asked how to do that.


“Excellent question,” Margaret said. “Now the real lessons begin. There are three ways to tell the ghosts from the living. First, clothing. For instance, if a man is wearing a hat and suspenders he’s a ghost, likely from the nineteen fifties.”


“I’ve seen guys wearing hats and suspenders,” Tori said. “Young guys, too. It’s retro.”


“A Civil War uniform, then. If he’s wearing that, he’s a ghost.”


No kidding.


“Second, as you may have noticed, ghosts can pass through solid objects. So if he walks through a door or a chair, you can be sure it’s a ghost.”


Even someone who wasn’t a necromancer could figure that out.


Margaret turned the car onto a road leading out of town. “And the third…Any ideas, Chloe?”


“If they don’t make noise when they walk?”


“Excellent! Yes. Those are the three ways to tell ghosts from the living.”


Great. So if I saw a guy standing still, and he wasn’t wearing an old uniform, I just had to ask him to walk through furniture. If he stared at me like I was crazy, then I’d know he wasn’t a ghost.


I hoped that the practice part of the day would go better. When I saw where she was taking us, though, that hope faded fast.


“A c-cemetery?” I said as she pulled into the parking lot. “I c-can’t-I shouldn’t even be here.”


“Nonsense, Chloe. I certainly hope you aren’t afraid of cemeteries.”


“Um, no,” Tori said. “It’s the bodies buried in them that worry her.”


Margaret looked from me to Tori.


“Uh, dead bodies?” Tori said. “Potential zombies?”


“Don’t be silly. You can’t accidentally raise the dead.”


“Chloe can.”


Margaret gave a tight smile. “I’ve heard Chloe is quite powerful, but I’m sure she doesn’t need to worry about raising the dead yet.”


“She already has. I was there.”


“I-it’s true,” I said. “I raised subjects of Dr. Lyle’s experiment, buried in the basement at Lyle House. Then I raised dead bats in a warehouse, and a homeless guy in a place we tried to spend the night.”


“Bats?” Tori said, nose wrinkling.


“You were asleep. I didn’t want to wake you up.”


“And I thank you for that,” she said. She turned to Margaret. “I was there for the homeless guy. I saw him crawling across Chloe-”


“I don’t doubt you did, but I’m afraid you girls have been the victims of a cruel trick. There are members of the Edison Group who have a very big stake in this experiment and would love to make it appear that the subjects’ powers were vastly increased by the modification. One of their staff necromancers apparently wanted to make the group believe Chloe could raise the dead. That’s absurd, of course. Not only do you need years of training, but it requires rituals and ingredients you don’t have.”


“But I raised the homeless guy after we got away.”


“That’s what they wanted you to think. Obviously, they were on your trail, which is how they intercepted you at Andrew’s house. It doesn’t matter. Even if you could raise the dead”-a twitch of her lips, clearly humoring me-“I’m here and I’ll make sure we take the proper precautions. Learning control is the best way to overcome your fears.”


When I tried to protest again, Tori asked if we could have a minute. We got out of the car and she led me to a spot under a maple tree. My stomach clenched every time I caught a glimpse of the gravestones, imagining accidentally slamming ghosts back into the corpses buried under them.


I only had to glance at the cemetery walls and I could see Derek’s scowl, hear him snap, “Don’t even think about training in there, Chloe.”


“She’s jealous, you know,” Tori said.


“What?”


“You can raise the dead. If she admits that, then she has to admit you’re a better necromancer than she is.”


“I don’t think being able to raise the dead makes anyone better.”


“In their world it does, because it means you’re more powerful. Everyone wants to be more powerful.” She looked around the cemetery, her gaze going distant. “It doesn’t matter if it’s good power or bad. I lived with my mom long enough to see that. Margaret might not want to raise the dead, but she wants to be able to, and she doesn’t want some kid to be better at it than she is. So she’s telling herself you can’t.”


“Okay, but I’d rather not prove her wrong.”


Tori’s lips pursed. “Actually…”


“Uh-uh. I’m not returning any poor ghost to its rotting-”


“Only temporarily.”


I gave her a look.


She sighed. “Fine. But whatever that chick’s hang-ups, her job is to train you, and you need training. We all do. It’ll be fine as long as you take it easy, right?”


True. While I couldn’t help remembering Derek’s suspicion that Tori was betraying us, I could see no nefarious advantage to encouraging me to raise the dead.


“Look, do what you want,” she said. “I’ll back you up. As cliché as it sounds, we’re in this together. You, me, the guys. Not exactly the gang I’d pick-no offense-but…”


“You’re stuck with us.”


“My advice? Take her lesson and be careful.”


I imagined what Derek would say. He wouldn’t like the situation, but I think he’d eventually agree.


I went back to Margaret and said I was ready.


Eleven


MARGARET LED US INTO the cemetery. There were some mourners under a temporary canopy, huddled around a casket. We steered clear of them.


The only graveyard I’d ever been in was the one where my mom was buried. Dad and I went every year on her birthday.


This one was bigger, with new graves at the front, where the mourners were. Margaret led us to the back, which had the old graves. It was empty there-the dead having been dead so long there was no one left to visit them.


As cemeteries went, I supposed it was nice, with lots of trees and benches. Take away the headstones and it would make a decent park, especially with the sun warming up the cold April morning. I tried to focus on the sun and the scenery, not on what lay under my feet.


Margaret stopped at one of the more recent graves in the old area. It was of a woman who’d died in 1959 at the age of sixty-three. Margaret said that was ideal-someone who hadn’t died so long ago that she’d be spooked by our modern clothes, but long enough ago that she wouldn’t have a lot of loved ones left and want messages passed on.


She told us to kneel like we were the family of this woman-Edith-come to pay our respects. Most necromancers avoided daytime summoning, but Margaret thought that was silly. Coming at night only called more attention to yourself. In the daytime, if you brought a friend-a supernatural of course-it was easy, because you could kneel at a grave and talk and no one would look twice.


“Or you could use a cell phone,” Tori said.


“That’s hardly respectful in a cemetery,” said Margaret with a sniff.


Tori shrugged. “I guess. But she could. And she should probably have a cell anyway, for when a ghost tries talking to her in public.”


Margaret rolled her eyes. I thought it was a good idea and appreciated it.


It would be great to think Tori was starting to like me, but, as she said, she’d realized how alone she was. Everyone needs an ally and I was the only choice.


I sighed. I’d never realized how good I’d had it, back in my normal life, where if a popular girl talked to me, the worst thing that could happen was she was planning to mock my stutter to get a laugh from the popular guys.


Margaret opened her briefcase and took out baggies of herbs, a piece of chalk, matches, and a little saucer. Ritual material to help necromancers summon, she explained. Tori suppressed a snort, as if to say I didn’t need that. I said nothing.


“Should I remove this?” I asked, pulling my pendant from under my shirt.


Margaret blinked. “Where did you get that?”


“My mother, when I was little. I was seeing ghosts, and she told me this would keep them away. So it’s for real?”


“Real, yes-real superstitious nonsense. I haven’t seen one since I was about your age. Necromancers don’t use them anymore, but they were once quite the hot fashion item for our kind. It’s supposed to reduce a necromancer’s glow.”


“Glow?” Tori said.


“That’s what ghosts see that marks us as necromancers, right?” I said.


Margaret nodded.


“And if this necklace makes it dim,” I said, “then the necromancer won’t attract ghosts.”


“Well, then Margaret’s right,” Tori said. “It’s definitely not working. But that’s not the same one you were wearing at Lyle House. That was red and on a chain.”


“It was red.” I fingered the blue stone. “The chain broke. But if it is real, then changing color could mean it lost its power.”


Margaret stared at the pendant. “It changed color?”


I nodded. “Does that mean something?”


“They say-” She shook it off. “Superstitious nonsense. Our world is full of it, I’m afraid. Now let’s get started. The first thing I need you to do, Chloe, is read the woman’s name, and keep that in your mind. Then, aloud, you’ll repeat what we call an entreaty. Say the spirit’s name and respectfully ask her to speak to you. Try that.”


“Edith Parsons, I’d like to speak to you please.”


“That’s it. Next we light the…”


As Margaret explained, a plump woman in a blue dress appeared behind the gravestone, her wrinkled face frowning as her bright blue eyes peered around. When those eyes swung my way, the frown vanished in a wide smile.


“Hello,” I said.


Margaret’s gaze followed mine and she jumped.


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