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Dark Reunion (Chapter Three)

Vickie's screams went out of control. Bonnie could feel panic rising in her chest.

"Vickie, stop it! Come on; we've got to get out of here!" Meredith was shouting to be heard. "It's your house, Caroline. Everybody grab hands and you lead us to the front door."

"Okay," Caroline said. She didn't sound as frightened as everybody else. That was the advantage to having no imagination, Bonnie thought. You couldn't picture the terrible things that were going to happen to you.

She felt better with Meredith's narrow, cold hand grasping hers. She fumbled on the other side and caught Caroline's, feeling the hardness of long fingernails.

She could see nothing. Her eyes should be adjusting to the dark by now, but she couldn't make out even a glimmer of light or shadow as Caroline started leading them. There was no light coming through the windows from the street; the power seemed to be out everywhere. Caroline cursed, running into some piece of furniture, and Bonnie stumbled against her.

Vickie was whimpering softly from the back of the line. "Hang on," whispered Sue. "Hang on, Vickie, we'll make it."

They made slow, shuffling progress in the dark. Then Bonnie felt tile under her feet. "This is the front hall," Caroline said. "Stay here a minute while I find the door." Her fingers slipped out of Bonnie's.

"Caroline! Don't let go-where are you? Caroline, give me your hand!" Bonnie cried, groping frantically like a blind person.

Out of the darkness something large and moist closed around her fingers. It was a hand. It wasn't Caroline's.

Bonnie screamed.

Vickie immediately picked it up, shrieking wildly. The hot, moist hand was dragging Bonnie forward. She kicked out, struggling, but it made no difference. Then she felt Meredith's arms around her waist, both arms, wrenching her back. Her hand came free of the big one.

And then she was turning and running, just running, only dimly aware that Meredith was be-side her. She wasn't at all aware that she was still screaming until she slammed into a large armchair that stopped her progress, and she heard herself.

"Hush! Bonnie, hush, stop!" Meredith was shaking her. They had slid down the back of the chair to the floor.

"Something had me! Something grabbed me, Meredith!"

"I know. Be quiet! It's still around," Meredith said. Bonnie jammed her face into Meredith's shoulder to keep from screaming again. What if it was here in the room with them?

Seconds crawled past, and the silence pooled around them. No matter how Bonnie strained her ears, she could hear no sound except their own breathing and the dull thudding of her heart.

Bonnie started to nod miserably, then abruptly lifted her head. "Where's Vickie?" she whispered hoarsely.

"I don't know. I had to let go of her hand to pull you away from that thing. Let's move."

Bonnie held her back. "But why isn't she screaming?"

A shudder went through Meredith. "I don't know."

"Oh, God. Oh, God. We can't leave her, Meredith."

"We have to."

"We can't. Meredith, I made Caroline invite her. She wouldn't be here except for me. We have to get her out."

There was a pause, and then Meredith hissed, "All right! But you pick the strangest times to turn noble, Bonnie."

A door slammed, causing both of them to jump. Then there was a crashing, like feet on stairs, Bonnie thought. And briefly, a voice was raised.

"Vickie, where are you? Don't-Vickie, no! No!"

"That was Sue," gasped Bonnie, jumping up. "From upstairs!"

"Why don't we have a flashlight?" Meredith was raging.

Bonnie knew what she meant. It was too dark to go running blindly around this house; it was too frightening. There was a primitive panic hammering in her brain. She needed light, any light.

She couldn't go fumbling into that darkness again, exposed on all sides. She couldn't do it.

Nevertheless, she took one shaky step away from the chair.

"Come on," she gasped, and Meredith came with her, step by step, into the blackness.

Bonnie kept expecting that moist, hot hand to reach out and grab her again. Every inch of her skin tingled in anticipation of its touch, and especially her own hand, which she had outstretched to feel her way.

Then she made the mistake of remembering the dream.

Instantly, the sickly sweet smell of garbage overwhelmed her. She imagined things crawling out of the ground and then remembered Elena's face, gray and hairless, with lips shriveled back from grinning teeth. If that thing grabbed hold of her…

I can't go any farther; I can't, I can't, she thought. I'm sorry for Vickie, but I can't go on. Please, just let me stop here.

It was a whole series of sounds, actually, but they all came so close together that they blended into one terrible swell of noise. First there was screaming, Sue's voice screaming, "Vickie! Vickie! No!" Then a resonant crash, the sound of glass shattering, as if a hundred windows were breaking at once. And over that a sustained scream, on a note of pure, exquisite terror.

Then it all stopped.

"What was it? What happened, Meredith?"

"Something bad." Meredith's voice was taut and choked. "Something very bad. Bonnie, let go. I'm going to see."

"Not alone, you're not," Bonnie said fiercely.

They found the staircase and made their way up it. When they reached the landing, Bonnie could hear a strange and oddly sickening sound, the tinkle of glass shards falling.

And then the lights went on.

It was too sudden; Bonnie screamed involuntarily. Turning to Meredith she almost screamed again. Meredith's dark hair was disheveled and her cheekbones looked too sharp; her face was pale and hollow with fear.

Tinkle, tinkle.

It was worse with the lights on. Meredith was walking toward the last door down the hall, where the noise was coming from. Bonnie followed, but she knew suddenly, with all her heart, that she didn't want to see inside that room.

Meredith pulled the door open. She froze for a minute in the doorway and then lunged quickly inside. Bonnie started for the door.

"Oh, my God, don't come any farther!"

Bonnie didn't even pause. She plunged into the doorway and then pulled up short. At first glance it looked as if the whole side of the house was gone. The French windows that connected the master bedroom to the balcony seemed to have exploded outward, the wood splintered, the glass shattered. Little pieces of glass were hanging precariously here and there from the remnants of the wood frame. They tinkled as they fell.

Diaphanous white curtains billowed in and out of the gaping hole in the house. In front of them, in silhouette, Bonnie could see Vickie. She was standing with her hands at her sides, as motionless as a block of stone.

"Vickie, are you okay?" Bonnie was so relieved to see her alive that it was painful. "Vickie?"

Vickie didn't turn, didn't answer. Bonnie maneuvered around her cautiously, looking into her face. Vickie was staring straight ahead, her pupils pinpoints. She was sucking in little whistling breaths, chest heaving.

Shuddering, Bonnie reeled away. Meredith was on the balcony. She turned as Bonnie reached the curtains and tried to block the way.

"Don't look. Don't look down there," she said.

Down where? Suddenly Bonnie understood. She shoved past Meredith, who caught her arm to stop her on the edge of a dizzying drop. The balcony railing had been blasted out like the French windows and Bonnie could see straight down to the lighted yard below. On the ground there was a twisted figure like a broken doll, limbs askew, neck bent at a grotesque angle, blond hair fanned on the dark soil of the garden. It was Sue Carson.

And throughout all the confusion that raged afterward, two thoughts kept vying for dominance in Bonnie's mind. One was that Caroline would never have her foursome now. And the other was that it wasn't fair for this to happen on Meredith's birthday. It just wasn't fair.

"I'm sorry, Meredith. I don't think she's up to it right now."

Bonnie heard her father's voice at the front door as she listlessly stirred sweetener into a cup of chamomile tea. She put the spoon down at once. What she wasn't up to was sitting in this kitchen one minute longer. She needed out.

"I'll be right there, Dad."

Meredith looked almost as bad as she had last night, face peaked, eyes shadowed. Her mouth was set in a tight line.

"We'll just go out driving for a little while," Bonnie said to her father. "Maybe see some of the kids. After all, you're the one who said it isn't dangerous, right?"

What could he say? Mr. McCullough looked down at his petite daughter, who stuck out the stubborn chin she'd inherited from him and met his gaze squarely. He lifted his hands.

"It's almost four o'clock now. Be back before dark," he said.

"They want it both ways," Bonnie said to Meredith on the way to Meredith's car. Once inside, both girls immediately locked their doors.

As Meredith put the car in gear she gave Bonnie a glance of grim understanding.

"Your parents didn't believe you, either."

"Oh, they believe everything I told them-except anything important. How can they be so stupid?"

Meredith laughed shortly. "You've got to look at it from their point of view. They find one dead body without a mark on it except those caused by the fall. They find that the lights were off in the neighborhood because of a malfunction at Virginia Electric. They find us, hysterical, giving answers to their questions that must have seemed pretty weird. Who did it? Some monster with sweaty hands. How do we know? Our dead friend Elena told us through a Ouija board. Is it any wonder they have their doubts?"

"They're forgetting already," Meredith replied softly. "You predicted it yourself. Life has gone back to normal, and everybody in Fell's Church feels safer that way. They all feel like they've woken up from a bad dream, and the last thing they want is to get sucked in again."

Bonnie just shook her head.

"And so it's easier to believe that a bunch of teenage girls got riled up playing with a Ouija board, and that when the lights went out they just freaked and ran. And one of them got so scared and confused she ran right out a window."

There was a silence and then Meredith added, "I wish Alaric were here."

Normally, Bonnie would have given her a dig in the ribs and answered, "So do I," in a lecherous voice. Alaric was one of the handsomest guys she'd ever seen, even if he was a doddering twenty-two years old. Now, she just gave Meredith's arm a disconsolate squeeze. "Can't you call him somehow?"

"In Russia? I don't even know where in Russia he is now."

Bonnie bit her lip.

Then she sat up. Meredith was driving down Lee Street, and in the high school parking lot they could see a crowd.

She and Meredith exchanged glances, and Meredith nodded. "We might as well," she said. "Let's see if they're any smarter than their parents."

Bonnie could see startled faces turning as the car cruised slowly into the lot. When she and Meredith got out, people moved back, making a path for them to the center of the crowd.

Caroline was there, clutching her elbows with her hands and shaking back her auburn hair distractedly.

"We're not going to sleep in that house again until it's repaired," she was saying, shivering in her white sweater. "Daddy says we'll take an apartment in Heron until it's over."

"What difference does that make? He can follow you to Heron, I'm sure," said Meredith.

Caroline turned, but her green cat's eyes wouldn't quite meet Meredith's. "Who?" she said vaguely.

"Oh, Caroline, not you too!" Bonnie exploded.

Her eyes came up and for an instant Bonnie saw how frightened she was. "I can't take any more." As if she had to prove her words that minute, she pushed her way through the crowd.

"Let her go, Bonnie," Meredith said. "It's no use."

"She's no use," said Bonnie furiously. If Caroline, who knew, was acting this way, what about the other kids?

She saw the answer-in the faces around her. Everybody looked scared, as scared as if she and Meredith had brought some loathsome disease with them. As if she and Meredith were the problem.

"I don't believe this," Bonnie muttered.

"I don't believe it either," said Deanna Kennedy, a friend of Sue's. She was in the front of the crowd, and she didn't look as uneasy as the others. "I talked with Sue yesterday afternoon and she was so up, so happy. She can't be dead." Deanna began to sob. Her boyfriend put an arm around her, and several other girls began to cry. The guys in the crowd shifted, their faces rigid.

Bonnie felt a little surge of hope. "And she's not going to be the only one dead," she added. "Elena told us that the whole town is in danger. Elena said…" Despite herself Bonnie heard her voice failing. She could see it in the way their eyes glazed up when she mentioned Elena's name. Meredith was right; they'd put everything that had happened last winter behind them. They didn't believe anymore.

"What's wrong with you all?" she said helplessly, wanting to hit something. "You don't really think Sue threw herself off that balcony!"

"People are saying-" Deanna's boyfriend started and then shrugged defensively. "Well-you told the police Vickie Bennett was in the room, right? And now she's off her head again. And just a little bit earlier you'd heard Sue shouting, 'No, Vickie, no!'?"

Bonnie felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her. "You think that Vickie- oh, God, you're out of your mind! Listen to me. Something grabbed my hand in that house, and it wasn't Vickie. And Vickie had nothing to do with throwing Sue off that balcony."

"She's hardly strong enough, for one thing," Meredith said pointedly. "She weighs about ninety-five pounds soaking wet."

Somebody from the back of the crowd muttered about insane people having superhuman strength. "Vickie has a psychiatric record-"

"Elena told us it was a guy!" Bonnie almost shouted, losing her battle with self-control. The faces tilted toward her were shuttered, unyielding. Then she saw one that made her chest loosen. "Matt! Tell them you believe us."

Matt Honeycutt was standing on the fringe with his hands in his pockets and his blond head bowed. Now he looked up, and what Bonnie saw in his blue eyes made her draw in her breath. They weren't hard and shuttered like everyone else's, but they were full of a flat despair that was just as bad. He shrugged without taking his hands from his pockets.

Bonnie, for one of the first times in her life, was speechless. Matt had been upset ever since Elena died, but this…

"He does believe it, though," Meredith was saying quickly, capitalizing on the moment. "Now what have we got to do to convince the rest of you?"

"Channel Elvis for us, maybe," said a voice that immediately set Bonnie's blood boiling. Tyler. Tyler Smallwood. Grinning like an ape in his overexpensive Perry Ellis sweater, showing a mouthful of strong white teeth.

"It's not as good as psychic e-mail from a dead Homecoming Queen, but it's a start," Tyler added.

Matt always said that grin was asking for a punch in the nose. But Matt, the only guy in the crowd with close to Tyler's physique, was staring dully at the ground.

"Shut up, Tyler! You don't know what happened in that house," Bonnie said.

"Well, neither do you, apparently. Maybe if you hadn't been hiding in the living room, you'd have seen what happened. Then somebody might believe you."

Bonnie's retort died on her tongue. She stared at Tyler, opened her mouth, and then closed it. Tyler waited. When she didn't speak, he showed his teeth again.

"For my money, Vickie did it," he said, winking at Dick Carter, Vickie's ex-boyfriend. "She's a strong little babe, right, Dick? She could have done it." He turned and added deliberately over his shoulder, "Or else that Salvatore guy is back in town."

"You creep!" shouted Bonnie. Even Meredith cried out in frustration. Because of course at the very mention of Stefan pandemonium ensued, as Tyler must have known it would. Everyone was turning to the person next to them and exclaiming in alarm, horror, excitement. It was primarily the girls who were excited.

Effectively, it put an end to the gathering. People had been edging away surreptitiously before, and now they broke up into twos and threes, arguing and hastening off.

Bonnie gazed after them angrily.

"Supposing they did believe you. What did you want them to do, anyway?" Matt said. She hadn't noticed him beside her.

"I don't know. Something besides just standing around waiting to be picked off." She tried to look him in the face. "Matt, are you all right?"

"I don't know. Are you?"

Bonnie thought. "No. I mean, in one way I'm surprised I'm doing as well as I am, because when Elena died, I just couldn't deal. At all. But then I wasn't as close to Sue, and besides… I don't know!" She wanted to hit something again. "It's just all too much!"

Bonnie thought. "No. I mean, in one way I'm surprised I'm doing as well as I am, because when Elena died, I just couldn't deal. At all. But then I wasn't as close to Sue, and besides… I don't know!" She wanted to hit something again. "It's just all too much!"

"Yes, I'm mad." Suddenly Bonnie understood the feelings she'd been having all day. "Killing Sue wasn't just wrong, it was evil. Truly evil. And whoever did it isn't going to get away with it. That would be-if the world is like that, a place where that can happen and go unpunished… if that's the truth…" She found she didn't have a way to finish.

"Then what? You don't want to live here anymore? What if the world is like that?"

His eyes were so lost, so bitter. Bonnie was shaken. But she said staunchly, "I won't let it be that way. And you won't either."

He simply looked at her as if she were a kid insisting there was so a Santa Claus.

Meredith spoke up. "If we expect other people to take us seriously, we'd better take ourselves seriously. Elena did communicate with us. She wanted us to do something. Now if we really believe that, we'd better figure out what it is."

Matt's face had flexed at the mention of Elena. You poor guy, you're still as much in love with her as ever, thought Bonnie. I wonder if anything could make you forget her? She said, "Are you going to help us, Matt?"

"I'll help," Matt said quietly. "But I still don't know what it is you're doing."

"We're going to stop that murdering creep before he kills anybody else," said Bonnie. It was the first time she'd fully realized herself that this was what she meant to do.

"Alone? Because you are alone, you know."

"We are alone," Meredith corrected. "But that's what Elena was trying to tell us. She said we had to do a summoning spell to call for help."

"An easy spell with only two ingredients," Bonnie remembered from her dream. She was getting excited. "And she said she'd already told me the ingredients-but she hadn't."

"Last night she said there were corrupting influences distorting her communication," Meredith said. "Now to me that sounds like what was happening in the dream. Do you think it really was Elena you were drinking tea with?"

"Yes," Bonnie said positively. "I mean, I know we weren't really having a mad tea party at Warm Springs, but I think Elena was sending that message into my brain. And then partway through something else took over and pushed her out. But she fought, and for a minute at the end she got back control."

"Okay. Then that means we have to concentrate on the beginning of the dream, when it was still Elena communicating with you. But if what she was saying was already being distorted by other influences, then maybe it came out weird. Maybe it

wasn't something she actually said, maybe it was something she did…"

"What?"

"Hair! I asked her who did hers, and we talked about it, and she said, 'Hair is very important.' And Meredith-when she was trying to tell us the ingredients last night, the first letter of one of them was H!"

"That's it!" Meredith's dark eyes were flashing. "Now we just have to think of the other one."

"But I know that too!" Bonnie's laughter bubbled up exuberantly. "She told me right after we talked about hair, and I thought she was just being strange. She said, 'Blood is important too.' "

Meredith shut her eyes in realization. "And last night, the Ouija board said 'Bloodblood-blood.' I thought it was the other thing threatening us, but it wasn't," she said. She opened her eyes. "Bonnie, do you think that's really it? Are those the ingredients, or do we have to start worrying about mud and sandwiches and mice and tea?"

"Those are the ingredients," Bonnie said firmly. "They're the kind of ingredients that make sense for a summoning spell. I'm sure I can find a ritual to do with them in one of my Celtic magic books. We just have to figure out the person we're supposed to summon…" Something struck her, and her voice trailed off in dismay.

"I was wondering when you'd notice," Matt said, speaking for the first time in a long while. "You don't know who it is, do you?"

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