Out of Sight, Out of Time (Page 30)
I saw Zach watching me from the other side of the boat. He smiled. A simple look saying, It’s okay, we have this. Everything is going to be fine. And more than anything, I wanted him to be right.
By the time Townsend stopped the boat, the sky was an eerie shade of gray, as if the ocean waters and tall cliffs had mixed and formed the clouds that hung overhead, blocking out the sun. The boat rocked, and Liz gripped her stomach. Her face was a pale shade of green.
“Why are we stopping?” she asked, and for a second I thought she might be sick.
“We’re here,” Townsend said.
“But…how are we supposed to…” Macey’s voice trailed off as she pointed to the top of the sheer cliffs.
Mom and Abby shared a look, but it was Townsend who reached into a chest, pulled out a rope, and tossed it in Bex’s direction. “We climb.”
I must have been getting stronger.
After the past few weeks, the bursts of mist felt like a shot of adrenaline. The rocks were sure and smooth beneath my hands, carved out by wind and salt water and the power that comes with a few thousand years.
Those cliffs had been there when Gilly was a girl. Those cliffs would be there long after my roommates and I were gone. The thought was somehow comforting as Bex climbed beside me. From the corner of my eye, I could see Zach to my left.
It wasn’t a race—I knew that much—but I couldn’t help myself from climbing harder, moving faster; sweat and adrenaline were my friends, pumping through my body, reminding me that I was there—hanging off the side of the world. I was alive.
I might not have remembered my summer vacation, but I had lived through it, at least.
My ponytail blew around my face. Mist clung to my eyelashes. There, with the winds that whipped over the Atlantic and crashed against the cliffs, I felt a million miles from the Alps, and I kept climbing.
I could hear Mom and Abby helping Liz, telling her where to put her hands and reminding her that she was safe—they had her. (Not to mention the fact that she’d designed that particular model of safety harness during our sophomore year.)
And then, finally, there was a hand reaching out to me through the haze.
“Hey, Gallagher Girl,” Zach said, pulling me onto solid ground. The wind was even harder there, with the ocean stretching out before us, as if Ireland had just sprung from the ocean one day and was still rising. For a second, it almost knocked me off my feet.
“Easy there,” Zach said when I stumbled into him. “Now’s probably not the time to get handsy. You might want to control yourself.”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind,” I told him, and turned to look around. But there were no power lines or blinking lights; just lush rolling hills that stretched out as far as the eye could see.
And then I saw the castle. Except castle wasn’t the right word—not anymore. It was more like ruins. Massive stone walls had crumbled and toppled into an honest-to-goodness moat. There were the remnants of barns and grounds, and only the castle’s tallest tower was still standing, looking out over the sea. I felt like we’d climbed those cliffs like Jack had scaled the beanstalk, and somehow we’d found our way to another world.
“What happened to it?” Macey asked.
I couldn’t tell if she was feeling a pull toward her ancestral home or if she just stepped closer out of curiosity. It didn’t matter, I guess. We were all being drawn to those decaying walls and the weed-riddled courtyard like a magnet. It was almost like we were looking at the Gallagher Academy through a fun-house mirror, at what might have happened if the two homes of Gillian Gallagher had shared the same fate.
“Time, Ms. McHenry,” Townsend said. “It can be a cruel, cruel thing. The Gallagher family’s money ran out about a hundred years ago, not long after your Gilly died, in fact. No one has lived here in decades. These old estates are almost impossible to keep up. Looters and vandals overrun everything. If your list ever was here, Ms. Morgan, it is probably gone by now. Are you prepared for that possibility?”
I swallowed. “I am.”
“Okay,” Abby said, handing each of us a copy of the window, the map. “We split up. I have a feeling we don’t want to be around by the time that gets here.” She gestured to the storm brewing in the distance.
“Everyone has their comms?” Mom asked, and we nodded.
“Good,” Abby said. “I’d recommend we start by trying to locate some of the landmarks on the map and work from there.”
She looked at Townsend as if expecting him to protest, but he simply shrugged. “I was about to suggest the same thing.”
“Okay, then,” Zach said. “I guess it’s time.”
We started to turn and leave, but Liz yelled, “Wait!” She was pulling off her backpack and reaching for the zipper. “I have some things.” Townsend might have rolled his eyes a little, but Liz talked on, handing a plastic bag to every member of the group.
“A flare gun, Liz?” Bex said, staring into her bag. “I seriously doubt we’ll need a flare gun.”
Liz shrugged. “I believe in being prepared.”
“And what’s in here?” Abby asked, giving a small vial a shake.
“Aspirin,” Liz said. “What? Scavenger hunts give me headaches.”
“Are we ready?” Mom asked, pulling us back to the task at hand. Everyone looked at me.
I didn’t say what I was thinking: that it might have been nothing. That I may have dragged us halfway around the world and into the center of a storm for something that had never existed at all. Maybe Gilly never made the list. Maybe she didn’t hide it there. Maybe it was lost to time or rain or the scavengers that come to pick at the bones whenever any great thing falls.
But we had to look.
No harm could come from looking.
Number of hallways we walked down: 47 Number of cave-ins and landslides that made us turn around: 23 Number of times Bex pretended not to be terrified of a spider: 14 Number of places where the four stories had pretty much fallen together like a stack of pancakes: 9 (that we came across) Number of times Liz almost fell into the moat: 2 (not counting the time Bex threatened to push her in if she didn’t stop messing with her flare gun)
I went through an archaeology phase when I was ten. I spent that whole summer digging behind the barn on my grandparents’ ranch, unearthing arrowheads and old screws, trying to fill in the pieces of a story I didn’t even know.
That was what being there felt like.
There were walls and rocks, weeds and moss growing over crumbling staircases and ancient pillars. The whole thing was layered with dust, and we walked for hours, climbing over fallen stones and decaying beams. But as we spread out and climbed, I had to wonder if it was more wild-goose chase than mission. After all, the map wasn’t really a map. It was more of a kaleidoscope of images spread across a green field. There were trees and cliffs, a book and a cross. And the crest—the image from the necklace—sat in the center of it all. It might have made sense once upon a time, but over a century and a half later, I stood with my best friends and Zach, staring at the old stone walls and barren gardens, wondering if we were looking at a lost cause.
We found broken pieces of furniture and old iron fixtures, but nothing that seemed to belong in this century or the last. It felt like we were walking back in time, and with every step, my hopes fell until finally we made our way into the center of the ruins.
The walls were still standing in that part of the castle, and for the first time, something seemed oddly familiar. I looked at my best friends and watched their eyes scan the ancient space.
“Is that a fireplace?” Bex said, pointing to a pile of crumbling stones.
“Look at the way the walls curve,” Macey said, her gaze panning around the strangely shaped room. “It’s almost like…”
“The library,” Liz said, and immediately I knew that she was right. It was exactly like the library at the Gallagher Academy, from the position of the fireplace to the tall windows that overlooked the grounds.
“How do you know?” Zach asked.
Liz looked totally insulted. “Because…uh…library.”
“Okay.” Zach threw up his hands. “Point taken.”
“The book,” Bex said, pulling out a picture of the window and pointing to the image of an old book, which filled one part of the stained glass.
“Of course!” Liz said. “So if book equals library, and we’re standing in the library, then the crest should be”—she turned like a human compass, trying to find north—“that way.”
The good news was that Liz was right about the direction. The bad news was that her finger was pointing at a massive pile of debris. Sure, there had probably been a hallway there, once upon a time, but by then the walls were nothing but fallen stone. Our way was undeniably blocked.
Thunder rumbled in the distance. The light that filtered through the glassless windows was eerie and the color of the sea.
“I don’t like the sound of that,” I said.
“Neither do I,” Bex agreed.
“Maybe we should split up and find a way around,” Zach said. “Cam and I will take the right. You guys go left. If we’re lucky, we’ll meet here.” He pointed to the place on the window where the crest hopefully marked the spot.
“Fine,” Bex said, but she didn’t sound happy about it. “See you there,” she told me.
“See you there,” I agreed. And a moment later they were gone, and Zach’s hand was in mine, pulling me into the black.
I’m not sure what it says about us, but it felt almost like a normal date—two kids exploring ruins, digging in the dirt. We climbed over fallen beams and crawled beneath crumbling archways. As sad as it sounds, it was almost romantic.
After a while I said, “We’re getting close.” It wasn’t that I knew it—it was that I felt it. There was something calling to me, pulling me through the dark passage. Zach was at my back, trying to keep up.
“Cammie, wait,” he said. “Cammie—”
“It’s blocked.” I stared at the stones that had fallen, filling the narrow doorway. Only a small hole remained near the top. “I think I can…” I said, starting to climb; but Zach grabbed my waist and set me back on the ground.
“No,” he told me. “I can’t fit.”
“But I can.” I began to climb again.
“Stop.” Zach reached for my arm. “It’s too tight.”
“No. I can make it.”
“Gallagher Girl, we can find a way around.”
“It’s in there, Zach. I know it’s in there. Let me go get it.” My voice cracked. “Let me go get what my father wanted me to find.”
He didn’t want to let me go—I could see it in his eyes. But there was no arguing with me. Not then. I was going with or without him. There was no asking for permission. So he squeezed my hands and kissed me gently. “For luck,” he said, then stepped aside to let me climb the rocks and squeeze through to the other side.