Welcome to Jin Novels dot com   Click to listen highlighted text! Welcome to Jin Novels dot com

The Captive (Chapter Nine)

The voices from above were getting nearer. Cassie couldn't move; a gray blanket seemed to have enfolded her senses. Chris was pulling at her arm.

"C'mon, Cassie! They're comin'!"

Faintly, Cassie heard from above: "If you'll line up in single file, we'll be going down a narrow stairway …"

Chris was pulling Cassie off the narrow stairway. "Hey, Doug, give me a hand here!"

Cassie made a supreme effort. "We have to go home," she said urgently to Chris. She drew herself up and tried to speak with authority. "I have to go back and tell Diana-something- right now."

The brothers looked at each other, perplexed but dimly impressed.

"Okay," Chris said, and Cassie sagged, the grayness washing over her again.

With Doug pulling in front and Chris trying to prop her up from behind, they led her rapidly through the dark, winding corridors of the dungeon. They seemed as comfortable in the darkness as rats, and they guided her unerringly through the passageways until a neon sign announced exit.

On the drive north, the pumpkins thumped and rolled in the back seat like a load of severed heads. Cassie kept her eyes shut and tried to breathe normally. The one thing she knew was that she couldn't tell the Henderson brothers what she was thinking. If they found out what she suspected about Kori, anything might happen.

"Just drop me off at Diana's," she said when they finally returned to Crowhaven Road. "No-you don't have to go in with me. Thanks."

"Okay," Chris said, and they let her off. Then he stuck his head back out the window. "Uh, hey-thanks for getting that mutt off me," he said.

"Sure," Cassie said light-headedly. "Any time." As they rolled away she realized they had never even asked her why she needed to talk to Diana. Maybe they were so used to doing inexplicable things themselves that they didn't wonder when other people did.

Mr. Meade answered the door, and Cassie realized that it must be late if he was home from the office. He called up to Diana as Cassie climbed the stairs.

"Cassie!" Diana said, jumping up as she saw Cassie's face. "What's the matter?"

Adam was sitting on the bed; he rose too, looking alarmed.

"I know it's late-I'm sorry-but we have to talk. I was in the Witch Dungeon-"

"You were where? Here, take this; your hands are like ice. Now start over again, slowly," Diana said, sitting her down and wrapping her in a sweater.

Slowly, stumbling sometimes, Cassie told them the story: how Chris and Doug had picked her up and taken her to Salem. She left out the part about the pumpkin patch, but told how they'd gone to the Witch Dungeon, and how, listening to the lecture, she had suddenly seen the connection. Pressing to death-

rockslides; hanging-broken necks.

"But what does it mean?" Diana said when she'd finished.

"I don't know, exactly," Cassie admitted. "But it looks like there's some connection between the three deaths and the way Puritans used to punish people."

"The dark energy is the connection," Adam said quietly. "That skull was used by the original coven, which lived in the time of the witch trials."

"But that wouldn't account for Kori," Diana protested. "We didn't activate the skull until after Kori was dead."

Adam was pale. "No. But I found the skull the day before Kori died. I took it out of the sand…" His eyes met Cassie's, and she had a terrible feeling of dismay.

"Sand. To Hold Evil Harmless,'" she whispered. She looked at Diana. "That's in your Book of Shadows. Burying an object in sand or earth to hold the evil in it harmless. Just like-" She stopped abruptly and bit her tongue. God, she'd almost said, "Just like you buried the skull on the beach to keep it safe."

"Just like I found it," Adam finished for her. "Yes. And you think that when I took it out, that alone activated it. But that would mean the skull would have to be so strong, so powerful…" His voice trailed off. Cassie could see he was trying to fight the idea; he didn't want to believe it. "I did feel something when I pulled it out of that hole," he added quietly. "I felt dizzy, strange. That could have been from dark energy escaping." He looked at Cassie. "So you think that energy came to New Salem and killed Kori."

"I-don't know what to think," Cassie said wretchedly. "I don't know why it would. But it can't be coincidence that every single time we interact with the skull, somebody dies afterward, in a way that the Puritans used to kill witches."

"But don't you see," Diana said excitedly, "it isn't every time. Nobody used the skull right before Jeffrey died. It was absolutely safe-" She hesitated and then went on quickly. "Well, of course I can tell you two-it was safe out on the beach. It's still buried there now. I've been checking it every few days. So there isn't a one-to-one correspondence."

Cassie was speechless. Her first impulse was to blurt out, "Somebody did too use the skull!" But that would be insane. She could never tell Diana that-and now she was utterly at a loss. A shaking was starting deep inside her. Oh, God, there was a one-to-one correspondence.

It was like that slogan, Use a gun; go to jail. Use the skull; kill somebody. And she, Cassie, was responsible for the last time the skull had been used. She was responsible for killing Jeffrey.

Then she got another terrible jolt. She found Adam's keen blue-gray eyes fixed on her. "I know what you're thinking," he said.

Cassie swallowed, frozen.

"You're trying to think of a way to protect me," he said. "Neither of you likes the idea that my pulling the skull out of the sand had something to do with Kori's death. So you're trying to discredit the theory. But it won't work. There's obviously some connection between the skull and all three deaths-even Kori's."

Cassie still couldn't move. Diana touched his hand.

"If it is true," she said, her green eyes blazing with intensity, "then it isn't your fault. You couldn't know that removing the skull would do any harm. You couldn't know."

But I did know, Cassie thought. Or at least I should have known. I knew the skull was evil; I sensed it was capable of killing. And I still let Faye take it. I should have fought her harder; I should have done anything to stop her.

"If anyone's to blame," Diana was going on, "it's me. I'm the coven leader; it was my decision to use the skull in the ceremony. If the dark energy that knocked Faye over went out and killed Mr. Fogle and Jeffrey afterward, it's my fault."

"No, it isn't," Cassie said. She couldn't stand any more. "It's mine-or at least it's everybody's …"

Adam looked from one girl to the other, then burst into strained laughter and dropped his head into his hand.

"Look at us," he said. "Trying to clear each other and each take the blame ourselves. What a joke."

"Pretty pathetic," Diana agreed, trying to smile.

Cassie was fighting tears.

"I think we'd better stop thinking about whose fault it is, and start thinking about what to do," Adam went on. "If the dark energy that escaped at the ceremony killed both Mr. Fogle and Jeffrey, it may still be out there. It may do something else. We need to think about ways to stop it."

They talked for several hours after that. Adam thought they should search for the dark energy, maybe do some scrying around the graveyard. Diana thought they should continue combing all the Books of Shadows, even the most indecipherable ones, to see if there was any advice about dealing with evil like this, and to learn more about the skull.

"And about Black John, too," Cassie suggested mechanically, and Diana and Adam agreed. Black John had used the skull in the beginning, had "programmed" it. Perhaps his intentions were still affecting it.

But all the time they were talking, Cassie was feeling-outside. Alienated. Adam and Diana really were good, she thought, watching them talk fervently, fired with the discussion. They really had acted with the best of intentions. She, Cassie, was different. She was-evil.

Cassie knew things that they didn't know. Things she could never tell them.

Diana was nice when the time came for Cassie to go. "Adam had better drive you home," she said.

Adam did. They didn't speak until they reached Cassie's house.

"How're you hanging on?" he said quietly then.

Cassie couldn't look at him. She had never wanted comfort more, never wanted to throw herself into his arms as much as she did now. She wanted to tell him the whole story about Faye and the skull, and listen to him say that it was all right, that she didn't have to face it alone. She wanted him to hold her.

She could feel him wanting that too, just inches away in the driver's seat.

"I'd better go inside," she said shakily.

Adam was gripping the steering wheel so hard it looked as if he were trying to break it.

"Good night," she said softly, still without looking at him.

There was a long, long pause while she felt Adam fight with himself. Then he said, "Good night, Cassie," in a voice drained of all energy.

Cassie went inside. She couldn't talk to her mother or her grandmother about this either, of course. She could just imagine it: "Hi, Mom; you remember Jeffrey Lovejoy? Well, I helped kill him." No, thank you.

It was a strange thought, knowing you were evil. It floated around in Cassie's mind as she lay in bed that night, and just before she fell asleep it got weirdly mixed up with visions of Faye's honey-colored eyes.

Wicked, she could almost hear Faye chuckling throatily. You're not evil, you're just wicked… like me.

The dream started out beautifully. She was in her grandmother's garden, in the summer, when everything was blossoming. Lemon balm spilled a golden pool on the ground. Lavender, lily of the valley, and jasmine were throwing such sweet scents into the air that Cassie felt giddy.

Cassie bent to snap off a stem of honeysuckle, with its tiny, creamy flowerheads. The sun shone down, warming her shoulders. The sky was clear and spacious. Strangely, although this was her grandmother's garden, there was no house nearby. She was all alone in the bright sunshine.

Then she saw the roses.

They were huge, velvety, red as rubies. No roses like that grew wild. Cassie took a step toward them, then another. Dew stood in the curl of one of the rose petals, quivering slightly. Cassie wanted to smell one of them, but she was afraid.

She heard a throaty chuckle beside her.

"Faye!"

Faye smiled slowly. "Go ahead, smell them," she said. "They won't bite you." But Cassie shook her head. Her heart was beating quickly.

"Oh, come on, Cassie." Faye's voice was coaxing now. "Look over there. Doesn't that look interesting?"

Cassie looked. Behind the roses something impossible had happened. Night had fallen, even though it was still daylight where Cassie was standing. It was a cool black-and-purple night, broken by stars but not a trace of moon.

"Come with me, Cassie," Faye coaxed again. "It's just a few little steps. I'll show you how easy it is." She walked behind the rosebush and Cassie stared at her. Faye was standing in darkness now, her face shadowed, her glorious hair merging with the gloom.

"You might as well," Faye told her softly, inexorably. "After all, you're already like me- or had you forgotten? You've already made your choice."

Cassie's hand let the honeysuckle spray fall. Slowly, slowly, she reached out and picked one of the roses. It was such a deep red, and so soft.

Cassie stared down into it.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" Faye murmured. "Now bring it here."

Mesmerized, Cassie took a step. There was a line of wavering shadow on the ground, between the darkness and the day. Cassie took another step and a sudden sharp pain in her finger made her gasp.

The rose had pricked her. Blood was streaming down her wrist. All the thorns on the roses were crimson, as if they'd been dipped in blood.

Appalled, she looked up at Faye, but she saw only darkness and heard only that mocking chuckle. "Maybe next time," Faye's voice floated out of the shadows.

Cassie woke up with her heart pounding, eyes staring into the blackness of her room. When she turned the light on, she almost expected to see blood on her arm. But there was no blood, and no mark of any thorn on her finger.

Thank God, she thought. It was a dream, just a dream. Still, it was a long time before she could fall asleep again.

She woke again to the ringing of the phone.

By the color of the light against the eastern window she knew she'd slept late.

"Hello?"

"Hello, Cassie," a familiar voice said in her ear.

Cassie's heart jumped. Instantly the entire dream flashed before her. In a panic, she expected Faye to start talking throatily about roses and darkness.

But Faye's voice was ordinary. "It's Saturday, Cassie. Do you have any plans for tonight?"

"Uh…no. But-"

"Because Deborah and Suzan and I are having a little get-together. We thought you might like to come."

"Faye … I thought you were mad at me."

Faye laughed. "I was a little-miffed, yes. But that's over now. I'm proud of your success with the guys. It just shows you what a little witchery will do, hmm?"

Cassie ignored this; she'd had a sudden thought. "Faye, if you're planning to use the skull again, forget it. Do you want to know how dangerous it is?" She started to tell Faye what she'd discovered in the Witch Dungeon, but Faye interrupted.

"Oh, who cares about the skull anymore?"

she said. "This is a party. So we'll see you at around eight, then, all right? You will show up, won't you, Cassie? Because there might be- unfortunate consequences if you didn't. 'Bye!"

Deborah and Suzan will be there, Cassie told herself as she walked up to Faye's house that night. They won't let Faye actually kill me. The thought gave her some comfort.

And Faye, when she opened the door, seemed less sinister than usual. Her golden eyes were glimmering with something like mischief and her smile was almost playful.

"Come in, Cassie. Everybody's in the den," she said.

Cassie could hear music as they approached a room off the entrance hall. It was furnished in the same opulent and luxurious style as the rest of the house. Noise from a huge TV was competing with some song by Madonna being blasted out of a magnificent stereo unit. With all this technology, the dozens of candles stuck in various kinds of holders around the room seemed incongruous.

"Turn that stuff down," Faye ordered. Suzan, pouting, pointed a remote control at the stereo, while Deborah muted the TV. Apparently Faye had forgiven them as well.

"Now," Faye said, with a feline smile at Cassie, "I'll explain. The housekeeper has the day off, and my mother is sick in bed-"

"As usual," Deborah interrupted, to Cassie. "Her mom spends ninety-five percent of her life in bed. Nerves."

Faye's eyebrows arched and she said, "Yes, well, it's certainly convenient, isn't it? At times like this." She turned back to Cassie and went on, "So we're going to have a little pizza party. You'll help out getting things ready, won't you?"

Cassie was tingling with relief. A pizza party. She'd been imagining-oh, all sorts of strange things. "I'll help," she said.

"Then let's get started. Suzan will show you what to do."

Cassie followed Suzan's directions. They lit the red and pink candles and started a low, crackling fire in the fireplace. They lit incense, too, which Suzan said was composed of ginger root, cardamom, and neroli oil. It was pungent, but delicious smelling.

Faye, meanwhile, was placing crystals about the room. Cassie recognized them-garnets and carnelians, fire opals and pink tourmelines. And Suzan, Cassie noticed, was wearing a carnelian necklace which harmonized with her strawberry-blond hair, while Faye was wearing more than her usual number of star rubies.

Deborah switched off the lamps and went to fiddle with the stereo. The music that began to rise was like nothing Cassie had ever heard. It was low and throbbing, some primal beat that seemed to get into her blood. It started out softly, but seemed to be getting almost imperceptibly louder.

"All right," Faye said, standing back to survey their work. "It's looking good. I'll get the drinks."

Cassie looked over the room herself. Warm; it looked warm and inviting, especially when compared with the chilly October weather outside. The candles and the fire made a rosy glow, and the soft, insistent music filled the air. The incense was spicy, intoxicating, and somehow sensuous, and the smoke threw a slight haze over the room.

It looks like an opium den or something, Cassie thought, simultaneously fascinated and horrified, just as Faye came back with a silver tray.

Cassie stared. She'd expected, maybe, a six-pack of soda-or maybe a six-pack of something else, knowing Deborah. She should have known Faye would never stoop to anything so inelegant. On the tray was a crystal decanter and eight small crystal glasses. The decanter was half full of some clear ruby-colored liquid.

"Sit down," Faye said, pouring into four of the glasses. And then, at Cassie's doubtful look, she smiled. "It's not alcoholic. Try it and see. Oh, go on."

Warily, Cassie took a sip. It had a subtle, faintly sweet taste and it made her feel flushed with warmth right down to her fingertips.

"What's in it?" she asked, peering into her glass.

"Oh, this and that. It's-stimulating, isn't it?"

"Mmm." Cassie took another sip.

"And now," Faye smiled, "we can play Pizza Man."

There was a pause, then Cassie said, "Pizza Man?"

"Pizza Man He Delivers," Suzan said, and giggled.

"Otherwise known as watching guys make fools of themselves," Deborah said, grinning savagely. She might have gone on, but Faye interrupted.

"Let's not tell Cassie; let's just show her," she said. "Where's the phone?" Deborah handed her a cordless phone.

Suzan produced the yellow pages, and after a few moments of thumbing and scanning, read out a number.

Faye dialed. "Hello?" she said pleasantly. "I'd like to order a large pizza, with pepperoni, olives, and mushrooms." She gave her address and phone number. "That's right, New Salem," she said. "Can you tell me how long it will be? All right; thanks. 'Bye."

She hung up, looked at Suzan, and said, "Next."

And then, to Cassie's growing astonishment, she did it all over again.

Six times.

By the end of it, Faye had ordered seven large pizzas, all with the same toppings. Cassie, who was feeling somewhat dizzy from the smell of incense, wondered just how many people Faye was planning to feed.

"Who's coming to this party-the entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir?" she whispered to Suzan. Suzan dimpled.

"I hope not. It's not choirboys we're interested in."

"That's enough," said Faye. "Just wait, Cassie, and you'll see."

When the doorbell rang the first time, Faye, Suzan, and Deborah went into the parlor and looked through the window. Cassie followed and looked too. The porch light revealed a young man holding a greasy cardboard box.

"Hmm," said Faye. "Not bad. Not terrific, but not bad."

"I think he's fine," Suzan said. "Look at those shoulders. Let's take him."

With Cassie trailing behind, they all went into the hall.

"Well, hello," Faye said, opening the door. "Do you mind coming inside and putting it over here? I left my purse in the other room." As Cassie watched with widening eyes, they escorted the guy into the warmth of the luxurious, richly scented den. Cassie saw him blink, then saw a stupefied expression cross his face.

Deborah took the pizza from him. "You know," Faye said, biting the pen she had poised over a checkbook, "you look a little tired. Why don't you sit down? Are you thirsty?"

Suzan was pouring a glassful of the clear ruby liquid. She held it out to him with a smile. The delivery boy wet his lips, looking dazed.

Cassie could understand why. She thought there was probably no guy in the world who could resist Suzan, with her cloud of strawberry-gold hair and her low-cut blouse, holding out a crystal glass. Suzan leaned over a little farther as she offered it to him, and the guy took the drink.

Deborah and Faye exchanged knowing glances. "I'll go move his car around the side," Deborah murmured, and left.

"My name's Suzan," Suzan said to the guy, as she sank into the cushiony couch beside him. "What's yours?"

Deborah had barely returned when the doorbell rang again.

Click to listen highlighted text!