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The Captive (Chapter Ten)

"Yuck," Deborah said, as they peered out the parlor window again. This delivery guy was skinny, with lank hair and acne.

Faye was already moving to the front door. "Pizza? We didn't order any pizza. I don't care who you called to confirm it, we don't want it." She shut the door in his face, and after a few minutes of hanging around the porch he went away.

As his delivery van was pulling out, another one pulled in. The tall, blond guy with the cardboard box kept looking behind him at the receding rival van as he walked to the door.

"Now this is more like it," Faye said.

When they brought the blond delivery guy into the den, Suzan and the muscular one were entangled on the couch. The pair disengaged themselves, the boy still looking foggy, and Faye poured the new guest a drink.

Within the next hour, the doorbell rang four more times and they collected two more delivery boys. Suzan divided her attention between the muscular one and a new one with high cheekbones who said he was part Native American. The other new one, who looked younger than the others and had soft-brown eyes, sat nervously next to Cassie.

"This is weird," he said, looking around the room, and taking another gulp from his glass. "This is so weird … I don't know what I'm doing. I've got deliveries to make…" Then he said, "Gee, you're pretty."

Gee? thought Cassie. Gosh. Golly. Oh, my God. "Thanks," she said weakly, and glanced around the room for help.

None was forthcoming. Faye, looking sultry and exuding sensuality, was running one long crimson fingernail up and down the blond guy's sleeve. Suzan was sunk deep in the couch with an admirer on either side. Deborah was sitting on the arm of an overstuffed chair, eyes slitted and rather scornful.

"Can I put my arm around you?" the brown-eyed boy was asking hesitantly.

Boys aren't toys, Cassie thought. Even if this one did look like a teddy bear. Faye had brought these guys here to play with, and that was wrong… wasn't it? They didn't know what they were doing; they didn't have any choice.

"I just moved up here last summer from South Carolina," the boy was going on. "I had a girl back there… but now I'm so lonely …"

Cassie knew the feeling. This was a nice guy, her age, and his brown eyes, though a little glassy, were appealing. She didn't scream when he put his arm around her, where it rested warmly and a little awkwardly around her shoulders.

She felt light-headed. Something about the incense … or the crystals, she thought. The music seemed to be pulsing inside her. She should be embarrassed by what was going on in this room-she was embarrassed-but there was something exciting about it too.

Some of the candles had gone out, making it darker.

The warmth around Cassie's shoulders was nice. She thought of yesterday night, when she'd wanted so much for someone to comfort her, to hold her. To make her feel not alone.

"I don't know why, but I really like you," the brown-eyed boy was saying. "I never felt like this before."

Why not do it? She was already-bad. And she wanted to be close to somebody. , . .

The brown-eyed boy leaned in to kiss her.

That was when Cassie knew it was wrong. Not the way kissing Adam was wrong, but wrong for her. She didn't want to kiss him. Every individual cell in her body was protesting, panicking. She wiggled out from under him like an eel and jumped up.

Faye and the blond guy were also on their feet, heading out of the room. So were Suzan and her unmatched pair.

"We're just going upstairs," Faye said in her husky voice. "There's more room up there. Lots of rooms, in fact."

"No," Cassie said.

A hint of a frown creased Faye's forehead, then she smiled and went over to Cassie, speaking in low tones. "Cassie, I'm disappointed in you," she said. "After your performance at the dance, I really thought you were one of us. And it's not nearly as wicked as some other things you've done. You can do anything you want with these guys, and they'll like it."

"No," Cassie said again. "You told me to come over and I did. But I don't want to stay." Her eyes were smarting and she had trouble keeping her voice steady.

Faye looked exasperated. "Oh, all right. If you don't want to have fun, I can't make you. Go."

Relief washed over Cassie. With one glance back at the brown-eyed boy, she hurried to the door. After last night's dream, she'd been so frightened… she hadn't been sure what Faye would do to her. But she was getting away.

Faye's voice caught her at the door, and she waited until she had Cassie's full attention before speaking.

"Maybe next time," she said.

Cassie's entire skin was tingling as she hurried away from Faye's house. She just wanted to get home, to be safe….

"Hey, wait a minute," Deborah called after her.

Reluctantly, Cassie turned and waited. She was braced as if for a blow.

Deborah came up quickly, her step light and controlled as always. Her dark hair was tumbling in waves around her small face and falling into her eyes. Her chin was slightly out-thrust as usual, but her expression wasn't hostile.

"I'm leaving too. You want a ride?" she said.

Instantly memories of the last "ride" she'd accepted flashed through Cassie's mind. But she didn't exactly like to refuse Deborah. After Faye's parting words, Cassie was feeling small and soft and vulnerable-like something that could be easily squashed. And besides… well, it wasn't often Deborah made a gesture like this.

"Okay, thanks," Cassie said after only a moment's hesitation. She didn't ask if they should be wearing helmets. She didn't think Deborah would appreciate the question.

Cassie had never been on a motorcycle before. It seemed bigger when she was trying to get on it than it had looked just standing there. Once she was on, though, it felt surprisingly stable. She wasn't afraid of falling off.

"Hang on to me," Deborah said. And then, with an incredibly loud noise, they were moving.

It was the most exhilarating feeling-flying through the air. Like witches on broomsticks, Cassie thought. Wind roared in Cassie's face, whipped her hair back. It whipped Deborah's hair into Cassie's eyes so she couldn't see.

As Deborah accelerated, it became terrifying. Cassie was sure she'd never gone this fast before. The wind felt icy cold. They were racing forward into darkness, far too fast for safety on a rural road. The houses on Crowhaven were far behind. Cassie couldn't breathe, couldn't speak. Everything was the wind and the road and the feeling of speed.

I'm going to die, Cassie thought. She almost didn't care. Something this electrifying was worth dying for. She was sure Deborah couldn't take this next corner.

"Relax!" Deborah shouted, her voice snatched away by the wind. "Relax! Don't fight the way I'm leaning."

How can you relax when you're plunging at practically a hundred miles an hour into darkness? Cassie thought. But then she found out how: you give yourself up to it. Cassie resigned herself to her fate, and let the speed and the wind take her. And, magically, everything was all right.

She was aware, eventually, that they were heading back up Crowhaven Road, past Diana's house, past the others. They overshot Cassie's house and stormed around the vacant lot at the point of the headland.

Dust sprayed up on either side. Cassie saw the cliff whip by and buried her head in Deborah's shoulder. Then they were leaning, they were slowing, they were spiraling to a stop.

"So," said Deborah, when the world was still again, "what'd you think?"

Cassie lifted her head and made her fingers stop clutching. Every inch of her was as icy as if she'd been standing in a freezer. Her hair was matted and her lips and ears and nose were numb. .

"It was wonderful," she gasped. "Like flying."

Deborah burst into laughter, jumped off, and slapped Cassie on the back. Then she helped Cassie off. Cassie couldn't stop shivering.

"Look over here," Deborah said, stepping over to the edge of the cliff.

Cassie looked. Far below, the dark water crashed and foamed around the rocks. It was a long way down.

But there was something beautiful, too. Over the vast gray curve of ocean, an almost half-full moon hung. It cast a long wavering trail of light along the water, pure silver on the darkness.

"It looks like a road," Cassie said softly, through chattering teeth. "Like you could ride on it."

She looked at Deborah quickly, not sure how the biker girl would take to such a fancy. But Deborah gave a short nod, her narrowed eyes still on the silver path.

"That would be the ultimate. Just ride till you fly straight off the edge. I guess that was what the old-time witches wanted," she said.

Cassie felt a warmth even through her shivering. Deborah felt what she herself had felt. And now Cassie understood why Deborah rode a motorcycle.

"We better go," Deborah said abruptly.

On the way back to the motorcycle Cassie stumbled, falling to one knee. She looked back and saw that she had tripped on a piece of brick or stone.

"I forgot to tell you; there used to be a house here," Deborah said. "It got torn down a long time ago, but there're some pieces of foundation left."

"I think I just found one," Cassie said.

Rubbing her knee, she was starting to get up when she noticed something beside the brick. It was darker than the soil it was resting on and yet it shone faintly in the moonlight.

She picked it up and found that it was smooth and surprisingly heavy. And it did shine; it reflected the moonlight like a black mirror.

"It's hematite," said Deborah, who'd come back to look. "It's a powerful stone-for iron-strength, Melanie says." She knelt down suddenly beside Cassie, tossing tangled hair out of her eyes. "Cassie! It's your working crystal."

A thrill which seemed to come from the stone rippled through Cassie. Holding the smooth piece of hematite was like holding an ice cube, but all the things that Melanie had said would happen when she found her own personal crystal were happening now. It fit her hand, it felt natural there. She liked the weight of it. It was hers.

Elated, she lifted her head to smile up at Deborah, and in the chilly moonlight Deborah smiled fiercely back.

It was when she was dropping Cassie off at Number Twelve that she said, "I heard you came to see Nick yesterday."

"Oh-um," Cassie said. That meeting with Nick in the garage seemed like centuries ago, not yesterday. "Uh, I didn't come to see him," she stammered. "I was just walking by…"

Deborah shrugged. "Anyway, I thought I'd tell you-he gets in bad moods sometimes. But that doesn't mean you should give up. Other times he's okay."

Cassie floundered, completely amazed. "Uh-well-I didn't mean-I mean, thanks, but I wasn't really…"

She couldn't find a way to finish, and Deborah wasn't waiting anyway. "Whatever. See you later. And don't lose that stone!" Dark hair flying, the biker girl zoomed off.

Up in her room, Cassie's legs felt weak from tension, and she was tired. But she lay in bed for a while and held the hematite on her palm, tilting it back and forth to watch the light slide over it. For iron-strength, she thought.

It wasn't like the chalcedony rose; it gave her no feeling of warmth and comfort. But then the chalcedony rose was all mixed up in her mind with Adam and his blue-gray eyes. Diana had the rose now, and Diana had Adam.

And Cassie had a stone which brought a strange coolness to her thoughts, a coolness that seemed to extend to her heart. For iron-strength, she thought again. She liked that.

"And so that's what Cassie believes, that each of the deaths-even Kori's-is connected to the skull, and to Puritan ways of killing people," Diana said. She looked around the circle of faces. "Now it's up to us to do something about it."

Cassie was watching Faye. She wanted to see the reaction in those hooded golden eyes when Diana explained about the dark energy that had escaped during the skull ceremony, killing Jeffrey. Sure enough, when Diana got to that part, Faye shot a glance at Cassie, but there was nothing apologetic or guilty about it. It was a look of conspiracy. Only you and I know, it said. And I won't tell if you won't.

I'm not that stupid, Cassie telegraphed back angrily, and Faye smiled.

It was Sunday night and they were all sitting on the beach. Diana hadn't been able to find out much from her own Book of Shadows about dealing with evil objects like the skull, and she was calling for everyone's help.

It was the first full meeting of the Circle in three weeks, since the day after Mr. Fogle had been found dead. Cassie scanned the faces above thick jackets and sweaters-even New Englanders had to bundle up in this weather- and wondered what was going on in each individual witch's head.

Melanie was grave and thoughtful as usual, as if she neither believed nor disbelieved Cassie's theory, but was willing to test it out scientifically. Laurel just looked appalled. Suzan was examining the stitching on her gloves. Deborah was scowling, unwilling to give up the idea that outsiders had killed Kori. Nick-well, who could tell what Nick thought? Sean was chewing his fingernails.

The Henderson brothers were agitated. For a terrible instant Cassie thought they were going to turn their energy on Adam, blame him for Kori's being killed. But then Doug spoke up.

"So how come we're still sittin' around talking? Let me have the skull-I'll take care of it," he said, teeth bared.

"Yeah-let Doug have it," Sean chimed in.

"It can't be destroyed, Doug," Melanie said patiently.

"Oh, yeah?" Chris said. "Put it in with a pipe bomb-"

"And nothing would happen. Crystal skulls can't be destroyed, Doug," Melanie repeated. "That's in all the old lore. You wouldn't even scratch it."

"And there's no really safe place to store it," Diana said. "I might as well tell you all, I've got it buried somewhere, and yesterday I set up a spell to tell me if the place is disturbed. It's vital that the skull stays buried."

Cassie had a sick feeling in her stomach. Diana was looking around the group, focusing on Deborah, Faye, and the Hendersons. It would never occur to her to look at me, Cassie thought, and somehow this made her feel sicker than ever.

"Why can't we take it back to the island?" Suzan said, surprisingly, showing she was listening after all.

Adam, who had been sitting quietly, his fine, humorous face unusually moody, answered. "Because the island won't protect it anymore," he said. "Not since I took the skull."

"Sort of like one of those Egyptian tombs with a curse on it," said Laurel. "Once you break in, you can't undo what you've done."

Adam's lip quirked. "Right. And we're not strong enough to cast a new spell of protection that would hold it. This skull is evil," he said to all of them. "It's so evil that burying it in sand won't do anything but keep it from being activated at the moment. There's no way to purify it"-he looked at Laurel-"and no way to destroy it"-he looked at Doug and Chris- "and no place to keep it safe." He looked at Suzan.

"Then what do we do?" Deborah demanded, and Sean squeaked, "What do we do?"

"Forget about it?" Faye suggested with a lazy smile. Adam shot her a dark look. Diana intervened.

"Adam had the idea of searching for the dark energy again with a pendulum, seeing if there are any new trails," she said. She turned to Cassie. "What do you think?"

Cassie dug her fingernails into her palms. If they traced the dark energy and it led them straight back to Faye's house, the place where it had most recently escaped… Faye was looking at her sharply, wanting her to veto the suggestion. But Cassie had an idea.

"I think we should do it," she told Diana evenly.

Faye's stare turned menacing, furious. But there was nothing she could say.

Diana nodded. "All right. We may as well start now. It's a long walk to the graveyard, so I thought we might try picking up the trail around here. We'll go out on Crowhaven Road and see if there's anything to follow."

Cassie could actually feel her chest quivering with the beating of her heart as they walked off the beach. She thrust one hand into her pocket to feel the cold, smooth piece of hematite. Iron-strength, that was what she needed right now.

"Are you crazy?" Faye hissed as they climbed the bluff and headed for the road. She caught Cassie's arm in a punishing grip, holding her back from the others. "Do you know where that trail goes?"

Cassie shook the arm off. "Trust me," she said shortly.

"What?"

Cassie whirled on the taller girl. "I said, trust me! I know what I'm doing-and you don't." And with that she began to climb again. Iron-strength, she thought dizzily, impressed with herself.

But she still found it hard to breathe when Diana stood out in the middle of Crowhaven Road-near Number Two, Deborah's house- and held up the peridot crystal.

Cassie watched it, feeling the concentration of all the minds around her. She waited for it to spin in circles.

It did-in the beginning. The chain twisted first one way and then the other, like a woundup swing on a playground. But then, to Cassie's horror, it began to seesaw, pointing up and down Crowhaven Road. Down, the way they'd traveled the first time, the way that had eventually led to the cemetery, and up, toward the headland.

Toward Faye's.

Cassie's legs felt as if they were sinking into cotton as she followed the group. Faye had no trouble holding her back now. "I told you," she said vehemently out of the side of her mouth. "Now what, Cassie? If that trail leads to my house, I'm not going down alone."

Cassie clenched her teeth and choked out, "I thought we couldn't trace it at ground level. That energy came out through your bedroom ceiling on the second floor, and it was going straight up. I thought it would be too high to track."

"You obviously thought wrong," Faye hissed.

They were passing the vacant house at Number Three. They were passing Melanie's house. Laurel's house was in front of them; they were passing it. Faye's house was just ahead.

Cassie thought she actually might faint. She was almost unaware that she was clutching Faye's arm as hard as Faye was clutching hers. She waited for the peridot to turn aside and lead them all to Faye's doorstep.

But Diana was walking on.

Cassie felt a violent surge of relief-and of bewilderment. Where were they going? They were passing Number Seven, another vacant house. Passing the Hendersons', passing Adam's, passing Suzan's. They were passing Sean's-oh, my God, Cassie thought, we're not going to my house?

But they were passing Number Twelve as well. Diana was following the pendulum's swing, leading them out onto the point of the headland.

And there the crystal began to spin in circles again.

"What's going on?" Laurel said, looking around in astonishment. "What are we doing here?"

Adam and Diana were looking at each other. Then they both looked at Cassie, who came slowly forward from the rear of the group. Cassie shrugged at them.

"This is the place where Number Thirteen used to be," Diana said. "Right, Adam? The house that was torn down."

"I heard it burned down," Adam said. "Before we were born."

"No, it wasn't that long ago," said Melanie. "It was only about sixteen or seventeen years ago-that's what I heard. But before that it was vacant for centuries. Literally."

"How many centuries?" Cassie said, too loudly. For some reason she found her fingers clenched around the piece of hematite in her pocket.

The members of the coven turned to her, looking at her with eyes that seemed to shine slightly in the moonlight.

"About three," Melanie said. "This was Black John's house. Nobody ever lived in it after he died in 1696."

The hematite burned against Cassie's palm with icy fire.

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