I pulled the Jeep over, killed the engine, threw it into first gear, and set the emergency brake, then just sat for a moment as I took in the area. Something felt . . . funny. A slight breeze wafted through the leaves of the live oaks, and the faint rustling was the only sound in the cemetery. I scanned the rows of headstones, the white marbled statues and aged crypts, and realized it was way too quiet—even for a graveyard. Not one cricket, bug, or bird made the slightest of sounds. It was totally silent, and it weirded me out. And I don’t usually get weirded out. I glanced over at my dog, who had his nose lifted and was sniffing the air. He felt it, too. “Stay, Chaz,” I commanded. He whined but firmly planted his backside in the seat. He wouldn’t budge until I told him to.
I slid from the Jeep and started walking up the dirt path, my flip-flops slapping my heels, toward the back of the cemetery where da hell stone was located. The closer I got to the crypt, the stranger I felt, and an odd sensation crept over my skin. It tingled for absolutely no reason, and I was acutely aware of it as though hundreds of tiny ants crawled over me. More than once I glanced over my shoulder, and again—up—just like the night before. As if my feet had a mind of their own, my pace quickened. Funny thing was, so did my heartbeat, my breathing. It all accelerated.
Once da hell stone was in sight, I stepped off the dirt path and cut across the grass, the weird sensation growing stronger as I drew closer. Probably just my superstitions kicking in, but I was still jumpy, and I hurried even faster.
I got close to the crypt and stared in disbelief. I slowly eased to the jagged opening, only it wasn’t jagged at all. The rusted gate was in place, unbroken. It was as though nothing had been disturbed. Squatting down, I lightly ran my fingers over the aged steel; the edges where it fit perfectly against the crypt’s opening even looked rusted into place. It was sealed tight. Untouched. Unbroken. What the hell? I continued to search the ground, the dirt, the stone, for any signs of what had happened the night before with Seth and his buddies. I didn’t even see a Converse footprint. I even inspected some close-by crypts, and they all seemed to be in the same shape. Old, yet intact. No signs of vandalism anywhere. Nothing to indicate a group of teenage boys horsing around and stumbling out of a crypt.
Suddenly, I turned and jumped up at the same time, my hand flying to the back of my neck. It felt as though someone had breathed against my skin. I looked everywhere; no one was around. Far across the cemetery, I saw one of the workers pushing a wheelbarrow, but not a soul was close to me. Certainly not close enough to have blown on my neck. Not to sound like a baby or anything—I’ve been kickboxing for seven years and did plenty of street fighting before that—but I was done with my inspection of da hell stone. People? They didn’t scare me at all. I had handled the very worst of humanity, up close and way too personal. But spirits? Like I said earlier, I wasn’t completely convinced they existed, but Preacher was one hundred percent sure about the wudus, and that fact alone made me nearly break into a run. I hurried back to the Jeep, where my dog was waiting patiently, jumped in, and drove off like some big damn scaredy-cat. As I pulled through Bonaventure’s black pillared gates, I couldn’t help but feel like someone watched me, and twice I threw a glance over my shoulder. Very, very weird.
I wondered whether I’d been at the wrong crypt last night. I didn’t think so; I grew up here. I knew Bonaventure like the back of my hand, and I damn well knew where da hell stone was. The groundskeeper could have fixed it, but that fast? The gate had been rusted into place. It didn’t look repaired. It looked . . . ancient. And that was why I knew I definitely had to talk to Preacher. Something wasn’t right, and I felt in my gut that only he’d be able to figure out what. I’d talk to him tonight, once I finished my last appointment. My thoughts continued to ramble as I made my way back to Factor’s Walk, and by the time I walked through the back door of Inksomnia, I still didn’t have an answer. It bugged the absolute hell out of me.
Throwing the keys on the counter, I hurried upstairs to shower, Chaz right on my heels. Nyx, my other artist and closest pal, would be here soon, and I was already running a little late. Before I hit the bathroom, I peeked into Seth’s room, and the moment I pushed open the door, a wave of heat and brine hit me. The bedroom window was thrown wide-open, stuffy warmth pouring in. Seth was sprawled over his bed, shirtless and still wearing the jeans he’d worn the night before. I walked over, closed the window, and shook his arm. A growl sounded from the doorway, and I turned to see Chaz standing there, the fur at his neck on end. “What’s wrong with you, boy?” I asked. “It’s just lazy Seth. Go downstairs and wait on Nyx.” He growled again, then turned and ran off. Totally strange, but I shook it off and turned back to my brother.
“Hey, butthead, I’m not paying Georgia Power to cool off the riverfront. What’s up with the open window?” I asked. Seth’s dark brown hair was slick with sweat, his skin all sticky. I smoothed his bangs from his eyes and shook him again. “Hey, Bro—wake up.” He continued to sleep, hard, and just when I thought he wouldn’t answer, he did.
“A little more,” Seth mumbled, and buried his face into his pillow. “Beat.”
I stared down at my sweet little brother, who’d never given me a minute’s trouble since Mom died, and couldn’t resist. “Yeah, whatever, brat,” I said, then leaned down and kissed the top of his head. Teenagers. I used to sleep like the dead myself. With a sigh, I left his room and jumped in the shower.
By the time I’d pulled on my favorite red-and-black plaid miniskirt (equipped with a really cool steel-ringed belt that was slung low over my hips, and a pair of red lacy boy shorts to wear beneath), clunky ankle-high black boots, and a destroyed black tank that had Inksomnia’s logo on the front in red, and tied my long hair in a high ponytail, I heard Nyx moving around downstairs, setting up shop. I fastened a black-corded choker with the cutest little black glass heart charm with a ruby in the center around my neck, hurried from the room, and jogged down the narrow steps. The moment I walked through the breezeway, Nyx turned and flashed me her infamous smile, enthusiastic and bright. Chaz was in his usual spot, on a large braided rug near the corner.
“Hey, Riley,” she said, and set down a box of Skin Candy ink that must have arrived while I was in the shower. “Today’s going to be a superb day!” She turned, marched over to the storefront window facing River Street, and yanked open the blinds. “Just look at it out there. Sunshine perfectly teeming with lots of happy people who are dying to embark on their first tattoo!” Turning, she glanced back at me expectantly, eyes innocently widened, hands on hips. “Don’t you think?”
I grinned. There wasn’t another soul in the world like Nyxinnia Foster. “I bet you dinner at Garibaldi’s we get at least one man or woman of the cloth in here today, claiming we’re doing the devil’s work.”
Nyx studied me hard, her perfectly arched brows pulled completely together, bunched in the center. Her eyes narrowed. “You’re on, Poe.”
If there was one thing in my life I could count on now, it was cheerful Nyx Foster always having a cup half full instead of half empty, and I truly loved that about her. We’d gone to SCAD together (that’s Savannah College of Art and Design) and had become fast friends the very first day of class. After I’d established Inksomnia, she was the first artist I sought. Like me, she definitely had her own style, her own mentality and outlook on life, and it also leaned toward what people in general would classify as alternative, or Goth—with a few Nyx twists. With straight auburn hair that she wore with bangs and—nine times out of ten—pigtails, porcelain skin that was nearly as white as mine, smoky eye makeup, and red lips, she definitely stood out in a crowd. To us, it was just an artistic expression of ourselves. Knowing today was the first Saturday of the month, and that River Street would be jam-packed by noon, she wore one of her favorite outfits (I thought she looked fantastic!): black shorts with suspenders, black-and-white ripped stockings that rose above her knees, a pair of black platform Mary Janes, and a red bowling shirt with black piping. On the back of the shirt was an embroidered spiderweb with a little spider in the center. It matched the one inked onto the back of her neck perfectly. Nyx was a sweetheart—one of the most caring, giving people I knew, but the one thing we didn’t have in common was background. While she was her own unique person and, like me, comfortable in her own skin, she’d never lived on the street, never been in trouble, never seen the inside of a police station, and had a fantastic, supportive family. She’d never even had a speeding ticket. I’d spent my teenage years as high as a kite, smoked like a freight train, got into one too many fights, skipped school, and ran with the badasses. That crowd happened to be into heavy metal and Goth clubs. Don’t get me wrong; just because someone’s Goth or punk doesn’t mean they’re dark, gloomy, or dangerous. I just happened to have hooked up with a bunch of losers who’d fancied their own personal take on the Goth look. And I’d run fast and hard, right along with them. Much to my regret, that is. Goth is not what you are. It’s who you are. The general public makes that mistake all the time. And for the record, I’m nothing like I was back then. Not the crazy, partying, careless teenager. I am scarred from it. Nothing I can’t handle, though.
You see, that’s what’s funny about Savannah. The publicized, touristy part—the Savannah you see in travel magazines? It’s idyllic and all historically gorgeous. When people think of Savannah, they think of the Old South, horse-drawn carriages, moss, an original colony with scenic squares, tall church spires, and, strangely enough, Gothic Revival architecture. Maybe even Paula Deen and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The part of Savannah they don’t see, and the part society is blind to? It’s there, in the recesses of the shadows. Dark. Dangerous. Hidden, unless you’re in. Hell, there are parts I’m probably not even privy to—especially now. And if you aren’t careful, you can be sucked right into the pit of despair. There’s always potential to fall into bad shit. I know. I’ve been there. I fell and wallowed in it. And sometimes, when you’re in, you stay in. Or you don’t leave alive. I escaped, but not without repercussions. Big ones.