Will is looking at Thomas, and then at me, and then at Thomas again. Chase looks like he wishes he didn’t have to pretend to be such a big strong meathead all the time, but whatever, that’s the bed he’s made for himself. Carmel is just staring at me.
“Okay,” Will says finally. “Meet us after school.”
“I can’t,” I say quickly. “Mom stuff. But I can be at the shop later.”
They all make their way down the bleachers clumsily—which is the only way to go down bleachers. Thomas smiles as they go.
“Pretty good, huh?” He grins. “Who says I’m not psychic?”
“Probably just women’s intuition,” I reply. “Just be sure that you and old Morfran give them a convincing enough wild-goose chase.”
“Where are you going to be?” he asks, but I don’t answer. He knows where I’m going. I’m going to be with Anna.
I’m staring up at Anna’s house again. The logical part of my brain tells me that it’s just a house. That it’s what’s inside that makes it horrifying, that makes it dangerous, that it can’t possibly be tilting toward me like it’s hunting me through the overgrowth of weeds. It can’t possibly be trying to jerk free of its foundation and swallow me whole. But that’s what it looks like it’s doing.
Behind me, there is a small hiss. I turn around. Tybalt is standing with his forepaws on the driver’s side door of my mom’s car, looking out through the window.
“That’s no lie, cat,” I say. I don’t know why my mom had me bring him along. He’s not going to be able to help. When it comes to usefulness he’s more like a smoke detector than a hunting dog. But when I got home after school, I told my mom where I was going and what had happened—leaving out the part where I almost got killed and one of my classmates was split in two—and she must have guessed there was more to the story, because I’m wearing a fresh coating of rosemary oil in a triangle on my forehead, and she made me take the cat. Sometimes I don’t think she has any idea of what it is that I do out here.
She didn’t say much. It’s always there, on the tip of her tongue, to tell me to stop. To tell me it’s dangerous, and that people get killed. But more would be killed if I didn’t do my job. It’s the job that my father started. It’s what I was born for, my legacy from him, and that’s the real reason she keeps quiet. She believed in him. She knew the score, right up until the day he was murdered—murdered by what he thought was just another in a long line of ghosts.
I pull my knife out of my backpack and slide it free. My father left our house one afternoon carrying this knife, just like he had since before I was born. And he never came back. Something got the best of him. The police came a day later, after my mother reported him missing. They said that my father was dead. I skulked in the shadows while they questioned my mother and eventually the detective whispered his secrets: that my father’s body had been covered in bites; that chunks of him had been missing.
For months my father’s gruesome death plagued my thoughts. I imagined it in every possible way. I dreamed of it. I drew it on paper with black pen and red crayon, stick skeleton figures and waxy blood. My mother tried to heal me; singing constantly and leaving the lights on, trying to keep me out of the dark. But the visions and nightmares didn’t stop until the day I picked up the knife.
They never caught my father’s killer, of course. Because my father’s killer was already dead. So I know what it is that I’m meant to do. Looking up at Anna’s house now, I’m not afraid, because Anna Korlov is not my end. Someday, I’m going back to the place where my father died, and I’m going to drag his knife across the mouth of the thing that ate him.
I take two deep breaths. My knife stays out; there’s no need for pretense. I know that she’s in there, and she knows that I’m coming. I can feel her watching. The cat looks at me with reflector-eyes from inside the car, and I can feel those eyes on me too as I move up the weeded driveway toward the front door.
I don’t think there’s ever been a quieter night. No wind, no bugs, no nothing. The sound of the gravel under my shoes is painfully loud. It’s pointless to try to be stealthy. It’s like being the first one awake in the morning, when every move you make is as loud as a foghorn, no matter how quiet you try to be. I want to stomp up these front porch steps. I want to break one off, pull it up and use it to batter down the door. But that would be rude, and besides, I don’t need to. The door is already open.