“What are we doing?” I ask. “You’re trying to get me to not kill you, aren’t you?”
Anna crosses her arms. “Considering that you can’t kill me, I think that would be a wasted effort.”
I laugh. “You’re too confident.”
“Am I? I know that what you’ve shown me aren’t your best moves, Cas. I can feel the tension in your blade from holding back. How many times have you done this? How many times have you fought and won?”
“Twenty-two in the last three years.” I say it with pride. It’s more than my father ever did in the same amount of time. I’m what you might call an overachiever. I wanted to be better than he was. Faster. Sharper. Because I didn’t want to end up like he ended up.
Without my knife I’m nothing special, just a regular seventeen-year-old with an average build, maybe a bit on the skinny side. But with the athame in my hand you’d think I was a triple black belt or something. My moves are sure, strong, and quick. She’s right when she says she hasn’t seen my best, and I don’t know why that is.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Anna. You know that, don’t you? It’s nothing personal.”
“Just like I didn’t want to kill all of those people rotting in my basement.” She smiles ruefully.
So they were real. “What happened to you?” I ask. “What makes you do this?”
“None of your business,” she replies.
“If you tell me…” I start but don’t finish. If she tells me, I can figure her out. And once I figure her out, I can kill her.
Everything is becoming more complicated. This questioning girl and that wordless black monster are one and the same. It isn’t fair. When I slide my knife through her, will I cut them apart? Will Anna go to one place and it to another? Or will Anna get sucked away to whatever void the rest go to?
I thought I’d put these thoughts out of my mind a long time ago. My father always told me that it wasn’t our place to judge, that we were only the instrument. Our task was to send them away from the living. His eyes had been so certain when he’d said it. Why don’t I have that kind of certainty?
I lift my hand slowly to touch that cold face, to graze my fingers along her cheek, and am surprised to find it soft, not made of marble. She stands paralyzed, then hesitantly lifts her hand to rest on mine.
The spell is so strong that when the door opens and Carmel comes through it, neither of us moves until she says my name.
“Cas? What are you doing?”
“Carmel,” I blurt, and there she is, her figure framed in the open door. She’s got her hand on the knob and it looks like she’s shaking. She takes another tentative step into the house.
“Carmel, don’t move,” I say, but she’s staring at Anna, who backs away from me, grimacing and grabbing hold of her head.
“Is that her? Is that what killed Mike?”
Stupid girl, she’s coming farther into the house. Anna is retreating as fast as she can on unsteady feet, but I see that her eyes have gone black.
“Anna, don’t, she doesn’t know,” I say too late. Whatever it is that allows Anna to spare me is obviously a one-time deal. She’s gone in a twist of black hair and red blood, pale skin and teeth. There’s a moment of silence and we listen to the drip, drip, drip of her dress.
And then she lunges, ready to thrust her hands into Carmel’s guts.
I jump and tackle her, thinking the minute I collide with that granite force that I am an idiot. But I do manage to alter her course, and Carmel jumps to the side. It’s the wrong way. She’s farther away from the door now. It occurs to me that some people only have book smarts. Carmel is a tame house cat and Anna will make lunch of her if I don’t do something. As Anna crouches on the ground, the red of her dress flowing sickly onto the floor, her hair and eyes wild, I hurtle myself toward Carmel and put myself between them.
“Cas, what were you doing?” Carmel asks, terrified.
“Shut up and get to the door,” I yell. I hold my athame out in front of us even though Anna isn’t afraid. When she springs, it’s for me this time, and I grab on to her wrist with my free hand, using the other to try to keep her at bay with my knife.
“Anna, stop this!” I hiss, and the white comes back into her eyes. Her teeth are grinding as she spits her words through them.
“Get her out of here!” she moans. I shove her hard to knock her back one more time. Then I grab Carmel and we dive through the door. We don’t turn until we’re down the porch steps and back on dirt and grass. The door has shut and I hear Anna raging inside, breaking things and tearing things up.