“The flesh,” Thomas says, and his eyes light up. He looks to Morfran for approval, and continues. “He’s an eater of flesh. Flesh is power. Essence. When he ate your father, he took your dad’s power into himself.” He looks down at my athame like he’s never seen it before. “The thing you called your blood tie, Cas. Now he has a link to it. It’s been feeding him.”
“No,” I say weakly. Thomas gives me this helpless apologetic expression, trying to tell me that I wasn’t doing it on purpose.
“Wait,” Carmel interrupts. “You’re telling me that this thing has pieces of Will and Chase? Like it carries around part of them?” She looks horrified.
I look down at the athame. I’ve used it to send away dozens of ghosts. I know that Morfran and Thomas are right. So just where the hell have I been sending them to? I don’t want to think of this. The faces of the ghosts I’ve killed flash behind my closed lids. I see their expressions, confused and angry, filled with pain. I see the frightened eyes of the hitchhiker, trying to make it home to his girl. I can’t say that I thought I was putting them to rest. I hoped so, but I didn’t know. But I sure as hell didn’t want to be doing this.
“It’s impossible,” I say finally. “The knife can’t be tied to the dead. It’s supposed to kill them, not feed them.”
“That’s not the Holy Grail in your hand, kid,” says Morfran. “That knife was forged long ago with powers best long forgotten. Just because you use it for good now doesn’t mean that’s what it was made for. It doesn’t mean that’s all that it’s capable of. Whatever it was when your dad wielded it, it isn’t now. Every ghost you’ve slain has made this ghost stronger. He’s a flesh-eater. An Obeahman. He’s a collector of power.”
The accusations make me want to be a kid again. Why isn’t my mommy calling them big fat liars? The seriously, completely wrong pants-on-fire kind? But my mother is standing silent, listening to all of this, and not disagreeing.
“You’re saying he’s been with me the whole time.” I feel sick.
“I’m saying that the athame is just like the stuff we take into this shop. He’s been with it.” Morfran looks somberly at Anna. “And now he wants her.”
“Why doesn’t he do it himself?” I ask wearily. “He’s an eater of flesh, right? Why does he need my help?”
“Because I’m not flesh,” Anna says. “If I were I’d be rotten.”
“Bluntly put,” Carmel observes. “But she’s right. If ghosts were actually flesh they’d be more like zombies, wouldn’t they?”
I start to waver by Anna’s side. The room is spinning slightly, and I feel her arm come around my waist.
“What does any of this matter, right now?” Anna asks. “There’s something to be done. Can’t this discussion wait?”
She says that for my benefit. There’s an edge of protection in her voice. I look at her gratefully, standing by my side in her hopeful white dress. She’s pale and slender, but no one could mistake her for weak. To this Obeahman, she must look like the feast of the century. He wants her to be his big retirement score.
“I’m going to kill him,” I say.
“You’re going to have to,” Morfran says. “If you want to stay alive yourself.”
That doesn’t sound good. “What are you talking about?”
“Obeah is not my specialty. It’d take more than six years to do that, Julian Baptiste or no. But even if I was, I can’t take that hex off of you. I can only counter it, and buy you time. But not much. You’ll be dead by dawn, unless you do what he wants. Or unless you kill him.”
Beside me, Anna tenses, and my mom puts her hand to her mouth and starts to cry.
Dead by dawn. Okay, then. I don’t feel anything, not yet, except for a low, weary hum all through my body.
“What’s going to happen to me, exactly?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” Morfran replies. “It could look like natural, human death, or it could take the form of poisoning. Either way I think you can expect some of your organs to start shutting down in the next few hours. Unless we kill him, or you kill her.” He nods at Anna and she squeezes my hand.
“Don’t even think about it,” I say to her. “I’m not going to do what he wants. And this suicidal ghost schtick is wearing a little thin.”
She lifts her chin. “I wasn’t going to suggest that,” she says. “If you killed me, it would only make him stronger, and then he would come back and kill you anyway.”