The summoning, p.21
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       The Summoning, p.21

         Part #1 of Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong
 
Page 21

 

  An earthquake?

  With my luck, I wouldn't doubt it. I waited it out, then started fumbling with the rope around my feet. It was twisted and knotted in several places, as if it had knots before Tori found it. Finding the right knot, in the dark was—

  A crunch cut my thought short. It sounded like someone stepping onto the dirt floor. But ghosts didn't make any noise when they moved. I listened. It came again, a shifting, crackling sound, like someone dropping a handful of pebble-?filled dirt.

  I swallowed and kept working on the knot.

  What if there's a real person down here with me? Someone who could hurt me?

  A scraping noise behind me. I jumped, wrenching my side. The gag stifled my yelp, and I searched the darkness, heart pounding so loud I swore I could hear it.

  Thump-?thump-?thump.

  That's not my heartbeat.

  The sound came from my left, too soft to be footsteps. Like someone's hands hitting the dirt. Like someone crawling toward me.

  “Stop that!”

  I only meant to think the words, but I heard them rip from my raw throat, muffled by the gag. The thumping stopped. A guttural noise, like a growl.

  My God, there isn't someone down here, there's something, some animal.

  A mole. Rae and I had seen a dead mole yesterday.

  A mole? Growling? Making a thumping loud enough to be heard across the room?

  Just stay still. If you stay still, it can't find you.

  That's sharks! You idiot, sharks and dinosaurs can't find you if you stay still. This isn't JurassicPark!

  Hysterical laughter bubbled up in my throat. I swallowed it, twisting the sound into a whimper. The thumping grew louder, closer, underscored now by a new noise. A… clicking.

  Click-?clack-?click-?clack.

  What was that?

  Are you going to sit here and find out?

  I reached for my gag but I couldn't get a grip on the tape, so I gave up and fumbled for the rope around my feet again, fingertips whizzing along it so fast it cut into my skin. At every knot, I felt for loose ends and, finding none, kept going until—

  There it was. A loose end.

  I worked at the knot, tugging this bit, then that bit, searching for the one that would yank out an end. I put all my concentration into it, blocking the sounds.

  I was trying to get my fingers under a section of knot when something rattled right beside me. A rustle, then a click-?clack.

  A thick musty smell filled my nostrils. Then icy fingertips brushed my bare arm.

  Something in me just. . . let go. A small rush of wetness trickled down my leg, but I barely noticed. I sat there, frozen, holding myself so still and tight that my jaw started to ache.

  I tracked the thumping, rustling, clicking thing as it seemed to circle me. Another sound rose. A long low whimper. My whimper. I tried to stop it, but couldn't, could only huddle there, so terrified my mind was an absolute blank.

  Then it touched me again. Long, dry, cold, fingerlike things tickled across the back of my neck. An indescribable smacking, cracking, rustling sound set my every hair on end. The sound repeated until it became not a sound but a word. A horrible mangled word that couldn't come from any human throat, a single word endlessly repeated.

  “Help. Help. Help. ”

  I lunged forward, away from the thing. Ankles still tied, I flopped face-?first to the floor, then pushed up on all fours, moving as fast as I could to that distant door.

  A hissing, thumping, clicking sound came from my other side.

  Another one.

  Oh God, what were they? How many were there?

  It doesn't matter. Just go!

  I dragged myself until I was at the door. My fingertips brushed the wood. I pushed. It didn't budge.

  Locked.

  I backed up and slammed my fists against it, screaming, banging, calling for help.

  Cold fingers wrapped around my bare ankle.

  Twenty-eight

  MY HAND BRUSHED SOMETHING lying in the dirt. The matchbook.

  I snatched it up and fumbled with the cover. I pulled out a match, then turned the book over, fingers searching for the strike strip. There.

  “Help. Help. Me. ”

  I backpedaled, shimmying and kicking my bound feet to get away, match falling. I stopped, and ran my hand over the dirt, searching for it.

  Get another one!

  I did. Found the strike strip again. Pinched the match between my fingers and… realized that I had no idea how to light it. Why would I? At camp, only counselors started fires. I'd never smoked a cigarette. I didn't share other girls' fascination with candles.

  You must have done this before.

  Probably, but I didn't remember…

  Who cares! You've seen it in movies, haven't you? How hard can it be?

  I pinched the match again, struck it. . . and it folded on impact. I pulled out another. How many were there? Not many—it was the same pack Rae had used the first day I'd caught her lighting matches.

  This time, I held the match lower, near the head. I struck it. Nothing. I struck again and the match head flared, singeing my fingertips, but I didn't let go. The flame burned bright, but gave off very little light. I could see my hand, but beyond that—darkness.

  No, there was something to the right, moving on the dirt. I could make out only a dark shape, dragging itself toward me. Big and long. Something reached out. It looked like an arm, splotchy, the hand almost white, long fingers glowing against the earth.

  The hands reached forward, clawing the dirt, then pulling the body along. I could see clothes, ripped clothing. The smell of dirt and something dank filled my nostrils.

  I lifted the match higher. The thing raised its head. A skull stared at me, strips of blackened flesh and dirty encrusted hair hanging from it. Empty eye sockets turned my way. The jaw opened, teeth clacking as it tried to speak, uttering only that horrible, guttural groan.

  “Help. Help me. ”

  I screamed into the gag so loud I thought my head would explode. Anything left in my bladder gave way. I dropped the match. It sputtered on the ground, then went out, but not before I saw a bony hand reaching for my leg and a second corpse slithering up beside the first.

  For a second, I just sat there, nearly convulsing with fear, my screams little more than rasps. Then that hand wrapped around my leg, cold bone biting in, scraps of ragged cloth brushing my bare skin. Even if I couldn't see it, I could visualize it, and that image was enough to stop the screams in my throat and jolt me back to life.

  I yanked free, kicking, shuddering as my foot made contact, and I heard a dry, snapping sound. As I scuttled away, I heard someone saying my name, telling me to stop.

  I tried to pull the gag off, but my shaking fingers still couldn't find an edge. I gave up, crawling as fast as I could, until the thumps and clicks and enraged hisses grew distant.

  “Chloe! Stop. ” A dark shape loomed above me, illuminated by a dim light. “It's—”

  I kicked as hard as I could. A sharp hiss of pain and a curse.

  “Chloe!”

  Fingers clamped down on my arm. I swung. Another hand grabbed that arm, and yanked me off balance.

  “Chloe, it's me. Derek. ”

  I don't know what I did next. I think I might have collapsed into his arms, but if I did, I prefer not to remember it that way. I do remember feeling the gag rip away, then hearing that awful thump-?thump and scrambling up.

  “Th-?th-?there's—”

  “Dead people, I know. They must have been buried down here. You accidentally raised them. ”

  “R-?r-?raised—”

  “Later. Right now, you need to—”

  The thumping sounded again, and I could see them—in my mind—pulling their limp bodies along. The rustle of their clothing and dried flesh. The clatter and clicks of their bones. Their spirits tra
pped inside. Trapped in their corpses—

  “Chloe, focus!”

  Derek grabbed my forearms, holding me still, pulling me close enough to see the white flash of his teeth as he talked. From behind him came that faint light I'd seen earlier. The door had been left open, letting in just enough light to make out shapes.

  “They won't hurt you. They aren't brain-?eating movie zombies, okay? They're just dead bodies with their spirits returned to them. ”

  Just dead bodies? With their spirits returned to them? I'd sent people—ghosts—back into their corpses? I thought of what that would be like, shoved back into your decomposed body, trapped there—

  “I—I—I need to send them back. ”

  “Yeah, that'd be the general idea. ”

  Strain sapped the sarcasm from his words; and when I stopped shaking, I could feel the tension running through him, vibrating through the hands gripping my arms, and I knew he was struggling to stay calm. I rubbed my hands over my face, the stink of dirt filling my nostrils.

  “O-?okay, so how do I send them back?”

  Silence. I looked up.

  “Derek?”

  “I . . . I don't know. ” He shook it off, rolling his shoulders, the gruffness returning to his voice. “You summoned them, Chloe. Whatever you did, undo it. Reverse it. ”

  “I didn't do—”

  “Just try. ”

  I closed my eyes. “Go back. Back to your afterlife. I release you. ”

  I repeated the words, concentrating so hard sweat trickled down my face. But the thumping kept coming. Closer. Closer.

  I closed my eyes and made myself a movie, starring a foolish young necromancer who needs to send spirits back to the netherworld. I forced myself to picture the corpses. I saw myself calling to their ghosts, freeing them of their earthly bonds. I imagined their spirits lifting—

  “Help. Help. ”

  My throat went dry. The voice was right behind me. I opened my eyes.

  Derek let out an oath and his hands tightened around my forearms.

  “Keep your eyes closed, Chloe. Just remember, they won't hurt you. ”

  A bony fingertip touched my elbow. I jumped.

  “It's okay, Chloe. I'm right here. Keep going. ”

  As I held myself still, the fingertips poked my arm, then slid along it, stroking, testing, feeling, like the blind man with the elephant. Bone scraped over my skin. A rustling clatter as the corpse pulled itself closer. The smell of it—

  Visualize.

  I am!

  Not like that!

  I closed my eyes—meaningless since I could see nothing with them open, but it made me feel better. The fingers crept and poked over my back, plucking my shirt, the corpse making gah-?gah-?gah noises as if trying to talk.

  I gritted my teeth and blocked it out. Not easy, knowing what was touching me, pressing up against my side—

  Enough already!

  I concentrated instead on Derek's breathing. Slow, deep breaths through his mouth, as he struggled to stay calm.

  Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Find a quiet spot. The creative place.

  Slowly the sounds and touches and smells of the real world faded. I squeezed my eyes shut, and let myself free-?fall into my imagination. I focused on the bodies, imagining myself tugging out their spirits, setting them free, like caged doves, winging their way into the sunlight.

  I repeated the images—freeing the spirits, wishing them well, apologizing as I sent them on their way. Dimly I heard Derek's voice, telling me I was doing fine, but it seemed to float, dreamlike on the edge of consciousness. The real world was here, where I was undoing my mistake, reversing the—

  “They're gone, Chloe," he whispered.

  I stopped. I could still feel bony fingers, now on my leg, a body resting against mine, but it wasn't moving. When I twisted sideways, the corpse fell, an empty shell, collapsing at my feet.

  Derek let out a long, deep breath, running his hands through his hair. After a moment, he asked, as if in afterthought, whether I was okay.

  “I'll live. ”

  Another shuddering deep breath. Then he looked at the body.

  “Guess we've got some work to do. ”

  Twenty-nine

  BY “WORK,” HE MEANT cleanup. As in, reburying the bodies. All I'll say about that is that I was glad even with the door open it was still too dark to see those corpses very well.

  The graves were shallow, barely more than a few inches of dirt over the bodies, enough for them to claw through when their spirits were slammed back into their corpses. But I didn't want to think about that.

  I could tell the bodies had been buried quite a while, probably before Lyle House had become a group home. And they were adults. For now, that was all I needed to know.

  As we worked, I asked Derek how he'd found me. He said that when he realized Tori had stayed behind, he knew she was up to something, so he went to check on me. How exactly he found me, he didn't say, only shrugged and mumbled something about checking “the obvious places” when I seemed to be missing.

  The question now was: What to do about Tori?

  “Nothing,” I said, wiping my trembling hands after smoothing over the second grave.

  “Huh?”

  Nice to hear him say that for a change.

  “I'm going to act like nothing happened. ”

  He considered it, then nodded. “Yeah. If you blame her, things will only escalate. Better to ignore her and hope she gives up. ”

  “Pray she gives up,” I muttered as I crawled for the door.

  “Is there still clean clothing down here?” Derek asked.

  “One load in the dryer. That's it. Why—? Oh, right. Better not to go upstairs covered in dirt. ” I climbed down the ladder. “Most of what's in the dryer was yours so—”

  “Chloe? Derek?” Mrs. Talbot stood in the laundry room. “What are you two doing together? Derek, you know you're not supposed to—” Her gaze traveled over my filthy clothing. “Dear Lord, what happened to you?”

  * * *

  There was no sense denying we'd been in the crawl space, since she caught us stepping from the closet, me caked in dirt. I moved my legs together, hoping it hid the wet mark. The blow to the back of my skull throbbed and I struggled to speak, praying Derek would jump in. He didn't. One rescue a day must have been his limit.
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