Catacomb, p.1Madeleine Roux
For Andrew & Kate
“In the province of the mind,
what one believes to be true either is true
or becomes true.”
“Men are not prisoners of fate,
but only prisoners of their own minds.”
—FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
About the Author
Books by Madeleine Roux
About the Publisher
These were the rules as they were first put down:
First, that the Artist should choose an Object dear to the deceased.
Second, that the Artist feel neither guilt nor remorse in the taking.
Third, and most important, that the Object would not hold power until blooded. And that the more innocent the blood for the blooding, the more powerful the result.
At first the idea of a cross-country road trip had been hard to stomach. If sleeping in a tent wasn’t horrible enough, Dan had felt anxious, almost sick, at the prospect of being away from his computer, his books, his alone time for two whole weeks. But that was the deal Jordan offered when he wrote to them with the big news: he was moving to New Orleans to live with his uncle.
Perfect chance, his email had said, to have some time together. You two nerds can help me move down there, and we’ll get a last hurrah before we all traipse off to college.
Dan couldn’t argue with that, or with any reason to spend more time with Abby. She’d visited him in Pittsburgh once a few months ago, and they’d been talking online more or less every week. But two weeks away from parents and chaperones . . . He didn’t want to get ahead of himself, but maybe their relationship could finally flourish, or at least survive, with some much-needed quality time together.
The Great Senior Exodus, Jordan had called it. And now, a day after leaving Jordan’s miserable parents behind in Virginia, the trip was finally starting to live up to that name.
“These are incredible,” Jordan was saying, flicking through the pictures Abby had taken and then uploaded onto his laptop for safekeeping. “Dan, you should really check these out.”
“I know it’s kind of cliché, photographing Americana in black and white, but lately I’ve been obsessing over Diane Arbus and Ansel Adams. They were the focus of my senior project, and Mr. Blaise really loved it.”
Dan leaned forward between the seats to look at the photographs with Jordan. “They’re definitely worth the stops,” he said. They really were something. Open landscapes and deserted buildings—through Abby’s eyes, they were desolate, but also beautiful. “So Blaise finally gave you an A, then?”
“Yup. No more stupid A minuses for me.” She beamed. Jordan offered up a high five, which Abby managed without taking her eyes off the road. “He actually grew up in Alabama. He’s the one who gave me ideas for sites to photograph.”
They had already stopped a few—well, many—times to allow Abby to take photos, but Dan didn’t mind the extra time on the road. He could ride forever in this car with his friends, even if his turns driving got a little tedious.
“I know it’s lame to take us so far out of the way, but you’re not in too much of a hurry to get there, are you, Jordan?”
“You’ve already apologized about a million times. Don’t worry about it. I’d say something if it was annoying.”
“Yes,” she said with a laugh. “I’m sure you would.”
If he was honest, Dan wasn’t in too much of a hurry to get there, either.
It had been nine months since they’d watched the Brookline asylum burn to the ground. The three of them had barely escaped with their lives, and they’d managed that much only with the help of a boy named Micah, who had died trying to buy them time to escape their pursuers. Micah had had a rough, short life, and he’d grown up in Louisiana—a fact Dan had never told Abby or Jordan. Now, just when it seemed like the ghosts of the past were finally content to leave Dan and his friends alone, the three of them were headed to the most haunted city in America. It felt like they were tempting fate, to say the least.
“You okay back there?” Abby asked, cruising smoothly down Highway 59.
“Yeah, I’m good, Abs,” Dan said. He wasn’t sure if that was a lie. But before Abby could call him on it, Jordan’s phone dinged—or rather, a clip of Beyoncé fired off loud enough to make all three of them jump.
Dan knew what that meant. “You’re still talking to Cal?”
“On and off,” Jordan said, quickly reading the text message. “The on part is why Mom won’t pay for school. Not sure what I’d do without Uncle Steve.”
“You could stop talking to Cal,” Dan suggested.
“And let my parents win? Not likely.” He peered around the center console at Dan, his bare feet propped up on the dashboard. Late afternoon sunlight glinted off the shiny new black lip piercing Jordan had insisted on getting in Louisville. “He says physical therapy is a real shit show sometimes, but his life feels like paradise after New Hampshire College. Hey! I just realized that at Uncle Steve’s, I’ll be able to Skype with him without my mother the drama queen bursting into tears.”
Dan shifted again, even antsier now at the mention of New Hampshire College. If he let his mind wander or dwell, he would feel the heat of the flames that had engulfed Brookline and everything in it. He wanted to believe that Brookline’s effect on him had ended that day—that the evil had died with Warden Crawford and Professor Reyes—but his last moments at the college had given him cause to doubt.
He’d had another vision. He’d seen Micah’s ghost, waving good-bye.
He hadn’t had any visions since then, and for that, Dan was grateful. It felt like a signal: it was time to let it all go and move on. Even the files and journals he had saved from the ordeal held no interest anymore.
Well, except for one small thing.
Before the trip, Abby and Jordan had threatened to subject Dan to a search of his things for any junk he might have brought from Brookline. They’d said it like a joke—like, no way Dan would really do that to them, right?
But in the end, they hadn’t dumped out his bag, which meant they hadn’t found the file he had brought along. The one that had been folded in half at the bottom of the stack they’d rescued from Professor Reyes’s things. The one labeled POSSIBLE FAMILY / CONNECTIONS?, inside which he’d foun
MARCUS DANIEL CRAWFORD.
Nine months ago, that pile of papers had seemed like a gift, the reward at the end of a long, hard search for answers about his mysterious past. A sparse family tree had confirmed what he’d already suspected: Marcus was his father, and he was also the nephew of the warden through the warden’s youngest brother, Bill. But a single line had also been drawn from Marcus to someone named Evelyn. Was that his mother? It seemed so incomplete. He’d tried to find any Evelyn Crawford online who seemed like a match, but with no promising results and no maiden name, he hadn’t had much else to go on.
There was more in the stack—an old postcard, a map, even a police report detailing a time his father had been arrested for breaking and entering—but maddeningly, nothing that would help him pick out his father from the numerous Marcus Daniel Crawfords he found online, and nothing else about his potential mother.
Still. Even after the pile of papers had come to feel less like a gift than a curse, he’d kept the folder hidden. And when he’d packed his bags for this trip, the thought of Paul and Sandy going through his room and finding the folder had been enough to make him bring it—to keep it in sight.
As if on cue, Dan’s phone buzzed, not with Beyoncé but with the more subdued jingle indicating Sandy was texting. He checked the message, smiling down into the faint glow of the screen.
How are the intrepid roadtrippers doing? Please tell me you are eating more than beef jerky and Skittles! Call at the next good stopping place.
Dan texted back to reassure her that they were doing their best to eat actual, normal food.
“How’s Sandy?” Jordan asked, craning around to look at him again.
“She’s good. Just making sure we aren’t stuffing ourselves with junk the whole way to Louisiana,” Dan replied. He flicked his eyes up to see Jordan swallowing with some difficulty—the insides of his lips were a guilty shade of Skittles orange.
“It’s a road trip. What does she think we’re going to do?” Jordan asked. “Boil quinoa on the radiator?”
“That’s not a half-bad idea,” Abby teased. “We are not stopping at McDonald’s tonight.”
“No. I checked to see if there was anything to eat other than fast food on the route. Turns out we can avoid the Montgomery traffic and stop at a cute little family-owned diner off 271.”
“Diners have hamburgers,” Jordan pointed out sagely. “So really, that doesn’t change much.”
“Hey, I’m just providing a few more options. What you stuff down your gullet is none of my business,” she said.
“And thank God for that,” Jordan muttered. “Quinoa is for goats.”
“I’m with Abby,” Dan said. “I could use a salad, or just, you know, a vegetable of any kind. I’m starting to shrivel up from all the beef jerky.”
He heard the satisfied smile in Abby’s voice as she sat up straighter in the driver’s seat and said, “That’s settled then. The place I found is called the Mutton Chop, and the same family has owned it for generations. We can get a little local history for my photography project and a decent meal.”
“I’m still getting a burger,” Jordan muttered. He twisted to face the windshield, sighing as he slid down into his seat and began to text at lightning speed. “Soon I’ll be on the all-gumbo, all-jambalaya diet. Gotta get my burgers in while I still can.”
When the tire popping jolted Dan out of a nap, his first thought was to be grateful he wasn’t the one driving.
“What was that!” Jordan had shot up like rocket, too, gripping the edge of the door while the car began to swerve and then slow.
“I think we lost a tire,” Abby said with a sigh. She didn’t seem frightened in the least, holding the wheel steady while the car corrected and then leveled out. She navigated them carefully off the road, letting the Neon idle in the ditch for a second before turning off the ignition. “And that’s why you always pack a spare.”
“What the hell are we going to do?” Jordan asked, leaning against the window to try to see which tire had blown.
“Paul taught me how to fix tires when I first learned to drive, but I doubt I could manage it,” Dan said. They had cell signal, at least, so Triple-A was a possibility.
“Well, lucky for you boys, I practiced right before the trip.” Patting the wheel with a smug little hop, Abby opened the door and circled to the trunk.
“There’ll be no living with her after this,” Jordan warned.
“Just be glad she can do it,” Dan said. “It’s getting dark.”
“That’s, um, not what I meant.”
“Jordan? Jordan! Where is the spare? I know I checked it before I left New York. . . .” Her shout was muted through the windows, but still sharp and getting sharper.
“That’s what I meant.” Jordan sucked in a huge breath, steeling himself, and then eased out of the car. “So, um, before I explain anything, just promise you won’t murder me.”
“No deal,” Abby said. Dan joined them in the cooling night air, watching them square off with matching crossed-arm poses. “Where’s the spare, Jordan?”
“Funny story. Remember how my dad was rushing us out the door and I was like, oh, I totally do not need to bring my tauntaun sleeping bag? And then, in the end, I realized that yes, I absolutely, one hundred percent did need to bring it? I’m moving, Abby. Like, for good. I couldn’t just leave my tauntaun sleeping bag behind.”
Dan snorted behind his wrist, watching Abby’s face pale with fury.
“You took out the spare tire to make room for your stupid Star Trek memorabilia?”
“Hey, whoa, whoa. I would not do that. Star Wars memorabilia, on the other hand . . .”
“Whatever it is!” Abby pinched the bridge of her nose, going to inspect the popped tire. She crouched, muttering to herself. “Great. We’ll have to walk into town for a spare, then.”
“Is it far?” Dan asked, getting out his phone to check the GPS. “Couldn’t we just call a tow company?”
“That’s way too expensive,” Abby replied. “I’m already going to have to buy a new tire, and it’s just a half mile more down the road. We almost made it. It wouldn’t have been a big deal at all if smarty-pants over here hadn’t packed like a twelve-year-old.”
“There’s nothing to fight about now,” Dan said, putting a hand lightly on Abby’s shoulder. “And I can kind of see his side. He is moving. If he wants New Orleans to feel like home, then he has to bring the stuff he cares about.”
“Thank you, Dan. At least two of us understand the value of a tauntaun sleeping bag.”
“Stop saying it.”
“What?” Jordan smirked. “Tauntaun sleeping bag?”
“Shut. Up. Every time you say that it just makes me want to punch you more,” she said, shaking her head. But she was smiling. “That thing better be really warm at least. Maybe I’ll borrow it tonight as payback.”
Nobody had bothered to replace the burned-out neon lights that had once advertised the Mutton Chop. What few bulbs were left told Dan they were eating at the O CH P. The tiny gravel parking lot was packed with cars—mostly rusting trucks. Smoke poured out from some smokestack in the back, filling the air with the salty tang of a greasy-spoon grill.
A mechanic’s shop was attached to the building. Not exactly appetizing for the diner, Dan thought, but pretty darn fortunate for them. Food could wait. Abby led them to the door of the garage, but it was dark inside. A scrap of paper on the window read Mechanic Next Door.
The sounds of clinking glasses, country jukebox music, and laughter reached them from the open diner window. A crooked placard next to the screen door seemed to Dan like a warning: “The Mutton Chop! Where everyone knows your face!”
“Where everyone knows your face? Isn’t it name?” Jordan asked with a snort. “They couldn’t even plagiarize properly.”
“Don’t be a snob, Jordan.” Ab
“What are you, Saint Abby, protector of the hillbillies?” The noise coming from inside the diner managed to die out in the exact second Jordan finished his sentence. Two dozen heads turned in unison to stare at them. Dan didn’t spy many smiles among the crowd. “Of which there are none in this oh-so-charming establishment,” Jordan finished, clearing his throat.
“Please stop talking,” Abby whispered, turning to address the man who’d walked over and now stood waiting to greet them. Mercifully, the rest of the diners went back to their business.
“Hi there, sir. We were wondering if you could get us the mechanic? Is he here? We blew a tire and need to buy a spare.”
The man looked nice enough. He appeared to be in his early twenties, pudgy, and had a short, unkempt beard. He had a name tag that read JAKE LEE and grease stains on his coveralls.
“You’re in luck, little lady. I’m the mechanic, and a damn good one at that, even if I am just a hillbilly,” he said pointedly, shifting his gaze to Jordan. “So, you need a spare tire, eh? What kinda car y’all driving?”
Abby fell into conversation with him, following as he led them back toward the darkened mechanic’s shop. She told him she drove a 2007 Neon, and she assured him she had the tools to do the job, just not the tire itself.
He went around to the back of the garage, and in no time at all he returned with a tire, placing it on the ground in front of them with a heavy whump.
“It’s getting late, and I’d feel bad letting y’all go back out there alone. You sure you know what you’re doing?” He took off his baseball cap and ruffled his sparse hair. He looked directly at Abby, watching her struggle to roll the new tire onto its side.
“Could you give us a ride back to the car? I’d really appreciate it. We were planning to stop in the diner for dinner, but it’d be better if we could bring our car back here before it gets too dark.”
Jake Lee nodded, then turned and marched off in the direction of his enormous pick-up. “Might be a tight squeeze. Truck’s meant for haulin’ stuff, not people.”
Catacomb by Madeleine Roux / Horror / Young Adult / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes