“Not that many other people,” I say. This is making me mad. I know she isn’t trying to, but I feel like she’s dishonoring my dad. “And not this time.”
“You don’t have to.”
“I choose to,” I say. I’ve lost the battle to keep my voice down. “If we go, it follows. And if I don’t kill it, it eats people. Don’t you get it?” Finally, I tell her what I’ve always kept secret. “This is what I’ve waited for. What I’ve trained for. I’ve been researching this ghost since I found the voodoo cross in Baton Rouge.”
My mom slams my drawers shut. Her cheeks are red and she’s got wet, shiny eyes. She looks about ready to throttle me.
“That thing killed him,” she says. “It can kill you too.”
“Thanks.” I throw up my hands. “Thanks for your vote of confidence.”
“Wait. Shut up.” I don’t often tell my mother to shut up. In fact, I don’t know if I ever have. But she needs to. Because something in my room doesn’t make sense. There’s something here that shouldn’t be here. She follows my gaze and I want to see her react, because I don’t want to be the only one seeing this.
My bed is just how I left it. The blankets are rumpled and half pulled down. The pillow has an imprint from my head.
And poking out from underneath is the carved handle of my father’s athame.
It shouldn’t be. It can’t be. That thing is supposed to be miles away, hidden in Will Rosenberg’s closet or in the hands of the ghost that murdered him. But I walk over to the bed and reach down, and the familiar wood is smooth against my palm. Connect the dots.
“Mom,” I whisper, staring down at the knife. “We have to get out of here.”
She just blinks at me, standing stock still, and in the quiet of the house there is an uneven creaking I don’t recognize.
“Cas,” my mom breathes. “The attic door.”
The attic door. The sound and the phrase make something in the back of my head start to itch. It’s something my mother said about raccoons, something about the way Tybalt climbed on me the day we moved in.
The quiet is sick: it magnifies every noise, so when I hear a distinct scraping, I know that what I’m hearing is the pull-down ladder being slid toward the floor in the hallway.
I’d like to leave now. I’d very much like to leave now. The hairs are up on the back of my neck and my teeth would chatter if I wasn’t clenching so hard. Given the choice between fight or flight, I would choose to dive out the window, knife in my hand or not. Instead I turn and pivot closer to my mom, putting me in between her and the open door.
Footfalls hit the ladder, and my heart has never pounded so hard. My nostrils catch the scent of sweet smoke. Stand my ground, is what I think. After this is over, I might puke. Assuming, of course, that I’m still living.
The rhythm of the footsteps, the sound of whatever is coming down the ladder is driving both me and my mom steadily toward peeing our pants. We can’t be caught in this bedroom. How I wish that weren’t true, but it is. I have to make it out into the hallway and try to get us to the stairs before whatever it is blocks our escape. I grab her hand. She shakes her head violently, but I pull her along, inching toward the door, the athame held out in front of us like a torch.
Anna. Anna, come charging in, Anna, come save the day … but that’s stupid. Anna is marooned on the damn front porch, and how would that be, if I died in here, ripped to bits and chewed on like a rubber pork chop, with her standing powerless outside.
Okay. Two more deep breaths and we go into the hall. Maybe three.
When I move I’ve got a clear view of the attic ladder, and also of the thing descending it. I don’t want to be seeing this. All that training and all those ghosts; all that gut instinct and ability goes right out the window. I’m looking at my father’s killer. I should be enraged. I should be stalking him. Instead I’m terrified.
His back is to me, and the ladder is far enough east of the stairs that we should be able to get there before he does, as long as we keep moving. And as long as he doesn’t turn around and charge. Why do I think these thoughts? Besides, he doesn’t seem inclined to. As we slide silently toward the staircase, he has reached the floor, and he actually pauses to put the ladder back up with a rickety shove.
At the top of the stairs, I stop, angling my mom to go down first. The figure in the hallway doesn’t seem to have noticed us. He just keeps swaying back and forth with his back to me, like he’s listening to some dead music.