“I don’t understand,” I tell him, a shiver running down my spine as we finally make it to the hallway the library is on. “I went to the library to research gargoyles around noon, but I don’t remember doing any research. I don’t remember anything, actually, after I sat down to work.”
“It’s five o’clock, Grace.”
“But I was in the library. Did Amka know when I left?”
“You would think, but I don’t know. Like I said, she called your uncle and Macy, not me.” There’s something in his voice that I can’t quite identify, but he doesn’t sound impressed.
Apparently, Jaxon feels like he deserves to be notified about things related to me. Which is annoying, because he doesn’t actually own me. And yet, I think about how I would feel if something happened to him… Yeah, pretty sure I would want to be notified, too.
He holds the library door open for me, and then we walk inside, only to find a conspicuously empty open glass case. Whatever item was displayed there is gone, the bed of purple velvet empty in that one spot.
“Is this what you wanted to show me?” I ask my uncle. “I don’t know what happened. It was fine when I was here earlier.”
And if anyone had actually tried to break into it when I was here, I would have seen them. So would Amka. The exhibit is diagonally across from the table she set up for me and directly in front of the circulation desk.
“What do you remember from when you were here earlier, Grace?” Amka is the one asking me questions now, my uncle hanging back and following her lead.
“Not a lot, honestly. I remember our conversation and sitting down to work, but that’s it. Did something else happen?”
“You don’t remember working?”
“No. I remember getting ready to work, but I don’t remember opening a book or taking any notes. Did I do that?”
“You took all the notes.” She picks up a notebook from her desk and hands it to me.
I flip through it, and she’s right. It’s more than half full already, with information about gargoyles that I have no recollection of but am now itching to sit down and read.
“I did all this in five hours?” I ask, surprised by how thorough the note-taking is, when usually I hit only the highlights and rely on my really good memory (present situation obviously not included) to fill in the blanks.
“Actually, you did all that in an hour and a half. At one thirty, I closed the library for a few minutes and ran out to my cottage to get some medicine for a sudden headache. You said you were doing well, so I left you working, but when I came back, you were gone. And the Athame of Morrigan had been stolen.”
Horror moves through me as all the threads of the story start to come together in one glaring realization. “You think I did this?” I ask. “You think I stole the…” I wave my hand in the air.
“Athame,” Macy fills in. “It’s a double-sided ceremonial blade for witches. This particular one has been in our family for centuries.”
I want to be outraged that they think I could do this. But the truth is, they have every right to suspect me. Especially since I have absolutely no idea what I was doing during the time Amka left the library.
“We don’t think you stole it,” Uncle Finn tells me in a voice I recognize as deliberately soothing. “But we do think something is going on inside you that makes you do these things, and that’s what we want to try to figure out so we can help you.”
“Do we really know?” I ask, my voice coming out higher and louder than I want it to. “I mean, are you sure I’m the one who did this?” It’s not even that I doubt them, it’s just that I don’t want to believe them. Because then I have to start wondering. What kind of powers does this gargoyle inside me have? And why is it using me to do these terrible things?
Jaxon wraps a supportive arm around my waist, then rests his chin on my shoulder as he whispers in my ear, “It’s okay. We’ve got this.”
I’m glad he thinks so, because right now, it doesn’t feel like I’ve got anything.
“That’s why we wanted you to come here, so we could all rewatch the footage together. See if we can figure out what’s really going on.” My uncle walks behind the circulation desk.
“Nobody blames you, Grace,” Macy says with a reassuring smile. “We know something else is going on.”
My knees get weak at theirs words—there’s footage?—and at the grim look on my uncle’s face. Because if they’ve seen the footage already, then they know for sure that I’m the one who stole the athame.
The knowledge hits me like a body blow.
I know it’s naive, but I think I’ve been holding out hope all day. Hope that there was another explanation for the blood on my clothes this morning. Definite hope that someone else attacked Cole, and now hope that someone else stole the athame.
Because knowing that it’s me, knowing that I did all that and have no recollection of it whatsoever, is beyond terrifying. Not just that I can’t remember but that I really don’t have any control over what I do when I’m like that.
I could actually kill someone, and I would never know.
Panic starts to bubble up in my chest, my breath coming out in shallow puffs. I count to ten…then twenty. My heart is beating so fast, I start to feel light-headed. I don’t take my gaze from my uncle as he fiddles with the computer on the circulation desk and then turns the monitor around to face me.
“It’s okay,” Jaxon says again, even though it’s not. Even though it’s about as far from okay as it can possibly get. “I promise you, Grace, we’ll figure this out.”
“I hope so,” I answer as we all crowd around Uncle Finn to watch the video footage. “Because how long can this go on before I end up in prison…or worse?”
My stomach sinks as I watch a recording of me on the screen—doing things I don’t remember doing.
According to the time at the bottom of the footage, I got up from the table where I was reading and taking notes at exactly one thirty. I went over to Amka and said something to her. She nodded with a strange look on her face, and less than a minute later, she got up. But instead of leaving, like she’d said earlier, she walked over to the glass case housing the athame and several other precious magical items, all of which, it turns out, were under a protection spell, my uncle explains.
And at 1:37, the librarian went ahead and opened the case like it was nothing. Then she walked out of the library and didn’t come back.
“What just happened?” I ask, looking from Jaxon to Amka to my uncle and then back again. “Did I use some kind of special gargoyle power?”
Amka shakes her head as the video continues to roll, and I watch as I reach into the case and scoop out the athame, snagging my jacket on the way out. “I have no memory of doing that, of unlocking the case.”
“Hudson,” Jaxon says, voice low and vehement and maybe even a little…scared? Which messes me up in all kinds of ways, because Jaxon is almost never scared.
“What?” my uncle Finn demands. “What about Hudson?”
“When we were kids, he used to do that. He has to speak directly to the person, but he can persuade anyone to do anything for him with merely his voice.”
“Do what?” I ask as razor-sharp talons of fear rake through me. “What did Hudson do, Jaxon?”
Jaxon finally manages to pull his haunted gaze from the video. “Use his power of persuasion to get people to do whatever he wanted.”
of the Law
Jaxon’s words hang in the air between us for several seconds, the power and horror of them an actual physical presence that has my body tensing and a chill running over my skin.
“What does that mean?” I finally whisper, the words falling like grenades into the silence between us. “Is Hudson here? Did I bring him back with me? Is he persuading me to do things?”
“He’s definitely here,” Uncle Finn agrees. “The only question is what we do next.”
“Well, where is he, then?” I demand. “Why haven’t we seen him?”
I look from my uncle’s sad face to Jaxon’s enraged one, from Amka’s quiet compassion to the distress Macy tries to hide but simply can’t, and a weight starts to grow in my stomach. A weight that gets heavier and heavier with every second that passes.
A weight that nearly pulls me under as the truth crashes into me.
“No,” I tell them, shaking my head as panic and disgust and horror wrench through me all at the same time. “No, no, no. It can’t be.”
“Grace, it’s okay.” Jaxon steps forward, lays a hand on my arm.
“It’s not okay!” I all but shout at him. “It’s the opposite of okay.”
“Breathe,” my uncle says. “There are things we can do to try to fix this. “
“Try to fix it?” I answer with a laugh that even I can tell borders on the hysterical. “I have a monster living inside me.”
“There are options,” Amka says, her voice deliberately soothing. “There are several options we can try before we start to panic—”
“Not to be rude, Amka, but I think you mean before you start to panic. Because I’m already there.”
Panic races through me, and this time I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be able to stop the attack. At this point, I’m pretty sure not even a dump truck full of Xanax would be able to stop it. Not when my head is swimming and my heart is pounding out of my chest.
“Grace, it’s okay.” Macy reaches for me, but I step backward and hold my hand up in the typical gesture for give me a second.
Thankfully, everyone does. They give me more than a second, in fact, though I don’t know how much more. Eventually, my now-familiar defense mechanisms slide into place.
I’m nowhere close to being okay—at this point, I can’t even imagine what okay would feel like—but I shove my panic down deep inside me and focus on keeping my mind clear.