Even though my skull is stormy with pain, I finally understand.
This is his revenge.
An attempt to make me look as guilty as I had made Theo look. He wants me to live under the same cloud of suspicion. To lose everything.
“I didn’t want to kill you, Emma,” he says. “I would have much rather watched you suffer for the next fifteen years. But the plan has changed. You made sure of that when you freed those girls. Now I have no choice but to make you disappear.”
Chet grabs me by the shirt collar and hoists me off the floor. I don’t struggle. I can’t. All I can do is wobble precariously as he plops me onto the edge of the boat. The motion jars still more energy into me.
Now that I’m off the floor, I can see we’re in a part of the lake I don’t recognize. A cove of sorts. Trees crowd the shore, ringing the water like walls of a fortress. Muted light seeps through them, doing little to burn away the fog that rolls across the water.
Something sits in the mist, jutting out of the water a few feet from the boat.
A rooster weathervane.
It’s the same weathervane I’ve seen in pictures, perched atop Peaceful Valley Asylum. Only now it’s edged with rust and crusted with barnacles. And the asylum it sits upon rests deep beneath Lake Midnight. I peer into the water, getting shimmery glimpses of its mud-caked roof.
It’s still here. Right where it’s always been. Only now covered by the lake. That part of Casey’s story is true.
“I had a feeling you’d recognize it,” Chet says. “You knowing about this place was another surprise. Little nosy Emma has really been doing her homework.”
Judging from the ring of dried mud along the shore, I suspect the lake is usually high enough to completely cover the weathervane. It can be seen now only because of the current drought.
“I found it when I was a teenager,” Chet says. “No one else knows it’s still here. Not my mom. Not Lottie. I guess they think old Buchanan Harris razed it when he bought the land. Instead, he just left it here and flooded the place. And now no one will know to look for you here.”
My heart gallops. Blood pumps to my brain, making me more alert as well as more afraid. Rather than silence me, the fear sparks my voice. “Don’t do this, Chet. It’s not too late.”
“I think it is, Em.”
“The girls didn’t see you. They told me so. If you want me to tell the cops I did it, I will.”
Words are my only defense. I have no strength to fight him off. Even if I did, I’d be no match against another swing of the oar.
“No one will know you did it,” I say. “Just you and me. And I’m not going to tell anyone. I’ll take the blame. I’ll plead guilty.”
Chet transfers the oar from one hand to the other. I think I’m getting through to him.
“You want to see me suffer, right? Then imagine me in prison. Think how much I’ll suffer then.”
I’m hit by a flash of memory. Me leaving Camp Nightingale fifteen years ago. Chet was there, calling after his brother, his face tear-streaked. Maybe that was the moment he decided he needed to get revenge. If so, I need to remind him of the boy he was before that.
“You’re not a killer,” I tell him. “You’re too good of a person for that. I’m the one who did something bad. Don’t be like me. Don’t become someone you’re not.”
Chet raises the oar, ready to bring it down once more. I lurch forward before he can do it, slamming myself into him. The strength comes out of nowhere. A coiled energy ignited by terror and desperation. It sends Chet stumbling against one of the boat’s seats. His legs catch on it, and he tumbles backward. The oar leaves his hands, clatters to the floor. I reach for it, but Chet’s faster. He grabs the oar with one hand and slaps me with the back of the other.
Spikes of pain sting my cheek. But the blow also zaps one last bit of adrenaline into me. Enough to let me scramble to the front of the boat and crawl onto the bow.
Behind me, Chet’s on his feet, oar in hand.
He lifts it.
I close my eyes, screaming, waiting for the blow to connect with my skull.
Instead, a shot rings out, the sound careening across the cove. My eyes fly open in time to see the oar explode into a thousand splinters. I shut them again as wood sprays my face. I duck, trying to avoid it.
The boat tips.
I tip with it, tumbling backward, over the side of the boat and into Lake Midnight.
My fall through the water is brief. Just a quick, disorienting drop before I slam into something a few feet from the surface. Wood, I think. Slick with moss and algae and a hundred years of lake water rising and falling.
As I’m realizing this, the wood beneath me buckles, giving way. Soon I’m falling again. Still underwater but now also surrounded by walls, encased within them.
Peaceful Valley Asylum.
I’m inside it, dropping from the ceiling to the floor below. I brace myself for another smash through it. It never comes. Instead, I bounce off the floor and drift upward.
Faint light trickles through algae-streaked windows. It’s enough brightness for me to see an empty room taken over by mud. Everything is tilted—walls, ceiling, doorframe. The door itself has come off its hinges and now sits askew, revealing a short hall, stairs, more light. I swim toward them, struggling to make it through the doorway, across the hall, down the steps.