Chapter Nine: Shadows and Ghosts

“I think this is as much as we’re going to fit,” Selena said, inspecting the load on the trailer.  It was balanced almost perfectly now. Almost. “Just—shift—this one—” She nudged the weight, trying to redistribute it more evenly over the wheels. “And we’re done.”

“Hallelujah,” Kylie said dryly. She was leaning against the white Lartech van, texting rapidly. “Does this mean we can finally go?

Their friend Steve shoved at the boxes to squish them closer together. “I bet we could squeeze another one in right—”

“Touch it and lose a hand,” Selena said, jabbing her stylus at him.

“Easy, babe,” he said with a cavalier grin, “Just trying to help.”

“Well don’t. It’s good,” she said, looking down at her tablet to check off the inventory they’d loaded. For once, her bike was more useful than a car. Enough debris still cluttered the roads that it was much easier to navigate her motorcycle through the town than a car—not to mention the stalled and damaged vehicles still blocking streets, or the dozens of cracks and fissures caused by the quake. She’d been occupied most of the day as a delivery driver, shuttling supplies from the drop-off to work crews and distribution sites. It felt good to be out doing something instead of waiting behind a computer screen. Even if it was just as a delivery girl.

Steve leaned against the load and tossed his head, shaking back his shaggy blond hair. “You need some help making this run?” he asked. “It’s getting kind of dark.”

Not a chance, she thought, but smiled at him anyway. “That’s sweet, but I’ll be fine,” she said. “This load is going to Broad Street, and then I’m going home.”

“Yeah, stop hitting on her,” Kylie said without looking up. “Carter only broke up with her like last week.”

“Oh, man, I didn’t mean it like that—”

“Excuse me, but he did not break up with me,” Selena said, affronted.

“Yeah, but everyone knows you dumped him cause he’s been chasing that freak Molly Young.”

“Don’t call her that,” Selena said.

“What, are you defending her now? She’s psychotic,” Kylie protested. “Did you forget that she punched me?”

You deserved it. Selena stared fixedly at her inventory.

“She is kind of weird,” Steve said as he cinched the strap around the load.

“See, even Steve gets it,” Kylie went on. “She dresses like a boy, and walks like she just got out of jail, and she hangs out with total losers—”

“Sweetheart,” Selena said. “I’m totally not getting involved in your little drama feud with Miss LA. Everyone is so over it. And as for Carter, whatever. It was fun, it’s over. He can go out with whoever he wants. If anyone’s going to be jealous, it will be him when he sees how fantastic I look in that new dress I got.”

“If you ever get to wear it anywhere. Ugh, I am so over the town being trashed.”

“Next time I’ll let the earthquakes know in advance to skip the shopping zones.” She tucked the tablet into her pocket.

“Hey, we should go out tonight,” Kylie said. “Forget about all this stuff and I’ll just go call Kenzie and Allie, and we can go crash a party or something. My step-brother’s an hour away, I’d bet he’d get us—”

“I can’t,” Selena said. “I’ve got—” she paused. She couldn’t use homework as an excuse, not now that school was indefinitely closed. “Robotics work,” she said, even though her college co-op had ended a week ago.

Right,Kylie said with a disgusted sigh. “I forgot about your nerdy robot thing.” She waved a hand. “Well, whatever. We’ll go without you.” She said it with a nasty enough look that Selena felt injured. “You are no fun lately, Sel. What is going on with you?”

“Nothing,” Selena said, but even to her it sounded dull and defensive. Forcing a smile, she summoned up enough fake cheerfulness to say, “Hey, what about tomorrow? We can skip out for a few hours, go to that boutique you’ve been wanting to visit?”

“Hmm, we’ll see,” Kylie said, eying her fingernails. “Maybe I’ll be busy.”

“I’m not busy tonight,” Steve said, leaning on the loaded trailer with what he probably thought was a suggestive grin.

Kylie looked him over and shrugged. “You might as well walk me home, then,” she said, hooking her arm in his. With a last disparaging glance at Selena, she started across the lawn, boy in tow.

Selena watched them go, feeling like she’d come out of that exchange somewhere at the bottom. It wasn’t like she could explain what had been going on with her. It wasn’t like Kylie would understand if she did. The truth was, if either of them had any idea who Selena really was, neither one of them would want to hang out with her. She’d just be another one of the freaks.

“Yeah, whatever,” Selena said under her breath. She jammed her helmet over her head, straddled her bike, and kicked it into gear.

* * * * *

Leaving the crowd behind was like slipping off heels—the pressure melted away as she gained speed. She breathed a deep breath of cold air, glad Steve hadn’t come with her. This was a joy best experienced alone.

As much as she missed her car, she loved this bike. Even with the bulky weight of the trailer dragging behind her, it felt beautiful. The engine thrummed under her like a living thing, and the twilight sky rushed past, black and cold.  She barely even saw the devastation, except to dodge debris and potholes. Everything melted into background noise, her sense of self melted into the noise of the machine, and in the moment, she felt like the only person in the world.

Then panic slammed into her.

The bike swerved, and Selena shrieked. Tires squealed as she wrestled it back under control, and the trailer dragging behind her almost toppled. Even after she’d skid to a halt, she couldn’t do anything for a long moment except grip the handlebars and try to remember how to breathe.

What a weird feeling.

It was like a siren had gone off right by her ear.  Like her stomach had just dropped, even though she’d been riding steady. She couldn’t pinpoint exactly what had caused it. Even as the initial panic subsided, she could feel it—a dim sense of wrongness pulsing through her.

Panting, she pulled off her helmet and looked around. Her route had taken her out of the commerce district, toward the fringe of “downtown” that was mostly boarded up shops and older houses. She’d gone this way to cut through to Broad Street, which was north of here, past the cemetery….

The cemetery. Uphill, she could see the line of overgrown shrubbery that bordered it, the tall, wrought iron spikes poking over the top of the hedges. Selena guessed that the feeling had hit her just as she started to pass it.

One of the epicenters had been somewhere inside that cemetery.

Selena swallowed against a sudden queasiness. Some of it was just her dislike of cemeteries, but there was something else, too. Something like that sense of wrong that had caused the panic.

She parked her bike, slung her helmet over the handlebar, and hiked up the hill. The gate was locked, but the fence wasn’t that hard for an ex-gymnast to climb.

A wide, stony path greeted her on the other side. If she remembered correctly—and she usually did—this was the oldest cemetery in the town. It dated back to when this was coal country, and Laurence Lake was an unincorporated scattering of miners and farmers. No one had been buried here in decades, and it was only maintained now because it had been deemed a historical landmark a few years back.

There was very little light left, and Selena had to navigate by way of a pocket flashlight and that niggling sense of disorientation that she’d followed up the hill.

She followed it like a compass over the narrow paths through the cemetery. The trail led to an older section—maybe the oldest—a circular path that had began to crumble long before the earthquake. Grass and weeds sprouted from the cracks in the pavement, and the discolored headstones had round, worn corners, or worn-out names.

This is how horror movies start, she thought suddenly. A teenage girl walking alone in a cemetery at night.

Not that she was worried about serial killers or zombies, but… there was someone out here that had caused considerable damage when threatened, and then there was whatever had done the threatening.

Frowning, Selena fished out her glove—a new prototype, much more comfortable than the last, and pulled it over her left hand. She sent a brief surge through the glove, feeling out the circuitry.

She paused, considering. Maybe she should call the others.

Just, you know, in case.

But as she reached for her phone, she hesitated. What if this was nothing? What if it was just…a weird feeling? A moment of hyper-sensitive paranoia?

Aaron will kill you if you don’t call him.

Before she could second-guess herself, she sent a brief message.

—Felt something weird at cemetery. Checking it out—

She slipped her phone back in her pocket and readjusted her flashlight so she could see.

Movement caught her eye.

With it came that same sense of disorientation. A short, subtle burst that faded so quickly she wasn’t sure she’d felt it. Selena flicked the flashlight across the bushes, searching for the source. Distorted shadows followed the beam of light as she traced the shapes of headstones. The only sound she heard was the wind rustling, and the distant sound of cars.

It could have been an illusion, she thought. Or an animal. A cat, or a raccoon. Selena continued along the path, more cautiously now. She still felt that sense of strangeness, like a buzzing in her teeth. The path ended in a circular patio, lined with concrete benches and flower beds. A stone monument dominated the middle—a statue of an angel with wings up and hands spread in a welcoming gesture.

A crater had ruptured the sidewalk at her feet. It was only a few feet wide, and shallow, like some force had punched into the concrete. Cracks spiderwebbed up the base of the statue, from her dress to the tip of the wings. It looked just like the one Aaron had described, from the school. The epicenter.

Unnerved, Selena held a hand over the broken concrete. That was it. There was an intense feeling of…of…magnetization? Static discharge? Neither of those things was exactly right, but it came close to describing it.

She pulled out her tablet and knelt over the crater. One thing she’d been sure to include in her design were some basic sensors. It wasn’t much, but she’d be able to take some rudimentary readings. She’d do the same at the other sites, and then perform some more comprehensive tests—

Something moved again, and it definitely wasn’t a cat. Selena whipped the flashlight around. The beam of light landed on a girl crouched in the bushes, shielding her face from the sudden light. Selena caught a glimpse of dark, curly hair and a ragged sweatshirt before she’d bounded to her feet and fled further into the shadows.

2ch9

“Hey, wait!” Before Selena could dash after her, the ground moved. It was a brief tremor, barely enough to knock her off-balance. Selena caught herself on the sidewalk, banging her knee on the edge of the crater and dropping the flashlight.

By the time she’d recovered it, the shaking had stopped, and the girl had vanished. Selena crept toward the bushes, rubbing at her bruised knee. “I’m not going to hurt you!” she called out. “Hey!”

Her voice echoed in the silence. Selena leaned against the statue of the angel and sighed. At least, she consoled herself, you didn’t scare her into causing another earthquake.

* * * * *

“I don’t feel anything,” said Aaron.

He rested his hands on his hips, trying to breathe through the hitch in his side. They’d run to the cemetery as fast as they could, and he was still horribly out of breath.

“None of you?” Selena asked. She’d been pacing around the crater when they arrived, hands clenched so hard her knuckles had turned white. Her face was white too, like she was fighting back the urge to vomit. He was familiar enough with the sensation to recognize it.

“I can feel it,” Brennan said, hovering one hand over the crater. “Kind of. There’s something… off… with the temperature. It’s not cold or hot exactly, but… kind of like… both? Like a high pressure system before a tornado.”

Molly shrugged. “Feels normal to me. The ground is dry, but we haven’t had rain in a couple of weeks.”

Carter just shook his head, frowning.

Selena sighed. “I thought maybe it had something to do with the Resson waves,” she said. “It’s not magnetic, exactly, or electrical, but..”

“But you’re hyper-sensitive to both those things,” Aaron said rubbing an itch in his ear. “If they’re off-kilter, you’re going to feel it.” He didn’t add that those things being unbalanced was weird as hell. She didn’t need reminding when she looked like she was about to throw up all over someone’s final resting place.

“It was worse when she was here,” Selena said, waving her flashlight toward the bushes. “When the ground shook—it wasn’t just the shaking. It was like…like losing my balance. I don’t like it.”

“I don’t like it either.” Lucia had frozen in a strange position—hunched shoulders with her arms drawn in, her eyes focused on something intangible, like she was trying to see the molecules of air. “All of you are…just…a little…tense. I felt weird walking up here, but then again, I never much liked cemeteries. But if she really was here, she’s gone now. I don’t sense anyone else up here.”

“I took some readings,” Selena said, pushing her hands against her knees to rise. “I’ll have to get back to my computer to analyze anything, though.”

Aaron rubbed at his neck. “Let’s go,” he said. “Someone’s going to wonder where all of us went, and it’s going to be hard to explain why we’re hanging out in a cemetery at night.”

The six of them started down the hill,

“You okay?” Lucia asked, peering at him suddenly.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’ve just got this ringing in my ear that won’t…Oh. Crap.” He had about half a second to grab onto her arm before the world started spinning, and he blacked completely out.

* * * * *

Lucia managed to catch Aaron before he banged his head on the corner of a stone bench, but she couldn’t do much more than that before she dropped him. Molly rushed over to him, even thought she knew there was nothing she could do until the seizure was over.

Luckily, it didn’t last long. Thirty seconds, by Molly’s count, and he immediately groaned and opened his eyes. “…got to find her…” he said, blinking.

“Aaron?” Lucia said, pressing her hand against his forehead.

He blinked a few times. “She needs our help,” he said, but he still didn’t seem completely aware of them.

“I’ll take him home,” Carter said, hooking his arm under Aaron’s back to pull him to his feet. “Come on, man.” Aaron just nodded and leaned on his twin’s shoulder.

“That one hit him hard,” Molly said as she watched them leave. “He told me the bad ones had stopped. That he’d gotten control of his side effects.”

“They’ve gotten better,” Lucia said. “But I don’t think they’ll ever stop.” She shivered suddenly and rubbed her shoulders like she was cold. “Let’s get out of here. Cemeteries give me the creeps.”

They spent the walk back to the courthouse in whispered speculation. About the strange magnetization, about the girl—who was she? Why was she hiding out in the graveyard? How were they going to find her, and what would happen when they did?

It was too dark to do any more work, and Molly had promised her dad she’d be home for dinner. So she retrieved her bike and headed home, still feeling uneasy about the weirdness at the cemetery. No news, except a promise from Carter to call later. She resolved to be cool about things.

As she coasted down the hill, she shoved her headphones in and dialed the volume up, hoping the loud music would drive the worry out of her mind.

It  must have helped—that or the cold wind coming down the roller coaster hills—because she felt much calmer as she wheeled into the driveway fifteen minutes later. Clarissa’s car was absent, and Molly wondered whether she’d had to go into town to get internet access. She’d been dealing with insurance and suppliers all day, and their wi-fi had been out since the earthquake.

Molly leaned her bike against the wall and jogged up the stairs, rubbing her numb hands together to warm them back up. As soon as she walked in, she could smell the spicy, fishy flavor of Dad’s signature seafood stew. A winter favorite, and he’d been promising it for ages. It would be the perfect thing, too, as tired and cold as she was. Molly grinned as she headed down the hall, but her excitement died as she stepped into the kitchen.

Dad sat at the table, his broken leg stretched out in front of him. Across from him sat a middle-aged woman with the hair the same blond color as Molly’s. For a wild second, she thought it was her mother, and then the woman smiled. Molly recognized her then, from an old photograph—much too old, Molly thought—where she had sat beside her grandfather.

Evelyn Lakefield.

My grandmother.

Avalon.

Molly swallowed.

“Hello, Molly dear,” she said. “I think it’s time we met.”

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