The Captive (Chapter Eight)

"It was a hurricane," Diana said.

It was Monday, and Diana was back in school, still a bit sniffly, but otherwise well. They were talking before American history class; it was the first chance Cassie had had to speak to Diana alone. She hadn't wanted to bring the question up in front of the others.

"A hurricane?" she said now.

Diana nodded. "We get them every so often. That year it hit with practically no warning, and the bridge to the mainland was flooded. A lot of people got caught on the island, and a lot of people got killed."

"I'm so sorry," Cassie said. Well, you see; there's a perfectly reasonable explanation after all, she was thinking. How could she have been so stupid as to have freaked out over this? A natural disaster explained everything. And when Cassie had asked her grandmother about the mound at the cemetery last night, the old woman had looked at her, blinking, and finally said, was there a mound at the old burying ground? If there was, it might be some sort of bunker-a place for storing ammunition in one of the old wars. Again, a simple explanation.

Laurel and Melanie came in and took seats in front of Cassie and Diana. Cassie took a deep breath.

"Melanie, I went back to the cemetery yesterday to look for your crystal-but I still couldn't find it. I'm sorry; I guess it's gone for good," she said.

Melanie's gray eyes were thoughtful and serious. "Cassie, I told you that night it didn't matter. The only thing I wish is that you and Adam and Nick and Deborah hadn't run off without the rest of us. It was dangerous."

"I know," Cassie said softly. "But right then it didn't seem dangerous-or at least, it did, but I didn't have time to think about how dangerous it really was. I just wanted to find whatever killed Jeffrey." She saw Melanie and Diana trade a glance; Melanie surprised and Diana rather smug.

Cassie felt vaguely uncomfortable. "Did Adam tell you anything about what we were talking about out in the cemetery?" she asked Diana. "About Faye and Sally?"

Diana sobered. "Yes. But it's all ridiculous, you know. Sally would never do anything like that, and as for Faye… well, she may be difficult at times, but she certainly isn't capable of killing anybody."

Cassie opened her mouth, and found herself looking at Melanie, whose gray eyes now reflected something like head-shaking cynicism. She looked back at Diana quickly and said, "No, I'm sure you're right," but she wasn't. Melanie was right; Diana was too trusting, too naive. Nobody knew better than Cassie just what Faye was capable of.

Ms. Lanning was starting class. Laurel and Melanie turned around, and Cassie opened her book and tried to keep her mind on history.

That entire school week was strange. Jeffrey's death had done something to the outsider students; it was different than the other deaths. Kori had been a Club member, or practically, and the principal hadn't been very popular. But Jeffrey was a football hero, one of their own, a guy just about everyone liked and admired. His death upset people in a different way.

The whispers started quietly. But by Wednesday Sally was saying openly that Faye and the Club had killed Jeffrey. Tension was building between Club members and the rest of the school. Only Diana seemed unaware of it, looking shocked when Melanie suggested that the Circle might not be welcome at Jeffrey's funeral. "We have to go," she said, and they did go, except Faye.

As for Faye… Faye spent the week quietly seething. She hadn't forgiven Suzan and Deborah for helping to get Cassie ready for the dance, she hadn't forgiven Nick for snubbing her, and she hadn't forgiven the rest of them for witnessing her humiliation. The only people she wasn't furious with were the Henderson brothers. When Jeffrey's death was mentioned, she looked hard and secretive.

Every day Cassie expected to get a phone call with some bizarre new demand, some new blackmail. But, for the moment, Faye seemed to be leaving her alone.

It was Friday afternoon, car-pooling home after school, that Laurel mentioned the Halloween dance.

"Of course you're coming, Cassie," she said as they dropped Cassie off at Number Twelve. "You have to. And you've got plenty of time, two weeks, to think of somebody to ask."

Cassie walked into the house with her legs feeling weak. Another dance? She couldn't believe it.

One thing she knew: It couldn't be anything like the last one. She wouldn't let it be. She'd do what Laurel said, she'd find somebody to go with-and then she'd just stick with him the entire time. Somebody, anybody. Sean, maybe. Cassie winced. Well, maybe not anybody. Starved for attention as he was, Sean might end up being a problem himself. She might never get rid of him.

No, Cassie needed some guy to be an escort and nothing else. Some guy who would absolutely not get interested in her, under any circumstances. Some guy who'd be completely indifferent. . .

A vision flashed through her mind, of mahogany eyes, rich and deep and absolutely dispassionate. Nick. Nick didn't even like girls. And Faye wouldn't care; Faye wasn't even speaking to Nick anymore. Nick would be safe-but would he ever want to go with her to a dance?

Only one way to find out, she thought. Nick was Deborah's cousin, and lived with her parents at Number Two Crowhaven Road. The peach-colored house was run-down, and the garage was usually open, showing the car Nick was continually working on.

Adam had said it was a '69 Mustang coupe, which was something special. Right at the moment, though, it looked like a skeleton up on blocks.

When Cassie walked in late that afternoon, Nick was bent over the workbench, his dark hair shining faintly in the light of the naked bulb hanging from the rafters. He was doing something with a screwdriver to a part. "Hi," Cassie said.

Nick straightened up. He didn't look surprised to see her, but then Nick never looked surprised. He didn't look particularly happy to see her either. He was wearing a T-shirt so covered with grease stains that it was difficult to read the slogan underneath, but faintly Cassie could make out the odd words Friends don't let friends drive Chevys.

Cassie cleared her throat. Just walk in and ask him, she'd thought-but now that was proving to be impossible. After a moment or two of staring at her, waiting, Nick looked back down at the workbench.

"I was just walking to Diana's," Cassie said brightly. "And I thought I'd stop by and say hi." "Hi," Nick said, without looking up. Cassie's mouth was dry. What had ever made her think she could ask a guy to a dance? So what if lots of guys had wanted to dance with her last time; that had probably just been a fluke. And Nick certainly hadn't been hanging around her.

She tried to make her voice sound casual. "So what are you doing …" She had meant to ask "for the Halloween dance" but her throat closed up and she panicked. Instead she finished in a squeak, "… right now?"

"Rebuilding the carburetor," Nick replied briefly.

"Oh," Cassie said. She searched her mind desperately for some other topic of conversation. "Um…" She picked up a little metal ball from the workbench. "So-what's this for?"

"The carburetor."

"Oh." Cassie looked at the little ball. "Uh, Nick, you know, I was just wondering"-she started to set the ball back down-"whether you might, um, want to-oops."

The ball had shot out of her sweaty fingers like a watermelon seed, landing with a ping somewhere under the workbench and disappearing. Cassie looked up, horrified, and Nick slammed down the screwdriver and swore.

"I'm sorry-honest, Nick, I'm sorry-"

"What the hell did you have to touch it for? What are you doing here, anyway?"

"I…" Cassie looked at his wrathful face and the last of her courage left her. "I'm sorry, Nick," she gasped again, and she fled.

Out of the garage and down the driveway. Without thinking she turned right when she got to the street, heading back for her own house. She didn't want to go to Diana's, anyway- Adam was probably there. She walked up Crowhaven Road, her cheeks still burning and her heart thumping.

It had been a stupid idea from the beginning. Suzan was right; Nick was an iguana. He didn't have any normal human emotions. Cassie hadn't expected him to want to go to the dance with her in the first place; she'd just thought maybe he wouldn't mind, because he'd been nice to her in the boiler room that night. But now he'd shown his true colors. She was just glad she hadn't actually asked him before she'd dropped the ball-that would have been the ultimate embarrassment.

Even as it was, though, her chest felt tight and hot and her eyes felt sore. She kept her head carefully high as she passed Melanie's house, and then Laurel's. She didn't want to see either of them.

The sun had just set and the color was draining out of everything. It gets dark so early these days, she was thinking, when the roar of a motor caught her attention.

It was a black Suzuki Samurai with the license plate FLIP ME. The Henderson brothers were in it, Doug driving too fast. As soon as they spotted her they pulled over and stuck their heads out the windows, shouting comments.

"Hey, what's a nice girl like you doing in a neighborhood like this?" "You wanna party, Cassie?" "C'mon, baby, we can show you a good time!" They were just harassing her for the fun of it, but something made Cassie look up into Doug's tilted blue-green eyes and say nervily, "Sure."

They stared at her, nonplussed. Then Chris burst into laughter.

"Cool; get in," he said, and opened the passenger side door.

"Wait a minute," Doug began, frowning, but Cassie was already getting in, Chris helping her up the high step. She didn't know what had possessed her. But she was feeling wild and irresponsible, which she guessed was the best way to be feeling when you were with the Henderson brothers.

"Where are we going?" she asked as they roared off. Chris and Doug looked at each other cagily.

"Gonna buy some pumpkins for Halloween,"

Chris said.

"Buy pumpkins?"

"Well, not buy, exactly," Chris temporized.

For some reason, at this particular moment, that struck Cassie as funny. She began to giggle. Chris grinned.

"We're goin' down to Salem," he explained. "They have the best pumpkin patches to raid. And if we get done early enough we can hide in the Witch Dungeon and scare the tourists."

The Witch Dungeon? thought Cassie, but all she said was, "Okay."

The floor of the minijeep was littered with bottles, bits of pipe, rags, Dunkin' Donut bags, unraveling cassette tapes, and raunchy magazines. Chris was explaining to Cassie about how to construct a pipe bomb when they reached the pumpkin patch.

"Okay, now, shut up," Doug said. "We've gotta go around back." He turned the lights and engine off and cruised.

The pumpkin patch was a huge fenced enclosure full of pumpkins, some piled up, some scattered across the ground. Doug stopped the Samurai just behind a large pile by the booth where you paid for the pumpkins. It was fully dark now, and the light from the enclosure didn't quite reach them.

"Over the fence," Doug mouthed, and to Cassie: "Stay here." Cassie was glad he didn't want her to climb it; there was barbed wire at the top. Chris laid his jacket on it and the two boys swarmed over easily.

Then they calmly started handing pumpkins over the fence. Chris gave them to Doug, who stood on the pile and dropped them to Cassie on the other side, motioning her to put them in the back seat of the jeep.

What on earth do they want with all of these, anyway? Cassie wondered dizzily as she staggered back with armload after armload. Can you make a bomb out of a pumpkin?

"Okay," Doug hissed at last. "That's enough." He swarmed back over the fence. Chris started to climb over too, but just at that moment there was a frenzied barking and a large black dog with wiry legs appeared.

"Help!" squawked Chris. He was caught hanging over the top of the fence. The Doberman had him by the boot and was worrying it furiously, snarling. A man exploded out of the booth and began yelling at them and shaking his fist.

"Help! Help!" Chris shouted. He started to giggle and then yelped, "Ow! He's takin' my foot off! Ow! Help!"

Doug, his strange slanted eyes glittering wildly, rushed back to the jeep. "Gonna kill that dog," he said breathlessly. "Where's that army pistol?"

"Hold on, Max! Hold him till I get my shotgun!" the man was yelling.

"Ow! He's chewin' on me! It hurts, man!" Chris bellowed.

"Don't kill him," Cassie pleaded frantically, catching Doug by the arm. All she needed was for him and the pumpkin man to start shooting at each other. Doug continued ransacking the litter on the jeep's floor. "Don't kill the dog! We can just give him this," Cassie said, suddenly inspired. She snatched up a Dunkin' Donuts bag with several stale doughnuts in it. While Doug was still looking for a gun, she ran back to the fence.

"Here, doggy, nice doggy," she gasped. The dog snarled. Chris continued bellowing; the pumpkin man continued yelling. "Good dog," Cassie told the Doberman desperately. "Good boy, here, look, doughnuts, see? Want a doughnut?" And then, surprising herself completely, she shouted, "Come here! NOW."

At the same time, she did-she didn't know what. She did… something… with her mind. She could feel it going out of her like a blast of heat. It hit the dog and the dog let go of Chris's foot, hind legs collapsing. Belly almost on the ground, it slunk over to the fence and crouched.

Cassie felt tall and terrible. She said, "Good dog," and tossed the doughnut bag over the fence. Chris was scrambling over in the other direction, almost falling on his head. The dog lay down and whined pitifully, ignoring the doughnuts.

"Let's go," Chris yelled. "Come on, Doug! We don't need to kill anybody!"

Between them, he and Cassie bundled the protesting Doug into the jeep and Chris drove off. The pumpkin-seller ran after them with his shotgun, but when they reached the road he gave up the chase.

"Ow," Chris said, shaking his foot and causing the jeep to veer.

Doug muttered to himself.

Cassie leaned back and sighed.

"Okay," Chris said cheerfully, "now let's go to the Witch Dungeon."

The Salem Witch Dungeon Museum looked like a house from the outside. Chris and Doug seemed to know the layout well, and Cassie followed them around the house, where they slipped in a back entrance.

Through a doorway Cassie glimpsed what seemed to be a small theater. "That's where they do the witch trials," Chris said. "You know, like a play for the tourists. Then they take 'em down here."

A flight of narrow stairs plunged down into darkness.

"Why?" Cassie said.

"It's the dungeon. They give 'em a tour. We hide in the corners and jump up and yell when they get close. Some of 'em practically have heart attacks," Doug said, with his mad grin.

Cassie could see how that might happen. As they made their way down the stairs it got darker and darker. A dank, musty odor assaulted her nostrils and the air felt very cool.

A narrow corridor stretched forward into the blackness, which was broken only by tiny lights at long intervals. Small cells opened out from either side of the corridor. The whole place had a heavy, underground feel to it.

It's like the boiler room, Cassie thought. Her feet stopped moving.

"Come on, what's wrong?" Doug whispered, turning around. She could barely see him.

Chris came back to the foot of the stairs and looked into her face. "We don't have to go in there yet," he said. "We can wait here till they start to come down."

Cassie nodded at him gratefully. It was bad enough standing on the edge of this terrible place. She didn't want to go in until she absolutely had to.

"Or …" Chris seemed to be engaging in some prodigious feat of thought. "Or… we could just leave, you know."

"Leave now? Why?" Doug demanded, running back.

"Because …" Chris stared at him. "Because… because I say so!"

"You? Who cares what you say?" Doug returned in a whispering shout and the two of them began to scuffle.

They're not really scary after all, Cassie thought, a little dazedly. They're more like the Lost Boys in Peter Pan. Peculiar, but sort of cute.

"It's all right," she said, to stop their fighting. "We can stay. I'll just sit down on the stairs."

Out of breath, they sat down too, Chris massaging the toe of his boot.

Cassie leaned against the wall and shut her eyes. She could hear voices from above, someone talking about the Salem witch trials, but only snatches of the lecture got through to her. She was drained from everything that had happened today, and this dreadful place made her feel sick and fuzzy. As if she had cobwebs in her brain.

A woman's voice was saying, ". . . the royal governor, Sir William Phips, established a special court to deal with the cases. By now there were so many accused witches…"

So many fake witches, Cassie thought hazily, half listening. If that woman only knew about the real witches lurking in her dungeon.

". . . on June tenth, the first of the convicted witches was publicly executed. Bridget Bishop was hung on Gallows Hill, just outside of Salem.. ."

Poor Bridget Bishop, Cassie thought. She had a sudden vision of Jeffrey's swinging feet and a wave of nausea passed over her. Probably Bridget's feet had been swinging when they hung her, too.

". . . by the end of September eighteen other people had been hung. Sarah Goode's last words …"

Eighteen. That's a lot of swinging feet. God, I don't feel well, thought Cassie.

". . . and a nineteenth victim was pressed to death. Pressing was a form of Puritan torture in which a board was placed on the victim's chest, and then heavier and heavier rocks were piled on top of the board …"

Ugh. Now I really don't feel well. Wonder how it feels to have rocks piled on you till you die? Guess I'll never know since that doesn't happen much today. Unless you happen to be caught in a rockslide, or something …

With a jerk, Cassie sat up straight, the cobwebs swept out of her brain as if by a blast of icy wind.

Rockslide. Avalanche. Mr. Fogle, the high-school principal, had found out what it was like to have rocks piled on you till you died.

Weird coincidence. That was all it was. But…

Oh, my God, Cassie thought suddenly.

She felt as if her entire body were plugged into something electric. Her thoughts were tumbling over each other.

Rockslide. Pressed to death. Same thing, really. And hanging. The witches were hanged… just like Jeffrey Lovejoy. Oh, God, oh, God. There had to be a connection.

"… never know how many died in prison. In comparison to the conditions there, the swift oblivion of a broken neck may have been merciful. Our tour will now take you-"

Broken neck. A broken neck.

Kori's neck had been broken.

Cassie thought she was going to faint.