The Captive (Chapter Seven)

Cassie followed the motion of the crystal. It was pointing upstairs, she decided-the opposite direction led into a wall.

"We'd better get out in the open, anyway," Adam said. "Otherwise we might not be able to follow it."

Cassie nodded. She and Adam were speaking quickly, tensely-but calmly. Their violent agitation was held just under the surface, kept down by sheer willpower. Having something to do was what made the difference, she thought as they climbed the stairs. She couldn't afford to have hysterics now; she had to keep her mind clear to trace Jeffrey's killer.

In the hallway outside the custodian's office they ran into Deborah and the Henderson brothers.

"Adam, dude, what's goin' on?" Chris said. Cassie saw that he'd been drinking. "We were just comin' down for a little liquid refreshment, you know-"

"Not down there," Adam said shortly. He looked at Doug, who seemed less inebriated. "Go get Melanie," he said, "and tell her to call the police. Jeffrey Lovejoy's been murdered."

"Are you serious?" Deborah demanded. The fierce light was in her face again. "All right!"

"Don't," said Cassie before she could stop herself. "You haven't seen him. It's terrible- and it's nothing to joke about."

Adam's arm shot out as Deborah started toward her. "Why don't you help us instead of picking fights with our side? We're trying to trace the dark energy that killed him."

"The dark energy," Deborah repeated scornfully.

Cassie took a quick breath, but Nick was speaking. "I think it's garbage too," he said calmly. "But if it wasn't the dark energy, that means a person did it-like somebody who had a grudge against Jeffrey." He stared at Deborah, his eyes hard.

Deborah stared back arrogantly. Cassie looked at her as she stood there in her short black tank dress-more like a sleeveless top than a dress-and her suede boots. Deborah was belligerent, antagonistic, hostile-and strong. For the first time in a long while Cassie noticed the crescent-moon tattoo on Deborah's collarbone.

"Why don't you help us, Deborah?" she said. "This crystal is picking something up-or it was before we all started talking. Help us find what it's tracing." And then she added, inspired by some instinct below the level of consciousness, "Of course, it's probably dangerous-"

"So what? You think I'm scared?" Deborah demanded. "All right, I'm coming. You guys get out of here," she told the Hendersons.

Somewhat to Cassie's surprise, Chris and Doug did, presumably going off to tell Melanie.

"All right," Cassie said, holding the crystal up again. She was afraid that it wouldn't do anything now that their concentration had been broken. And at first it simply hung at the end of the chain, swaying very slightly. But then, as the four of them stared at it, the swaying slowly became more pronounced. Cassie held her breath, trying to keep her hand from trembling. She didn't want to influence the crystal in any way.

It was definitely swinging now. In toward the boiler room and out toward the front of the school.

"Due east," Adam said in a low voice.

Holding the crystal high in her left hand, Cassie followed the direction of the swing, down the hallway.

Outside, the moon was almost full, high in the sky, dropping west behind them.

"The Blood Moon," Adam said quietly. Cassie remembered Diana saying that witches counted their year by moons, not months. The name of this one was hideously appropriate, but she didn't look back at it again. She was focusing on the crystal.

At first they walked through town, with closed stores and empty buildings on either side of them. Nothing stayed open past midnight in New Salem. Then the stores became less frequent, and there were a few clustered houses. Finally they were walking down a road which got lonelier and lonelier with every step, and all that surrounded them were the night noises.

There was no human habitation out here, but the moon was bright enough to see by. Their shadows stretched in front of them as they went. The air was cold, and Cassie shivered without taking her eyes off the crystal.

She felt something slip over her shoulders. Adam's jacket. She glanced at him gratefully, then quickly looked at the crystal again; if she faltered in her concentration it seemed to falter too, losing decisiveness and slowing almost to a random bobbing. It never swung as vigorously as the peridot had done for Diana-but then, Cassie wasn't Diana, and she didn't have a nearly-full coven to back her.

Behind her, she heard Adam say sharply, "Nick?" And then Deborah's derisive snort, "I wouldn't take it, anyway. I never get cold."

They were on a narrow dirt road now, still heading east. Suddenly Cassie had a terrible thought.

Oh, my God-Faye's house. That's where we set it loose and that's where we're going. We're going to trace this stuff all the way back to Faye's bedroom… and then what?

The coldness that went through her now was deeper and more numbing than the night wind. If the dark energy that had exploded through Faye's ceiling had killed Jeffrey, Cassie was as guilty as Faye was. She was a murderer.

Then stop tracing it, a thin voice inside her whispered. You're controlling the crystal; give it a twirl in the wrong direction.

But she didn't. She kept her eyes on the quartz teardrop, which seemed to shine with a milky light in the darkness, and she let it swing the way it wanted to.

If the truth comes out, it comes out, she told herself coldly. And if she was a murderer, she deserved to be caught. She was going to follow this trail wherever it led.

But it didn't seem to be leading to Crowhaven Road. They were still going east, not northeast. And suddenly the narrow, rutted road they were on began to seem familiar.

Up ahead she glimpsed a chain-link fence.

"The cemetery," Adam said softly.

"Wait," said Deborah. "Did you see-there, look!"

"At what, the cemetery?" Adam asked.

"No! At that thing-there it is again! Up there on the road."

"I don't see anything," Nick said.

"You have to. See, it's moving-"

"I see a shadow," Adam said. "Or maybe a possum or something…"

"No, it's big," Deborah insisted. "There! Can't you see that?"

Cassie looked up at last; she couldn't help it. The lonely road in front of her seemed dark and still at first, but then she saw-something. A shadow, she thought… but a shadow of what? It didn't lie along the road as a shadow ought to. It seemed to be standing high, and it was moving.

"I don't see anything," Nick said again, curtly.

"Then you're blind," Deborah snapped. "It's like a person."

Under Adam's jacket, Cassie's skin was rising in goose pimples. It did look like a person- except that it seemed to change every minute, now taller, now shorter, now wider, now thinner. At times it disappeared completely.

"It's heading for the cemetery," Deborah said.

"No-look! It's veering off toward the shed," Adam cried. "Nick, come on!"

Beside the road was an abandoned shed. Even in the moonlight it was clear that it was falling to pieces. The dim shape seemed to whisk toward it, merging with the darkness behind it.

Adam and Nick were running, Nick snarling, "We're chasing after nothing!" Deborah was standing poised, tense and alert, scanning the roadside. Cassie looked at the chain in dismay. Everyone's concentration had been shattered, the crystal was gyrating aimlessly. She looked up to say something-and drew in a quick breath.

"There it is!"

It had reappeared beside the shed, and it was moving fast. It went through the chain-link fence.

Deborah was after it in an instant, running like a deer. And Cassie, without any idea of what she was doing, was right behind her.

"Adam!" she shouted. "Nick! This way!"

Deborah reached the waist-high fence and went over it, her tank dress not hindering her at all. Cassie reached it a second later, hesitated, then got a foothold in a chain link, flicking her skirts out of the way as she boosted herself over. She came down with a jolt that hurt her ankle, but there was no time to worry about it. Deborah was racing ahead.

"I've got it," Deborah shouted, suddenly pulling up short. "I've got it!"

Cassie could see it just in front of Deborah. It had stopped in its straight-line flight and was darting from side to side as if looking for escape. Deborah was darting, too, blocking it as if she were a guard on a basketball team.

We must be crazy, Cassie thought, as she reached the other girl. She couldn't leave Deborah to face the shadowy thing alone-but what were they going to do with it?

"Is there a spell or something to hold it?" she panted.

Deborah threw her a startled glance, and Cassie saw that she hadn't realized Cassie was behind her. "What?"

"We've got to trap it somehow! Is there a spell-"

"Down!" Deborah shouted.

Cassie dove for the ground. The shadow-thing had swelled suddenly to twice its size, like an infuriated cat, and then it had lunged at them. Straight at them. Cassie felt it rush over her head, colder than ice and blacker than the night sky.

And then it was gone.

Deborah and Cassie sat up and looked at each other.

Adam and Nick appeared, running. "Are you all right?" Adam demanded.

"Yes," Cassie said shakily.

"What were you two doing?" Nick said, looking at them in disbelief. And even Adam asked, "How did you get over the fence?"

Deborah gave him a scornful look. "I didn't mean you," he said.

Cassie gave him a scornful look. "Girls can climb," she said. She and Deborah stood up and began brushing each other off, exchanging a glance of complicity.

"It's gone now," Adam said, wisely dropping the subject of fences. "But at least we know what it looks like."

Nick made a derisive sound. "What what looks like?"

"You can't still say you didn't see it," Deborah said impatiently. "It was here. It went for Cassie and me."

"I saw something-but what makes you think it was this so-called dark energy?"

"We were tracing it," said Adam.

"How do we know what we were tracing?" Nick rapped back. "Something that was around the place Lovejoy was killed, that's all. It could be the 'dark energy'-or just some garden-variety ghost."

"A ghost?" Cassie said, startled.

"Sure. If you believe in them at all, some of them like to hang out where murders are committed."

Deborah spoke up eagerly. "Yeah, like the Wailing Woman of Beverly, that lady in black that appears when somebody is going to die by violence."

"Or that phantom ship in Kennybunk-the Isidore. The one that comes and shows you your coffin if you're going to die at sea," Adam said, looking thoughtful.

Cassie was confused. She'd assumed it was the dark energy they were tracking-but who could tell? "It did end up in the cemetery," she said slowly. "Which seems like a logical place for a ghost. But if it wasn't the dark energy that killed Jeffrey, who was it? Who would want to kill him?"

Even as she asked, she knew the answer. Vividly, in her mind, she saw Jeffrey standing between two girls: one tall, dark, and disturbingly beautiful; the other small and wiry, with rusty hair and a pugnacious face.

"Faye or Sally," she whispered. "They were both jealous tonight. But-oh, look, even if they were mad enough to kill him, neither of them could have actually done it! Jeffrey was an athlete."

"A witch could have done it," Deborah said matter-of-factly. "Faye could've made him do it to himself."

"And Sally's got friends on the football team," Nick added dryly. "That's how she got herself voted Homecoming Queen. If they strangled him first, and then strung him up…"

Adam was looking disturbed at this coldblooded discussion. "You don't actually believe that."

"Hey, a woman scorned, you know?" Nick said. "I'm not saying either of them did it. I'm saying either of them could have."

"Well, we won't figure it out by standing here," Cassie said, shivering. Adam's jacket had slipped off when she went over the fence. "Maybe if we could try to trace it again-"

It was then she realized she wasn't holding the crystal.

"It's gone," she said. "Melanie's crystal. I must have dropped it when that thing rushed us. It should be right here on the ground, then. It's got to be," she said.

But it wasn't. They all stooped to look, and Cassie combed through the sparse, withered grass with her fingers, but none of them could find it.

Somehow, this final disaster, incredibly tiny in comparison to everything that had happened that night, brought Cassie close to tears.

"It's been in Melanie's family for generations," she said, blinking hard.

"Melanie will understand," Adam told her gently. He put a hand on her shoulder, not easily but carefully, as if keenly aware that they were in front of witnesses.

"It's true, though; there's no point in standing around here," he said to the others. "Let's get back to school. Maybe they've found out something about Jeffrey there."

As Cassie walked, the Cinderella shoes hurting her feet and Laurel's silvery dress streaked with dirt, she found herself looking straight into the Blood Moon. It was hovering over New Salem like the Angel of Death, she thought.

Normally, on the night of the full moon, the Circle would meet and celebrate. But on the day after Jeffrey's murder Diana was still sick, Faye was refusing to speak to anyone, and no one else had the heart to call a meeting.

Cassie spent the day feeling wretched. Last night at the high school the police had found no leads as to Jeffrey's killer. They hadn't said if he'd been strangled first and then hung, or if he'd just been hung. They weren't saying much of anything, and they didn't like questions.

Melanie had been kind about the necklace, but Cassie still felt guilty. She'd used it to go off on what turned out to be a wild-goose chase, and then she'd lost it. But far worse was the feeling of guilt over Jeffrey.

If she hadn't danced with him, maybe Faye and Sally wouldn't have been so angry. If she hadn't let Faye have the skull, then the dark energy wouldn't have been released. However she looked at it, she felt responsible, and she hadn't slept all night for thinking about it.

"Do you want to talk?" her grandmother said, looking up from the table where she was cutting ginger root. The archaic kitchen which had seemed so bewildering to Cassie when she'd first come to New Salem was now a sort of haven. There was always something to do here, cutting or drying or preserving the herbs from her grandmother's garden, and there was often a fire in the hearth. It was a cheerful, homey place.

"Oh, Grandma," Cassie said, then stopped. She wanted to talk, yes, but how could she?

She stared at her grandmother's wrinkled hands spreading the root in a wooden rack for drying.

"You know, Cassie, that I'm always here for you-and so is your mother," her grandmother went on. She threw a sudden sharp glance up at the kitchen doorway, and Cassie saw that her mother was standing there.

Mrs. Blake's large dark eyes were fixed on Cassie, and Cassie thought there was something sad in them. Ever since they'd come on this "vacation" to Massachusetts, her mother had looked troubled, but these days there was a kind of tired wistfulness in her face that puzzled Cassie. Her mother was so beautiful, and so young-looking, and the new helplessness in her expression made her seem even younger than ever.

"And you know, Cassie, that if you're truly unhappy here-" her mother began, with a kind of defiance in her gaze.

Cassie's grandmother had stiffened, and her hands stopped spreading the root.

"-we don't have to stay," her mother finished.

Cassie was astounded. After all she'd been through those first weeks in New Salem, after all those nights she'd wanted to die from homesickness-now her mother said they could go? But even stranger was the way Cassie's grandmother was glaring.

"Running away has never solved anything," the older woman said. "Haven't you learned that yet? Haven't we all-"

"There are two children dead," Cassie's mother said. "And if Cassie wants to leave here, we will."

Cassie looked from one to the other in bewilderment. What were they talking about? "Mom," she said abruptly, "why did you bring me here?"

Her mother and grandmother were still looking at each other-a battle of wills, Cassie thought. Then Cassie's mother looked away.

"I'll see you at dinner," she said, and just as suddenly as she'd appeared, she slipped out of the room.

Cassie's grandmother let out a long sigh. Her old hands trembled slightly as she picked up another root.

"There are some things you can only understand later," she said to Cassie, after a moment. "You'll have to trust us for that, Cassie."

"Does this have something to do with why you and Mom were estranged for so long? Does it?"

A pause. Then her grandmother said softly, "You'll just have to trust us…"

Cassie opened her mouth, then shut it again. There was no use in pressing it any further. As she'd already learned, her family was very good at keeping secrets.

She'd go to the cemetery, she decided. She could use the fresh air, and maybe if she found Melanie's crystal she would feel a little better.

Once there, she wished she'd asked Laurel to go along. Even though the October sun was bright, the air was nippy, and something about the dispirited graveyard made Cassie uneasy.

I wonder if ghosts come out in the daytime, she thought, as she located the place where she and Deborah had had to throw themselves facedown. But no ghosts appeared. Nothing moved except the tips of the grass which rippled in the breeze.

Cassie's eyes scanned the ground, looking for any glint of bright silver chain or clear quartz. She went over the area inch by inch. The chain had to be right here… but it wasn't. At last she gave up and sat back on her heels.

That was when she noticed the mound again.

She'd forgotten to ask her grandmother about it. She'd have to remember tonight. She got up and walked over to it, looking at it curiously.

By daylight, she could see that the iron door was rusty. The padlock was rusty too, but it looked fairly modern. The cement chunk in front of the door was large; she didn't see how it could have gotten there. It was certainly too heavy for a person to carry.

And why would somebody want to carry it there?

Cassie turned away from the mound. The graves on this side of the cemetery were modern too; she'd seen them before. The writing on the tombstones was actually legible. Eve Dulany, 1955-1976, she read. Dulany was Sean's last name; this must be his mother.

The next stone had two names: David Quincey, 1955-1976, and Melissa B. Quincey, 1955-1976. Laurel's parents, Cassie thought. God, it must be awful to have both your parents dead. But Laurel wasn't the only kid on Crowhaven Road who did. Right here beside the Quincey headstone was another marker: Nicholas Armstrong, 1951-1976; Sharon Armstrong, 1953-1976. Nick's mom and dad.

It must be.

When she saw the third headstone, the hairs on Cassie's arms began to prickle.

Linda Whittier, she read. Born 1954, died 1976. Suzan's mother.

Died 1976.

Sharply, Cassie turned to look at the Armstrong headstone again. She'd been right-both of Nick's parents had died in 1976. And the Quinceys… she was walking faster now. Yes. 1976 again. And Eve Dulany, too: died 1976.

Something rippled up Cassie's spine and she almost ran to the headstones on the far side of the mound. Mary Meade-Diana's mother- died 1976. Marshall Glaser and Sophia Burke Glaser. Melanie's parents. Died 1976. Grant Chamberlain. Faye's father. Died 1976. Adrian and Elizabeth Conant. Adam's parents. Died 1976.

Nineteen seventy-six. Nineteen seventy-six! There was a terrible shaking in Cassie's stomach and the hairs on the back of her neck were quivering.

What in God's name had happened in New Salem in 1976?