The Return: Nightfall (Chapter 20)

"Ohhhh." Bonnie melted back into the bucket seat. "It was like…kapow! Zap! Zowie! Like…fireworks."

"You're smirking."

"I am not smirking," Bonnie said with dignity. "I am smiling in fond remembrance. Besides – "

"Besides, if you hadn't Called him, we'd still be stuck in that horror of a room. Thank you, Bonnie. You saved us." Abruptly Meredith was at her most serious and sincere.

"I guess Elena was maybe right when she said he didn't hate all humans," Bonnie said slowly. "But, you know, I just realized. I couldn't see his aura at all. All I could see was black: smooth hard black, like a shell around him."

"Maybe that's how he protects himself. He makes a shell so no one can see inside."

"Maybe," Bonnie said, but there was worried note in her voice. "And what about that message from Elena?"

"It says that Tami Bryce is definitely acting strangely and that she and Matt are going out to check out the Old Wood."

"Maybe that's who they're going to meet – Damon, I mean. At 4:44, like he said. Too bad we can't call her."

"I know," Meredith said grimly. Everyone in Fell's Church knew that there was no reception in the Old Wood or the cemetery area. "But go ahead and try anyway."

Bonnie did, and as usual got a no-service message. She shook her head. "No good. They must already be in the woods."

"Well, what she wants is for us to go ahead and get a look at Isobel Saitou – you know, because she's Jim Bryce's girlfriend." Meredith made a turn. "That reminds me, Bonnie: did you get a look atCaroline's aura? Do you think she has one of those things – inside her?"

"I guess so. I saw her aura, and yuck, I never want to see it again. She used to be a kind of deep bronzy-green, but now she's muddy brown with black lightning zigzagging all through. I don't know if that means one of those things was inside her, but she sure didn't mind cuddling up to them!" Bonnie shuddered.

"Okay," Meredith said soothingly. "I know what I would say if I had to make a guess – and if you're going to be sick, I'll stop."

Bonnie gulped. "I'm all right. But we're seriously going to Isobel Saitou's house?"

"We're very seriously going there. As a matter of fact, we're almost there. Let's just brush our hair, take a few deep breaths, and get it over with. How well do you know her?"

"Well, she's smart. We didn't have any classes together. But we both got out of athletics at the same time – she had a jumpy heart or something, and I used to get that terrible asthma…."

"From any exertion except dancing, which you could keep up all night," Meredith said dryly. "I don't know her very well at all. What's she like?"

"Well, nice. Looks a bit like you, except Asian. Shorter than you – Elena's height, but skinnier. Sort of pretty. A little shy – the quiet type, you know. Sort of hard to get to know. And…nice."

"Shy and quiet and nice sounds good to me."

"Me, too," Bonnie said, pressing her sweaty hands together between her knees. What sounded even better, she thought, was for Isobel to be not at home.

However, there were several cars parked in front of the Saitou house. Bonnie and Meredith knocked on the door hesitantly, mindful of what had happened the last time they had done this.

It was Jim Bryce who answered, a tall, lanky boy who hadn't filled out yet and stooped a bit. What Bonnie found amazing was the change in his face as he recognized Meredith.

When he'd answered he'd looked awful; his face white under a medium tan, his body somehow crumpled. When he saw Meredith, some of the color came to his cheeks and he seemed to…well, to smooth out like a piece of paper. He stood taller.

Meredith didn't say a word. She just stepped forward and put her arms around him. He clutched at her as if he was afraid she'd run away, and buried his face in her dark hair.


"Just breathe, Jim. Breathe."

"You don't know what it's been like. My parents left because my great-grandpa's really sick – I think he's dying. And then Tami – Tami – "

"Tell me slowly. And keep breathing."

"She threw knives, Meredith. Butcher knives. She got me in the leg here." Jim plucked at his jeans to show a small slit of a hole in the fabric over the lower part of one thigh.

"Have you had a tetanus shot recently?" Meredith was at her most efficient.

"No, but it's not really a big cut. It's a puncture wound, mainly."

"Those are exactly the kind that are most dangerous. You need to call Dr. Alpert right away." Old Dr. Alpert was an institution in Fell's Church: a doctor who even made house calls, in a country where carrying around a little black bag and stethoscope was pretty much unheard-of behavior.

"Ican't . I can't leave…." Jim jerked his head backward toward the interior of the house as if he couldn't bring himself to say a name.

Bonnie tugged at Meredith's sleeve. "I have a very bad feeling about this," she hissed.

Meredith turned back to Jim. "You mean Isobel? Where areher parents?"

"Isa-chan, I mean Isobel, I just call her Isa-chan, you know…"

"It's all right," said Meredith. "Just say what comes naturally. Go on."

"Well, Isa-chan only has her grandma, and Grandma Saitou doesn't even come downstairs much. I made her lunch a while ago and she thought I was – Isobel's father. She gets…confused."

Meredith glanced at Bonnie, and said, "And Isobel? Is she confused, too?"

Jim shut his eyes, looking utterly miserable. "I wish you'd go in and, well, just talk to her."

Bonnie's bad feeling was only getting worse. She really couldn't stand another scare like the one at Caroline's house – and she certainly didn't have the strength to Call again, even if Damon weren't in a hurry to get somewhere.

But Meredith knew all this, and Meredith was giving her the sort of look that couldn't be denied. It also promised that Meredith would protect Bonnie, no matter what.

"Is she hurting anybody? Isobel?" Bonnie heard herself ask as they crossed through the kitchen and toward a bedroom at the end of the hallway.

She could hardly hear Jim's whispered, "Yeah."

And then, as Bonnie groaned internally, he added, "Herself."

Isobel's room was just what you'd expect from a quiet and studious girl. At least one side was. The other side looked as if a tidal wave had picked everything up and thrown it down again randomly. Isobel was sitting in the middle of this mess like a spider on a web.

But that wasn't what made Bonnie's gut churn. It was what Isobel was doing. She had laid out beside her what looked a lot like Mrs. Flowers' kit for cleaning out wounds, but she wasn't healing anything.

She was piercing herself.

She had already done her lip, her nose, one eyebrow, and her ears, many times. Blood was dripping from all these places, dripping and falling onto the unmade sheets of her bed. Bonnie saw all that as Isobel looked up at them with a frown, except that the frown was only half there. On the pierced side, the eyebrow didn't move at all.

Her aura was shattered orange with black lashings through it.

Bonnie knew, all at once, that she was going to be sick. She knew it with the deep knowledge that overcame all embarrassment and which sent her flying to a wastebasket she didn't even remember seeing. Thank God, it had a white plastic bag lining it, she thought, and then she was completely occupied for a few minutes.

Her ears recorded a voice, even as she was thinking she was glad she hadn't had lunch.

"My God,are you crazy ? Isobel, what have you done to yourself? Don't you know the kind of infections you can get…the veins you can hit…the muscles you can paralyze…? I think you've already pierced the muscle in your eyebrow – and you shouldn't still be bleeding unless you've hit veins or arteries."

Bonnie retched dryly into the wastebasket, and spat.

And just then she heard a meaty thud.

She looked up, half knowing what she would see. But it still was a shock. Meredith was doubled over from what must have been a punch in the stomach.

The next thing Bonnie knew, she was beside Meredith. "Oh, my God, did shestab you?" A stab wound…deep enough into the abdomen…

Meredith clearly couldn't get her breath. From somewhere a bit of advice from her sister Mary, the nurse, floated into Bonnie's mind.

Bonnie pounded with both fists on Meredith's back, and suddenly Meredith took a huge gulp of air.

"Thanks," she was saying weakly, but Bonnie was already dragging her away, away from the laughing Isobel and a collection of the world's longest nails and the rubbing alcohol and other things that she had on a breakfast tray beside her.

Bonnie got to the door and almost collided with Jim, who had a wet washcloth in his hand. For her, she supposed. Or maybe for Isobel. All Bonnie was interested in was making Meredith pull up her top to make absolutely, positively sure that there were no holes in her.

"I got it – out of her hand – before she punched me," Meredith said, still breathing painfully as Bonnie anxiously scanned the area above her low-rise jeans. "I'll have a bruise, that's all."

"She hit you, too?" Jim said in dismay. Except that he didn't say it. He whispered it.

You poor guy, Bonnie thought, finally satisfied that Meredith wasn't perforated. What with Caroline and your sister Tami and your girlfriend, you don't have the first idea of what's going on. How could you?

And if we told you, you'd just think we were two more crazy girls.

"Jimmy, youhave to call Dr. Alpert right away, and then I think they're going to have to go to the hospital in Ridgemont. Isobel's already done permanent damage to herself – God knows how much.All those piercings are almost certainly going to be infected. When did she start this?"

"Um, well…she first started acting weird after Caroline came to see her."

"Caroline!" Bonnie blurted, confused. "Was she crawling?"

Jim gave her a look. "Huh?"

"Never mind Bonnie; she was joking," Meredith said easily. "Jimmy, you don't have to tell us about Caroline if you don't want to. We – well, we know she was over at your house."

"Doeseverybody know?" Jim asked miserably.

"No. Just Matt, and he only told us so that somebody could go check on your little sister."

Jim looked guilty and stricken at once. The words poured out of him as if they'd been bottled up and now the cork was out of the bottle.

"I don't know what's going on anymore. All I can tell you is what happened. It was a couple days ago – late evening," Jim said. "Caroline came over, and – I mean, I never even had a crush on her. It's like, sure, she's good-looking, and my parents were away and all, but I never thought I was the kind of guy…"

"Never mind that now. Just tell us about Caroline and Isobel."

"Well, Caroline came over wearing this outfit that was – well, the top was practically transparent. And she just – she said, did I want to dance and it was, like, slow dancing and she – she, like,seduced me. That's the truth. And the next morning she left – just about the time Matt came. That was the day before yesterday. And then I noticed Tami acting – crazy. Nothing I could do would stop her. And then I got a phone call from Isa-chan and – I've never heard her so hysterical. Caroline must have gone straight from my house to her house. Isa-chan said she was going to kill herself. And so I ran over here. I had to get away from Tami anyway because me being there at home just seemed to make it worse."

Bonnie looked at Meredith and knew that they were both thinking the same thing:and somewhere in there, both Caroline and Tami propositioned Matt, too.

"Caroline must have told her everything." Jim gulped. "Isa-chan and I haven't – we were waiting, you know? But all Isa-chan would say to me was that I was going to be sorry. ¡®You'll be sorry; just wait and see,' over and over and over. And, God, Iam sorry."

"Well, now you can stop being sorry and start calling the doctor. Rightnow , Jimmy." Meredith gave him a swat on the behind. "And then you need to call your parents. Don't give me those big brown puppy-dog eyes. You're over eighteen; I don't know what they can do to you for leaving Tami alone all this time."

"But – "

"But me no buts. Imean it, Jimmy."

Then she did what Bonnie knew she would, but was dreading. She approached Isobel again. Isobel's head was down; she was pinching her navel with one hand. In the other, she held a long, shining nail.

Before Meredith could even speak, Isobel said, "So you're in on it, too. I heard the way you called him ¡®Jimmy.' You're all trying to take him away from me. All you bitches are trying to hurt me.Yurusenai! Zettai yurusenai! "

"Isobel! Don't! Can't you see that you're hurtingyourself ?"

"I'm only hurting myself to take away the pain. You're the one who's really doing it, you know. You're pricking me with needles inside."

Bonnie jumped inside her own skin, but not just because Isobel suddenly gave a vicious thrust of the nail. She felt heat sweep up into her cheeks. Her heart began to pound even faster than it was already going.

Trying to keep one eye on Meredith, she pulled her mobile phone out of her back pocket where she'd stashed it after the visit to Caroline's house.

Still with half her attention on Meredith, she went on the Internet and rapidly entered just two search words. Then, as she made a couple of selections from her hits, she realized that she could never absorb all the information in a week, much less a few minutes. But at least she had a start.

Just now, Meredith was backing away from Isobel. She put her mouth close to Bonnie's ear and whispered, "I think we're just antagonizing her. Did you get a good look at her aura?"

Bonnie nodded.

"Then we probably should leave the room, at least."

Bonnie nodded again.

"Were you trying to call Matt and Elena?" Meredith was eyeing the mobile phone.

Bonnie shook her head and turned the phone so Meredith could see her two search words. Meredith stared, then lifted dark eyes to Bonnie's in a kind of horrified recognition.

Salem witches.