Disappointment shot through her limbs. She had two intruders instead of just one. She wanted to scream, but air locked in her lungs and not one sound came out. Angry, she swung around and confronted the owners of the two voices. She could be proud of one thing: she'd been right. There were no vampires in the woods.
Just a smart-mouthed shape-shifter, in bird form, and a very pissed-off werewolf.
She gulped down a mouthful of air. Still unable to catch her breath, she bent at the waist and with her hands on her knees she waited for her lungs to open up. When oxygen finally flowed to her brain, her thoughts came clearer.
And one thought stood out. She wasn't going to let them stop her.
Straightening, she met Perry's gaze with sheer determination. Then she shifted the same glare to Lucas. "I'm following my quest. Leave and let me do what I have to do."
"Have you lost your frigging mind?" Perry asked.
"What's going on, Kylie?" Lucas demanded.
Kylie stared at the were. "Just what I said. I'm following my quest. I need for you to leave. It's important and I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. Leave me alone!"
She hoped she sounded more confident than she felt. Any minute now she waited for the night to go silent and Burnett to show up. For some reason, she felt capable of standing up to Lucas and Perry, but bucking authority never came easy for her. And Burnett was authority with a badass attitude.
Before she considered how it would sound, she asked, "Does Burnett know?"
Lucas ground his mouth shut and continued to stare at her with anger, and perhaps shock, at her behavior.
"How did you find me?" she asked the shape-shifter as tiny bubbles of electricity started forming around him.
A second later, Perry appeared in human form. "I was flying around after I left Miranda and saw you jump the property fence."
She glared back at Lucas. "And you?"
His eyes brightened with anger, his frown increased, but he started talking. "Burnett thought I was the one who'd set off the alarm. He called me, and I had a strong feeling that I needed to make sure everything was okay. Then I saw Big Bird here flying-"
"Big Bird?" Perry's voice deepened with frustration.
"Whatever," Lucas continued. "I saw him and thought I'd check and see what he was up to."
"You're checking on me?" Perry's eyes turned the same orange as Lucas's.
"Not like that." Lucas's posture became less defensive. "I thought you might have spotted someone breaking in." His gaze shot back to Kylie. "To hurt the very person who broke out." His scowl deepened; his focus and his frustration were now directed at Kylie. "But that's not important. What's important is why you're putting yourself at risk. You know better. So let's get back before Burnett figures it out."
That was exactly why Kylie had to stop yakking with them and get a move on. If Burnett discovered she was missing, there would be hell to pay.
She glanced at her watch. Five minutes till one. Time ran out. She didn't envision her grandfather as being someone who appreciated tardiness.
Remembering she wasn't powerless, she wiggled her right pinky against her ring finger. However, the idea of using it didn't sit well with her.
"Okay," she offered. "Short explanation. I have to meet someone. So we can either do this the easy way or the hard way."
"Meet who?" Lucas and Perry asked at the same time.
"My grandfather. He contacted me and-"
"How?" Lucas asked.
"E-mail," Kylie answered, unsure why she thought telling them the truth would work, but her other option didn't feel right-especially considering she really didn't know what she was doing when it came to casting spells. Just ask poor Zac.
"Don't be stupid," Perry said. "How do you know it was really from him?"
"I know," Kylie said with confidence, and pushed back the knowledge that Perry could be right. All this could be a trick. But every instinct she had said differently. If wrong, she might pay the price with her life. If right, she'd find the answers she'd been seeking since the first day she'd arrived at Shadow Falls.
Risky? Maybe. But a risk she was willing to take. "And here's the thing," Kylie continued. "You two can either agree to let me go, or-"
"No." Lucas's shoulders grew tighter. "You are not-"
She didn't wait any longer. She twitched her pinky and envisioned a big net falling from the sky, snaring the two of them together, and preventing them from following her.
She saw it rushing down from above and barely escaped being caught herself. "Sorry," she called out, and took off running. With every ounce of power she owned, she focused on getting away before they got loose.
Kylie ran. No, that wasn't right. Because she realized at some point she wasn't running, she was flying. If she hadn't been in such a hurry, she'd have taken the time to appreciate the new addition to her gifts. Ah, but no time. She needed to get far enough away that Perry and Lucas couldn't follow her.
Finally, she spotted the rusty cemetery gates jutting out from the earth like sharp weapons that could take a life. The night appeared to grow darker as she drew nearer. Her chest tightened as she remembered Perry's question. How do you know it was really from him?
She didn't. She'd come on blind faith. Was that enough?
Slowing down, her feet came back to the ground. She came to an abrupt stop a few feet from the old iron gates. She went to step forward but a sudden movement behind the gate stopped her. Her heart stopped, too. Her last breath felt trapped in her lungs as she took in the view.
Faces, dozens upon dozens of faces, peered at her through the creaky bars. Their lifeless gazes soulfully stared at her with eyes that begged her for help. If only she could help them all. If only one sweep of her hand or wiggle of her pinky could take care of whatever issue kept them chained to this life, when another awaited them.
Then another thought hit. Were any of these ghosts hell-bound spirits? Those who wanted to take her to hell with them in an attempt to soften their own sentence? Great! Why did she have to think about that lovely possibility now?
She forced herself to take a step closer. The idea that she was going to have to step through those gates and move past the hundred or more spirits ripped at her courage. She remembered how it felt last time when she'd come here and had been touched by so many ghosts-the pain was similar to a brain freeze, but one that happened to the entire body.
But it would be worth it if her grandfather waited inside because she'd get some answers. Definitely worth it. Besides, it wasn't as if she hadn't done this before; she'd come here twice. But not in the dark or the dead of night. Something about the blackness, with only the moon's silver glow making the spirits' gazes visible, made the place look so much more ... haunted.
Which it was. As if to prove the fact, the cold from the spirits surrounded her and made her skin crawl. She looked up and saw a couple of spirits had moved outside the gate and were slowly easing toward her. Stiffening her spine, accepting she had to do it, she took another step closer, planning to just walk inside. Sort of like jumping into the deep end of a freezing pool and getting it over with. Yet as her foot shifted one more time, a voice, a close-to-her voice-too close-whispered in her ear. "I wouldn't go in there."
She yelped and jumped back six feet before she recognized the voice. Taking a breath to calm her nerves, she moved up beside Hannah. Then Kylie recalled what what the spirit had said. Did Hannah know something Kylie didn't? Was she wrong and it wasn't her grandfather waiting for her inside?
"Why shouldn't I go in?" Kylie asked, her nerves no longer calm.
Hannah leaned in and whispered again. "There are ghosts in there."
Kylie looked at her agape. "But-"
"I know I'm dead," Hannah blurted out, reading Kylie's thoughts. "Just like my grave buddies. But seeing all of them"-she motioned to the gate-"it still scares the crap out of me."
Kylie looked from the gate to her watch again; she had two minutes. She had to go in. But she needed to get Hannah to talk. "Look, someone's waiting on me, but I need to know. What is it that you need me to do?"
Hannah closed her eyes, but not before Kylie saw panic fill her gaze.
"Don't run off," Kylie said in a hurry when she felt the cold begin to ebb. "I need to know. It's why you're here. I know it's hard to talk about things, but sometimes we have to do things that scare us. Sometimes it helps. Sort of like me walking into the cemetery." She glanced back at the gate and the hundred dead faces peering back at her.
Hannah opened her eyes; the panic made her pupils large and black. "He's close by." Her voice weakened.
"Who's close? What did he do?" When Hannah didn't continue, Kylie took a guess. "Is it that Blake guy? The one who called Holiday when she was at the falls?"
Hannah looked down at her hands finger-locked in front of her. "She loved him. She got everything she wanted. I just wanted to know what it would feel like to be that happy. I'd had too much to drink. He'd had too much to drink. It was wrong."
Kylie started putting the pieces together, but she wasn't completely sure, so she asked, "Was Blake the man Holiday was supposed to marry?"
Hannah nodded, and when she looked up, tears and shame filled her eyes.
"Is he the one who killed you?" Kylie asked.
Hannah put her hand over her mouth as if the thought sickened her.
"Is he?" Kylie asked again.
When she moved her hands from her lips, they were trembling. "I ... I don't know if it was Blake." Her eyes filled with terror and sadness at the same time. "I guess it could have been. I don't remember how it happened." She paused. "I only recall ... his aura." Pain filled her eyes. "Details I can't remember, I can't put a name on him, or a face, but the evilness of him as he took my life ... that I can't forget. And I've felt it since. He sometimes comes back to where he buried us. I hear him walking on the floor above. The three of us cling to each other in death and pretend our souls are already gone."
Hannah hugged herself as if the memory was too much. "He disguises his aura most of the time. He has the power to appear normal. But when he's not pretending, he's evil and dark."
"When he's pretending, is his aura the same as Blake's?" Kylie asked.
"I don't know. I'm not sure. I guess it could be. I never paid attention to that aura. It's the other that ... haunts me." She paused as if in thought. "There seems to be a small part of me that says I knew the man who did it." She paused as if her thoughts went in another direction, and from her expression, it wasn't a good direction. "He thinks killing brings him power-that's why he does it. And the day I was at Shadow Falls, I sensed he was close. I felt him and I knew. I knew I went to Shadow Falls because of him. He's not happy with just killing me. He wants Holiday." Her words seemed to linger in the night air when she snapped her head back and looked up at the dark sky.
"What is it?" Kylie asked, fearing the killer was close again.
"I think it's that strange shape-shifter from the Shadow Falls camp. The blond kid with eyes that change colors all the time."
The fear Kylie had felt for Hannah and from a murdering evil being faded, and Kylie's own concern rose. If Perry had found her, Lucas wouldn't be far behind. And then probably Burnett. Hoping she'd be less visible, she moved closer to the gate. She looked again at the dead faces appearing as guards of the cemetery. She didn't know if they recognized her from before. She wasn't sure if they even knew she could see them yet. But one thing was clear: if she didn't go in now, she might miss her grandfather.
Kylie looked at Hannah still glancing up at the sky. "Did he see us?" Kylie reached for the gate to open it.
"It's her. I told you it was her," one of the spirits behind the gate said. Then the spirits' arms started reaching through the bars to touch her. Kylie's vision filled with nothing but the arms coming out between the rusty bars of the gate. The cold shot through her skin and stung all the way to the bone. She bit down on her lip, fighting the pain and panic as she pushed open the gate.
"He can't see me. I don't know if he saw you." Hannah's voice echoed from behind her. With the gate open, Kylie pulled her hand free. The ghosts scattered, but the moment she moved a few feet inside the cemetery, they surrounded her. The cold of their spirits crowding around her coated her lips with ice. The pain nearly brought her to her knees. She forced herself to move a few feet away; the reprieve was instant, even if she knew it wouldn't last.
She looked back at Hannah. Fear filled her gaze-a gaze that was just as dead as those from the cemetery, who were now growing closer.
"I can't come in," Hannah said. "One of them might be a death angel. If they want to send me to hell for my sins, they can. I deserve it, but not until I know Holiday is safe."
"I don't think they'll send you to..." Kylie stopped talking when Hannah started to disappear.
"Save her for me, Kylie. Please save my sister!" Hannah's words rang in the dark.
The cold from the spirits drew closer. "Please," Kylie said, her gaze moving from one ashen face to another. "Give me some space."
They scurried back a few feet. Kylie looked over her shoulder, hoping she might see someone who walked in this world. Her hopes were futile. Everywhere she looked, she saw only death.
But then the darkness cloaking the tombstone terrain limited her vision. Kylie knew from the few times she'd been here that the cemetery was immense. Would her grandfather know she was here? The thought that it might not be her grandfather waiting for her, that it hadn't been him sending the e-mails, stirred deep in her chest, but she pushed it back.
She took a few more steps, then, remembering Hannah's concern over Holiday, Kylie grabbed her phone from her pocket and dialed the one person she knew would help her.
"Are you okay?" Derek answered on the first ring.
"I don't have a lot of time, but I need you to do me a favor. Go check on Holiday. Stay there. Don't wake her up. Don't let her know you're watching her, but don't leave her until I get there."
"Shit! What's happening, Kylie?" Derek asked.
"I can't explain right now. Just please. Do it."
"Where are you?" he asked. "I know you aren't at your cabin."
She bit down on her lip so hard she tasted blood. "Please." The word came out with desperation.
He finally answered. "Holiday is fine. Burnett's watching her place."
"Why? How do you know? Did something happen?"
"No, I felt you were in trouble and I was walking to check on you when I came across Burnett standing outside Holiday's cabin. He said because of what we knew about Hannah and the other girls, he wasn't taking any chances."
"Good." She wondered if that was why Burnett had called Lucas and not left to check the gate when the alarm went off.
"I can feel you're scared out of your wits, Kylie. Tell me-"
"I have to go." She cut the phone off. Then she glanced at the crowd of spirits, shifting from foot to foot, reminding her of hungry zombies waiting for the right moment to move in and feed. Pushing that fear-inducing, insane thought away, she remembered they were just people. Lost souls robbed of life, chained to this world by some unfortunate circumstance.
Looking around again, she asked, "Is someone else here?"
"I'm here," one spirit said.
"I'm here." A barrage of the same words spoken by each of the dead filled Kylie's ears like thunder. They all wanted to be counted. To be acknowledged.
Emotion filled Kylie's chest. "Is there anyone alive here, besides me?"
"No one else is here who can see us," one of the spirits spoke up, sounding desperate.
"But someone else is here?" she asked. Again she wondered why her grandfather had chosen the cemetery as a meeting place.
"In the back of the property," the spirit of a young girl answered, and she pointed toward the darkest area in the cemetery. "I saw them under the oak trees, hiding in the shadows."
"Thanks," she said, glancing up one more time, hoping she didn't spot a pissed-off shape-shifter circling in the dark sky. The clouds must have blocked out the moon, because only a few stars stared back at her from the heavens. She started moving. With each step she prayed that in the deepest, darkest part of the graveyard under the trees, she'd find her grandfather. And with him she'd find her answers.