Panic scraped across Kylie's mind and clawed at her chest. Opening her eyes, she saw only darkness, but felt more particles of dirt sift down. She went to blink and each speck of grit scraped across the top of her lids.
Please, I don't want to be here, she screamed in her mind. Her eyes adjusted to the dark and tears stung her sinuses, but the watery weakness helped wash away some of the grit.
She went to breathe, but her mouth wouldn't open; something held it shut. Her lungs demanded oxygen, so she drew air in through her nose. Her throat knotted at the smell, the smell of death and then a heavy herb scent. She forced herself to turn her head to confirm what she suspected: that this vision had landed her in the grave.
A long strand of red hair rested against the side of her face. As had happened in the other vision, she was the spirit. She was Hannah-only unlike the woman whose body she inhibited, she breathed. The thought that she was in the corpse brought on another wave of nausea. Then another followed when she saw a large black beetle move across her lashes. Its prickly legs inched over her cheek and poked its head up into her left nostril.
She started snorting and struggling to free herself, but nothing worked.
Turning her cheek a little farther to the right, her gaze came upon the face of Cindy Shaffer. A scream rose in Kylie's throat, but stayed bubbled in her mouth that was still forced closed. Her heart thumped against her breastbone at the sight. The girl's facial skin hung loose, exposing some cheekbone. But the girl's mouth was covered with duct tape. Staring down past her own nose, Kylie saw she bore the same tape. And the decomposing body she was in was shackled with chains. Was this supposed to mean something? Or had the killer really done this?
Another loud clank came from above. Kylie's gaze shot up toward the noise. She saw a long iron spike being pushed through a hole in the slats that appeared to be decaying wood flooring. The piece of iron dropped on top of her, and the cold of it sizzled against her forearm, which was pinned at her side. On one end of the metal bar was some kind of ornament, a cross. Kylie recognized the emblem as being like the rusty fence and gate at the cemetery.
Footsteps sounded on the floor above as if someone was walking away, but then he returned, and another piece of rusty fencing was pushed through the hole. This time, Kylie saw the hand of the person shoving the iron inside. As the arm moved almost in front of her face, the cuff of the shirt rose slightly upward, exposing the edge of a silver watchband.
What am I supposed to learn from this? Kylie asked with her mind, and looked at the dead girl at her side. Another wave of panic filled her lungs when a fat snake at least two feet long slithered up her chest and then higher. The cold, damp feel of its underbelly muscles inching across her cheek had a scream building in her throat.
She had to get out of here.
"You're fine." The calm sound of Holiday's voice had Kylie opening her eyes seconds later. She took a quick look around. She was in Holiday's office. But why was she...?
The vision played in her head like a horror movie in fast forward. Panic flooded her chest. She jackknifed up, jumped off the sofa, and slapped at her arms, legs, and face, hoping to chase away the feel of death and underground creatures moving against her skin.
"It's okay," Holiday said again.
No, it wasn't. She'd been dead and had a snake crawling over her face and a bug playing peekaboo inside her nose. That was so not okay.
Kylie took a deep breath, then bent over and barfed-once, then twice. Barfed all over someone's dark pair of shoes.
"Oh, damn!" a deep voice said.
Kylie recognized the voice and the shoes.
She looked up at the disgusted expression on the badass vampire and started to apologize, but instead barfed again. She missed Burnett's shoes this time, but made a direct hit to the front of his shirt.
"Oh, fu-," Burnett muttered, but never finished the word.
Holiday wrapped her arm around Kylie. "Breathe. Just breathe. It's going to be okay." She guided Kylie back to the sofa. Burnett, holding his arms away from his shirt front, handed Holiday a damp cloth, which was quickly pressed to Kylie's forehead.
Kylie reached for it and wiped her mouth, and then looked at Burnett. "I think you need it worse than me." Tears filled her eyes and her whole body trembled. "Sorry."
He looked down at his shirt and back up at her. "I'm not mad."
She focused on Holiday's face, felt the calm flowing from her touch, and tried to remember exactly what had happened. How had she gotten ... Her memory started to fall into place one piece at a time.
But it only took a few pieces for her to start panicking again. "Please tell me I didn't go wacko in English class."
Holiday's gaze filled with empathy. "It's not your fault. And Della brought you here as soon as she got you out of the closet."
Kylie flopped back on the sofa and started to wish she could vanish, but stopped herself before it came true. "I hate this. I really, really hate this."
Kylie stared at the ceiling. Burnett left the room, but returned in record time wearing a different shirt. Obviously he didn't keep a new pair of shoes handy in his office because he now stood in his socks.
After a few minutes, Holiday asked Kylie, "Can you talk about it?"
"I was Hannah. But ... most of the time when I have these types of visions and I'm the spirit, the spirit isn't dead and ... in a grave with bugs and snakes." Kylie's breath shuddered.
"Hannah's trying to show you something. That's what visions are all about," Holiday said. "Tell me what happened."
Kylie swallowed a tight knot down her throat. "I don't know what she wants me to see. We were in the grave. There were snakes and bugs. I saw plenty of those." She wiped her face, remembering the snake slithering across her cheek.
"Tell me everything," Holiday said. "Everything."
Kylie started recounting it, from the footsteps sounding on top of the rotting wooden planks above her, to the herb smell and the scrap pieces of iron that looked like they came from the cemetery. When Kylie finished, Holiday's expression went white.
"What is it?" Burnett asked, not missing the look on her face.
"Someone knows Hannah is reaching out from the grave."
"How do you know that?" Kylie asked.
"The tape over their mouths and the chains. You said you smelled herbs and that you saw someone adding iron from the graveyard. In the past, it was called cold iron. It's basically iron, but some of it was blessed by practicing Wiccans. It was used to keep spirits from escaping, and ... the herbs, there are several that are used to silence spirits. That's what she was trying to tell you. That someone is trying to stop her from communicating with us."
"And Blake knows you are a ghost whisperer," Burnett said. "It's logical that Hannah would come to you."
"But if that's the case, why is he just now trying to silence them? He would have done that in the beginning."
"She's right," Kylie said. "It's someone here. Hannah told us that much. And excuse me for sounding like a broken record, but Hayden Yates is bound to have heard I'm a ghost whisperer. Everyone here has." And if they hadn't, today sealed the deal.
Holiday twisted her hair in a tight rope and then met Kylie's gaze. "I don't want to suspect someone here," she said, and then met Burnett's gaze. "But Kylie's right. It could be someone from Shadow Falls. And if it was the iron from Fallen Cemetery, then Hannah's and the other's bodies are close by."
"Fine," Burnett growled. "I'll go back and run Hayden Yates through every damn database I can find. Until then, you don't let the man within two feet of you."
"I still don't think it's Hayden," Holiday said.
"And I still do," Kylie insisted.
"Who else could it be?" Burnett asked.
"One of the new students or teachers," Holiday said, "but..."
"Most serial killers are men. And I don't see a teen being able to pull this off."
"And Hannah keeps calling the killer a he," Kylie said.
Burnett huffed. "I'm not sure Collin Warren could look at someone long enough to kill them."
"But he's strange," Kylie said. However, Kylie's gut just knew that Hayden Yates was up to no good.
"Being extremely shy doesn't make him a killer," Holiday pointed out. "It just makes him socially awkward."
Burnett shook his head. "But just to be sure, I'll check him out again, too. You stay away from both of them."
Holiday rolled her eyes. "How am I going to run a school and not talk to any of the teachers?"
"I could always lock you in my cabin," Burnett said.
"You wish," Holiday said.
Burnett's eyes brightened and a smile barely tilted his lips up slightly. "That I do."
Kylie smiled for a second, too, completely getting Burnett's underlying message. Then for some reason, Kylie thought about Lucas, and started missing him, wishing he could be here to help her cope. Don't ever fall in love, princess. It just hurts too much.
Her stepfather's words echoed in Kylie's head and right then, she knew. She loved Lucas.
As if the epiphany gave her heart and mind a reboot, she suddenly recalled being in Miss Kane's closet and screaming at the top of her lungs. She closed her eyes as embarrassment flooded through her. If any of the other campers hadn't quite made up their minds about whether she was or wasn't a freak, she'd made it easy for them.
Kylie felt Holiday slip her soft hand against her wrist, as if reading some of her emotional angst. The touch had little effect this time. Kylie was in love with Lucas, a guy who couldn't even be seen in public with her, and she'd made a complete idiot out of herself with one of her ghost visions.
"Burnett," Holiday spoke softly, "why don't you go find some shoes and give Kylie and me a few minutes alone."
Something about being alone with Holiday had Kylie letting go and allowing herself to fall apart. She fell against the camp leader's shoulder and started sobbing.
Holiday held her, held her so tight that Kylie cried harder. After a few minutes, Holiday spoke. "I'm so damn sorry. Hannah shouldn't have come to you. You're too young to have to deal with this."
The words brought a sudden halt to Kylie's pity party.
She pulled out of the embrace. "No. I mean, sure, it's hard, but this is what I do. I'd do it for a stranger. And I'd do it for your sister again and again." And if it meant stopping someone from hurting Holiday, I would do that and more.
Kylie wiped her face to clear the tears and knew she was all red and blotchy. Not that she cared. This was Holiday. Her mentor, her big sister. Her friend.
"Besides," Kylie added, "it's not just the vision. It's Lucas. I think I love him. No, I'm pretty sure I love him. Oh, shit! I'm in love with a boy who can't love me back."
Holiday brushed her hand over Kylie's cheek. "Oh, hon, he might not supposed to be in love with you, but that doesn't mean he can't, or that he doesn't."
Kylie inhaled deeply, trying not to let herself cry again. "He hasn't told me he loves me. I mean, I haven't told him either, but ... Derek told me he loved me. And..." She closed her eyes, trying to figure out how to put it. "And sometimes I'm confused about what I feel for him, but just now, seeing what you and Burnett have, or what you could have, it made me realize I want that. I'm tired of hiding what I feel and being afraid of it."
The tears Kylie had stopped shedding filled Holiday's eyes. "Love's always scary."
Kylie felt Holiday's emotions blend with her own. "It shouldn't be scary," Kylie said. "Burnett loves you. Even I can see it. And I know you love him. Don't lose out on something wonderful because you're scared."
"I just need some time," Holiday said.
"Time we might not have. Life's fragile. Look at Hannah, and Cindy and the other girl. They don't get the opportunity to love again. We have the chance and we're not doing it. I should have told Lucas how I feel. I should have forced him to be honest with me about what's happening with him. You should tell Burnett how you feel."
Holiday bit down on her lower lip. "I thought I was the one offering advice here."
"Yeah, well, the tables turned," Kylie said. Things change. Kylie just hoped with all the things changing, the one constant in her life would be Shadow Falls. The thought of losing Holiday and everyone here, even the ones who considered her a nutcase, was too much. They were her family.
That night, Kylie had tried to dreamscape with Lucas, but it wasn't working. She texted him, called him, and even e-mailed. No answer came back. Then at two in the morning, staring at the ceiling, her phone rang. She grabbed it without checking the caller ID.
"Lucas?" she said his name at the same time she hit the light switch. The cold in the room came on faster than the light.
"Sorry," the voice on the line said. "Just me."
Kylie shivered then frowned when she recognized the voice. "I just tried-"
"It's okay," Derek said, but his tone said it wasn't really okay. "I just woke up and felt you worrying. I tried to call you earlier to see how you were after the vision, but you didn't call me back."
Kylie pulled the blanket up around her neck. The spirit standing by the bed faded, but before she did, Kylie recognized her as the woman from earlier that day. Remembering who was on the phone, Kylie's chest swelled with emotion.
"I ... It's been crazy." She'd gotten his messages. She just hadn't wanted to talk to him because of the emotional storm she felt about Lucas right now. It wasn't fair to Derek, because even though she wasn't doing anything wrong, she knew their friendship offered him hope that she would change her mind, and she didn't think that hope had a hell of a lot of merit.
"You're pulling away again," he said.
"Kylie, you don't have to explain. I know." He paused. "It's okay. And someday I'll even be able to say that and mean it."
"You're a special guy," Kylie said, hurting for him.
"I know," he said, and chuckled. "And that's why I'm not completely giving up. But I'm working on it. I just called to check on you."
"I'm okay," Kylie said.
"Then I'll say good night." Rejection sounded in his voice.
"Derek, I'm really-"
"Just say good night, Kylie," he insisted.
"Good night," she whispered, and nothing was sadder than the sound of that dead line.
Putting her phone down, Kylie looked around. The cold from the spirit had lessened but she could tell she lingered nearby.
"Who are you?" Kylie asked.
The woman didn't answer. And why should she? They never made it easy.
But then, neither did the living.
"Kylie! Kylie!" The voice jolted Kylie from a deep sleep before the sun rose the next morning. She shot up, chills crawling up and down her spine like spiders. Without even knowing why, her blood sizzled with the need to protect. Protect someone.
Still half asleep, she pushed her hair from face and stood in the middle of the room, breathing in and breathing out. Her pulse raced, and panic filled her chest, crowding her lungs. Something was happening. She felt it.
Someone needed her. Someone needed Kylie's protection.
Her mind raced as she tried to make sense of what she felt. Then Kylie remembered the voice. She let it play in her mind, again and again, until finally she recognized it.
"No!" She grabbed her jeans and T-shirt.
Holiday was in trouble.