Afterlife Page 25

I saw that I was close to the school library. There probably wasn’t anything accurate in there about the wraiths, but maybe there was. I decided to search and see. At that point, one question loomed in my mind, larger than any other: whether wraiths had any way to — well, to die. Again. For good.

Not that I wanted to do anything drastic right that moment, but I had to know if there was an out, ever. And maybe I was starting to want to take it.

The library would ‘ve cheered me up, most days. I loved the heavy oaken tables, the high walls stacked with books to the ceiling, the musty smell of old pages and the heavy brass fixtures that had gone dark with age and wear. It reminded me of hanging out with Raquel, or flirting with Lucas, or studying with Balthazar. Of everything happy, simple, and alive.

I didn’t belong there anymore.

Resolutely I traveled farther into the library, wondering where ghost — related books might be kept — and felt the wall start to pull me in.

It was sickening, overwhelming, like that terrible sensation when you’re looking over a high ledge and for one second feel like you want to jump, only this time the pull was taking me over whether I wanted it or not. The east wall of the library had some strange magnetism that tied in to the core of me. A thick vibration muffled every sound and nearly deafened me, and a kind of static blurred my vision.

I tried to make myself more substantial, so maybe I could push myself backward, but I couldn’t become entirely solid. A strange black gap — not in the world but in my senses — was opening in front of me, towing me forward.

From within that gap, I could hear terrible cries. I realized they were the screams of other ghosts trapped by whatever force held me. Were they the same ones who had taunted me before? Others? No way to know. At any rate, they couldn’t rescue themselves, much less me.

“Is anybody there?” I shouted. “Somebody, help! Can anybody hear me?” No answers.

Well, you wanted to die, said that vicious little voice in my head. I wondered if I was wrong to even fight this. Maybe I needed to let it happen.

Then I realized that if I did that, I’d never see Lucas again, or any of the other people I loved.

“Lucas!” I screamed. My mind filled with the image of the nightmarish scene where I’ d left him, and I envisioned myself in the records room. It solidified around me, taking shape. Lucas and Erich were again locked in battle — a dream fight so much longer than the real one could have been sweaty and bloody. The nightmare had begun again, apparently a night — long torment for him. Charity had vanished, like any other whim within dreams, but otherwise everything was just as terrible. This time, though, I had to break through. Once again, with every bit of my might, I called, “Lucas!”

He turned his head from Erich, startled. Lucas’s expression was so confused that I thought he couldn’t see me, but at least he could hear.

“Lucas, this is a dream, only a dream. I’m in the library and something’s got me — you have to find me!”

The scene faded as quickly as it had arrived. Had I reached him, or was that only my own wishful thinking? Already the dark gap had swallowed almost everything I could see, everything I could feel. Of my hearing, all that was left was the wailing of the other wraiths.

I wanted to call for Maxie or Christopher, but I didn’t know if they would hear me, or whether Maxie would respond if I pleaded for help. And what if I dragged them in, too?

A shudder passed through me, and I could feel the vapory outlines of my limbs beginning to dissipate. Oh, no, no, no, this is it, this is the end “Bianca!”

“Lucas!” I tried to look for him, but I could gain only the dimmest sense of him in the room. He was an outline, a radiation of energy and fear and love, nothing else. “It’s got me.”

“Give me your hand!” By that he meant, form a hand, give him something to hold on to; I understood that. I just wasn’t sure I could do it anymore, or that it would do any good. No simple physical force could pull me back from the vortex.

But I wanted to hold Lucas’s hand at least one more time, even if I couldn’t do anything else. So with every ounce of my strength and concentration, I thought about the place where my hand should be, and carved out the image of the wrist, the palm, and the fingers. A soft blue form appeared, fragile as a wisp of smoke. It was nothing like it should have been; maybe this was what wraiths looked like just before they vanished forever.

Then Lucas wrapped something around my wrist.

The bracelet! I saw the coral and silver in the same second that I felt a jolt of inner power. Within an instant, my body became solid, and I fell hard to the floor. The answering pain was wonderful. It meant I was real, and that I had escaped. Something about turning solid negated the power of whatever it was that had grabbed me.

Lucas dropped to his knees and gathered me in his arms. In horror, I saw the manifestation of the vortex that had nearly swallowed me — a swirl of fog and darkness that had opened up within the library wall. As we watched, though, it shrank and quieted, smoothing out into uneven plaster once more.

“What the hell was that?” Lucas said, clutching me against his chest. “Are you okay?”

“I think so.” My voice shook, and I felt a little like I’d throw up, ifl still had a stomach. But the disorientation diminished each moment. “Mrs. Bethany’s not just hunting the wraiths. She’s . .. trapping them.”

“Is that what that was?” His eyes narrowed. “Stand back.”

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