Afterlife Page 59

“Maybe we don’t have to wake them,” Dana said. A fine rain began to fall, and she hit the windshield wipers, with their soft slap — slap sound.

“Is this ghostbusting business loud, Bianca?”

“Urn, it can be. But it doesn’t have to be.” I hoped that was true. “We’ll try.”

Raquel had always been very clear about the fact that she Wasn’t wealthy, like most of the living and dead students at Evernight. Her neighborhood Wasn’t as bad as I’d always imagined it, though. Maybe I was just naive and thought being poor meant living in a slum like one they showed on bad TV shows, with burning cars and gang members everywhere. It was just a quiet neighborhood with small houses that didn’t have much in the way of yards. Instead of squalor and violence, everything wasjust kind of gray and run — down, with some half — hearted, sloppy graffiti on the trash cans.

“We’re lucky it’s raining,” Raquel said. “Everybody would be out on the corners if it weren ‘t.”

The house in the middle of the block belonged to Raquel’s family. We realized as soon as we got out of the car that no one was home. “Where would they be?” Dana asked, as we peered through the windows at packed — up boxes. “The furniture’s in place, so they haven’t moved.”

“With Frida, maybe?” Raquel squinted. “It looks like they’ve pulled up part of the kitchen floor. Maybe that water pipe burst again, and they’re fixing the damage.”

“They’re not home,” I said. “That’s the important thing. We can do this now.”

Raquel went very still. “I’m not sure I can.”

Dana put an arm around her shoulders. “It’s okay. If you want to stay out here, that works, too. Right, Bianca?”

I started to agree with her, then stopped myself. “You can stay out here if you want to,” I said. “But I think you should face this thing.” Her white lips pressed together, Raquel shook her head.

“Come on, Raquel! Since when do you run away from a fight?” She wouldn’t look at me any longer, but I kept going. “If you don’t see this happen, then You’ll always be scared of it. Always. But if you see us defeat it, then that’s the last way you’ll remember it. Beaten. Isn’t that what you’d rather see?”

“Back off, okay?” Dana got betvveen us. “Don’t push her.”

“No,” Raquel said. She touched Dana’s shoulder, gently edging her aside. “Bianca’s right. I’ll go in.”

As the rain fell softly around us, pattering on the metal awning overhead, Dana jimmied the front — door lock as swiftly as Lucas could’ve done.

Too bad I wasn’t in Black Cross long enough to Jearn that trick, I thought.

The door swung open with a creak. Dana tiptoed in, trying not to make a sound; Raquel, face pale, followed. I allowed myself to become mostly vapor, a soft blue mist right behind them.

“Whoa,” Raquel said, clearly taken aback. “That’s — spooky.”

“Shhh! We’re trying to be quiet here!” Dana held the compact in front of her, like she hoped to use it as a shield. I would need to take the compact from her, but that would come once I could take form again.

“That’s okay, “I said. “Sooner or later, we want it to know we’re here.”

I stretched my consciousness throughout the house, discovering that I could sense the layout of the rooms without seeing them, that I knew which one had belonged to Raquel — part of her essence lingered there.

So did something else.

The voice resonated on a frequency that Wasn’t quite sound, merely vibration, in the ether we shared. Little girl. Little girl. You’ve come back to play.

Raquel started to shake. “It’s here,” she whispered. “I can tell.”

She hadn ‘ t heard the voice, I realized, nor had Dana; they were both looking around wildly, as if expecting the wraith to appear from any 158 direction, at any second. And yet Raquel knew the presence of this thing on a deeper level than I could comprehend. I wondered how deep a link had been formed — how deeply this wraith had sunk its claws into her.

Did you bring playmates for me?

Suddenly I could see a room, not this one — a different, false reality surrounding me, slightly transparent but enclosing, too, like a cell made of glass. It looked like a small child’s bedroom. At first I thought this must have been what Raquel’s room looked like when she was a child, but then I corrected myself; she would never have spent so much as one night in a room this pink and frilly, with a canopy bed and dolls stacked in row after row. I’d never seen so many dolls — And I’d never seen any dolls who were watching me right back. Somehow they were looking at me, their glassy black eyes all too alive. I heard a soft rustling among their fluffy petticoats, and one of the dolls leaned sharply to the side, as if it had fallen. They were alive but not alive, watching but not watching, and just completely creepy. It was enough to scare the crap out of me, and I was a ghost.

This is somebody’s idea of a child’s room, I thought. Their over — the — top imitation of where a little girl would sleep. Created by some guy who’s spent way too much time thinking about little girls in bed.

“Show yourself,” I demanded. In the other reality — the actual one — I could see RaqueR and Dana both jump. “Stop hiding behind the dolls.

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