Afterlife Page 70

Lucas took a step toward Samuel, but he didn’t know how to help any more than I did. He said, “This can’t be real.”

“Feel his pulse!” Mrs. Bethany grabbed Samuel’s wrist; he whimpered but didn’t resist her. Then she let go, visibly steadying herself. “Forgive 183 me. I have known the theory for nearly four years, but this is my first successful test.”

Then Lucas lifted his head, awareness dawning. “Bianca,” he said, and for a moment I thought he was talking to me. But he continued, “Bianca was created when her parents made a deal with a wraith — ”

“Another way for the combination of wraith and vampire to create life,” Mrs. Bethany said. “Though there, the result is the creation of a third, independent being. Here, we take the energy of a wraith and unite it with the body of a vampire. Ideally, the wraith’s consciousness is erased, leaving the energy to resurrect the vampire as the person he or she once was.”

The wraith’s consciousness was erased? When you were a wraith, all you were was consciousness. Mrs. Bethany wasn’tjust trapping the ghosts.

She intended to kill them, a sacrifice so that vampires could live again.

And Lucas hadn’t yet walked away.

He’s in shock, I told myself, and I knew it was true; I was in shock myself. But I also knew how profoundly Lucas hated being a vampire. If he had a chance to live again — to be fully human — what might he do to make it happen?

Lucas had focused again on Samuel, who had begun thumping his head against the floor. It should ‘ ve looked funny, but the disjointed, jerky way he moved was too unsettling for that. “What’s wrong with him?”

Mrs. Bethany sighed. “As I feared, using an unstable spirit results in an unstable human. This one I had thought was a superior specimen, far more cogent than most of the wraiths we’ve managed to ensnare thus far — and yet, obviously, not steady enough.”

“Please,” Samuel whispered. He’d started to cry, and I realized that in his fists were strands of his own hair; he ‘d pulled it from his own scalp. I saw that the wraith’s insanity had become a part of him now, as much as his blood or his bone. Mrs. Bethany had restored him to life, but she had also wrecked him.

“You just — ” Lucas glanced at her. “Did this as an experiment.”

“I didn’t intend to go first myself,” Mrs. Bethany said, “and Mr. Younger had serious behavioral problems. I have better uses for my time than hosting detention.”

Lucas frowned in a way I recognized as a sign of growing anger. As much as he’d suffered from Samuel, he obviously never would have wished this on him. “Seems like you could’ve warned the guy.”

“I thought there was a reasonable chance he’d be restored to life and health,” Mrs. Bethany said. She opened the front door, and Samuel stumbled to his feet and ran for it. His steps were unsteady, and he didn’t go toward the school; instead, he streaked toward the woods. Somehow I knew we would never see him again. Mrs. Bethany came right to my window. so close I shrank myself within the branches of the nearest shrub. and watched him go. “Who can say? In a decade or so, he may gain some stability.”

“Shouldn’t we go after the guy?” Lucas demanded. “And if that’s the best you can manage, you shouldn’t have tried it on him in the first place.”

“Angry, Mr. Ross?” Mrs. Bethany looked more amused than anything else. “Why so? Though I have no reason to doubt your good intentions, I cannot imagine your outrage is solely on Mr. Younger’s behalf.”

“You just — destroyed him! To test your theory!”

The angrier he got. the warmer Mrs. Bethany’s smile became. “You’re upset because it didn’t work, not in a manner you ‘d wish to experience.

Because you think I don’t have the answer I promised you.”

“That is not — ”

“Isn’t it?” She put her hands on his shoulders. They were face — to — face now, so close. “We can rise from the dead. I have proved it. We can trap the wraiths. I have proved that, too. Now it is only a matter of finding suitable wraiths — those who are especially strong. especially stable. Connected to the world in a meaningful fashion. If we can only find such wraiths, and trap them, you and I will live again.”

Lucas’s face was a mask of rage, and yet her fmal words, Jive again, made him shut his eyes tightly.

Her voice became lower, softer, sweet. “I see how you look at the human students. I know your hunger — it’s something we share. I traded my human life to a vampire for the sake of love, and revenge, and two centuries later I remain trapped in the prison of my corpse. It’s so heavy, isn’t it? Carrying around your own dead body? Knowing yourself to be a monster and hating every urge you feel? But it’s almost over, Lucas. We’re almost free.”

He opened his eyes. They looked deeply at each other for a long second, and I thought, in desperation, I’ve lost him. For real, this time.

“Join me,” she said, “and live again.”

Lucas flung her hands from his shoulders. “No.”

Mrs. Bethany stepped back, one hand to her throat. “Mr. Ross — ”

“You threw that guy away like he was nothing,” Lucas said. “You trashed him, and it doesn’t matter to you one bit. You’ll destroy the wraiths like they ‘ re nothing, including — including the ones most like living things — and that doesn’t matter to you either. I can’t do that, not ever, not even to.. . . You know, I don’t care what magic you work. Even if you pull it off, even if you give yourself a heartbeat, you ‘II still be dead inside.”

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