Afterlife Page 80

“Do you think so?”

“Maybe,” he said again, and I knew that Balthazar had seen the same desperation in Lucas that I had.

Then he lifted his head, looking toward the distance, and a small smile flickered upon his face. I followed his gaze toward another cottage in the very far distance. “What’s that?”

“That’s where Jane lived.” It was the ·only time he’d ever openly acknowledged his long — lost love to me. I’d never learned what had gone wrong for them, but I knew that his passion for her had endured the four hundred years from then until now.

Greatly daring. I said, “Do you want to go see her? I could leave.”

“She would only be a dream.” Balthazar looked down at me sadly. “I’m done with dreams.”

We took hands for a moment, the briefest of touches. Then I willed myself up and out, toward waking.

When I appeared again in the dorm room, Balthazar remained asleep. Now, though, he wasn’t dreaming; he just rested. I brushed a hand against his dark curls in gratitude.

The next day, a cold hush had fallen over the school. Winter’s first hard frost had silvered the trees and the ground, but after last night. that seemed less like nature taking its course and more as though the wraiths had claimed the entire world for their own. The vampire students, mostly petrified of the wraiths, kept to their rooms; even the human students — usually calmer about these things, given that they came from haunted homes — seemed disquieted by the possessions. A few kids had already dropped out; we might not have to work too hard to get the rest of the humans to leave. As I zipped around the school. free at last to move around without fear. I saw almost no one in the hallways and heard no talking or laughter. Frozen, I thought. Frozen in place.

Mrs. Bethany remained in her carriage house. Once or twice I saw her silhouetted against her windows. Although I doubted she was scared of the wraiths. or of anything. she had apparently decided to remain in a structure that was completely safe from ghostly invasion.

Had she discovered that her traps were missing yet? If so, she gave no sign. In the meantime. her absence from the school building gave us a brief window to meet without worrying about being observed.

Everyone gathered in my parents’ apartments. Vic sprawled on the sofa, a slight fuzz on his cheeks from where he’d failed to shave. Next to him, Ranulf and Patrice drank cups of the coffee my mother had made for us. Lucas took the chair at the farthest end of the room, like he thought my parents might chuck him out at any second, but Mom brought him coffee, too. I stayed near him, and Maxie dared to materialize right at the doorway, where everybody could see her.

“Next weekend will be our best chance,” Mom said as she set the coffeepot down. “Mrs. Bethany sometimes takes advantage of Riverton trips to leave the school for a couple of days. We can encourage that.”

Vic brightened. “Yeah, and with the rest of the humans in town on the Friday trip, less chance of us getting found out, right? Oh, man, I just called people humans.”

“Actually, no,” Dad said. “The vampire students throw their biggest parties of the year when the humans are gone. Which is he!J on the chaperones, but more to the point, makes it hard for us to get something done. But if we wait until the next night, that Saturday — a week from today Mrs. Bethany won ‘ t have returned yet, and we’ll have freedom to work.”

Lucas and I shared a look. He said, “We were going to talk to some former Black Cross friends of ours in Riverton.”

“Black Cross,” Mom muttered, in the same tone of voice she used when she swore.

“It’s Raquel, Mom,” I said. “And Dana, who helped us get away when we were nearly caught last year. They’re our friends, plus they’re fighters, and they have a little experience in capturing wraiths. We should make them a part of this. They could help, both with the wraiths and with getting you and Dad and Lucas away afterward.”

Mom and Dad clearly weren’t sure what to think, but they nodded. I turned to Maxie. “Okay, when the wraiths are freed, they’re going to . . .

freak out.”

“You got it,” Maxie said. “We’re talking about fireworks, like the fourth of July. Energy and light and frost going in every direction. Bianca will 21o have to guide them where they need to go, whether that’s back to their original homes or on to the next realm, whatever. Away from here — that’s the main thing. I’11 help if I can.”

“Awesome,” Vic said, and he and Maxie shared a quick look before she ducked her head, which hid her smile.

Patrice nodded. “So, once the traps are emptied, we destroy them. That’s not easy, though, given that adds up to, like, a couple hundred pounds of metal.”

“A great cataclysmic force will be required,” Ranulf said. “I shall handle the explosives.”

“Whoa, there, cowboy,” Lucas cut in. “We don’t have to break them down to atoms. All we have to do is make them useless as traps. Mrs. Bethany can’t have an infinite supply of these things.”

My father said, “Our bigger issue is the magical element within the traps. I don’t know much about that — I don’t think any of us here does — but it’s not as simple as demolishing scrap metal. I should be able to come up with a chemical solution that will work, but the results will still be . .. how did you put it, Maxie?”

“Fireworks,” she replied.

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