Laine had been very proud of herself last night. Nicholas had talked about ghosts and magic and woven a bit of a spell himself. He'd sounded so convincing, so logical, so sad, that she'd found herself wanting to believe him. But testing prods at his argument had made him angry, and long years with Gavin had taught her that angry, defensive people shared the lousy habit of being wrong.
Hannah expected this to make her sob even more, but instead she found her tears drying up and her tummy growing warm. How dare they? How dare they do this to little girls? She understood now why her parents go so angry when they saw the result of bombers in the white hot streets of the Middle East, why men and women wailed in anger as well as grief as they lifted the limp bodies of children from the rubble. How dare they? No, she wasn't going to die like this, wrapped up like some helpless baby.
After Nicholas hung up the phone, he watched his mother carry buckets and garden tools across the couch grass toward a bed that would, come spring, be brightly ablaze as tropical coral with colorful arctotis, impatiens, and petunias. Katherine dug with hard chopping strokes, pulling out wandering jew and oxalis, tossing the uprooted weeds into a black pot beside her.The garden will be beautiful, he thought. But how do the weeds feel about it? Sacrifices must be made.
She put her tongue out and felt the raw edges of the torn silk. She looped her tongue around them and drew them into her teeth. Just a little bit, she thought, that's all I need to free my eyelids. She pulled the tasteless web between her teeth and ground, pulling her jaw down in a grimace - it felt as it she was eating the very skin off her face. But the silk over her eyelids shifted.
Laine slowly rolled out of bed. The queen size was one of the few new things in the house. But now, even the new bed felt tainted. It was an inner-spring monument to lies, a petri dish of mendacity she had shared with her faithless husband, and shared now with creeping dreams that flew from the light but left harsh scratches and diseased black feathers. Laine promised herself that, as soon as, she could, she would rid herself of this house, this bed, her clothes, her jewelry - everything but the flesh she lived in. She would scrub herself clean and flee to start a new life whose first and only commandment would be: Never let thyself be lied to again.
But a smell shivered him awake.It was a scent as old as the world. It was a hundred aromas of a thousand places. It was the tang of pine needles. It was the musk of sex. It was the muscular rot of mushrooms. It was the spice of oak. Meaty and redolent of soil and bark and herb. It was bats and husks and burrows and moss. It was solid and alive - so alive! And it was close.The vapors invaded Nicholas' nostrils and his hair rose to their roots. His eyes were as heavy as manhole covers, but he opened them. Through the dying calm inside him snaked a tremble of fear.The trees themselves seemed tense, waiting. The moonlight was a hard shell, sharp and ready to ready be struck and to ring like steel.A shadow moved.It poured like oil from between the tall trees and flowed across dark sandy dirt, lengthening into the middle of the ring. Trees seem to bend toward it, spellbound. A long, long shadow...