“She’s alive?” I said quietly, looking at Mama and Fathers.
“It’s confusing. It could mean anything, really.” The old man – Fathers – looked at the book, his eyes going hooded. “Let me…. let me get Jeb in here.” He closed his eyes, breathing in an odd, slow pattern that wasn’t quite panting and wasn’t quite gasping, with a low humming woven into and out of it.
A couple of minutes later the door opened and Jeb walked in.
Jeb was no longer covered in mud. His dark brown hair, freshly washed by the look of it, was standing up like ragweed in the front. He held a leather satchel, old and worn. His suspenders were twisted in the back, as though he had dressed quickly. But the outfit looked lived-in, and with his sleeves rolled up I could just make out a bluish-green tattoo moving up the arm of his bag hand. “I am here, Fathers. What may I do for you?”
“Son, please search through the library for Anya’s goings-on before and after her… ‘death.’” The quote marks were audible, even though Fathers didn’t make any other indication beyond a slight change in tone.
“Yes, sir.” Jeb took the satchel to the table behind where Mama was seated and opened it. Reaching deep inside, he pulled out several sheets of paper. “Her death was… three years ago, but this doesn’t make any sense, Fathers. We almost sent the men to investigate, but we had to be cautious at the time, because…” He looked at Mama and Fathers, then at me, before continuing to the elderly man, “Well, you know why. So we sent no one. I thought you’d made the decision, Fathers, but it looks as though the readers said she was still alive, that she traveled into the woods. It’s hazy. It says she… changed. So she’s here, but she’s not.”
Mama looked visibly shaken, “Oh, dear.” She got up and moved at a frenzied pace, taking herbs from the walls and water from a pitcher. She poured that into the cauldron set into the wall behind her.
Then she turned to me, a serious look in her eyes. “Give me your hand, son.” She reached out towards me as though I were already standing in front of her.
“Why?” I stayed firm, my eyes flickering between Jeb and his sheaf of papers to Mama and her cauldron.
“I need your hand for a blood offering, and your connection to Anya will help.”
“You want me to do… what?” I shook my head no and tried to back away. But Mama was as fast as lightning when she wanted to be. I didn’t realize she’d had the best of me until I was looking down at my hand, grasped in hers. With her other hand, and with no ceremony, she drew a sharpened willow stick across my palm. I winced, but she did not let go of my hand, instead pressing it to make the blood come.
It rose in little bubbles, which she picked up with the stick on a return pass across my palm. She put the stick in the boiling water and begin to stir, chanting softly. She pulled me closer to her, and lowered my head to look into the pot. “With blood and water, wood and flame, we watch the world unfold before us.”
The water wavered and then darkened. A scry – where did that word come from? – formed on its darkened surface. Somehow, it didn’t seem strange at all, but I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
There she was running away from the flaming wreck of the car. How had she survived it? She limped as she ran, favoring her left foot, but it was clearly her. Her frizzed-out carrot-red hair blew around her in a wind veiled in smoke and ashes. A smile crept to my lips, but then she turned and shook her head as though she knew we were watching her.
And she was gone, running into the woods. The view pulled back, and we saw that the back of the car was smashed in. It pulled back further, and we saw the front of another car, a man getting out on one side, and a woman on the other. They ran after Anya – my Mama. The sun reflected off a white leather bracelet on the man’s upraised arm as he turned toward the spot I’d seen Anya turn.
It was Ethan.
I gasped and tried to draw back from the scry, but Mama Glenn held my arm so I couldn’t move. I watched, horrified.
Ethan ran into the woods, followed by a pregnant woman half-hidden by a mousy brown haircut. I knew that woman’s movements like they were my own. It was Lucy.