Ethan Wate has spent most of his life longing to escape the stiflingly small Southern town of Gatlin. He never thought he would meet the girl of his dreams, Lena Duchannes, who unveiled a secretive, powerful, and cursed side of Gatlin, hidden in plain sight. And he never could have expected that he would be forced to leave behind everyone and everything he cares about. So when Ethan awakes after the chilling events of the Eighteenth Moon, he has only one goal: to find a way to return to Lena and the ones he loves.
Back in Gatlin, Lena is making her own bargains for Ethan's return, vowing to do whatever it takes even if that means trusting old enemies or risking the lives of the family and friends Ethan left to protect.
Worlds apart, Ethan and Lena must once again work together to rewrite their fate, in this stunning finale to the Beautiful Creatures series.
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By Kami Garcia
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2012 Kami Garcia
All right reserved.
Other people had flying dreams. I had falling nightmares. I couldn’t talk about it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it either.
Ethan’s shoe dropping to the ground, seconds before.
It must have come off when he fell.
I wondered if he knew.
If he’d known.
I saw that muddy black sneaker dropping from the top of the water tower every time I closed my eyes. Sometimes I hoped it was a dream. I hoped I’d wake up, and he’d be waiting out in the driveway, in front of Ravenwood, to take me to school.
Wake up, sleepyhead. I’m almost there. That’s what he would’ve Kelted.
I’d hear Link’s bad music coming through the open window, before I even saw Ethan behind the wheel.
That’s how I imagined it.
I’d had nightmares about him a thousand times before. Before I knew him, or at least knew he was going to be Ethan. But this wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen in any nightmare.
It shouldn’t have happened. It wasn’t how his life was supposed to be. And it couldn’t be how my life was supposed to be.
That muddy black sneaker wasn’t supposed to drop.
Life without Ethan was something worse than a nightmare.
It was real.
So real that I refused to believe it.
That’s how you know they’re nightmares. This—Ethan—everything—it isn’t ending, has no sign of ending.
I felt—I feel—like I’m stuck.
Like it’s my life that shattered when he—when everything else ended.
It broke into a thousand tiny pieces.
When he hit the ground.
I couldn’t stand to look at my journal anymore. I couldn’t write poetry; it hurt to even read it.
It was all too true.
The most important person in my life died jumping off the Summerville water tower. I knew why he did it. Knowing why didn’t make me feel any better.
Knowing he did it for me only made me feel worse.
Sometimes I didn’t think the world was worth it.
Sometimes I didn’t think I was worth it either.
Ethan thought he was doing the right thing. He knew it was crazy. And he didn’t want to go, but he had to anyway.
Ethan was like that.
Even if he was dead.
He saved the world, but he shattered mine.
A blur of blue sky over my head.
Just like the sky in real life, only a little more blue and a little less sun in my eyes.
I guess the sky in real life isn’t actually perfect. Maybe that’s what makes it so perfect.
I squeezed my eyes shut again.
I was stalling.
I wasn’t sure I was ready to see whatever was out there to see. Of course the sky looked better—Heaven being what it was and all.
Not to assume that’s where I was. I’d been a decent guy, as far as I could tell. But I had seen enough to know that everything I thought about everything had pretty much been wrong so far.
I had an open mind, at least by Gatlin’s standards. I mean, I’d heard all the theories. I had sat through more than my share of Sunday school classes. And after my mom’s accident, Marian told me about a Buddhism class she took at Duke taught by a guy named Buddha Bob, who said paradise was a teardrop inside a teardrop inside a teardrop, or something like that. The year before that, my mom tried to get me to read Dante’s Inferno, which Link told me was about an office building that caught fire, but actually turned out to be about a guy’s voyage into the nine circles of Hell. I only remember the part my mom told me about monsters or devils trapped in a pit of ice. I think it was the ninth circle of Hell, but there were so many circles down there that after a while they all sort of ran together.
After what I’d learned about underworlds and otherworlds and sideways worlds, and whatever else came in the whole triple-layer cake of universes that was the Caster world, that first glimpse of blue sky was fine by me. I was relieved to see there was something that looked like a cheesy Hallmark card waiting for me. I wasn’t expecting pearly gates or naked cherub babies. But the blue sky, that was a nice touch.
I opened my eyes again. Still blue.
A fat bee buzzed over my head, climbing high into the sky—until he banged into it, just as he had a thousand times before.
Because it wasn’t the sky.
It was the ceiling.
And this wasn’t Heaven.
I was lying in my old mahogany bed in my even older bedroom at Wate’s Landing.
I was home.
Which was impossible.
Had it been a dream? I desperately hoped so. Maybe it was, just like it had been every single morning for the first six months after my mom died.
Please let it have been a dream.
I reached down and searched the dust under my bed frame. I felt the familiar pile of books and pulled one out.
The Odyssey. One of my favorite graphic novels, though I was pretty sure Mad Comix had taken a few liberties with the version Homer wrote.
I hesitated, then pulled out another. On the Road. The first sight of the Kerouac was undeniable proof, and I rolled to one side until I could see the pale square on my wall where, until a few days ago—was that all it had been?—the tattered map had hung, with the green marker lines circling all the places from my favorite books I wanted to visit.
It was my room, all right.
The old clock on the table next to my bed didn’t seem to be working anymore, but everything else looked about the same. It must be a warm day, for January. The light that came flooding in from the window was almost unnatural—sort of like I was in one of Link’s bad storyboards for a Holy Rollers music video. But aside from the movie lighting, my room was exactly the way I’d left it. Just like the books under my bed, the shoe boxes holding my whole life story were still there lining my walls. Everything that was supposed to be there was there, at least as far as I was concerned.
L? You there?
I couldn’t feel her. I couldn’t feel anything.
I looked at my hands. They seemed all right. No bruises. I looked at my plain white T-shirt. No blood.
No holes in my jeans or my body.
I went to my bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror above my sink. There I was. Same old Ethan Wate.
I was still staring at my reflection when I heard a sound from downstairs.
My heart felt like it was pounding, which was pretty funny, since when I woke up, I wasn’t even sure it was beating. Either way, I could hear the familiar sounds of my house, coming from down in the kitchen. Floorboards creaked as someone moved back and forth in front of the cupboards and the burners and the old kitchen table. Same old footsteps, going about the same old business as usual in the morning.
If it was morning.
The smell of our old frying pan on the burner came wafting up from downstairs.
“Amma? That’s not bacon, is it?”
The voice was clear and calm. “Sweetheart, I think you know what I’m cooking. There’s only one thing I know how to cook. If you can call it that.”
It was so familiar.
“Ethan? How much longer are you going to make me wait to give you a hug? Been down here a long time, darling.”
I couldn’t understand the words. I couldn’t hear anything except the voice. I’d heard it before, not that long ago, but never like this. As loud and clear and full of life as if she was downstairs.
Which she was.
The words were like music. They chased all the misery and confusion away.
I raced down the stairs, three at a time, before she could answer.
Fried Green Tomatoes
There she was, standing in the kitchen in her bare feet, her hair the same as I remembered—half up, half down. A crisp white button-down shirt—what my dad used to call her “uniform”—was still covered with paint or ink from her last project. Her jeans were rolled at her ankles like always, whether or not it was in style. My mom never cared about stuff like that. She was holding our old, black iron frying pan filled with green tomatoes in one hand and a book in the other. She had probably been cooking while she read, without looking up. Humming some part of a song she didn’t even realize she was humming and probably couldn’t hear.
That was my mom. She seemed exactly the same.
Maybe I was the only one who had changed.
I took a step closer, and she turned toward me, dropping the book. “There you are, my sweet boy.”
I felt my heart turning inside out. Nobody else called me that; they wouldn’t want to and I wouldn’t let them. Just my mom. Then her arms caught me, and the world folded around us as I buried my face in her hug. I breathed in the warm smell and the warm feeling and the warm everything that was my mom to me.
“Mom. You’re back.”
“One of us is.” She sighed.
That’s when it hit me. She was standing in my kitchen, and I was standing in my kitchen, which meant one of two things: Either she had come back to life, or…
Her eyes filled with something—tears, love, sympathy—and before I knew it, her arms were around me again.
My mom always understood everything.
“I know, sweet boy. I know.”
My face found its old hiding place in the crook of her shoulder.
She kissed the top of my head. “What happened to you? It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” She pulled back so she could see me. “None of it was supposed to end this way.”
“Then again, it’s not like there’s a right way to end a person’s life, is there?” She pinched my chin, smiling down into my eyes.
I had memorized it. The smile, her face. Everything. It was all I had left during the time she was gone.
I’d always known she was alive somewhere, in some way. She had saved Macon and sent me the songs that shepherded me through every strange chapter of my life with the Casters. She’d been there the whole time, just like she had when she was alive.
It was only one moment, but I wanted to keep it that way as long as I could.
I don’t know how we got to the kitchen table. I don’t remember anything except the solid warmth of her arms. But there I sat, in my regular chair, as if the past few years had never even happened. There were books everywhere—and from the looks of it, my mom was partway through most of them, as usual. A sock, probably fresh from the laundry, was stuck in The Divine Comedy. A napkin poked halfway out of The Iliad, and on top of that a fork marked her place in a volume of Greek mythology. The kitchen table was full of her beloved books, one pile of paperbacks higher than the next. I felt like I was back in the library with Marian.
The tomatoes sizzled in the pan, and I breathed in the scent of my mother—yellowing paper and burnt oil, new tomatoes and old cardboard, all laced through with cayenne pepper.
No wonder libraries made me so hungry.
My mom slid a blue and white china platter onto the table between us. Dragonware. I smiled because it had been her favorite. She dropped hot tomatoes onto a paper towel, sprinkling pepper across the plate.
“There you go. Dig in.”
I tucked my fork into the nearest slice. “You know, I haven’t eaten one of these since you—since the accident.” The tomato was so hot it burned my tongue.
I looked at my mom. “Are we—is this—?”
She returned the look blankly.
I tried again. “You know. Heaven?”
She laughed, pouring sweet tea into two tall glasses—tea being the only other thing my mom knew how to make. “No, not Heaven, EW. Not exactly.”
I must have looked worried, like I thought we had somehow ended up in the other place. But that couldn’t be right either, because—as cheesy as it sounded—being with my mom again was Heaven, whether or not the universe thought of it that way. Then again, the universe and I hadn’t agreed on much lately.
My mom pressed her hand against my cheek and smiled as she shook her head. “No, this isn’t any kind of final resting place, if that’s what you mean.”
“Then why are we here?”
“I’m not sure. You don’t get a user’s manual when you check in.” She took my hand. “I always knew I was here because of you—some unfinished business, something I needed to teach you or tell you or show you. That’s why I sent you the songs.”
“The Shadowing Songs.”
“Exactly. You kept me plenty busy. And now that you’re here, I feel like we were never apart.” Her face clouded over. “I always hoped I would get to see you again. But I hoped I would be waiting a lot longer. I’m so sorry. I know it must be terrible for you right now, leaving Amma and your father. And Lena.”
I nodded. “It sucks.”
“I know. I felt the same way,” she said.
“About Macon?” The words came tumbling out of my mouth before I could stop them.
Her cheeks went red. “I guess I deserved that. But not everything that happens in a mother’s life is something she needs to discuss with her seventeen-year-old son.”
She squeezed my hand. “You were the person I didn’t want to leave, most of all. And you were the person I worried about leaving, most of all. You and your father.
“Your father, thankfully, is in the exceptional care of the Ravenwoods. Lena and Macon have him under some powerful Casts, and Amma’s spinning stories of her own. Mitchell has no idea what’s happened to you.”
She nodded. “Amma tells him you’re in Savannah with your aunt, and he believes it.” Her smile wavered, and she looked past me into the shadows. I knew she must be worried about my dad, despite whatever Casts he was under. My sudden departure from Gatlin was probably hurting her as much as it was me—standing by and watching it all happen, without being able to do anything about it.
“But it’s not a long-term solution, Ethan. Right now everyone is just doing the best that they can. That’s usually how it is.”
“I remember.” I’d been through it once before.
We both knew when.
She didn’t say anything after that, just picked up a fork of her own. We ate together in silence for the rest of the afternoon, or for a moment. I couldn’t tell which was which anymore, and I wasn’t sure it mattered.
We sat out on the back porch picking shiny-wet cherries out of the colander and watching the stars come out. The sky had faded to a darkish blue, and the stars appeared in crazy bright clusters. I saw stars from the Caster sky and the Mortal sky. The split moon hung between the North Star and the Southern Star. I didn’t know how it was possible to see two skies at once, two sets of constellations, but it was. I could see everything now, like I was two different people at the same time. Finally, an end to the whole Fractured Soul thing. I guess one of the perks of dying was having both halves of my soul back together.
Everything had come together now that it was over, or maybe because it was over. I guess life was like that sometimes. It all looked so simple, so easy from here. So unbelievably bright.
Why was this the only solution? Why did it have to end like this?
I leaned my head against my mom’s shoulder. “Mom?”
“I need to talk to Lena.” There it was. I’d finally said it. The one thing that had kept me from being able to exhale all day. The thing that had made me feel like I couldn’t sit down, like I couldn’t stay. Like I had to get up and go somewhere, even if I had nowhere to go.
As Amma used to say, the good thing about the truth is it’s true, and there’s no arguing with the truth. You may not like it, but that doesn’t make it any less true. That’s all I had to hold on to right about now.
“You can’t talk to her.” My mom frowned. “At least, it’s not easy.”
“I need to tell her I’m okay. I know her. She’s waiting for a sign from me. Just like I was waiting for a sign from you.”
“There’s no Carlton Eaton to run your letter over to her, Ethan. You can’t send a letter from this world, and you can’t get to hers. And even if you could, you wouldn’t be able to write one. You don’t know how many times I wished it was possible.”
There had to be a way. “I know. If it was, I would’ve heard from you more.”
She looked up toward the stars. Her eyes shone with reflected light as she spoke.
“Every day, my sweet boy. Every single day.”
“But you found a way to talk to me. You used the books in the study, and the songs. And I saw you that night I was at the cemetery. And in my room, remember?”
“The songs were the Greats’ idea. I suppose because I had been singing to you since you were a baby. But everyone’s different. I don’t think you can send anything like a Shadowing Song to Lena.”
“Even if I knew how to write one.” My songwriting skills made Link look like one of the Beatles.
“It wasn’t easy for me, and I’d been kicking around here a whole lot longer than you have. And I had help from Amma, Twyla, and Arelia.” She squinted up at the twin skies. “You have to remember, Amma and the Greats have powers that I know nothing about.”
“But you were a Keeper.” There had to be things she knew that they didn’t.
“Exactly. I was a Keeper. I did what the Far Keep asked me to do, and I didn’t do what the Far Keep didn’t want me to do. You don’t mess with them, and you don’t mess with their record of things.”
“The Caster Chronicles?”
She picked a cherry from the bowl, examining it for spots. She took so long to answer, I was starting to think she hadn’t heard me. “What do you know about The Caster Chronicles?”
“Before Aunt Marian’s trial, the Council of the Far Keep came to the library, and they brought the book with them.”
She put the old metal colander down on the step beneath us. “Forget about The Caster Chronicles. All of that doesn’t matter anymore.”
“I’m serious, Ethan. We’re not out of danger, you and I.”
“Danger? What are you talking about? We’re already—you know.”
She shook her head. “We’re only partway home. We’ve got to find out what’s keeping us here, and move on.”
“What if I don’t want to move on?” I wasn’t ready to give up. Not as long as Lena was waiting for me.
Once again, she didn’t answer for a long time. When she did, my mom sounded about as dark as I’d ever heard her. “I don’t think you have a choice.”
“You did,” I said.
“It wasn’t a choice. You needed me. That’s why I’m here—for you. But even I can’t change what happened.”
“Yeah? You could try.” I found myself crushing a cherry in my hand. The juice ran red between my fingers.
“There’s nothing to try, Ethan. It’s over. It’s too late.” She barely whispered, but it felt like she was shouting.
Anger welled up inside me. I hurled a cherry across the yard, then another, then the whole bowlful. “Well, Lena and Amma and Dad need me, and I’m not just going to give up. I feel like I shouldn’t be here—like this is all a huge mistake.” I looked at the empty bowl in my hands. “And it’s not cherry season. It’s winter.” I looked up at her, my eyes blurring with tears, though all I could feel was anger. “It’s supposed to be winter.”
My mom put her hand on mine. “Ethan.”
I pulled away. “Don’t try to make me feel better. I missed you, Mom. I did. More than anything. But as happy as I am to see you, I want to wake up and have this not be happening. I understand why I had to do it. I get it. Fine. But I don’t want to be stuck here forever.”
“What did you think was going to happen?”
“I don’t know. Not this.” Was that the truth? Had I really thought I could get out of sacrificing my own good for the good of the world? Did I think the One-Who-Is-Two thing was a joke?
I guess it was easier to play the hero. But now that it was real—now that I had to own up to an eternity of what and who I’d lost—suddenly it didn’t seem so easy.
My mom’s eyes welled up, worse than mine. “I’m so sorry, EW. If there was a way I could change things, I would.” She sounded as miserable as I felt.
“What if there is?”
“I can’t change everything.” My mom looked down at her bare feet on the step below her. “I can’t change anything.”
“I’m not ready for some stupid cloud, and I don’t want to get my wings when some stupid bell rings.” I threw the metal bowl. It went clattering down the stairs, rolling across the back lawn. “I want to be with Lena and I want to live and I want to go to the Cineplex and eat popcorn until I’m sick and drive too fast and get a ticket and be so in love with my girlfriend that I make a total fool out of myself every day for the rest of my life.”
“I don’t think you do,” I said, louder than I’d intended. “You had a life. You fell in love—twice. And you had a family. I’m seventeen. This can’t be the end for me. I can’t wake up tomorrow and know that I’m never going to see Lena again.”
My mother sighed, sliding her arm around me and pulling me close.
I said it again because I didn’t know what else to say. “I can’t.”
She rubbed my head like I was a sad, scared little kid. “Of course you can see her. That’s the easy part. I can’t guarantee you can talk to her, and she won’t be able to see you, but you can see her.”
I looked at her, stunned. “What are you talking about?”
“You exist. We exist here. Lena and Link and your father and Amma, they exist in Gatlin. It’s not that one plane of existence is more or less real. They’re just different planes. You’re here and Lena’s there. In her world, you’ll never be fully present. Not like you were. And in our world, she’ll never be like us. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to see her.”
“How?” At that moment, it was the only thing I wanted to know.
“It’s simple. Just go.”
“What do you mean, go?” She was making it sound easy, but I had a feeling there was more to it.
“You imagine where you want to go, and then you just go.”
It didn’t seem possible, even though I knew my mom would never lie to me. “So if I just wish myself to Ravenwood, I’ll be there?”
“Well, not from our back porch. You have to leave Wate’s Landing before you can go anywhere. I think our homes have the Otherworld equivalent of a Binding on them. When you’re at home, you’re here with me and nowhere else.”
A shiver went down my spine as she said the words. “The Otherworld? Is that where we are? What it’s called?”
She nodded, wiping her cherry-stained hand on her jeans.
I knew I wasn’t anywhere I’d been before. I knew it wasn’t Gatlin, and I knew it wasn’t Heaven. Still, something about the word seemed farther away than anything I’d ever known. Farther even than death. Even though I could smell the dusty concrete of our back patio and the fresh cut grass stretching beyond it. I could feel the mosquitoes biting and the wind moving and the splinters of the old wooden steps at my back. All it felt like was loneliness. It was just us now. My mom, and me, and my backyard full of cherries. Some part of me had been waiting for this ever since her accident, and another part of me knew, maybe for the first time, it would never be enough.
“Yes, sweet boy?”
“Do you think Lena still loves me, back in the Mortal realm?”
She smiled and tousled my hair. “What kind of silly question is that?”
“Let me ask you this. Did you love me when I was gone?”
I didn’t respond. I didn’t have to.
“I don’t know about you, EW, but I knew the answer to that question every day we were apart. Even when I didn’t know anything else about where I was or what I was supposed to be doing. You were my Wayward, even then. Everything always brought me back to you. Everything.” She smoothed my hair out of my face. “You think Lena’s any different?”
She was right.
It was a stupid question.
So I smiled and took her hand and followed her inside. I had things to figure out and places to go—that much I knew. But some things I didn’t have to figure out. Some things hadn’t changed, and some things never would.
Except me. I had changed, and I would give anything to change back.
This Side or the Next
Go on, Ethan. See for yourself.”
I didn’t look back at my mom when I reached for the doorknob.
Even though she was telling me to go, I was still uneasy. I didn’t know what to expect. I could see the painted wood of the door, and I could feel the smooth iron of the handle, but I had no way of knowing if Cotton Bend was on the other side.
Lena. Think about Lena. About home. This is the only way.
This wasn’t Gatlin anymore. Who knew what was behind that door? It could be anything.
I stared down at the knob, remembering what the Caster Tunnels had taught me about doors and Doorwells.
This door might look normal enough—any Doorwell looked pretty much like the next—but that didn’t mean it was. Like the Temporis Porta. You never knew where you were going to end up. I’d learned that the hard way.
Quit stalling, Wate.
Get on with it.
What are you, chicken? What do you have to lose now?
I closed my eyes and turned the knob. When I opened them, I wasn’t staring at my street—not even close.
I found myself on my front porch in the middle of His Garden of Perpetual Peace, Gatlin’s cemetery. Right in the middle of my mother’s plot.
The cultivated lawns stretched out in front of me, but instead of headstones and mausoleums decorated with plastic cherubs and fawns, the graveyard was full of houses. I realized I was looking at the homes of the people buried in the cemetery, if that’s even where I was. Old Agnes Pritchard’s Victorian was planted right where her plot should have been, with the same yellow shutters and crooked rosebushes that hung over the walkway. Her house wasn’t on Cotton Bend, but her little rectangle of grass in Perpetual Peace was directly across from my mom’s plot—the spot where Wate’s Landing was sitting now.
Agnes’ house looked almost exactly as it had in Gatlin, except her red front door was gone. In its place was her weathered cement headstone.
AGNES WILSON PRITCHARD BELOVED WIFE, MOTHER & GRANDMOTHER MAY SHE SLEEP WITH THE ANGELS
The words were still etched into the stone, which fit perfectly into the painted white doorframe. It was the same at every house as far as I could see—from Darla Eaton’s restored Federal to the peeling paint of Clayton Weatherton’s place. All the doors were missing, replaced by the gravestones of the dearly departed.
I turned around slowly, hoping to see my own white door with the haint blue trim. But instead I was staring at my mother’s headstone.
LILA EVERS WATE BELOVED WIFE AND MOTHER SCIENTIAE CUSTOS
Above her name, I saw the Celtic symbol of Awen—three lines converging like rays of light—carved into the stone. Aside from being large enough to fill the doorway, the headstone was the same. Every nicked edge, every faded crack. I ran my hand over the face of it, feeling the letters beneath my fingers.
My mom’s headstone.
Because she was dead. I was dead. And I was pretty sure I had just stepped out of her grave.
That’s when I started to lose it. I mean, can you blame a guy? The situation was a little overwhelming. There’s not much you can do to prepare for something like that.
I pushed on the gravestone, pounding on it as hard as I could until I felt the stone give way, and I stepped back inside my house—slamming the door behind me.
I stood against the door, breathing in as much air as I could. My front hall looked exactly the same as it had a moment ago.
My mom looked up at me from the front stairs. She had just opened The Divine Comedy; I could tell by the way she was still holding her sock bookmark in one hand. It was almost like she was waiting for me.
“Ethan? Changed your mind?”
“Mom. It’s a graveyard. Out there.”
“And we’re—” The opposite of alive. It was just starting to sink in.
“We are.” She smiled at me because there wasn’t really anything else she could say. “You stand there as long as you need to.” She looked back down at her book and flipped a page. “Dante agrees. Take your time. It is only”—she flipped a page—“ ‘la notte che le cose ci nasconde.’ ”
“ ‘The night that hides things from us.’ ”
I stared at her as she continued to read. Then, seeing as there weren’t that many options, I pulled the door open and stepped out.
It took me a while to take it all in, the way it takes your eyes a while to adjust to sunlight. As it turns out, the Otherworld was just that—an “other world”—a Gatlin right in the middle of the cemetery, where the dead folks in town were having their own version of All Souls Day. Except it seemed like this one lasted a lot longer than a day.
I stepped off my porch and onto the grass just to be sure it was really there. Amma’s rosebushes were planted where they had always been, but they were blooming again, safe from the record-breaking heat that had killed them when it hit town. I wondered if they were blooming in the real Gatlin, too.
I hoped so.
If the Lilum kept her promise, they were. I believed she did. The Lilum wasn’t Light or Dark, right or wrong. She was truth and balance in their purest forms. I didn’t think she was capable of lying, or she would’ve sugarcoated the truth for me a little. Sometimes I wished she would have.
I found myself wandering across the freshly trimmed lawns, weaving between the familiar houses scattered throughout the cemetery like a tornado had lifted them right out of Gatlin and dropped them here. And not just houses—there were people here, too.
I tried heading toward Main Street, instinctively looking for Route 9. I guess I wanted to hike to the crossroads, where I could take a left up the road to Ravenwood. But the Otherworld didn’t work that way, and every time I reached the end of the rows of graveyard plots, I found myself back where I started. The graveyard just kept going in circles. I couldn’t get out.
That’s when I realized I needed to stop thinking in terms of streets and start thinking in terms of graves and plots and crypts.
If I was going to find my way back to Gatlin, I wasn’t going to walk there. Not on any kind of Route 9. That was pretty clear.
What had my mom said? You imagine where you want to go, and then you just go. Was that really all that was standing between Lena and me? My imagination?
I closed my eyes.
“Whatcha doin’ there, boy?” Miss Winifred looked up from sweeping her porch a few houses away. She was in the pink-flowered housecoat she wore most days back when she was alive. When we were alive.
I stared. “Nothing. Ma’am.”
Her headstone was behind her, a magnolia tree etched above her name and underneath the word Sacred. There were a lot of those around here, magnolias. I guess the magnolia carvings were the red doors of the Otherworld. You were nobody without one.
Miss Winifred noticed me staring and stopped sweeping for a second. She sniffed. “Well, get on with it, then.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I could feel my face turning red. I knew I wouldn’t be able to imagine myself anywhere else with those sharp old eyes on me.
Turns out, even in the streets of the Otherworld, Gatlin was no place for the imagination.
“And stay off my lawn, Ethan. You’ll trample my begonias,” she added. That was all. As if I had wandered onto her property back home.
Miss Winifred nodded and went back to sweeping her porch like it was just another sunny day on Old Oak Road, where her house was sitting right now back in town.
But I couldn’t let Miss Winifred stop me.
I tried the old concrete bench at the end of our row of plots. I tried the shadowy place behind the hedges along the edge of Perpetual Peace. I even tried sitting with my back up against the railing of our own plot for a while.
I was no closer to imagining my way to Gatlin than I was to imagining myself back into the grave.
Every time I closed my eyes, I got this spirit-killing, bone-crushing fear that I was dead in the ground. That I was gone and that I would never be anywhere again, except at the bottom of a water tower.
Not back home.
Not with Lena.
Finally, I gave up. There had to be another way.
If I wanted to get back to Gatlin, there was someone who just might know how.
Someone who made it her business to know everything about everyone and, for about the last hundred years, always had.
I knew where I needed to go.
I followed the path down to the oldest section of the graveyard. Some part of me was afraid I was going to see the blackened edges where the fire had burned through the roof and Aunt Prue’s bedroom. But I didn’t need to worry. When I saw it, the house was exactly the way it looked when I was a kid. The porch swing was rattling and swaying gently in the breeze, a glass of lemonade sitting on the table beside it. Just how I remembered it.
The door was carved out of good Southern blue granite; Amma had spent hours choosing it herself. “A woman as right as your aunt deserves the right marker,” Amma had said. “And anyhow, if she isn’t happy, I’ll never hear the end a it.” Both were probably true. At the top of the gravestone, a delicate angel with outstretched hands was holding a compass. I was willing to bet there wasn’t another angel in all of Perpetual Peace, or maybe any cemetery in the South, that was holding a compass. Carved angels in the Gatlin graveyard held on to every kind of flower, and some even held on to the gravestones like they were life vests. None held a compass—never a compass. But for a woman who had spent her life secretly mapping the Caster Tunnels, it was right.
Under the angel was an inscription:
PRUDENCE JANE STATHAM THE BELLE OF THE BALL
Aunt Prue had picked out the inscription herself. Her note said she wanted another “e” on Ball—making it Balle, which wasn’t even a word. According to Aunt Prue, it sounded more French that way. But my dad made the point that Aunt Prue, being a patriot, shouldn’t have minded having her last words written out in plain old Southern American English. I wasn’t so sure, but I also wasn’t about to enter into that particular conversation. It was just one part of the extensive instructions she’d left for her own funeral, along with a guest list that required a bouncer at the church.
Still, it made me smile just looking at it.
Before I even had the chance to knock, I heard the sound of dogs yipping, and the heavy front door swung open. Aunt Prue was standing in the doorway, her hair still in pink plastic curlers, one hand on her hip. There were three Yorkshire terriers weaving around her legs—the first three Harlon Jameses.
“Well, it’s ’bout time.” Aunt Prue grabbed me by the ear quicker than I had ever seen her move when she was alive, and yanked me into the house. “You were always stubborn, Ethan. But what you did this time ain’t right. I don’t know what in the Good Lord’s Myst’ry got inta you, but I’ve got a mind ta send you out front ta get me a switch.” It was a charming custom from Aunt Prue’s day, to let a kid pick the switch you planned to whip them with. But I knew as well as Aunt Prue did that she would never hit me. If she was going to, she would have already done it years ago.
She was still twisting my ear, and I had to bend down because she was only half my height. The whole posse of Harlon Jameses were still yipping, trailing after us as she dragged me toward the kitchen. “I didn’t have a choice, Aunt Prue. Everyone I loved was going to die.”
“You don’t have ta tell me. I watched the whole thing, and I was wearin’ my good spectacles!” She sniffed. “And ta think, folks used ta say I was the mell-o-dramatic one!”
I tried not to laugh. “You need your glasses here?”
“Just used ta them, I guess. Feel nekkid without ’em now. Hadn’t figured on that.” She stopped walking and pointed a bony finger at me. “Don’t you try changin’ the subject. This time you’ve made a bigger mess than a blind housepainter.”
“Prudence Jane, why don’t you stop hollerin’ at that boy?” An old man’s voice called from the other room. “What’s done is done.”
Aunt Prue pulled me back into the hall, without loosening her grip on my ear. “Don’t you tell me what ta do, Harlon Turner!”
“Turner? Wasn’t that—” As she yanked me into the living room, I found myself face to face with not one but all five of Aunt Prue’s husbands.
Sure enough, the three younger ones—most likely her first three husbands—were eating corn nuts and playing cards, the sleeves of their white button-down shirts rolled up to the elbows. The fourth one was sitting on the couch reading the newspaper. He looked up and acknowledged me with a nod, shoving the little white bowl toward me. “Car nut?”
I shook my head.
I actually remembered Aunt Prue’s fifth husband, Harlon—the one Aunt Prue had named all her dogs after. When I was a kid, he used to carry around sour lemon hard candy in his pocket, and he’d sneak me a couple during church. I ate them, too, lint and all. There was no telling what you’d eat in church, bored out of your skull. Link once drank a whole mini-bottle of Binaca breath spray during a talk on the atonement. Then he spent the whole afternoon and part of the evening atoning for that, too.
Harlon looked exactly the way I remembered. He threw his hands up, a sure sign of surrender. “Prudence, you’re near ’bout the most ornery woman I’ve ever met in my en-tire life!”
It was true, and we all knew it. The other four husbands looked up, a mixture of sympathy and amusement on their faces.
Aunt Prue let go of my ear and turned to face her latest late husband. “Well, I don’t recollect askin’ you ta marry me, Harlon James Turner. So I reckon that makes you the most foolish man I’ve ever met in my en-tire life!” The ears of the three tiny dogs perked up at the sound of their name.
The man reading the paper stood up and patted poor old Harlon on the shoulder. “I think you ought ta let our little firecracker have some time ta herself.” He dropped his voice. “Or you may end up passin’ on a second time.”
Aunt Prue seemed satisfied and marched back to the kitchen with the three Harlon Jameses and me following dutifully. When we reached the kitchen, she pointed to a chair at the table and busied herself pouring two tall glasses of sweet tea. “If I had known I’d have ta live with the five a those men, I’d have thought twice ’bout gettin’ married at all.”
And here they were. I wondered why—until I figured out it was better not to. Whatever unfinished business she had with her five husbands and about as many dogs, I sure didn’t want to know.
“Drink up, son,” Harlon said.
I glanced at the tea, which looked pretty appealing even though I wasn’t the least bit thirsty. It was one thing when my mom was cutting me up a fried tomato. I hadn’t thought twice about eating anything she handed me. Now that I had passed through the graveyard to visit my dead aunt, it occurred to me that I didn’t know the rules, or anything about the way things worked over here—wherever here was. Aunt Prue noticed me staring at the glass. “You can drink it, not that you need ta. But it’s different on the other side.”
“How?” I had so many questions that I didn’t know where to start.
“Can’t eat or drink over there, back in the Mortal realm, but you can move things. Just yesterday, I hid Grace’s dentures. Dropped ’em right down in the Postum jar.” It was just like Aunt Prue to find a way to drive her sisters crazy from the grave.
“Wait—you were over there? In Gatlin?” If she could go see the Sisters, then I could get back to Lena. Couldn’t I?
“Did I say that?” I knew she’d have the answer. I also knew she wouldn’t tell me a thing if she didn’t want me to know.
“Yeah, actually. You did.”
Tell me how I can find my way back to Lena.
“Well now, just for the teeniest minute. Nothin’ ta get all hopped up ’bout. Then I skee-daddled back ta the Garden here, lickety-split.”
“Aunt Prue, come on.” But she shook her head, and I gave up. My aunt was every bit as stubborn in this life as she’d been in the last. I tried a new subject. “The Garden? Are we really in His Garden of Perpetual Peace?”
“Darn tootin’. Every time they bury someone, a new house shows up on the block.” Aunt Prue sniffed again. “Can’t do a thing ta stop ’em from comin’ either, even if they ain’t your kind a folks.”
I thought about the headstones instead of doors, all the cemetery plot houses. I’d always thought the layout of His Garden of Perpetual Peace was kind of like our town, what with the good plots all lined up one way and the questionable graves pushed out near the edges. Turns out the Otherworld wasn’t any different.
“Then why don’t I have one, Aunt Prue? A house, I mean.”
“Young ’uns don’t get houses a their own unless their parents outlive ’em. And after seein’ that room a yours, I don’t see as how you could keep a whole house clean anyway.” I couldn’t really argue with her on that.
“Is that why I don’t have a gravestone?”
Aunt Prue looked away. There was something she didn’t want to tell me. “Maybe you should ask your mamma ’bout that.”
“I’m asking you.”
She sighed heavily. “You aren’t buried at Perpetual Peace, Ethan Wate.”
“What?” Maybe it was too soon. I didn’t even know how much time had passed since that night on the water tower. “I guess they haven’t buried me yet.”
Aunt Prue was wringing her hands, which was only making me more nervous.
She took a sip of her sweet tea, stalling. At least it gave her hands something to do. “Amma isn’t takin’ your leavin’ well, and Lena’s no better. Don’t think I don’t keep an eye on them two. Didn’t I give Lena my good old rose necklace, so I can get a feel for her every now and again?”
The image of Lena sobbing, of Amma screaming my name right before I jumped, flashed through my mind. My chest tightened.
Aunt Prue kept on talking. “None a this was supposed ta happen. Amma knows it, and she and Lena and Macon are havin’ a heap a trouble with your passin’.”
My passing. The words sounded strange to me.
A horrible thought surfaced in my mind. “Wait. Are you saying they didn’t bury me?”
Aunt Prue put her hand to her heart. “Of course they buried you! They did it straightaway. They just didn’t bury you in the Gatlin cemetery.” She sighed, shaking her head. “Didn’t even have a proper memorial, I’m ’fraid. No ushers, no sermons. No Psalms or Lamentations.”
“No Lamentations? You sure know how to hurt a guy, Aunt Prue.” I was kidding, but she only nodded, grim as the grave.
“No program. No funeral potatoes. Nothin’ so much as a supermarket biscuit. Not even a book a remembrances. Might as well a stuck you in one a them shoe boxes in your bedroom.”
“Then, where did they bury me?” I was starting to get a bad feeling.
“Over at Greenbrier, by the old Duchannes graves. Stuck you in the mud like a possum-bitten house cat.”
“Why?” I looked at her, but Aunt Prue glanced away. She was definitely hiding something. “Aunt Prue, answer me. Why did they bury me at Greenbrier?”
She looked right at me, crossing her arms over her chest defiantly. “Now, don’t get yerself all bowed up. It was jus’ the tiniest excuse for a service. Nothin’ ta write home ’bout.” She sniffed. “On account a none a the folks in town knowin’ you passed.”
“What are you talking about?” There was nothing folks in Gatlin came out for like a funeral.
“Amma told everyone there was an E-mergency with your aunt in Savannah, and you went on down there to help her.”
“The whole town? They’re pretending I’m still alive?” It was one thing for Amma to try to convince my grieving dad I was still around. For her to try to convince the whole town was more than crazy, even for Amma. “What about my dad? Won’t he figure out something’s going on, when I never come home? He can’t think I’m down in Savannah forever.”
Aunt Prue stood up and walked over to the counter, where a Whitman’s Sampler was already opened. She turned the lid over, inspecting the diagram that listed the type of chocolate nestled in each brown wrapper. Finally, she chose one and took a bite.
I looked at her. “Cherry Cordial?”
She shook her head, showing me. “Messenger Boy.” The rectangular chocolate boy was missing his head now. “I’ll never know why folks waste their money on fancy candy. If you ask me, these are the best durned chocolates on this side or the other.”
Sugared up on drugstore candy, she laid the truth on me. “The Casters put a Charm on your daddy. He doesn’t know you’re a bit dead either. Every time it looks like he might be sniffin’ ’round ta the truth, the Casters double up that Charm till he doesn’t know up from down. It ain’t natural, if ya ask me, but not much ’round Gatlin is. Whole place’s gone downright cattywampus.” She held out the half-eaten box of candy. “Now have yourself somethin’ sweet. Chocolate makes everything better. Molasses Chew?”
I was buried at Greenbrier so Lena and Amma and my friends could keep it a secret from everyone, including my father—who was under the influence of a Cast so powerful that he didn’t know his own son was gone, just like my mom said.
There wasn’t enough chocolate in the world to make this better.
Getting Aunt Prue to say the one thing you wanted her to say, right when you wanted her to say it, was like thinking you could ask the sun to shine. At some point, and probably sooner than later, you had to admit you were at her mercy. I had to, anyway.
Because I was.
I couldn’t stomach one more waxy chocolate, washed down with one more glass of sweet tea, while one more little dog stared at me, to get at the one thing I needed to know. All I could do was start begging.
“I have to go to Ravenwood, Aunt Prue. You have to help me. I have to see Lena.”
My aunt sniffed and tossed the box of chocolates back down on the counter. “Oh, I see, now I have ta have ta have ta? Someone died and made you the Gen’ral? Next you’ll be thinkin’ you need a statue and a green all your own.” She sniffed again.
“Aunt Prue—” I gave up. “I’m sorry.”
“I reckon you are.”
“I just need to know how to get to Ravenwood.” I knew I sounded desperate, but it didn’t matter, because I was. I hadn’t been able to walk there or imagine myself there. There had to be another way.
“You know you get more bees with honey, sugar. Crossin’ over from one side ta the next hasn’t done much ta improve your manners, Ethan Wate. Bossin’ an old woman like that.”
I was losing patience with my aunt. “I said I’m sorry. I’m kind of new at this, remember? Can you please help me? Do you know anything about how to get from here to Ravenwood?”
“Do you know I’m bone tired a this conversation?”
She clamped her teeth shut and stuck out her chin, the way Harlon James did when he got a lock on a bone.
“There has to be a way I can see her. My mom came to visit me twice. Once in a fire Amma and Twyla made in a graveyard, and once in my own room.”
“Pretty powerful stuff, crossin’ like that. Then again, your mamma’s always been stronger than most folks. Why don’tcha ask her?” She looked irritated.
“Crossin’ over. Not for the faint a heart. For most a us, you just can’t get there from here.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you can’t make preserves till you learn how ta boil water, Ethan Wate. Gotta put in the time. Get used ta the water ’fore you jump in.” Not that Aunt Prue could ever bottle anything that wouldn’t burn a hole in your bread, according to Amma.
I crossed my arms, annoyed. “Why would I jump into boiling water?”
She glared at me, fanning herself with a folded piece of paper the way she had on the thousand Sundays when I drove her to church.
The rocker stopped. Bad sign.
“I mean, ma’am.” I held my breath until the rocker started to squeak again. This time I lowered my voice. “If you know something, please help me. You said you went to see Aunt Grace and Aunt Mercy. And I know I saw you when I was at your funeral.”
Aunt Prue twisted her mouth like her dentures were hurting. Or like she was trying to keep her thoughts to herself. “You had your whole mess a split-up souls back then. You could see all sorts a things a Mortal ain’t supposed ta see. I ain’t seen Twyla since that day either, and she’s the one who crossed me over in the first place.”
“I can’t figure this out on my own.”
“ ’Course you can. You can’t just show up ’round here and ’spect ta do whatcha like, easy as bad pie in a box. That’s all part a crossin’. It’s like fishin’. Why would I just hand you the catfish when I should be teachin’ you how ta fish?”
I put my head in my hands. At that particular moment, I would have been plenty fine with bad pie in a box. “And where can a guy learn to catch a catfish around here?”
There was no answer.
I looked up to see Aunt Prue dozing in her rocking chair, the folded paper she’d been fanning herself with resting in her lap. There was no waking Aunt Prue from one of her naps. Not before, and probably not now.
I sighed, gently taking the makeshift fan out of her hand. It unfolded partway, revealing the edge of a drawing. It looked like one of her maps, only half-drawn, more of a doodle than anything else. Aunt Prue couldn’t sit still long without starting to sketch out her whereabouts, even in the Otherworld.
Then I realized it wasn’t a map of His Garden of Perpetual Peace—or if it was, the graveyard world was bigger than I thought.
This wasn’t just any map.
It was a map of the Lunae Libri.
“How can there be a Lunae Libri in the Otherworld? It’s not a grave, right? Nobody died there?”
My mom didn’t look up from her copy of Dante. She hadn’t looked up when I swung open the front door either. She couldn’t hear a word anyone said when she was lost in those pages. Reading was her own version of Traveling.
I stuck my hand between her face and the yellowed pages, wiggling my fingers. “Mom.”
“What?” My mom looked as startled as a person could look when you hadn’t actually snuck up on them.
“Let me save you some time. I saw the movie. The office building catches fire.” I closed the book and held out Aunt Prue’s folded paper. My mom took it, smoothing it out in her hands.
“I knew Dante was ahead of his time.” She smiled, turning over the paper.
“Why was Aunt Prue drawing this?” I asked, but she didn’t answer. She just kept staring at the paper.
“If you’re going to start asking yourself why your aunt does anything, you’ll be busy for the rest of eternity.”
“Why did she need a map?” I asked.
“What your aunt needs is to find someone else to talk to besides you.”
That was all she said. Then she gave up, standing and slipping her arm around my shoulders. “Come on. I’ll show you.”
I followed my mom right down the street that wasn’t a street, until we came to a plot that wasn’t just a plot, and a familiar grave that wasn’t even a grave. I stopped walking as soon as I saw where we were.
My mom laid her hand on Macon’s gravestone, a wistful smile creeping across her face. She pushed on the stone, and it swung open. Ravenwood’s front hall stood there, ghostly and deserted, as if nothing had changed except that Lena’s family had gone to Barbados or something.
“So?” I couldn’t bring myself to step inside. What use was Ravenwood without Lena or her family? It almost made me feel worse to be here in her home and still so far away.
My mom sighed. “So. You’re the one who wanted to go to the Lunae Libri.”
“You mean the secret stairway into the Tunnels? Will it lead into the Lunae Libri?”
“Well, I don’t mean the Gatlin County Library.” My mom smiled.
I pushed past her into the hallway and took off running. By the time she caught up to me, I had made it all the way to Macon’s old room. I flipped up the carpet and yanked open the trapdoor.
There they were.
The invisible stairs leading down into the Caster darkness.
And beyond, the Caster Library.
Another Lunae Libri
Darkness, it turns out, is about as dark as usual no matter what world you’re in. The invisible steps beneath the trapdoor—the same ones I’d stumbled and climbed and half-fallen my way down so many times before—were every bit as invisible as they’d ever been.
And the Lunae Libri?
Nothing had changed about the moss-covered, rocky passageways that led us there. The long rows of ancient books, scrolls, and parchments were hauntingly familiar. Torches still threw unsteady flickering shadows across the stacks.
The Caster Library looked the same as always, even though now I was far, far away from every living Caster.
Especially the one I loved most.
I grabbed a torch from the wall, waving it in front of me. “It’s all so real.”
My mom nodded. “It’s exactly as I remember it.” She touched my shoulder. “A good memory. I loved this place.”
“Me too.” This was the only place that had offered me any hope when Lena and I faced the hopeless situation of her Sixteenth Moon. I looked back at my mom, half-hidden in the shadows.
“You never told me, Mom. I didn’t know anything about you being a Keeper. I didn’t know anything about this whole side of your life.”
“I know. And I’m so sorry. But you’re here now, and I can show you everything.” She took my hand. “Finally.”
We made our way into the darkness of the stacks, with only the torch between us. “Now, I’m no reference librarian, but I know my way around these stacks. On to the scrolls.” She looked at me sideways. “I hope you never touched any of these. Not without gloves.”
“Yeah. I got that down, the first time I burned all my skin off.” I grinned. It was strange to be here with my mom, but now that I was, I could tell the Lunae Libri had been every bit hers, as much as it was Marian’s.
She grinned back. “I guess that’s not a problem anymore.”
I shrugged. “Guess not.”
She pointed to the nearest shelf, her eyes bright. It was good to see my mom back in her natural habitat.
She reached for a scroll. “C, as in crossing.”
After what seemed like hours, we had made zero headway.
I groaned. “Can’t you just tell me how to do this? Why do I have to look it up for myself?” We were surrounded by piles of scrolls, stacked all around us on the stone table at the very center of the Lunae Libri.
Even my mom seemed frustrated. “I already told you. I just imagine where I want to go, and I’m there. If that doesn’t work for you, then I don’t know how to help you. Your soul isn’t the same as mine, especially not since it was fractured. You need help, and that’s what books are for.”
“I’m pretty sure this isn’t what books are for—visitations from the dead.” I glared at her. “At least, that’s not what Mrs. English would say.”
“You never know. Books are around for lots of reasons. As is Mrs. English.” She yanked another stack of scrolls into her lap. “Here. What about this one?” She pulled open a dusty scroll, smoothing it with her hands. “It’s not a Cast. It’s more like a meditation. To help your mind focus, as if you were a monk.”
“I’m not a monk. And I’m not any good at meditating.”
“Clearly. But it wouldn’t hurt you to try. Come on, focus. Listen.”
She leaned over the parchment scroll, reading aloud. I read along over her shoulder.
“In death, lie.
In living, cry.
Carry me home
to be remembered.”
The words hovered in the air, like a strange silvery bubble. I reached out to touch them, but they faded out of sight as quickly as they had appeared.
I looked at my mom. “Did you see that?”
My mom nodded. “Casts are different in this world.”
“Why isn’t it working?”
“Try it in the original Latin. Here. Read it for yourself.” She held the paper closer to the torch, and I leaned toward the light.
My voice shook as I said the words.
Ducite me domum
Excerpted from Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia Copyright © 2012 by Kami Garcia. Excerpted by permission.
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