Read an Excerpt
The Hidden Chapter One ROKEN
“If I can but reach that bridge,” thought Ichabod, “I am safe.”
—“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving
All I could hear was my heart beating. And all I could see were the Revenants looking down at me. As I stared up into Kame’s colorless eyes, I kept thinking, This can’t be happening. This isn’t real. It was going to happen like this?
“Will it happen now?” I asked Kame. “Are you here to help me … die?”
He didn’t answer my question.
“Is she okay?” Cacey whispered. “She doesn’t look good.”
Hysteria bubbled over, and I glanced down at myself. Blood covered my knees in dark, jagged lines, and my arm burned from where Vincent had tried to yank it out of the socket. My bedroom was in shambles. “I don’t look good?” I said. “I don’t look good?” Then I put my head down as tears covered my cheeks. This is it. Sophie, Kame, Uri, and Cacey are here to collect me. To help me pass over.
I was never going to see my parents again. Or Ben. I’d never have my own perfume shop, or graduate from high school. I’d never buy a house and get a dog.
I’d always wanted a dog.
But that didn’t matter anymore. My time was up. Besides, Kristen was already dead. And I was the reason for that. At least I’d get to be with Caspian.
“Caspian …,” I said desperately, and sat straight up. “Caspian!”
The floor was covered in glass and bits of broken wood—what was left of my perfume cabinet—but I didn’t care. Vincent had thrown Caspian. Hurt him. And he needed me.
I tried to crawl. Tried to get to him, but strong arms held me still. A wave of nausea swept over me, and the room spun crazily. My hands were slick from gripping the floor. Little pools of blood surrounded me in squiggly lines and half-shaped circles, forming a macabre version of a child’s painting.
“Easy, easy,” Kame said, his voice smooth and melodic, like the rush of soft spring air after a long-closed window has been opened. “Let’s look you over, Abbey.”
He glanced at my hands and my knees, gently moved my head from side to side to check for other wounds. Beside me Cacey was blowing out the candles that Vincent had lit, before gathering them into a small pile. Uri and Sophie were removing the flowers from the bed. Tossing them into a garbage can.
“Caspian!” I said, seeing his still form by the fireplace mantel. “Please … check Caspian …”
Cacey crouched down next to him and pulled up one of his eyelids. “That’s the trouble with Shades,” she complained. “Should I feel for a pulse? He’s already dead.”
“Cacey!” Uri reprimanded her, pausing from tying a knot in the trash bag to look over at me. “Tact? She’s been through a lot.”
“Sorry, sorry. I’m just saying.” She looked into his other eye and gave him a shake. “I think he’s still here.”
“Go check the bathroom for a first aid kit,” Kame instructed Cacey. “Sophie, find a phone. Call 911. We need to finish cleaning this up and get her to the hospital before—”
The sound of the front door banging open echoed beneath us, and Mom’s voice drifted up. “Abbey? Are you home yet? We got the strangest note that said there was an emergency town council meeting, and …”
Her voice got closer as she climbed the stairs and moved toward my room.
“Well, shit,” Cacey said. “Parents. What are we supposed to do about them?”
Kame sprang into action, directing Uri to toss the trash bag out the window, and then he scooped me up without even a second’s hesitation. Sophie grabbed the phone and punched in 911. Then she said loudly, “I’m so glad we got here in time! Just hold on, Abbey. Hold on. Help is coming.”
Mom burst into the room, and panic spread across her face. “What happened?” she screamed, seeing the blood and broken glass. “Abbey!”
She rushed over and tried to pry me free from Kame’s grip. “What’s wrong? What happened?” she asked, over and over again.
I couldn’t answer.
“She’s okay,” Kame said calmly, catching her eye. “Abbey will be fine and everything will be back to normal soon.” His tone was soothing. Mom started nodding at him, but the concern didn’t leave her face.
In the distance I could hear sirens. They sounded odd. Both loud and blaring, and then quiet and almost muted. Kame’s words started to fade in and out, with Mom’s voice in the background.
“… paramedics coming? I … don’t understand. Why would … Could have been killed! … Thank God you were …”
My head felt funny. My tongue was thick, and I tried to say something. Tried to say anything, but it wouldn’t come out. Dark spots crept into the edges of my vision, and my chest tightened. I think I’m …
But even that thought drifted away. So I did the only thing I could do.
I closed my eyes and slept.
The next time my eyelids opened, I saw a blue plastic chair with Cacey slumped over in it, asleep. I looked down, and there was tubing sticking out of my hand. I was lying in a hospital bed.
My throat ached fiercely, and I tried to clear it. “Cace—,” I croaked. “Cac … ey … water …”
She shifted, then sat up. Completely alert. “Oh. You’re awake.”
“Water?” I tried to look for a glass or pitcher, but the only thing sitting on the stand next to me was a TV remote and a small bowl.
Cacey came over and picked up the bowl. “Here. Ice chips. They don’t want you to drink any water yet. Something about a test they want to run.”
I greedily sucked down the chip of ice, and the tiny bit of cold relief that spread down my throat was blissful. She fed me four more pieces before she pulled the bowl back.
I laid my head down on the pillow and tried to remember what had happened as Cacey returned to her seat. “How are you feeling?” she asked. “You were pretty out of it.”
Suddenly everything came rushing back.
Vincent in my room, lying on the bed, surrounded by rose petals. Him breaking my perfume cabinet and hurting my arm. The glass …
The blood …
I glanced down at the sheets, and then over at the beeping machine by my side. “How long have I been here?”
“A couple of hours. They’re going to release you tomorrow.” She picked up a Coke can from the floor next to the chair and took a long sip. “They didn’t want to keep you overnight, but your mom pushed them into it. It was pretty impressive. She and your dad have been in and out the whole time.”
I stared at the Coke can.
“I told them we were friends from summer school. Your mom totally bought it. Well, after she calmed down, I mean. She was crying and yelling. I—” Cacey finally noticed that I was ogling her beverage. “What? You want some of this?” She tipped the can back and drank down the last of it. “Sorry, all gone,” she said with a smile that was just a tiny bit cruel. “So anyway … since you’ve been in here, Kame and Sophie made up this killer cover story about an intruder breaking into your house. You didn’t get a good look at him, by the way.”
She waited for my nod before she continued. “So he broke into your house, smashed up all your stuff looking for drugs or stuff to steal or something like that, and when you interrupted him he got physical before taking off. We came and saved the day.”
She paused again, and I took it all in. Then she made me repeat it back to her. “Intruder. Didn’t get a good look. Smash and grab. You saved the day.”
Cacey nodded, looking pleased. “That about covers it.” She leaned forward. “Oh, and get this, Uri and I are ‘interns’ for Kame and Sophie. That’s how we know them. You should know that too.”
My head was starting to hurt. Normally Cacey’s voice was smooth and comforting, but now it was starting to grate on my nerves. And she had a weird habit of not blinking. It was like staring into the eyes of a fish.
She came to stand next to me, and stared at me as she said, “Remember what I told you, Abbey. You remember, don’t you?”
A funny feeling prickled the back of my scalp, and suddenly I felt much calmer. And happier. She was right. Everything had happened exactly the way she’d said it had.
“So tell me,” I said, reaching up to fluff my ragged curls. “On a scale of one to ten, how bad do I look?”
She cocked her head to one side and looked me up and down. “You’re a solid five. Maybe a five and a half. I’ve seen worse. But I’ve seen better, too.”
I laughed. The sound was raw against my throat, so I tried again. It came out funny and high-pitched. I opened my mouth to say something, and caught a whiff of burning leaves. “What’s …”
The question died in my throat as Cacey looked at me strangely. “What’s what?”
I sniffed again. But the odor was gone. “Nothing. I thought I smelled … nothing.”
She leaned over and fluffed up my pillow, then pulled the sheets higher. “I’m going to watch some TV. Your parents should be back soon.”
Her words made something in my brain click. “Caspian,” I said. “What about Caspian?”
“Oh, you finally bring up lover boy now, do you? You know, for being all fated to be together and whatnot, you took long enough to ask about—”
“Cacey. Please,” I said softly. “I need to see him.”
She sighed. “He’s safe right now with Nikolas and Katy. He should stay there until we can figure out what Vincent wants.”
“Please?” My eyelids were drooping, and she started swimming before my eyes. Sleep was pressing down, hard and heavy. “I really need to …”
“I know, I know. You need him. Blah, blah, blah.”
I felt blindly for her hand. “Have to make sure he’s … okay. … Tell him I …”
The last thing I heard her say before I drifted away was, “I know. I will. I’ll tell him that you love him.”
There were words. Soft words. Words I didn’t understand but knew I would follow anywhere because he was speaking them.
I turned my head to follow the voice but kept my eyes closed just in case it might not be real. In case it was a dream. The words came again, intermingling with ones I recognized.
“Astrid, can you hear me? Tu sei una stella … la mia stella. You’re my star, Abbey.”
I opened my eyes slowly. His face came into focus. Tears stung the backs of my eyes, and my throat burned. “I’m so happy to see you. I thought you were …”
He shook his head and glanced back at the door behind him. “I’m fine, and you’re fine, and we’ll talk later. You just concentrate on getting better. You’re going home tomorrow, right?”
“Get some sleep. I’ll be right here when you wake up. But remember, other people will be here too. Don’t talk to me if anyone else is in the room.”
I nodded again and closed my eyes. A shiver came over me as he spoke into my ear. “I love you, Astrid.”
“Love you, too,” I mumbled. “Caspian …”
I spread my left hand wide on the covers, palm-side up. And fell asleep to the sensation of a faint tingle against my arm.
When I woke up the next morning, Caspian was there just like he’d said he would be, sitting in the chair on the other side of the bed. But Cacey was gone. I shot him a grateful smile, glad that he was with me and I wouldn’t have to be alone when a couple of police officers came in to ask me some questions about the “break-in.” I just kept repeating what Cacey had told me. Once it became obvious that my answers weren’t going to change, they decided to leave.
“If you think of anything else, give us a call,” one of them said. He pulled a business card from his pocket and handed it to me.
“I will,” I promised.
The one who handed me his card shook my hand before they left the room. An instant later a huge balloon bouquet squeezed through the door, being carried by Mom. Dad was right behind her with a fistful of flowers.
“Hi, sweetie! How are you feeling?” She nodded toward the door. “How did that go?”
She set the balloon weight on the empty bed beside me, then leaned down and brushed some hair away from my face and kissed my cheek.
“It was okay,” I replied. “I don’t really remember much.”
Mom shot Dad a look and busied herself with rearranging the balloons. Dad put the flowers he had on my nightstand and came over to my other side. “Hey, honey. It’s good to see those baby blues again.”
I beamed up at him. “Good to see you, too, Dad.” I shifted my elbow underneath me so that I could sit up. Suddenly I noticed the flower bouquets that filled a table in front of a large window. Daisies, carnations, lilies, roses … even a baby tree.
“Are those all for me?” I asked, stunned at how many there were.
“They sure are,” Mom said proudly. She flitted over to some pink daisies in a polka-dotted pot. “These are from the Maxwells.” White lilies were next. “And these are from Mrs. Walker, the librarian.” She fussed with a carnation stem. “Word spread pretty quickly about what happened …” She stopped and bit her lip.
“Who’s the tree from?” I asked as a distraction.
Caspian surreptitiously moved out of Mom’s way as she came closer to it. I flashed him a quick smile.
Mom picked up the card. “Oh! It’s from Ben. Isn’t that nice of him?”
I had to hold back a snort of laughter at the “matchmaker” tone in her voice. She had no idea that Ben was in love with my dead best friend, and I was in love with a ghost. My eyes found Caspian’s. He gave me an exasperated look, and I quickly raised one eyebrow. “Yeah, Mom,” I said. “He’s very … nice.”
“We’re going to have a fun time dealing with them on the way home,” Caspian said as soon as Mom and Dad left the room again.
“We? Are you planning on hitching a ride with us?”
“As long as Vincent’s still out there, consider me rabbit skin.”
“Rabbit skin? Do I even want to know what that is?”
“It’s glue. Sorry. Obscure artist term.”
A thrill raced through me at the thought of having him so close. “What if I just call you Elmer’s?”
He snorted. “I guess that’s better than Casper.”
“Hey! I happen to like—”
A knock sounded on the outside door frame, and immediately I grew silent. A second later a nurse stuck her head in. “You have a visitor. Feeling up to some company?”
It’s probably Uncle Bob. “Sure. Send him in.”
The nurse disappeared. And Ben walked in.
“Hey, Abbey. How are you?”
He had a small bunch of flowers with him, and his curly brown hair was messy. His face clearly showed that he was nervous.
“I’m good.” I glanced down at the IV tubing still in my arm. “Well, as good as I can be, stuck here.”
The nurse peeked back in. “I hope I can trust you two alone in here. She needs her rest, mister.” She directed a steely gaze at Ben.
“Oh, we’re not—,” I said at the same time as Ben said, “I’m not—”
“Mmm-hmm.” She looked back and forth between us. “That’s what they all say.”
I rolled my eyes at Ben when she left, and he laughed. “Awkward.”
He shifted from foot to foot, then hastily laid the flowers on the edge of the bed.
“Thanks,” I said. “And thanks for coming to see me.” My eyes landed on the baby tree. “And thanks for the other gift too.”
He followed my gaze. “It’s from my dad’s farm. He just bought some new seedlings. It’s supposed to flower.”
I could tell that Caspian was trying very hard not to look at Ben, and it made me want to tease him. “Why don’t you sit down?” I said, pointing to the open seat next to Caspian.
Ben sat. Glancing back at the door, he volunteered, “Hospitals really freak me out.”
Caspian slowly inched away from him, and said, “They’re starting to make me pretty uncomfortable too.”
I tried not to laugh, and just replied, “You should try being on this end.”
Ben’s expression suddenly changed from nervousness to anger. “I can’t believe that someone broke into your house, Abbey. I should have walked you in. Made sure everything was okay before just driving off like that.”
“It wouldn’t have made a difference,” Caspian said to Ben, even though he knew his words would go unheard. Then he turned to me and said, “There’s no telling what Vincent would have done to him.”
I nodded solemnly, but spoke to Ben. “It’s not your fault. You couldn’t have known what was going to happen.”
“But I feel so bad. And now there’s this crazy guy out there who hurt you, and if I had just been able to stop him, you wouldn’t be here.”
“There was nothing you could have done,” I told him. “It’s not your fault. End of story.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Now, can we talk about something else? Like what happens if we end up as science fair partners again this year?”
Ben laughed. “I’m counting on it, Browning. In fact, I think I’m going to slip Mr. Knickerbocker a twenty to make sure it happens. Since you bailed on me last year, you have a lot to make up for.”
The nurse knocked on the door again, then entered. “Your parents are on their way, dear. You’re being discharged.”
Ben stood up.
“I’ll see you at school, right?” I said to him.
“Yup. Seniors, baby.”
He left right before Mom came back in, but I could see the gleam in her eye even though I was halfway across the room. “Ben came to visit?” she said.
“Well, isn’t that nice of him.”