- 8 -
The Hilux bumped up the road to the farm, Velvet Revolver playing on the stereo. Alex kept a steady grip on the wheel, eyes fixed ahead, while Claire tried to explain what she’d felt at Kat’s place.
“I don’t know what it was, Al, but it’s the most hostile thing I’ve ever felt. It was even worse than the Campbell sisters! And it’s linked to both the music box and Felicity. I thought I’d choke when she saw her mother crying. But it cleared away as soon as she knew we intended to help them.”
“It’s gotta be a fucking cobolt,” Alex grunted. “Now we gotta find out what kind of cobolt it is.”
“A cobolt. An entity dwelling inside an object. It can be an elemental being or a ghost.”
“Mind to elaborate for this poor mortal?”
“That’s why we don’t keep images at home, Claire. Garden gnomes? They’re all occupied by real gnomes. Wooden owls, glass angels, those little witches you used to like so much. All occupied. The catch is the elementals that take object over are demanding and territorial. They won’t suffer having their dwelling unattended or mistreated, let alone broken.”
“This thing doesn’t seem to be territorial, but protective. Maybe even to violent extents.”
“Then it’s gotta be a ghost. We gotta track the music box to find out whose ghost it is and what kind of violent episode that person was involved in.”
“The violent event is mandatory?”
“Yeah, it explains its behavior.”
“Oh, well, yeah, makes sense.”
The fell silent for a few minutes, until Claire said, “Isn’t it weird, this happening only two weeks after Rob’s parasite?”
Alex opened her mouth, closed it again, set her jaw.
“Go ahead, say it.”
“I told you so that night: it’s a door that once open, you cannot close.”
“But Rob’s parasite has nothing to do with this.”
“If you tune on a sports radio, you’ll hear about football, baseball, basketball. Different stuff, but sports all the same.”
“You mean the Campbell sisters, Rob’s worm and now this—”
“Soon you’ll realize we live surrounded by things and beings you never even thought existed. They’ve always been there, but you didn’t notice ‘cause you didn’t know how to. When you become aware of them, you can’t help getting involved in this kind of situation anymore.”
Claire took a moment to process Alex’s explanation.
“But you’ve known about them since, like, forever.”
“And I chose to shut them out long ago. Our lives were complicated enough back then to bring any supernatural mess into the picture.”
Claire accepted the reproach underlying those words. She knew she’d earned it, so she didn’t try to defend herself.
“I know you did it all to keep us safe, Al,” she said gently. “But remember you’re not alone in this anymore.”
A warm smile softened Alex’s face. “I know, kiddo. That’s why you’re coming with me now.”
It was the first time in Claire’s life that she was allowed into the sancta sanctorum of Old Bootter’s workshop. She took a careful step in, and a moment later, she couldn’t take her eyes away from the shelves full of dry herbs, the carved crates, the mysterious small trunks. She wowed out loud when she saw Alex open the safe, and what was inside. She swallowed a thousand questions about the million things stuffed in the small shed, because she didn’t want to get on Alex’s nerves and give her an excuse to shut her out of that wonderland.
“How can I help?” she asked instead, the queen of cautious.
Alex replied with her head pretty much into the safe.
“Right now, just don’t touch anything.” That was softer than Claire expected. “Some other day I’ll teach you to use Grandpa’s index.”
So Claire waited, reading on the jars the labels written by Old Bootter when she was hardly a toddler. The contents of many of them were things everybody had in their kitchen. Some other seemed right out from a witch’s cave in a bedtime story. She found an old album and dared to open it. No photographs, but a complete catalog of healing herbs, each sample labeled with the list of things it could be used for.
Alex grabbed a big book from the safe, and was closing it when her phone buzzed again. She picked up as she handed the book over to Claire.
“Hey, Pete,” she said. “What? Okay, I’ll be there in thirty.”
“What is it?” Claire dared to ask as they left the workshop.
“He wouldn’t say,” Alex replied, closing the padlock and preceding the girl to the Hilux, parked under the old apple tree across the yard.
She drove absentminded, singing Velvet Revolver along under her breath, while Claire flicked through the book.