Unmarked, p.6

Unmarked, page 6

 part  #2 of  The Legion Series

 

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  “A map.”

  7. CIRCLE OF SALT

  I recognized the white weather-beaten house immediately. It was the one in the background of the photo I’d found tucked in my mirror, the day Elle and I were packing up my bedroom three months ago. The details of the picture crystallized in my mind—my dad carrying me on his shoulders, the goofy kid-smile plastered across my face.

  Faith’s house was nestled in the woods about a mile and a half down an unmarked gravel road, even less noticeable than the one that led to the museum. We had passed a smattering of other homes, but none of them were this deep in the woods.

  Lukas parked the Jeep in the snow, leaving enough room for another car to pass, even though we hadn’t seen any tire tracks since we turned off the main road.

  On one side of the car there was nothing but a sea of snow-covered trees, which seemed to go on forever. To the left, beyond the narrow strip of road, the forest sloped downward, disappearing over the edges of cliffs and ridges that cut back and forth like a the triangular teeth I used to draw as kid.

  We were all standing one of the wider ridges, a few yards away from the Jeep Faith’s house was below us, surrounded by towering pines and evergreens. Without the map, it would’ve been difficult if not impossible to find.

  “I’ve been there before,” I said.

  Elle sighed dramatically. “Please tell me we didn’t hang out in that disgusting museum full of dead animals to find a map we didn’t need. Those were two hours of my life I’ll never get back.”

  Alara pushed past her. “And I bet you’ve wasted more time doing worse things.”

  “Ow.” Elle rubbed her elbow. “Would it kill you to be a little nicer?”

  “Yes.” Alara walked back toward the middle of the ridge, where the guys were drawing lines in the snow to represent different routes to Faith’s house.

  “Kennedy,” Elle whispered. “I have to pee.”

  I opened my arms wide and gestured around us. “Choose a spot.”

  “Just make sure no comes over here.” She walked away from the edge and trudged through the trees that ran parallel to the slope.

  As I stared down at the bits of the house I could see through the branches, I wondered what Faith Waters was like. How long had she been living out here? Did she have a family? And the question that kept resurfacing… did my father live there, too?

  “Hey.” Elle waved from between the trees. “I found a crop circle like the ones on Ancient Aliens.”

  Priest, Jared, and Lukas exchanged amused looks. Alara shook her head as if she couldn’t imagine what Elle was going to come up with next.

  Jared stood up and brushed the snow off his jeans. “There are no crops out here, Elle.”

  She put a hand on her hip and gave him her you’re-about-to-get-dumped-after-two-dates look. “I’m in AP Biology. Thanks for enlightening me.”

  Lukas caught up to her first. His hands were jammed in his pockets, and he nudged her playfully with elbow. “Come on. Don’t be mad. Let’s see it.”

  The rest of us trailed after them.

  Lukas followed Elle to a small stretch of rock, which created a platform overlooking the trees below. When Lukas reached the edge, he froze.

  “Anything down there?” Alara asked.

  “I told you.” Elle stood next to him with her chin raised, and smiled.

  When we caught up to them, Lukas pointed at the house, in the center of what resembled a dark gray crop circle. But instead of flattened grass, this circle was made by something else. “Check it out.”

  Alara squinted. “What is it?”

  Lukas looked over at Jared and Priest, who hadn’t taken their eyes off the house and the strange ring encircling it. “I don’t know.”

  Lukas drew a map, using trees and the cliff faces as landmarks. Then Jared drove us back down the road until we reached the base of the hill. We parked the car where the ground began to slope. Alara ended up having the best sense of direction, and she navigated her way between the trees, while the rest of us tried to keep up.

  The house was only about a half mile from the road, and the snowfall had let up a little.

  “Does anyone else hear that?” Alara stopped walking and closed her eyes, listening.

  When I caught up to her, I heard it, too. A delicate, almost musical sound drifted through the woods.

  “Think it’s the wind?” I asked.

  “No.” Alara headed through the trees, moving faster, with more purpose.

  With every step, the sound grew louder, changing from a gentle ringing to a thunderous clatter.

  “It sounds like wind chimes,” Jared said.

  Ahead of us, Alara nodded. “I think so, too.”

  But before we had a chance to find out, bits of white wood became visible like puzzle pieces scattered through the trees. A moment later, the house came into view—and a curved stretch of gray ground.

  “It looks like someone carved it into the snow,” I said.

  “Or melted into it.” Alara stopped at the edge of a cluster of pines. “It’s a salt line.”

  Chunks of rock salt glistened on the ground within the snowy walls of the circle.

  Jared stood behind me, with his arms wrapped around my waist. “Ever seen anything like it?”

  “Not even close.” Lukas shook his head and turned toward his brother, then looked away when he noticed Jared’s arms around me. Instead of the jealousy I’d seen from Lukas in the past, this seemed like the knee jerk reaction of someone who was uncomfortable and just wanted the feeling to go away.

  I wanted it to go away, too—for the awkwardness between us to disappear.

  We stayed close to the tree line, working our way around to the front of the house. The porch came into view, revealing the source of the sound. Hundreds of metal wind chimes lined the porch, banging against one another. Some were made from strands of bottle caps, while forks and spoons dangled from others.

  Jared covered his ears. “Are they trying to attract every spirit within a twenty mile radius?”

  “Some cultures believe wind chimes frighten spirits instead of attracting them,” Alara said.

  Priest flipped up the hood of his down jacket, waving his EMF. “It’s clean, paranormally speaking.”

  “When will I get an electro-magnified ghost finder?” Elle gestured at Priest’s EMF, from where she stood a few yards away, butchering electromagnetic field meter for the second time today.

  Alara walked to the edge of the white circle surrounding the house. She bent down and picked up a handful of rock salt.

  “Be careful not to break the salt line,” I whispered to Elle. I didn’t want her to make the same mistake I had.

  Priest followed the curve around the back of the house. “Anyone trying this hard to scare away spirits has to be a member of the Legion.”

  “Or totally paranoid,” Elle said.

  Priest stopped walking a few yards ahead of us. “I’m going with both.”

  A headstone rose up through the snow. As we circled around to the front, the ground changed from white to brown, where the earth was freshly turned over. Someone had dug a grave at the base of the headstone.

  Elle gasped.

  A stone dove perched on top of the marker, above the script looping across the face.

  FAITH MADIGAN

  1972-

  “MAY SHE SLEEP WITH THE DOVES.”

  Faith Madigan—the first and middle names from the birth certificate Lukas found. In spite of the morbid scene, relief washed over me. She was real.

  My dad’s not the missing Legion member.

  Alara bent down next to the headstone. “Think she dropped Waters?”

  “It’s the first thing I’d do if I didn’t want anyone to find me.” Jared pulled my hand into his pocket, along with his own.

  Elle scrunched up her nose. “Who digs their own grave?”

  Priest peered into the hole. “Someone who knows they’re being hunted.”

  Branches snapped o
n the other side of the house.

  “Is that—?” I glanced behind me.

  Alara backed away. “Barking.”

  A huge Doberman raced around the side of the house and slid into a crouch in front of us, growling.

  Elle turned to run, and Lukas grabbed her arm. “Don’t. He’ll chase you.”

  “If that’s all he does, you’ll be lucky.” A woman stepped out onto the porch, her face hidden beneath the folds of a hooded olive parka. She was holding a shotgun, with the barrel pointed directly at us. “This is private property. I suggest you leave before he gets agitated. Or I do.”

  The dog barked louder, and Elle scooted behind Lukas.

  “I don’t see you moving.” The woman stepped off the porch and froze when she saw me. She lowered the gun and pulled down her hood, her green eyes familiar and haunting. My father’s eyes flashed through my mind—a deep evergreen flecked with gold, which had reminded me of Christmas trees when I was young. The woman’s eyes were the same unusual shade and almond shape.

  “Bear. Come.” She called the dog without taking her eyes off me. He stopped barking and padded over to where she stood.

  “Do you know who I am?” I asked.

  She gave a small nod. “You look exactly like Alex.”

  My father.

  Any lingering doubts about whether or not she was related to me disappeared.

  “I don’t know how you found me, but you shouldn’t be here.” The woman, who had to be my aunt, turned back toward the house. “Your mother wouldn’t be happy about it.”

  “My mother’s dead.”

  Faith stopped short, and her hand tightened around the gun hanging at her side. “Does anyone know you’re here?”

  I shook my head. “No.”

  She glanced at everyone else. “Who are they?”

  “My friends.”

  “They can wait out here.” Faith’s eyes darted around the property and back to me

  Get inside if you’re coming in.”

  I stepped away from the door. “I’d be dead if it wasn’t for them.”

  “She’s not going anywhere without us.” Jared pulled our intertwined hands out of his pocket so Faith could see them.

  The Doberman growled. She snapped her fingers, silencing the dog, and gestured at the door with the shotgun barrel. “Don’t touch anything.”

  A hand-painted symbol stretched across the floorboards of the porch. A tribal-looking eye, in the center of a spiral.

  Alara stopped at the edge of the white paint and looked at Faith. “How do you know about the Eye of Ever?”

  “I know about lots of things, and I’d like forget most of them,” Faith said, holding the door open for us.

  Priest nudged Alara. “What’s it for?”

  “The Eye is an abating symbol,” Alara said. “It weakens evil in any form.”

  Faith followed us inside and locked a dozen deadbolts, running down the inside of the heavy oak door, behind us. She shrugged off her heavy parka, sending a cascade of chestnut waves, exactly like mine, down her back.

  From the entryway, the house looked normal enough. At least it wasn’t full of salt rings and wind chimes. The first floor was L-shaped, and the foyer faced a steep oak staircase that reminded me of Lilburn Mansion. I looked away. To the left of the stairs, a long hall stretched in front of us, with open archways leading into a series of rooms beyond it. Faith dropped her coat on a claw foot bench, and rushed into the room on the right.

  Elle followed, but stopped cold in the doorway. “Maybe someone should suggest curtains.”

  My aunt stood next to a huge bay window, covered in a patchwork of garbage bags, held together with long strips of silver duct tape. A cracked pine table stacked with newspapers was the only piece of furniture in the room. Built-in bookcases lined the walls from floor to ceiling. More books littered the floor; some lying half-opened or piled in crooked towers, while others formed pedestals to support larger volumes.

  I bent down and examined the nearest stack. Grimories with crumbling spines, balanced on top of 17th Century atlases and texts with strange titles like: The Codex Demonotica; Documents of Illumination; Papal Seals and Ciphers, The Amadeus Code; and a copy of The Complete Works of Hieronymus Bosch.

  Faith slid the shiny bags aside and peeked through the window, scanning the yard. “How did you find me?”

  “The map,” Priest said. “Altering the poem was a smart way to hide it.”

  “Alex’s idea. I move every few months, back and forth between several houses. We needed a system so my brother would always able to find me.” She mentioned my father’s name casually as though he was someone I saw every day, instead of the man who had abandoned me.

  “Where’s Alex now?” Elle asked.

  “I’m not sure.” Faith gave her a strange look and rushed past us.

  Bear trailed after her, unfazed. The hallway spilled into a great room, where a fireplace crackled in the corner and a sweet floral scent drifted from the kitchen.

  Alara eyed the room suspiciously. “This place doesn’t look like it belongs to someone who tapes trash bags over the windows.”

  The same thought crossed my mind, until I walked further into the room.

  Stacks of canvases depicting apocalyptic scenes leaned against the walls—cavernous holes torn in the ground with hands reaching up from inside them; people being dragged through the streets by chains attached to metal collars around their necks. The images looked like they were straight out of Dante’s Inferno or one of Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings of hell.

  The haunting portraits of spirits, with their pallid skin and angry eyes were easily recognizable to me now. But the eyes of the figures in another series of paintings proved less familiar and more disturbing—flat, pupil-less black pools stared out from the canvases. Faith emerged from the kitchen, her attention shifting nervously between the six of us and the paintings.

  I approached one of the larger canvases. A figure writhed in pain behind the bars of a cell. Steam or smoke rose from his body. “You paint? Me too.”

  My mom had always said I didn’t get my artistic talent from her.

  Faith glanced at the image then looked away, as if she couldn’t stand the sight of it. “Hopefully, your work is nothing like mine.”

  Priest stood in front of an Inferno-style piece. “You’ve seen some of this stuff, haven’t you?”

  “Most of them are only nightmares.” My aunt leaned against a tall painting and used her weight to slide it down the wall. The canvas moved, revealing a bookcase behind it.

  “And the others?” I asked.

  My aunt’s gaze flickered over the writhing figure rendered in acrylic. “Things you should pray you never see.” She began pulling books off the shelves two and three at a time, until she found a brass doorknob attached to the back of a shelf. She turned the knob and the bookcase opened like a door. The closet behind it was packed from the floor to the ceiling with what looked like disaster supplies.

  “Your aunt is officially crazy,” Elle whispered.

  Faith tossed supplies onto the floor behind her. Duct tape, rope, batteries, and ammo rolled across the wood. Once she cleared a few feet of space, she struggled to drag out a huge burlap sack.

  “Need a hand?” Lukas walked toward her, and Bear growled, showing his teeth. Lukas stepped back, with his hands raised. “Relax, Cujo.”

  My aunt snapped her fingers, and the Doberman loped down the hall and stood guard at the front door. Faith ripped the string across the top of the sack, and rock salt spilled onto the floor. She used a plastic milk jug with the top cut off as a scoop and raced through the rooms pouring salt lines along windows and doors, which were already heavily salted.

  “I’m sorry about your mother. But you shouldn’t have come here.”

  “If you tell us what’s going on, maybe we can help,” Alara said, in the even tone she usually reserved for volatile spirits.

  Faith removed a rubber band from a yellowed newspaper and
gathered her hair in a ponytail with it. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

  “I’m pretty sure we will.” Priest scooped a fistful of salt from the sack and pulled up his sleeve. He rubbed the crystals over his wrist, and lines began carving themselves into his skin.

  Faith watched in awe, as the cuts formed one-fifth of Andras’ seal—the demon’s unique signature. The original Legion members had used the seal to summon him, and each of them had branded a section of the symbol into his skin, in an attempt to bind the demon.

  Jared, Lukas, and Alara dusted their own wrists with salt. One by one, their marks appeared, each forming another part of the seal. I stared at my boots and counted the scratches on the toes, anything to distract myself from the envy I hated myself for feeling.

  Faith gasped and turned to Elle and me.

  I drew my shoulders back. “If we’re right about who you are, then you know I don’t have a mark.”

  Elle threw up her hands. “Don’t look at me. I don’t have any demon tattoos. I’m just here to make sure my best friend doesn’t get herself killed.”

  My aunt turned her attention back to the real Legion members. “I’ve never seen the marks together before.”

  “Wanna see all five?” Priest asked.

  Faith held her wrist over the sack and rubbed it with salt. Lines carved themselves into her skin, revealing the final section of Andras’ seal. I had imagined holding my wrist where Faith’s was now—being the missing piece of the Legion puzzle, and the person to finally complete it.

  When the demon’s seal faded, Priest brushed off his wrist. “Now that we know we’re all on the same side, I’m Priest. It’s my name, not my occupation.”

  Lukas didn’t bother with formalities. “I’m Lukas, and this is my brother, Jared. You’re not an easy person to find.”

  Faith stared at them as if she’d never seen identical twins before. Then she switched back into survival mode, digging through a box full of flashlights and changing the batteries at a dizzying speed. “That’s the idea, Lukas.”

 
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