“I need to tell you about the Sagestone fire,” he says, his voice rasping like each word is being scraped out of him. “I need you to know how this started.”
My eyelids are too heavy to open. I try but it’s like two thumbs are resting on top of them, holding them down. I can’t do anything but lie there and see the hallway of the old high school emerge from the fog in my mind’s eye. It surrounds me, makes me feel like I’m standing there, two months ago exactly. I shiver when he tells me Keir chose the place because he knew it’d be empty, and he knew how to get in.
“The boy, Matthew Townsend,” he goes on, “was dead when I got there.”
Every word adds a brushstroke to the scene until it’s as clear as my own memory. It’s the spell that’s doing it. I can feel it crouching in the back of my brain like a gargoyle, watching the vision unfold while I’m powerless to do anything to stop it, change it, making it real.
I can see the hallway of the old school, everything washed in the grey darkness of nighttime. His feet, my feet, send echoes circling off the walls as I follow the faint smell of smoke down the hall. When I stop outside of French room 2B, my hands reach out and open the door.
The fire Keir started is on the floor, singeing the slip-resistant linoleum in the middle of a black casting circle. Desks sit clustered around it. Matthew’s body is slung across the long table in the corner. Seeing him there, so rigid and still, makes my throat close until I almost can’t breathe.
The door shuts behind me, drawing Keir’s attention away from the embers.
What took you so long? He says as he snatches a knife off the floor and tosses it at me, hilt first. My hands barely manage to snag the handle.
Get his blood, Keir says, sliding a ceramic bowl across the floor until it knocks into my shoe. We’ll do you first.
My body draws near to Matthew, and I want so badly to open my eyes, break through this nightmare. I watch my hand guide the knife to Matthew’s grey-blue skin and split it in a line. There’s fingerprint-shaped bruises darkening along his neck.
“Keir strangled him before I got there,” he says. “Just before.”
He’s dead, but Matthew’s eyes don’t seem vacant yet, like some part of him is digging his nails in, refusing to be torn out.
The ceramic bowl in my hands catches the blood that flows down Matthew’s elbow.
His voice shakes when he says, “Lifeblood had to come from an artery. Keir taught me that. The heart was best, but I just couldn’t put the knife between Matthew’s ribs, dead or not.”
My hands hold out the bowl to Keir and he takes it, mixing a fistful of ashes into it, something like pigment powder. He holds the mixture over the fire, speaking in guttural words that don’t sound like any language I’ve heard before. The darkness deepens in the room, as if it’s being called, clustering in the corners like silent observers.
Keir digs in his backpack and pulls out a pen, just a regular ballpoint that’s been emptied of its ink, but it has a needle on its end. I sit in front of him, horrified as I gather my shirt up at the back of my neck. Keir goes to work, dipping into the rust-colored paste and piercing a stinging pattern into my back.
“I knew how wrong it was,” he says. “I knew I was breaking a part of myself that I’d never fix again. It’s hard to explain. Each puncture kind of felt like there was a wholeness filling me. Like all my life I’d been half empty, you know? I couldn’t keep going like that. I’d rather be someone else, and let this other side take over, than deal with being an unfinished person. I never really thought of stopping. Not even once.”
In the room, Keir works the makeshift needle down to my lower back.
Almost done, Keir says, his voice strained with the effort of keeping his hand steady. The last mark is tricky.
As soon as he’s done saying it, the fire in the middle of the room bursts like a mushroom cloud, stretching up in fury up to the speckled white ceiling. The Mineral fiber tiles take up the flames like gasoline, and the whole room loses its breath and starts to choke.
“I knew it was Matthew,” he says, “driving the fire with all the hatred and anger for us that was too strong to move on, leave the place where his life had been stolen.”
The pen drops from Keir’s hand, skittering across the floor. We’re both on our feet, running for the door. The handle is jammed, swollen with the heat. We try the windows, but the metal burns our hands.
“Matthew trapped us,” he says. “His final revenge.”
I grab a chair and break it across a window, chipping out a hole in the glass the size of a dime. It takes six more tries to smash a gap big enough to fit us. I scrape my body through as shards tear at my elbows. When I’m almost out, still hanging onto the windowsill, I turn back to Keir, but he’s not behind me. He’s running to the body, refusing to leave it.
As soon as Keir touches Matthew’s skin, the fire retaliates, eating up every molecule of air left in the room before exploding out the windows. Heat surges into my nose and mouth, burning down my throat, as I hurl myself to the grass outside. After that, I drag my body across the parking lot, collapsing behind an electrical box.
“Sagestone High,” he tells me, “was gone before the fire trucks even got there. I didn’t think there was any way Keir could’ve gotten out. All the evidence was wiped away by the fire. I thought it was some kind of gift. A second chance almost. I walked away after that. To this day, I’ve never once looked at the tattoos on my back.”
That’s what he says, anyway. I feel the spell losing its hold on me. My vision clears, like a gentle wind sweeping the fog away, and I open my eyes.
It’s just me now, in my own body, still stuck in my hospital bed, and him in the chair beside me. He leans forward, pressing the heels of his hands into his eye sockets like it hurts him too much to see me.
Something’s just been lost between us. I can feel our innocence draining from the room, and a dark weight settling in its place.
“If you’d told me one day ago,” I say, “we might have been able to save you.”
Kate St. Clair grew up in Austin, TX, before she attended boarding school in California. She was accepted to the Chapman University Creative Writing program before she wrote SPELLED – Amethyst, Book One, released on April 1st 2014. SPELLED is a paranormal YA series published by Black Hill Press. When she’s not writing, Kate is riding horses, walking her dogs, or playing with her pet pig, Miley.
Buy from publisher: http://blackhillpress.com/book/spelled/