Chapter Eleven

I was sleeping, a beautiful dreamless sleep like I hadn’t had in a long time, when a rough hand shook me awake. It was Gus. “They’re here,” he said.

I fumbled in the darkness for my gun and was on my feet in minutes.

Everyone in the room was in the same position as me. We crept out into the hallway, where we were met by Hallam and Marlena, both still with mussed hair and bleary eyes.

“We heard shots,” said Hallam. “Jason’s people are here. They’re retaliating against us for what happened today.”

Hallam sent us all to the windows first.

I was assigned to one of the busted stained glass windows in the sanctuary. I knelt beside it, and peered out, gun first. Outside, I saw nothing but dark foliage and stillness. There was nothing there. I waited. They must be hiding, waiting to ambush us.

We all waited. Ten minutes went by. Twenty.

Hallam came into the sanctuary. He tagged me, Kieran, and a few others. We were to go out the back door and spread out, looking for intruders.

“Don’t engage,” Hallam said. “You see them, you get back here immediately. Got it?”

We nodded.

Hallam looked at me. “Azazel, can’t you use your magic to find them?”

I shook my head. “It doesn’t work quite like that. I have to know where they are before I can touch their minds.”

“Fine,” he said. He sent us out.

Outside, the stars glittered above us, serene in their stationary positions. They didn’t care whether the whole world was at war or not. If all of us were gone, the stars would still shine down. Actually, that wasn’t true, was it? Hadn’t I heard somewhere that the stars we saw were actually already burned out? It took so many light years for their light to travel to us that by the time we saw them, they were all already dead.

But I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about stars. I was supposed to be looking for Jason’s people. We divvied up directions and each of us set off in a separate one. I headed down the road in the direction of Columbus-Belmont park. I stayed close to the line of trees on one side of the road, hugging the shadows. I didn’t see anyone. At all.

I walked for thirty minutes, past the park entrance, covering as much ground as I could. I still didn’t see anyone. I headed back. No one on the way back either.

I could see the church when I heard the sounds of footsteps on the road. I darted behind some trees for cover and watched. At first, I could see nothing more than shadowy figures, but as they approached, I was able to see the people more clearly. They weren’t from Jason’s camp. They had packs on their backs like backpackers and they were shrouded in hooded sweatshirts. Two of the figures were smaller, their hands reaching up to hold the hands of their…parents? It was a family. They looked like they’d been traveling for a long time.

A hand came down on my shoulder. I jumped and whirled, surprised.

Jason.

He was wearing a white t-shirt and jeans. He gave a sheepish half grin. “They’re coming,” he said.

Don’t engage , said Hallam’s voice in my head.

But I stayed where I was, not moving away from him, like his body was a magnet. Like I couldn’t stop myself.

“Azazel,” he said. I could see that he was holding a bottle of moonshine. It was nearly empty. Had he drunk the entire thing himself? Surely not. He’d be passed out by now.

But Jason was definitely drunk. He staggered on his feet, weaving in and out. This wasn’t an attack. I didn’t think it was, anyway. Why would Jason come to our camp drunk?

“I’m a little drunk,” Jason slurred.

No shit. I glared at him. “I should shoot you now and be done with it.”

Jason sat down hard on the ground. He grunted. He patted the grass next to him. “Sit down with me.”

Why did I do it? I don’t know. Maybe I was just too curious. Why was Jason here, trashed out of his mind, wanting to talk to me? I sat down.

He smiled at me. His smile seemed soft. I guess he was just drunk. “Do you remember back in Bramford, when I tried to run away? Sheriff Damon brought me back and you got Toby to help you skip out on school to come see me?”

I remembered. “Yes.”

“When you saw me, you ran across the room and you hugged me. I’d never been so close to you before. I still remember what that was like. Smelling you for the first time.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Smelling me?”

“I like the way you smell,” he said. He took a swig from his bottle. “I can smell you now. It’s nice.”

I scooted a few inches away from him.

He laughed, hanging his head between his knees. “And she moves away.”

“Jason, you’re drunk—”

“I know. I shouldn’t be. The people are all angry. They want to come after your camp again. I just ran off and got drunk.” He shrugged at me, his hands spread wide. All his gestures seemed exaggerated.

I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. I should probably go back inside. I should tell Hallam that Jason was drunk and in our backyard.

“I’m sorry you saw me with Polly,” he said.

Oh God. So this is what all of this was about. “Jesus, it’s okay that you’ve moved on. It’s fine. We haven’t been together in a long time.”

“Polly and I are not really together,” Jason said.

“You looked together.”

“We fuck,” he said. “But she’s not you.”

I snorted. “Right. She’s Lilith.”

Jason sighed. “Nothing happened between me and Lilith. Why don’t you ever believe me about this?”

I did believe him. Sort of. I guess. But it was so long ago. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“If you say so.”

“Jason,” I said. “You should let me go. You should try to be happy with Polly.” Hell, what was I saying? I didn’t want Jason to be happy. I wanted Jason to get out of our way west. Sometimes, I was pretty sure I wanted Jason to die. But here, in the darkness, it seemed almost like I was having a normal conversation with an ex. And Jason didn’t seem nearly as horrible as he usually did. He was vulnerable. I missed seeing him vulnerable. It was the only thing that used to make me believe he was human.

“That’s just it,” he said. “I thought I had let you go. But now that I’ve seen you, I know that it’s never going to be over between the two of us. Not really.”

He couldn’t keep talking like that. “It’s over. It’s been over since the day I told you to leave.”

Jason contemplated his bottle of moonshine. “You really don’t feel it? When we’re around each other, you don’t feel the pull? It’s bigger than us. It’s bigger than what either of us wants.”

I started to say that I didn’t feel it, but I knew that would be a lie. Sure, there was a connection between Jason and me. That didn’t mean we had to date. “What do you want?” I asked instead.

“You.”

“Sure you do. That’s why you were making out with that redhead this morning.”

“It doesn’t mean I don’t still want you.”

Fine. Whatever. “I want you to let us get past you and go west.”

“Listen to me, Azazel. There is something I believe very much, and I think I’ve always been clear about it. When someone is doing something you don’t like, you have two options. Either accept what they’re doing or make them stop doing it. I don’t like the OF telling everyone what to do. So I’m going to make them stop. And there’s no point in going west. You have to trust me on this. It’s a worse mess there than it is here.”

“You can’t convince me of the same lies you tell your people. A fascist government? Please.” I rolled my eyes.

He was quiet for a few minutes. “This is what this is about, isn’t it? It’s not that you don’t still want me. You do. I can tell.”

“I don’t.” I hated when he got arrogant like this.

Jason wasn’t phased. “It’s because I’m not cooperating with the OF.”

“That and the fact you’re cutting off people’s fingers.”

“I needed you to know I was serious,” he said. “I didn’t want to kill them or hurt them too seriously. Besides, the finger cutting off thing is very effective. It really upsets people.”

“Because it’s seriously fucked up,” I said.

“Desperate times…”

Right. The end justifies the means. Wasn’t that what Lily had told me earlier? If I believed that, what would separate me from Jason?

Jason took a long drink of his moonshine. “I know you so well. I can see the way you’re looking at me. Maybe it won’t be tonight, but someday, you’ll come back to me.”

I stood up. “I’m not ever coming back to you.”

He stumbled to his feet as well. “You can tell yourself that, but I know what’s between us.”

He was making me so angry. “There’s nothing between us,” I said. “There’s something between you and Polly and there’s something between me and Kieran. But there’s nothing between you and me.”

He arched an eyebrow. “Finally committed to that doormat out of pity, huh?”

“No,” I said. “Not pity. I like him.”

He put his hand under my chin. “And you love me.”

I slapped his hand off me. “And I’m pregnant with Kieran’s child .”

Jason took a stumbling step back. It was as if I’d punched him in the stomach. “You’re what?” he whispered, horrified.

“I’m pregnant,” I said again, even though I didn’t know for sure if it was true.

Jason dashed the moonshine bottle against the ground, where it thudded on the grass, liquid spilling out. He took an angry step towards me. “You will use your magic again,” he said, his finger in my face. “And I don’t care how many babies you want to have with however many men you want to sleep with. You will use your power. And you will be mine. You’re mine, and you always will be.”

Then he turned and ran, disappearing into the woods.

* * *

“Remember that time I scared you in Columbus?” Jason asked. He was sitting across the table from me in our kitchen. The remains of our dinner were on the table. I needed to get up and clear the dishes.

“Which time?” I asked, feeling a little annoyed. After all, Jason had been scary in Columbus. A lot.

He laughed. “Touché.” He got up and began to stack up the dishes.

“Jason, you don’t have to—”

“No, I’m doing it,” he said. “I’m clearing the table for my pregnant wife who slaved over this amazing meal.”

I rubbed my hands over my huge stomach and sat back in my chair. “Well, when you put it like that, go ahead then.”

He leaned across the table and kissed me lightly on the lips. “I was talking about the time you told me you were pregnant with Kieran’s child.”

I groaned. “Oh that time. You were scary. You screamed at me that I was yours and I’d always be yours.”

Jason took a stack of dishes over to the sink. “Well, I was right, wasn’t I?”

I twisted in my chair to see him better. “Jason Wodden, I do love you, but you do not own me.”

He came back to the table and squeezed my shoulder. “I know. I’m sorry I joked about it.” He grabbed the skillet and saucepan, which were both sitting on hot pads on the table. To hell with serving platters.

“There a reason you brought this up?”

Jason paused, balancing the dishes on one hand. “I was thinking about it. I’m glad you showed up there.”

“I only showed up because you demanded to see me.”

He laughed. “Well, yeah, I guess so.” He went back to the sink, and turned on the tap, adding soap to the stream of water. “But, while I had to find a way to change myself and I had to do that on my own, I don’t know if I would have if it hadn’t been for you. You’ve always motivated me to be a better man.”

I smiled. “That’s sweet.”

“It’s true,” he said. He turned back to the sink. “But I’m glad you weren’t really pregnant with that Kieran guy’s kid.”

I got up out of my chair. It wasn’t easy, with this enormous stomach. It always threw me a little off balance. I waddled over to Jason. “Hey, Kieran was a nice guy.”

“No, I know,” said Jason. He stopped what he was doing to put his hand on my belly. “I just like it this way better.” He grinned. “Besides, you like me because I’m a scoundrel,” he said in his best Harrison Ford impression, which really wasn’t very good.

“Occasionally,” I said. “You were a little too much like a scoundrel in Columbus.”

He kissed my forehead. “I’m sorry.”

I punched him playfully. “It’s okay. You made up for it.”

Jason shut off the tap and picked up a scouring pad. “You know that even if there had been a baby with Kieran, it wouldn’t have bothered me, right?”

“I know that,” I said.

He began scrubbing at one of the plates from dinner. “What are you doing standing up, anyway? Go sit down. I’ve got this.”

I raised my eyebrows. “I’m pregnant, Jason. I’m not an invalid.”

He just chuckled and continued with the dishes.

I took careful steps across the room, to the window in the kitchen. I peered outside at the black plastic that surrounded us. There was a huge banana peel outside the window. It was rotting. Living inside a garbage bag had seemed horrible at first, but we’d gotten used to it. “It’s just been so much easier to be alive now that I’ve accepted what we are,” I said.

“What are we?” Jason asked me, still scrubbing away.

“Just flies,” I said. “Insignificant insects, easily brushed aside. Nothing we do really matters to the grand scheme of things.”

“That’s right,” said Jason. “So there was no point in fighting anymore, was there, baby?”

“No,” I said. “Not at all. It’s okay just to be happy.”

“Are you happy?”

I smiled at him, my heart bursting with joy. “Very, very happy.”

* * *

I woke up in my sleeping area. Kieran was curled around me from behind, his arm wrapped around my waist. He stirred and moaned, pulling me closer.

Flies again.

Did these dreams mean something? Did I care if they did?

I snuggled closer into Kieran. I hadn’t told anyone about meeting Jason and talking to him. I felt like no one needed to know. He hadn’t hurt me. When we woke up, Kieran and I were going to Clinton to find a pregnancy test. I’d finally know the truth. I squeezed my eyes shut and willed myself to go back to sleep.

* * *

Clinton looked like an old mining town in West Virginia that I’d visited once when I was a kid. All the buildings were tall and brick, but kind of boringly rectangular and blocky. I got the feeling it was one of those towns that had experienced a lot of growth somewhere in the mid-twentieth century and then hadn’t had much growth since. It was much bigger than Columbus, which wasn’t so much a town as it was a place with a Post Office and a bunch of houses. But as towns go, it wasn’t big. It was a little bigger than Bramford.

It kind of reminded me of Bramford, actually. Strangely, even though terrible things had happened to me in Bramford, I felt a twinge of homesickness.

Of course, Clinton was far worse for wear than Bramford had ever looked. Most of the buildings featured broken windows and ripped-off doors. There was a four-car pileup on one of the streets. The cars had just been left there. The stoplights at several of the intersections had been torn down. They lay broken on the road, never to blink again.

We didn’t see any people. When we’d spoken to Hallam this morning before leaving, he’d been a little miffed. Marlena had told him we were going to look for supplies in Clinton. He told us that he and a party had been to Clinton when they’d first arrived in Kentucky. “Picked clean,” Hallam said. “Bunch of dead people in city hall.”

Apparently, there had been a mass suicide in Clinton. Hallam tried to use this as evidence that bad things like mass suicides happened everywhere, whether I intruded with magic or not. I just let him talk, like I always did. What was the point?

Kieran and I creeped up and down the empty streets in our Subaru, searching for a drug store or a pharmacy. Finally, we found one. It squatted on the corner of two streets. Its massive rectangular front had an off-center sign on top: “Parks Pharmacy.” There was an awning, crumbling in several places, over the doorway. Kieran parked the car.

We shut the doors, and the sound echoed down the empty street.

“Great place for zombies,” Kieran commented.

Which might have been funny if I didn’t feel like we lived in a horror movie already. Parks Pharmacy had glass doors and big glass windows. They were all destroyed. Shards of glass glittered on the sidewalk like little gems. Kieran stepped around them and pulled the door open for me. “Ladies first,” he said.

We were greeted by empty stretches of metal shelves. Inside the pharmacy, the air felt dank and muggy, like a cellar. There were no windows, and the blackness swallowed us. We could only see the first set of shelves. It seemed Hallam was right, thus far. Picked clean.

Kieran had a flashlight. He flicked it on. Its tiny beam illuminated an aisle reaching into the depths of the store. He shined the light higher.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Looking for those things that tell you what’s in each aisle,” said Kieran. “They hang them from the ceiling.”

“Pregnancy tests are usually towards the back,” I said. “And they never say pregnancy tests on the signs for the aisle. If you’re lucky, it might say family planning.”

If Parks Pharmacy used to have signs directing its customers to what was in each aisle, it didn’t anymore. We began to walk further into the pharmacy. It felt as if we were being sucked into the darkness. Kieran’s flashlight swept the aisles. Most looked empty, but the deeper we got, we began to see a few stray items on shelves. Lightbulbs. (Who would need them anyway?) Greeting cards. Hair dye. Lotions.

Finally, we hit the back wall. From Kieran’s flashlight, we could see this was where the pharmacy itself had been, where all the prescription drugs had been dealt out. It was smashed into and looked cleaned out. But in front of the pharmacy, on the walls under the sliding windows, were rows of KY jelly, condoms, home drug tests, and (yes!) pregnancy tests!

“Jackpot!” I said.

There were two different varieties. I grabbed both and held them up for Kieran to see, grinning.

He looked a little nervous. “Whoa. We found some.”

“Yup,” I said. I didn’t know if I’d ever been so happy in my life.

“Look,” said Kieran, “I want you to know, that even if the test is negative, it doesn’t mean that I don’t, you know, like you. I mean, whatever’s going on with us, it’s not because I think you’re pregnant.”

I poked him with the pregnancy test box. “You really don’t know that, now, do you?”

“You’re awesome, Azazel. I do know that.”

I hugged him. “Let’s just wait and see what it says before we freak out, okay?” I’d had a dream last night which had strongly indicated I wasn’t actually pregnant. I really hoped that was true. Of course, the dream had also indicated that I’d marry Jason and live inside a trash bag. It was so hard to separate the prophetic dreams from the regular nightmares.

Kieran nodded. “Okay, we’ll just wait it out.”

There was a crashing noise from the front of the store.

Kieran shut off the flash light, and we both got quiet. It was probably just an animal or something. It wasn’t exactly hard to get inside the pharmacy after all.

Together, we crept up to the last row of metal shelves.

“Nothing here,” said a voice, male with an accent I couldn’t quite place. Somewhere north.

“Keep looking. There might be something further back,” replied a voice in the same accent. It sounded like a cross between a New York accent and Minnesota accent. They turned their hard “th”s into “d”s (“there” was “dere”), but they didn’t pronounce the vowels the way someone might on the east coast. One thing was for sure. They definitely didn’t sound like they were from Kentucky.

Were they coming back to us? Were they friendly?

Another crashing noise. Apparently, they were knocking the shelves over.

“Why the fuck are we here?”

“We gotta go south. What? You want to swim across the Mississippi?”

The voices were getting closer. They were moving back through the store. I wasn’t sure what to do. Should we show ourselves?

Kieran tugged on me. Apparently, he thought we should retreat. I let him lead me as we backed into the darkness, further away from the center aisle.

“Hey, Buck, you want some hand lotion?”

Kieran stopped pulling me backwards.

“Eh, fuck you, Norris, you know you’re the one who’s got problems jerking off without lube.”

Kieran had gone rigid at my side.

I nudged him. “What?” I whispered.

He drew his gun, not answering me.

“Kieran!” I said it as forcefully as I could without making much noise.

“Stay here,” Kieran whispered to me. He took off towards the center of the store, moving quickly, not worrying about the noise he made. His shoes crunched against broken glass from the pharmacy window.

Shit! What was he doing?

“You hear something?” one of the guys asked.

“No. Shut up.”

“Hello?” called the first guy. “Who’s there?”

I could still hear Kieran moving forward, crunching away on the glass. I swore under my breath. What the hell was he doing?

Shoving the pregnancy tests into my pockets as best I could, I drew my own gun and went after him, trying to move a little more stealthily than he was.

The flashlight flicked back on. I could see Kieran, standing dead center in the middle of the aisle, his gun out and aimed. The light flickered wildly over the store. I could barely make out two grizzled men, each wearing ratty flannel. They had unkempt beards and dirty faces. Their hands went over their eyes to protect them from the light.

“Hey!” one exclaimed.

“What the fuck, dude?” the other said.

Kieran opened fire.

Okay, this was insane. “Kieran!” I screamed, not caring that when I did so I gave away my location. “Kieran, what the fuck?”

One of the men shrieked. “Shit, man!”

Kieran’s flashlight illuminated him for a second. The man was on the ground, his hand to his stomach. Blood was seeping through his fingers.

Kieran’s flashlight snapped back to the other guy who was on his knees with his hands in the air, terror all over his face. “Hey,” he said, “we’re sorry. We wasn’t gonna take anything, man. Hey, calm down, okay?”

Kieran leveled his gun at the man.

I tackled him, but not quick enough. He’d already pulled the trigger. His shot missed, though, ricocheting off the metal shelves.

I pinned him with my knee, my gun on him. “What is going on, Kieran? Have you gone insane?”

“They’re from Chicago,” he said. “They’re the same ones from Chicago.”

That made next to no sense to me. Kieran was from Chicago, I thought. I wondered why he didn’t have an accent like those guys. I got up off him to retrieve the flashlight. “Don’t move, Kieran.”

He didn’t listen. He rolled onto his feet in a second. Dammit. Why hadn’t I gotten his gun? Why had Kieran lost his mind all at once like this?

I aimed the flashlight at the quivering guy and his partner, who was gurgling blood, his eyes rolling back in his head. Great. “Who are you?” I demanded of the man on his knees.

Kieran was behind me, gun out and ready to shoot.

I swung the flashlight back to Kieran, blinding him by shining it directly in his eyes. “Stop!” I ordered him.

“I’m not anyone, ma’am,” said the man. “Not nobody. Just tryin’ to cross the river like everybody else. We were lookin’ for some food. There’s more of us outside. They probably heard the shots. They’ll be in here in a second.”

Oh. Wonderful.

The man continued. “You just leave me alone, and I’ll talk to ’em, okay?” The dude was scared out of his mind. “Don’t shoot, okay? I’ll tell ’em it was all a misunderstanding.”

Kieran snatched the flashlight out of my hands. “But it wasn’t a misunderstanding,” he said. He put the flashlight under his chin, like he was telling a camp fire story. “Don’t you recognize me? Or did you kill so many other people’s parents and rape so many other people’s sisters that I’ve just faded in your memory?”

Oh. Oh my God. “It’s them?” I whispered to Kieran.

“It’s them,” he said, his voice acid.

“Shoot him,” I said.

“No,” said the man. Kieran put the flashlight back on him. “You’re wrong, man. I never seen you in my life. Don’t do it.”

Kieran cocked his gun.

“I’m not lyin’ about the others. They’re outside. There’s six of them. If you shoot me—”

Kieran pulled the trigger. The bullet sunk into the man’s head. A red trickle appeared between his eyes. His body fell over.

The doors to the pharmacy burst open and several men came in holding guns. They looked from Kieran to the dead man on the floor. Then they started shooting.

Kieran didn’t move. He seemed transfixed by the body of the man he’d just killed. I grabbed the fabric of his sleeve and yanked him after me.

We dove behind the final metal shelf, both hitting the concrete hard. I banged my chin, biting my tongue. God! I tasted blood in my mouth. Kieran still had the flashlight on. I took it from him, turning it off.

Bullets ripped through the flimsy metal of the shelf. This was not a good cover. How were we going to get out of here?

I pulled Kieran with me as we crawled backwards on the floor. I crawled over some of the broken glass Kieran had been crunching earlier. It bit into my skin like tiny needle pricks. Ouch! Jesus.

“Come on out of there,” the men yelled at us. They were getting closer.

Kieran and I backed into the wall of the pharmacy. I scrabbled behind me, reaching over the partition to open the door. It was stuck.

“Azazel,” said Kieran.

“Help me,” I told him, wrenching at the door.

The first of the men cleared the last of the shelves. He couldn’t see us in the dark, but he sprayed bullets across the back of the store.

The door came open in my hands. I pushed Kieran inside and scrambled in after him. At least we had a barrier between us and them.

We crawled behind a row of cabinets. Even more barriers. I peered up for a second, squeezed off a few shots at the approaching men. More of them were back there now. I don’t think I hit anything. It was hard to aim when you couldn’t see.

“Azazel,” said Kieran. “Use your magic.”

My magic? They were bad men, weren’t they? We were about to die. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The end justifies the means. It shouldn’t be too hard. I could just make them all—

But then I saw a sliver of light against the floor. It was just ahead of us. I nudged Kieran. “A back door,” I whispered.

We crawled for the door. Once there, I reached up to grab the knob. Locked!

But we were inside. I twisted the lock on the knob and tried the door again.

Sunlight streamed into the pharmacy.

Kieran and I tumbled out into the street, bullets chasing us.

Kieran slammed the door after us. Several bullet holes splintered through the door.

We struggled to our feet and were off, dashing around the building as quickly as we could.

As we rounded the corner, we were greeted by more shots. They’d beat us?

No, I realized, looking up at the entrance to the pharmacy. They’d left someone on the door. A lookout.

I paused for one second, fixing him in my sights. I pulled the trigger twice, and both of my shots hit home. The man grabbed at his chest and fell his knees.

Kieran was already at the car, flinging open the door. I went after him, opening my door. As soon as I was in the seat, Kieran peeled down the street. I pulled my door shut as the wind rushed by.

We raced down the streets of Clinton wordlessly.

Kieran stared straight ahead, stony faced. I didn’t know what to say to him. Even though I’d seen my parents killed, I hadn’t had the same experience as Kieran. Jason had shot all the men who’d killed my parents right in front of me. I guess I’d always had more closure than Kieran had. And anyway, I suppose if you looked at it another way, I’d taken revenge on the Sons by convincing them all to shoot themselves.

I reached over for Kieran, touching his leg.

He pushed my hand off without looking at me.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Why didn’t you do it?” he said.

“Do what?” What was he talking about?

“You had a chance to use magic against them, and you didn’t do it,” said Kieran. “Why not?”

Jesus. Was he mad at me? He couldn’t be. Not really. This must be some kind of transference thing. Since he was so upset over seeing his family’s killers, he needed someone to lash out at. I guess, since I was the only one around, that was going to be me. “Well, I didn’t have to,” I said. “I saw that door. It was a better option.”

“How do you figure that?” Kieran said. He glared out at the road, driving much faster than he had on the way into Clinton.

By this time, we were out of the Clinton city limits, and back on country roads heading towards Columbus. I watched as the trees and grass flew past us. “It was just less complicated to go out the door,” I said.

“But they’re still alive,” said Kieran. “If you’d used magic, they’d all be dead now.”

Huh. Jason had killed my parents’ killers, but I hadn’t killed Kieran’s. Was that what he was looking for? Closure? “I’m sorry,” I said.

“I just don’t get it,” he said. “You had no problem shooting that guy in the front. You didn’t even think. You just pumped bullets into his chest. But when it comes to magic, you balk. You can give me all that crap about destruction and everything else. But if you really cared about human life, you would have thought twice about killing that guy.”

I flinched. When he put it like that, it didn’t make much sense, did it? I traced patterns on the door handle with my forefinger, trying to figure out how to explain it to him. “It’s different,” I finally said.

“It’s not different,” Kieran said.

“It is,” I said, “because when I shoot someone who’s got a gun and who’s shooting at me, we’re on a level playing field. Whoever has the better skills will shoot the other person. When I use magic, I take away another person’s will. I make them do what I want them to do. It’s just more wrong.”

“That’s bullshit,” Kieran said.

Fine. I sunk down in my seat a little and looked out the window. It was pretty in the spring in Kentucky. I wished there was more time in my life to look at pretty things.

“Don’t you think it’s bullshit?” Kieran said.

I snapped my head away from the window. “Obviously I don’t if I said it.”

“Who cares whether or not you impose your will on those guys?” Kieran asked. “They deserve it. They’re worthless. They should be dead. Do you agree with that?”

I nodded slowly. “I don’t see any reason to keep them alive.”

“So, then, why wouldn’t you kill them?”

“Because I don’t want to get in the habit of remaking the world to my liking!” I said. “Because it would be too easy to use magic like that, whenever I wanted. How would you feel if I started messing with your head? What if I just made it so you never wanted to be angry with me? I could do that, right now, you realize that? I could make your entire argument disappear.”

Kieran’s knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel. Now he released them a little. “You wouldn’t do that,” he muttered.

“Not now,” I said. “But the more I use the magic, the easier it gets. If I start doing it all the time, if everything gets easier all the time, who knows what I’ll start doing.”

“Azazel, you’re a good person,” said Kieran.

“Am I?” I said. Because I wasn’t so sure about that.

“Yes,” he said. He sounded so certain.

I just shook my head. I turned away again, and I didn’t answer.

We were quiet again, for a long time.

Finally, Kieran said, “I can’t let them live.”

I sighed. “Are you going to go looking for them?”

“Sure,” said Kieran. “And then I’m going to kill them all.”

“How did they even get here?” I asked.

“Chicago’s not that far. You just head south on I-57. It won’t bring you right here, but it’s close.”

“Did you hear what he said about trying to get across the river, like everybody else?” I said.

“Maybe,” said Kieran. “What does that matter?”

“If they were trying to get west, why would they come this far south? Isn’t there a bridge across the river closer to Chicago?”

“Yeah, I guess so. I still don’t see why it matters,” said Kieran.

“It’s just weird, don’t you think?” I said. “Besides, I didn’t know that it was common knowledge that they had power out west. I didn’t think the government was advertising that fact until we were sure.”

“This is interesting,” said Kieran, “but all I’m saying is that I want to kill those men. Not try to figure out where they’re going and why.”

“Kieran, you can’t kill them. You’ll never even find them again.”

“If I got help from the others back at camp, we could canvas the area—”

“In cars? You want to waste gasoline on these guys?”

“They killed my family!”

“I realize that, Kieran, but lots of people have lost loved ones since the lights went out. And if we all ran around trying to get revenge, we’d never make any progress.”

Kieran glanced at me, disbelief written all over his face. “That has to be the most inconsiderate thing you’ve ever said to me. Seriously? Everyone’s in pain, so my pain means nothing?”

What?! “That’s not what I said.”

“Whatever,” he said.

“It’s not!”

“Just don’t talk to me, okay? Just shut up.”

Wow. Okay, then. Kieran was in a great mood. Apparently, he was on my side about the magic and stuff whenever it didn’t personally affect him, but whenever he wanted to use me for his own reasons, then it was open season. I folded my arms over my chest and glowered at the foliage. And to think, yesterday, I’d thought he was so great. I’d thought there was really something going on between us. I couldn’t be in a relationship with someone like this. No way.

We still weren’t speaking when we got back to the church in Columbus. Kieran parked the car. We both got out and slammed the doors. The Subaru quaked, as if shuddering from our anger.

I didn’t wait for Kieran. Instead, I stalked into the church. The sanctuary was still and quiet. Everyone must be in the back rooms or out in the yard behind the church. Did I want to see anyone? Well, it would beat being alone or being stuck with Kieran. I went through the sanctuary into the back rooms. No one was in the room with the guns and the sleeping pallets. No one was in the room with the radio. No one was in Kieran’s office. No one was even in the room where Jason had been kept prisoner. This was odd.

I threw open the back door and looked out into the yard. Empty. The grill was knocked over.

Oh my God. I tore back through the church, nearly colliding with Kieran in the sanctuary.

He saw the look on my face. “What?”

“Everyone’s gone,” I said.

chapter twelve >>