Listen to the Trembling playlist by clicking here
Is it like this
In death's other kingdom
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
-T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"
To: Edgar Weem < [email protected] >
From: Renegade Son < [email protected] >
Subject: Big problems
Azazel's disappeared. Jason's gone after her. I don't know where either of them are, and if I find out you've got anything to do with this, so help me.
I still have an email that I could send out, you know. To everyone in the Sons. With all of your secrets, emblazoned for all of them to see.
Get me a secure, untraceable number, so that I can talk to you.
You've got twenty-four hours.
"She's not answering her phone!"
The voice was tight with panic. I recognized the voice. I thought.
"Chill out. Maybe she's away from the phone or has it turned off or something."
That was Noah. Noah, my brother. If I could hear Noah talking, everything must be fine.
"She wouldn't be away from her phone right now. There's no way. Something's not right," said the panicky voice. The familiar voice. Who did that voice belong to?
It was dark. It was dark, and my head hurt.
"Noah's right. You've got to calm down. I'm sure she's okay. She's been taking care of herself for quite some time. And she's not a weak woman. She's got spunk, you know?"
Gordon. Both Gordon and Noah? Was it Christmas or something? Had they come home? Was I in my bed, early in the morning, listening to them talk to Mom and Da—
No. Mom and Dad were dead.
And it was dark because my eyes were closed.
My eyes snapped open as it all came back to me. The party. Jude advancing on me with a baseball bat over his head. The pain. The pain in my head had to be because of that.
I wanted to thrash about and scream, but I forced myself not to move so that I could assess my situation.
I was lying on my side in the back of a speeding vehicle. It looked like the interior of a mini-van of some kind. The carpet was gray and mussed. The back seat had been removed. My hands were tied behind my back. My feet were similarly bound. Lilith was lying next to me, also tied up. Her eyes were closed. Maybe she was still out.
I forced my breathing to stay steady and closed my eyes again. I didn't want them to know that I was awake. Maybe if I just listened, I could find out something useful.
"Spunk?" the familiar voice was repeating. It was Jude, of course. "She could still be vulnerable. I'm worried."
"We'll be at her house in fifteen minutes," said Gordon. "Sit tight. We'll check on her."
Her house? Who was this woman they were talking about? Where were we going? I wished I had an idea of how long we'd been travelling. I'd been knocked out. How long did someone stay knocked out, usually? I didn't know. And for all I knew they'd drugged me in some way too. Had I had anything to drink at the party? I couldn't remember, but I did feel very groggy and disoriented.
Similar to the way I'd felt the morning after the party on the beach actually.
"She should have answered the phone a long time ago," Jude insisted.
"Look, what is it you're worried has happened to her anyway?" Noah asked.
"You said that Azazel was accusing Lilith of setting her up when you found her, didn't you?" Jude asked.
"So?" said Noah.
"On behalf of our coven, right?" said Jude.
Coven. So Jude was a Satanist, was he? And I'd never suspected him. How stupid could I get really? Of all the people I could pick to trust, I had to pick the one working for the Satanists, didn't I? God.
"Yeah, but big deal. Why does that matter?" asked Noah.
"What if she told that theory to Jason?" asked Jude.
"What if she did?" asked Gordon.
"If she did, it would take Jason two seconds to connect the dots once Azazel disappeared," said Jude. "He'd know exactly where we were headed."
He would? Then I should be able to figure it out, too, shouldn't I? Where would the Satanists take me?
Had I really slept through a fourteen-hour car drive? No, I didn't think we were headed to Bramford. That wasn't the center of Satanist activity, anyway. There was one person who'd be at the center of that.
We were going to Shiloh. And Michaela Weem was the woman that they were trying to reach on the phone. I just knew it.
"So what if Jason did figure it out?" asked Gordon. "We've got a head start on him. And what could he have possibly done, anyway?"
"You really don't know anything about Jason, do you?" said Jude. "I'll never forget the night I saw him beat up this guy for saying something suggestive about Azazel. The look on his face. And the way he took that guy down. It was so precise. So deadly."
Jude was right. Jason would be trying to protect me. He might already be with Michaela Weem. He was looking for me, even as I listened to them speak in the front of the van. I could count on Jason. He wouldn't let anyone hurt me. Just the thought of someone trying to molest me would throw him into a rage.
Wait. I groped for thoughts, putting pieces together. I felt groggy. Jude was a Satanist.
Oh, God. Jason had been right all along. Jude had put the damned bell in my purse. Jude had completed the ritual, along with Gordon and Noah. He must have drugged me the night of the party on the beach. Maybe he'd drugged me now.
"I'm calling her again," said Jude.
"You've called her like fifteen times," said Noah.
"You need to calm down," said Gordon.
If Michaela wasn't answering her phone, then maybe it did mean that Jason had found her. Jason would make Michaela tell him where Jude, Noah, and Gordon were holding me. Jason would swoop in and save me. Everything would be okay.
"It's ringing," said Jude. "It's not just going to voicemail. I think that's a good sign."
Jason would come after me, wouldn't he? I remembered the last time I'd seen Jason. His last words to me had been, "You're paranoid, and you need to get over it." He'd been really, really angry with me. What if he didn't come after me? What if he thought that I ran off with Jude? What if he simply didn't care anymore? All of this stuff with the Satanists was my fault, anyway. If Jason had never met me, he'd never have had to deal with them. The Sons were out of the picture, but the Satanists weren't. What if Jason just figured he was better off now?
"Dammit," said Jude from the front of the van. "No answer."
"I'm telling you, we're almost there," said Gordon. "Give it a few minutes. We'll see her."
"I'd just feel better if I could talk to her first," said Jude. "I'm really starting to get worried."
"Starting to?" Noah muttered.
I opened my eyes again. What if Jason wasn't coming to save me? What was I going to do then? What did Jude, Noah, and Gordon want with me anyway? The last time I'd seen a group of Satanists, they'd wanted me to have sex with Toby and kill Jason. The last time I'd seen Michaela Weem, she wanted me to kill Jason. All things considered, they probably wanted me to kill Jason. But if that were the case, why were they taking me away from Jason? And please God, tell me that they weren't planning some kind of ritual sex with me. Please, God.
They couldn't be, could they? Jude was gay. And Gordon and Noah were my brothers. Okay, we weren't actually blood related, but we'd grown up together. So, they wouldn't. I knew my brothers. I remembered all kinds of things that we'd done together as children, like the time that Noah had gotten a flat tire on Gordon's bike and enlisted my help to try to hide the bike from Gordon. When Gordon had found out, we'd played innocent, like we didn't know how the bike had gotten a flat tire, Gordon had—
My thoughts were interrupted by the shrill ring of a cell phone.
The ringtone cut off abruptly. "Mom?" said Jude's voice.
Mom? Jude was getting calls from his mom? That was weird, wasn't it? I realized that in Florida, I'd never met Jude's parents. Was his mom calling him from Bradenton? Did his mom know he was a Satanist?
"You," Jude's voice said, but it was angry and menacing now. Was he still talking to his mom? "What have you done with her? Let me talk to her."
Wait. Did someone have Jude's mom?
"Sure," said Jude. "I know where she is. I have her, in fact."
He had her? He had his mom? I was really, really confused.
"No," said Jude. "No, absolutely not. No deal."
"Who are you talking to?" asked Noah.
My sentiments exactly. Who was Jude talking to?
Jude ignored Noah. "If you hurt her . . ." He paused. "Well, of course I'm not going to hurt Azazel."
Me? He was talking about me? Who was he talking to? What was going on?
"Who is it, Jude?" Gordon demanded.
Jude ignored him. "Listen, there's no way I'm going to trade her for Azazel, you idiot. If you don't let my mother go, I'm going to hunt you down and—" Jude stopped talking, as if he'd been interrupted. He paused for a long time. Finally, he just breathed, "Fuck you," in a gravelly voice.
"Who was that?" Gordon asked.
Jude didn't answer.
"Who was that?" Gordon asked again.
"Turn around," said Jude.
"Turn around?" asked Noah.
"Yeah," said Jude. "We can't go there. He's there."
They couldn't go there? Had Jude gotten a call from their destination? But I thought they were going to Michaela Weem's house.
"Who's there?" asked Noah. "Who were you talking to on the phone?"
"He's got my mother. He's threatening to hurt her if we don't give him Azazel," said Jude.
Who had Jude's mother? And who would want me? And what was Jude's mother doing in Shiloh? Weren't we in Shiloh? Were they taking me to Michaela Weem or not?
"Who's got your mother?" asked Gordon.
"Jason," said Jude. "Jason's got my mother."
Jason had Jude's mother? So Jason was trying to save me! He'd picked a kind of screwed-up way to do it, but he didn't hate me. That was good. Suddenly, I remembered that just hours before I'd argued with drunk Jason, he'd told Lilith that he couldn’t exist without me. I couldn't believe that I'd doubted him.
"Big deal," said Noah. "Don't we want Jason dead anyway? We'll just go in, grab him, tie him up and wait until Azazel's ready to do him in."
"You don't understand," said Jude. "Jason was trained by the Sons of the Rising Sun. We'd be no match for him. Not like this."
"He's a kid," said Gordon. "How tough could he really be?"
"He's killed before," said Jude. "A guy named Sutherland owed Mom a favor, and was keeping an eye on Azazel for us. He got fresh, and no one's heard from him since."
Sutherland? Jesus, he was in on it too? He was working with the Satanists? Well, I guess it made sense that he knew about the invocation, then, didn't it? And why did Sutherland owe Jude's mom a favor? Who was Jude's mom, anyway?
"Yeah," said Noah, "but Jason wouldn't hurt Michaela. She's his mother too, isn't she?"
Now that I was looking at Jude, I didn't understand why I didn't see it before. Sure, Jude had bright purple hair and multiple piercings. Sure, he was wearing heavy eyeliner. All of that made him look different. Exotic. But his skin was the same shade as Jason's—dusky light brown. His face was the same shape as Jason's—heart-shaped. His eyes were like Jason's too. Big and dark. They looked alike. A lot alike. They were brothers. But before, I'd never made the connection, not even when Jude told me he was a quarter Native American. Like Jason. I was such an idiot. How had I trusted him?
Lilith and I were sitting in the back of the minivan. We were still tied up. We were parked on the side of a country road. The back hatch of the minivan was open, and Jude, Noah, and Gordon were peering in at us. Well, Noah and Gordon were looking at us. Jude was pacing back and forth behind the open hatch, swearing and running his hands through his hair. Noah and Gordon had long since given up trying to calm him down.
"Maybe we could go to a hotel," said Noah thoughtfully, gazing at Lilith and me.
"How are we going to get the two tied-up girls inside without attracting attention?" Gordon asked.
"Good point," said Noah.
"You should just let us go," I said. "You know that Jason isn't going to give up trying to find me. And it's a lost cause to try to get me to kill him. I never will."
"If we wanted your input, Zaza, we'd ask for it," said Noah.
"Well, at least let Lilith go," I said. "She doesn't have anything to do with this."
"Are you kidding?" asked Gordon. "She knows who Noah and I are. She'd run to the police right away."
"I wouldn't," said Lilith.
I glared at Lilith. For some reason, it pissed me off that she was so eager to say she wouldn't try to save us if they let her go. "When Jason finds you, the police are going to be the least of your problems," I said.
Noah rolled his eyes. "The way I figure it, this Jason guy cannot be as big of a deal as you say he is."
"I don't know, Noah," said Gordon. "He did bust Azazel out of Bramford in front of the entire coven. He shot two of the members in the leg, including a police officer."
Jude abruptly stopped pacing. He turned to us, his dark eyes intense. "I've got to go there," he said.
"Go where?" asked Noah.
"To my house," said Jude. "Jason might still be there, waiting with Mom. Maybe I could stop him, somehow. Save my mother."
"You just said that Jason was a total badass and that we'd never stand a chance against him," said Noah.
"I'd have the element of surprise," said Jude.
"Wouldn't matter," I said. "Jason doesn't get surprised easily."
"Shut up, Azazel," said Jude.
I looked from Jude to Lilith. "I sure have some taste in best friends, don't I?" I muttered.
"Shut up, Azazel," said Gordon.
"I'm game," said Noah. "It beats sitting around here. Let's go."
"Not all of us," said Jude. "Just me. If Jason sees Azazel, he'd probably just shoot us all and take her. No, we can't risk getting Azazel captured by Jason."
"Let's get this straight," I said. "If Jason does get me, he'll be rescuing me, not capturing me."
Gordon looked at Jude. "Can't you drug her again?" he asked.
I knew I'd been drugged! "Did you drug me that night on the beach, too, Jude?" I demanded.
Jude ignored me. "I have to go," he said. "She's my mother."
"What could Jason possibly do to her?" Gordon said.
"I told you, she hates him, and he hates her," said Jude.
"She's his mother," said Noah. "He's got to feel something for her, doesn't he?"
"She didn't raise him," said Jude.
"But she's his blood," said Gordon. "That's an important tie. If I ever met my biological parents, I would—"
"God, Gordon, not that again," said Noah. "Listen, Jude, why don't you and I both go? Gordon can stay here with the girls."
"If something happens to me, you two can go on without me," said Jude. "But we can't risk you too, Noah. I have to go alone."
"So how old are you, really, Jude?" I asked. "You can't be my age, like you said, can you? Are you and Jason twins?"
"Of course not!" Jude roared. "Don't ever even suggest that again."
"I don't see why you have to go alone," said Noah. "Wouldn't you be safer with me along?"
"So, then, you've got to be at least a year younger than us," I said. "Is Edgar Weem your dad too?"
"I'm going alone," said Jude. He turned to me. "Azazel, I don't have time for your questions right now. Let's just hope your boyfriend hasn't done anything to my mother that he's going to regret."
"How are you going to get there?" Noah asked.
"I'm taking the van," said Jude.
"So where are we going to be?" said Gordon.
"Here," said Jude.
"What if someone sees the girls?" said Gordon.
"Hide them," said Jude.
"Jude, I don't think this is a good plan," said Gordon.
"Me either," I said.
Gordon, Jude, and Noah all glared at me.
Jude was gone for a long time. When he returned, it was dark outside. Lilith and I were cold, huddled against a tree, still tied up. Gordon and Noah had led us away from the road, so that we were out of sight in case a car came by. Not many cars had come by, though. It had been an uneventful hour or two. Gordon and Noah didn't say much. Lilith was quiet too, but she had a look of wild terror in her eyes. I felt very, very calm. I wasn't worried at all.
I thought that was strange. I examined my lack of fear the way a scientist might examine a specimen. I felt detached from myself. I didn't know whether or not I should feel afraid. I just knew that feeling afraid wouldn't really do much of anything for me right now. Feeling afraid would keep me from thinking rationally. It would make me more likely to make a mistake, should an opportunity arise to escape. Hell, it would make it more likely that I didn't notice the opportunity arising. Overall, it made more sense to remain calm. Not to be afraid. So, I wasn't.
But I remembered the way I'd felt, just months ago, when Jason and I had been on the run from the Sons. I'd been in constant fear. Terror had gripped me and hadn't let go the entire time. I wasn't afraid anymore, however. Maybe I was desensitized to it. I realized that I hadn't felt that kind of crippling fear in a long time. I hadn't felt it when I'd been grabbed in the parking lot outside of the gun range. I'd been frightened when Mr. Sutherland was trying to rape and kill me, but I hadn't been immobilized. I'd been able to act. To save myself. What had changed?
I remembered that Mr. Sutherland had said, "Maybe you are imbued with the spirit of a demon," as I'd been running away from him. And I supposed that Jude or Noah or Gordon had completed the ritual. Was I . . .
But that was stupid.
I didn't believe in Azazel. I didn't believe that I'd been filled with his essence. No. I was just more sure of myself now. Back then, I hadn't been able to take care of myself. Now, I was stronger. I was capable.
And I couldn't imagine Noah and Gordon really hurting me. Not really.
Of course, I'd trusted my parents implicitly, and they'd set me up to be raped by Toby. Clearly, I didn't pick the best people to trust. I was constantly being betrayed by those I cared about the most and was closest to. I had to admit that I couldn't be sure exactly what Gordon and Noah were planning to do to me. And I couldn't be sure what they'd carry out, given the chance.
Now, they stood over Lilith and me, glaring down at us in the darkness, keeping watch to make sure that we wouldn't leave. Compared to the temperatures I was used to in Bradenton, the early spring Georgia air felt downright frigid. I shivered in my short-sleeved shirt.
I was glad when Jude reappeared with the van. He looked dejected and angry, however. He told Gordon and Noah that neither Jason nor Michaela had been there when he arrived. Instead, there had been a note from Jason, telling Jude that he'd meet him at the house the following afternoon. Jude was to bring me. They would trade. If Jude didn't show up, or didn't bring me, the note said, then Jason would hurt Michaela.
I shivered again when I heard that, not from the cold, but because I didn't like the idea of Jason using his mother's well-being as a bargaining chip for my safety. I didn't think he'd really hurt Michaela. Jason often relied on other people's impression of him as a dangerous guy. He used it as leverage to get what he wanted. When we were escaping from Bradenton, for instance, he'd put a gun to my head. He had no intention of shooting me, but he knew that my father wouldn't stand by and watch me get shot. So, he used that knowledge to get what he wanted. Jason was threatening Jude in the same way.
But it was different, because Jude was Jason's brother. Somehow, it just rubbed me the wrong way. I was relieved, however, because I thought that it meant Lilith and I would be released tomorrow. Jude wouldn't let anything happen to his mother.
But Jude didn't want to trade. He said that he wouldn't give in to Jason's demands, ever. It was too important that Jason be destroyed. Gordon and Noah seemed to agree. I was disappointed.
They decided they couldn't go back to Michaela's house if Jason had it under surveillance. They didn't want to take the chance that he'd sneak in and get me out.
They led Lilith and I back to the van, stuffed us in the back, and we drove for about twenty minutes. When they took us out of the van, we were parked outside an old house. It was dark and difficult to see, but the house looked like a rundown, white farmhouse. The wood siding was losing its paint. The windows were shattered, or missing completely. Vines grew up the sides of the walls. A sapling was breaking through the creaking wood of its porch. There was nothing around, except woods. We were all alone out here.
I had to hand it to Jude. This was the perfect place to hide us. Jason would never know to look for us here. And there was nowhere for me to escape to. It seemed hopeless. If Jude continued to be stubborn and called Jason's bluff, then Jason wouldn't have anything to bargain with.
What was I going to do? I had to get away from these guys. And I wasn't alone. I had Lilith to worry about.
Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers