We found Rory exactly where I was afraid we might, just on the edge of the swampy meadow down in the ravines, between Little Mac and the paths down from the back end of the arboretum. He was sitting in the grass, propped up against a fallen tree, and pressing a handkerchief against his hairline.
Much to my relief, he looked more annoyed than hurt, though his fingers were bright with blood that was starting to soak through the handkerchief. A decent pile of wood and Leah’s herb basket were sitting next to him.
“Fucking branch,” he muttered as J.T. and I got closer.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s just bleeding like crazy and I was dizzy for a few minutes after it happened.” He gestured to a branch not far away, about as thick around as my wrist. “I’m lucky it didn’t fall from higher than it did. Broke off from that one there.” He pointed to another fallen tree, one that leaned at a precarious angle against several more trees. It was hard to tell how long they’d been that way, but I remembered some of them being in that position when I’d come down here with Phelan a few weeks before.
“I heard it start to crack and looked up, then bam!” He shook his head a little and let J.T. move his hand aside to have a look at the wound. “I guess it’s better than getting it in the eye. I’ve got a headache now, though.”
“Did you black out?” J.T. asked.
“No. Just dizzy.” Rory’s eyes rolled toward me. “When you and I get back up to camp, we need to talk.”
“About what?” My stomach sank. It was a dumb question—I already knew what Rory wanted to talk to me about.
About Leah. What else went on down here other than an accident with a falling branch?
“She said you slipped, you know,” J.T. said, digging a wad of gauze out of his back pocket.
Rory snorted. “Yeah, after the branch hit me. My ass is covered in mud.” He leaned back again, holding the pad against the cut. “How bad is it?”
“Head wounds bleed more than they have any right to,” J.T. said, shaking his head. “It’ll maybe need a stitch or two, but it doesn’t look that bad. We’ll wait for Leah to bring whoever else she’s bringing, then we’ll get you up top and they can handle the wood and whatever.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Rory said. After a momentary silence, he looked at me and asked, “Has Leah asking you anything about the wards?”
That can’t be good. “No,” I said. “Why?”
“She was just asking questions about them while we were down here getting wood and she was picking her herbs, that’s all. And then she asked me why we planted all those holly bushes and I told her it was because they’re a living protective barrier—sacred to the druids or something—and she asked me if I believed in all the crap Phelan had been spewing and I just looked at her funny.”
J.T. snorted. “Do you believe all the crap that Phelan’s spewing?”
Rory shot him a shit-eating grin. “About as much as you do, Jay, and we both know how much you do.”
J.T. grunted and sat down on the log. I shook my head slightly and looked around slowly. Everything seemed normal. The birds were singing, the sun was shining.
But the mark on my arm the greys had left me with burned faintly with cold, like I’d been holding an ice cube against the spot for too long.
“Does anything feel weird to you guys?” I asked quietly. Maybe we should just leave the wood and go back up.
“No weirder than usual,” Rory said. “But my head’s still ringing a little.”
I shivered. “Jay?”
He seemed to consider the question for a moment before he drew himself up a little straighter, looking beyond me. “Turn around.”
My heart began to beat a little faster and for a split second, I debated not doing as he asked. After a moment, I turned slowly and saw a figure limned in dim, misty sunlight hovering over one of the streamlets that wended their way through this section of the ravine.
I sucked in a breath, my hand closing over the cold spot on my arm, which felt strangely warm against my palm even as it froze on the inside.
“Can you see her?” J.T. asked in a bare whisper.
I nodded mutely, unable to speak. His ghosts? She must be one of them. She was taller than I was, dressed in a Michigan State T-shirt and blue jeans, her hair long and probably blonde in life—it was hard to tell, misty and translucent as she was.
The ghost stared at the three of us, then looked to her left, deeper into the ravines and toward the river.
All three of us looked in that direction, following her spectral gaze.
Just at the edges of my sight, I could see the greys rising, but they didn’t seem interested in us. They swarmed deeper into the ravine, where the shadows deepened and sunlight became more rare.
My heart was going double-time now and it was only when I gasped in a breath that I realized I’d been holding mine.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the ghost mouth something, then fade into nothing.
J.T. stood abruptly and started hauling Rory up with him. “Come on. We’re going.”
I scrambled to help. “What did she say?”
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