Darkest Journey (Krewe of Hunters #20)(2)

“Assholes!” she hissed, struggling against the ropes that held her.

“Watch your tongue, pledge,” Nancy snapped. “Or you won’t get to be a Cherub.”

“Don’t you get it? I don’t want to be in your damn club!” Charlie shot back.

“Maybe we should just let her go,” she heard Jimmy plead.

“Shut up! You’re ruining my speech,” Nancy said. “Oh, pledge. May all cherubs and angels everywhere look over you this night. For you are not in the sacred graveyard of the church but in the unhallowed ground beyond, where criminals—hanged for their sins—lie, where many a Yankee was hidden in the earth, where the most evil among us rest uneasily for all eternity. But you, should you survive the hours ahead, will rise triumphant, a Cherub for all time,” Nancy said dramatically.

Charlie’s blindfold was slipping; from where she lay she could just see Nancy’s arms upstretched to the night sky. She was wearing her cheerleading uniform, which seemed to be a disservice to the entire school at that moment.

Nancy’s arms dropped, and she turned, presumably to face the others. “Let’s get the hell out of here. This place gives me the creeps.”

“Damn you all!” Charlie swore. “Let me up! I don’t want to be one of you stupid people.”

Her words did no good. Laughing, the group hurriedly left, heading back to Nancy’s car and whatever vehicle Todd and the others had come in.

She screamed for a few minutes more—to no avail. Still, it made her feel better, and she realized she was at least ridding herself of the blindfold. It was just a piece of white cotton, probably someone’s ripped-up shirt.

She fell silent and worked harder at the blindfold. Eventually she dislodged it by rubbing her head back and forth against the headstone she was bound to. It finally came unknotted and fell down by her side. She laughed bitterly. Nancy and her crew weren’t even capable of tying a decent knot.

The boys were, though. She couldn’t dislodge the ropes around her wrists and ankles, which were secured tightly against the tombstone.

She let out a sigh, reminding herself that she wasn’t afraid of a graveyard. Even an unhallowed one. Her father had brought her here many times and told her of the injustices that had been perpetrated over the years. The townspeople had strung up an innocent slave instead of admitting to the guilt of a rich white man who had raped and strangled a young woman in the 1830s. His grave was unmarked. A horse thief—who was admittedly guilty but hadn’t killed anyone—was strung up in 1860. Apparently horse theft had been a major crime back then, since horses were needed for the militia units forming in the lead-up to the Civil War.

Charlie closed her eyes for a minute. She could hear the river—the mighty Mississippi—churning far below the bluff. She could hear tree branches swaying, the leaves rustling. She opened her eyes. Even though this was unhallowed ground, loved ones of those long gone had erected stones and monuments to mark their graves. A broken-winged angel looked mournfully down at her from a pedestal. Tombs and all manner of funerary art graced the area, some of it half-hidden by overgrown grass and shrubbery.

Time passed as she continued to fight with the ropes that bound her. She cursed out loud and then quietly to herself. She prayed that Cathy—who was truly terrified of water—was going to be all right.

Then she heard the sobbing.

“Hey!” she called out.

There was no reply. She inhaled, then let her breath out in a rush.

Yes, her family often saw ghosts or just felt their invisible presence. She’d known that Uncle Jessup had come to his own funeral; she’d seen him stroking her mother’s hair, as if trying to assure her that he was all right.

She wasn’t at all sure she was ready to see a ghost tonight, though, not while she was tied to a tombstone. Especially not here on unhallowed ground. Some of the people buried had been truly evil. There was even rumor that a vicious voodoo queen—a woman who had poisoned a number of people—had been brought out here, hanged and left to rot, then buried with no marker. It might only be a tale meant to scare away couples who liked to come to the cemetery and drink among the old tombstones, maybe do drugs or have sex...whatever.

She wished she could see her watch. She felt as if she’d already been there for hours.

More likely it had only been thirty minutes or so. Maybe she had imagined the sobbing.

No, she hadn’t.

Because the sound came again. She blinked hard. A young woman seemed to be materializing right in front of her, just to the left by the base of an old moss-draped oak tree. The woman’s hair was swept up, and she was wearing a pretty blue gown. For a moment Charlie thought that she had come from a different era in history, but then she realized that the blue dress was a beautiful and entirely contemporary formal gown. The woman bent down; she looked like she was trying to pick something up.

But she couldn’t. Whatever it was, it slipped through her ethereal fingers.

The woman seemed to sink against the tree and down to the ground.

And then she disappeared.

Charlie watched for a moment, then hung her own head.

Time was passing. Someone would come for her.

She looked up and blinked.

A Confederate soldier was walking toward her. He wore a frock coat lined in a yellow-buff color.

Cavalry. And an officer. She couldn’t be her father’s daughter and not know that.

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