Poison Princess

Page 18


“You drew the Flash enough, in detail. What’d you have? Visions of it? Dreams? That’s what you were doing in class each day.”

Leave it to Jackson to be resentful of something that hadn’t helped me whatsoever.

He narrowed his eyes. “No wonder you wanted that journal back—it was a goddamned playbook for the apocalypse. I saw Bagmen in your drawings before I ever saw ’em in real life. Saw the sun shining at night on one of those pages before it happened. Thanks for the heads-up, you.”

“Oh, like you would’ve believed me! I didn’t even believe my drawings were real!” I yelled, the frustration of the last week, the last several months, bubbling over. “I thought I was crazy! And so did anyone who knew about them!” When he looked unmoved, I bit out, “Let me tell you how prepared I was. I was so prepared that my boyfriend and his family became piles of ash. All our friends were destroyed. And Mel”—my voice broke, but I kept on—“she was a sister to me and she died alone, not three miles from my house!”

His hard gaze softened a touch—until I said, “I blame you for her death!”

“What the hell did I do?”

“When I first saw the light, I began to realize what was happening, that the things I’d seen might be real. I wanted to call Mel and tell her to get back here. But she didn’t have a phone!”

“I didn’t steal her phone, no.”

“You just kept me busy while Lionel took it.”

“If he did, then he’s paid for it. He’s as dead as she is.”

“You were just as much to blame.” I grasped my forehead, refusing to argue anymore. Jackson wasn’t worth my time. Unless . . .

“Have you passed a doctor—any kind of medic—on your way here?”

“Why you want to know? You sick? Or your mère? They said something in town.”

“Just answer me! Can you get a doctor here? We have things of value, things that would make the trip worth it.”

“Non. That’s not . . . it’s not possible.”

Swaying on my feet, I told him, “That’s the only thing I’ll barter for, Jackson. If a doc’s not happening, then leave.”

“You doan even know what I got to offer.”

“There is nothing I want—or need—except for a doctor.”

“And what about what I need? Maybe I’ll just go take what I’m hunting for.”

Fear skittered through me. He couldn’t get anywhere near my mom. We were so vulnerable! I flipped the safety off the shotgun.

He casually took a swig from his flask. “You even know how to fire that thing, you?”

God, he infuriated me! “I told you to leave!” I raised the shotgun.

He pocketed the flask, rising from his bike. “Doan you aim that at me,” he grated, starting for me.

As he stormed closer, he had that look in his eyes, the menacing one he’d given that drunken man.

The one promising pain.

Alarm flared. Which made me even madder. I had a loaded gun pointed at his head! He didn’t know I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. “Gee, Jackson, I guess the little doll’s got teeth—”

He moved so fast he was a blur, knocking the barrel aside. The slightest touch of the trigger and the gun went off, kicking me back like a mule. I saw him lunge for me—too late—then felt my head snap back against the ground.

My vision was wavering as he crouched beside me, feeling the back of my head. “You’ll live, you coo-yôn. Now, ain’t you glad we got that out of the way?”

My eyes rolled back. Darkness.

Chapter 17

The red witch stood atop a raised dais overlooking a crowd of shadowy figures.

Villagers. They cowered before her.

Aggression sizzled through her veins as she surveyed them. She would destroy them all, every last one, her wrath unfathomable.

Lifting her claw-tipped fingers to a clear morning sky, she called on nearby plants to release their thorns. With a shriek, she unleashed a tornado of them.

Like a swarm of bees, the tempest descended upon her prey. People shoved one another down, scrabbling over the fallen to flee, but none could.

The razor-sharp thorns bit into their faces, scouring their features off, their noses and lips. Inch by vicious inch, those barbs sliced at their flesh, flaying the meat from their bodies. Blood spurt, gristle covering the ground.

One woman’s scalp was severed clean; her beautiful black mane of hair drifted on swirling winds. . . .

The witch’s tempest scoured them deeper, deeper. Even without most of their skin, the people managed to survive a surprisingly long time—which she particularly enjoyed.

As she cackled with delight, they crawled in place, mired in the thickening puddles of remains. . . .

I woke in my bed, squinting at the amount of light in my room, shivers still racing over me from my latest nightmare.

My gaze focused on a trio of burning candles. Three candles? I’d never be so wasteful.

I shrank back when I saw a blurry outline of a person. Slowly, my eyes adjusted.

Jackson was in my room! I’d never had a boy in my room—much less that boy.

He still had his crossbow strapped over his shoulder. In his hand? Yet another candle.

As I tried to shake off the remnants of that dream and get my bearings—how had I gotten in bed? why was he inside?—I feigned sleep, watching him as he snooped around like he owned the place.

He gazed at the storm clouds I’d painted on the walls, strolled into my closet and rummaged around, then emerged to check out my dance trophies and recital pictures. He flipped through a supply of sketchbooks—all blank.

Drawing held little interest for me these days. The voices made it impossible for me to sit still. And besides, my brain was already stained beyond repair.

As if he couldn’t help himself, he returned to the wall paintings, holding up the candle to trace his fingers over the clouds. The flickering light ghosted over a grisly-looking scar on his forearm.

I recognized that injury, had been in his home when a drunken man had slashed Jackson’s skin to the bone.

I’d witnessed how brutal this boy could be—he’d nearly beaten the man to death in front of me. Yet he was now touching my paintings gently, almost reverently.

I felt like a spy, like this was a moment I was never supposed to share. It seemed . . . intimate. When he touched the cane, I swore I could feel him aching for those fields, for that rain about to fall.

He abruptly dropped his hands. Without turning, he said, “So this is where Evangeline Greene grew up.”

“What are you doing in my room? How did I get into bed?”

He finally faced me, but ignored my questions. “That closet of yours—not quite big enough, no?”

I flushed to remember that he hadn’t even had a bedroom of his own.

He opened the top drawer of my dresser. “How many ribbons and bebins can one girl have?” With raised brows, he lifted a pink Victoria’s Secret bra from the next drawer. “I fondly recall this one.”

Between gritted teeth, I said, “Drop it like it’s hot.”

“Oh, it’s hot, all right.” He smirked, but he did toss it back. “How do you even keep up with all the stuff you own? Doan know that I’d want to have so much, me. Must be a full-time job just to remember where everything is.”

I recalled his home, his meager possessions, his few books—that worn copy of Robinson Crusoe by the couch that he’d slept on. . . .

“You were even richer than I thought.”

Rich? Why would he bring that up? Then I remembered that he was a thief—and he’d shamelessly told me he would steal supplies from us! “Where is my mother?”

“Drinking the tea I made her and reading one of the last newspaper editions from back east.”

“If you hurt her or upset her in any way, I will make you pay.”

“Hurt her? When I found her, she was trying to get down the stairs, scared to death from hearing that fool shot you took.”

“Oh, God!”

“Doan worry. I managed to get you up your tree-house ladder and save the day.” He frowned. “You weigh a lot less than I thought. Anyway, I explained to her that you accidentally shot at me—which didn’t surprise her—then I showed her how you were passed out, limp as a noodle.”

“Mom!” I called. Just as I ripped off my bedspread to race into her room, she called back, “In here, honey.” She sounded perfectly fine, even better than before.

My relief was short-lived when I saw Jackson eyeing my uncovered legs. With a gasp, I yanked the bedspread back over me. Why was I no longer wearing my boots and jeans? Had I taken them off?

Or had Jackson? He wouldn’t. . . .

Oh, but he would. Under my breath, I hissed, “You undressed me?”

He gave me a bored glance. “Partially.”

Gaze darting around the room, I demanded, “Where is my gun?”

“I put it away before you killed a white hat with it. You might’ve been clever with the ladder and the door braces, but a markswoman you ain’t.”

While I was working up the most vile and cutting insult I could imagine, he eased my bedroom door shut.

My eyes went wide. “What are you doing?”

Instead of answering me, he nonchalantly unstrapped his bow, then sat beside me in bed, his back against the headboard.

And there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I stiffened, scooting to the edge of the mattress. He seemed even bigger than I’d remembered, taking up far too much of the bed.

“You know, I’d never hurt your mère, no. She’s never done anything to me. Unlike her coldhearted daughter.”

What had I ever done to him? He was the one who’d stolen from me and my friends, who’d bellowed at me in the rain.

“Non, Karen and I had a nice long chat.”

“Karen?” He was on a first-name basis with Mom? How long had I been out? “She wouldn’t let you just roam around our home!” Then I noticed that his hair was wet, his black T-shirt and worn jeans clean. So I added, “And if she did, she shouldn’t have. She doesn’t know you.”

“I explained that you and me were history podnas in school.” With a mean smile, he added, “I told her that you’d even been to my house—and met my mother.”

I swallowed at the memory of that night, at the way his voice grew tight with anger just to mention it. He seemed to be daring me to say something about it.

When I didn’t, he added, “After that, Karen was fine with my being here.”

I clutched my bedspread. “I don’t apologize for going to your house that night. You had no right to take my journal from me.”

“I doan like unsolved puzzles, me. You wouldn’t show me your drawings, so I asked Lionel to borrow them.”

“Considering the journal’s contents, you can understand why I wanted it back.”

“How long have you had visions?”

His matter-of-fact question flustered me. “I don’t . . . I’m not . . . how can you talk about this so—so calmly?”

“I had a cousin who could read the future in coffee grinds. My grandmother could predict hurricanes a month in advance.”

It seemed like everyone in Louisiana had known somebody with “the sight.”

“I’m not discussing this with you.”

“No matter. Your mother explained some things to me.”

Had she told him that my grandmother was a Tarot card fanatic who thought I would be the world’s salvation? Bang-up job I’m doing, Gran! “What exactly did Mom explain?”

“That you’re s’posed to be sweet and charming and funny.” He pinned me with a look. “I doan see it.”

“You need to leave Haven. Now.” What if he saw the contents of the barn? “You’re not welcome here.”

He smirked. “Karen disagrees.”

“I doubt she’ll welcome you if I tell her you undressed me.”

“Maybe she’ll only partially welcome me.”

Smart-ass.

“So now it’s time for you and me to talk, Evangeline. I didn’t only come here to barter. Came here to warn you.”

“About what?”

“There’s a wave of men coming down this way in a day or two. An army. Three thousand strong.”

“So? That’s great news.” Then my heart leapt. “They must have medics!”

“I see the wheels turning, but it woan work out like you’re thinking. Not with the Army of the Southeast.”

“How do you know?”

“I was in the Louisiana militia.”

“So let me see if I’ve got this straight. You joined the militia. There’s still got to be action out there. Yet you’re here. Doesn’t that make you a deserter?”

He nodded without shame. “When my unit got taken over by that big ole army, we found ourselves with a new general and a new objective.”

“Which was?”

In a toneless voice, he said, “The involuntary enlistment of women.”

“I don’t understand. To train as soldiers . . .” I trailed off at his expression. His eyes had a wary look to them, belying his tough-guy act. What could affect such a hardened boy like this?

The unthinkable dawned on me just as he murmured, “Not soldiers.”

“I see.” What all had Jackson witnessed out there on the road?

“There’s no one to free them, to fight back. That army keeps absorbing any military unit it comes across, taking control of them. Texas must be next in their path. Nobody knows why they’re marching there, but I figure if anyone can stop these men, it’ll be Texans. I’m on my way to warn the militia there.” Then he frowned. “You ain’t seen any of this in your visions?”

“Stop talking about them like . . . like . . .”

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