Chapter 34

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J.T. emerged from the clump of kids. He took a swig from a whiskey bottle before handing it to Dennis, who did the same.

"Yo!" J.T. said, looking at Nicholas and Clara. "Didn't expect to see you two here!"

Gaby laid her fire-poking stick at the edge of the trash can. She walked over to Clara.

"Hey," Gaby said. "Are you guys here to see him?"

Clara looked at Nicholas. He stared at her strangely for a second before turning to Gaby.

"Yes," Nicholas said.

Gaby smiled. The flickering flames made her features look sinister.

"Okay," she said. "Over here..."

She walked them over to the mausoleum. Clara looked over the other kids. There were at least ten of them sitting around the fire. At best, they looked wasted. At worst, dangerous.

Dennis joined them. He gestured to Clara and Nicholas. "I think you guys know my buddy Nick here," he said to the group. His voice was loud and loose, and Clara had to turn away from the overpowering whiskey smell on his breath.

"And this is Clara," Dennis said. As the group looked her over, she was acutely aware that they were assessing her.

"Hello... large group of people..." Her delivery was weak and unsure. The other kids must have sensed it – no one responded beyond a vague murmur.

Nicholas leaned in and whispered, "Worked better last time."

A skinny kid stood up, pushing himself from the side of the building. "Why are they here in our place?" he asked. From the expressions on the other kids' faces, he seemed to speak for all of them.

Dennis took a step forward, closer to the skinny kid. "They're here for Eric," he said.

"Oh," the skinny kid responded. He looked past a small wrought iron fence, just beyond the fire. "Okay. Take 'em there."

Dennis nodded. He started off toward the fence. Clara and Nicholas followed, with six of the other kids joining them as well. Clara could hear a couple of them giggling.

A girl with pure red hair and piercings through every feature ran up in front of Clara. She turned around and asked, "You do know what you're going to see, right?"

Clara hesitated. "I think so," she said. "His grave is here somewhere, isn't it?"

The pierced girl laughed and shook her head. "Nope. It's not a grave..."

She held out her arms as the group took a slight decline into a small valley. The graves in this area looked newer than the others.

Pierced girl spun around, drunk with a kind of graveyard bliss.

"It's a monument," she said. "A memorial to a lost god."

Behind the pierced girl, Clara saw an area where the grass had been worn away. At its center, surrounded by tiny clusters of odd-shaped rocks and dead flowers, sat a steel statue of a raven. A few folded notes were shoved between the bird's legs and under its wings. A loose semicircle of cigarette butts and hardened chewing gum lined the back of the monument.

Clara looked around. With everyone watching, she knelt before the raven and took a closer look.

A dirty boy, smaller than all the other kids, sat next to her.

"You know where his body is buried?" the dirty boy asked.

"No," Clara said, looking up at him. "Tell me."

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