Chapter Eighteen: Laina -- hey, Laina!

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Laina gave no indication that she'd heard Freddie or Divya. Nor that she'd seen them. She strode steadily onward, oblivious to branches or briars or thickets of mud.

And the closer she got, the more Freddie could see. The more Freddie could hear.

In both hands, clasped before her like a prayer, Laina held a flickering candle, and in time to each measured step across the forest, she called:"Je suis ici. Je suis ici, Ordonnez moi."

"Um," Divya said, eyes flashing to Freddie. "What the hell is going on?" Then she scooted forward, arms outstretched. "Laina? Hey, Laina."

Freddie scrambled after Divya, also shouting. "Laina—hey, Laina!" But the class president still offered no reaction. She simply walked. She simply chanted.

" Je suis ici. Je suis ici. Ordonnez moi."

Wherever Laina Steward was, it was not in this clearing.

And now Freddie's gut was really on fire.

Divya reached Laina first and skidded to a panicked stop, trying to intercept the other girl—trying to stop her forward march. But her efforts were useless. Laina simply sidestepped and circled around.

" Je suis ici. Je suis ici. Ordonnez moi." The candle dripped wax onto her fingers.

Freddie didn't bother trying to stop her. She just fell into step beside Laina, gaze raking up and down.The other girl was not dressed for this weather—her fishnet-clad legs rippled with gooseflesh, and other than a flimsy cardigan with a fat safety pin fastening it together, she had no jacket of any kind.

Divya rushed to Laina's other side. Over and over, she said the girl's name—"Laina, hey Laina!"—but still, Laina continued on.

So Divya rounded toward Freddie. "What do we do?"

"I don't know," Freddie said, and it was true. Laina was clearly in some kind of trance, which was way outside the realm of her understanding. Shoplifters, she could handle. Even bodies dangling from suicide trees. But girls hypnotized and holding candles was not something she had faced before.

Worse, the wind had changed directions. A frozen, shredding wind now.

And on it was the scent of carrion.

Freddie's gut flickered a new warning. Danger, danger—not just for Laina, but for everyone involved.

Laina reached the clearing with the tombstones, while Freddie and Divya trailed only a few paces behind. To Freddie's shock—though not necessarily her surprise—Laina crossed to the tombstone they'd just unearthed.

" Je suis ici. Je suis ici. Ordonnez moi."

She knelt.

" Je suis ici. Je suis ici. Ordonnez moi."

She held out the candle. Wax fell to the leaves. Then she placed the candle on the tombstone...

And it was like a switch going off. One moment, gray afternoon sun bore down. The next, darkness reigned supreme. Clouds that Freddie would have sworn weren't there two seconds before suddenly swooped across the sky.

Worst of all, though, was the smell. A scent Freddie was beginning to recognize as a harbinger of fucked up shit on the horizon. A smell her gut screamed was wrong, wrong, wrong—and that made no earthly sense at all.

Carrion. Rot. Death.

"Laina?" Divya asked, cutting in close to the other girl. "Hey, are you—" She brushed Laina's shoulder.

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