20 Blaring Sirens

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A weighted silence envelops the dank, stuffy room. Heavy and eerie, like I can touch it with my fingers.

As if Ethan's ghost hovers over the wobbly card table.

"How do you feel now that you've gone and got all that out?" Mr. Thatcher's watery eyes peer at me over the rim of his coffee cup. His hand shakes slightly.

I shrug, palming tears from my cheeks.

How do I put it all into words, Mercy? That I feel purged. Hollowed out and empty. But I don't feel vindicated. I still don't understand why Ethan killed you. It should've been me.

Mr. Thatcher places his cup down, eyeing my hot, flushed face. He clicks his tongue at Alex. "Alright, then. Guess we better get started." He picks up the pentagram wind chime with his forefinger and thumb as if it's a stinky diaper and holds it out to me.

Alex turns his eyes on me, searching. His mouth curves downward. If he's judging me for anything I've said, his bruised face doesn't show it.

"I still don't know what you expect me to do," I say. But I take the the wind chime from Mr. Thatcher anyway.

The ornament is heavier than it looks, like a piggy bank full of quarters. The black paint is chipped, revealing a sheen of bronze underneath. Four small, golden bells are attached to a circle and surround the five-pointed star. They hang from holes in the middle. Three smaller bells dangle from the bottom.

"Thatcher has a hell of a plan," Alex picks at his thumbnail cuticle. "But it just might work. Though I'm afraid to see what comes after."

"This is Shannon's sacred chime." Mr. Thatcher cuts his eyes at Alex. Motions to the black star in my hands. "She didn't use this one much 'cept to send that thing to kill Ethan and raise Bella. Now you're gonna use it."

I still haven't forgiven Mr. Thatcher for calling the cops on my mom. Or for sending Alex into my house like a prowler. Or Aunt Shannon for dropping such a heavy load in my lap. But I don't feel I have much of a choice. If I fail to listen to Mr. Thatcher, right here, right now, my next home could be in the belly of The Dust. Or so he says.

"You're gonna do some whisperin' now," Mr. Thatcher says as he stands from the table, his knees popping loudly. He retrieves Aunt Shannon's journal from his couch and places it on the table in front of me. "The Colbys'll be led here like little lambs."

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Sirens pierce the chaotic, night air. They start as a low, ominous hum, swoop higher, then swell, sustaining a long howl.

The blaring sound brings a prickle to the back of my neck. Or maybe I'm freaked out by the bag of bones sitting at my feet.

It's been half an hour since I spilled my guts, and I don't feel any better about any of it. I stand in Aunt Shannon's front yard while Mr. Thatcher is on one knee, tying a thick rope into a sturdy knot.

I still haven't shaken the feeling that Ethan is around. Lingering. I can almost see the crinkle in the corner of his eyes as he calls me, Little Tease.

"What the hell are those alarms?" I ask Mr. Thatcher, wrapping my arms around myself. Aunt Shannon's journal is tucked inside of the stonewashed jean jacket I've changed into. The mere thought of what I've been asked to do turns my bones to icicles.

"Tornado sirens," he hollers over the wind, standing on tiptoes. The wind whips at his white beard as he loops the rope over the lowest, strongest branch of the old oak tree. "The Dust is pissed off. Must know that we're about to send its ass back to Hell."

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