Home > Something Strange and Deadly(11)

Something Strange and Deadly(11)
Author: Susan Dennard

Then the satchel bounced at the edge of my vision. The Bartholdi Fountain had hidden him from view. He was already on the other side of the exit gates! How could he move so fast with such a... such a... I refused to think the word.

I scooted after him, but by the time I entered the mass of people outside the Exhibition, he was boarding a black hackney. I shoved toward the lines of waiting carriages, all the while keeping my eyes locked on the one that now carried Daniel.

I had a handful of coins in my pocket, so when I arrived at the first hackney for hire, I waved for the driver’s attention and darted into the concourse. Before the driver could climb down from his seat, I shouted, “Stay there! I can get in alone.”

A frantic search showed Daniel’s carriage leaving the concourse. I clambered into the buggy and pointed. “That way. I’ll tell you where to go once we’re out.”

He nodded, and with a flick of the reins, jolted the horse into a rattling chase. I plopped down and shaded my eyes. My heart throbbed in my throat, and the tip of the boot flashed in my mind.

Then I spotted the black hackney. “Turn right at Girard,” I yelled up.

“Yes’m.”

We clopped down the avenue and onto the Girard Avenue Bridge. It was packed with carriages, and I lost sight of Daniel’s hackney.

I stood in my seat, my knees wobbling with the movement of the wheels. Though the breeze of the river whipped at the ribbons of my bonnet, it offered no relief to the scorching sweat that dripped down my back.

“Oi, miss!” snapped the driver. “Sit down!”

I glanced behind. “Do you see a black hackney?” I pointed ahead of us.

“Yeah—about twenty. Sit down. It’s not safe if you want to go fast.” As if to prove his point, we suddenly veered right, and I tumbled sideways. I clutched at the edge of the cab and slid to the end of my seat. I tried to peek around the powerful horse before me, but my view was only obstructed by other horses.

Oh, please don’t tell me I’ve lost him already. Oh, please, please.

We crossed the river, and the end of the bridge came into sight—but no black hackney. Daniel could go anywhere in the city now, and I wouldn’t be able to see. I puffed out a breath of frustration. I was so sure I’d almost uncovered something about the Spirit-Hunters. Something significant.

And then there it was, below the bridge! Daniel’s tanned face was focused straight ahead as his hackney trotted by—in the opposite direction. It traveled along a tree-lined leisure path parallel to Girard Avenue. How had it gotten there so fast?

“There!” I bolted up and pointed wildly below. “There—we must go there!”

“Then sit down. Now!”

We jerked left, and I fell sideways into the seat. As we catapulted through the oncoming traffic, drivers shouted their fury and horses whinnied. Then, in a bone-jarring bounce, we clattered off the bridge and onto the dirt path.

The reins pulled back and we slowed to a steady trot. I jumped up once more.

“This is too slow,” I declared. Bonnet ribbons slapped my face. “You must go faster.”

“I can’t, miss.” He wiped his brow and glared down at me. “This is for slow traffic only.”

“B-but...”

“But nothin’.” He scowled and stroked his beard. “You know, Miss, followin’ someone costs double fare.”

“Oh.” I gulped. Of course he was lying, but what choice did I have? I couldn’t pretend that I wasn’t pursuing the other hackney, and I couldn’t hope to find another driver this far into the chase. I just had to hope I had enough money. “All right then. Double fare.”

“In that case,” he said with a twist in his lips, “is that your hackney there?” He pointed, and I scanned ahead until I too saw the familiar gleam of black. It was disappearing around a bend ahead.

“Yes! That’s it!”

“Then I’ll keep my eyes on it,” he answered. “Now sit down.”

I tumbled back in my seat. My heart had begun to ache from overuse, and the morning heat was suffocating beneath my gown. Later—I could relax later.

The horse trotted my cab north with the river at our left and a forest at our right. The carriages, riders, and passers-by had thinned out, and now my cab and Daniel’s were the only two still on the dirt road. Fortunately, Daniel remained far ahead.

“We’ll have to be stoppin’ right soon,” the driver announced.

I leaned forward and tilted my head up to look at him. “What do you mean? Why?”

“Because,” he said with a meaningful jump of his eyebrows. “No one’s allowed past East Fairmount Park no more—that’s where Laurel Hill is.”

My eyes widened. Of course. Laurel Hill Cemetery. In the blur of the carriage chase, I’d paid no heed to what direction we traveled.

“S’past that landing there.” The driver gestured with his whip to a small dock to the left of the road that extended into the Schuylkill. Ferries carting cemetery and park visitors usually landed there, but today the dock was abandoned. Though the occasional vessel still moved up and down the river, now that I observed it closely, I could see that each one hugged the opposite bank. Clarence had said he could see the Dead from the river.

Daniel’s hackney slowed, and my driver tightened the reins on our horse.

“Here, Miss?” he asked.

“Y-yes, please.” My throat suddenly felt tight. You can do this, I told myself. Elijah would do no less for you.

I rose and offered the man my coins—seventy-five cents worth of change. I shoved it into his expectant hand. “Will this cover it?”

He smacked his lips. “Is that a dollar?”

I stepped unsteadily from the cab and then stared up at him, my jaw set. “No, it’s not a dollar, but it’s all I have, so take it.”

He protested, but I didn’t listen. He was cheating me, after all. Before he had time to stop me, I gathered my skirts in one hand and my parasol in the other and hustled after Daniel.

He was already plodding down the path toward Laurel Hill, and I picked up my pace to a brisk clip.

The dust of the path muffled my footsteps and rose up to cling at my petticoats. The woods at my right were part of East Fairmount Park, and though the road stayed flat, the ground on which the woods stood grew gradually steeper—so much so that in the distance, the road along the river was lined with rocky bluffs.

Daniel trekked before me on his long limbs, and my own short ones had trouble keeping up. Yet having him so far ahead meant he couldn’t see me stalking behind. Besides, the quick pace calmed my nerves.

As I passed the vacant dock, Daniel rounded a bend in the path, and the forests and hills blocked him from view. When I reached the trees, I slowed to a hesitant creep. I inched toward the road’s curve and peered around.

The iron bars of Laurel Hill and a gate, chained firmly shut, were directly before me. The fence took a sharp turn up, following the curve of the land.

But there was no sign of the lanky blond.

He must have left the path, moved onto the hill and into the trees beside me. I stepped forward, flicking my gaze around as I went. Where was he?

Branches from a wide-trunked sycamore floated above, shading this portion of the path. These woods were still part of East Fairmount Park, so had Daniel entered the park or had he gone into the cemetery?

I wiped my hands on my skirt, hoping my gloves would soak up the sweat on my palms, and I tried to moisten my dusty mouth. The cemetery loomed before me, and the emptiness around was silent—too silent. With each passing moment, my certainty grew: I had made a dangerous mistake by coming here.

Suddenly, something fell on the path before me, thudding to the road, and yellow dust puffed up around it.

A boot!

My heart exploded into my throat. I glanced wildly about and spun, clutching my parasol to my chest. All I could see were shadows and leaves and dust, yet I knew it must be Daniel—he was here, somewhere, watching me.

Then a figure dropped from the overhanging branches. His feet hit the ground with a heavy thump that sent fresh dust pluming up.

I cried out and reeled back, my eyes locked on the young man crouched before me.

Daniel straightened. “Well, if it isn’t her Royal Highness,” he drawled, lifting his right arm. Sunlight flashed on metal, and the beams blinded me. When I finally saw what he held, my knees turned watery.

It was a sickle, and sunlight flickered on its long, wicked blade.

CHAPTER TEN

I wanted to scream, to run, to do something, but I couldn’t move. I just stared, mouth agape and eyes bulging.

Daniel swung the sickle like a pendulum. It was the sort used for harvesting hay, and the blade was the length of my forearm. Back and forth he swung it.

“Do you have a death wish?” He cocked his head and pinched his lips thin. “Or do you visit such deadly places by accident?”

“Don’t hurt me.” I lifted my parasol with both hands and scooted back several feet. “I’ll scream.”

“You scream, and we both die.” He spat onto the road. “I ain’t gonna hurt you, Princess, so stop the hysterics.”

“Hysterics,” I screeched, waving my parasol at him. “You’re holding a blade and threatening—”

Daniel darted forward and snatched at my parasol. Before I could suck in air for a panicked shriek, he slung me around and clamped a firm hand over my mouth.

“Not a word,” he breathed in my ear. “If any of the Hungry are in there, they’ll come in seconds, and you’ll get to see what this sickle is really for.”

I struggled to breathe. My heart sprinted in my chest; the sound echoed in my head. His hands smelled like metal, like the cool tang of machines.

“I’m gonna drop my hand,” he continued, “and you’d better keep quiet. Go running back to your mama or jump in the river—I don’t care, so long as you don’t scream.”

My eyes moved from the tanned wrist pressed near my face to the glinting blade held at my chest. I gave a frantic nod of my head, and he withdrew his hand from my mouth.

I sucked in summer air. The scent of metal clung to my cheeks. “You ought to wear gloves,” I hissed, hoping to mask my fear with insults.

“And you ought to be more careful.” He still stood behind me. His breath tickled at my neck, and goose flesh bristled down the side of my body. He moved away then, and my skirts rustled back to their full width.

I twirled around, harsh whispers on my lips, but he had already marched off. He reached the enormous sycamore and circled behind its ancient trunk.

I lifted my skirts and scurried after him.

“Why’re you still here?” he asked.

I ignored him. “The Hungry,” I said in a low voice. “You mean the Dead—the quick, rabid ones.”

“Yep.” He tugged his flat cap from his pocket and slid it atop his head. “When a corpse isn’t under a necromancer’s control, it’s desperate to feed. Like the ones that wake up on their own—the Dead that casket-bells warn us against.”

So it was like the scary tales about rabid Dead that escape their coffins. The jingling bells that warn of Death were created for those occasional corpses who, somehow or other, were sparked with life though their bodies were dead. Sparked with life and this desperate hunger.

“But,” Daniel added, “rather than a corpse or two a year, we’ve got a whole cemetery’s worth.”

My fingers tightened around my skirts. “So... is the whole graveyard Hungry?”

“Not yet, but if the necromancer has lost control of one, it stands to reason he’ll lose control of more.” He bent down and slung the familiar satchel off the ground—no boot peeked from it now.

I suppose he’d used the boot to cover his sickle. And up close, I could see the sack was jagged and angular. There was clearly no body within.

“How do you know about the Hungry?” he asked.

“I-I saw them.” I shuffled closer and pointed to the iron bars. “Through the fence.”

He sighed. “Can’t say I’m surprised you were here. You have the curiosity of a cat and the common sense of a goldfish.” He stared at me for a moment, the muscles in his jaw pulsing. Then he turned and strode toward the cemetery gate. I followed.

When he was several paces from the iron bars, he set down the bag and knelt beside it. With concentration, he removed the bag’s contents and laid them out in an orderly manner on the ground. An enormous spool of copper wire, a wrench, some wooden stakes, glass jars, and a series of black stones—perhaps magnets. As he continued to remove various mechanical apparatuses, I sidled closer and closer.

“What’s it all for?”

“Dead alarm.” He didn’t pause his careful unpacking. “A telegraph cable to connect to our lab.”

“Why?”

“One of the Hungry got out last night. They’re just so damn fast—too fast. It killed a man and two horses before we got to it.” He gestured to his tools. “If what I’m trying actually works, then when something Dead—a spirit or a corpse—passes through the gate, its spiritual energy will complete a circuit. That’ll set off our telegraph, and we’ll know somethin’ bad is on the loose.”

“Oh.” It was all very logical—clever, even.

Daniel twisted his cap to the side and then turned his attention to his sleeves. With meticulous care, he rolled them to his elbows. I turned away and scanned the iron bars of the fence. They were too close together to allow a person in or, rather, to allow a corpse out.

I looked back to Daniel and found him eying me, his expression dark. “You were following me, weren’t you?” He yanked the final fold of his sleeve into place.

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