Home > Marked (House of Night #1)(9)

Marked (House of Night #1)(9)
Author: P. C. Cast


"Grandma I'm scared…" I cried between wracking coughs.

The spirits of the land are nothing to be frightened of Zoeybird.

"Grandma?" Did I hear her voice calling me by my nickname, or was it only more weirdness and echoes, this time coming from my memory? "Grandma!" I called again, and then stood still listening for an answer.

Nothing. Nothing except the wind.

U-no-le…the Cherokee word for wind drifted through my mind like a half-forgotten dream.

Wind? No, wait! There hadn't been any wind just a second ago, but now I had to hold my hat down with one hand and brush away the hair that was whipping wildly across my face with the other. Then in the wind I heard them—the sounds of many Cherokee voices chanting in time with the beating of the ceremonial drums. Through a veil of hair and tears I saw smoke. The nutty sweet scent of piñon wood filled my open mouth and I tasted the campfires of my ancestors. I gasped, fighting to catch my breath.

That's when I felt them. They were all around me, almost- visible shapes shimmering like heat waves lifting from a blacktop road in summer. I could feel them press against me as they twirled and moved with graceful, intricate steps around and around the shadowy image of a Cherokee campfire.

Join us, u-we-tsi a-ge-hu-tsa…Join us, daughter…

Cherokee ghosts…drowning in my own lungs…the fight with my parents…my old life gone…

It was all just too much. I ran.

I guess what they teach us in biology about adrenaline taking over during the whole fight-or-flight thing is true because even though my chest felt like it was going to explode and it seemed as if I was trying to breathe underwater, I ran up the last and steepest part of the trail like they'd opened up all the stores at the mall and they were giving away free shoes.

Gasping for breath I stumbled up the path—higher and higher—fighting to get away from the frightening spirits that hovered around me like fog, but instead of leaving them behind it seemed I was running farther into their world of smoke and shadows. Was I dying? Was this what happens? Was that why I could see ghosts?

Where's the white light? Completely panicked, I rushed forward, throwing my arms out wildly as if I could hold off the terror that was chasing me.

I didn't see the root that broke through the hard ground of the path. Completely disoriented I tried to catch myself, but all of my reflexes were off. I fell hard. The pain in my head was sharp, but it lasted only an instant before blackness swallowed me.

Waking up was weird. I expected my body to hurt, especially my head and my chest, but instead of pain I felt…well…I felt fine. Actually, I felt better than fine. I wasn't coughing. My arms and legs were amazingly light, tingly, and warm, like I had just slipped into a bubbly hot tub on a cold night.

Huh?

Surprise made me open my eyes. I was staring up at a light, which miraculously didn't hurt my eyes. Instead of the glaring light of the sun, this was more like a soft rain of candlelight filtering down from above. I sat up, and realized I was wrong. The light wasn't coming down. I was moving up toward it!

I'm going to heaven. Well, that'll shock some people.

I glanced down to see my body! I or it or…or…whatever was lying scarily close to the edge of the bluff. My body was very still. My forehead had been cut and it was bleeding badly. The blood dripped steadily into a gash in the rocky ground, making a trail of red tears that fell into the heart of the bluff.

It was incredibly weird to look down on myself. I wasn't scared. But I should be, shouldn't I? Didn't this mean I was dead? Maybe I'd be able to see the Cherokee ghosts better now. Even that thought didn't scare me. Actually, instead of being afraid it was more like I was an observer, as if none of this could really touch me. (Kinda like those girls who have sex with everyone and think that they're not going to get pregnant or a really nasty STD that eats your brains and stuff. Well, we'll see in ten years, won't we?)

I enjoyed the way the world looked, sparkling and new, but it was my body that kept drawing my attention. I floated closer to it. I was breathing in short, shallow pants. Well, my body was breathing like that, not the I that was me. (Talk about confusing pronoun usage.) And I/she didn't look good. I/she was all pale and her lips were blue. Hey! White face, blue lips, and red blood! Am I patriotic or what?

I laughed, and it was amazing! I swear I could see my laughter floating around me like the puffy things you blow off a dandelion, only instead of being white it was birthday-cake-frosting-blue. Wow! Who knew hitting my head and passing out would be so much fun? I wondered if this was what it was like to be high.

The dandelion icing laughter faded and I could hear the shining crystal sound of running water. I moved closer to my body, able to see that what I had at first thought was a gash in the ground was really a narrow crevasse. The living water sound was coming from deep inside it. Curious, I peered down, and the sparkling silver outline of words drifted up from within the rock. I strained to hear, and was rewarded by a faint, whispering of silver sound.

Zoey Redbird…come to me…

"Grandma!" I yelled into the slash in the rock. My words were bright purple and they filled the air around me. "Is that you, Grandma?”

Come to me…

The silver mixed with the purple of my visible voice, turning the words the glistening color of lavender blossoms. It was an omen! A sign! Somehow, like the spirit guides the Cherokee people have believed in for centuries, Grandma Redbird was telling me I had to go down into the rock.

Without any more hesitation, I flung my spirit forward and down into the crevasse, following the trail of my blood and the silver memory of my grandma's whisper until I came to the smooth floor of a cave-like room. In the middle of the room a small stream of water bubbled, giving off tinkling shards of visible sound, bright and glass-colored. Mixed with the scarlet drops of my blood it lit up the cave with a flickering light that was the color of dried leaves. I wanted to sit next to the bubbling water and let my fingers touch the air around it and play in the texture of its music, but the voice called to me again.

Zoey Redbird…follow me to your destiny…

So I followed the stream and the woman's call. The cave narrowed until it was a rounded tunnel. It curved and curled around and around, in a gentle spiral, ending abruptly at a wall that was covered with carved symbols that looked familiar and alien at the same time. Confused, I watched the stream pour down into a crack in the wall and disappear. What now? Was I supposed to follow it?

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