Second Dead

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Chapter 43: The wanting measure

Dad and I tore off down the road. Klara jumped from the roof of the Humvee, landed on the hood, leaped to the ground and ran toward the Spell’s SUV. Three gunshots rang out in quick succession and spurred Dad on even faster.

We reached the highway; I passed Dad and headed for the black vehicle. Penri frantically pointed behind the trucks when I sprinted past. I raised Theo’s pistol and slowed to a walk, frightened by what awaited.

My hand and the weapon it held fell to my side. Jenny lay in a pool of blood. Klara stood over her, crying and pointed her rifle at the second-dead girl’s head. Mom kneeled on the ground and held Laura in her arms. Dad rounded the truck and pushed me aside. He ran to my mom and sister and dropped to his knees.

Mom cried while she rocked Laura back and forth. She gazed up at my father, pulled aside Laura’s hair and showed him the terrible truth.

I kneeled next to my parents and stared at Laura, devastated. A bite right below the ear marred her neck. She trembled and cried. Mom sobbed and held Laura’s head in her lap. She gazed up at me, guilt etched on her tear stained face.

My mind went blank. Grief piled on top of exhaustion. Vehicles screeched to a stop but I paid them no attention. I tried to get my foggy brain to work. I could fix this, I knew with my entire being. But how? Like a bolt of lightning, the cloud in my mind lifted. Laura wasn’t lost yet.

“Mom.” I placed my hand on her arm. I forced my mouth to form the words that screamed inside my head. “I know the wanting measure.”

Mom gazed at me. “How?” Her lower lip quivered.

“Nana taught me.”

Mom stared at me in fright.

“Dad, hold Laura,” I commanded. I rose to my feet and pulled Mom away.

“Keep her alive,” I told Jane.

“But she’s --”

“Just do it.” I grabbed Jane by the shoulders and pushed her toward my sister.

Mom and I reached Dad’s truck. I tossed items aside. At last, I located Nana’s red box. We squatted on the road, separated by the box. I untied the yellow ribbons. I opened the lid, swung it over and it came to rest on the asphalt.

“Mom, mix all the ingredients. Just like the book says, in the exact manner called for. Use the proper measurements. Please, understand.”

Mom turned her blank stare to me. Comprehension crossed her face. “That’s what my mother always said to me.” She pulled the small brown book from her pocket.

I turned to Susan, who hovered behind Mom. “Hold the book for her.”

I walked to Theo and croaked, “I need a glass and my book. Help me to the truck.”

Theo put my arm over his shoulder and walked me to the wrecker. I pointed to the notebook on the dashboard. He swooped in and retrieved a glass and the book for me. He must have sensed I’d reached the limits of my endurance so he picked me up and limped back to Mom.

She measured the first ingredient into the proper tiny spoon. I watched, transfixed, while she tipped the spoon and emptied the contents into the glass. She tapped the spoon seven times against the glass. She returned the vial and spoon to the box.

She pulled the cork off the second bottle. A strong aroma much akin to rotten eggs filled the air. Mom dipped a small spoon into the powder and shook off the excess. She went to tip the powder into the glass, but hesitated. She peered at the book, then picked up a small stone knife. She dragged it across the spoon and scraped off powder. Minutes ticked past, while Mom, cautiously rechecking herself with the book, assembled the ingredients in the proper order and amounts.

“That’s everything I know,” she whispered when she closed the last bottle.

I gazed into my mother’s eyes and saw fear when I lifted the stone cup from its niche. My hand trembled while I placed the vessel onto the notebook. Drawing a deep breath, I pulled out the small jar of powdered spider venom.

I removed the bottle of plum wine from the box and placed it on the ground next to the stone cup. My hand shook while I poured the wine. I didn’t stop until a small trickle ran down the side. I drank the wine. I poured out the gray powder until a small crown formed at the rim of the stone receptacle.

“Bat. I need your bat,” I muttered to Theo.

I rolled the bat across the cup to compact the powder. Seven times, I moved the bat across the cup. Seven times Nana had insisted. I raised the cup seven inches off the paper, turned it over and slammed the vessel down. Seven times, I knocked the cup against the ground.

The price for cheating death -- I shivered while I thought about the last line of the recipe. I put my index finger in my mouth to wet the finger. Mom grabbed my hand when I moved it toward the cup. Her eyes filled with misery.

“Mom, it’s okay. Nana showed me. And -- I do understand.” I smiled while tears welled up in my eyes.

She released my hand. I again sucked my finger and then dipped it into the poison encrusted cup. I wiped the gray powder stuck to the sides of the cup and thrust my finger into the glass of medicine. I stirred until the powder dissolved.

I handed the glass to Mom. “Quick, make sure she drinks all of it.”

Our eyes met. Mom stood up and whispered, “Goodbye… Bel dear.”

Mom turned and ran to Laura. I cut the blank piece of paper from the notebook. My hands no longer trembled. I tipped the poison back into the jar, closed the lid, and returned it to the red box. Humming my favorite song, I tied the box closed, stood up and turned it over to Theo.

“Ssshhh,” I said and kissed him. “I love you.”

Without looking back, I stumbled to where my family gathered around Laura and Dad. The glass, so carefully filled, lay empty and broken in the street. Laura was quiet and Dad rocked her back and forth. Mom and Susan made way for me and I kneeled in front of Laura and held her hand.

Laura focused on me with tear-stained eyes and asked, “Am I going to die, Anna?”

I smiled. “No. Laura won’t be dying today.” Tears rolled down my cheeks.

My head hit the pavement. I felt no pain. I gazed up at the bright blue sky, surprised by flashes of lightning in the cloudless sky. I heard myself choke and sensed my body spasm. I failed to associate what happened to my body with me. At peace, I felt nothing as the spider venom coursed its way through my veins. The world darkened before my eyes and the last words of the antidote floated through my mind.

The price for cheating death falls irreversibly on the obedient sister of the Xích Quý.

I drifted into nothingness, my last thought, “I hope my second death doesn’t fall to Theo.”

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