“So when we got there, there were like a thousand slithers in the air. And this demented old darkling.” Jessica’s stomach turned as she remembered the thing’s death smell. “Melissa had pretty much killed it already with this hubcap, but I finished it off.”
“Ah, the mighty Categorically Unjustifiable Appropriation is finally put to use,” Dess said. She leaned back against the locker next to Jessica’s, a smile lighting up her face.
“Yeah, the thing was totally in a bad way,” Jessica said. She looked down at her palm, still tingling from holding Demonstration. All morning aftershocks had surged through her, sending shivers up her arm. In the nights after discovering her talent Jessica had experimented with lighters, flash attachments, and highway signal flares, but nothing gave her the buzz of an actual rumble.
She took a deep breath, and the crowded hallway of Bixby High came back into focus.
“So, you got another flashlight name for me?” asked. “Something… light?”
Dess closed one eye, giving the matter a microsecond’s thought. “How about Decaffeinated?”
Jessica giggled. “Not that kind of light, silly. More like… luminescent. Hey, does that work?”
“Nope. Only eleven. Coronaphobiac?”
“Which would mean…?”
“Someone who’s afraid of eclipses.”
Jessica raised an eyebrow. “How do you know this stuff?”
“I listen, read, watch the Discovery Channel, and the tridecalogisms kind of… stand out.”
“Hmm. Coronaphobiac? Still not quite what I was going for.” Jessica opened her locker and she regarded the pile of books unhappily. “No time for trig today. I promised Rex I’d grill Constanza about her family.” She picked up the social studies textbook. Maybe if she brought it along to the library, Constanza would assume she was writing a report about local history.
“You should ask her if any of them live in Broken Arrow.”
Jessica looked up. “Why?”
Dess shrugged. “Just an idea. If Melissa hasn’t heard their thoughts all these years, they probably stay out of town.”
“But the snake pit’s darkling central, and that’s in Broken Arrow, isn’t it?”
“Broken Arrow County, yeah. But the town’s farther east, just beyond the limit of the secret hour. The perfect place for darkling groupies to set up shop.”
“Okay, I’ll ask her.” Jessica smiled. “Hey, all that map stuff you’ve been doing is paying off.”
Dess returned the smile. “You’d be surprised.” She looked past Jessica, suddenly frowning, and said, “Ada.”
Jessica turned. “Who?”
“Melissa and Rex, I mean.”
The two were coming down the hall, Melissa in head phones but sharper eyed than Jessica had ever seen her in school. Rex looked well rested, about a thousand percent better than he had the night before.
“Headed up to the library?” he asked.
“Yes,” Jessica said. “No stone in Constanza’s brain shall remain unturned.”
“That should take about five minutes,” Melissa muttered.
Rex rolled his eyes in apology. “By the way, did we forget to say thanks last night? You know, for the lifesaving.”
Jessica shrugged. “It was implied—by the not being dead. Sorry we got lost on the way.”
“You made it in time.” He glanced at Melissa. “Somehow.”
“Oh, right.” Jessica turned to Dess. “That was the weirdest part of the whole night. While we were looking for Constanza’s house, Jonathan and I both suddenly had this brain flash and knew exactly where it was. It was total random.”
“Random?” A puzzled look came over Dess’s face, as if there was something on the tip of her tongue. Jessica suspected she was about to get a lecture on the deadly sin of using math terms loosely.
But Dess said, “Unanticipated Illuminations.”
“A new name for your flashlight.” Dess smiled, as if at a private joke, the puzzled expression never quite leaving her face.
“You would not believe what happened last night.”
Jessica stared into Constanza’s wide eyes and found that she simply couldn’t resist. “More demonic vandalism?”
Constanza’s mouth opened. Closed. Opened again. “Who told you?”
Jessica shrugged. “I just guessed. Or maybe I heard something in the hall?”
Constanza shook her head. “No way. I haven’t told anyone. Except Liz. And Maria. But, like, no one.”
“Wait a second.” Jessica forced her own eyes open wider. “It didn’t happen to your house, did it?”
Constanza looked both ways down the hall, silent for a moment as a few freshmen went by on their way into the library. “Okay, this has to stay a total secret, Jessica.”
“Not a soul.”
“So, my dad wakes up last night because he smells something really nasty, and in his study he sees that someone’s gone through his desk. So he’s running around turning all the lights on, and the kitchen’s all messed up, and his tools are lying spread around all over the lawn. And the grass is all burned, like someone built a bonfire on it, but with a totally dead-rat smell.”
“Eww.” Jessica winced. After all the excitement the night before, she hadn’t thought much about what it would be like to wake up in the aftermath. And she hadn’t realized that Rex and Melissa had been rifling through anyone’s desk. Of course, was that any worse than rifling through someone’s brain?
“And guess when this all was,” Constanza said.
Jessica blinked. “No way.”
“Way. Right at the stroke of midnight.”
The late bell rang, and Constanza jumped.
“Girls?” Ms. Thomas’s voice came from inside. “Please cross the threshold or you will be tardy.”
Constanza sighed, peering in at the long table full of her friends. “I promised my mother not to spread this all over school because it could be a total real-estate-value downer. But I don’t know how I’m going to sit there and not utter a word. I mean, Liz and Maria are sitting right there, just dying to talk about it.”
“Well,” Jessica said, “you could help me with something instead.” She waved her social studies textbook in the air. “Do you know anything about your family’s history?”
“So, the Grayfoots were a Bixby family until they got chased out?”
“Yeah, that’s the way my dad tells it.” Constanza looked over at the big table, eyes narrowing as she checked for the hundredth time that Liz and Maria weren’t busy spreading rumors about last night’s vandalism. She turned back to Jessica. “My grandfather’s totally psycho about going anywhere near Bixby. He never even drives through. If he has to head out west, he goes up to Tulsa and then over.”
“But you guys live here.”
She snorted. “Well, my father moved here when he was eighteen, just to piss off his old man. They always fought the whole time he was growing up, so Dad came here to escape. Granddad stopped talking to him for years, until I was born, basically. And even now my father says they don’t tell him everything about the family business. My cousins know a lot more about what’s going on than Dad does. They’re all suck-ups and never go into Bixby either.”
Jessica nodded. Of course, anyone in the clan who knew the truth about midnight would also know about mindcasters and would stay out of Bixby. She wondered how old Constanza’s grandfather was and how he’d learned about the secret hour so long ago.
“That’s the problem with being born rich.” Constanza sighed. “You’ve got to toe the line or you get cut off. That’s why I want to be an actress, so I can make my own money.”
“So when did this all happen? I mean, how long ago did the Grayfoots leave?”
“Ages. Like when my grandfather was a teenager. So, fifty-something years? There was a lot of money in the oil business during the boom, and the Anglos didn’t want us Native Americans to make any. Whatever happened, my grandfather was totally traumatized. He never talks about it.”
Jessica took a deep breath. Fifty-something years ago—about the same time that the lore had mysteriously ended.
Of course, the story as Constanza had learned it made sense too. Rex talked a lot about how Oklahoma history was one big long land grab. The rest of the country had shipped its native populations onto reservations here, back when it was a useless dust bowl. Then the moment the whites had wanted the land, all the treaties had gone up in smoke, and the last Native American territory had become the forty-eighth state. The discovery of oil had only made things worse for the tribes.
Maybe the truth was a mix of both stories. Jessica wondered if the Ladies’ Anti-Tenebrosity League had ever invited any Native Americans to its ice-cream socials. According to the lore, the ancient people here had fought the darklings for thousands of years, but maybe they’d been cut out of the secret society after white settlers took over the town. According to Rex, that was pretty much the way everything else had worked back then.
Had the lore ended and Bixby lost all its midnighters just because of broken treaties and old scores being settled?
“Sounds horrible,” Jessica said. “But also really interesting. Thanks.”
Constanza picked up Jessica’s textbook. “But wait, you’re taking world history. Who are you writing this for again?”
Jessica glanced at the book. A world map stretched across its cover, the Oklahoma flag nowhere in sight. “Um, I’m not really writing a report. I just got interested because I met this guy… well, didn’t really meet him. I doubt he’d remember me. But I think he was related to you…”
“Uh, do you have a cousin named… Ernesto?”
Constanza laughed. “Ernesto? What? Did he hit on you?”
“No!” Jessica felt herself blushing, thinking, stalked, yes… hit on, no.
“Oh, don’t be embarrassed.” Constanza giggled. “He hits on everyone, but he’s a sweetheart, really. In fact, if you want to meet him properly, he’s picking me up from school today.”
Jessica swallowed. “He is?”
“Yeah, we’re all headed out to Broken Arrow to stay with Granddad for a couple of days. The old guy’s even more freaked out than my parents because of the you-know-what last night. Brings back bad memories.”
“Sure, bad memories. Ernesto’s coming here?”
“Yeah, he sneaks into Bixby sometimes to visit me. He even owns an investment house out in…” Constanza’s face grew thoughtful. “Las Colonias! How spooky is that?”
“Very.” Jessica leaned back in her chair, a prickly feeling coming over her. Her stalker was coming here, to school.
“So, you want a ride home? You’ll like him. And he’s a total babe, isn’t he?”
“Um, no. Jonathan’s driving me home today.” Jessica hoped he’d brought his father’s car.
“Where’d you meet Ernesto, anyway? And why all the interest?”
Jessica shrugged. “I guess it was in Broken Arrow or Tulsa? He was taking pictures of… something, and I just overhead his last name. So I thought I’d ask you.”
“About my entire family history?” Constanza shook her head, laughing. “Well, aren’t you full of surprises, Jessica Day.” She winked. “I’ll tell him he has a secret admirer.”
“Great.” Jessica managed to smile.