Home > The Luminaries (The Luminaries #1)(3)

The Luminaries (The Luminaries #1)(3)
Author: Susan Dennard

And that had been that. Dad was gone, having fled as a spy, and the old life as respected Luminaries was finished. Ten years as outcasts. The end.

Winnie hadn’t thought it could possibly get any worse … until she realized that her sixteenth birthday would arrive during her ten-year sentence—the hunter trials would arrive, and she would miss her one shot at taking them.

Which meant that if Winnie wanted to do this—and oh god, she wanted it then and she wants it now—then she couldn’t let her sixteenth birthday slip by. She was going to have to attempt the first trial. She is going to have to attempt it.

It’s her only chance to make everything right again and her only chance to go after the thing Dad tried to take away.

She just prays this new leather jacket will bring her luck.

 

 

CHAPTER

3

 


Winnie parks the four-wheeler on a trail thirty feet from the halfer. The headlights beam through mist, turning the forest to a pixelated haze. In under a minute, Winnie has found the human remains. Three years of corpse duty, and she knows where nightmares usually deposit their prey. This particular clearing, surrounded by blue spruce and maples, is a regular feeding ground for vampira.

At the sight of the halfer’s exposed spine above the shredded remains of a waistline, Marcus gags. And at the sight of the exposed anklebones where the feet used to be, he turns and flees for the trees.

Which amuses Winnie. “Welcome to the forest,” she calls after him, and Bretta gratifies her with a giggle. Emma, however, takes pity on Marcus, and moments later her dulcet tones drift over a rebellious throat and the spray of vomit on pine needles.

Winnie and Bretta don’t wait for them. They pull on disposable gloves that are as blue as the cornflowers just appearing in Winnie’s front yard, and Bretta withdraws a body bag from the teal backpack she always carries. A chip package rustles. Probably salt and vinegar, knowing her. Or maybe it’s Emma’s preferred sour cream and onion.

“Nothing on him,” Bretta says after checking for ID. Her gloves are already brown with blood. The guy’s jeans are even worse. “Should we search for the other half of his body?”

“Nah.” Winnie unfolds the body bag, which is really just an enormous ziplock. It’s even transparent like a ziplock too, with comparably poor seal quality that requires careful, patient unzipping. Nothing like Winnie’s new jacket.

Whenever a non is allowed into the Luminaries’ world, they’re always horrified that corpse duty goes to the thirteen-, fourteen-, and fifteen-year-olds. The children! they say. Their impressionable minds! To which Luminaries snort and reply, Exactly.

Death is a part of life in Hemlock Falls. It’s a part of life beside the forest. You lose your family, you lose your friends, you lose yourself. The sooner “the children” learn what the forest can do to them, the safer and happier they’ll be.

Winnie learned that the hard way.

“This is a vampira kill,” she tells Bretta, draping the bag beside the corpse. “You can tell from what’s left behind. See how all the parts with organs are missing? The torso and head have the most nutrients, and vampira hordes need those to survive. They like pieces with high-iron content.”

“Oh.” Bretta frowns at the body while Winnie hangs her leather jacket on a black walnut branch. Then, with a grunt, they grab the body, lift it, deposit it. Plastic squishes. Congealed blood squirts like toothpaste. The girls each grab a corner of the ziplocking mechanism and start sealing.

“Why are the feet missing too, then?” Bretta asks.

“Well, the story goes that vampira like feet because they don’t have any. But then again, melusine and harpies don’t have feet either.” Winnie shrugs. She once asked Professor Anders about that, back when she was still allowed at the Luminary school, but he’d only glared at her and said in his Swedish accent, If it’s not in the Compendium, it’s not important.

So Winnie had checked the Nightmare Compendium—and not the short field guide that hunters use, but the full, massive tome as big as her torso that resides in the Monday library. She hadn’t found an answer, though.

“So why do you think they take the feet?” Bretta asks.

And Winnie flushes.

It’s a weird heat. Part delight that Bretta would ask about her theories. Part shame, because she knows what will happen when she shares them. Even if Bretta won’t laugh, she’ll probably tell someone else who will tell someone else, and soon enough the Luminaries will TP Winnie’s house again. Or spray-paint her mom’s ancient Volvo, on which the last smear of red still hasn’t fully faded. Then Winnie will hate her dad even more than she already does, and she’ll hate her mom for ever loving her dad …

And yeah, she just doesn’t want to go there. Not on her birthday.

So she shrugs and mumbles, “Dunno.”

Footsteps clomp through underbrush. She twists, expecting Emma to reappear with Marcus on her arm. Instead, a boy with flaxen hair that blends into ashen skin emerges from between two saplings.

“Ugh.” Winnie scowls at him. “Jay.”

He draws up short at the sight of her. For once, he doesn’t look stoned so much as tired, like he was out all night with a beer in one hand and a joint in the other. His broad shoulders hunch inside buffalo flannel, his hands are stuffed into faded jean pockets, and his black motorcycle boots are streaked with red soil.

He is a burst of color in this forest made of gray, and Winnie suddenly wishes she still had on her leather jacket. Something about Jay requires armor.

Beside her, Bretta has gone very still. Like a ghost-deer spotting a human.

“Why are you here?” Winnie asks, but Jay ignores her, scrubbing a hand over his already mussed hair and taking in the scene before him. Not the people, not the body, but the forest. Its leaves and moss and mud. The subtle markings left behind by monsters in the night.

Winnie can’t help but wonder what he sees. He passed the three hunter trials over a year ago.

“I was getting ready for school,” Jay says eventually. His voice, like everything else about him, is threadbare and tired. “I saw tracks and wanted to make sure nothing had escaped the boundaries.” The Friday clan estate, where Jay lives, is one of only two estates that directly abut the forest—the other being the martial Tuesday clan’s. “Vampira?” he asks.

“Yes,” Bretta rushes to say. “We know from the missing torso.”

Winnie side-eyes her. While she supposes she ought to be annoyed that Bretta has just claimed knowledge Winnie gave her, she’s more startled by the breathlessness in Bretta’s voice. And the intensity of her smile.

Not that Jay notices, and when he speaks again, it’s directed at Winnie. “Any ID?”

“No,” Bretta answers.

“Huh.” Jay shoves his fists deeper into his pockets, spine stooping as if the forest canopy is too low. And though Winnie hates to admit it, there is something strangely small about the clearing now that he’s in it.

“I can ask if my aunt saw anything,” he offers. “She might have had her cameras set up—”

“Don’t,” Winnie interrupts at the same time Bretta sighs, “Yes, please.” Winnie glares at her. Then at Jay. “I don’t need your help, Jay. I know exactly what happened here. Vampira.” She points at the body. “Horde.”

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