Home > The Luminaries (The Luminaries #1)(5)

The Luminaries (The Luminaries #1)(5)
Author: Susan Dennard

With her hand in the bag, she picks up the two corpse remains like she used to pick up Erica’s dog’s poop. Crinkle, crinkle. One foot. Two. They’re surprisingly heavy, and there’s hair on the bridges surrounded by deep, bloodied gashes, almost like they got caught in a lawn mower.

A wave of nausea hits Winnie. She hastily closes the bag. She’d mocked Marcus only an hour ago, and now she’s on the verge of puking herself. It doesn’t bode well for tonight’s trial.

You’re hungry, she tells herself. And sleep-deprived. Even Mom and Grandma Winona must have felt woozy from time to time, and they were both Lead Hunters for the Wednesday clan.

Winnie shoves a stick into the spot where the feet were. Red clay crunches up. The stick breaks at the tip, but it’s a good enough marker. Mario at the Monday lab will be able to find it.

After depositing the feet beside the nightmares and nons in the four-wheeler’s flatbed, she sets off once more. This time, she doesn’t pay attention to the Tuesday tread. She just drives. Fast. Until at last she reaches the edge of the Monday estate.

Cold blusters against her without the forest to protect. The grounds are quiet, the grass crispy with frost. Two crows take flight as Winnie thunders by.

It’s like a college campus. Or at least what Winnie imagines a college campus might look like, based on what she’s seen on TV. Ahead is the main building, with its brownstone and crawling ivy that’s more like rattly spaghetti without its green coat. Then surrounding the original estate are all the annexes, seven in total: three laboratories, two libraries (historical and scientific), a hospital, and an office building for all the Mondays working to expand Luminary knowledge.

Intellect at the fore. Knowledge is the path. That’s their motto, and not for the first time, as Winnie passes the two library buildings, she kind of wishes she had been born a Monday. It wouldn’t have changed what had happened with her dad, but at least then she, her mom, and her brother wouldn’t be quite so hated. The Mondays are always polite to her; the Wednesdays never are.

After all, the Wednesday motto is The cause above all else. Loyalty through and through. What could be more disloyal than living with a Diana? Those witches who steal magic from the sleeping spirits around the world? Who want to wake up the spirits and unleash nightmares on humankind?

As far as the Wednesdays are concerned, ten years as outcasts isn’t severe enough for Winnie’s, Mom’s, and Darian’s crimes. And frustrating as it is, Winnie can’t even blame them for that. The Dianas are bad. Her dad is bad. End of story.

Used to be, back in the early days of the American Luminaries when the spirit here had only just awoken, the Dianas fought to gain a foothold in the forest. They would bury their sources all around—the crystals, metal spheres, wooden talismans, animal bones—hoping to absorb magic from the spirit into them. Then they would use their devices to craft spells.

It seemed like sources were everywhere in those days, tucked under roots or into stone crannies, draining the forest bit by bit. Often it was the kids on corpse duty who found them—and often the sources were booby-trapped.

Winnie’s own great-grandfather lost his thumb that way.

In the end, though, the Luminaries of Hemlock Falls had been stronger than the Dianas. The witches hadn’t been able to claim the spirit’s magic, and so they’d gone back into hiding around the globe while the old siren installed downtown to warn of Dianas had stopped its frequent howling.

They’re still out there, though. The Dianas. They still want to take control of the spirits and overrun the world. They still sneak in sources and steal magic whenever, wherever they can. Winnie’s dad is living proof of that, and her family is living proof of what can happen when vigilance slips.

Winnie drives past the main Monday estate, and though she waves at two people in lab coats, they ignore her. Once she reaches the hospital, she circles behind to the morgue entrance. The lead nightmare researcher, Mario, meets her.

He nods at Winnie, his always-in-the-lab pale skin alight in the morning sun. A pink bubble pops from his lips. “Ugh,” Winnie groans. “I thought we’d agreed no gum while I’m around.”

“And I thought we’d agreed you would be on time.” He taps his watch. “A guy’s gotta fill his life somehow.” He blows another bubble. Pop!

Winnie cracks a smile. She likes Mario. He never acts like she shouldn’t be here, never rolls his eyes at her or ignores her wave. Maybe it’s because his nephew Andrew and Winnie’s brother Darian are boyfriends, or maybe it’s because he was tight with Winnie’s dad before the incident, but either way, she appreciates having an ally—even if she’s never allowed to follow him into the morgue or exam rooms.

And even if he is like a walking piece of bubble wrap, always pop-pop-popping to the great annoyance of literally everyone. Even his mother, when she visits from the Italian branch of the Luminaries, scolds him.

“I found something.” Winnie cuts the engine, hops to the pavement, and holds up the grocery bag. Blood is visible through the plastic.

Mario squints. “Are those … feet?”

“Yes.” She hurries toward him, waving with her free hand toward the flatbed. “And I found them outside the boundary. I’m pretty sure they belong to the halfer. No,” she amends once she reaches him, “I’m positive they do. You know what this means, right?”

He sighs, and his face scrunches with a grimace that can only be described as long-suffering. “I certainly have a theory, but I suspect you have a different one. One that’s highly improbable.”

That’s rich coming from Mario, who is somewhat infamous for his own off-the-wall ideas. “A werewolf did it,” Winnie declares.

Mario blows another bubble. Pop!

“I’m serious.” Winnie thrusts the feet at him. The plastic rustles. “What else can leave the boundary unnoticed, Mario? It’s either a changeling or a werewolf, and changelings don’t mutilate bodies.”

“They’re also extremely rare. We haven’t had one in seventeen years. And it was…” He shakes his head. “It was bad, remember?”

Winnie doesn’t remember, since she hadn’t been born yet. But she certainly knows the stories about how a non-turned-werewolf killed six people in as many days, and the entirety of Hemlock Falls was on lockdown until the Tuesdays finally shot him. Ever since then, that siren downtown that had been built to warn of Diana attacks has also been used for any daywalkers on the loose.

Winnie chews her lip. She doesn’t want to make light of what happened seventeen years ago … but she also thinks she’s on to something. “Just imagine it, Mario. This werewolf is in the middle of eating when the night ends. He still has the feet in his mouth as his body begins to change back into human form—”

“Now the werewolf is a he?”

“—and he just…” She mimics walking with her fingers. “Marches right out of the forest. Then he drops the feet and enters our world.”

Mario does not look moved by this theory. If anything, he looks mildly agitated. Like he has somewhere to be and Winnie’s tall tales are keeping him from it. He does, at least, accept the bag from her grasp. “Interesting story, as per usual, Winnie. But imagine this instead: It was the same vampira horde the hunters have been tracking for the past three nights. The hunters finally killed the horde—presumably mid-meal—and the feet got flung over the boundary.” He shuffles toward a rolling table nearby. The stainless steel gleams in the rising sun.

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