Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville #3) - Page 59

Louise pushed aside a faded blanket that hung over the door and invited us in with her intent stare.

The hogan was dark, windowless, except for a hole in the ceiling, through which a shaft of sunlight came through. My lycanthropic sight adjusted quickly. The single room was almost bare. Toward the back, to the right, a blanket lay spread on the floor. A couple of wooden trunks sat by the wall nearby, along with a pile of firewood. Clearly, this wasn't a room for living in. It was a sanctuary. I could feel it, the way the walls curled around me, the way that I was sure that even though only a blanket hung over the doorway, nothing could get in. No curses, no hate. I felt a great sense of calm.

Even Louise seemed calm now, confident in the hogan's security. She knelt in the center of the room and struck a match to light the fire that was already built there. The kindling lit, glowed orange, and flames started tickling the firewood. The air smelled of soot and ash, of many previous fires that had burned themselves out. The smoke of this one rose up through the hole in the roof.

She showed us where to sit, on the ground to the right of the blanket.

She sat on the blanket. Before her, spread on the ground, was a sandpainting.

The pattern showed a complex and highly stylized scene. The colors were earth tones—brown, yellow, white, red, and black—yet vivid. In the firelight, the figures seemed to move.

Four birds, wings outstretched, marked the four quarters of the picture. Their clawed feet pointed inward, toward a circle at the center of the painting. In the middle of the circle stood a figure, a woman: black hair streamed from her square head, and she held arrows in both hands. Crooked white lines—lightning, maybe—rose up from her feet. Her eyes and mouth were tiny lines, hyphens, making the figure seem expressionless. Sleeping. The whole picture was bounded on three sides by rainbow stripes ending in bunches of what must have been feathers. The fourth, unbounded side faced the door. All of it was symbolic, but the symbols eluded me, except for one: the dark-haired woman at the center of great power, armed for battle.

Louise picked up a plastic dish, an old margarine tub. She took a pinch of something out of it: a white, powdery sand, or some other finely ground substance, which she sprinkled onto the image. I didn't know how she got the lines so straight. Her movements added bolts of lightning radiating out from the

circle, between the soaring eagles.

“Tell me how Miriam died,” she said.

Ben looked at me. I was the talker. But I didn't feel much like telling the story. “She attacked me. Our friend shot her.”

“Friend. The same man who shot John.”

“That's your brother. The werewolf.”

She said, “John and Miriam were twins. They were destined to be killed by the same man. It all happened so quickly. I didn't expect it to happen so quickly.”

“What happened, Louise? How did this all start?”

She continued adding to the painting as she spoke. “John went to work in Phoenix. When he came back—he was different. That must have been when it happened. When he became the monster. He wouldn't talk to anyone but Miriam. They'd go off together, for days at a time. Then Joan died. Then John. Then Miriam.” Her voice never cracked, her expression never slipped. She'd lived this over and over in her mind for weeks now. “I knew,” she said. “Somehow I knew what had happened, that Miriam took Joan. This magic, this evil has lived in the land since the beginning of the world. My family has been part of it, on both sides. I've learned what I can, but I've had no one to teach me the right way. The way of harmony. The old ways are gone.

“My father believed that because John brought a new evil from outside, an outsider should stop it. He knew someone who knew of a wolf hunter—your friend. The wolf hunter came and did his work. But it didn't stop the evil. It only made it stronger.”

The flickering light from the fire made the figures in the painting waver and move. I blinked, flinching back, bidden by an animal instinct to escape. My eyes watered, and I shifted so my arm touched Ben's. He felt shaky, nervous. Like me. Louise caught the movement, understood the way Ben and I stared at the picture on the ground.

“This is for Joan. She didn't die; she was killed. There's no one to help her find her way to the next world. No one else cares. I don't know how, but 1 have to try to help her with what I know.”

It came from the heart, Alice had said. That had to count for something.

“She's still here. She hasn't traveled on. Maybe she'll talk to you. Maybe she'll tell you what happened.”

“How will we know?” I said.

“How will we know if she's talking to us?”

Ben muttered, “If she can't testify or sign a statement, what's the point?”

I elbowed him in the side.

“Joan?” Louise sat at the head of her painting, hands on her knees, gazing unfocused at the painting, or the light, or phantoms of her own imagination. She had the voice of a little girl calling in the dark. “I'm here.”

Then she spoke a phrase in another language—Navajo, each sound punctuated, melodic.

The fire dimmed suddenly to embers.

Ben tensed; 1 felt for his hand, gripped it. He squeezed back. I expected the sudden spike of fear to rouse the Wolf. Any sense of danger always woke her, sparked her instinct, made her want to fight. I expected that instinct to kick in, but it didn't. This space, this weird timeless feeling, soothed her somehow. She slept, even though my brain was firing. It gave me a strange, disembodied feeling, like I wasn't really here. Like I couldn't feel the ground under me anymore.

After a long silence, Louise said, “She is telling me the story to tell to you. I can tell you like she's telling me.”

An aura of blue light glowed around Louise, like some kind of static charge danced around her. No—she was backlit. The light was coming from behind her. I wanted very much to move around her, to see what was behind her. 1 stayed put.

“I was outside, mending one of the fences after a wind knocked it down. Miriam came to me. She called my name. I looked, and she stood right behind me. She held a powder in her hand and blew it into my face. I knew what it was, anyone would know what it was: corpse powder. She cursed me. She killed me, but no one would ever know. I grew sick. The doctors had a name for it, called it a disease, tried to heal me—but they couldn't, because it was witchcraft. Miriam stood by my bed at night—my last night—and told me what she would do: she would cut my heart out, take the blood, and put it on the wolf's skin. Take my soul and use its power for herself. I could see it, see her cutting out my heart, holding up the dripping fist of muscle, and I thought, This is my heart, why can I see it? It should be hidden. My heart should be hidden, safe, but she has taken it from me.”