Low Midnight Page 45

They’d gotten a call from the owner that something crazy was going on—cattle slaughtered in that distinctive way by something more than wild—and crazy was what the Bennett clan did. It had been a full moon that night.

He didn’t know anymore who owned the land at this spot bordering the Arapaho National Forest, but he found the back road he and his father had taken there, mostly by trusting instinct and memory. Along the way, with a mile or so left to go, the charred remains of a forest started. Instead of trees, blackened spikes jutted from ash-covered ground. The air smelled like a dusty fireplace. The place was wet, muddy from new snow, a soppy mess. The fire had been recent—not even the scrub oak had had a chance to grow back. The forest’s remains were skeletal.

This must have been the edge of the Church’s Park Fire that took out around five hundred acres of forest last fall. He remembered hearing about it, wondering vaguely if the fire’s range approached the area where he and his father had spent so much time. He assumed not and never bothered looking at a map. So much for that. He hadn’t really thought about what that meant, if his father’s old territory had burned down.

The road dwindled to a couple of pale tracks on the dark, ash-laden earth, so he parked the Jeep and started walking. He was pretty sure he was in the right spot. The shape of the hills looked familiar, but the trees and clearings he might have recognized were gone. Nothing but charcoal underfoot. He kicked and raised a cloud of ash.

It’s rather desolate.

“It wasn’t like this back then.”

He walked until he thought he’d gone far enough, but didn’t trust his sense of distance. The last time he’d been here, running back after calling the cops, showing them where the whole thing had happened, he felt like he’d been running forever, sucking down breaths, on the edge of crying. Realizing he had blood spatters on him, spray from the werewolf he’d shot. If he walked for as long as he thought he’d been running that night, he’d end up on the other side of the county.

You can’t expect to remember exactly where it was, in the middle of wilderness. It’s been over twenty years, Cormac.

“That long, huh?”

He remembered what the blood smelled like. He could hear his father explaining: hunting the monsters—this’ll be your job when I’m gone. How many monsters have you killed, son? More important, how many haven’t you killed?

Kitty, Ben, their whole pack, Denver’s vampire Family, the vampire Families in D.C., San Francisco, and London, not to mention the werewolves in those cities. He’d let them all live. Hundreds of monsters he hadn’t killed. Just because they were Kitty’s friends, and Kitty had convinced him that even monsters deserved a chance.

None of those people had hurt anyone, Ameliamurmured to him. They’re good people, you know they are.

Looking around, he couldn’t see it. The place his father died hadn’t looked like this. Maybe he should have come back at night, under a full moon. Maybe then it would look familiar.

“The valley we camped in sometimes, the one I see in my mind, where we talk together—it’s near here. In the back country, maybe ten miles off.” Even if it hadn’t burned down in some wildfire, the forest might have been replaced by dead beetle-killed pines, developers might have moved in to turn the place into condos. Anything could have happened. The old scenes slipped away.

Amelia said, That place—perhaps you shouldn’t go back there. You should keep that memory the way it is, the way it lives in your mind.

She was right. He turned to leave.

Wait a moment. Do we still have any sage? And a stone—that piece of slate? I think I remember there being a shard of slate, left pocket.

She was right, of course, and he drew out the two items, feeling awkward. “I said I didn’t want to do any channeling—”

This isn’t. It’s not even a spell, really. It’s … a ritual. A very minor ritual. Come now, light the incense.

He lit the sprig of sage, blew to set it smoldering. “What’s this supposed to do?”

It lays spirits to rest. It brings closure. You need to let your father go, Cormac.

He had. A long time ago. Or, he thought he had. But at her words, something inside him loosened, as if a fist had been holding tightly to his breath and now it finally opened.

She murmured words—phrases about releasing tension and moving on, wishing the best for someone long gone. Declaring that regrets were useless, and thus abandoning them. It wasn’t an incantation or a spell, but more like a prayer. He wondered if it would still work, given he didn’t much believe in any of the available gods. He hadn’t been in a church outside a professional capacity since he was a boy.

You don’t have to believe in anything. It’s meant to make you feel better. That’s all this is.

New Age crap. He didn’t have much time for it.

Now, dig a hole. A small one will do, just knock the dirt away with your heel.

He did as she asked, stomped a couple of times to make a crescent-shaped hole.

Now, drop the stone in, and think about your father at peace. You have to hold the thought.

The burning sage was filling his nose, making his sinuses itch. But he dropped the stone in, and spread the dirt back over it with his hand.

“Good-bye, Dad,” he murmured.

The sage stopped burning, the embers fading and smoke vanishing. A bird was calling somewhere, probably a jay. Somehow, he felt lighter.

Let’s go, then.

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