Monday, May 6, 2013

The Madness of Crows: Part Seven

ABSALOM ASKEW'S BICYCLE was gaudily spray-painted with dragons. He raced with Annie down the street to the house called LeafStruck, where they abandoned their bikes at the foot of a crumbling stairway hidden in a tunnel of branches. This dark passage led to a porch with carvings of leafy faces leering in the corners and wicker furniture rotting beneath foliage.
    Absalom, cast in moonlight, was solemn."It wounds me that you won't let me take care of this for you."
    "I thought you were supposed to be neutral?"
    "When it comes to you, Annie Weaver, I'll never be neutral."
    His words sent shivers up her spine, because it wasn't a boy looking at her through those golden eyes.
    The door to LeafStruck creaked open, revealing a dark, dusty hall, a floor scattered with leaves. A pale light glowed at the end.
    Absalom smiled. "You are, however, on your own when you step across this threshold. We don't trespass on each other. Remember: She's an owl and they're predatory. But she's no friend to the ones who haunt your mad girl."
    "How did you--"
    "Farewell." He jaunted down the stairs.
    Annie gazed after him. Then she looked into the house, which smelled of decay and malice.
    "Hello?" She stepped inside. She heard music from upstairs -- a cobwebby violin solo crackling from what sounded like an old recording. She slowly made her way up the stair,gripping a banister wreathed with ivy. She glanced at paintings of wild, sinister people and found it hard to believe this had once been a temporary home for her friends -- a boy who'd lost his life to a wolf king and a young man who'd been freed from a queen of serpents.
    Only one door in the upstairs corridor was open and the room beyond flickered with shadows and light. There was a presence in there that didn't bother to disguise itself and made the air hum like electric wires before a storm.
    Annie thought of Tess's pale face in the hospital.
    She stepped into the gloom, her sneakers crushing leaves and dead insects.
    Colleen Olive, the Cailleach Oidche, sat in a rocking chair, a tattered veil concealing her from head to toe. She spoke in a voice that resembled the rustling of leaves, "Little rabbit. Why have you come?"
    Annie tried not to imagine silver claws beneath the gloves, an owl's yellow eyes beneath the veil. "Ma'am, I've come for help against the King of Crows, the Bran Corax, who is trying to take my friend."
    "Trying? He wouldn't be trying...he'd have succeeded."
    "I won't let him."
    "Ah. That is why. She has had protection. She had someone before. Now, she's got a braveheart."
    The someone must have been Tess's boyfriend Vine, the one who had painted Atenoux. Was Annie then the braveheart? She spoke carefully, "Is the King of Crows your friend?"
    Colleen Olive made a spitting noise and her voice was suddenly young, "You should be afraid of me, coineanach. But I will help you against the Bran Corax because you are Jack Hawthorne's friend."
    As she flung back the veil, Annie braced herself to keep from flinching.

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