Georgia and I did something really, really stupid today. I just spent the last hour being chewed out by the Hawthornes. But they don’t have to sit in class with the psycho responsible for your best friend’s disappearance, and I can’t take it anymore.
The Hawthornes are STILL waiting before they do anything.
“What do you want us to do?” Neal finally demanded on the way to school this morning. “Kill them? You want me to kill them all?”
And like, maybe I sort of do, but I recognize that probably they shouldn’t kill five upstanding citizens of Black Lake WA.
“We need to get them arrested,” he said. “But their leader is the fucking Sheriff. We just need a little more time to figure this all out.”
But I’m sick of waiting. And like, yeah fine, there’s pretty convincing evidence that Madelyn ran away, but we don’t know that for certain. They might still have her somewhere. They might still be planning to sacrifice her or something. We don’t know.
So when the Hawthornes called me after school to tell me that something had come up and they couldn’t pick us up from school, Georgia and I decided to take matters into our own hands.
Oh god, writing it down makes it look so stupid. Way more stupid than Neal made it seem when he was lecturing us. Like what in the fuck were we thinking?
Well actually I can pretty much tell you exactly what we were thinking because I just spent an hour defending us.
We weren’t planning on DOING anything, alright? We just wanted to see if there was more information we could get. The police aren’t doing anything, the Hawthornes are taking forever, and I’m just sick of being useless. We’ve been investigating for months, and we’ve found out all sorts of things all on our own. We thought we’d be able to help.
Plus, today at school I accidentally ran into Tilly at the vending machine. She was buying an unsweetened green tea. I was buying a pop tart. She must not have seen me because she walked right up to me.
I waited like five agonizing seconds before finally saying, “Hey.”
“Oh, hey,” she said with an easy smile, like we were casual acquaintances, no big deal. “I saw you at the funeral.”
I saw her at the funeral, too obviously. She’d twisted her curls into a crown.
“It was a beautiful service,” she said when I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Yeah,” I said.
“My dad’s just heartbroken for the family,” she said. “He’s been patrolling the woods personally. He’s so torn up by all this tragedy in town.”
I wanted to cry and scream at her. Instead I bent to pick up pop tart.
“Well,” Tilly said. “See you around.” And she loped away.
So I guess we know where Tilly stands now. And like I’m trying to convince myself that that’s cool, that I can’t blame her for not thinking her dad is a cultist, that I’d side with my mom too — but I don’t give a shit about any of that. Her dad kidnapped my best friend. He was going to kill her, and I won’t rest until he’s put away for the rest of his natural born life.
So, after school Georgia and I went out to the homestead. We stopped at the gas station for slushies and then walked out there. And yeah, it crossed my mind that this would all be a lot easier if Tilly were around to give us a ride. But she isn’t. And that’s fine.
They weren’t all there when we arrived. Only the waitress and the youngest woman. They were outside turning the garden so Georgia kept watch and I slipped in the front door to poke around the house again.
Yeah, see, I get it, it seems insane. But I wasn’t even really that scared. We’ve never been caught out there. They know the Hawthornes are keeping an eye on them, but as far as we know they think of me as their next victim. It’s not like they think I’m going to show up at their freaky cult house, right? I just wanted to see if there was anything interesting inside, anything that might help us prove they were involved with Madelyn’s disappearance.
And yeah, okay — there’s a part of me that isn’t convinced that Madelyn ran away. Logically, Julian’s case for Madelyn running away makes sense. But I can’t shake this feeling that she wouldn’t do that to me. Or if she did, she’d at least leave me a clue, you know?
WELL GUESS WHAT TURNS OUT I WAS RIGHT.
(maybe. I was maybe right. I think I’m right. Fuck. I’m getting ahead of myself)
Anyways — inside the creepy cult house.
It looked pretty much the same as last time in there. It was clean, and there was a fire in the woodstove. There was a fresh loaf of bread on the counter in the kitchen. Upstairs the beds were neatly made with intricate old quilts. I was terrified the whole time of course. My heart was roaring. But Georgia was outside keeping an eye out and texting me updates, so like I figured I was okay. Like, writing it down here makes it feel really risky, but at the time it really didn’t feel like that big a deal. I just walked right in the front door, poked around, searching for something incriminating. I didn’t find anything. Madelyn wasn’t there.
I did find a big ass book though. It was sitting on the mantle and I remembered Neal mentioning a book to Celeste’s coven so I went to look inside. Literally as I was cracking it open though Georgia texted me that they were putting down their tools.
So I sort of panicked and grabbed the book and ran for the front door. But literally as I was about to open the door my phone lit up again and before I could even check what Georgia said I heard voices on the porch.
I didn’t even think, I just ran for the basement door to hide in the dimness of the cellar.
So then we had this exchange
I was down there for maybe three minutes listening to their muffled voices talking to each other, heart beating like a thousand beats per minute. Longest three minutes of my life. And then I heard a man say “Where is the book?”
My whole body turned to ice.
“It was on the altar ten minutes ago,” a woman’s voice answered. “I double-checked the date for clearing the garden.”
“Well it isn’t here now,” the man’s voice said.
And then there were increasingly frantic footsteps and I heard, perfectly clear: “was it her?”
And a man called, “Madelyn?”
A shadow interrupted the light under the door and I forced myself to move. I jumped off the side of the steps and managed to hide under the staircase as the door opened. I’ve never been so scared in my life. I saw shoes come down three steps or so before one of the women, the librarian I think, said “the cellar door’s barred down there. She won’t escape that way.”
As the shoes retreated up the stairs I frantically texted Georgia that they were going outside and that I was locked down here. Within moments I heard scrabbling at the cellar door and I thought I was done, but it was only Georgia, gesturing frantically.
We ran for it. We must have left our slushie cups out there, who knows. When we made it back to the road it was dark and we were giddy and laughing. We called the Hawthornes at once to tell them about the book we stole, thinking they’d be thrilled.
They weren’t. They came and picked us up right away but they were not thrilled.
“What were you thinking?” Julian said, ashen and aghast.
“We just wanted to see if there was anything we could do,” I said, holding up the book. “And there was! See?”
“We don’t need their grimoire,” Neal said. “We don’t need to know their rituals and spells, they don’t even work anymore!”
I flushed. “You don’t know that,” I said. “There might be something in there we can use to frame them.”
“Is it even in English?” Julian asked. I could tell he was horrified, but even horrified Julian is like weirdly calm.
It wasn’t. It was written in runes.
“What would you have done if you were caught?” Neal demanded. “Did you tell anyone where you were going? Did you bring weapons? Did you think about this at all?”
“But they were using it,” I said. “Ms. Baker said she checked a date in it.”
“They’ll come hunting for it,” Julian said. Neal jerked around a corner towards Georgia’s house.
“No, listen,” I said. “They thought Madelyn took it. They thought she was there.”
Neither of them said anything to that.
“That means she’s alive,” I said. I think I was just realizing what it could mean as I said it. “They said she wouldn’t escape through the cellar. She could be in that house. They could be keeping her in there! Maybe they thought she was trying to escape!” A whole world of possibilities was blooming in my head. There must have been a room in the house that I missed, some secret panel that opened onto a secret room. She might have heard me creeping around the house.
I went from almost convinced Julian was right, and that Madelyn had run away to save herself to wholly convinced that Madelyn was still locked in that house somewhere, waiting to be sacrificed.
And I’m still convinced she’s in there. Almost completely.
The Hawthornes hesitated.
“Did it seem like they were holding her there?” Julian asked.
“Yes!” I said immediately.
“Are you sure?” Neal asked. “Think about it Shiloh. I know you want them to have her, but I need you to really think. Did they send someone to check if she was still there? Did you see any sign of her being in the house at all?”
“Yes!” I said, immediately, without thinking about it at all. “There was fresh bread on the counter, I bet they’re feeding her that. I bet that’s why they have a garden.”
I think I was sure then. Or at least I wanted to be sure, so therefore I was.
But like — they didn’t send someone to check on her. Or maybe they did and I just don’t remember. I was super stressed. Or maybe they did and I just didn’t hear them. Or maybe someone went to check on her without saying anything about it.
And look, if there’s ANY chance of her being in that house we have to tear it down to find her, right??? And the Hawthornes’ way is TOO SLOW. We need to do something NOW.
Anyways, the Hawthornes yelled at us for being irresponsible for like ever and then dropped off Georgia. Then they yelled at me some more. Idk I stopped listening. Obviously it was irresponsible, we almost got caught. But it was also worth it. The cultists think Madelyn’s alive. Not only that, they don’t think she ran away.
After they were done yelling Julian said, “we have to act now.”
“I don’t like it,” Neal replied.
“But if they have the girl?” Julian said. Neal didn’t say anything. “It’s not a risk I’m comfortable taking. If they have her, they’ll find that she didn’t escape and they’ll know someone else was in the house. Who knows what they’ll do.”
“Fuck,” Neal sighed.
“I want to come,” I said. “Whatever you’re doing, I want to be there.”
“…Shi,” Julian sighed. “It’s dangerous.”
“You’ll be there,” I said. “You’ll keep me safe. And we’ll call the police, right? I’ll be fine.” They exchanged a look and I said, “I have to be there.”
“I’m not comfortable —” Julian began but Neal interrupted.
“She should be there,” he said.
Yeah, I’m as stunned as you are.
“Neal —” Julian began.
Neal met my eyes in the rearview. “You’ll do everything we say, right?”
“We can’t keep her away,” Neal said. “She’ll go whether we like it or not. Better we can keep an eye on her.” And when Julian was still unconvinced he added, “if they had me?”
Julian rolled his eyes.
We rolled up to my house. They promised to keep me posted. By the end of the week we’ll raid those fuckers. We’ll find Madelyn in their house somewhere. They’ll all go to prison. Everything will go back to normal.
I’m like 90% sure this is the right move. Okay 85%. But we can’t do nothing!!! Right????? If there’s the slightest chance she’s there????