Circus of the Dead Book Three
Circus of the Dead Book Three
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“Congratulations Callie, you’re the puppet now.”
What the devil does that mean? I’ve finally succeeded in doing away with Samuel, but I’m not really in charge of the island at all.
In fact the treachery runs deeper than I ever thought possible and if I’m not careful every soul on the island—both living and dead—will want to kill me for what I’ve done unless I discover who is really in charge.
Do I have the ability to overcome myself and do what I need to do or will I have to stand by and watch everyone I love die?
Being dead definitely has its disadvantages.
Number one being that I have to wait until the full moon to kick Benny’s ass. What right did he have to kill me?
Not only that, I was his thirteenth kill, so he’s alive instead. Not for long, if I have my way.
With Lorena gone, the island has taken on a life of its own and it’s up to me to destroy it. But doing so will require massive sacrifices.
Sacrifices I’m not sure I’m willing to give.
But the fate of everyone on the island rests in my hands.
Who will live and who will be gone forever?
The choice is mine.
Congrats, Callie, you’re the puppet now.
What on earth does that mean? He wasn’t in control? I stare down at Samuel, his lifeless form looking stranger and stranger by the second. The damp earth soaks my knees, and a few hanging branches brush my hair. Everything about this feels surreal.
Samuel’s hand turns to dust in my own. Time seems to stand still for a moment. The air shimmers, and the colors on the trees are sharper—more green and brown. The sounds of the circus and the chirping of the birds pierce my ears. And the whispers. They’re everywhere.
I sit there for who knows how long, trying to process what Samuel said. But I’m having a hard time concentrating.
I am a puppet?
Samuel was in charge before I killed him, and now I am. He would never allow himself to be a puppet. He was dying, and he wanted to plant a seed, a last-ditch effort to make me doubt my abilities.
But I did it.
I became the Obeah woman of the island.
I control all.
I don’t know if I like that or not, but it’s reality and the only way I could stay safe and protect those I love. The whispers continue in my head, and I try to concentrate on what they’re saying because right now, it just sounds like a swishing noise.
A hand drops on my shoulder, and I jump. Benny stares at me, his hair falling into his eyes. He has that frown on his face, the disapproving one. He watched the whole thing happen and probably would’ve stopped it if he could.
“You okay?” he asks. I must look a mess. I run my fingers through my hair and get stuck on a stick. I glance down. My clothes are torn and filthy.
“What did Samuel mean? That he was a puppet?” I can’t get those words out of my head.
Damn him. He’s actually making me wonder. I rub my ears to quiet the whispers, but it doesn’t help. The smells of the circus float over the trees, and I’m suddenly starving. I want a funnel cake, lemonade, and the damn whispers to stop.
Benny takes my hand and pulls me up. “I don’t know. But you’re okay.”
I dust off my shorts and try to wipe the grime off my hands. “Of course, I’m okay.” Even if it might not be 100% true, I can’t let Benny know. He’ll overreact.
Benny puts his arms around me and draws me into a hug. Normally I would be all over his hugs, but right now it doesn’t offer an ounce of comfort.
My ears buzz still. I haven’t been able to hear what the whispers want. Maybe they aren’t even talking to me at all. Maybe I can just hear passing conversations. It has to be the ghosts.
I wiggle out of Benny’s grip, and hurt crosses his face in the shadows. It’s the new moon, and the only light filters over from a few boats and the circus.
“I’m sorry. I just need to understand what’s happening.” I shake my hands out and shuffle my feet. Nothing feels normal.
The souls are connected to me. That much is certain. I can feel Benny more than I did before, along with the others. It’s more than just whispers. It’s like a physical weight.
Benny touches my hand. “I don’t think you’re okay. You’re acting weird.”
I shake my head. “Sorry, it’s just a lot. I need to find out how to block your voices.” The whispering is super annoying.
“What voices?” Benny looks at me as if I’ve lost my mind.
“The ghost voices. They’re in my head.”
He taps his temple. “Can you hear what I’m thinking?”
I close my eyes and concentrate. Benny holds both of my hands. I feel a bit calmer with him as my anchor. The voices filter in and around my head.
She looks like a good victim. I think I’ll follow her.
Veronica is a bitch. I grin at Juliette’s musings. But I don’t open my eyes. I want to find Benny.
I’m so sick of this. Time to die. Again.
What’s happened to Callie? Will she still be the same?
Found him. I blink my eyes at him. “You are very worried about me.”
He gives me a small crooked grin and pulls me closer. I let go of his hands and back away. I feel prickly, and I don’t want to be touched. I shake out my arms and shuffle my feet.
“How could I not be worried?” He frowns and takes another step forward.
I swallow. “I’m supposed to be all-powerful now. There should be nothing for you to worry about.” I wonder if Samuel had to deal with these incessant voices. Maybe he knew how to turn them off.
“According to Samuel, you’re not.”
“He was lying. He has to be. I need a shower and a few minutes to think.”
He hesitates. Does she want me to leave?
“No, you can come with. I’m sorry. I know I’m being weird. My whole body is buzzing, and I want to crawl out of my skin. I need to quiet the voices and plan my next step.”
I take his hand to show him I don’t want him to leave, and suddenly I want nothing but him. I look at him for a moment, and he meets my eyes. They pierce me to my very core. I want this man like I’ve never wanted a man before. If I kiss him right now, then I will forget about the circus, the ghosts, and my new responsibilities.
But I can’t. I have to focus, or someone will die in a few short hours.
I place my hand on his cheek, wanting nothing more than to lose myself in him. I close my eyes and think. I drop Benny’s hand and step away from him.
“Samuel controlled you before he died. So now, I should be able to control you, right?” This is the most important thing. Well, not controlling Benny but controlling the ghosts. No one is going to die tonight if I have anything to say about it.
He rubs the back of his neck and squirms under my gaze. “Yes. Though it was a power Samuel rarely exercised, so I don’t know how it works.”
I watch his lips move and wonder what they taste like. We have time for just a kiss before I start to figure this all out. Just one. Or two.
I have to turn my freaking hormones off. I clench my fists and take another step back. If I go any farther, I’ll fall into the swamp.
“Are you sure?” I ask, bringing my mind back to the task at hand.
“The only time I really felt compelled to do what he made me do was when he wanted me to kill you. It was strange, the compulsion. I couldn’t have stopped if I wanted to.”
“So you have no idea how he did it?” I want to crawl into his arms and stay there forever, but I don’t. It’s a good thing he can’t see my thoughts. Knowing Benny, he’d scoop me up, take me back to my boat, and make me forget all about what I have to do.
“It wasn’t like a voice in my head or anything. It was this overwhelming desire to do away with you.”
“Gee, thanks.” I chuckle and bite my lip.
“You’re still alive, aren’t you?” He has a sparkle in his eye, and I know he’s just teasing me.
I wonder if I can make him do anything. I have to know so that I can stop the ghosts from killing tonight. I might as well start with something I want.
Kiss me. I think with every fiber of my soul.
He’s still looking at me with his face all screwed up like he doesn’t know what to do.
Kiss me, I command him a second time.
He doesn’t move.
“Dammit.” I stomp my feet like a petulant child. “How am I going to stop the ghosts from killing the islanders if I can’t make you do something simple? Or anyone else for that matter?”
“I don’t understand.”
“I tried to make you kiss me.” The words are out of my mouth before I even realize what I said. Crap.
He gets that wicked grin on his face and closes the distance between us. He pulls me tight against his chest and drops his lips next to my ear. “If you want me to kiss you, all you have to do is ask. I will gladly oblige.”
My stomach hums, and I’m incredibly tempted to forget the whole night and take Benny back to my boat, but I gently extract myself from him. I hate being responsible. He pulls me back into him.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. I mean, I want to, but we have other things to deal with tonight.”
He sighs. “I know. If there is a mystery to solve, you won’t rest until it is.”
“There are lives at stake here.” I didn’t kill Samuel for nothing. I did it to stop the ghosts from killing. Too many people have died, and it’s time for that to end.
He shuffles his feet. “You’re right. What do you want to do?”
“Talk to Lorena. She’s my best bet at connecting some dots. So far, she’s always been the one who has been able to help me.”
Benny takes my hand in his, and I ignore the sizzle that passes between us. “Okay then. Let’s go find Lorena.”
He leads me down the muddy paths as he has always done like nothing drastic has changed. Like I’m not suddenly in charge of all the ghosts on the island and am responsible for every life that gets taken.
I have to learn how to get my influence to work and not blurt out stupid things about trying to get Benny to kiss me.
The paths seem darker tonight, scarier somehow. The green lights in the middle of the woods grow brighter, and symbols from the circus seem to be etched on the trees. Everything is different, but I don’t fully understand the extent of my curse.
The clearing to the circus opens up, and people mill about. Lights stream from one tent to another. People wear glowing necklaces, bracelets, and the dumb-looking glow glasses. Teens duck in and out of the tents. Some look scared while others come out laughing.
He looks like an easy mark.
I’m not sure which ghost the comment is coming from, but a boy exiting a tent is holding his stomach, his face almost green.
One of these circus goers is going to die if I don’t figure out how to utilize my power. I glance down at my watch. I have exactly three hours to work it out. That’s not much time. Especially since on circus nights, three hours can pass in what feels like fifteen minutes.
A girl screams, and I jerk my head around, but she’s just scared of the scorpion man.
Benny continues to pull at my hand. Maybe he can tell I’m out of it. I can’t concentrate on anything.
We head to Lorena’s tent, weaving in and out of the crowd, and I try not to think about the possibility of the girl with the glow glasses being gutted or the sick boy having his head ripped off.
But it’s hard when the voices of the ghosts are imagining just that. I stop at the corner before the big top, down from Lorena’s. I spin and look at Benny.
“I have to block all the voices. Can you think about me so I can see if I can block you out?”
He gives a low chuckle. “I’m always thinking about you.” He stares deep into my eyes and rubs his thumb along my chin. I swallow and close my eyes because I can’t look at him while I’m thinking.
His thoughts are suddenly louder than all the rest.
You are the most beautiful girl I’ve ever laid eyes on. And I’ve laid eyes on a lot. You’ve turned my world upside down over the last several weeks, and I’m thrilled you’ve finally let me in. I admire so much about you. Your tenacious spirit. Your strength. You’re so strong, Callie. No one has ever taken on Samuel before, and you did it. I can’t believe I’m so lucky to call you mine. At least I hope you’re mine. I love you more than you could ever know.
I nearly open my eyes. His words send my stomach aflutter and my knees weak, but I can’t be weak right now. I push away at his voice, but he persists.
It kills me that I can only have you on the new and full moons. In between, I long to touch you. To hold you against me. To kiss you. How much I’ve wanted to kiss you. Practically from the moment I laid eyes on you. I’ve half a mind to kiss you right now.
No. He can’t. Not right now. I want our first kiss to be memorable. Not a stolen moment when I should be thinking about how to help those who are about to die. I push at his voice again, harder this time, and it disappears. But then the other voices fill the void.
I know what to do now. I mentally push them all away, and in seconds, my mind is my own again.
I blink my eyes open and step away from Benny so he doesn’t try to kiss me. His face is still serious.
“How much of that did you hear?”
I give him a cheeky grin. “Wouldn’t you like to know? Come on. Let’s go see Lorena. I want to know how to make it so the ghosts don’t kill. Then you might just get your wish.”
I turn and rush for Lorena’s so he can’t see me blush. I reach her tent and collide right into the girl from the airport who attacked me. She stumbles back a step and bares her sharp gray teeth. But then she spots Benny. She slides around me and sidles up to him, rubbing her hand across his chest. I want to rip that hand right off. That’s my chest to touch, not hers. The lice girl steps out of Lorena’s tent and picks at her teeth.
Benny shakes the other girl off. “Giselle, stop touching me. We’ve been over this before.”
I’ve never had a name to put with her before. She always seemed like someone who wouldn’t have a name. I lace my arm around Benny’s back, and he pulls me closer to him.
Giselle looks from me to him and cackles. “Guess that’s fitting. You’ll be a ghost soon anyway.”
I want to correct her, but I’m not ready to tell everyone that Samuel is dead. Especially someone like her. Instead, I stick out my hand.
“Giselle, my name is Callie. I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced.”
She looks at my hand with a sneer and doesn’t take it.
First order of business after I learn how to prevent the ghosts from killing is to make sure she and her creepy friends don’t come back.
Lice girl steps forward. “I’m Rose, and this is Tommy.” She points to the boy behind her with the pants that are too short. “Sorry, we tried to hurt you at the airport.”
Giselle gets between them and me. “No, we’re not. I might go see Samuel and see what I can do on the island to hurt you even more. I don’t like you, Callie.”
I roll my eyes and open Lorena’s tent flap.
“She’s not there,” Giselle says with a sing-song voice.
“I think I’ll check for myself, thanks.”
I duck inside, Benny following. The soft light of the tent comes from several glowing crystals on shelves that line the walls. Lorena isn’t here. Giselle was right.
I frown. “Guess we have to check her boat. But I don’t want to give that girl the satisfaction.”
Benny chuckles. “Giselle isn’t someone you need to worry about. She’s just a circus groupie who would like to be more.”
“I still don’t like her.” My scalp sometimes still burns where she nearly tore out my hair when I tried to escape.
Benny grins. “Why? Because you’re jealous.”
“No. Because she attacked me at the airport.”
I huff and head out of the tent. Thankfully, Giselle and her cronies are gone. I push through the crowds and out onto the docks. I have to find Lorena.
It doesn’t take us long to reach her darkened boat. I pound on the door, but there’s no answer. Benny reaches around me and opens the slider. I glance back at him.
“We can’t go in there,” I say.
“Why not?” He steps inside, and I follow tentatively. This feels intrusive even though I need to find her. Benny escapes back into her bedroom, and I peek into the kitchen. She’s not here.
I collapse onto the couch. “I don’t know where else to look.”
“She’s got to come back here eventually. Why don’t we just wait?”
“I think her tent would be a better bet.”
He shrugs. “Maybe. Though she’s just as likely to return for something. Maybe she’s not doing fortunes tonight. Besides, this is a better place to practice.”
I look up at him. “Practice what?”
“Seeing if you can get me to do something.”
He’s right. I’m better off practicing than running around the circus, looking for her. She might not even have any answers.
“Okay. Let’s do this. You sit over there.” I point to the chair across from me. He sits. I concentrate hard and think. Go lock the door.
He doesn’t move. I remember how I blocked all the voices. It took a lot of mental power. I visualize him getting up and locking the door.
Benny stares at me, his eyebrow cocked.
“Any idea what I’m thinking?” I ask.
“All the things you’d like to do with my body.” He winks at me.
I blush furiously, and he chuckles.
“Your blush tells a different story. Maybe you should speak out loud first. Like tell me to do something, and see if I can resist.”
“Okay. Go lock the door.”
He doesn’t move. “Sorry. I have no desire to get up and lock the door. Then again, neither do you. Tell me to do something you really want me to do.”
He has a point. The problem is, if I tell him what I really want, there will be no way to know if it is really me commanding him or just him doing what he wants.
We spend the next hour with me giving him various commands and him refusing. Nothing I tell him is something I really want him to do. It’s all pointless. I rub my hand over my eyes. This is impossible.
He sits next to me, laying his hand over mine. “Maybe you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. It’s the first night. Tonight, someone is going to die, and there is nothing you can do about it. You need to accept that.”
“I can’t. If someone dies because of something I did, I’ll never forgive myself.” I glance down at my watch. We only have an hour until sunrise. Time moves so much faster on circus nights.
“It’s not your fault just because you can’t stop someone from doing what they were going to do anyway.”
“What the hell did I kill Samuel for? Can I even do anything?” I pace and resist the urge to punch something. This is ridiculous. I want to scream.
I hold my hand out and think about fire, and it roars to life. Benny jumps. “I forgot you could do that.”
I look at Lorena’s bookshelf. I concentrate, and some books fly across the room and hover in front of me.
“Whoa,” Benny says.
I send them back, and they float away, putting themselves where they belong. Huh. This could be fun. But it’s not useful. Not right now anyway.
I need to control the damn ghosts.
I sink down next to Benny and rest my head on his shoulder, relaxing for the first time that night. The whispers return, but I force them away. Then another thought occurs to me. I let Benny in but just Benny.
She’s going to give herself a heart attack. She’s putting too much pressure on herself. I wish I could help her. But in less than an hour, I’ll be gone, and she’ll be on her own.
I’d give anything for us to be spending this time with my lips on hers and holding her body tight against mine…
I swallow and try to interrupt those thoughts.
Benny, can you hear me?
His eyes widen. Did you hear me?
I grin, and he blushes.
Go lock the door.
Still not getting any desire to do it.
I extract myself from his head again and slump against the couch. Someone is going to die, and I don’t even know what to do. The sky is already starting to lighten.
Benny shifts next to me, puts a finger on my chin, and forces me to look at him.
“I don’t know what you heard, but I love you, Calliope June.”
Before I can even process what he’s doing, he brings his face close and presses his lips on mine. It’s what I’ve wanted all night. It’s what I’ve wanted for weeks.
It’s so different from the kisses with Samuel. It’s sweet and tentative. His lips are soft and move slowly against mine. My insides explode with desire even though it’s just a sweet kiss.
He pulls away and searches my eyes, probably trying to figure out if it was okay that he kissed me. I want him to know that it was absolutely okay. I crawl into his lap and straddle him.
“Kiss me again,” I demand. His fingers weave into my hair, and our lips collide. I can’t get enough of him. His chest is hard and firm against mine, and I push closer to him.
“What the hell is going on?”
I practically fall out of Benny’s lap. Lorena stands in the doorway, looking murderous.
“I’m sorry,” I say, not meeting her eyes.
“I’m not,” Benny says with a lazy grin.
Lorena glares at both of us. Behind her, the sun crests over the trees. I look down at Benny, and he disappears.
Someone died, and it’s all my fault.
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