A cool breeze came through the doorway, carrying the scent of hot, greasy burgers. My stomach rumbled, but I forced the thought of food out of my head. I had more important things to think about now- much more important.
Dex led the way, casually sauntering into the parking lot. I went next, with Edgar behind me, who closed the door as soon as he was thought it. I looked around to see if anybody had seen us come out, but there was nobody in sight. I could smell the cigarette the fry cook had sneaked away to smoke behind the dumpster, but everybody else was either inside the restaurant or at the front end of the parking lot.
“Come on," Dex said, waving for us to follow him as he turned left, towards the funeral home.
“If you have doors to everywhere on earth," I said as we crossed the grassy area that separated the buildings, “why didn't we just go straight into the funeral home?"
“Because we don't know where anybody is in there," Edgar interrupted him, quickening his pace so he was walking beside me. “We could go into the wrong room, where somebody might have been waiting for us."
“Thank you, Ed," Dex said, giving the boy a sharp look.
“Waiting for us?" I repeated. “Do you think Hendricks is already in there?"
Dex shrugged. “He could be, but I think it's more likely that we'd run into some of his henchmen."
“Like the Octopus?" I asked, and shuddered.
“Yep," he answered without a hint of anxiety. “But I think Ed was talking more along the lines of the people who work there."
The funeral home was dark, lit only by a bright light in the entryway to discourage burglars- like us. Dex and Edgar made their way confidently across the parking lot, as if they didn't have a thing to worry about, but the hunter in me wouldn't allow me to do likewise. I instinctively stuck to the darker parts of the lot, where the streetlights didn't shine so brightly. It felt like there were eyes following me from every shadow, but, surprisingly, this didn't frighten me like it would have a couple of days ago. Now, it angered me. Or, I should say, it angered my wolf. I was the dominant predator around here. How dare they spy on me? I should run out there into the darkness and tear them all to pieces right now…
“Amber!" Dex's voice cut sharply into my thoughts. “Focus!"
With a jolt, I realized that I was no longer looking at the funeral home, but into the grove of trees at the edge of the parking lot. I spun around towards him, my face turning red with embarrassment.
“Sorry," I said. “I thought something was watching us."
This gave Dex pause. “Do you still feel it?"
I shook my head. “No, it's gone. Sorry, I'm just a little nervous."
Dex nodded, and then pulled out his gold scepter, spinning it between his fingers. “No harm in being careful. You should try to listen to your feelings more in the future. Your wolf side can pick up on things like that better than most people."
“Okay," I agreed. “Let's keep going."
As Dex continued to lead the way around to the back of the building, I felt Edgar come forward to walk beside me again.
“So, you can, like, tell when people are looking at you?" he asked.
“Yeah," I said, resisting the urge to push him away from me. He was walking way too close to me for my liking.
His eyes opened wide, though I could tell he was still trying to play it cool. “That is really hot," he said.
I clamped my mouth shut before I could say something that would have surely broken his desperate little heart, but was saved from the awkward moment when Dex grabbed Edgar by the collar and pulled him to the front of the line.
“You walk up here," he ordered him. “And you stand by the door while Amber and I go inside."
“Are you serious?" he demanded hotly.
“As the plague," was Dex's answer, in a tone that left absolutely no room for argument. I wasn't sure if there was a chain of command between Dex, Edgar, and Victor, but it seemed that Edgar, at least, was required to obey those older than him.
Edgar grumbled a few complaints. “Fine!" he said huffily. “Just don't take too long."
We came to the back door of the funeral home, then, and Dex immediately began to work on the lock. At first I thought he was using his ring of keys, but then realized that he was picking the lock.
“Can you not just use magic to open it?" I asked.
“Some people can," he responded, sticking his tongue out a bit in concentration. “But not me. Ed, Victor, and I are all battle mages. Our powers are limited to what can be used in a fight."
“I told you that when we first met," Edgar said, still looking a bit hurt by Dex's treatment. “You even saw me fight the Octopus."
I'm not sure I would refer to that as fighting, I thought, remembering how he had flailed about with his wand, completely panic stricken as the Octopus' eerie disembodied hands groped at him from the walls. Then again, he had saved me, hadn't he? He just hadn't managed to do it heroically like he'd intended.
“Yeah. Thanks for that," I said after a moment's hesitation.
In an instant, his anger melted away, replaced by happiness, and then embarrassment, and he looked away from me with a fierce blush on his cheeks.
“Amber, please do not encourage that boy," Dex said, standing up just as the lock clicked open. “He's obsessed with you enough as it is."
He swung the door open, letting what little light there was in the parking lot shine into the building. I went first, stepping into the dark hallway. Dex came in after me.
“Amber, will you go on a date with me?" Edgar asked just before Dex slammed the door shut in his face.
Even with my enhanced vision, I could barely see in the dark room. There was just enough light in there for me to make out the nearby wall, and I ran my hand over until I finally found the light switch and flipped it on.
“Gah," Dex complained, holding up his hand to shield his eyes from the sudden light. “Warn me before you do that next time!"
“Sorry," I apologized for the third time in five minutes.
My eyes had adjusted the moment the lights turned on, but Dex had to blink a couple of times before he could open his. The room was small, only about ten feet in diameter, and the walls were painted a blindingly bright shade of white. No wonder it had blinded Dex. I took a couple steps forward, my shoes tapping softly on the linoleum beneath me. There was a flimsy card table set up in a corner, next to a fridge and microwave. This room didn't feel like a funeral home- it felt like a normal home.
“Can you smell anybody?" Dex asked in a quiet voice, coming to stand beside me.
I breathed in through my nose a couple times, and then shook my head. “Nobody's been here for a while," I answered. “At least, I don't think they have. I haven't done this much before."
Dex shook his head. “If that's what your instincts tell you, then it's probably true. Remember, even if you don't know how to be a wolf, your wolf does."
Dex stood still for a few seconds before making for the door at the other end of the room. “This is the break room. It's in the very back of the building. We'll have to go through a couple other rooms before we get to where they've left Kimberly."
“Okay," I agreed as he cautiously opened the door a crack, his scepter held at the ready. My skin began to crawl as he eased it open further, and crept out into the hallway. It wasn't like before, where I was convinced somebody had been watching me- it was the fear of not knowing if anybody was watching me. It was even darker in here than it had been outside, where we at least had street lamps to show us where we were going. Anything could be hiding in these shadows where we couldn't see them, and I did not like the thought of that one bit. I began to feel the wall again, looking for another light switch, but Dex grabbed my hand. I could barely see him shake his head in the darkness, but then he lifted his scepter and the gem lit up.
“We don't want to turn on more lights than we have to," he whispered. “It could give us away. Stay close to me."
I didn't know why Dex was whispering, but on the other hand it felt right. The silence hung thick and heavy in the air all around us. Even if there was nobody in here but us, I felt like it would be disrespectful to make any more noise than we had to. The room Dex had led me into looked like one of the labs from Majestic, with a table sitting at the far end, in front of what looked like an entire wall that had been turned into a gigantic filing cabinet. My breath caught in my throat when I realized what was inside those cabinets. The image of cold, lifeless corpses listening in on our conversations flashed through my mind, and I clamped my mouth shut, more determined than ever not to break the silence.
I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally left the morgue, and came into a much more welcoming area. It was a normal hallway, with a painting of a flowery hillside hanging on the wall. On our left was a door that been left open, leading into a small office where the computer still displayed its colorful screensaver. Dex led me down the hall, but had to stop when the door was locked.
“Of course they'd lock it," he growled in irritation.
“You never know, somebody might try to break in and steal a dead body," I joked, trying to lighten the mood and failing.
“There are some pretty weird people out there, Sugarsnout," he responded when the door unlocked. “Do you know what some scientists are willing to pay for a fresh corpse?"
I shivered as he swung the door open. “Is that what Kimberly's parents are going to think happened to their daughter after tonight?"
“No," he answered. “They're going to think a wild animal killed her, and then some creeps broke into the funeral home and stole her body."
I looked at him, pushing back my sudden urge to punch him in his smug, stubbly face. “Gee, you're a big help."
He shrugged, smirking. “I do what I can, babe."
With an irritated grunt, I pushed him aside and went through the door. It wasn't until much later that I realized he had managed to do what I'd just failed at: lightening the mood. Even if I was thoroughly annoyed at him, I had at least stopped thinking about how I was surrounded by dead people.
I found myself in a large room now, with dark red carpeting and comfortable chairs and couches placed in tidy squares. The walls were a comforting shade of creamy yellow. There were four doors, besides the one we'd just come through. I guessed that the one directly opposite us was the front door, but that still gave me no clue as to which of the other three Kimberly was behind.
“Which room is she in?" I whispered to Dex.
He hummed thoughtfully in his throat as he pulled a crumpled up sheet of paper out of his pocket and ran his eyes over it.
“Visitation Room 2," he said, stuffing the paper back into his pocket. “That one."
“You should have memorized that before we left!" I hissed at him.
“I hate homework," he said dismissively, marching towards the door. This one was locked, too, but he made short work of it.
The visitation room was smaller than I expected- hardly as even as big as the break room we had come in through. There were folding chairs set up in three rows of three, which left only a narrow space to walk from the door to the front of the room, where a tiny casket lay. Its lid was down, but I still felt like my heart would stop as I made my way up to it.
“Before we open it," Dex said, his voice suddenly strangely sentimental, “you need to brace yourself."
“I know," I said, a large wave of emotion rising up inside of me. “I took away the happy life this little girl had, and turned her into a monster."
Dex hesitated. “There's also a chance that you didn't. All we know is what our intel was able to tell us. Amber, if you didn't change her, then she really is dead in there."
This didn't make me feel better in the slightest, but then again it wasn't supposed to. I nodded, and took a step back. Dex got the message, and came forward to open the casket himself. The lid swung up without so much as a squeak of the hinges, and his face turned grim when he looked down into it. Steeling myself as best I could, I stepped up and looked inside as well.
Looking at Kimberly like that, I didn't see any way she could have possibly been alive. Her eyes were shut and her skin was pale, just like that of any other corpse, and she smelled strongly of the embalming chemicals the undertaker had put on her. No matter how hard I stared, I couldn't even detect a hint of her chest rising and falling.
“Is she…" I said, but was unable to finish the sentence. Part of me wanted Dex to deny it, but the other part wanted him to confirm it. What would be worse? Dying at such a young age, or being torn away from your parents and told you were a monster?
“There's no way to tell in here,' he answered. “We have to take her outside, where the moon is shining."
He bent down to pick her up, but I stopped him. No matter if she was alive or dead, if I had been the one to do this to her, then I needed to be the one to carry her out. It was the least I could do, I reasoned, fighting to hold back the tears that stung my eyes.
Her pretty black dress, obviously bought just for this occasion, was soft against my hand as I gently scooped her out of the casket, my other hand cradling the back of her head. Her chocolate colored hair was held behind her ears by a headband that matched the color of her dress. She was very light, especially with my inhuman strength, but as I stood there, the full weight of responsibility made her feel like she weighed a hundred tons.
“Let's go," I said.
NEXT TIME: They have Kimberly. Is she a werewolf- or is she dead? Oh, the suspense is killing me! I can't imagine how you all must feel...