Velocity by Abigail Boyd - Read Online
Velocity
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Summary

This is the end. The final showdown between the Thornhill Society and those who oppose them. After Ariel learns shocking secrets about who she is and where she came from, she finds new help to defeat the cult before they take over Hell with the Dark realm.

The final book in "The Gravity Series."

Published: Abigail Boyd on
ISBN: 9781301094097
List price: $2.99
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Velocity - Abigail Boyd

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Tempest

PROLOGUE

This is the end.

The end of all we’ve worked for. There’s no one coming to help us. My friend and lover are doomed, inches away from death at the hands of madmen.

I struggle against my captor, but I can’t pull free. The power is gone.

I feel helpless, caught staring into the eyes of pure insanity.

And we will never see the sun rise again.

CHAPTER 1

MY MOTHER DIED alone. At 6:06 in the morning, the doctor felt her limp wrist for a pulse and declared her gone. The note on the death certificate looked like 6:66. A bad omen. She’d been in a coma for weeks, since she slammed her own skull to pieces, but it was as though she had waited for the right moment.

Nurses had tended to her all night, checking her vitals, poking their heads in every fifteen minutes. The morning nurse had just left for coffee, she told me later, thinking Claire wasn’t going anywhere. She’d been stable. The sun must have just been peeking through the blinds.

My mother never woke up to see it.

On the way home from her funeral, I mulled it over. The heavy guilt was already pressing down on me, ready to crush me with its weight.

The week of Christmas, it felt like my life went full upheaval. Claire went off of her medication and had a psychotic breakdown, gravely injuring herself while I stood by. I hadn’t only lost my mom. The spirit of my friend, Jenna, had been pulled back into the Dark realm without any warning. Before any of this happened, I'd always been threatened by Phillip Rhodes, the most powerful man in town, that if my father and I didn't get out of town, we'd be sorry.

The old me would have snapped. I almost did. But a new determination had settled in me. I wouldn’t break this time. I had to hold it together.

It didn’t mean that the guilt was lessened any. How could I get over my last months with Claire? I couldn’t remember the last time either of us said we loved each other. She had been so consumed with the Thornhill Society, and I had been so ready to stay far away from it, that our paths had barely crossed.

The funeral had been monochromatic, just like what Claire would have picked if she had decorated it herself. The coffin was white and so were all the flowers. I now realized why white looked so much like death―there was nothing there. My father had shaken our loved ones’ hands until I thought his wrist was going to fall off.

My strongest memory of her involved Claire standing in the road after we’d been in a car accident, telling Hugh to take me away.

Did she even know I loved her? Did she love me?

I’d found out that she’d been part of some kind of coin toss involving Jenna’s mother, wagering something precious to get into Thornhill. Rachel had lost and Jenna was dead. I just didn’t know how much my mom had known when she flipped that coin.

I shut my eyes. The car was speeding on the expressway towards home. The funeral had been out of town, with many people I’d never met.

Hugh started to laugh, jarring me out of my thoughts. I opened my eyes and stared at him, nerves screaming in torture as he continued to chuckle.

How is anything possibly funny right now? I croaked.

I was just remembering that time your mom tripped off the deck. Remember?

Yeah. I didn’t remember it at all.

The entire back of her skirt ripped. She just sat on the ground, right on her backside. I could see her getting mad, and I was waiting for the curse words to start flying. And then she started to laugh. She couldn’t stop herself, her face turned red and she fell over…

He started laughing again himself, breathy wheezes that looked painful, mirthful tears wetting his red cheeks. One hand beat the steering wheel cover and he hissed out of his teeth.

The laughter changed, dissolving into harsh sobs. His eyebrows tipped downward, mouth scrunching up. He took one hand off of the wheel to wipe the tears away. I patted his back for just a moment, but it felt so awkward that I withdrew my useless hand.

Veering the car off to the shoulder, he shut off the ignition. Dropping his head, he sobbed into his hands. The wipers pushed slushy snow back and forth. Other cars swished by. Hugh continued to sob, his big shoulders shuddering. I wished I was a passenger in any of the other cars, one not coming from a front row view of death.

Do you want me to drive home? I asked finally.

Hugh’s crying tapered off. He sniffled. No. I’m okay. His eyes and nose were bright, painfully red, but he straightened himself up. I’m sorry.

You have nothing to be sorry about, I mumbled.

Let’s just get this over with, he said, putting the car back into gear. I don’t want to be there any longer than we have to be.

###

Our house looked abandoned as we pulled into the driveway. Gravel crackled like dry bones beneath the tires. The engine shut off, but we just sat, not moving to take off our seat belts. The house just didn’t seem the same. We hadn’t been back since the night that Claire had her breakdown. Even though I’d grown up there, I’d been living with Hugh for nearly a month.

The faster we get inside, the faster we can leave, Hugh muttered, making the first move and sliding his keys out of the ignition.

The last time I’d been inside, the house had been trashed by Thornhill members looking for my grandmother’s necklace. I had no idea what we would find inside.

Hugh unlocked the front door and we walked in. I tore off the ‘NO SHOES ON THE CARPET!’ sign and crumpled it into a ball.

Inside, the presence of death was stifling. I felt like I was the occupant of a coffin that had a limited supply of oxygen. The air was still and cold, and dust motes floating in the gray light. I turned on a lamp but it didn’t do much good.

He went into the kitchen. I followed, but paused in the spot beneath their room. I thought I might hear the awful thudding of Claire beating her skull against the wall. I wanted to cover my ears, to run out screaming. Instead, I froze, my ears zeroing in.

The fridge hummed, the grandfather clock ticked, and there were snaps and groans of a settling house. Nothing else. The tense band of muscles along my shoulders relaxed a fraction.

It smells like bleach in here, I commented.

Stauner had a cleaning crew come in, Hugh explained, as a personal favor to our family. So we wouldn’t have to…worry about the mess.

He laid his suit jacket across the table, sweat bathing his forehead and the scruff on his chin.

We’d bought new mourning clothes the day before, his cheap suit and my godawful black cotton dress. We didn’t have the funds for much else, not with his business tanking, until the life insurance was figured out. The receipts and shopping bags were waiting at his apartment. We’d never wear these clothes again.

He put his hands on his hips and started doing a visual inventory. Most of the items in the living room were boxed up and the furniture was covered with plastic sheets.

I followed him as he continued his evaluation. At the bottom of the staircase he halted with his hand on the banister.

What’s wrong? I asked, shuffling closer beside him.

A shaft of light from the skylight fell onto his unblinking eyes as he gazed up.

Are you going up there?

They scrubbed it all, he said, just a breath above a whisper. Mike said they did a very thorough job. So that we’d never even know what happened in there.

I could hear the tears in his voice and I wanted to run and hide. Fear made him look so young, like my brother instead of my father. There was no safety here.

You probably couldn’t even see anything, he continued.

Her blood, piped up a voice in my head. No matter how hard they scrubbed, they couldn’t get all the blood out…

I wrapped my arm determinedly around his shoulder, turning him to face me. He was so pliable that he moved with little effort, and his haunted eyes met mine.

It’s okay if you can’t go upstairs, I said firmly. We don’t need anything up there. We got almost everything out when you moved. They can mail the rest.

He seemed to find relief in my words. He took my hand from his shoulder and squeezed it gently, nodding. As he stepped off of the stair, it reminded me of someone stepping off a ledge after deciding not to jump. He wandered back towards the kitchen.

I shot one last glance up the ominous stairs. I didn’t possess the strength to go up, either. At the moment, I wanted to level the entire house.

As I passed back by Claire’s office, something moved inside. Peering through the crack in the door, I gently pushed it open. My mother sat in front of the computer, staring at the monitor like a zombie. Skeletal hands rested atop the keyboard. Her clothes, a cardigan and a skirt, were musty with moth holes nibbled into the fabric. Brown blood stains ran down her shoulder to her hip.

She turned towards me, dried bones creaking, her face green and rotting. Her yellow eyes were rolled up, revealing nothing but whites. The broken half of her face began to show, and I squeezed my eyes shut.

You’re not real. You’re not real.

When I opened my eyes, there was nothing in the computer room. The computer had been dismantled, the monitor dark, the rest stacked in boxes. I hadn’t seen but my own guilt to haunt me.

In the kitchen, I poured a glass of water, drinking it down in a straight shot of gulps. Hugh was sitting at the table, drumming his fingers on the wood. I was about to ask him what he wanted to do next. Were we going to start boxing things up? Leave everything alone? Donate her things to charity?

What do you do when your mother suddenly goes insane, reveals that she can see ghosts, and kills herself to stop the suffering?

I rushed to the sink and vomited the water back up. I gripped the metal, chest heaving until there was nothing but air coming out. Hugh joined me, rubbing my back.

Are you okay? he asked. He started to pull my hair back, but I squirmed away, still feeling raw to the touch.

I’m fine. I wiped my lips with the back of my hand. Can we just get what we need and get back home?

I went downstairs and gathered my few remaining trinkets, not paying much attention to my musty room. I caught a glance at myself in the standing mirror. I looked like a stranger―my hazel eyes were haunted with regret and my hair was a ragged mess behind a thin headband. I thought of Jenna looking at herself in the same mirror.

What do you mean, you’re going out?

The words have one meaning, Ariel. Not difficult to understand.

I slammed the locks shut on the heavy suitcase and left the room. I only glanced for a moment at the heavy lock that Claire had installed on the basement door, not wanting to hold the image in my head.

I didn’t wait for Hugh to settle in when we got back to the apartment. I was done skirting around―I just wanted answers. It was time to split this thing between us open and let the guts hang out.

After all the events that had happened, Hugh had told me he would tell me all of his secrets. He gave me a time frame of a week, but he’d kept tight lipped. With Claire’s deteriorating medical condition, real life got in the way of our fractured fairy tale.

We need to talk, I said, shutting the door and tossing my coat on a nearby chair.

He collapsed on the couch with his shoulders hunched over.

About what? he asked, irritated, peering up at me with hollow, sickly eyes.

I want answers.

Answers regarding what, kiddo? He wiped his tired eyes with his hand, looking ancient. The TV remote was waiting on the coffee table and he reached for it. Look, I’m really tired and I don’t want―

I knocked the remote to the floor, where the batteries skidded out and bounced off the wall. His expression changed into stunned surprise.

Enough! Enough of the lies and sneaking around! I couldn’t stop my voice from shouting. I can’t wait anymore! I understand that you’re tired, but there is something huge and scary about to go down in Hell, and I’m a part of it―whether you like it or not. So was mom. After what I saw… I shuddered at the memory. I've had to deal with being scared and terrified and shunned by people that hated me for reasons I didn't even understand, for years now!

He assessed me for a long moment without speaking, his reaction maddeningly impossible to read.

Ariel...you know I love you. But it's because I love you that I feel like you don't need to know. Claire…she thought she saw visions. But she was emotionally unstable for a long time. I know the Ford girl has been cruel. I know that dating Henry has upset Phillip, and he's been horrible, but you’re too young to…

Didn’t Claire tell you? I asked in a hushed whisper.

Your mother didn’t tell me a damn thing once she started going to Thornhill’s meetings. Bitterness edged his voice, and I was taken aback. It was the first time since Claire’s death that he had expressed anger. All I knew when you came to live with me was that you two weren’t getting along, and it was my job to deal with it.

I steadied my shoulders and looked him in the eye. I see ghosts, too. Just like mom said she saw.

At first, his expression remained flat, like he couldn’t comprehend my revelation. But then his eyebrows rose sharply and I could tell it came as a surprise.

I started seeing them when I turned fifteen, I continued, bolstered by my own courage. I felt my face heat up but wasn’t about to stop now. At first, it seemed random. Dreams about weird places and things. Then Jenna and the ghosts of the other girls that died visited me. But I never thought I could tell you about it. I laughed a short, hollow laugh. I mean, how do you talk about something like that without the other party thinking you’re a nutcase? I didn’t tell anyone except for Theo and Henry.

I was pacing now, back and forth in front of the TV. I know that grandma was in a mental hospital for the same thing. I know both of them took medication to stop it. And I know what Thornhill is doing—that they’re really a cult.

I felt so lightheaded that I had to grip the back of the recliner, but it was all out. All my secrets. Now, hopefully, I wouldn’t regret talking and want to shut the secrets back in. I waited for Hugh’s reaction.

Why didn’t you tell me? He jumped up from the couch with sudden anger, his eyes hurt and wandering, nostrils flaring. "You and I were always close, why didn’t you tell me? His tight fist slammed onto his chest. I would have believed you."

I stepped back, a little shocked by the intensity of his sudden reaction. I couldn’t talk to you. You two were always so scared for my safety that you kept me under lock and key. I had no evidence and I’m just a kid. I couldn't predict how you would react. After all, you could have locked me up in a mental institution like Eleanor.

We never would have done that, Hugh said firmly.

But other parents would have. You knew that Claire saw ghosts before this all happened, didn't you?

He turned away from me, running his hand through his hair, his nervous tic. Of course I knew. But I thought she had stopped.

Did you know that I would see ghosts?

He remained in loaded, unbearable silence. I shifted where I stood, my thoughts racing. Finally, I stomped up and slammed my hand forcefully on his shoulder. You did, didn’t you?

He whipped around, grasping me by both shoulders. I didn’t know for sure! It was only a possibility.

I wrenched away from him. How could they not tell me? It would have prevented so many hours of me thinking I was a freak.

Corinne never saw ghosts, he continued, more quietly. Even though she’s spent her life trying. And Claire knew nothing about her real grandparents because Eleanor was adopted.

Why didn’t you warn me about what I was going to be up against? I asked through gritted teeth, turning back so I could glare at him. "Do you have any idea of the things I’ve seen?"

More than you know, he said, his shoulders slumping sadly. My feelings of anger towards him softened a little upon looking at his sorry face.

We were trying to shield you, he continued. I know you’re angry, but it’s because you don’t understand. You’ve always been so open with us, that’s why we encouraged you to treat us like friends―so you’d come to us if something was off. I know we were smothering you, but it was like drowning a flower in too much water because you want to make sure it grows. We hoped that you didn’t have the Sight. We…

What I didn’t understand came back to attack me. Now I’m in danger. I pounded the center of my chest, on top of my heart. Claire freaked out when I told her, and I thought she was going to shake my brains out. It sounds crazy, and I didn’t want you to commit me, too. But she obviously suspected it because she put me on that medication.

I remembered briefly how much I'd felt like a zombie when I’d taken my anti-anxiety medication, how strange it was to come out of my gray cocoon when it was gone.

I didn’t know the medication stopped her visions! he shouted abruptly, making me wince. He turned around and ground his hands into his scalp, then gestured dramatically. I didn’t know. Your mother was lying to me the whole time.

Phillip knows I have the Sight.

Then that just makes it ten times harder.

You already knew about Thornhill, why Phillip wants us to leave town, why the girls died. Didn’t you? I accused.

He pulled his suit jacket tight. Yes. I know. I know much more than you probably do.

Then tell me! I pleaded desperately, hitting the back of the chair again.

I don’t know where to start, he murmured, his voice cracking.

Start from the beginning, I said evenly. Tell me everything.

He took a deep breath, scrubbing the stubbly beard on his chin. Sit down, he said hoarsely.

I didn’t take his offer. My legs twitched and bounced of their own accord. He went over and pulled a bottle of wine from the modest rack that had been collecting dust. Pouring a hearty shot into his coffee mug, he brought it back to the couch and sat down. His calloused hands were shaking, the skin stained from paint thinner.

Obviously there is a lot we never told you, Hugh began. But starting from the top could take a while. So for heaven’s sake, Ariel, sit down. All of your pacing is making me nervous.

I finally obliged and dropped into the worn recliner across from him. Adrenaline still pumped through me from confronting him, and I practically had to force myself not to jump back to my feet.

We didn’t tell you that you might see ghosts because we honestly didn’t know, Hugh began. We didn’t want to scare you. You’ve always had that predilection for spooky things like me, so I was suspicious. But you seemed okay. Claire watched you like a hawk on your birthday―I don’t think you realized―but other than seeming sad over Jenna’s disappearance, you seemed fine.

I thought back to that day, when I’d felt so strange and had my first dream of the Dexter Orphanage.

I wasn’t fine, I said, my voice catching in my throat.

I see that now, Hugh said, more gently. He leaned back against the couch. We shouldn’t have expected it to just hit you like a lightning bolt, but Claire said it was like that for her.

His words conjured up a brief image from back at the séance I'd had years ago with my friends at the Dexter Orphanage. At the time, I'd thought a lightning bolt hit the table and I passed out. I blinked it away.

Why couldn’t you just ask me? Say, ‘hey Ariel, seen any floating sheets lately?’

And who would have sounded like the crazy ones then, hmm? Hugh asked. "Especially if you didn't see visions. We didn’t want to make you worry unnecessarily. Claire always viewed her gift of Sight as a curse, like a flaw in her brain. She insisted we not ask you directly. She just wanted the whole thing to go away, you know she did that with a lot of difficult situations."

I nodded, biting my thumbnail. She did that all the time, so it didn’t surprise me. I felt a guilty pang of anger against my mother and shifted against the chair.

I should have talked to you about it after what happened with Warwick, Hugh said, more to himself than to me. With Thornhill doing what they're doing, and your relationship with Henry, I should have known better. I just thought that Phillip didn’t want you around because you were my daughter. I understand why you didn’t tell us. I just wish it didn’t have to be that way.

Okay, so the beginning is? I was getting impatient again. I wanted to run, and the urge reminded me of Jenna. Running to clear my mind.

He rubbed his hands over his eyes and drained his cup, then settled back with his hands clasped between his knees.

"I told you we all went to high school together. But I barely knew your mother until senior year, other than seeing a pretty face from a rich family. She and Phillip were the most bitchin’ couple in school. Athletic, rich, pretty. I played chess, wore big glasses, and had this really bad haircut that I thought was awesome. I thought I was invisible to the likes of her.

Until one day at a football game. Your mom was a cheerleader, and I ran the concession stand, to get some work experience. I was out front changing the sales sign on the stand, and she was walking past and tripped. I caught her.

I had heard this story before, but I didn’t interrupt him now. Usually the tale cut off there, but he continued. When I held her in my arms, it was like I felt this electrical charge. His voice took on a soft tone, and I saw his eyes begin to glisten. He curved his arms as though he were still holding her. For a moment, I wasn’t even there. I was somewhere else. We had a connection that day.

She came to me after that, during one of our tournament practices. Me, Robert, Noah, and Edgar used to pal around back then, if you can believe it.

Who’s Noah? I asked.

Oh, he's your science teacher, Mr. Golem. Edgar―McPherson― was part of the prayer group, too, but he was their errand boy. He went to the meetings in school, but not the ones that they held at night. They prayed around a flagpole that used to be where that hideous fountain at your school is now. It makes me crazy to think two men I used to be friends with were murderers. Do you think that says something about me?

He questioned me with his eyes. I knew he was actually asking me. I bit my lip. I think it means that you trusted the wrong people.

He smirked, a cold, bitter look, and stared down at his hands. "Yeah. But that day, she walked in, gorgeous, looking like she thought she was entering the lion’s den. She was there for me.

"Claire came over to my house, and she admitted everything the prayer group had been up to. It was a sham, of course. Their meetings were just a front for Phillip’s weird occult interest. They would meet after school, to do these strange rituals, chanting from obscure books. Your mother's family was never particularly religious, and she went along with it at first. She had been seeing ghosts for a while, but she'd kept it a secret from everyone other than Phillip. The others could only