Jenny raced back to the clearing where the GPS app had last located Abbie's cell phone. Lucky for her, Abbie's truck had a shovel resting in the backseat. Unlucky for her sister, Jenny had been forced to break the back window of her jeep in order to get to it.
I hope she doesn't expect me to pay for that. She thought to herself as she jogged between the trees, taking care to ease up on her right foot. The joint was aching like a mother, and liquid shots of pain throbbed all the way up to her kneecap every time she put weight on it.
Jenny slowed her pace as she approached, so that she could carefully step over the network of gnarled, protruding roots that spotted the ground. Their dirt-encrusted heads encircled each of the pale, leafless trees that filled the space like marble statues. Each protrusion practically begged the opportunity to sprain her good ankle.
Not today, boys. She thought as she stepped over a particularly large clump. She stopped and hefted the shovel off of her shoulder, surveying the patch of overturned earth that marked Abbie's cell phone location like an 'X'. She worried the shovel blade with her fingers as she contemplated where to begin digging, quickly settling on the middle of the pile. She viciously plunged the blade into the loose dirt.
She wouldn't bother digging, except that the earth here had obviously been disturbed – and not long ago, either. She estimated less than a day. And honestly, what were the chances of someone digging in the very spot where she's located Abbie's phone? The coordinates were exact; it couldn't be mere coincidence. The phone – and maybe more of her sister's belongings (like, say, the map to purgatory) – had to be buried here. They just had to be.
Crane unclosed his eyes the smallest amount when he felt a slight tremor pulse through wood of the coffin. He could feel the panels vibrate beneath him in a steady rhythm. Pulse…rest…pulse…rest… He wished he could put a hand over his heart to assure that what he felt wasn't the tired organ beating its way out of his chest.
As he stared, transfixed, the beautiful stars swirling in the sky above him curled outwards at the edges, growing progressively larger until each was a gaping white mouth grinning down at him. The tremors grew stronger and faster, shaking the stars apart. Ichabod was vaguely surprised when the night sky finally crumbled completely; chunks of it raining down on his face and clothing. He tasted dirt in his mouth and smelled sweet, fresh air as a blinding light peeked through the slits in the coffin lid. Sucking in the air like water, Ichabod suddenly realized what was happening.
"Oh god…" A voice, directly above him. The tenor was low and soft, remarkably similar to Abbie's. But something was different.
"Help!" Crane bellowed, before gasping in another breath and thrashing against the roots. "HELP!"
When she got her first glimpse of the blanched wooden panels peeking up through the clumps of coppery red and woodsy brown soil, Jenny felt exhilarated. She'd been right - there was something buried here.
This shred of validated hope clung to her like a warm blanket. It heated her blood and quickened her movements as she used the shovel head to scrape away at the walls of the hole, broadening the space in order to reveal the dimensions of the box. The blade split the earth with a vengeance, pulling out the largest chunks of packed mud and clay. It was only after she'd dislodged a particularly large piece of packed earth that Jenny recognized the box's emerging form.
A coffin. She was digging up a coffin.
Jenny nearly dropped the shovel as every tendon from her bare, bronzed shoulders to the smallest muscles of her fingers simultaneously locked up, then released in a single spasm. Shock was probably the best term to describe her reaction. She was shocked – enough to stop digging for a fraction of a moment.
All of the grim horrors that the innocent-looking compartment could hold immediately began to swirl sickeningly in her mind. Her sister – dead. Ichabod Crane – dead.
She was surprised to discover that she felt dizzy. Sick.
"Oh god…" She barely registered her own voice in her ears when, beneath her, the box began moving. Shaking uncontrollably, with such a sudden strength that she had to cling to the vacillating edge of the pit for balance.
The hoarse, male voice came from directly below her feet. The coffin rattled again.
Shit! She snapped to attention and began clawing the rest of the dirt away from the edges of the box as she recognized the desperate voice.
As Jenny cleared away the moist dirt with her fingers, her palm scraped against something sharp poking up from the lid – a rusty nail. Both top corners of the box were nailed shut. She felt the blood drain from her face as the facts fully sunk in. Crane had been buried alive.
But what about her sister? What had happened to her?
Jenny yanked at the nails with her fingers, but they were both imbedded tight in the wood. She succeeded only in leaving jagged cuts on both of her index and middle fingers.
Snatching up the shovel, she jammed the blade under the upper right corner of the lid and attempted to pry it open.
"Miss Mills!" She heard Crane shout from inside. He was so close it was like he was yelling the words straight in her ear.
"I know, I know!" She barked as she heaved against the lid. "Just gimme a sec!"
The lid jumped up towards her like a snake as suddenly, with a wrenching crack, both nails pried loose and the box heaved open.
The tension in the shovel handle vanished so suddenly that Jenny nearly fell on top of Ichabod. As the blade shot up and the handle went down, like a seesaw, she barely managed to catch herself on a thick root protruding from the wall of the pit. As she swung dangerously close to the sharp, split-wood edge of the coffin, she got a look at Crane.
Her first thought was that he looked alright. That is, she couldn't see any splotches of blood on his skin or clothes. That, for her, constituted "alright". He was breathing – hard. She could hear him gasping around his words as he spoke.
"Cut these. Quickly." He strained forwards, drawing her attention to rows and rows of splotched, dirty brown rope binding him tightly from his shoulders, all the way down to his leather boots. The criss-crossed, muted brown bindings barely stood out from the rest of his dirtied clothing – she wasn't sure she'd have noticed them if he hadn't pointed them out. Leaning closer, she saw that the cords were not made of twine or thread, but where stiffer and more rotund; each crusted almost completely in earth.
"Oh my god."
These were roots – not so very different from the one she was gripping for balance. She dropped her hand immediately and wiped her palm against her jeans.
She glanced from the roots to his face, completely baffled. "Where's Abbie?"
"I will explain everything." He panted, and struggled against the bindings. "But for now, I have spent a greater interval than any man should being buried alive. Please– "
He looked down pointedly. Jenny acknowledged his problem, but refused to follow his gaze. Instead, she leveled a hard look at his face.
"She better be alright." She spoke the words as a command.
She saw him flinch, but he returned her stare and nodded – firmly. Blue eyes cold and serious – ever the noble soldier.
Jenny exhaled in relief and rubbed her temple, where a wicked headache was blossoming. Until further explanation was provided, she could trust Crane that her sister was okay.
Refocusing, she hefted the shovel and surveyed the vice-tight knots, eyes flashing up and down, scanning for any weak spots; breaks in the lines. She peeked down at the shovel blade. It was filed to a thin edge, but was it really sharp enough to cut through natural fibers? She tossed it to the side of the pit. It landed on the carpet of rotting leaves and glanced off of a root with a muted twang.
"You're lucky I jacked Abbie's spare on the way here." She muttered as she carefully wedged her feet on either side of Crane's his torso and crouched over him in the coffin.
He twisted against the ties, eyes moving around distractedly. "Her what?"
With a grin that was much more confident than she felt, Jenny flipped a small metallic object out of the back pocket of her jeans.
"Pocket knife." She replied. The polished steel case flashed in the midday sun that shone through the trees in rash-like patches. She unsheathed the serrated blade and bent over the nearest root – a relatively thick sucker wrapped suffocatingly taught around his shoulders – and began sawing.
"Yes I feel extremely lucky." Crane quipped sardonically, and Jenny heard him hiss in pain when the first root snapped. That would be his circulation returning. Ouch.
Jenny glanced up at him.
"Only twenty more to go." She deadpanned as she worked her blade between his ancient military coat and the next root.
She was able to take a close look at his appearance now that he was less than a foot away from her. He was unusually pale, even for him. A glistening sheen of sweat covered his face, and sprinkles of dirt stuck to his cheeks. His dark brown hair was knotted and splayed everywhere – his bangs plastered to the perspiration on his brow. His pale blue eyes were trained on the sky, and he seemed to be concentrating very hard on drawing in another deep breath.
"Your lips are blue." Was all she said.
"Just hurry. Please." Crane spoke politely, but through his teeth. He squeezed his eyes shut as he spoke, and he looked like he was holding back from hurling. Jenny widened her eyes in surprise, but didn't comment.
Snap! Snap! Snap! Three smaller roots gave to her blade. Jenny saw him grimace.
There was little other sound as she worked, except for the occasional cawing of a crow overhead, and the sound of the roots snapping one by one. Crane's breathing was heavier than hers, eclipsing most other noise. It subtly urged her to work faster, and her grip on the pocket knife tightened as she sawed frantically.
His breathing didn't slow, despite the quick pace.
She surprised herself by sincerely hoping that he would be okay. She couldn't imagine how Abbie would take it if –
Don't go there. She stopped herself. Crane was going to be fine, and her sister was going to be fine. Everything would be alright.
With a satisfied tug, she ripped the knife through the final tendril around his boots. In less than a second, Crane was in motion, swatting the cut branches off of his clothes like bugs and wiggling his torso out from between her feet. The sudden movement took Jenny by surprise and she scrambled to perch her feet on the coffin's solid wooden edge, out of reach of his long legs.
The phrase like a bullet from a gun came to mind as he bolted to his feet and climbed from the muddy grave in a single tall step. It was like he couldn't get out fast enough.
He stood as soon as he was able and quickly paced a few steps away, like he needed to put some distance between himself and the void. The fingers of both hands twitched restlessly at his sides, and Jenny quirked an eyebrow.
Without turning around, he straightened his coat and retied the leather strap around his hair. As he did this Jenny could hear, miraculously, his breathing begin to return to normal. She rolled her eyes and heaved herself up so that she was sitting on the edge of the pit, legs dangling.
"Don't thank me all at once." She jibed.
"Thank you." He turned, his eyes only for her and not the hole she was sitting in. His expression was sincere, and a tiny bit apologetic.
He glanced at the ground, then the sky contemplatively.
"It's strange." He began. "I was so certain…," he swallowed. "…that I was going to die here. And then you came, and I realized that I might survive, and I…," He looked down, shaking his head incredulously as he caught his breath. "I could not fathom spending another second in that damned box, not whilst I still drew breath."
"Forgive me, Miss Mills." He continued. "And again, thank you."
Jenny blew a lungful out air out between her lips, like a horse. She felt plenty incredulous, herself.
"That…," She gestured to the coffin, and then to where he stood, some feet away. "Totally understandable. I get it, really. Wanting to escape."
Boy, did she get it.
"Do you have Abbie's phone?" She asked suddenly.
"Ah, yes." He reached into the inside of his jacket and withdrew the slim, heather gray smart phone.
Jenny exhaled and looked down, exasperated. "Figures why no one picked up."
"Yes, well, my hands were tied, as it were." He quipped testily. She stared at him mutely, one eyebrow raised. Did Abbie honestly have to deal with this all the time?
"She…lent it to me." He conceded finally. "For a transitory duration only."
"Hm." She raised her eyebrows and nodded to herself. It did sound like such classic Abbie. Jenny had called it weeks ago, and it was just as true now as it had been then – her no-nonsense, isolationist older sister had gone totally soft in all matters "Crane".
She bounced out of the pit and rose to her feet, swatting the worst of the mud off of the seat of her jeans. Crane straightened and clasped his hands behind his back, regarding her seriously.
"Are you alright?" He asked suddenly, his eyes zeroing in on the stitches at her forehead. Absently, Jenny brought her hand up to cover the wound.
"Yeah. Compliments of the Horseman of Death." She replied bitterly. Ichabod's brow furrowed, clearly in want of a more specific explanation, so she continued.
"I was coming to warn you guys about Henry yesterday…," It didn't escape her that Crane stiffened at the name. "…when he jumped in front of my car. Shot through my windshield, blew out my front tire – I'm lucky that I escaped with just this." She gestured at the stitches.
"My god." Crane uttered.
Jenny moved to place her hands on her hips, disregarding the chilled breeze that cooled the perspiration on her skin to freezing. The wan afternoon sunlight provided no warmth against the low temperatures.
"Corbin suspected that the abandoned church outside of town had some connection to the horseman of war."
Ichabod nodded and she continued.
"I drove up there yesterday afternoon and…," she cleared her throat "…let myself in."
"And by that phrase, I assume you're referring to you and your sister's proficiency at lock-picking."
Jenny was unable to resist flashing a cheshire cat grin.
"You assume correctly. Anyways, I looked around, but couldn't find anything. Then as I was about to leave, I found the church's welcome sign. St. Henry's Parrish. The saint's name is a sign, right?"
Ichabod nodded again, this time more resignedly.
"So it's true?" She pressed. "Henry Parrish – the 60-something, does crossword puzzles, knits-his-own-scarves Henry Parrish is the Horseman of War?"
"The genuine article." He agreed solemnly. "Resurrected by Moloch in order to mitigate the coming apocalypse, and to engender the destruction of humanity as we know it."
"Damn…" Jenny breathed.
Crane raised an eyebrow in silent agreement as he studied the leaves on the ground. He looked up again before adding, quietly, "He is also…my son."
There was a beat of silence as he gave her time to absorb this.
"Your…what?" Jenny all but shouted, completely distracted by the single, groundbreaking admission. No way.
"Your son is the Horseman of War." The words came out in sharp staccato, each syllable like a pointed blade, as she stepped closer.
Ichabod shifted uncomfortably.
"Yes. He revealed himself to Katrina and I as soon as we were alone with him yesterday."
"He died." Jenny interrupted. Abbie had filled her in on the rash actions of Katrina's coven weeks ago.
"Wait." She held up a hand before he could speak, as something suddenly occurred to her. "What do you mean you and Katrina were alone with him?"
Crane seemed to go completely still. Jenny stepped closer to him.
"Where's Katrina?" Her tone was clipped.
"The Horseman of War – Henry – gave her up to the Horseman of Death as his promised prize." He snarled the last few words, his frustration apparent.
"He then bound me in this…," He stabbed a finger towards the pit. "His unmarked grave."
He closed his eyes and let out a tired breath between his clenched teeth before reopening them.
"My wife was borne away by the Horseman of Death, I know not where." He glanced briefly around the clearing. "Daylight being his weakness, there's no telling where they could be."
Jenny felt her hands begin to shake.
"But you know where Abbie is, right?" She asked tightly.
Ichabod raised his eyes to her face, his expression suddenly repentant. She saw his jaw clench again, and would have had to be blind to miss the agony that filled his eyes.
"Where is she?" She demanded in a voice that didn't sound like her own.
"Alive." He managed.
"I know." She cut him off. "We've covered that. Alive where?"
Both of Crane's hands clenched into fists at his sides, then released. His left index finger twitched once, and he maintained eye contact with her.
"Katrina was needed to complete the binding spell on the horseman's grave site, as you know." He spoke gently, each word weighted with care.
"In order to remove her from purgatory without disastrous repercussion, another willing soul was required to take her place…,"
Jenny saw his mouth moving, forming more words after that – entire sentences, even. But his voice fell to nothing but a muted hum in her ears. Her jaw snapped shut, and her vision went red as the pieces instantly fell together.
She was there.
He'd left her.
He and his witch wife.
She was there now.
The roaring in her ears reached a deafening pitch, like the ringing of artillery shells.
She wasn't sure how it happened, but in a second she had moved from a few feet away to directly in front of him. Her forehead was level with his chin – standing on tiptoe, they would be at eye level.
She was three and three-quarter inches taller than her sister. And that…that …was her last coherent thought before her right hand clenched into a fist.
She hit him. Hard. Right on the left edge of his jaw. She threw herself into the punch, with such enthusiasm that the kinetic energy nearly sent her hurtling to the ground after it.
"She's the second witness, dammit!" She shouted as she managed to regain her equilibrium and circumvent to the left.
The blood pumped through her right temple, straining against the stitching with every pulse. The forest suddenly reeled, and she braced her hands on her knees to steady herself.
When her vision cleared, she saw Crane leaning against a tree a few steps away, holding his jaw and breathing hard. He was watching her, eyes dark and quiet. For once he didn't have anything to say.
He didn't look angry, or even remotely surprised by her reaction. He looked like he was bracing himself for another hit.
Jenny realized belatedly that she was gasping, too, and the icy air was burning her throat raw with each fast breath. The insides of her nostrils stung.
"Do you even realize what this means?" She lashed out as soon as she could. "This is what Moloch wanted all along. He wants to kill the two witnesses, and you let her run straight to him!"
Crane lowered his hand from his jaw. Amazement overshadowed acceptance on his face.
"Let her?" He echoed.
Jenny threw her hands up. "Of course it was her idea to stay. It's not like you could have forced her." She shot him a look that said "obviously."
"You know her character very well." Crane stammered, looking a little awed. Jenny couldn't have cared less about his admiration. Her blood boiled when she thought of Abbie – of course she would pull something like this. The girl who had spent her life dodging accountability had now become the martyr, nailing herself to the stake for the good of Ichabod Crane and his AWOL wife…
"Ergh…" She groaned and folded her hands behind her head, turning and pacing away in aggravation.
"She told me that she wanted to face Moloch herself, but I never thought that she'd actually go through with it." She muttered to a pale, scraggly tree. Her older sister was always more cautious and careful than this. She had never been keen on revenge missions like Jenny, and had never let her emotions overrule logic.
Jenny remembered her words to her sister – spoken weeks ago, when Ichabod had gone mysteriously missing. "You really care about this guy, don't you?"
The world felt upside-down; out of balance as she realized that, this time, she was not the one who'd screwed up. She was not the sister who had acted rashly, trusted naively, or "followed her heart" into anything.
This time, she was the sister planning the defensive strategy – how to rescue Abbie as soon as possible, and with the least amount of collateral damage. The role-reversal was dizzyingly blunt.
"Yes, it was her suggestion that she remain whilst Katrina and I escaped." Crane spoke to her back, pulling her from her thoughts. Jenny turned, and saw that his expression was twisted in agony. His left index finger and thumb pinched the bridge of his nose and his eyes were squeezed shut.
"But she was afraid." The words came out as a groan. "She was afraid, and I chose not to see it."
"Damn right she was afraid." Jenny responded, incredulous. "She only started believing any of this a few months ago, and let me tell you, it takes a lot longer to overcome a lifetime of fear – no matter what Abbie says."
She saw him flinch, as if he were remembering something painful.
"We were only supposed to be separated," Ichabod continued tightly, "until Katrina could invoke the binding spell upon the horseman's grave. Then we fully intended to return to purgatory, find Lieutenant Mills, and make the exchange."
"But then Death showed up and stole your girl, and your son buried you." Jenny hissed.
Crane's eyes flew open and he dropped his hand.
"Precisely." He snapped.
Wow, this guy's more mercurial than a mood ring. Jenny thought to herself. How did her sister put up with him?
After a pause, Crane stepped forward to meet her. His blue eyes seared like those of a burning man, and Jenny instinctively stepped back.
"If there was anything within my power that could be done to retrieve Abbie, without unleashing purgatory upon the earth, don't think for a second that I would not–"
"Good." She interrupted him. "Because there is something that you can do."
Hey y'all! SOooooooOOOOOoooooo sorry that this chapter is sloppy - I'm not too good at getting the characters' voices right all of the time. Eek! Anyways, I hope you enjoy! :)