Home > Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven #3)(16)

Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven #3)(16)
Author: Brandon Mull

Seth followed Grandma and Grandpa as they collected Tanu and Dale and explained the situation. They mounted the steps to the attic in a line, Grandpa in front, Seth at the rear. Moving the telescope out of the way, they gathered around the curtained window, Grandma with her crossbow, Tanu holding a potion ready.

Grandpa pulled aside the curtains to reveal an empty stretch of roof barely visible in the dying twilight. Seth pushed his way forward to the glass, peering in all directions. The shadowman was gone.

"He was here," Seth promised.

"I believe you," Grandpa said.

"He really was," Seth maintained.

They waited, watching as Grandpa shone a flashlight through the slightly warped panes. They located no sign of an intruder. Grandpa clicked off the flashlight.

"Keep the window closed tonight," Tanu admonished. "If he returns, come for me. If not, I'll search the roof in the morning."

Tanu, Dale, and Grandpa left the room. Grandma waited at the top of the stairs. "You'll be all right?"

"I'm not scared," Seth said. "I just hoped I'd found something useful."

"You probably have. Keep that window shut."

"I will."

"Good night, dear. You did the right thing to come and tell us."

"'Night."

Grandma left.

Seth changed into his pajamas and flopped onto his bed. He began to suspect that the shadowman had returned, perching outside the window. The fiend had probably not wanted the others to see him. But now if Seth peeked, he would be there, silently asking to enter.

Unable to banish the suspicion, Seth went to the window and threw aside the curtain. The shadowman had not returned.

The next morning, Tanu crept around on the roof outside the window but found no trace of a visitor. Seth was unsurprised. Since when did shadows leave footprints?

At breakfast, Grandpa tried to inform Seth he would be restricted to the house all day. After Seth's persistent complaining, Grandpa agreed to let him play with Mendigo in the yard if somebody supervised them from the deck.

Grandpa, Grandma, Tanu, and Dale spent the day poring over journals and other books from their extensive library, trying to find any hint of something like the plague afflicting the creatures of Fablehaven. They took turns reading on the deck. Mendigo had orders to bring Seth inside at the first appearance of anything suspicious.

The day passed uneventfully. Seth played football and baseball with Mendigo, and went swimming in the afternoon. At lunch and dinner, Seth listened as the adults discussed how frustrated they were about the lack of any information that explained what was transpiring at Fablehaven. Grandpa had still been unable to get a call through to the Sphinx.

After dinner, Seth begged his way outside for a few minutes. Hugo was there, having recently finished some chores in the barn, and Seth wanted to see what happened if Mendigo pitched to the golem.

The baseball bat looked tiny clutched in Hugo's massive hand. Seth told Hugo to hit the ball as hard as he could, then instructed Mendigo to throw a fastball right down the middle. Seth moved out of the way, worried about getting brained by a foul ball. He didn't think they would need a catcher.

Mendigo hurled a blazing pitch, and Hugo, swinging one-handed, whaled the ball into the sky. Seth tried to follow the baseball as it shrank into the distance, but failed. He knew the ball had still been rising when it cleared the trees on the far side of the yard, so it had to have landed a good ways into the woods.

Seth turned to Tanu, who was sitting on the deck, enjoying the sunset as he sipped herbal tea. "Can I send Mendigo to fetch it?"

"Go ahead," Tanu said, "if you think the ball is worth fetching."

"It might just be a pile of mush," Seth laughed.

"That was quite a blast."

Seth told Mendigo to quickly retrieve the ball, but the puppet did not respond. When Tanu repeated the command, the limberjack dashed across the yard and into the woods. That was when Seth saw the shadowman coming into the yard not far from where Mendigo had entered the trees. The phantom moved toward Seth with swift, deliberate strides. Seth retreated toward the deck. "There he is," Seth told Tanu, pointing. "The shadowman."

The Samoan stared in the direction Seth was indicating, looking perplexed. "In the trees?"

"No, right there, in the yard, coming through that flower bed!"

Tanu stared for a moment longer. "I don't see anything."

"He's on the lawn now, getting close to us, walking fast."

"I still don't see it," Tanu said, giving Seth a worried glance.

"You think I'm crazy?" Seth asked.

"I think we better get inside," Tanu said, backing toward the door. "Just because I can't see him doesn't mean you don't. Where is he now?"

"Almost to the deck."

Tanu motioned for Seth to follow and went in the back door. Seth entered after Tanu and they shut the door. "We have a situation," Tanu called.

The others hurried into the room.

"What now?" Grandpa asked.

"Seth sees the shadowman in the yard," Tanu said. "I don't."

"He's on the deck," Seth said, looking out a window by the door.

"Where?" Grandpa asked.

"Right there, by the rocker."

"Anybody else see it?" Grandma asked.

"Not me," Dale said.

"He's motioning for us to come outside," Seth said.

Placing her hands on her hips, Grandma regarded Seth suspiciously. "You're not leading us on, are you? This would be a terrible joke, Seth. The situation at Fablehaven is much too-"

"I'm not making this up! I would never lie about something so important. I can't imagine why you guys can't see him!"

"Describe him," Grandpa said.

"Like I said last night, it looks like the shadow of a man, but three-dimensional," Seth said. "There isn't much else to describe. He's holding up his left hand, pointing at it with the other hand. Oh my gosh!"

"What?" Grandma prodded.

"He's missing his pinky and part of his ring finger."

"Coulter," Grandpa said. "Or some form of him."

"Or something that wants us to believe it's some form of him," Grandma added.

Grandpa strode to the door. "Warn us if he moves toward me," Grandpa told Seth, cracking the door open. Leaning forward, Grandpa spoke through the opening. "If you're a friend, stay where you are."

"He's not moving," Seth said.

"Are you Coulter Dixon?" Grandpa asked.

"He nodded," Seth said.

"What do you want?"

"He's motioning for us to come with him."

"Can you speak?"

"He shook his head. He's pointing at me, and motioning for me to come."

"Seth's not going with you," Grandpa said.

"He's pointing at himself and then into the house. He wants to come inside."

"We can't invite you in. You could be our friend, with your mind intact, simply in an altered state, or-"

"He's giving a thumbs-up and nodding," Seth interrupted.

"Or you could be a twisted version of Coulter, with all his knowledge, but sinister intentions." Grandpa closed the door and turned to the others. "We can't risk letting him inside, or being led into a trap."

"He's making a pleading gesture," Seth reported.

Grandpa closed his eyes, steadying himself, then opened the door again. "Help me understand what is happening. You are free to roam the preserve?"

"Thumbs-up," Seth said.

"Even places where we normally would be unable to go?"

"Two thumbs up," Seth said. "That one must be important."

"And you have found something we need to see."

"He's shaking his hand like so-so."

"You can lead us to vital information."

"Two thumbs up."

"And it is urgent? The situation is dire?"

"Thumbs-up."

"What if only I come?" Grandpa offered.

"Thumbs-down."

"Seth has to come?"

"Thumbs-up."

"Could Tanu and I come with Seth?"

"He's shrugging," Seth said.

"You don't know? Can you find out?"

"Thumbs-up."

"Go find out if we can come. I can't send Seth with you alone, I hope you understand. And none of us can accompany you until we can confirm you are not an evil version of yourself seeking to betray us. Give us some time to deliberate. Can you come back in the morning?"

"He's shaking his head," Seth relayed. "He's pantomiming a ball. Now he's shielding his eyes. I think he means he can't go out in the sunlight. Yep, he heard me, he's giving a thumbs-up."

"Tomorrow evening, then," Grandpa said.

"Thumbs-up."

"Try to think of a way to prove we can trust you."

"He's tapping a finger to the side of his head, like he'll think about it. Now he's walking away."

Grandpa closed the door. "I can't foresee a way to prove he's the same Coulter we love and trust. He could have all of Coulter's knowledge yet still be a threat."

"Why can't he come into the house on his own?" Dale asked.

"I think he could if we left the door open," Tanu said. "He's insubstantial right now. Not immaterial enough to pass through a door, but he can't open one on his own."

"How do we confirm he's on our side?" Seth asked.

"Your grandfather may be right," Grandma said. "I'm not sure there's a way."

"The situation is dire enough that if he would let me go with him, I would simply take the risk," Grandpa said. "But I'll not let Seth do it."

"I'll take the risk," Seth said. "I'm not afraid."

"Why is he insisting Seth comes?" Dale asked.

"Only Seth can see him," Tanu said.

"Of course," Grandpa said. "No wonder he was adamant that we couldn't come without Seth. I was too busy trying to find a deeper purpose in it."

"Still," Grandma said, "he was hesitant to allow others to join Seth. Why could it be that only Seth can see him?"

Nobody ventured a guess.

"You're sure you aren't making fools of us ?" Grandma asked Seth again, studying him shrewdly.

"I promise," Seth said.

"This isn't a trick to get out of the house and into the woods?" Grandma pressed.

"Trust me, if all I wanted was to get into the woods, I'd already be there. I swear I would never make up a story like this. And I have no idea why only I can see him."

"I believe you, Seth," Grandpa said. "But I don't like any of this. I wonder if our shadowy Coulter could reveal himself to more of us if he wanted? Could he be choosing to let only Seth see him? We need to do all we can to make sense of this. Unanswerable questions are piling up. I propose we speak with Vanessa again. If she can be of any service, now is the time to call upon her. Perhaps in her work for our enemies she has witnessed something like this shadowman phenomenon."

"She's not a cure-all," Grandma said. "Odds are all she'll be able to do is imitate the same guesses we're making."

"Our guesses aren't adding up to much," Grandpa said. "Time could be running out. We should at least check."

"I'll go in the box, if it will speed things up," Dale volunteered. "Long as you let me out."

"She'll be going back inside," Grandma promised.

Grandma got her crossbow and Grandpa grabbed a flashlight. Tanu went to retrieve his handcuffs but returned empty-handed. "Anybody seen my handcuffs? All I can find are the keys."

"Did you ever take them off of her?" Grandma asked. Something about the way she asked the question hinted that she already knew the answer.

They descended the steps to the basement. When they reached the Quiet Box, Dale opened the door and stepped inside. Grandma closed the door, the Quiet Box rotated, and when she opened it, Vanessa stood there with her wrists cuffed together.

"Thanks for leaving me shackled," she said, stepping out of the box. "As if I didn't already feel like part of a cheap magic act. What's the latest?"

"Coulter is in some sort of darkened, shadowy state," Grandpa said. "He can't speak. He seems to want to share information with us, but we don't know if we can trust him."

"Neither do I," Vanessa said. "Have you any guesses how the plague originated?"

"Do you?" Grandma responded, her tone accusatory.

"I've had some time to mull it over. What have you come up with?"

"Honestly, we can't fathom how it could have originated here," Grandpa said. "Bahumat is imprisoned, Olloch is frozen, the other major demons are bound by the treaty. We can't think of any being at Fablehaven with the ability to initiate something like this."

As he spoke, a smile appeared on Vanessa's lips, gradually widening. "And the obvious conclusion hasn't occurred to any of you?"

"That it came from outside of Fablehaven?" Grandma guessed.

"Not necessarily," Vanessa said. "I have a different possibility in mind. But I don't want to go back into the box."

"There is no way for you to undo the connection you forged when you bit us?" Grandpa asked.

   
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