Father Alfred nodded, and led the way. From what I could tell, the older man, Father Valentine, ran the show around here.
As we walked into the compound, I tried to search for a glimmer of the white aura I’d seen yesterday. If I could narrow down where it was, then maybe I could sneak away to investigate.
A bright light caught my eye and I turned to find the source: a building in the back. It had no windows, only an open doorway but something glowed inside.
That was where I needed to go. Somehow I had to convince them to take me into that building.
“In here,” Father Valentine said, gesturing to one of the smaller buildings.
Already caught. So much for trying to be subtle. “What’s over there?” I motioned to the last building, where the road dead-ended.
“Oh, just another house. Nothing in there to interest a young girl like you.”
I wiped my sweaty palms on my pants. He wasn’t going to make this easy.
He disappeared into the smaller building on our right, and Matt followed him.
“Go on,” Father Alfred said from behind me.
I’d hesitated just long enough to arouse suspicion, but my body didn’t seem to want to obey the command to go inside.
Father Alfred touched my shoulder. “This way. Nothing will harm you here.”
I managed not to cringe away from his touch. If I’d been a wolf, I knew his words would’ve stunk of lies.
Just do it, Claudia. I stepped through the doorway and immediately felt something brush past me. It felt slithery and slimy. I shuddered and looked down. A row of horseshoes was pressed into the dirt floor.
The small house was warded, but I couldn’t tell what against.
As soon as my eyes adjusted, all I could see was the altar. Incense burned on the stone, and it was surrounded with…
I swallowed. The things hanging there looked like dried baby goats.
What the… I knew some evil brujos used ritual sacrifice in their magic, but I’d never heard of shrunken, dried carcasses being kept as decoration. At least, I hoped they were decoration. I didn’t want to know what they did if they were still active. That idea more than creeped me out.
You’re here for Raphael. Remembering that truth kept me from running out the door.
I took in the rest of the altar. The more I stared at it, the weirder it got. The little deity holding a burning cigarette and surrounded by fake dollar bills took the cake. I’d seen some weird things in my life, but this was just…
Something ran across my shoe and I squealed.
“Calm down,” Matt said. “It’s just a guinea pig.”
“Oh. Right.” Because it was normal to have guinea pigs running through the house.
I took in the rest of the room. A small table with four chairs was placed against the far wall. To my right—the altar. And to my left was a hearth, with grating above it for cooking. In between the oven and the table, a neatly made twin bed pressed against the wall. The only window in the house—if house was the right word—was above the bed, but dark curtains blocked any light from coming through.
The fire burning in the hearth was the only real source of light. There was a chimney, but it must be blocked, because a lot of the smoke wafted into the room, making it seem hazy and foggy. It added to the creep factor. I wanted to pull the curtain aside and throw open the window, but that would’ve been rude.
Another guinea pig sniffed at my ankle, drawing my attention to the floor.
“Here,” said Father Alfred. “They’ll come out if I feed them.” He threw a bunch of greens on the floor, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, guinea pigs came running. There had to be at least fifty of them. Some big. Some little. All different colors.
It was so weird to think of these men taking care of animals. “You have a lot of pets, Father Valentine.”
The men started laughing.
“What?” What was so funny?
“They’re not pets, child,” said Father Valentine. “They’re dinner.”
What? They had to be joking. No way would I ever eat one of those. I’d had a hamster way back when. Raphael had hated her, but I loved her. He eventually made such a stink that Daniel had to adopt Harriet the Hamster. I’d still gone to visit her every day at Daniel’s house.
Just like that, a wave of grief hit me. It was so quick. The image of Daniel playing with Harriet filled my mind, and tears welled.
“Don’t cry after this lot,” said Father Alfred, a British accent thick in his voice. “They’re more varmint than anything else. We only eat them once a week.”