Zach sighed. “Don’t be like that.”
“Don’t be like what?” She stared at him unblinkingly. “Are you going to tell me why you answered all those Questions and then lied about it? Why you wouldn’t play even one more time?”
“I couldn’t,” Zach said.
“That doesn’t make any sense.” She folded her arms and balanced her chin on them, watching him.
“I know,” he said miserably. “I thought it would be easier—”
He broke off as Alice came back to the table, holding a bottle of ketchup and another bottle of hot sauce. She opened her menu, scanning the prices.
“There are free refills on the sodas,” she said. “We could get one and share it.”
“And be out a dollar seventy-five,” Zach said.
“I asked about the bus, too,” Alice said, not looking at any of them. “Next one comes tomorrow, same time as today. I got directions to the stop. It’s a couple miles from here.”
Zach wondered if it was closer to where they’d fallen into the river, whether they’d gone the wrong way, whether they could have made it after all, but he didn’t ask. Poppy was silent, worrying her lower lip with her teeth. The Queen’s dark eyes shone in her mud-streaked face, and Zach couldn’t help thinking that everything was going exactly the way she wanted it to, even if he had no proof of that.
They were still studying the menu when the waitress came back around to take their drink order (tap water) and placed a basket of bread and margarine on the table. They fell on it, ripping apart the rolls, spreading them with margarine, and stuffing them into their mouths.
Zach felt better, having eaten something since the donut. Poppy and Alice must have felt better too, because they were able to agree on the chili and fries, which they devoured down to the last little burnt, ketchup-and-hot-sauce-covered crisp of fry.
“I’m so tired,” Alice said, putting her head down on the table. “All the walking and the swimming and the being cold and miserable. I could go to sleep right here. Seriously, under this table. It would be more comfortable than sleeping on the ground was.”
“We’re almost done,” Poppy said softly. “We’ve almost made it.”
“I know,” Alice said, groaning. “I’m stuck here, so I’m in for finishing the quest. But are we seriously going to a cemetery at night and digging a grave?”
Zach looked out the window at the street. The sun was still in the sky, but it wouldn’t be for long. Alice was right. By the time they figured out where they were going and actually got there, it would probably be pretty late.
“If we are going to go tonight, we need to get supplies,” said Zach. “Something to dig with and a flashlight. All that stuff was in our backpacks, and now it’s at the bottom of the Ohio River.”
Alice inhaled sharply, and Zach followed her gaze. She was staring at the doll. Its head was turned, like it was looking out the window. Poppy was looking in the same direction, mirroring the doll’s pose perfectly.
“Poppy,” he said. “Stop messing around.”
“What?” she turned back to look at them, like she was oblivious. He hadn’t seen her turn the Queen’s head toward the window, but she must have. The doll didn’t move on its own—had never left the case, needed them to bring it to the grave. It didn’t move.
He really hoped it didn’t move.
Except for that time in the woods.
“You know where we’re going, right? You know which cemetery we’re going to, right?” He thought back to the moment before they got on the bus back home and how he’d asked her almost the same thing. The grave is under a willow tree. Eleanor will tell us the rest.
Alice looked about to say something scathing.
Poppy nodded, not looking at either of them. “Yeah.”
“You do, right?” Alice asked.
“Of course,” Poppy said, meeting their eyes, looking from Zach to Alice. “I just need a map.”
Zach would have liked her to seem more confident, but then he would have liked her to stop being so crazy about the Queen and also maybe to stop acting like she might be occasionally possessed. Zach would have liked a lot of things.
They paid the check with everything but the bus fare home, dumping the grimy pennies from the bottom of their pockets on the other coins and bills. The waitress smiled at them on the way out, and Zach smiled back, even though he knew they were completely broke.
“Hey,” Alice said, reaching down past circulars and coupon flyers near the door to pick up a crude tourist map. It didn’t have any graveyards on it, but it did have the pottery museum, a few antique pottery stores, and the Carnegie Library. “Is this any good?”
“The library,” Zach said. “They’ll have really detailed maps. We could use this to get there.”
According to the tourist map, the library wasn’t far. Now that she was a bit more dry and had eaten something, Alice seemed almost cheerful. He guessed that at this point there was no way she wasn’t getting in trouble, so maybe she’d just stopped worrying about it. She took the lead, Poppy trailing behind Zach, holding the Queen as though the doll had become very heavy. They walked down a few blocks until the library came into view, its stately front looking out onto the water. It was domed on top, with red stone making up the body and carved white stone trimming on the windows.
It looked out of place, too grand for what surrounded it. It was also closed. It had been closed since one in the afternoon and wasn’t due to open again until Monday morning.
“Who closes a library on the weekend?” Poppy said, kicking one of the steps softly with the toe of her shoe.
Zach shrugged, then turned to see what Alice thought. She was crouched near a basement window, pushing on the glass.
“What are you doing?” he whispered.
The window slid up a little ways, and Alice wedged her boot into the open space, scrambling to push it higher. It seemed stuck; probably the wood had swollen from changes in temperature and being unopened for years. “What does it look like?” she said.
“Breaking into a government-owned building that we could get arrested for being inside of.”
“Yup,” she said as the window slid up abruptly with a squeal. “That’s exactly what I’m doing.”
“Well,” Poppy said. “Okay then.”
Alice shimmied inside, hesitating once she was perched on the inner sill. The room was too shadowed for them to see what she was about to drop down onto.
“Alice,” Zach said warningly.
She jumped. There was a crash and a sound like something metal hitting the floor.
“Alice!” Poppy yelped.
“Shhhhh,” Alice called back from the darkness, smugness filling her voice. “See, I’m not so bad at quests after all.”
“That was amazing,” Zach said. “Exactly what Lady Jaye would do.”
“Well, come on then, William.” Alice’s voice, from the dark, was eerily changed. It was like he was talking to Alice and the character she played at the same time. For a moment he wasn’t sure who that made him. And in that moment he wasn’t sure who he wanted to be either, but he was grinning like an idiot.
He glanced back at Poppy. She looked crushed, like she was on the outside of a glass looking in at something she wanted desperately. They were playing, and he could tell she knew that if she tried to play too, he’d stop. For a moment he felt bad, but he was too happy to feel that way for long. It was fun to act like William with Alice, and it was fun to sneak into a building in the middle of the day, when even scary things weren’t that frightening.
“What did you land on?” he called to Alice, moving to slide his legs through.
“Desk,” she said. “Wait a second.”
He heard rustling and something else tip over, crashing and hitting the floor. Then the lights flickered to life, revealing a room filled with metal desks and filing cabinets, their surfaces covered in mounds of paper. Some kind of administrative storage area.
Zach kicked off the wall, jumping wide of the desk that Alice had probably hit; paper was scattered around it, and one of its desk lamps was lying just above the floor, dangling from a cord. He landed near a tall filing cabinet, nearly stumbling into it as he tried not to lose his balance.
“Wow, what is all this stuff?” he asked, walking through the space. Books were piled up next to lamps and old black-and-white photographs of the town in tidy black frames with engraved plates. A bookshelf had been shoved against the back wall, and one of the shelves was filled with old pottery.
It was exhilarating to be somewhere they weren’t supposed to be. Like being on the boat. A real adventure, like William and Lady Jaye would have had.
“Hey! Come take Eleanor,” Poppy called, holding out the doll as she shimmied down through the window.
He did, putting the Queen on top of one of the cabinets. Lying on her side, the doll’s eyes watched Zach accusingly as he helped Poppy down. As he did, a gust of cold wind blew through the room, scattering papers.
“We’re not going to be able to close that without a ladder,” Alice said, pointing at the window. “It’s too high up.”
“We won’t be here long,” said Poppy, picking up the Queen and walking toward the door.
Zach bumped his arm against Alice’s as they followed her. “I guess you’re not going to loot the place, huh, Jaye?”
“Let’s wait and see what we find upstairs,” she told him, grinning, as they stepped into the darkened hall.
The basement of the library was warm and smelled like wood polish and old paper. Zach inhaled deeply. He felt like he could relax for the first time since they’d gotten on the bus. They weren’t cold and exposed like they’d been outside, and they weren’t in front of people who could get them in trouble, the way they had been in the donut shop and at the diner, or hanging on for their lives, like they’d been on the boat.
Plus there was so much to see. They explored the conference room, the bathrooms, and two more storage rooms on the basement level. There was an exhibit of china vases behind glass, and the whole cabinet shook gently as they ran past.
Then they jogged up the steps and saw the vaulted ceilings, iron railings, and marble of the main floor. According to a legend on the wall, Carnegie was a famous philanthropist who’d been born super poor in a small Scottish town, made money in steel and used it to build libraries on the East Coast, among other good-deed-type things. In the picture, he looked like an angry old man with a short beard.
He didn’t look like the kind of guy who liked stories, but Zach thought he must have had to, to have built so many libraries.
“Hey,” Poppy said, calling to him from the second floor, where there was a rotunda that looked down on the reference desk on the first floor. “Come check this out!”
He grinned and ran for the stairs, quest forgotten.
There was something about being alone in an empty building. There was something about racing up the stairs and hanging over the balcony, your shout bouncing off the walls. Zach and Poppy and Alice dashed through the upstairs gallery, through the big rooms. And without really ever saying so, they started playing. Not their old game, which was still contentious, although Alice and Zach slipping into those characters on the way in made it easier to slip into new ones. First Poppy and Zach pretended to be monsters hiding in their library lair when Alice as monster-hunter came in. She chased them around for a while, trying to slay them, before they ganged up and chased her back, threatening to turn her into a monster too. They slid across the floor in their stocking feet, hiding behind stacks and riding on the book carts, shrieking as they went.
When they got tired of that, they went behind the back of the reference desk and rifled through the drawers, finding—in addition to pens, pencils, a flash drive, and a bunch of rubber bands—a pair of silver hoop earrings, a mystery novel with the cover ripped off, and an eraser in the shape of a delete key. At the desk Zach was even able to call the marina and leave the promised message about the boat while Poppy looked on.
Alice found a break room with a small kitchenette. There was a coffeepot, tea bags and sugar packets, and a refrigerator that contained five slightly wrinkly apples, a low-fat yogurt, a dry-looking hunk of cheddar, and a nearly full package of Oreos. Four folding chairs surrounded a table covered in review copies of books that hadn’t been released yet.
“Look at this!” Poppy held up a book they’d all been waiting for—one that wasn’t due out for months.
“And no one’s going to be in until Monday,” Zach said, sitting in one of the chairs and stretching out, dumping his damp jacket onto the table. “We can sleep here tonight. We are going to be warm and dry, and it’s going to be amazing.”
Alice snickered. He smiled up at the ceiling stupidly.
“We still have to go to the graveyard, remember?” Poppy stood, all the giddy joy draining out of her. “We can’t get comfortable.”
And just like that, all the fun of running around the library was over. Alice’s mouth pressed into a thin, resentful line as Poppy stalked off toward the main room. Their feud was back on.
He sighed. It was true that he didn’t want to go out into the cold either. And now that the end of the quest was so close, some part of him didn’t want it to be over. He didn’t want to go out into the graveyard and find out there wasn’t any magic after all. It seemed easier to goof around in the stacks and worry about burying the Queen in the morning.
Alice looked after Poppy, scowling.