"Fascinating and dreadful, BAD BLOOD is a haunting family saga of betrayed witches as well as one girl's struggle to come to terms with herself. With charm and skill to spare, Demitria Lunetta has crafted a story that will both warm your heart, and chill you to the bone."—KENDARE BLAKE, author of Three Dark Crowns
“An intriguing introduction set in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1629, leaps to modern-day teen Heather, who has issues with cutting stemming from visions of Scotland’s past, namely two sisters, Primrose and Prudence, who are hell-bent on destruction. . . . Lunetta’s latest has the perfect balance of mystery, magic, and realism with a sprinkle of Scottish history adding to the overall attraction. A perfect choice for fans of chilling supernatural reads.”--Booklist
“The setting charms, and the mystery unravels at a good clip. A thoroughly enjoyable contemporary Gothic.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A bang-up, twisty sci-fi adventure/thriller.” —Kirkus on IN THE AFTER
“Gripping and suspenseful.” —SLJ on IN THE AFTER
“The lightning-swift pace and strong female characters create a satisfying page-turner.” —Booklist on IN THE END
June 13, 1629
Black smoke scalds my lungs.
A crowd is gathered, their faces lit by the flames, but also ablaze with the joyous anticipation of my punishment. A few are pious men and women who have come to see God’s justice done. Most have come to witness the spectacle.
They have come to see me burn.
I strain against my binds, the pillar of wood at my back biting into my spine. But my weak struggle is of no use. My wrists, bound behind me, are raw and bleeding, and the rope at my neck only makes it harder to find air. I push hard against the pole and for a brief moment find the precious relief that I crave.
I focus my attention behind the mob, on the road to the castle, and beyond to the endless blue sky. I hated the city when I came here as a child, and though I became accustomed to the constant stench and dark stone corners, I have never forgotten my early home in the Highlands. Once, I had the rich green earth to play upon and crisp country air to breathe. I let my eyes rest on the sky. That, at least, is the same. I try to soothe myself with this knowledge. I belong to Scotland.
My respite is short-lived. As I suck inky smoke into my lungs, they feel as though they are on fire, charred from within. Each breath is a fight. Still more horrible is the knowledge that the pain will only worsen. The flames lick at my bare feet with a sharp, piercing intensity as my skin begins to blister.
I look into the crowd, my watery eyes pleading, but I know I will find no aid from the masses gathered in the square. The congregated come from all walks of life, all classes, a few men dressed in full Highland kilt, others emulating the English with their breeches and jackets. Some are military men, garrisoned at the castle, looking for a story to tell their fellow soldiers when they return up the hill. The women mostly wear simple plaids, but one is in an elaborate dress, her lace bonnet framing her pretty face. An imposing man holds her close. An earl or a marquess, perhaps.
I try to focus on each individual, but my eyes snap back to the bishop, who stands in front, his torch held high in his hand, arm raised in righteous fury, face set in stone.
The blaze catches my skirts now and a searing pain travels up my leg. No matter how determined I am to remain distracted, there is no diversion in the world that can take my mind from the anguish. I have told myself that I willnae scream, willnae give them the satisfaction. But I cannae help the cry that escapes my lips, a sound as hideous as if it has come from the devil himself. I have become what they would believe me to be: inhuman.
I can no longer feel the agony in my feet and I am grateful for the rope around my neck. I cannae look down to see my blackened feet. It willnae be long now until the inferno engulfs me.
I look one last time to the crowd for any small comfort as my skin sizzles and my blood boils. All I see are faces filled with hatred. A child hides behind her mother, whose eyes blaze with a fevered glow to rival even the hellfire that swallows me in its gaping maw. I will find no sympathy here.
They have come to see the witch burn.
Another cry flies from my mouth but cuts short, ending in a sputter. I can no longer find the air to fill my lungs; there is only smoldering darkness. I try to embrace it, to put an end to the torture.
A few of the ladies gathered in front look ill now. They wanted to see me burn, but they weren’t prepared for the cracking of my skin as it cooks on my bones, or the smell of charred flesh.
One girl pushes her way to the front of the crowd. The sight of her makes my heart soar. She will save me. I know she will. Hope floods my body, and I trick myself into believing that the flames have been extinguished. A new bout of pain pushes that thought from my head.
When I focus once again on the girl, my faith is dashed; my heart plummets back to the earth, shattering against the cold, unloving stone. I realize that she isnae here to save me.
The last thing I see is her look of pure, triumphant joy.
Hate fills my body as I, at last, pass into darkness.
I close my eyes and think of blood.
Count backward from ten, I tell myself. I grip the hard plastic of the chair and breathe in and out, slowly. It’s a trick I learned in group, and sometimes it works. By the time I get to three the compulsion has passed, and I open my eyes with a sigh.
This is where I’ve spent the past six weeks of my life. Not quite a hospital room, not quite a prison cell; the walls are painted a tragic yellow-green. The room’s contents come in pairs: two beds, one against each wall; two chairs; two desks. Each side a perfect mirror of the other. Except my side is neat and clean, while my roommate’s looks like a tornado just passed through. I don’t blame her. She’s new and hasn’t had to face punishment for being messy. She will soon, though. Then she’ll learn her lesson, just like I did. Also, my side looks bare because my things are all packed away. I glance at the duffel bag at my feet and rub my hands against my knees. I’m full of nervous energy.
Today I get to go home. I can’t keep my feet still, and my heels bounce up and down on the worn gray linoleum. I wasted so much time here. Starting next month I get to spend the rest of my summer where I truly belong, where I get to spend every summer, where I should be right now: with my grandma and my aunt in Scotland.
I wait impatiently for Dr. Casella. She probably has to speak with my parents about my recovery process, remind them again that I need to take my meds every day. I feel like I’m being watched, and I glance up at the corners of the room, then close my eyes tight. There are no cameras. There is no one here. It’s a side effect of the medication they have me on . . . this paranoia. The feeling is easy to ignore, much more so than my burning desire to leave this place, to be a thousand miles away on another continent. Much more so than the compulsion I’ve been forced to deny for six weeks.
The door flies open, and for a moment I think it’s going to be Dr. Casella, but it’s just my roommate, back from her group therapy session. She’s framed by the doorway, and again I can’t help but wince at how painfully thin she looks. She’s one of those girls who thinks the less of her there is, the more she deserves love. There are a lot of them here at the Great Lakes Wellness Center. Girls with eating disorders. Not that I can judge. There are a lot of girls like me here too.
Though not exactly like me. In therapy they all had a story to tell about why they were the way they were, why they did what they did. I listened and nodded, and when it was my turn I talked about how hard my life was, how powerless I felt, because I knew it was what they wanted to hear. I’d do anything to get out of this place, to be labeled “better” and sent on my merry way.
“Leaving today?” My roommate is staring at me with her wide, round eyes. Her stringy dark hair frames her gaunt face. I nod.
“Lucky.” She flops back on her bed, her bony arms and legs sprawled to the sides.
“You should straighten up your stuff,” I tell her, feeling like I need to share my wisdom with the newbie. She just shrugs. “If you fail room inspection they’ll make you scrub the communal toilets,” I warn. That gets her attention and her head pops up.
“Hey, is what you told me yesterday true? Are they really watching us all the time?”
“I said that?” I know I did; my paranoia was particularly bad yesterday. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, I can’t act normal. I crack a phony grin. “I was just messing with you.”
“Oh, good.” She sits up and lifts her shirt slightly. Around her skeletal middle she’s taped a sandwich bag filled with a few ounces of water. “Every little bit helps,” she tells me with a grin. Then walks to our private bathroom to, I assume, dump the evidence.
A lot of the anorexic girls try to trick the scales. It won’t last long. Even if her pat-down didn’t reveal her secret this time, she’ll get caught eventually. It’s harder for girls like me. There’s no use trying to trick anyone, not when they do a head-to-toe search daily. Dr. Casella promised that would stop when I left here . . . that I would once again be responsible for my own body. My roommate returns, sits on her bed, and pops her earbuds in.
“Heather, are you ready?” Dr. Casella asks from the doorway. I didn’t even see her there. I grab my duffel and make a beeline for the door, but at the last moment I pause and turn back. “Good luck,” I tell the flesh-and-bones stick figure of a girl. Then I follow Dr. Casella down the hall.
“Are you excited?” Dr. Casella asks me, her smile warm.
“To get the hell out of here?” I ask. “Only more excited than I’ve been for anything in like, my entire life.”
Dr. Casella’s laugh echoes as we pass through the door to the reception area, which her key card opens. My parents sit there with matching expressions of hope and fear. They want to know if their daughter is better. They want me to be returned fixed and whole, no longer broken.
I walk through the door with a fake smile plastered to my face. I’ll do my best to convince them that the six weeks spent in this place has been a success. That I no longer think of blood.
Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done.
4 weeks later
“Heather!” I open my eyes to see my dad’s concerned face hovering over me. My bedroom is dimly illuminated by the light from the hall.
“Wh-what’s going on?” I shiver against the cold, even though summer in Chicago is well under way and my mom hates to use the AC. I realize that my sheets are damp. My pajamas, too. I run a hand through my sweat-soaked hair.
“Are you okay?” My mom appears behind my father, worry etched in the lines around her eyes. I’ve been at home for a month now, but she treats me like I’m made of glass.
I sit up and cough uncontrollably. My throat is raw. I gulp down deep breaths until my coughing fit passes. “Was I screaming?” I ask hoarsely.
“Aye, and . . .” My dad glances at my mom.
She sits next to me on the bed. “Do you remember what you dreamt about?” she asks, smoothing back my hair. “It looked like you couldn’t breathe.”
“No.” It’s not quite a lie. The terror is already fading. There’s no need to share my nightmare with her. Some things are better kept to the shadows.
My mom studies me, her eyes shining in the dull light. “The Wellness Center was supposed to help you.”
“Dr. Casella said this could happen,” I remind her. I don’t want her to worry, but I’m shaken. Why did I dream of being burned alive as a group of onlookers gleefully watched? Why were all the people’s clothes so old-fashioned? I know the location--it’s near where my aunt lives in Scotland, on the road that leads up to Edinburgh Castle. Where I’m going today.
When my mom caught me cutting myself, it almost broke her. She’s afraid something happened to me when I was younger. Something I’m too scared to tell her about.
The truth is, I don’t know why I do it. Nothing traumatic happened the year it started--unless you count being one of the last girls in my class to get my period. I’m pretty sure if horrifying dreams were a side effect of that, I’d have learned about it in health class. I could pop a couple of Midols and call it a day.
“I want to get a little more sleep before my flight,” I say, lying back down.
My father nods and makes his way toward my door while my mother just stares at me, her face stricken. For a moment panic fills me. If she tells me I can’t go, I don’t know what I’ll do. I need to go.
“I’m okay, really,” I tell her. She bends over and hugs me, pulling me to her. The damp fabric of my pajamas presses against my clammy skin. My hip aches, and when my mother stands I spot a bloom of fresh blood staining my pajama top. If she sees that, it’s back to the Center for me. Back to pointless therapy, hospital food, and lights-out at eight-thirty.
Luckily my mother doesn’t notice, and when she leaves, the door clicking behind her, I rush to my dresser and grab a handful of tissues. It will have to do until I can get a bandage, maybe at the airport, so my mother isn’t suspicious. I decide to get dressed. It’s only six in the morning, but there’s no way I’ll be going back to sleep.
I can hear them in the hall, whispering. My mother’s high-pitched, anxious voice punctuates my father’s much deeper cadence, his accent almost rhythmic. She wants me to stay here for the rest of the summer. She thinks I need more recovery time, more supervision, even though in the month since I’ve left the Wellness Center I’ve done everything they’ve asked, haven’t missed a single therapy session.
I glance at my luggage, already packed and ready for my afternoon flight. “You know she loves Edinburgh,” my father says, pronouncing Edinburgh as the Scots do, Edinburra. “It will be good for her. Not to mention Mum and Abbie need to see her.”
“But what if she starts it up again?” My mother’s pained voice cuts through our house.
Mom’s the one who found me that day, my leg covered in blood. I thought I was home alone; I didn’t bother to lock my door. All these years I’ve kept it a secret and in one moment my world came crashing down. I was supposed to leave for Scotland the next week, but instead I was sent off to the Wellness Center with other girls like me. Troubled, broken girls.