Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake
Driving down a dark and winding road in the classic car he borrowed from his neighbor, Cas Lowood pulls over and picks up a hitchhiker with a greaser hairstyle who's just trying to get back to his girl. Cas has been planning this pick up for a while. It's the only reason he and his mom moved to this town. As the greaser talks about marrying his girl, Cas keeps an eye on the road, waiting for the bridge that's getting ever closer. As they approach, Cas grabs his knife, the athame that used to be his father's, and prepares himself. The greaser turns into a grisly ghost when they reach the bridge and attacks as Cas stabs him with the athame, sending him on to… wherever it is that ghosts go when they die.
When Cas gets back home, his mom and her cat, Tybalt, are waiting. Cas rinses the athame, then his mom takes over and cleanses it with white witchcraft, her specialty. It's time for them to move to the next city and find the next ghost Cas is meant to destroy. Cas’s mom is of course worried about Cas and the fact that he's about to be finished with high school and has zero college plans, but she also knows that Cas has a mission. To kill ghosts and avenge his father, who was a ghost hunter before him and who unfortunately was murdered by one of the ghosts he intended to dispatch. Cas got a tip about his next mission, Anna Korlov, Anna Dressed in Blood, from an acquaintance and now it's time to pack up their rental house and move again. They're old hat at moving now, and soon, they make it to Canada and their new town, Thunder Bay.
They get settled in their house, letting Tybalt in first to search for ghosts because cats are really good at that, but he seems fine in all the rooms, so they move everything in. He does get a little jumpy near the attic, but Cas‘s mom says he's just playing and that there are probably just some sort of pests up there that they'll deal with later. They always let Tybalt check out the houses before settling in after a ghost pushed his mother down the stairs. This happened while his father was still alive, but they've been doing it ever since and Tybalt has never let them down.
As they move in, Cas remembers getting the Anna case. He gets emails and letters all the time about all sorts of ghosts all over the place, but this one came from an acquaintance, Daisy, in New Orleans. He wrote the information in his own blood for the theatricality of it, but when Cas called and heard Anna's story, he knew he had to go after her. There are plenty of spooky sleepover stories about Anna, wearing a white party dress on her way to a school dance and someone, maybe a jealous boyfriend, maybe someone from her boarding house, cutting her throat, soaking her dress in blood. Now, she haunts the boarding house, killing anyone who goes inside, but there are never any bodies.
Cas gets enrolled in school and spends his first day looking for and befriending the queen bee because they always know everything and everyone. Thunder Bay’s queen bee is Carmel Jones. Carmel is beautiful and popular and has an ex boyfriend, Mike, who is a dick. He comes by with his football bros, Will and Chase, to ask if Carmel is going to the Edge of the World party, aka, the first day of school party, later that night. Cas introduces himself to the Trojan Army, a name that pops into his head about these bros, and invites himself to the party. Carmel offers to drive him.
After school, as he's walking home, Cas feels someone following him. He reaches for his athame before realizing the person following him is alive. His name is Thomas and he has known that Cas has been in town for 17 days. He's a psychic and has had a terrible headache for all that time, knowing that Cas is in town and that something bad is going to happen because of it. They go eat sushi and Thomas tells Cas he put that Trojan Army thought into his head and that he shouldn't get involved with Carmel because Mike is a jealous dick, but Cas doesn't like being told all this stuff, especially when it's inside his head. He thinks of all the horrible ghosts and things he's done to force Thomas out of his head and keep him out. It doesn't really work.
Later, after telling his mom he can't go into the attic to set traps for whatever is up there, Carmel picks Cas up and they go to the party. Everyone's there trying to impress everyone else and Cas finds it pretty boring, until, that is, Mike, Will and Chase come over and try to freak Cas out with ghost stories, specifically the story of Anna Dressed in Blood. They tell him that after Anna was killed, she came back to haunt her house. When it sold after her mother had a heart attack, she gruesomely killed the family who moved in, and now she pretty much kills anyone who steps foot inside. Cas convinces Mike, Chase and Will to leave the party and take him there. Carmel comes along, too.
When they arrive at Anna's house, it seems that Mike and his bros are scared, but Cas is used to this. Carmel is getting freaked out, so Cas tries to get the bros to leave, planning to come back later and take care of business. Instead, Mike and Chase get him inside and bash his head with a board and leave him for dead. Luckily, he doesn't die, but he's still in Anna's house. And then she flickers into existence on the stairs, dressed in blood and looking terrible. She comes near Cas, who is barely conscious, but he smiles up at her when he sees her and says her name. She then thrusts her arms through the window, yanks Mike back inside and literally rips him in half. She turns away as someone comes inside and drags Cas out.
Cas wakes up at Thomas’s. He and his grandfather, Morfran, know about Anna. Morfran even knows when she's killed someone and can tell that something's changing about her. He's also the one who told Daisy to tell Cas to come. They've got to figure out what to do about Anna but first Cas has to take a shower, then they've got to go to school. They see Carmel who is shocked that Cas is still alive and they plan to meet up at lunch time with Will and Chase to figure out what to say about Mike and what to do about Anna.
Mike is easy. The group plans to tell the police or anyone who asks that they were at a party then went driving around and then Mike got mad about Cas and Carmel so he left and started walking home and they haven't seen him since. Anna, however, will be slightly more difficult. Will and Chase want to kill her, but uh, she's already dead. Cas doesn't reveal that he's a ghost hunter, but Thomas suggests that his grandfather might be able to help. They plan to go see him later that day. Cas tells Thomas to keep them busy while he goes to Anna's.
At Anna's house, Cas first encounters Mike, well, Mike's ghost but not his body. He tells Cas, after a pretty great Jesus joke, that once they're there, they can never leave, then he rips in half again and tells Cas it only hurts for a minute before oozing through the floor. Uh, yikes. Anna appears then, dripping with blood and terrifying, but when she sees Cas’s athame, she becomes her normal self, or as normal as a ghost can be, and asks his name. They have a relatively normal conversation, nothing about grisly death anyway, but then she tells him to leave because, for some reason, she can let him leave. He says he can't leave without her being back in the ground and that it'll be peaceful. Well, she wasn't ever in the ground and she doesn't deserve peace after what she's done, so she throws him around a little bit and slightly transforms while yelling about not ever wanting to be dead. She throws him out of the house, so he has to come up with a new plan because whatever it was he tried just then did not work at all.
After having his ass handed to him, Cas stays home from school the next day and his witchy mother makes him a restorative tea bath. While soaking, he decides to call his dad's old mentor and family friend, Gideon. Right after Cas’s dad died in Baton Rouge, Gideon and Cas’s mom cleared their house, but Cas found a black cross with a hair snake on it in the fireplace. When he showed Gideon, he slapped him across the face. Apparently this cross was used in voodoo and Gideon and Cas's mom don't want him to have anything to do with that, especially since he was just a kid at the time. Now, Gideon suggests doing research into Anna's death because she seems to be more powerful than a regular ghost, so they need to figure out how and why. Is the house powering her? Gideon will help prepare a spell for Cas to do in the house, but he'll need a black witch to help, so Cas will need Thomas or Morfran for that.
When he gets out of the bath, Cas is shocked to see his mother in the living room eating cookies with Carmel. She brought him a homework assignment that they're supposed to work on together, so he suggests going to the library, but first, he needs to talk to Thomas. Carmel tells him that she doesn't believe anything Thomas and Morfran told them the night before when they were distracting them and insists on going with him when Thomas drives by to pick him up, but he doesn't let her. Cas asks Thomas and Morfran about gathering supplies to help with the spell that Gideon is working on and they agree. He prepares himself for his future. If he's able to stop Anna, he'll finally feel prepared enough to go after the ghost who killed his father.
At the library later, Cas and Thomas meet up with Carmel. Cas sits to do his homework with Carmel while Thomas goes off to search for information on Anna. Just after finding Anna's obituary, two police officers arrive to ask them about Mike and let them know he's missing. Carmel smoothly lies telling them the story they devised and they leave. Cas ends up stealing the obituary after looking at it longingly. He has confused feelings about her, after all, she was very pretty when she was alive, and she didn't kill him. Twice.
After waking from a nightmare where Cas thinks a grisly, smelly, murderous, man-eating horror is floating above him, he decides to go to Anna's house. When he walks through the front door, he plummets suddenly into the basement somehow, and he doesn't land on the ground, he lands on a pile of oozing bodies. Disentangling himself, he goes back upstairs and feels completely comfortable. Anna is nothing for him to be afraid of, she's acting like a regular ol’ poltergeist, which he can handle easily. He finds a way back upstairs to the now totally normal haunted house and sits on the couch.
Anna appears and they have an even more normal conversation this time, about what she wanted to do before she died, about how Cas is definitely holding back from killing her and that he also definitely can't kill her. She acts very human and even kinda girly, and Cas moves closer, but then Carmel walks in. Cas takes his hand away from Anna's face as she transforms into her terrifying evil death goddess form. She doesn't want to become this horrifying thing, but she does, and Cas needs to figure out why.
Carmel is upset that Cas is having friendly chats with the ghost monster that killed her ex boyfriend, so he tries to explain that, for whatever reason, he's safe in that house and he needs to find out more about Anna. Cas is upset that Carmel followed him there, and more upset when he learns that Thomas told her about Cas being a ghost hunter. He's even more upset when she calls him a Ghostbuster.
They go back to Thomas and Morfran’s place and Will meets them. He also calls Gideon. They eventually have a plan that involves them casting a spell that will make them safe from the house and make Anna reveal what happened to her. Cas learned a little bit during their heartfelt conversation before Carmel came in, that she was going to her first and only school dance and then she was going to run away because her mother's husband was a creep and only married her mom to get to her, but then she was murdered. All she wanted to do was get away and maybe become a photographer, not end up stuck there with a creep and running the boarding house. Hopefully with the spell and his ragtag group that are definitely not made up of Ghostbusters, even though Cas declares himself Peter Venkmen and Thomas Egon, he'll find out what he needs to know to save Anna, or kill her, or whatever it is that happens to ghosts when he uses his athame on them.
Cas goes back home and is worried about his mom because he hasn't been spending much time with her during this ghost hunting trip. She has lots of mail for him about other ghosts and complains about being kept up at night because Tybalt is freaking out about whatever rodents are in the attic. Cas was supposed to do something about them right after they moved in but he didn't, which makes him feel even worse about not helping his mom. She thinks whatever is in there is bigger than a rat. Maybe a raccoon? Anyway, she's been working on protection bags for them to wear while they do their Anna spell and they're ready.
After a few days, they have everything they'll need to cast the spell to trap Anna. Thomas has learned the spell and they gather together to practice, though Will thinks it's stupid. Cas explains what's going to happen, that they'll do the spell and then he'll be able to kill Anna with his athame, but Will thinks he's the one who should do it because Mike was his best friend. Cas tries to explain that he's the only one who can do it, but Will doesn't believe it. To prove to them that Cas knows what he's talking about, he suggests they take their session to a real ghost, so Will takes them to see the Police Officer. He died in a hostage situation with a railroad worker, but Cas discovers, after the ghost attacks, that the two melded together. The fight is not easy, but Cas is successful. Now they're ready to face Anna.
Outside Anna's house, they circle up and start the spell, then carry it inside. Anna is worried about them coming in on account of her becoming a crazy monster when anyone steps foot inside, but because of the spell and the protection bags, they're fine. Anna knows they've come to set her free, which is nicer than saying kill her ghost, and she allows the spell to continue. When she's inside their circle, they watch as her last night plays out in front of them.
Anna is about to leave for the dance in her white dress, and she has all her belongings wrapped up in a bag because she's running away and never coming back. Her mother, Malvina, is disgusted and her soon-to-be stepfather, Elias, is excited and not in a good way. Malvina demands that Elias take Anna upstairs and strip her of her dress, but Anna, and everyone watching, knows what will happen if he is successful, so she fights. Cas is proud of her even though he knows the outcome is terrible. After Elias has Anna pinned, Malvina comes into the room with a kitchen knife and slits her daughter's throat. Cas and Thomas immediately know she is a witch, which explains why Anna and the house react the way they do. Malvina cursed her daughter. After Anna is dead and disrobed, Malvina makes Elias get a different dress for her while she summons a demon. She asks the demon Hiisi to take Anna’s blood and suffering and trap her inside the house, then she stabs a flaming knife down through the dress, pushing it into the house under the floorboards that are glowing with demonic power.
After they witness Anna's last night alive, their spell dissipates. Anna is in her scary form, but collapsed on the ground and very weak. No one really knows what to do after what they witnessed. Should Cas kill her? Should they even care? Carmel seems very worried, but then she shouts at Cas to watch out. Will is coming for him, or more specifically, his athame. Cas and Carmel don't want to hurt Anna, Thomas is unsure, but Will definitely wants to kill her. Cas tries to convince Will that he will be unable to kill Anna because his athame is powered by his family's bloodline and only he has the power to dispel ghosts, which may or may not be true. They fight and Will manages to leave without killing Anna, but he still has Cas’s knife.
After Will leaves, they check on Anna again, and then Cas gets an idea. He goes over to the spot in the floorboards where Anna's dress should be and tries to break through. Thomas helps by getting a crowbar and tire iron, and together they rip up the floor and find Anna's dress. Cas puts it on her and she changes between her scary form and her regular form, the dress morphing between being new and white to being red with blood to being black with age. It finally resets to its fresh whiteness. With the dress on, Anna is restored and is able to walk right through the front door. Uh oh. Did they just release a terrifying monstrous ghost on the world?
Out on the porch, which is as far as Anna went, Cas checks on her while keeping Carmel and Thomas back. Anna assures them she won't hurt them because she feels sane now, which seems to be a pretty good thing. Cas decides they need to leave and get some sleep, but promises to come back soon.
Cas wakes from another nightmare where a huge terrifying man with a Cajun accent is screaming at him about losing the knife. When he wakes, Tybalt is there again. Cas thinks that his brain is feeling really guilty about losing the knife so he had a bad dream about it. Unable to go back to sleep, Cas and Tybalt go down to the kitchen and drink coffee. Well, Tybalt doesn't. Cas’s mom wakes later and joins him at the table, asking what happened the night before. He tells her he lost the knife and broke Anna's curse but didn't do what he was supposed to do and kill her. His mom is not so sure that is what he was supposed to do at all. Maybe he was just supposed to stop her from killing others, and maybe now he needs to go back and check on her.
Anna is outside in the sunshine when Cas goes back to see her. They talk about his knife and how she can tell he didn't bring it with him, and he tells her that Will stole it. She shares that she felt a pull to it, like she was supposed to go wherever it would make her go, and that Cas isn't the only one who can kill ghosts with it because it has a dark power. Cas only uses it for good, though, and wants to get it back.
They go inside the house and it seems more like a regular dilapidated old place instead of the haunted house that it was only the day before. It is definitely still haunted though. Anna shows Cas that she can willfully become the death goddess version of herself and tells him that it makes her feel safe, which he understands, but then a door slams and the ghost of a vagrant she disemboweled appears. He laments that all he wanted to do was sleep and then all his insides tumble out. Anna feels bad about the literal pile of bodies in the basement but decides she needs to stay there because she deserves it. Cas promises to go see Thomas and Morfran who will know what to do about exorcizing her house.
On his way there, listening to Paint It, Black on the radio, a news bulletin cuts in about a body found dismembered at the cemetery. Cas goes to investigate and thinks that it was Anna who did it. He goes back to her house and tells her he's going to have to end her if she keeps killing people but she swears she didn't do it. She hid, scared of the other ghosts, in her bedroom all night. Cas apologizes not knowing what to do, but Anna tells him he's got to finish her because he's her way to atone for what she's done. She tells him to go find his knife.
Cas has more terrible nightmares featuring the smelly Cajun voice that makes Tybalt’s tail puff and still assumes it's just residual guilt about Anna or his missing knife or a combination, so he's tired at school the next day and falls asleep in class. He meets up with Thomas at his locker and he's freaked out about the dismembered guy, thinking it's Anna, and then Carmel joins them and she thinks it's Anna, too. He insists that it's not and gets all blushy telling them that he's gone to see her.
As they plan to ditch the next class and go for pizza to talk, Will comes up and punches Cas in the face. He tells Cas that he's going to kill Anna and threatens to cut Thomas, but Carmel steps in front of him. It seems that Thomas's longtime crush is finally being reciprocated! Will leaves, and so do Cas, Thomas and Carmel. They've got to come up with a plan to get his knife back. On the way to his house, Cas and Thomas talk about Cas’s obvious feelings for Anna, then inside, over hoagies, they talk about maybe Cas sticking around instead of moving off to fight another ghost. It could be good to stay in one place for a while with friends and a ghosty girlfriend… After this discussion, they devise a plan to get the athame back. Carmel will start a rumor about Will carrying a weapon so he'll leave it at home, then they'll go inside while everyone is gone the next day and take it back. Easy!
Nah. Nothing's ever that easy! As Thomas and Cas sit in the car down the street from Will's house, Carmel calls to tell them that he and Chase didn't come to school. Great. They think that Will realized that someone started the rumors and that he's just gone straight to Anna's to kill her. As they begin to head that way, they pass by his house and see the curtains drawn in one room. Cas knows he's there, so they go inside using a key that Carmel gave them. Inside the room with the curtains drawn, they find Will and Chase dead. But they're not just like, regular murdered. They've been partially eaten. Cas has only known of one other person to die like this. His father. Oh shit. Is the ghost that killed him here in Thunder Bay too? How?
Cas goes pretty much catatonic at this point but they get to Anna's followed shortly by Carmel. Both Thomas and Carmel want to fight Anna, Carmel even hits her with a bat, but it doesn't do any good really. Cas finally breaks out of his stupor to tell them about the ghost from Baton Rouge that killed his father by eating him, and then it clicks for him that the nightmares he's been having might not be nightmares after all. Cas doesn't know what to do without his knife, but Carmel says they've got Anna, and, well, she's a terrifyingly powerful ghost.
They decide first to go to see Morfran who can do a spell to help them track the knife, then, they'll figure something else out. When they arrive though, Cas realizes he needs to tell his mother that the thing that ate her husband is here, so Thomas gives him his car keys and tells him to go get her. Anna goes with him, but when they get to their house, Anna can't get inside because Cas's mom has warded it, so she waits outside. Cas goes in and tells his mom everything that has happened. She decides they need to move out immediately and goes to Cas's room to pack, but then Cas spots the athame under his pillow. Then they hear the attic door open. Oh shit. They need to leave, now!
But they can't. The thing that killed Cas's dad is coming down the attic stairs. He's a man, well, a ghost, wearing a dusty suit with long dreads and stitches over his eyes and something that looks like a snake in his fingers. He's been inside their attic the entire time, which means he was there when the wards were put up, so they have no effect on him. If only Cas had gone up to set the traps!
The ghost man comes for them, telling them that he's been there the whole time, returning things that stupid boys lost and eating cats. Wait. No. That's not a snake, that's Tybalt's tail! Cas is furious and lunges to attack the man with his athame, but the man knocks them down the stairs. Anna's been pounding at the door the entire time and the man says she's what they came for and that they should end it, then he pins Cas to the wall and exhales something into his face, making him unable to move, and then he blacks out. Anna blows the door off the hinges, ready to fight, but the man says that if Anna's blood isn't on the athame by the next day, Cas will be dead, his brain oozing out of his ears.
Cas wakes up at Morfran's just like after his first encounter with Anna. Everyone is there and pleased to see him awake, but Morfran has some bad news. The thing that ate his father and has now put a hex on Cas is an Obeahman. Obeah is a kind of voodoo, but much more dark and powerful. When the Obeahman ate Cas’s father, he absorbed his power, because that's what Obeahmen do. Now, with that connection to Cas and his father and their power, he has it too, and he's attached to the athame. All of this is terrible. What's worse though is the hex. If Cas doesn't kill Anna, thus sending her power into the Obeahman through the athame, then he will die. His organs are already shutting down. If he does kill her, the hex will lift, but the Obeahman will also have Anna's power and basically be unstoppable. What are they going to do? They are going to fight on their own turf and pull a rope-a-dope. That's what Cas says anyway.
They go to Anna's house and prepare for their final stand. Morfran and Thomas secure the upstairs so they'll have a place to escape to if necessary and have plans to create a magical lure to get the Obeahman to come. Cas’s mom, Carmel and Anna work in the kitchen preparing potions and cleaning crystals to assist. Cas feels like he's dying. He and Anna go out on the porch and have a heartfelt moment with some kissing. Cas tells Anna he's going to lure the Obeahman there by killing her, but only a little bit. He's really just going to cut and bleed her, which sounds horrendous, but remember, Anna is a ghost so she'll be fine. They kiss some more and then go inside. It's time to summon the Obeahman.
Cas cuts Anna's arm and the Obeahman mists into the house. Thomas and Morfran begin binding him so can't leave the house, and Carmel and Cas's mom are safe upstairs. Cas and the Obeahman begin to fight but Cas is deteriorating quickly. The Obeahman slams Cas into a wall and Anna is weak from the cut, so Carmel comes lunging in with her bat. She crashes it into the Obeahman’s head but then he unhinges his jaw and bites into her leg. It's awful. Cas stabs him inside his mouth with the athame and Thomas comes to drag her away. Things are not going well, but then Anna rises horrifyingly into the air and begins her attack.
Anna and the Obeahman fight and she's much stronger than he is, but then he bites her arm. Cas comes in with his athame again and pries him off of her. Anna tells Cas to get everyone out because she's going to destroy the house. She smashes into the spot in the floorboards where her mother summoned the demon all those years ago and the floor begins to glow. She pulls the Obeahman down inside the floor, but Cas tries to get her out. She refuses to go and throws him outside, then continues to drag herself and the Obeahman down. With everyone else safely outside, the house glows red and implodes.
Later, in the hospital, Cas thinks over the ridiculous story they concocted to cover up what happened. A bear attack. A bear bit Carmel and threw Cas into a tree. And everyone just believes it! It takes Cas a while to feel better, but his organs are no longer failing, so that's good, but he's sad because Anna sacrificed herself for them all. Thomas and Morfran went to check on her house, but it is completely gone. Thomas sits with Cas and asks him where he's going off to next, but he just smiles. Cas believes that Anna has opened a doorway to somewhere else and he's going to try to follow, and tells Thomas that maybe he and Carmel can help.