Girl of Nightmares

Page 33


Thick fingers of nausea crawl up my throat. I have to do something, before it takes over, or before Carmel panics and leaves the circle. My hand jerks toward the drum and presses down on the taut skin. I don't know why. Just some strange impulse. The touch leaves behind a wet, red print. For an instant it stands out, bright and tribal. Then it sinks into the drum's surface, disappearing like it was never there.

"Thomas, man, I don't know how much longer I can do this," I whisper. I can barely make out the shine from his eyeglasses through the smoke. He doesn't hear me.

A girl's scream cuts through the air, ripping and brutal. And it wasn't Carmel. This scream is a meat cleaver to the ears, and even before I see the first black strands of snaking hair I know that Thomas has done it. He's found Anna's beat.

When this started, I tried not to think ahead, to keep from expecting anything. Turns out it wasn't necessary. The sight in front of me now, I never could have imagined.

Anna explodes into the circle, as if Thomas's drum has pulled her out of another dimension. She breaks through the air between us like a sonic boom and strikes some unseen surface three feet off the ground. It isn't the quiet girl in white who he's called but the black-veined goddess, monstrous and beautiful, saturated in red. Black hair roils behind her in a cloud, and my head spins. She's right in front of me, streaked with red, and for a second I can't remember why, or what I was supposed to say. Blood drips from her dress but never hits the dirt, because she isn't really where the dirt is. We're just looking through an opened window.

"Anna," I whisper. For an instant, she bares her teeth and her oil-black eyes go wide. But instead of answering, she shakes her head and squeezes them shut. Her fists pound against some unseen surface.

"Anna." Louder this time.

"You're not here," she says, staring down, and relief floods through my chest, leaving my insides wide open and rubbery. She hears me. That's something.

"You're not here either," I say. The sight of her. The magnitude. I hadn't forgotten, but seeing it again blows me away. She's crouched, on the defensive like a hissing cat.

"You're just my imagination," she counters. She sounds like me, just like me . I glance at Thomas, holding the beat on the drum, keeping his breathing steady. A dark ring of sweat has spread around the collar of his t-shirt; rivulets are running down his face from the effort. We might not have much time.

"That's what I thought," I say. "When you first showed up at my house. That's what I tried to tell myself when you'd put yourself into a furnace or throw yourself out my window."

Anna's face twitches, I think, with cautious hope. It's sort of hard to tell, hard to read emotions through black veins.

"Was it really you?" I ask.

"I didn't throw," she mutters to no one in particular. "I was thrown. Down, onto the stones. I was pulled. Pulled inside to be burned." She shudders, maybe at the memory, and so do I. But I have to get her on track.

"The girl we're looking at now, is it you?" There isn't time, but I don't know what to say. She seems so confused. Was it really her? Was she asking for my help?

"You can see me?" she asks, and before I can answer, the dark goddess melts away. Black veins recede into pale skin, and her hair stills and turns brown, hanging limp over her shoulders. When she pushes back onto her knees, the familiar white dress crumples around her legs. It's streaked with black stains. Her hands flutter in her lap, and those eyes, those dark, fierce eyes are still unsure. They flicker back and forth. "I can't see you. It's just dark." Regret makes her words halting and quiet. I don't know what to say. There are fresh scabs on her knuckles, and her arms are bruised purple. Narrow scars crisscross her shoulders. This can't be.

"Why can't I see you?"

"I don't know," I say quickly. Smoke swirls up between us and I'm relieved to look away, to blink. There's a choking feeling in the back of my throat. "This is only a window that Thomas was able to open," I say. This is all wrong. Wherever she is, it isn't where she's supposed to be. The scars on her arms. The bruises.

"What happened to you? Where did you get those scars?"

She looks down at herself, sort of surprised, like she's just now realizing they're there. "I knew you were safe," she says softly. "After we crossed over. I knew." She smiles, but there isn't any real feeling in it. We don't have time for this.


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