Girl of Nightmares

Page 34


I swallow hard. "Where are you?"

Her hair hangs across her cheeks and she stares into nothing. I don't even know if she really believes we're having this conversation.

"In Hell," she whispers like it's a matter of course. "I'm in Hell."

No. No, that's not where she belongs. It wasn't where she was supposed to go. She was supposed to be at rest. She was- I stop, because what the f**k do I know? These aren't decisions that I make. That's just what I wanted, and what I tried to believe.

"You're asking for my help, is that it? Is that why you showed me these things?"

Her head shakes. "No. I didn't think you could really see. I didn't think it was real. I just imagined you. It was easier, if I could see your face." She shakes her head again. "I'm sorry. I don't want you to see."

There's a puckered, healing cut along the curve of her shoulder. It isn't right. I don't know who or what decides, but now I'm going to. It can't stand this way.

"Anna, listen. I'm going to bring you back. I'm going to find a way to bring you home. Do you understand?"

Her head jerks to the right, and she goes still and tense like a prey animal hiding from a wolf. Instinctually I stay silent and watch the rapid rise and fall of her rib cage. After a few long seconds, she relaxes.

"You should go," she says. "He'll find me here. He'll hear you."

"Who?" I ask. "Who will find you?"

"He always finds me," she goes on like she hasn't heard. "And then he burns. And cuts. And kills. I can't fight him here. I can't win." Black tendrils of hair are beginning to shoot through the brown. There's a faraway tone in her voice. She's hanging by a thread.

"You can fight anyone," I whisper.

"This is his world. His rules." She's talking to no one now, crouched back down. Blood is starting to seep through the white fabric. Her hair twitches and turns black.

What the hell was I thinking, doing this? It's a million times worse, seeing her in front of me and still a world away. My hands curl into fists to keep from reaching out to her. The energy rolling in the smoke between us is running at a hundred thousand volts. She's not really close enough to touch . It's only magic. An illusion made somehow possible by a drum of human skin, by my blood sliding over my athame. Somewhere to my right, Carmel says something, but I can't hear and it's impossible to see through the smoke.

The ground shakes beneath Anna's body. She steadies herself with her hands and cowers as something somewhere not far away bellows. The sound is inhuman, echoing off a million walls. Sweat prickles down my spine and my legs move on their own; her fear drives me halfway to my feet.

"Anna, tell me how to find you. Do you know?"

Her hands cover her ears and her head whips back and forth. The window between us is thinning, or widening, I can't tell which; a foul smell of rot and wet rocks floats past my nose. The window can't close. I'm going to rip it wide open. Let it burn me up. I don't care. When she sacrificed herself for us, when she dragged him down-

And all at once I know who it is that's there with her.

"It's him, isn't it?" I shout. "It's the Obeahman. Are you trapped with him?!" She shakes her head harshly, unconvincingly. "Anna, don't lie!" I stop. It doesn't matter what she says. I know it. Something in my chest curls like a snake. Her scars. The way she crouches like a dog that's been kicked. He's breaking her bones. Murderer. Murderer.

My eyes burn. The smoke is thick; I can feel it against my cheeks. Somewhere the drum is still drumming, louder and louder, but I don't know if it's coming from the left anymore, or from the right, or behind. I've stood up without realizing it.

"I'm coming for you," I shout over the drum. "And I'm coming for him. Tell me how. Tell me how to get there!" She cringes. There's smoke, and wind, and screaming, and it's impossible to tell which side it's all coming from. I lower my voice. "Anna. What do you want me to do?"

For a second I think she'll stonewall. She takes quaking, deep breaths and with every exhale bites down on her words. But then she looks at me, straight at me, into my eyes, and I don't care what she said earlier. She sees me. I know she does.

"Cassio," she whispers. "Get me out of here."


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