Girl of Nightmares


Page 58


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"Thomas?"

"Yeah?"

"Could you have identified the athame off of that tray?"

"Never," he says. "Not in a million years."

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Anna and I sit at a round wooden table, staring out at an expanse of long, green grass, untouched by the blades of a mower. The white and yellow blossoms of weeds and wildflowers wave in a breeze I can't feel, clustered together in spotty patches. We're on a porch, maybe the porch of her old Victorian.

"I love the sun," she says, and it is definitely beautiful, a bright, sharp white that strikes the grass and turns it into silver razors. But there's no heat. No sensation in my body, no awareness of the chair or bench I must be sitting on, and if I turned my head to look any farther than her face, there would be nothing there. Behind us there is no house. There is only the impression of a house, in my mind. This is all in my mind.

"It's so rare," she says, and I can finally see her. My perspective shifts and she's there, her face in shadow. Dark hair lies still on her shoulders, except for a few stray strands near her throat, twisting in the breeze. I reach my hand across the table, certain that it won't stretch enough, or that the damn table will lose its spatial dimensions, but my palm runs up against her shoulder, and her hair is black and cold between my fingers. The relief when I touch her is so strong. She's safe. Unharmed. The sun is on her cheeks.

"Anna."

"Look," she says, and smiles. There are trees now, bordering the clearing. Between the trunks is the shape of a stag. It blinks in and out, a dark shape, and I think of charcoal being rubbed out of a drawing. Then it's gone and Anna is beside me. Too close to be across a table. The length of her is pressed against my side.

"Is this what we were supposed to have?" I ask.

"This is what we do have," she replies.

I look down at her hand and brush away a crawling beetle. It lands on its back, legs wriggling. My arms wrap around her. I kiss her shoulder, the curve of her neck. On the floorboards, the beetle has become a flaking, empty shell. Six jointed legs lay disconnected beside it. Her skin against my cheek is cool comfort. I want to stay here forever.

"Forever," Anna whispers. "But what will it take?"

"What?"

"What will they take," she repeats .

"They?" I ask, and shift her in my arms. Her flesh is hard and the joints relaxed and dangling. As she clatters to the ground I see that she was just a wooden marionette, in a dress of gray paper. The face is uncarved and blank, except for one word, burnt in deep, cracking black.

ORDER.

* * *

I wake up dangling most of the way off of the bed, with Thomas's hand on my shoulder.

"You okay, man?"

"Nightmare," I mutter. "Disquieting."

"Disquieting?" Thomas grasps the edge of my blankets. "I didn't even know it was possible to sweat this much. I'm going to get you a glass of water."

I sit up and switch on the table lamp. "No, I'm okay." But I'm not, and from the look on his face, that much is clear. I feel like I might throw up, or scream, or do both simultaneously.

"Was it Anna?"

"These days it's always Anna." Thomas doesn't say anything, and I stare down at the floor. It was just a dream. Just a nightmare like I've had my whole life. It doesn't mean anything. It can't. Anna doesn't know anything about the Order; she doesn't know anything about anything. Everything she sees and feels is pain. Thinking of her there, locked there with the ruin of the Obeahman, makes me want to hit something until there are no more bones in my hands. She suffered decades under a curse and somehow remained herself, but this will break her. What if she doesn't know who I am, or who she is, by the time I get there? What if she isn't human?

What will it take? A trade? I'd do it. I would, I-

"Hey," Thomas says abruptly. "That's not going to happen. But we'll get her out. I promise." He reaches out and physically shakes me. "Don't think that shit." He sort of smiles. "And don't think it so loud. It gives me a headache."

I look at him. The left half of his hair is smooth. The right half is sticking straight up. He looks like a Sabretooth movie. But he's completely serious when he promises that we'll see it through. He's scared, practically piss-his-pants scared. But Thomas is always scared. The important thing is that his kind of fear doesn't run deep. It doesn't stop him from doing what he has to do. It doesn't mean he's not brave.

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