Girl of Nightmares


Page 85


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I don't want to think anymore. My eyes might pop and run out of my head. I might break my skull against the bottom and listen to the empty pieces, wobbling like the discarded shell of an egg.

(Cas, open your eyes.)

My eyes are open. There isn't anything to see.

(You have to open your eyes. You have to breathe.)

This place is the thing behind madness. There is nothing good here. Off the map. If you eat frustration it chokes you. This place exists in the wake of a scream.

(Listen to my voice. Listen. I'm here. It's difficult, but you have to make it. In your mind. Form it in your mind.)

Mind is unraveling. Can't make it stay together. Come all this way to drift off and break apart. There are things people need. Air. Water. Laughter. Strength. Breath.

Breathe.

"That's it," says Jestine. "Take it slow." Her face materializes like fog in a mirror and the rest of the world follows suit, filling in like a paint-by-number. I'm lying on what feels like stone in a gravity chamber, heavy density against my skull, dug up against my shoulder blades. This must be how a caught fish feels, pulled up onto a dock, the wood pressing into its gills and eye when nothing has ever pressed against it before. Their gills throb to no use. My lungs pull to no use. Something is moving in and out of them, but it isn't air. There's no sensation of nourishment hitting my blood. I grab my chest.

"Don't panic about that. Just keep breathing. It doesn't matter if it's real or not. Let it feel familiar." She grabs on to my arms; she feels so warm, warmer than anything I remember. I don't know how long we've been here. It feels like hours. It feels like a second. They could be the same thing.

"It's all about the mind," she says. "That's what we are. Look." She touches my stomach, and I wince, anticipating pain. Only there isn't any. The wound isn't there. It should be there. There should be a hole ripped in my t-shirt and blood should have spread out in a circle. The knife should be sticking out of me.

"No, you don't need that," she says. I look down again. Where there was nothing, now there's a small tear and a dark patch of wetness. "You don't need that," she says again. "That still exists. Over there. On the other side, our bodies are bleeding out. If we don't make it back before they're empty, we'll be dead ."

"How do we get back?"

"Look behind you."

Behind me there is stone. I'm lying on my back. But I turn my head slightly.

Thomas. I can see him. And if I focus, the window widens to reveal the rest of the room. The Order's cuts are still open, dripping slowly to the floor. Our bodies are there, mine and Jestine's, curled up where they fell.

"We're on the other side of the mirror," I say.

"In a manner of speaking. But really, we're still there. We're still alive. The only thing that came, physically, is the athame."

I look down. It's in my hand, and there is no blood on the blade. I squeeze it, and the action brings emotion in a wave. The familiarity in this place of nothing almost makes me want to plunge it into my stomach again.

"You have to stand up now." Jestine rises to her feet. She's shades brighter than everything else. She holds out her hand, and behind her head there is endless black sky. No stars. No edges.

"How do you know all this?" I ask, and struggle up without help. Wherever we are, there aren't any rules of perspective. It seems like I can see forever and yet only a few feet in every direction. And there's no light. At least not light how we would recognize it. Things simply are. And what they are is flat stone, cliff-carved walls of something that might be gray and might be black.

"The Order kept records of when they retrieved the metal for the athame. Most are lost and what's left is dodgy, but I studied every last bit."

"Are you going to try to ditch me in here, Jestine?"

She glances down and to the side. I can't see anything behind her, but if I look back and see Thomas, then she must look back and see Burke. He's her anchor.

"If you die here then this is where you belong."

"Does anything really belong here?"

"I'm not here to help you get the girl out. I have my own plan."

I squeeze the athame tighter. At least Anna is "the girl" now, and not "the dead murderess."

"How long do we have?" I ask.

"Until we have no more." Jestine shrugs. "It's hard to say. Time isn't the same here. Time isn't time here. There aren't any rules. I don't wear a watch, but if I did I'd be scared to look at it. The hands would probably be doing that weird out-of-control spin. How long do you think it's been, since you started to bleed?"

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