I’m sick. More — sickened. Both at once. And sick in the sense of illness and in being a terrible person. I’m – … I don’t have words or even thoughts for it.
“Evelyn?!” Rick’s calling out to me. I can’t place a location for him in the endless grey fog. “Evelyn! Are you there? Evelyn?”
“Yeah!” I shout, hoping we don’t drift apart in here; I’m not even sure if that’s a thing, but it’s worrying me. And I feel bad for not being able to do more.
Especially since Rick’s helping me without even trying; each time he says anything, it’s like his voice pushes away those echoes that were cutting me open.
And I’m thankful to him for that. I’m impressed with him, too.
Kid’s been through the wringer and he’s keeping it together, to a degree. Going back and forth through self-denial and fear, sounds like, sure. But he’s catatonic. I’ve seen that. It’s hard to help someone like that.
“Who are you? Where are we?” calls Rick. Yeah — he’s definitely starting to swing around to panicked again; but I don’t blame him.
I think up the best game plan I can: “Keep calling out, Rick,” I say.
And, here’s the thing. Yes, there’s a part of me that wants to tell him the truth about what I’ve done right then and there. But I don’t. Can’t make myself, maybe. I don’t know which is more true. Yeah, I want to tell him what I’ve done.
But right now that can’t be the priority.
The priority is figuring out how to get us out of here. And, too, on top of that, there’s the whole ‘us’ element. I’m barely able to drag myself out of voids like this. Not sure how I’ll get a living kid out of here. And keep him living, anyway.
“Evelyn?!” Rick’s voice cracks.
I curse myself out in my head, for getting distracted. “I’m here, Rick,” I say. I want to tell him what I’ve taken from him. Are you all right?”
“I don’t know!” Rick cries. “I can’t see anything. Is he still here?”
I know he means Cameron. “No idea, which –”
“Shit!” Rick says. “I can’t do anything. It … feels like I’m floating in water or something. Except it’s clouds. Don’t let him get me!”
“I won’t, kid. Trust me.” I get those pangs again, to tell him about his landscape. Because I’ve done something terrible to him, too. But I don’t mention it. “Just keep calm. I’ve gotten out of stuff like this before.”
“Yeah. And you saw what happened when we worked together, right?”
“Yeah?” His voice sounds more hopeful.
“Yeah. So don’t be scared. We can do this if we work together.” I feel a new wave of nausea hit me. But not guilt. Not really. I didn’t do it on purpose. So — okay, yeah — go ahead and judge me for my justifications. But I’m not exactly walking away from this. I’m actually hoping that … I don’t know … that maybe I can fix what I’ve done before I have to tell him anything.
Assuming there’s a fix to something like that.
“Evelyn!” Rick calls again.
Distracted again. Damn it. “What?” I call out. “Can you see anything at all other than the clouds?”
“Can you move at all?”
“I … feel like I can sort of swim, maybe.”
Well, that hurts. I realize that my detective skills have been lax, again. Just because I know what limits me in here, doesn’t mean Rick’s limited the same way. Rick’s alive. “Try it.”
There’s a brief silence.
Then, “I think I’m moving!” he cries out.
Hell, yes. That’s something we can work with.
“But it’s hard to tell if I’m getting anywhere,” Rick adds.
“Can you try follow the sound of my voice, Rick? Be careful.” I don’t want him slamming into hard walls and then bouncing all over, like sometimes happens to me — like happened a few dozen times when I was stuck in what should have been Emma Albrecht’s empty landscape.
“I can’t tell. Fuck. Fuck! I can’t tell!”
“Listen — Rick. Easy. Just — … like I said, trust me.”
I wait, while he tries. I say encouraging things every so often to keep him going: “It’s okay, kid.” It’s not like either of us has much choice other than what we’re doing. “Just keep following my voice.” And, yeah, I’m worried he’ll hit a wall. “Focus on me.” But I don’t think he’s going to run into anything. “Keep going.” Because what I said about it seeming more like clouds in here is true. It’s softer. Almost spongy. “It can’t be that much farther if we can hear each other, right?” Truthfully, I have no idea if distance has meaning here. I realize he’s not answering back.
Then, the long silence starts to really discomfort me.
“Rick?” I call.
“Yeah?” He sounds close. Really close. And out-of-breath — which is to be expected, really.
“You sound closer to me.” I tell him, trying to be encouraging. I picture myself adding ‘But I’m just winging it, here, and there’s an equal chance we’re both utterly fucked forever.’
A brief silence. Then, “I think so,” Rick calls from the expected everywhere-and-nowhere. “I think I can –”
And then I feel the clouds push against me, as if disturbed by him.
“I see you!” I tell him. “Well, feel the clouds you’re moving, really. It’s not really seeing, in here. Keep going! Reach out to me, Rick!”
And then I feel what I’m hoping are his fingertips brushing against the left sleeve of my coat.
“Is that you?!” he cries.
“Yeah!” I instinctively reach up to take hold of his hand, without thinking. As I touch what I recognize from before as his hand, I’m hit with a moment of deep panic — because that’s how the whole landscape thing started last time. But the panic hits at the same moment my hands clasp around his fingers. But there’s no fire this time. No spark. Nothing. I notice his hand feels warm, though. Different from when we held hands in the dungeon, in the real world.
“Don’t let go!” Rick pleads.
“I’m not gonna let go,” I tell him. “Just hold on. I’ve got –”
And then my mouth is stuffed with tentacles of hair.
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