The book has come back to me now. Brought back to my hand by- …
… – well, okay, let’s try to come up with what to call it.
I don’t know — a creepy-crawly tentacle thing?
Okay, let’s go with that.
And all four of the weirdo invader-kids are just looking at me like they don’t know what they’re seeing any more than I do.
So, yeah — a creepy-crawly tentacle thing. For now, a good descriptor for my blood and guts pouring out of my body and squirming around noisily in front of me. “Well, that hurts.” I say, out loud, without even meaning to.
The four kids are still staring at me. Not doing anything. Just looking. Or, at least, the three of them. Hoodie Kid Rangi’s face isn’t visible, so I’m sort of guessing with him. But that’s how it feels.
“This is new.” I keep murmuring things out-loud, and I’m cursing myself for it. Too many new things too many times over the last few days. I don’t like new shit at times like this. Been way too much of it in Drodden. And now a … bloody gut-tentacle? I’m looking down at my free hand with the bloody gut-tentacle sticking out of a hole in my wrist. It doesn’t hurt. Doesn’t tickle, either, though. I can’t stop myself from staring at it, like the kids are staring at me.
We’re all in shock, maybe. Looks like that. Feels like that.
And, still, I’m just staring at it. And, yeah, gratitude time here — it is comforting to have the book’s weight is back in my other hand. But it’s far less-so to watch this gory tendril yanking itself back into my arm now — even more noisily than when it was squirming. It blob-noises its way back into my wrist and arm before vanishing with a meaty clot of a sound — and then, the skin of my wrist is audibly knitting together to hide the hole where the tentacle came out.
Still more staring from the others.
And I should be able to take advantage of that. But I’m still staring, too. And, yeah, I know I’m know I’m not handling all the new stuff well; it doesn’t help that, right now, I’m feeling really, really different. And not just because of the gore-tube that popped out of my arm. That different feeling — it’s all over me. At least, I know why, though. It’s Rangi’s blood. And knowing that — well, it’s something.
The redheaded girl — Eleanore — is the first of us to speak after the long silence. “You took his blood.” she says. I’m guessing it’s her shocked voice, but everything she’s said is so equally flat that it’s nearly impossible for me to tell, for sure.
She’s right, though — I did take Rangi’s blood. Or, rather, my book did. It’s not the first time I’ve been infused with blood from other people like me. But Rangi’s blood — it’s like nobody’s blood I’ve ever experienced.
“You took his blood,” Eleanor says again.
The blood is burning inside of me. Making me feel like a matchstick put up next to something atomic; part of me says I should feel intimidated. But I don’t. Right now, I’m too mad for that.
‘Help! Help!’ It’s Rangi — crying out, crying that peacock-call. ‘Help! Help!’ He’s dropped down to the cave floor, sitting up, back pressed against the wall. He’s hugging his knees, head pressed against the cavern stone, rocking back and forth; the hoodie obscures his features, but he’s obviously in a lot of pain.
“You hurt him,” Eleanore says.
“D-” I start to speak, and then I stop myself. Because, yeah — a great, big part of me wants to say ‘Damn right, I did. And I’ll do it again.’ But I’m trying really hard not to listen to that instinct. This isn’t the time to feel self-satisfied. Not while I’m dealing with these “kids.”
Eleanore’s just looking at me. And she’s got that one look — like, when a kid scrapes their arm, and only feels the hurt slowly. Not crying. Not defiant. That still moment, before the hurt starts to bite. “You hurt him,” she says again.
I manage to keep my mouth shut. One, I don’t want to take joy in giving someone pain. But, you know, it isn’t just that. I’m trying to be smart. Read the situation. Right now, I’m guessing that all four of these kids all probably have blood that’s at least as potent as Rangi’s. Which means they’re probably as dangerous as I’ve been suspecting from their behavior. Which isn’t good for me.
“Your book was trapped,” Eleanore says. ‘You trapped your book.”
She’s not exactly right this time, but she’s close enough. I wasn’t the one who made the trap. I don’t tell her that, though. No need to diminish her concerns about me, just yet. She’s right on what happened, though. Not too surprised she can tell. I’m thinking that she can probably feel Rangi’s blood, even if it’s inside of me. I’m thinking she can maybe even see it. That maybe she saw it drain from Rangi onto the pages of the book, drip by drip so he he wouldn’t be able to tell until it revived me. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve all shared their blood with each other. They seem close like that, these four. And blood leaves a trail — no matter what you are when you spill it.
“Fuck this,” Shihong growls. And I’m tensing and turning as she speaks, but she’s already running. She’s not coming at me, though. She’s running over to Rangi, casting a dire look my way as she runs past. It’s one of those unmistakable so-help-me looks.
And all I can think to do is to hold my ground. I need time to evaluate what’s going on inside of me, let alone figuring out what these kids are going to spring on me next.
The pale, white-haired boy — Bernard — isn’t floating any more; he’s landed, without me noticing, and he’s standing next to Eleanore. The two of them are holding hands now, taking backward steps, He’s muttering to her, his voice too quiet for me to hear. And both Bernard and Eleanore are looking at me now with those same big wide eyes. And I realize what I’m seeing — they’re scared of me. And trying not to show how scared they are. And it’s like they’ve both decided to be equally as scared, together, at the exact same time.
And, you know, I’m not used to people being scared of me like that.
Of other things that show up when I’m around, sure.
But not of me.
“Why are you doing this?” Eleanore asks “Do you even know what you’re doing to us Do you know why your eyes are glowing now?”
“My eyes?” I’m expressing my surprise out-loud way too much today. And then I’m realizing she’s right about that, too. My eyes are glowing. Bright purple light. My favorite color. I turn my head a little, back and forth, and I can see traces of the light. And it’s not just a glow, either. My eyes are putting off glowing purple smoke, too.
“Yes. Your eyes,” Eleanore says to me. “Do you know what makes our eyes glow?” Her plain manner of speech unnerves me. She turns toward Bernard. “If she doesn’t end up gone, I could explain it to her.”
I feel like she’s offering to explain the rules of jacks to me tomorrow if I make it through the night.
Bernard just nods once toward her, his fearful expression unwavering.
Eleanore looks back toward me. “You don’t seem to know some things. You seem to be missing out on some things,” Eleanore adds. “Is that why you hurt Rangi? Were you trying to learn from him?”
‘Help! Help!’ Rangi’s peacock-call is woeful.
I ignore him and focus on Eleanore. Because she’s pissing me off more than Rangi right now. Because I’m the detective, and I’m the one who’s supposed to be the one who asks the questions. So I do: “Trying to learn?” I ask. Not much of a question, Evelyn, but there you go.
“Were you trying to sing with him?” Eleanore asks. Did you take his blood for that?”
“Sing with him.” I nod, non-committally. I’m bluffing again — and badly, I know. But this is what I have. What I know how to do. And, yeah, maybe I don’t know why my eyes are glowing right now. Maybe all I’ve got, for all my vaunted observational skill, is that my eyes are glowing like Emmett Beery’s mask with its glowing sockets pouring trails of gold and green mist. That my eyes are now doing what Emmett’s eyes always seem to do. And maybe I’m simultaneously hoping it’s very temporary and wishing that I had a mirror and some free time.
‘Help!’ comes Rangi’s peacock-cry. The hoodie is draped over his face and he’s leaning forward. ‘Help! Help!’ His hands are out now, fingers stretched out toward Shihong.
Shihong takes his hands in hers and squeezes them once before letting go and and dropping to her knees at his side.
“Do I look like I want to sing with anybody?” I ask, continuing the bluff, continuing to observe the four. I’m doing what I can not to let these kids in on any more of my confusion than I’m letting slip. And trust me, the slips are pissing me off. And I’m really pissed, for a lot of other reasons, too. I’m pissed at Rangi for stealing my book, pissed at Eleanore for being so placid and threatening all at the same time, and pissed at Lysette for the way I still believe in her work even now with all this catastrophic shit happening to me.
And then, as if on-cue with these thoughts of Lysette, the book is whispering in my ear. =”I did it for good purposes, To bring the four of us to Drodden.”=
I’m hearing Rangi’s thoughts — from when he held my book. Hearin them inside my head. In my voice, no less. It’s like I’m reading aloud to myself.
“If you don’t want to sing with him, why did you take his blood?” Eleanore asks, plainly oblivious to what I’m hearing from the book.
‘Help! Help!’ Rangi’s rocking back and forth.
Shihong is still kneeling at the hooded boy’s side. “I know. I know …” she murmurs.
=”I tell the book that the peacock’s death was a good one. That the bird is now untroubled,”= whispers the book in my voice.
‘Help! Help!’ Rangi’s head is pressed back against the cave wall. Even with him wearing that hoodie, I can see that it isn’t just his hands that are straining. His whole body is taut.
“Yes,” Shihong answers Rangi. “Yes. I will. I’ll talk to her. I’ll make her stop.” She’s speaking quietly to him.
=”That he has nothing to worry about,”= echoes the book, =“I sing to the book, telling it that I did good work.”=
‘Help! Help!’ Rangi’s clawing at his knees as he cries out.
=”And that the peacock’s last cry was powerful, and I honor him with the echo of it.”=
‘Help!’ An especially plaintive peacock call, sounding just agonized.
It even makes me wince. And distracts me enough that the echoes of the book fade.
What’s odd, though — I can still hear a low, heavy rumbling from that corner of my mind — kind of like waves moving out to sea.
But Rangi’s last cry — it seems to pierce through something in Eleanore’s psyche, too. And, right in front of me, she goes from being scared of me to being angry — maybe as angry as I am at her. Her eyes aren’t wide with fright any more. Now, they’re narrowed and fierce. It’s almost like when Emmett was reaching out to stop CJ from hurting herself in the hospital. It’s like the muscles of her face skip the steps between fear and rage. It’s like an instant change. She hasn’t let go of Bernard’s hand, though, I notice. “Stop it.” she says. Her voice is just as clinical as when she first spoke, but has gotten progressively louder. “We should talk about this,” she says, sounding flat and clinical again, despite her still-frightened expression. “You’re hurting him. That isn’t right.”
“No,” I tell her. “It’s not. He tried to steal from me.”
“You don’t know that,” Eleanore insists flatly. “You don’t even know who we are or why we’re here. That’s a stupid position … for threatening people from.”
And — as Eleanore berates me — I realize that I’m letting this kid berate me.
And this is the moment when I get my shit together.
And for everyone else.
That rumbling in the back of my head gets louder.
And I use it.
“If you threaten people — ” Eleanore starts to say, but then she stops and tips her head to the side a little.
And I know why. My face has changed. I’ve let the rumble inside my head become a roar. Because I need to be angry. I need that strength. \
Right now, I need to stand taller — and so I do.
And Eleanore has gone quiet.
“You –” I say, and I point directly at Eleanore.
She flinches as I point.
“Not another word. Stop talking,” I say. “Right fucking now.”
Eleanore’s head snaps back upright. Offended surprise on her face.
I don’t give a fuck. The roaring in my head gets even louder. It feels like waves crashing and coming back to me.
I let them.
“You’re right. I don’t know you.” I point at Bernard. “Or you. Or Shihong over there. Any of you. But I know none of you belong in here. And — somehow — I just get the sense that anything you two say will be garbage.”
“That’s not-” Bernard begins, taking a step forward.
“Back the fuck up. Both of you.” I can feel the roaring my head coming into my voice now. My imagination? More bullshit from Rangi’s blood?
Don’t care. Especially because it works.
“Okay,” Bernard is the one who answers back. His voice is quavering. He’s still scared, at least. He’s let go of Eleanore’s hand and has his arms raised in surrender.
“I’ll talk to Shihong,” I say.
Bernard gestures toward Eleanore with the hand that was holding hers and the the two of them back up a few steps. “Shinong?” Bernard says.
Rangi has stopped rocking back and forth and is now still except for his breathing. Or, really, going through the motions of breathing, as most of us do.
Wave in my head — waves now — louder and louder, like something coming closer.
I’m wondering if Shihong did something to sedate him.
Regardless, she’s left his side and is now standing with Bernard and Eleanore. “I didn’t invite you here so you could hurt Rangi.” She sounds hurt, but it’s in the way a child sounds hurt when you break their favorite toy.
Waves are rising up in my brain.
“He shouldn’t’ve gotten into things that aren’t his.” I’m try to empty my mind of all the doubts now, to be purely in this moment, ready for whatever any of them decide to do and —
— the waves crash down, surrounding me —
=-surrounding me walls of white marble veined black red rugs placing my hand on the red door the sickly, corrupt light the hordes of dead men on the other side his endless armies freezing mist gnawing at my ankles an old man chasing a young man down a hallway that seems to extend forever ducking to the floor air reeks of sea-salt-=
— and I’m seeing two different places at once. Now, I haven’t moved. I’m still standing in the cavern facing the children. But when the wave struck me, it brought sights — and sensations — from another place, too. A familiar place that makes me want to run. But that’s not possible right now. Where would I run? I don’t have my tether to climb out of here. So I don’t run. I face Shihong and try to ignore the rest of it.
And whatever’s happening to me doesn’t seem to be happening to any of the kids. Shihong puts her hands on her hips. “We just wanted to know what it was.”
— and then, there’s another wave —
=-sea-salt smell and bitter wind tall white lighthouse the townspeople all skin and metal now sizzling flesh coming back and coming back lost in that moment at a time of death-=
“We were just curious,” Shihong continues.
And that’s when I realize what’s happening. I recognize these places, these feelings. The waves are crashing against my memories and bringing something back.
“Can we maybe not fight?” Shihong offers. “This close to you, I’m thinking it’s pointless.”
I wonder if I’m still scaring her, even as fucked-up as I am right now. “So talk,” I say.
=-at a time of death cornfields laughter all around the maze the kids can’t get away there’s something pulling at their feet-=
It’s like when the book was talking to me. Except now it’s not just a voice. It’s all my senses being set off.
It has to be the blood.
Rangi’s blood is bringing out more echoes than the ones Lysette set to play.
I need to know just who these kids are. But I’m reeling from the duality of what I’m experiencing, but I tell myself to keep focusing on Shihong. All the while, though, I’m also talking inside my own head, telling myself not to get lost in the memories. Trying to navigate them while I deal with the pigtailed girl in front of me.
=-at their feet beneath the piles of popcorn something sticky smell of popcorn covered up with the smell of blood the long sticky red thing on the floor rising reaching up from the ground to grab and devour by the dozens at a time and hungry for more life more more more people screaming and running-=
“And we’ve never seen a book like yours,” Shihong says, addressing me as if she still can’t tell that my attentions are divided. “You’re really an onlooker.”
I have no idea what she’s talking about. I feel like I can’t move, but I manage to throw a cold look toward Shihong. “I’ve gotten that before,” I lie.
=-running into the kindly man in the grey suit grey skin grey eyes tight smile teeth he told you he said he watches and talks about it and you and Lysette do too nothing else to do from where he stands he called it his fifth dimension or was it sixth he says no fifth makes no difference he says it’s all made up anyway so does it make a difference no difference to me says a smiling Lysette-=
“I don’t think so,” Shihong says. I worry she can tell what’s happening to me. But if she does, she doesn’t show it for now. “Hey — do you even know what an onlooker is?” she asks me.
=-smiling Lysette and too much wine and you don’t have to say it I know then why are you still talking and then the sweat and the smell of her rosewater and the lime trees on the wind and cool sheets and kissing-=
“‘Onlooker’,” I manage to say. By will, I keep the quaver out my voice. I harden my face as much as I can. I want to scream.
Shihong’s face softens. “You’re a new one.” Her voice is thick with sympathy, and I hate it. “That’s why we’ve been fighting.”
“Could be.” I can’t think of anything else to say. I want to see where she goes with it. I’m certain by this point that she could send me back where I came from if things got down to a fight, especially here. Not that I wouldn’t just come here again. But I can’t afford to waste the time.
“I knew it. Up close like this, I can tell. I can tell these things.” She hops once in place. “And can I tell you something else?” She doesn’t give me time to answer back, only pauses for one of my heartbeats before continuing. “This is exciting. We can teach you stuff.” Her shoulders unclench and she visibly relaxes. Bernard and Eleanore relax, too, from behind her.
Rangi is stirring from where he’s been leaning against the cave wall. ‘Help,’ he calls out weakly.
Shihong turn toward Rangi. “I was worried she were here to hurt Cameron, too,” Shihong says toward the hooded figure. She looks back toward me.
Neither the veneer of my bluffs or the battering of the memories can keep me from reacting to that name when Shihong speaks it. “Cameron?” I ask. I need to know what she knows. What that name means to her.
=-kissing Lysette goodbye and hating to be away from her and hunting the bad things and she writes and she writes and coming back in time to see her with the man who tells her nobody cares about this and she says well I do and he says we shouldn’t even be having this conversation and she says it can end as soon as you want and that’s the day she starts to break and I can’t stop it-=
‘Help!’ Rangi calls.
She looks back over her shoulder again. “I should apologize to her, huh?” She looks back toward me. “For cutting your cord.” She gestures toward Eleanore. “I told her to do it. Just in case.” She raises both her hands, palms out.
Both Eleanore and Bernard are keeping their distance, but Eleanore lifts a hand to wave sheepishly as Shihong mentions her.
‘Help!’ Rangi calls again. ‘Help! Help!’
Shihong nods, still facing me. “Rangi wants me to tell you that he says he’s sorry. And that we shouldn’t have cut your tether. And not to worry about it, because it’ll grow back once you make enough new blood. He doesn’t think you know this stuff.”
“And it’s clear that was a mistake. What we told the priest, even. We can correct that.”
‘Help!’ comes the peacock-cry from Rangi.
“Yeah! Maybe you can even help us a little.” Shihong sounds excited again. And eager to talk.
So I pretend to be eager to listen. “With-?”
“With what we should tell the priest to write.”
“You want Salat to write about you?” I ask.
=-couldn’t make herself well couldn’t stop herself from getting old couldn’t find a way to be sure she’d be a ghost like me books and secrets and clocks ticking and so many lies-=
“That part, he’ll handle on his own,” Shihong says, twirling in place, coming around to face me again. Her hair and her clothes move like she’s underwater. “But we can shape it, once Cameron comes back. Once Drodden’s on the big map.”
I go cold all over. And it isn’t from any echo of a memory.
“Cameron Stye,” I say.
“Isn’t it a thrill?” Shihong’s face looks like it did when I first met her — pretending at some kind of guileless evil. “And — now that we’re up close — and now that we know you’re an onlooker — there’s no need to fight.”
“About my book,” I answer back, dizzy. I’m not sure how I’m still standing. “Because I’m an onlooker.”
“Yes. But onlookers — that’s what we call people like you.” Her smile is kind. “And we should be working together here, shouldn’t we? We’ve never really spent time with an onlooker. I mean, we’ve –”
=-couldn’t help loving her and there were years and years and years and not enough years of kissing Lysette and she’s so paper-thin now and she has blue lips and white hair and she’s blind and she’s deaf and she’s diseased but she’s alive and I love her three times as much today as yesterday-=
” — met a few, with books like yours. Well, one kept it all in a song. It isn’t always a book —
=-yesterday and today and tomorrow I’m here for you she says now and when I’m old and she makes a promise with a cut of her hand with the knife and Lysette is standing there talking in Latin and then in English saying oh shit what do i do now and she’s looking at me and laughing even though I can tell it hurts and she bleeds her living blood and she’s laughing as it drips and I bleed my dead blood on the book-=
“– but it usually is. There was even a man with the recorder and the hat, who wanted to be like you, but he was still alive when we met him.” And then she’s reaching out like she wants me to give her my hands.
I don’t. I need to get out of here.
She looks disappointed. “Not big on touching,” she says. “But that’s fine!” She looks back over her shoulder toward Bernard and Eleanore. “It’s okay — she’s just going to be watching.” She looks back toward me again. “And if she doesn’t, we’ll just crush her shit. She can’t even get out of here.” She seems to get an idea. “You know, you could just stay here. We could make up a room for you. This is gonna be the command center and all that.” She slams her left palm into her right fist. “Yeah! That seems like a good idea. You can stay here with us and we can hang. And you can learn stuff at the command center.”
=-book to keep me company and no Lysette but I need to work to make it hurt less and I’m walking from the shoreline down into the lake trying to find him he’s down there, and he’s alone and he’s frightened and he needs my help he’s lashing out and calling for a family that’s long since dead and can’t answer him back he’s rising, again and again, silently screaming to be left alone, begging to be saved=-
“For Cameron coming back,” I say. Inside, I’m begging her to tell me more. Maybe she can read that. I need to get out of here.
“And, who knows, maybe I’m testing you because I can read how you react,” Shihong says, walking around me now in a circle. “I’d rather you were a known quantity. And you seem to be reacting well, so far.”
Behind Shihong, Bernard facepalms.
“Yeah, Bernard,” Shihong says. “I know you’d handle this differently. But she picked me. And if she fights, we have a good fight. If she helps, we have a project.” She grins. “I’m good either way.”
“Why would either of those be good?” I can’t help but ask out-loud.
“I told you before. Because it’s my turn, and I’m bored. I’m poking at you.”
I need to get out of here.
“Maybe I’m hoping you will fight. Except I don’t think you can.”
=-saved or dead it’s up to me and she’s running through the woods and he’s chasing her and swinging his roaring sword cutting up the trees the moonlight seems cruel shining a bright light on her her face is scraped by a sharp branch it almost takes out her eye the branches are thicker ahead of her and I reach out it’s like I’m not there and I can only watch-=
I catalogue a fact — they’re not talking to each other inside their heads.
=-watch for those eyes outside the window that are watching the woman rhythmic chanting of night-creatures stained glass breaks and hands reach and pull into the dark-=
“Why are you here, really?” I ask Shihong.
=-into the dark he’s running down the corridor it feels like someplace that shouldn’t be someplace that hasn’t been yet the impossible jet-black shape behind him hisses leaps fire the clanging of alarm bells the smell of melting flesh-=
“Because I know why you’re really here, little angel — and I’m hoping you’ll fight me,” she says, and Shihong’s eyes are burning red.
And now Rangi is standing.
=-flesh and bone he can’t be alive but there he is and his hook rises from the water he didn’t die like they thought and now he wants his revenge he wants their blood and I’m just here to catalog it as they die so I can understand all this because nobody cares but they should and why did we ever think this was a good idea Lysette-=
Memories piling on top of memories. Dead people everywhere in my brain and before my eyes.
“Fight me,” says Shihong.
And now Rangi is walking toward Shihong.
=-the woods had been their home forever and they would protect it from anyone who dared set foot inside their shapes had changed over time raw, killing power emanating from their bodies and they would use it on the poisoners and my sympathies are torn-=
So much death. Which is why I know I need to get it together. Because this kind of thing can go down here. Because now it’s not just death. It’s death, and three other awful things, I’m pretty sure is what these four are telling me. Whatever they’ve been called in the past. Whatever they want to call themselves.
And one of whom is seriously trying to start shit now.
“Fight me,” repeats Shihong.
“Give her the chance to contemplate, Shihong,” says Bernard. “Be fair. Give her the chance to appreciate what she has,” He’s talking in the same level tone as Eleanore, now. He wasn’t doing that before, and it strikes me as gross for some reason.
“We should learn more,” Eleanore says, sounding just like Bernard. Also gross now.
But Shihong is already changing, blossoming with red fire that rises from her feet to dance around her head. The fire consumes her whole body; the flames become her.
=-torn apart by rats and his mother screams and then the tide of fur is upon her and she’s falling and clawing and they’re clawing and it’s the oldest kind of fight but the rats win=-
Then the other two are changing, too — Eleanore engulfed in black fire, Bernard in white fire. Rangi’s fire is a pale green.
“Fight me!” Shihong demands from inside the fire.
‘Help!’ Rangi’s peacock-cry. ‘Help!’ He reaches out a hand to me.
I feel like holes are being torn into me, and as I look down I see that they’re covered with growing blossoms, like bright red freckles that grow to the size of birthmarks.
=-blood down the stairs blood in the lobby blood everywhere and only he can see it but he’s so small who will believe him and the light on endless bottles and the man drinks and drinks and drinks=-
I need to run. But to where?
I need to run. But how?
Too much blood.
=-drinks the blood and grows stronger drinks the blood and there’s an echo inside this echo and it’s telling me to remember and there are strings of blood holding the man like a marionette and making him walk and making him jump and they go on and on up into the sky=-
And I think I know what I have to do; get all of Rangi’s blood out of me. Like in that last memory. Reaching up and pushing out — like I’m throwing a spear straight up, like I would if I was going to use my tether. Except, instead of my own blood to make the tether, I use Rangi’s blood, like the tendril I made earlier when I took back the book. Eleanore may have broken the tether made out of my blood, but not Rangi’s. A thin column of spiraling gore erupts from a fresh wound that tears my wrist open. It hurts. It hurts a lot. But I’m not screaming. I’m laughing as the column rises up out of me toward the top of the cavern in a single moment, breaking through the stone above, raining rocky powder down on me, the stone pulverized by the force of this new blood-tether. More powerfully than any tether I’ve ever thrown. Powerful enough to reach where I am sending it. Powerful enough to pierce Salat’s landscape. To get me back out into the real world.
And then there’s … something. Something new. Like light eating itself right in front of me. Like everything coming apart. And I’m moving.
And then I’m not where I was; instead, I’m climbing up and up and away and the four are all looking up at me —
=-into the sky and he sees me come flying down at him and protect him and refuse to do nothing refuse to watch I can’t any more and he asks me who I am but I can’t say my name I give him the card and he reads it just like Lysette said he would and then I’m free to help him she figured it out stayed up all those nights she was so sick she shouldn’t have-=
— and I’m off the ground —
=-shouldn’t have hurt her she called my name because now I can hunt them and protect her because think of this as the beginning I’m a detective I’m Evelyn Diedz-=
— and the cavern roof is shattering above me and I’m laughing and thinking of Lysette’s lips on mine and burning with rage and I’m hysterical and I can feel myself pushing up and out and they can’t stop me from getting back to why I’m here —
=-Evelyn Diedz at the beginning-=
— and I can’t help it — I’ve got my book, and with my wrist torn open and spilling blood into the sky I’m nevertheless waving toward Shihong as I exit through the hole in the roof of the cave and I can see her flipping me the bird just before she leaves my sight —
=-the beginning and the girl at the window of the house
— and then I’m spinning back up, through the tunnels and out into the starry nothing where I watched the star-horses — Shihong, Rangi, Bernard and Eleanore — speak of the need for me to be stopped —
=-near the woods with a secret in the ground with the blood on the sign-=
— and then I’m spinning again —
=-of the break in the voice from a memory of the man on the trail-=
— and then I’m in one of those seemingly-endless, sparkling expanses that make up the borders of every landscape —
=-to water for a dog in a grave near a fire for the dead among them-=
— and I’m doing it. I’m pushing out —
=-in the dark of the room for pain for a promise for a-=
— too forcefully — in a way I’ve never managed — like being born and reaching to get out of the dark —
=-willow for the boy in the drum in the row in the story at-=
— and I reach and reach and then I’m through and then I recoil, as I feel the sensations of the real world exploding around me —
And then I’m hearing glass shatter, and seeing the blue rug beneath my feet and the color so much color hurts my eyes and there’s too much color and light and too much of everything and it hurts and there’s an old man who’s drenched with sweat and there’s a clock next to him that reads 12:42 PM and the old man’s eyes locked on me as he screams and he’s screaming now and then a younger man comes into view in the doorway, and then he’s looking at me and he’s screaming, too.
And I recognize the both of them.
The old man is Daniel Salat, and the younger man is Jeff Armando.
From their screams, I’m guessing they can both see me now.