She burst into haunting laughter that tore through me, seeming to come from the walls, the floor, the air. She was everywhere.

“You can do what you want to her,” Roman said forcefully, “but I am stronger and I will win this battle. I will get you out and send you back to where you came from.”

Oh shit, I hoped Roman was confident enough in his abilities, because it felt like my fingers were melding in with Perry’s skin. I felt like time wasn’t on our side anymore and this was only going to get worse.

Suddenly the area around the bed erupted in flames that rose from the floor in a thick line, nearly engulfing us. Ada and I stumbled back, running from the fire. Even Bird stopped drumming, stunned by what was happening.

“Keep going!” Roman screamed at Bird over the roar of the flames.

Bird snapped to it and continued, his hands slapping steadily on the drum.

The flames grew higher until they provided a barricade between us and Perry. I held Ada tight to my side as she trembled, both of us now a captive audience.

In one swift, violent motion, Perry sat straight up, breaking the straps around her arms. She grinned at Roman and in a most disturbing voice of a little boy, “Why did you have to be so rough? You hurt me. You broke my bones.”

“No!” Roman yelled, and then bellowed a string of harsh-sounding native words.

“Yes, you did,” the voice continued, teasingly, like a child on the playground. “You broke me in a million pieces. You told me you had to hurt me to free me.”

Roman kept reciting his mantra over and over again, watching Perry like his eyes were glued to her, never breaking, never faltering.

“And you,” she said, turning her head to look at me.

“Let’s not forget what you did, Declan.”

But it wasn’t her who spoke. It was my mother’s voice.

She was here.

My arm came off of Ada and I was afraid I was going to die of fright right there.

Perry—my mother—laughed, so familiar, so terrible. “Your little secret. You don’t want anyone to know about what happened to your dear old mother. I’m in here now. In here with your little tramp. And I will do to her what you did to me.”

No.

She would not expose my secret. She would not take my Perry.

Suddenly the rest of the straps broke in two and she went flying backward as if booted by an invisible force, her head smacking the wall with a sickening crack.

Next thing I knew there I was screaming and burning alive. I’d tried to run through the fire, to get to her, to save her from my mother but I couldn’t make it. The flames engulfed me, swallowing me from head to toe. I was sure I was a goner but someone pulled me back and shoved me to the ground where I rolled. Through all of this I could hear Perry’s head being thrown against the wall.

“Dex!” Roman yelled above the noise. “It’s testing you, don’t listen to it. It wants your fear, it feeds on it!”

Then it must have been having the feast of a lifetime. I shrugged off my jacket, which was somehow only lightly singed, and Ada helped me to my feet. Her attention was elsewhere though. Everyone’s was.

Perry was now floating right above us, her back on the ceiling, staring down at us as the flames roared around the bed. She laughed and laughed and laughed and we were at her mercy.

“I will do to her what you did to me,” and this time, it was Abby’s voice that came out.

She was back. She was going to take Perry somewhere far away. Somewhere to feast on her soul. Perry’s beautiful, precious soul. And she’d kill her body in the process. She’d leave behind no trace of the girl I knew and loved. Oh god, I loved her.

This wasn’t what I came here to do. I came here to save her. And if it wasn’t Roman who could do it, it had to be me. The world was better for having her soul in it.

I looked Roman in the eyes and yelled at him, “Take me! Let it take me. It needs a soul, it can have mine!”

But the bastard ignored me and shook his head. “I can win this battle.”

“No, you can’t,” the monster replied through Perry’s lips. “You can’t win. I’ll kill her before you even get a chance. Then I’ll take him.”

It smiled sweetly at me.

And then she fell.

CHAPTER NINE

The minute she hit the ground, I was sure she was dead. But she immediately started moving, just tossing and turning on the ground like she was having a seizure. There was no demon in sight but there was no Perry either.

“What’s happening?” Ada cried as Bird and Roman tried to hold her still, Bird cupping her face and head as gently as he could. I fell to my knees and tried to touch her, but she writhed away from under my fingers.

“I don’t know,” Roman said. Not the words I wanted to hear. But before I could do or say anything, Perry was suddenly ripped from their hands. She zoomed to the center of the room where she floated, suspended in the air, lifeless except for an ultraviolet light that shone out from her center, like she was some god awful sun.

We watched her, frozen on the spot. She just hung there in the air and when Roman went to go touch her, he was mildly shocked by some kind of energy.

He licked his lips nervously. “She’s in another place.”

My eyes widened. “What other place?”

He shook his head and took a step forward. “We can’t reach her in the physical anymore. Bird, I need you to continue.”

Bird snapped to life and brought the drums to him, sitting beside me as I sat back on my knees. The drumming began, rhythmic and powerful. Roman raised his arms wide and started chanting again, yelling and sputtering, sounding less confident by the minute. Ada remained by the wall, shaking like a leaf, crying her eyes out. I wanted to comfort her but there was nothing to say. I needed comfort too.

“What other place?” I repeated.

Roman went on, shouting louder and louder at the bright and terrible light. Sweat fell off him in rivets. He was losing it and losing the battle.

“Roman!” I screamed. “What other place?”

“The Thin Veil,” he snapped, his cool demeanor shot. “Where the spirits wait. She’s there now. I don’t think we can get her back.”

“You don’t think?” I asked in horror. “You don’t have a choice. You said you could fix her!”

“Actually I said I couldn’t!” he yelled back. “I can’t reach her. It won’t let me in.”

“But it’ll let me in!” I found myself saying.

He gave me an odd look, half his face whited-out by Perry’s never-ending glow.

I went on, feeling I finally knew something, that I could do the thing I set out to do. Save her. “It wants me, it practically said so. Let me reach her. Put me in a trance, do whatever you need to do to send me to her. It will let me in. Let me help. You can reach her through me. Use me.”

This time Bird spoke up. “You can’t risk it. The pathway doesn’t work like that. If you find her and free her, it may take you instead.”

“Then it’s worth it,” I said determinedly.

“There will be many times you may have to lay your life on the line for her. You must choose your battles wisely, Dex. You can only give up your life once.”

“Let him do it,” Roman said quietly. “If this is his wish, I can use him to find her. I can bring her out. I can keep both of them safe.”

“No you can’t,” Bird said.

“Dex is right,” Roman argued. “There is no other way.”

He turned away from Perry and stood above me.

“Are you sure you want to do this Dex?” he asked. He looked a million years old, a million years defeated.

I nodded. “I’ve never been so sure of anything in my whole life.”

“Then may your conviction help you find her,” he said. He placed his hand on my forehead and my eyes immediately closed from the heat of his palm.

“Think of her and only her. Call for her. Look for her. Make her come back,” he said. I could feel waves of energy flowing from him to me. He moved away slightly and I knew he was grabbing Perry’s hand as she hung in the air.

The light in my head flashed white and faded.

“Find her,” Roman’s voice echoed and then was gone.

I opened my eyes. It was completely black. I couldn’t see a thing but maybe there was nothing to see.

I looked down, unsure if I had a body, unsure if I could feel. Could I move?

“Perry,” I called out, trying to focus my thoughts on her, trying to will her into my new existence. I thought about moving forward and cold wind rushed past. The black opened up to grey. My body began to take shape below me. I was translucent, like a ghost.

“Perry,” I called out again. I needed to find her. Where was she?

I wandered in the grey nothingness for who knows how long. Minutes? An eternity?

But, finally, I heard her. I felt her.

“Dex,” she said, like the sweetest word on earth.

I turned around and saw her right behind me.

She glowed like an angel, her face a radiant alabaster, her lips red and full, her eyes so vivid that they seized me, holding me breathless. My smile nearly broke my face in two.

I reached out for her hand, to bring her to me, to take her back. But it only passed through her. I really was the ghost here. Only she was solid.

“I don’t understand,” I said, shaking my head. “Why can’t I touch you?”

I went for her shoulder but the same thing happened. My hand disintegrated as it passed through her. She was there but I was not. I couldn’t feel her at all. Why couldn’t I feel her? How could I save her now?

“I don’t know,” she said, her eyes widening in panic. “What’s happening to you, how are you here?”

“Roman has got a hold on both of us. I just thought of you until I...until I saw you. Here. Wherever this is.” I looked around at the limitless grey. “But I don’t think I’m here enough.”

I reached for her face, trying to make my fingers solid, trying so desperately to touch her. Was I not enough? Would I fail in the end, leaving Perry here alone? It couldn’t end this way. It wouldn’t. It wouldn’t.

I searched her eyes, trying to connect, trying to bring us together, trying to make us real. I needed to save her. I needed to save us.

But my fingers still passed through her, as hers went through me. In the distance, wherever the distance was, something rumbled, low and evil.

“I think it’s coming,” I whispered. It saw us. It knew I was here. The monster that had her body but did not yet have her soul. I closed my eyes. “I need to take you back with me. I can’t leave you here.”

“I know,” she said. “Concentrate.”

“I am.” The desperation was ripping apart my heart. I put every thought directed toward her. I thought about the first time I saw her in the lighthouse, how I saw that fire inside of her, how it took my breath away, how I wanted her. I thought about our first slow dance to Billy Joel in Red Fox, thinking, knowing, needing her to be mine. I thought about the taste of her as we kissed in that tent on D’Arcy Island, the feel of her body. I thought about the first time I realized I loved her, the first time I made love to her, feeling her from the inside. I thought about breaking her heart and breaking my own and needing her more than I’ve ever needed anyone. I thought about all this darkness and how she’d always be my light.

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