Clary crossed her arms over her chest. “What if I don’t want to see him?”
“That’s your problem. You can come either willingly or unwillingly.”
Clary couldn’t believe her ears. “Are you threatening to kidnap me?”
“If you want to look at it that way,” Jace said, “yes.”
Clary opened her mouth to protest angrily, but was interrupted by a strident buzzing noise. Her phone was ringing again.
“Go ahead and answer that if you like,” Jace said generously.
The phone stopped ringing, then started up again, loud and insistent. Clary frowned—her mom must really be freaking out. She half-turned away from Jace and began digging in her bag. By the time she unearthed the phone, it was on its third set of rings. She raised it to her ear. “Mom?”
“Oh, Clary. Oh, thank God.” A sharp prickle of alarm ran up Clary’s spine. Her mother sounded panicked. “Listen to me—”
“It’s all right, Mom. I’m fine. I’m on my way home—”
“No!” Terror scraped Jocelyn’s voice raw. “Don’t come home! Do you understand me, Clary? Don’t you dare come home. Go to Simon’s. Go straight to Simon’s house and stay there until I can—” A noise in the background interrupted her: the sound of something falling, shattering, something heavy striking the floor—
“Mom!” Clary shouted into the phone. “Mom, are you all right?”
A loud buzzing noise came from the phone. Clary’s mother’s voice cut through the static: “Just promise me you won’t come home. Go to Simon’s and call Luke—tell him that he’s found me—” Her words were drowned out by a heavy crash like splintering wood.
“Who’s found you? Mom, did you call the police? Did you—”
Her frantic question was cut off by a noise Clary would never forget—a harsh, slithering noise, followed by a thump. Clary heard her mother draw in a sharp breath before speaking, her voice eerily calm: “I love you, Clary.”
The phone went dead.
“Mom!” Clary shrieked into the phone. “Mom, are you there?” CALL ENDED, the screen said. But why would her mother have hung up like that?
“Clary,” Jace said. It was the first time she’d ever heard him say her name. “What’s going on?”
Clary ignored him. Feverishly she hit the button that dialed her home number. There was no answer except a double-tone busy signal.
Clary’s hands had begun to shake uncontrollably. When she tried to redial, the phone slipped out of her shaking grasp and hit the pavement hard. She dropped to her knees to retrieve it, but it was dead, a long crack visible across the front. “Dammit!” Almost in tears, she threw the phone down.
“Stop that.” Jace hauled her to her feet, his hand gripping her wrist. “Has something happened?”
“Give me your phone,” Clary said, grabbing the black metal oblong out of his shirt pocket. “I have to—”
“It’s not a phone,” Jace said, making no move to get it back. “It’s a Sensor. You won’t be able to use it.”
“But I need to call the police!”
“Tell me what happened first.” She tried to yank her wrist back, but his grip was incredibly strong. “I can help you.”
Rage flooded through Clary, a hot tide through her veins. Without even thinking about it, she struck out at his face, her nails raking his cheek. He jerked back in surprise. Tearing herself free, Clary ran toward the lights of Seventh Avenue.
When she reached the street, she spun around, half-expecting to see Jace at her heels. But the alley was empty. For a moment she stared uncertainly into the shadows. Nothing moved inside them. She spun on her heel and ran for home.
THE NIGHT HAD GOTTEN EVEN HOTTER, AND RUNNING HOME felt like swimming as fast as she could through boiling soup. At the corner of her block Clary got trapped at a DON’T WALK sign. She jittered up and down impatiently on the balls of her feet while traffic whizzed by in a blur of headlights. She tried to call home again, but Jace hadn’t been lying; his phone wasn’t a phone. At least, it didn’t look like any phone Clary had ever seen before. The Sensor’s buttons didn’t have numbers on them, just more of those bizarre symbols, and there was no screen.
Jogging up the street toward her house, she saw that the second-floor windows were lit, the usual sign that her mother was home. Okay, she told herself. Everything’s fine. But her stomach tightened the moment she stepped into the entryway. The overhead light had burned out, and the foyer was in darkness. The shadows seemed full of secret movement. Shivering, she started upstairs.
“And just where do you think you’re going?” said a voice.
Clary whirled. “What—”
She broke off. Her eyes were adjusting to the dimness, and she could see the shape of a large armchair, drawn up in front of Madame Dorothea’s closed door. The old woman was wedged into it like an overstuffed cushion. In the dimness Clary could see only the round shape of her powdered face, the white lace fan in her hand, the dark, yawning gap of her mouth when she spoke. “Your mother,” Dorothea said, “has been making a god-awful racket up there. What’s she doing? Moving furniture?”
“I don’t think—”
“And the stairwell light’s burned out, did you notice?” Dorothea rapped her fan against the arm of the chair. “Can’t your mother get her boyfriend in to change it?”
“The skylight needs washing too. It’s filthy. No wonder it’s nearly pitch-black in here.”
Luke is NOT the landlord, Clary wanted to say, but didn’t. This was typical of her elderly neighbor. Once she got Luke to come around and change the lightbulb, she’d ask him to do a hundred other things—pick up her groceries, grout her shower. Once she’d made him chop up an old sofa with an ax so she could get it out of the apartment without taking the door off the hinges.
Clary sighed. “I’ll ask.”
“You’d better.” Dorothea snapped her fan shut with a flick of her wrist.
Clary’s sense that something was wrong only increased when she reached the apartment door. It was unlocked, hanging slightly open, spilling a wedge-shaped shaft of light onto the landing. With a feeling of increasing panic she pushed the door open.
Inside the apartment the lights were on, all the lamps, everything turned up to full brightness. The glow stabbed into her eyes.
Her mother’s keys and pink handbag were on the small wrought-iron shelf by the door, where she always left them. “Mom?” Clary called out. “Mom, I’m home.”
There was no reply. She went into the living room. Both windows were open, yards of gauzy white curtains blowing in the breeze like restless ghosts. Only when the wind dropped and the curtains settled did Clary see that the cushions had been ripped from the sofa and scattered around the room. Some were torn lengthwise, cotton innards spilling onto the floor. The bookshelves had been tipped over, their contents scattered. The piano bench lay on its side, gaping open like a wound, Jocelyn’s beloved music books spewing out.
Most terrifying were the paintings. Every single one had been cut from its frame and ripped into strips, which were scattered across the floor. It must have been done with a knife—canvas was almost impossible to tear with your bare hands. The empty frames looked like bones picked clean. Clary felt a scream rising up in her chest. “Mom!” she shrieked. “Where are you? Mommy!”
She hadn’t called Jocelyn “Mommy” since she was eight.
Heart pumping, she raced into the kitchen. It was empty, the cabinet doors open, a smashed bottle of Tabasco sauce spilling peppery red liquid onto the linoleum. Her knees felt like bags of water. She knew she should race out of the apartment, get to a phone, call the police. But all those things seemed distant—she needed to find her mother first, needed to see that she was all right. What if robbers had come, what if her mother had put up a fight—?
What kind of robbers didn’t take a wallet with them, or the TV, the DVD player, or the expensive laptops?
She was at the door to her mother’s bedroom now. For a moment it looked as if this room, at least, had been left untouched. Jocelyn’s handmade flowered quilt was folded carefully on the duvet. Clary’s own face smiled back at her from the top of the bedside table, five years old, gap-toothed smile framed by strawberry hair. A sob rose in Clary’s chest. Mom, she cried inside, what happened to you?
Silence answered her. No, not silence—a noise sounded through the apartment, raising the short hairs along the nape of her neck. Like something being knocked over—a heavy object striking the floor with a dull thud. The thud was followed by a dragging, slithering noise—and it was coming toward the bedroom. Stomach contracting in terror, Clary scrambled to her feet and turned around slowly.
For a moment she thought the doorway was empty, and she felt a wave of relief. Then she looked down.
It was crouched against the floor, a long, scaled creature with a cluster of flat black eyes set dead center in the front of its domed skull. Something like a cross between an alligator and a centipede, it had a thick, flat snout and a barbed tail that whipped menacingly from side to side. Multiple legs bunched underneath it as it readied itself to spring.
A shriek tore itself out of Clary’s throat. She staggered backward, tripped, and fell, just as the creature lunged at her. She rolled to the side and it missed her by inches, sliding along the wood floor, its claws gouging deep grooves. A low growl bubbled from its throat.
She scrambled to her feet and ran toward the hallway, but the thing was too fast for her. It sprang again, landing just above the door, where it hung like a gigantic malignant spider, staring down at her with its cluster of eyes. Its jaws opened slowly, showing a row of fanged teeth spilling greenish drool. A long black tongue flickered out between its jaws as it gurgled and hissed. To her horror Clary realized that the noises it was making were words.
“Girl,” it hissed. “Flesh. Blood. To eat, oh, to eat.”
It began to slither slowly down the wall. Some part of Clary had passed beyond terror into a sort of icy stillness. The thing was on its feet now, crawling toward her. Backing away, she seized a heavy framed photo off the bureau beside her—herself and her mother and Luke at Coney Island, about to go on the bumper cars—and flung it at the monster.
The photograph hit its midsection and bounced off, striking the floor with the sound of shattering glass. The creature didn’t seem to notice. It came on toward her, broken glass splintering under its feet. “Bones, to crunch, to suck out the marrow, to drink the veins …”
Clary’s back hit the wall. She could back up no farther. She felt a movement against her hip and nearly jumped out of her skin. Her pocket. Plunging her hand inside, she drew out the plastic thing she’d taken from Jace. The Sensor was shuddering, like a cell phone set to vibrate. The hard material was almost painfully hot against her palm. She closed her hand around the Sensor just as the creature sprang.
The creature hurtled into her, knocking her to the ground, and her head and shoulders slammed against the floor. She twisted to the side, but it was too heavy. It was on top of her, an oppressive, slimy weight that made her want to gag. “To eat, to eat,” it moaned. “But it is not allowed, to swallow, to savor.”
The hot breath in her face stank of blood. She couldn’t breathe. Her ribs felt like they might shatter. Her arm was pinned between her body and the monster’s, the Sensor digging into her palm. She twisted, trying to work her hand free. “Valentine will never know. He said nothing about a girl. Valentine will not be angry.” Its lipless mouth twitched as its jaws opened, slowly, a wave of stinking breath hot in her face.
Clary’s hand came free. With a scream she hit out at the thing, wanting to smash it, to blind it. She had almost forgotten the Sensor. As the creature lunged for her face, jaws wide, she jammed the Sensor between its teeth and felt hot, acidic drool coat her wrist and spill in burning drops onto the bare skin of her face and throat. As if from a distance, she could hear herself screaming.
Looking almost surprised, the creature jerked back, the Sensor lodged between two teeth. It growled, a thick angry buzz, and threw its head back. Clary saw it swallow, saw the movement of its throat. I’m next, she thought, panicked. I’m—
Suddenly the thing began to twitch. Spasming uncontrollably, it rolled off Clary and onto its back, multiple legs churning the air. Black fluid poured from its mouth.
Gasping for air, Clary rolled over and started to scramble away from the thing. She’d nearly reached the door when she heard something whistle through the air next to her head. She tried to duck, but it was too late. An object slammed heavily into the back of her skull, and she collapsed forward into blackness.
Light stabbed through her eyelids, blue, white, and red. There was a high wailing noise, rising in pitch like the scream of a terrified child. Clary gagged and opened her eyes.
She was lying on cold damp grass. The night sky rippled overhead, the pewter gleam of stars washed out by city lights. Jace knelt beside her, the silver cuffs on his wrists throwing off sparks of light as he tore the piece of cloth he was holding into strips. “Don’t move.”
The wailing threatened to split her ears in half. Clary turned her head to the side, disobediently, and was rewarded with a razoring stab of pain that shot down her back. She was lying on a patch of grass behind Jocelyn’s carefully tended rosebushes. The foliage partially hid her view of the street, where a police car, its blue-and-white light bar flashing, was pulled up to the curb, siren wailing. Already a small knot of neighbors had gathered, staring as the car door opened and two blue-uniformed officers emerged.