Turbulent dreams, dreams in strange languages, dreams of home, of death. Odd bits of nonsense that spooled out in flickers of consciousness, swimmy and unreliable, inventions of my concussed brain. A faceless woman blowing dust into my eyes. A sensation of being immersed in warm water. Emma’s voice assuring me everything would be okay, they’re friends, we’re safe. Then deep and dreamless dark for unknown hours.
The next time I woke, I wasn’t dreaming and I knew it. I was tucked into a bed in a small room. Weak light spilled from behind a drawn window shade. So, daytime. But what day?
I was in a nightgown, not my old, blood-stained clothes, and my eyes were clear of grit. Someone had been taking care of me. Also: though I was bone-tired, I felt little pain. My shoulder had stopped aching, and so had my head. I wasn’t sure what that meant.
I tried sitting up. I had to stop halfway and rest on my elbows. A glass pitcher of water stood on a night table by the bedside. In one corner of the room was a hulking wooden wardrobe. In the other—I blinked and rubbed my eyes, making sure—yes, there was a man sleeping in a chair. My mind was moving so sluggishly that I wasn’t even startled; I merely thought, that’s odd. And he was: so odd-looking, in fact, that I struggled briefly to understand what I was seeing. He seemed a man composed of halves: half his hair was slicked down while the other half was cowlicked all over the place; half his face was scraggly beard and the other half clean-shaven. Even his clothes (pants, rumpled sweater, ruffled Elizabethan collar) were half modern, half archaic.
“Hello?” I said uncertainly.
The man shouted, startling so badly that he fell out of his chair and landed on the floor in a clatter. “Oh, my! Oh, goodness!” He climbed back into the chair, eyes wide and hands aflutter. “You’re awake!”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you …”
“Ah, no, it was my fault entirely,” he said, smoothing his clothes and straightening his ruffled collar. “Please don’t tell anyone I fell asleep watching you!”
“Who are you?” I asked. “Where am I?” My mind was clearing fast, and as it did it filled with questions. “And where’s Emma?”
“Right, yes!” the man said, looking flustered. “I might not be the best-equipped member of the household to answer … questions …”
He whispered the word, eyebrows raised, as if questions were forbidden. “But!” He pointed at me. “You’re Jacob.” He pointed at himself. “I’m Nim.” He made a whirling motion with his hand. “And this is Mr. Bentham’s house. He’s very eager to meet you. In fact, I’m to notify him as soon as you’re awake.”
I squirmed up from my elbows to sit fully upright, the effort of which nearly exhausted me. “I don’t care about any of that. I want to see Emma.”
“Of course! Your friend …”
He flapped his hands like little wings while his eyes darted from side to side, as if he might find Emma in a corner of the room.
“I want to see her. Now!”
“My name’s Nim!” he squeaked. “And I’m to notify—yes, under strict instructions …”
A panicky thought flew into my head—that Sharon, mercenary that he was, had rescued us from the mob only to sell us for spare parts.
“EMMA!” I managed to shout. “WHERE ARE YOU?”
Nim went blank and plopped into the chair—I’d scared him silly, I think.
A moment later feet came pounding down the hall. A man in a white coat burst into the room. “You’re awake!” he exclaimed. I could only assume he was a doctor.
“I want to see Emma!” I said. I tried to swing my legs out of the bed, but they felt heavy as logs.
The doctor rushed to my side and pushed me back toward the sheets. “Don’t exert yourself, you’re still recovering!”
The doctor ordered Nim to go find Mr. Bentham. Nim ran out, bouncing off the doorjamb and flopping into the hall. And then Emma was at the door, out of breath and beaming, her hair spilling down a clean white dress.
At the sight of her, a burst of strength coursed through me and I sat up, pushing the doctor aside.
“You’re awake!” she said, running to me.
“Careful with him, he’s delicate!” the doctor warned.
Checking herself, Emma gave me the gentlest of hugs, then sat on the edge of the bed next to me. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you woke up. They said you’d be out for hours more …”
“It’s okay,” I said. “But where are we? How long have we been here?”
Emma glanced at the doctor. He was writing in a small notebook but obviously listening. Emma turned her back to him and lowered her voice. “We’re at a rich man’s house in Devil’s Acre. Someplace hidden. Sharon brought us here a day, day and a half ago.”
“Is that all?” I said, studying Emma’s face. Her skin was perfectly smooth, her cuts faded to thin white lines. “You look almost healed!”
“I only had a few nicks and bumps …”
“No way,” I said. “I remember what happened out there.”
“You had a broken rib and a torn shoulder,” the doctor interjected.
“They have a woman here,” Emma said. “A healer. Her body produces a powerful dust …”
“And a double concussion,” said the doctor. “Nothing we couldn’t handle in the end. But you, boy—you were nearly dead when you arrived.”
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