But it did.
I didn’t have much time to dwell on it. One of the security guards who’d been locked in with us when USAMRIID decided to close the doors finally shook off her shock, drawing her own weapon and advancing on the standing sleepwalker.
“Put your hands up and stay where you are,” she commanded, her words barely audible above the roar of the sirens and the pounding of the drums.
They were audible enough to catch the sleepwalker’s attention. His head swiveled slowly toward her, and the rest of his body followed suit. Each movement seemed to take an eon, but he had fully turned before she could take another two steps. He made a strange growling sound, baring his teeth at her. Blood and strands of flesh coated them, making the gesture even more horrifying.
The guard was smart enough to stop moving and hold her ground, bracing her drawn pistol against the heel of her free hand for stability. “Do not move,” she said, more loudly than before.
Too loudly. In the chaos, no one had been paying much attention to the sleepwalkers who were still bound, preferring to focus on the immediate threats presented by Ms. Lawrence and the bloody-faced man. The shortsightedness of this approach was made horribly apparent as two more of the supposedly secure patients abruptly sat up on their cots. One of them was right behind the guard.
She didn’t even have time to scream before her throat was crushed. But I had time to scream. I had plenty of time to scream, and so I did, long and loud. It was enough to carry over both the sirens and the pounding of the drums.
Every head in the room turned toward me. The three sleepwalkers who were currently free of their restraints repeated the bloody man’s strange full-body turn, their shoulders following their heads like they hadn’t figured out how to work them independently yet. I screamed again. I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
“Sally!” shouted Joyce from the other side of the room. I glanced in her direction. Her wide, terrified eyes stood out even in the red-washed room, making her seem younger than she really was. She couldn’t save me. She knew it, and as I looked into her face, so did I.
“Sal!” bellowed our father, and began wading through the tethered sleepwalkers, kicking and shoving their cots out of the way. I wanted to tell him not to do that; I wanted to point out that if three of them had already broken loose—four, if you counted Ms. Lawrence. But there were no words left in me. There was only screaming.
Then the sleepwalkers, all three of them, stopped moving. Their blank gazes fell on me, seeming to have an almost physical weight. The sirens faded to nothingness as the drums got even louder, hammering in my ears until my whole head was pounding. There was an air of unreality to the whole scene, like I was dreaming.
Please let me be dreaming, I thought.
Then the man with the bloody chin opened his mouth, sighed, and moaned, “Sah-lee.”
As with Chave before him, he seemed almost physically hurt by the act of saying my name, like those two syllables had been ripped out of his throat. He took a step forward, dead eyes remaining fixed on my face.
“Sah-lee,” he repeated.
The other sleepwalkers took up the chant, each of them saying my name in the same broken way. They weren’t speaking in unison. That would almost have been better. It wouldn’t have forced me to acknowledge how many of them there were. Even the ones who were still strapped down joined in the horrible chorus, some speaking so slowly they were barely comprehensible, while others sounded like normal people.
I stopped screaming and stared at the sleepwalkers. My father was shouting somewhere in the room, his words drowned out by their slow, droning syllables and the pounding of the drums. Somehow, the drums were louder than the sirens and quieter than those broken, disconnected voices at the same time. It didn’t make any sense.
Nothing made any sense.
The sleepwalker at the head of the group took another step toward me. “Sah-lee,” he said, the syllables sounding less like moans and more like speech with every instant that passed. He sounded… sad.
I blinked at him, trying to make sense of it all. The sirens blared, beginning to make themselves heard again above the pounding of the drums. The red light bathed everything in a ruby glow, like something out of a fairy tale. I took a breath, unsure whether I was going to answer him or start screaming again.
The bullet hole that suddenly appeared in the middle of his forehead answered the question for me. I screamed again, and I kept screaming while my father rushed across the room, gunning down the other loose sleepwalkers in the process.
I was still screaming when the last of the sleepwalkers hit the floor. Then the door behind me finally banged open, and soldiers shoved me out of the way as they rushed into the room with tranquilizer guns in their hands. My father gathered me into his arms, barking orders and directing men with sharp waves of the hand that held his gun. I kept screaming. It seemed like the most sensible thing to do. It seemed like the only thing to do.
The needle bit into the side of my neck, and I kept screaming until the darkness, and the sound of drums, reached up to take me down.
Everything after that was silence.
Find the key that knows the lock,
Find the root that knows the rock,
Find the things you’re seeking in the place you fear to look.
Promise me that you’ll take care,
You’ll show caution, you’ll beware.
There are many dangers in the pages of this book.
The broken doors are waiting. You are stronger than you’ve known.
My darling girl, be careful now, and don’t go out alone.