I smiled. “I hope it’s nice where you are,” I said, my eyes burning from the salty tears lining my lower lashes.
“The only thing missing is you.”
I laughed once, and looked down to my hands. “I wish you were real y here. I need you.”
“Find the book, Nina,” Jack said. The change of his voice made me look up. His chin was lowered, and he looked at me from under his brow— the way he always had when he wanted me to listen.
“Daddy?” I said, seeing movement behind him, slowly approaching us from the darkness.
Shax strol ed into the light. His black eyes hadn’t changed.
“It’s time to wake up, Nina,” Jack said with an apologetic expression.
I glowered at Shax. “No,” I said, anger bursting from every pore in my skin.
Shax’s head cocked to the side like an animal. “What is she to us, Jack? Why do you protect her so?”
“Because she’s my daughter,” Jack said firmly, standing. He walked to the bedroom door, and then turned to face Shax, his hand on the knob.
“You’ve underestimated my family many times, Beast. This time may be your last.”
Shax waved him away, and a loud noise forced me to cover my ears. Misshapen arms exploded through the door, throwing splintered wood onto the floor and my covers. Before I could recover from the noise, Jack was pul ed through the door. Only traces of his blood on the door jamb and carpet had been left behind.
“No!” I screamed, reaching out from my bed.
Shax took a step closer, and I recoiled.
“Stay away from me,” I said, looking around the room for something to use to defend myself.
Shax lurched forward, his wild, black eyes and sharp features inches from my face. I scampered back, first against the head of my bead.
Panicked, I continued to crawl backward away from him, and found myself half- way up the wal .
Shax stood, looking up at me. He smiled with his crooked mouth and perfectly white teeth. “Running wil get you nowhere, Precious. We know what you are.”
He jumped, landing on al fours on the wal . My arms and legs couldn’t move fast enough as I climbed backward up the remainder of the wal .
Shax's arms and legs made quick, jerking movements as he moved slowly toward me. His body looked twisted and unnatural.
When I realized I was on the ceiling, looking down at my bed, I closed my eyes.
“Wake me up, Jared! Wake me up!”
I opened my eyes, and I was back at the loft. Jared, Bex, and the bed were al twelve feet below me.
“Agh!” I screamed as I fel face-down onto the bed.
“I’ve gotta learn how to do that!” Bex said, jumping once with excitement.
Jared immediately turned me onto my back. “Nina?” he said, brushing my hair from my face.
“I’m fine,” I said, angry.
“That…was creepy,” Jared said, scanning me with his dark-blue eyes.
“She was like Spiderman! That was freakin’ incredible!” Bex said. “I bet I can do that. I’m going to try.”
“We can’t float or climb wal s,” Jared said through his teeth. The skin around his eyes was tight with worry.
“But she’s human! Even if she’s influenced, if she can do it, we must be able to!”
Jared’s brows pul ed in. “What happened?”
I took a breath. “Jack was there.”
“No, but Shax came. He said he knew what I was. Jack said that Shax had underestimated our family before. He said to get the book.”
Jared nodded. “That’s the plan.”
“I think he meant now,” I said, feeling a sense of urgency.
Jared looked to Bex, who was looking around the loft, listening.
“Bex?” Jared said.
“We al need to pack a few things,” Jared said. “We’re going to be gone for a couple of days. I want to be in the car and ready to go in five minutes.”
Jared's and Bex's forms turned obscure as they raced around the room at impossible speed, and I immediately pul ed on a hooded sweatshirt and jeans, and then shoved my bare feet into sneakers. Jared held the door open for me as I pul ed my hair back into a ponytail. The iron steps knocked and echoed with my footsteps alone, although Bex was in front of me, with Jared fol owing behind.
Bex threw our bags into the back of the Escalade, and then froze. He looked into the air, waiting for something.
“Are they coming?” I whispered.
Jared paused, and then took a step toward the loft. “No,” he whispered.
Bex shook his head. “They’re here.”
Jared left me, then. My eyes barely kept up with his blurry form sprinting into the loft.
“What…?” I said. Bex moved in front of me in a protective stance, and then gasped.
The building exploded. Multiple bal s of fire rol ed into the sky. Debris shot toward Bex and me, and he turned his back to the explosion, shielding my body from the blast. I crawled out from under him, seeing the bright orange glow of heat and smoke that used to be our home.
“No!” I wailed, reaching over Bex. I knew trying to escape from him grip was futile, but the explosion had happened less than a second after Jared had reached the stairs, and I was desperate to get to him.
I looked up to Jared’s little brother. His eyes were wide. He clearly didn’t know what to think. We waited there, and even though the fire roared before us, everything was silent.
I waited for Jared to emerge from the rubble. Every second that passed seemed like an eternity, and panic began to overwhelm any rational thought I tried to have.
“Come on, Jared,” Bex said, his grip on my arms a bit tighter.
“Go get him,” I demanded, my voice broken and shaking.
“I have to stay here with you,” Bex said. He seemed confused and in shock.
I pushed at Bex. “He’s in there somewhere! Go get him!” I screamed.
Bex grabbed each side of my face, looking deep into my eyes. “They are here, Nina. They’re al around us. I can’t leave you.”
“Good kid,” Jared said from behind us. His hair and clothes were singed, his face covered in soot, and the skin on his cheek bone was scraped and bleeding, but he was alive.
He held up two dusty picture frames; one with the black and white picture of me he took the day he fel in love with me, the other of us playing at the beach in Little Corn.