His tone changed, becoming ingratiating. I knew that most of the station’s listeners—if it was just this station; if this wasn’t going out nationwide—would take his words as paternal and loving, but I saw them for what they had always been: a trap. He was trying to trap me, just like he’d been doing for my entire life.
“Sally, if you can hear this, if you’re out there somewhere, listening to me, Sally, please, come home. The people who told you to steal from me, they’re not your friends. I don’t know what lies they’ve been feeding to you, but I only have your best interests at heart, I’ve only ever wanted to help you, and I can’t do that if you’re running from me. I’m not pressing charges against you for what you did. I’m not blaming you for the people who were hurt. I know that none of this was your idea. But Sally, please, please, I am begging you. Please come home.”
The quality of the sound abruptly changed, and an unfamiliar woman said, “That was Dr. Steven Banks at his press conference earlier today, discussing the break-in at the SymboGen headquarters that resulted in the deaths of three security guards, and the hospitalization of two doctors. It is widely believed that this break-in was made possible by the actions of Sally Mitchell, a patient of SymboGen’s. Miss Mitchell, as you may recall, was involved in a tragic accident—”
I gasped and turned off the radio before the woman could start telling me about my own past. I was still staring at it, my arms wrapped tightly around myself, when the car doors opened. Beverly and Minnie came bounding into the backseat, and Beverly shoved her nose under my hair, snuffling loudly, in case I had changed while she was away. The door closed, and the driver’s-side door opened. I kept staring at the radio.
“Sal?” Nathan put a hand on my arm as he slid back into his seat. I didn’t react. He pulled the hand away, closing his door, creating a safe, enclosed space around us. Only then did he try again, asking, “Sal, honey, what’s wrong? What was on the radio?”
“Dr. Banks.” I turned slowly to face him. “He did a press conference. He told everyone about the break-in, and said that people got hurt, and that it was my fault. But he’s not pressing charges, he says, he just wants me to come home.”
“Which may mean he’s offering a reward for anyone who turns you in, and trying to deflect people from suspecting SymboGen’s involvement in the sleepwalker outbreak at the same time. Dammit.” Nathan scowled, pushing his glasses back up his nose. “I guess that just means we’ll need to be a little bit more careful for the rest of the drive. Are you ready to go?”
“Fasten your seat belt,” I said.
Nathan fastened his seat belt.
“Is your mom going to let us back into the lab when there are people looking for me?”
“There have always been people looking for you, and there have always been people looking for her,” he said. “Maybe that doesn’t sound reassuring, but it is, because she’s always been willing to let you in. You’re her greatest creation, a chimera that formed entirely without human aid. I’m not going to let her use you as a lab subject, but darling, you have to understand how much leverage this gives you over her. She needs to study you. She’ll let us in.”
“The broken doors will still be open.”
“Yeah,” said Nathan, reaching for the wheel. “And while I find it deeply odd that my life is now defined by a children’s book, it’s also reassuring. As long as Mom keeps treating that thing like the newest book of the damn Bible, she’s not going to shut us out. The whole point of going to where the monsters are is that the monsters will always let you in.”
“Yay, monsters,” I said, leaning back in my seat and closing my eyes again. I liked riding in cars at night a little bit more than I liked doing it during the day. As long as I couldn’t see anything around us, I could almost pretend that we were sitting safely still. But other cars had a tendency to break the illusion, and with Nathan driving the way he had to in order to get us to safety, it was better for me not to risk it.
I heard the engine rumble to life, and then the faint jouncing as Nathan rolled from the shoulder and back onto the road.
The sirens started a few seconds later.
The sound was coming from directly behind us. I opened my eyes, and the cab of the car was filled with flashing red and blue lights. “Nathan…”
“I know. Just be cool, okay? I can handle this.” He pulled over again, leaving his hands resting on the wheel, while I stayed frozen in my seat and tried not to look like an inhuman thing wearing a girl’s skin. What if the cop could tell somehow? What if we were both arrested, and I was thrown into whatever sort of cell they reserved for creatures who dared to pretend to be people, and I never saw Nathan or the dogs again?
Beverly, sensing my distress, shoved her nose into my ear. I left it there, not trying to push her away, as Nathan rolled down the window and a flashlight shined into the car, illuminating first my lap, and then moving to my face, where it seemed like the glare was going to blind me. I squinted, recoiling. Beverly pulled her nose out of my ear and gave an inquisitive yip.
“Are these your dogs, miss?” asked the officer. The voice was male, but I couldn’t make out a face, thanks to that flashlight in my eyes.
I was silent for a few seconds, trying to find an answer that was both honest and unlikely to get me into trouble. Finally, I settled for the safest option: “Y-yes,” I stammered. “The big one is Beverly, and the little one is Minnie. They’re both friendly, and we have leashes for them.” I wasn’t sure why I felt the need to add that last part, except that I’d heard horror stories before of cops shooting dogs for getting too close to them while appearing “vicious,” a designation that seemed to mean “the dog had teeth in its mouth and I saw them at some point.” Since happy, friendly dogs were apt to show off their teeth in the process of panting, that made me worry about my girls.