Page 19

On the next block, a silver roof ridge gleamed in the midst of the swirling dust. Trix frowned, staring at it, wondering how she had missed it before. It must be an office building, but the architect had designed it to appear as though the top had been sheared off at an angle. It was made of glass and steel, and now the majority of the windows were broken. She could see emergency lights flickering inside. It was perhaps twenty stories—a tower in this old Boston neighborhood.

And there were others. A modern church stood two blocks down. She blinked as she stared and realized that the street had split around it—and not only the street but the row of shops that had been there before. It looked as though the church had fallen from the sky, like Dorothy’s house on Oz.

Sirens wailed in the distance, some growing nearer. Emergency rescue efforts were under way. The fires raged across the city skyline, and as Trix studied it, she remembered her dreams and Jim’s paintings, and the sketch he had done only an hour ago, and she understood.

The skyline had changed.

A massive cloud fed by the black smoke from several huge fires began to bloom above the city. It let in faint moonlight, and at last she realized what Jim had seen the second he had struggled to stand. He’d been peering in that direction ever since, as though waiting for confirmation that he had not imagined it.

“That’s impossible,” Trix said, a terrible numbness spreading through her.

In the distance, the huge, ornate cathedral they had seen upon their arrival in this parallel city had been disastrously altered. At first Trix thought the three towers that thrust up through the roof of the cathedral were separate buildings, but then she realized that their upper stories were joined together, a massive tripod high-rise office complex with a revolving restaurant above, capped by a needle spire blinking warning lights to warn air traffic over the city.

Jim shuffled up beside her, cradling his bloody left arm against his chest. “You recognize that building?” he asked.

Trix nodded. It had taken her a moment to remember, but she did know it. She had dreamed it a handful of times, years ago. And she understood now that it had been after her drowning in one reality, and not the others. “It doesn’t belong here,” she said.

“No,” Jim agreed. “It doesn’t.”

Now the people in the street were screaming and pointing. They had seen it, too. But Trix studied them, and she realized that not all of them had been there before. There were too many. And even here, the buildings were different—weird variations. The pharmacy the van had crashed into had a different sign, now identifying it as an antiquarian bookstore. But the product that had spilled onto the sidewalk belonged to the pharmacy. The façade of Dwyer’s New Dublin had been altered completely. Instead of an Irish pub, it had become the Yankee Fish Company.

Trix turned to see that the sign above the shattered window of O’Brien’s Bar hadn’t changed at all. Collision, she thought. It is a collision.

Jim glanced around at the shell-shocked people moving through the streets. Cries for help carried above the sirens and alarms and the sounds of grief-stricken wailing. Many people had died tonight, and many more were still in need. Peter O’Brien might be dead—murdered by those wraiths and buried in the wreckage of his bar—but hundreds, perhaps thousands of others would still be alive, trapped in the rubble.

He couldn’t help them.

Injured left arm still held against his rib cage—it wasn’t broken, just badly bruised and scraped—he slipped his right arm around Trix’s waist. “Come on,” he whispered into her ear.

She went along without argument, looking at him with wide eyes. “To where?”

Jim said nothing. He just escorted her along the broken street, survivors of disaster, and made an effort not to meet the eyes of anyone they passed. Together they crossed toward the mouth of an alley, where a wrought-iron fire escape had partially torn away from the building on their left and now leaned precariously against its twin. Trix kept glancing around, her eyes full of fear.

“What are you looking for?” Jim asked.

“Those things from the bar,” she said. “The ones that killed O’Brien.”

“Wraiths,” Jim said.

“You’ve seen them before?” she asked, misunderstanding.

“No. I just … that’s how I thought of them. They were there and not there, all at the same time.” He didn’t see any of them now, but somehow that was no comfort. He feared they might be there, whether he could see them or not.

“During the quake … they were watching us,” Trix said, a brittle edge to her voice.

“I know,” Jim said as he led her into the alley. He glanced around again, but not for the wraiths this time. What he had to say was not something he wanted anyone to overhear.

“The two Bostons,” Trix said, searching his eyes for answers. “The two that splintered off … they, like, crashed back together.”

Yeah, Jim thought. That’s the word.

From what Veronica had told them, he’d had the impression that when McGee caused the schism it had been seamless, unnoticed by the people who had been duplicated in the process. A parting of realities in an otherwise straight, orderly world, like a bubble of possibilities on a single two-dimensional string. But now that the parallel cities and their citizens had been duplicated, they couldn’t be erased. Forcing them back together had caused terrible destruction. Buildings that predated the schism—that still existed in both cities—had changed but somehow been merged. But where there were different structures in the two cities, like the cathedral and the tripod building—catastrophe. Metal merged with stone, glass with wood, in an explosive amalgamation.

“I’m afraid, Trix.”

Her eyes went wider. “No shit. What if it happens again? What if our Boston … Jesus, I can’t even think about it. How do we find Jenny and Holly now? How do we get out of here?”

She started back into the street, but he grabbed her and pulled her back. She spun around to stare at him, her face lit with anger.

“You don’t get it,” he said.

He reached into his back pocket and pulled out the sealed envelope that Veronica had given them to deliver to the Oracle of the Brahmin Boston. He held his breath a second, afraid to open it.

“Wait …,” she said.

Jim stared at her, ice clutching at his insides. “We crossed over. We went to the Oracle, and then those wraiths came for him.”

Her grief contorted her face, shattering her beauty. “You don’t think …? No.” She shook her head, then threw out a hand to indicate the devastated city. “You think we caused this?”

“Not us, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence. How can it be? It’s got to be related.”

They both stared at the envelope, the name and address of the Oracle of Brahmin Boston scrawled on the front. They had promised they would not open it. Veronica had warned them that disaster could result. But they had not opened the one addressed to Peter O’Brien, and disaster had come just the same.

“Veronica,” Trix whispered.

Jim tore it open, careful to preserve the address on the envelope. He pulled out the letter inside—a single sheet of paper—and quickly unfolded it. “Shit,” he whispered.

The page was blank apart from a single deep-black spot at its center.

“Oh, no,” Trix said, snatching it from him and staring at it. She looked up at him. “It’s nothing. No message. Jesus, the wraiths were the message. She must have had them following us … and we led them right to him.”

“But she knew his address!”

“Yeah, but …” Trix trailed off.

“A message,” Jim said. “A … something else. I don’t know. I think maybe he knew the moment he opened it.”

“She used us,” Trix said. “Somehow.”

“Yeah.” Jim looked around at the crying, bleeding, broken people and the ruin of two Bostons. If they were right, it meant that not only had Veronica betrayed and used them, not only had she arranged for the murder of Peter O’Brien—and the third Oracle as well, if they hadn’t figured it out—but it meant that the old bitch had wanted this to happen. She had planned for this destruction.

He folded the envelope and almost blank page and stuffed them into his pocket. Then he took Trix’s hand. “Come on.”

“Why? We’ve got nowhere to go.”

Coughing on the dust of ruined buildings and the smoke from a hundred fires, with cries and sirens still ringing out, he pulled her close. “Jenny and Holly are still out there somewhere.”

Trix bit her lip, nodded, and wiped tears from her eyes.

Chapter 9 - Whistles the Wind

AS THEY ran, what had happened impressed itself upon Trix with every step. The dislocation she felt should have been aggravated by the earthquake—an event beyond her experience, shoving her farther away from safety and the life she knew so well—but in fact the disaster seemed to have jarred her toward sense and understanding. Maybe it was the sight of her city in ruins, though it was not quite the city she knew. But more likely it was the excruciating sight of human suffering. These people, whichever version of Boston they might have come from, were just like her.

East Broadway was in ruins. The road had been flipped like a giant sheet, coming to rest with bulges and bumps that gaped open to the night sky. Street lamps leaned drunkenly over the undulating road or back against cracked and shattered buildings. The power was out, and the only light came from the half-moon peering between intermittent clouds, car headlamps, and the occasional fires that had sprung up in the ruins. To the north the sky glowed yellow, and Trix could hear the barely audible roar of a massive fire, perhaps as far away as the airport. Already, sparking embers were drifting up from the glow, like fireflies evading the cataclysm. A breeze whispered along the street, like the city gasping in pain.

“How many do you think are dead?” she asked Jim.

“Hundreds. Maybe thousands.”

“I wish we could stop and help—”

“We can’t,” he interrupted. “I’m sorry, Trix, but you know we can’t. The only thing keeping me from breaking down here is the thought of finding Holly and Jenny. We know what’s going on—about the different Bostons—but they don’t. Imagine how terrified they must be. Christ, Trix, I’ve got to find them. I’m going to lose my mind!”

“But which Bostons collided?” she asked, gazing around.

“My guess is the Irish and Brahmin. Veronica said those were the weaker, because they were splintered from the original.”

“And you believe her?”

Jim shrugged.

“Well, then,” Trix said. “If the Irish Boston and the Brahmin Boston just … merged, then there’s another Oracle in the city now.”

Jim whipped the envelope from his pocket. “Her address is on Harrison Avenue. Sally Bennet. Maybe she’ll know. Maybe she’ll be able to find them!”

Jim’s eyes were filled with the desperate knowledge that this was no longer only about them. And Trix understood how heavy that knowledge weighed on him, because she felt it, too. Jenny and Holly’s disappearance had led indirectly to this. And what about those things in the bar, those wraiths? Those things followed us there, she thought, shivering as she remembered the faceless things standing motionless as the earthquake struck. Watching.

In the distance came the grumbling, earthshaking impact of a building’s collapse, and Trix couldn’t help thinking, I’m listening to people die. She remembered watching the Twin Towers struck by hijacked aircraft, and each time the impact was shown on the news that day—again and again, the blossoming explosions as regular as the country’s panicked heartbeat—she’d thought, I’m seeing hundreds of people die, in that single moment. It had been unbearable, and hypnotic.

“Those things,” Jim said. He pushed her gently into a shop doorway, feet crunching over shattered glass. Mannequins wearing expensive clothing had toppled into the street, and behind them the ceiling had come down, broken water pipes spraying the shop’s interior. “They followed us to O’Brien, then killed him while we were asleep. They needed us to come through—it’s like they were waiting for us—and we both felt spooked on our way to O’Brien’s. It was them, watching.”

“Yeah.” Trix nodded.

“So, what if they follow us to Sally Bennet, too? If they kill her, maybe this will happen again.”

Trix closed her eyes. Frowned. Opened them again. “Jim, Veronica gave you their addresses. She knew where they lived.”

“But something in that envelope, or on that note … I heard O’Brien’s reaction when he opened it.” He took the folded sheet from his pocket.

“Just a black dot,” Trix said.

“Maybe not to an Oracle.”

“Something to let them attack him,” Trix said.

“Maybe,” Jim said. “She talked about McGee’s magicks. Maybe this is some of her own.”

“But all this destruction,” Trix said. “Could she possibly want this?”

Jim shivered. “I think we have to at least consider it.

The timing is too fucking convenient otherwise, don’t you think?”

He turned pale, and Trix held his arms and pulled him close. Over his shoulder she saw a family walking along the opposite sidewalk, mother and father on either side of a little girl. They all held hands, and were dressed in smart, dust-covered clothes. The only signs that they had acknowledged the earthquake were the father’s coughing and the little girl looking around with eyes wide open. Trix wondered what they’d been doing out so late, or whether they’d dressed and gone for a walk after the quake had struck.