I wonder if Jenny is married, he thought, because he was Unique, and long dead here. A burst of jealousy—of anger—swelled through him, and he started across the street. Jenny’s other mother saw him and frowned slightly, then looked away.
“Excuse me,” Jim said, and then he froze in the middle of the street. What could he possibly say?
“You okay, hon?” the woman asked, and Jim’s blood ran cold. She calls me hon, he thought, and he searched for any signs of recognition. But there were none. “Hey, mister, anything wrong?”
“Wrong?” Jim asked.
“Aside from the whole world shaking itself apart,” she said, looking past him at the glowing horizon and smoke clouds starting to obscure the moonlight.
“I was just wondering …,” he started again. But there was no easy way for him to ask about Jenny, and suddenly he hoped that she had not come this way at all. He remembered the two blond women staring at each other back at the traffic pileup—one blond woman, really, facets of her existent in two different worlds—and he tried to imagine the terror Jenny and Holly might have felt arriving here and seeing someone who was not quite their mother, not quite their grandmother.
“Wondering what?” she asked, on her guard at last.
“Nothing,” Jim said, shaking his head and backing away. I should have gone with Trix … the Oracle, Sally, she’ll be able to help, she’ll know what to—
And then someone else emerged from the restaurant’s smashed façade.
“Jenny,” Jim said. “Jenny!”
And the woman frowned and took one step back, because she did not know him.
Chapter 10 - Don’t Let Me Die Still Wondering
CAGED LIGHTBULBS flickered, throwing zoetrope shadows into the basement corners. Trix stared at the young Oracle—her wide eyes, her well-worn sneakers, her faded concert T-shirt, and her skittish body language so reminiscent of an animal used to being beaten. Sally had frozen, half crouched, listening to the screams and running feet from above, as those who had come to her for help were attacked or driven in terror out of the building.
Going tharn, Trix thought. In Watership Down, that was what the rabbits called the paralysis they experienced when pinned by the lights of an oncoming car. Sally Bennet had gone tharn.
“Do something!” Trix shouted at the girl.
Sally glanced at her. The power flickered on and off again, and in the moments of darkness, somehow the girl’s face was the only thing that Trix could see, despite the dark coffee hue of her skin.
The middle-aged woman who’d been asking for Sally’s help when Trix had entered the basement staggered backward toward a corner farther from the stairs, looking around as though for another way out. When Trix glanced at Sally again, she found the girl staring at her.
“Shadow Men,” the girl said, voice broken with grief. “You brought them.”
Trix felt her heart flutter. The girl was right, but what choice had she had? “I didn’t know where else to go. You’re the Oracle! I didn’t know you were a little girl.”
Sally laughed softly but without any trace of humor. Trix noticed that one of her sneakers was untied. The girl shook her braided hair back and knelt on the floor. “It isn’t just little girls who get frightened,” Sally said.
Trix heard glass shatter upstairs, but the screaming had nearly ceased. The door to the basement shook in its frame. They didn’t even need to open the door to pass through it, at least she didn’t think so. The wraiths—the things Sally had named Shadow Men—might be mindless things, programmed for this task, but if so, part of their job must be to make themselves terrible. To not merely kill the Oracles, but to destroy everything around them.
“I know! I’m a grown-up, and I’m terrified,” Trix said.
The woman who’d backed into the corner of the basement sobbed loudly.
Sally put her palms down on the stone floor of the basement. Her eyes were closed and she breathed deeply and evenly, as though trying to meditate with chaos erupting above her. “The No-Face Men,” Sally said.
“Yes,” Trix quickly replied. “It has to be them. They killed Peter O’Brien, and we saw them after the earthquake, out on the street.”
But Sally seemed not to hear her, and Trix realized that the girl had not been speaking to her. For a second she flashed back to the moment in the bookstore, when she and Jim had watched Veronica testing the edges of reality, her senses touching upon facets of the world around her that others could never reach. Whatever you’re doing, Trix thought, staring at the girl, you’d better be quick about it.
The power went out, plunging the basement into darkness. For several long seconds, Trix could hear nothing but her own heart beating in her ears and the quick, whimpering sobs of the woman in the corner. Then a warm draft of air whipped through the basement and up the stairs, and from above there came an inhuman murmuring, as though the wraiths had finally scented their true prey.
An electric buzz filled the basement, followed by a crackling noise, and the lights flickered back on.
Sally stood in the center of the room, wearing a triumphant grin—a little girl who had just gotten her way. Blood streamed from her nostrils, and she wiped it away with the back of her hand. “Little girl, my ass,” she said.
Trix would have replied, but in a moment she was rendered speechless. Arms began to rise up from the floor, ethereal things passing through stone and mortar. They were gray and vague, and Trix opened her mouth to scream a warning before she noticed that they were not attacking Sally. Their faces were weird silver mesh, like fencers’ masks, but there were dark ghost faces there as well, things with ancient, hollow eyes, flickering like an old TV trying to lock on to a signal.
These weren’t Veronica’s Shadow Men. What had Sally whispered? “No-Face Men”? They kept rising, taller than humans, thinner, limbs longer. The wails from the woman in the corner altered in tone, rising and falling in a keening song of distress.
Sally pointed toward the stairs. “Go,” she said, the triumphant smile gone from her face, leaving only grim determination behind.
The No-Face Men flowed toward the stairs as if driven by storm winds. Trix saw them coming at her and could not help letting out a cry as she threw herself to one side. They flashed past her, buzzing with their own static, and up the stairs. Trix expected more sounds of destruction from above, more cries of fear and despair, but instead there was only silence.
“Martha?” Sally said gently to the wailing woman in the corner, who quieted at once. “Come with me. The friend whose house your son was sleeping at tonight … the building collapsed in the quake. Both boys are trapped there, but they’re still alive. The city’s reacting now. Rescue workers are searching for survivors in the buildings that fell. You need to get over there.”
The woman stared at the young Oracle in shock. Sally took her hand and tugged her along toward the stairs. Trix felt frozen—she’d gone tharn herself, listening to the nothing from upstairs.
“You coming, Trix?” the girl asked, looking sweetly innocent.
“I didn’t tell you my name,” Trix said. She wanted to tie the laces on the Oracle’s left sneaker. She felt distant, as though her spirit held on to her flesh only by the slimmest tether. But as Sally and Martha hurried past her, she snapped back into the world as though coming awake from a nightmare. She reached out and grabbed Sally’s wrist. “Stop. You can’t …” She forced the whirlwind of her thoughts to be still. “All of this happened because they killed O’Brien. If they kill you, too, the third Boston might collide with this one … these two … you know what I’m saying. I won’t let that happen.”
Sally rolled her eyes. “Duh. Neither will I. You think I wanna die? First thing we do is get our butts out of here.”
“But the wraiths … the Shadow Men—”
“Can’t kill me quite so easily,” Sally said. “O’Brien’s guard must have been down if they took him without a fight.”
“Veronica gave us—”
“Trix!” Sally snapped. “Do you want to find what you came looking for, or not?” With that, she went up the stairs, Martha following behind her.
Trix stared after them for several seconds, then hustled to catch up. They emerged in a corridor, but half a dozen steps took them into the front of the house, where a silent battle raged in the front rooms and through the open door.
The Shadow Men—the horrible wraiths who had paced her through the devastated city—were locked in combat with the spindle-limbed No-Face Men Sally had summoned. The two sides were at war, grappling in utter silence, tearing at one another with ghostly claws. Their flesh, flayed and ripped, seemed like gray cotton batting but dissipated like smoke in the air. They throttled one another, sailing across the rooms, crashing through walls as though they themselves were solid and the twin collided cities were some haunted ghostland.
Trix faltered, astonished by the scene unfolding around her, but then fear and good sense got her moving and she hurried, praying that she would not be noticed. As thought caught in Sally’s wake, several of Veronica’s wraiths turned to pursue her, only to be snagged by the long talons of their enemies, whose flickering static faces were brutally blank. One of the No-Face Men opened its mouth—a gaping, saw-toothed maw of oil-black nothing that looked like a hole torn in the curtain of the world, on the other side of which anything might be lurking. It swallowed the Shadow Man’s head, biting it off with a silent snap of its jaws. The Shadow Man turned to smoke, drifting and fading in seconds.
There were several dead people on the floor, heads caved in from being smashed against walls or floors, limbs broken. Despair filled the hollow places inside Trix. These people had come to the Oracle for help in making sense of the collision of the cities, or to find those they had lost in the madness. The others who had come to Sally were gone now, scattered by the bloodshed and the sight of the wraiths. They had run for their lives. But others would come, just as Trix had gone to find Veronica when Jenny and Holly had gone missing. They would be in danger.
Another Shadow Man reached for Sally, and a No-Face Man latched on to it from behind, tearing away strips of its flesh as if it were made of cotton candy.
Sally ran out the door and into the street, pulling Martha behind her. Trix ran out after them, realizing that she had been holding her breath since the basement. She exhaled, turning around in fright. There were Shadow Men and No-Face Men in the street, too, but only a few.
“Go,” Sally told Martha, giving her a little shove. “Donnie will be all right if they find him soon. But you’ve got to hurry.”
“Thank you,” Martha said, backing away. “Oh, my God, thank you.” She fled then, and for a moment Trix wished she could follow.
Sally turned and glared at Trix, one hip cocked. In her sneakers and jeans and Miley Cyrus T-shirt, the little girl would have looked almost adorably precocious, impossible to take seriously, were it not for the pain and wisdom in her eyes. “Now, you,” she said. “Come with me. Don’t stop for anything.”
Sally turned and started to run. Several people who had obviously come looking for her tried to stop her, calling to her, but she ignored them and ran on. Trix kept up, avoiding places where the pavement was cracked or broken, lamenting that she could not stop to help a group of people frantically moving rubble away from a collapsed synagogue.
“Where are we going?” Trix asked, panting, as they rounded a corner, jumping onto the sidewalk to avoid the water that gushed from a broken hydrant and the wreckage of half a dozen cars that were mashed together in the street.
Sally shot her a hard look. “Somewhere they won’t be able to follow you.”
“Me?” Trix asked. “They’re after you.”
Sally turned right to avoid the road ahead, where an office building and an old music hall had tried and failed to co-exist, and debris blocked the street. “Yeah, they’re after me. But they’re following you. Veronica marked you with something her Shadow Men can always find, and whatever it is, it broke down the wards and safeguards I’d put on my house. It must have done the same to Peter O’Brien’s bar, if they were able to get in there after him. But there must have been more. Did you hand him anything from her?”
Sally nodded. “Hobbling hex. Easily done, if you know how.”
“Enabling those things to attack him?”
“O’Brien would have been slowed, his ability to fight back reduced. And he’d have known what was happening.”
“So it is our fault,” Trix said softly, and Sally said nothing to disabuse her of that notion.
Trix’s legs hurt from running. Her chest burned from effort and her mind whirled as she tried to make the pieces of the puzzle fit together. She thought of O’Brien opening the envelope, swearing when he found the black-spotted page. He must have known in that moment that danger was approaching.
Trix felt herself swept along in Sally’s wake. What could she do now? How was she supposed to find Jenny and Holly? And what about Jim? They were moving farther and farther away from Jenny’s parents’ restaurant. If Jim went looking for her at Sally Bennet’s address, he would find nothing but dead people.
“Later,” Sally said. “First, we get somewhere they can’t find us. Then we get that mark off of you.”
Trix gasped. “Mark on me?”
“The Shadow Men are following you somehow.”
“But she never touched me,” Trix said, thinking back to her brief time with Veronica, wondering.
“Doesn’t matter. Did it somehow, and it needs removing. Then I have to stop that bitch from doing to your Boston what she’s done to mine!”