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They didn’t find Sally! Jim thought, which gave him hope that Trix had made it away with the Oracle. “No,” he said, “they won’t kill us. But they might take us prisoner.”

“Take us where?”

He’d seen them form and melt away again, and the idea of being pulled through with them was terrible. He was Unique, and maybe that would make it possible, but …

But Jennifer was not Unique. And this place was not a crossing point.

“Jim?” Jennifer asked.

But he could not speak. What will it do to her to be dragged after them? What will it do to her body, her soul? He glanced around at the several dead bodies splayed across the street, saw the terrible damage inflicted upon them, and he grabbed Jennifer’s hand and pulled her close. “When they come for me,” he whispered, “run as fast as you can.”

“No!” Her voice was angry and fearful.

“Jennifer,” he said, and her face was so close to his that he could smell Jenny’s breath.

The wraiths dashed at them, and Jim felt momentary surprise when he heard their footsteps slapping on the pavement. His vision blurred, and he thought that an aftershock was striking the city—buildings shimmered, his stomach lurched, and Jennifer cried out beside him. She hugged him tighter, and her body fit his as well as it always had.

But the ground did not move, and he felt enclosed, his breathing and heartbeat echoing back at him from the wall of air around them. That wall darkened and resolved itself into separate shapes, and he heard Jennifer whimper softly as she pressed her face against his neck. She doesn’t want to see, but I have to, he thought as the shapes became vaguely humanoid and rushed outward to meet the threat.

The wraiths seemed unconcerned at the appearance of these new things, and unsurprised. They joined in brutal battle without preamble, and the conflict seemed more violent because of its utter silence. One of Veronica’s wraiths was flipped around and crushed against the ground, rupturing the concrete paving with a loud crack! that gave the fight brief voice. And at last Jim saw the thing that had met the wraith and bettered it. It had a silvered, flickering blank face and long limbs, and its gray shape seemed to flex and shiver as though trying to retain a hold on reality, but that ambiguity detracted nothing from its strength. It stomped down on the floored wraith, driving its foot into the thing’s head and twisting, sending glittering shreds across the road. They shriveled and turned black before fading away, and the rest of the wraith melted to nothing.

The faceless man motioned to Jim to follow. Every fiber of his being urged him to grab Jennifer and flee, but while conflict raged around them, this creature seemed the safest ally they had. Still Jim paused, glancing around at the fighting, thrashing things that had come from thin air and belonged. He heard Jennifer gasp, turned around, and the faceless man was so close that Jim could have touched it. His hair stood on end, and his balls tingled. The shape raised an arm and pointed at the house of this Boston’s Oracle. And then it signaled once again that he should follow.

They hurried after the shape as it seemed to float across the street, away from the house and the human bodies lying close by. They passed other bodies that were fading away—wraiths and faceless men alike—and Jim wondered if they hurt, and if the shift from living to dead meant anything to them.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” Jennifer said. “What are they? What is this?”

“It all has to do with the city,” Jim said, because he thought he knew where these things came from—from Sally, this Boston’s Oracle. Maybe they were constantly on guard outside her home, but he thought not. If they were, why the dead people, the smashed windows, and the sense of something momentous having happened here? The other alternative was that Sally had left them here to wait for him. That seemed more likely, as this thing was guiding them somewhere. And the only way he could figure this out was that Trix had gotten here first.

He only hoped she was all right. And he hoped and prayed that she and Sally had found his wife and child.

The thing led them quickly away from the battle, edging into an alley between buildings, headed west. It passed over a recently tumbled wall, waiting on the other side while Jim and Jennifer climbed the precarious pile. It exuded no impatience but walked on as soon as they were ready, moving unerringly through streets and alleys, across parks, and into the heart of the ruined city. They went through the theater district and kept moving west, crossing streets where buildings had collapsed or fires were raging, passing crowds of onlookers or people trying to help, and no one saw the faceless man. Jim didn’t believe for a moment that it was invisible to all but him and Jennifer—how could it be?—but perhaps it had some way of diverting attention, or seeking paths between perception.

Every few minutes the thing held up its hand and turned around, moving past them the way they had come. It’s listening, and watching, Jim thought. And indeed the phantom seemed to stand for a while breathing in the air and scanning their surroundings. For some reason, that did not make Jim feel safe. He believed the faceless man was just as dangerous, just as inhuman, as the wraiths that had killed O’Brien. He was only grateful it was on their side.

“Where’s it leading us?” Jennifer asked.

“I think toward Trix’s apartment in this Boston. And hopefully Sally.”


“The Oracle. You’ve heard of her?”

Jennifer frowned, a little unsettled. “I’ve heard the name Oracle before, yes. A friend of a friend visited her once, so he claims. Helped him find a brother adopted at birth.”

“Well, she’s the only one who can help me here,” Jim said.

“Help you find your wife, Jenny,” Jennifer said.

“Yeah,” Jim said, and he had to shake himself again. This isn’t Jenny. This is Jennifer.

“And you believe in all that mystical stuff?”

“Days ago, no, not really. But now … if whatever it is works, then yes, I believe in it.” He pointed ahead at where the phantom shape had paused at a road junction. “And you’ve got to account for that.”

“Not today,” Jennifer said. “I don’t need to account for anything today. Maybe tomorrow, when all this is …” But she trailed off, because what they’d seen of the city proved that this would never be all over. Things might improve, people might be rescued, and the injured would recover, but Boston would never be the same again.

As they followed the phantom, Jim started to wonder just what Jennifer-not-Jenny felt about him. Because there was a spark. And however much he tried to smother it, it burned brighter with every passing minute. “Not far now,” he said, wondering what they would find upon their arrival. “We’re almost there.”

* * * 

Trix leaned back against the wall of what might be her apartment, watching as Sally worked, and she knew that she should be able to control herself. She knew what this was and what it meant, and she was better placed than almost anyone in Boston today to understand what was going on. Yet she was shaking and scared, lonely and feeling shunned by the world she knew, and those worlds she did not.

And she couldn’t help feeling jealous. I need help, too. Sally should be doing that to me. She hated the self-pity but could not rein it in. Too much had happened for her to beat herself up about how she felt.

Sally was kneeling beside this alternate Jenny and singing a soft song. This Jenny called herself Anne—her middle name—and had been begging Trix to recognize her and love her. It’s Anne. Don’t you know me, Trix? Don’t you know me? It must have been Trix’s haunted expression that threw Anne into a terrified fit. That, and the fact that she was dead in Anne’s world, victim of a car crash three years before.

I’m no ghost, Trix had said, but it was taking the Oracle’s ministrations to calm Anne down.

Sally rocked slowly back and forth on her knees, one hand running gentle circles across Anne’s stomach, the other seemingly molding the air around her. The song seemed more solid than mere words, heavier than a voice. The air around Sally and Anne danced and flickered, heat haze where there was little heat, and Trix saw distortions that twisted their faces into terrible shapes. Yet she could not look away. Not only was Anne almost identical to Jenny in every way, she had also known Trix before she died in this world.

She knew me, as I’ve always wanted to know her, she thought. Knew the heart of me, my deepest secrets, my fondest desires. Anne had not taken her eyes off Trix since stepping back from that kiss—that wonderful kiss—and she still stared at her now. But her eyes had grown lazy, and her breathing had calmed.

Trix closed her eyes to escape that stare, and found herself staring right back. In her mind’s eye she saw herself as she might have been in this world: shorter hair, perhaps heavier-boned, happy and content. And she had died young. In one world she survived, in the others she died, and she knew she should feel lucky and blessed. But she could only feel sad.

“She’ll rest for a while,” Sally said, and she continued her slow, melancholy song.

“And when do I rest?” Trix asked. But she might as well have been talking to herself. Sally ignored her, rocking and singing, and perhaps somewhere in that song was comfort for the Oracle as well.

Trix could still taste Anne’s lips on her own. She had kissed Jenny before, of course, countless friendly pecks on the cheek, and they never meant anything more than that. The real kisses happened only in her mind.

But now, what if I could stay? she thought. This is Boston, and this is Jenny. She opened her eyes again and stared at the prone woman, seeing the slight differences but welcoming them. Each difference—the longer hair, the leaner physique—made her love Jenny more. I can help Jim find Jenny and Holly, see them home, and then …

Sally stopped singing and stood up. She groaned like an old lady, and Trix went to help, thinking that perhaps she’d tired herself out. But when the Oracle turned, Trix was shocked to see tears on her cheeks, her face squeezed as she tried to hold them back.

“Hey,” Trix said, opening her arms.

Sally came to her and held her tight, sobbing into her chest. She pulled back and looked up. “Another room,” she said. “If she hears … me crying … the spell might break.”

Spell, Trix thought, unsettled. But she nodded, holding Sally and walking her through to where she knew the kitchen would be. When she entered, the room felt so familiar that Trix paused for a moment. But already something in her mind was preparing her for such sights, and she was looking for differences instead of similarities. The wall was a deep ocher color that she would have never chosen, the crockery on a plate rack bore a gaudy pattern, and there were several smoked sausages hanging from a rack above the fridge. Trix hated smoked sausage. Anne must have made this place her own after Trix died, and that planted in her not shock, but an unbearable sadness that threatened tears.

“Anne said she ran,” Sally said, voice breaking. “After the collision, when they were both suddenly here. When my city changed. The other woman ran.”

“I can hardly blame her.” Trix nudged the kitchen door closed with her foot, and then Sally started sobbing for real. It was a shocking sight, because since first meeting her Trix had difficulty viewing the girl as a girl. She’d been an oddity, a child older than her years, wise beyond her age, performing feats that were not possible but were real, and her build and apparent age had meant little. Now she was an upset girl with tears in her eyes and Trix’s jacket clenched in her fists.

“Hey,” Trix said uncomfortably, unsure of what to do. She’d held Holly like this sometimes when the girl needed someone she regarded as a friend more than a parent—because of issues with friends in school, or sadness over the death of a pet hamster. Now things were different.

“I’m just a kid,” Sally said, her tone of voice denying the truth of that. There was no “just” about it. “A kid, and I have to do this all the time, and I can, I can, because that’s what the Oracle does. I’m still learning. Always learning. But I started … started off knowing more than anyone.” She leaned back and looked up at Trix with red-rimmed, wet eyes. “Much more than you.”

“I know,” Trix said.

“But sometimes it’s just not fair,” she said. “Sometimes I wish it had never happened …”

“What did happen?” Trix asked, but Sally was saying her own thing. Though she clung to Trix and rested her head against her, she seemed to be talking to herself.

“If it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be here now, and there’s so much responsibility. I can do it, normally. You know? Normally, when there’s only magic to make and people to find, and the soul of the city to keep safe. Normally. But not now. The collision, the damage, those Shadow Men, and the things, the terrible things I had to bring across to fight them …” She sniffed, then exhaled another heavy sob. “It’s all too much!”

“You’re doing fine,” Trix said, smoothing her hair.

“I’m just getting by,” Sally said. She pulled away from Trix and sat back on the small kitchen table, looking around the room as if she could learn something from that place. “But the soul of the city is bruised, and I’m making mistakes.” She looked directly at Trix then, and Trix knew what she meant.

“Maybe finding her wasn’t a mistake,” she said.

“No,” Sally said, shaking her head. “She’s not Jenny.”

“No, but—”

“I know all about adult stuff,” the Oracle said. “I’m too young to know, but I do. I have to. And I can see into you, Trix. See into your heart.” She wiped her eyes and seemed to gather herself, shrugging strength back into her shoulders. Perhaps having something else to talk about—someone else’s problem—was shielding her from her own.