Page 28

“I’m not really thinking anything,” Trix said. It was a cruel denial to herself, a stale-tasting lie.

“You’ve had your time in this world,” Sally said. “Do I really have to show you your own grave?”

“I want you to find my friends,” Trix said.

Sally nodded, wiped at her eyes again, and then offered a tentative smile. “And if I don’t find them, you’ll still go back through?”

“No,” Trix said. “I won’t. I’ll stay here until they’re found.” I’m her safety net, she thought. If she doesn’t find them, at least I can go back to Veronica bearing her mark. She might not have believed a little girl like Sally could scheme like that … but she was not really a little girl. The last few minutes had shown that.

“I’ve promised to find them,” Sally said.

“And I thank you for that.”

The Oracle sat heavily in a kitchen chair and rested her forehead on her hand, a very adult gesture. She rubbed her head gently, as if to ease away a headache.

“The city is in such pain,” Sally whispered. “I feel its pain. Every fallen building is an ache in my bones and a fire beneath my skin.”

“That’s a big burden for such a little girl,” Trix said, and the Oracle looked up at her with such gratitude that Trix felt the burn of tears. She wondered when Sally had last been called a little girl, and how she would grow up, never having experienced a childhood. “What happened to you?”

“I was eight,” Sally said. “My momma and dadda were killed in a house fire. A black man came and pulled me from the basement window, and carried me away. I wasn’t scared, not for a minute. The man was ill. He was my friend.”

“Was he … ?”

“The last Oracle. I never even knew his name. He took me to the house where you found me, his house.”

“And no one missed you? No family, no friends?”

“I think they did,” she said, frowning as if confused at a nebulous memory. “But the man kept me safe, and I never once feared for myself. Something was happening to me, something wonderful, and it kept everything at bay. The grief over my parents, the weirdness of what was happening. One night I went to sleep with the man singing me songs, and the next morning I woke up as I am now. He was dead, and I buried him in the basement. And that afternoon, the first person came.”

“He made you the Oracle?”

“The man? No.” She smiled and shook her head. “He just helped me along.” She sighed heavily, then sat back in her chair.

Trix blinked at the sudden, shocking change. The tears were gone, Sally’s eyes dry as though they had never been wet, and her face was stern once again. Hard, grim, an expression that only an adult should ever wear.

“We should go,” Sally said. “I’ve been wrong once; I won’t be again. I’ll be precise this time.”

“Go where?”

“Just outside, down to the road. I’ll find Holly and Jenny, and take you to them.”

“What about …?” Trix walked to the kitchen door and looked through the gap into the room beyond. Anne lay where Sally had sung her down, one hand waving slowly at the air before her face, orchestrating her dreams.

“She’s under a calming spell, for now. I can strengthen it, leave her so that she wakes up in the morning. That’ll be for the best.”

“No!” Trix said, remembering Anne’s lips against hers. “That’s not for the best.”

“Trix,” Sally said, painfully adult, “you’re a ghost to her.”

“Jenny’s stronger than that. She wouldn’t want us to leave, not after this. She’d want to understand.”

“That’s not Jenny.”

“Yes,” Trix said. “Yes, it is.” And she meant it. It might not be the Jenny she knew, not quite, and she might be using her middle name. But Anne was a facet of Jenny, and Trix could not bear treating her as anything else.

“You don’t want to leave her.”

“I think she’ll want to come.”


“Because she’s strong. Imagine if we leave, and she wakes, and for the rest of her life she’ll doubt her own sanity. I can’t curse her with that. She’s had a glimpse of what’s going on, and I couldn’t live with myself if we didn’t show her everything else.”

“And she kissed you.”

“That’s got nothing to do with it,” Trix said, but she glanced away. Maybe it’s me who needs to understand as well.

“Come on, then,” the girl said. “I’ve wasted enough time.”

“You’re sure you’re okay?” Trix asked.

“Of course,” Sally said. Her tone was dismissive, but Trix saw that flicker of gratitude once again.

They went back out to Anne, and Trix knelt by her side. Sally started singing softly again, stroking the woman’s hair and touching her cheek, and Trix began to explain. Anne did not look at her until she had finished. And then she sat up, holding on to Trix’s proffered hand and looking back and forth between her and Sally.

“My bedroom,” Anne said. “You’re in there.” She nodded to what Trix knew was the bedroom door. “You are. Go and see.”

Trix went to see. She saw herself right away, because the photograph was large, the centerpiece of a wall display of at least fifty other framed photos of all shapes and sizes. She smiled back at the camera, this face that was hers, and she and Anne sat close together on a park bench, comfortable with each other and so obviously together. In the photo she was wearing a T-shirt that said, WHO THE HELL IS MICHAEL JACKSON? and she laughed. She might not be quite herself, but so much was the same.

The other photos weren’t all of her. She saw her mother in a couple, and her cousins, but it was so obvious who was missing—Jim and Jenny. Of course. Because in this world, Trix and Jenny had been a couple, and Jim was long gone.

“I’m so sorry I died,” she whispered, staring back at herself for so long that she forgot for a moment which Trix she was, and on which side of the glass she stood.

Back in the living room, shaken and sad, she found Anne sitting on the sofa. She sat beside her.

“I’ve seen some things since the quake,” Anne said. “And maybe they explain this. But it’s still …”

“Unbelievable,” Trix said.

“Yeah. Fucking unbelievable.” Anne grinned, and Trix fell in love just a little bit more.

“Jenny!” Jim said, but of course this was not Jenny, either, and he was attuned now to the differences.

“Okay,” Jennifer said beside him. “Okay … okay …” She was looking at the woman who had emerged from the apartment building with Trix and the girl, and Jim saw her legs shaking.


“That’s me,” she said. “Oh, wait till my folks hear about this.”

The strange non-man had slipped from view a block away. Even so, Jim felt them still around, those phantoms following out of sight. He supposed they were still protecting him, though they only made him feel unsettled.

“Trix!” Jim called. Trix saw him and grinned, waiting for a car to pass then dashing across the street. She slowed when she saw Jennifer, blinked a few times, and then her face fell a little.

She hugged him tight. Jim felt her fear and excitement, and something else—a burgeoning sadness. She was still determined, but something subtle had changed.

“Trix, meet Jennifer.”

“Hi.” Trix shook Jennifer’s hand. “And that’s Anne,” she said, nodding toward where the girl and woman stood on the sidewalk.

“The little girl’s the Oracle?” Jim asked.

“Don’t let her size and age deceive you,” Trix said, chuckling softly. “She’s mean as they come when she wants to be, and when the Shadow Men came she conjured up her own version—she calls them No-Face Men—and they fought and—”

“Men with no faces,” Jennifer said.

“You’ve seen them?”

“One of them led us here,” Jim said. “And they saved us at the Oracle’s house. We got there, some of those wraiths—the Shadow Men—were waiting.”

“Just weird,” Jennifer said, shivering.

“Sally will need to remove your mark,” Trix said. “She’s a little … strained at the moment, but she’s strong as hell.”


“Veronica. As well as what she sent in the envelopes, she sent something with us, too. So those things of hers could follow.”

“How?” Jim asked.


“Damn. Cookies.”

“Oh, I don’t like the sound of that,” Jennifer said.

Trix smiled and hugged Jim again. It felt good to Jim—she was someone he knew, something he could understand, while everyone else around them right now was either a child Oracle or a facsimile of his lost wife. He needed Trix—brash, dependable, wild Trix. She was his rock, and his connection to the Boston they had left behind. “Oh, this is just all so fucking weird,” she said into his neck.

“Tell me about it.”

“I don’t know where to start!” She pulled back and tried to laugh, but it came out strained and tense.

“Trix?” Something had happened. He waited for her to tell him, but she glanced at Jennifer and turned around.

“Come on. Sally’s sure she can find them now.”

“Has she said anything about them?” Jim was desperate for news, and his anxiety had been growing by the minute since losing touch with Trix.

“She’s promised to find them, that’s all,” Trix said. And again, there was something she wanted to tell him.

“Trix, I’m here,” Jim said. She nodded, her eyes haunted by ghosts he had yet to meet.

They crossed the street, and Jennifer and Anne stood facing each other a dozen steps apart. Trix introduced Jim to Sally, and the girl nodded and looked him up and down. Her gaze was shockingly adult, aged and knowing, and he felt distinctly uncomfortable.

“You can find my wife and daughter?” he asked.

“I can,” she said. A shadow passed across her face—exhaustion, he thought, and perhaps a glimmer of fear. But she gathered herself quickly, then looked at the two women who might have been Jenny. “No time for hanging around. We need to get to the street junction, and there I’ll trace them. But I’m not so sure it’ll be that easy.”

“Veronica,” Jim said.

The girl nodded. “The bitch had this planned.”

“But according to her plan, you should be dead now,” Trix said.

“I should. But she’ll have backup plans, and other ways to do the deed. You can bet on it.”

“How can you know that?” Jim asked.

“Because I would.” The girl set off along the street, leading the four adults behind her. They walked in a loaded silence, and people parted to let them through. Perhaps some of them knew Sally, or felt the power carried by the girl. But Jim thought it more likely that they were picking up on the strange tension between the two women. Jennifer and Anne, Jenny and Jenny, they walked with Trix and Jim between them but stole frequent glances at each other. They were not the only two people in this tragic city meeting like this, Jim knew. There would be hundreds more, maybe thousands, doppelgängers thrown together through geography, circumstance, or tragedy. But for Jim, these were the only ones who mattered.

They reached the intersection, and Sally paused at the corner, leaning against a garbage can and watching vehicles rumble past. Traffic lights above the road were out of action, and the building on the opposite corner had sustained damage, one wall slumping to the ground to display the tumbled wreck of the rooms within. A man sat on the rubble, drinking steadily from a bottle of whiskey.

A fire engine powered through the intersection, barely pausing. Two ambulances quickly followed. There are a thousand tragedies today, Jim thought, but he knew that his own was linked inextricably to what was happening to this city. The more he saw and the less he understood, the more determined he became to fix it all.

Sally stepped into the road. Jim gasped and reached for her, but Trix held his arm and shook her head. “She knows what she’s doing.”

Jim heard whispering behind him, and he snapped around, terrified that those things had arrived again. But the whispering came from Anne and Jennifer, still maintaining a distance yet starting to communicate in tentative tones.

“It must be so strange,” Trix said.

“And yet we’re Uniques,” Jim said. “We’re the strange ones here.”

Sally had reached the center of the intersection and placed her hands flat against the road. Cars and trucks, emergency vehicles and media vans, they all passed without lifting a strand of her hair or causing a single ripple in her loose dress. It was as if Sally was somewhere else, yet still visible to them all.

“You said I still have the mark?” Jim asked Trix.

“I have a feeling we’re being watched,” she said. Jim nodded, because he had that feeling as well, stronger than what people commonly called the sixth sense. He not only felt eyes on him, but he could sense the breeze harden across his skin, almost as if holding him in place in this world.

After a couple of minutes Sally stood and walked back to them, passing between lines of traffic that seemed not to slow or notice her at all. And she looked worried. “Need to get that mark from you,” she said.

“Tell me you’ve found them,” Jim said as she mounted the sidewalk.

“I could tell you that.”

“But?” Trix asked.

“I’ve found Holly.” She looked at Anne and Jennifer, and even this Oracle’s eyes seemed to glimmer with wonder. “The other Jenny … your Jenny … not so much.”