Trix supposed she should have felt pity, but she was too scared for that. And too determined.
As each of the other three were merged with a No-Face Man, she witnessed them going through the same strange, disconcerting experience. Jennifer cried, reaching for Jim’s hand. Anne stood strong, her gaze never diverting from Trix’s eyes. And Jim barely seemed to flinch. He’d go through hell to get his Jenny back, Trix thought, and she glanced at Anne, thinking that fate had changed everything.
Finally they stood there, altered and yet the same.
“I still see Jim,” Trix said. “And Jennifer, and Anne. I see that they’re different, but—”
“The In-Between needs no eyes,” Sally said. “I can see …” She closed her eyes, frowned, and opened them again, muttering under her breath. “I see you all faded away.”
Trix shivered and looked down at her hands, turning them over. She knew the backs of her hands, and yet the nails now seemed to seep something blank, like an invisible mist that wiped shreds of reality from view. She blew, but the mist did not disperse.
“Trust me,” Sally said. “Don’t concern yourself with what’s happened, or how different you might be or feel. It’s worked, and it’ll protect you. And you’ll be too busy in there to try to understand.”
“Bugs the crap out of me,” Anne said, wringing her hands together and then pulling them slowly apart. Trix smiled, her heart quickening.
“Go fast,” Holly said. She was holding on to Jim and looking at the other three. “Please go fast.”
“We’ll be faster than fast,” Trix said.
“One more thing,” Sally said. “Pass by me; I can do this while you go.” She held on to Holly’s other hand, and they looked nothing like two little girls.
Jim went first, and Sally muttered strange words as she reached up and touched his face with her free hand. Jennifer and Anne followed, and then Trix grasped the Oracle’s hand and gasped softly. For a moment Holly was a part of her—laughing in her mind, giggling as they walked together through Boston, hugged together on a sofa watching her favorite movie, Lilo & Stitch. And as Sally let go and her eyes widened just a little, Trix smiled at Holly. “Our bond is already strong,” she said. “I’ll never let you down, Holly.”
“Thanks, Auntie Trix,” the girl said.
They stood at the wall, and Trix looked back at the two girls in the center of the ruined room, with blood spattered all about and bodies against the far wall. But she knew more than to ask if they would be all right. “See you soon,” she said to both of them, and she was the first to reach for the door handle.
As the door opened, there was a gasp. Trix thought it had come from the other three, but then a waft of air passed her, seemingly drifting both ways, and for a moment she became utterly disoriented. She smelled something old and base, her ears sang with unknown whispers, and she was not sure whether her eyes were open or closed.
At first glance, the room around her—the Reflection Room beyond the door—looked quite normal, not part of another world at all. And then she realized that there was something strange about it. She stared, closed her eyes and smelled, then tried to just listen, and it took a while to identify what was wrong. This room is dead, she thought, and the idea chilled her. Even the wood in the floor had never been part of a living thing. The room was paused, not frozen like a picture, but caught in a gap between moments. It was nowhere a living thing could feel at home.
She walked quickly toward the opposite wall, and before she reached it her surroundings misted away to nothing. As she took several more steps, the floor beneath her changed to something softer. She looked down and saw an uncertain surface, her feet suspended on a vaporous layer. Stamping, she felt no reverberation, and very little impact.
“We’re in the In-Between,” she said, and though it was muffled, she was pleased that she could hear her own voice. She turned around to see the others coming through the door, and the wall behind her had vanished.
Everything behind her had vanished.
There was mist. Up and down were dictated only by the way she stood, but there was little else to distinguish it. And yet there must have been a firm ground, and some rule of three-dimensional order, because she could see Anne, Jennifer, and Jim, all of them standing in the same plane. They were shadows in the mist, vague shapes that she saw better when she looked to their left or right.
“Trix?” she heard, unsure who was calling.
“Here!” She waved her arms. It felt like someone else waved with her, a shadow echoing her movements. A shape came closer, and Jim emerged from the mist, moisture speckling his unshaven face. Jennifer came next, then Anne hurried to them, footfalls silent, her fearful expression shocking as she emerged into view.
“What is this?” Anne asked.
“The In-Between,” Jim said. “The space between worlds.”
“How the hell are we supposed to find her in here?” Jennifer asked.
Jim closed the distance between him and Jennifer, standing so close that their arms touched. Trix wasn’t sure it was even a conscious movement. “We walk,” Jim said. He turned away from them all and looked back the way they had come. Trix knew it was that direction, because she could feel Holly’s influence there, like a beacon in the darkness.
“We walk,” Trix repeated. “But can you feel …?”
They all nodded, because they knew what she meant. The air of this place was awash with malevolence, and as she inhaled and exhaled, she sensed the shadow inside her settling as it became one with the In-Between again. It smelled of stale cotton candy, and tasted of something rotten.
Without the shadow, the air would be harmful to her. It would start to bleed her of spirit and turn her into one of them, and she’d seen enough to know that their existence was not something to relish. Perhaps there would be no pain, but an unconscious limbo seemed worse than anything she could imagine. In the In-Between, possessing a mind—thoughts, desires, history—seemed the most important thing of all.
“Come on!” Trix said, suddenly desperate for Jenny and fearing that they might already be too late. “We don’t walk, we run! Hope you’ve all been keeping in shape.” She started running, and the others followed.
There was no concept of distance, other than by counting paces, but from the beginning Trix was certain they were going the right way. Jennifer and Anne passed her and subtly adjusted their direction. Jim followed with Trix, and the two facets of Jenny started moving faster, loping through the mists as something drew them on.
They saw their first Shadow Man, and it shocked Trix to the core. Outside, dragged through into one of the real worlds, these things were horrific enough. But here in the In-Between their monstrousness was more shocking because of its familiarity. In her world they were shapes that barely echoed humanity, but here they were tortured people, naked forms that twisted and writhed through the mists, limbs bending farther than they should, heads twisting and flipping so fast that they were a blur. They moved without walking, their agonies giving them a terrible momentum. And after seeing the first few, she feared that the next one they’d see would be Jenny.
I’ll know her, Trix thought, because each of these tortured souls possessed human traits and marks. Some were tattooed, others scarred, and hair color and build were distinguishable even through their pained contortions. As they saw another manifesting from the mists, she dreaded seeing Jenny’s hair, her face.
A larger shadow marred the blankness ahead of them, then emerged as a shape with square edges and features she finally recognized. It was Trinity Church, solid across this In-Between because it existed in all three Bostons.
Anne and Jennifer did not even pause. Wherever Jenny was, she drew them on.
Time lost meaning, its only evidence the urgency Trix felt. They passed another building in the distance that seemed solid, and then they entered a park whose plants were barely there, and whose small buildings seemed composed of drifting, shifting structures. Trix’s No-Face Man seemed uncomfortable in this place, and her own senses were repulsed by their surroundings. She glanced at Jim and saw that he was equally disturbed.
They did not pause to see what that place was, or why it had such an effect. As they left and entered the nowhere spaces in between, her No-Face Man settled again into the echo he had been. She could never get used to him, but at least this way she felt in control.
“Close,” Jennifer called, her voice robbed of its tone by the mist.
“Very,” Anne agreed. She looked back at Trix without breaking her stride, and with a burst of speed Trix and Jim drew closer to the two women.
And then Trix heard something in the distance. It was a soft, gentle moan, like wind gusting through an empty woodland. It rose and fell, raising a shiver like ice in her soul. Anne and Jennifer paused, and with their heads cocked they reminded Trix so much of Jenny that she let out a sob.
“We’ll save her,” Jim said, and it was ridiculous that he was comforting her.
“I know we will,” she said, because any other outcome was unthinkable.
The moaning grew in volume as they ran on again. Trix felt a tugging inside her, something that set her No-Face Man squirming, an uncomfortable sensation as if suddenly her skin could not contain her body. The tugging came from behind her, and she sent a message she hoped Holly might hear: We’re close, and soon we’ll be back with your mother.
And then they saw the lonely shape in the mists, and Trix’s heart broke. Anne and Jennifer stopped, sending shadowy ripples through the heavy air. Jim slowed, moving past them before coming to a halt. None of them could take in the pain they saw in the woman they loved, or the woman they were a part of.
“We can’t just fucking stand here,” Trix whispered, and in that silent place it seemed that her words might travel forever. She approached Jenny and saw how much had already happened. Naked, writhing, she did not twist and flex as much as the other changed people she had seen but rather seemed to swim in the air, limbs kicking and clawing at the strange misty atmosphere.
“Jenny!” Trix said, grabbing her arms and holding her still. The recognition in Jenny’s eyes was instant and shocking, because it spoke of such pain.
“H … H … H …,” Jenny said, panting.
Trix nodded, angrily wiping a sudden tear from her eye. “Holly’s fine,” she said. “She’s waiting for you.”
“Can you stand, babe?” Jim said. He was beside Trix now, touching his wife’s arms, her shoulders, wiping a slick of gray wetness from her stomach and chest.
“I … I …” Jenny’s eyes rolled, her body shook, and Trix saw shadows flickering from the corners of her mouth and ears, tendrils flowing inward rather than out.
“She’s a long way gone,” Trix said. She turned back to Jennifer and Anne. “Come on. We’re going to have to carry her.”
Jim lifted his wife beneath her arms and held her against him, taking the hug she could not give. Her body rippled and shook from the forces assaulting it, and shadows manifested from nowhere to flow into her. How long until she’s filled up? Trix wondered, and she stood beside Jim and offered help.
Jim turned his wife and held her beneath the arms, stepping back and allowing Trix to grab her beneath the knees. Naked, Jenny was on display to all of them, but it was a wretched nakedness—her skin was pale and slick, and things moved inside her. Anne and Jennifer approached on either side, looking down at another version of themselves. “God help her,” Jennifer whispered.
“Not unless we do,” Trix said. “Come on. You lead the way.”
They started running, and it felt like they were being repulsed by the In-Between and forced back to reality. Holly pulled them on, drawing them back to her. Trix relished the exertion, rushing sidelong with her best friend in the world held in her hands, and another version of this best friend racing beside her, her lover in another world. And everything was suddenly starting to feel fine, when Jenny began seizing so violently that she kicked her legs from Trix’s hands and twisted herself away from Jim’s grasp.
“No!” Jim shouted, and Jenny hit the ground and bounced back up, forced by her flexing limbs, rolling and thrashing like those other tortured Shadow Men they had seen all around.
“Not now!” Trix said. “We’ve found her, we have her, this isn’t fucking fair!” As she became angrier and more desperate, the thing within her grew more agitated, and she sensed it thrusting itself out beyond her body’s extremes.
Jim was staring at her, aghast … and then he came forward and grabbed her shoulders. “We’ve got to get it out of her,” he said, glancing at his hurting wife and turning away again, resting his head on Trix’s shoulder.
She held the back of his head and they hugged, two good friends preparing to help the woman they both loved.
“Sally’s No-Face Men,” Jim said. “One of them could rip the shadows out of her, like back in the library.”
Trix nodded, hope igniting within her. Already her thoughts turned inward, feeling for the shadow creature inside her, wondering if it could feel what she felt, if it could know what they needed. “Yes,” she said. “It’s the only way. If they understand what we want.”
Anne and Jennifer stood by with their hands held out but unable to touch her, unable to help. “Will it work?” Anne asked. “If one of us breaks away from the shadow Sally merged us with, we’ll be just as vulnerable as Jenny.”
“Probably,” Trix agreed, a terrible weight on her heart.
“It has to be me,” Jim said.
“But what if—” Jennifer began.
“We don’t know what if,” Jim said, pulling back. “We don’t know anything!”