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Authors: Kristina Meister

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BOOK: The One We Feed
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He perched
himself on the edge of his seat and slammed the door. “You said she was
watching me. So I just told her to take a gander at our hotel room. I asked
her, politely, to give me a chance to talk to her, and that dead guy was a very
convenient diversion.”

My mouth fell
open. “She listened?”

“I wasn’t sure
she would, either way, I needed you to come back to get me, just to be sure
they weren’t coming for me instead.”

“So...she
wants to meet you, yeah?”

He puffed up
like a turkey in his faded denim jacket, his red hair a bizarre coxcomb. “I
guess so.”

“You possess,
how do you say...a certain
je
ne
sais
quoi
?”


Oui
.”

I pulled back
into my former space. “Okay, Frenchy, what now?”

“Check out the
terrain. How many are left?”

Still
uncertain he had a plan, I leaned back in my seat and flew into the
jhana
like a bat out of...Benares. Only two left. Their master was absent, as was the
box of rotting tongues.

“Manageable,”
I said upon my return.

“Good.” He nodded,
as if proud he’d drawn such an interest from them. “Now, get us in.”

I frowned. “And
how am I supposed to do that?”

Sighing, he
held up his hands as if Stan Lee were looking down in dismay. “Use your magical
powers, duh.”

“Oh, of
course, the ones that let me melt walls and pick locks.
Those.
Right!” I
pressed my skull between my hands. “Jinx, I’m not Hiro Nakamura. I can’t
teleport through space and time.”

He rolled his
eyes. The car door was already opening. He hopped out and ran around the front,
nearly tripping over a black cat on his way. He tugged my door open. Painted
nails clawed at me.

I pointed back
at the feline. “Jinx, you jinxed us. Now it’s for sure, a bad day.”

I wasn’t the
least surprised to see his tongue stick out or the shiny tongue ring he’d
recently implanted in it.

“You better
not do that here or have you forgotten about the lovely care package our
nameless foe sent via UPS?”

His mouth
snapped shut with an audible click. “We don’t have much time. We’ll make it up
as we go.”

“That’s my
line,” I mumbled, but it did no good.

I feebly resisted
his tugs, but soon he had me out of my seat belt and running across the street.
We stopped against the wall, watching the security camera as it panned away
from our location, and slid along it until we found a blind spot in the shrubs.

“Wait here,”
he whispered. I turned and looked over my shoulder, only to see him
disappearing around the corner, skulking between trees and wall. Teeth
clenched, I waited, watching the camera’s lazy sweeps back and forth. He was
gone a while, and as I began to wonder if I should try to find him, he
reappeared, tucking a folding knife into his pocket.

“Now,” he
instructed, and before the mechanical eye could find us we entered the double
glass doors and were standing in the outdated lobby.

“This is a bad
idea.”

“And so the
day is perfect,” he mumbled. He had wandered over to the elevator and was
looking at the fire-safety schematic. On it, there was very clearly no
basement. The stairwell went only to the ground level. The only way in or out
of the secret vault was the elevator, and as I stared at it, I realized I had
not taken the time to figure out how to get in.

I said as much
to the boy. “I feel really stupid.”

“Don’t worry. I’m
sure it will all be fine.”

“Care to tell
me
why
?”

He shrugged. “Just
a feeling.”

“Okay. So...care
to tell
me
what your
feelings
tell
you
?”

He hit the
button with a vengeful tap. The doors opened immediately, revealing wood-paneling
girded by a silver steel handrail. The tiny rectangle of buttons was woefully
unhelpful. Apparently, whoever had designed the elevator had neglected to
notice that the shaft continued into the earth for an additional story and had
thus seen no reason to include a “B” button.

I crossed my
arms, longing to say, “I told you so.”

“Look at it,”
he said, undeterred, “
closely.

Scowling, I
looked at it. I stared until tunnel vision set in and was about to tell him
that he’d better have a backup plan that
didn’t
involve me climbing into
any duct work, when something odd happened.

Really, I
should have been ready for it;after all, I was beginning to get so used to the
unexplained that the newness of newness was wearing off.

The walls of
the elevator seemed to flex and blur. For a moment, I was uncomfortably dizzy. Around
me, shadows closed in, moving in slow waves until they solidified into shapes,
into people with faces and detail, smoke-like, but visible nonetheless.

My lips
parted, an objection already in place, but nothing came out. In clear detail, a
male shape in a suit pushed some of the buttons, and the downward arrow above
the doors blinked on in a dull, ghostly glow. I reached out, and, with my
fingers barely feeling it, tapped the same series. The light blinked on; the
elevator dropped. The translucent images faded, leaving me slightly
disoriented.

“What the
hell?”

Jinx chuckled.
“I thought so.”

“You thought
what?”

“Nothing. I’ll
explain later.” But he continued to smile, almost
too
gleefully, the
triumphant little twerp.

The doors slid
open on the darkened corridor. I hung back, knowing what lay ahead and
unwilling to see it again. He grabbed my hand and winked. “Don’t worry. It’s okay,”
he whispered. “Just go.”

I shook my
head. “I don’t know about this.”

He pounded his
chest with a limp fist. “We’re both the same, Lily. Indestructible. Come on, we
have to. Your visions told us so. If I’ve learned anything today, it’s that I
shouldn’t patronize you about your visions.”

I gave a weak
smile and went before him, but inside, my brain was screaming. His protestations
aside, I’d already turned one
indestructible
man into compost that day. But
Jinx was behind me, and I could not afford to be uncertain. We were past that
point.

I followed the
tunnel to the door with the keypad and halted. At the end of the corridor, the
two Smiths were chatting in the control room, unaware that their inner sanctum
had been penetrated. From their words, it seemed that Petula had warned the
scout team about the body and that their boss would not be pleased to find out
about it when he returned from dealing with the tongue collector. It seemed we
weren’t the only ones having a bad day.

Jinx nudged
his head at the lock.

I stared at
it, and the same inexplicable event occurred. Wisps of fingers and hands
drifted over the keypad until a pattern emerged, and, at my single attempt, the
lock flashed green.

We entered
unhindered. The girl was hidden as before, wadded up in her old blanket, the
bowl already replaced and refilled with water, though the black puddle against
the wall was still there, ringed in dark tide-lines.

Her face
peeped out, wreathed in curls, and her sunken eyes found us. In them, I saw a
hollow weariness, a fear, backlit by something like hunger. She was almost deranged-looking,
a wild animal caged inside a tiny, useless body. Out of the
jhana
, I was
repulsed by her and could not honestly say why.

“The
Revolutionary,” she whispered hoarsely. “We meet at last.”

Against me,
still gripping my hand, Jinx stiffened. When he answered, his voice had a new quality
to it, a timbre that could make impassioned speeches, drive masses, loose the
dogs of war.


Bonjour,
mademoiselle
.” He executed a little, elegant bow, “
Petula
? Really? You
have an amazing sense of humor.”

To my
surprise, she smiled, her eyes dimming in intensity. It was as if her madness had
subsided a little, if only for someone from the “old time.”

“I did not
take the name. It was given to me.” She shifted forward in her seat. “You have
questions for me?”

“I do.” He
stepped forward, picking his way through her discarded toys. He hesitated at
the table’s edge but, after a long gaze at her, took a seat across from her. “This
is Lilith.”

“I know.” She
turned to me, her gaze vacant but somehow piercing. “It has been a while since
I have seen you.”

I got the
feeling that this disturbed her.

I swallowed,
wondering how old she was. It was disconcerting to know she’d been watching me
but that I had never once seen her. “Sorry. I know it’s been difficult for you,
because of that.”

She shrugged. “He
wants what he cannot have. That has been, and always will be, his flaw.”

“The leader of
this sect?”

Her head gave
a little jiggle that seemed to be a nod.

Jinx folded
his hands and cleared his throat uneasily. “We don’t have much time until they
realize we’re here.”

Petula
continued to look at me, almost as if she were looking at the wall behind me,
smeared and desecrated by her keeper’s rage.

“Ask. I have
been watching you a long while. It is almost comforting to find you here in the
flesh. I very seldom get to meet the ones I follow. Though I am confused about
how
you came to know I was watching you.”

 

He attempted a
smile but ended up looking worried. “Earlier, you said that the girl was asleep
and that the others were crying out for her. Who did you mean?”

As if Petula had
been slapped, her watery blue eyes hardened and leveled Jinx with an astounded
glare.

“It’s my
fault,” I whispered. “While you were watching us, I was watching you.”

The blanket
rose and fell with the sudden heaving of her chest. She had gone completely
still, an animal in headlights. I had stepped on her toes, taken her uniqueness
away. For some reason, she felt threatened by that fact. Either that, or she
was faced with reevaluating her position in the world and was embracing
humility.

Now serving
fried crow.

Her mouth
began a slow transformation from lax to sneering. “Her guardians are too
strong.”

Jinx held up a
hand, pleading that I not interrupt again. “We’re not trying to find her. If we
were, we would have,” he said, stretching the truth slightly. “We just want to
know who...and what she is.”

Petula’s lips
continued to twist. “What purpose could this serve?”

I leaned
against the door frame and stuck my ear into the hall. The guards were still
talking, though their conversation had shifted to a rather intellectual
comparison of
American Idol
to
Star Search
. I would have snorted,
but the humor of it was lost on me at present. We were wasting time with an
uncooperative know-it-all, and soon we would be in danger, too.

“It would set
my mind at ease,” I muttered.

She didn’t
even look at me. “I cannot tell you anything. To do so would put me in
jeopardy.”

“We can keep
you safe,” Jinx insisted, but his compassion did nothing for her. She seemed
close to laughter.

“Safe?” A
shake of her head dislodged the blanket. “I
am
safe.”

“Safe from
him.” He reached for her, but she pulled away. His fingers curled, and, as if
they had her on a string, she tilted toward him.

“No,” she
whispered, her voice drowned in some inner wellspring of suffering. “He is
easily managed.”

“You want to
live like this?” He gestured at the tiny, dark room filled with outdated,
broken remnants of a person she had not been for a very long time. “We can set
you free.”

She gasped,
retreating from him into the open arms of her chair, blanket twisted around her
like a cocoon. “No! You know what it’s like. You’ve seen it! You can’t take me
out there, I won’t go!”

I could hear
the terror in her frantic tone. Jinx had been wrong. She was not a prisoner. She
lived
in the safe house.

“I can’t take
it anymore. You have to help me,”
William had said.

I took a deep
breath. Of course she was afraid. She was a little girl, frozen in that
defenseless guise for centuries but facing the same horrors that William had,
with none of his training. It was no wonder. In that moment, as I looked at
her, I didn’t see the waif. I saw Eva, cowering in our parents’ closet,
refusing to speak or look me in the eye to ask me why Mommy and Daddy were
never coming home.

“Jinx,” I said
quietly, suddenly understanding exactly why she disturbed me, “Stop. We can’t
ask her to put herself in danger.”

I think that, as
he looked at her, he knew it too. I could see his face fall. He sat for a
while, his head shaking ever so slightly. In the distance, the men had gone
quiet, finally seeing that talking about
American Idol
was just as
pivotal as debating the outcome of a fight between Santa Claus and a tribe of
Leprechauns.

BOOK: The One We Feed
8.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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