Authors: Marie Rutkoski
“Surely you wanted us to see you,” said Ivers. “Flaunting yourself, flirting with a human”—he didn’t bother to suppress a shudder—“in front of a known portal between worlds.”
“We were at the
. It’s not a ‘known portal between worlds.’ It’s a
Ivers sucked on his cigar. “Don’t lie.”
“Fine, okay, the mall’s like a few blocks away from where we were. But we were just hanging out. I drew on the sidewalk, and then we went to the food court for smoothies. Wait … have I been arrested for
?” I glanced between Ivers and Conn. “Am I being treated like this because of some chalk art? It’s
. It washes out in the rain!”
“Playing innocent is a stupid move,” said Ivers. “Because if you don’t play nice with me, like I’m playing nice with you, we’ll have to vox you.”
Vox? Something tugged at my memory. I knew this word. It’s Latin. It means “voice.”
“Only if you want to,” said Ivers. “You’re acting like you want to. Do you? I can do it myself, if you like.”
“No,” said Conn. The word was sharp. “That’s a bad idea.”
“I didn’t ask for your opinion. You’ll be debriefed later, McCrea.”
Vox. Voice. A swirl of memory twisted inside me like a curl of that nasty cigar smoke, telling me that I
know what Ivers was talking about. I
know what it meant to vox someone.
They were talking about
“I was the senior ranking officer at the time of her arrest.” Conn stepped between Ivers and me. “I’m responsible for her. At least until I
been debriefed, and therefore relieved from this mission.”
Ivers looked at him disdainfully. “She’s a tasty bite, McCrea, but
she’s a Shade
. I don’t know what happened to you while you were playing school in the Alter, but you are seriously deep-sixing my respect of your objectivity.”
Conn took a deep breath. “I hate Shades. You know that, sir. That’s why you assigned me to this case. I
being objective. Voxing won’t work on her. I have reason to believe that she doesn’t actually know that she’s a Shade.”
“Then debrief me. Listen to my report. Decide for yourself. Or ask Director Fitzgerald what she thinks of the IBI rules and regulations.”
“Fitzgerald.” Ivers repeated, sour. “Fine. Fine, McCrea. I’ll debrief you. And in the meantime, you sweet little witch”—he tossed his burning cigar at my feet—“solitary confinement.”
“I’ll take her,” said Conn.
“Yeah, I bet you will,” said Ivers.
Conn unshackled me from the chair, giving me a look that ordered me not to struggle. I didn’t, if only because he’d left the firecuffs on my ankles and wrists.
He pushed me down the halls. “We don’t have much time,” he said, casting a wary look at the guards we passed every few minutes. “Can you walk faster?”
“No, I can’t. Know why? Because I’m
chained at the ankles
“I can’t do anything about that. Not now. Listen, about solitary: it’s not as bad as it seems.”
“No complaints here. At least it will get me away from you.” Compared to everything I’d been through recently, a stint in solitary confinement would be a walk in the park.
“Your chains will be deactivated once you’re inside the box,” he said. “Just remember that nothing there can hurt you. Try to distract yourself. Think about … think about your art project. Or about how much you hate me.”
With that, Conn stopped in front of a pair of guards standing outside an iron door. “Indefinite solitary confinement,” he told them. “Ivers’s orders.”
To me he said, “I’ll be back for you. I promise.”
“Please. Take your time.”
He gave me an inscrutable look, then turned and strode away, almost at a run.
The door clanked open and the guards pushed me into a dimly lit chamber lined with iron on every side, even the ceiling. Standing in the center of the room was a large glass box.
For the first time since I heard the words “solitary confinement,” a worm of worry began to nibble at me. In my limited experience in the world of exploding handcuffs, glass was usually not a good sign. I dragged my feet, but the guards wrapped careful hands around my chains. “Don’t fight it,” one of them said. “You’ll break your cuffs.”
So I let them lock me inside the box, repeating Conn’s promise to myself as if he weren’t a mastermind liar. Nothing in here could hurt me.
I shifted my feet. I could walk two paces in each direction. The sounds I made were small and muffled—the scrape of my shoes, the short beat of my breath, the clack of my chains. I watched, but could not hear, the guards leaving the iron chamber.
I congratulated myself that I wasn’t the claustrophobic type. Conn was so condescending. Solitary confinement wasn’t so bad.
Then I heard a hiss and a click and my world burst into flames.
I reared back. Pure terror sucked the scream out of my throat. Fire was everywhere, flaring at me from all sides, driving away every rational thought. There was only heat and orange and red and fear fear fear. I beat against the glass walls, not caring that I might break my chains. Then I did break my chains, and ground my skin against their shards.
It was those thousand little cuts that began to slice through my insanity. They hurt.
Nothing there can hurt you
. Just one more of Conn’s lies.
But if I was burning alive, shouldn’t the pain be greater?
I glanced down at my wrists and saw smears of blood, but the flames weren’t touching my skin.
The fire was outside the box.
It was a trick.
A psychological game, designed to make me crazy.
And it worked. Even now that I recognized that this was only mental torture, I couldn’t stifle my panic.
I told myself.
You’re supposed to think. Distraction. Conn said.
He said he would come back.
Yet … how could I be so desperate as to trust anything he said?
My sudden anger at myself reminded me of myself. Of who I was. Self-sufficient. Strong. Able to deal.
Sweat oozed down my forehead, and I took a shaky breath. Everywhere I looked, flames blazed. I closed my eyes.
Think about how much you hate me,
Conn had said. Now
was a topic that could occupy my mind for a long time. Thinking about him, though, only made me furious, and anger couldn’t stop the earthquake inside me. I needed to be calm.
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
The words floated out of nowhere. Where had they come from? I grabbed on to the rhythm that strung the words together.
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers …
They were lines of poetry. From “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Yet they were more than that … they reminded me of something. Of a warm day last summer. A kitten carried by the scruff of its neck, hanging from its mother’s teeth.
Marsha had wanted to go on a road trip to Michigan. “You’ll love it,” she said. “Aunt Ginger lives on a blueberry farm. You can eat all the blueberries you want.”
“I’d rather stay here.”
“It’ll be fun!”
“I’m not in the mood for fun. I’d like lots of non-fun.”
“Well, too bad. We’re going.”
Then hours in the steamy car, with its broken air conditioner and broken tape deck. “Tell me again why we’re doing this?” I had groaned.
“Aunt Ginger’s sick. I spent every summer on her farm when I was growing up. This might be my last chance to see her.”
And see her we did. She greeted us with a double-barreled shotgun.
It took some time for Marsha to calm her down, to remind her that she was her niece, and to explain that the stranger in the car was her foster daughter. Finally, Aunt Ginger lowered the gun and hugged Marsha with scrawny arms. She led us up the path to the peaked farmhouse, her white pouf of hair glowing in the sun. It was only then that Marsha whispered that Aunt Ginger was dying of Alzheimer’s.
Also, we were going to clean her house and spend the night.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I packed a bag for you. You’ll adore sleeping in the attic, like I did when I was little.”
I said she’d tricked me, and that sleeping over was a really bad idea (one word: shotgun).
But she badgered me into the house and then into the kitchen, which I had to admit was kind of cute with its frilled curtains and a lime green refrigerator that was all curves and chrome details like a 1950s Cadillac. Aunt Ginger forgot my name every five minutes, but she also made us chamomile tea and showed me the kittens in a cardboard box under the sink.
Then Marsha shooed me outside, telling me to explore while she gave Aunt Ginger a bath. I certainly didn’t want to stick around for that. I wandered around the farm, checking out the blueberry fields. They probably hadn’t been harvested for years. They were a vast thicket.
In the burning glass box, I tried to focus on the memory of tasting those blueberries. Soft beads cloaked in violet skin. The flesh green and pink and pale and slippery and sweet.
I remembered heading back to the house, where I helped Marsha with the cleaning while Aunt Ginger conked out on the couch. When night fell, Marsha led me to the attic, and she was right: it was awesome. Huge, with a view of the pond. A high, slanting ceiling and rows of beds on either side—at least twelve beds, in several shapes and sizes. Marsha plopped down onto a saggy feather mattress, said, “Take your pick,” and promptly fell asleep.
I tried out the other beds, but none of them felt quite right. Finally, restless with my own restlessness, I gave up and tiptoed downstairs. I thought about raiding the refrigerator.
I slipped toward the kitchen through the living room, which flickered with light from the television. I glanced at Aunt Ginger asleep on the couch. Her twiggy hands lay almost gracefully on an afghan.
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers …
Aunt Ginger’s eyes sprang open. “You, girl!” An ancient finger crooked. “Come here.”
“You’re spooky, you know that?” She looked me up and down. “Your eyes are great black pools of need. You’re hankering after something. Yes, you are. It makes a body uncomfortable, seeing all that want in your face and not knowing why. Go on, tell me what you want.”
“Don’t be shy. Who knows? Maybe if you tell me your heart’s desire, it’ll come true. If not”—she grinned, flashing a full set of dentures—“I’ll forget it anyway.”
I thought about the disease creeping up the walls of her mind like the blueberry thicket coming closer and closer to the house. She was right. My secret would be safe with her.
I leaned forward and whispered in her ear.
Then I heard the crack of a door opening and fell on my face.
I opened my eyes. I wasn’t in a Michigan farmhouse with Marsha snoring upstairs. I was in another world. I was in prison.
Or out of it, it seemed. I’d been let out of my glass box. The fire was gone. I blinked against the iron floor, then shoved myself up.
I stood face-to-face with a tall woman. She had a sleek cap of silver chin-length hair and was dressed in the IBI’s gray uniform. I searched for the stitched knots that would give me an idea of her rank, but her collar was a band of solid scarlet.
“I’m Director Fitzgerald,” she said.
I stared, still spinning in the memory of blueberries and Aunt Ginger.
“Can you speak?” Fitzgerald asked.
“Yes,” I croaked.
“Good. I’ve just come from Agent McCrea’s debriefing, which I found highly interesting. I understand that you are confused about your arrest, or that you’re pretending to be. I’d like to hear things from your perspective. Who exactly are you, Darcy Jones, and what were you doing in Lakebrook, Illinois?”
Once upon a time, I wouldn’t have been willing to spill my guts to her. But I was so tired, so shaken.
I told her about my five missing years, the DCFS, my collection of foster parents. Marsha and her silly bird spoons. My friends. Meeting Conn and not knowing what to think of him. I didn’t (wouldn’t, couldn’t) tell her about the kiss. But everything else: his attack, how I vanished. Being afraid of him. Afraid of what I was. Or wasn’t. I wasn’t sure.
“I see,” said Fitzgerald when I finished. “Of course, you might be a consummate actor. But I think you could be a golden opportunity.”
“She is,” said a voice from the shadows.
He’d been listening the whole time. As soon as I’d thought he couldn’t stab me in the back again, there he was, sliding in the knife, eavesdropping on my pathetic story.
“Darcy,” Fitzgerald said. “Do you know what the Shadow Society is?”
, I don’t.”
“It’s a terrorist organization, made up of creatures like you. They look uncannily alike. They have different facial and bodily features, but the same black eyes, black hair, and pale skin. The IBI was startled to see you at the Water Tower, a portal regularly monitored to prevent unwanted traffic between our world and yours. We didn’t know
you were—your face didn’t match anything in our database. But one glance confirms that you are a Shade.”
“Which is what, exactly?”
“A nightmare. Shades look human, but certainly are not. They can become incorporeal at will, and have used that against us, and more. Look: the May Day Massacre of 1916.” An image of corpses with slashed throats lit up the wall behind her. I could see Conn clearly now. His features were harsh, almost black and white in the sudden light. “Gassing is one of their favorite techniques. The subway attacks of 1968.” The image changed. “The Ravenswood Medical Center, 1997.” More bodies, heaped up in hallways. “Hundreds of people, Darcy.”
I felt sick. They believed that I had done this?
“That’s not my fault. All of that happened ages ago. You said the dates yourself.” Only one, the last one, had happened during my lifetime, and that was when I was about five. Surely she didn’t think that a
had gassed the hospital.