Anna Dressed in Blood / Page 39

Page 39

I make it to the stairs just as a pillar of corpses shifts and collapses with a sick splash.

“Anna, stop!” I cough, trying to keep the green water out of my mouth. I don’t think I’m going to make it. My clothes are as heavy as in a nightmare and I’m crawling up the steps in slow motion. Finally I slap my hand onto dry floor and jerk myself onto the ground level.

Relief lasts about half a second. Then I shriek like a chicken and throw myself away from the basement door, expecting water and dead hands coming to drag me back down. But the basement is dry. The gray light spills down and I can see down the steps and a few feet of floor. It’s all dry. There’s nothing there. It looks like any cellar that you might store canned goods in. To make me feel even stupider, my clothes aren’t wet either.

Damn Anna. I hate that time-space manipulation, hallucination, whatever. You never get used to it.

I stand up and brush my shirt off even though there’s nothing to brush off, looking around. I’m in what used to be the kitchen. There’s a dusty black stove and a table with three chairs. I’d really like to sit down on one, but the cupboards start opening and closing by themselves, drawers slamming shut and the walls starting to bleed. Slamming doors and smashing plates. Anna is acting like a common poltergeist. How embarrassing.

A sense of safety settles on my skin. Poltergeists I can take. I shrug my shoulders and walk out of the kitchen and into the sitting room, where the dust-sheeted sofa looks comfortingly familiar. I collapse down on it in what I hope looks like a pretty decent impression of bravado. Never mind that my hands are still shaky.

“Get out!” Anna shouts from directly over my shoulder. I peek over the back of the couch and there she is, my goddess of death, her hair snaking out in a great black cloud, her teeth grinding hard enough to make living gums bleed. The impulse to spring up with my athame at the ready makes my heart beat double time. But I take a deep breath. Anna didn’t kill me before. And my gut has a hunch that she doesn’t want to kill me now. Why else would she waste time on the corpse-filled light show downstairs? I give her my best cocky grin.

“What if I won’t?” I ask.

“You came to kill me,” she growls, obviously deciding to ignore my question. “But you can’t.”

“What part of that actually makes you angry?” Dark blood moves through her eyes and skin. She’s terrible, disgusting—a killer. And I suspect that I am completely safe with her. “I will find a way, Anna,” I promise. “There will be a way to kill you, to send you away.”

“I don’t want to be away,” she says. Her whole form clenches and the darkness melts back inside, and standing before me is Anna Korlov, the girl from the newspaper photo. “But I deserve to be killed.”

“You didn’t once,” I say, not exactly disagreeing. Because I don’t think those corpses downstairs were just creations of her imagination. I think that somewhere, Mike Andover probably is getting slowly eaten by the walls of this house, even if I can’t see it.

She’s shaking her arm, down near the wrist where there are lingering black veins. She shakes harder and closes her eyes, and they disappear. It strikes me that I’m not just looking at a ghost. I’m looking at a ghost, and at something that was done to that ghost. They are two different things.

“You have to fight that, don’t you?” I say softly.

Her eyes are surprised.

“In the beginning, I couldn’t fight it at all. It wasn’t me. I was insane, trapped inside, and this was just a terror, doing horrible things while I watched, curled up in a corner of our mind.” She cocks her head and hair falls softly down her shoulder. I can’t think of them as the same person. The goddess and this girl. I can picture her peering out of her own eyes like they’re nothing but windows, quiet and afraid in her white dress.

“Now our skins have grown together,” she goes on. “I am her. I am it.”

“No,” I say, and the minute I do, I know it’s true. “You wear her like a mask. You can take it off. You did it to spare me.” I stand and walk around the sofa. She looks so fragile, compared to what she was, but she doesn’t back away, and she doesn’t break eye contact. She’s not afraid. She’s sad, and curious, like the girl in the photograph. I wonder what she was when she was alive, if she laughed easily, if she was clever. It’s impossible to think that much of that girl remains now, sixty years and god knows how many murders later.

Then I remember that I’m really pissed. I wave my hand back toward the kitchen and basement door. “What the hell was that about?”

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