“You saved me, you know,” Anna says finally. “You set me free. But just because I’m free, doesn’t mean—that I can have the things that—” She stops. She wants to say more. I know she does. But just like I know that she does, I know that she won’t.
I can see her talk herself out of coming closer. Calmness settles over her like a blanket. It covers up the melancholy and silences any wishes for something different. A thousand arguments pile up in my throat, but I clench my teeth on them. We’re not children, neither of us. We don’t believe in fairy tales. And if we did, who would we be? Not Prince Charming and Sleeping Beauty. I slice murder victims’ heads off and Anna stretches skin until it rips, she snaps bones like green branches into smaller and smaller pieces. We’d be the fricking dragon and the wicked fairy. I know that. But I still have to tell her.
“It isn’t fair.”
Anna’s mouth twists into a smile. It should be bitter—it should be a sneer—but it isn’t.
“You know what you are, don’t you?” she asks. “You’re my salvation. My way to atone. To pay for everything I’ve done.”
When I realize what she wants, it feels like someone kicked me in the chest. I’m not surprised that she’s reluctant to go out on dates and tiptoe through the tulips, but I never imagined, after all this, that she would want to be sent away.
“Anna,” I say. “Don’t ask me to do this.”
She doesn’t reply.
“What was all this for? Why did I fight? Why did we do the spell? If you were just going to—”
“Go get your knife back,” she replies, and then she fades away into the air right in front of me, back to the other world where I can’t follow.
Since Anna has been free, I haven’t been able to sleep. There are endless nightmares and shadowy figures looming over my bed. The smell of sweet, lingering smoke. The mewling of the damned cat at my bedroom door. Something has to be done. I’m not afraid of the dark; I’ve always slept like a rock, and I’ve been in more than my share of dim and dangerous places. I’ve seen most of what there is to be afraid of in this world, and to tell you the truth, the worst of them are the ones that make you afraid in the light. The things that your eyes see plainly and can’t forget are worse than huddled black figures left to the imagination. Imagination has a poor memory; it slinks away and goes blurry. Eyes remember for much longer.
So why am I so creeped out by a dream? Because it felt real. And it’s been there for too long. I open my eyes and don’t see anything, but I know, I know, that if I reached down below my bed, some decaying arm would shoot out from underneath and drag me to hell.
I tried to blame Anna for these nightmares, and then I tried not to think of her at all. To forget how our last conversation ended. To forget that she charged me with the task of recovering my athame and, after I do, killing her with it. Air leaves my nostrils in a quick snort even as I think the words. Because how can I?
So I won’t. I won’t think of it, and I’ll make procrastination my new national pastime.
I’m nodding off in the midst of world history. Luckily, Mr. Banoff would never realize it in a million years, because I sit in the back and he’s up on the whiteboard spouting off about the Punic Wars. I’d probably be really into it, if only I could stay conscious long enough to tune in. But all I get is blah blah, nod-off, dead finger in my ear, snap awake. Then repeat. When the bell rings for the end of the period, I jerk and blink my eyes one last time, then heave out of my desk and head for Thomas’s locker.
I lean up against the door next to his while he stuffs his books in. He’s avoiding my eyes. Something’s bothering him. His clothes are also much less wrinkled than usual. And they look cleaner. And they match. He’s putting on the Ritz for Carmel.
“Is that gel in your hair?” I tease.
“How can you be so chipper?” he asks. “Haven’t you been watching the news?”
“What are you talking about?” I ask, deciding to feign innocence. Or ignorance. Or both.
“The news,” he hisses. His voice goes lower. “The guy in the park. The dismemberment.” He glances around, but no one is paying any attention to him, as usual.
“You think it was Anna,” I say.
“Don’t you?” asks a voice in my ear.
I spin around. Carmel is right over my shoulder. She moves to stand beside Thomas, and I can tell by the way they face me that they’ve already discussed this at length. I feel attacked, and a little bit hurt. They’ve left me out of the loop. I feel like a petulant little kid, which in turn pisses me off.