“Why do you stay here?” I asked, afraid to take my eyes off of them. She noticed but didn’t say anything. Instead, she stopped and squeezed my hand tighter.
“I stay here because I can. I have the freedom to go into your world and back. Sometimes the demons let me, if I’m quick enough. It’s thinner, softer here. If I moved on, I would not be able to stay. I couldn’t come back.”
“But why? Just move on. This place is hel .”
“Not quite hel , remember. I stay here because I have to keep an eye on you. I need to.”
I was startled. “Me?”
“I think you’re starting to figure it out, Perry. We’re only the same. I’ve been plagued by the dead all my life, when I was alive, and now I’m plagued by them stil . I don’t want the same fate for you. Because it’s coming to that. And it’s coming fast. I wish it weren’t true but...some people don’t change.”
It was time to ask, even though the puzzle pieces were all in place by now; I was just too afraid to look at the entire picture. “And Dex. Why do you know him?”
“I was Declan’s nanny when he was young. For quite some time, too. I looked after him because his own mother couldn’t and his father was too busy. I was like a mother to him and his brother.”
My eyebrows shot up. Dex had a brother? But I let her continue.
“Declan had the same...affliction...as I had. As you have.
I could tel there was something special about him, just as there is about you. I was very sad when I had to leave him.
Sad for him and scared for him. But I was no longer all owed to be his nanny. It was my own family who wouldn’t let me, though, not the O’Sheas. They, and the doctors, classified me as crazy. When you’ve babbled about seeing ghosts for too long, some people think they have no choice but to put you away.”
I didn’t want to ask the question because I had a feeling I knew the answer. And if it was true, it would change everything I knew and thought about the life I lived. And the people I loved.
I looked Pippa straight in her hooded, grey eyes and asked, “Who put you away?”
She didn’t hesitate.
“Your mother. And your father.”
I felt like the ground began to shake and move beneath me, like I was losing my wits and balance at the same time.
My blood ran cold, colder than it ever had before and I was stumped. Dazed. Stupid with thought and feeling.
“You’re my grandmother,” I managed to whisper. I was gutted by the realization and ashamed that it had taken me so long to find out. all this time...
“I know you haven’t heard much about me,” she said, almost embarrassed. She dropped my hand and kicked a stone with her Mary Jane shoes. It was too human of a gesture. She was human. It made my heart ache.
“My parents said you had died when I was very young,” I said, racking my brain for any information about my grandmother. “I remember grandpa a little. We, he, never talked about you. I don’t think...”
“I’ve been watching,” she said bitterly. “No, they never did talk about me. They chose not to remember those last few years.”
It was all too much. Forget being stuck in the thin veil, some other dimension. This absolutely floored me.
I sat down on the ground, the dust flying up in the air and staying there. There was something almost airless, tasteless and odorless about this land. I couldn’t imagine that she stayed here on account of me, just because it was easier to keep an eye on me. Was I real y in that much jeopardy?
I stared blankly at the colorless earth while Pippa slowly paced around me, her dress dragging.
“You said they were watching you and watching me,” I said slowly. “Who did you mean?”
“I meant your mother. And the demons.”
I let out a snort. I couldn’t help it. I looked up at her. “You mean I’m being watched on both sides? By my own mother in my world, and by friggin’ demons in another?”
She didn’t smile. “I know it isn’t fair. I fear your mother may do to you what she did to me. You can imagine how hard it must be for her to have to see her own daughter take on the same traits her sick mother did.”
“Are you trying to make me feel sorry for her? After what she did to you?” I spat out, suddenly enraged.
“No. I’m only tel ing you what is going on. As much as I know. From what I’ve seen. As for the demons, they don’t like the fact that you can see them. They certainly don’t like me. It’s supposed to be a one-way mirror. But you and I are not like them. And we’re not like anyone else living, either.”
“Except for Dex.”
She nodded. “Yes. But he’s had a life of trying to hide it.
It’s like a muscle. Yours has been active far longer. Your power is greater. So great that demons wil try to take that from you.”
I looked down at my hands as they made lines in the dirt.
“They already have. Haven’t they? Isn’t that why I’m here now? I didn’t walk through the door. I was forced at gunpoint.”
I slowly got to my feet. She reached over and grabbed my shoulder, steadying me. I looked at her face and wondered if I was stuck with her here for eternity. She was my grandmother, the grandmother I never knew. My grandmother who was locked away to die, and somewhere along the way, started dressing like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.
“You’re not hopeless,” she said. I wondered if she just heard what I was thinking and immediately felt bad. “This Roman is a powerful man. He’s got something to prove. He wil fight the demon until he dies from exhaustion.”
I bit my lip and looked behind me at the house. It was suddenly a dot on the horizon, so very far away. “And then what happens? Aside from being stuck here forever?”
“You won’t be,” she said.
“How can you be so sure?” Panic began to flood my veins. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want my possessor to win.
I felt like a cloth had been lifted from my eyes and the surreal quality of the situation began to sink in. “Why aren’t you more upset? You’ve spent your afterlife trying to prevent me from coming here!”
She squinted at me, but not unkindly. “I have done the best I can. My limits with your world are there. I can only do much, say so much. It has taken time for you to open your eyes to me. You needed to take those steps on your own.”
I waved my arms at the landscape, at another giant bug crawling in the distance. “But I’m here! I’m in this place! I’m going to die here.”
“Most who are here are already dead. You’re not. Not this time, not if Dex can help you.”
“Help me?” I was stunned. “How can he help me?”
She took a step toward me and smoothed my hair off of my face. Her fingers felt far away, like I was growing numb by the second. “Your bond with him is a strong current. Your very hearts are magnets. If you listen, you can hear him. You can feel him. He’s the only one who can help you now.”
“I don’t think Dex knows what to do.”
She looked back at the house. A small smile tugged at her lips. “He knows more than you give him credit for. Just listen. Concentrate.”
I couldn’t hear anything except her flat voice but I closed my eyes and listened hard anyway. I felt the world drop away from me, felt a strange weightlessness as everything swirled black behind my eyes. Then I heard voices. Many at first, then just Dex’s, echoing around my head.
“Let me help,” Dex pleaded, his voice cracking. “You can reach her through me. Use me.”
It was fol owed by Bird’s. “You can’t risk it. The pathway doesn’t work like that. If you find her and free her, it may take you instead.”
“Then it’s worth it,” Dex said, his voice suddenly strong.
“There wil be many times you may have to lay your life on the line for her. You must choose your battles wisely, Dex. You can only give up your life once.”
“Let him do it,” came Roman’s voice from the darkness.
He sounded weak and exhausted. “If this is his wish, I can use him to find her. I can bring her out. I can keep both of them safe.”
“No you can’t,” Bird said.
“Dex is right,” Roman said. “There is no other way.”
I opened my eyes and Pippa shimmered back into my vision. “What’s he going to do?”
“Don’t think of me,” she said quickly. “Don’t break it.
You’l lose him.”
I closed my eyes again. The voices were gone. Only the blackness behind my eyes remained. I waited and concentrated. I pictured Dex, his deep eyes, his smirk, his stark determination that blew me over from time to time. He was a strong man and a weak man all at once. A friend once, a lover last. A father in another lifetime. Now nothing.
But he was going to try to save me all the same.
Then I heard it, buried deep beneath my furrowed head.
“Perry,” he cal ed.
I concentrated on my name as it flew past me in the dark.
I focused harder and harder, trying to hear more, see more than I could.
He appeared before me, coming out of the darkness like a developing Polaroid. He was slightly translucent, as if he were the specter here.
“Dex,” I uttered, wondering if he could see me.
He could. He smiled when he saw me. It glowed supernatural y, like Christmas lights that are turned on for the first time; ful of relief, pride and beauty.
He reached out for my hand in the darkness but it passed through mine, lacking all solidity.
He came closer, his face scrunched up in fear and confusion, and it was just us two in a world of black emptiness.
“I don’t understand,” he said, shaking his head. “Why can’t I touch you?”
He tried again, this time his hand on my shoulder, but it melted away. He was as good as air.
“I don’t know,” I said, feeling the horror rise up my limbs.
“What’s happening to you, how are you here?”
“Roman has got a hold on both of us. I just thought of you until I...until I saw you. Here. Wherever this is.” He looked around him at the unrelenting nothingness. “But I don’t think I’m here enough.”
His face fel , his hair flopping down on his forehead. He reached for my face with his hand and kept it there along my cheek, even though I knew his fingers were sinking into my skin, even though I couldn’t physical y feel him at all .
He took another step toward me until his pale, lightly transparent face was inches from mine. I sucked at my breath, surprised I stil had the capability of breathing. Even in some other dimension, he stil managed to take my breath away.
It wasn’t fair. He needed to try harder. I needed to try harder. I concentrated on him, on the thin black hair along his wide jaw, his ful lips that were parted slightly, on his eyes that searched mine as frantical y and deeply as mine searched his. I wil ed him to be solid, to be real. He was probably doing the same to me.
“I think it’s coming,” he whispered.