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Chance shook Tessali awake, again, as he had the past two days. She’d been sleeping a lot, trying to dream her way back into the Realm, telling herself she wanted to give Kit Cypress more details of where she was. But she didn’t have any more details, and she never saw Kit Cypress there again. Maybe Kit had forgotten about her.
Her stomach twisted, sour, and she let the boys eat her share of the food that Luke brought them. They still clung to her, peering up at her trustingly with their big eyes, and she wanted to cry when she thought about how she’d let them down.
When she did manage to dream, she dreamt trash dreams of anxiety and pain. The portal from the Realm of the Faerie to the dying lands hadn’t hurt, but she knew that the portal from the dying lands to the dead lands would be agony. She’d been here long enough to see how everyone feared it. Patti the food service girl said that after you died a red goat-man would burn you forever unless you went to the same church she did.
She’d been dreaming she was dead when Chance woke her, and in her sleepiness, he was the red goat-man, come to burn her. She wouldn’t be surprised if the goat-man of the dead lands looked like Chance. Tessali glanced at the sweet faces of the sleeping boys, trying to photograph them with her eyes. She leaned over to kiss their heads again, but Chance held her arm tightly and pulled her away.
“Don’t,” he said. It came out like a grunt.
Caleb rubbed his nose with the back of his hand and started sucking his thumb. His curl came down to tickle his face again. She wanted to brush it away, but Chance was dragging her towards the stairs. She stumbled behind him, shinning herself on the steps, but managed to match his stride by the time they were walking across the weedy yard to his car.
“Where’s Luke?” she asked.
“Out,” he said, and didn’t look at her.
He fumbled for his keys, and awkwardly unlocked the door of the car with his left hand, still gripping her bicep with his right. An owl hooted from the line of trees, and she glanced up, but she couldn’t see it. The night felt chilly to her, and damp. Thunder rumbled in the distance, but the clouds hadn’t reached this far, and she could still see the stars overhead. The Realm of the Faerie had different stars. Did they have the same stars in the dead lands?
The stiff old metal of the car door creaked as Chance yanked it open. He shoved Tessali inside, and she banged her forehead on the door, then her hip on the steering wheel, but he shoved her until she slid over to the passenger side. She reached up to buckle the seatbelt, as Rosemary had taught her she must, but when she followed the belt to its end, she found only a frayed edge where the buckle should be.
The car had a baked vinyl smell, and still retained a little heat of the day, but she shivered anyway. She didn’t know what time it was. Early evening, maybe. The moon was just rising, turning the cracked dashboard and the weeds and the trees the same silvery gray. She still wore Christine’s jeans and shirt, grown looser with not enough food. She had lost her boots, and the bottoms of her bare feet had a thick crust of black. She shivered.
Chance sat down and slammed the door behind him. The keys jangled as he turned the engine over, and he gave a phlegmy smoker’s cough. He wore a tight tee shirt, but he didn’t seem to feel the cold. There was a blanket on the floor, and she thought she might wrap herself in it to stay warm, but she was afraid to ask. Chance didn’t look at her, and he scowled at the road as if trying to make a difficult decision.
Maybe he was sick of the rest of them, and he was taking her to the Colorado Renaissance Festival. Or was it over? Was it August already? She didn’t know how long she’d been in the basement.
She studied his face. He worked his jaw like he wanted to bite someone. She hunched in on herself. The car jostled over the unpaved road, further away from the few squares of yellow light. He drove as if looking for something, backtracking a few times when a road unexpectedly took him too close to buildings.
He turned the car down a road that was little more than two ruts carved in a meadow. The weeds made a slithering sound as they brushed next to and underneath the car. He finally stopped when the plants grew too thick for the car to push past. The grass came up to the level of the window, dried flower stalks heavy with seed, nodding in the moonlight.
Chance opened his door and started to climb out. He looked over his shoulder at her when she made a move to follow him. “Stay here. I’m going to have a cigarette.”
He got out of the car and lit a cigarette, staring towards a line of trees and a broken-down house. He headed towards the outbuilding, forging a path through the grass. He opened the door of the outbuilding and opened it. Once he stood next to it, she could see how small it was. Little more than a shed, really. The red light of his cigarette glowed, moving as he tapped his ash, then vanishing as he stepped inside the shed.
Tessali tried to open her door, but she couldn’t get it open more than a few inches because of a shrub on the other side. She crept across the front seat until she got to the driver’s side. She was shivering so badly it felt like the car must be rocking. She touched the handle and pushed the button until she felt it unlatch. The door was heavy, so she opened it slowly, slowly, inching along the seat until she could bring her legs under her, prepared to launch herself outside.
The dome light came on.
Tessali panicked. She threw the door open and fell out of the car. Stumbling into the grass, she scrambled to her feet again and started running. She ran back the way they’d come. Her fear and her long legs propelled her as fast as a Pilell in the outerlands. In the distance, she saw the yellow light of a farmhouse, and she angled toward it, plowing her way across a meadow. How far was it? A mile? A half mile? She’d never run so much or so far in her life, but she had to. There would be people there. Nice people. They’d save her from the werewolf. They’d see her and know she was a nice girl. A good girl. A good Indel, and Chance was a bad man, and she would tell them about the boys and they would get soldiers or police to come and stop them and everything would be okay.
For a few moments, she believed her fantasy. She thought she was going to make it. She focused on the yellow glowing square in the distance and she ran as fast as she could.
And then she felt her legs strike something invisible, and she pitched forward. Something snaked around her ankle. She ran her hands down her pant legs until she felt it. Barbed wire. She hadn’t seen the fence posts in the tall grass. She struggled to free herself.
She’d just gotten the wire unwrapped from around her ankle when she heard a gun blast. She looked up and saw Chance looming over her with a shotgun.
“I was gonna give you a second chance, but not if you’re gonna do anything stupid like run away.”
Tessali froze, leaning back on one elbow, leg still resting on the barbed wire of the fence.
“Come on, I’m not gonna hurt you.” He extended his hand.
Tessali didn’t move. Chance set down his shotgun and extended both hands. She took his grip and allowed him to help her to her feet. Scooping up the shotgun again, he gestured for her to go back towards the car and the shed.
“I always liked you,” Chance said. “It didn’t seem fair that Luke got a girl as pretty as you. What’d you see in him, anyway?”
Tessali didn’t answer. Carrie Ann had said Luke was bad news, but Tessali hadn’t listened. By the time she’d figured out that Carrie Ann was right, it was far too late. If only she’d known. But maybe it didn’t matter. Maybe this was her fate. Bad luck had followed her most of her life. This just seemed a piece of it. They reached the car, but Chance prodded her with the shotgun to keep her moving.
“Christine thinks you’re a problem. She told me to take you out.”
Tessali didn’t know what that meant, but she didn’t think it was nice. She walked across the field towards the shed as if numb. She could barely feel her limbs, and she was shaking so bad her knees felt weak.
“Lucky for you, I’m sick of doing what that bitch tells me to do.”
They reached the shed. Age and weather had turned the wood a dull gray, and the door didn’t have a handle, but an eye bolt clasp with a rusty padlock. Chance unhooked the padlock from the eyebolt and opened the door.
She didn’t want to go in. It was dark inside, and probably full of spiders.
Chance prodded her with the shotgun. “It’s okay.”
She looked askance at him.
“Go. Trust me.”
She didn’t trust him, but she obeyed. The shed had a low roof, so she had to duck to enter it.
“You stay here. I got some things to take care of. I’ll come back for you, and then we can get the fuck out of this place. Okay?”
“Just stay here, okay?” Chance shut the door.
She heard him fiddle with the eyebolt to close it, and slip the rusty padlock through. It clicked as he locked her inside. She moved to the tiny window and tried to wipe off a pane of glass enough to see, but dust had made it opaque, so she peered through one the cracked corner of a broken pane.
Chance strode back to the car, looking once back at the shed. He got in the car and turned it on. The headlights silhouetted weeds and brambles as he backed out the rutted path they’d come in. She watched the lights recede, then pivot and vanish as he backed onto the feeder road and drove away.
She counted to a hundred before she started kicking at the door. It hurt her feet, especially without any shoes on, but she thought of the boys, trapped in the basement. Chance was going to do something awful to them. They all were. She had to get out and save them. Tessali started crying, sobbing in frustration. The door wouldn’t budge. The whole shed shimmied with every blow, and the cracked pane of glass fell out of its mullion, but the door didn’t open.
She would kick it with both legs. She’d seen that in a movie once. Not much bigger than a port-o-potty, the shed was too small to get a running start. Crying in fury and frustration, Tessali kicked with her right leg, and before her leg hit the ground she kicked with the left leg.
It didn’t work like in the movies. She stumbled, falling backwards against the wall, which groaned in protest, and then gave away. The roof fell down, and she closed her eyes and mouth against the shower of dead leaves and bugs that slid down on top of her. Once the roof fell in, the side wall collapsed as well. She curled up to protect herself, but by then it was already over.
Opening her eyes, Tessali pulled herself out of the rubble. She’d been bruised when she fell, but nothing felt broken. She pulled herself out from under the rotted shingles and gingerly got to her feet. She bled from a couple of cuts, but she could stand without pain. Her right foot bled, but only on the top. Walking carefully along the flattened wall, she surveyed the damage. The roof and sides had fallen down like a card house. The wall with the door remained intact, its padlock still clasped.
She smiled. Maybe bad luck wasn’t her fate.
Thunder rumbled in the distance, and the wind smelled of rain. How long had she been gone? An hour? Two? She had to hurry back to the house. Maybe there was still time to save the boys from whatever horrible fate Christine had in mind for them.
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