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       Lost Girl, p.20

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  Peter turned toward the mirror and lifted up his blue t-shirt. He grimaced at the slice on his upper rib. He’d been able to save the girl on the bike, but not without incident. It was a deep cut and now it was crusted over. The dark bruises that had formed were more worrying to him. It hurt to breathe and lift his arms.

  He took a warm washcloth and cleaned the gash, but it started to bleed again. Too quickly, the rag turned red. Using his teeth, he opened a tear-off packet of ointment and globbed it over the wound before bandaging it with gauze and medical tape. He didn’t want to have any of the boys treat him.

  It was better if they thought he was invincible.

  Oh, if they knew the truth about him, they’d realize he was more a liability than a leader. Peter ran his hands under the hot water and washed the blood away with a bar of soap. If only his feelings and problems could wash away as easily as the blood on his hands.

  He needed Dr. Barrie. He couldn’t do this alone. There was so much he didn’t understand about what was happening. Neverland’s monsters were getting stronger. Their attacks more frequent. He knew the lost boys couldn’t keep going like they had been.

  The boys would have to take the fight to Neverland if they could find their base, and he was scared. Scared that they’d lose boys, that he’d lose Tink, just like he lost Wendy.

  Peter reached for a clean shirt and pulled it over his head before heading down the hall. He didn’t know where he was going, but he found himself outside Wendy’s empty room. “I’m so sorry,” Peter mumbled softly.

  Tink opened her door, grabbed his arm, and yanked him into her pigsty of a room.

  “Look at this,” she said excitedly, spinning her laptop on the desk to face him. He didn’t know what he was looking at—just a news report showing a massive car wreck ablaze. Fire trucks were working to contain the fire.

  Tink couldn’t stop fidgeting, so there had to be something in the telecast he was missing. It was dark out and hard to make out the models of the cars, but then he noticed a familiar grill.

  “It’s the Red Skulls,” Tink spoke up, practically bouncing in her chair. “That is what’s left of their Hummers.” She paused the screen and rewound the footage to play it again. Something moved—just the slightest shift—in the background.

  “Is that a—” He wasn’t sure what he was seeing, since shadows didn’t always appear on recordings, but you’d get a faint hint of them sometimes.

  “Shadow,” Tink finished for him. “Didn’t even need the goggles to see that. And this has been playing for the last hour. There’s no reason for a shadow to still be in the vicinity unless…” She trailed off and glanced out her open door to Wendy’s empty room.

  “Wendy’s gone, Tink. We don’t know that a presence of a shadow means she’s there, and I’m not sure that I can risk losing you, too.”

  “Relax, I’ll wait till morning, when everything’s chill and quiet, and I’ll go snoop around.”

  “No!” Peter cried out in anguish. “I forbid you to leave.”

  He stormed out of her room and went to check on the boy they had recovered earlier. He was crying out in his sleep, and he didn’t look good. Sweat covered his brow.

  Peter knew the signs. They were going to lose him if he didn’t turn the corner soon. Slightly was keeping an eye on the newcomer, and there was nothing Peter could do but wait. He sat by the boy’s bed for most of the night, releasing Slightly for a few hours. It was almost morning before he did the final round of the night by heading to the control room.

  Peter looked over his shoulder even though he knew no one was in the room with him. He pulled up the same newscast Tink had previously shown him and watched the screen for signs…and there it was…again. A shadow. And it was hanging around in the background, quite a distance from the wreckage.

  Maybe Tink was right.

  He pulled up the screen and watched for a dead zone to pop up. Sure enough, there was one in the vicinity of the wreck, just moving in circles. What shadow moved in circles? Could it be her? What were the chances? He was about to go investigate it himself when a green dot popped up in the area.

  “Tink!” Peter growled.

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Sirens came and went. The fire trucks spent hours putting out the flames. The tow trucks removed what remained of the cars. The fire and explosion had taken care of most of the pieces.

  Wendy lay partially unconscious through all of it. No one saw the drainage pipe. And if they did, no one looked inside.

  And Wendy dreamed. This time she caught more glimpses of memories—white walls, labs filled with beakers. A woman in heels. The ocean.

  A beeping noise drew close, and Wendy felt something prod her in the shoulder. The insistent noise annoyed her, and the prodding kept on.

  “Stop it!” Wendy grumbled and swatted at the offending thing.

  “Oh darn. You’re still alive,” a feminine voice said sarcastically.

  Sure enough, Tink’s blonde head and her goggles filled the opening of the drainpipe.

  “Oh, maybe you are dead, because it really reeks in there.”

  “Tink, is it really you?”

  “No, it’s the tooth fairy. Of course it’s me, you knucklehead.”

  “You didn’t cuss.”

  “Yeah, I’m working on enlarging my vocabulary.”

  Wendy crawled out of the drainpipe. Tink wrapped an arm around her and helped her out of the ditch. The road had been cleared of debris. All that was left were the small scrap pieces, glass, and the scorched roadway. The light hurt her eyes.

  Wendy figured it had to be mid-morning.

  “You found me. How did you find me, Tink?”

  “With my dork-o-meter.” She gestured to her black remote and antenna. This close, Wendy could see that the box was decorated with Hello Kitty stickers. Tink clicked off her device and stowed it back into her side bag, which she then stored in the back of her scooter.

  Tink eyed Wendy’s soiled clothes, and her little nose wrinkled in disdain. “Oh, hey. Do you mind jumping in the river?”

  “What?”

  “You are really, really dirty, and you reek of gas and smoke. Why do you smell like gas?”

  “’Cause I was under a car when it was about to be lit on fire.”

  “That’s so cool.”

  Wendy shot Tink a nasty glare, but then decided to take her advice to clean up. Wendy crossed the road and stepped into the tall grass shrubs. Her feet sank into the sand, and her first few steps were wobbly as she tried to regain her balance. Then she found the rhythm. One step at a time, she told herself.

  The river seemed impossibly far off, and she was so thirsty it actually made her cracked lips ache for a sip. Wendy licked her lips and tasted salt, plus the foul taint of gas. She tried to spit the taste out, but every inch of her smelled of it.

  She made it to the water’s edge and collapsed to her knees, let the current rush over her knees and feet. The cold made her body numb.

  Numb was good. She didn’t want to feel.

  Something rattled close by, and it took a moment for her to realize her teeth were chattering. She started to wash her hands and arms. The water felt good against her face and the airbag rash on her cheek. Wendy pushed herself to her feet and stepped farther into the river, hip-deep.

  Trembling, she couldn’t bring herself to go any farther. Memories and fear were suddenly overwhelming.

  Wendy saw something beneath the water, a dark shape moving toward her. It came up out of the water—the shadow. She glanced behind at Tink, but the girl’s goggles were on her forehead, and she didn’t have her box out.

  Tink couldn’t see the shadow. The shadow dipped below the water, and Wendy felt a tug. Before she could say anything, it resurfaced and hovered inches from her face. She could almost feel its impatience with her. It reached out and touched Wendy’s wrist. It felt as if a bolt of lightning shot through her brain, and mixed images began to appear.

  A girl screamed and writhe
d on a cot somewhere in a white room. This vision was hazy, like watching the static snow on an old TV screen.

  A large bloody gash on her arm eked black ooze, like a wound from the morphling. A doctor took the injector gun and inserted a gold vial. Then he pressed it into her arm. She had no idea whether what she was seeing was in the future or the past. The girl stopped screaming, her eyes opened and she sighed.

  “There… there. You’re safe now.” The doctor spoke.

  Whatever it was, it terrified her. She tried to pull away from the shadow’s embrace to stop what she was seeing, and it finally let go, only to disappear into the water’s inky blackness. Wendy tumbled backward into the water. Her feet found purchase on the sand, and she pushed herself upward. As soon as her head crested above the water she gasped. Her wet hair covered her eyes and face.

  She coughed and fought her way back to the shoreline. Glancing at her wrist she saw the remnant of a shadow mark slowly fade back into her skin. Is that how it was communicating with her?

  Tink was there next to Wendy, grabbing her under her arms and pulling her toward the riverbank.

  “What happened?”

  “I saw something—,” she coughed.

  “It must have been an angel.”

  “Why do you say that?” Wendy asked as she fell to the river’s edge and collapsed. She rolled over to look at a white-faced Tink.

  “One minute you were there, the next you were gone.”

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  “What?”

  “No really, you actually disappeared. I watched you reappear right in front of me.”

  “That’s not possible, Tink.” Wendy trudged up the beach until she found a large piece of driftwood. She sat and took off her shirt, leaving her in just her tank top. She began to wring out the water. “I was here the whole time.” Or at least she thought she was.

  “Trust me, there’s a lot of weird stuff that isn’t possible, but this is. And you are becoming number one on my list of weird people.” Tink plopped down on the driftwood next to Wendy and stared off into the water.

  “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Wendy said sarcastically. “Nice to know I’m number one on one of my friend’s lists.”

  “Whoa.” Tink shot Wendy a disbelieving look. “We’re not friends. I don’t have friends. I have people I tolerate.”

  “Well then, it’s nice to know I’m tolerable.”

  Tink nodded and hit her softly in the arm. “Now you get it.”

  Wendy offered a half-smile and her voice softened. “Except for Peter.”

  Tink looked away absently, rubbing her arms. “Yeah, he was the only one who was ever more than tolerable.” She shot Wendy a heat-filled look before standing up and marching up the beach to her scooter.

  Wendy followed her and felt the girl’s pain radiating off her in waves. “Tink, I’m so sorry about Jax and Peter. I didn’t me—”

  Tink spun toward Wendy, her finger jabbing her angrily in the chest. “Don’t. Don’t you dare tell me you’re sorry.” Tears started to pour out of her eyes. “You have no idea what you’ve done.” She snapped her green glitter helmet on and scooted forward on the scooter and started it up. She revved the engine and glanced back. Wendy was still dripping wet, but Tink just curled her lip. “Get on. I don’t want to waste any more time because of you.”

  Wendy sat behind Tink and tried to give the girl as much room as she could. She didn’t know where to place her hands on the spunky girl, so she rested them on her shoulders. She really hoped Tink wouldn’t take any sharp turns, because she probably would slide off and die.

  But maybe, with the mood Tink was in, that had been her plan all along.

  On the ride back into town, Wendy finally cried in silence, grieving the loss of Peter. There was no way he could have survived being thrown from a Hummer at that speed. It was all her fault. Her heart ached, and she couldn’t believe how empty it felt after only knowing him for such a short time. But that time together, felt like an eternity.

  Peter showed her so much kindness—he cared so much he died for her.

  The wind dried each and every tear.

  And she wished that the wind could dry up her heart just as quickly, so she’d never hurt again.

  The Neverwood Academy wouldn’t be the same without Peter.

  Wendy walked up to the old, abandoned house alone while Tink tucked her scooter into a hidden shed. The same homeless man who’d been sitting near the garbage before started to rustle around. He pulled a bottle up to his lips and took a drink. There was a distinct click of a camera sound and Wendy spun on him, ready to either attack or sprint away. When he continued to drink for an impossible amount of time, she studied him a little closer.

  Something was off about the proportions. The elbow seemed bent at a weird angle; the knit hat was pulled a little low over his head. Then she saw the red blinking light and the camera lens hidden in the bottom of the bottle. She stepped closer, and the hand holding the bottle dropped. The homeless guy dropped his head to his chest, as if hiding from her.

  Wendy bent down and ducked her head to look closer. His face looked waxy, and he was wearing way too many layers of clothes for how hot it was. She nudged his boot and it didn’t move. She nudged it again and nothing happened. Feeling braver, Wendy leaned forward and gently shook the shoulder of the homeless man.

  The whole head rolled forward and fell into his lap.

  She bit back a scream and scrambled back as the recurring sound of a familiar chime blasted into her ear right behind her.

  “Don’t touch Homer!” Tink shrieked. “Stay there. Don’t touch anything,” she huffed.

  “Homer?” Wendy looked back at the robotic head that had fallen from the robot sitting outside the warehouse.

  “Heat Overseer Mechanical Emergency Robot. Homer. He’s heat activated and monitors all activity. Usually we get lots of pictures of stray cats.” Tink picked up Homer’s head, sighed loudly at her creation, and pulled a screwdriver out of her tool belt. She went to work screwing his head back on. Then, reaching behind him, she flipped a switch off and on again until he rebooted. She carefully pulled his hat down over his head and readjusted his arm and camera.

  “Did you make him?” Wendy asked in disbelief.

  “Of course I did. He’s our first warning signal.” She ducked and peered into Homer’s face. The bottle came up and Wendy heard the zoom of the camera.

  “Hey, Tink,” a male voice said through speaker.

  “Fox, it’s me, plus one.”

  “Gotcha. Proceed.”

  The front door unlocked this time, and they headed directly toward the fireplace. Wendy missed having Tootles greet them with the riddle.

  “The first time you came, Homer was down. A few malfunctions, but I got it up working again.” She entered the tunnel and the fireplace slowly closed after them. As soon as they passed into Neverwood, Tink gestured for Wendy to follow her toward the medical wing.

  There was a twin bed in the middle of the room. On the bed was the young boy from yesterday. His leg was bandaged, and he looked like he was in a lot of pain.

  “Is he…?”

  “Alive? Yes,” Slightly answered. “He’s woken up a few times, but he’s said nothing but gibberish. We think we might not have gotten him here in time. The morphling’s poison was too strong. He’s dying.”

  Wendy sat next to him, grabbing his hand. “Oh, Teddy,” she whispered.

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Peter’s best friend had disobeyed a direct order. Her dot stayed in the area for a good fifteen minutes before it started to move in the direction of Neverwood. She must have found something, because she was speeding.

  His heart went flying, and he kept cracking his knuckles. The anticipation was killing him, but he had plenty of time to think and question and doubt. Who was Wendy, really? Why were the shadows not taking her when she could obviously see them? Nothing made sense, and he was getting a huge headache.

  His head
snapped up. Tink’s tracker showed she was in the building! Peter had been so lost in his thoughts, he didn’t notice her arrival.

  He launched himself from his chair and tried to calm himself as he headed downstairs. Voices entered and moved toward the medical wing. They were muffled, and he wasn’t sure who it could be—but he hoped.

  But when he got to the medical hall and saw her—battered, wet, but alive and next to the boy’s bed.... Alive.

  She reached out and touched the boy’s hand, clasping it between hers. Peter’s heart soared. He was so happy he could crow. He had to grab the doorframe to steady himself and to keep from running to her and whisking her far away.

  “Oh, Teddy,” Wendy whispered his name.

  Footsteps sounded behind her.

  “Who is he?” Peter asked suspiciously.

  She turned and lost her train of thought when she saw his dark green eyes.

  “You’re alive? I thought you died!” She couldn’t help herself. Tears of relief fell and Peter leaned in to wrap her in a hug.

  “Takes more than that to kill me.” Peter whispered. “But I’m asking you again. How do you know him? Who is he to you?”

  “No one,” Wendy answered. “I don’t know him…just his name.”

  Slightly leaned against a far wall, his arms crossed. “She certainly raises more questions than answers lately.”

  Peter leaned back, and but kept his hands on her arms. “I need to ask you something?

  “Anything.”.

  “Are you one of them?” She knew he meant the Red Skulls.

  “No, I’m not.”

  “Then why were you there? Why did you show up right when another morphling attacked and the Red Skulls were on your heels?”

  “I just knew he was going to be in trouble.” She stopped, deciding no matter how she tried to explain it, they wouldn’t believe it. It sounded sketchy even to her.

  The boy cried out in his sleep, interrupting them. Peter moved over to the boy on the bed. He gently checked his pulse and pulled open his eyelids. His forehead was covered with a sweaty sheen, and his face looked pallid.

 
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