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Fighting for infinity, p.4
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       Fighting for Infinity, p.4

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 
Harmony jumped to her feet when she saw me sit up straight, stiffening and preparing to traverse. She reached for me. “Let me come with you.”

  I vanished before her hand made contact.

  I stood atop one of the tallest mountains in Nepal. The air was so thin it burned my lungs. My face already felt like a sheet of ice. Stepping to the edge, I prepared to jump, craving the rush so badly I felt like a junkie.

  Maryah had come with me to the same spot. Kissing her had felt euphoric until I traversed us to this mountain by accident. I was so relieved when I figured out how to safely traverse her home. She could have died that day. Because of me.

  Was she in jeopardy of dying again? How long would her body continue existing without her soul in it?

  I despised Dedrick and everything he stood for. Someday, if given the chance, I’d tear him apart with my own two hands. I cracked my fingers, realizing they had gone numb from the bitter cold.

  And then I had an epiphany. I hadn’t been able to consider the option until recently, but now the options were endless. If—when—I found Dedrick, I could torture him in ways he couldn’t imagine. I could traverse with him.

  I glanced around, remembering how fast the cold and altitude affected Maryah. I’d bring him here then watch him suffer until his mind and body were frozen stiff.

  That didn’t seem like enough. He deserved to suffer much worse than that. I could traverse him to Antarctica, make him run from polar bears then let them rip him to shreds. I could feed him to great white sharks off the coast of Australia. The list of torturous deaths grew so long I didn’t know where I’d start first, but I eagerly anticipated that day.

  A RIVER RUNS THROUGH ME

  Maryah

  I wanted to go home.

  Rina, the mute ability-stealer, warned me that I needed to get out, and I wholeheartedly agreed. I kept focusing, trying every way I could think of to connect with my body. Rina sat on her mattress watching me but never uttering a sound. The strange black curtain fell around me again. When the dark lifted, Dedrick stood in front of me, beside a woman with snake eyes, and River.

  “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I grumbled.

  River’s faux-hawk had grown out. He had a ten o’clock shadow of facial hair like he hadn’t shaved in weeks. I could see the family resemblance between him and his murderous uncle.

  “Did you miss us?” Dedrick asked all sing-song.

  River’s eyes were wide. He stepped closer, cocking his head while studying my transparent light form. A glowing ghostly version of the me he used to hang out with. The friend he tried to kill. If I could have produced saliva, I would have spit on him.

  “Holy shit,” he whispered.

  “I told you,” Dedrick sang. “It was easier than I thought. It took much longer considering the detour and all, but eventually she came around.”

  “Can she hear us?” River asked.

  “I’m quite certain she can.”

  River reached out, attempting to touch me. I backed away, but he stepped forward. I kept backing up until I was pinned against a wall. If I had a body he would have been pressed against it. His closeness brought back the repulsion I felt at Montezuma Well when he traced a heart on my palm and told me he’d never do something so evil as to throw me into the water alive and let leeches eat me. But he did drug me, and he would have shot me and then thrown me in the water. Now he stood in front of me again, just as evil as his uncle with who knows what disgusting thoughts running through his mind. Even though my voice shook, I wanted them to hear me. “Both of you sicken me.”

  River whispered too quietly for anyone else to hear. “I’m so sorry.”

  “Lexie,” Dedrick snapped. “Update me.”

  Lexie, the woman with snake eyes, spoke almost robotically. “She can hear you. Both of you sicken her.”

  Dedrick chuckled while River’s gaze dropped to his feet. Great, Dedrick’s drone could hear me. I’d have to be more careful of what I said.

  “She plans to be more conscious about what she says,” Lexie continued.

  She could hear my thoughts too? How could I stop thinking? Stop right now, I told myself.

  “She’s trying to stop herself from thinking.”

  I snapped at Lexie. “Stay out of my head.”

  “Not likely,” she replied. “It’s my job to hear your thoughts.”

  “This is such fun, isn’t it?” Dedrick clapped his hands. “And River?”

  River’s head jerked up at the mention of his name.

  Lexie spewed out her report. “Wondering how Maryah is here. He’s intrigued by how her soul could be trapped.”

  I stared at the table behind River, not wanting to react to anything. Table, table, table. If I kept my thoughts boring enough, Lexie would have nothing to report.

  “She’s diverting her thoughts by repeating “table,’” Lexie said. “River is angry that you asked me to intrude on his thoughts.”

  I hated her already.

  “Maryah hates me.”

  Dedrick snickered. “Don’t take it personally, Lexie. Maryah hates all of us. And River, don’t think of it as me intruding. I’m simply acquiring useful data.”

  Table, table, table.

  “She’s back to focusing on the table,” Lexie said. “He’s mentally shouting expletives at me.”

  “I’m growing bored.” Dedrick sighed. “Let me know how Maryah responds to this.” He stepped closer, nudging River aside. “I require the use of your ability, my dear, powerful, Maryah.” He fanned his bony fingers over Rina’s head. “Rina is a pathetic little thing, but she does have one endearing and useful trait—she is a conductor.”

  I noted the girl was a conductor, but tried not to think anything else.

  Dedrick continued, “Rina will connect us so I may use your power to gather the necessary intel to help me acquire the last few things needed to put my master plan into effect. Don’t worry, the exceptional beings I’ll be spying on aren’t any of your kindrily. Amusingly, those hacks aren’t nearly as clever or powerful as they think they are.” He pulled back his long hair, securing it into a low ponytail. “At least not for my purposes.”

  He was spying on people more powerful than my kindrily. What kind of powers must those people have? What was he planning?

  “She wants to know what you’re planning,” Lexie said.

  Dedrick huffed a half-laugh. Strange as it was, I smelled his sour breath. How could I smell anything without being in my body?

  “Nathaniel didn’t tell you?” Dedrick asked me. “I’m going to become the gatekeeper of this world.”

  Nathan had told us that, but we didn’t understand what it meant.

  “She doesn’t know what that means,” Lexie reported.

  Dedrick stood tall, his chest expanding as if proud of what he was about to say. “I’ll control who comes into this world. Some souls should never be allowed reentry.” His eyes shifted upward. “Certain meddling ones need to be permanently banished. If so, this world would be a much better place and evolve at a faster pace. Reincarnation,” he hissed, “is a broken and outdated system, and I plan to update it.”

  He was a lunatic. No way could Dedrick ever change a universal system that had been in existence longer than anyone knew. Could he?

  Lexie started to speak. “She thinks—”

  “I know what she’s thinking,” Dedrick barked. “That it’s impossible for me to play God. That I’d never be able to acquire that sort of power, but she’s wrong.” He leaned close to me, and his foul breath of stale coffee and rotten milk hit me again. “You’re wrong, Maryah. I’m not only going to play God. I’m going to be God.”

  “How?” The one word came out breathless because I was shocked and scared. The confidence in his voice, the calm and collected yet steady fire burning in his eyes: it was almost enough to make me believe he could pull it off. And if he did, I didn’t want to imagine the state of our world.

  River sat on the edge of the table, running his hand over hi
s hairy jaw. Lexie didn’t flinch. Rina gnawed her fingers, her head down as if trying to be invisible.

  Lexie repeated my question. “How?”

  “You’ll see soon enough.” Dedrick turned to River. “Any parting words, nephew of mine?”

  River fidgeted. “Uh, no, not right now, sir.”

  Dedrick eyed him suspiciously. “Not right now because you have an audience?”

  River shrugged.

  “I understand,” Dedrick said. “I’d allow you alone time with her, but it would be a one-sided conversation without Lexie.”

  River tapped his knuckles on the table as he seemed to silently plead with his uncle.

  Dedrick squinted at him before tossing his hands in the air. “Fine. I’ll grant you ten minutes alone with her.”

  “Thank you.” River stood too eagerly. I wanted to shove him back down.

  “Let’s be on our way, Lexie. We have much to accomplish today.”

  “Wait.” River motioned to Rina. “What about her?”

  “My mute?” Dedrick asked. “I can’t take her out of this room, but I can see why you wouldn’t want anyone eavesdropping. Very well then.” He walked over to the cabinet and opened a door. Rina pulled her blanket over her head. Dedrick took out a glass vial and a syringe then filled it with a pale yellow liquid.

  “What is that?” River asked.

  Dedrick rolled his eyes. “Do you want to be alone with Maryah or not?”

  River stuck his hands in his pockets and lowered his head. Dedrick crouched beside Rina’s bed. She leaned away, but Dedrick grabbed her arm and stuck her with the needle.

  “There,” Dedrick said to River. “She’ll be out cold. Won’t hear a thing. Give it about two minutes to kick in, and then it will be just you and Maryah.”

  River eyed the blanket covering Rina. “Did you hurt her?”

  “Hurt her?” Dedrick cooed as if it was impossible for him to hurt anyone. “I simply put her down for a nap.”

  “Okay,” the gullible idiot muttered. “Thank you again.”

  I wanted my solid hands so I could grab a syringe and stab both of them.

  “Ten minutes,” Dedrick warned. “Use it wisely.”

  River nodded as Dedrick did his “Lights Out” ritual of blowing out the candle. I was hoping when the darkness lifted, River wouldn’t be there, but no such luck. I took some comfort in the fact that my body wasn’t in the room with him. He couldn’t hurt me again.

  “I’m so sorry.” River rushed over to me. “You have no idea how sorry I am for all of this.”

  “Ha! You tried to kill me!” It was pointless to respond since he couldn’t hear me, but I couldn’t help it.

  “I have no idea how he did this to you, but—” He glanced sideways at the heap of blanket where Rina was passed out then lowered his voice. “I’d set you free if I knew how.”

  That piqued my interest. Would River really help me get out of here if he could? I hated thinking River, of all people, might be my only way out of this mess, but it wasn’t like I had a lot of other options.

  “I’m sure you don’t believe me, or trust me, and I don’t blame you, but I swear to you, Maryah, I regret whatever happened at Montezuma Well. I didn’t even know what I was doing.” He shook his head. His thoughts seemed far away. “I can’t remember anything about that night, and when I snapped out of it at the police station and they kept asking me why I tried to kill you, I lost it. I couldn’t believe what I’d done. You’d already been through so much, losing your parents and brother, and then I tried to kill you? I’ve been so messed up over it. I feel like I don’t even know myself anymore.”

  Partly flabbergasted, I wanted to scream at him and call him a liar, but I couldn’t do anything except watch him. I analyzed his body language. His hands kept rising limply at his sides. His bloodshot eyes made him look so stressed and upset. It hadn’t occurred to me until that moment, but had Dedrick mind-controlled River the same way he did with Gregory and the other Nefariouns?

  “No,” I muttered, replaying the details of the night River tried to kill me. “You didn’t have snake eyes. You knew what you were doing.”

  “I don’t know what the hell is going on anymore. The cops made me take a bunch of psychological tests. They diagnosed me with some mental illness.” He glanced away, but not before I saw the shame in his eyes. “I don’t understand any of it. I didn’t know my uncle was like this.”

  If only he could have heard me. I would have asked him where he was before they came into this room. Were we in a basement of some kind? A castle? But Dedrick would have never left us alone if River and I were able to effectively communicate.

  “I’m locked up too,” River said. “If it makes you feel any better.”

  “What?” Dedrick was keeping his own nephew locked up too?

  River reached out to me, but I didn’t move this time.

  “Can you feel that?” His fingers swiped through my glowing arm. He stared at me, probably waiting for me to nod or shake my head, but I only scowled at him. I couldn’t feel him, but I still didn’t want him to touch me.

  “This is by far the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I keep hoping I’ll wake up, and you and I will be back in English class passing notes and laughing about whatever. We could go back to normal.” He bit his bottom lip. “I keep thinking about what my uncle said, that you can asteroid travel or whatever. What does that even mean?”

  Asteroid travel. What an idiot. He waited as if expecting an answer. I didn’t bother thinking of a response. Even if he could hear me, I’d never tell River anything else about me or my kindrily ever again.

  “I always knew you were something special, Maryah. April did too. I mean, we didn’t know people with supernatural powers existed, but we knew you were different—in a good way.” He rubbed his beard again. “I don’t understand why my uncle is doing this, but I’m sorry for all of it. I swear I’ll do everything I can to help you get out of here.”

  I wanted to believe him. But I knew better.

  QUIET AS A MOUSE

  Maryah

  Dedrick returned long enough to black-curtain the room again and take River away. Rina remained in a drug-induced nap.

  For what felt like forever, but was probably a few hours, I floated around the room. My fear and anger transitioned into worry and disgust.

  Behind the moldy plastic curtain were a filthy stained toilet and a bowl filled with dingy water. Not even a sink for the poor girl to wash herself.

  “What a monster.” Who would let anyone—especially a child—live in such filth? Next, I studied the cabinet in the corner of the room again. The glass shelves were caked with dust and filled with vials of liquid and a box of syringes. I wanted to take all the drugs and dump them down the toilet, but I couldn’t touch them. I couldn’t do much of anything.

  On the table in the center of the room sat the book I’d been drawn to when I first traveled to this dreaded place. I hovered over it, desperately wanting to flip open the leather cover to see what its pages contained. The cracked binding looked super old. There was no title, nothing written on it at all, not even on the spine.

  Rina stirred, and I darted to the corner where she hid beneath her dirty blanket. A mouse scurried across the floor then shimmied up onto the mattress and under Rina’s covers.

  I yelled, “Shoo! Shoo!” while swinging my hands at the blanket. “Wake up! Before that rodent bites you and gives you rabies.”

  The blanket inched down far enough for her to peer out through her disheveled black hair.

  “Get up! There’s a mouse in your bed!” Talking made me feel more proactive and less alone.

  She pushed the blanket off, and the mouse was sitting on her chest. I expected her to jump up and do a frantic help-there’s-a-mouse-in-my-bed dance like I would have done, but she didn’t flinch. She reached up and petted the mouse with one scabby finger then opened her other hand. The mouse stepped onto her palm.

  “Oh. It’s like
your pet, isn’t it?”

  She raised the mouse up to her face, and it rubbed its tiny nose against hers. She smiled and my heart warmed. Considering the way she lived, I wouldn’t expect her to ever be happy, but the mouse was clearly her friend. As silly as it was, I was grateful the strange girl had a friend—even if that friend was a rodent.

  Rina held up the mouse for me to see. I leaned in, our faces only inches apart. He was sort of cute, brownish gray with big ears, and his whiskers twitched as his pink nose sniffed me. “Hi there, dungeon mouse. So you can see me too?”

  The mouse turned, his long tail flicking behind him. He scurried up Rina’s arm then sat on her shoulder as if they’d done the same routine a million times. She rested her head on the wall behind her and closed her eyes.

  As I watched Rina, who appeared to be sleeping again while sitting up, I realized I wasn’t tired at all. Would I ever get tired, or was that only possible if I had a body?

  The mouse curled up against Rina’s neck and went to sleep. The sight of them together made me miss Eightball—even his snoring. More than that, I missed sleeping beside Nathan, feeling his chest rise and fall against my cheek as I listened to the lullaby of his heartbeat.

  I floated in the candlelit room: bored, worried about my kindrily, and feeling completely alone, even with two other living beings just a few feet away from me.

  “This is no way to live.” I was speaking on Rina’s behalf, the mouse’s, and mine.

  ∞

  Dedrick returned, hardly saying a word except to announce it was time for him to travel again and ordering Rina to his side.

  “No!” I shouted. What if he spied on my kindrily again? What if he used my ability to hurt them or someone else?

  I tried pulling away as Rina linked hands with Dedrick and me. “I hate you! My power is not yours to steal.”

  Dedrick spoke a name as I was yelling. It sounded like Vivian, but I couldn’t be sure. I was angry at myself for not staying quiet so I could hear him. Several seconds later, Dedrick went limp.

  Rina lifted her head. In a terse and cutting tone, she said, “Hate isn’t a strong enough word when it comes to Dedrick.”

 
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