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Fighting for infinity, p.5
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       Fighting for Infinity, p.5

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 

  I gasped. “You can talk?”

  “Of course I can.”

  “And you can hear me?”

  “How else would I be answering you?”

  “But Dedrick said you were a mute.”

  “Dedrick is wrong much more often than he’s right.” She pointed at me. “Don’t go spilling my secrets. He can’t know that you and I can communicate.” She turned away. “Or he’ll make me do horrible things.”

  I cringed at the possibilities of what that meant. “I won’t say a word.”

  Was there anyone who willingly helped Dedrick, or did he have to trap or control everyone? Rina pretended to be a mute. How long had she been fooling him? I was still in shock that she could talk—and hear me. She was a conductor and a faker. “Is there anything else I should know about you?”

  She faced me again, looking serious. “I trust very few people. Very few.”

  Fair enough. I didn’t blame her for not trusting anyone. I wouldn’t either if I was being held prisoner by a madman. “How long have you been here?”

  “My whole life.”

  I couldn’t hide my shock. “You were born here?”

  She motioned to the corner. “On that very bed.”

  I turned my nose up, shuddering at the sight of her stained, more-unsanitary-than-I-first-assumed, sad excuse for a mattress. “Where are your parents?”

  “I never met my father. All I know about him I learned from my mother’s stories.”

  “And your mom?”

  “She had to leave. But she promised to come back for me.”

  My heart hurt for her. How could any mother leave her child? Mind-controlled or not, I wouldn’t be able to stomach it. However, if Rina had lived in this room her entire life, maybe she didn’t know how terrible it really was. Maybe she didn’t have a sense of family or understand what it meant.

  “So this,” I said as I motioned to the prison around us, “is all you’ve ever known?”

  “Yes.”

  “That makes me so sad for you.”

  She shrugged. “This is where I need to be for now.”

  She was definitely damaged. No healthy person would take their imprisonment so lightly. “You’re okay with being held captive? Being ordered around and used.” I had been afraid to ask, but I had to know. “Has Dedrick ever hurt you?”

  “Dedrick hurts everyone in one way or another.”

  “You can’t be okay with that.”

  “What choice do I have? I do what I need to do to survive.” She replied so quickly. Sometimes she spoke before I finished speaking. It was almost hard to keep up with her.

  “Survive to do what?” I asked. “Live another day like a prisoner in a cage? I would’ve begged him to kill me and put me out of my misery.”

  “What good would I be dead?”

  “This is a horrible way to live.”

  “If it’s so awful then why are you here?”

  “I didn’t choose to be here.”

  “Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong.” She smirked. “You came here of your own free will. Your instincts told you not to go near Dedrick again, but you traveled here anyway. You’re here because deep down you chose to be.”

  I stared at her, bewildered by what a little enigma she was. “How do you know about my instincts?”

  She lifted a chunk of hair to her lips. “I’ve said too much.”

  “I get the impression you never accidentally say too much.”

  “You’re smart.”

  “You’re peculiar.”

  “Peculiar. I like that choice of adjective.”

  “See? Most people wouldn’t think being called peculiar is a compliment.”

  She leaned in so our noses almost touched. “We’re not like most people, are we?”

  For once I could see the coloring of her eyes. The dim lighting had given the illusion that they were black, but they were actually a striking shade of dark blue.

  She backed up suddenly as if she’d been burned or shocked. “He wants to come back. Don’t speak a word of this. If you tell him my secrets, you’ll ruin everything.”

  I nodded, panicking a bit. “I won’t say anything, I promise.”

  “Don’t think it either.”

  She was right. I needed to find a way to shut off my thoughts so I didn’t accidentally reveal anything to Lexie.

  Dedrick stumbled backward, returning from his astral travel. Rina collapsed to the floor and didn’t move. Wherever Dedrick had gone, or whomever he had spied on, had him panting and bouncing like an excited hyena. He didn’t say a word, just blew out the candle.

  When the sorry excuse for light returned, Rina was still on the floor.

  “Rina, are you okay?”

  She rolled over, alert and not appearing drained at all. She sprang to her feet and brushed the dirt off her.

  “You fake it, don’t you?” I asked. “Helping him astral travel doesn’t drain you at all.”

  “I told you, I do what’s necessary to survive.”

  She said revealing her secrets to Dedrick might ruin everything. Did she have some sort of plan to break out? “I have a feeling you’re hiding a lot of secrets.”

  One thin brow rose, and she sort of sneered but in a way that hinted she was being playful. “Tip of the iceberg, my glowing lightning bug, tip of the iceberg.”

  Hearing her call me lightning bug like Dedrick had sent a shiver through me, but my instincts assured me I had no reason to be afraid of her. If anything, I may have just formed a powerful and unexpected alliance.

  “How old are you?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Do you know your birthday?”

  “We don’t celebrate occasions like that here.” She tugged at the ends of her frayed hair. “But why does it matter? Why should a person’s potential be based on the age of her body? Maybe the soul is older, wiser, capable of more than a much younger body. The age of a person’s soul is what’s important.”

  “Okay, Miss Almighty Wise One, how old is your soul?”

  She bit her pinky nail. “I lost track.”

  “You say a soul’s age is what matters, but you haven’t kept track of how old yours is?”

  “I didn’t say it was a perfect system.”

  “Do you think your soul is older than mine?”

  “That depends how we’re counting. Are we basing it off of your age before or after you erased?”

  My voice raised an octave as I tensed. “How do you know I erased?”

  “Dedrick just said you did when he was here with River.”

  “Oh, right.” I had almost forgotten she had been in the room because she was so quiet. “Back to who is older. Use my age before I erased. I had lived nineteen lifetimes.”

  “In that case, I don’t know.”

  “Then why did it matter which option we based it off of?”

  She shrugged. “Just wanted to see if you still valued your old self.”

  “I value all of myself—old and new. And I’m going to remember my past.”

  “Are you sure about that?”

  I hesitated, not sure at all, but really wishing I could. “I’m trying my best.”

  She turned on her heel and walked over to the table. She ran her fingers over the cover of the book.

  “What is that?” I asked her.

  “It’s my book.”

  “Obviously, but what kind of book?”

  “A storybook.”

  Man she was frustrating. “What’s its title?”

  “It doesn’t have a title.”

  “What’s it about?”

  She looked up at me. “Don’t ask so many questions. You won’t like the answers.”

  SECRETS NEVER STAY BURIED

  Nathaniel

  Edgar had been in a deep trance since sunrise. He was searching the Akashic Records, relentlessly sifting through centuries of important moments in the universal computer, trying to find any hint of how this situation with Maryah could be possible.<
br />
  While waiting, I traversed from the deck of Helen and Edgar’s cottage to Maryah’s side dozens of times. I appeared on the deck again and peeked through the window. Edgar was still motionless in his recliner with his eyes closed.

  “Nathan,” Louise grunted from her deck chair. “Please stop traversing so much. It’s like someone endlessly pacing but worse. You’re making my blood pressure rise.”

  “I’m sorry.” I tried to stand still, but it was too difficult. “May I pace then?”

  Louise nodded. “It would be an improvement.”

  Every three strides I’d glance through the glass doors at Edgar, but he never moved. His bifocals still rested in his lap. I had worried about Edgar becoming ensnared somewhere like Maryah and not being able to wake up, but he assured all of us that it wasn’t remotely close to the same situation. His soul didn’t leave his body when he read the Akashic Records. He simply went into a trance from which he could be woken at any time.

  “Given the circumstances,” I said, “maybe we should wake him.”

  Helen chuckled, never lowering her sun-basking face. “You know his rule. Never wake him no matter how long he works. That rule has been in place since our first go-round. Not even I have ever broken it.”

  “Edgar’s fine.” Louise stood and wrapped her arm around me. “You didn’t sleep all night. I’m sure you’re exhausted. Let me make you some more of Helen’s calming tea.”

  “I’ve had a gallon of her tea. It’s not helping.”

  Helen lowered her sunglasses and winked at me. “I could make you my sedative tea.”

  “No, thank you.” I’d seen the results of Helen’s sedative tea. I didn’t need to be comatose.

  Louise leveled me with a concerned stare. “Nathan, how much have you told Maryah about Dedrick?”

  “We haven’t had an opportunity to discuss him much.”

  Louise patted my arm. “Not the most enjoyable of topics while you’re getting to know each other all over again.”

  “I should say so.”

  Helen readjusted in her chair so she was sitting up straight. “There never seems to be enough time. No matter how many meetings we hold or conversations we have with her, there’s just too much she needs to know. So much catching up to do.”

  Louise pressed one hand to her cheek, which meant she was stressed. “I’m worried that her history with Dedrick is one thing we should have told her right away.”

  “Thank you, Louise.” I pulled away from her. “As if I don’t feel wretched enough already.”

  “I didn’t mean to make you feel worse, but I am concerned. If he has figured out a way to communicate with her then—” Louise glanced at me then out at the red rocks. “Well, never mind. One thing at a time.”

  Louise was usually the one making people feel better, but her voicing my concerns out loud—concerns I’d ran through my mind in a million different awful scenarios—made me feel like a daft git.

  I should have told Maryah everything about her past with Dedrick, but how was I supposed to delicately deliver so much disturbing information? Maybe I wanted those parts of our past to remain erased.

  “Let me know when Edgar is finished,” I said. And with that I traversed again.

  ∞

  I stood in the doorway watching Krista switch out Maryah’s IV bag. The scene reminded me of all the nights Krista and I had spent at the hospital together while Maryah was in her coma. Only less than a year ago. We’d come so far, yet here I was again, praying with everything I had for Maryah to survive.

  “Hey,” Krista said to me.

  “Hey,” I mumbled.

  “She’s going to be fine. She survived a brutal attack and a coma. This is child’s play for her.”

  I gave a slight nod and walked into the room. “Take a break. Spend some time with Carson doing something normal.”

  Krista grinned. “Normal? This lifetime taking care of her has become normal for me.”

  “The old her wouldn’t stand for that. She would have thought she should be taking care of you.” Mary always wanted to protect everyone.

  “I know, but she took care of everyone for so long. It’s our turn to look after her.”

  Krista sat beside Maryah on the bed and held her hand. “I love her, you know. This version of her. The clueless, reckless at times, uncertain person she is now. While we were growing up, so many times she turned to me for advice or help, and it was such a surreal feeling. It was so different to experience her looking up to me for a change.” Krista glanced at me and her cheeks blushed. “And with you, she’s this lovesick puppy dog experiencing raging hormones—technically for the first time—and the fact that she can’t focus on life’s bigger issues because she’s so twitterpated with you sort of cracks me up.”

  In spite of everything, that made me smile. “She truly is a teenager this time.”

  “I know. In so many ways it’s cool, and it’s fun to watch her experience life with a new perspective and not be insistent and so Mother Superior like she used to be.”

  I leaned against the bed post, recalling memories of so many instances when Mary wielded her all-knowing upper hand.

  “But sometimes,” Krista continued quietly. “I miss the old her so much it hurts.”

  She was gazing at Maryah, lost in reverie of the past. “She was my rock. She taught me so much, and she gave such great advice. She always calmed my fears or worries. Now, all I seem to do is worry or fear for her wellbeing. I wish Mary could sit here with me, wrap me in her strong arms, and tell me that Maryah is going to be fine.”

  My heart ached for Krista. I knew what it was to adore and love Maryah, to be so endeared by the new her who was experiencing the world anew, but to also miss the old her more than words could express.

  “I want them both.” Krista’s voice cracked as if she was choking back tears. “Is that greedy? That I want my imperfect cousin/best friend and my confident and strong motherly figure?”

  “It’s not greedy. It’s natural.”

  Krista stroked Maryah’s arm. “Mary would have seen this coming. Mary wouldn’t have let Dedrick trap Maryah like this.”

  “Mary is Maryah,” I reminded her. Like me, Krista was separating her soul into two different beings too vividly.

  “Which means somewhere, deep down, she’s going to be strong enough to survive whatever happens.” Krista looked up at me with glassy eyes. “Right?”

  I spoke with the conviction I wanted so badly to feel. “Right. She always finds a way.”

  Krista hesitantly nodded as if she didn’t quite believe me but wanted to.

  “How about a breather?” Carson asked, rubbing Krista’s shoulders. I hadn’t consciously acknowledged his entrance because lately he and Krista seemed to exist almost as one person. I expected Carson to be wherever Krista was.

  After they left the room, I sat on the bed. I lifted Maryah’s hand and started massaging it. “Krista misses you.”

  Talking to her made me feel somewhat better. I kept rubbing her wrist and forearm. “I miss you too. All of you. New and old.”

  I lifted her arm, moving it in gentle circles, trying to loosen her shoulder joint. I worked her elbow and rotated her wrist. Even if she couldn’t do it on her own, her body needed to move. I pulled back the covers and exercised her feet and legs too.

  “Good idea.” Louise carried in two fresh pillows. “Keeps her blood circulating.”

  “Not one joint has cracked or popped,” I said. “I suspect Krista has already been exercising her.”

  “Carson suggested it yesterday.”

  I set Maryah’s leg down and pulled the covers over her again. “I never thought of doing it until now.”

  “You’ve had infinite worries on your mind.”

  “Still,” I grunted with chagrin. “I should have known what she needed.”

  “Nathan.” Louise’s voice softened but sounded stern at the same time. “Please don’t throw yourself a pity party right now. We’re all much to
o busy to attend. Be strong, mentally and emotionally. That’s what she needs from you.”

  She kissed her fingers then touched my chin. She shut the door behind her as she left the room.

  I stretched out beside Maryah, studying the curves and angles of her innocent face. “I’m so sorry,” I whispered. “I keep failing you over and over. I don’t know how to fix any of this.”

  SWEET NOTHINGS

  Maryah

  “How is she?” Dedrick asked Lexie, keeping his focus on me.

  I forced my mind to think about nothing but white noise, like static on a radio station.

  “She seems fine,” Lexie said.

  Dedrick’s beady eyes mentally probed me. “What’s she thinking?”

  “She’s not thinking anything.”

  He squinted until only two black slits framed the bridge of his bony nose. I wanted to sew his lids closed with his greasy hair so he could never look at me again. “Quite clever, aren’t you, darling?”

  I kept concentrating on my self-created white noise.

  He clasped his hands behind his back and strolled around the room like he was enjoying a sunny day at the park. “Rina, how are you today? Are you enjoying your time with Maryah?” She lowered her eyes and chewed on her fingers. “Yes, not much fun to play with when she has no body, hmm?”

  Rina still didn’t look up at him.

  Why didn’t Dedrick ever ask Lexie what Rina was thinking? He thought Rina couldn’t speak, but surely he’d want to intrude on her thoughts. He opened the glass cabinet again and pulled out a bottle and syringe. Rina hugged her knees to her chest.

  “No!” I shouted, rushing to position myself between him and her.

  Emotionless Lexie said, “Maryah is yelling ‘no.’”

  “No?” Dedrick filled the syringe with liquid. “Why not? It does her no harm. Her fear of needles is irrational. It only pricks for a moment.” He walked right through me. His energy passing through mine triggered my gag reflex. I turned to see Rina visibly shaking and Dedrick lifting her stained sleeve. “Shh, Rina, you’re making Maryah believe I’m hurting you. I’d never do such a thing.”

 
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