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Fighting for infinity, p.7
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       Fighting for Infinity, p.7

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 

  They had the same black hair, pale skin, petite frame. The woman even walked with the same slight hitch in her left side as Rina. She easily could have been her mother. Had Rina lied to me? Was this woman her mom? Or had Dedrick fabricated a story to make Rina think her mom was gone, but in reality she was right here taking care of Rina even while being mind-controlled by Dedrick? I wouldn’t put it past him.

  But then again, I barely knew Rina. Was she lying to me to help Dedrick?

  Rina lapped up the last of the spread with her bread crust while the woman flitted around the room trying to tidy up, but failing given the impossible conditions. She wore the same type of outfit as Rina and Lexie. Loose gray pants with the same type of shirt. Not one speck of color in Dedrick’s godforsaken world.

  Rina finished the last of her milk and wiped her mouth with her forearm. The woman tsked her then used another corner of the washcloth to dab her mouth and wipe her arm.

  “Come.” The woman pulled out the chair. “Reading time.”

  Rina grabbed the timeworn dictionary from the tray and sat down. “Which letter did we leave off at last time?”

  My eyes flew open wide. Rina spoke to her.

  I don’t know why I assumed I was the only one who knew Rina could talk, but hearing her speak to someone else, even, possibly, her own mother, shocked me. Judging from the woman’s snake eyes, she was under Dedrick’s control. What if she told him Rina’s secret?

  “We had just finished with L,” the woman said.

  “Good.” Rina thumbed through the dog-eared pages. “M words are my favorite.”

  “Yes, darling, I’m aware. Start with the first word.”

  “Ma,” Rina read out loud. “A female human parent. See mother.” Rina lifted her eyes from the page. “Maryah, this is Evelyn.”

  Was that an unconscious slip of revealing that Evelyn was her mother? Was Rina playing along with some script Dedrick had given her to fool me?

  Evelyn nodded in my direction. “Charmed.”

  “Can she hear me?” I asked Rina.

  Rina subtly shook her head. “Macabre.” Rina continued with the next word. “Extremely disturbing or repellent. See Dedrick.”

  Evelyn grinned, but it was empty and sort of sad. “It doesn’t say that.”

  “It should,” Rina said.

  Evelyn stood behind Rina, brushing her hair as Rina read the next word. “Machiavellian. Not guided by or showing a concern for what is right. See unprincipled.” Rina mumbled, “or Dedrick.”

  “Rina,” Evelyn scolded.

  “I can’t help it. Some definitions just suit him.”

  Evelyn delicately separated matted sections of Rina’s hair, making sure she didn’t yank Rina’s head as she tamed each one. “Next word please.”

  “Machinate. To engage in a secret plan to accomplish evil or unlawful ends. See—”

  “Don’t say Dedrick.” Evelyn playfully tugged on Rina’s hair.

  Rina slid back in her seat and pulled her legs in, planting her dirty bare feet on the chair and resting the dictionary against her thighs. “I’m skipping ahead to my favorites. Macrocosm. The whole body of things observed or assumed. See universe.” She tilted her head back and winked at Evelyn. “And your favorite. Magic. The power to control natural forces through supernatural means. See us.”

  “Shh. Remember the rules.” Evelyn finished detangling Rina’s last section of hair. “Your clothes are filthy. I’ll bring you a clean set tomorrow.”

  Rina turned in her chair to face Evelyn. “I have a favor to ask.”

  “Anything, darling.”

  “Tonight, keep Dedrick from coming here.”

  “I suspect that will be impossible. He’ll want to check on Maryah.”

  “After that. Keep him occupied for a few hours. No matter what, don’t let him come back here a second time.”

  Evelyn tensed. “That is asking a lot of me.”

  “I know. I’m sorry, but please.”

  Evelyn bowed her head as if thinking. She tightened the drawstring waist of her pants then replied, “Anything for you, but what are you up to?”

  “I can’t say. Not yet.”

  Evelyn licked her thumb then wiped a smudge of something from Rina’s chin. My own mother used to do that, and I always hated it. Judging from Rina’s scrunched up face, she hated it too. But now, I missed my mother so much that I’d happily let her spit-shine my face a dozen times a day if it meant she’d be alive again.

  “Be careful,” Evelyn warned. “You know how Dedrick gets.”

  “I’m always careful,” Rina assured her.

  Evelyn seemed a little too willing to grant Rina’s request. The whole interaction was a bit too Hallmark moment-ish considering they were both Dedrick’s prisoners.

  Mistrustful. See Rina and Evelyn.

  Manipulated. Antonym: Maryah.

  ∞

  Rina wouldn’t tell me anything about her plan. She barely spoke to me at all from the time Evelyn left until the time she returned much later with another tray. Rina’s dinner wasn’t much better than what I assumed was her breakfast earlier.

  Just like after breakfast, as soon as Evelyn left, Rina’s mouse friend scurried across the floor, and she scooped him up.

  “You and Evelyn look a lot alike.” I tested Rina’s story, watching her carefully for any indicators that she had lied to me. “So much alike that she could easily pass as your mom.”

  Rina’s face remained relaxed as she fed the mouse a few saved cracker crumbs. “Evelyn is pretty, so thank you for the compliment.”

  “You don’t see the resemblance?”

  “We both have black hair. We’ve both been defiled and treated like scum. We’re both pale because we never see the sun. If that’s what you mean, then sure, I see resemblances.”

  She didn’t rapidly blink, or fidget, or talk fast, no sign whatsoever that she had lied. Maybe it really was just the prisoner lifestyle that made them look so much alike. After thinking about it, River had the same dark and dejected look as Rina and Evelyn.

  Rina scratched the mouse’s head.

  I hoped Nathan was taking good care of Eightball while I was gone. I had to find a way back to my kindrily. I had already put them through so much grief and worry, and now this.

  “What’s wrong?” Rina asked me.

  “I miss Nathan. I miss all of my family. I keep messing up and ruining lives.” Or lives ended because of me. I swallowed down the never-ending guilt of being the reason my parents were killed.

  Rina cupped her mouse in her hands and hugged him to her chest. We were silent for a long time. She had her mouse, and I had no one.

  Dedrick didn’t visit us after dinner like Evelyn said he would. Even after the mouse scurried into a crack in the corner, Rina sat on her mattress, waiting for what felt like two more hours.

  The silence became unbearable. “Maybe he’s not coming.”

  “He’ll want to check on you.” Rina sneezed.

  “Bless you.”

  She wiped her nose on her wrist. “Why do I need to be blessed?”

  “I don’t know. It’s what you say after someone sneezes.”

  Rina’s forehead wrinkled. “Why do you say that?”

  “It’s not just me. It’s everyone.” I shrugged. “It’s good manners. Evelyn has never blessed you after you sneezed?”

  “When one of us sneezes we say, ‘Jupiter adsit.’”

  I’d never heard that one before. “What does that mean?”

  “We ask Jupiter to preserve the soul, so no one’s spirit can jump into your body during that brief moment between expelling your soul and breathing it back in.”

  I laughed. “That’s almost as bad as the one my dad told me. He said demons rush out of you when you sneeze and someone has to bless you before they crawl back in.”

  “Sounds like a different version of ours.” Rina rubbed her nose. “Too bad yours is wrong.”

  Neither theory was realistic, but who was I to argue
that her Jupiter saying was weirder than my “bless you” tradition. At least her version sounded more interesting than fighting snot demons.

  Again, I asked Rina what she was planning to do, but she wouldn’t tell me. She said if she couldn’t tell Evelyn she definitely couldn’t tell me.

  After another hour or so of waiting in silence, Rina stood. She walked over to the table and sat in the chair. “I don’t think he’s coming.”

  “Doesn’t seem like it.”

  Rina leaned forward, resting her head on top of her forearms. “I’m tired. I think I’ll take a nap.”

  A nap sounded wonderful, but I couldn’t even sleep without my body. I’d never been a prisoner before—at least not in this lifetime, or that I could remember from other lifetimes—but I assumed regular imprisonment would be much easier than soul imprisonment.

  “Enjoy your nap,” I told Rina. Her torso rose and fell as her steady breaths became slower. She murmured, “Jupiter adsit.”

  I quietly obsessed about her top secret plan.

  BODY SNATCHING

  Nathaniel

  “I’m terrified of what might be happening to her,” I admitted to Carson and Krista. “Tears fell from her eyes earlier.”

  “Are you serious?” Carson waved his hand. “Rhetorical question. Ignore me.”

  “Why would her eyes tear up?” Krista opened the curtains, allowing sunlight to spill into the bedroom. Beams of colored light bounced off the walls as the crystal hanging in the window swung side to side.

  “Maybe it’s just her body’s natural response.” Carson stretched his arms behind him. “Like how muscles jerk even while we’re asleep.”

  “No. She’s hurting. Emotionally.” I wanted to punch something. Not something—Dedrick. I wanted to rip him into pieces. I sat beside Maryah, watching her chest rise and fall as her body continued breathing without its soul. Her leg twitched so hard, it bounced the mattress.

  “See?” Carson presented his hand. “Case in point. Muscles jerk even though her soul isn’t here.”

  Maryah turned toward Krista and Carson. She cleared her throat, and my heart rebounded from the pit of worry where it had been struggling to beat. “Maryah! Thank god!”

  I threw my arms around her and pulled her close.

  “Oh, Pudding.” Krista hugged both of us. “We were so worried!”

  “Welcome home, Sparky,” Carson said.

  I pulled back to look at her, and my heart plummeted back into its empty pit. My hands tightened around her arms.

  Krista rubbed Maryah’s leg through the sheet. “Where were you all this time?”

  Maryah’s eyes floated in every direction until they landed on me. “How long has it been?”

  I let go of her and stood, slowly backing away.

  “Two days,” Krista told her. “Where did you go? What happened? Do you feel okay?”

  “Easy with all the questions,” Carson said. “Let her catch her breath. She’s probably tired and disoriented.”

  I was still backing away from the bed. I watched them as if it were taking place on a movie screen. I wished it were a movie, a terrible film I could stop and eject from existence.

  “Nathan?” Krista looked up at me. “What’s wrong?”

  “It’s not her,” I said. “That’s not Maryah.”

  “What?” Krista laughed. Carson pulled Krista to her feet, distancing them from whomever inhabited Maryah’s body.

  Krista, Carson, and I stood on either side of the bed, watching Maryah’s impostor. She pulled the sheet up over her chest, clutching it in her fists, not taking her attention off me.

  “Who are you?” I had no idea who or what we were up against.

  “I’m me,” she answered.

  “And whom are you referring to when you say ‘me?’”

  “I’m here to help.”

  “I’m going to ask you one more time, and I want a straight answer.” My fists balled. “Who are you?”

  Carson had moved Krista behind him. His arms were low at his sides, ready to protect her. I didn’t know what to do. We couldn’t threaten or hurt the uninvited guest because they were encased in Maryah’s body.

  “My name is Rina.”

  “Where is Maryah?” I asked.

  “She’s safe. I came to tell you not to worry.”

  “Not worry? You’re a stranger inside of my soul mate’s body. We haven’t heard from her in days. Worrying is an understatement.”

  She adjusted to sit more upright. “Maryah is fine.”

  “Well, Rina, if that’s your real name, you are here in the most invasive manner I can imagine, but you’re still possessing the body of someone I cherish, so I ask that you inhabit it respectfully and please, tell me if she feels weak.”

  The imposter looked down, holding Maryah’s hands out in front of her. “She feels much stronger than me.”

  “She should eat and drink something,” Krista told me.

  Not that I wanted to be hospitable to a body snatcher, but considering it was Maryah’s body, it needed to be taken care of. “Any special requests?”

  The stranger, Rina, eyed the room and everything in it. “What does Maryah like?”

  “Cereal,” I replied, “different kinds mixed together in one bowl.” Seeing Maryah’s body move as if she were in it, but knowing it wasn’t her, was extremely hard to process.

  Rina spoke in a voice that resembled Maryah’s but with a hint of an undetermined accent. “I’ve never had cereal.”

  Carson, Krista, and I glanced at each other.

  “Well then.” Krista’s voice shook. She was trying, and failing, to hide her consternation. “You should try it. I’ll be right back.”

  After Krista rushed out of the room, Rina blurted out, “She misses you.”

  I stiffened. “Where is she?”

  “A room with no doors or windows. Her spirit is trapped in a bubble.”

  “A bubble?”

  She nodded. “Dedrick keeps her locked in an energy bubble.”

  “I don’t understand what you mean.”

  “I don’t understand it either, but you asked where she is so I’m telling you.”

  “Can you see her?”

  “Yes.”

  “How?”

  “She’s a light form.”

  Like how Louise sees auras. Could this Rina person see auras too? “Is there a way to free her from the bubble?”

  “She’s trying to figure that out.”

  Maryah was astral traveling. That meant—as far as I knew—she couldn’t talk, but until Louise saw Dedrick’s aura, I also assumed a soul couldn’t be seen while traveling. Yet Rina claimed she was visible, so anything was possible. “Do you communicate with her?”

  “Yes.”

  Maryah was without her body which meant she had no actual voice. “You can hear her thoughts?”

  “Yes.”

  “So you’re a mind reader.”

  “No.”

  She had used Maryah’s ability to astral travel and take possession of her body. Perhaps she stole mind-reading from someone as well. “Do you steal other peoples’ powers?”

  “I borrow their power. I never take it away from them. They still have it.”

  “How is that possible?”

  She stroked Maryah’s hair. “You ask a lot of questions.”

  “You’re in Maryah’s body while she’s being held captive by the most evil man I’ve ever encountered.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “I’m entitled to ask as many questions as I want.”

  Maryah’s green eyes had been replaced with a dark blue that momentarily glimmered. “I like you.”

  “I’m not sure what to make of you.”

  “No one ever does.”

  “Understandably so.”

  She looked away. “I’m very thirsty.”

  I spoke my words deliberately slow so Carson would understand my intention. “Carson, walk to the kitchen and fetch our guest some water.”

  I didn’t want t
his stranger to know anything about our abilities. I especially didn’t want her in Maryah’s body, but it seemed I had no say in that matter. Carson backed out of the room. His footsteps faded down the hallway at a normal pace.

  “Where is he keeping her?” I asked. “The actual location.”

  “Dedrick has her trapped in my room.”

  My jaw clenched at the mention of his name. “So you work with him.”

  “Not exactly.”

  “What does that mean?”

  “I’ve been his prisoner since I was born.”

  I didn’t know whether or not to believe her. Anyone associated with Dedrick couldn’t be trusted. “How old are you?”

  “I’m not sure.” She answered every question quickly, an indication that she was telling the truth, but I still didn’t trust her.

  Carson returned holding two large glasses of water. He handed one to her, and she clutched it with both hands, gulping it down. When she finished, she wiped her mouth and peered into the empty glass. “Feels strange being in her body. It’s very different from mine.”

  Krista rushed in, sloshing milk on the floor from the overfilled cereal bowl. “Are you an astral traveler too?”

  “No,” Rina replied.

  “Then how is your soul here in Maryah’s body?” Carson was holding the second glass of water, but when Rina tried to take it, he held it out of her reach. “Answer the question first.”

  “I’m a conductor,” Rina explained. “I borrowed her power to travel here and tell you she’s okay and not to worry.”

  Carson glanced at me, and I nodded. He handed her the drink, and she gulped that one down faster than the first.

  “Where is your home?” I asked. “Where does Dedrick have you and Maryah trapped?”

  “I don’t know. I’ve never known.”

  “What do you mean?” Krista offered her the bowl of cereal, but Rina eyed it then scrunched her nose.

  “I’m kept in a room with no windows or doors. I never know when it’s day or night. I’ve never been anywhere except that room. Until now.”

 
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