Into the Nightmare (part 2)
Her wrist. One of them tightening. The rest loosening.
Aren't you done with me? Isn't it over?
She felt the cold, the sharpness as she was pulled free of the water. And she saw light, glaring at first, then coalescing into the sun – yellow and red, on a real-world horizon. And the vine was Nick, pulling her by her wrist, and then by her waist, dragging her out of the water. She caught and gulped breaths.
“It's all right,” he pulled her up against him. “It's all right, it's changed again.”
Yes. Yes. She was looking at the swimming pool the way it should be – unbroken, reflecting the sunset, a few leaves floating in it, wire fences around. And if it hadn't changed, and if you hadn't got here.... “They had me. I was dead.”
He pulled her tighter. “Not yet.”
“I would have been. We've got to end this.” She looked sideways to see that the still had his bag. Which meant he still had the petrol can.
“It might not even work.”
“Well we have to-”
“What if we can't?”
Tasha was his sister. Something stubborn settled in his eyes. “This isn't her fault.”
“I didn't say it was. I just said-”
He pulled back from her. Not angrily, not coldly – just trying to look her over. He flinched away a little bit from what he saw. “You don't look so good.”
“Yeah. Not so much.”
“How many times did they get you?”
“Let me see.”
“What does it matter?”
But he was wasting time anyway, looking over injuries he didn't know how to do anything about. Her shoulder was giving off a deep, razor ache; it seemed to burrow down into the bone, hot and swollen, flaring out, twice as big as her shoulder, lopsided, broken.
“Might be infected... poisoned or something,” Nick murmured.
Karen's head flopped back. She wanted to scream at him.
“I'm going to cut it.”
“Get the poison out maybe.”
He was probably right. Karen wrapped her fingers around a ladder at the pool's edge. She told herself she was ready, but the pain went through her like laser rays, it was sharper and brighter than she thought possible, and she felt her consciousness peeling away from her, felt her head spinning, and was dizzily aware of Nick's shoulder when she slumped against it. Waves of black and red and white became a brief, agonising world.
“It's done,” his voice sounded metallic, unreal.
Karen's vision was saturated grey. Trying to move made her head spin. “You shit.”
“That fucking hurt.”
“And your blood, it was black and red, the black parts were thicker, they were clumpy too. You're bleeding tar.”
She turned and stared. Her eyes took a few seconds to focus on him.
“I don't know what to do,” he said.
She was ready to lie down and be done with it, she really was. Too bloody tired, and I've done my best. But that wasn't quite true was it? She was still alive, wasn't she? While she could breath she could keep fighting a little bit longer. She closed her eyes for a moment, digging down, trying to cobble together a last shred of courage or caring. She spoke as firmly as a shaking voice allowed: “Let's go, then.”
Go then. She couldn't decide if he knew what that meant or not, if he pretended, if he pretended to himself. He still called out for Tasha, as the sun was dragged into the horizon - bright red; as the street lights all winked on in unison.
They were headed into town, more or less. Into the bright lights and warm bars, amongst the rambling drunks, amongst their tuneless singing and the smell of spilt beer, whiskey. Karen found it harder to walk than she wanted to admit, harder to keep up with Nick. But she wouldn't ask him to slow down, she wouldn't draw attention to how she could barely move her arm – knife shifted quietly into the left hand; it would just have to do.
He kept calling out for Tasha.
“Stop. We need to think. We need to look properly.” And keep going south.
“I don't know where else she'd go.”
“No. Me neither.”
She led them across town, letting Nick call out for his sister. She kept her eyes open as well. I had her right with me. I had her. And those vines had been everywhere. So, what chance? But she looked in every direction, she called out alongside Nick.
And then when she heard her own name she froze. Here. Now. Amongst the city lights and the city nightlife. It was worldstopping. And she turned slowly, heart racing. Coming face to face with no more than a friend, no more than Stella Martin from three blocks down the road.
“What, did I scare you?” She was laughingly, mildly, drunk.
“Yeah. Sorry. Nick's lost his sister.”
“What? Out here? Now?”
“Yes. Have you see her?”
“I... No. Haven't.”
“Okay.” She almost turned to go. She almost did. “Stella. Something bad's happening.”
“Hey, she'll be fine. She's a smart kid.”
“No. It's not... listen: nothing's like what it looks like it is. They're like vines, or wires or something. They came out of... I'm not sure, not exactly...” - she cast a quick glance at Nick - “... but the point is that they're taking over. You can't see them yet, but you will. And then they'll be choking everything.”
“What, some sort of alien invasion?”
“I know. But do I look like this is a joke? Do I even look drunk? These things are going to be everywhere soon.”
Stella's face registered very little. She said, “Well, what should we to do about it?”
Yeah. What? She tried to see if Stella was laughing behind her eyes, but she just couldn't. She was
her utterly unreadable self. And probably going to be killed. And does she believe me? Can she tell how serious I am? “Go home,” - just like she'd said to the boys in the park - “Go home, stay inside, grab something sharp; grab your folks, I guess.”
“It's a perfect night.”
“It won't be. Trust me.”
You couldn't tell with Stella. Maybe she was going to go home, barricade herself in, get the kitchen knives out of the drawer. Maybe she was going to do all that. Or she'd go skipping off into town, half-forgetting what that loopy Karen Duncan had been babbling about.
“Tasha!” Nick was calling.
The sky was changing again.
“No. Oh, no.” She wasn't ready.
Nick looked up. His mouth, his eyes widened.
“Maybe she went back there.”
“I don't know why.”
“You look awful, you know.
“Yeah, well, it's in my blood now, isn't it?”
“So we have to go.”
A block ahead, and there were people gathered. Nick was already making a beeline for it. She wanted to grab him and shout at him – there's no time – but she could already hear him answering her: it might be Tasha.
Well, it won't be.
And if it was, then it was going to be the worst, and she'd have to hold him together, or leave him.
There were a knot of people gathered around the corner of Yarrow and Westlake. Mostly young and drunk, but there something in the middle of them that had sobered most of them up. And there was screaming coming from beneath the huddle of heads and shoulders. Something almost hysterical – a weeping, bubbling calling of a name, something three-syllabled, unintelligible.
Nick pushed through. Karen followed in his wake.
The girl was about twenty, all dressed up in her glittery dress, her heels, her silver chains. Crumpled now at the foot of some brick and glass steps. She'd been slashed across the face – left eye slit, the top of her nose, her cheek; another slicing through her abdomin, leaving a knotty train of blood; another having neatly torn her throat.
Ken. Exactly Ken again.
Karen wanted to drop to her knees and vomit.
Another girl, next to the dead one. Her hands pressed over her mouth, tears running over layered fingers; wailing that name into her own flesh: three syllables, unintelligible.
“It's not her fault! She can't help what she dreams!”
“It's breaking through though isn't it?”
“It's going to change.”
Now. The same blanket of darkness – near purple darkness, thick like toffee – the same swirling, the same stinging sensation in the air. The buildings melting down like the trees did, and the ground sodden with dead vines - still jerking, still trembling against the road. And the darkness falling so quickly. She reached for Nick's hand before she could lose him.
There was sound out there this time, there were muffled voices, and the stumbling footfalls. There was panic nearby.
It's breaking through.
I won't do it if you won't. If you can't leave her here...
But Nick tugged her arm now, dragging her away down the hill.