- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
“Seriously, what happened? I thought you were going to visit your mom. Hey.” Jen touches my arm. “Did something go wrong?”
Several tendrils of dark pink hair have fallen from her upswept do. The strands coil like pink flames over her black tube dress, bringing back what they did to Alison’s hair at the asylum.
“She lost it,” I blurt. “Attacked me.”
All other details clog my throat: how they shaved her hair so she wouldn’t try to choke herself again—though now I suspect it was preparation for her shock treatments. How they kept wiping slobber from the sides of her mouth and put her into adult diapers, because when you’re heavily sedated, you don’t have control of your faculties. And, worst of all, how they took her to the padded cell in a wheelchair, hunched and strapped in a straitjacket like a withered old woman. That’s why I couldn’t follow and say good-bye. I’d already seen enough.
“Oh, Al.” Jen’s voice is low and soft. She pulls me in for a hug. The citrusy, bubblegum scent of her shampoo comforts me. “I’ll do my own makeup and stuff here. Go home.”
“I can’t.” I tug her closer. “I don’t want to be around things that remind me of her. Not yet.”
“But you shouldn’t be alone.”
The doorbell chirps and three ladies wander inside. Jen and I step back.
“I won’t be alone,” I answer. “Not during business hours.”
Jen tilts her head, sizing me up. “Look, I can stay for another half hour. Go get yourself together. I’ll take care of the customers.”
She flicks a tangle of my hair. “Sure and absolute. Can’t leave you in charge of the place looking like a circus clown reject. What if a hot guy comes in?”
I attempt a smile.
“Take my makeup bag,” she says. “I have some more hair extensions you can use.”
I pick through my layaway stuff in the storeroom, grabbing a pair of platform boots along with the clothes, then duck into the tiny bathroom off to the left. The vent above the sink blows frosted air over my skin. A fluorescent glow from the tiny light fixture distorts my reflection. I brush out my tangles and clip on Jenara’s purple dreadlocks.
Most of my makeup has been cried and rained off, leaving smudge tracks on my face. Now all I see is Alison. But if I look deeper, it’s me wearing a straitjacket and an eel turban, grimacing like the Cheshire Cat as I sip pot roast from a teacup.
How long do I have before the curse kicks in for real?
I lean against the sink, untie Jeb’s bandana, and breathe him in. Before this afternoon, all I wanted was to go to London to hang with him and earn college credits. Amazing, the difference a few hours can make.
If I don’t find a way to England to look for the rabbit hole, Alison’s brain gets fried and I end up where she is in a few years. There’s no way I can get enough money for airfare before Monday. Not to mention a passport.
Gritting my teeth, I peel away my torn leggings and bandage. The split in my knee is almost healed, and there’s not even a scab. I’m too exhausted and frazzled to guess why. I turn on the cold water and scrub at the physical reminders of what happened, drying my skin and underclothes with the hand dryer.
Once I line my eyes with strokes of dark green and wriggle into some purple, green, and red plaid tights, I top it off with a miniskirt over fluffy red petticoats. A green cap-sleeve tee layered under a red bustier—along with a pair of purple fingerless gloves—and I’m ready to face the customers.
I cast a final glance at the mirror. Something moves behind my image, shimmery and black like the feathered wings in the prop pile. Alison’s warped warning skitters through me. “He’ll come for you. He’ll step through your dreams. Or the looking glass . . . stay away from the glass.” Yelping, I whip around.
Nothing’s there but my shadow. The room seems to shrink, small and off balance, as if I’m stuck inside a box tumbling down a hill. My stomach bounces.
I burst into the dimly lit storeroom and almost trip over the laces of my shin-high boots in a panicked race to get back to Jen.
She rushes to meet me. “Jeez.” She leads me to the bar stool behind the checkout counter. “You look like your head’s going to pop. Have you had anything to eat?”
“Ice cream soup,” I mumble, relieved the customers already left and didn’t see my entrance. I’m shaking all over.
Jen feels my forehead. “You don’t feel warm. Maybe your blood sugar’s screwy. I’m getting you something from the bistro.”
“Don’t leave.” I grab her arm.
“Why not? I’ll be right back.”
Realizing how crazy I sound, I change tactics. “The window display. We have to . . .” The explanation stalls on my tongue as I notice she’s already finished it. “Oh.”
“Yeah, oh.” Jen eases my fingers off her sleeve. “I relit the candles, too. Why’d you blow them out? You need all the relaxing vibes you can get. I’m going to bring you a croissant and a drink—something decaffeinated. Never seen you this wired.” She’s across the room before I can respond.
The door swings shut behind her, leaving me alone with her window display. A blue wig and a clingy black angel costume hug Window Waif ’s form. The giant wings are strapped into place around the mannequin’s shoulders with a matching leather harness. Black sequins glitter on the feathers, and smoke pours out of the miniature fog machine, snaking around the macabre scene.
Somehow, those wings and the smoke belong together.
I think of my moth friend. Why was Alison chasing it with the shears? Just because it lured me outside in a storm? It had to be something deeper, some kind of ongoing animosity, but I can’t quite grasp it.
Reluctantly, I turn to face the poster. His dark eyes look straight at me, piercing. “You know, don’t you?” I whisper. “You have the answers.”
Silence . . .
I snort—a hollow, lonely sound. I’m officially losing it. Whispering bugs and flowers are bad enough. Expecting a poster to answer? That makes me asylum-worthy.
Trembling, I move to the computer on the other side of the register and find the site from earlier. I scroll past everything I’ve already seen, trying to find a connection to Alison’s ravings.