Page 29

 A.G. Howard

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After shoving the backpack into the small space behind my seat, Morpheus crouches next to me. His soles scrape the asphalt as he holds the door frame above his head. “Are you seriously saying that half of your artwork has gone missing?”
I sigh and turn on the radio, watching a display screen the size of an iPad blink to life. “Oh, please. We both know you were at the hospital, spying on everyone.”
An alternative rock song thunders through the speakers. The rhythm is skittish and fierce, echoing my mood. I punch a button to lower the volume. “You waited for Mr. Mason to go inside with the first set of mosaics. Then you took the others from his car. Who else could break into the locks without triggering the alarm?”
“Blast it!” Morpheus snarls. Air gusts across me as he shoves away from the car and stands. I watch him rush around to the passenger side until my gaze catches on the faux raccoon tail hanging over the rearview mirror; the stripes flicker from black and red to orange and gray as it swings gently in the breeze coming through the open doors. The tail looks vaguely familiar. I start to reach for it, but Morpheus drops his long body into the passenger seat and activates the doors to shut. Then he takes off his hat and tosses his sunglasses onto the dashboard.
I don’t even have a chance to react before he presses my fingers around the key and forces me to start the car. The motor roars to life with a purr through my calves and thighs, a giant beast ready to perform at my beck and call.
I stare at Morpheus, confused.
“We’re paying your mum a visit,” he says. “Now drive.”
I’m not going to argue with that. I want to talk to my mom about the mosaics, too. Although I’m not sure it should be with Morpheus around. Even if she’s less fragile than she looks, I don’t know if she can handle seeing him.
I exit the parking lot and take the main street that runs through a residential neighborhood. In about a half mile, it will open up to a suburban housing development surrounded by winding dirt roads and a railroad track. It’s the long way to my duplex community.
This route will buy me extra time to grill Morpheus about my magical artwork and why it’s so important to him and Wonderland’s decay.
Air-conditioning blasts through the vents and flutters my hair. I adjust the rearview mirror to reflect the passenger seat so I can keep an eye on Morpheus. The color-changing raccoon tail swings in and out of my peripheral vision as I drive.
I stop at a four-way intersection with no one else around and turn all my attention to my passenger. “So you’re trying to tell me you have nothing to do with my missing mosaics.”
He doesn’t answer. Instead, he looks straight ahead and holds his hat on his lap, muscles tensed. He’s definitely hiding something. Still staring at him, I start to ease off the brake. He puts a hand on my knee to stall me and gestures in front of the car.
A kid on a tricycle pedals through the crosswalk. My heartbeat shoots into overdrive and a jolt of alarm crashes over me, making my arms heavy on the steering wheel. I would’ve hit that little boy if Morpheus hadn’t intervened. I could’ve killed him.
“I don’t get it,” I whisper, my pulse slowing to its normal pace as the boy pedals away safely on the sidewalk.
“Get what, luv?” Morpheus asks, setting his inky gaze on me.
“You could’ve let me plow over that little boy. You don’t care anything about him. He’s just a worthless human soul. Like Finley.”
He schools his expression to an indifferent scowl. “I didn’t wish to muck up my car.”
So stunned by his callousness, I momentarily forget I’m at a four-way stop. A Chevy honks from the stop sign opposite us, and I wave the driver on. “You really have no compassion, do you?” I frown at Morpheus’s reflection.
He looks back at me in the mirror and returns my frown. His palm is still on my knee, heavy and warm through my leggings.
“You can let go now,” I press.
He tightens the clasp of his fingertips before withdrawing his hand. “Pay attention. Driving is a privilege.”
“Whatevs, Grandma M.” I rub my leg to erase the echo of his touch. “I’ve been behind the wheel a lot longer than you. And I’m not dead yet.”
I roll through the stop sign, headed toward the housing development, a plan taking form in my mind. The knowledge that Morpheus loves his car more than a human life has just given me my upper hand.
A sign appears: LUXURY AND AFFORDABILITY: AUTUMN VINTAGE MANORS. Several skeletal roofs jab the sky on the other side of a deserted construction site. A train whistle bellows in the distance … a sad, lonely sound.
“This isn’t the way to your house.” Morpheus’s observation lifts my mouth to a smirk.
“Yeah? Well, I’ve decided to play a little game,” I say, baiting him. “You always told me games were fun.” Taking the first dirt road, I pick up speed.
Morpheus clicks his seat belt into place and grips the dash, knuckles bulging and white. “I don’t much fancy this one.” The jewels under his eyes flash faintly—a deep turquoise, the color of turmoil.
I press the gas harder. The bar on the speedometer snaps from twenty-three m.p.h. to sixty-seven in under a minute. Dust swirls all around. I’ve been down this road with Jeb on his motorcycle countless times. There are rarely any cops here. It’s deserted, and a straight shoot for several miles until you hit the railroad tracks. Perfect terrain for driving like a maniac. I give the gas another punch and shoot the speedometer to eighty.
“Bloody hell, Alyssa!” Morpheus grips the console with one hand and the door with another. “Watch out!”
We hit a pothole and the car bounces. My stomach flips as we spin on the dirt. My dad taught me to drive on ice, and that training kicks in. I turn into the swerve. In a matter of seconds I’m in control of the car again.
I try not to smirk at the sound of Morpheus’s gasps for air.
My foot gets heavier, and we clip another pothole. The front bumper dips, and we slash through tall weeds. Thistles scrape the car’s underside like fingernails as we jostle along the uneven surface.
Morpheus yelps.
Once we’re back on the road, I catch a glimpse of him in the rearview. His beloved hat is crushed against his chest between his fists. As much as he’s worried about dents and dings, why hasn’t he made me pull over and taken the keys?