Unhinged Page 33

Morpheus doesn’t answer, just stares at the buckets. “You know, those aren’t nearly as comfortable as they look,” he says with a sour frown on his face.

He’s referring to the night he spent inside one as a moth a year ago, but Jen can’t possibly know that.

She snickers. “Really? Did the bugs tell you that? You talk to them?”

“They undoubtedly told Alyssa,” he answers, “but she chose not to listen.”

Jen laughs.

My face burns as several bugs hidden throughout the garage chime in to scold me:

We told her, all right…

She never listens. Even now, we’re still trying to tell her…

The flowers, Alyssa. You don’t want them to win any more than we do.

You are a queen … stop them.

I thought the insects and flowers were on the same team. Together, they have served as my connection to Wonderland for years. Now they’re fighting with each other?

It must have something to do with Red’s rampage.

Jen edges by and steps through the garage entrance into the living room. Morpheus tips his hat in a maddening gesture, then lets me go through the door first.

It’s a relief to shut out the bugs, but it’s short-lived when I notice the living room is empty. Musty dampness blasts from the wall unit air conditioner. The wood paneling makes the room appear small and dark. Clean towels and rags wait to be folded on Dad’s favorite chair—a ragged corduroy recliner with daisy appliqués, where my mom used to hide her Wonderland treasures. Those have been gone for a while now, all but the Lewis Carroll books in my bedroom.

“Mom?” I drop my backpack on the floor and peer into the kitchen. The scent of chocolate chip cookies drifts from cooling racks on the counter.

“Wonder where she is,” I say absently, but my guests have wandered to the back hallway, where my bug mosaics decorate the wall.

Dad hung them up after they won some ribbons in the county fair. He refuses to take them down now, no matter how many times Mom and I beg. He’s sentimental in the worst way, and we can’t explain our aversion to the artwork, so he always wins.

“Told you she was talented,” Jen says, adjusting the tote straps on her shoulder.

Morpheus nods in silence.

Jen gravitates to her favorite piece: Winter’s Heartbeat. Baby’s breath and silvery glass beads form the image of a tree. Dried winterberries dot the end of each branch so it looks like they're bleeding, and shiny black crickets form the background.

Morpheus taps the berries gently, as if counting them. “Looks like something from a glorious dream.” He glances over his shoulder at me. There’s pride and nostalgia in his voice.

That very tree is in Wonderland, studded with diamond bark and dripping rubies from its branches. Morpheus took me there in a dream when we were both children. I crafted the image years later, as a way to free the subconscious memory.

All my mosaics represent Wonderland landscapes and suppressed moments with Morpheus. No doubt it feeds his ego to know that he inspires my art. Or haunts it.

Haunts is a better word …

“Okay. C’mon, Al.” Jen heads to my bedroom. “Prom’s tomorrow. This dress isn’t gonna fix itself.”

Before following her through my door, I stick my head into my parents’ room. Mom’s not there or in the master bathroom. It’s weird. Her perfume lingers as though she was here minutes ago. She’s always home after I get out of school. She doesn’t drive, so someone would’ve had to pick her up.

Or worse, someone forced her to leave.

I signal to Morpheus. He traces a fingertip just above the blue butterflies of Murderess Moonlight, careful not to touch them, completely absorbed in his study until I clear my throat.

He looks up. “Did you need something, luv?”

I glance over my shoulder into my room. Jen opens her tote and lays out measuring tape, sewing chalk, a thimble, and a box of straight pins on my bed. When I turn back to Morpheus, he’s already moved on to the last bug mosaic.

“Red hasn’t been here,” he says before I can even voice my concern. “Everything is much too tidy. You know how chaos flourishes in her wake. Besides, she wishes to see into your mind. Had she found your house, these masterpieces would be gone.”

This allays my fears momentarily. But I still can’t bring myself to leave him alone. “Morpheus,” I whisper.

He glances at me again.

“Don’t mess anything up out here. Promise.”

He frowns, as if offended by the suggestion. “I vow it. Keep your friend distracted, and I’ll look around. Perhaps your mum left a note.”

Not without some hesitation, I leave him to explore and step into my room, closing the door for privacy. Sunlight streams through my slanted blinds, revealing dust motes in the air. Everything’s in its place: my cheval mirror in the corner, Jeb’s paintings on the walls, my eels skimming in their softly humming aquarium. Yet the hair on my neck won’t lie down. Mom’s perfume is stronger here than anywhere else in the house. It’s almost like she’s standing in front of me, but I can’t see her.

I shiver.

“Yeah, that was my reaction, too.” Jen grins as she slides the dress from its plastic sleeve. “It turned out even better than the one in the movie, right?” She hugs the dress to her torso.

The gown is exactly as I envisioned it, and I let out an admiring sigh.

When Jen and I were brainstorming our “fairy-tale” costumes for prom, there was one thing I knew: I was not going to wear a princess pageant gown or some sequined, skintight Tinker Bell number.

My mind kept returning to a dress from a cheesy horror movie that Jeb, Corbin, Jenara, and I watched called Zombie Brides in Vegas. The gown was delicate and backless with a fitted bodice and flowing skirt—elegantly tattered and stained with bluish gray mildew from the grave. It appealed to me in ways I couldn’t explain.

As my accomplice in all things morbid and beautiful, Jen insisted on making a replica. Using some images we found online as examples, she drew several sketches, then gave a copy to our boss at the thrift store. Persephone looked for similar wedding gowns at estate sales each time she went shopping for inventory and finally found one for twenty bucks: strapless, white, satiny, sequined, and pearled … a paragon of vintage charm. It even had a long, sweeping train. Best of all, it was only one size bigger than what I wear.

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