Unhinged Page 42

Poor Dad. I can’t believe how dishonest she’s been with him—the man she vowed to love and stay with forever. And I’m becoming just like her, lying to the guy I love. Which is something I never wanted to do again …

Mom’s footsteps drag heavily across the living room; then the back door slams. Instead of coming after me, she went to her garden to commiserate with her chatty plants. It’s fitting. They know her better than I ever did.

I sag against the wall outside my bedroom, willing myself to stop trembling before I face Morpheus. Chest tight and eyes stinging, I peek through the door.

There are a few puddles around the aquarium’s base. The eels seem okay, gliding through bubbles as if nothing happened.

On my bed, Rabid White is wrapped in a bath towel. The only part of the bunny-size netherling that shows is his bald head: pink doelike eyes set within wrinkled, albino skin. Fuzzy white antlers rise behind his humanoid ears.

He’s so out of place here. He needs to go back. Problem is, with my cheval broken, I don’t have a mirror big enough to send him into London and through the rabbit hole. The netherling world once again has me under its thumb with all of its one-way tickets. The portals from the Red and White kingdoms only lead out of Wonderland. The rabbit hole only leads in. I just wish there was some way around the rules.

I also wish I could be as carefree as Morpheus.

He sits Indian style in front of Rabid in an oddly endearing scene, like one friend comforting another. He’s tucked a pair of earbuds into Rabid’s humanoid ears. The creature’s ancient face fills with wonder as he bobs in time with the music.

A wave of affection washes over me, for Rabid and Chessie, and all the netherlings in Wonderland—followed quickly by anger at Morpheus. He let me believe he used my mom’s mind to approach me so young because he was desperate to be free of his own curse. I made peace with that, empathized on some level. One of the things he and I have in common is our fear of being constricted or imprisoned in any way—mind, body, or spirit.

Now I suspect he wanted revenge on Mom for backing out of their deal. That’s something I can’t forgive.

Morpheus offers Rabid something shiny and silver to play with. It’s Jen’s thimble. She must’ve missed it in her hurry to pack and leave. Rabid tries to eat it, but Morpheus stops him.

“Warm it with your eyes,” he instructs.

Rabid sharpens his glowing irises until they radiate red heat. Under his concentration, the thimble turns a soft orange.

Morpheus places the tiny inverted cup on one of the four prongs of Rabid’s left antler. The orange glow seeps down his fuzzy horn and evaporates every drop of water in its path, as if the heat is traveling through him.

“Now, we only need seven more to warm and dry you,” Morpheus says, then laughs as Rabid clacks his bony hands together in applause.

I don’t know what to think, seeing my dark tormentor caring for one of his own—gentle and teasing. He’s like that with me sometimes, too.

I fight the tears building at the inner line of my lashes. I’m utterly alone and confused, but a queen doesn’t let her vulnerabilities show.

As I step in, I clear my throat.

Morpheus looks up. His true likeness fades beneath Finley’s masquerade, although an echo of his jewels remain. They blink a hazy lilac-gray, the same hue of my boots. It’s the color of bewilderment, as if he’s sympathizing with my turmoil. As if he didn’t have a hand in it all.

“What did your mum tell you about the mosaics?” he asks.

“Why is he here?” I sidestep his question, pointing at Rabid. I’m not sure I can trust Morpheus with anything my mom said, or my mistrust in her motives.

Before Morpheus can respond, Rabid notices me. His pink eyes grow to the size of half-dollars.

“Majesty, ever and always yours!” The netherling sheds the towel and knocks the thimble off his antler. The scent of fishy water and dusty bones hits my nose.

Rabid scoots to the edge of the mattress, plops to the floor, and bows. The earbuds pop out and tangle in his antlers. Morpheus catches the tails of the creature’s wet waistcoat to stop him falling face-first into the glass-speckled carpet.

“Penitent be I.” Rabid laces his skeletal fingers together in a prayerful gesture. The white, foamy saliva that earned him his name dots his lips.

“Why are you penitent?” I ask, cautious.

His glowing gaze drags across the shards sparkling on the floor. “Broke your gateway I did not.”

I frown. “I know. My mom did that.”

The creature bows his head. “Betrayed my kingdom … so says Queen Grenadine.” He offers a red piece of ribbon tied in a bow.

Grenadine was born an incurable amnesiac. The bows she wears on her toes and fingers are enchanted with the ability to remind her of important things she wouldn’t otherwise remember.

A whisper greets me as I press the velvety ribbon to my ear. “Queen Red lives and seeks to destroy that which betrayed her.”

The fingerprint upon my heart, the one Red left as a warning last summer, flares—a sharp jolt that pushes the air from my lungs. I drop the ribbon and it flitters away. I meet Morpheus’s gaze. He lifts an eyebrow, making the scar on Finley’s temple curl.

“What does this have to do with you?” I ask Rabid, struggling to keep the quaver from my voice.

“Imprison me you will, Queen Grenadine said.” He lifts his hands toward me, bones grinding as he waits to be handcuffed. “Chains for you I’ll wear, Queen Alyssa. Contrite I’ll be.” He falls to his cadaverous knees.

I wince when he lands hard on the broken glass but check myself. Bones aren’t susceptible to superficial cuts.

Morpheus removes his hat and stands, towering over Rabid.

“What do you know about this?” I ask him.

A shadow of wings distorts the air behind him, like a wave of summer heat radiating off an asphalt road. “He helped Red find a body to inhabit. He’s the reason her spirit survived.”

I snap my attention back to my kneeling subject. “Why would you do that? You swore your allegiance to me.”

Rabid shudders, and his bones sound like tree branches clacking together. “Other obligations tainted good intentions …” Groaning, he keeps his head low. His antlers block his face.

“As you know, Red saved his life once,” Morpheus clarifies, dropping his hat onto his head. He runs a finger along the moths draping the brim. “Rabid had to repay his debt to her. Only she could set him free.”

Prev Next