Unhinged Page 78

Mom swallows. “Who is this?”

Sister One glances at the cocooned victim. “My sister’s humanling. His dreams keep her spirits’ discontent at bay. Surely Morpheus has told you how the cemetery works.”

Mom clenches her jaw. “Knowing how things work and seeing them in action are two entirely different things.”

Sister One stands taller, exposing the tips of her eight legs beneath her skirt. “Keep your eye on the prize, little Alison. If you’re to be queen, you must accept the way of our world. Some things cannot be changed without terrible consequences.”

Mom looks back at the teenage boy. “But he’s close to my age. Morpheus said when they get too old to dream, your sister poisons them and gives their bodies to the pixies.”

“Aye. The pixies use the bones for our stairways, and the flesh feeds the flower fae. Everything serves a purpose. Nothing is wasted.”

“Nothing but a human life.” Mom’s surprised by her own reaction: disdain and disgust. She thought she could accept the dark and gruesome rituals of this place, but her heart softens. “Let me have him. She’s going to dispose of him anyway. Let me take him back to the human realm and give him a chance to live.”

“Contrary that! I’m already to face the wrath of my sister for the smile I’m to steal for you. And you wish me to cross her further by taking her most prized pet? She treasures this humanling above all the hundreds of others she’s had. I’m not sure she plans to ever dispose of this one. She might use him until the day his heart stops and he’s a dreamless corpse. Sad, that. But it’s just the way of it.”

Mom straightens—determined. “How is this any different from what you’re already doing? You’re stealing for Morpheus, right?”

Sister One purses her lips. “Not for free! In exchange for something valuable. Hardest part of my job, tracking down stowaway souls. He knows it. I never wanted to cross no one no how, especially my sister, but for those souls …”

Mom holds her hand over her heart. “I can pay you. If you let me take the boy, I vow on my life-magic that when I come back to claim the crown, I’ll put all of my royal resources behind you. My guards will be at your disposal to track down delinquent souls anytime you catch wind of them. You’ll never be forced to make deals with anyone again.”

Before I can hear Sister One’s answer to Mom’s proposition, the scene stretches around me, then blurs as I’m dragged out of the memory and dropped back into my seat, surrounded by darkness. I barely have time to catch my breath before another memory flips on, bright colors smearing across the room to pull me inside.

My mom is in the Ivory Queen’s glass castle, next to the portal, waiting to step into the human realm. Morpheus stands beside her, carrying my dad over his shoulder. Dad floats in and out of consciousness. He’s dressed in a frilly white shirt with slits at the shoulders and a pair of black pants, too long by a couple of inches. His bare feet stick out of the hems, twitching.

Ivory faces them, regal and glistening like the crystals of ice on her glass walls. “You did the right thing by bringing her here, Morpheus. Your goodness shall be rewarded.”

He rolls his eyes. “That has yet to be seen.”

Ivory smiles affectionately at him. “I will personally assure that it is.”

He holds her glance long enough to make her blush before she turns to my mom.

“In order to protect the boy’s sanity and our realm,” Ivory explains, “I had to erase his memories. All nineteen years of his life, even from before he was captured by Sister Two, since we don’t exactly know when or how he stumbled in. When memories are ‘unmade’ by way of magic, the void left behind is unbearable to humans. So best he never knows he had them to begin with. Were he ever to see a netherling in true form, or even just glimpse their magic, it could make him realize he was missing something. And then a ripple effect would begin. Do as Morpheus says. Abandon him in a hospital and come back to claim your crown. Forget you ever saw him.”

My mom nods, but something is slowly changing in her heart. Something she’s not even aware of yet.

She and Morpheus step through the portal into her bedroom. He drops Dad on her bed, then starts back toward a tall, flat mirror hanging on the back of her door.

“Morpheus,” Mom says, sitting on edge of the bed, “I want to at least find his family. We can look at his memories. Go to the train …”

Morpheus glances over his shoulder at her, wings low. “You’ve given him a chance to live. That’s enough. It is more than any of us would’ve done.”

Mom pushes back a strand of Dad’s hair with a trembling hand. “But just to leave him alone? He’ll be so lost.”

Morpheus turns on his heel to face her, jewels flashing red. “We are out of time. We need to get you crowned before all hell breaks loose in the cemetery. By the end of the day Sister Two will realize the boy’s gone and buckle down her security. Then there will be no stealing Chessie’s smile or Queen Red. Wash your hands of the boy. Don’t make me regret helping you, Alison.”

“But that’s exactly what I did.” Mom’s voice speaks out of sync with what’s happening on-screen, and suddenly the lamp flips on beside me. The curtains fall to cover the screen, and I’m slammed back to reality, slumped in the chaise lounge.

I turn to see Mom standing by the wall next to the closed door. She’s barefoot, wearing my favorite polka-dot dress, and carrying her canvas tote on her shoulder. I have no idea when she came in or how long she’s been reliving the memories with me.

“I made him regret it,” she says again, “and now look what’s become of us all.”

She crumples to the floor in a puddle of purple satin and lime green netting, pretty legs curled beside her, and eyes filled with enough remorse to launch an ocean of tears.

I can’t contain the sobs clogging my chest. I jump up from the chaise and cross the room in four steps. Dropping next to Mom on the floor, my wings sweep out to one side of me. She opens her arms and I cling to her, clutching the slick fabric along her ribs, face pressed against her breasts and surrounded by her perfume.

“It’s okay, sweet girl,” she whispers and kisses my forehead, leaving behind a warm smudge. “It’s all going to be okay.”

I hug her tighter. I should be the one comforting her, but right now I’m that little five-year-old child watching my mommy leave for the asylum. “I thought it was because of me.” I choke on the words. “But you had yourself committed for Dad, too.”

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