Unhinged Page 93

She screeches as one of her poison-tipped fingernails gets stuck in the wood. I ditch the stick and run, heart slamming with every slippery footstep.

No one can see me through the waving white tulgey trees—Red, the guys, or Mom—but I see them. Jeb and Morpheus have landed and are rounding up the toys they marked—the ones that got by me and Mom. Morpheus uses blue magic to walk the zombies like puppets toward Jeb, who then swings a golf club, driving them into a net they’ve propped open. Leave it to guys to make a game out of a life-and-death situation. They’re almost to the arcade’s door—and Red.

Mom’s in the distance, scooping up toys from the skate bowl, as oblivious as the guys. I start to lift off so I can get to her, but Sister Two’s scissors hack into my right wing.

A fiery agony shoots from my shoulder blade to my spine. My knees fold under, slamming me to the wet cement. I attempt a scream … to warn the others … but the pain gores deep and sucks the air from my lungs, locking my voice box.

Sister Two scutters over, eight feet tapping in morbid synchrony across me. My wing is in tatters. Jeweled pieces fall around me like snow at midnight, reflecting brilliant white under the black lights.

“I told ye, that day ye trespassed on me hallowed ground, that I would make confetti of ye. Be glad I’m stopping at this.” She stabs my wing with the cue, then drops it next to me as I curl up in agony. “Since ye gathered my runaway souls and brought Red back to my keep, I’ve decided to let ye live. Yer mortal dreamer and yer mother … that’s all I need for restitution. Ye may consider yer debts paid.”

I struggle to move. No. Please don’t take them. My chest swells with the plea, voice trapped inside, banging around like a caged bird.

She sends a web into the air and lifts away, obscured and lethal in the darkness. She flashes in and out of my vision, so high she’s virtually impossible to spot.

Red’s wicked cackle booms through the cavelike expanse, and I wrench my neck to check out the arcade door. Her floral form is taller than Morpheus now. The toys must’ve helped her escape my binds. She uses her snaky arms to propel herself along, lifting her pot and swinging it, reminding me of an orangutan. One of her extra limbs slinks out to catch Jeb. Morpheus encases Red in his blue magic as if in hopes of controlling her like he did the undead toys, but she’s too powerful, and she captures him, as well.

I cry out, sound finally ripping from my throat.

Resolved to help, I wrestle against the agonizing spasms in my back and wing and almost stand but drop down to my stomach again as a prickly hot rush pierces through my vertebrae. Is this how it felt for all those bugs I used to stick with pins?

I whimper—a sorry excuse for a queen, for a daughter, for a girlfriend and a friend. Icy hot spasms travel from my torn wing to every nerve center, shuddering through me in a shock wave. I shiver, my muscles jerking. Water squishes all around me, making me even colder.

My mind numbs. I’m being sucked into unconsciousness, like when the mud swallowed me days ago in my dream. I remember Morpheus’s voice as I was being pulled down. How he told me to find a way out, that I wasn’t alone. And when I reached out to the bugs, I was rescued.

When we arrived at Underland, the insects promised their loyalty and their aid. Call us, they said. So that’s what I do now … I reach for them in my mind, beg them to reawaken the wraiths, because that’s the only way to salvage the human realm.

There’s a whisper of affirmation, barely audible under the loud music, as if bug scouts have been waiting inside Underland for my signal all along. Relief floods me. The ants will fix it. The wraiths will come and take everything back that belongs in Wonderland.

A bitter realization hits. They’ll capture Morpheus, too. He’ll be swept into Wonderland alongside Red. He’ll still be in danger.

“Oh, no,” I mumble and drag myself to a crawling position, shutting out the pain.

High overhead, Sister Two swings stealthily toward Mom’s hovering form.

“Mom!” I yell, but the spidery gardener shoves her off balance before Mom sees her.

Mom plummets toward the pile of haunted toys in the skate bowl, her dress a beautiful cascade of luminous pink against her purplish black silhouette. The crazed toys descend on her.

“Get off of her!” I scream.

A cacophony of wretched, wailing screams drifts from the dance floor, louder than my voice, louder than the static now playing over the intercom. Through the white trees, a portal has opened in one of the mirrors on the wall, and it glows against the darkness. Black oily sludge oozes from the rabbit hole, seeping into our realm. In a blink, they split into phantoms, siphoning into the air like smoke.

They race over me and sniff, their wails splintering through my bones, shaking my wings. They leave their oily marks behind as I cry out and push forward, toward Mom piled under the undead toys. I can’t let the wraiths think she’s one of them. But Jeb and Morpheus need my help, too.

I make the mistake of looking toward the arcade. Red still has the guys wrapped within her leafy arms as Sister Two faces her down. Red uses her extra vines to drag herself toward the tulgey wood, and Sister Two skitters after them—a spider chasing a flower, just like in my mosaic. I gasp, realizing before it happens what Red’s planning to do. Just as Sister Two casts out a net of web to catch Jeb, her prized soul, Red dives into a tulgey tree’s yawning mouth, taking Jeb and Morpheus with her.

They’re gone.

I drop to my stomach, propped on my elbows, slammed with disbelief. Fighting back tears, I stare and wait. “Please don’t come out again … please don’t,” I mumble, unable to fathom a world where Morpheus and Jeb are twisted and mutated like the looking-glass rejects.

Seconds pass by as long as hours. I clench my eyes closed, fighting against looking. On the inside of my lids I see their faces looming, nightmarishly deformed.

I struggle to breathe.

Driven by the screeches of the wraiths, I open my eyes and exhale. The tree’s mouth has stayed closed. Jeb, Morpheus, and Red are nowhere to be seen. But dread nips at the heels of my relief. Both of them have been accepted at the gate, which means they’re trapped in AnyElsewhere along with thousands of Wonderland criminals.

The wraiths dip and rise overhead, the air so thick with them it’s like a swarm of giant locusts. I can’t undo the horror of Jeb and Mopheus’s fate. I resolve to help them later, promising myself there’s a way—somehow.

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