Unhinged Page 94

For now, my mom’s still in danger.

Heartsick, I creep toward the skate bowl’s edge, unable to see her for all the toys clambering inside. Plucking up the cue she dropped in her fall, I poke at the restless souls. They snarl and part, revealing Mom. Her dress is torn and her mask askew, but she’s conscious. She shoves aside the toys clawing at her and reaches up to catch the stick. Her weight tugs my shoulder, and I grit my teeth against the ripping sensation in my back.

An instant before her hands grip the skate bowl’s edge, she’s caught in a funnel of wailing wraiths swirling around us, sending bloodcurdling screeches and harsh, cold wind over me.

“Stop!” I scream, arms covering my head for protection. “She belongs here!” They ignore me and touch down, funneling into the bowl. I force myself to stand against the agonizing pain.

“Take me, too!” I plead.

The twisting, wailing cloud sucks up everything but me: the glowing tulgey trees, the undead toys holding on to Mom, Sister Two and her spinnerets. I limp toward the mirrored wall as the cyclone filters through the portal, leaving only oily streaks behind.

Hoping to dive inside the glass before the portal closes, I throw myself into the mirror, but it’s too late. I slam the glass just as it’s closing, and the mirror cracks, slicing me, cold and unyielding. All I can do is bleed and watch the nightmare I conjured play out through the broken reflections.

The wraiths siphon down into Wonderland with their plunder, and the rabbit hole implodes upon itself, as if the impact of the entry was too violent. Nothing remains but overturned dirt and a broken sundial fountain.

No way in. Ever again.

Other than my nurse and me, the courtyard is deserted. I’m seated at one of the black cast-iron bistro tables on a cement courtyard that has been stamped to look like cobblestone.

The legs of the furniture are drilled into the ground in case an out-of-control patient should try to throw a chair in a fit of rage. A black and red polka-dotted parasol sprouts up from the center of the table like a giant mushroom and shades half of my face. Silver teacups and saucers glisten atop placements. Two settings: one for me and one for Dad.

I’m here because I’ve lost my head. My mind is unhinged. That’s what the doctors say.

Dad believes them. Why wouldn’t he? The police have proof. The vandalized state of Underland is just like what he saw at home in my room, at Butterfly Threads, and in the school gymnasium. There’s blood that matches Mom’s DNA on the tablecloth from the buffet table, along with my blood on Jeb’s shirt that they found in my backpack in the garage.

Jeb and Mom have been missing for a month. I’m not so much a suspect as a victim. Of a cult, maybe. Or a gang. It could be sacrificial, or brainwashed violence. But I must’ve had help. After all, how could one small girl wreak so much havoc on her own?

They can’t get me to talk about it. When they ask, I become rabid, like a wild animal—or a netherling unleashed.

When the firemen first found me among the debris at Underland, I was broken—beyond the crippled wing I’d already absorbed back into my skin, beyond the gashes in my skin from the mirror’s glass. I couldn’t talk at all. I could only scream and cry.

Dad refused to let the asylum workers sedate me, and I love him for that. Since I couldn’t be drugged into submission, they brought me to a padded room to ensure I wouldn’t hurt myself. I hunkered in the corner for a week, limp and exhausted, surrounded by nothing but endless white. White like the tulgey trees that haunted my nightmares. I tormented myself with the mosaics and how each one played out that fated night.

There were never three fighting queens. There were only two: Red and me—the two halves of myself I struggled so hard to keep separate. Red was eaten alive by some vile creature—the tulgey—leaving my netherling side standing amid a storm of magic and chaos, and my human side wrapped up in something white, like web—my nemesis, the straitjacket.

Now those darkest nights have passed. The two sides of me are united as one. I’m letting the magic out again, privately, subtly, deliberately, to soothe the hollow ache in my heart. My right wing is still damaged, but by stretching it each day, it’s piecing itself back together, bit by bit.

Claustrophobia no longer has any power over me. I’ve learned to manipulate the straitjacket’s Velcro closures. Rip them open with just a thought. Once my arms are free, I cover the surveillance camera over the door with the jacket, release my wings, and dance around the pillowed floor, half-naked, imagining I’m back in Wonderland, in Sister One’s cushioned cottage, eating sugar cookies and playing chess with an egg-shaped man named Humphrey. By the time the asylum employees realize my camera isn’t working, I’ve already absorbed my wings and am bound by the Velcro and cotton again, slumped in the corner, silent and unresponsive.

I sneak out of my room at night, when all is still and silent. And I watch the humans sleeping, study their vulnerabilities, and savor the fact that I will never be helpless like them again.

I am mad, and I embrace it. Madness is part of my heritage. The part that led me to Wonderland and earned me the crown. The part that will lead me to face Red one final time, until only one of us is left.

Until then, I’m a queen with no way back to my kingdom, which bleeds for me. My two faithful and beloved knights, Jeb and Morpheus, are trapped in AnyElsewhere—the looking-glass world, the land of the exiled and the gruesome. And my mom is alone in Wonderland, at the mercy of Sister Two. That’s unacceptable. I didn’t get her back just to lose her again.

The rabbit hole has collapsed, and my key is melded to a nugget of worthless metal. But I have another key—a living key—that can open the way into AnyElsewhere through the mirrors of this world. And now I have the tickets to trade for it.

Last night I crept into Mom’s old room after lockdown, longing to see it while it was empty between patients.

In the shadows, a soft, strange glow radiated from behind the picture of geraniums on the wall, detectable only to someone who’d learned to find light in the darkness.

The same picture hangs in every room, but the flowers on this one glimmered—neon green, orange, and pink petals. Following a hunch, I moved the frame aside to find the painting had been rubbed to paper-thinness behind the petals. Even more mysterious, there was a fist-size hole dug into the plaster wall, filled with soil and flourishing ultraviolet fungi.

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