These Broken Stars Page 67

I can’t think about why they’re showing her to me now, what purpose could be behind their torture. My voice is giving out, words jagged, slicing my throat. “Go.” I close my eyes. “You could have saved her. You could have warned her. You did this.”

When I open my eyes again, the vision is gone, and I’m alone in the dark.

I crawl over to the pack, pulling out the last of the blankets, and I roll myself in it to lie back down. I close my eyes, breathing out slowly, waiting for the trembling to stop.

In the morning my body’s stiff and sore from a night sleeping on hard stone, and I silently stretch out my cramped limbs.

I walk back to the clearing, keeping my gaze away from the blasted hole in the wall of the building. Keeping my gaze away from the blood soaked into the grass. I cross over to the shed where the fuel was stored, reaching past the paint tins for the shovel. I carry it back some distance from the mouth of the cave, and there I dig. The ground is sandy on top, the hole collapsing in on itself as the top crust keeps crumbling. Lower down the soil is darker, more densely packed. I set the edge of the shovel against it, then drive it down with my foot. It takes both hands to lever it back with my weight.

Three hours later, it’s deep enough.

I wash my hands and face in the stream before I go back to her. Sometimes, a day later, the body is still stiff. It’s mostly passed, though, and I lift her without trouble.

I climb down into the grave and lay her out carefully, wrapping her in a blanket. I crouch beside her, gazing down at her face, wishing I had words, or tears, or something to offer her. But this is beyond all of that.

I carefully lay the cloth across her face so the dirt won’t touch her. Then I rest my hands on the edge of the hole and hoist myself up.

I’ve never been to a funeral that wasn’t military, and that recitation doesn’t fit. I don’t know the words to any prayers. Eventually, thinking of Alec, feeling him beside me, I begin to scrape the dirt back into the grave, shutting my ears to the way it patters down onto the blanket.

There are flowers growing everywhere in the woods. I’d been planning, once we were into the building, to pick some of them and lay them all around our bed. A surprise for her when she woke.

I pick them in armfuls now, covering the low mound of dirt until not a glimpse of brown is visible. Now it looks no different from a patch of wildflowers growing in the forest. You could walk right by it, and never know it was there.

Except that I do. It’s my landmark, now. I’ll always know how far I am from this spot. From her.

I sleep, lying on one side of the blankets, as though there should be another body sharing them with me. I find that her scent clings to the pillow, and I bury my face in it at night.

I walk left of center along the path we wore through the trees, leaving room for her at my side.

I eat, breaking the ration bar in half automatically before I realize I have nobody to hand it to.

I go back to the mound of flowers, adding fresh ones, taking out those that die each day.

I can’t count the days.

I can’t think.

I can’t focus.

I can’t go into the building. I can’t leave.

I sleep again. I eat again.

I fall asleep each night with the cold metal barrel of the Gleidel against my throat.

I see her again as I duck out of the afternoon sunlight and into the cave, arms laden with another load of wood. She’s standing with her back to me, beside our bed—where her body lay for a night. This time there’s no false sunlight, no vision of my parents’ cottage. She’s wearing the same green dress she was wearing when we crashed, as ragged and ruined as it was when she finally traded it for clothes from the wreck. She always wears that dress, in my memory.

She turns her head, and I feel a sick rush. They’re doing it again. I’m not angry. Just tired and hurting. I don’t want this vision. It feels like they’re trying to force me to keep moving, trying to keep me from giving in. Don’t let her death be for nothing, they’re saying. But it is for nothing. I am nothing, without her.

“I told you to stop.” My voice is a hoarse growl, roughened with disuse. It’s been days since I’ve spoken. I don’t know how many. “I’m not doing anything for you.”

She jerks at the sounds of my voice, turning abruptly to face me. Her face is a pale smear in the darkness, but I hear her gasp, and the hitch of her breath. She doesn’t speak. They never speak, these visions. The voices only came to Lilac on the wind, disembodied, incomprehensible. I never heard them. “Please, don’t.” I don’t know if they can understand me when I speak, but maybe they’ll read the grief in my thoughts.

She lurches backward, stumbling over the pile of supplies and knocking the canteen over to clang against a rock. She clamps her hands over her ears, crying out as she backs up to press herself against the stone wall, her breathing harsh, audible over the echoes.

There’s something wrong. Something different. My mind is sluggish, struggling to understand what’s changed. The canteen. The noise. This vision is solid—it can touch things.

“How did you do that?” I’m asking them, but she’s the one that cringes.

I walk farther into the cave, slow and cautious.

She flinches at every footstep and presses herself back against the cave wall. She’s watching me like a trapped animal, gaze skittering away from me, then drawn back again—as though she can’t quite look at me, and can’t quite look away.

I want to close my eyes at the sight of her. I want to drink her in. “Please.” I’m not sure what I’m asking for.

I’m only a few feet away when she cries out like she’s in pain, lurching sideways and stumbling away from me. She trips over a stalagmite, crashing down onto her hands and knees—she scrambles up with a desperate haste, and I tear after her as she disappears through the cave’s entrance.

And then I see it, a thrill of shock running through me. A smear of blood where she squeezed through the narrow opening.

How could a vision be bleeding?

My tiredness falls away now as instinct sends adrenaline surging through my limbs, and I dodge through the trees after her as she runs along the bank of the stream. I don’t realize where she’s heading until we’re nearly there.

She only halts when she reaches the center of the clearing, stopping sharply at the bloodstained, flattened spot in the middle of it where Lilac died. There, she drops to her knees, chest heaving as she struggles for breath, one hand lifted to shield her eyes from the pale light of the sun.

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