These Broken Stars Page 71

She shakes her head no. In the fluorescent light she looks even paler than she does by daylight. “It’s like something heard you.”

The light flickers, dropping us back into darkness for the space of a heartbeat and then creeping back to life again. I turn, searching again for the switch—but she’s found it first. She stands to one side of the hallway, staring at the switch as I cross to her side.

“It’s off,” she whispers, glancing at me wide-eyed in the dim, wavering light.

“But how…”

She suddenly straightens, staring upward at the light. I know that look—it means Lilac’s thought of something. But this isn’t Lilac. It’s a copy. Not real.

“If you can hear us,” she says slowly, “blink the light three times.”

On command the light cuts out once, twice—we wait, silent. I’m holding my breath. Then the lights click out a third time, and the bottom drops out of my stomach.

“Once for yes, twice for no.” I swallow, my mouth dry. “Are you trying to hurt us?”

The lights flicker twice. No.

“Warn us?”

A brief pause, then three flickers. Is that a maybe?

“Communicate something else?”


“Where are you? Why won’t you come out and talk to us?” I don’t trust anyone who refuses to show themselves.

The lights remain even—there’s no answer to that question. I lift both hands to scrub at my face. “Are you able to come and talk to us?”


I look over, catching Lilac’s eye. She looks back at me, face drained of all color. Then she takes over, her voice quieter than mine, echoing down the corridor.

“Are you what’s been sending us visions? Leading us here?”


“Did you bring the flower back?”

Pause. Yes. No.

Flower? What flower? I want to ask, but Lilac’s riveted, her eyes on the lights, scanning them for signs of flickering.

“I don’t understand,” Lilac’s saying. “You brought it back…but didn’t? Not completely?”

Yes. “Are you even—” She shakes her head, tries a different way. “Are you capable of showing yourselves? Do you have a physical form?”

There’s a long pause, and then the lights flicker twice. No.

Her voice drops to a whisper. “Are you ghosts?”


She takes a slow, wavering breath. “Are you the ones that brought me back?”

The lights flicker once. Then we’re plunged into utter darkness.

I hear her gasp. “No! Wait—come back! I have questions—what am I? Why did you bring me back?” She hits the switch on the wall and the lights come on for real, steady and cold. The switch clicks as she flips it on and off frantically. I can see her face as if flickering in a strobe light. “Please—come back!”

Eventually I tug her away from the switch. She’s so distraught she doesn’t even notice that I’m touching her for a few moments. Then she comes to life and jerks away, shoulders hunched.

“What were you talking about? What flower?”

She straightens. “Your pack—is your journal in there?”

“Yes, but—”

She reaches for it, sliding it off my shoulders and upending it, sending supplies and belongings everywhere. The case with my family’s photo goes clattering across the floor along with the ration bars and the canteen—but it’s the journal she reaches for.

“The flower from the plains—I put it here, in these pages.” She flips through the pages, but when she gets to the end she freezes. There’s no flower there.

She starts riffling frantically through the pages, over and over, searching. “It was here, I know it was here.” She’s afraid, her voice starting to shake.

“You left that flower by the river,” I say carefully. She doesn’t remember, and how could she? She’s not Lilac. “It wilted and died, and you left it behind.”

“No,” she gasps. Her sudden distress pulls at my heart—if only I could understand the significance of this. “They brought it back. While you were sick, at the wreck, they brought it back, re-created it like the canteen. An exact copy. They did it to keep me going, to remind me how much I—” She chokes, closing her eyes. “I never told you. But I put it in here to keep it safe, and it’s gone.”

This time when I reach for the journal she lets me take it from her limp grasp, her eyes fixed somewhere beyond me, her body starting to shake. I flip through the pages but see no pressed flower there. She’s mistaken, maybe given a false memory by the beings that created her. But my stomach twists uneasily, instinct fighting against my mind’s attempt to keep her at arm’s length. She remembered that I was sick, that I had this journal. For all I know, the real Lilac did find that flower, did slip it into my journal. Her fear is so real.

Something catches my eye, and my hands freeze. I flip a few pages back. There, hard to see against the backdrop of a poem I wrote on Avon—the faintest of stained impressions. It could almost be the outline of a flower.

In her distress, she forgets her fear of my touch and leans forward, one hand curling around my sleeve, urgent. My heart seizes and suddenly I can’t breathe. The gesture is so familiar I can’t bear it.

She takes the journal again, slow this time, tipping it up on end. A fine rain of dust patters down against our arms, but I’m not looking at the dust, our arms, or even the journal. I’m looking at her face. The way her every emotion is clear, the way her lips quiver, the way her eyelashes shadow her gaze.

“They re-created it, but didn’t,” she whispers. “The things they make are only temporary.”

Clarity flashes like a torrent of ice water. Maybe fear kept me from seeing it, or grief—maybe I had to mourn before I could understand what was right in front of me. I don’t know how it’s possible, or why it’s happened.

But this is my Lilac. And I refuse to lose her again.

We sit there on the floor of the corridor, sharing a ration bar and drinking from the canteen. Lilac isn’t the only one who needs the break. My thoughts are churning so fast I can’t make sense of anything. All I know is that this is her, my Lilac, and I can’t live without her. We inspect the canteen, the only other thing we know the whispers have re-created—aside from Lilac. But it seems just as solid, just as real, as it was the day we found it. The flower is a fluke. It served its purpose and now it’s gone, not worth sustaining anymore.

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