That’s what I saw when I finally pried my lids open, my lashes stuck together with the glue of tiny snowflakes.
White. White. White.
Where was I?
I rolled over with a groan and felt an explosion of pain in my side. I looked down and as my vision began to right itself, I saw a rock jutting into my stomach, protruding from the cold, snow-blown ground like a weapon.
I eased onto my back, the chill seeping through my jacket. My bare fingers tingled as I ran them over my body. I felt intact, nothing bleeding or broken.
But how did that explain the rich, acidic smell of blood in the air?
I slowly sat up, surveying my surroundings.
I was sitting on the barren, rocky ground up the side of a mountain. Snow swirled in the air from all directions, some of it falling on the icy white patches on the earth, the rest blown away like angel dust.
Because of the infinite white, I could barely make out a forested valley below, and across from me, in the haze of snowfall, a few jagged peaks.
Beneath me the ground sloped off gently, alternating between sudden drop-offs. Vertigo swept through me and I dug my frozen fingers into the hard ground, suddenly afraid I’d roll off the side and fall to my death.
A soft rumbling came from my left. I turned, painfully, my side still smarting, and saw a slight overhang where snow fell off in gentle lumps. My heart sped up a few beats.
I let out the breath I was holding, watching it freeze and catch in the air before drifting away, and noticed a trace of red where the snow had just fallen.
My bones seized with chill.
I peered at the red spot, my eyes widening as it began to spread and bleed across the snow.
Glancing up at the overhang where the snow had come from, I saw another clump of it come sailing down, landing on the red with a poof.
It too had a spot of red in it that slowly spread like a stain on a paper towel. Curiosity getting the better of me, I carefully got to my feet and walked over to the patch of silky wetness. Hunched over, I tried to figure out why the snow was bleeding. I felt a drip on the back of my neck.
I reached back with my hand and when I took it away, it was slick with blood.
Did I even want to turn around?
I did, anyway.
Above me was a limp, lacerated arm, its torn and bloody fingers dangling over the edge of the overhang.
Claws. Teeth. Blood.
Tearing. Gnawing. Eating.
The images and sounds ripped through my head in a flash of smoky darkness.
Dex! I remembered Dex.
My chest collapsed in on itself as I tried to recall the last time I’d seen him.
Where was he?
What happened to him?
I eyed the arm above my head and felt the world drop away beneath my feet.
A hard nudge into the side of my stomach again.
I winced and grabbed it, expecting to find the sharp, snow-dusted rock but instead found a dainty hand and long fingers wrapped around mine.
My eyes flew open. Beside me, Ada poked my side, a quiet smile on her face.
We were in the back of my dad’s car. Of course we were.
My father, at the wheel, eyed me nervously in the rearview mirror. My mom sat beside him, looking out the passenger’s side window. Ada was next to me, stuck with the bitch seat, as the hulking douchecanoe, Maximus, hunched on her opposite side.
“Are you feeling OK?” Ada asked, keeping her voice low, even though everyone in the damn car could hear her. “You fell asleep there. You were drooling.”
I wiped at my mouth and at the puddle on my collar.
“Well, I’ve sort of had a long day.”
My eyes met my dad’s in the mirror again. He looked so much older than he did the other day. Was it possible to drive someone to an early grave?
“We’re almost home, pumpkin,” he said.
I nodded and felt eyes boring into the side of my head. Reluctantly, I looked past Ada and at Maximus, who was staring at me intently.
“What the hell are you looking at?” I sniped.
His expression didn’t change and he didn’t look away, just kept trying to read me with those green eyes of his.
This is all your fault, I projected at him, hoping he could hear it in some way. It kind of creeped me out that it looked like he nodded in return.
“Perry,” my dad warned, though his voice had lost the edge it normally had. I guess when your daughter is borderline psycho and may or may not have just been kidnapped along with your 15-year-old, it’s best to use the kid gloves.
I sighed and looked out the window at the darkening Portland cityscape. I thought about Dex and if he was OK. Jail. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, the idea of Dex in jail wasn’t all too surprising. He kind of seemed made for jail in some ways, but he was there on account of me. On account of my parents. On account of Maximus. The unfairness of it all boiled my blood and heated my face.
After Dex, Ada and I returned home from Idaho and the exorcism. all my fears came to a head right in my parents’ front yard.
Dex was hauled off by the cops on suspicion of kidnapping, which was totally bunk considering both Ada and I had willingly gone with him. At first, my loving Dr. Freedman thought I wasn’t in my right mind to give consent, so he convinced the police and my parents to take me to the hospital to get checked out. All I wanted to do was holler and fight and scream, but that probably would have only helped his case. I very reluctantly took Maximus’s advice to just go along with it. But I didn’t believe for a second that he’d have my back when he said he wouldn’t let anything happen to me.
Well, I guess he did keep his word because nothing did happen to me, though I won’t give him all the credit. The once-over at the hospital proved to everyone how coherent I was. Because, well, I was. The demons weren’t haunting me anymore. Abby was long gone. I left them all with Roman in those dusted Idaho hills. I’d be lying if I said I felt a hundred percent better. But that had nothing to do with ghosts or my mental state. I was just extremely tired and felt…off. Like a lot of extra energy was pooling around in my bones with nowhere to go. Two very contradictory feelings at once and it was scrambling things a bit in my head.
Ada also helped me by ruthlessly sticking to her story: that I had been nutso because I was sick and had a terrible fever. In a panic, she called Dex because he would know what to do and he took us to a medicine man who applied a bunch of herbs and shit during a healing session and voila! The fever broke, I was cured. No more crazy Perry.
I could tell that no one really wanted to believe that story, but they had no choice. Like the truth would have made any more sense—the truth is what would have gotten me in trouble. At least with this version, an external and mildly believable circumstance brought on the psychosis. Plus, it was hard to argue with it when I was sitting there in the examining room, forming complete sentences, wholly lucid, acting like myself.
And Maximus, well, he didn’t turn on me like I thought he would. He backed up Ada’s story and even interjected some observations such as, “I knew there was something physically wrong with her. I just wasn’t sure what, and hearing about Perry’s history, I jumped to the wrong conclusion.” A total lie, but one I appreciated. It didn’t mean I didn’t want to kick the ginger right in his freckled balls.
And so I left the hospital with a clean bill of health. Dr. Freedman seemed disappointed. It was like he wanted me to be sick. It didn’t help that I caught him pulling my mother aside and telling her to watch me very carefully. I had a feeling that he didn’t mean for today, or the next few days, or the next few weeks.
He meant for the rest of my life.
My thoughts drifted over to Pippa. My grandmother. It would take me a long time to come to terms with that, even though deep in my soul I knew we were related. Maybe in some ways, I always knew. Maybe I had seen her in my childhood. Maybe you could feel yourself in someone’s blood.
It broke my heart to learn what my mother had done to her. Though I wasn’t a parent, I still couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have your daughter put you away, to condemn you to a horrible life, to a certain lonely death. It made waves of nausea simmer in my belly.
I looked over at my mom, keeping my actions subtle. She was still staring out the window and so I couldn’t see her face. That was just as well. I didn’t think I could ever look her in the eyes again, knowing everything that I knew now. I wasn’t sure how I’d even survive in the house with her watching my every move for the rest of my life, waiting for me to screw up. I had no reason, really, to believe my mom would act the same way with me as she had with Pippa—my grandmother—but …
My mother always acted as if she was scared of me. I now understood why, to watch the signs of “mental illness” creeping up in your daughter, knowing what might lie ahead. But now, everything had changed. She was afraid of me and I was afraid of her.
“Afraid of her?” Ada asked.
I jumped in my seat and turned to see everyone in the car looking at Ada, including my mother. I quickly averted my eyes from hers to Ada’s questioning face.
“Did…I just say something out loud?” I asked, my heart tight. I hoped to God I wasn’t babbling on about my mother. That really wouldn’t have helped.
But while Ada said, “Yes,” everyone else in the car said, “No.”
Oh, great, now she was acting loony too.
She raised her brows at me and a flash of fear sparked in her eyes. I stared right back, willing her to not say anything else.
Finally, Maximus laughed awkwardly. “I reckon it’s been a long day for everyone, myself included.”
My mom smiled gratefully at him, then shot her daughters a suspicious look, and turned back in her seat.
No one said anything for the rest of the ride.
A knock at my door roused me out of my dreamless sleep.
“Come in,” I groaned, hoping it was someone I wanted to see, which nowadays meant Ada.
It was. She poked her blonde head in my room and squinted at the darkness.
“Sorry to wake you,” she said as she came in and gently closed the door behind her. She flicked on the lights.
“Arrrrrgh,” I moaned, throwing my arm over my eyes. “Thanks a lot. What time is it?”
“It’s almost ten, lazybones,” she said. I felt her come over and sit on the side of my bed.
“In the morning?”
“No, at night.”
“Then why are you waking me up? Can’t a girl sleep?” I mumbled. “I survived an exorcism, you know.”
“That’s what I came here to talk to you about,” she said lowering her voice.
I took my arm off my face and blinked at her. She looked as serious as anything.
“OK, what is it?” I whispered. An exorcism was the last thing we wanted to get caught talking about. I was so paranoid now, and apparently so was she.
“I…I don’t know what happened to you when you were…gone,” she said. She looked very small and scared. “But it hurt. It was…so terrifying. I didn’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Oh, Ada,” I told her, sitting up. “I’m fine. I came back.”
“Did you?” she asked. “You seem different.”