On the day Cheyenne disappeared, two out-of-the-ordinary things happened. I got a flat tire, and I asked Beth Woodall for help with trig. At least, that’s what I told the police.
Of course, that morning, I didn’t know she was missing. I kept texting her for a ride, and when she didn’t answer, I had to walk, which made me late. I pretty much stayed mad at her for the rest of the day because she ditched without me. I wasn’t worried until after my last class, when Mrs. L texted. She needed a fill-in babysitter because Cheyenne didn’t show. It was unusual for her to miss work. She moved in with Billy six months ago and paid her bills by babysitting and cleaning houses after school and on weekends. With all that time spent in other people’s homes, she had plenty of everybody’s dirt under her fingernails. And, she spread it liberally my way. I was pretty careful about the information, but knowing people’s secrets, especially adults’ secrets, put me at a definite advantage. Anyway, she needed the money more than most teens.
Maddie was sitting on the porch steps waiting for me. She is so darn cute! Her hair is all brown and long and curly, and she has this little round face that always makes me just want to hug her and make sure she’s safe.
“I am so glad you could come on such short notice.” Mrs. L rushed past me to the car. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Come see my bunnies,” Maddie said, tugging at my arm.
Mrs. L didn’t get back until after eleven. Since we live in a safe neighborhood, I didn’t ask for a ride. I walked about a block and a half when I heard this shushing sound behind me, kind of like an animal walking through leaves. I ignored it at first; a dog or a cat would either overtake me or veer off on the trail of some interesting smell. The noise followed me across the street. Not one house had a light in the window. Elderly people live on this block, and they all go to bed early. Turning around to see what was back there scared me. Any change of pace might trigger an attack.
I pulled out my phone, turned on the mirror app. The angle wasn’t right, so I moved it until it reflected the sidewalk behind me. I froze. The thing got larger and larger as it dragged toward me. A skinny arm reached toward my leg. That’s when I started running. My terrified face looked up under my index finger as it frantically moving over the smooth cell screen. I couldn’t get it off the mirror app. The phone slipped out of my hand and clattered on the concrete. I hesitated, bent down to pick it up. The shuffle sounded close, the beat of its movements steadily increasing. I realized grabbing it would forfeit my thin advantage. I ran.
I tried to scream but no sound came out. I wouldn’t make it. The thing was too fast. I could hear it shuffling faster and faster to match my reckless pace. I could see my house now. I wanted so much to be safe inside. Only a few more yards. A short, an impossible distance. The front door seemed to move further away the more I ran. And the thing almost had me.
My feet stumbled on the porch steps. I found my voice and let out a scream choked with desperation. Mom opened the door.
“Kelsey, what’s. . .”
I shoved her inside, pulled the door shut behind me, and threw the deadbolt in place. Without stopping, I ran to the back door.
Dad walked into the kitchen. “What’s going on?”
I grabbed his arms and shook him; he had to answer me, “Where is Sadie?”
I took the steps two at a time to Sadie’s room and turned on the light. I paused long enough to make sure she was still breathing, then I ran to the window and locked it. I checked under her bed and inside her closet.
“What is wrong with you?” Mom flipped off the light and pulled me into the hall.
“Something’s out there,” I said.
“What’s out there?” Dad asked.
“I don’t know.”
“I didn’t see anything,” Mom said.
“Lock the windows,” I pleaded.
They did the downstairs while I did the upstairs. I did my room last, wrapped a blanket around myself, sat on the bed, and shook. Mom and Dad came in a few minutes later.
Mom put an arm around me. “Are you alright?”
“Something chased me.” My hands were ice, and my teeth were chattering.
“Do you know where Cheyenne is?” Dad sat down in the desk chair.
“No, but something. . .”
“We know,” Dad interrupted. “Cheyenne is missing.”
“What do you mean?”
“No one’s seen or heard from her since she left her babysitting job this morning.”
“She probably just went for a drive,” I said.
“Her car’s still parked in front of the house. Billy said it wouldn’t start,” Mom said.
“Maybe that thing got her.”
“What was it, exactly?” Dad asked.
“I don’t know,” I pulled the blanket closer. They wouldn’t believe me if I told them.
“Why didn’t you dial 9-1-1?”
“Once I saw it, I just freaked and ran.”
“If you know where Cheyenne is, you need to tell us.”
I watched Mom’s hands picking the pills clinging to the blanket. Cheyenne wouldn’t just take off.
“I can’t think of one place she would go.”
Mrs. L called Mom early in the morning to see if I could take over the before and after school babysitting. As I retraced the previous night’s path to her house, I carried a can of hairspray, just in case. With my luck, the thing would be wearing goggles. The sidewalk looked different in the morning, and I wondered if I‘d just let my imagination take over. I was disappointed that I couldn’t find my phone.
After school, as I walked to babysit, I planned: play with Maddie, put whatever the Nanny pre-made for supper in the oven, have my first tutoring session with Beth. I’m not sure how long he’d been walking just behind me before I noticed. This time, I swung around, hairspray at the ready.
“Hey.” He lifted up his hands and took a couple steps back.
I let out a breath and put down the hairspray. “You scared me.”
“Right back at ya.” He grinned. “What were you planning to do, give me a mortifying hairdo and embarrass me to death?”
“I think you’ve got that one covered.”
He was the kind of guy I don’t normally find attractive. Long hair, so black it had to have been dyed, hung in swathes around his head. Through the bangs, I could just see dark eyes made darker by thick black eyeliner painted around the lids. Miniature silver rings perforated his nose and lip. A large plug hollowed out his left earlobe. Black clothes and skinny jeans made his slender body appear even skinnier than it probably was. He grinned, and I melted.
“I haven’t seen you walk this way before.” He adjusted his stride to match mine.
“I usually have a car.”
“’Rents get mad?”
I stopped. “Do you know me?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re Student Council President, on the dance squad. You don’t exactly fade into a crowd.”
I wondered what he wanted. We didn’t talk again until we got to Maddie’s.
“This where you live?” he asked.
“This where I work,” I teased.
Maddie got up from her sidewalk chalk.
“See ya.” He did a kind-of salute and sauntered away.
The next day, when looked around school for him. I caught a few of glimpses. Before the first warning bell, he balanced on a knee by a locker talking to Gimpy Trish. He passed me in the hall a couple of times, but there’re so many kids, he didn’t see me. I spotted him sitting in the far corner of the lunch room. He blended in with the other kids at his table. I’d probably looked at him a million times but never really seen him. Once, he glanced up from his sandwich and tilted his head at me. I looked away.
After school, I kind of meandered in the yard, pretending to talk to friends, really waiting for him. I messed around as long as I could and then started toward my job. After about a block, he caught up with me. His voice in my ear made me jump. “Still no car?”
We walked a little before he asked, “What kind of music you like?”
“Guess.” I teased.
As he considered, I tried to figure out what exactly attracted me about him. I decided it was the way he held himself: steady, as if he took the world in stride and didn’t worry about much.
“You look like an easy-listening kind of girl.”
“Oh, please,” I said.
He snorted, “Name one alternative band.”
“I’ll name five,” I said. “Bat for Lashes; MsMr; Echo and the Bunnymen; TheWhite Stripes; Marina and the Diamonds; and Lana Del Rey.”
“That’s six,” he said. “And, I don’t believe you.”
“I’d prove you it, as Maddie says, but I don’t have my phone.”
“Nail kill that too?”
I shoved him a little, “No.”
He shoved me back. When I slid sideways, his hand caught mine and pulled me to balance. His grip felt good: firm and protective. He let go before I did.
Beth was sitting with Maddie on the front porch. Maddie came running to meet me and grabbed my jeans with her little fingers. He walked off without saying anything.
“Who was that?” Beth asked.
“Some guy from school. I thought you weren’t coming until four-thirty.”
“Thought I’d come early.”
“I’ve got to get her a snack and play with her first, or she won’t leave us alone.”
“I’ll just watch T.V. ‘til you’re ready.”
An hour later, with Maddie safely engrossed in the computer in her room, Beth and I sat at the kitchen table while she explained how to find the area of a square inscribed in a circle with x diameter.
“You heard from Cheyenne?” Beth asked.
“I think that serial killer got her.”
“What serial killer?” My mind was on the impossibility of ever passing trig.
“You know, the one that’s been taking people.”
“Don’t you watch the news?” Beth was clearly exasperated by my lack of interest in current events. “It started about six months ago. The police are waiting for him to make a mistake.”
When I thought about all the stuff Cheyenne had told me, my chest felt heavy. Until now, I hadn’t been that worried about her. She probably just took off to think. But, what if she’d accidentally hit a button on the Griffon’s computer when she found out about their little side business. Or what if she hadn’t put what she found in the Taylor’s closet back exactly where and how she found it.
I shut my notebook to indicate I was done. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I don’t know your name,” I said the next afternoon on our walk to Maddie’s.
“Interesting. Family name?”
“IDK where they came up with it,” he said.
“I don’t know,” he clarified.
“I know what it means. Nobody says, ‘IDK.’”
“I heard what you did for Trish.”
“That happened last year. You’re just now catching up?” I didn’t miss that he changed the subject.
“It was nice of you.”
“Nice had nothing to do with it.”
“You let her sit at your table.”
I stopped walking. “After I made that stand, I can’t exactly tell her she can’t sit with me, can I?”
He started walking again. The silence gave me time to think about what I did. Before school, Gimpy Trish always sits at the lockers just inside the door. Last year, a group of boys stood around, asking her to homecoming and mock-fighting over who she’d pick. She didn’t know they were making fun of her. Her face beamed at the prospect of having a date.
I don’t know why, but I got so mad. I walked right in the middle of them, said, “Hey, Trish, how’s it going?” and gave her a knuckle bump. She told me how she would have a date to homecoming.
I said, “Don’t go with any of these guys, they’re losers.”
“They are?” she asked.
“Yep, you’d be better off going alone, and so would I.”
“You guys are losers,” she told them.
After that, I gave her a knuckle bump every morning in the hall. I was surprised when other kids started doing it. Then, she sat with me at lunch. When she eats, she spits little food particles and chews with her mouth open. I get a little nauseous. My friends don’t like it, but they tolerate her because I do. I think the lunch ladies ran interference, because after the first week, they only let her sit with me once in a while.
“I wouldn’t let her sit at my table.” Harper brought me back to the present.
I snorted. “She wouldn’t ‘want’ to sit at your table.”
“I don’t think you know me well enough to insult me like that.” His voice was solemn, but he gave me that stomach twisting grin again. My face got hot; and I got embarrassed which made skin even redder. I walked a little ahead of him so he couldn’t see how much I liked him.
When we got to the house, Maddie wasn’t on the porch. He seemed reluctant to leave.
“What would happen if you didn’t go in?”
I laughed. “Mrs. L would make sure I never got another babysitting job.”
“There’s this festival,” he started.
“Can’t. Promised I’d stay late.”
“Just, be careful. This isn’t that far from downtown, and you know how people get.” He jerked his head to toss the hair from his eyes. Their beautiful, soft brown showed concern.
“It’s safe here,” I said.
He bent toward me. His lips were so close to mine that I could feel his breath touch my skin. I wondered if his tongue was pierced.
Just then, Maddie came crashing through the door. “Hey, Kelsey. The Nanny wants to leave.”
Maddie and I sat on the screened in porch after dark waiting for the Fall Festival Fireworks Extravaganza.
“Can I put this lipstick on you?” she asked.
I bent down while she slathered a wobbly layer on my upper lip and chin. I would be glad when she learned to color in the lines.
“Look.” She held up a mirror.
“Where’d you get that?” It wasn’t a toy. A beveled design surrounded the reflective surface; the unframed edges were sharp.
“Mommy gave me it,” she said.
“I don’t think you should have that.” I tried to take it from her.
“No, Mommy gave me it.” Her chubby little hands tightened until I was afraid she’d cut herself.
Bang, Bang, Bang, a shadowy figure slammed its fist on the screen wall. Maddie screeched and dropped the mirror which shattered into tiny shards. I picked her up and ran into the living room. Without putting her down, I locked the door to the porch.
I put her on the couch. “Stay here.”
After I was sure all the windows and doors were locked, I sat on the couch and held her. I was too afraid to turn on the television or do anything that might create enough noise to block the sounds of an intruder. We were still there when Mrs. L got home a few hours later.
When I got back to her house early next morning, I wondered if I should just pack some clothes and move in. I felt braver in the daylight; last night’s intruder was probably some drunk that thought scaring us would be fun. Maddie and I sat on the picnic table in the back yard and colored.
A movement caused me to look up. Harper was standing in front of the neighbor’s bushes at the edge of the lot. I waved.
“He knows he can’t come in our yard,” Maddie said without looking up from her page.
She shrugged, “Mommy fixed it this morning.”
I walked over. “Hey, come color with us.”
He moved toward me, then stopped. “Can’t.”
I grabbed his arm and pulled. I swear, his body jerked back like he hit some kind of invisible wall.
“I told you, I can’t.” He glared at me.
“This is silly, of course you can,” I pulled again.
“Let go,” he growled. He twisted out of my grasp and stalked off.
I started after him, then stopped. I couldn’t leave Maddie.
I didn’t think I would see him again, at least not alone. Dad got my tire fixed. I wanted to pretend it was still flat, but that wouldn’t be honest. I’d messed up one other relationship by pretending things were one way when they were another, and I didn’t want to do that again. Besides, I knew from experience that if he wanted to be with me, he’d find a way. If he didn’t, he wasn’t worth the effort, no matter how much I’d miss him.
I was more than a little surprised when he showed up at my house Monday after school. Mom let him in. He was sitting at the table eating cookies and drinking milk when I came downstairs.
“Thought you were chained to the babysitting job,” he said.
“Maddie has dance lessons. The nanny drops her, and Mrs. L gets off work early to pick her up.”
“These cookies are good.”
“My mom’s a good cook.”
“Wanna take a walk?”
I dangled my keys and shook them a little, “Better idea. We can ride.”
“I’d rather walk,” he said.
“O.K.” I said it slowly on purpose so he’d know how weird that was.
We walked to the park and sat down on the swings. I pushed myself back and forth with my feet.
He stared off at nothing. “You need to leave tonight.”
“Right. The trig test tomorrow’s going to kill.”
“No, I mean, pack a duffle and drive away.”
“Um. Isn’t this kind of sudden?”
He looked confused. “What?”
“You wanting me to elope. Where’s the ring?” I demanded.
He looked at me, through me, for a second. “I’m not going with you.”
“Where are you going?”
“Back where I came from.”
“And that is. . .”
“Just skip town until I get ahold of you.”
“How will you know where I am?” I liked his way of flirting.
“I just will.”
“Why do I have to leave all of a sudden?” My voice teased at him.
“Because I can’t protect you anymore.”
“You’re wasting time. We got a break this afternoon, but I don’t think it’s going to be much longer.”
“Alright, I’m tired of this. What are you talking about?”
“You won’t believe me.” He pulled at one of his lip rings. “You just need to trust me and go.”
“I’ve talked to you maybe five times for ten minutes each, and you want me to just ‘trust’ you?”
“They took Cheyenne, and you’re next.”
“Who?” I got off the swing and started pacing.
“It’s not a serial killer. It’s him.”
“Largarus. He’s got five. He always takes six. You’re number six.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I was pulled through to protect you.”
“Pulled through where?”
“The mirror.” He said it matter-of-fact, kind-of like if he’d told me the speed limit in town is 35. “When he got Cheyenne, I was pulled through. I need you to leave town so I can take care of it.”
“Let me see you fly.”
“Yeah. If you’re ‘sent’ to protect me, I want to see you fly.”
“I can’t fly.”
“Where’s your invisible sword?”
“Don’t have one.”
“Ninja Kung Fu Skills? Cool Tattoos?”
“You watch too many movies.”
“What super power do you have?”
He sighed, “I’m just ordinary.”
“Great. I get sent the ‘ordinary’ one. How are you supposed to protect me without super powers?”
“I’m supposed to keep you from getting pulled through the mirror.”
“So, I’m the special one. What secret powers do I have?”
“Then why does this Largarus want me?”
He shrugged, “Depends on what he needs. You’re nothing special, not particularly smart or gifted in any area, so I’m thinking you know something.”
I started walking away, fast. All this time I thought he was this great guy that liked me, and he turned out to be some weirdo following a delusional fantasy.
It was the quaver in his voice that stopped me. I’d heard that same sound once before, in my mom’s voice, when two-year-old Sadie was about to jump into the deep end of the pool.
I stomped my foot and kept my back to him. “What?”
“Don’t look in the mirror.”
This time I started running. By the time I got home, I was crying. I didn’t know if I was upset because he turned out to be such a lunatic or because he didn’t chase after me and beg me to believe him.
Beth waited for me again at Maddie’s house after school.
“Where’s your man?” she asked when I pulled up.
“Dunno,” I slung my backpack onto one shoulder and slammed the car door. “How’d you get here so fast?”
“I came through a secret tunnel,” she said. I must have looked startled because she laughed. “I’ve got early release.”
I loosened up a bit, but her answer set me on edge.
I was almost done with my assignment when she said started laughing.
“You have pencil smudges all over your chin and lip. You look like Robin Thicke.”
I rubbed my hand across my face.
“You’re making it worse,” she said. “The lead’s all over your fingers.”
I started to get up.
“Here,” she handed me a tissue. “You can use my mirror.”
She held the round compact so I could see. Harper’s warning sounded in my head, “Don’t look in the mirror.”
I recoiled and knocked it out of her hand. It whirled across the hardwood and smacked into the wall.
“What is wrong with you?” she asked.
“Nothing.” I practically ran to the bathroom, locked the door, and leaned against it. This was silly. I could step outside the situation and see that. There was no Largarus and getting pulled through a mirror was impossible. I wet a washcloth and forced myself to watch while I wiped my face clean.
When I got back into the kitchen, Beth was gone, and Maddie was sitting in her chair coloring.
“I’m right here.” Beth walked in from the screened in porch. “Just because I’m not as pretty as you, doesn’t give you the right to treat me like I’m nothing.”
“I’m really sorry. I don’t like to see myself messy.” I thought that one up while I was in the bathroom.
She looked pointedly across the room. Her mirror still rested against the wall.
“She wants you to pick it up.” Maddie took out a purple crayon and smeared it all over a flower.
“Go ahead,” Beth said. I didn’t like her tone.
“Do it yourself.”
“I won’t tutor you anymore if you don’t pick it up and hand it to me.”
“Guess I’m gonna fail trig.”
I plucked Maddie out of the chair.
“I’m not done,” she protested.
“Yes, you are.”
I carried her over to the compact. I couldn’t bring myself to touch it. I kicked it in Beth’s direction. “Don’t let the door hit you in the behind on the way out.”
I thought about what happened for a long time. I could usually walk all over Beth. She’d just duck her head and take it. Her self-esteem was less than zero. She was actually very pretty. She just didn’t have the self-confidence it takes for other people to see it. Something had to have motivated her to stand up to me.
When Mrs. L got home, I said, “You remember about dance try-outs this week?”
She gave me a blank look.
“I wrote it on the calendar.” I pointed to the wipe-off board on the frig. “I won’t be babysitting this week after today.”
“Oh, I forgot,” she said. “Couldn’t you just do the morning, to get me by until I can find someone?”
I shook my head. “I have to be there to train the new girls.”
She frowned. “If you can’t be here in the morning, I’m going to have to let you go.”
“What? But I wrote it down and told you at least twice.”
“Either you show up tomorrow, or you find another job.”
I couldn’t believe she was firing me. She looked like she was waiting for something: me to lose my temper, cry, tell her off? I decided to be classy. “I’m sorry you feel that way. You can mail me my last check.”
Harper was leaning on my car when I walked out of the house.
“Ride offer still good?” he asked.
I wanted to run to him and tell him I believed him. Instead, I pressed the unlock button and gestured for him to get in.
“We going anyplace in particular?” I asked.
“No, just drive.”
We passed the school and the grocery. I took a country road that wound around through farm houses and fields.
“It’s Beth,” I said.
“That’s a fast turn-around.”
“She wanted me to look in her mirror. I think she put some black stuff on my pencil so I’d smudge my face.”
“It isn’t Beth.” He pointed to a short lane. “Pull over here.”
I turned into a lot beside some farmer’s grain bins.
“You know who,” he said.
I shook my head.
“You do know, you just don’t want to think about it.”
I turned sideways in my seat so I could see him. “Alright, explain.”
“Largarus, pulls through a soul. That one goes through because it wants to. Then, it has to steal six other souls in order to get what it wants. The ones it steals are stuck there.”
“Why would anyone want to go through?”
“Money, Sex, Power, they run the world here and on the other side.”
“And Mrs. L went through voluntarily?”
He nodded. “He never tells the penalty for failing until the person is committed.”
“Which is?” I prompted.
“Different for each person. If Mrs. L can’t steal the sixth by the deadline, Maddie. . .” He looked out the window, patiently giving me the time I needed to think.
I pulled at my hair. “I want to get Cheyenne back.”
“What’s he doing with her?”
“I don’t know if he has her yet; she could be hiding someplace on the other side. When he gets her, he’ll use her.”
“And when he’s done with her.”
He stretched and pushed a button on the door. The window opened an inch or two. Cool air flowed into the car. “He’s never done.”
“There has to be a way,” I insisted.
“Soul for soul. If a soul goes in, another can come out.”
“How’d you get out?”
“I was sent by Tristen.”
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “Somebody powerful enough to do that is called Tristen?”
“I just expected some big, fancy name like Aslan, or Tyrion Lannister.”
“Too much tele,” he said, mocking me. “Anyway, Largarus can pull people through; Tristen can send ones originating from the mirror out, but not many. It throws off the balance if too many of us come through on this side.”
He took something out of his backpack.
He held a shining disk with a jewel imbedded in the side. It hung on a thickly braided chord. It looked like he bought it at a craft store and decorated it with his little sister’s Bedazzle set.
He looked so earnest and pleased that I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I decided to be diplomatic and say what I said to Maddie when she brought me a picture and I didn’t know what it was. “Tell me about it.”
“It’ll keep you from going through the mirror.” He put his hands around my neck and tied it on.
“Why didn’t you give this to me in the first place?”
“Number One, you wouldn’t have worn it. And Number Two, it would have forfeited my advantage. If Mrs. L saw it, she’d know I figured it out, and she’d have moved faster. Now that she knows, it doesn’t matter.”
“How do you know that she knows?”
“She drew a circle around her yard to keep me out.”
“You don’t have to worry about it now, she fired me.”
He got out of the car so fast, the door slammed before I realized what was happening. He walked toward one of the bins. I followed. “What?”
“It’s soon, then, not tonight, but soon. She doesn’t want to risk another girl connected with her disappearing. She’ll lay low for a week at most, then take you.”
I touched his back. When he stopped, I moved around to face him. “She won’t take me.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I have you,” I whispered.
He didn’t answer, but I felt his fingers tentatively touching mine, asking. I answered by running my index finger along the back of his hand and caressing the inside of his wrist. He laced his fingers through mine and leaned toward me. I reached up and pushed the hair out of his eyes. They tugged at me, pulling me closer. He brushed my lips with his, softly, then with more pressure. His tongue was definitely pierced.
We pulled in front of my house about an hour later.
“I could sneak you up to my bedroom,” I said.
“You could sleep on the floor. I won’t be safe without you,” I reasoned.
He grinned, “You wouldn’t be safe with me.”
I thought about something and looked down.
“What?” he asked.
“Can you see me in my mirror?”
He laughed a little. “No. The ones from the other side can’t see everything on your side, just like you can’t see everything on theirs. If there is someone on the other side you’re connected with, like Cheyenne, you might be able to see each other.”
“Then how will you know if I’m in danger?”
“It’s hard to explain.”
This time when we kissed, it was a lingering kiss so soft and sweet that I didn’t want to go. He moved away first. “See ya,” he said. And he was gone.
Harper and I spent every spare minute together after that. Mom and Dad were pretty good about letting him stay at our house. They made him leave around 9:00 p.m. every night. I think he’s the first boyfriend they really liked. Probably because he invited them to play cards with us, and helped Mom and me clean up the dishes, and admired my dad’s hunting stuff. He also helped me with trig. I’d tried to apologize to Beth one more time, but she wasn’t buying it.
I was happy. And happy makes you forget. So I stopped being careful. And that was what he waited for.
Harper left later than usual that night. Mom and dad got it in their heads to watch every embarrassing home movie with me in it. I didn’t mind as much because it kept him with me longer. Well after ten, my parents gave him the signal to leave.
“I guess your mom’s going to be wondering where you are,” Mom said, picking up the popcorn bowl off the coffee table.
Harper got up. “I do need to go.”
I walked him out onto the porch and leaned into his arms.
“See you tomorrow,” he whispered into my hair.
I was tired because I went to sleep right away, without checking under my bed or in my closet like I usually did. Sometime in the night, I woke up with something pressing on my chest. Jagged clamps around my wrists and ankles kept me from moving. A horrid smell filled my nose, and cold liquid rolled down my neck.
My dresser mirror sat to my right. When I turned my head, I saw myself. A dark shape crouched on top of me. Spindly legs angled up from a long, segmented body and down again to split at the bottom into zagged clamps, holding me in place. The shoulders and torso dwarfed the disproportionately small head that nuzzled at my neck. It must have sensed when I stopped struggling because the face turned toward the mirror, and I screamed. I saw Beth’s face attached to that insectoid body. Her stringy hair was pulled back so tightly from her pale skin that her lids slanted up, narrowing her eyes to slits. Drool slid from her mouth and dangled in beaded strands to my neck. I pushed against the spikey constraints sawing into my skin.
A knock at the door and a tiny voice, “Kelsey, you alright?”
“Make her leave, or I’ll drop on her,” Beth’s voice rasped. It crept sideways up the wall and hung on the ceiling. I could see it in my mirror.
Sadie peeked around the door. Her stuffed bunny rested in the crook of her arm. She took her thumb out of her mouth long enough to say, “You alright?”
The thing stretched its skin back from its teeth until it looked like a screaming baboon. Foamy spittle gathered on the bottom lip and dripped, almost landing on the toe of the pink footie pajamas. I forced myself to focus. “Yeah, bad dream.”
“You want Mr. Bun?”
“No, honey. You’ve got pre-school in the morning. You’d better go back to bed.”
As soon as the door closed, I jumped out of bed, putting my back to the wall so I could see in the mirror.
“Get out of here.” Even as I spoke, I knew how silly it was to give orders.
It clip-clapped swiftly along the wall toward me. I tried to hit it, but in the mirror, things are opposite, so I kept hitting the air. It grabbed my necklace. My neck jerked down with the force of the tug. The thing let out a frustrated sneer. I managed to pull free and crawled over the bed, the sheets tangling my arms. It grabbed one of my feet, and I kicked the other one straight back. It slid sideways on the slick shell, but I was able to move again. I ran through the door and down the hall. My eyes focused on the stairs. If I could just make it to the stairs. I glanced at the wall directly in front of me. An antique mirror reflected Sadie standing outside my room.
“Kelsey, help me,” she called.
“Please,” she begged.
I looked back into an empty hallway. I looked forward. In the mirror, Sadie stood holding Mr. Bun and sucking her thumb. Tears formed in her eyes, and her shoulders started to shake. “I want mommy!”
That did it, I walked backward toward her. Somehow, on her way to her room, Sadie had been trapped in the mirror. If I could get close enough, maybe I could, what? I became aware of the wet around my neck. The necklace. I could take off the necklace and put it on her. Maybe that would get her out of the mirror.
“Kelsey.” She held her arms out for me to pick her up.
I moved faster. Walking backward while looking in the hall mirror got my feet tangled, and I fell. Something jumped on top of me. My nervous system took over. I flung my arms and rolled aside. Somehow, I got back to my feet and started running. In the mirror, Sadie’s little body rotated over into a backbend. Her head turned right side up, and she crab-walked after me. This sight had paralyzed me on the sidewalk, but now, it gave me an adrenaline rush. I got to the stairs. Mom was standing at the bottom.
“What are you doing?” she demanded.
The little girl jumped into the air. Her body twisted into the segmented insect with the claws. She bared the huge pointed teeth.
I grabbed the mirror and broke it.
I braced for impact, but nothing happened. It was gone, and I was left alone with Mom staring angrily at the remains of her favorite mirror.
“So, where were you?” I asked the next day once Harper and I were sitting on the porch swing in front of my house.
“If she got the necklace off, I’d have fought her so you could get away.”
“Fought her, how?”
“When I’m not with you, I’m in the mirror. I can get to her from that side.”
“But not from this one.”
He shook his head.
“Was that Beth?”
“Beth has no idea why you have turned into a paranoid freak. It was one of the souls. Mrs. L gave it Beth and Sadie’s image to use.”
“It was trying to bite off the necklace.” I held it up so he could see the frayed edges spiking from the cord.
“I know.” He picked up a maple leaf that landed at his feet. It twirled between his fingers in a dizzy orange whirl. “I’m impressed you got away. I couldn’t see you from my side, but it looked like you put up one heck of a fight.”
“It was pure fear. Don’t expect a repeat performance.”
“How did you know to break the mirror?”
“I didn’t,” I said. “I just didn’t want to watch it tear me to pieces when it landed.”
He put his arm around me and kissed my ear. I leaned my head on his shoulder.
“There is an alternative to you leaving.” He looked off like he always did when things got serious.
“That’s good since I’m grounded for eternity.”
“We can bring Cheyenne back. If we bring her back, Mrs. L won’t meet her deadline.”
“I’m working on that.”
“Won’t he still come after us?”
“Probably not. If Cheyenne comes back, it’s too risky. He’ll move on to fresh territory.”
“You said we couldn’t save her.”
“I lied,” he admitted. I sat up, but he averted his eyes even more so I couldn’t see. “The truth is, I didn’t want to. The rule is soul for soul. I can pull her through if I go back, permanently.”
We knew it would be wrong for him to stay. I missed my best friend. But neither of us wanted him to go back through. The next morning was Saturday. We decided to find her then. I took the mirrors out of all of the upstairs rooms and slept on the floor next to Sadie’s bed that night.
The next morning, Cheyenne’s mom answered almost before we knocked. She must have seen us pull up.
“Come in,” she said. “It’s so nice to see you, Kelsey.”
“This is my friend Harper.”
He held out his hand. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Pelter.”
“Call me Becky,” she said. “Would you like some chips and soda?”
“Oh, no thank you,” I said. “I hate to ask, but there’s this picture of us Cheyenne had, from when we were little. I was hoping you’d let us look for it.”
“She took all that stuff to Billy’s.” Mrs. Pelter twisted a charm on her bracelet.
“I checked there. I was hoping she left it here, in her room maybe?”
Mrs. Pelter sighed. “I locked her room up the day she moved out. No one’s been in there since. I was hoping she’d move back after a while.”
I don’t understand why adults bring up uncomfortable issues with kids. I mean, what do they expect us to answer? I knew how things were between Cheyenne and her mom, and I didn’t have any comfort for her. Harper and I shuffled our feet and waited.
When we didn’t say anything, Mrs. Pelter started toward the back of the house. “When you’re done, stay for snacks. It’s been so long since I’ve seen you, Kelsey. I’d like to catch up.”
“Sounds good,” I said. Harper and I both knew that wouldn’t be happening.
Mrs. Pelter opened the door and retreated back down the hall. Harper and I stepped inside. Dusty light shone through the blinds onto the bed and furniture. The mirror hung on the wall next to the closet.
“You think she’s in there?” I asked.
“Not sure. She can’t go to Billy’s, or your house. Usually they go someplace familiar. If she can stay hidden most of the time, she’s probably here.”
I tilted my face up for one last kiss. “I don’t want to say, ‘Good-bye.’”
“I don’t either,” he whispered. He held me for a long time. Finally, he said, “We’d better get started before Mrs. Pelter comes back.”
I put my face against the mirror and said, “Cheyenne, are you there?” My breath fogged the glass. My nose looked all smashed in and distorted. “See anything?” I asked without moving.
“Cheyenne, I’m here to get you out,” I said.
Nothing. I turned away from the mirror. “Maybe she isn’t there,” I said hopefully.
The doorbell rang. Voices mixed together in a murmuring rise and fall.
“Try again,” Harper said. I didn’t miss the urgency in his voice.
Her face appeared suddenly. I jumped back and let out a little squeal.
She started beating on the glass. Her mouth was moving, but I couldn’t hear any sound.
I pressed my ear against the image, but I couldn’t hear anything. I didn’t realize until that moment how much I’d missed her, and I didn’t realize until that moment, how much losing Harper was going to hurt. I put myself in front of the mirror, blocking it.
“Don’t go,” I said. “I’ll get in my car. Drive away right now. Just please don’t leave.”
His eyes told me his heart ached as much as mine. “I have to.”
Footsteps clopped toward our room.
Mrs. Pelter’s voice reached through the door. “. . .imagine, you and Maddie coming at the same time she did.”
Cheyenne pounded on the mirror. Her eyes pleaded with me to free her. Harper took a step back. The footsteps got closer. I thought, just under the sound, I could hear a rhythmic shushing. Cheyenne’s eyes became wide with fear. She could see something we couldn’t.
Time slowed to almost a stop. The doorknob started to turn. Harper took two running steps. I pulled the necklace off and charged at him, wrapping my hands around his waist. If he couldn’t stay here with me, I would go through with him. We crashed into the mirror, and it splintered into a million tiny pieces.
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