Not Alone

Hide and Seek Chapter 53

Sinking…

Something dragged at Naomi’s left arm, and something else pulled against her right. Here in the other place, the unknown space she went to when she skipped, the sensations were strange, slow, soft, infused with that indescribable purpleness that dominated this time away from time. But here again was the electric edge of blackness, of wrongness, that she had only felt once before, the only other time she had ever brought someone here with her.

Her eyes opened. Indeed, she wasn’t alone: Francis was stretched out bodily, floating in mid-“air”, grasped around the ankle by Naomi’s left hand. In front of Naomi, Officer Diggins hovered in similar fashion, gripped by the shoulder.

She’d done it. Naomi had pulled them out of the car before Sky could unleash her wind storm.

But what would be left when they returned?

Diggins rotated inwards, swirling slowly through the ephemeral tendrils of black-edged-purple, and stared into Naomi’s eyes in utter shock. His mouth began to fall open in a slow-motion pantomime of a scream, and it occurred to Naomi that she’d never before tried to make any noises here. There had never been any purpose for it; who could’ve heard her?

No sound emerged, but a wavering sensation pulsed against Naomi’s side, growing in intensity, pressing in on her ribs. Sharp points began to jab at her and scratch her, and the pain of it was all the more severe because of the dark edge that had infected this space through the presence of the two others Naomi had brought with her.

What was this? What was happening? Was it all coming apart? It was stabbing, piercing, the area of the effect moving up towards her chest, pressing at her heart—and then it erupted from within the rough coat: it was Miguel’s little bird, straining its wings, kneading the “air” with its tiny claws, utter terror shining in its eyes as it tumbled away.

Naomi released her hold on Diggins and reached out for the bird, her hand moving too slowly, as if in a dream, and though the little bird never seemed to put any distance between her and itself, her hand could not close in on it.

Then came the beginning of the fade, the sinking back down into proper time and space. Naomi could see that Diggins felt it, too, and he was dwindling away from her, almost seeming to shrink, his fingertips reaching out for her.

Naomi urged her arm into action, stretching out after him, and as they reached for one another she took hold of the tip of his thumb, a moment before they all came crashing down onto the sidewalk, the retained momentum from the driving car they’d previously been occupying sending them rolling over the pavement, tumbling up against one another in a whirlwind of limbs.

Naomi came to rest lying face down in the middle of the road, Diggins draped over her and Francis lying half-upright against both of them.

Naomi’s head pounded, partly with something like mental exhaustion or fatigue—maybe this was what a migraine felt like—and partly with the more straightforward pain of harshly scraped skin. Considering that she had just performed the equivalent to leaping out of a moving vehicle, she supposed she’d be lucky if that was the worst of it, but the alternative—trapped inside a car tossed through the air by a virtual tornado—could have been much worse.

Francis groaned and pushed herself away from Naomi. Diggins, too, began to stir, moan, and stand. As the pressure on Naomi’s back was relieved, she felt something warm and wet against her left side. With a sudden gasp, she rolled over onto her back, pulled Miguel’s jacket open, and felt for the inner pocket.

It was stained red, as was a small, corresponding patch on her shirt, and inside the pocket there was… Nothing.

The little bird was gone.

Pulling up her shirt, Naomi saw the wound and, simultaneously, felt the searing pain of it kick in. She must have landed on a rock or something. It was beginning to bleed more heavily.

But what had happened to the bird?

Naomi closed her eyes and laid her head back, cushioning it on her arm as she tried to swallow back some of the ache.

Had it flown away as they were about to skip? Was that why she’d seen it leave her while they were passing through the purple? Or maybe it had wriggled free just before they landed, while they were returning.

Or maybe, if such a thing was possible, it had actually been left behind…

The idea startled Naomi into opening her eyes,

and she saw, standing over her, a middle-aged face wearing half a smile, and a proffered hand decorated with a fancy gold watch.

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