Abbie panics; she darts around the living room of the dollhouse, rattling all the doorknobs, trying to force all the doors. The girls watch her with serenely frightened eyes, not trying to help, and Abbie needs to think, think, think, but the only thing in her head is bright, dazzling fear. The memory her younger self gave her still sloshes around her mind, filling it with the terror of that day, and it doesn’t help at all. Jenny and Crane are somewhere unknowingly facing the betrayal they can’t predict, and she has to get the fuck out.
She breathes in, breathes out, forcibly slows down. It was the first thing Corbin taught her when she became serious about wanting to do police work, maybe the most important thing he ever gave her. Always be the calmest person in the room. Make them tune down to you. She can hold on to that, even now, and she can do what she was trained to do: assess the situation, solve the problem.
Abbie goes back to the table, sits down across from – she decides to dub them Abigail and Jennifer, because something has to make this situation at least a little bit less weird. Name the deciding factors, then work with them. Use your resources.
She looks at Abigail. Jennifer is staying a step behind the older girl’s chair, watching Abbie intently and silently, and Abbie think she seems – feels – a bit less substantial than Abigail, just a bit less real. She’s not sure Jennifer can talk.
She takes another deep breath, looks into Abigail’s eyes. Says very calmly: “Abigail, thank you for bringing me here and saving my life. I’m very grateful, but the thing is, I still have things I have to do, and it’s very important that I get back to them. Do you think you could help me?”
“Abbie, you have to stay. We have to stay here.”
“I can’t. There’s still a lot of work to be done, and I can’t spend my life here with you.”
Abigail hunches her shoulders, a gesture that Abbie recognizes as her own; she’s getting agitated.
“No! No, we all have to – we have to stay here, where it’s not dangerous. It’s safe here, Abbie, you have to understand.”
Abbie almost shouts at her, but stops herself at the last minute; there’s literally nothing less useful than shouting at a scared child, as she knows pretty well – firsthand. She risks reaching out, puts her hand gently on the girl’s thin shoulder. She doesn’t remember herself being so thin.
She can feel tiny, imperceptible tremors under her palm.
“Abigail,” she says, “if I start looking for an exit by myself, I might do something wrong and endanger us all, let Moloch in. And if you can’t help me, I’ll have to. You must know how to do it right, and you need to tell me, okay? I’ll take care of it. I’ll keep us all protected.”
Abigail stares and stares and stares at her, and behind her Jennifer’s knuckles are white on the chair’s back. Abbie holds her breath.
“Okay,” Abigail finally says briskly, and steps out from under Abbie’s hand. “There’s a door… we don’t go there. It’s dangerous. If you’re not going to stop, you can try it.”
She walks away, and Abbie ultimately knows the tension in her shoulders, the agonized anger in her back; her own body twinges in sympathy. But she seems to have won for the moment, and she will take it. Somewhere, the countdown is mercilessly ticking down.
Abigail leads her through several rooms and corridors. Abbie tries to match the layout of the dollhouse to her memory and fails; it’s been too long. The passages are long and twisty, the ceiling just a bit too high to be comfortable. She can’t shake the feeling that at any moment a hand is going to descend and tear the roof off, pick her up like a doll.
Finally Abigail stops in front of a completely unremarkable door, the same as all the other doors in the house. She turns her back on it, looks at Abbie with desperation.
“Please don’t go. It’s safe here.”
What happened to the dollhouse? Abbie can’t remember. Did her dad destroy it in one of his rages? Did Mom throw it away when her paranoia rebelled against it? Did it get lost in one of the moves? She doesn’t know.
“Abigail,” she says softly, “it never was.”
She turns the doorknob and takes her first step.
She finds herself in a long hallway: the same pink-and-beige walls, the same cheaply carpeted floors as in the rest of the house. The hallway stretches far ahead, bathed in a glaring fluorescent light without a clearly visible source, and squint as she might, she can’t see where it ends.
She turns around to check that Abigail hasn’t followed her, and discovers that the door is gone; behind her is the same seemingly endless passage.
“Oookay then.” She dearly wishes she had her gun with her.
Abbie takes a first hesitant step forwards, half expecting the floor to disappear under her feet, but nothing happens. She keeps on forward, tense and silent, acutely feeling how terribly exposed her back is.
Ten steps. Fifteen. Twenty. One hundred. The hallway is silent, the lights don’t flicker, there’s nobody to jump out at her. She still can’t see anything but the same walls and floor and ceiling ahead of her, unchanging, but at least she’s making some progress – or at least she hopes so. There’s no smells, no movements… wait.
She blinks, blinks again. For a moment she thought… but no. The light must’ve been playing tricks on her. The light, or the exhaustion; it’s been a long, trying day, and she’s nowhere close to being done with it.
She continues walking, hoping for anything to break the monotony of this place – a picture on the wall (some flowers? a clown with a demented grin? a fruit bowl?), a crease in the carpeting. A bend. A door. Anything but this empty silence; even her steps don’t make a sound, the carpet swallowing any noise she might’ve made. She feels weirdly weightless, unsubstantial – and her eyes are still betraying her, creating the hint of movement that’s not… here…
She stumbles and puts her hand on the wall, and snatches it away with a soundless and choked inhale: the wall moved under her hand. She stands, breathing through her nose, and tries to make herself to touch the wall again and check. It’s not like it’s – even if the wall did move, it’s nowhere close to her top five terrifying experiences of the year, courtesy of post-Moloch Sleepy Hollow – it’s not like she can be scared by this, but.
Abbie touches the wall again and lets her palm rest there despite her instinctive revulsion. For a moment nothing happens, and she’s ready to scold herself for overreacting, but then she feels it again: slow, steady movement, the wall expanding outwards and contracting. Now that she’s touched it, her eyes adjust: she sees the movement all around the hallway, expansion and contraction to a beat that seems familiar in some unaccountable way.
She snatches her hand back with a helpless wince, screws her eyes shut, and takes her next step, then another and another. When she opens them, the scene is the same, but now that she’s aware of the walls, the hallway doesn’t feel lifelessly empty to her anymore: it’s like she’s walking in the belly of some great living beast, and she can’t help but think that she won’t like her destination.
It can’t be helped; she goes on.
It’s been hours, or maybe days, Abbie can’t tell: her phone has quietly discharged. She’s glad she’s not wearing a watch, and can’t be freaked out by the clock hands doing something weird. The hallway still stretches ahead, staying the same in a way that she’s starting to take as a personal insult, and the pulsing movement of the walls is slowly driving her insane.
She doesn’t feel hungry or thirsty, but exhaustion has sneaked up on her, slowing her steps until they’re more of a slow controlled stumble forwards. Abbie supposes she could maybe stop and sleep, stretch out on the inviting plush of the carpet, but the very idea of sleeping in this place fills her with shuddering nausea. It’s pretty much the only thing that does, right now: the fatigue has slowly eroded all her other fears, even the concern for Crane and Jenny, leaving behind nothing but the knowledge that she has to move forwards.
Abbie walks. At some point she realizes she’s staring at her shuffling feet, step after step, moving painfully slow. Maybe that’s what it’s all about, a test of her endurance; maybe all she has to do is to walk without stopping until she gets – somewhere –
Between one step and another, the floor under her feet disappears.
She falls for a long breathless moment, too startled to regroup, and lands with a bone-jarring impact, the uneven gravelly ground tearing at her palms and knees. The pain is shockingly bad; she freezes still and crouched, trying to clear her head of it.
Somebody calls from the surrounding darkness, and she jerks backwards in unthinking terror.
She can barely hear him over her whistling breathing, but there again – “Abbie?” – and she shakes her head back and forth, trying to make the sound fit.
The light comes in next, a soft fuzzy sphere surrounding her father and doing nothing to illuminate the dense darkness around both of them. She stares at him, blinking softly, and he leans over her, his face concerned, smelling faintly of sawdust and woodwork finish – must have been working in the toolshed again, Abbie thinks irrelevantly – and strongly of cheap beer.
“Did you hurt yourself, kiddo? Fell again? Let me see.”
She stretches her battered palms toward him; something in her brain is scrambling madly, trying to tear free. But Dad is asking, and you don’t – you don’t say no to Daddy, not when he’s asking nicely, when he wants to – help –
He takes her hands, one after the other, makes tsking sounds over the bleeding tears. “How did it happen, honey? Were you playing outside?”
“I... I fell... Dad, how’re you…?”
“You fell? Getting in trouble again, are you? “
He’s leaning over her now, and the sawdust smell is almost gone, forced out by the reek of alcohol, and when his hands tighten on hers painfully, everything in her cringes, familiar, hopeless, here comes the storm.
“Always trouble and trouble and trouble, aren’t you, A-bi-gail? Never a spot of anything good! Can’t do anything right! Just like your crazy useless bitch of mother, just like your dumb fucking sister, I swear to God you’re all the same! Mocking me!”
“Dad,” she whispers, “Dad, you’re hurting me. Dad, please.”
“Oh I’m going to hurt you alright, Abbie-girl, I’m going to show you what happens to – “
She tries to pry her hands out of his grip and can’t; it seems to her that he’s growing, the light throwing twisted black shadows over him like a flock of bats, and she can’t see his face anymore, can’t –
“– stupid fucking cunts who think they can just get in fucking trouble like it’s nothing and then come to me and whine – “
He lets her go suddenly and she falls backwards; he picks her up like a doll and shakes her so hard her head snaps back, and she chokes on blood from where her teeth cut her cheek. Her head is full of white noise, she can’t, she can’t, she can’t, she can’t.
He throws her away, and she falls again, skids on her back, tries to crawl backwards from him into the waiting darkness. But he advances with a horrible inexorability, slithering shadows boiling around him. She can’t see his face anymore, only the sliver of an enraged, satisfied smile, and he’s going to kill her, Daddy’s too mad now, he’s going to kill her and nobody will come.
“And when I’m done with you, I’m going to go teach little Jenny a lesson, right, Abbie?”
She’s crying, hiccuping with tears, but at the sound of Jenny’s name something in her mind finally – snaps. Everything is swirling in confusion, but she catches onto a thread and holds tight.
“You can’t hurt Jenny.”
She makes it up onto her knees, and the – thing – coming towards her – grinning in a way there’s nothing human in – says, “Do you think you can talk back to me, kiddo?”
She gets up. She has no gun, she has no weapon at all, she doesn’t know where she is, what’s happening, she thinks, I’m going to die, and then she shouts, “Freeze!”
The thing just laughs, but there’s a tiny pause in its walk, and Abbie seizes on like it’s a lifeline to her own sanity, Abbie says, “Freeze! You can’t touch me, you can’t get to me, and you can’t touch Jenny!”
The thing with her father’s voice takes another step forwards, says in something like a whine, “Can’t I? You were pretty quick to turn to me right now, weren’t you? Oh daddy, daddy, it hurts! Daddy, please!”
The imitation of her voice, the naked fear in it, makes her stumble back a step, and he swells even more, leaning over her. She’s just within reach of his grasping hands. But Abbie straightens up, closes her eyes, opens them. Abbie says, “I’m not a scared kid anymore. Get out of my way.”
He’s close now, and something in her is still cringing in terror, but she can think now and she gathers her every year to her, every person, every lesson; and when she takes a step, the thing before her shrinks and falters. Another; another; the smell is overwhelming, but the darkness seems to be receding, and the shadows slink to the floor like beaten dogs – and he backs away. Another step; her knee is killing her, but she bites her lip and keeps steady. Another.
Then there’s a man before her, a paunchy, balding man in stained clothes, looking at her with petty, pouting fury, and she stares at him for a moment, trying to find something left – carved toys and reading lessons, peanuts in his pockets, baseball games – but there’s nothing, neither terror nor love.
Then she just says: “Go.”
He falls apart soundlessly in front of her, dissolves with the darkness, and when she blinks, she opens her eyes in the hallway again, with its walls pulsing to a crazy beat.
Abbie slides down the wall, scattered enough to overcome her instinctive revulsion; at the moment even the cheap carpet seems friendly. Her heart is hammering against her ribs, her mouth is dry. She exhales, inhales, exhales, inhales.
Whatever happened, it wasn’t a dream, she knows that; it lacked the heightened surreality of her experiences in Purgatory. It couldn’t have happened, but she knows that it did. Whatever that thing was, it wore her father’s face and voice with a terrifying surety, and wherever it happened, she kept the marks.
She studies her torn palms again, trying to detach herself; they’re a mess, blood and tattered skin and embedded bits of gravel. Her knees aren’t any better; the cut inside of her cheek is throbbing.
Abbie doesn’t know how long she sits there, trying to make anything at all make sense, but in the end she gets up and walks forward again, one foot ahead of another.
If anything, her little – interlude – robbed her of the comforting lassitude of fatigue. She’s hyper-alert, hyper-aware, and she can’t help testing her weight before committing to every step, expecting the floor to fall away again and plunge her into darkness. She has to remind herself to keep breathing normally, fight to keep her body supple and relaxed, ready for anything, when everything in her is dying to seize up, fight, flee, scream.
Nothing happens. Nothing happens. Nothing happens. Just the walls, imperceptibly slow but expanding and contracting anyway, the ceiling, the carpet, the bright fluorescent light of the unseen walls. No end in sight.
Some eternity later her body burns through the last of the adrenaline, fades into exhaustion again; she notices that she’s started losing time, jerks back to awareness again and again to find that she’s still walking, slow and weaving, but never safe enough to stop.
Whoever she is, whoever her father thought she was, the one thing she’s good at, the thing she’s best at, is doing what needs to be done.
She clings to it. The silence passed intolerable maybe a lifetime ago; all it does is make her struggle to hear anything, creating slow murmurs of nonexistent sounds just at the edge of her hearing. Water, maybe, or grass, or moving leaves. Something alive that doesn’t belong here, in this place.
She’s still trying to imagine it – trees by the cabin, leaves fluttering in the breeze, a welcoming light in the windows – when the world around her changes seamlessly into moonlight-splattered dark, rough wooden walls and hay on the floor and horses breathing loudly in their stalls. She jerks to a stuttering stop, all her senses on high alert again, and looks ahead, at the crisscrossed well of light falling from the window.
At Corbin’s severed head, mounted on a spike just at the crosshair of the frame’s shadow.
At his eyes, opening; his mouth, moving.
“Abbie,” he says, “It’s great to see you here.”
She just stares. She’s cold all over, so much so that she can barely feel her hands and feet. Abbie takes a step forwards nevertheless, past the fretting horses. She thinks, with the weird detachment of shock, the horses are probably spooked by the smell of blood.
It has to be a dream. An illusion, the same kind of Purgatory mindfuckery they’ve already encountered, and all she probably needs to do is to click her heels and wish for home, but... She feels present in her body and mind like she never did, back there, and – she can smell the blood, too, slowly sliding down the spike thrust into Corbin’s severed neck.
She decides to just go with it. And, whatever it means, he’s talking to her, in the same wryly amused voice he always used, and she’s just so tired. And so she does what she always relied on, and says, “Corbin. What are you – what’s going on?”
“Do you expect me to tell you? Do you think my sole purpose is to be around, giving out fatherly advice?”
She recoils back from the mocking lilt on “fatherly”, feeling the pain in her palms and knees flare up, and stares at him.
“I don’t understand, Corbin, please. How can I help you? What can I do?”
The head’s bloodless lips stretch into a disapproving smile, an expression so familiar and at the same time so foreign she feels the tears prickling at her eyes.
“Can’t figure it out, can you, Lieutenant Mills? You can’t help me now, that’s for sure. I'm dead, in case you haven't noticed”
“I. I know you are. I couldn’t save you. I didn’t even know what to save you from!”
There’s something wrong with the air in here, it’s too hot and stifled, and the horses are fretting more and more loudly, stamping their hooves and tossing their heads, but she can’t turn away from the anger in Corbin’s face, the rictus of that awful smile. His tone is deceptively gentle though, mild. Something tickles the back of her throat and she coughs, painfully raw, but Corbin is talking, and she never could not listen to him.
“Oh, Abbie. I gave you a chance, you know. Picked you up, saved you from juvie, gave you a career, a purpose. I failed my own son to give you more attention, and what did you do with it? You, a Witness! So much potential, so much responsibility! All of it wasted!”
“I fought. I did all that I could.”
“You couldn’t even save me!” he shouts, and his rage actually shakes the whole building, hay and dirt raining down from the rafters. Abbie flinches back, because he never – he never, never, not in her entire life shouted at her.
She falls back and then finally recognizes the smell in the air, the source of the horses’ increasing terror and the tightness in her lungs. Smoke. There are crackling sounds behind her, and now she can feel the heat coming up. But she’s frozen in place, riveted.
“It hurts, Abbie, do you know how much it hurts? How much suffering there is? And you could have stopped it. You could have been faster, stronger, smarter. Jenny would’ve done so much better, if I’d offered her the same.”
Jenny! That snaps her to attention, enough that she moves forwards again, faster now, and she’s shouting now too, anger finally fighting through her exhausted grief.
“Why didn’t you tell me you knew her? Why did you train her and not me? Why did you lie to me?”
She can feel the fire spreading behind her; something heavy falls, and the air is ash and smoke now, soot and terrified animal cries, but she falls to her knees right before him because she has to know, she has to.
“Abbie, Abbie, Abbie, what would be the point? She knew how to believe me, she knew how to accept what I’d teach her, and how could you? Little Abbie, so willfully blind?”
“You kept her from me! If I'd known - if you hadn't lied - I could have found her before. We could have stood together.”
“Yes,” Corbin drawls, “really? Like you’re doing now? Where’s Jenny now, Abbie? Did you protect her? Did you save her?”
It hits like a punch to her solar plexus, and she curls over, fighting to keep her breath. She coughs, tears streaming from her eyes; everything is pain and confusion and flames.
“Did you fail her just like you failed me?”
She’s back on her feet before she knows it; she stares at him, at the well-known beloved face stretched into a twisted mask, and then spins around. She faces an inferno of flames, and just a moment ago she was ready – she was so tired – she failed him, failed everybody, she could just stay here and accept it, but Jenny. In this, she didn’t fail Jenny yet.
She darts to the first stall, raises the latch, heedless of the metal burning her hands, and barely ducks aside from the terrified horse thundering out. Second stall, third, fourth, the terrified wails of burning horses, the pain, her tears dried by the heat before they can fall, and then she covers her head with her jacket the best she can, closes her eyes, and rushes into the flames after the last horse.
It hurts – oh God, oh God, it burns so much – and behind her Corbin bellows, “Running away again, like always, all you’ve been good – “ and she’s not going to make it, she’s going to burn here with him, she is –
She falls on the carpeted floor, crying out with the impact, and the world goes mercifully black and silent.
A small eternity later, Abbie wakes up, gets to her knees, gets up. Nobody is around, so she can groan, wipe her wet and dirty cheeks with the back of her blistered palm. Her mind shies away from what just happened, so she tries to take stock instead: feet, legs, torso, arms, face. She comes to the conclusion that she’s burned everywhere she isn’t battered, and that she can’t do anything about it, can only endure.
The pain is horrible; she stiffened up when she was unconscious, and now she can feel the skin of her exposed arms and shoulders crack and weep with every movement. She grits her teeth, waits for the blackness to recede from her vision, and takes the first step forwards.
It’s unendurable: she doesn’t know if she can deal with another shift from this place to another, with another beloved person she failed, or with even more pain. She thinks that maybe, if she retraces her steps, she could go back, find the door somehow, join the girls in their tea party. She thinks, I can’t do this anymore.
Abbie walks forwards, stops to cough and retch, walks again.
The hallway is practically welcome by now: she’s ready to walk through it forever, as long as she won’t have to do – this – again; even the ever-present, uneven movement of the walls is kind of comforting. If she could only rest, stay here.
She knows that if she stops, she’ll never get up again.
Jenny, she thinks, too tired to unspool her name into thoughts. Crane. Everybody.
She catches herself whispering as she stumbles on. Her mother’s endless lessons, Bible verses tumbling through her head, one line after another. She can’t even follow the meaning, but the familiar cadence is easy to hold onto, to fall into a rhythm with. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and she can take a step. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted, and another one. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth...
Abbie doesn’t try to watch her surroundings anymore, or try to anticipate the danger; there’s no point, this place will chew her up and spit her out in whatever way it wishes, so she can just walk, and walk, and walk...
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
She smells the roses before she realizes the change; a heavy, pervasive sweetness all around her, unkempt grass under her feet, bursts of blood-red roses surrounding her path. She stops, takes a deep breath, and raises her head.
Somewhere ahead of her, hidden behind the flower walls, she hears her mother singing.
She follows the familiar melody through the maze, stumbling and catching herself on the thorns, feeling sick with dread at what she’s going to see, and wanting anyway. But when she finally bursts out into the clearing in the heart of the maze, there’s nothing horrible there – just green grass and brilliant sun and her mother standing by the table, with her back turned.
Abbie thinks, if she turns around and something is wrong with her face, I won’t be able to take it, and then reaches out and calls to her anyway.
Her mother turns around and it’s just her, smiling, her lips still shaping up my sunshine away, and Abbie’s legs give out in relief. She sinks to the ground and just stares.
“Abbie! Baby, what are you doing here?”
“Mama, I don’t know what’s happening, what – where are we? How are you here?”
She chokes, closes her eyes, and when she opens them, Mama’s in front of her, clearly hovering, unsure of how to touch her. Abbie reaches out herself instead, mindless of her burns and sores, buries her head in her mother’s chest and just holds on.
She’s weeping before she knows it, crying in great shuddering sobs, and she knows she should not be – she’s always been strong for her mother, had to be strong for her, but it’s her mom, solid and alive and here, her hands tentatively stroking Abbie’s hair, and she just – she takes it, and cries, and cries, and cries.
“Abbie,” Mama says, “Abigail, what are you doing here? Where’s your sister?”
She pulls back as if slapped, looks up at Mama’s face. Tries to force the words out of her suddenly uncooperative throat. “I... we...”
She watches Mama’s face shift in an endlessly familiar way, worn care changing into hard-edged anger mingled with terror. “Didn’t I tell you again and again that you have to be careful! That they’re everywhere, Abigail, I warned you, I warned you over and over!”
“Mama,” she pleads, “Mama, I know now, I’ve learned, I did – I tried – to keep everybody safe, I,” and her mother springs to her feet, swirls away from Abbie with a swish of her skirt, and Abbie’s reaching hand grasps at nothing.
“I told you, I told you everything you need to know, I told you not to trust anybody.”
She’s shouting now, her face distorted, and Abbie stops hearing the words – she knows them by heart anyway, and she just watches it all over again, an incomprehensible stranger taking over her mother, spitting out ire and brimstone, only now she can’t gather herself enough to placate, apologize, promise. Knows enough not to deny.
The sky over them is going dark fast, black clouds rolling over the sun, and the rose stench is suffocating. Where’s your sister?
“Mama,” she says again, hating her plaintive, pleading voice, “Mama, please. I have to get to her. Help me.”
“I’m dead, Abbie,” her mother snaps, “I can’t help you! I can’t help anybody now!”
Something is rising from the grass behind her, sinuous like a snake, and Abbie’s hand dives for her gun – the one she doesn’t have. She lurches to her feet, shouting for her mother, but she’s too slow, and the thing engulfs her mother, raises her in the air.
It’s a straightjacket. It’s a straightjacket, of course it is, she thinks hysterically, buckles and belts pulling punishingly tight, and Mama is struggling and writhing, her hair flying around her terrified, flushed face, screaming in wordless enraged terror. Abbie rushes towards her – and that’s when the rose branches catch her and pull her back.
She screams when the thorns pierce her burned skin; she can’t see, hear, think past the thorns growing through her, into her. She’s panting, almost retching through her agony, she’s stretched in the air across from her mother, arms spread into a parody of crucifixion, blood sliding down her face from her crowned forehead, and it’s so absurd she wants to laugh.
Her mother is still now, fully trapped. She’s crying, and Abbie can’t take that, Abbie can’t deal with it so much she’d prefer the thorns. She never saw Mama crying, not even once.
Mama says, in a cracked, barely heard whisper: “Abbie. Baby. You need to leave.”
That scares her more than anything else in this place did. She starts to struggle again, wildly, moaning as the thorns move inside of her, and Mama is shouting again now but she can’t hear the words, won’t hear them, because she knows now, she knows this stranger her mother turned into, the sane nature of her insanity, and she won’t let it have her again.
She thrashes and fights, screaming, blood in her eyes and her mouth, something tearing and sliding wetly inside her belly and chest and legs and arms, and when the pain crests into an unbearable wave she rides it and crashes past it, into a place where nothing hurts anymore, where it’s just her and her will and she lunges.
She hits the ground, gets up, moves, leaps and catches her mother’s ankle, drags her to the ground. Tears at the buckles and belts with her teeth, with her bleeding fingers, and the air is full of somebody’s terrible agonized keening. Her mom says, “Abbie, Abbie, stop,” over and over again, but then she’s finally free, the straightjacket a pile of bloody cloth, and Abbie holds onto her again and doesn’t let go.
“Mama,” she babbles, “Mama, I know now, I’m sorry, I know you tried, I know, I know, I know. I love you. Mama. Please don’t. Please don’t be hurt anymore. I can’t. I can’t. Mama.”
Her mom pulls back a little, tears a strip of cloth off her skirt, cleans her face off, and Abbie looks at her. Looks at her smile: soft, easy, not a trace of the ever-present terror.
“Sunshine,” Mama says, “my sunshine. Don’t be afraid.”
“I love you too. Don’t be afraid. Go.”
“No,” Abbie says, “no, please – “
– and the world shifts.
She can’t get up. She tries several times and she can’t even make it to her feet: she almost blacks out, and that will mean dying right here.
She crawls forwards instead.
Her palms leave bleeding handprints on the pristine carpet; she loses some time staring at one of them, at the blood caught in the rough weave. It’s so beautiful, her mark on this fixed place; if only she could stay to look at it longer, hide in the crimson threads.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?
Her thoughts are sluggish, disjointed; she thinks the exit, and she thinks, is she safe now, and she thinks, I’m dying, and she thinks, where’s your sister?
She thinks, it has to end now.
There’s something weird. She realizes that she’d stopped moving for a while, because of something, but it takes her some time to realize because of what. She blinks the blood out of her eyes, rises a bit on her elbows, tries to figure it out.
The hallway has changed.
It’s not the shift into the other space, and she’s grateful. It’s...
She’s at the doorway into an empty room, and at the far end of the room Abigail is standing silent and stiff, like a honor guard.
She’s standing in front of the door, and behind her Abbie sees a key in the keyhole.
“Abigail,” she croaks, and tries to get up again, her hands leaving bloody prints on the doorway. “Abigail, help me.”
The girl doesn’t look at her when she says in a tense, ringing voice: “You can’t leave.”
Abbie gets onto her knees and then slumps against the wall, coughing her lungs out. There’s blood splattering the carpet before her; she doesn’t know if she coughed it up or just bled it, and it doesn’t matter. She’s spent.
“Abigail,” she tries again, ”please.”
“You can’t leave!” the girl shouts. “Don’t you understand? Look at what happened when you tried! You have to stay!”
If Abbie had anything left, she’d laugh. She made it, she almost made it, and now she’s going to die ten steps from freedom because her younger self is too stubborn to help her.
She watches the walls because she can’t look at herself and not hate herself anymore. The walls are barely moving now, painfully sluggish, just like...
Abbie presses her hand to one of the bleeding tears in her side, and the fluttering, thready rhythm there fits perfectly, sliding into place.
She looks at the girl by the door again, at her blank, smooth face, at her hands clenched into fists, at her hunched shoulders.
She thinks, Ye are the light of the world.
She says, “Abigail. Abbie. Please come here.”
The girl leaves her post reluctantly, crosses the room on noiseless feet. Kneels by Abbie’s side.
It’s important. Abbie gathers all she has, raises her hand, touches the girl’s smooth cheek with her bloody fingers.
She says, “Baby, it’s not your fault.”
The girl flinches from her as if struck, but Abbie follows her move, doesn’t break the touch. She takes a breath, coughs, breathes again, says, “You were a kid, okay? Listen to me, listen to me, please. You were a kid and you did your best, and you tried to keep everybody safe the best you could, and you couldn’t.”
She sees the coming tears in her own childish face, talks over them, keeps looking into her eyes. It’s important. “You survived. You – we survived, do you understand? You don’t have to be afraid anymore. And Jenny forgave us.”
“And I forgive you, too.”
The girl folds forwards like a doll with cut strings, hiding her face in the crook of Abbie’s shoulder, her tears mingling with Abbie’s blood, and Abbie holds her and feels herself being held, strokes her hair through her tears and feels her own slide down her face. She doesn’t hurt anymore; she’ll close her eyes for just a minute...
Abigail’s whispered words bring her back to reality with a jerk. “Are you going to leave me now?”
Abbie forces her eyes open, looks at her, finds a smile. “No. We’re leaving together.”
She makes it to her feet this time with Abigail’s help. The ten steps ahead of her might as well be a thousand, but it doesn’t matter. She just needs to hold on a little bit longer.
She leans on Abigail’s bony shoulder and trusts the girl to lead her. Her vision is graying out, tunneling, sound and touch and smell swallowed up. Everything disappears but the door ahead and the warmth under her arm.
Just a little bit longer.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
She reaches for the door, grips the girl’s hand tightly. Time to leave.
They turn the key and step through the open door, into the light.