Estratti da Earthbound (-1)

earthboundfull

CHAPTER THREE

Usually my nightmares are about the crash, about those moments I don’t remember. Sometimes I’m forced to watch as my parents’ bodies rip apart in slow motion, blood splattering across my eyes and painting my vision that unmistakable red. Sometimes it’s me—my hands—being crushed in the debris. They curl into unnatural angles, the bones snapping until they’re nothing but a mangled mass.

Which is what should have happened.

Maybe I’m morbid, but while I was in the hospital I spent a lot of time on the Internet looking at photos of the crash site. And even though the media didn’t get my name, they knew which seat I was in.

“According to analysts, the frame should have crumpled here, and here,” one reporter said as she pointed to two places on the frame of the cabin. “But instead you can see that the interior of the plane looks completely untouched. The passenger in 24F, who the airline will only confirm was a female minor, sustained life-threatening injuries but survived in this unlikely cocoon, which experts are at a loss to explain. It’s as though this section of the plane wasn’t in the crash at all.”

I stay away from the reports where they show the casualties. Rows and rows of bodies, sometimes with broken arms and legs flopping out from beneath the drapes. Those, I simply can’t look at.

Part of me fears I’ll recognize my parents among the bodies: my mother’s left hand with her wedding ring, my father’s ankle with an army tattoo twisting up his calf.

Another part is just overwhelmed by guilt that out of 256 passengers, I was the only one who somehow survived.

But tonight there are no bodies, no blood.

There’s no plane at all.

I’m floating.

Floating in water. The ocean? A river? A lake? I can’t be sure.

But it’s cold. The kind of cold that feels more like a blade against your skin, flaying away your flesh and exposing your bones. Even though I somehow know it’s a dream, I shiver.

My hair is long and loose, billowing around me, and when I realize I’m being dragged under, I reach for items that are just suddenly there—a life jacket, a floating log, a small boat. But as soon as my fingers make contact, they pop out of existence, less real even than the dream. Exhausted, I simply flail in the water, but my arms get wound around my hair, trapping me like ropes.

Something is pulling me down. I can’t tell if it’s a current or my heavy clothes. Why am I wearing heavy clothes?

I can’t stay afloat.

I fling my arms out, looking for something else to hold onto, but the water is rising. Or I’m sinking.

I raise my chin, desperate for one more breath, and see a big, bright moon shining down on me. Tears sting my eyes as I realize it’s the last thing I’m going to see before I die—but I don’t feel fear. I feel something else.

An aching loss.

This water is taking something from me.

I open my mouth to scream, but icy liquid rushes in, filling my throat and making my teeth ache all the way into my jaw. The surface closes over my face, but my eyes remain open, looking at the bright, silvery moon.

Desperate, I manage to rip my consciousness away from the dream and force my real eyes open, where a similar moon greets them. Thankfully, this one is shining through my window, not the wavering surface of icy water. My lungs burn and I suck in air as though I had actually been on the verge of drowning. As my heartbeat slows, I touch my forehead and find beads of sweat. It’s been weeks since I had a nightmare this bad.

Weeks. I remember when nightmares like this happened every few years.

And when they did, I had a mother’s bed to jump into.

I toss back the duvet, and even though a chill ripples up my legs when the night air hits them, the shock assures me that I’m awake—the nightmare is over. My feet are resting on solid wood, not flailing in the impenetrable blackness of a bottomless lake.

Lake—it was a lake.

But I push the thought away. I don’t want to dwell on the dream. Its effect on me is lingering too long anyway.

Everything’s been a little off since therapy. Talking about my parents does that.

No, I have to be honest with myself. It’s more than that. It’s that guy. That house. The triangle.

It’s been nagging at me all evening—like I’ve seen it before. But where? Trying not to dwell on it too much, I rise on shaky limbs and cross through the shadowed room to the door.

Warm milk—the age-old remedy for nightmares.

In the kitchen I try to keep quiet, but when I hear a squeak on the stairs, I’m unsurprised to see Jay’s face poke around the doorway. “You okay?” my uncle asks softly.

“Nightmare,” I reply, waving my spoon at the microwave. It’s all I need to say. They’re used to it.

Jay steps fully into the kitchen, leaning one shoulder against the wall. There are light, but definite, shadows under his eyes.

“I’m sorry I woke you,” I add, but he dismisses my apology and runs his fingers through his sleep-tousled hair.

“I was up anyway. Been feeling a little off—insomnia, you know. Maybe Reese is right and I’ve been working too hard,” he says with a self-deprecating grimace. “But the boss has everyone putting in extra hours on this new virus.” He wrinkles his forehead. “It’s … not like anything I’ve seen before.”

Jay’s got to be about thirty-five, but he looks like a twenty-something running around in big person clothes. If I saw him on the street, I’d never believe he was a scientist, but he’s actually some kind of specialized biochemist.

He’s nice, though. Easy to talk to.

I didn’t know him before my parents died. Reese’s mom and my grandpa got married after she and my dad were mostly grown up. I was like eight. Reese had just started college and lived on campus, and I didn’t even meet her for the first several years. So finally getting to know Reese and Jay has been great.

I just wish there’d been another reason.

“Plane crash again?” Jay asks softly, noticing the expression on my face.

I pull the door of the microwave open, stopping it two seconds before it finishes so it doesn’t beep and wake Reese up too. “Actually, no.” I reach for the porcelain canister of sugar and spoon a generous helping into my mug. “Drowning of all things.” I avoid his eyes, stirring intently.

“Think maybe your mind is moving on?” Jay asks, ever the optimist.

“Maybe.” I glance up at the clock on the oven.

2:36 a.m.

“I’m fine, Jay,” I insist. Now that reality is fully with me again, I wish he wasn’t here—wasn’t witness to my freak-out. “You can go back to bed. I’m just going to finish this and then that’s where I’m headed too.”

“Are you sure?” Jay asks, his pale blue eyes glinting even in the murky shadows of the half-lit kitchen. “Because if you don’t want to be alone, I’ll wait till you’re done.”

“I’m good. Like I said, it wasn’t about the plane, just a regular nightmare.” Even as I say the words, I remember the iciness of the water and that strange, hollow sense of loss. Regular isn’t the right word either.

I force a small smile onto my face and take a sip of the foamy milk. Ahhh! Almost worth the nightmare.

Almost.

Jay gives me a long look, but there’s nothing more he can do and he seems to know it. With a nod, he turns before I can catch him yawn—I do anyway—and heads back upstairs.

As the steps squeak lightly, I drop into a chair at the kitchen table and sip my milk. My eyes skim the moonlit backyard, so silvery it looks staged. The warmth from the mug spreads through my body, and by the time it’s empty, I’m feeling much better. The bitter cold has left me, and I think maybe I can sleep again.

Maybe.

I rub at my temples for a moment, then my fingers freeze as the realization settles almost with a click.

I know where I’ve seen that triangle.

I try to be quiet as I hurry upstairs and grab my phone off my bedside table. My feet wander over to the window as I scroll through some pictures I took on one of my history walks. Down off Fifth Street—between Piper and Sand. In the Old Money part of town.

There! A white house bedecked with six gorgeous gables and curlicued eaves. I click forward a few until I reach a good shot of the front entrance—a cheerful green door stark amid crisp white walls.

And there it is. In the picture it doesn’t flicker and glimmer the way the triangle at that guy’s house did. And while it’s not exactly clear, it’s definitely there—a faintly glowing triangle, just like the other one.

I didn’t even notice it when I took the photo. What does it mean? Part of me thinks it’s probably just some kind of weird builder’s mark, but for some reason that doesn’t seem quite right. I sit on my window seat and lean back against the wall, tugging nervously at a short lock of my hair as I peer down into the backyard.

A movement catches my eye. A large, dark shape is emerging just at the edge of the trees. Probably just some hungry deer, I think. Squinting, I peer into the deep darkness and startle when a person walks out onto the grass. He’s wearing a long coat and hat and—

It’s the guy from the porch. The one I saw this afternoon.

Shock rattles through me, jarring bones that are suddenly chilled again. It doesn’t make any sense, but I see the blond ponytail and I … I just know. It’s him.

He’s at my house in the middle of the night.

Did he follow me? What the hellis he doing? Every sliver of logic within me is screaming to go get Jay. He’s just down the hall.

But instead I sit there, staring.

The blond guy walks across the backyard, very slowly, kicking grass with the toes of his knee-length boots. His hands are wedged deep in the pockets of the breeches I was admiring earlier, pushing his long coat back at the waist and showing off an embroidered vest. He seems completely unconcerned by the fact that he’s standing on someone else’s property at a totally inappropriate time. He’s not hiding or even keeping to the shadows. He’s just … walking.

The tip of my nose brushes the chilly glass and I realize I’ve practically pushed my entire body up against the window. He turns and looks right up at me. Our eyes meet.

I freeze.

There seems to be something wrong with my body the last twelve hours; my fight-or-flight mechanism isn’t working quite right; it’s stuck on simply stop. I don’t so much as twitch as his gaze takes me in—my wide eyes, my open mouth, my fingertips making ten little smudges on the frosted glass.

Then he smiles—half-interested, half-amused, as though this were some kind of game.

But I don’t know the rules.

Strength seems to drain from my arms and my hands drop slowly, my fingers making lines down the clouded windowpane. We both stand there, frozen in time, just staring.

He raises one hand and crooks a gloved finger at me, inviting me out. I squeak and pull away, flattening myself against the wall, out of sight.

Hiding him from my sight.

My heart pounds in my temples and my fingertips as I stand there counting my breaths, trying to calm down. Who is this guy? How did he find me? After ten long breaths I scoot over and turn, peeking out from behind the curtain. I don’t have to hide, I rationalize, I’m not the one doing something wrong.

But though I stand at the window staring down for several minutes, nothing stirs, nothing moves.

He’s gone.

I’m so confused. I don’t know this guy—I’ve never seen him in my life before today.

So why do I miss him?

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