Ensnared Page 30

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“A sea horse . . . ,” I whisper. They use their tails to maneuver in any direction, carry their babies in pouches, glide gracefully through the water as if sailing.

“No more time!” Dad yells, and thrusts me up into the sky—just before his head disappears beneath the water.

“Sea horse!” I shout loud enough to make my lungs ache, spreading my wings and flapping so I hover in place.

Dad resurfaces, doing the backstroke. The water bulges as something giant rises behind him. An armored hump bursts out, covered with bony plates, clear like glass. Water streams off to reveal the curve of a spine beneath the transparent armor. The graceful neck of a sea horse—as big as the Loch Ness Monster’s—emerges. Sun glistens off the creature. It’s beautiful, and looks more like a glass statue than a living counterpart: a sea horse’s body with the head of a wild stallion.

Its belly pouch opens, and a funnel of water drags Dad toward it. I dive to join him. We slip into the translucent pocket. The opening cinches closed before the creature submerges once more. The cavity is damp, but comfortable. Dad and I sit and hold on to one another, watching underwater plants and confused fish dart past as we descend toward the sunken mountain. An entrance appears—just as it did with Morpheus—and held safe within our living submarine, we glide into a dark tunnel as the mountain closes around us, shutting out the light.

As we surface, a muted, purplish glow casts shadows all around. The sea horse bends its spine back and forth, squeezing its pouch until we burst free into the shallows.

I cough and shove myself to my hands and knees. Behind me, my wings drape, as soggy and muddy as my clothes. The sea horse snorts, blows froth from its equestrian muzzle, then sinks back into the depths.

Weak from physical exertion, I force myself to stand in the ankle-deep water. Dad gets up, offers his hand, and we wade to a cement embankment to sit and catch our breath.

“Any idea where this is?” I ask, wringing out my tunic. “Did you visit here as a child? Do you remember?”

His brows furrow. “This world is so different than I remember, Allie. It keeps changing. It’s as if we’re in a picture book and the pages are flipping in the wind.”

When I glance over my shoulder for a closer look at the dim tunnel, my breath catches: Graffiti stretches for what seems like miles—words like love, death, anarchy, peace, and pictures of broken hearts, stars, and faces are painted in fluorescent colors.

It’s a replica of the storm drain Jeb and I almost drowned in over a month ago, the one we used to go to as kids. It even sounds the same, with water dripping all around. But there’s one huge difference: The images on these walls are moving.

The broken hearts stitch themselves together, beat several times, then break and bleed. The stars shoot from one end to the other, leaving sparkles in their wake that catch fire and snuff out with the scent of scorched leaves. And the faces glare at us, as if angry. I muffle a whimper.

“Do you see that?” I ask Dad.

“It’s not possible.”

“Anything is possible here,” I correct, then stand, facing the ultraviolet images. My legs tremble, but I step forward. “You realize what this means?”

Dad doesn’t respond.

Of course he doesn’t. He can’t see inside my past.

“These are from Jeb’s memories,” I explain. “Our memories.” The thought that I’m about to see him makes every muscle in my body leap. I take off for the far end of the tunnel.

“Allie, we need to be careful.” Dad catches up, gripping my shoulder.

I shake him off. “We have to find him!” But with each step, the tunnel shrinks, and so do we. Either that, or it’s an illusion—because I don’t feel like I’m shrinking. I’ve done that enough to have the sensation memorized.

No. We’re not getting smaller. The images are growing, elongating. They lift from their places on the walls and scrape our skin as we pass. The stars singe my sleeves; the hearts drizzle wet blood. The faces nibble at me—their teeth cold and prickly like straight pins.

I shiver as Dad and I move faster.

A sketch stands guard at the tunnel’s end—a neon orange fairy whose wings spread behind her in pinks, blues, and whites.

It’s me. The one Jeb painted on the tunnel wall in our world. But this is not a part of the wall. She’s facing us, an ominous barricade . . .

“Stay behind me.” Dad draws the dagger, waving it as he faces her. Bright colors reflect off the shiny blade and the iron bypasses her lines. Dad steps through without any trouble. “Come on, Butterfly. It’s just an illusion.” He holds out a hand.

I reach for him, but something jerks his shoulder from the shadows behind. The dagger falls from his grasp and hits the floor with a clang. “Run, Allie!” he yelps as he’s dragged away out of my sight.

Terror ices my spine. “Dad!”

My fluorescent double steps back into place, blocking me. “You should be in pieces like the others,” she whispers. Her breath smells of sadness, lost dreams, and abandoned hopes—like stale, dust-covered keepsakes in a forgotten attic.

I grit my teeth against revulsion and fear. Dad walked right through her. That’s proof she’s not real.

I lunge.

My body meets a prickly barrier, each sketched line piercing like barbed wire. I yell and my attacker echoes me. I rip free from her barbs and hit the ground. My bones rattle even with my wings cushioning the impact.

The drawing drifts toward me, her body and face warping as she gets closer. Her mouth stretches cavernously wide and she screeches, “Shred her!”

Her thorny fingers scrape my neck. I shield my face, trying to use magic to recruit the other graffiti along the walls to help. Either I’m too panicked or they’re under someone else’s spell, because they refuse to obey.

I roll and snatch the dagger Dad dropped in the adjoining passage. In the same move, I whip the blade through the fairy’s fluorescent lines, but it has no effect. She attacks again, along with the other graffiti now pulled away from the walls. They surround me: glowing, barbed wire artwork.

I toss away the dagger and hold my hands over my head like we did in school during tornado drills. The diary at my neck trembles and shakes. I brave a look at the sensation of warmth at my chest. Light radiates from under my tunic, as if the words on the pages are infrared.

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