Into the Hollow (Experiment in Terror #6) by Karina Halle
That’s what I saw when I finally pried my lids open, my lashes stuck together with the glue of tiny snowflakes.
White. White. White.
Where was I?
I rolled over with a groan and felt an explosion of pain in my side. I looked down and as my vision began to right itself, I saw a rock jutting into my stomach, protruding from the cold, snow-blown ground like a weapon.
I eased onto my back, the chill seeping through my jacket. My bare fingers tingled as I ran them over my body. I felt intact, nothing bleeding or broken.
But how did that explain the rich, acidic smell of blood in the air?
I slowly sat up, surveying my surroundings.
I was sitting on the barren, rocky ground up the side of a mountain. Snow swirled in the air from all directions, some of it falling on the icy white patches on the earth, the rest blown away like angel dust.
Because of the infinite white, I could barely make out a forested valley below, and across from me, in the haze of snowfall, a few jagged peaks.
Beneath me the ground sloped off gently, alternating between sudden drop-offs. Vertigo swept through me and I dug my frozen fingers into the hard ground, suddenly afraid I’d roll off the side and fall to my death.
A soft rumbling came from my left. I turned, painfully, my side still smarting, and saw a slight overhang where snow fell off in gentle lumps. My heart sped up a few beats.
I let out the breath I was holding, watching it freeze and catch in the air before drifting away, and noticed a trace of red where the snow had just fallen.
My bones seized with chill.
I peered at the red spot, my eyes widening as it began to spread and bleed across the snow.
Glancing up at the overhang where the snow had come from, I saw another clump of it come sailing down, landing on the red with a poof.
It too had a spot of red in it that slowly spread like a stain on a paper towel. Curiosity getting the better of me, I carefully got to my feet and walked over to the patch of silky wetness. Hunched over, I tried to figure out why the snow was bleeding. I felt a drip on the back of my neck.
I reached back with my hand and when I took it away, it was slick with blood.
Did I even want to turn around?
I did, anyway.
Above me was a limp, lacerated arm, its torn and bloody fingers dangling over the edge of the overhang.
Claws. Teeth. Blood.
Tearing. Gnawing. Eating.
The images and sounds ripped through my head in a flash of smoky darkness.
Dex! I remembered Dex.
My chest collapsed in on itself as I tried to recall the last time I’d seen him.
Where was he?
What happened to him?
I eyed the arm above my head and felt the world drop away beneath my feet.
A hard nudge into the side of my stomach again.
I winced and grabbed it, expecting to find the sharp, snow-dusted rock but instead found a dainty hand and long fingers wrapped around mine.
My eyes flew open. Beside me, Ada poked my side, a quiet smile on her face.
We were in the back of my dad’s car. Of course we were.
My father, at the wheel, eyed me nervously in the rearview mirror. My mom sat beside him, looking out the passenger’s side window. Ada was next to me, stuck with the bitch seat, as the hulking douchecanoe, Maximus, hunched on her opposite side.
“Are you feeling OK?” Ada asked, keeping her voice low, even though everyone in the damn car could hear her. “You fell asleep there. You were drooling.”
I wiped at my mouth and at the puddle on my collar.
“Well, I’ve sort of had a long day.”
My eyes met my dad’s in the mirror again. He looked so much older than he did the other day. Was it possible to drive someone to an early grave?
“We’re almost home, pumpkin,” he said.
I nodded and felt eyes boring into the side of my head. Reluctantly, I looked past Ada and at Maximus, who was staring at me intently.
“What the hell are you looking at?” I sniped.
His expression didn’t change and he didn’t look away, just kept trying to read me with those green eyes of his.
This is all your fault, I projected at him, hoping he could hear it in some way. It kind of creeped me out that it looked like he nodded in return.
“Perry,” my dad warned, though his voice had lost the edge it normally had. I guess when your daughter is borderline psycho and may or may not have just been kidnapped along with your 15-year-old, it’s best to use the kid gloves.
I sighed and looked out the window at the darkening Portland cityscape. I thought about Dex and if he was OK. Jail. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, the idea of Dex in jail wasn’t all too surprising. He kind of seemed made for jail in some ways, but he was there on account of me. On account of my parents. On account of Maximus. The unfairness of it all boiled my blood and heated my face.
After Dex, Ada and I returned home from Idaho and the exorcism. all my fears came to a head right in my parents’ front yard.
Dex was hauled off by the cops on suspicion of kidnapping, which was totally bunk considering both Ada and I had willingly gone with him. At first, my loving Dr. Freedman thought I wasn’t in my right mind to give consent, so he convinced the police and my parents to take me to the hospital to get checked out. All I wanted to do was holler and fight and scream, but that probably would have only helped his case. I very reluctantly took Maximus’s advice to just go along with it. But I didn’t believe for a second that he’d have my back when he said he wouldn’t let anything happen to me.
Well, I guess he did keep his word because nothing did happen to me, though I won’t give him all the credit. The once-over at the hospital proved to everyone how coherent I was. Because, well, I was. The demons weren’t haunting me anymore. Abby was long gone. I left them all with Roman in those dusted Idaho hills. I’d be lying if I said I felt a hundred percent better. But that had nothing to do with ghosts or my mental state. I was just extremely tired and felt…off. Like a lot of extra energy was pooling around in my bones with nowhere to go. Two very contradictory feelings at once and it was scrambling things a bit in my head.
Ada also helped me by ruthlessly sticking to her story: that I had been nutso because I was sick and had a terrible fever. In a panic, she called Dex because he would know what to do and he took us to a medicine man who applied a bunch of herbs and shit during a healing session and voila! The fever broke, I was cured. No more crazy Perry.
I could tell that no one really wanted to believe that story, but they had no choice. Like the truth would have made any more sense—the truth is what would have gotten me in trouble. At least with this version, an external and mildly believable circumstance brought on the psychosis. Plus, it was hard to argue with it when I was sitting there in the examining room, forming complete sentences, wholly lucid, acting like myself.
And Maximus, well, he didn’t turn on me like I thought he would. He backed up Ada’s story and even interjected some observations such as, “I knew there was something physically wrong with her. I just wasn’t sure what, and hearing about Perry’s history, I jumped to the wrong conclusion.” A total lie, but one I appreciated. It didn’t mean I didn’t want to kick the ginger right in his freckled balls.
And so I left the hospital with a clean bill of health. Dr. Freedman seemed disappointed. It was like he wanted me to be sick. It didn’t help that I caught him pulling my mother aside and telling her to watch me very carefully. I had a feeling that he didn’t mean for today, or the next few days, or the next few weeks.
He meant for the rest of my life.
My thoughts drifted over to Pippa. My grandmother. It would take me a long time to come to terms with that, even though deep in my soul I knew we were related. Maybe in some ways, I always knew. Maybe I had seen her in my childhood. Maybe you could feel yourself in someone’s blood.
It broke my heart to learn what my mother had done to her. Though I wasn’t a parent, I still couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have your daughter put you away, to condemn you to a horrible life, to a certain lonely death. It made waves of nausea simmer in my belly.
I looked over at my mom, keeping my actions subtle. She was still staring out the window and so I couldn’t see her face. That was just as well. I didn’t think I could ever look her in the eyes again, knowing everything that I knew now. I wasn’t sure how I’d even survive in the house with her watching my every move for the rest of my life, waiting for me to screw up. I had no reason, really, to believe my mom would act the same way with me as she had with Pippa—my grandmother—but …
My mother always acted as if she was scared of me. I now understood why, to watch the signs of “mental illness” creeping up in your daughter, knowing what might lie ahead. But now, everything had changed. She was afraid of me and I was afraid of her.
“Afraid of her?” Ada asked.
I jumped in my seat and turned to see everyone in the car looking at Ada, including my mother. I quickly averted my eyes from hers to Ada’s questioning face.
“Did…I just say something out loud?” I asked, my heart tight. I hoped to God I wasn’t babbling on about my mother. That really wouldn’t have helped.
But while Ada said, “Yes,” everyone else in the car said, “No.”
Oh, great, now she was acting loony too.
She raised her brows at me and a flash of fear sparked in her eyes. I stared right back, willing her to not say anything else.
Finally, Maximus laughed awkwardly. “I reckon it’s been a long day for everyone, myself included.”
My mom smiled gratefully at him, then shot her daughters a suspicious look, and turned back in her seat.
No one said anything for the rest of the ride.
A knock at my door roused me out of my dreamless sleep.
“Come in,” I groaned, hoping it was someone I wanted to see, which nowadays meant Ada.
It was. She poked her blonde head in my room and squinted at the darkness.
“Sorry to wake you,” she said as she came in and gently closed the door behind her. She flicked on the lights.
“Arrrrrgh,” I moaned, throwing my arm over my eyes. “Thanks a lot. What time is it?”
“It’s almost ten, lazybones,” she said. I felt her come over and sit on the side of my bed.
“In the morning?”
“No, at night.”
“Then why are you waking me up? Can’t a girl sleep?” I mumbled. “I survived an exorcism, you know.”
“That’s what I came here to talk to you about,” she said lowering her voice.
I took my arm off my face and blinked at her. She looked as serious as anything.
“OK, what is it?” I whispered. An exorcism was the last thing we wanted to get caught talking about. I was so paranoid now, and apparently so was she.
“I…I don’t know what happened to you when you were…gone,” she said. She looked very small and scared. “But it hurt. It was…so terrifying. I didn’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Oh, Ada,” I told her, sitting up. “I’m fine. I came back.”
“Did you?” she asked. “You seem different.”
I bit my lip. “Well, I feel different. Not in a bad way, but I do. I don’t know what Roman did to me.”
“You went somewhere…”
I examined her face carefully. Had I talked to her about Pippa, about what I saw in the Thin Veil? I didn’t think so. At least, I didn’t remember.
“Somewhere?” I asked.
“I know about our grandmother,” she said deliberately. “Pippa. I know what happened to her.”
My eyes widened, the breath leaving me. “How…did I tell you?”
She smiled, lips tight and closed. “Sort of. I don’t know what’s going on Perry but…OK, this is going to sound really freaking weird but from time to time, I’m, like…hearing your thoughts.”
That threw me for a loop. I almost laughed then I remembered her bizarre question in the car. But…that was impossible.
I looked at her even closer, wondering if she was f*cking with me. Not that she would, but there was no explanation that I could grasp. What, I suddenly became telepathic? How come I couldn’t hear anyone else’s thoughts?
She watched me for a few beats and I asked, “All righty, if that’s true, did you hear what I was thinking just now.”
She shook her head.
How about now? I asked internally, projecting my thoughts onto her with all the concentration my poor brain could muster.
“Yeah, I heard that one,” she exclaimed quietly, her smile broadening with wonder.
I matched her smile in wattage. This…I couldn’t even begin to fathom this discovery. It was like waking up and finding out you had super powers.
“Oh my God, OK, how about now…OK wait,” I said excitedly.
Is Maximus still in the house? I thought with power behind it.
Her expression was open, watching me.
“Well?” I asked.
“I didn’t hear anything,” she said.
I took in a deep breath and closed my eyes, my insides straining, like I was pushing through a massive headache.
Is the ginger still here? Or has he left? I asked.
I heard nothing so I opened my eyes to see Ada with her eyes closed.
“Still nothing?” I prodded her.
She opened her eyes. “No, I was trying to project my thoughts onto you. The assfart left right after you took your nap. He said he was going back home and he’d call you later.”
“Oh freaking joy,” I snarled. “Well, I can’t hear you. Try again.”
We tried back and forth for a while. Sometimes Ada heard me but only when it felt like I was busting a nut. Otherwise, it didn’t work and I never heard her. >
“Maybe it’s a one-way street,” I mulled it over. One-way street was better than no way, providing I had the choice of whether she heard it or not. I didn’t want my sister to hear everything I thought, no matter how close we had become.
“Maybe,” she said. “Do you think Pippa passed something on to you?”
I shook my head. “Wouldn’t she have said something?”
“I don’t know. Perry, I’m scared.”
It was a stupid question.
She sighed and started picking at the blanket. “About everything she told you. How could mom do something like that to her? What if she does the same thing to you? To me?”
I grabbed Ada’s hand and squeezed it. “You’re going to be OK. You’re the favorite here. You’ve never given mom any sign that you’re about to go loco. Keep it like that.”
“You never did either until you were my age.” Her voice trembled.
“Ada,” I said determinedly. “You have the advantage. You now know about everything. You know the stakes. Just keep being yourself and if you ever see anything that doesn’t make sense to you, ignore it. Ignore it and talk to me. We’ll keep it just between us. No one ever has to know or suspect anything.”
“And what about you? You know mom is going to be watching you like a hawk. You don’t see the way she looks at you when you’re not looking. She has that same f*cking look on her face as the doctor.”
“She’s still our mom,” I told her. Though I thought the same thing, I felt strangely defensive. “We can’t jump to conclusions and we can’t start hating her. I mean, f*ck, she is our mother. We have to believe she would never do that to us. She’s not a monster. And if she wants to spend the rest of her life worrying about me…well…then she can do it from afar.”
I swallowed hard and looked around my familiar room. For the last few weeks it was a circus of horrors. Now it meant nothing to me at all.
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately,” I told her honestly. “It’s time for me to leave. To move out. I’m f*cking nearing spinsterhood anyway, it’s getting pretty sad that I’m still here.”
“No…don’t go,” she pleaded with those round blue spheres. Her plea was weak though and I knew she was on board with the idea.
“If I stay here, I’ll just get worse. How can I function being paranoid as hell at each turn? I couldn’t. I can’t live here, with her, worrying about the next time I f*ck up. I might be fine now, but am I ever really all there, especially now that I’m, what, a bloody telepath? This shit isn’t leaving me anytime soon and we both know it. I might not have a demon on my back but I can guarantee I’m not getting rid of my ghosts anytime soon.”
She grew quiet and squeezed my hand back, her eyes dropping to the bed. We sat in silence for a minute, both in our own heads. She gave me no indication that I was in hers.
Finally she pointed out, “But you don’t have a job. You don’t have any money. How are you going to move out?”
I let out a deep breath. “I don’t know. But I have to leave. And soon.”
“You could move in with Maximus,” she suggested innocently.
I shot her a dirty look. “Are you f*cking kidding me?”
She threw up her hands in surrender. “OK, well before you bite my head off just hear me out.”
I didn’t want to but she continued on, “Look, we’re both not a fan of his. I know I wouldn’t mind shoving my curling iron up his ass and turning it to eleven. But aside from that, he did do you a favor today.”
I opened my mouth to protest but she shushed me. “And I know it was a weak favor and that most of this is his fault and that he never had your back and yadda yadda yadda and OK, I really hate him too. But I wouldn’t suggest going with him if I didn’t think it would be better than you staying here. Move in with him, get a job and move out.”
“No way,” I said, crossing my arms. “Not happening. Not ever f*cking happening. And also, who the hell says he’d want me crashing his stupid apartment?”
She gave me a wry smile. “Perry, it’s pretty obvious he still has a hard-on for you.”
“Oh Ada,” I smacked her arm. “Don’t say things like ‘hard-on’ it grosses me out to hear it from you.”
“Fine,” she said, taking her arm away from me. “I guess you do have one other option.”
I had a queer tightening in my chest and could barely eke out the word, “What?”
She didn’t say anything. She fished her phone out of her pocket and started to text something.
“Ada!” I cried out. “What is the other option?”
She put the phone down and smiled at me. She gestured to my window with her head.
My legs felt like they were encased in cement. I stared at her, bewildered, my mind racing on about something I both did and did not want to think about.
“Go on,” she said more urgently.
I slowly got off my bed and eased my way over to the window. My heart thumped hard against my chest and the blood filtered out of my head.
Outside, across the street, a black Highlander was running, its exhaust floating in the night.
“How the…” I said, barely find the words.
She got up and joined me by the window. “Maximus went to bail him out earlier. He’s still a twat, of course, but at least Dex isn’t jail anymore. It’s not like the charges were going to stick anyway.”
I took my eyes off of the sight of Dex’s car, my heart awkwardly tumbling over itself at the thought of him outside, and looked at her incredulously.
“How did you know? Did you plan for this to happen?”
She grinned. “Remember that whole sometimes hearing your thoughts thing we were just trying out? I already knew you were thinking of making a run for it. Dex doesn’t know, I just told him to come here right after Maximus got out. I have a feeling though, let’s call it a hunch, that he’s got a hard,” she paused, catching my eyes flashing, “er, soft spot for you too.”
I didn’t know what to think about that. Looking out at Dex’s car, and the answer she had given me, all I did know is that my life was – yet again - about to change in an incredibly messy way.