Falcon thrust his hand out at the creature, but his invisible force barely slowed its rise. For every tendril that lost its grip on the concrete, two more seemed to appear from below.
Falcon turned to Jen and Naomi, his brow knit with effort, and mouthed a single word.
Well, he didn’t have to tell Naomi twice.
She took off running, hearing Falcon’s footsteps behind her as he caught up to her and then passed her. She couldn’t hear the creature behind her, or at least, she didn’t think she could. She wasn’t sure what something with so many gross, slithery limbs would sound like as it moved, and she really, really didn’t want to think about it.
Falcon wasn’t as far ahead of her as she would have expected given how much taller than her he was. It almost seemed like he was slowing down so she and Jen could keep up, which was kind of sweet despite being incredibly stupid.
Then again, Naomi guessed it didn’t matter how fast he was as long as he was faster than the slowest member of the group. It was like that joke about the two guys running from the bear: “I don’t have to outrun the bear–I just have to outrun you!”
Naomi noticed with a chill that there were no sounds behind her–not the creature in pursuit, nor Jen’s footsteps. Maybe Jen had just taken off in a different direction and separated from the group, Naomi told herself, trying to channel some of Jen’s earlier optimism. Maybe Jen just had very light footfalls.
Or maybe the metaphorical bear had picked off the slowest runner.
Chelsea and Angelina stood by the window together as Belfry perched on the windowsill in front of them.
They watched through the dim green light outside, waiting for another chunk of the world to appear or vanish. Angelina had scrawled some kind of diagram in a notebook she’d been carrying with her. Each time an object disappeared, she’d scramble to mark it on the map with such enthusiasm that the notebook ended up sliding from her grip more than once. Her hands were dotted purple with ink.
“You were right.” Angelina held up the notebook. “Look.”
Chelsea stared at the notebook. The diagram featured multiple layers overlapping each other, lines extending in different directions, and little doodles of things like houses, flowers, and birds. There were several scribbled-over areas when Angelina had crossed things out. Some things were labeled in Italian, others were surrounded by question marks.
“Sorry, I’m… not sure what I’m looking for.”
“The pattern. I started to see it a little bit as we were looking out the window, but it makes more sense now that I draw it,” said Angelina. “See? Look at the ‘X’s and stars.”
Chelsea looked more closely. The drawing had been so busy that she had missed it on her first look. She still wasn’t sure what exactly most of the diagram represented, but the map was dotted with ‘X’s and stars that formed a kind of intricate, incomplete spiral.
“Wow,” said Chelsea. “It’s kind of like a vortex.”
“Some of it is missing because I can’t remember most of what I saw disappear in the crater, but it’s based on that, plus the stuff that disappeared in here.”
“Angelina, this is amazing,” said Chelsea. “How did you figure this out?”
“It was really easy if you saw things disappear in the crater too.” Angelina shrugged, then turned her notebook to another page. “I made a map of where I think things should disappear soon.”
This page was a lot more straightforward than the last, depicting a street lined by pentagons that represented houses. Angelina had marked some places on the map with large stars and labels in Italian.
“When you say soon, you mean…?”
“A few minutes.”
Really? It was that easy?
Angelina turned to Belfry and spoke to him in Italian. He gave an enthusiastic response.
“He’s coming with us,” said Angelina.
“Of course he is,” said Chelsea. “We can’t just leave him here all alone.”
Angelina put down her notebook, stood up, patted her shoulder and said something else in Italian, and Belfry fluttered onto her shoulder. She headed for the door.
“Wait,” said Chelsea. “Are you going now? Just like that?”
Angelina paused in front of the door, swiveling on her heels to face Chelsea.
“Why should we wait?”
“I just think we should be careful,” said Chelsea. “Your map is amazing, but we don’t really know how this place works yet. I don’t want you to get hurt again.”
Angelina turned back toward the door.
“I won’t get hurt! Come on. Let’s go. If we stand close together by the corner of the orange house, we’ll be out of here in a few minutes.”
Angelina opened the door and stepped outside. Chelsea picked up Angelina’s backpack and notebook and started after her.
“Angelina, wait,” said Chelsea.
Angelina turned around with a smile, not breaking her brisk pace.
“Of course we’ll wait for you. We’re not leaving without–Ow!” Angelina stumbled as her foot caught on a cobblestone. She recovered her balance and kept walking. “I wouldn’t leave without you, C. Follow me!”
Angelina skipped across the street, heading for a house the color of orange sherbet. Chelsea jogged after her.
“We should probably be careful. This place is really strange. Maybe we could watch a few more things disappear before we try this, just in case it doesn’t work the way we think it does.”
Angelina walked around the side of the house and stopped, turning to face Chelsea again. Chelsea caught up with her.
“It’ll be fine,” said Angelina. “It should happen somewhere around here.”
A gruesome thought crossed Chelsea’s mind as she remembered the severed monster head she’d found next to Angelina.
“Angelina, wait!” said Chelsea. “What if this weird effect only takes parts of us? We could be cut in half or something!”
A strange, static-like smell filled the air, and a soft crackling sound began to pop around them. Chelsea reached for Angelina’s hand, to pull her away. Instead, Angelina pulled her closer, wrapping her arms around Chelsea’s waist. Angelina has surprisingly strong arms, but then, she was a drummer after all.
Chelsea might have been embarrassed at being so close to Angelina if the possible threat of being split in two wasn’t looming over them.
“What are you doing?” Chelsea called over the increasingly loud staticky noise.
“If we’re close together, there’s less chance we’ll get cut in half!”
That didn’t even make sense!
“I’m not sure that’s the best idea! We should probably get out of here before…”
Chelsea heard her own voice fade away to nothing as the crackles and pops grew louder. Their surroundings grew brighter and brighter, until the light was so intense it should have hurt her eyes, but there was no pain. She tried to cling tighter to Angelina, but the other girl’s body dissolved in her arms as though made of sand.
The light faded again, until there was nothing but heavy, intense darkness.