Chapter 20- Riddle
When I came to, something had changed. I blinked a few times, to make sure I was actually awake. I think I was, so I sat up and had to remember how to close my gaping, open mouth.
The room had things in it. Not just the staircase. There was light. I could see around me. I could see the black, wrought-iron, intricately detailed staircase and the hole to the floor above me, but I could also see a blue sky where the ceiling should be. It was covered in wispy clouds that meant the temperature was breezy and cool. I could see the green, gently waving grass that I was sitting on. I could see the walls around me, like the night sky dotted with a thousand blazing stars. I reached out to touch it. It was solid. Just like the ceiling probably was.
I stood and pushed a tuft of grass aside with my shoe. It whispered and sighed underneath me; I must have imagined myself bounding across the wood floor, then.
“Tell me why,” said a voice, “you were running.” It boomed with a deep baritone, but it was quiet and concentrated right by my head at the same time.
I staggered back and pressed up against the starry wall. “Who’s there?” I called out.
“Tell me why you were running,” commanded the voice again. It was like there was someone standing right next to me.
I cringed when I heard the footsteps walking across the floor above me. He had to be almost at the staircase hole by now. “Why?” I whispered.
“Wyatt,” said the voice, and I felt a thrill of panic towards the voice that knew my name, “he is still following you. If you want my help, you must tell me why you were running.”
I shook my head, inching across the wall away from the voice. “Because I fucked up,” I told him. And I was definitely sure it was a him. I felt the air shiver around me. “It’s true!”
“But not intentionally,” he said.
The footsteps continued to edge closer to the hole leading to the staircase.
I made a face. “Of course it was intentional,” I countered. “I shouldn’t have gotten mixed up with Jael in the first place.” Was I talking to nobody? Had this house literally driven me insane?
My eyes stayed locked on the opening in the ceiling. Because if he walked down those stairs and found me, there was nowhere for me to go this time. I’d have no escape and he’d kill me.
The air around me seemed to soften. “But you didn’t know any better,” the voice said quietly.
“I should have!” I was still sidling against the wall. My feet were almost tripping over themselves, they were moving so fast now. I just didn’t want to step away from the wall; I felt like the voice could pin me there if it wanted to.
“But you didn’t.”
That stopped me short. What does he know? I asked myself.
“I know many things,” answered the voice.
Swaying, I stopped my retreat mid-stride. “Who are you?” I hissed in surprise, eyes darting around the room.
“Just tell me,” continued the voice, “why you were running, and I will leave you be.”
I placed my foot back on the grass. “How did you do that?”
There was no answer.
“Tell me how you did that!” I insisted.
Again, there was no answer. I waited, my hands clenching and unclenching nervously as the footsteps above me became louder and closer with each passing second.
“Wyatt,” said the voice.
“I was arrogant and thought I could handle it, but of course I was wrong,” I told him in a rush. “Happy?”
“For now,” said the voice in an appeased tone.
There was a crash and a yell, and the hole to the floor above me went dark. A whooshing sound followed, and a gust of wind pinned me against the wall and shoved the air out of my lungs. I fell into a crumpled heap in the grass, gasping after it had passed, until unconscious rushed over me.
I woke to find myself enveloped in darkness once more. I rubbed the back of my head where it had been slammed into the wall by the wind and stood, carefully bracing myself against the wall. I sucked in a deep breath. There were no footsteps around me anymore, so maybe the voice had done something to him. Maybe he’d thrown him out a window the same time I was slammed against the wall. Maybe he was gone. Maybe they were both gone.
I started to walk again, this time without even twitching a finger like I wanted to raise my searching hand. I was just done. I wanted to find food. I wanted to know if he was really gone. I wanted to know why there was never any light that lasted more than a few minutes in this damn house. I wanted to know who that voice had belonged to.
“You should have asked those specifics after you first stepped in here.”
I jumped and spun, but of course was faced with nothing but black. “You’re back,” I gasped.
“I never left.”
“Did he leave?”
“I have forced him out, yes,” the voice replied curtly.
“How?” I asked.
“Never mind that,” said the voice. “I want to know why you are here.”
The heaviness of the question disturbed me. It was simple enough, but there was something behind it that I didn’t think I wanted to see. “Same as you, I think,” I told him. I started to back away.
“And what do you mean by that?”
“I needed a place to hide. You did too, right?”
“Hiding…” The voice rumbled with something that resembled a chuckle. “Not particularly, no. I have always been in plain sight.”
“So you hid in me,” continued the voice as if I hadn’t just loudly dry-swallowed my fear. “And that has brought you to what conclusion, exactly?”
“What are you talking about?” I asked him. “What do you mean? Aren’t you following me?”
Again, the voice almost chuckled. “Yes, in a way, I guess I am,” he said.
I tripped over something and landed on my back. My head spun sickeningly.
“I can fix that,” said the voice, his eager offer gentle, “if you tell me what I am asking.”
“But I don’t understand what you’re asking,” I replied, my head against the floor and my hands against my head.
The voice sighed. “I will do what I must,” he said, “but the rest is up to you.”
“What do you—?” And I was pulled away. I was pulled away and shoved into a memory.
I could hear the police splashing behind me. I was a good ways into the sewer by now, but my frantic heartbeat kept me sloshing forward through the refuse and garbage at a wheezing pace. I stumbled, caught myself on the cool, damp rock wall. Without a pause I leapt forward again, my arms swinging with the exertion of my long strides.
I was smiling. This was the most fun I’d had in a month.
My heart wasn’t freaking per se, then. It was excited, exhilarated. I was thrilled to be the hunted. I was the prey, and the chase was on.
The walkie-talkie beeped loudly on my hip and I yanked it off the clip. “Where are you?” demanded Jael’s gruff voice.
“I’m just under Duffy Square. Where are you?”
“Are you running?”
I laughed through a choked cough. “Yeah, of course I am. Why else would I sound so out of breath?” I told him.
There was static for a moment. I could still hear the police trying to catch up with me, but I took a right, and then a left, and then another right, and knew they’d never find me. The walkie beeped when I clicked it. “Jael?”
“I’ve got the rest of the old hag’s jewels and cash stashed at my place,” he said. “Just don’t let the cops follow you.”
“No sweat,” I told him, but realized that the line was now dead.
And then my eyes opened, and I was sitting in the Great Room again. I turned my head to look out the darkened window next to me and immediately felt my head swim. I tried to force away the white orbs in front of my eyes, but was sucked into another memory.
I wanted to leave. But Jael insisted that I dick up and do what we planned. I nodded my head, shaking it at the same time. I was okay with the whole possible idea of getting caught. That didn’t bother me. What bothered me was the fact that there were almost a hundred people in that bank, and Jael wasn’t even thinking of them.
I crossed my arms loosely. “I don’t like this. We hadn’t hurt that old lady. She wasn’t even home when we went in,” I told him. “We have to be careful. I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
A forceful breeze swept down the square and it ruffled Jael’s blond curls. “If you do this right, they won’t be in the way,” he said, leaning against his maroon Ford Taurus.
I still thought his car was too girlie for his personality, but let it slide. We’d had that conversation way too many times already, and I was sure he would get mad if I brought up again. I so wanted to bring it up again.
“We?” I asked, frowning. “What about you?”
He saw me staring at his reflection in the window behind him.
“It attracts less attention than my Mustang. Let it go, Wyatt,” he snapped. His gray eyes narrowed a bit. He was trying to keep himself from sneering in defense of his rental car. One just like it zoomed past us and I smirked. Jael glared.
I held my hands up. “All right, sorry,” I said. Then, “Aren’t you coming in with me?”
He shook his head. “No,” he replied. “I have to be here to drive the getaway car.”
“I’m going to need backup.”
“No, you’re not. Don’t be such a pussy.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at his sniggering tone.
Jerking in surprise, I rolled onto my stomach. “Wait, wait!” I cried out, trying to catch my breath. “What the hell was that? How did you do that? Where am I?” My head was spinning and I had no idea if I was awake or asleep anymore.
“There’s just one more, Wyatt, and I will explain,” said the voice.
“Wait!” But he didn’t.
Every part of me was tingling. And not in the sappy butterflies-in-the-stomach, head-spinning happiness kind of way. It was like I had spiders crawling all over me. Or ants. No matter how much I fidgeted in my seat or fussed with my clothes, the tingling just wouldn’t go away.
I looked over at the lady sitting next to me. She was almost asleep already, and we hadn’t even taken off yet. She had that kind of wrinkled face that wasn’t necessarily saggy. It was more puffy than anything. Well-rounded in the cheeks and mouth, with a pair of eyes that were framed by crow’s feet behind a pair of wire-framed glasses.
She looked like the lady Jael and I had robbed a few months ago. Remembering her now made me feel queasy.
Crossing my arms in front of me tightly, I tried to relax. This was going to be like any other plane flight. I was just flying from one city to another. Planes have never freaked me out. I checked my heartbeat, listened to it, felt it fluttering in my chest.
Why was I freaking out, then?
“Sir, please put your tray table up.”
I opened my eyes. Huh. I hadn’t realized I’d closed them.
“What?” I asked, looking around and then finding the face that matched the voice, I said, “Oh, right,” and pushed the table up and locked it in place on the seat in front of me.
The flight attendant nodded politely and went back to walking down the aisle. An occasional, “Sir” or “Ma’am” followed. I couldn’t hear anything besides that because my head was pounding so hard.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” boomed the loud speaker, “this is your captain speaking…”
I groaned inwardly and shrank a little deeper into the uncomfortable blue seat. I couldn’t believe Jael had talked me into this. I couldn’t believe I’d actually agreed to something I knew nothing about. Hadn’t I learned already that to trust him was like putting a gun to my head? He’d tricked me too many times already.
“Apparently not,” I muttered. The lady next to me stirred a little. I held my breath, and when she didn’t open her eyes and started to breathe slowly again, I sighed, shaking my head.
This was insane. Breaking and entering was one thing. Robbing a bank was another. But trafficking heroine across state lines in a commercial jet? I wasn’t even good at lying. How could I get that suitcase—I put my head against the window—through security once we landed? How was it even going to get past the dogs when the bags were unloaded?
I don’t even do heroine! I thought angrily.
It was one thing to let me in on the cash. I was cool with that. We’d split our steals fifty-fifty before, even when I hadn’t done any of the work. Jael felt generous sometimes. But it was another matter entirely, and I mean entirely, for me to believe that he had something good—not to mention safe—planned for me when he didn’t tell me where I was going, why I was going there, and what I was doing when I got there.
“I can’t believe he didn’t tell me,” I muttered. My eyebrows furrowed in frustration. But if he’d told me before I boarded, I thought, I would have backed out.
It wasn’t worth it.