I stepped through into the in-between room first, with Balloon Girl and Stitch Mouth remaining behind me, looking and listening for the witch. The door slammed shut. Fingernails raked my bare shoulder and I screamed out in terror and pain. I tore away. Warm blood. I shrank, tucking myself to the corner. The witch’s hands went for my throat and she lifted me to my toes, stretching me against the wall. Balloon Girl and Stitch Mouth’s yells and bangs reverberated uselessly against the door as the witch held it closed with her heel. The witch’s grip tightened around my throat. I flailed against the wall, losing air, grimacing in pain. My neck gave off a pop. My lungs screamed at me to breath. The witch brought her face to mine. Her breath poured over my skin and sank down my shirt. Her eyes absorbed me.
“I have you now. So long. Worth it. Sweet flesh.” Her nail crossed my belly. “Healthy. Tasty. Sweet.”
I began to cry.
“Yes. Cry. Salty.” Her tongue licked my face, slithering over a tear. “Friends. Not here. Can’t save you. Tricky friends.”
“I hate you,” I said. “I hate you.”
She mocked my sadness. “Makes me so sad.”
“I don’t care if you kill me,” I said. “I don’t care.”
I forced a smile through the grimace. “You can’t take our friendship. Ever.”
She smiled darkly. “I can.” Then she began choking me again. My eyes rolled toward the top of my head. Everything became distant.
A green rectangle glowed on the wall across from us. I faked further pain, hoping the witch would stay intent on hurting me. She laughed darkly at my expression, pleased by how I cringed. The girls burst through the new door like a miniature army troop. The witch spun and shrieked, releasing me. I dropped to the floor, coughing.
Stitch Mouth was at the witch first, but the witch decked her against the wall. Balloon Girl was next, but she was kicked to the side. A balloon girl dove, knocking her shoulder into the witch. The witch scrambled in an attempt to get back to her feet, but the girl kept coming, tussling her way to the witch’s chest, punching as she rose. Stitch Mouth was up again, shaking away the daze, and she ran at the witch again. Balloon Girl just behind her.
The witch dropped beneath their assault, falling near my toes. She was so close, I could touch her. Her eyes flicked to me just in time to see me lean over to put my hands around her throat. Her neck was thin and balmy. I hated the feel of her. The girls took positions on her limbs, faceting her down. My grip tightened. The eyes of the witch drew in a panic. My hands continued to work. Squeezing. Pressing. The witch lurched and bucked, but the girls held tight, causing the witch to grow more faint as she burned the oxygen she didn’t have.
I couldn’t believe it. The witch was in my hands. Her eyes were dimming. Her struggles became weaker. She was going to die. I began to cry. The overflow of emotion, of all that had happened, of all that been done, it came out in a mixture that could not have been named, but it poured from my eyes. Stitch Mouth and Balloon Girl were intent on their duty, but they glanced my way. Balloon Girl nodded at me. Stitch Mouth held a look of slim concern for me, hoping I was okay to do what I was doing. The witch wilted. I couldn’t watch. I looked up and past them, focusing on the door which had been created to save me. I saw the chalk on the floor. It would be the last chalk we would ever need. I kept my eyes on these things, not wanting to look at what I was doing.
The witch became limp. I looked down. Her blank, empty eyes stared up at me. I released my grip. Suddenly, the door burst open, causing the four of us to turn. A boy stood there. He was tall and pasty, almost sickly. His clothes were small and his hair matted. He looked at us. He looked at me. He saw the witch between my knees. A twist of rage contorted on his face before he launched himself at us. He backhanded Stitch Mouth and punched both Balloon Girl and the other girl before kicking me in the face. Slammed back against the wall, my vision blurred with pain, blood in my mouth. The boy hovered over the witch, then dropped to her side, where he began slamming a fist against her chest. “Mother! Wake up!”
The four of us had scattered to different walls, and we watched from where we were, disoriented by the confusion, but still hoping it was finished. The boy growled and hit the witch again. “Wake up!”
The witch convulsed back to life. She looked up at the boy, astounded. The boy helped her to her feet, an arm around her waist. Regaining her senses and her strength, the witch’s hatred returned. But we were hurrying our way back out through the green door. Stitch Mouth sketched a pink door, leading us into Balloon Girl’s home where she crushed the chalk immediately. We were too stunned to keep running. And we had to talk.