Dark Matter

Page 43

Or failed to.

Leighton’s men have their guns drawn, and they’re moving deliberately into the hangar toward Jason and Amanda.

As Leighton steps in after them, I hear this other version of myself say, “It’s not her fault. I threatened her. I made her do this.”

Leighton looks at Amanda.

He asks, “Is this true? He made you? Because I’ve known you for more than a decade, and I’ve never seen anyone make you do anything.”

Amanda looks scared, but also defiant.

Her voice trembles as she says, “I won’t stand by and let you keep hurting people. I’m done.”

“Oh. Well, in that case…”

Leighton places his hand on the thick shoulder of the man to his right.

The gunshot is deafening.

The muzzle flash is blinding.

Amanda drops like someone flipped a power switch, and next to me, my Amanda lets slip a stifled shriek.

As this other Jason rushes Leighton, the second guard executes a lightning-fast Taser draw and brings him down screaming and twitching on the floor of the hangar.

My Amanda’s shriek has given us away.

Leighton is staring right at us with a look of pure confusion.

He shouts, “Hey!”

They start after us.

I grab Amanda by the arm and drag her back through the door of the box and slam it home.

The door locks, the corridor reconstitutes, but the drug will be wearing off any moment now.

Amanda is quaking, and I want to tell her everything is fine, but it isn’t. She just witnessed her own murder.

“That isn’t you out there,” I tell her. “You’re standing right here beside me. Alive and well. That is not you.”

Even in the bad light I can tell she’s crying.

Tears streak down through the grime on her face like running eyeliner.

“It’s some part of me,” she says. “Or was.”

Gently, I reach down and lift her arm, turning it so I can see the watch. We’re forty-five seconds shy of the ninety-minute mark.

I say, “We have to go.”

I start down the corridor.

“Amanda, come on!”

When she catches up, I open a door.

Total darkness.

No sound, no smell. Just a void.

I slam it shut.

Trying not to panic, but I need to be opening more doors, giving us a shot at finding someplace to rest and reset.

I open the next door.

Ten feet away, standing in weeds in front of a teetering chain-link fence, a wolf glares at me through large amber eyes. Lowering its head, it growls.

As it starts toward me, I shove the door closed.

Amanda grabs hold of my hand.

We keep walking.

I should be opening more doors, but the truth is I’m terrified. I’ve lost faith we’ll find a world that’s safe.

I blink and we’re confined to a single box again.

The drug has worn off for one of us.

This time, she opens the door.

Snow streams into the box.

A shot of bitter cold hits my face.

Through a curtain of falling snow, I glimpse the silhouettes of trees nearby and houses in the distance.

“What do you think?” I ask.

“I think I don’t want to be in this box for another fucking second.”

Amanda steps down into the snow and sinks to her knees in the soft powder.

She immediately begins to shiver.

I feel the drug wink out for me, and this time the sensation is like an ice pick through my left eye.

Intense but fleeting.

I follow Amanda out of the box, and we head in the general direction of the neighborhood.

Beyond the initial layer of powder, I can feel myself continuing to sink—the weight of each step slowly breaking through a deeper, older crust of compacted snow.

I catch up with Amanda.

We trudge through a clearing toward a neighborhood, which seems to be slowly vanishing before my eyes.

While I’m marginally protected from the cold in my pair of jeans and hoodie, Amanda is suffering in her red skirt, black sweater, and flats.

I’ve lived most of my life in the Midwest, and I’ve never known cold like this. My ears and cheekbones are rocketing toward frostbite, and I’m already beginning to lose the fine-motor control in my hands.

A driving wind blasts us straight-on, and as the snow intensifies, the world ahead takes on the appearance of a furiously shaken snow globe.

We push on through the snow, moving as quickly as we can, but it’s getting deeper and nearly impossible to navigate with anything approaching efficiency.

Amanda’s cheeks have gone blue.

She’s violently shivering.

Her hair is matted with snow.

“We should go back,” I say through chattering teeth.

The wind has grown deafening.

Amanda looks at me, confused, then nods.

I glance back, but the box is gone.

My fear spikes.

The snow is blowing sideways, and the houses in the distance have vanished.

In every direction, it all looks the same.

Amanda’s head is nodding up and down, and I keep squeezing my hands into fists, trying to force warm blood through to my fingertips, but it’s a losing battle. My ring of thread is encrusted with ice.

My thought processes are beginning to spin out.

I’m shaking with cold.

We fucked up.

It isn’t just cold. It’s way-below-zero cold.

Lethally cold.

I have no idea how far we’ve come from the box.

Does it even matter anymore, when we’re functionally blind?

This cold will kill us in a matter of minutes.

Keep moving.

Amanda has a faraway look in her eyes, and I wonder if it’s the shock setting in.

Her bare legs are in direct contact with the snow.

“It hurts,” she says.

Bending down, I lift her in my arms and stagger into the storm, holding Amanda tightly against me as her entire body shakes.

We’re standing in a vortex of wind and snow and killing cold, and it all looks exactly the same. If I don’t stare down at my legs, the motion of it all induces vertigo.

It occurs to me: we’re going to die.

But I keep going.

One foot in front of the other, my face now on fire from the cold, my arms aching from holding Amanda, my feet in agony as the snow works down into my shoes.

Minutes pass and the snow falls harder and the cold keeps biting.

Amanda is mumbling, delirious.

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