Rose is kidding. She is absolutely kidding.
“What do you mean you can feel your heart? You’re dead, remember?”
Wrong thing to say. Without even gracing me with a reply, Rose stalks off in the direction of the castle. It’s hard going. After only a step, she hunches over, dress balled in her fist at her chest, a low, frustrated scream escaping from between her lips. I turn to exchange looks with the pixie, but he’s gone. Of course.
And now I am alone in a funky other-world with a ghost who has turned from levelheaded to constipated in a matter of seconds. Yay me.
Then it occurs to me: Whatever is in that weird, sleek castle, it’s affecting Rose. Nothingever affects Rose. She’s a zombie-ghost-thing.
“Oh my gosh,” I say, stepping around Rose’s still struggling body so that I’m in front of her.
“What?” she manages to get out from between her teeth.
“I think you’re right. I think it is your heart. Because you’re acting almost real.”
“Yes. Because not… being able… to walk,” she struggles, “seems… really… realistic, Mary.”
Ignoring her, I say, “Here, let me help you out…” I reach towards her and she bares her teeth. I jump back, not sure if the other ghostly characteristics besides her ability to walk through walls (and, ya know, air) have begun to waver as well—like maybe she could possibly actually bite me now. “Or not.”
“I need…” she grunts, “… to get… to… it…”
“Why?” I ask, then something on her face catches my attention and I lean closer again. “Whoa. Rose. Your eyes are all bloodshot. How is that even possible?”
“We… are in… a different… dimension,” she feels the need to remind me.
“Good point.” I step back and cross my arms. “So why do you need to get to the castle? You really think your heart is there?”
“I don’t… think… it’s there… I… know… it’s… there…!” she gasps out.
“Okay, okay, okay,” I put my hands up, “don’t get testy with me.”
“Are… you… serious… right now?”
“Fine. Here. I’m going to help you.”
I reach out to touch Mary on the shoulders, hoping that she truly has become solid enough that I can do that (what a weird thing to be hopeful for), but the instant my skin comes in contact with hers, my legs turn to lead and the air gets sucked out of my lungs so fast it’s like I’ve been punched in the throat. Everything turns crimson, running in rivers, dripping from the sky, bleeding from beneath my fingernails. I stumble to the ground, and the moment I lose contact with Rose, everything turns back to normal. Well, as normal as it is in these parts.
“What. The—” Before I can finish my outburst, Rose cuts me off with a wave of her hand. Her eyes go cold as she takes one last step towards the castle, then gives up. As soon as she stops struggling, she goes back to normal as well. The pain leaves her face and she stands straight, floating a good foot off the ground.
I glower up at her, choking on air. “What in PWNBEIBER’s name did you just do to me?”
“Me?” she snaps. “I did not do anything! It’s the magic of this place!”
I grunt, force myself to stand, and square my shoulders at her. “Rose, whatever’s in that castle, it’s obviously not good if it just nearly killed me. And did—you know—whatever it did to you. As the only member of this team whose actual life is at stake here, I vote we find that pipsqueak pixie, force him to take us to America—the real America this time—and get the heck away from the creepy king and your tell-tale dead heart and whatever else there might be lurking around here in this alternate dimension.”
“Who died and made you queen?” Rose asks, crossing her arms.
“Your sanity and Benjamin Franklin. Because, as I will remind you, you work for me.”
“I will remind you,” Rose says, “your supposed alien invasion is not the most prominent problem at the moment.”
“Have you always been like this, or did death make you grouchy?” I ask.
“You would know.”
“Yeah?” I ask. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you are the most insolent dolt I have ever had the displeasure of meeting, Mary. And, believe me, I have met quite a few of your type. It means—”
“Wait.” I put up a hand, glancing over my shoulder towards the castle. Rose stops midsentence.
Her words are quiet as she says, “What is it?”
“It’s not just me. You’re being affected by it too.”
“Affected by what?” she asks. “All I’m aware of is all the bleeding, bloody blood everywhere.”
There is pressure behind my eyes, growing stronger with every taunt. I stare at the dark, glossy castle on the horizon. It’s almost… pulsing. Growing with our anger.
“Rose, if your heart is in that castle, I don’t think you want to get it back.”
“And why’s that?” She plants her hands on her hips.
“Because it’s evil.” A shiver runs down my spine, spreading heavy cold to my limbs. I am at a loss for clever comebacks.
There’s a little pop to the right of me, and we both jump. The pixie has reappeared.
“Okay, Frank Sinatra,” I say. “What’s going on here?”
“The King,” the little fruit bat says seriously, like this is explanation enough.
“He is imprisoned there.” It gives me a look like this should be obvious.
“By what?” I’m starting to think I might actually rather not know.
“The other one knows.” It nods in Rose’s direction.
I laugh. “Hear that, Ugly #2?” I say to her. “Pipsqueak, here, thinks you know what’s going on.” The laugh turns into a full out snort as Rose’s expression darkens. She opens her mouth to speak, and I stop. “Wait, you don’t really know what’s going on here, do you? You’re lost too, right?”
“No,” says Rose. She stares at the castle, one eyebrow lowered, her lips pursed.
“‘No,’what?” I pause. “You don’t know what’s going on, do you?”
“No,” she repeats. “No, actually I do.”