My head weighs a thousand, million pounds. A thousand, million, bazillion pounds.
I blink my eyes open and a paint-splattered stucco ceiling greets me a good distance away. So at least the dead pirates and crazy lady didn’t shove me in some moldy crawlspace somewhere, but also, I’m no longer in that hideous sitting room. Which means I have no idea where I am.
Maybe Randy was right to always be scared about everything.
Then again, that constant, irrational fear didn’t stop him from getting himself blown up on our first ship. And Randy was an idiot even when he wasn’t nearly scared out of his pants.
So, no, he wasn’t right. He was stupid. And I’m not scared.
I sit up, toss aside the quilt, swing my legs over the side of the bed, and immediately fall backward as my two ton head throbs.
“I’m glad to see you’re finally awake, sweet pea,” comes the old lady’s voice from behind me. I roll onto my stomach and lift my head. She’s sitting on a beige plaid daybed resting snug against the far wall. Her fingers fly over a half-knit scarf/sweater/knotted-piece-of-crap. I let my face flop back against the stained quilt.
“What did you do to me, you crazy witch?” My words are a muffled whisper that makes my head pound even worse. My head spins even though I’m lying down and my eyes are closed.
“I apologize, Miss Mary. It seems we gave you too high a dose. You look like you weigh more than you do.”
“The person who drugged me thinks I’m fat.” I twirl a finger. “Whoop-de-doo.” It falls back to the quilt. “What was the point of your psycho drug coffee anyway? WAS IT EVEN BRAZILIAN?”
She laughs—hearty and slow. I grit my teeth.
“I told you, darling. I needed to examine your mind.”
My heart stops. My eyelashes stick against the quilt as my eyes fly open. “Oh my gosh. Did you do open brain surgery while I was out or something?”
She laughs again. “Of course not. I said I examined your mind, not your brain.”
Jaw locked against the pounding, I lift myself from the bed and eyeball her. “What do you mean. You examined my mind.”
“Yes, yes.” She waves away the expression in my eyes like I don’t look like I want to send her to the fiery depths of hell. Which I’m pretty sure I do. “I thought you would react this way, after seeing all those dark thoughts of yours.” She fans herself in that way that women in overdramatic movies set in Georgia do, “Dear me. The number of times and ways you have thought of maiming others must be worthy of some sort of award.”
“Randy used to say I should be in an asylum.”
“Oh yes.” She fans herself faster. “Randy. You had plenty of thoughts about that boy, as well.”
“Excuse me?” My mouth falls open in disgust. “I will allow you to call me crazy, but I will not allow you to speak lies about my feelings for a neurotic, phobia-filled—and dead—thief!”
Just the idea of the idea of finding Randy attractive makes me want to vomit.
The old woman clicks her tongue. “Whatever you’d like to believe, sweet Mary.”
“Dude. Just because I’m not elated that the guy’s dead does not mean I’m in love with him.”
She shrugs. I still need answers about what’s going on, so I resist the urge to strangle her. (For now.)
“I see you’re thinking of creative ways of offing someone again.” She smiles, the skin around her sightless eyes crinkling, and mimes slitting her own throat. “How lovely! You truly are an intriguing—albeit altogether unoriginal—specimen, Mary Hart.”
THAT’S IT. I lunge across the bed and raise my leg in the sort of kick that would make a black belt jealous, and her knitting needles flash through the air. Yarn entraps my ankle. She yanks and I slam face-first into the carpet.
“How in PWNBEIBER’s name did you do that?!” I shriek into the shag.
“You’re even denser than your thoughts implied.” Her tone holds the suggestion of a shrug, although that might just be due to the combination of her slow, Southern lilt and know-it-all attitude.
“So you looked into my mind, then.” I pick a tuft of shag carpet from the back of my mouth. I roll over—she’s knitting again. “What exactly does that mean? The mind, at best, is a metaphysical presence. It has no physical presence. It’s just all the chemicals and dendrites and other crud in your brain interacting. It’s not something you can see or examine.”
“Oh, but that isn’t true, Miss Mary.” She holds her project towards the light and tilts her head to one side, squinting at it. She clicks her tongue. “No, no, no. The mind is a very physical thing. Thoughts are heavy. They’re colorful drips of wax from the candle that is your—”
“Are you on something?” I lower one brow. “You have to be on something. Don’t tell me—” I point at her bulbous nose. “It’s the junk you put in my coffee. You’re on either a very high or very low dose of the junk you put in my coffee and now you’re going to eat me.”
She clicks her tongue again. “Now, now. Let me finish, dear. The mind is indeed a physical entity—if you know how to find it. Different sorts of matter exist, just as different sorts of light do. And just like the different sorts of light, you humans can’t see or feel all sorts of matter.”
“Wait.” My cheeks go icy cold. I shove myself as far from her as possible, so every vertebrae presses against the bed. “You said ‘you humans.’ As in second person. As in addressing someone other than yourself. As in you are not human.”
“Why of course not, darling!” She laughs. “What ever gave you the idea that I was human?”
Freaking alien species are just invading Earth left and right now, aren’t they?
And she has a point. I nod. “Well, I guess that does explain your terrible sense of home decorating—but wait, I thought you put plaids and stripes together because you were blind. So no, that doesn’t explain your terrible sense of—”
“I’m not blind, sweet pea.” Again with that infuriating, conceited laugh. At least she doesn’t seem as set on turning me into a zombie-ghost as the Squishes are. “I simply see things differently from the way you do.”
“I see the things that are neither here nor there. Such as your thoughts.”
I shake my head. “No, that can’t be right. The things that are neither here nor there are in Norland. Thoughts can’t be in Norland. It’s in a different dimension.”
“Not thoughts in general, dear.” She wags a veiny finger. “But your thoughts, yes.”
“You are a genetic anomaly. A certain, very rare combination of factors in the genome of a human being leads to the birth defect of your thoughts existing not here, nor there, but in Norland.”
“Great.” I slouch, scowling. “I’m finally something special and it’s because I’m defective.”
“I never said you were special.” Quieter and very exasperated, almost like the weird, witchy alien doesn’t want me to hear, she says, “Of course, your thoughts did warn me you were an assumptive one.”
“But if I have a rare birth defect, then—”
“The defect is special. You, Miss Mary, are not.”
I roll my eyes. “Hurray.” I lean forward as her knitting needles click together again. The whatever-it-is seems to be growing at an exponential rate. “So what does this mean for me? Is this defect why I can see the ghosts and pixies and all that? Is it why the pirates are sacrificing me to an inanimate object they want to bring to life?”
She shakes her head. “Captain Delleray and his crew are not sacrificing you, dear—.”
“Oh, thank God.” I slump. The pounding in my head subsides a little.
“—They simply want to sacrifice you.”
I look at the splotchy ceiling. “I rescind those thanks, Big Guy.”
“You see, dear Mary, you are not special now. But as I suspected—and your mind confirmed—you have the potential of many possibilities.”
“I’d really love if you stopped calling me bleeding ‘dear’ and all that if you’re assisting the people who are planning to push me off a cliff or something else of the like in the near future, Missus Southern Alien Person.” My leer is stuck somewhere between irritated and mad. “All due respect, ma’am.”
“All due respect,” she copies my tone, “one does not need to be ‘pushed off the cliff or something else of the like’ in order to be sacrificed. After all, you have a very special defect, Miss Mary.”
“So the plan,” I say slowly, “is to sacrifice my thoughts. To an inanimate object. To bring it to life. And bring all the pirates back to life?”
She clicks her tongue. “I did not say that.”
“But you implied it.”
Someone bangs on the door. It’s Rose’s father’s voice, strained and shouting, that informs us: “We need to run. They’ve found us. They’re here.”
Then someone screams.