Hollow City Page 41

And then the booth, the whole booth with all of us in it, swayed one way and then the other, and I heard whatever bolts anchored it to the floor groan and snap. Slowly, the hollow lifted us off the ground six inches, then a foot, then two only to slam us back down again, shattering the booth windows, raining glass on us.

Then there was nothing at all between the hollow and me. Not an inch, not a pane of glass. Its tongues wriggled into the booth, snaking around my arm, my waist, then around my neck, squeezing tighter and tighter until I couldn\ breathe.

That\s when I knew I was dead. And because I was dead, and there was nothing I could do, I stopped fighting. I relaxed every muscle, closed my eyes, and gave in to the hurt bursting inside my belly like fireworks.

Then a strange thing happened: the hurt stopped hurting. The pain shifted and became something else. I entered into it, and it enveloped me, and beneath its roiling surface I discovered something quiet and gentle.

A whisper.

I opened my eyes again. The hollow seemed frozen now, staring at me. I stared back, unafraid. My vision was spotting black from lack of oxygen, but I felt no pain.

The hollow\s grip on my neck relaxed. I took my first breath in minutes, calm and deep. And then the whisper I\d found inside me traveled up from my belly and out of my throat and past my lips, making a noise that didn\ sound like language, but whose meaning I knew innately.

Back.

Off.

The hollow retracted its tongues. Drew them all back into its bulging mouth and shut its jaws. Bowed its head slightly a gesture, almost, of submission.

And then it sat down.

Emma and Addison looked up at me from the floor, surprised by the sudden calm. ’’What just happened?’’ said the dog.

’’There\s nothing to be afraid of,’’ I said.

’’Is it gone?’’

’’No, but it won\ hurt us now.’’

He didn\ ask how I knew this;just nodded, assured by the tone of my voice.

I opened the booth door and helped Emma to her feet. ’’Can you walk?’’ I asked her. She put an arm around my waist, leaned her weight against mine, and together we took a step. ’’I\m not leaving you,’’ I said. ’’Whether you like it or not.’’

Into my ear she whispered, ’’I love you, Jacob.’’

’’I love you, too,’’ I whispered back.

I stooped to pick up the phone. ’’Dad?’’

’’What was that noise? Who are you with?’’

’’I\m here. I\m okay.’’

’’No, you\ e not. Just stay where you are.’’

’’Dad, I have to go. I\m sorry.’’

’’Wait. Don\ hang up,’’ he said. ’’You\ e confused, Jake.’’

’’No. I\m like Grandpa. I have what Grandpa had.’’

A pause on the other end. Then: ’’Please come home.’’

I took a breath. There was too much to say and no time to say it. This would have to do:

’’I hope I\ll be able to come home, someday. But there are things I need to do first. I just want you to know I love you and Mom, and I\m not doing any of this to hurt you.’’

’’We love you, too, Jake, and if it\s drugs, or whatever it is, we don\ care. We\ll get you right again. Like I said, you\ e confused.’’

’’No, Dad. I\m peculiar.’’

Then I hung up the phone, and speaking a language I didn\ know I knew, I ordered the hollow to stand.

Obedient as a shadow, it did.


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