“Hurry up and get dressed. We only have a few minutes.”
“WHAT?! Who are you? What’s going on? I thought you were with the police or something!”
“I was, until this morning.”
Nothing seemed very real to Lilith anymore. She wanted the world to stop. And then reverse. She didn’t really mind writing the birth and wedding and death announcements. And perhaps Jason was here to make waffles for her?
She watched Cassandra standing there, shocked and silent. And she remembered a name.
“Lilith, I mean it. We need to hurry.”
“Okay, look, I don’t know who you are and I don’t know what’s happening. But my mother was just fine until she came and now she won’t wake up and no one is going anywhere until I know what’s going on!”
“I really am sorry about your mother. But we don’t have time to stand around and talk. I need to get Lilith out of here. Now.”
“Lilith? We need to go. Are you listening? Go and get dressed.”
“No! I said stop! I want waffles, damn it! Waffles!”
“Shh, it’s okay. Come on, I’ll go with you.”
The raging inferno retreated before the cool calmness of Jason’s voice, and Lilith’s vision cleared.
She thought she vaguely remembered being mad at him about something, but that all seemed very much in the past. At the moment he calmed the fire in her mind, and that was all she cared about.
“Hey, no, strange people! You’re not going anywhere without me!”
Cassandra had ran on ahead, beating both of them up the stairs.
“So, strange guy, if you were with the police…do you think you could help my mother?”
“All right, I’ll look in at her if it means you’ll let us go afterwards.”
Lilith could hear the hesitation in Jason’s voice, and would swear that she heard him add something under his breath about it being too late. The flames licked at the edges of her vision.
She followed Cassandra into what must be Bella’s bedroom. And there she was. Her soft-voiced angel. Pale and silent and not moving.
“You see? There, by her neck?”
Cassandra’s voice was very far away. Everything was far away. Except Bella. Who was indeed not waking up.
Lilith stared, watching for the first sign of movement. But as far as she could see, the covers were utterly and completely still. Bella wasn’t breathing.
“I hate to have to tell you this. But how long ago did you call 911? It’s been a while, right?”
Bella wasn’t breathing. Bella wasn’t breathing. Oh God, Bella wasn’t breathing.
The sound of Jason’s voice was muffled by the blood pounding in her head, but she heard enough.
“Sorry.” Pound pound pound. “Dead”. Pound pound pound. “Killed.”
And then she didn’t hear anything at all.
“Hey, are you all right?”
She could hear Cassandra’s high-pitched wailing. She felt Jason’s hands on her arms, soft and cool and comforting. But none of it was real. The silence was real. The stark red world of death was real. The pain in her lungs as they struggled for air was real. The pounding of blood in her head was real. Jason and Cassandra and Bella’s bedroom were only shadows cast by the flames in her mind.
It wasn’t waffles that contained the abyss. It never had been. The yawning void had always been within herself. And now she was falling into it. Falling. Forever.
She couldn’t look into his eyes. Not now. She struggled to get enough breath to speak.
She wanted to cry and scream and yell. She wanted to ask him what was happening, and beg him to make it stop. But she didn’t.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
But really she wasn’t very fine at all.
And then suddenly she didn’t have the energy to keep up the facade anymore. Her wardrobe of fake happiness crumbled and all her Sunday best smiles turned to dust.
She clung to him, sobbing and gasping and trying to convince herself that his gentle warmth was real.
“Hey now, it’s okay. It’s all right. Listen, go and change and meet me downstairs. I’ll take care of things here.”
She gulped and nodded weakly against his shoulder.
She tore herself from him and walked away. Cassandra was still crying, and as she left the room she heard Jason speaking to her in low urgent tones.
It was such a struggle to breathe.
Each breath only prolonged the agony.
Wouldn’t it be easier to just stop?
To just let the fire take her?
To accept the red silence?
She stood in the kitchen, waiting for him.
Her lungs burned. The room went in and out of focus and sometimes it was in color and sometimes it was only red and gray.
She wanted rest. She needed rest. She needed a good long sleep without any visions of scary houses or creepy little girls.
A very good very long sleep. She didn’t particularly care if she ever woke up.
“All right, you ready to go?”
She nodded mutely. The red receded a bit now that he was near her again.
She followed him outside.
It was another glorious day in Sunset Valley. But weren’t they all?
Jason was silent as they sped down the hill from the Goth house. Lilith was busy thinking about how plastic everything was. The golden gilded sunlight was just cheap paint slapped over the rotted carcass of Sunset Valley.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of sirens in the distance. It had taken them long enough.
Finally, Jason spoke.
“So, are you going to tell me why I am helping you escape from a murder charge?”