Written in Red Page 26

She tried to convince herself that nothing terrible would happen if this gesture of friendship didn’t work, and using up flesh for something insignificant was foolish. And how would the Others react to a fresh cut and the scent of blood? She hadn’t considered that when she took the job.

But she was pulling a couple of paper towels off the roll and making a pad on the counter next to the sink. She opened the razor, lined up the back edge with the first knuckle of her left index finger, then turned the razor so the honed edge rested against skin. She took a slow breath and pressed the razor against her finger, making a cut deep enough to scar.

Pain flooded her, a remembered agony from the times she’d been punished for lies or defiance. She saw the ponies and . . .

The pain was washed away by an orgasmic euphoria. This was the ecstasy the girls craved, the ecstasy that only came from the razor kissing skin. This . . .

Meg blinked. Swayed. Stared at the blood on the paper towels.

Something about the ponies.

In order to remember what you see, you have to swallow the words along with the pain, Jean had said. If you speak, what you saw will fade like a dream. You might remember wisps, but not enough to be useful to you.

She must have spoken, must have described what she had seen. But there was no one to hear the words, so the prophecy and whatever she might have learned about the ponies was lost.

She looked at the razor and considered making another cut. Then she looked at the clock. She’d lost too much time already.

Hurrying into the bathroom, Meg washed the cut, then found a partially used box of bandages and tape in the medicine chest above the sink. After tending to the cut, she hurried back to the kitchen, cleaned the razor, and slipped it in her jeans pocket. Then she grabbed the kitchen knife and cut up the carrots. If anyone noticed the bandage or smelled the blood, she could explain it. Accidents happened in kitchens all the time. A cut on her finger wouldn’t be unusual, wouldn’t give anyone a reason to wonder about her.

She put the carrot chunks in a bowl with a locking lid, tidied up the kitchen, then put on her outer gear and gathered the rest of her things. As she left the building and hurried down the back stairs, she was glad she didn’t have to walk far to get to work.

It was still lung-biting cold, but far more peaceful than the previous morning. Or it was more peaceful until she reached the bottom of the stairs and spotted Simon Wolfgard coming out of A Little Bite with one of those big covered mugs she had seen yesterday when she stopped in the Market Square grocery store to buy apples and carrots.

He jerked to a stop when he saw her. Then he sniffed the air.

Hoping her hair still smelled enough to discourage him from coming closer, she said, “Good morning, Mr. Wolfgard.”

“Ms. Corbyn.”

When he said nothing more, she hurried to the Liaison’s Office, aware of him watching her until she unlocked the back door and stepped inside. Hopefully now he would just go on about his own business and let her get on with hers.

She hung up her coat and swapped boots for shoes. After a debate with herself that consumed five minutes, she decided carrots at room temperature were probably better for pony tummies and left the container on the counter. Wishing she had something warm to drink, she checked the cupboards in the small kitchen area. The last person to work as the Liaison had been a slob, and she wasn’t putting anything she wanted to eat on those shelves until she cleaned them. Which meant actually learning how to clean.

At least she had music this morning. She had stopped at Music and Movies yesterday and taken five music discs out on loan. She would get a notebook and keep track of the music she liked and didn’t like, and the food she liked and didn’t like and . . . everything else.

She put the first disc in the player, then set about opening the office. She put a fresh sheet of paper on the clipboard to take notes about the deliveries. Retrieving the keys from the drawer in the sorting room, she breathed a sigh of relief when she fiddled the slide locks open on the go-through and managed to unlock the front door.

The birds were back—three on the wall and one on the wood sculpture. Since she wasn’t sure if they were crows or Others, she stuck her head out the door and said, “Good morning.”

A startled silence. As she pulled her head back inside, a couple of them cawed. It sounded more mellow than other caws, so she decided to take it as a return greeting.

She barely had time to take the map out of the drawer and drag one of the mailbags over to the table before the first delivery truck pulled in.

Don’t need a bell on the door when there were Crows on watch, she thought as she dated the page and made her notes about the truck.

Same wariness as yesterday when the delivery people opened the door. Same relief when they saw her and realized they didn’t have to deal with one of the Others. Same helpful information about who they were and what days they usually made deliveries.

She found it interesting that two or three trucks arrived at almost the same time, which made her wonder if the drivers had some agreement among themselves about delivering at a specific time so they wouldn’t be in the Courtyard alone—especially since most of them greeted one another by name.

When the first flurry of deliveries was done, she opened the door into the sorting room and pushed one of the handcarts inside. She didn’t like treadmills—too many memories of being exercised in the compound—but maybe she should go over to Run & Thump and see what she could do to gain some muscle. Not being able to lift packages or mailbags wasn’t going to win her any gold stars from Simon Wolfgard.

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