Written in Red Page 42

You’ll have a chance to escape this life, Meg. You’ll have a chance to be someone for yourself. When the chance comes, take it and run—and don’t come back. Don’t ever let them bring you back here.

What about you?

The Walking Names made sure I can’t run, but I’ll be free someday. I saw that too.

The prickling under Meg’s skin started in her feet and ran up both legs. She stifled a cry, not wanting Henry to hear her and come pounding on the door, demanding an explanation.

She walked toward the bathroom, hoping to find something in the medicine chest that would ease the feeling.

She knew what would make the prickling go away, but it was too soon to cut again. Besides, she also knew how much it hurt to hold in a prophecy, and speaking without a listener would relieve the pressure but it wouldn’t do her any good otherwise.

As she tried to talk herself out of making another cut, the prickling faded on its own.

Meg splashed some water on her face, then returned to the living area of her apartment, determined to focus on the present and not the past because, most likely, her present could be measured in days or weeks.

The Moonsday treat. How many apples for how many ponies? She’d better bring extra in case more ponies showed up. How many lived in the Courtyard anyway? She’d have to ask Jester, since he was the one who looked after them.

Her mind on ponies and apples and what she might do on her day off, Meg pulled aside the drape and looked down at the street—and forgot all about sleeping.

The man was there again. She couldn’t make out his features, but he was wearing the same dark coat and watch cap as the man she’d seen the other night. She was sure of it.

As she watched, he crossed Crowfield Avenue, heading straight for the glass door that provided street access to the apartments. But that door was locked. She was still safe because that door was locked.

Training image. Hands manipulating slim metal instruments to open a lock.

A locked door wouldn’t keep her safe. Panic held her frozen at the window. Then the prickling returned in her legs as she heard a sound she couldn’t identify. Her hands and arms began to tingle as she remembered the last time she and Jean had spoken.

Don’t ever let them bring you back here.

Meg bolted across the room, certain now that the man had been sent by the Controller.

Couldn’t get out. Locked in, just like before when she lived in the compound! No, not like before. Now she had the keys. The dead bolt just needed a key.

She scrambled for the keys in her purse, panting as her shaking hands tried to fit the key in the lock.

Was the man coming up the stairs? Creeping down the hallway? If she opened the door, would he be right there, waiting to grab her?

The tingling in her hands became a buzz that was so painful she dropped the keys. Unable to escape, she pounded on the door and screamed, “Henry! Henry!” Could he hear her? Please, gods, let him hear me!

She felt as well as heard the roar that filled the hallway, followed by a startled cry and the clatter of boots.

Racing to the window, Meg saw the man running across the street, angling for the corner and disappearing from sight. Retracing her steps, she picked up the keys with shaking hands and finally managed to open the door.

Henry stood at the end of the hallway, looking down the stairs. She couldn’t see his expression—the lights from his apartment and hers didn’t reach that far, and he hadn’t turned on the hallway light—but she had the impression he was very angry.

“Henry?” she said hesitantly. “Should I call someone?”

“Who would you call?” he asked, sounding more curious than angry.

“I don’t know. The police? Or someone in the Courtyard?”

He walked back to her door and studied her. Then he shook his head. “No need to call anyone. I’ll take a look around now and talk to Simon in the morning. Keep your door locked, Meg, and you’ll be all right.”

No, she wouldn’t be all right. She couldn’t explain that to Henry, so she closed the door and turned the key in the lock. Then she pressed her ear against the door, listening as she counted slowly.

She reached one hundred before Henry walked back down the hallway to the stairs. As soon as she was sure he wouldn’t hear her, she moved with controlled desperation, changing into jeans and a sweater, packing up a small bag of toiletries, tucking her book, a jar candle, and box of matches into one of the zippered carry bags. She rolled her pillow into the spare blanket from the chest at the end of her bed. Then she put her coat and boots on and held her breath while she turned the key, listening as hard as she could for Henry’s footsteps.

She slipped out of her apartment and locked up, then fled to the back entrance and down the stairs. She hurried to the Liaison’s Office, fumbled to get the door open, and let out a sob of relief when she was inside.

Just as exposed here as in her apartment. Just as alone, since the shops and the consulate wouldn’t be open tomorrow. But no one knew she was here. The low light in the front part of the office was always on and wouldn’t attract attention. Light from the candle would be visible only from the window in the sorting room, and that window looked out on the yard and sculpture garden behind Henry’s studio.

She would be safe here tonight—or as safe as she could be.

Unwilling to turn on the overhead lights, she slipped off her boots, then padded her way to the sorting room, dropping the pillow and blanket on the table before going to the counter that ran under the window. Retrieving the candle and matches from her carry bag, she lit the candle. She didn’t need to cut her skin to figure out the Controller had found her. It was just a matter of time before his man found a way to reclaim her.

Prev Next