Written in Red Page 76

Congratulating herself on getting through another week without getting eaten or fired, she tapped the stack of papers that held her notes about the week’s deliveries. Her little finger slid along the papers’ edge.

A shiver of pain came before blood welled from the slice along the joint. She stared at her left hand, trying to remember something from her lessons that would explain the cut, unwilling to believe that paper could slice skin. Then the pain came, smothering her chest and twisting her belly.

Sam howled in terror.

She looked at the pup to reassure him, hoping to shape ordinary words before the prophecy began flowing through her.

Except Sam wasn’t howling. He stood next to her, watching her anxiously as her own body told him something was wrong.

Sam wasn’t howling. But she could hear him. Even now, knowing he wasn’t making a sound, she could still hear him.

The vision had started. She didn’t know what was coming, what images she would see. But if Sam was part of it . . . If she spoke to experience the euphoria, she wouldn’t remember enough, if she remembered anything at all, and no one would know why Sam was afraid. But if she didn’t speak, if she swallowed the words so that she could see the prophecy . . . For Sam’s sake, could she endure the pain?

“Stay here,” she said through gritted teeth. She hurried to the bathroom and shut the door before Sam could follow her.

Her throat felt clogged with terrible things. Leaning over the sink, she struggled to breathe as pain crawled through her and the vision filled her mind as if she were watching a stuttering movie clip.

Men. Dressed all in black. Even their faces, their heads, were black. Some had guns; others carried rifles . . . skip . . .One man was grabbing at something, but she couldn’t see . . . skip . . . A sound like a car mated to a hornet . . . skip . . . Snow falling so fast and fierce and thick, she couldn’t get a sense of place, couldn’t tell if she was seeing the Courtyard or the city or somewhere else that had a snowstorm . . . skip . . . But Sam was there, howling in terror.

Meg came back to herself when the muscles in her hands cramped from holding on to the sink so hard.

Focus on breathing, she told herself. The pain will fade. You know it will fade.

She washed her hands, taking care to thoroughly clean the little finger.

Such a small slice along the edge of that joint. If she sliced it again to lengthen it, maybe she could see more. And maybe she would see another prophecy, but it would be mashed with the images she’d already seen in this small cut. The Walking Names called the result of cutting over a previous cut a double vision, that nightmarish occurrence when one prophecy imposed itself over another and the images collided in ways that usually had terrible, mind-breaking consequences for the girl who saw them.

Sometimes the colliding images weren’t terrible. Sometimes, if the girl could accept what she was seeing, the images could change a life. They had changed hers when the Controller had cut across old scars as a punishment. The colliding prophecies had shown her the first steps of her escape.

Just because she had survived double visions before didn’t mean her mind wouldn’t break if she tried it again.

She dried off her hands, got antiseptic and a bandage from the first-aid kit, and took care of the slice. Moving slowly, she returned to the sorting room and Sam. Opening her personal notebook to a clean page, she wrote down what she had seen while the details were fresh.

She had to tell someone, but who would listen?

Wishing she could talk to Simon, Meg reached for the phone and made a call. The phone at the other end rang and rang. Then the answering machine picked up.

“Henry? This is Meg. I need to talk to you.”

* * *

Henry arrived a minute after she locked up for her lunch break. Leaving Sam in the sorting room with a couple of cookies, she found herself unable to look at the big man, let alone say anything.

“You’re hurt,” he finally said.

She shook her head.

“You smell of pain, of weakness.”

Not weakness. No, she wasn’t weak. But the pain, while fading, was still a fearsome thing.

Henry’s voice was a quiet rumble. “What did you do to your hand, Meg?”

“I didn’t know paper could cut.” Even to her own ears, she sounded whiny. “I thought that was a make-believe image.”

“Make-believe?”

“Not real.”

He looked puzzled. “Let me see your hand.”

“My hand is fine. That’s not why—”

He took her left hand and unwrapped the bandage on her little finger. His hands were big and rough, but he touched her with surprising gentleness.

“You have scars,” Meg said, looking at his fingers.

“I work with wood. Sometimes I am clumsy with my tools.” He studied the slice on her finger, then bent his head and sniffed it. Shaking his head, he rewrapped the bandage. “Such a small cut shouldn’t cause so much pain.”

He wanted an explanation, but her pain had no significance in what she had seen, so right now it wasn’t important. “Henry, I saw something.”

Releasing her hand, he straightened to his full height, towering over her. “You saw . . . ?”

Easing around him, she picked up her notebook from the table in the back room and handed it to him.

She watched him read the words, the frown line between his dark eyes getting deeper as he read them again.

“Some prophecies look like a series of images or sounds,” she said. “Some, like this one, look like a movie clip, or a series of clips with sounds and action. The same image might appear in a hundred prophecies, so it’s up to the person who wanted the vision to understand the meaning.”

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