I was so startled I dropped the handle. I picked up the doll and gripped it tightly as I crept to the other side of the well.
An old woman sat propped up against the trunk of a date palm, her wrinkles deep, folding in on themselves. Her black eyes were unfocused and watery. She was weak.
And not alone.
Someone was crouched over her, a man with waves of black hair and perfect, beautiful skin. He held a cup to the old woman’s lips and water dribbled down her chin. She coughed again, startling me.
His obsidian eyes flicked to mine, and something flashed behind them. Something I did not know or understand.
The woman followed his gaze and focused on me. Her stare pinned me to the ground as her eyes widened, the whites showing around her irises. The man placed a calming hand on her shoulder, then stared back at me.
I felt a roll of sickness deep in my belly and doubled over. Red swirled at the edges of my vision. My head swam. I gulped for air and slowly, slowly rose.
The woman began to tremble and whisper. The man—surprised, curious, but not afraid—leaned his head in to hear her. Without realizing it, I took a step nearer too.
She whispered louder and louder. It was the same word, just one word, that she repeated over and over again. Her frail arm rose, her finger pointed at me like an accusation.
“Mara,” she whispered, again and again and again. And then she began to scream.
MARA,” A VOICE SAID, WARMING MY SKIN.
My eyes opened, but the trees were gone. The sunlight had vanished. There was only darkness.
And Noah, next to me, his fingers resting on my cheek.
A nightmare. Just a nightmare. I let out a slow breath and then smiled, relieved, until I realized we weren’t in bed.
We were standing by the guest room door. I had opened it—my hand rested on the knob.
“Where are you going?” Noah asked softly.
The last thing I remembered was falling asleep beside him, even though I shouldn’t have. My house was tainted, but in Noah’s arms, I felt safe.
But I left them during the night. I left him.
I had been sleepwalking.
The details of the dream hung low in my mind, thick as smoke. But they didn’t fade with consciousness. I didn’t know where I was going in my sleep or why, but now that I was awake, I needed to see something before I forgot to look.
“My bedroom,” I answered him, my voice clear.
I needed to see that doll.
I pulled Noah along behind me and we crept silently to my room. Noah helped me unpack the doll from the box I had entombed it in, no questions asked. I said nothing as I looked it over, my skin feeling tight as I held it.
Its black smile was a little faded—from wear or washing, I didn’t know—and the dress it wore was newer, but still crude. Definitely handmade. Otherwise? Otherwise it was eerily similar to the doll in my dream.
Maybe more than similar.
I remembered something then.
There was a spot of red on the underside of its arm, where she held it.
I lifted up the doll’s sleeve.
“What is that red?” I had asked the older girl.
“Oh,” she said, and handed me the doll. She examined her finger. “I pricked myself.”
Looking at the doll now, I saw a dark brownish red spot on the underside of its arm. Where its wrist would have been.
My flesh felt dead where my skin met the doll’s. I didn’t know what the dream meant, if anything, but I didn’t care. I was starting to hate this thing and wanted to get rid of it.
“I’m throwing it out,” I whispered to Noah. He looked confused. I’d explain in the morning. We couldn’t get caught, and the more we talked, the more we risked it.
He watched as I slipped on shoes, went outside, and threw the doll on top of the swollen garbage bags in the bin my father had already brought out to the curb. It would be taken away soon, and then I wouldn’t think about it or dream about it or be tortured with it by Jude again.
We went back to Noah’s bed; the doll and the nightmare made me uneasy, and I didn’t want to sleep alone. I rested my head against his shoulder and my eyes closed, lulled by the feel of his silent, even breathing beneath my hands. When I woke again, it was still dark. But Noah was still next to me, and we were still in bed.
I was tired but relieved. “What time is it?”
“I don’t know,” Noah said, but his voice wasn’t thick with sleep.
I drew back to look at him. “Were you awake?”
He pretended to stretch. “What? No.”
I rolled over onto my side and smiled. “You totally were. You were watching me sleep.”
“No. That would be creepy. And boring. Watching you shower, perhaps . . .”
I punched him in the arm, then snuggled deeper under the covers.
“As much as I’m enjoying this,” Noah said, as he rolled over me, leaning on his arms, “and believe me, I am,” he added, looking down into my eyes as a mischievous smile formed on his lips, “I’m afraid you have to go.”
I shook my head. He nodded.
“It’s still dark.” I pouted.
“Fishing. With Joseph. You have to get back to your room before he wakes up.”
I sighed dramatically.
“I know,” he said, his smile growing wider. “I wouldn’t want to sleep without me either.”
I rolled my eyes and scooted out from beneath him. “Now you’ve ruined it.”
“Just as I intended,” he said, leaning back against the pillows. His eyes followed me to the door.
Torture. I pulled it open.
“Do wear those pajamas again.”
“Ass,” I said, grinning. Then left. I padded to my room, passing the French doors in the hallway, the night still black beyond them. I quickened my pace, hating to be reminded of what I couldn’t see.
Of who I couldn’t see.
It was nearly dawn, though. Jude wouldn’t risk breaking in so close to daylight. The thought reassured me and I slipped into my bed, my parents none the wiser. I closed my eyes. I had no trouble falling asleep.
The trouble began when I woke up.
At around eight, my father knocked on the door to make sure I was awake. I poured myself out of bed and over to my dresser to pick out clothes for Horizons.
But when I opened my underwear drawer, my grandmother’s doll was inside.
It was all I could do not to scream. I backed away from the dresser and locked myself in the bathroom, sliding down the tiled wall to the cold tiled floor. I pressed a fist against my mouth.