Marion and I had never slept in our own rooms until that night. She chose the one closest to the bathroom, the one with all the colors drained out of it. Her white wood furniture twisted like tree branches. I got stuck with the room steeped in darkness. Heavy mauve curtains surrounded the bed. It was like our rooms were opposite sides of the same forest: fairytale cottage versus the villainous lair.
No clocks hung from any walls and with the house in perpetual grey light it was impossible to tell when it got dark outside. When Marion started yawning, we settled down. I wanted her to sleep with me, but I was older than her by a handful of minutes. I had to make those minutes count.
Lying awake waiting for her to stir, my fingers itched to reach out with my magic, but that was the number one rule, at least that’s what I had told her. However, if I used my powers to read the energy of the Institute and decipher the rules, then breaking the rules would be for a good cause. The overseers would understand that. They’d even be happy about it. We’d certainly mess up less, if we’d been messing up at all.
Pressing deep into my bed, I flexed my mind, opening up to the room. Anonymous bodies lined the walls, whispering to each other. “What are the rules?” I asked.
The whispering ceased. As a unit, the figures stepped forward, surrounding the bed. Everything fell out from under me, and I tumbled through nothingness.
“Unnatural, send her back, take her place,” they hissed.
“What do you want from me?”
“Pain.” My bed rushed up to catch me, dispelling the air from my lungs, and the bodies blended back into the walls.
Sweating through my dress, I crept out into the playroom. The dolls had aligned themselves in the far corner, so I turned them to face the wall. Then I went over to the desk. The wood shone as if someone had recently polished it. Pulling on the two drawer rings, they held firm. I probably shouldn’t have tried to open them, but I pressed my hands against them anyway. An image of rusted metal popped into my head, and I felt the lock sliding. But when I wiggled the handles, the drawers stuck.
Debating whether or not to wake Marion, my heart nearly stopped. Mud dripped from the hair of a short figure in the center of the room. Gunk obscured the figure’s face. My toes went numb, and I squeezed my eyes shut. “Elmira,” Marion whispered into my ear. “I had a bad dream.”
I darted around the desk and into the corner. Back pressed firmly against the wall, I scanned the room for the figure, but it was gone. Marion stood pale-faced on the other side of the desk. Her eyebrows furrowed, and I forced the fear from my face. Sometimes her dreams activated her powers, creating real images around her.
“If it was a dream, then it’s ok,” I said more to myself than to her. “Bad dreams can’t hurt you.”
She rubbed her eyes and shuffled over to me. “Why are you awake?”
The echoes of the figures bounded around my head. “Couldn’t sleep. Want to play a game?”
She nodded. “I like games.”
“Just put your hands against the drawers and use your powers to open them.”
“But you said not to use magic.”
“Well, now I’m telling you it’s ok.”
She narrowed her eyes at me, but moved to press her hands against the wood. The locks spun and clicked. Out popped the drawers. She peered into them and picked up whatever was inside. “What is it?” I asked.
She held up a thin, metal gadget resembling a finger. Peering in, both drawers were filled with them. Picking one up, my body twitched. A surge of pain shot through my hands. Phantom blood pooled from my wrists, dripping down to my fingers. I dropped the mechanism on the table and looked a little closer. In certain places skin peeled back from tiny, toothed gears. I smacked it out of Marion’s hand. “They’re real fingers.”
Marion’s face remained untroubled as she scooped up the finger from the floor. She turned it over in her hands, scrutinizing it. “Marion, don’t touch them.”
She ignored me and spun the gears. The finger jerked and twitched. “Marion, please stop,” I moaned. The drawers rattled. Marion’s powers wound the fingers up like toys. The fingers crawled and drummed around in the drawer, trying to escape.
Backing up, I hid in the corner with the dolls. Finger after finger climbed its way out of the drawer, inching across the desk and floor. Then the fingers fell immobile. The Institute rumbled, shaking dust from the ceiling. A piercing eagle cry rang through the room sustaining a single note. I stuffed my fingers in my ears. Marion plopped onto the floor, face turning red. I tried to shout to her over the noise, but the words died on my lips.
Then a sound burst over the top of the cry, a sound to break eardrums. Marion’s mouth fell open, and it took me a minute to realize the noise was coming from her. Face scrunched up, a hurricane of sound tore from her throat. The dolls bounced beside me. The desk flipped over. All of the fingers rose into the air, whipping in a tornado around her. I hit the ground and covered my head. The desk smashed against the wall. The dolls were whisked into the tornado. I clung to the carpet as my dress billowed around me.
Like putting a glass over a flame, the Institute snuffed Marion. She collapsed, and everything in the air fell. Taking a shaky step towards her, the room around me melted, and darkness choked my mind.