Twenty steps from the bedroom to the kitchen.
Fifteen, if she moved quickly enough, but it wasn’t worth the risk.
Josiah was sleeping heavily by the time that Tuppy had gathered the will to inch herself out of bed, stepping carefully around the old creaky floorboards in the middle of the room. Her favorite cotton sweater lay balled up on the floor in front of the closet, and she kept both eyes on the bed as she stooped to pick it up.
Empty bottles littered the hallway, tossed haphazardly as Josiah had stormed off to bed the night before. Tuppy hesitated in the doorway, listening to the cadence of Josiah’s breaths as she waited for her eyes to adjust to the dark.
It took close to three minutes to cross the length of the hall. She stared down at her stockinged feet until they toed the edge of the living room carpet. The jigsaw puzzle on her craft table beside Josiah’s La-Z-Boy chair lay in pieces, as it had for several months now.
Tuppy’s chest tightened. It would never be finished now.
She knelt in front of the kitchen sink, cursing the cracking of her joints. Thankfully, the cabinet hinges didn’t creak as she eased it open. Behind the pipes was the box of swiffer dusters, and Tuppy fished through the soft rags to the modest roll of dollar bills that she’d stuffed at the bottom.
The bed springs squeaked from the bedroom.
What reason could she give for being up and about at eleven at night, kneeling on the kitchen floor? She’d thought she’d heard a racoon? Possible, but they hadn’t had a pest incident in weeks. Her cheek burned and twitched, and she dug her fingernails into her palms.
A minute passed. Then two.
It wasn’t until she was certain that she hadn’t heard a single footstep that Tuppy very carefully let out a breath through her mouth.
A sudden heat crept over her skin as she got to her feet, sweat beginning to bead at her neck. Her bottle of Paxil sat in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, but it would surely rattle—and Tuppy would have to creep past Josiah’s personal study to get there.
The thought sent cold shivers through her overheated body.
Ten more steps to her slip-on shoes at the front door. She pulled on her sweater, slipped her feet into her shoes, and shoved the wadded up cash down her shirt.
And stared at the doorknob.
He’d hear the click for sure—Tuppy eyed the living room window and considered whether it would be any quieter to crawl out into the bushes.
The early onset arthritis in her right hip loudly dissuaded her.
The second hand of the grandfather clock ticked louder and louder in Tuppy’s ears the longer she stood, sweaty fingers slipping against the lock. Just get outside, she repeated to herself. Just get outside and the hard part will be over.
She clicked the lock, turning the doorknob as far as it would go before pulling open the door.
The brisk night air rolled over her like a balm, but Tuppy’s muscles remained coiled even as she stepped onto the porch and closed the door behind her.
Three blocks to the bus stop. And after that—
Her legs were stiff as lead by the time she reached the stop, the city noises dissolving into static around her. She eased down onto the bench, which was abandoned save for an old sandwich wrapper with part of a sandwich still in it.
What am I doing? Tuppy’s heart clenched in her chest, throbbing in a manner that made her wonder if she would have a heart attack right here on the street corner. He’ll find out I’m gone, he’s probably waking up right now, he’ll know I’ve gone to the bus stop—stupid, stupid!—
As if from outside her body, she watched the approach of the bus, pulling into a smooth stop in front of her bench. Her mind still foggy, her body absolutely frozen, she waved it on.
If I go back now, he won’t be too mad, she reasoned, picking at a loose thread on her sweater sleeve. I-I’ll say I was sleepwalking, that it won’t happen again…
She should’ve taken the gun.
It would’ve been easy enough to break into the safe in Josiah’s study. She knew the combination was 042775—the day before they’d gotten married, nearly forty years ago this month. She had watched tutorials at the local library, sitting in an isolated corner as she took advantage of their unrestricted internet. Certainly it would be simple enough to operate… and she wouldn’t be sitting alone and vulnerable at the bus stop, at the mercy of anyone who came along. Or came looking.
But she couldn’t do it.
She hadn’t even noticed that the next bus had come and gone until she checked the ETA board. That had been the last bus of the night. The next one would arrive at 6:30 in the morning.
I have to go back—either that or sleep on this bench and hope, pray, that—
Her throat was closing up, her breaths ragged as she gripped the edge of the bench.
A forest green minivan turned the corner, pulling through the bus lane and rolling to a stop across from her.
The side door flew open and a young woman leaned out. “Hey, are you okay?”
“Oh,” Tuppy blinked back at her. “I’m… yes, I’m fine, I—”
The woman glanced down at the hands in Tuppy’s lap, her eyes widening at the purpling skin of her wrist.
Tuppy hastened to push her sleeve back down.
“We’re like you, you know,” the woman said, her gentle voice somehow carrying over the sound of the occasional vehicle passing by. “We all needed somewhere to go. You can come with us.”
Tuppy swallowed. “I… I don’t know, I—I shouldn’t be out here…”
“Please,” the woman moved to the side, gesturing inside the van, “before he finds you.”
Fear broke out across Tuppy’s skin, the image of the .22 flickering in her mind. She had less than a hundred dollars in cash, and it wouldn’t last her long.
She could smell his rancid breath on her face, the exact tone of his voice as he snapped—
Tuppy stood, sliding past the woman and into the van.
The door closed and the woman called over her shoulder to the driver. “Take us out, Ethan.”
A soft voice from the driver’s seat made a noise of approval, and the car launched into motion. Tuppy scrambled for a seatbelt.
“I’m Reina,” said the woman, sinking onto the other available seat in the back. She nodded at the driver, whose features Tuppy could barely make out in the rearview mirror. “That’s Ethan, and that little troublemaker is Nua.”
From where she sat, Tuppy could only make out a tuft of unruly red hair from the driver’s seat, as well as a black studded earring in each of Ethan’s ears. She couldn’t see anyone else in the car, but then a small head poked its way around the passenger seat. The girl looked to be around nine or ten, and she gave Tuppy a shy smile before making several fluid gestures with her hands.
Still tense and flustered, it took Tuppy a moment to realize it was sign language. “Oh—” she turned to Reina. “Is she—”
“Nua’s nonverbal, but she’s not deaf,” Reina explained. “She can hear you.”
Tuppy nodded before extending her hand. “It’s nice to meet you. My name’s Tuppence—Tuppy. Langdon.”
Nua shook, her little grip firm.
“How long did you wait?” Reina asked, long strands of her curly dark hair escaping their tie as the wind whistled through the car.
The van lurched as they rounded a corner, and Tuppy grabbed hold of the door handle. Her hand crept inside the pocket of her sweater and found its familiar place around the locket she’d hidden there. “About twenty years,” she whispered.
There was a long pause. “…I meant at the bus stop,” Reina said quietly. She reached across the seat, her hand hovering just over Tuppy’s shoulder. “Shit. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t swear in front of the nice old lady!” Ethan chided, weaving the van between the thinning streams of traffic as they exited the highway. “Now she’s gonna think we’re a bunch of hooligans.”
“Dude, the fact that you just used the word hooligans kinda makes me think that maybe you’re the old lady.”
Tuppy glanced at Reina’s hand, which was still deliberately not touching her shoulder, and nodded. The touch was gentle as Reina squeezed.
“Who are you?” Tuppy asked the van at large. “How did you find me?”
“Like I said, we didn’t have anywhere to go. Needed to get out, just like you.” Reina removed her hand from Tuppy’s shoulder. “We’re each other’s family now.”
“And technically, Nua found you,” Ethan volunteered, nudging the girl’s arm with his elbow. “Just like she found me.”
Tuppy’s mind raced, overwhelmed with questions. “What do you mean, she found you? How? What do you all do?” Then, as a delayed reaction: “Isn’t she too young to be riding in the front seat?”
Nua turned around to quickly sign something. Reina cracked a grin.
“She said it’s okay, her big brother Ethan will protect her. Also, we’re almost there.”
Tuppy almost asked where they were taking her when she recognized the entrance to Westchester Park on the other side of town. It wasn’t accessible to the public, but Ethan turned onto a grassy, overgrown path barely wide enough for the van to pull through.
Once they were deep enough into the park that Tuppy could no longer see the surrounding roads, the van rolled to a stop.
“We can sleep here for the night,” Reina announced, looking to Tuppy as she unbuckled. “You can decide in the morning if you want us to drop you somewhere, or if you want to continue with us.”
Tuppy stepped out onto the plush grass and stared at the van, parked conspicuously under a black cherry tree. “Shouldn’t you, I don’t know,” she waved at the van, “cover it in branches or something?”
Ethan chuckled as his long body unfolded out of the car, a bundle of lanky limbs. Tuppy had half a mind to tell him to cover up his bright hair, which would surely be a beacon to be noticed amidst the green of the park.
“No one will find us here,” he assured her. He opened the trunk and returned with an armful of blankets. “You can have the back of the van, we’re more than happy to take the ground tonight.”
“Oh no, no I can’t have you do that—” Tuppy protested, but Ethan had tossed Reina and Nua two blankets each and they were already spreading out beneath the tree. She watched as Nua curled into a tiny ball, tightening the blanket around her neck and sucking on her thumb.
Reina sat upright, leaning back against the tree trunk. “Honestly, we’d feel way worse about making you sleep on the ground, especially on your first night out.”
And Tuppy found herself too exhausted to argue. The kids all seemed comfortable enough on the ground, and her hip felt decidedly grateful for the option of the van. It took some maneuvering to get even the slightest bit comfortable, even on the blankets. Tuppy laid on her back, staring up through the van’s skylight at the spattering of stars.
She pulled the locket from her sweater and kissed it, keeping it curled to her chest—warm, pulsing like a second heartbeat—as she willed herself to sleep.
When she woke, it was from a dream she couldn’t remember, but every muscle in her body was locked, the taste of terror still clogging her throat.
Where am I? She struggled to sit up, momentarily thrown when she didn’t hear the creak of bedsprings or smell lingering cigarette smoke. The breaking light of dawn trickled in through clear windows beside her head, and Tuppy exhaled in a rush as she recognized the van. The park was quiet, save for the soft twittering of birds.
Tuppy glanced down at where she still gripped her locket.
Her left hand was gone.
She blinked. Then again, her heart ratcheting up its pace. She felt her fingers curling around the cool metal, but could see only the locket in her lap. Beginning to tremble, Tuppy lifted the locket, watching as it seemed to hover on its own in midair.
Her breath whistled out of her, high-pitched and frantic. “Help,” she gasped out, tearing her eyes away to glance at the others still sleeping on the grass. “Help—”
Reina was the first to wake, scrambling to her feet when she heard Tuppy hyperventilating. “Hey,” she hurried over, eyes wide. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Tuppy could only whimper, holding out what she knew to be her left hand, disappeared at the wrist.
“Wow,” Reina breathed. She reached for Tuppy’s hand, fumbling for a moment before successfully grasping it. If Tuppy hadn’t felt the warmth on her palm, she would’ve thought that Reina’s fingers were wrapping around thin air.
“Breathe, Tuppy, it’s alright.”
“It’s not alright,” she managed, gripping Reina’s hand tighter. “My hand is gone!”
“It’s not, though, is it.” Reina gently shook their joined hands. “It’s right here. Now please, breathe. You know your own hand. Remember what it looks like, how it would look holding mine.”
Her words made no sense… Tuppy bit her lip, staring at the stump of her wrist. She knew she should see the beige of her skin, the freckle on her pinkie finger, the subtle dotting of age spots that had begun springing up in the last few years—
As she watched, the flesh of her hand faded back into existence.
Reina beamed. “You did it. That’s incredible.”
Tuppy’s hand slipped from Reina’s grip and back into her own lap, where she kept poking at it to make sure it was real. “What… what happened? And why aren’t you concerned?”
Reina turned to Ethan and Nua, who had stirred from the commotion and were standing several feet away. “Something… happened to all of us, when we left. When we got away from whatever it was we were trying to escape.”
Tuppy stared blankly. “What. Do you mean.”
Reina thought for a moment. “Ethan, are you okay with keeping watch for a little bit?”
He nodded. “Yeah, I’m good.” He waggled his eyebrows at Nua, who giggled, before striding off through the trees.
Reina reached past Tuppy to grab a small Rubik’s cube, which must have shifted around in the back of the van. She held it in her palm, looking down at Tuppy. “I don’t believe this Rubik’s cube exists,” she said.
It was a good thing that Tuppy hadn’t blinked, because Reina had no sooner spoken when the toy vanished.
She rubbed her hands together to prove that, unlike with Tuppy’s hand, it wasn’t just invisible—it was completely gone.
“So you’re a magician,” Tuppy said, peering around Reina’s body, searching for the secret. Of course, it was an illusion—they must have been traveling performers or something…
But Reina shook her head. “No. I imagined that it stopped existing, and it did.”
“So… it’s… nowhere?”
“That toy? That exact one? It doesn’t exist anymore. Now, if I wanted to bring it back, I’d have to recreate it exactly—every detail and blemish—and force it back into existence.” Reina’s eyes closed, her jaw tightening. She jerked her head towards Nua.
The girl was now holding tight to the once-again-existent Rubik’s cube, already twisting the blocks at lightning speed.
Tuppy gaped. “You don’t expect me to believe that you… that you actually… made that disappear—”
Reina pursed her lips. “Nua, could you give us a minute? Come back when you’ve solved that.”
Nua didn’t bother looking up as she walked away.
Reina perched on the edge of the van. “So I was with my girlfriend for three years, right? Kind of a long time to be with someone. For the longest time, I thought we were happy. That everything was fine.”
Tuppy waited as Reina paused, her face drawing up and her shoulders going tense.
“She would say things and I’d believe her—things that, in hindsight, I know weren’t true. It wasn’t until years later, when things got bad, that I learned there was a name for that.” She gave a stiff shrug, her lips pulling into a tight, small smile. “The gaslighting made me think the world was one way, when it wasn’t. Now, I get to decide what’s real and what’s not.”
Tuppy felt a stab of sympathy as she stared at this young woman, aged far beyond her physical years. “So… now you can make things disappear?”
“And reappear.” Reina grinned. “But only if I want them to.”
They sat in silence for a while, and Tuppy worked to process everything that Reina had just said and done. She reached for Reina’s hand again and squeezed it gently. “I’m sorry she hurt you like she did.”
“Others had it worse. Not that it’s a competition,” Reina amended, “but Ethan… fuck. He was half-dead when we found him. Beaten within an inch of his life.”
Tuppy’s stomach lurched. “And… the little girl? Nua? She… she wasn’t—”
Reina’s face darkened. “We haven’t asked. And she hasn’t told us. All we can do is take care of her—take care of each other.” Her eyes fell on Tuppy’s wrist, still visible and still colored with finger-shaped bruises. “Want me to make that go away?”
Tuppy ran a thumb over the swollen skin, wincing. The bruise itself didn’t hurt much, but the impression of his touch burned hot. “No,” she decided, her throat thick, “I need to remind myself why I can’t go back.”
It looked like Reina would respond, but her attention shifted to the form of Ethan loping back into view.
“I got breakfast!” he announced with a grin, both hands full of fast food bags.
He had no sooner spoken when Nua returned as well, tossing the completed Rubik’s cube to Reina.
Ethan handed Nua a bag, then tossed Reina a different colored one. “I didn’t know what you’d want, Ms. Tuppy,” he said, holding out the remaining two bags and gracing her with a bashful smile. “I just stopped by a few different food trucks and did my best.”
Tuppy could already feel the heartburn coming on as she peeked through the contents of the bags, but the boy’s face was so earnest that it was worth not having any Pepto. She chose the safest option. “Thank you, dear. I think I’ll have this one.”
She chewed absently as the sound of Reina and Ethan chatting amongst themselves drifted into the background. She stared back down at her left hand for what felt like the hundredth time. How had that happened? Nothing had felt different or wrong, she’d simply woken up, and it was—
How did I do that?
She’d been dreaming, and bits of memory flickered through her. She’d dreamt of Josiah, but the Josiah of years ago, back when they’d met, fallen in love… before he’d turned into…whatever it was he’d become.
But the dream had shifted, twisted into Josiah’s face, warped with rage. His anger, exploding over the smallest thing, his words callous where they used to be tender.
When had he changed? And why hadn’t she noticed? Tuppy shuddered, pulling herself back into the present.
With a start, she realized that her fingers were disappearing even as she watched.
She didn’t cry out this time—instead, she watched as the invisibility spread, through her hand, past her elbow, farther than it had before—
“Hey, check it out!”
Tuppy looked up to see Ethan lounging on the grass, grinning up at her. He gestured to the now seemingly missing left half of her body. “You’re a chameleon, Ms. Tuppy!”
She pressed her arm along the side of the van, just to remind herself that it still existed. It was unnerving, the absence of her body unnatural—and yet, Tuppy felt just as intrigued as she was horrified.
There was a sharp intake of breath, and Tuppy’s attention shifted to Nua, who was standing frozen and unblinking, staring into a patch of trees just beyond the van.
“Nua?” Ethan knelt beside her, forehead creased in concern. “What’s wrong, sweetie?”
She didn’t respond—she barely moved at all.
“She sees something,” Reina said, grabbing the blankets off the ground. “We should move.”
Tuppy stepped closer to the girl, who was too stiff, her eyes wide and blank. “Is she alright? What’s happening?”
“She does this sometimes, she’ll be okay,” Ethan explained, sweeping Nua into his arms. “It’s probably nothing, but we like to keep moving just in case. Shouldn’t stay in the same place for too long.”
Tuppy accepted Reina’s hand in stepping over a mess of tree roots. “What about the van?” she asked, peering over her shoulder and watching as the vehicle disappeared into the distance.
“We can come back for it later. But if there is anyone out there, better to be safe than sorry.”
Ethan navigated easily between trees, leading them further into the park, and Tuppy wasn’t entirely certain they were still on any kind of man-made path.
Eventually they broke through the thick web of foliage. In the clearing, a marble fountain bubbled at the center of a cobblestone courtyard. Ethan set Nua on the ground at the base of the fountain, leaning her back against the side.
Her eyes were alert this time, darting all around, fingers twitching at her side. Her little body shivered with panic.
Tuppy had seen that expression before.
In a hospital bed in St. Anthony’s twenty years ago.
On her own face in the mirror.
“Do you like music, Nua?” Tuppy asked, easing herself onto the ground beside her.
Nua wasn’t meeting her gaze, but after a moment, she nodded.
“Would you like me to sing you something?”
Tuppy took a deep breath, and began to sing. The words had never left her, even after so many years. Memories clogged her throat, but she sang anyway.
By the second verse, Nua had calmed, her breathing even. She leaned against Tuppy’s arm, which was so unexpected that Tuppy nearly stopped singing.
The song ended, and all was quiet.
“That was lovely,” Reina whispered. She and Ethan sat on the other side of Nua, both staring at Tuppy. “What was that?”
“I wrote it years ago—I used to sing that to my daughter when she was your age,” Tuppy nudged Nua gently. The locket in her sweater weighed heavy, and she pulled it out, unclasping the latch and holding it open. “This is her. This is Arielle.”
The photograph had aged slightly after years of handling, but there she was—her fair hair and emerald green eyes a copy of Tuppy’s own. But she had Josiah’s crooked smile, back when he would show his teeth for anything but baring them in anger.
Tuppy swallowed, the prick of tears stinging her eyes. “She was twenty-five—about your age,” she looked to Reina. “She died giving birth to my grandbaby. I-I never did get to meet him.”
“She was beautiful,” Ethan said, at the same time that Nua turned towards Tuppy and signed something.
“She said,” Reina translated, brushing her own damp eyes, “you would’ve been a wonderful grandma.”
A sob tore out of Tuppy’s mouth, and the locket trembled in her hand. “Thank you, sweetheart.”
They let her cry for a bit, for which Tuppy was grateful—Nua got to her feet and hopped up onto the perimeter of the fountain. She walked the entire circle before deciding to sit on the edge and dip her feet in the water.
“What happened to her before?” Tuppy asked when the tears had finally dried and her muscles relaxed into exhaustion. “Was it some kind of panic attack?”
Ethan ran a hand through his hair, dislodging bits of shrubbery. “Best way to describe it is astral projection. Nua can leave her body behind sometimes, go somewhere else. It’s how she found me, when I was—” he broke off, before shaking his head, the usual dimpled smile returning to his face. “It’s incredible, but sometimes it’s too much for her.”
“She calls it flying,” Reina explained. “But I think sometimes she sort of… gets stuck, trying to return to her body.”
Tuppy’s heart ached. “That’s how she found me at the bus stop? By… doing that?”
“I’d say it’s a good thing she did,” Ethan said, wrapping one arm around Reina’s shoulder and holding out his hand to Tuppy, who squeezed it.
Nua loved puzzles, which was something that Tuppy felt she should have realized after the girl had solved the Rubik’s cube in less than ten minutes. She excitedly described her favorite kinds of puzzle games as Ethan translated, and Tuppy did her best to explain, without a visual reference, how to play chess.
As the sun hung low in the sky, Reina announced that she was going to retrieve the van. “It’s been hours, and we should probably move to a different part of town in the morning.”
“Can’t you make the van appear here instead?” Tuppy asked, half out of curiosity and half hating the idea of any of them splitting up.
Reina chuckled. “It’s not just moving things around—to make things reappear, I would’ve had to make it disappear first. And as much as I hate that butt-ugly van, I haven’t zapped it.” She shot Ethan a pointed look. “Yet.”
“You will do no such thing.”
“Besides,” Reina continued, addressing Tuppy again, “it’s massive and has too much detail. I could probably imagine it gone, but I doubt I’d be able to recreate it properly.” She ruffled Nua’s hair before walking off. “It’ll be fine, Ethan’ll take care of you until I get back.”
“It’s not just that,” Ethan whispered after Reina had left and Nua was sitting just out of earshot. “I’ve asked her… back when things were really bad… if she could—” he waved his hand, meeting Tuppy’s eye with grave purpose, “to me. She refused, of course. Said she wouldn’t even if she could, because she wasn’t sure if she could bring me back.”
Tuppy’s stomach sank to the ground, a chill washing over her skin. “Oh, Ethan…”
“I haven’t thought that way in a while, don’t worry,” Ethan assured her. “Though it would’ve been different if I hadn’t met Reina and Nua. And you.”
Tuppy opened her mouth to mirror the sentiment, but stopped short as the sound of a rumbling engine filled the air.
Ethan stood, cocking his head at the wall of trees that Reina had passed through. “That was quick.”
Branches cracked, followed by the groaning of old gears, the sputtering of a backfiring carburetor.
The blood drained from Tuppy’s face.
“No,” she mouthed, nearly tripping as she stepped backwards until she hit the fountain. “No no no, please—”
“Ms. Tuppy?” Ethan moved to her side, one hand gripping her shoulder. “Hey, what is it? Are you okay?”
“He found me,” she whispered, barely able to breathe as Josiah’s pick-up truck pulled through into the clearing.
“Nua!” Ethan reached for the girl, who scurried to his side. “Stay behind me, okay?”
The truck coasted to a stop, engine falling silent. The door opened, and his boots hit the ground with a deafening thud.
“Tuppence? That you?” He was enveloped in shadows as the sun nearly finished its descent behind the fountain. The breeze rolled his scent towards her—smoke and sweat and the Old Spice cologne he’d never changed—and Tuppy was back in the living room again, arms wrapped tight around herself as he shattered a vase against the wall.
“Josiah, please,” she said, holding out a hand in front of her as if it could bar his approach. “Please, don’t—just leave me alone—”
“Leave you alone?” He moved slowly, like a cougar circling its prey, his voice even and deadly. “Like how you left me alone, in our house? In the middle of the night?” He stopped just several feet away from her, shrugging with his hands in his pockets. “What’s the big idea, pulling a stunt like that, darlin’?”
Her heart was slamming against her ribs as she forced herself to speak. “I’m warning you, Josiah. Just get back in your truck and go home—”
“You’re warning me?” Josiah jerked his head back towards the truck. “Listen, I’ll tell you what. Just hop on back in the truck, come home, and we’ll forget all about this, yeah?” His eyes fell on Ethan, as if noticing him for the first time. “Who the fuck are you?”
Ethan straightened. He was taller than Josiah, though not wider. But in that moment, he appeared far more formidable than he ever had. “A friend,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m going to have to ask you to get back in the truck, sir, and leave Ms. Tuppy alone.”
Even in the dark, Tuppy saw Josiah’s eyes spit fire. “Are you trying to tell me how to talk to my own wife, boy?”
He shifted into a wider stance, and that was what he always did before…
“How did you find me?” Tuppy managed to ask.
He dragged his gaze back to her, letting out a gruff laugh. “You must think I’m a goddamn idiot. You think I don’t know that you carry that stupid necklace around with you everywhere?”
Tuppy’s fingers tightened around the locket. A cold chill rushed over her. “What—”
Josiah jerked a gnarled finger at her. “They make GPS chips real small now. Bet you didn’t know that.”
She stared down at the locket, at the face of her daughter. She wondered if she could see the tracking device that had betrayed her. “I didn’t know that,” she whispered.
“Course not. You’ve never been the brightest, have you, darlin?” He reached back into his pocket, and the glint of steel in the moonlight sent Tuppy’s heart flying to her mouth. “Now I’ll tell you again,” he said as he leveled the gun at her chest, “get in the fucking truck.”
Tuppy was frozen. For all his talk, for all his threats, Josiah had never pulled the gun on her before.
A dark figure caught her eye over Josiah’s shoulder, and her eyes flickered up to see Reina, on foot and without the van, standing at the edge of the clearing. The young woman halted the moment she saw Josiah and the gun, then continued sneaking forward.
No, stay away—
Tuppy frantically shook her head at Reina, urging her to stop.
But Josiah caught the movement. He turned to follow Tuppy’s gaze—
Movement erupted at Tuppy’s side, but she didn’t register it, didn’t realize that Ethan had rushed towards Josiah as his head had turned—
But Josiah was too quick. He spun back around—
Tuppy heard the gunshot, felt the ringing in her ears, deafening her…
But what she heard above all else was the sound of Ethan falling to the ground, his head cracking against the pavement.
Somewhere behind her, Tuppy heard a broken noise from Nua, saw her form darting behind the fountain.
Tuppy wanted to scream, felt it building in her, but instead, everything stopped. Static buzzed in her head.
Ethan was crumpled at her feet, and she couldn’t look—couldn’t breathe—
Her skin prickled, and she lifted her arms in front of her to see that they had both disappeared up to the elbow.
“Josiah.” Her voice wobbled, but it came out stronger than she expected. She forced herself to look at him, at the monstrous face of her husband. “Stop.”
He turned his glare on her, but his eyes widened as he blinked at the place her arms should be. “What the fuck—!”
Now the legs, she thought, imagining them gone. Just like that, they vanished as well.
The gun shook in Josiah’s hand and he stumbled backwards. “What the hell is this, Tuppy? What’s happening?”
“I know you always preferred me to be seen and not heard,” she said as her torso faded into the background, leaving only her head visible. “But now you’ll have to deal with neither.”
She knew she had completely disappeared when a choked gasp escaped him. He whirled around in a circle, frantically waving the gun as he searched for her.
“Tuppy?! Hey, Tuppence, honey, I don’t know what’s going on, but you… you don’t have to do this, okay? Just—just come back with me.”
Tuppy’s eyes had already adjusted to the dark, so she knew exactly where the leaves and uneven stones would crunch on the ground. She took a silent step.
Seven steps until she was on the other side of him.
Josiah held his body tense, head jerking back and forth around the clearing.
She kept her breathing shallow, making no sound as she created more distance between them. “You will never hurt me or anyone else again.”
He spun, and Tuppy wondered for a second if he would shoot into thin air. But he wiped his brow, his hand shaking more violently now. “Now, Tuppy, you… you know I’ve always wanted what’s best for you, darlin’—just… cut this out, alright? Whatever this is, just stop it—”
Across the way, Nua had bounded from behind the fountain to Reina’s side. Tuppy inched closer to Josiah, though every instinct screamed at her to run. To not let him get this close again.
Ten steps until she was behind him, close enough to smell his sweat, close enough to see the mole on the back of his neck.
He whirled around again, and Tuppy made herself a statue, suddenly sure he could sense her. But his eyes were darting from side to side, wide with a fear that Tuppy had never seen before.
He was terrified.
The gun still sat in his right hand, barely a foot away from unknowingly grazing Tuppy’s invisible arm. He was flustered, distracted—
She paused, waited for the crushing silence to send him shaking again, and snatched the gun from his hand.
He cried out, tripping on his own feet as he stumbled backward.
It was heavy, too heavy in her hand, and Tuppy’s stomach lurched with nausea. It was still warm.
Without waiting another second, she threw it into the trees.
Josiah looked wrecked, his silver hair scraggly and his mouth agape. He fell absolutely motionless, as if bolted to the ground.
Tuppy willed her head to reappear first, strength welling inside her at Josiah’s gasp of horror. She met Reina’s eye again over his shoulder, and this time, Tuppy dipped her chin into a minute nod.
Reina crept closer, indicating for Nua to stay behind.
“You never really saw me, Josiah,” Tuppy said, letting the rest of her body slowly reappear and meeting his stunned gaze. He gaped at her, completely oblivious to Reina coming to a stop just behind his shoulder.
Tuppy took a shaky breath. “I want you to see me, like this, just this once.”
He stuttered. “W-what do you mea-”
Tuppy nodded, and Reina sprung forward, grabbing his shoulder.
In a second, in a heart-stopping instant, he was gone.
Reina’s face, screwed up with effort, immediately melted with exhaustion as her knees gave out. Tuppy moved to help her, but Reina shook her head. “I’m fine, go check on Ethan.”
Tuppy glanced back to the fountain, pain and confusion warping her thoughts. “Check on…”
There, where he’d collapsed, Ethan was struggling to sit.
“Ethan…?” her words trailed off as she hurried to his side. Nua was already there, bracing him as he pulled himself up.
“Ow,” he grunted, touching the place where his forehead had smashed into the ground.
Tuppy gaped in astonishment. “But… you were shot! I saw him shoot you—”
Ethan glanced down at his chest. His shirt was torn in the front and back—where the bullet had gone through, Tuppy realized with a roll of horror—but there was no blood. He wasn’t bleeding.
He didn’t die.
“Yeah, that kinda stings too,” he said, wincing.
Reina made her way over, sinking to the ground beside Ethan. “You didn’t have to do that, you know,” she said, the reprimand softened by the relief and affection in her voice.
“Of course I did.” He looked at Tuppy earnestly. “I was so scared he was going to kill you. But trust me, this isn’t the worst I’ve had.”
Tuppy’s gut tightened, and her vision became foggy with tears. Reina’s words from yesterday seemed to echo around her: He was half-dead when we found him. Beaten within an inch of his life.
“You can’t die?”
He let out a tiny snort, then coughed. “Pretty damn sure I can, just not from… you know.”
“Violence,” Reina finished for him. She opened her arms to Nua, who shuffled closer and allowed herself to be enveloped. Reina stroked her hair as the girl sniffled. “I’m sorry you had to see that, sweetie.”
Nua turned her head to look back at Ethan, furiously signing something at him.
He let out a wet little sigh. “I promise I won’t. Not unless I absolutely have to.”
Tuppy met Reina’s eye, the same unspoken understanding flickering between them as it had before. “Thank you,” Tuppy said, though the words could never be enough. “For coming back, and for—” she couldn’t say it.
“I was halfway to the van when I heard,” Reina said. “God, I am so, so proud of you, Tuppy—that was so fucking brave.”
“Well, I—” Tuppy glanced at Nua and Ethan and then back. “I had some help.” She swallowed past a tight throat. “Thank you. For… for saving me.”
“No,” Reina shook her head, giving Tuppy a tired smile. “You saved yourself the night you left.”
They huddled together at the base of the fountain until dawn. Deciding once and for all that it was time to get out of the park, Ethan led the way back to the van.
After stopping at an all-night diner to pick up breakfast, Tuppy munched on a bagel as they sat in the parking lot overlooking the harbor, watching as the sunrise broke over the horizon.
“I was thinking maybe the suburbs?” Ethan suggested, rolling his trash wrapper into a ball and chucking it at Nua, who caught it easily and launched it back at him with a giggle. “Might be nice to get away from everything for a while.” He glanced at Tuppy. “What do you think, Ms. Tuppy?”
“I’d love to get out of the city,” she admitted, taking another deep breath of the fresh air wafting in over the water. A cloud of peace drifted over her, unfamiliar but inviting. “I haven’t been traveling since—oh dear, it’s been decades.”
Reina drained the rest of her four–espresso shot latte and unfurled the map she’d laid on her lap. “I’m down. Where should we go, Nua?”
Nua’s legs stopped swinging on the bench, her eyes growing glassy and distant.
She called it flying, Tuppy remembered. And watching the girl, her dark hair caressing her face as it blew in the wind, her tiny body still and undisturbed, that was truly what it looked like.
They waited several minutes before Nua jolted into awareness. She wasn’t shaking with panic like the last time, but she still reached for Ethan’s hand, her breath tight and eyes wide.
“It’s alright, dear,” Tuppy said, hoping that her voice would soothe the child’s distress. “It’s alright, we’re here, you’re safe.”
Nua blinked several times, then hurried to explain, her little hands moving faster than Tuppy could process.
“She saw someone,” Ethan explained, squeezing Nua’s shoulder. “There’s a girl in trouble, a couple miles from here…”
“Swan’s Dive bridge,” Reina said as Nua concluded the details of her vision. She quickly refolded the map. “I know where that is. If I drive, we can get there in less than ten.”
Ethan huffed in mock-offense. “I feel personally attacked, somehow.”
Tuppy leaned in to Nua as they all stood, heading back to the van. “You did great,” she praised.
Nua smiled, slipping one hand into Tuppy’s and using her other to touch her chin, signing something that even Tuppy could recognize: Thank you.
“Now,” Tuppy said, staring into the distance, towards Swan’s Dive bridge, “let’s go find her.”