Made you up, p.23
Made You Up, page 23
She nodded, but still tried to get a better look outside. I got the feeling that she hadn’t actually heard a word I’d said.
“What is it?” Miles called.
I pointed a warning finger at Charlie and slammed the door closed. She sat back in the seat and crossed her arms, pouting.
“Charlie hitched a ride,” I said. “I never even saw her get in. I told her to stay put while we’re in there.”
Miles and Tucker glanced at each other, but said nothing.
We walked up to McCoy’s front door. I did my perimeter check, glancing back at the SUV to make sure Charlie didn’t sneak out. Miles went straight for a ledge created by the edge of the porch roof. He felt around for a second, then pulled down a key.
“How’d you know that was there?” Tucker asked.
Miles shrugged. “He probably has them all over the place.” He kicked the welcome mat aside, and there was another key underneath. “See?” He kicked the mat back in place, then unlocked the door and pulled it open.
Inside, the smell of mustiness coated everything like a thick layer of bad cologne. Tucker sneezed. Miles closed the door behind us.
“It looks so . . . normal.” Tucker said.
We passed a staircase and went into a dining room lined with cabinets.
“Maybe for a retired octogenarian,” I said. Antique furniture filled every available inch of space, some of it broken and some of it in usable condition. I thought I saw a WWII gas mask wedged between a broken scale and a worn cookie tin, but I grabbed Miles’s hand and told myself that it wasn’t really there.
We scoured the entire lower level of the house, from the dining room to a narrow, dirty kitchen to a living room with the ugliest orange shag carpet I’d ever seen in my life. For half a second I was tempted to leave McCoy a handwritten note expressing my profound and sincere astonishment that he had the balls to keep such a carpet in his home.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, except for the gas mask and a few magnets shaped like swastikas on the refrigerator.
“I haven’t seen anything,” I said.
“No.” Tucker shrugged. “But there’s still upstairs.”
I turned toward the staircase again and saw a flash of red.
“Charlie!” I hissed, darting after her. I knew I shouldn’t have trusted her to stay in that car. She was too much like me to stay put. She froze halfway up the stairs, looking back.
“I told you to stay in the car!” I said.
“But I want to help!” she cried, stomping her foot.
“Get down here right now.”
“You sound like Mom!” She charged the rest of the way up the stairs. I ran after her. Miles and Tucker were right behind me. I shouldered open the door Charlie had gone through.
And then I froze.
“Look at all the dresses,” Charlie crooned.
The room was a museum exhibit. Dresses—prom, homecoming, cocktail, formal, even wedding—were displayed on mannequins. The mannequins all wore blond wigs. Plastered on the walls behind them were pictures upon pictures upon pictures, all of one person: Scarlet.
My stomach lurched. These could be my walls.
There was a large wooden desk on the far side of the room, strewn with papers and more pictures in frames. A pair of silver heels sat on the corner.
“What the actual fuck.” Tucker walked in, then Miles a moment later.
I put an arm around Charlie and moved her behind me as Tucker, Miles, and I moved to search through the papers on the desk. There were all sorts of things—bills, official-looking documents from school, taxes that hadn’t been filed yet, a half-completed crossword puzzle.
“This is all just junk,” Tucker grumbled, picking up a stack of blank printer paper. It didn’t even look like McCoy had a computer, much less a printer.
“Keep looking,” I said. “There’s got to be something. . . .” I grabbed the corner of a photograph and slid it out of the mess, careful not to dislodge anything else.
It was a picture of Celia and an older, dark-haired man with an arm around her shoulders. Both of them were smiling. Celia’s father, maybe? The man’s eyes had been burned out, the edges of his face crinkled and red.
But why would McCoy burn Celia’s father’s eyes out? Why would he burn anyone’s eyes out? How could anyone go this far down the rabbit hole without realizing they needed help?
And more importantly, what would he do if he found us here, looking through his things?
I stuffed the picture back where I’d found it, grabbed Miles and Tucker, and pushed them both toward the door. We needed to get out of here, now. “We’re not going to find anything else. Let’s go.” Eyes peeked out of the dark space under the desk. “Charlie! Come on!”
No one asked any questions. Miles pulled the key from his pocket and locked the front door behind us.
“Uh-oh,” Tucker said.
McCoy’s junker of a car trundled down the street. Miles shoved the key above the doorframe, then grabbed us both and yanked us off the porch. He pushed Tucker and me behind the dead shrubs that hugged the side of McCoy’s house, then ducked in after us. Sharp branches dug into my arms and head, and sweat trickled down my neck. McCoy pulled into his driveway, got out of his car, and went inside.
“Is he gone?” Miles whispered, his neck cranked toward me so the shrubs didn’t poke his eyes out.
“Yeah,” I said.
As quietly as possible, we climbed out of the shrubs and dashed for Miles’s truck and Tucker’s SUV.
Charlie wasn’t behind me. I jerked to a halt, pulling Miles with me.
“What? What is it?” he asked.
“Charlie! Where’d Charlie go?” I looked around, back to McCoy’s house. “She came out with us, didn’t she? You saw her come out?”
“Alex—” Miles pulled me forward.
“Miles, if she’s still in that house—we have to go back!”
He kept pulling. I dug my heels in. Stupid, stupid Charlie, had to follow us. I couldn’t believe her. I knew she was only eight, but I couldn’t believe she could be this stupid.
Miles grabbed my shoulders and dragged me to the cars, swung me around so I was pinned between him and his truck. Tucker stood behind him, his face twisted with that awful pity.
Miles’s voice was low but forceful. His bright blue eyes pierced me.
“Charlie’s not real.”
* * *
Why did you leave?
* * *
UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE
The world tipped sideways. “W-what?” I stuttered.
“Charlie’s not real. There’s no one there. There never was.” Miles pulled me around to the other side of his truck. The words buzzed in my ears, and everything stopped. The wind stopped rustling the trees; even the bug on Miles’s windshield froze in its tracks.
“No.” I tore my arm from Miles’s grasp. Shock radiated out through my limbs. “No. You’re lying. She was there—she was right there!” I’d seen her leave the house with us; I was sure. “Don’t lie to me, Miles. Don’t you fucking lie.”
“He’s not lying.” Tucker came around on my other side, his hands up.
“She’s real, Tucker. She’s . . . she’s got to be . . .” I looked toward McCoy’s again, expecting Charlie to pop out from the other side of the house, playing a game. I’d yell at her for scaring me, and I wouldn’t let her out of my sight again until we got home.
But she didn’t appear.
“Go home, Beaumont,” Miles said to Tucker. “I’ll take care of her.”
“Alex,” Tucker said again, moving closer to me. I stepped away, wiping my eyes. I couldn’t cry. Charlie wasn’t here. She was at home. But the more I wiped my eyes, the more tears spilled out.
I climbed into the passenger seat of Miles’s truck, buckled myself in. Home.
“It’ll be okay.” Tucker leaned through the window, holding my hand and speaking softly.
What was “okay”?
Miles’s door slammed. The truck roared to life. Tucker slipped away with the rest of the scenery.
Miles kept talking to me, but I couldn’t hear what he said.
She was just there. She had always been there.
The front door slammed against the hallway wall when I threw it open.
My parents were at the kitchen table. Eating dinner. Like nothing was wrong. Their heads shot up when I appeared in the doorway. I suddenly realized I couldn’t breathe.
“Charlie,” I choked out.
My mother stood first. She still had her napkin clutched in one hand, and she came at me with it like I was a baby who’d spit up. I backed away from her.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Alex, honey . . .”
“How can she not be real?”
A whimper came from behind me. Charlie stood in the hallway, her chess set held in both trembling hands. It was the chess set she’d had to get new black pawns for, because I’d flushed all the old ones down the toilet. One of the pawns was wedged between her teeth. When she whimpered again, it fell out of her mouth.
“What’s going on, Alex?” Charlie asked, her voice shaking as much as her hands. “What are you talking about?”
“Charlie . . .” A knot formed in my throat. My vision blurred again. “But . . . but I remember you bringing her home from the hospital. Feeding her and taking care of her and watching her grow up and . . . and she always had Christmas presents under the tree, and you always set a place for her at the table . . . and she has to be . . .”
“She was real,” my mother said. Her voice had gone tight, strained in a way I’d never heard it before. “But she died. Four years ago.”
Dad stood up as well. I didn’t like that everyone was standing.
“Charlie died before she turned five. As—” Dad’s voice broke. “Asphyxiation,” he said. “I should never have let her play with my chess set—”
I backed away, shielding Charlie from view. She whimpered again. The chessboard tumbled from her hands, and now all the other pieces joined the black pawn on the floor.
“I’m calling Leann.” My mother went for the phone. “We shouldn’t have waited so long. This has gone too far. There’s got to be a stronger medication she can prescribe.”
“She doesn’t need stronger medication.” A hand wrapped around my arm. Miles stood where Charlie had just been, glaring at my mother. Anger radiated off him, deep and cold. “She needs parents who give a shit about telling her what’s real and what’s not.”
My parents stared at him, both of them rooted to the spot and completely silent.
“Miles,” I whispered.
“How could you not tell her?” He got louder by the second. “Charlie’s been dead for years, and you think it’s okay to pretend she’s not? Did you think Alex wouldn’t find out? Was she too crazy for that?”
“No, it’s nothing like—” my mother began.
“Like what? What could justify that?” Miles’s fingers dug into my arm. “It better be pretty damn good, because that’s fucked up. That’s really fucked up. You’re the ones she’s supposed to be able to trust—you’re supposed to be the ones she can go to when she can’t tell. But instead she has to take a bunch of pictures because if she tells you anything, you threaten to send her to an asylum!”
Tears filled my mother’s eyes. “You have no right to come in my house and tell me how to treat my daughter!”
“Oh, really? Because I know terrible parents, and you’re one of them!”
“We tried,” Dad finally said, his voice barely above a whisper. “We tried to tell her. Alex was in the hospital at the time—she’d just had an episode, she wasn’t doing well—and no matter what we said, it just . . . rolled off.” He looked at me. “Like you couldn’t hear us. At first we thought you were just in shock. We thought you understood. But then you came home, and you were talking to her, and we realized that . . . that you didn’t.”
The room was too small, too close, too hot. An awful sob escaped my throat before I could catch it. I clapped my hand over my mouth. It seemed to break Miles’s anger; his face rearranged itself into a soft expression of pity that I hated. I didn’t want that look from anyone, least of all Miles. Never him. I darted across the kitchen to the back door. I could hardly see, but I knew exactly where I was going.
I wrenched the door open, tripped down the steps, and sprinted across the backyard.
When I got to Red Witch Bridge, I slid down the embankment of the creek and climbed under the bridge, where no one could see me. My lungs burned, and my eyes stung from the tears.
Blue Eyes. Bloody Miles. Scarlet. The 8 Ball. And now Charlie.
Charlie. Charlemagne. My own sister. If Charlie wasn’t real, then what was?
Was everything made up? Was this whole world inside my head? If I ever woke up from it, would I be inside a padded room somewhere, drooling all over myself?
Would I even be myself?
Charlie had been a constant. Never once had I suspected she wasn’t real. She’d always been real. Soft and warm and there when I needed her.
I couldn’t breathe. I pressed a hand to my stomach and sucked in air, but bile rose to block it. My throat closed up.
“Alex! Alex, calm down!” Miles slid down the embankment, planted himself in front of me, and grabbed my shoulders. “Breathe. Just breathe. Relax.”
He took my hand and pressed it to his chest, over his heart. It beat frantically under my palm.
Was that real? His heart? Was he real?
I stared back at the blue eyes I’d always thought were too good to be true. So were they? Was Miles real? Because if Charlie wasn’t real and he wasn’t real, I didn’t want this anymore. I didn’t want any of this.
“Are you real?” I asked.
“Yes, I am,” he said resolutely. He pressed my hand harder to his chest. His heart beat like a drum.
“I am real. This”—he put his other hand over the first—“is real. You see me interacting with other people all day long, don’t you? I talk to people; I affect things in the world. I cause things to happen. I am real.”
“But—but what if this whole place”—I had to suck in air again—“what if everything is inside my head? East Shoal and Scarlet and this bridge and you—what if you’re not real because nothing is real?”
“If nothing’s real, then what does it matter?” he said. “You live here. Doesn’t that make it real enough?”
UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE
Miles and I sat under Red Witch Bridge until darkness settled in for good around us. My parents hadn’t come looking for me—I guess they knew I wouldn’t go far. Or they had amazing faith in Miles’s ability to find me. Or maybe they didn’t want to face either of us.
At the house, the kitchen light was still on. I stopped in the backyard, taking a long minute to search the area. It seemed stupid now, but I couldn’t stop myself. I turned slowly on the spot. House, door, street, woods.
We went in through the front door. I closed it loud enough to make sure my parents knew we were back. I didn’t want another confrontation. I didn’t want Miles and my mother going at each other’s throats again.
I did another perimeter check in my room, opened one of my photo albums on the dresser.
It was all Charlie. Charlie smiling, Charlie playing chess, Charlie asleep with her violin tucked under her arm.
I showed Miles the album. “What do you see?”
He flipped through a few pages. “Furniture. Your backyard. Your kitchen. The street. What
I took the album back from him, closed it, and set it on the dresser. No medicine would ever be strong enough for this.
Miles glanced at the clock on my nightstand. It was almost one in the morning.
“Will your dad be angry?” I asked.
“Probably. He gets angry about everything.”
Over his shoulder I got a glimpse of white and red; Bloody Miles stood in the corner, grinning at me with his stained teeth.
I squeezed my eyes shut. “Do . . . um . . . do you have to go?”
“Are you okay?” He brushed my arm. I opened my eyes.
“I’m fine. I’m good.” I turned toward the bed and the window.
Charlie stood outside, a horrible sad grimace on her face. All sixteen black chess pieces stuck out of her mouth like finely carved tumors. I gasped and jumped; Miles’s arms came around me.
“What do you see?”
“Charlie’s at the window. And . . . and you’re in the corner.”
I nodded. “From Celia’s bonfire. Please don’t ask.”
“I can stay.”
I nodded. I pushed open his arms and walked to the closet, opening the door in Bloody Miles’s face. I peeled my shirt and jeans off and put on my pajamas.
Miles sat on the edge of the bed and took off his shoes.
“Your parents?” he asked.
“We’re not doing anything.” Besides, they might not be real.
“I think your mom hates me,” he said.
“I kind of hate her,” I said, realizing with a jolt that I meant it. “She needed to hear that. Thank you for telling her.”
I closed the closet door. Bloody Miles’s foul breath fanned over my ear and cheek. I pulled away from him and slid past Miles, into the bed. He lay down and slung an arm over my waist. I didn’t know how to position myself: facing away from him, Charlie stared at me through the window. Facing him, Bloody Miles loomed overhead. I turned to the pillow, eyes shut.
This wasn’t real. They weren’t real.
Miles pressed up against me and buried his face in my hair. He could say he didn’t understand emotions all he wanted, but sometimes it felt like he understood them better than anyone else I knew.
by Francesca Zappia / Young Adult / Fantasy / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes