Unhinged Page 92

I’m too shell-shocked to respond.

Our moment is cut short as the undead toys awaken the trees. Wide mouths yawn open on the trunks, and their serpentine limbs palpitate. Like Red, they’re limited to the pots and soil they’re in. But I remember the snapping retractable teeth and gums I saw on the tulgey shelves in my memory. If the toys can round us up into the forest, we’re all as good as eaten.

After waking the trees, the toys disappear into the shadows once more. The intermittent sounds of sloshing water and gruesome whimpers and moans are the only indications of their whereabouts. Other than a silhouette here and there, they’re impossible to see, being so small and close to the floor.

Without another word, Jeb rolls the netting into a strip to make it stronger and fashions a makeshift harness around his chest and shoulders. He digs out the night-vision goggles and tears off his mask to slide them into place. Then he snags a paintball gun and shoves all the boxes of paintballs into one duffel that he hangs on his shoulder.

He steps up to Morpheus, catches his arm, and turns him around. “Think you’re man-bug enough to give me a lift?”

Morpheus snorts. “Child’s play. Although I can’t promise a safe landing.”

The threat doesn’t faze Jeb. He turns so Morpheus can ease his arms through the back of the harness.

“Morpheus.” I shoot him a meaningful glance, trying to get his assurance he’ll play nice. But neither guy looks my way. I hope they can manage to work together without killing each other.

“We’ll tag them.” Jeb looks down at us as Morpheus hoists him up, his powerful wings flapping hard enough to stir up gusts. “And you two bag them.”

Mom hands me a net as the guys rise toward the ceiling. Jeb’s shirt is a streak of glaring purple in the shadows. The thought of Sister Two lurking gnaws at the edges of my heart, but I have to keep it together. I can’t let my fear for Jeb get the best of me, or it will prove Morpheus right: that Jeb’s my downfall.

I won’t let that be true. He’s my partner, just like he was in Wonderland. Even if I have lost his trust.

A splatting sound erupts as Jeb blasts paintballs into the darkness. Creepy toys clamber out of hiding places, growling and groaning. Spatters of paint mark them—smears of neon light scuttling to and fro.

Mom and I bob and duck, sway and slide, as gnashing teeth and angry snarls attack from all directions. With the wet floor beneath us, we can barely stay upright to fight them off, much less capture them in nets.

“If we’re going to get the upper hand,” I shout over the commotion, knocking a few undead toys away with a pool cue, “we’ll have to go aerial.” My wings itch to take flight and I climb onto the table.

Mom looks up at me, a hint of reservation behind her mask. “I’m not that great at the flying thing.” She looks scared, just like I was when Jeb and I skated across the chasm in Wonderland on a sea of clams. But Jeb persisted, and we made it out. I’ll be just as strong for Mom.

A half dozen neon-smeared toys tumble our way, panting and rabid.

I drag her up onto the table next to me. “Now, Mom.”

Biting her lip, she nods. There’s a whoosh as she releases her wings—almost exact replicas of mine. After tonight—seeing her Wonderland wildness set free—I don’t think she’ll ever have any problems with my miniskirts again.

A trance-techno dance song bursts out of the speakers, and wicked laughter echoes through the intercom. Some toys have found their way to the sound booth.

Mom and I launch into the air—nets in hand—as several restless souls scramble onto the table. A mildewed teddy bear and a pink kitten with only one eye tug at my arms and hair, trying to pull me toward the waving, yawning trees. I slap away the toys with my pool cue as I rise.

Mom’s not gaining altitude fast enough. A worm-eaten vinyl doll clamps onto her ankle, biting her. She screeches and sinks a few feet. Blood trickles down her shoe to the table below.

Diving toward her, I slam the doll with the pool cue, sending it into the darkness. The toy yelps, and I follow its soaring white reflection as it hits the top of the skate bowl and slides down the orange incline, coming to a stop at the bottom. It tries to climb out but keeps slipping down again. The enclosed concave, combined with the moisture from the sprinklers, makes it impossible to escape.

The partially formed idea from earlier hits me fully now.

“Zombie pinball,” I yell to Mom, both of us high enough that our wing tips nearly brush the overhead black lights.

She looks down at the layout, not quite getting it.

To demonstrate, I focus on a pool table, imagining the balls are tumbleweeds caught by the Texas wind. They begin to spin, then roll, dropping off the table’s edge like rainbow-fluorescent waterfalls.

They capture some toys in their spin, and I guide the mobile mass with my mind and imagination, herding it toward the skate park, hitting the tulgey trees and other fluorescent obstacles along the way but coaxing it along. From our altitude, the glowing scene looks like a hundred pinball games playing at once.

Mom catches on and uses her magic on another pool table, until the floor is covered with glowing balls and off-balance toys. We combine our powers and send all of the balls and toys siphoning into the skate bowl. Mom’s white teeth beam at me across the shadows, and I smile back. We’re winning.

In the distance, Jeb and Morpheus catch the corner of my eye. They’re close to the arcade. A steady buzz of paintballs rains down. They’re going after Red. I push my concern out of my mind, trying to stay emotionless, and keep working with Mom until we’ve piled most of the toys inside the tall bowl. The few remaining ones scamper into the tulgey forest.

I fashion a giant scoop, using my net and cue. Descending close to the skate bowl, I lower it. The toys clamber dumbly inside. I’m able to snag at least fifteen on my first try. Their wiggly weight works as a counterbalance to help me cinch the top closed. I drop the net off on my way to the buffet table for another one. I grab two pool sticks, handing one off to Mom as she hovers close. She swoops away, and I reach under the tablecloth for the last duffel bag.

Something slices my wrist through my glove. I yelp and jerk my arm back, blood drizzling across the floor. Garden shears rip through the tablecloth from the other side, and Sister Two scutters out, rising to her full height and lashing at me, stingers bared.

Gasping, I block Sister Two’s venomous hand with a pool cue.

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