My Soul to Keep Page 80

But before my palm could hit the ground, someone hauled me to my feet, tearing the dress with a dull thread-popping sound. Tod pulled me back, pressing me into his own chest as the creature on our right drew himself up to a terrifying height. Gray, leathery wings beat at his back, stirring the heavy skirt of Sophie’s dress as his tail—which I’d obviously stepped on—whipped around his legs to lash my ankles.

“I’m so sorry!” I cried as Tod backed us swiftly away from the beast whose grayish cheekbones were literally sharp enough to slice the flesh from his face. The creature roared again and knelt like a bull about to charge. But then his massive right wing clipped the shoulder of the hairy fellow at his back, and both Netherworlders exploded into sudden violence like two giant cats with claws bared.

Tod and I raced away, thrilled to realize we didn’t represent a big enough threat to keep the beast’s attention.

Ahead, Alec’s brown curls bobbed through the crowd, and we followed him, Tod occasionally pulling me out of the path of another stampeding monster. We didn’t stop to catch our breath until we rounded the corner of the building. The empty span of gray grass—representing the quad in my version of the school—was still unoccupied and relatively peaceful, at least until the Netherworld residents discovered that the building had more than one entrance.

I led Tod and Alec to the cafeteria door, and we frantically searched every classroom, peering in through the windows of the locked doors and ducking around corners whenever footsteps headed our way, be they heavy, lumbering thuds or sharp, quick scuttles.

The first floor was deserted, except for the closet where Tod had stashed the unconscious lampade, so we ran up the wide staircase and repeated the search again, racing from room to room. And finally, through the rectangular window in the last door on the right, I spotted my father, slumped over a warped and dented metal teacher’s desk, still in the flannel shirt he’d worn to work.

My heart leaped into my throat and I struggled to breathe around it as I twisted the knob desperately. But it wouldn’t turn, nor would the door budge. “Dad!” I shouted, begging him frantically to wake up and let us in. To help us help him. But he didn’t move, and only once I’d forced myself to go still and concentrate could I see that he was still breathing.

“Here, let me try.” Tod pushed me aside with one outstretched arm, and I remembered that he couldn’t walk through walls in the Netherworld. Alec and I stepped back, and the reaper exploded into motion. His foot flew, connecting with the door just beneath the knob with an echoing crack of wood. But the door didn’t open, so Tod backed up and tried again, this time letting loose a heartfelt grunt as his leg shot out.

That time more wood splintered and the door swung open with the metallic groan of little-used hinges. I rushed pastTod and dropped onto my knees on the floor next to my father. “Dad?” I ran one hand down his ruddy, stubbly cheek. His eyes didn’t open, but he moaned, and his head fell to one side. “I think he’s okay.” I glanced up at Tod and laid one hand on my father’s shoulder. “I’m going to cross over with him, but I’ll be right back.”

“Take me, too.” Alec’s voice trembled, and for the first time I saw true fear shining in his greenish eyes. “Please. You don’t need me anymore.”

“You’re not going anywhere until we find Nash,” I insisted, folding my hand around my father’s. I almost felt guilty, knowing that if we left Alec, he’d probably be punished like Addy had, or worse, for his part in my father’s escape. But as callous as it sounded, even after everything he’d done, Nash meant more to me than any stranger. Even a stranger who’d helped me find my father. “I’ll be right back.”

Before either the proxy or the reaper could protest, I closed my eyes and called forth my wail with practiced speed, trying not to think about the fact that the more often I crossed over, the harder it would be to stop myself from doing that very thing by accident. As my recent dream-shrieking had shown me.

The odd cacophony from outside faded into a more familiar, benign, excited buzz. I opened my eyes to find myself standing in one of the Spanish classrooms, surrounded by empty desks and travel posters from Spain, Mexico, and South America. My father sat beside me, and as soon as I was sure he was still breathing, I stood and dug my cell phone from my pocket, only mildly relieved to be in the relative safety of my native reality.

I dialed by memory, and the familiar electronic tone rang in my ear. “Kaylee?” Uncle Brendon said, his voice thick with tension. “Are you okay? Did you get them back?”

“I got my dad, and I need you to come get him out of here. He’s in the last classroom on the right, on the second floor. The door’s open.”

“You’re at the school?”

I rushed across the room and twisted the lock to open the door. “Yeah, and I have to go back for Nash and Alec, or Avari’s going to use the lampades to open a big doorway into the Netherworld, and everyone here’s going to walk right through it.”

“No, that’s impossible. Kaylee, Sophie’s there.”

“I know. I’m wearing her dress.”

“What?” Over the line, I heard a door slam, then an engine purred to life. My uncle was already on his way. “Kaylee, you have to get her out of there.”

“I can’t, Uncle Brendon. I have to go back for Nash and Alec. Call Sophie and tell her to go home. And tell her I’m sorry about her dress.”

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