The Wicked Will Rise Page 41

“Well, look who it is,” she was saying. Just the sound of her called up a feeling I thought I’d left behind for good, of being both angry and powerless at the same time. It was that horrible feeling that no matter how hard you tried, you were making things worse for yourself, and the best thing to do was give up.

“Salvation Amy. Haven’t changed much, have you? Still just a piece of worthless, stupid trailer trash. I didn’t ruin your birthday party. No one was going to come to it, anyway. And what are you wearing?”

“Go to hell, Madison,” I muttered. I wasn’t very impressed. Honestly, Madison had usually been more cutting than this in real life. If anything, she was just making me realize how far I’d come since the days when she could ruin my day just by sneering at me.

I wasn’t that girl anymore. I wasn’t a victim anymore. But as soon as I dismissed her, her voice changed seamlessly into Nox’s.

“So, I hear you have a crush on me, huh? Come on. Look, we kissed, okay, but I hope you didn’t get the wrong idea. I know messed up when I see it, and I don’t waste my time with it.”

Another voice chimed in on top of his. It was my mother. “Children are just vampires, sucking the life out of you. If I didn’t have you, Amy, I might never have started drinking. You drove me to it. You made your father leave me. You drove me out into that storm. You ruined my life, and then you just left. Did you even think of what you put me through?”

And a voice from so long ago that I was surprised at how familiar it was. A man’s.

“The best thing I ever did was leave,” my father said. Unlike the rest of the voices, his didn’t sound vindictive, or angry. He sounded just like I remembered him: gentle and easygoing. “I’m happy now, you know. I have a new life. A new family. I made things right for myself.”

“No!” I screamed. “You’re lying!” But I couldn’t hear myself, because suddenly there were so many voices shouting at me that I was drowned out. So many that I couldn’t separate them all. Glinda, Mombi, Lulu, Indigo, all of them reminding me of how I had messed up and worse, of all the things that had been wrong with me from the start. It was like that old show This Is Your Life, except this version was called This Is Why You Suck.

“Shut up!” I screamed, dropping Ozma’s hand to cover my ears and stopping in my tracks. “Just leave me alone! You’re lying!”

I’d yelled it so loudly that my throat was sore, but I barely heard myself—my screams were lost in the nothingness. Meanwhile, the other voices just got louder, now an indistinguishable chorus that shook my skull.

Selfish bitch. Loser. Damaged goods. Even when you win, you lose.

No one wants to come to your birthday party. Boyfriend? Who could ever love you? Who could you ever love?

All you know how to do is kill. And you couldn’t even kill her. You failed. Again. Just like you’ll fail next time.

You’re weak. You don’t belong here, and you don’t belong there.

My heart was racing; my breathing was shallow. I sank to my knees and took deep breaths, squeezing my eyes shut tight as I bit my lip, trying to hold back my rage and despair. I tasted blood.

It’s not real. It’s not real. I kept repeating that to myself.

It wasn’t. And the voices were wrong. Even if some of the things they were saying might have been true, they were still wrong.

Because I didn’t care what Madison Pendleton thought of me.

Because I knew what I had done for my mother—all the sacrifices that I had made for her, and that she had left me, not the other way around.

Because my father was no kind of father at all.

“Who are you?” Ozma had asked, just before we’d entered the fog. I had ignored the question, but now I knew that she had been trying to help me. It didn’t matter what Nox thought of me, or didn’t think of me. All that mattered was that I knew who I was.

And I did. For all the ways I had changed since I’d come to Oz, I was still the same person I’d been back in Kansas. Yes I might have been quiet and shy, the kind of person who did my best to keep my head down just to get through the day. But even then, I had never let people walk all over me. Even in the days when I didn’t know a left hook from a karate kick, I’d still always found my own ways of fighting for the things I believed in.

I had never been selfish or disloyal: I’d spent more time thinking about my mother than about myself, I’d put myself in the line of Madison Pendleton’s fire more times than I could count, because I saw her picking on someone even weaker than I was. I’d never given up, even when it might have been the smartest thing to do.

Oz hadn’t changed any of that. It had just made me stronger. Now I had the power to win any fight I took on. I had a knife that could cut through anything, if I wanted it to. And I knew it.

Slowly, I opened my eyes. The clouds around me seemed to have lifted a little bit. And I couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t my imagination, but I knew that in a place like this, imagination and reality were pretty much the same thing.

Even without Ozma’s hand in mine, and even without seeing her, I knew that she was next to me. I knew that she, in her stupid, nonsense way, was the one who had helped me through this. What had the Fog of Doubt showed her?

“Who’s next?” I shouted to the nothingness. “Any more ghosts out there?”

When I got my answer, I kind of wished I’d kept the question to myself. The fog had saved its biggest gun for last: Dorothy.

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