Home > Misrule (Valentine #3)

Misrule (Valentine #3)
Author: Jodi McAlister


To the Lindleys, especially our queen Jen (who deserved better)



One thing I never knew about grief was that it was exhausting.

Or maybe I did know. Maybe I realised when I was four and my mother died, or when I was nine and my grandmother died, or when I was seventeen and my friend Marie was killed and eaten by carnivorous water monsters. Maybe I did know, and I forgot. Kind of like what they say about childbirth: you forget how awful it is so you think you’re strong enough to go through it again.

Maybe that’s why, when you hear awful news or see awful things, you freeze. It’s all that exhaustion hitting you at once. System overload. Shutdown.

When Phil and I get back to her place, when we see the blood smeared down the front hallways, all over the walls, all over the floors, that’s what happens to me. Not shock, not horror, not fear. Just nothing, except a dull, blunt weariness.

Phil’s reaction isn’t the same. She freezes for a second, perfectly still, like a statue. Then she’s an explosion of movement, running from room to room, yelling names.

I hear her scream – an awful scream – and I want to move faster to get to her, but my body won’t obey me. Everything is heavy. It’s like someone has turned gravity up a few extra notches, and I’m being pulled down into the earth.

When I find her, cradling her mother’s body in her arms, I expect to feel … more.

I’ve known Phil’s mum basically my whole life. She’s … not like a mother to me, but definitely like an aunt.

And she’s lying on the kitchen floor, covered in horrible rivers of blood, splatters and streams of red all over the cabinets like the most horrifying children’s painting ever, and a gash in her neck so deep I’m amazed her head is even still attached to her body. Phil screams and screams, but all I can feel is exhausted.

We have to call someone.

And it has to be me who acts.

I dig out my phone with fingers that feel huge and clumsy and heavy.

The picture on the lock screen is me and Finn. There’s an unread text from him, sent – when did he send this?

If you’re reading this, we made it out alive, babe.

‘Mum!’ Phil screams. ‘Mum, please! Please wake up!’

My fingers slip as I dial the first two zeroes of Triple 0, the blood dripping off me smearing the screen. We made it out alive, babe. But I pause before I dial the third zero, breathing heavily, the air tasting like metal and death.

What happens if I call the cops? They come here, they see the two of us covered in blood, me with a stab wound in the shoulder and Mrs Kostakidis a mess of knife wounds on the floor, and they go, ‘Hey, I know Pearl Linford got sent on that publicity tour a while back for heroically rescuing people, but there’s a solid chunk of people who think she’s actually a murderer and here she is looking extremely murdery. And so is her friend.’

Somehow I don’t think, ‘No, no, you don’t understand, we have an alibi, I was off destroying a magical death cult called the Riders who wanted to eat Phil’s heart and make her their queen, they’re the murderers you’re looking for and, oh, also we were in fairyland and my boyfriend is a fairy prince and his terrifying brother made me choose whether I wanted to keep him, Phil, or the twin sister I never knew I had and – please don’t make me answer any more questions, I’m so tired, I’m so tired’ is going to cut it.

Iron. That’s what the air tastes like. Iron.

There are no words in Phil’s sobs any more, just wordless, violent, wracking explosions of sound. I know the whole world is ridiculously well-trained to ignore car alarms and things, but how long will it be before someone hears her screaming?

I can’t call the police. I didn’t save Phil from getting her heart eaten and a lifetime of being the prisoner of Finn’s sociopathic fairy-prince brother for both of us to go to jail for murder.

But I have to call someone. I can’t do this alone. I can feel the world slipping away from me and I can’t save anyone else tonight.

I want to call Disey. I want my sister to wrap me up in her arms and wipe the blood from my face and tell me, ‘Don’t worry, Pearlie – I’ve watched a lot of crime shows, I know what to do.’ And she and Shad would come here and wrap up the body, and they’d put her in the boot of the car and drive away, and never tell me where they buried her. And sure, maybe there’d be an investigation of what happened, of where Mrs Kostakidis had disappeared to, but they’d never work it out, because when they’d buried her, Disey and Shad would come back and together we’d scrub the house, top to bottom, with bleach and chemicals and all the right things, so that it smelled like a hospital and not like iron.

But I can’t call Disey, because I made Finn mess with her girlfriend’s mind and whisk her away. I can’t call Shad, because I bullied his girlfriend into doing the same thing.

And the one other person who might be able to help – the fairy prince with the healing hands, my fairy prince, the Valentine, my valentine – is further away from me than I could possibly ever imagine, and he’s there because I left him there.

I made the wrong choice. I made the choice I thought I could live with, but it was a bad choice. When the prince asked me who I wanted to take back to the human world with me, I should have chosen Finn.

I should have chosen him not because I love him, but because he can do things. He’s powerful. And he’s valuable to them. The fairies wouldn’t have hurt Phil while I had their long-lost changeling prince, because who knows what he might do.

Phil throws up.

I focus on the acid smell of vomit, cutting through the awful metal smell of the blood. Maybe I made the wrong choice, but it’s done now. I don’t have Finn. I don’t have my siblings. So what do I have?

Friends. Kind of. I have Holly and Cardy.

Or maybe I don’t. I sent Holly off into the night dragging the barely alive body of Finn’s fairy fiancée Emily wrapped in iron chains. What if Emily gets loose? And what if Tam – oh God, Tam! – catches up with them? Finn commanded him to walk away from us in the bush with that voice of his that cannot be disobeyed, but he didn’t say where to, and if Tam catches Holly with the ashy remnants of his fairy mistress, he’ll kill her.

And I sent Cardy off with Julian. Julian, who has been the eyes and ears and hands for Finn’s brother. Julian, who the fairies have driven mad. Julian, who, on the rare occasions when he’s in his own mind, thinks I’m a murderer – something I somehow doubt I fixed when I tried to perform heart surgery on him in the middle of the bush.

Will Julian remember that Cardy was the one who stopped me? Or will desperation and fear fill him with adrenaline and rage? And what if Finn’s brother gets back in his head? What might he do to Cardy?

No Cardy. No Holly.

Just me. Only me.

I start scrolling through my contacts with my slippery, bloody fingers, desperate to find someone, anyone who can help me. The names of so many school friends fly by quickly, smeared with blood as I go faster and faster.

I pause briefly at Mr Hunter. Should I call him? He was a Rider. He did this. He should clean it up.

But I left him unconscious in the bush, covered in blood, my mother’s name tattooed across his chest.

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