Home > Girl of the Night Garden(11)

Girl of the Night Garden(11)
Author: Lili Valente

I am not a human girl. And I never will be. If I stay here, this longing will destroy me and despair consume me from the inside out.

If I stay here, I will die like humans die but worse because this was never meant to be my fate. I have to leave. Tonight. “Please. Take me back where you found me. Please.”

“I can’t.” Declan shakes his head as he pushes the hair off his forehead. “It isn’t safe, Clara. We should go inside, wait until—”

“No.” My voice is loud enough to make him glance over his shoulder at the cottage. “I can’t,” I continue in a whisper. “I’m afraid.”

“Of what?” He turns back to me, worry and confusion mixing in his expression. “Has someone… If one of these creepers… I won’t let anyone hurt you, Clara. I swear it. Just say the word and—”

“No, it’s not a person. It’s…the house, the doors, and the windows.” My pitch rises, snags and catches. “And the fireplace, and the bed, and the chair. The chair most of all.” I wrap my arms around my frailer-than-it-used-to-be self and hug tight. I know I don’t sound human, but by some miracle Declan seems to understand.

“I’m afraid of the chair, too. I’m afraid…” He reaches for my face, but his hand flits away at the last moment. “Well, I tell you what I’m not afraid of,” he says, stuffing his hands in his pockets with a tight smile. “I’m not afraid of sailing. Or a little rain if it decides to fall.” He tilts his head toward the docks. “Come on, then. Let’s find ourselves a boat.”

I sigh, weightless with relief. “Thank you.”

“You don’t have to thank me,” he says, his smile going sad at the edges. “All I want is to make you happy.”

I nod a moment before ducking my chin.

I sense my response isn’t quite right, but when I glance up, Declan’s friendly smile is in place and his elbow held out for me to claim. I take it and hold tight as we go quickly, quietly down the path.

The sand shifts beneath my feet and sneaks into my boots. The cool ocean wind gusts harder, transforming my hair into a hundred tiny whips that sting at my face and neck, distracting me from the tingling of my skin in the places where Declan and I touch.

Nothing has ever felt so right and so wrong at the same time.

Further evidence that I have to leave this place.

Before I’m torn apart.

 

 

Chapter Six

 

 

Declan

 

 

We’re out of our minds.

I’m out of my mind, anyway. I’m not sure Clara was ever all the way in hers, and I’d imagine it’s hard to get out of something you’ve never been firmly inside.

Her unpredictable nature is one of the most intriguing things about her. I usually admire it, enjoy it even, but at the moment—

“Sit back, Clara! Sit back!” I shout to be heard over the wind, the waves slapping the side of the boat, and the blood rushing in my ears.

Thankfully, she leans back, her rain-soaked skirt hitting her seat before my heart can leap out of my throat. She turns, holding her dripping, tangled hair away from her face with one arm as she points across the water with another. “Farther out! Just a little bit farther!”

“We have to turn back,” I say, cringing as lightning flashes behind the rocks to our right. Thunder booms loud enough to shake the boat a moment later.

I reverse direction on the paddles—it grew too windy for sails not long after we left the dock—and dig deep, pulling for shore. That last flash was too close. If we stay out, the chances we’ll be hit by lightning are going to rival our chances of being tossed overboard. And those are looking pretty good right now.

Or bad.

Definitely bad. The waves are as tall as a grown man and it’s only a matter of time before—

“Clara! Sit down!” I shout as she stands, stumbling a few steps before regaining her balance.

“I see them, Declan. I see them!” Her arm jabs frantically through the air, but I can’t see what she’s pointing at. If she weren’t so pale, I wouldn’t be able to make her out at all. Thick, black clouds smother all the starlight, leaving nothing but flashes of lightning to navigate by.

I’ve always heard lightning will strike the tallest thing on the water. The tallest thing for miles is the mast of our boat. The next tallest is Clara who refuses to—

“Sit down!” I beg again.

Hauling the oars into the boat, I inch over until I’m close enough to grab a handful of her soaking skirt in my hand. I never should have taken her out, I never should have left the island.

Hell, I should have stayed in bed and dreamt nice dreams about this girl instead of letting Awake Clara talk me into killing us both.

“My birds!” She braces herself on my shoulder and leans down to shout in my ear. “They’re there, Declan! I see my friends. Just beyond the wards. We have to go to them before they try to come to us and get hurt. Or worse.”

She turns and I think I hear her calling for the birds to stay back, but that doesn’t make a lick of sense and I can’t be sure I’ve heard her clearly anyway.

I’m too distracted by another lightning flash, this one so close the smell of burning stings my nose. It’s followed immediately by a boom that leaves my bones trembling and my ears ringing and useless.

But my eyes are still open wide, and in the few seconds the ocean is illuminated like a carpet of black diamonds, I see them—two tiny, feathered shadows, struggling to stay airborne as the wind tosses them up and down, flapping so desperately it’s obvious they’re excited by something other than the probability of imminent death.

Her birds.

She’s right. There they are, just like she thought they’d be.

“I see ‘em.” I smile despite the fear and chill making my teeth chatter. “Sit down. We’ll fetch them. We’re not far now.”

“Thank you, Declan. Oh, thank you so much.” Squeezing my shoulder, Clara settles on the edge of her seat while I grab the oars, drop my head, and pull hard for the wards.

We’re only ten feet or so from where the birds are whirling. It wouldn’t be right to leave the poor things to suffer the storm when a few extra minutes in danger might save their lives. And Clara will be so happy to have them. They’ll brighten up the house, and maybe she’ll finally start to feel at home with us.

I’m feeling hopeful, I admit it.

Too hopeful.

When she screams, the sound of it shocks me, making me flinch as hard as a crash of thunder. My chin snaps up to see what’s wrong, what’s hurt her, to find the wards pulsing bright and blue.

Clara’s back arches and her fingers lift to the sky. Her hands are clawed and her head thrown so far back that the next burst of lightning falls full on her face, making her pale skin glow, burning the sight of her pain so deep into my mind I’ll never forget it.

I’ve never seen anyone hurt like that, not even Paulie when he drank all the sacrament wine, tumbled over a cliff on our way back to the dorms, and broke his leg in three places. He was as pale as a fish belly and trembling something fierce, but his scream didn’t cut me half like Clara’s.

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