*The idea for this story brewed in my head for years before I got it down on paper. It was originally printed in Onyx Neon Press’s Horror Collection: Tales of the Bizarre. Hope you enjoy! Let me know what you think!
The Corners Have Arms
Sophie flicked her cigarette butt out the car window and checked her cell phone. It was 2AM. Fifteen minutes since her last text. Time for another.
WHERE R MY BABIES???
She didn’t expect a reply.
Carlos hadn’t answered his cell or replied to her texts in twenty-four hours. Motherfucker. She never should’ve allowed him to take the twins to the valley. Never. No matter how excited they were to visit that farm house again. No matter how much they begged and gave her the sad eyes. No matter how many times Carlos assured her everything would be fine, that they’d call every day. She should’ve never given in. She knew better.
In the months before the divorce, when the fights had become verbally vicious and occasionally physical, Carlos had threatened to sneak the twins across the border and hide them from her. Raise them the right way. Far away from her worthless ass. But Judge Wharton either didn’t believe her or didn’t care when she’d told him about the threats. He’d ordered that Carlos get the twins every other weekend during the school year, and two weeks of the summer.
His two weeks were up at noon yesterday. And he hadn’t brought the girls home as promised.
Sophie blotted her swollen eyes with the bottom of her T-shirt, lit another cigarette, and took a lengthy puff. Remebering. Regreting.
The last time she’d talked to one of the girls was Thursday evening, the night before they were supposed to come home.
Nine-year-old Cecilia had acted odd on the phone that night. She had been uncharacteristically bland and short with her greeting, and when Sophie had asked what she and Monica were up to, how their day was going, she’d stayed quiet for a long moment, whispered something to someone else, and then said, “I can’t talk right now, Mom.” And hung up.
Sophie called right back, and it took Carlos nearly twenty rings to answer. Of course, he blamed her for Cecilia’s behavior. She let the girls stay up as late as they wanted, wear what they wanted, eat in front of the TV, talk back. Worse, she let them watch those violent horror movies, and read zombie comics and Harry Potter books. If they were acting rude or strange, it was her fault times ten.
Sophie squeezed the steering wheel hard, gritted her teeth, the cords in her neck tightening. Fucking Carlos. To him, everything was her fault. The girls’ troubles focusing at school. Their lack of manners and friends. The divorce. His high blood pressure, sleep problems, impotency. Everything.
She released a clutched breath and glanced at the picture of Cecilia and Monica on her cell phone. They were dressed as witches, their laughing faces pressed together. She took a drag and shook her head, disgusted at herself for not demanding Carlos put Cecilia back on the phone that night.
Cecilia had never acted like that before. She usually loved gabbing with Mom, enthusiastically explaining her day’s events as though they affected the entire world. And she’d never hung up without saying, “Loves, hugs, and kisses.” Neither of the girls had.
“She was reaching out to me,” Sophie blurted out. The first words she’d spoken aloud in hours. “And what did I do?” She tapped her chest hard enough to make a thud, then glanced at herself in the rearview mirror. Her eyes brimming with tears. “What did I do? Her Mom. I didn’t do shit. Not a damn thing.”
She pushed down harder on the gas pedal, brought the speed of the Toyota Corolla she’d been awarded in the divorce settlement up to ninety. “I’m coming, baby,” she said with motherly conviction. “And I’ll fucking kill him if he’s done anything to you. I swear to God I will.”
* * *
Normally the drive from Flat Rock to the valley took nine hours, but Sophie made it in less than eight. She turned onto FM 32 as the sun was rising in a puddle of gold and pink.
When the giant house and long rows of lemon and avocado trees bracketing it came into view, she saw Carlos’s cherry red Yukon parked in the long curved driveway, and the tension that had been pressing down on her chest since 12:01 yesterday afternoon lessened its burden. But only slightly. Because she didn’t see Eloy’s car anywhere.
Eloy, Carlos’s twin brother, was supposed to stay at the house the entire two weeks the girls were there. He’d been there two days ago. Playing Checkers with Monica according to Carlos.
What if they took Eloy’s car? What if they took it across…
Eloy had a house in Matamoras, a second somewhere near Mexico City, and a third somewhere on the west coast. Or at least he claimed to. And per Carlos’s threats before the divorce, Eloy had connections with the corrupt Mexican police and government. He had Mexican citizenship. And his car, a Yukon similar to Carlos’s, had Mexican plates. He had everything they needed to blend in, become instantly Mexican, disappear forever.
The smidgen of tension that had slipped off Sophie’s chest when she’d first seen Carlos’s Yukon not only returned but returned with vigor. She parked behind the Yukon, killed the engine, fished the 9MM out of the glovebox, and then glanced at herself in the rearview mirror.
She looked haggard, way older than thirty-one. Her skin was blotchy, eyes wired with nicotine yet puffy from crying. Her hair was wild and frizzy. Carlos would say she looked disgraceful. Trashy. Nasty. Like the strung-out transient hooker he’d helped get off the streets ten years earlier. That she should be ashamed to step out of the house like this. But fuck Carlos. She wasn’t here for him.
She wedged the 9MM in the back waistband of her jeans and marched toward the front door, scanning the windows on the first floor for signs of movement. When she stepped onto the porch, her stomach seemed to flip upside down. She hated this house. Had vowed never to step foot inside again after what had happened last time she was here. For her girls, though, she’d do it. For her beautiful babies, she’d do anything. They were all she had in the world.
Sophie pounded on the front door five hard times. “Carlos?” she yelled, then pounded five more. “Cecilia? Monica?”
She stepped back and surveyed the second floor windows. Maybe they were upstairs. She’d spent enough time in the house to know you couldn’t hear much of anything going on downstairs if you were up there. She knocked five more times, then tried the knob and found it unlocked.
The stench of ammonia—cat piss—assaulted her nose when she stepped into the foyer, and her nasal cavities immediately collapsed.
Carlos’s mom, Aurora, had inherited the house in the mid-70s, lived there until her death, and in her will passed it to her twin sons, who now used it as a vacation house. She had insisted on keeping seven cats in the house at all times—the perfect number to ward off espiritus malignos and brujas maliciosas. She’d named the cats after saints, and Carlos and Eloy had insisted on keeping them after her death. Litter boxes abound.
Sophie hated the cats. She hated their dander, their stink, the way they watched her with callous, hunting eyes, seemingly eager to pounce and slash. And she absolutely couldn’t stand the noises the females made at night while in heat. Screaming and howling as though their warm insides were being ripped out. The nights she’d stayed there, she’d laid in bed and dug her fingernails into her thighs, praying for them to stop.
“Cecilia? Monica?” Sophie called out as she closed the front door.
A thick, unsettling silence swallowed her words.
She made her way into the sitting room and turned on the floor lamp. The room looked exactly as it had the last time she was here. Flower-patterned couches faced one another in the center of the room, two matching chairs between them, all four covered in cat hair. One of Aurora’s Santeria talismans hung on the far wall in the center of a slew of family photos, collecting dust.
Sophie left the room and walked past the staircase and entered the lone bedroom on the first floor, the largest one in the house, the master. It was still crammed with the boxes Sophie and the girls had packed two summers ago, stacked five feet high in places, all labeled with one word: AURORA.
She moved on to the living room. When she turned on a lamp sitting an end table and saw her daughter’s Hello Kitty jackets draped over the tan sectional, the pink sleeves glistening in the halogen, she picked them up and pressed them to her nose, sniffing, hoping to catch a whiff of the girls’ strawberry shampoo, or Princess Perfume, but her nose was too clogged. Fucking cats.
Holding the jackets to her chest, she headed to the eat-in-kitchen and adjoining dining room. Two glasses with faint milk rings were on the island in the center of the kitchen. She touched one. It felt warm, unused for many hours. All the other dishes and cookware were clean and neatly stacked in the doorless cupboards. All the chairs pushed under the tables, place mats perfectly aligned, Carlos-Style. Aurora’s pouch of dried bay leaves—maleta de curacion— dangled from a hook above the sink, no longer fragrant.
Sophie pushed the pouch aside and looked out the kitchen window to check the swing set behind the house. Nothing. No beautiful twins laughing and playing. Just ghosts swinging in the wind.
She moved on. Checked the main bathroom. The laundry room.
With each empty room and unanswered call, the silence grew heavier, Sophie’s chest tighter. Making it harder to breathe. Hard not to assume and embrace the heart-wrenching worst.
He did it. He took them to Mexico.
She hurried back to the staircase and headed upstairs, calling out the girls’ names again and again.
She was greeted on the carpeted landing by two cats—Odilo and Stephen, called O and Steve, if she remembered correctly. Blocking her way, Steve stared at her like a hungry predator. She swung the girls’ jackets at him and told him to get, which he did, scurrying down the hall with O close behind.
The bedroom the girls used, the largest of three upstairs, was on the far end of the hall. Sophie hurried to the door, opened it, and turned on the light. The king-sized bed the girls shared was made. The same hideous grapevine bedspread covering it. A talisman with an azabache pebble in the center hung above the headboard. The blinds over the two windows were closed.
As Sophie’s eyes moved toward the adjoining bathroom, a slight simper found her lips. The girls’ Teen Titan Raven backpacks were leaning against the wall next to the door. And they looked full. She rushed over to them, unzipped one, dug inside. She found Monica’s Leap Pad, Snoopy doll, costume jewelry, and her notebook of drawings. Monica never went anywhere without her drawings.
But then where…
Suddenly, a horrific possibility seized Sophie’s heart like a clamp, squeezed down tight like a muscle. The blackness of it filling her lungs, the tentacles wringing her bowels.
Maybe they hadn’t gone anywhere. Maybe Carlos had…
She squeezed her eyes tight and shook her head as though she could jar the horrible thought from her mind. But she couldn’t. It kept growing, rooting deep, demanding acknowledgement. She rushed into the bathroom. Two toothbrushes in the holder. Two purple robes hanging on a hook behind the door. A tube of Sparkle toothpaste and a hair brush on the counter. She cupped her mouth.
What if he killed them?
There it was. Out in the open. An option worse than the worst. One she’d been hiding from herself all day. But she’d watched enough ID Channel to know it happened. A spouse putting a bullet in everyone’s head for revenge. Out of spite. But Carlos wasn’t the type. He loved the girls. He wouldn’t, couldn’t, do that to them. Could he?
Sophie ran out of the room and down the hall, screaming her babies’ names as loud as her dry throat would allow. She pushed open each bedroom door, flicked on every light. Found every room empty and silent.
When she reached the door closest to the staircase, the office door, she took in a deep breath before she flung it open. That room, too, was empty. Of humans anyway. A cat—Paul, she knew because of his striped tail—was standing on a desk next to Carlos’s laptop.
Carlos never went anywhere without his laptop.
Sophie screeched and knocked the laptop off the desk. It crashed onto the floor, the screen snapping off the base. Paul leapt to the floor and bolted up the open doorway leading to the attic.
The girls’ castle.
Sophie followed Paul up the stairs and called the girls’ names.
A stream of light shooting through the round window to her right lit half the attic with yellow sunlight. The other half, the half to her left, was dark. She could hear cats moving around. One skittered across the beam of light and jumped through a window on Cecilia and Monica’s playhouse. Carlos and Eloy had built the castle-themed playhouse when the girls were five. It was painted like stones, complete with a small plywood drawbridge that could be lowered by a flimsy crank. Carlos had even put a sink inside with running water. Battery-run torch lights hung on the walls inside, giving the place an orange glow.
Sophie was running her hand along the wall, searching for the light switch, when Carlos called out.
“Don’t turn it on.”
Sophie’s heart fluttered and her hand froze.
Seconds later, a lantern lit on the dark side of the attic. Carlos was sitting in a wooden chair holding the lantern, five feet from the castle. His hair was disheveled, not slicked back and gelled as usual. And his slacks and Guayabera were wrinkled, not starched, crisp as frost on grass, as he usually insisted.
“Where are the girls?” Sophie asked, marching toward him.
He locked his tired eyes on hers but didn’t answer.
She stopped in front of him, pulled out the 9MM, pointed it at his face.
“I’m so glad you came,” he said, his voice caged with stress. “I’m losing my mind here.”
“Where are they?” Sophie asked. “What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything. And get that slut gun out of my face.” Carlos swatted at the gun, but Sophie moved back out of his reach.
She had acquired the 9MM from a guy named Big Fly when she was fourteen and in foster care. Traded ten blow jobs for the gun and a handful of bullets. Carlos had always called it her slut gun. She called it the best insurance policy on the market. The big brother she never had. A guarantee she would walk out of any hotel room or car in one piece. Wouldn’t get robbed or cheated. And would rest a little better when sleep found her.
“Where are my babies, Carlos?” Her hands growing sweaty, voice desperate. “Where’s Eloy?”
“Eloy? He left yesterday morning. He had a meeting in Mexico. Why?”
“Are they with him?”
“Then where are they?” A beat. “Did you hurt them? I swear to God if you—”
“I didn’t hurt them,” Carlos cut in, standing up and puffing out his chest in protest. “I would never hurt them. You should know that.”
“All I know is that you were supposed to bring them home yesterday and you didn’t. And that you haven’t responded to my texts or calls in twenty-four hours.”
Carlos inhaled and exhaled loudly, combed his fingers through his hair. “I didn’t answer your calls because I didn’t know what to say without sounding bat-shit crazy, okay? I knew you wouldn’t believe me. You have to hear it for yourself.” He sat back down, shook his head, seemingly discouraged, beaten.
Carlos glanced into the darkness beyond the playhouse, back at Sophie.
Sophie’s chest began to burn, as though a fire had been lit inside her heart. “What?”
“What!?” The flames hotter, doused with gasoline. She aimed the gun at the ceiling and fired.
Carlos dropped the lantern and jumped up, knocking the chair down as he back-peddled. “What the hell are you doing? You could’ve…We don’t know if…Don’t do that!” He rushed at Sophie, grabbed her arm with one hand, the barrel of the gun with the other.
“Where are they?” Sophie yelled as they struggled for control of the gun. “Where are my babies?”
“I don’t know,” Carlos said. “But if you calm the fuck down and listen, you’ll hear them. They keep calling for you anyway.”
Sophie gave pause long enough for Carlos to jerk the gun free. Then he threw his forearm into her chest, knocking her to the floor on her bottom.
Teetering on the edge of Meltdown Cliff, she slammed her palms down onto the floor over and over like a tantrum toddler. “What do you mean calling for me? What are you talking about? What is going on? Where are they, Carlos? Where are they?” Her heavy breathing gave way to hot tears, and she pulled her knees to her chest.
Carlos picked up the lantern, crouched in front of her, and let her sob for a moment before speaking. “You have to listen to me, okay? I know this will sound unbelievable,” he said. “I still don’t fully believe it myself.” He took in a shaky breath and pushed it out. “But I think they’re trapped in the darkness somewhere…in that corner.” He gestured with the gun toward the dark corner behind the castle.
“I know…I know…I can’t explain it. I can’t…I don’t know. I don’t know what is…”
“You’re full of shit. You know where they are.”
“I swear to God, Soph, I don’t.” Tears formed in his eyes. “They were up here playing yesterday morning, and when it was time to go, I came up to get them and they weren’t here. I freaked out and searched everywhere and when I couldn’t find them, I came back up here and that’s when I heard them.” He pointed at the corner again. His hand and the gun trembling. “Over there.”
Sophie scrutinized him with skeptical eyes. He was good at pretending, acting. Lying. He’d majored in theater at UT, dreamed of making it big on Broadway someday. But he’d given up on that dream by the age of twenty-two and had decided to become a high school Theater Arts teacher instead. A decision he refused to discuss or expand on when Sophie brought it up. She had never seen him perform on stage, but Eloy and many others had bragged of his talent.
“You better not be lying to me, Carlos.”
“I swear on my mom I’m not lying. Or playing or teasing or acting or covering up. I’m either losing my mind, or something fucked-up is going on here.” He licked his lips, shook his head. “I heard them, Soph. In that corner. I heard them calling for you. But…they’re not there. I don’t know if…I just don’t know, okay? I don’t have any answers. You need to go over there and listen. Please.”
Sophie glanced at the 9MM, and he followed her eyes. “If I wanted to shoot you, I would’ve already,” he said. She stared at him, and eventually, he tossed the gun to the opposite side of the attic, sending cats scurrying in the darkness. “There. Happy?”
Sophie stood. “Give me the lantern.”
“If you take a light over there they won’t talk. I’ve tried.”
A long silence spooled out, then Sophie took a step toward the corner. Another step. Another. Looked back at Carlos. He hadn’t moved, was watching her. As they held eye contact:
From the corner.
Sophie’s heart leapt up into her throat.
“Did you hear that?” Carlos asked, standing and pointing.
Sophie couldn’t find her voice to answer. She could barely breathe.
Though the words landed faintly in her ears, barley a whisper, Sophie could tell the twins apart. Only a mother could. The first voice was Monica. Cecilia, the second.
“Mom? Are you there?”
Help—a word Sophie both loved (they need me, they need their Mom) and hated (dear God, they need me).
“I’m coming, baby,” she said, making her way deeper into the darkness, closer and closer to the voices coming from the corner.
She put her hands out in front of her, found the wall, the sharp angle of the corner. It sounded like the girls’ voices were coming from somewhere far beyond the wall. Like Carol Anne in that scary show Sophie and the girls had watched on Netflix. In the house, yet somehow not.
“How do I get there?” Sophie yelled, slapping at the wall as though it were purposefully blocking her from her girls. She had to be dreaming. Nightmaring!
She ran her hands along the wall, probing for a secret door knob or magical button. Anything. She glanced back at Carlos. He was staring her way. “Where are they?” she yelled.
He didn’t answer. When she turned back toward the corner, something cold suddenly seized her by the neck. A hand. A cold strong hand attached to a cold strong arm extending from the wall.
She frantically grabbed at the hand, trying to wrench it loose. Then a second arm looped around her waist and jerked her against the wall. The hand attached to that arm grabbed at her love-handles, pinched down like a pair of thick flat pliers. Twisted the flesh a bit. She cried out in pain, in fear, in absolute shock and disbelief. She called out for Carlos as the hand around her neck squeezed tighter, pulled her head against the wall harder.
Carlos was there in a second. She felt his warm hands on her shoulders. But he didn’t try to pull her away from corner, away from the cold arms and hands. Instead, he shoved her into the corner, pinned her to the sheetrock like a poster. “Take her! Take her now!” he yelled, smashing her face into the wall so hard her bottom lip split open, leaking the taste of copper into her mouth.
The corner’s hands held tight, pulled, pinched, choked. Carlos pushed and jammed, using his knees as well as his hands now. As Sophie struggled, the wall began to feel cold and wet, soft, giving way in places. A porous portal opening between two worlds. Her daughter’s calls grew closer, louder, clearer.
Sophie’s left leg and arm slipped into the unnatural softness first, sending gooseflesh skittering up her skin. The darkness seemed to have ten hands on her now, tugging, pulling. Wanting.
Carlos reared back and shove-punched the back of her head, forcing the rest of her body to dip into the softness.
Somewhere between the Hernandez attic and her daughter’s desperate calls, she stumbled forward, arms outstretched, pushed by the hands now, blinded by black, hollering back to her girls.
* * *
When she emerged from the disorienting darkness, she fell to her knees. She was still in the attic, though it wasn’t the real attic. The entire place, every object in sight, the girl’s castle playhouse, the walls, the door leading downstairs to Carlos’s office, all seemed to be covered in a thin sepia film. Like the photo they’d taken in western clothes at Six Flags two years ago.
As she palmed her eyes, trying rub them into better focus, a small hand touched her arm.
Her eyes snapped open. It was Cecilia. Sepia-toned Cecilia. But Cecilia. Her baby.
Sophie grabbed her daughter, pulled her to her chest, closed her eyes and squeezed hard. As though she could squish Cecilia into her, mesh together as one. Then she heard, “Mommy,” and felt Monica press up against her side. Sophie looped one arm around Monica. Tears falling down her cheeks. A relieved sensation oozing through her body. She didn’t care where they were. They were together. She’d found her babies.
Cecilia and Monica pulled away, and Sophie stooped to see them at eye level. She combed Monica’s shoulder-length hair with one hand, stroked Cecilia’s cheek with the other.
“Are you girls all right?” Sophie asked, her eyes sliding from Monica to Cecilia.
They both nodded. Flat expressions, baffled eyes. She gave them each another quick, solid hug, and then turned around and touched the dark corner she’d passed through. It was firm. No softness. No cold. No needy hands. She glanced at the girls who were standing still as statues in their summer dresses, watching her. “Is the whole house like this? This color, I mean.”
Again, they nodded.
“What about outside?”
“We can’t go outside,” Cecilia said. “The doors don’t work. But—” She broke off when Monica nudged her.
“But what?” Sophie asked.
The girls stared at her, fighting back words seemingly eager to leap off their tongues.
As the girls spoke to one another with their eyes the way only twins can, Sophie heard soft footfalls coming up the stairs that lead to Carlos’s office. She turned and saw Aurora stride into the attic. She was wearing a floor-length skirt and short-sleeve button-up. Her long grey hair in a tight bun, arms stiff at her sides—the same way she’d looked and walked whether outside inspecting lemon trees or cooking in the kitchen. Her favorite cat Thomas (Tom-Tom) strutted beside her on three feet. Still missing the paw on his front right leg—the same shriveled paw that Aurora wore on a string around her neck, hidden under her clothing.
Sophie’s legs turned to flimsy matchsticks at the sight.
“Come here girls,” Aurora said. “Give Abuela a hug.”
The girls’ eyes flitted from the ground to their mom a few times before they hurried over to Aurora and wrapped their arms around her.
Sophie braced herself against the wall with her hand. Sepia Aurora—Dead Aurora— eyed her with the dreadful pleasure.
“Get away from them,” Sophie said, so faint she barely heard herself. “Get away from them.” Louder this time.
“What, Dear?” Aurora asked.
Sophie steadied herself, pushed away from the wall, fisted her hands and locked her knees. “Get away from them!”
A broad grin spread across Aurora’s face. The Bitch Grin. The one she’d given Sophie anytime Carlos’s back was turned. Anytime the girls had taken her side over Sophie’s. The Bitch Grin. The one she’d flashed even in her waning days when the cancer was devouring her insides, when Sophie was forced by Carlos to live at the house and tend to her every need. The one she flashed after each cussing she gave Sophie, each slap, each thrown plate of food.
Sophie stormed toward Aurora and jerked the girls back, gripping their arms much harder than intended. “Don’t touch my girls!”
Monica and Cecilia ran toward the dark corner that Sophie had come through. Their eyes full of hurt—hurt only a mom’s disapproval can conjure. Cecilia rubbed her arm.
“I’m sorry,” Sophie said. “I didn’t mean to grab you so hard. But she— ”
“It’ll be okay, girls,” Aurora butted in.
Sophie thrust an accusatory finger in Aurora’s face. “Don’t you ever tell my girls it’ll be okay. I tell them when it’s okay. You have no right.”
Holding Sophie’s gaze, Aurora slightly cocked her head and angled her brows in a gesture of pity—the kind of pity shown to a clueless simpleton. Then she looked over at the girls and smiled. A sincere smile this time. “You did a great job, girls. You can go now. Tell your dad I’m proud of him, and that he hasn’t lost his touch.”
Aurora raised her thin hand into the air and snapped, and the darkness in the corner behind Cecilia and Monica began to fluctuate, bend, soften. Two hands materialized, growing out of the blackness. Cecilia took one, Monica the other. They laced their free hands together, gave their mom a curt glance, and then shuffled into the wall.
Sophie’s vision wobbled, followed by her stomach. No. The girls. Her babies.
What the…did they…practice…no…
She stumbled to the corner, but it was too late. The wall was already hard. Solid. There. “Cecilia? Monica?” she hollered.
She turned her ear to the wall, listening.
“Abuela said we did great, Daddy,” Monica said.
“So do we get our prize?” Cecilia added.
“Of course,” Carlos said. “Let’s go.”
The girls whooped and clapped, and within seconds, their cheering faded away. Far away.
Sophie collapsed onto the floor in an awkward twist, howling and wailing like a cat in heat. Like her warm insides were being ripped out.
“Oh, you’ll like it here,” Aurora said, rubbing her hands together with glee. She walked slowly over to Sophie, jerked her upright by the hair, and covered her mouth and nose with a cold hand that smelled like cat piss. “How does it feel, whore? Not being able to breathe.”
Sophie struggled to cry out, to break free, but Aurora’s strength was inhuman, unnatural.
“When you shoved that spoon full of apple sauce and Oxycontin down my throat and pressed that pillow to my face the last time you were here,” Aurora said. “You did me the biggest favor of my life. You bound me to this house. And,” That Bitch Grin, “you created a link that will bond us forever.” She closed her eyes, hissed something in Spanish, then opened them. “Had you not killed me, I would’ve slipped deep into the spirit world, and I never would’ve been able to save my granddaughters from you.”
Sophie’s lights were going out. Lack of oxygen. Overwhelming sense of dread and panic. An assault of heartbreak and betrayal. Her legs buckled, and Aurora let her fall to the ground.
“Get up,” Aurora demanded a moment later, kicking at Sophie’s ribs. “You’re fine. It’s not like you can really die here.”