Today's Reading

The door that led from her room to the main hallway was a heavy wooden door with a metal push bar on the inside. She leaned slowly against the bar, gritting her teeth at the loud sound the bolt made when it opened, but no one seemed to have heard. She peeked through the crack in the door toward the nurse's station. The on-duty nurses were occupied. She didn't see anyone, so she crept into the hallway and snuck toward the elevator.

The doors opened. She slipped inside. The doors closed. She pressed number 4.

Inside the elevator, she lifted her hands to her face, feeling the tug of the IV. Her skin still smelled of smoke from the fire she and Sam had barely escaped. She grimaced at the strong odor, wondering what it would take to wash away the memory of what had happened only that morning. Could it be not even an entire day had passed?

The Amarok.

Mr. Tennin, falling.

Mr. Jinn's leering words.

She shivered and pulled the garment closer around her body, realizing even it smelled of smoke. She had to see Sam. She had to make sure he was okay. She had to talk with him about what had happened, if only to assure herself it hadn't been a dream. For a moment, she thought the elevator doors would open to the psychiatric ward of some faraway hospital—maybe everything had been a series of hallucinations, and now they were trying to treat her as she teetered on the edge of insanity.

The pain again. It raced through her body, and with it memories she could not have made up. She recalled being shaken in the mouth of the Amarok, feeling like a rag doll. For one brief instant, she recalled the breaking of her own bones, and she almost cried out right there in the elevator, the pain escaping from her in tiny, wordless whimpers. But there was another memory hidden, a memory of healing she could only find traces of. Was it just a dream, or had Mr. Tennin brought her back from some deep place?

She shivered again. The elevator doors opened, and she stepped out, fully prepared to be questioned by a nurse, reprimanded, and sent back to her room. But it was another empty floor. It was late at night, but it still seemed like there should have been patients walking around. Why was it so quiet? Where were all the nurses and doctors?

She didn't know exactly which room Sam was in—only that he had been placed on the fourth floor because of the burns on his hands. She looked down at her own hands, smelling them again. The smoke. The weight of the blade as she had lifted it. The way it had picked up speed as it had flown toward Mr. Jinn. How was it possible? How could she have even thrown the sword that far?

The shiver went through her body again, and it felt like shock setting in. She stopped, wishing the wheels of her cart weren't so loud. She lifted the clear bags off of where they hung and carried them, one in each hand, and left the cart behind. The bags were heavy and slippery and warm. Now she could move without making a sound.

She went from room to room, carefully peeking inside each one, hoping to find Sam. She wasn't sure what she would say if she found him. What was there to say? Confirmation, that's what she thought she was looking for. Friendship too. The old friendship. For the first time since they emerged from the burning forest, she thought of Sam's mother. She felt tears gathering.

Abra looked in the next room and retreated quickly, putting her back against the wall. Sam was in the room. But there was someone else. A nurse, maybe. Or a doctor.

She looked again, trying to stay out of sight. The woman standing there was dressed like an employee of the hospital. Except for her shoes. Most of the nurses wore white tennis shoes, and this woman had on shiny black heels. And her hair wasn't up in a bun or a ponytail but instead fell down around her shoulders. She was asking Sam questions, but Abra couldn't hear the words. Sam was sitting up, his back off the bed.

He shook his head. He said something. He shook his head again.

Abra gasped and looked closer. Was that Sam's mom? It couldn't be. Unless...Had the Tree of Life somehow brought her back? From behind, even from the side, the woman looked exactly like Lucy Chambers. But Sam slid backward, farther up his bed and away from the woman. He looked terrified. Abra knew in that instant it was most definitely not Sam's mom.

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