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Page 94

I watch, squinting against the smoke, as the entire bed is engulfed. A rectangle of fire.

Then, just as I had hoped, the fire alarm starts to blare.

52


It’s Dr. Wagner who enters the room first, drawn by the fire alarm’s literal siren’s call. Jeannette follows right behind him. They unlock the door and burst inside. Jeannette screams when she sees the flames on the bed now threatening to make the leap to the walls and ceiling.

Because they’re too focused on the fire, neither of them sees me standing just behind the recently opened door.

Nor do they see me slip out of the room.

By the time they turn around to notice me, it’s too late.

I’m already closing the door behind me and, with a quick turn of my wrist, locking them inside.

53


I walk as fast as I can, which isn’t very fast at all. Pain hobbles me—a fierce, stabbing ache that keeps me gasping. Still, slow walking is better than not being able to walk at all.

Behind me, Dr. Wagner and Jeannette pound on the door from inside my room. In between their frantic knocks I hear the sounds of Dr. Wagner coughing and Jeannette shrieking.

To my left is a darkened doorway. Inside I see Mr. Leonard, dead to the world despite the racket coming from the room next door. Surrounding him is all manner of monitoring equipment, their lights disconcertingly festive. Like a strand of Christmas bulbs.

I make my way to the nurses’ station, where I allow myself to pause for just a second to catch my breath. Just beyond it is another hospital room and the short corridor I took the first time I left this place. The corridor ends at a door that leads directly into Nick’s apartment. From there, I need to make it down the twelfth-floor hallway to the elevator. In my condition, taking the stairs isn’t an option.

I push off the nurses’ station and am on my way to the corridor when the door at its end starts to open. I duck into the room to my left and press myself against the wall by the open doorway, hoping I haven’t been spotted.

Outside, I hear the rapid click of heels.

Leslie Evelyn.

While waiting for her to pass, I scan the darkened room.

That’s when I see Greta.

She sits up in bed, startled, staring at me in fear.

Her mouth drops open, on the knife’s edge of a scream.

One sound from her could give me away, which is why I stare back, my eyes saucer-wide, silently begging her to stay quiet.

I mouth a single word.

Please.

Greta’s mouth stays open while Leslie hurries past the door. She waits a few more seconds before finally speaking.

“Go,” she says in a hoarse whisper. “Hurry.”

54


I wait to move until Leslie pushes open the door two rooms down. Smoke pours from the room, gray and heavy, filling the nurses’ station. I use it as cover while heading down the corridor. With each passing step, the pain seems to calm. I don’t know if it’s actually going away or if I’m just getting used to it. It doesn’t matter. I just need to keep moving.

And I do.

To the corridor’s end.

Through the door left open by Leslie.

Into Nick’s apartment.

I close the door behind me, remembering how heavy it is, using a shoulder to nudge it back into place. When the door is finally closed, I spot the deadbolt in its center.

I slide it shut.

Satisfaction swells in my chest, although I harbor no illusions that Leslie and all the rest are now trapped. Surely there’s another way out of there. But it will certainly delay them, and I need all the time I can get.

I hobble onward, exhaustion, pain, and adrenaline dancing through me. It’s a heady mix that makes me dizzy.

When I reach Nick’s kitchen, the whole place seems to be spinning. The cabinets. The counter with its wooden knife block. The doorway to the dining room and the night-darkened park outside the windows.

The only thing not spinning is the painting of the ouroboros.

It undulates.

Like it’s about to slither right off the canvas.

The snake’s flickering-flame eye watches me as I shuffle to the knife block on the counter and grab the biggest one.

Having the knife in my hand chases away some of the disorientation. Like the pain, it lingers, but at a level low enough to push through. I need to escape this place. I owe it to my family.

I look at the photograph still clutched to my chest. When faced with the decision to take those pills, I saw their faces and knew what my choice had to be.

To fight.

To live.

To be the one member of my family who doesn’t vanish forever.

I keep going, out of the kitchen, back into the hallway, where thin strands of smoke have started to make an appearance. Here the noise of the fire alarm is distant yet audible. A system separate from the rest of the building.

The sound fades slightly as I head down the hallway. At the other end is Nick’s study, the bookcase at the far wall still open. Beyond it is 12A. The study. Then the hallway. Then a way out.

Doors within doors within doors.

I stagger toward them, oblivious to the smoke, the pain, the exhaustion, the dizziness. My sole focus is the bookcase in the study. Reaching it. Passing through it. But as I approach the open bookcase, I feel a sudden heat at my back.

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