(Start here.) (Or just go backwards.)
When I opened my eyes, I was on the uncomfortable green couch and Grandma was dabbing at my forehead with a wet paper towel. I sat up fast, saying, “Phoebe?” but she pushed me down. “Enough! Ach.” She dabbed. “You are alive.”
“Well, yeah,” I said. I blinked a few times. She was silver, but on her it looked gray, an old worn-out gray that looked like tiredness. I sat up again, but slower this time, and she let me. Adam and Emily were there, and Pinky and Jacob too. Pinky and Jacob looked bad, but not as bad as my grandma. My head hurt. “Is Phoebe here?”
Grandma looked at the place she kept dabbing. “Alyssa.” She sighed. “You scare me.”
“Did you hit me?” I touched my head. It was bleeding, but not a lot.
“She smashed you into a wall!” Pinky cried. “She tackled you! She thought you were a bad guy, and she was worried, and—!”
Grandma held up her hand to make him stop. “Enough. You must tell me, what is happening? Where is your mother? And ach, my god.” She leaned back to really look at me. “Where is your hair?”
So I told her everything. The lizards, the shadows, the equation—everything. And then she looked at me hard, and I told her the rest: I told her I’d promised to give them whatever my mother had sent me if they would just let her loophole stay open.
When I was done talking, she dabbed the cloth to my forehead again, though I didn’t think I was bleeding anymore. She shook her head.
“Do you think it was wrong?” I said. “I think maybe it’s OK. Maybe it’s what the lizards wanted…?” I trailed off, because my grandmother was looking at me hard, and it was a million times worse than when she yelled at me.
“The man who got me out, he was a cook, and so this makes him no more to exist?” she said, like she was trying to figure it out.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess it’s more like….”
“I think it’s more like maybe he would have decided the other way,” Adam said. He looked giant and ridiculous on her couch, next to Pinky who was so tiny.
“Yeah,” I said. “And so, maybe saying a loophole should stay open would make more good in the world? Maybe?”
“This is what you did?” she said.
I nodded. “I thought it would give us a chance. I think they have Mom somewhere, and we don’t have anything, and if they think we have something worthwhile—I thought it gave us more power. Besides, I can always not give it to them in the end, right?” I looked at all of them. “And Phoebe’s coming.”
She shook her head. “Alyssa,” she said, and she put her old, gray hand on top of mine.
Pinky bounced up and down on the couch next to Adam. “We thought you were dead!” Pinky said.
“Shut up,” Jacob said. He was standing around, his arms crossed, looking miserable. I remembered he’d been covering for me all day long.
“So is Phoebe here?” I said. “She should be coming by soon. Did she call?” I tried to stand up, but then my head hurt and I sat down fast.
Pinky bounced some more, while Adam stayed steady next to him. “Jacob talked to her!”
We all looked at Jacob, who put his hands in his pockets and looked at the ground. “Nothing. She didn’t say anything.”
“Oh come on, she must have said something. Come on, Jacob: did she tell you which bus?”
He shrugged. He was silvery too, of course. “No.” He wouldn’t look at me.
I stood up, even though my head still hurt. “I guess we should probably check out the airport and the bus station, just to be safe,” I said. Jacob looked down at his feet. “Grandma,” I turned to her.
She nodded, and put her hands on her knees to push herself up. “Yes. So. The car it is not working, so we ask Doris. And first you eat something,” she said. “And wash your face.”
“Eat!” she said, all the yelling back in her voice. She headed to the kitchen, and came back with crackers, cheese, apples—and frying pans.
“Is a power struggle,” she gave me a heavy frying pan. “For your backpack. All of you.”
“I don’t know if a frying pan would be effective exactly,” Emily said. “They’re using the bodies as vessels or something. And they said they can’t be physically violent yet….”
“They have bodies, so, nu, we have weapons.” She handed Emily a frying pan. “Now: eat.”
We crammed the food into our faces as fast as we could—we had 35 minutes left—until she nodded that we’d eaten enough.
While we were eating, Grandma opened the front door and went next door. “Doris!” She banged on the flamingo house. We followed her out.
Doris was wearing a whole different set of crazy earrings this time, birds with multicolored feathers. She kept looking from one of us to the next: first me, then my grandmother, then Adam, then Emily, then me again. “Yes? So?”
My grandmother stood like a general. “We need that you drive us. All of us.”
“So you don’t tell me what’s going on, you don’t let me even talk to your grandchildren, and then you want some big favor?” Doris said. “What makes you think I’ll do it?”
“I need favor,” my grandmother said. They held each other’s stare for a moment, like an old lady challenge.
“Everyone?” Doris asked, looking over all of us. “I don’t know if I have enough towels for all of them, and my leather seats—.”
“Is an emergency,” my grandmother said.
“An emergency?” Doris said.
My grandmother nodded.
“An emergency emergency, or just an emergency?”
“Emergency emergency,” my grandmother said.
“Well all right then,” Doris said. “Lucky for you I filled it up. OK, everybody in.”
We all fit in the giant back seat—me, Adam, Emily, and Jacob—with room between us even. Pinky sat in front between my grandmother and Doris, and no one even said anything about a car seat. It looked like none of them could even see over the steering wheel. Doris turned the key and we sort of floated out of the driveway. The car was so big and cushy it was like riding on a cream puff.
“Faster,” Grandma said.
“No!” Doris snapped. “I drive how I drive. And I don’t have your special car chairs. I don’t want him to go flying,” she nodded over at Pinky.
We moved sedately down the street.
My grandmother reached over across Pinky and put her hand on Doris’s arm. “Is emergency emergency.”
Doris slowed the car to a stop and we sat there in middle of the street for a moment, while they just looked at each other. We had 22 minutes left.
“Um, we kind of need to go,” I said, but they both ignored me.
“Emergency emergency?” Doris asked my grandmother. “Yes?”
“Yes,” my grandmother said.
Doris nodded. “Hold on to the baby.”
That’s how I found out what burned rubber smells like. We screeched forward and tore around the corner, the back of the car swinging wide and all of us crushed against Adam for a second, then thrown back to the other side. Jacob grabbed the handle on the side. Emily screamed.
“Where’re we going?” Doris asked over the noise.
“Half of us to the bus station.” I leaned over the back of their seat. “And the other half to the airport.”
“To the bus station!” Grandma bellowed as though Doris couldn’t hear me. “Then we take the boys and we see at the airport. We’re looking for a little girl.”
“She’s not really little,” Pinky piped up from the front seat, and everyone ignored him.
“I’m going with Alyssa,” Jacob managed, holding on to the side of the door as we screeched around another corner.
“No, you go to the airport,” I said.
“Fine,” my grandmother said over me, like I wasn’t there. She had her arm stretched across Pinky’s chest, holding him back. Doris was stretched tall to see over the steering wheel. We all jerked forward.
“Go,” my grandmother said.
“What?” I looked around. The car was stopped. Somehow we’d gotten somewhere alive.
“Out!” Doris announced. “This is the bus station. Last stop.”
“Except for the airport,” Pinky said.
“Yes, what he says, now go!” My grandmother waved her arms.
We got out, Jacob scrambling after us. Adam had his hand on the door to slam it shut when my grandmother announced, “Wait!”
We waited. She pushed open her giant door and struggled out of the car. She came over to me, and put her hands on either side of my face. “Alyssa!”
I wasn’t sure what she wanted me to say. “Yeah?”
She stood there looking into my eyes, her face very grim. “You do not have to be not so much the bad child, yes?”
I looked down. “I want to beat them,” I said. “And I want to live.”
“Yes, I understand.” She looked at me hard, then she sighed like she knew too much, and got back into the giant car. She sank down into the deep leather seat, and with a screech they took off down the road.