“There,” he said, leering at her, cupping her chin with one cool clay hand. “Good for you, cheerleader. You’re finally asking the right questions.”

He drew his hand slowly back, his claws grazing her cheek. Isobel winced as the razor tips raked her skin. There was no pain. Only the surge of dread as his face drew nearer to hers. “I want what I thought we both did,” he said.

Isobel kept her eyes squarely on his, wide and unblinking. Meanwhile, she trained the fringe of her vision on the wrought-iron stand that sat only inches to her right, her attention zoning in on the handle of the fireplace poker sticking out of the very middle.

“You don’t scare me anymore,” she said, even though she could tell by the wistful smile he wore that he knew it was a lie. She didn’t care. She only needed him to stay distracted long enough for her to make her move. “So why do you keep trying?”

He brushed his thumb across her lips. “I guess you’re not as easy to forget as we’d hoped.”

Growling, Isobel jerked her head away from him. She lifted a knee and kicked hard.

His body loosened, and her leg went through smoke.

Seizing her chance, she rolled onto her side, groping for the iron poker. It rang out with a low clang as she snatched it from its stand. Scrambling to her feet, she began taking swipes at the darkness around her.

The poker sliced through the tendrils again and again with no effect. The haze slid back from her, and Pinfeathers’s face, translucent and vaporous, re-formed within the tangle of violet wisps.

“Your necklace,” he snarled. “It’s a clever trick, but it won’t help you.”

Isobel charged him, the poker whistling as it arced through the air. Again the monster slithered back, his face dissolving, lost once more amid the thickening murk.


“It’s true she won’t be able to touch you,” hissed his disembodied voice, the violet mist now drifting toward the ceiling and out of Isobel’s batting range. “But at this rate, she won’t have to.”

Isobel eyed him as he took solid shape again, his back pressed into one high corner, his arms outspread to brace himself, heels planted against the wall behind him, making him look like an enormous spider.

With that thought, Isobel stooped and grabbed her trophy where it lay on its side next to the couch. She launched it at him.

Pinfeathers caught the trophy with one clawed hand. His face screwing up with rage, he flung it back at her. Isobel yelped, clutching tighter to the fireplace poker as the trophy smashed the fat-bellied lamp that sat on the end table just beside her.

“Listen to me!” he railed. “Why won’t you ever listen to me?”

“Give me one good reason why I should!” Isobel screamed back at him.

Fury overcame him. With a deafening howl, he dove for her, claws outstretched.

Isobel swung the poker again, but he dispersed at the last second, splitting into multiple wisps, each separate strand whisking off in its own direction until she wasn’t sure which way to turn.

“Because,” his voice seethed, seeming to come from everywhere at once.

Isobel went suddenly still as she felt the tendrils return, wrapping their way around her waist from behind before transforming into arms.

She felt him pull her to him. His voice, acidic and sharp, buzzed in her ear. “Soon . . . I’ll be all that’s left.”

“I told you”—Isobel raised the poker and jabbed it backward—“not to touch me!”

The iron rod sailed through nothing, the momentum of the action serving only to knock her off balance.

She teetered, catching herself on the armrest of the love seat before wheeling around, swiping blindly and wildly in all directions until a sharp click brought a burst of bright light into the room.

Isobel spun to find her father standing in the living room archway, one hand still fixed on the light switch, bleary eyes aimed directly at her.

He watched her with a hard, confused look, his expression a mix of shock and disbelief.

There was fear there too, she thought.

Fear for her. Fear of her.

He raised one palm toward her, as though she were a careening car that needed to slow down.

“Isobel?” he said, his voice husky with sleep. “What . . . what are you doing?”

She heaved in sharp, quick breaths, and her gaze darted all around the room.

But Pinfeathers was gone.

The TV was off too, its screen black.

At her feet, the end table lamp lay in shards, and her Number One Flyer trophy was facedown amid the mixture of broken slivers.


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