A PAPER kite shaped like a black bat fell at Finn's feet. She stared at it. "Jack?"
Her heart slamming with panic, she glanced back at the path ahead. Before her, two birch trees formed an arch. Beyond that was a darkness drifting with what appeared to be snow. She couldn't see Jack. To either side was pitch black. Only the way before her was lit.
A light flickered to her left, revealing a fork in the path. Another series of lamp posts blinked on along that side, revealing a grove of red maples. She moved to the edge of the path, and noticed pieces of square paper hanging in the maples. "Jack . . ." Her voice wavered. I'm alone. "Are you there?"
A piece of paper drifted to her feet--a photograph. She picked it up. She didn't understand, at first, what she was seeing--a Polaroid of a boy and a girl slow-dancing at what looked like a prom.
The girl was Finn. The boy was Jack. Her hand shook.
She walked toward one of the closest trees. She snatched down another photo; of her and Jack, sprawled beside the pool, in the sunlight.
Angrily, she tore down yet another Polaroid, of her and Jack and Christie and Sylvie sitting in a diner, talking, smiling.
Another photograph drifted toward her and she almost tripped over her own feet to catch it.
Tears blurred the black and white image of Finn and her sister--Finn, in a black gown, Lily in white--sitting, surrounded by relaxed looking wolves. As Finn stared at herself and Lily staring back, she almost gave up. This mockery, or dark magic, or whatever was happening was gutting her with its impossible images of her and Jack and what might have been if he wasn't a Fata. And the picture of her and her sister in some other place, queens of wolves and darkness, opened up an unhealed wound.
"Jack!" she shouted. "Jack, you left the path!"
She looked down at the photographs she held. She wanted to take them with her.
She let them go.
A hand emerged from the dark and grabbed hers.
She yanked with all of her strength and Jack glided back onto the path. He stumbled--the first time she'd ever seen him graceless, and it was frightening--then steadied. He said, low, "Where's that goddamn kite?"
"What happened to you?" She moved after him as he stalked up the lamp-lit path.
He grabbed the bat kite. As if he were searching for something, he carefully tore it apart. He let the pieces drift away.
"Finn." He stood with his back to her. "Just now. You saved me. I was in the dark. I heard you call. I don't know what would have happened, if you hadn't . . ."
"They're not your family, are they? The ones we're going to see." Terror flickered in her brain. "What's happened to Christie?"
"That's what we're going to find out." There was a dangerous note to his voice, almost a growl.
Finn inhaled and exhaled slowly.
"You need to tell me." She spoke carefully. "What is happening."
"You wouldn't understand."
"That's what you're going to do?"
"Finn." He faced her, his eyes wide. "This isn't your world. This is a between place. The laws you're used to don't work here." He stepped past the arch of birches and turned, holding out a hand to her.
She didn't even think about it. She gripped his hand and allowed him to pull her past the arch. She was beginning to feel like Alice chasing the White Rabbit.
She stepped into a snowy landscape, but the snow that fell, the tiny flakes, didn't melt when they met her skin They weren't cold. Wondering, she caught a handful and stared down at tiny and exquisite pieces of paper shaped to resemble snowflakes. She lifted her gaze.
Round lanterns of white paper hung in the birches--it was as if the world were lit by little moons. Yet beneath all the beauty was a humming darkness that Finn could only sense with the same foreboding she'd had in childhood, knowing there was a monster in the closet.
Finn knew they had no choice but to continue, as snowflakes of glittering paper fell around them. They wouldn't be allowed to go back. Jack didn't need to tell her that.
She firmly grasped Jack's hand as if to anchor him, to keep him from flitting off into the darkness on either side.
The full-length mirror that appeared on the path before them was a baroque confection of gold fauns and nymphs around a tarnished pool of silver. Finn halted abruptly. Jack swore, and, before Finn could avert her eyes, an image emerged from the cloudy silver--a young man with black hollows for eyes, writhing hair, and white skin.
"Jack." She glanced at him, saw him transfixed by his reflection.
She didn't look back at the mirror. She fell to one knee and scrabbled in the grass beside the path until her fingers closed around a rock the size of her fist.
She twisted up, to her feet, and flung it.
The mirror broke like any mirror. Jack tightened his grip on her hand and yanked her away. The pieces swirled up. She and Jack flung their arms up over their faces. She winced as she felt a few pieces razor past her, into her clothing, across her skin.
Then they were standing amidst shattered glass and Jack was scrutinizing her. He reached out, gently pushing her hair back from her face. The shards had sliced into his temple, his right cheek.
"I'm all right," she said. "Can we get to the end of this?"
"Finn, in order to survive this, you need to believe it. This is not a dream."
"I gathered that, Jack, back in Mother Hubbard's building. And in Tirnagoth, when I saw the ghosts. And after I met most of your family--what is that?" She moved around him, staring at the white pagoda that had appeared within a frame of cherry trees blossoming a spectacular pink.
"That"--Jack turned and the nothing-can-hurt-me-because-I'm-a-badass attitude was back--"is not good."