THE NIGHT BIRD

 

Only one strange smudge of darkness disturbed Christie’s peaceful visions. Far away, farther than her mind could see, something was missing. There was a memory she could no longer grasp, a blank space as white as the walls. When she reached for it, it darted away. The memory teased her with its emptiness. It was like a sailboat hovering on the far edge of an ocean horizon, dotting up and then disappearing. She could hardly be sure it had ever been there at all.

But she knew it had.

She had a sixth sense that whatever was behind that blank space was worse than anything she’d known in her life. Behind that blank space was terror. Behind it was madness. She knew—she knew—that if she had to stare at it again, her mind would shatter like glass. She could feel herself sprinting to get away from it. Running without looking back at whatever terrible thing was behind her. Pleading. Praying. Screaming.

No.

Right now, that seemed impossible. Nothing so empty, so far away, could frighten her. She was as warm as sunshine. The room was as white as the sand on an endless beach. She never wanted to leave.

Christie’s lips folded into a smile. Her eyes sank shut again, and she slept. Beautiful dreams filled her mind, as if a voice outside her brain could tell her what to see: meadows in bloom, with a gentle wind she could feel on her face; a mountain lake, waveless and deep blue, scented by pine; a porch swing, empty, creaking, with a rumble of thunder in the distance.

Whatever the voice told her to see, she saw.

The voice. It controlled her.

Suddenly, it told her to awaken. It said her name in a high-pitched, singsong way, like a child playing a game: Chris-tie, Chris-tie.”

She didn’t want to wake up. Her dreams were too perfect. She knew she would awaken in the white room. It had all happened before. She didn’t know how many times it had happened, but this wasn’t the first time.

“Chris-tie, Chris-tie.”

The voice sang in her head like a nightingale, but there was nothing happy about the song. She had a memory of asking: Who are you?

And she had a memory of his singsong reply.

The Night Bird . . . that’s who you heard.”

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