THIS YELLOW MORNING
I woke up knowing that my life was inside out. There was a warning on the back of my eyelids, a trigger to remind me that nothing was as it should have been. I woke up with a color on my mind. Yellow. And then, just as abruptly, I forgot.
Kylie was sitting at the foot of my bed, legs crossed, looking at herself in the mirror as she dragged her brush through her dirty blonde curls. She made a face at me when she saw that I was awake.
“You’d better get up. You’re going to be late.”
I squinted at her. “What are you doing here?”
Kylie gave me a withering look. I gave one right back. She had her own room. She really didn't need to be sitting at the foot of my bed, cutting my circulation off. She was drumming her free hand against my leg. It made my body vibrate.
“Like I said,” she repeated, “you are so going to be late.”
She stopped in the middle of brushing her hair to turn and look at me full on, as if this would emphasize her point. Her face flickered for a second and I saw something there that shouldn't have been. In the shadow of her face, something with red eyes and dark horns lingered.
I scrambled up.
Kylie blinked and it was gone.
“Oh, there she goes,” she giggled. She got up and went to the closet, where my coat hung. Her blonde ponytail bounced on her head. She looked like a cheerleader.
Kylie was not a cheerleader. She was pretty, maybe, but there was always a permanent scowl glued to her face. She hated shopping, gossip, and happy people most of all. Between her taste in boys and her choice of hobbies, Kylie was what my dad referred to as a “bad influence.” Not that he could talk. Kylie took good care of me, and I was not an easy one to take care of. I loved her.
My eyes itched. I rubbed them. “Where’s Dad?”
“Passed out on the couch,” Kylie replied without turning around.
“Since he got home last night. After Will, if you can believe it.”
I hadn't known Will was gone last night. I crossed my arms. “Are you going to pick something out or what?”
Kylie didn't miss a beat. Before the sentence was even properly out of my mouth, she made a quarter turn and launched my coat at me. I caught it, half in my arms and half in my face.
“How about that?” she said. I saw her smirk.
Abruptly, and for no reason at all, I thought yellow.
There it was on the walls, creeping up the front of the bedroom door, casting its sticky hue into the air all around me. It made me feel sick. I flinched away from Kylie, whose face had suddenly emptied like a doll’s, and hit my shin on the bed right before I had time to wonder how much that would hurt. I gagged.
Kylie, or the emotionless, empty doll version of her, stepped towards me.
There was a rapping on the bedroom door. The world righted again. Will put his hand to the wood and it swung open. He peeked his head in. Already eighteen and a full head taller than Kylie, Will had a strong frame and steady eyes. His smile was lazy, his voice even more so. Everything about Will was earthen. From his sandy brown hair to his chocolate eyes to his syrup voice, he was slow and sweet and rock solid all the way through. In a storm, Will Macoy was the one you wanted standing next to you.
He rolled his shoulders back and yawned. "You girls ready or what?"
Kylie huffed. "Nice of you to swoop in at the last minute and act like you're saving the day. I was the one who got her out of bed."
Will stuffed his hands into his pockets, shrugging again. Will shrugged a lot. "It's my car," he said.
I followed them out of the room, shuffling my feet and hoping I would remember what day of the week it was once I got to the car. For some reason, it was all jumbled in my mind. I'd thought that I had turned off my alarm, but that couldn't be right. Why wouldn't I set an alarm for a school day? I-
Will tossed the keys to me. "Your turn to drive, little Piper."
I almost didn't catch them. The auto-start clipped my palm and I fumbled, nearly dropping the whole set. Will laughed, but it was okay because it was his soft, happy laugh. He wasn't laughing at me, but more like at life itself. Like it was funny that there were keys to throw at people in general.
Kylie, on the other hand, laughed like I was an idiot.
"Shut up," I snapped. "He doesn't even let you drive."
The last time Will had let Kylie drive his car, she'd backed it into a mailbox. The dent in the back bumper was still there as evidence. Kylie had bought Will coffee every morning for a year, so he'd promised not to tell Dad, but that didn't mean she'd ever live it down.
She stuck her tongue out at me. Then her cutting eyes caught Will. "Shotgun," she sang, taunting him.
Will shook his head. "No way. It's my car."
But Kylie was already running down the hall and Will had to lunge after her. They disappeared into the kitchen, somehow avoiding the family room where I hesitated. I heard them laughing at the door, breathless. Will must have caught Kylie because she was giggling now.
"Okay, okay, you get shotgun," she said.
At the word shotgun, my father shifted on the couch. He looked worse than usual. He'd sweated through his shirt and the sheet he'd draped over himself. The bottle was toppled over on the floor by the armrest, but his arm was still reaching out to it.
Apparently, he was planning on drinking and sleeping at the same time.
Will whispered loudly from the hall--"Sarah, that school is going to kick you out"--and I turned my back on my father, the whiskey fumed room, and whatever else was hidden in that darkness. I chased my step-siblings into the garage and slid into the driver's side door after Will opened it for me.
"Your Majesty," he said, half bowing.
I pretended to curtsy in my coat. "My king," I said and dropped inside, slamming the door shut behind me.
When I pulled out of the driveway, I got a rush of cold. I was glad Kylie had suggested a coat, though I couldn't imagine how the cold had gotten in here. Maybe there were holes in the car, in small spaces, and that was how the air got in too. I suddenly thought that there might not be enough holes and we would all suffocate because I was driving too fast and there was not enough air. There would never be enough air. We were using every last, icy drop. Soon we would choke on the snowflakes that rained on the seats, the carpet, the dashboard.
Kylie reached over and squeezed my hand. "It's only the window, Sarah. You can breathe fine."
Oh right. The window was open. I pressed the button to make it roll back up, feeling stupid and lightheaded, but it didn't roll up. It was probably stuck. I grimaced. "Was this window down when we got in?"
We turned out onto the main street.
Will shrugged. He had his hands resting on the headrest in front of him and his chocolate eyes lidded. He wasn't paying attention, but he still responded. "It's always down, little Piper," he said, "You know that."
I did know that. It hadn't worked since-
Then several things happened at once.
Kylie, in the backseat, suddenly lurched forward through the space between the seats. Her forehead slammed into dashboard, so hard that I thought I heard it crack. Red smeared across the car interior. Kylie screamed and the sound was high pitched and horrible. I couldn't see anything anymore. It was like she had blinded me. Her terror turned the morning into darkness and I couldn't see anything but yellow. And it was everywhere. The car, the sky, the sign for Mickey's Place, the alley behind the restaurant, the brick that loomed and slowly started to rip itself from the walls. Yellow.
Will was out of his seat. He hadn't been wearing his seat belt and he'd been thrown partially into the shattered glass. His whole left side had gone through. I saw him at once as one and two pieces. His back was to me and his spine seemed to be two separate parts--one red and hurting, the other yellow and melting. I screamed.
The car was still moving forward, but somehow now it was also upside down. The yellow was behind my eyelids now. I squeezed them shut and slammed my hands over my eyes, but I could still see Kylie. She went up, her seat belt missing and the door jammed strangely so that it crumbled into her body. She stopped screaming. The yellow swallowed her.
The car stopped.
I could hear myself sobbing, but I could also feel the red coming for me--the red of the blood, of Will's two forms, of Kylie's screams--and so I fumbled for the latch and fell out of the car. The side that I had thought would be up was actually down, and down was way over my head, so I hit the pavement heavy and felt the yellow creeping after me. It would catch me if I stopped.
It would kill me. It had killed them.
Will and Kylie were dead.
Something far, far away, something that smelled like whiskey and burned in my heart, whispered, “They've been dead a long time now, Sarah Lee Piper. Dead, dead, dead.” It put sweaty fingers in my hair and down my neck. It tried to drag me under.
I screamed again, but I was on my feet now. I started running. It hurt my feet to run. I felt the ground like hot coals, scarring my feet. The needles in the pavement dug into my skin. I was in a parking lot. The sign in front of Mickey's Place wobbled in the wind. It had an inch or so of snow on top of it. It was green and tattered and rusting. The parking lot had two cars in it.
I stepped back. The nails in the ground punctured my feet. I bled. I howled. Someone in the parking lot looked up, like I had surprised them. There was a Jeep and a grey two-door. The grey one was at Mickey's a lot, I knew. I’d seen it before. It belonged to a waitress that worked there. She and Will had gone out a few times. She was nice. Laughed too much.
She wasn't laughing now. She was screaming.
The man that had her was a demon. His eyes were black as the coals under my feet and his face was too long for a soul. He was in a sweatshirt and jeans. He was too tall. He was fast, too, like he and the car had been made together. The Jeep looked at me like I was already a dead thing.
Dead, dead, dead.
The waitress looked at me too, but all she did was cry. She shook her pretty head, mascara running down her face, and ducked to keep from hitting her head on the Jeep's roof. The Jeep-demon shoved her too hard and she made a noise like a wounded animal. She tripped, fell. He dragged her up, but it jarred the waitress and she stumbled. She hit the Jeep again. It was black and slick, a new model. I saw the numbers on the back, first altogether and cramped, then spread out and leaking all over the car. The door slammed. I suddenly realized I was screaming.
The demon looked at me.
I turned and ran. I inhaled ice that scraped all down the inside of my throat. I was choking, shaking, and sobbing. Terror. I could feel it wracking terrible new wounds all down my body. It carved me, big red cuts on my arms and legs. The sky ached under the ground, pulsing red. Hell was climbing up to get me.
But this hell was red, not yellow. The yellow was fading. I didn't know why that would calm me, but it did. The yellow was gone. I slowed down.
I started to walk. Dawn erupted behind me.
I was standing still.
I was still standing still when Dr. Flanders pulled up and rolled down his window. I blinked at him.
"You in there, Sarah Lee Piper?"
I wet my lips, wondering what he meant. Then, slowly, I realized that it was day time. The sidewalk was warm under my bare feet and the snow had melted away into a puddle around me. I was standing with one foot over the other, so that my toes wouldn't get cold. I wasn't wearing any clothes at all except for my coat. My fingers were cramped in my coat pockets.
There was no car. The car that Will and Kylie had totaled had been towed away and disappeared into a junkyard where I would never see it again. Months ago. I must have walked here. I must have walked here in the middle of the night, wearing only my coat, and stood in this spot on the sidewalk for an hour. At least.