...wake up, she thought. That must be what was happening. The reason why the alarm had never rung this morning was because she was still sleeping. Of course that's why Dinah the cat didn't beg for breakfast.
Of course. Of course.
And as the clocks in the room in her dream all went off, a cacophony of risings, she knew it was time to wake up.
She felt herself rising out of sleep, slowly, like falling backwards into a pool, inside out rising to the surface.
But before she could wake, her grandmother rose from her chair, what she had taken to be Grandma's favorite shawl unfolded and stretched behind her into wings the color of midnight blue silk.
"It's not a dream," her grandmother said, looking directly into Birdie's eyes.
Birdie could hear Maggie saying, "what, Grandmother? what's not a dream," but it was muffled and indistinct and then she was in her own bed in her room, and it was dark as night. But she knew she was not alone.
She slipped from under the covers and padded through the shadows. At her kitchen table were two men. A skinny dark haired guy who was eating the Chinese food she had been saving for dinner tonight, and a nervous little man who was pacing the floor.
They didn't see her, and she liked it that way.
"Mike, I don't like it. I don't like it. This place gives me the creeps, that guy scares me. Something's not right about this gig, Mike." He didn't seem to be able to stop talking and he kept rubbing his arms, as if he were trying to rub away his goose bumps.
"Hey," Mike said. "You should try some of this. It's pretty good." He offered, but never held out the carton to his friend, just shoveled my dinner into his mouth.
"I don't like it!" the little guy shouted again. He was shorter than her by an inch or so, and she was only 5'2". "What did this girl do that was so wrong, anyway?"
"Not our business, Duff. We get paid to bring her in, that's all. We get paid a lot, too."
"But what's he gonna do to her?" Duff said. Birdie settled in to her shadow, willing the slimer eating her food to answer the question. She focused on his beady little eyes, whether he could see her or not, and drilled her gaze into him. Tell me.
"Why the heck do you want to know, anyway? We get in, grab her, take her back to the place, and that's it. Why do we care if he wants to stick her in a dungeon and lock her away until she turns to dust?"
The little guy stopped his pacing and looked surprised. "That's what he wants her for? That doesn't make any sense. Why keep her locked up and not just kill her? It's not like he is afraid of killing people, we've both seen it."
Mike sat up, swinging his feet onto the floor and putting the carton down on the table. "What? Who said that? I don't know that. Why would I tell you that? I don't know nothin'."
Duff looked up into the night time shadows of the room as if he could hear something.
"Someone's here," he said. Birdie shrunk into her corner.
They both whipped out guns and looked around. She was afraid they could hear her heart pounding.
Then, a flash of green light caught her attention. Outside the window on the fire escape. Two cat's eyes. Dinah. She looked right at Birdie and blinked.
Go, Birdie heard.
And then Dinah jumped through the window frame and screeched an ungodly sound.
The men spun on the cat and there were gunshots but Birdie had already started running and before she could turn back to check on Dinah, she found herself stumbling through the curtain of greenery and back onto the path.
Birdie came to a halt, her breath coming fast and heart in her throat. Her "friend" was standing there, his warm golden eyes glinting and a small smile on his lips.
"You should not go wandering off the path if you are not ready to step out of...