This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.
Ezabell stared at Kassandra, eyes never blinking. Then the girl sat up, creating a sound like the crinkle of paper. Hair stuck to the shoulders like paste. The nose seemed too flat. The lips too. What was wrong with this girl? Kassandra took a hesitant step closer and then the breath caught in her throat. Ezabell was cut out of paper.
The girl wriggled her flat legs out from under the covers, the paper scrunching up like an accordion. Kassandra stumbled backward, knocking into Luke’s desk. The paper doll girl slithered out of bed, legs expanding to their full length. She looked like the drawings Kassandra used to cut out and then dress up with clothes. Except this one was life-sized. And moving.
Paper doll girl stepped forward, one leg curling forward like the page of a book. Kassandra had a sudden urge to grab the thing and shred it, but something about the face made her hold off. Luke hadn’t created this. It was too detailed and lifelike—one of Gabriel’s illustrations. She remembered the easel in the Hanged Man card.
The paper doll girl inched closer, body wobbling and dipping with each step. She stretched out with one hand, the fingers forever frozen together in the drawing.
Kassandra batted the paper girl aside and sprinted to the bed.
The arm of the paper doll was crumpled and bent backward. Kassandra’s gut tightened. She hadn’t meant to hurt the thing. Paper doll girl slunk to the desk and laid the smooshed arm on the flat surface. With the other hand, she smoothed the crinkles out.
“Hello. Can you hear me?”
The paper doll girl spun around, the expression on her face the same as ever—a vacant smile.
Kassandra snatched the covers up, tugging them free of the bed. The flat Ezabell inched closer. Of course it couldn’t talk. It was only paper.
“Stop.” Kassandra held the sheets up like a net.
The paper doll girl kept coming, now only a foot away. It reached out with fingers drawn of pencil.
Kassandra tossed the covers and the paper silhouette crumpled under the weight. The fabric bulged in a few spots as the paper body struggled to free itself.
“I’m sorry. But I can’t have you follow me around everywhere.” The nightingale hopped over to investigate the lump of sheets. “Plus, you really creeped me out.”
Kassandra turned to inspect the desk. Half finished drawings of Ezabell, all in a clumsy scrawl, cluttered the tabletop. The corner of a book nosed out from under some pages. She pulled it free and flipped through. The first page showed a crude picture of a man with a bird flying out of his torso. These drawings were most likely Luke’s—each one only a step above stick figures. Beside it, he had scribbled two words:
Kassandra rubbed her chest and glanced at the bird. “Is that what you are? My soul?”
The nightingale treaded close enough to peck at the sheet on the floor. A twitch from the covers sent it scampering back.
“Better not lose you.”
Fragmented writing filled the next page:
Each trapped person brings a single soul in the form of a nightingale. These souls are simple to capture and cage. But what of Death? Everyone who dies lets their souls fly loose in the meadow. They travel in massive flocks.
She paused, thinking back to Dad and the garage door. The landscape outside had been filled with birds. Were those all souls?
The faint clamor of the birds came from downstairs. Kassandra could just make out a few shadowy forms darting here and there through the stained glass floor. There had to be hundreds of cages.
“What are you searching for?”
Something dropped in the pit of her stomach. Luke was hoping one of those souls would be Ezabell’s.
“He locks you all up.” She glanced to the cage with Gabriel’s bird. It jutted its beak through the wood slats and nibbled on the paper sign. “Until he find the one he needs.”
Kassandra wondered: If Luke were still in the cards, would he cage her soul?
She turned another page and froze. The drawing showed a rough sketch of a person, this time a girl, with a bird flying smack into her body. Kassandra reached for the spot where the bird had burrowed in the room below. What was it trying to do exactly? Hijack her body? If the nightingale was her soul, did that make her soulless right now? A hollow sensation expanded in Kassandra’s chest—the same way she felt when thinking of Dad.
Goosebumps sprouted along Kassandra’s skin. Maybe it wasn’t too late for Dad. If she could find his soul, then he could come back too. Just the possibility had her mind flying loops.
The next page showed an incredibly lifelike drawing of Ezabell (obviously drawn by Gabriel). The illustration was pinned to the page, but it quivered and twitched, trying to escape. Luke had scribbled his own drawing of a bird and then written in the margin.
Not working. Is it the drawing or the soul?
Kassandra glanced toward the lump of covers and a shudder passed through her. Luke was trying to bring the drawing to life. Somehow turn the paper girl into the real Ezabell. Kassandra left the book on the table and lifted the sheets for a peek, causing the nightingale to skitter away. The paper doll girl twisted its head. The eyes, though colored to look real, were flat and lifeless. The illustrated Ezabell reached out with one wrinkled hand and Kassandra dropped the sheets.
Things would be different with Dad. Kassandra didn’t have a two-dimensional imitation of him. She’d seen the real thing.
The tower vibrated and a terrible screeching echoed from below. The front door. Her gut twisted into a tight ball. Someone was here.