(3) Calico J is Unimpressed

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My bolting awake might not have woken Calico J, but my half-falling down the stairs does. He's halfway off the couch by the time I skid into the living room, and he's got a hand on his bat like he's ready to run or fight or grab me depending on what the emergency is.

"Meg? What happened?"

"The rain's talking to me." It comes out perfectly coherent, though I'm sure my mind isn't all here right now. "It told me to run. We need to leave."

It sounds ludicrous out loud. My face heats up as fast the first time I tried to kiss Ditzy. She was kind enough to pretend it never happened. Calico J is a lot more blunt.

"Wait," he says. "Sorry, repeat that?"

"The rain's talking to me," I repeat, stupidly. I dig my fingernails into my upper arms, then snatch my lucky shark keychain from my pocket and hug it to my chest like that will return my sanity. "It told me to..."

I break off as I realize I'm about to say the exact same thing with no extra explanation, but I don't know what explanation to give. As if that wasn't bad enough, the next moment, I hear someone else coming down the stairs. It's both Patrick and Ditzy, because that's just what I need right now. Now they're all going to hear me make a fool of myself.

I leap in my skin as hands land on my shoulders. Calico J steers me to the couch and sits me on it.

"Focus," he says. "Tell me what happened. Ignore them."

That's easy for him to say... except now Ditzy's gone. If her track record holds, she's probably down in the basement, seeing firsthand if the Redding has found us. Because obviously walking into the most dangerous part of the house is the best way to look for an invasion of red sludge that looks like water and moves like it has a mind of its own. Patrick tucks himself into a shadowed corner. He looks like he plans to listen quietly. I can ignore that.

"Meg," says Calico J. It's not a warning. He sounds concerned.

"The rain. Morse code. It told me to run. I heard it..."

But did I? I woke up after thinking I heard it the first time, and was too sleep-addled to hear clearly the second. I have no aural memory. It was probably just coincidence.

"I heard it," I finish pathetically. I shrink down on the couch. My gut still screams that we need to leave, but I'm second-guessing myself too hard to think straight. Just tracking what Calico J says takes enough mental energy to make the rain-sounds outside warp harder. That's evidence of my unreliability. I refuse to drag us from our longest-running safe house without a second opinion, but if nobody else was awake...

"Were you the only one who heard it?" says Calico J.

"I think so?" I don't actually know. Patrick sometimes lies awake in bed, dead-still enough to fool us into thinking he's sleeping when he's actually not. Like a mouse that can't sleep when a cat's around, only none of us is a cat. Or maybe the whole world is a cat. Maybe he can hear the Redding, too. Or maybe he just doesn't trust us yet. That's what Calico J said when Patrick asked for a room alone at our last safe house, before the Sleepers started moaning. I woke up the next morning to find him curled up on the floor beside my bed. He didn't even bring a mattress.

"Can you check with Ditzy?" says Calico J, and I look up. He isn't talking to me. Patrick nods and slips away into the shadows. So he wasn't awake, then; my heart sinks at the lack of corroboration. Ditzy sleeps like a granite boulder. It was probably just me who heard—or imagined—the rain.

Calico J digs both heels of his hands into his forehead with a sigh. "And just when we thought things couldn't get any crazier." I don't answer, so he continues, "Can you describe it in more detail? When you heard it, how many times, if applicable. Where, too, I guess? Anything you remember."

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