(29) It Talks

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Ditzy, to her credit, waits until Psy is out of earshot before vomiting on the ground behind us. Her hand, still clenched in my sweater, shakes like what few leaves still cling to the trees. "What the fuck," she whispers when she can breathe again. Tears cling to her long lashes. "What the fuck. What the fuck."

Ditzy can bash a Sleeper's head in, but only if she's done it before. Seen it before. It's the things we've never encountered that scare her. I'm sure the next time we see someone like Psy, she won't bat an eye, but it's the first time that does this. And there's a first time for everything.

In fairness, I'm not completely okay, either. But I hold onto my stomach as I get to my feet, pulling Ditzy with me. She's white as a bleached sheet and I'm sure I'm just as ghostly. We stand together and track the sound of Psy's footsteps as they retreat into the forest once again. Already, I can see Ditzy rearranging her expression into something tougher than what she was wearing a moment ago.

True to that, she's the first to speak. "That was Psy."

I just nod.

"Ember killed him."

Maybe running through the obvious helps her externalize it, so we know neither of us is crazy. I nod again.

"Is something controlling him?"

It's the first thing that manages to displace the ghastly image that seems seared into the backs of my eyes. Ditzy's got her brave face up again. Meeting those brilliantly smart brown eyes, my first instinct is to quail and defer. Ditzy is so much smarter than I am. But quailing isn't useful when we're the only two here, and she did just throw up in the leaves a moment ago. I wonder if she thinks I'm the steadier one right now.

More than that, though, what she just said is an excellent question, as it works its way through my shaken synapses and replays enough times in my head to make sense.

"Maybe," I say. The pinch of giving Ditzy a one-word answer feels duller now than it used to. "He did come back to the house, too."

"Was he dead already?"

"I don't know." I almost wish I'd seen him, but I'm also really glad I didn't witness whatever went down in that hallway outside our door. Then I realize it doesn't matter anyway. "But nobody woke him, did they? Nobody from the Anport Rescues, that is. So he shouldn't have returned to the house anyway."

Ditzy's eyes widen as she processes the implications. It doesn't matter whether Psy was alive or dead. He was being puppeted either way.

"We should get back to the others," I say.

A part of my brain acknowledges the horror we just saw, but another part recognizes that now isn't the time to unpack it. Now is the time to return to the rest of our group and find safety, and only when those conditions are met can emotions be allowed back to the surface. Ditzy just nods. Her hand twitches against my back like she intends to let go of my sweater, but the release fails. She looks numbly at her own hand as though unable to process why it won't obey her.

"Come on," I say. I slip an arm around her and steer us both away. We struggle back up the hill. I don't know what's on our faces when we rejoin Patrick and Calico J, but from the way Patrick's colour drains from his cheeks, I know it can't be good. I recount what happened in clinical language that would do a medical report proud.

"So the Sleepers are walking on their own now," says Calico J when I finish. It's not a question. He looks queasy.

"Sleepwalkers," says Ditzy. I look at her in disbelief, to find her smiling. She's already recovered enough to joke about this. Well, recovered enough to hold a joking mask. It's not genuine. I know that now.

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