The room seemed to quake, shaking and shuddering as if the ground were gelatin rather than rock… or whatever it was the dream-places used for the ground, Jack guessed.
“What’s that?” he asked. Now the room was pitching, like the time he went fishing with his dad and uncles a couple summers ago.
Beth didn’t seem to notice the motion at all, or at least didn’t react to it. “It’s all right. They’re moving you.” Her figure blurred, slid a bit to one side, flickered back into focus. “I’ve never had to track a moving target before. This will be fun!”
“Fun? Is that what you call this?” Even though it was a dream, Jack’s voice cracked.
“Quiet!” she hissed, and then sat on the edge of the bed. She laced her fingers with Jack’s, started to squeeze. “You have to hold on Jack. Tight. The ambulance is going to leave.”
“Hold on or I’ll lose you!”
There was a sharp jolt, like an earthquake, but sideways. It felt like someone was going to tip the bed over, as if Beth’s urgings hadn’t been enough incentive to hang on.
As it was, Beth nearly fell off the bed. Jack squeezed his fingers against hers, and strained his arm as much as he could. The fiery tingling was back in his other shoulder, growing by the second, spreading up the back of his neck again. The walls seemed to grow brighter, getting fuzzy around the edges.
“Jack! You don’t have to hold on so tight. I think I—” Beth bit her tongue as the room gave another shuddering jolt.
Jack loosened his grip, only enough that his other shoulder stopped hurting. He wasn’t about to let go of her hand. She was the only thing about this that was making any sense.
“It’s all right, Jack. Your mom is there, in the ambulance, bossing around the EMTs.”
“You can… see them?” All Jack saw was white walls and the ceiling tiles.
Beth lifted her eyes, the golden motes shifting, brightening. She squinted. “Sort of. They’re like… ghosts to me, here.”
“Where is ‘here’? Is this… my dream?”
“Yes and no.”
“Can’t you ever answer anything definitely?”
“There is nothing definite about being Over Here, Jack. Especially where we are now. You don’t know how much danger you’re in.”
“No, I don’t.”
Beth lowered her eyes, biting her lip.
“You know how your mom and dad told you and your sisters not to go too far into the woods?”
“I’m the one who told you about that.”
“Most peoples’ dreams take place in the meadow. Or a little ways into the woods.”
“If the dream world — or whatever this is — was like the woods behind your place, you mean.”
Beth blushed, nodding. “Yes. Right. Metaphor. Symbol.”
“If I didn’t already have the monster of all headaches, you’d give me one, Beth. So, we’re in the forest?”
“Not exactly, no…”
Jack’s shoulder twinged. He gritted his teeth.
“Fine. No. We’re not. You didn’t let me finish. And don’t get mad. Do you know how hard it is, thinking of three, and now four different places at once? I have to keep them all separate. And be careful about what I say. What you say, is, Jack. That’s a rule, here.”
Jack swallowed, nodded. “Right, I get it. I’m not mad. Just… frustrated. I feel like I can’t do anything here.”
“You can’t, Jack. Not in your state. You’re dreaming, but you’re not in the meadow, or the woods. You’re deep in the old growth, Jack. Very close to the Dragon Tree.”
The infirmary walls… flickered. Like skipped frames in the old movies they watched in social studies. Only instead of flashes of light, there were flashes of dark. Of Dark, Jack amended, with a shudder that sent more pinpricks of pain dancing up and down his arm and neck.
“It’s wilder out there, Jack. Those things you draw? The boglins, and scravens, and the other things… This, I think, is where they live.”
“The shadowy ones from the nightmares—”
Beth placed a finger to Jack’s lips, and she glanced around, even leaning over to look under the bed. Jack wanted to laugh again, but the last time he did that he wound up… here. Where would he go if it happened again?
“Don’t think of them, Jack. I can’t keep them out if you summon them.”
“I know,” she said. “It’s just… I was here, once. Before. I’ve never ever gone this far in again. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.”
Jack looked around. The walls looked solid again. The light was steady.
“You said ‘out there.’ And the door… It’s gone.”
“A door is an implied invitation. I closed it behind us when you started moving. It was too distracting, anyway.”
“So this is… You built this? Dreamed it up?”
“You’re keeping the Dark out.”
She nodded again.
“What’s wrong? Why aren’t you—”
“You’re slowing down. You must be there.”
Jack breathed a sigh of relief, squeezed her hand. It was trembling. And cold.
“I have to go, Jack.”
He squeezed her hand, harder. “Please don’t.”
“I want to stay. But I can’t. Lunch is almost over. And there is too much interference in the hospital for me to go in there. Like this, I mean.” Already, her outline was blurring, fading in and out.
“You’ll be all right, Jack. And I’ll come and see you after school.”
She leaned over, and Jack felt a cold tingling on his forehead. The dream-room shuddered, and then she was gone.