Laina pulled the quilt up to her chin. The icy amulet sent shivers across her chest and up her neck. She flopped onto her side, burrowing her feet between the cushions. The weight of sleepless weeks dragged on her limbs. With a final jerk of her leg, a gray fog rolled through her mind.
Mist settled to blanket Broad Street, clinging to her ankles as she waded through the fog.
The frost-crusted sidewalk stung into Laina’s bare soles. She called into the vacant neighborhood. “Hello?”
A rancid gust blew back her hair and flapped at her cotton nightgown. She rubbed the chill bumps from her arms and squinted into the darkness.
“Kong! Zhou!” The frazzle-haired Chinese woman glowered at her right shoulder, wrapped in a symbol-patterned quilt. She snarled, spittle flying through gaps in her blackened teeth. “Xingyaozuoguai.”
Laina wiped drops of the woman’s spit from her cheek and glanced at the green slime on her fingertips. She grimaced and recoiled.
The woman thrust her arms from the blanket and stuffed her bony fingers into Laina’s ears. A shrill tone pierced her ears, driving an ache into her temples. She winced, squeezing her eyes shut.
A rasp steamed into her face, this time in English. “Have fear! Cursed one! Summoner of demons and troubles!”
“Go away,” Laina cried. “Leave me alone!”
The gust reversed course, whipping her hair into her face. Her shoulders bowed forward. The ground shook. The air blurred into a gray fog. The sidewalks split into wide cracks and sucked the air down, leaving a white, cloudy void.
“Laina?” Something wiggled her shoulder as the familiar voice floated into her mind. “You okay?”
Jayme’s key lanyard dangled from her neck as she leaned over the sofa.
“Nightmare.” Laina yawned, stretching her arms overhead as she sat up. “What time is it?”
“Seven-thirty. Sorry you didn’t sleep well.” Jayme grabbed her purse and briefcase from the armchair. “I gotta get to the museum. There’s fruit or muffins in the kitchen if you need something quick before work.”
“I owe you big. Can’t be late again.” Laina stood and cracked her neck to either side. “Ooph.”
Jayme glanced over her shoulder on her way out. “At least the nightmare’s over.”
“Yeah.” Laina forced a smile, folding the blankets. As the apartment door closed, she patted the quilt on top of the pile. “At least, I hope so.”
“You, Lord, are my lamp;
the Lord turns my darkness into light” (2 Samuel 22:29).