The strangest part of being buried under a building that was burning down around me was watching the bright orange and yellows of the flames and feeling tears of joy welling up in my eyes.
The visit to the Shadow Court’s realm had taken a lot out of me and I hadn’t had much to begin with. The simple flicker of real flames, even ones that weren’t all that far away from burning me alive was comforting in a way I couldn’t easily explain. Maybe it was just that I was home.
I’d been determined to make it back but some part of me hadn’t believed I could. No one ever did. Minnie hadn’t and she was way stronger than me. Patches hadn’t and he was much cooler. Even Way hadn’t managed to escape them on her own and she was immensely more powerful than I was.
Thinking about them, I felt loneliness stab through my heart. Which was crazy. I was about to burn to death. If I didn’t bleed out first. Plus I’d only known them for, what, an hour? At most?
Maybe it was repressed pain and fear, maybe I’d just lost my marbles, but I missed them. Even Jessica.
“At least I’ll get to see Heather soon.” I giggled to myself. Cause she was a ghost. And I was about to be char broiled. It seemed funny at the time.
I wasn’t sure how ghosts worked but I was willing to bet that Heather was exceptional. If most people left behind ghosts when they died there wouldn’t be a building with four walls and a roof that wouldn’t be “haunted”.
Being a ghost seemed like a bum deal too. No more chocolate. No more warm baths on cold days. No more birthday cake. No more birthdays.
“I like being alive.” I told myself and started crying. I was definitely losing it. I couldn’t move and I didn’t want to die, but this was the real world and I really couldn’t do anything about it.
I tried to scream but my lungs were full of dust and smoke and I could barely choke out a whispered “Help”. No one could hear me. No one was coming to save me.
I felt the heat of the fire drawing nearer as bits of flaming debris dropped from the destroyed roof and kindled new blazes in the wreckage that lay on top of me.
“I got the others back.” I told myself, trying to imagine that was sufficient. I’d done some good, maybe that was all I needed from this life?
“No. That’s not enough.”
Sometimes we have to accept our fates. Sometimes nothing can change what’s to come. Facing those moments with grace and dignity takes more courage than I can imagine. The mistake is believing that acceptance is always the answer. Somethings we have to change. Somethings we need to fight. No matter how impossible it seems.
“You’re impossible”, I heard the echo of Way’s gentle voice and it opened my eyes.
“I am…I am!”, I tried to shout it out but my lungs had other ideas. That didn’t matter though. I had an idea.
Pen had said that the barrier between the Dreamlit world and the physical world was no more real than the Dreamlit world itself. I hadn’t understood what he’d meant at the time, but the flight from the Shadow Court’s realm had given me the clue I needed.
It hadn’t been the Shadow Court, or Samantha, or Way who’d merged the Dreamlit world with the physical world when the Court had first appeared. It had been me!
Looking back on the frenzied run, I remembered falling hard on my face and then getting up like it was nothing. I’d run across the park and all the way to Samantha’s house carrying someone at least half my weight. I’d even been frozen to the core by a mistman. Yet, I hadn’t felt any lingering pain from the fall, I’d never run out of breath and I hadn’t died of hypothermia.
The implications of that gave me a moment of vertigo. The implications of what I was thinking to try next were even scarier though.
Almost shyly, I projected myself into the Dreamlit world again. The building was even more ruined there than it was in physical world, but there were no fire. The black flames that had scoured the building’s top floor had simply annihilated whatever they hit.
“This will be easier with a little muscle.” I commented, again to myself. I was feeling a little better but, given what I was contemplating, obviously nowhere near sane yet.
I had so many options, but most of them felt distant, so I chose to be Jenny Nine Stitches instead of Jin for the task ahead. Jenny was only real in her own worlds, but here nothing was completely real so, since she was a part of me, I could be her as easily as I could be Jin.
Goblin strength wasn’t superhuman enough for me to lift up a building, but it certainly helped in clearing away debris. With my vision split in two and meta-awareness warning me of weak spots in the rubble, I was able to clear a path to the spot in the Dreamlit world that matched where I was lying in the physical world.
“Thanks Jenny.” I said with my physical body. It felt like thanking my right hand for a job well done when I was brushing my teeth, but I needed that kind of silliness. As Jenny, I bowed in the Dreamlit world to my physical self, acknowledging of the thanks.
I hesitated for a moment, changing back to Jin in the process. If I was wrong, I wouldn’t get a second chance to fix things. This was an all or nothing plan.
Tentatively, I reached out and touched my Dreamlit hands to my physical ones. In the physical world they were crushed under the fallen building. In the Dreamlit world the patch was clear though. Closing my eyes, I lifted my physical self’s hands up and, with every ounce of strength I had, pulled myself fully across the barrier into Dreamlit World.
I wasn’t real any longer. My physical body remembered it’s reality, my leg was still broken and my arms still crushed, but as far as the real world was concerned, there had never been a Jin, and certainly never been a girl trapped in the rubble of building where I was.
As easily as I’d changed from Jin to Jenny, I touched my leg and my arms and guided them back to full health. Smoke filled lungs and soot smeared eyes, scratches and punctures, all of those disappeared as I imagine my body being the way it had been when I’d walked into the police station.
It was tempting to “improve” on things, but my meta-awareness made it clear how dangerous that was. The more I changed in myself, the more the real world would have to change to accommodate me back into it. I was taking a terrible risk as it was, but under the circumstances it was definitely preferable to being burned alive.
Together with myself, Dreamlit Jin and physical Jin picked a path out of wreckage of the police station. In the Dreamlit world the streets around the destroyed building were deserted. Peeking back into the physical world though showed that a crowd of rescue workers had shown up.
I picked a spot out of sight and stepped back into the physical world.
Coming back into the real world was easier than leaving it had been. My physical body was attuned to the real world. Returning to it gave me the impression of stepping back into the vacuum my absence had created.
As I crossed the barrier back into the physical world, I felt my memories bifurcate again. I hadn’t been in the police station when it collapsed. I’d gone out to parking lot to wait for James after the interview with Agent Haffrun. I’d seen the building collapse from the outside rather than the inside in this new reality, which was why my body was nice and whole rather than badly mauled and under a ton of rubble.
“I have the perfect disguise.” I whispered to myself, astounded at the unexpected side benefit.
I could leave here and there’d be no evidence that I had any powers at all. I could go back home and be safe. Every crazy thing I’d encountered? I could leave it all behind me!
I was starting to walk away when I saw the superheroine Heartbeat touch down across the street from me. My first thought was that I’d been caught and she was going to take me away but then I saw her walking over to the fire crews. I almost cheered out loud. The professionals had arrived! Someone else would take care of everything!
Except I knew that wasn’t true.
I didn’t want to see what my meta-awareness was showing me, but I knew I couldn’t deny it. There were other people still trapped in the building. I’d been there. I knew how close the fire was to reaching them. The firefighters would get it under control, but not before more of the building fell. Not before more poisonous gases were released.
“How many are left in there?” Heartbeat asked the Fire Chief who was directing the ladder truck crews.
“We don’t know. We can’t get in there yet.” he answered. They’d know in the morning. When they counted the bodies.
“What can I do to help?” Heartbeat asked. I could hear the urgency in her voice. She had an amazing array of powers, being helpless in spite of them sucked.
“Nothing yet. We don’t know where it’s safe to go in or what’s safe to move.” the Fire Chief answered and then added “Miss I’m going to have to ask you to get back”.
He was speaking to me.
I’d been walking up to them without being consciously aware of it, but I knew why. I wanted to go home. I wanted to pretend none of this happened, that all of the scary, painful, and deadly things had happened to someone else. All I had to do was walk away and I could hide from them and be safe but I’d already made my decision.
“I can tell you.” I said. “I can tell you where the people inside are and how to get to them.”