Twist’s ears popped, as if from a sudden pressure change. He tried to move, to reach out, but his limbs wouldn’t respond. Then, in the briefest instant, everything was completely normal once again, as if nothing had happened at all.
Twist jerked when his body responded to his orders again, and he looked around at the shop in total bewilderment. No one else seemed perturbed in the least. The man had vanished again. Everyone was still sitting calmly, talking together and sipping at their tea. For a moment, Twist wondered if it had happened only to him—perhaps a strange flash of the future, like he sometimes experienced in times of danger—but something in the air wasn’t as it should have been. Something was very wrong.
“What was that?” Arabel asked.
“You saw it too?” Twist replied instantly.
“Saw what?” Arabel looked at him curiously. “You just jerked like something bit you. Are you all right?”
Twist frowned at her while his thoughts fought to make sense of themselves. He turned to ask Jonas if he’d seen the flash, but Jonas wasn’t there. His chair wasn’t sitting at the table anymore; there was no setting laid out for him. The cup of tea that Myra had poured for him was gone. Every sign of him had vanished. The nagging flaw in the world instantly revealed itself at the same moment. The familiar warmth at the back of his neck, the effect of Jonas’s presence on his Sight, that subtle second heartbeat, was gone.
“Where’s Jonas?” Twist asked, searching the shop for him. He lifted the tablecloth to see nothing but knees and boots beneath.
“Who?” Arabel asked.
A wave of icy terror rushed through Twist’s body so fast that it left him breathless and trembling. “Your brother,” he said, forcing his voice to steady as he stared at her in horror.
She only frowned at him, confused.
“Twist?” Myra asked gently, laying her hand on his arm. “Darling, are you all right?”
“Where’s Jonas?” he asked her desperately, taking her metal hand in his own.
“I don’t know who that is,” she said, half in sorrow and half in fear.
“No no no no no this can’t be happening,” Twist said in a single, shuddering breath. He closed his eyes and forced his mind to steady. This was ridiculous. Of course Jonas existed. He must have just gone somewhere in that strange, flashing moment. Arabel and Myra were playing a game. A cruel, cruel game.
“Seriously, what’s going on?” Arabel asked, leaning forward over the table to speak to Twist. “Why are you so upset?”
“This isn’t funny,” Twist said, opening his eyes to look at her. She flinched under the intensity of his chilling, blue gaze. “Where has your brother gone?”
“I don’t have a brother,” Arabel said, losing patience. “What are you playing at?”
“Your twin brother,” Twist pressed on. “Jonas Zephir Davis. He has your eyes, but you never see them because he always wears those blacked-out goggles to keep his Sight in check. He can see the future sometimes, but he usually just sees death, so he always watches the sky. I’m the only one he can look at without fear, and he’s the only living person in the world I can touch.” Twist gasped, taking in a breath just to stop the torrent of words from raging out of him.
The absence of Jonas’s softly buzzing warmth on the back of his neck was growing into a chill. Twist’s mind swam, thrashing about blindly for a foothold as if he were lost without gravity, drowning in pure, empty fear. Arabel was speaking, but her words didn’t reach him. Myra’s voice sounded scared now, but Twist couldn’t understand her either. Nothing made sense. Everything in the world was wrong. He clapped both hands onto the back of his neck and closed his eyes, pulling at his own Sight with all he had.
When he’d been separated from Jonas before, he could always find him if he reached deep enough into his own senses, to follow that familiar buzz like a trail. He dug and dug, until his head began to hurt, he felt dizzy, and his stomach began to get confused as well, but he held on. There had to be something, some lingering shadow of Jonas’s spirit.
There, in the very deepest part of himself, Twist found a faint, miniscule, radiant warm mote. It was so small and indistinct that clinging to it was almost impossible, but Twist hung on for as long as he could. It wasn’t a memory, and it wasn’t imagined. He could feel Jonas’s heartbeat in that tiny, glowing instance. He was still alive, and he bloody well still existed. He was just impossibly far way. He could have been on the other side of the world—or even farther.
Myra’s voice called to him, sounding terrified. Twist fought his way back out of his own mind and opened his eyes to find that he’d fallen off his chair at some point and was now lying curled up on the floor of the ghastly tea shop, in a ring of concerned-looking patrons and staff. He tried to push himself up, but his strength had left him.
“Sweet heavens, what’s the matter?” Arabel asked, standing very close, but careful not to touch him. Myra helped him to sit up and then back into his chair while she stood beside him, petting at his hair and looking decidedly worried.
“What happened?” Twist asked in a dry voice. “How did he get so far away?”
“Twist, stop this,” Arabel said, her voice breaking at the edges. “You know I don’t have a brother. Now, what is wrong with you?”
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” he said, finally catching his breath now. He looked up to her, standing so close beside him. “There’s something wrong with you.”
Her sea-green eyes were full of enough frustration, shock, and fear to almost push her to tears. Twist looked back into her eyes—the exact twins of Jonas’s—and came to a decision. He had to know what was going on. Nothing else mattered. He stood up and stared back at Arabel silently only for a moment, before he reached out, fitting his fingers under her golden curls, against the warm skin at the back of her neck. Arabel gasped in shock, her hands falling to his chest.
Twist stared into her eyes for the last instant before his Sight burned out his vision with one of hers. Fire, screaming, and smoke filled his mind. He let it wash over him until he found himself standing in a burning room. A young girl, no older than five or six, was screaming and crying, gasping in the choking heat and smoke. Overwhelming terror rooted her to one spot. She knew she should run, but her body wouldn’t move. The thought that she was going to die raged in her young mind like the fire around her. A man appeared, fighting his way through a burning doorway. He pulled her into his arms before rushing back through the doorway. The ceiling gave way and showered them in flaming wood and blackened ash. The man buried her little face in his chest and kept running.
A small voice called out in the heat, causing the man to stop. Twist reached out with what will he had left to hold the moment still. In an instant, the whole world complied and froze. The flames hung in the air like beautiful waves of red and gold, the falling ash and embers stopped in flight. The man had turned back halfway, toward the source of the new voice. Twist looked under the half-destroyed table to find a small figure huddled underneath. He knew instantly that it was a young Jonas. He had been there too, needing rescue as much as his sister. But no matter how Twist tried to look at the image, it escaped his gaze. It was impossible to see him clearly.
In a moment, Twist lost his hold and the vision resumed. The man ran from the house in the nick of time with the girl in his arms. Outside, on the lawn where she used to play with her family, the girl stood sobbing, watching her house burn. Twist knew her parents couldn’t be saved, and felt the shattering heartbreak of it in his core. He watched as Howell Davis fought the firefighters to try and dive back in to save his own brother and sister-in-law, even though he was already badly hurt from the fire. Twist knew that Jonas must have been there beside Arabel, and that the two had held each other tightly as their world ended that night. But now, Arabel stood alone, with nothing but her shadow beside her in the flickering light of the fire.
The vision burned through Twist’s mind, filling him with all the horror and desperate sadness that Arabel had felt that night, and his instincts screamed for him to let go of her, to return to himself and end the pain. He hung on instead, barely aware as she fought to push him back—outside in the present. He pulled her closer instead, pressing his forehead against hers. He pulled at his Sight, searching for what was wrong with her beyond her devastating childhood trauma.
Vision after vision flashed by his awareness, filling his mind with moments where Jonas should have been. Each time, he was absent or obscured with a shadow, as if something had gone into her memory and scratched him out. Twist’s will finally ran out and he lost control, giving Arabel the chance to push him away. His hands fell from her, and she pulled hers away as he staggered back and fell to his knees on the tea shop floor. Ringing silence and dimness washed over Twist in the wake of the innumerable visions. He’d never held on to someone before. All her memories spun around him in a dizzy haze that couldn’t exist.
“Bloody hell, Twist!” Arabel screamed after the shock faded. “I thought you couldn’t touch anyone! Are you insane?”
“Twist?” Myra asked softly, moving closer and reaching out to him tentatively. Her fingers brushed ever so gently on his shoulder, and Twist let out a hiss of pain as his abused Sight revolted against even her concern. She recoiled instantly, watching him with shining jewel eyes that looked like they desperately wished to cry.
“It’s not your fault,” Twist muttered, looking up to Arabel at last with hollow eyes. His vision was blurry, his skin was cold, and his face felt damp. “Nothing’s ever been your fault,” he added, as a ripple of her emotions resurfaced in him: the survivor’s guilt of an innocent child. Twist couldn’t remember feeling that awful in his life. His tortured mind flew to any other thought, desperate to escape. “But you can’t remember Jonas because something won’t let you,” he said, wondering why it was suddenly so difficult to get his mouth to move properly. He reached up to find the tracks of tears on his own cheeks.
“That’s impossible,” Arabel said softly, watching Twist with careful eyes.
“It’s happening,” Twist said, looking back at her. “Right now. Something is hiding him from you, all the way back through your memories. It must have been that man…” Twist fought to keep conscious, wondering mildly how he could be in so much pain when nothing exactly hurt.
“What man?” Arabel asked, sounding exasperated now.
Before Twist could respond, the world finally fell into darkness and let him rest in an empty, numb abyss.
Good heavens! You can’t leave it there, can you? Well, you’re in luck, because you don’t have to!
Clockwork Twist : Missing is available in ebook and paperback.
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