Gasping for breath I braced myself against the wall, trying to gain enough leverage to shove her greedy hands away, but I couldn’t budge them an inch. I nearly sobbed when Joseph’s hand settled over one of mine. “Phoebe let go.”
Gently his fingers probed the back of my head, a moment later the pain receded enough for me to think clearly, “Phoebe, look at me.” Unable to comply in any fashion, it took several minutes of reassuring words for me to detach my eyes from her grasping hands onto Joseph’s face. When I finally managed the task he smiled and stroked my hair, “You’re safe.”
Turning back I finally saw what my myopic view missed, the Woman In White was still as a bronze Rodin. Turns out I wasn’t the only one her tell had clued in to her final decision. Joseph had stopped her a hairsbreadth away from plunging her hands back into my chest.
It took a few more heart beats for the word ‘safe’ to reach my extremities. My hands proved the most troublesome of the lot, locked fast on her wrists it required actual effort to loosen their death grip. When they finally did release, I quickly scooted out from between her and the wall. Burying my face in Joseph’s chest, I took in the smell of old paper, earth and the faint undercurrent of dog for a long minute.
Finally, I reluctantly let go of Joseph’s stolid presence and turned to confront the woman who would undoubtedly star in a few of my future nightmares. From experience, I knew that if I watched the Fade, I might avoid some of the worst images my subconscious would throw my way (though to be fair none of the times I’d needed to intervene with a Resident were this dramatic). She stood suspended before me staring at the wall, her blond hair billowing around her face and her clothes rippling under unseen waves.
When I finally dared to look at the hands which so mercilessly attempted to strip my spark, I couldn’t stop staring.
“Joseph what did I do?”
He remained silent behind me.
My brain couldn’t reconcile the images my eyes sent. Forgetting my fear (and Joseph) for a moment, I leaned in for a better look. The Woman In White’s wrists now sported deep char marks where I’d hung onto them for dear life. Sooty black streaks extended all the way up both her forearms highlighting where my hands had slipped during our struggle. None of what I saw made any sense.
Unable to think of a new question, I turned and looked him in the eye, “Joseph what did I do?”
“You were trying to stop her from hurting you again.” He replied quietly.
Staring stupidly at my blood smeared palms, “But salt doesn’t do that.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
My attempts to study the seared divots my finger left in her skin were thwarted when she buckled slightly then smudged, forcing me to give up my shocked scrutiny. The Fade was settling into her form and was erasing the finer details from her while I watched.
“Let’s take care of those scrapes.”
Finally recalling I literally had salt in my wounds, my palms stung so severely my eyes started watering. Or maybe it was walking from a dimly lit hallway into Sarah’s bright domain. Either way, my cheeks were wet.
“I got blood all over you!” My face grew hotter with each new dark blotch I spotted on his dove gray jacket.
With a twinkle in his eye, “Don’t worry, I own more than one suit.”
When I glanced over my shoulder (and away from what I’d besmirched), I witnessed what little was left of the Woman In White shudder slightly then evaporate from sight.
A small burst of highly inappropriate humor popped out of me, “Best magic trick ever.”
“That is of course what I was aiming for.” Joseph’s reply was as dry as dust, but when I looked his mouth, it held a wry smile that reached all the way to his eyes.