It was a small white room, with a hospital bed covered in a patchwork quilt. Bedside cabinets were scattered with eyeliner, lipstick and foundation products. There was a bookcase beneath a massive barred window that flooded the room with grey light. A portable CD player on the floor was playing trip-hop music that had African voices and drums in its melody.
Maddeline Finch was sitting on the bed, her back to the door. She had hair the colour of night, but neither Jamie nor Stokes could see the girl’s face.
“Thanks Carla,” they heard her say to the nurse, without turning to look at them. “I’ll be fine. You can leave us alone for a few minutes.”
The nurse slipped out of the door and closed it behind her.
“This is all very painful,” the girl said. “But you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.” Finally she turned round on the bed. Her eyes were a little bloodshot and heavily ringed with eyeshadow. Jamie realised how pale and thin the girl was. She looked like a goth who was wasting away, except she was simply dressed in jeans and a white camisole. Maddeline Finch smiled at Jamie.
“They’ve got the fire in their hands now,” she told her. “It’s never good when powerful men get a hold of fire. They end up burning everything alive.”
“Fire?” asked Jamie, unnerved by the girl’s words. “I don’t know what you mean.”
The girl just chuckled. “Magic fire. They killed my mum to get their hands on it. She tried to stop them, but…you can’t really stop powerful men. Only in the movies.”
Stokes was staring at the girl. He said curtly, “The police think your mum committed suicide this morning. Are you saying they’re wrong?”
“Yes,” the girl replied simply, looking Stokes up and down. “Aren’t you a handsome boy. Jamie’s a very lucky girl. Some girls are a lot less fortunate.”
Jamie frowned and tried a different approach. “Maddy, will you help us?”
A look of sadness flickered across the girl’s face. “I don’t think I can.”
Jamie slowly approached the girl and sat down beside her on the bed. When she glanced at Stokes she saw that the wall behind him was covered with newspaper articles and pages torn from magazines. Stokes glanced over his shoulder and saw what his friend was looking at. Some of the articles on the walls seemed to describe murders and accidents, but others seemed to be taken from science journals and essays on literature.
As Jamie peered at the collection she asked, “What is all that, Maddy?”
Maddeline Finch smiled again. “It’s just me trying to understand the world we’re living in. Everything in reality is connected, you know. Science is connected to magic, words are connected to images, a butterfly beating its wings is connected to a murder or a disaster halfway around the world. The key is trying to figure out how.”
Jamie suddenly remembered the mysterious key that Stokes had found, and dug it from her pocket. It was still buzzing and vibrating, stronger than ever. Maddeline Finch pulled back slightly when she saw it. Tears welled in her eyes and began rolling in black trickles through her eye-shadow and down her face.
“Your Mum tried to swallow this,” Jamie told her. “Why? It has power. Is someone looking for this key?”
The girl nodded, a strange look of pride in her expression. “I didn’t think Mum would get that far. Didn’t think she’d get her hands on a portal. I’m surprised. It feels nice to be surprised, but…you need to get rid of it. Bad things are going to happen.”
“A portal? Tell us who’s looking for this key!” Stokes demanded suddenly.
Maddeline Finch laughed uneasily. “Very bad men. Black Magicians. One of them is my father.”
Jamie was terrified now. Her senses were flaring like a beacon inside her skull, and suddenly she didn’t want to be there anymore. “Your father? Are you serious?”
The girl just said, “Look around you. I’ve got no reason to lie.”
“Did you tell this to the police?” Stokes asked with sarcasm.
The girl burst into fits of weird laughter, peering at Stokes as though he were making a very funny joke. “What good would that do?” she grinned at him. “Everyone already thinks I’m insane. Most people don’t even believe in an afterlife, so how could I get them to believe in things like black magic? Do you think the police wastes their precious time listening to crazy teenage girls?”
Jamie said, “Wait, wait…when you say black magicians, what do you mean exactly? You think these men worship evil? That’s a movie-world, that’s not real life.”
Maddeline Finch stared at her and the grin disappeared. “What do you know about real life, little girl?”
Jamie felt the mocking in her words and squirmed inside. This girl was apparently only a year older than her, but her eyes looked ancient. Even though Stokes was in the room with her, Jamie felt very alone. The sound of African drums and chanting came softly from the CD player on the floor.
“Maddy, I’m just trying to understand why this is happening to me…”
The girl’s expression softened. “You have the gift of inner vision but it’s happening to all of us, not just you. It’s just that you can see what most people can’t. They’re gonna make you pay for that vision. Like they did with me.”
“Help me. Tell me what I should do,” Jamie almost whispered. She’d never been more afraid than she was now, even when the unstoppable cancer was eating its way through her Mum’s insides.
Maddeline Finch sighed. “If I knew how to help anyone, I wouldn’t be stuck in this place. I’m a loser. I’ve always been a loser, and I’m going to die a loser. I can’t help you.”
Jamie glanced at Stokes. He had his eyes squeezed shut, perhaps in fear.
“Do you believe in monsters, Jamie?” the girl asked, turning away.
“No, I don’t.”
The girl nodded and muttered, “Then you’re in deep trouble.”