Outside was even more fragmented. The houses were staggered, some recessed and others right up against the river. Blue stones clattered melodically down stream toward town. Could you still call it down stream when the river was made of stones? The sound was beautiful, but nearly deafening. The air smelled of dust.
Miranda was numb.
Mom still held onto Miranda’s shoulders. “Please don’t argue. If I go back, I’ll distract the mad god and it won’t…” She motioned around her. “Wipe everything.”
Cindy’s dads stood around Cindy on the driveway. Their lawn was now a tangle of tiny ferns. Cindy eyes were huge. Her body was there, but Miranda suspected her brain had shut down from too many emotional hits.
Miranda couldn’t think clearly either. The practical part of her brain focused on the details. “You don’t have powers to go back to the god.”
Mom looked her level in the eye. “I don’t, but you can send me.”
Her brain chewed on that. She only vaguely noticed the words coming out of her mouth. “I won’t do it.”
Mom didn’t raise her voice. She didn’t look angry or defeated. She looked calmer than she ever had. “Miranda. We’re talking about everything. If I go back, who knows what will happen, maybe I’ll be fine, but if we don’t do something, the mad god will… reset us.”
Mom turned to Cindy and her dads. “Mr. …Bauteils, will you take care of my daughter?”
Bill looked from Miranda to Mom. Bill said quietly, “We’d be honored.”
A wind picked up and blew Mom’s hair into her eyes. She put her hands on each of Miranda’s shoulders. “I was with the mad god longer than you can imagine.”
With Mom leaning over her and Cindy and her dads in a line behind them, it felt like a funeral. Miranda’s mind picked at details. The Bauteil’s driveway sloped right down into the river. She wondered if their car was now a boat.
Her eyes were blurry and she absently wiped them. “What keeps it from just killing you?”
Mom shook her head. “The mad god never gets angry. Everything is fun and interesting. The worst thing is to bore it.”
“What if this doesn’t work?”
Mom sighed. “Honey, if this doesn’t work, none of us will ever know it.”
The total annihilation of everything. Miranda couldn’t get her head around it. She forced herself to look up into Mom’s eyes. “Except you.”
Mom’s voice hitched. “Except me.” In Mom’s eyes, Miranda saw endless years of pain and fear, never ending. She’d go through it all again, all to save Miranda.
The steel returned to Mom’s eyes. She wiped off each with her thumb. “Okay, let’s do this before I lose my nerve.”
Miranda shook her head. “I can’t do it.”
Mom pushed on like Miranda had agreed. “Do the opposite of everything I ever taught you. Imagine something for me.” She turned Miranda so they were shoulder to shoulder. “Think about the world as a series of strings. Everything interconnected.”
One of the houses down the block popped into a puff of smoke. In its place was a golden tree.
Miranda shook her head no, but when she blinked, the strings of reality were there, threads between her and Mom and Cindy, between all things around her. Threads to the river and the sidewalk, the edges of things.
She tried to will herself not see the strings anymore, but she couldn’t. She felt reality cracking. Things were changing each second. They’d change until everything just … popped.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Cindy rest her head on Bill’s arm.
Mom swallowed. “There’s a string to open a door to the mad god.”
The power came easily. Terrifyingly easy. Everything was real, and at the same time everything was a page in a book with infinite pages. All she had to do was flip. Everything fit together in infinite ways.
It was exhilarating.
Mom squeezed her shoulder. “Pull, honey.”
Seeing two realities at the same time was like surfing, like she might fall over at any moment. She wished Cindy was holding her hand, but Cindy was too far away. Miranda could change that, pull a string and make Cindy right next to her. Everything was barely perched in its current reality. The slightest touch would send it somewhere else. Something new would take its place.
She had to shake her head. The power was intoxicating. It was hard to keep on track.
Mom’s voice was calm, hypnotic. “The door. Pull the string.”