The many days of exhaustion felt like concrete on Miranda’s shoulders. She would give anything to just sleep.
Cindy stood in the middle of her room with her arms crossed. “Now what?”
The look on Cindy’s face said she didn’t really want to know. Miranda wasn’t sure she could have this conversation, but she felt trapped in Cindy’s room till Mom was done.
Miranda realized she still had the towel around her neck. She wiped it over her hair to give herself a moment to think.
She realized she was running through ways to lighten the blow, to downplay it. She sighed. “Cindy, I made you.”
It was like the words reverberated around the room. Miranda heard them in her head over and over. She couldn’t read Cindy’s face.
Cindy just stared at her. She uncrossed her arms. “I don’t know what that means.”
There was nowhere to put the towel, so Miranda just dropped it on the floor. She took a step toward Cindy, but Cindy took a step back.
“I just found out myself. Mom … the mad god is my father.” Miranda could hear the pleading in her own voice.
She looked out the window. The sun was above the horizon. The red river glimmered in the light.
Now she knew why Mom had so much trouble looking at her when Mom was upset. Nothing could make her look at Cindy right now.
The silence dragged out so long, Miranda convinced herself that Cindy had somehow disappeared, that Miranda was alone with her own guilt.
She finally forced herself to look away from the window.
Cindy screamed, “What does that mean?”
She fell to the floor like a rag doll. Miranda ran over. A shiver ran through Cindy’s whole body. She pulled her knees to her chest.
Miranda leaned in hug her, but Cindy screamed, “Don’t touch me!”
She rolled back, stunned. “Nothing’s changed. I … it’s not my fault!”
“You made me!” Cindy curled into a tighter ball.
“I didn’t mean to! It wasn’t conscious.”
“I’m not even a real person! My dads …” Her voice hitched so hard, she choked. “My dads aren’t real!”
Cindy shot up so quickly that her shoulder clocked Miranda under the chin. Miranda fell back as Cindy ran out.
Her vision filled with spots. She tasted coppery blood in her mouth.
For a second she couldn’t think about anything but the pain. The floor felt cool against her cheek.
She had to fix this, somehow. She started to push up from the floor, but the thought of seeing Cindy’s pain again sapped all Miranda’s strength. She crumpled.
It was her fault. Everything. She’d ruined absolutely everything.
Something about that Cindy’s wails, deep and muted through the door, made Miranda feel selfish and alone. She pushed herself up from the floor again. This time she stood. Before she could think about it, she dragged herself to the door and into the living room.
Cindy was curled up between her three dads on the couch. Mom stood by the counter, looking ashamed.
The silence dragged on. Miranda would have given anything for someone, anyone to tell her she was okay. She tried to catch Tom’s eye, but he stared blankly right though her.
Mom glanced at Miranda, but didn’t make eye contact. Cindy’s sobbing was the only sound.
“There must be something we can do.” Miranda was startled her own voice. It sounded brittle and hopeless.
With a sound like the wind, Bill exhaled. He wiped tears from both his eyes with hard, quick jabs. “Mrs. McGee, You think it will work?”
It took forever for Mom to nod. She put her face in her hand.
What would work? Miranda heard the pleading in her own voice. “Mom, you suggested we clear the river. I could change it and we could all just drive out of here.”
Mom didn’t answer.
Miranda was missing something. Bill smiled hollowly and tapped the window behind his head. “Your mom thinks the four of us are lightening rods for the mad god.”
The practical part of Miranda’s mind could see that. Miranda was connected to the mad god. Each time she changed something–Cindy sobbed again– each time she made something, it was another crack in the wall between the mad god and here.
She pushed the thought away. What was done was done. She threw up her arms. “What do we do?”
Thunderous noise shook the windows, like an avalanche. The light changed outside. The window glowed blue. Bill pushed back the curtain and gasped, but Miranda couldn’t see what he saw.
The house shook. Mom started to speak, but Bill interrupted her. “Maybe if there were less of us?”
“What are you talking about?” Cindy lifted her head. She looked dazed.
Bill motioned out the window. Something huge and blue drifted by. “There used to be five of us.” Tom nodded. “If there were less of us, would it help?”
Cindy shot up. “What?” She pressed a hand to John’s chest, like she was about to push herself off the couch.
“Darling, if we can fix this… we have to.” John gently moved Cindy’s hand and brought her into a hug. Tom put a hand on her head.
Bill looked to Miranda’s mom. “Mrs. McGee, can you take care of Cindy?”
Thunder crashed outside. Cindy coiled like a wild animal, but John didn’t let her go. “It’s okay. It’s okay.”
Cindy searched around the room like she was looking to escape. Almost randomly, she made eye contact with Miranda. She struggled again. “Miranda, stop this!”
Miranda’s stomach dropped like she was on a roller coaster. Everything was happening so fast. Where was Miranda’s say in this? Where was Cindy’s?
She caught Mom’s eye. Mom sighed and wiped her face again. Miranda felt cold.
Mom said, “I’ve been only thinking about myself, trying to get you to sacrifice yourselves so we’ll be okay.” She stepped over and put her arm on Miranda’s shoulder. “I know what we need to do.”
Cindy froze. Her dads waited for Mom.
Mom squeezed Miranda. “I’m going to need your help.” Miranda felt a deep chill down her spine.
Mom’s eyes were wet. “What the mad god really wants is me.”