The old Ford was stretched across the road like it had spun out. The lights were off and the engine silent. He couldn’t see anyone through the windows.
“Christ,” Jonathan said. He brought his father’s car to a halt and jumped out, certain that he was too late. First there’d been no answer when he’d tapped on Dess’s window. Then he’d spotted long skid marks on the gravel road, marking where a car had accelerated wildly away from the front of her house.
And now this. Melissa’s car abandoned half a mile down the road.
The darkling groupies had gotten them all.
But when he reached the Ford, Jonathan saw shapes huddled inside. Melissa was splayed across the driver’s seat, head listing to one side. Jessica and Dess were crouched halfway down in the back, holding each other.
And no Rex. Was he really gone?
“Hey, Flyboy,” Melissa said, cranking her window down. Her face was as white as death. “Good to see you.”
The back door opened, and Jessica tumbled out. She threw her arms around him, her face streaked with tears.
“What the hell happened?”
“Just a little navigation issue,” Melissa said. Her voice was ragged. “But I think it’s sorted out.”
The other back door opened, and Dess stood and stared glassily at him across the roof of the Ford. “I know where Rex is. We’ve got to go.” She walked toward his car, shaky on her feet.
All three of them looked terrible.
“Come on,” Jessica said, slamming the door behind her and pulling him toward his father’s car.
“Shouldn’t someone ride with Melissa?” he asked. “She doesn’t look so hot.”
“Just get in the car and drive,” Dess said.
They headed toward Aerospace Oklahoma, Melissa following and Dess in the front seat next to him, her eyes trained on the glowing GPS receiver. Jessica sat in the back, leaning forward to keep touching him, clinging to him as if she’d just been rescued from a burning house.
On the way, Dess told them about Madeleine, the old mindcaster she’d found hidden in Bixby three days before. Jonathan could hardly believe it—there’d been another midnighter in town all this time. The secret hour was almost too much sometimes. Flatland might be two-dimensional, but at least the rules didn’t keep changing every ten seconds.
“She didn’t leave her house for fifty years?” he asked, horrified at the thought. Having to stay inside for a week when he was sick drove him crazy.
“Forty-nine,” Dess said. “She could go outside sometimes, as long as she was in disguise. If anyone recognized her, the Grayfoots might hear she’d shown up again. And then after Melissa was born, she only went out during school hours.”
“What’s going to happen now?” Jessica said.
“Now that the queen bitch knows?” Dess shook her head, her eyes never leaving the GPS receiver. “I don’t want to think about it. As soon as we rescue Rex, we’ve got to warn Madeleine. Or maybe she’ll taste it herself.”
“But I thought the darklings couldn’t find her because of where her house is,” Jessica said.
“Yeah, but I know the exact spot, inside and out.” Dess’s voice was dry and exhausted. “Like Angie knew where to take Rex, you know?”
Jonathan glanced back at Jessica. “Um, not really.”
“Coordinates mean something to me, something solid, like emotions have a taste for mindcasters,” Dess said. “The location’s in Melissa’s mind now. She took it from me. The darklings will get it from her sooner or later.”
Jonathan frowned. “Hopefully later.”
“Well,” Dess said, “if we bash Melissa’s brains in before midnight, it won’t be a problem.”
There was a long silence. Jonathan felt Jessica’s arms tighten around his chest, and he focused on the white lines of the road.
“No takers?” Dess sighed. “C’mon, guys. I’m just kidding.”
Jonathan swallowed. They hadn’t told him exactly what had gone down in the car or why it was spun out half a mile down the road from Dess’s house. Just that Melissa had touched Dess, giving her the coordinates where Rex had been taken. And that her touch had opened the whole Madeleine can of worms.
But there had to be more to it than that, Jonathan realized. He still got the shakes when he remembered Melissa touching him. Dess couldn’t have been thrilled about sharing minds with her, and Jessica wasn’t psyched about having watched either.
For that matter, Rex was going to freak.
If they got to him in time.
Jonathan looked at his watch: 11:33. They weren’t even at Aerospace Oklahoma yet. Flying, he could cut straight through town and be there in minutes. But if the darklings were going to do something to Rex, even a short time after midnight might be too late.
“Turn off,” Dess said.
Jonathan slowed, squinting out into the darkness. There weren’t any streetlights out here. “Um, where?”
“Right here.” She pointed into the desert. “We need to go that way.”
“Yeah, but a road would be nice.”
Dess hissed softly. “According to Jessica’s mom’s maps, there should be an access road right… there.” She groaned. “Or maybe there will be. Maybe it isn’t built yet.”
Jonathan brought the car to a halt, surveying the lightless desert stretched out before him. “Look, we can drive on salt flats no problem. But that’s scrub, loose sand, and cactus. You want to get stuck?”
Dess sat beside him in silent thought. Melissa’s headlights pulled up behind, filling the car with light.
“Keep driving,” Dess finally said, “but turn off the moment you can.”