The Key to the Golden Firebird

The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson

Book: The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Maureen Johnson
    May nodded and opened her door to get out.
    â€œIt’s a little game we play,” she said. “Sometimes we make out, too. Good night, Camper.”
    As Palmer lay in bed that night, she felt her heart jumping—hiccuping. She pressed her fingers to her neck and felt the irregular beat. Quickly at first, then a pause, then two hard beats at once. The sensation seemed to lock off her breathing for a moment. She sucked in air as powerfully as she could, and her heart staggered harder. By then the pressure was everywhere, blocking her nose and her throat, pressing down on her lungs. The dark in the room got darker. It throbbed.
    Her hands scrambled for the bedside lamp. Unfortunately, the light only caused everything to glow a heady orange, which made the walls look like they were leaning in. She was unable to move from her position, unable to call out for fear of wasting all the breath she had left. She bent over and pulled the blankets to her abdomen. She concentrated on her breathing. Her chest hurt.
    The fearless side of Palmer rose up long enough to tell the rest of her to ride it through. She tried imagining being on the field or being at school. Something with daylight, people all around her. She tried to imagine the most boring place to be—the back row of her algebra class, stuck in line at the supermarket. Sometimes those images were the easiest to pull up. Anything to distract herself, get her mind to a good place.
    The feeling of dread was impossible to shake. It was like a stench that clung to her clothes. She knew from experience that this would last for at least an hour. These night attacks had started about a month after her father had died. At first they’d happened about once a month. But she’d had one once a week for the last three weeks.
    She went down to the living room and switched on all the lights. She switched on SportsCenter and wound herself up in an afghan. The worst part was still coming—the feeling that the world was permanently screwed up. That this crippling fear would go right into her bones and stay there. That the afghan would suffocate her.
    She kicked it off and wondered if she was crazy. Probably.
    â€œJesus, Palm,” May said, appearing in the living room doorway a few minutes later and squinting at the television. “Could you turn that down?”
    â€œI couldn’t sleep,” Palmer said. Though she felt like she should barely have been able to speak, her voice came out very loud.
    â€œFine. So you can’t sleep. Does it have to be so loud?”
    Palmer turned the television down a few notches.
    â€œDid Brooks come home?”
    Palmer shook her head mutely.
    â€œWhatever,” May growled. “If she oversleeps, she oversleeps. I’m sick of this.”
    May turned and went back upstairs, and Palmer pulled her blanket tighter. This wasn’t working. Even the living room seemed like a bad place to be. The dark plaid sofa and the green carpet made her feel claustrophobic. The bobble-headed baseball dolls on the top of the entertainment console seemed to be leering at her. And she needed more air. Someplace cooler. She would go get a flashlight and take a walk.
    She threw her fleece on over her pajamas and headed out to the garage. As she was sliding alongside the Firebird to get to the shelves on the other side of the room, Palmer looked into the backseat. She barely noticed the car anymore, even though it took up most of the garage. There was something weird about it now. It seemed forbidden.
    When she was little and couldn’t sleep, her father would put her in the backseat, take the top down, and drive her around. Palmer would stare up at the sky, and before she knew it, she would realize that her father was carrying her up to bed.
    She stared at the door and bit at her cuticles. No one had gone inside the Firebird since that day.
    If it would help her relax, she didn’t care.

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