The two girls watched in silence as a lanky young man shoveled dirt back into the hole on top of the black trash bag. The taller girl had her teeth clenched and hands fisted at her side as she glared down at the ground, her auburn hair just brushing the bottom of her jaw. The other had her hands in the front pocket of an oversized hoodie, glancing nervously over her shoulder. The man straightened and wiped his brow.

“Did we have to do this at night?” Moonlight glinted off of the shorter girl’s braces as she spoke.

The taller girl snorted, pulling her stained white sweater over her chest. “Yes, we totally should have done this in broad daylight. Just bury a giant black bag in the woods of a public park. I can hear the police now.”

“We could’ve just thrown it in the dumpster, but you people had to be all dramatic . . .” the shorter girl shot back.

“Shut up, or we really are going to have police on us,” the man snapped. He continued to shovel dirt back into the hole. The girls glared at each other but were silent. When the hole was filled, the man stomped on it to smooth out the dirt and brushed the pine straw back in place.

“We should say something,” the younger girl said.

“Say what, exactly?” the man asked.

“I don’t know. This is the closest thing she’s going to get to a grave, I guess.” The girl shrugged. “Feels like we ought to honor her in some way. Some sort of memorial.”

The other girl laughed derisively. “The entire point of this in the first place was for us to get her out of our lives. And now you want to honor her? Get real, Samantha.”

“Don’t call me that, Annabeth,” the blonde girl snarled.

“Y’all, stop,” the man groaned. “Come on, look. We did what we came here to do. Let’s just go home.”

“Oh, you know, just so long as Sammy doesn’t want to pray over the grave,” Annabeth sneered.

“Just stop, Beth. Come on.” The man began to walk back through the woods. Annabeth followed him.

“Go on. I’ll be there in a minute,” Sam told them.

“Yeah, whatever, have your moment,” Annabeth mocked. “Another thing to tell the therapist.”

Sam waited until they were out of earshot before she shook her head and cleared her throat.

“Hey, Mom,” she whispered. “I just . . . I thought I ought to say goodbye. That’s the point of this, right? To let go of all ties and attachments so we can move on. That’s what Michael says anyway. It still feels wrong.” She looked down at her feet, scuffing the toe of her torn tennis shoe. She could almost hear her mother. Don’t slouch, Samantha, and look people in the eye when you speak. Only liars don’t make eye contact. Are you a liar, Samantha?

Sam snorted. “I guess I am now.” She sighed. “I’m a lot of things, now. I just . . . I just wanted to tell you I don’t hate you. I know Beth and Michael do, but I don’t. I think you tried your best. And I wish we could just go back. I wish this never happened. I wish . . .” I wish you had known how to be a better mom. She scrubbed an arm over her eyes. Maybe they’re right. Maybe this really is all her fault.

She turned and walked away without another word.

She couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. She kept seeing the black trash bag in the park and hearing her mother’s voice. Eventually she went into the narrow living room and plopped on the old leather sofa. The room was neat, a blanket folded over the back of the couch and the coffee table bare but for the remote.

Don’t ever touch that remote, Samantha, or you’ll stand in the corner for the rest of the day. Do you understand?

“Couldn't sleep?” Annabeth’s voice interrupted the memory of her mother’s voice. Sam shook her head. “Want popcorn?”

No food after seven o’clock. No popcorn, Samantha! If you ruin those braces I paid so much money for, you’ll live on bread and water till you graduate, you ungrateful. . . .

“No, I’m good. Thanks.” Sam wrapped the blanket around her shoulders, not looking at her sister. She heard her go into the kitchen and the loud clack of the microwave door. In a few minutes, the smell of fresh popcorn reached her. Her sister flopped on the couch beside her, settling a large plastic bowl between them. Sam listened to Annabeth crunch on the popcorn for a few minutes before reaching out to snag some herself.

“Do you remember,” she asked after a moment, “when Mom took us to the dollar theater to see Pinocchio?”

“And you got scared, and we weren’t allowed to watch anything ever again? Yeah. That was what, eleven years ago?”

“Ten. I was five.” Sam shoved another handful of popcorn in her mouth.

“Y’know,” Annabeth spoke around her full mouth, “I don’t remember her having the puppet obsession until after that movie.”

“She just wanted to make sure I was too scared to go in her bedroom,” Sam said darkly.

“Yeah, because her threats weren’t enough; she needed a wall of creepy marionettes that looked like Chuck E. Cheese had kids with a demon.”

Sam laughed. “I used to think they were her spies.”

“They probably were.” Annabeth threw the last of the popcorn in her mouth. "We should watch a movie. Michael subscribed to Disney+.”

“Can we afford that?” Sam asked in surprise.

Annabeth shrugged. “I picked up extra hours at Publix.”

“You’re supposed to be saving for college.”

“I’ve got good SAT scores, dead parents, and I’m technically still a ward of the state. Financial aid will be a breeze.”

“Michael’s going to get full custody of us.” Sam refused to believe anything else.

“Full custody of you, maybe, but I’ll age out by the time they make it official.”

“They’re only dragging their feet because Michael’s nineteen.” Sam leaned against her sister’s shoulder. “As long as he keeps his job, it’ll be fine.”

“You sound like Mom.”

Sam's jaw clenched, and she pulled away from her sister.

“Come on, Sammy, I didn’t mean it like that.” Annabeth laid a hand on her shoulder, but Sam brushed her off and went back to their bedroom. She crawled into the bottom bunk, curling toward the wall.

“Sam. Sam, come on. I just mean she said that all the time, you know? ‘As long as you do this, it’ll be fine.’ I didn’t mean . . . what’s that?” Annabeth broke off. Sam turned and saw her frowning at the large lump shoved in between the headboard and the mattress of Sam’s bunk.

“Nothing.” Sam covered the lump with her pillow. Annabeth turned on the lamp beside their bunk bed. “It’s just a towel, Beth.”

“What’s under the towel?”

Sam bit her lip. “Promise you won’t get mad.”

Annabeth looked at her in alarm before reaching toward the pillow. Sam didn’t stop her as she tugged the odd bundle out and unwrapped it. Annabeth’s face contorted in anger.

“You kept one of those things?” she demanded.

“I just wanted one thing, okay?” Sam began. “Just one thing to remember her by . . .”

“Why?” Annabeth almost shouted. “Why would you ever want to remember her? She was horrible! She starved you for two years because she thought you gained too much weight. She wouldn’t let you go outside because you couldn’t learn algebra in third grade! She made Michael go barefoot all winter because he ate a candy bar! She locked me in a closet for three days because I got a B on a science test! And you . . .”

“I know, okay? I lived it too, you don’t have to remind me,” Sam shouted back.

“We finally got rid of her and everything from her, and you kept one of those . . . those demon dolls she spent more money on than us?”

Sam looked down at the bundle in her lap. The two-foot-tall antique marionette was dressed in a black ballgown with a face sanded so smoothly the wood grain showed through the glossy white paint. Thick bow lips were painted around the hinged jaw, and a braid of hair so blonde it was almost white was glued to the top of the oversized head. But the worst part was the eyes. They were perfectly round with a solid black pupil painted in the middle with no irises, giving the puppet a blank, vacant stare that still seemed to follow you no matter how you turned the doll. Thick black wires hung from its hands, feet, and the top of its head.

“I just wanted one thing,” Sam whispered.

“She’s gone, Sam! She’s gone, and she’s never coming back, and I’m glad of it!” Annabeth screamed. “I’m glad we got rid of her, and I don’t want her back!”

“She’s still our mom, Beth!” Sam shouted.

“Yo, what’s going on?” Michael’s sleepy voice came from the doorway. He squinted in the lamplight. He caught sight of the marionette on the bed and groaned. “Did we miss one?”

“Samantha kept it,” Annabeth snarled.

Michael’s eyebrows raised. “You wanted one of those things?”

“I just . . . I just . . .” Sam started to cry.

They were silent for a moment. Sam heard Annabeth stomp out of the room. Michael came over and put an awkward hand on Sam’s shoulder.

“It’s okay, Sam. You can keep it if you want it.” He patted her shoulder. “I get it. You didn’t see as much as we did, and . . .”

“Don’t!” Sam snarled. “Don’t pretend like I didn’t have it as bad as you two did or that . . . or that you . . . or that I can’t understand what she did, because I do!”

Michael backed up, raising his hands. “Okay, okay, I know.”

“No, you don’t!” Sam screamed again.

“Hey, calm down . . .”

“Just leave me alone!” Sam jerked her comforter roughly, and the marionette fell to the floor with a crash. She rolled over, pulling the covers over her head. She heard Michael walk out of the room and shut the door softly behind him. The lamp clicked off behind her, and Sam cried herself to sleep.

When she woke up, the puppet was propped up against the footboard of her bed, staring at her. Sam rolled her eyes. Annabeth must have placed it there to scare her. She grabbed the marionette and wrapped it back in the towel. For a moment, the puppet was cradled in her lap. The empty black eyes stared up at her, the hinged jaw gaping.

Mom was bent over one of her marionettes where it rested on the dining room table, a thin paintbrush poised in her hand. Sam watched her from the shadow of the hall. She had been sneaking into the kitchen for a snack after being denied dinner for forgetting to take her shoes off before she came inside, but her mother’s presence made her midnight raid impossible.

Mom’s face was peaceful as she carefully dipped her paintbrush in the thick red paint. She was humming under her breath, and Sam flinched when she began to sing softly as she painted.

“Hush, little baby, don't say a word. Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird. And if that mockingbird don't sing, Mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring. And if that . . .”

Sam’s stomach grumbled loudly, and she grabbed at her shirt. Her foot slipped as she moved, the old wood floor creaking.

“Who’s there? Samantha?” Her mother had stood and was walking towards her. “Samantha, come here!”

Sam shuffled out, eyes on the floor. Her stomach grumbled again, louder. A beat of silence passed before her mother gripped her shoulders.

“Are you hungry, Samantha?”

Sam looked up and nodded. Her mother’s hands slid down her shoulders to hold Sam’s hands, her sweaty palms swallowing Sam’s and her long fingers wrapping all the way around her daughter’s thin wrists.

“That’s why I tell you to follow the rules, sweetheart. If you don’t do bad things, bad things won’t happen to you. I don’t like it when bad things happen to you. It makes me sad.”

Sam nodded, a few tears slipping out of her eyes.

“It’s not time to cry.” Her mother brushed away her tears. “Come on. I’ll fix you a bowl of cereal. Just this once, okay?”

Sam looked up at her in shock before following her to the table. Her mother poured her a bowl of Cheerios and milk and placed it before her. When Sam reached out to take the spoon her mother was holding, her mother drew it back.

“I’ll do it, sweetheart.”

Sam sat perfectly still as her mother spoon-fed her Cheerios, singing softly.

“Hush, little baby, don’t say a word . . .”

Sam shoved the marionette back in its hiding spot between the mattress and her headboard. Gaslighting, her therapist would call that particular memory of her mother. There were lots of lovely words to describe her mother’s parenting style. Sam's cheek tingled with the memory of her mother’s hand as she dressed for the day.

Michael was already gone to work, and Annabeth was nursing a cup of coffee at the kitchen table, a biology textbook spread out in front of her. Sam grabbed a granola bar from the kitchen and sat at the other end of the table. Her sister immediately drained her coffee cup, slammed her textbook shut, and stalked out. Sam flinched, but ignored her, unwrapping her granola bar.

“Samantha!” Sam jumped as Annabeth stormed into the dining room, yelling. “If you’re going to keep this thing, at least keep it in your space, not mine!” Annabeth threw the puppet on the table.

“I didn’t leave it in your space, Beth,” Sam argued.

“Well, how’d it get on my bed then?”

Sam stared at her. “I left it by my mattress literally five minutes ago. You’re the one that had it sitting up staring at me on my bed last night.”

“I never touched that thing!”

“Well, I put it back where it was by my headboard before I made up my bed.” Sam crossed her arms. “If it was on your bed, it’s because you put it there.”

“I didn’t touch it!”

“There’s no one else in the house!”

Both girls froze for a moment. There was no one else in the house. Sam glanced at the puppet lying face down on the table. Annabeth looked a little pale.

“Look, just put it somewhere, okay? In your space.” Annabeth walked away. Sam rolled her eyes. She finished her breakfast before taking the puppet back to her room. Annabeth was brushing her hair in front of their small mirror.

“I’m putting it in the closet, okay? Watch me.” Sam exaggerated her movements as she put the puppet in the back corner of their closet. “Happy now?”

“I’d be happier if you threw it out, but fine. Whatever. Just don’t leave it lying around anymore.”

“I didn’t leave it out in the first place,” Sam grumbled.

The sisters barely spoke during the day as they both went about their homework. Sam startled every time the house shuddered in the wind, and Annabeth paced throughout the house, swinging her arms. It wasn’t until after lunch that Sam went into the bathroom and found the black-eyed marionette standing in the shower. She snatched up the puppet and stormed into the living room where her sister was sprawled on the couch.

“Very funny, Beth.” Sam held up the marionette by its strings. “Fine, you got me back, now will you stop it?”

“Stop what? And why do you have that thing out again?” Annabeth growled. “I really don’t care to ever see it again.”

“You left it in the shower staring at the door,” Sam shot back, stalking over to the couch to shove the puppet in Annabeth’s face. “I get that you hate it, I get that you hate Mom, I get that you never want to talk about her again, but I want this one thing to remember her by because she was our mother, and you won’t let me have that without giving me a hard time about it every chance you get.”

“One, get that thing out of my face.” Annabeth sat up. “Two, I didn’t touch your stupid puppet. And three, if I didn’t want to let you have it, I would have thrown it away already.” Annabeth stood angrily.

“You’re lying to me!”

“I’m not lying!” Annabeth shouted, trying to dodge her.

“You won’t look me in the eye! You put . . .”

“Get out of my FACE, Samantha!” Annabeth shoved past her to the center of the room, breathing heavily.

They were silent. Sam walked out of the room, not looking at her sister. She went to the big third bedroom at the end of the hall. She took a deep breath and opened the door.

No one had been in her mother’s room since they had all packed up their mother’s things and thrown them out. The same day the police had stopped looking for her body. Michael had told them not to say anything to the cops. Just let them look. When they don’t find anything, they’ll leave us alone.

Sam took a deep breath. The room was eerily empty. None of them could bear to move into the room, so Annabeth and Sam still shared, and Michael still slept across the hall from them. Sam knew Annabeth would never darken the door of their mother’s old room. She put the puppet in the closet and shut the door. Sam went back to the living room. Annabeth was gone, probably on a walk. She always liked to be out in the open after getting upset.

But despite the new hiding place, Sam found the puppet sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor an hour later.

“Oh, come on.” She stood staring at the puppet, tears welling up in her eyes. She hadn’t even seen her sister come back into the house. She stifled a sob. She understood that her sister was mad, but it wasn’t like her to be so wantonly cruel.

It’s not time to cry, Samantha.

Sam grabbed the puppet and went into the living room. She sat it up on a corner of the couch where Annabeth would have to see it and then curled up in the opposite corner.

She must have fallen asleep because the loud slamming of the front door woke her up.

“Good grief, Sam! Can’t you give it a rest?” Annabeth shrieked. Sam straightened up. The puppet was standing in the middle of the living room floor. And suddenly Sam was very, very tired.

“Stop it,” Sam said softly. “Just throw it away, I don’t care anymore.”

“Gladly.” Annabeth grabbed the puppet and then dropped it. “Ew, it’s wet! What did you do to it?”

Sam ignored her, burying her face against her knees and crying quietly. She heard the front door open and the clunk of something being thrown in the big plastic dumpster by the side of the house. She sobbed and ran into her bedroom before Annabeth came back in. She didn’t come out for dinner. She heard Michael come home and shower. Annabeth didn’t come looking for her. She curled up in bed and fell asleep, ignoring her growling stomach and aching head.

Michael woke her sometime in the night.

“Hey, wake up.” He shook her shoulder. “Sam, wake up.”

“What?” Sam grumbled, voice rough with sleep.

“Where’s the Tylenol? Beth’s sick.”

Sam rolled over to face her brother. “What’s wrong with her?”

“I think she has a fever.”

“Did she take her temperature?” Sam sat up and turned on her lamp.

“I can’t find the thermometer. But she’s sweating a lot, and she says her head hurts.”

Sam frowned. “Tylenol should be in the cabinet above the sink in the bathroom.”

“I looked there,” Michael said. “I couldn’t find it.”

“Fine, I’m coming.”

Michael went back into the living room where Annabeth must have been while Sam rifled through the medicine cabinet for Tylenol. When she entered the living room, Annabeth was stretched out on the couch, staring blankly at the ceiling. Sweat soaked Annabeth’s T-shirt and ran down her face.

“Here.” Sam handed Michael two pills.

“Beth, Sam brought you medicine.” Michael grabbed a glass of water from the coffee table. “Here, sit up.” He grabbed her shoulder to help her sit up. Annabeth moved mechanically, eyes unfocused. Sam felt her forehead. Her skin was cold. She groaned at Sam’s touch, seeming to wake up.

“Take the Tylenol,” Sam instructed. Annabeth obeyed, taking the glass of water from Michael’s hand. “What hurts?”

“What doesn’t?” Annabeth said, leaning back against the couch.

“Michael said your head hurts?”

Annabeth nodded. “And my face.”

Michael frowned. “Your face hurts?”

“Yeah, my cheeks. And my throat.” Annabeth’s eyes slipped closed.

“She’s too cool to be running a fever,” Sam said, “but maybe . . . whoa!” Annabeth had pitched forward suddenly, coughing. Sam rubbed her back while Michael gripped her shoulder. When she stopped coughing, Annabeth flopped back against the couch, groaning.

“What is that?” Michael asked, horrified. “Is that blood?”

Two black lines of liquid dripped from the corners of Annabeth’s mouth and ran down her chin. Sam dabbed at the drips on Annabeth’s face with a fingertip, but they felt dry.

“Beth,” Michael shook her shoulder. “Beth, hey, don’t go to sleep.”

“We should take her to the hospital,” Sam said worriedly. “If she’s coughing up blood . . .”

“Is that what that is? It’s black, though.” Michael frowned.

“I don’t know what it is, but it’s not coming off her face.”

“Hold on.” Michael stood up and went into the kitchen. When he came back, he held a wet rag. He wiped Annabeth’s chin, but the black lines remained.

“If it was blood, it should come off.” Michael touched the lines. “It almost feels like a scab.”

“Beth, did you hit your head?” Sam asked. Annabeth murmured something under her breath. “What?” Sam leaned closer to her sister.

“It’s not time to cry,” Annabeth whispered. Sam recoiled.

“Alright, stop it,” Sam snapped. “You made your point, just stop!”

“Sam, she can’t help being sick,” Michael said.

“She’s been giving me a hard time about that stupid puppet all day, and now she’s faking just so she can . . .”

“Hey, whoa, she wouldn’t do that.”

“She went around all day putting it in random places to scare me and then lying about it and . . .”

Sam stopped as Annabeth made a noise. She sang in a broken, off-key voice, lips barely moving.

“Hush, little baby, don’t you cry, Mama’s . . .”

Sam stormed out of the room. The marionette had been one thing, but this was too much. This crossed a line. Some unspoken, awful line. She was about to throw herself onto her bed and sob when she glimpsed something out of the corner of her eye.

The marionette was standing in the corner of the room, eyes fixed on Sam.

She screamed.

Michael came running. “What is it? What happened?”

“She . . . she put . . . she just . . .” Sam stuttered hysterically, crying in frustration.

“What happened?” Michael demanded.

“That puppet!” Sam shrieked.

“What puppet?” Michael yelled.

Sam turned, pointing at the suddenly empty corner. She whirled back to Michael.

“What did you do with it?” she yelled.

“I haven’t seen your puppet all day!” Michael shouted back. “Annabeth’s in there coughing up who knows what, and you’re in here screaming about . . .”

“It was right there!” Sam shrieked, pointing in the corner. “It was right there two seconds ago, and now you . . . you’re in on it, too, aren’t you? Everyone’s just got to make Sam feel bad because I want to keep a stupid puppet and you . . .”

“Sam, I don’t have time for this!”

“Just stop!” she yelled back. “Just . . .” She stopped as she saw the color drain from Michael’s face. She followed his gaze to the corner.

The marionette was propped against the wall, watching them.

“Would you stop it with the moving it and just . . .”

“Sam, I didn’t touch it.”

Sam nearly screamed again in frustration. “You had to have put it . . .”

“Sam, listen to me! I didn’t touch it. You’ve been watching me the entire time I’ve been in here. How would I have put it there without you seeing me?”

Sam stopped. He had a point.

“Sam, that puppet wasn’t there when I came in the room.”

Sam looked at her brother’s pale face. “Well, how did it get there, then?”

Michael swallowed. “I don’t know.”

They stared at the marionette for a moment.

“Let’s . . . let’s go check on Annabeth,” Sam said. Michael nodded. He waited until she was out of the room, eyes never leaving the puppet, then he shut the door behind them.

Annabeth was lying with her back to them when they entered the living room. Michael felt her forehead, then jerked his hand back.

“What?” Sam asked worriedly.

“Nothing. Just . . . just her skin feels weird, is all.”

“What do you mean her skin feels weird?” Sam frowned.

Michael looked at Sam with an ashen face. “It feels like wood.”

“Oh, come on, Michael, get a grip. You’re just freaked out because that puppet . . .”

“It wasn’t in the room, Sam!”

“It had to be!” Sam snapped. “It didn’t just get there all by itself. There’s no . . .”

The floorboard creaked behind her. Sam spun around on her heel.

The puppet was standing in the hall.

Sam gasped, scuttling backwards until she bumped into the coffee table. Michael came and stood in front of her.

“You were saying,” he whispered.

Sam swallowed. “There’s . . . there’s got to be someone else in the house. Someone’s moving the strings.”

“Get Annabeth into my car. We’re leaving,” Michael ordered.

“And going where?” Sam asked.

Anywhere, as long as it’s not . . .”

“Hush, little baby, don’t say a word. Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird. And if that . . .”

Sam turned. Annabeth had sat up on the couch and was singing again. Sam edged closer and touched her face.

It didn’t just feel like wood; there were swirls and lines of wood grain on her face. It didn’t give under her finger, and it was perfectly smooth to the touch. Sam thumped her sister’s forehead, and pain shot through her fingernail as it plunked with the hollow noise of knocking on a door.

She drew back, trembling hands reaching for her brother as she met her sister’s blank stare.

Michael was coughing.

“Michael. Michael, we have to get out of here. Michael. Michael!”

Her brother turned to her with twin black lines running down his chin, like . . . like a marionette’s hinged mouth.

“Hush, little baby, don’t you cry . . .”

Sam backed away as Michael began to sing. She watched in horror as her brother’s face began to change, his jaw moving with mechanical slowness as it turned to wood. He reached out towards her. A wire was sprouting from the back of his hand.

Her back hit the wall. She squeezed her eyes shut, tears running down her face.

“Hush, little baby, don’t you cry . . .”

Her eyes flew open at the new voice.


The marionette stood in front of her. Her siblings were gone. The room seemed so small and dark.

“It’s not time to cry, Samantha.”

“Mom?” Sam swallowed. “What . . . where’s Michael? What . . . what happened to them?”

“Look people in the eye when you speak, Samantha.”

“What . . . you’re . . . you’re dead. You’re gone. How . . . you left, how . . .”

“Are you a liar, Samantha?”

“You’re DEAD!” Samantha screamed, screwing her eyes shut.

“Because you killed me, Samantha.”

She didn’t open her eyes, shaking her head. Something was dribbling down from either side of her mouth. “No. No, you left, it’s your fault . . .”

“You killed me, Samantha.”

“I . . . I didn’t . . . it’s not my fault . . .” Her jaw felt tight and hard to move.

“You killed me, Annabeth.”

Her eyes flew open. Wooden hands were in front of her face. Her hands, wires sprouting from her wrists, wooden ball joints replacing her wrists, and something jerking on her feet, her head, her shoulders, strings moving her body, wooden joints clacking and her jaw falling open. . . .

She had leapt out of bed and bolted onto the balcony of her apartment before she realized she was awake. The night air hitting her face was a relief. She forced herself to keep her eyes open, taking in the sky, the streets, the towering buildings.

“Another thing to tell the therapist,” she muttered when her breathing had returned to normal. She went back inside, sighing.

It had been a long time since Annabeth had dreamed about her mother’s puppets or the night six years ago when she and her siblings had buried them in the woods. Michael had suggested the symbolic burial after the police told them their mother’s car had been found in the river, that her body must have drifted downstream, that they couldn’t trawl the entire river. They didn’t tell the police it had been a relief to find out she was gone. She dreamed about her siblings often, but dreaming she was her sister . . . that was new.

Annabeth paced the room, swinging her arms. Suddenly, she turned, opening the bottom drawer in her dresser and pulling out a lumpy, towel-wrapped bundle.

It hadn’t been Sam who had saved one of their mother’s puppets.

It looked exactly as it did in her dream: dressed in a silk ballgown, black eyes staring up at her blankly.

Every time she had a nightmare about her mother, she found herself pulling out the old marionette. Sam and Michael still didn’t know she had it. A wave of old anger rushed through her.

“You still have strings on me, huh?” she muttered.

And maybe it was the tears blurring her vision, or the lack of sleep, or the adrenaline still coursing through her from her nightmare. . . .

But she could have sworn the puppet blinked.