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READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: In Restless Dreams, by Wren Handman

Happy Sunday! This Tuesday, readers will discover what happens when prep school student, Sylvia, finds herself wielding an incredible magic and caught between two Faerie Courts. For now, you can catch the first TWO CHAPTERS of Wren Handman's YA Fantasy, In Restless Dreams, here on our blog!

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CHAPTER ONE


"You what?” I hate the way my voice cracks. I wish I could make him think I didn’t care. Of

course, if wishing could make it so, I would probably wish for him not to be breaking up with me,

instead of just wishing I was handling it better.


“I think we need some space. Y’know, to like... Rethink

things.” Tommy runs a hand through his hair, an excuse to

stare down at his feet instead of into my dangerously teary

eyes. Please, God, don’t let me cry. As if being broken up

with in the corner of an immensely crowded room while

music blares around you isn’t bad enough, I am not going

to cry in front of every person that I know.


“Space. Like... like breaking-up space, or like going-to-

the-cottage-for-the-weekend space?” As if I don’t know the

answer. We’ve only been going out for a few weeks, so it’s

not like my heart is breaking in my chest—but the public

humiliation might kill me even if the break-up doesn’t.


Tommy doesn’t answer, which I know means the answer is

obvious, but I stand there like an idiot waiting for him to

say something. Finally, the silence becomes so awkward he

clears his throat just to make a noise. I think if I talk I might start crying,

so I just keep my mouth shut.


“The first one,” he finally mutters. “Sorry.”


“And you really thought the middle of Trisha’s birthday

was the right time for this conversation?”


It feels good to get mad instead of weepy, so I go with it. People on the

dance floor are starting to pay attention to us, and I can feel

my hands balling into fists at my sides. Alice is giving me

‘concerned face,’ and she looks threateningly ready to come

over here.


“Yeah, well, Leanne sorta asked if I wanted to dance,

and I didn’t want to, like, cheat or anything, so I figured we

should talk. I’d kinda been thinking about it for a while,

you know?”


“You’re breaking up with me for Leanne? Leanne

Planter?” Okay, that was definitely a shriek, and now

people are definitely looking at us. Including Leanne.


“Syl, c’mon. Calm down,” Tommy hisses, turning his

body away from the room and shielding me partially from

view.


“Whatever. Just. . .just whatever,” I tell him, and shove

ungracefully past. I can feel his eyes on my back as I storm

out of the room, my cheeks hot as half of the crowd

watches me go. What a disaster.


Tonight was supposed to be the best night of my year.

Trisha McBride is the richest girl in our school, and when

Daddy’s little princess turns sixteen, he throws her one

heck of a party. Her whole house is done up like some

fairytale dream, with those little twinkling lights wrapped

around the banister and along the borders of the rooms.


There’s an actual band playing in the living room (okay,

they go to our high school, but they’re pretty good), and

Tommy and Bruce got their brother to buy beer. There’s

even a swimming pool in the backyard, and a big bonfire

where people are roasting marshmallows and goofing off

under the stars. For the first time in my entire high school

life, I actually have a date to a party, and Alice helped me

tame my curls into this unbelievably beautiful French

braid, and I saved up my allowance for five months to buy

this dress, and now I’m alone in the backyard trying not to

cry because I chose to date a guy for his looks instead of his

brains. What a total disaster.


“Oh my God, what the hell just happened?” Alice demands, bursting

through the door behind me. She looks ready to pummel someone and is

clearly just waiting for my word to make it so. God, I love her.


“Tommy broke up with me,” I mutter, wiping tears out

of my eyes.


“He what? Why?”


“So he can dance with Leanne.” Is that a tinge of bitter-

ness in my voice? Why, yes, I think it is. I’m thinking some

very unkind things about Tommy, one of which pops out of

Alice’s mouth. I widen my eyes, laughing despite myself.


“Alice!”


“Well, he is. Anyway, you don’t need him. You are so

above him.” She whips hair out of her face in an impatient

gesture, and I hear someone around the bonfire call out her

name. She ignores them, her attention concentrated wholly

on me, and I’m grateful and uncomfortable all at once. I

really don’t want to cry, and all this sympathy is sure to do

me in. I just need to get out of here, go home and wallow

where no one can see me.


“Thanks, but you kind of have to think that. Best friend

and all.”


“Oh come on, don’t tell me you’re going to let him ruin

your night! You are a sixteen-year-old bombshell, and I

know every eligible guy here.” Alice tilts her floppy black

hat down low over her eyes and makes like she’s scanning

the crowd. She’s wearing an outfit that she claims is

mimicking Annie Hall; she was downright horrified when I

told her I had no idea who that was.


“Everyone knows every eligible guy here. We’ve been

going to school with them since first grade.” I lace my arm

through hers and kiss her on the cheek. “Goodnight,

Alice.”


“How are you gonna get home?”


“I’ll walk.” I start walking back inside, and she follows

me. As soon as we pass through the door, we have to raise

our voices to be heard over the band. On second thought,

they aren’t that good—the bass player can’t keep rhythm,

and the lead singer sounds like he has a cold.


“It’s dark.”


“It’s Topaz Lake. I think I can handle a twenty-minute

walk.”


“Down the highway. Alone?”


“Alice, I—” I completely forget what I was going to say

as I see Tommy and Leanne grinding in the middle of the

dance floor. I don’t think I could make my body move like

that if I had all my bones removed. I’m gonna be sick. I

hurry through the press of the crowd and out the front

door, Alice hot on my heels.


“You don’t even know if your mom will be home! Isn’t

Eric out at a friend’s house? Maybe she went out for the

night.”


“To where? The only choices are pretty much the casino

or Junction Bar, and she has no money and doesn’t drink.

Goodnight, Alice.”


“Do you want me to come with you? Talk?” she offers. I

stop my headlong rush to freedom and turn back with a

sigh.


“No. Seriously, I’m fine. I just need to not be watching

that right now. Go. Enjoy the party. I’ll call you tomorrow,

okay?”


“Promise?”


“Promise.” We hug tightly, and I set out across the

lawn. As I go, one of my shoes sinks into the dirt, and I

almost fall flat on my face. I hear sniggers from the front

porch, and awkwardly pull my heel out of the grass. As if

this night could get any worse. I am never wearing heels

again.


⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞ ❂ ⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝


Topaz Lake is a tiny town just to the north

of the Nevada/California border. It’s mainly made up of

fishers and the folk who work in the casino, so my family is

a bit of an oddity because my mother is a painter. And on

top of being all artsy but living in Hicksville, she’s a single

mom too. Dad lives in New York, and we pretty much only

see him when he comes to visit at Christmas. We get

birthday presents a day or two after our birthdays every

year, and phone calls a week or so after the relevant holi-

day. Sometimes he’ll get all nostalgic and fly in to visit us

on the spur of the moment—it’s not like he doesn’t care,

he just has this crazy busy life where he owns all these

companies or something, and we don’t really fit in. So we

live in Topaz Lake and dream about the big wide world. It’s

actually a pretty cool place to grow up. I know how to gut

and skin a fish in less than two minutes, and I can identify

ten different types of mushrooms, and tell you which ones

you can eat and which ones will kill you (and which ones

the stoners at school eat).


When I get home the house is mainly dark, just the

front porch and a kitchen light are on. I hear a crash as I

get to the front walk, and figure Mom is trying to cook. It

never ends well—we’re mostly a Shake ‘n Bake sort of a

family. It’s enough to put a bit of a smile on my face, and

all the stuff with Tommy doesn’t seem as bad with him

safely miles away at the party. I open the door and drop my

ridiculous heels on the ground.


“I am never wearing heels again!” I yell out in the direc-

tion of the kitchen, dropping my purse beside the shoes.


“Also, men suck!”


There’s no answer, which is weird. Normally Mom

would be sticking her head around the corner, anxious for

the gossip. She’s been acting really off lately, though.

Sleeping in late, being kinda grumpy, and she won’t let me

see any of her paintings. She says she’s just going through

a phase, and not to let it worry me, but it does. Even

though it happened when I was four, I don’t think she ever

really got over the fact that Dad wouldn’t leave New York

for her, and ever since her girlfriend Sally moved to

Wyoming last year she’s been distant, hard to reach.


“Mom?” I call out, and I cut through the corner of the

dark living room. I navigate around the end table by

memory and come out into the blinding brightness of the

kitchen. For a moment I have to squint against the flores-

cent lights, and I don’t quite know what I’m seeing. Mom

is lying on the floor. Why is Mom lying on the floor? And

then it hits me, and I don’t know whether to scream or

stop breathing. Mom is lying on the floor.


“Mom!” I scream, and I hit the tiles beside her so hard

my knees bounce and hit again. I don’t see any blood.

There isn’t any blood. I shake her once, hard, but she

doesn’t move. Is she breathing? Check her breathing. Call

9-1-1. No, no, check her breathing first, then call 9-1-1. Do

CPR? Oh my God, I don’t remember how to do CPR! I

press my head against her back. She’s slumped over like

she was sitting against the counter and she just fell, her

shoulder half-turned towards the ground, her curls

obscuring her face. I’m afraid to move them, afraid to see.

What if her face is white? I don’t feel anything, and I start

to panic, but then there’s a gentle swell against my face.


She’s breathing! 9-1-1. Call 9-1-1.


I grab the phone in a daze and punch in the numbers,

hurrying back to her side. There’s a bottle of pills on the

ground. I pick it up—it’s a prescription bottle. The cap is

lying beside it. I don’t see any pills, and I spend a moment

searching the floor for them before the voice on the line

brings me back.


“Police, fire, or ambulance?” It takes me a second to

figure out what she’s asking, and another second before I

can make my voice work.


“Ambulance,” I croak. There’s a pause, a click, and then

it rings once before a woman answers.


“Topaz Lake ambulance.”


“I need an ambulance! It’s my mother!”


“What’s your address?”


I give it to her in a daze. My mother’s skin is still warm.

That’s a good sign, right? I think that’s important. I think it

means something. Is she still breathing? She looks like

she’s not breathing as much. I miss what the operator says

and have to ask her to repeat it.


“What happened?”


“I don’t know. I think... I think she took some pills?”

The bottle in my hand feels strange, like something from

someone else’s life. Not mine. Things like this don’t

happen here. Maybe she was sick. Maybe she was sick, and

she didn’t say because she didn’t want to worry me. She’s

the kind of mother who would do that, try to shield my

brother and me from the truth. So she was sick, and she

was trying to get her prescription but she forgot to refill

it and—


“What did she take?” the operator asks. I scan the

bottle. The label says paroxetine, and then underneath, in

small letters, it says Paxil.


“Paxil,” I say. “But . . . that’s an antidepressant,

isn’t it?”


“Just hang on. The ambulance will be there soon. Just

hang on, okay?”


So I hang on, listening to the operator’s voice, trying to

breathe shallowly enough that I can still hear my mother’s

breathing, the buzz of the refrigerator beside us and the

faint sound of crickets in the yard outside. I just hang on.


⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞ ❂ ⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝


I’m standing outside the door to Mrs.

Shaker’s house, staring at the knocker. I’m trying to get my

hand to reach up, but all I can see is the paramedics

loading my mother onto the stretcher. The way she looked

when they moved her—like a rag doll. They said she would

be okay, but how could she be? She was so limp. How can

someone leave their body like that and come back okay?


They said she would be okay. They asked if I wanted to

come with them in the ambulance, but I couldn’t go and

leave Eric here. It wouldn’t be fair to ask Mrs. Shaker to

drive us all the way to the hospital, and I somehow

couldn’t bear to make that call. I need to talk to Eric.


There’s been an accident. I thought this would be easier,

but now I can’t make my hand reach up. I keep thinking it,

but my hand doesn’t work like it should. Everything feels

strange and stretched out in front of me, and I feel like I’m

up at the top of a mountain and there’s all this air, but not

enough oxygen to breathe. Like I’m suffocating. I need to

go. I have the car keys in my hand. She can’t wake up

without us there. We need to go, now. We need to go!


I slam my hand against the door, harder than I meant

to, once and then twice and then I’m pounding on the door,

my eyes too wide and prickling from the feeling of the air

against them. Mrs. Shaker opens the door quickly, her

expression wide and alarmed, and it gets worse when she

sees me standing there. I must look insane, in my party

dress and bare feet, my hair half undone, the keys to a car

she knows I don’t have a license for dangling in one hand.


“Sylvia—what’s wrong?” she exclaims.


“I need to talk to Eric. There’s been an accident.” Is that

what I’m going to call it? An accident? I can’t tell her about

the pills, about the bottle on the floor. What do I say?


“Oh, my God. Eric!” she calls out, and she steps back

from the door to let me in. I don’t move from her stoop. I

just need to get Eric, get in the car, get to the hospital. I

just need to keep going, because if I stop, I won’t be able to

start again. “Is it your mother? Is she alright?”


“She’s had an accident,” I repeat dully. “I need to take

Eric to the hospital.”


“Honey, you can’t drive,” she says. Eric still hasn’t

come. What’s keeping him?


“Eric!” I scream over her shoulder. My body feels like

it’s vibrating, humming in my stomach. I think I might

throw up. “We just need to go.”


“I’ll drive you.” She grabs her purse from a table by the

door, slipping her feet into shoes. Finally Eric appears from

a room down the hall, his friend Taylor close behind. He

looks disheveled and bored until he sees the expression on

my face, and then everything goes still except for his feet,

which keep walking him towards us.


“What’s going on?” he asks. He’s blinking too much,

preparing himself for some horrible news while still trying

to pretend he doesn’t think anything is wrong.


“There’s been an accident,” I say again. I see his expres-

sion start to break down and I quickly rush on. “She’s okay,


they say she’ll be fine, but Mom’s in the hospital. We have

to go.” I hold my hand out for his.


“I’m going to drive them to the hospital,” Mrs. Shaker

tells Taylor. “Let your dad know where we are, okay?”


Taylor says something, but I’m not listening, just

folding Eric up in a big tight hug. We haven’t been close for

a while. He’s thirteen, too old for me to keep treating like

the little brother that I usually treat him like, and we’re

always on each other’s cases. But right now, he’s just that

kid brother who used to follow me around the house

copying everything I did, and I just want him to feel like

things will be okay. So I hug him close to my heart and

listen to the sound of his breathing. She was still breathing

—she never stopped. That’s what matters. Not the rag doll

they loaded onto the stretcher. Not that.


Somehow we make it to the car, and Eric keeps asking

me what happened, what’s wrong, and I don’t want Mrs.

Shaker to hear so I just keep saying ‘accident’ until the

word doesn’t mean anything, and Eric looks ready to punch

me in the mouth but Mrs. Shaker says they’ll explain it all

when we get there, and I hold his hand and watch the trees

whipping past in the dark. It takes so long to get there—

what if something changes? What if we get there and ‘she’s

alright’ becomes something else?


Mrs. Shaker drops us at the door and goes to find a

place to park. I run inside, trusting Eric to keep up, and

reach the front desk.


“Our mother. They brought her in an ambulance,” I tell

the woman behind the desk. She looks tired, an older

woman with dry brown hair and dark circles under her

eyes.


“What’s your mom’s name?” she asks, and there’s

something soothing about her voice.


“Gail. Gail Hartford,” I blurt. Beside me Eric is playing

with a pen on the top of the counter, his eyes dark. I know

the look—he’s determined to do something that he knows

I won’t like. I don’t ask what.


“She’s in room 312. The elevator’s right down that

hallway.”


“Thank you, ma’am,” I say, and hurry to catch up with

Eric, who’s already halfway there. We get into the elevator,

and I watch the numbers as they climb from 1 to 3.


“They’re going to tell us what happened,” Eric says

suddenly. His blond hair looks strange under the hospital

lights. Everything feels wrong, too bright or too dim. The

sound of the elevator reaching our floor is loud. I nod,

watching the doors as they pull open. “So why won’t you

tell me?”


“I just wanted a moment alone. That’s all.” We’re the

only ones in the elevator, so I take a deep breath and turn

towards him. “Like I said, it was an accident, okay? She

was on some pills, and I guess she took a few too many.

That’s all.”


“Some pills? What kind of pills? Is she sick?” Eric asks.


All sorts of new worries pile up in his eyes. We step out of

the elevator as a younger woman wheels an older woman

onto it. Neither of them looks up. I don’t think I’ve taken a

deep breath since all this started. I don’t know the answer.

Is she sick? Depends on what you mean by sick, I guess.

“I don’t know. We’ll have to see, okay?” I try to take his

hand, but he pulls away, shoving them both deep into his

pockets. I walk towards the room, and he follows a few

steps behind. There’s a doctor coming out as we walk up,

and he stops.


“Are you Eric and Sylvia?” he asks gently. I nod.


“How do you know our names?” Eric asks.


“I wish I could say I was psychic, but alas, no.” The

doctor waves the file folder he’s holding with a smile. “Per-

sonal files. I like to get to know my patients. I called her

emergency contact, but the number was disconnected. Do

you know who Sally Kitchener is?”


“Her . . .” I pause, awkward. Topaz Lake isn’t exactly


New York, and Mom and Sally never advertised their rela-

tionship. “. . . friend. She moved to Wyoming,” I say. “Our

neighbor is here. She drove us.”


“She’s parking,” Eric says. “Her name is Mrs. Shaker.


She’s my friend’s mom.” I nudge him and he goes silent.


The doctor nods.


“Do you want to wait for her before we talk?” he asks. I

shake my head, not trusting myself to speak. I don’t want

her to hear about the pills. “Why don’t you kids have a

seat, okay? And I’ll explain what’s going on.”


We both sit down in cheap vinyl chairs. I realize I’m still

not wearing shoes. The linoleum feels cold and a little wet,

like maybe they wash it down at night. The soles of my feet

tingle. The doctor crouches in front of us, trying to get on

our level. Why couldn’t we have all just stood up?


“Your mom is going to be just fine, okay? She took a

few too many pills, but we cleared the drugs out of her

system. She’s very lucky that you caught her in time. An

hour later...” he trails off, like he’s rethinking whether he

should have said that, and my white face must convince

him to leave it at that. If Tommy hadn’t broken up with me,

my mother would be dead. Is that what he’s really saying?

It couldn’t have been that close.


“A few too many pills?” Eric echoes, and he sounds

angry. “How many?”


“You don’t worry about that, okay? The important thing

is that your mom is going to be alright. The nurse is just

finishing up in there, and then you guys can go in and see

her.” He pats Eric’s hand, and stands up. “If you two need

anything at all, you can come and find me, okay? My name

is Dr. Friest.”


“Thank you, Doctor,” I say without thinking, and I

realize he’s already walking away. More important people

that need saving. People that didn’t put themselves in here.

“How many pills did she take?” Eric demands, rising to

his feet.


“I don’t know, Eric. The important thing is that she’s

alright. We’ll just have to wait and see.”


“Wait and see? What kind of crap is that? You found

her! You saw what happened! You know what happened!

How many pills did she take?” He’s yelling, and I can see

people down the hallway starting to pay attention, but I’m

so sick it doesn’t bother me.


“I don’t know!” I yell. “A bunch, okay? She took a

bunch!”


“What kind of accident is that?” Eric asks, and he

slumps back into his seat. We both stare at our feet for a

while. He’s wearing white sneakers with the laces undone.

I should tell him to tie them so he doesn’t trip. Mom

would tell him to tie them.


“Did Mom try to kill herself?” he whispers.


“I don’t know.” My eyes are filling with tears, and I can

feel my throat burning from the effort of holding them

back. “I’m really sorry, okay, and I’m not pulling that whole

‘you don’t get to know cause you’re just a kid’ thing. I

just...” I pass my hand in front of my face, try to steady

myself. I close my eyes for a moment before they flutter

open again. “I just came in, y’know, I left the party early

and I just came in and she was lying there. She was just. .

.So I don’t know. What happened.”


“Why’d you leave the party?”


“Tommy dumped me.”


“Sorry,” he mutters, staring down at his feet.

“Thanks.” It’s unspoken, but I hear it. If he hadn’t,

Mom would be dead. What kind of world is it where your

mother could be dead because some horny sixteen-year-old

decided to wait a night to break it off? How does that make

sense? “Stay here, okay? I’ll be right back.” I get up and

wander down the hallway, and he doesn’t even ask where

I’m going or what I’m doing. I’ve never seen him this

upset. Then again, I’ve never been this upset, so I guess I

know where he’s at.


I stop in the hall and take out my cell phone. I don’t

even know if he’ll pick up. . .It rings five times before a

bleary voice answers. “Hello?”


“Daddy,” I say, and suddenly I’m crying and I can hardly

talk. I stutter out something about Mom being in the

hospital, but I’m sure he can’t understand me through the

sobs.


“Sweetie, calm down, slow down. Tell me what

happened.” His voice is soothing, rough with sleep but

determined and strong, and I think maybe he can make it

okay. I take a few deep breaths, rubbing at tears which keep

falling, but I manage to form coherent words.


“Mom’s in the hospital. She took a whole bunch of pills

and I found her on the floor, and they say she’ll be okay,

but I don’t know what to do, and Eric keeps asking me

questions and I don’t know the answers, and I need you to

come.”


“Of course,” he soothes, and I start crying again. “I’m

getting dressed right now, okay? I’ll be at the airport in

twenty minutes. It’s about a seven-hour flight, so I’ll be

there in about eight or nine hours. Will you be okay until

then? Did you call somebody there?”


“Mrs. Shaker’s here,” I sniff through my tears. Nine

hours. I can get through nine hours. I can do this. I can be

the grown-up, as long as it’s only for nine hours.

“What about that woman? Susan? Your mom’s friend?

Is she there with you?”


“Dad, Sally moved to Wyoming like a year ago.”


“Oh. Sorry,” he mutters, and it’s actually the perfect

moment because it’s just such a Dad thing to do. He’s

trying to be helpful and care, but he’s so out of touch he

just ends up making himself look like an idiot. I manage to

stop crying and take a couple deep breaths, and I can even

feel myself relaxing.


“Nine hours, right?”


“Right. I’ll see you soon. I love you, sweetie.”


“I love you too, Dad. Thanks.”


I hang up the phone, and make sure all my tears are

wiped away as I walk back down the hallway towards Eric.

He’s standing up now, pacing a little bit back and forth, and

the door to Mom’s room is open.


“Where were you? The nurse said we could go in. She

said she’s sleeping and not to wake her up, but that we can

go in and sit with her.”


“I called Dad,” I say. Eric looks relieved, which relieves

me because I was afraid he might be mad. I notice Mrs.

Shaker sitting in a chair beside him. “Hi, Mrs. Shaker.

Thank you again.”


“Oh, honey, you don’t worry about it one bit. I’m here if

you need anything, okay?”


“That’s very nice, but you really don’t have to stay. My

dad’s flying down—he’ll be here in a few hours. And she’s

asleep right now, so. . .”


“That’s alright. I’ll stay until your Dad gets here. You

two go on in.”


“Thanks,” I say again. I feel like it’s all I have left to say,

but it does the trick. She smiles and I can see she’s

thinking something about my good breeding. Eric and I

walk inside hand in hand. The room is very quiet, with four

beds along the wall and a curtained window. Mom’s is the

only occupied bed, and she’s lying very still in it. A

machine above her head is beeping quietly, while an IV

drips fluid into her arm. It gives me the creeps, and I can

see Eric feels the same, but we both grab chairs and pull

them up to the side of her bed.


“What do we do?” Eric asks quietly. I shrug.


“I don’t know. I guess we just wait.”


So we do.



CHAPTER TWO


Eric falls asleep around one o’clock, and I can’t

decide whether I’m trying to stay awake or trying

to fall asleep. I’ve never done nothing for so much time—

just sitting here, watching Mom sleep. She looks more like

a person than she did when they took her away, but less

like my mom than I’m used to. I find my mind wandering

in weird directions. What will I tell people at school? Will

Alice freak? Are Tommy and Leanne making out right now?

Will I get time off school? If I do get time off school, how

will it affect my grades? Did Mom take all those pills on

purpose? I can’t even think the word that goes along with


that, so I cross my arms tighter over my chest and concen-

trate on breathing. It always makes me dizzy when I think


about breathing, like I’m doing it wrong because I’m trying

too hard. In, out, in, out. Am I breathing too deeply or not

deeply enough? Could time pass any more slowly than it is

right now? Why is it that time is so arbitrary? It always

speeds past when you want to savor it and slows down to a

crawl when you wish there was something to do.


Around five o’clock in the morning, I wake up and

realize I fell asleep. A nurse has just come inside, turning

on all the lights, and Eric is blinking awake next to me,

making a very disgruntled sound. And thank God, Mom

flutters her lashes too.

“Morning everyone. Sorry for the early wake up,” the

nurse says. She bustles around, doing whatever it is that

nurses do in the morning—checking Mom’s pulse, putting

something in her IV, making sure her chart is in order, that

kind of thing. I’m not paying much attention to her, just

watching Mom. She looks sort of surprised and dazed to be

here, and a little sad, too. She has puffy circles dark enough to

be black eyes, and her mouth is covered in that white stuff

you get sometimes when you wake up and you’re really

thirsty. Mom doesn’t say anything except answers to the

nurse’s questions—is your mouth dry, does your stomach

hurt, have you coughed up any blood—so Eric and I stay silent

too. Finally, the nurse tells us that the doctor will be here in

another hour and then she goes away, and leaves the three of

us to stare at each other. Mom talks first; I guess she has to.

“Hey kiddos,” she breathes. Her voice doesn’t sound

like Mom—too scratchy and wheezy, like air being let out

of a bagpipe.

“Why did you take those pills?” Eric demands. I punch

him in the arm, swift and sharp, and he recoils.

“Shut up!” I snap at him, before turning back to Mom.

“Are you okay? Do you feel alright?”

“Don’t hit your brother, Syl,” Mom chides, but her voice

still has that wheezy sound, and it’s starting to freak me

out. She sounds like she’s more than half asleep; her eyes

are only half open. She turns her head on the pillow so

she’s looking more directly at Eric, and even that is a bit

creepy. She can’t quite hold it up on her own. “It’s compli-

cated, baby.”


“Did you try to kill yourself?” he says. His hands are

gripping the arms of the chairs, getting ready to propel

himself up. She stares at him, clearly searching for words,

but they don’t come fast enough. That silence answers

every question I was too afraid to ask. Eric’s grip does what

it promised and shoots him out of the chair.

“No, of course not,” Mom says, but it’s too late to stop

Eric. He looks pissed, in that way that means he’s really

hurt but doesn’t want to admit it.

“How could you? What about us? Don’t we mean

anything at all?”

“Eric!” I practically yell, jumping up as well.

“Of course you do,” Mom tries, but he’s not having any

of it.

“If you want to leave so much then why don’t you!” he

screams, then goes tearing out of the room. I want to

smack him in the face, but I can’t quite catch him before he

makes it past me, and I don’t want to run out after him

without saying something to Mom first.

“He doesn’t mean it,” I say. I come over to the bed and

wrap my arms around her, and to my relief she returns the

hug. “You just scared us, is all.”

“I’m sorry, kiddo. I really am,” Mom says into my hair,

and it feels like a normal moment until I remember how

wrong it all is. How could a day that started off so well end

up like this? I’m in a hospital, wearing a blue party dress


and no shoes, hugging my mother who tried to. . .Mean-

while my brother is probably crying outside and my Dad,


who I haven’t seen in almost a year, is flying to the rescue.

I don’t think it gets any more unreal than this.


“I’m gonna go talk to Eric, okay? He’s just upset. He

doesn’t understand.”

“Neither do I,” she says, and I don’t know what to say

to that. She’s supposed to be the one who has it all under

control. I change my mind—I can’t be the grown-up for a

whole nine hours. It’s just way too long. I look at my watch

as I walk back into the hallway. Dad should be here any

second. He’d better not be late.

Mrs. Shaker is standing outside the room, looking very

unsure, and she relaxes noticeably when she sees me.


“Oh, Sylvia, good. Your brother ran off down the hall-

way, and I wasn’t sure if I should go after him.”


“Which way did he go?”

“That way,” she points, and I nod.

“Could you go sit with Mom?” I ask. “I’ll go talk to

him.”

“Of course, dear,” she says, and I nod thankfully and

take off at a quick walk down the hall. I find Eric not too

far past the pop machines. There’s a banister in front of a

window as big as the wall, and he’s standing there with his

face pressed against the glass and his hands wrapped

around the banister. Who knows, maybe that’s what it’s

there for. He glances over when he hears my footsteps and

gets this really whiny look on his face.

“Leave me alone,” he complains, pressing his face back

against the glass.

“No,” I snap, marching up to him and grabbing his arm.

He makes a half-hearted attempt to pull away, but I yank

him around to face me. “You listen to me right now. Mom

is sick.”

“Mom took a bunch of pills!”

“That’s a kind of sick, you stupid idiot! The kind where

even though lots of things in your life make you happy, you

can’t stop feeling sad.”

“But she tried to kill herself, Syl. What if you hadn’t

found her?” His voice cracks, and I know he’s trying not to

cry. Part of me still wants to slap him as hard as I can

across the face, but I figure that’s probably not the mature,

adult thing I should be going for. I try to channel Mom as

best I can, and instead I yank him closer and hug him tight.

He’s stiff as a board, and from this close I can hear the soft

sniffing of him trying not to lose it. I let him go and stare

him in the face.


“I know everything’s scary and weird and like some-

thing out of someone else’s life. But right now, Mom is


going through something that we don’t really understand.

We don’t know what’s making her sad or why, but what we

do know is that she’s going to have to work at getting

better, and that means she can’t be worrying about us all

the time. So we have to be really strong for her, okay? She

can’t be worried about whether or not we love her.”

“It’s not fair,” he says.

“I know,” I say, and link my arm through his. “But—”

“’Life’s not fair,’” he finishes for me. “That doesn’t cut

it this time.”

“It has to. It’s sorta all I’ve got,” I admit. We stand

there in the hallway like that, our arms awkwardly linked,

watching the dark night through the window. There’s a big

parking lot full of people coming and going, even this late

—no, it’s early, now. I wonder why everyone else is here.

All the things that make people sick, all the things that

take people away. Like I said, it’s all just a little too real,

and that sort of makes it all unreal.


“Can we go back now?” I ask Eric.


“Why aren’t we enough to make her happy?” he asks. He

looks at my reflection instead of me, like it’s easier to be a

kid again when our eyes don’t meet. Thirteen is way too

young to have to be an adult. Hell, sixteen is too young to


have to be an adult. I do not want to be answering this ques-

tion. What if I get it wrong? What if there is no answer?


Nothing is coming out of my mouth. Think, Sylvia, dammit!

Why aren’t we enough to make her happy? Does she not love

us? Fine, don’t think, just lie. Lie really well so he doesn’t

know that you’re scared of exactly the same question.

“Because the chemicals in her brain are telling her not

to be happy,” I say. Is that a good answer? Is that even

true? It’s a safe answer, anyway.

“I think I just want to stay here a little while,” Eric says.

He takes his arm away from mine and leans against the

banister, pushing his forehead against the glass like he’s

trying to sink into it. I punch him in the arm. Not the

mature reaction I was going for, but I haven’t slept in hours

and my feet are cold. I can feel the little lines between the

tiles on the floor with the tip of my big toe.

“No!” I snap, and Eric jumps back.

“Shove off!”

“Stop acting like a kid!”

“Stop acting like my mother!”

“Just follow the sounds of fighting, eh?” I hear from

behind me, and Eric and I both spin at the same time. Dad


is walking down the hallway towards us. Eric and I practi-

cally run each other over in an effort to get to him, and we


collide into this ridiculous hug where my face is pressed

into his shoulder and one arm is flung across Eric’s back.

“You made it!” I say through the fabric of his sports

jacket. Dad somehow manages to look put-together even

though I know my call got him out of bed. He’s wearing a

shirt and tie like he’s going to the office. He always looks

like he’s about to buy or sell something expensive over the

telephone. Okay, so I don’t completely understand exactly

what it is he does for a living. I just know it means he can

afford a semi-private jet that he shares with his company,

and that it let him get here just in time.


“Of course I made it.” He kisses the tops of each of our

heads and walks us back towards Mom’s room, one under

each arm. As we walk, he talks, and we listen because it’s

so nice to have someone else telling us what to do. “I

talked to Doctor Friest when I got here, and he filled me in

on everything. Now I know it’s all a lot to take in, and

you’re probably worried and trying to figure out what’s

going to happen, but it’ll be okay. I’m gonna go inside and

talk to your mom and get everything sorted out, and we’ll

all be just fine as long as we can get along and rely on each

other. You think you two can do that?”


“Yeah,” we both mumble and he kisses our heads again.

“Good. Mrs. Shaker is going to head home, so I’m

counting on you two to look after each other while I talk to

your mother.”


“Okay,” I say. He leaves us at the door, and carefully

closes it behind him so we can’t listen in. Which of course

was exactly what we wanted to do. Instead we collapse into

sticky plastic seats and stare at the ceiling in silence. I’m

starting to get really cold in my sleeveless dress. It’s late

September, really too cold for this outfit, but I let fashion

get the better of me for the party. Really, I let Alice get the

better of me.

My thoughts drift for a while, from the everyday to the

extraordinary. Eric shifts occasionally beside me, but

neither of us really has anything to say. I keep checking my

watch, which just makes time pass more slowly. Five

minutes, ten, fifteen drift by. The halls lose that sleepy

night feeling as people stream in to work. The nurse at her

nearby station is replaced by the morning shift; a janitor

comes by and mops the floor. He gives a look to my bare

feet but doesn’t say anything. He’s probably used to worse.

Finally, Dad comes out, leaving the door open

behind him.


“Who’s hungry?” he asks. Neither of us say anything.

“Let’s go get some breakfast.”


“I’m not really hungry,” I say.

“Hence the not saying anything when you asked if we

were hungry,” Eric adds.

“You’re hungry. You’re just too tired to realize it. Come

on.” He starts to walk for the elevator, and with matching

groans, Eric and I struggle to our feet and follow him. We

head down to the cafeteria in almost total silence, and Dad

pressures us into getting food. I grab a coffee and a Danish,

while Eric decides he’s hungry enough for a real meal. We

take our plates to a table and sit, and I realize he’s brought

us here to tell us something. I get this terrible sour feeling

in my stomach, like stage fright or that fear-high you get

when you ask someone out. Something is about to change.

“So listen,” Dad says, very seriously. Eric gets this look

on his face, and I think he’s coming to the same realization

I just had; he puts down his fork with a piece of hash

brown still on it. “Your mom and I had a serious talk. This

wasn’t an easy decision to make.” I stop breathing. This

cannot be good. Oh my God, what’s happening? Eric looks

like he’s going to cry. “Your mom has been dealing with

depression for a long time. She needs some real help—she

needs to go to place where she can get away from all of the

pressures of her life. Where she can concentrate on getting

better.”


“She’s leaving?” I ask. My voice breaks on the first

word, but I manage to get it under control by the end. I


think I’m going to start crying again. Why is this happen-

ing? Did we do something wrong?


“Not exactly. . .” Dad hesitates. He’s never been good at

giving bad news. He used to let Mom tell us if he was going

to miss a birthday or a holiday, so he didn’t have to hear

the disappointed chorus. “She obviously can’t leave you

guys alone.”

“Oh my God. Are you moving here?” Eric asks.

“I wish we could do it that way, but I can’t leave my

business.” He takes a deep breath, though whether he’s

preparing himself or us, I’m not sure. “You guys are going

to come and live with me. In New York.”


“What?!” I shriek. Eric tenses, moving his chair a frac-

tion away from mine. Dad looks like he wants to do the


same, but he holds firm. “What about Mom? We can’t just

leave her!”

“You’re absolutely right. We would never think of doing

that—she needs you two. You’re her family. There are lots

of great facilities in New York. She’s going to check into

one of them. They’re kind of like. . .vacations. With doctors

and things. And you can go and visit her as much as you

want while she’s staying there.”

“But I don’t want to move to New York!” I wail.

“I dunno. . .New York is kind of cool,” Eric admits. I

think this is something he’s always secretly wanted. He

misses not having a Dad around to do stuff with. I think he

feels left out around Mom and me sometimes. But New

York?

“What about school? What about our friends?”

“I know it’s a lot, honey. But it’s very important that

you guys realize how much your mom needs this. She

needs to go somewhere and get help, and she can’t do that

and take care of you at the same time. And I can’t move my

life out here—I have to be in New York for work. This is

the only solution, and for her sake you need to support it.

If she thinks she’s ruining your lives by trying to get help,

she might decide not to do it. And that could be very

dangerous for her. Do you understand that?”

“Yeah,” I mutter. There are tears in my eyes that I’m

trying to blink away, but I can’t quite do it. Changing

schools in grade eleven? I’ll be the crazy loser from

Hicksville. And as if that isn’t bad enough, how terrible a

daughter am I, that I care about a little social disaster while

my mother is lying in a hospital bed? I hate today. Almost

as much as I hated yesterday.


⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞ ❂ ⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝


The Stranger stands in the Shadow, his back

to the wall, watching a young man in an alleyway. The young

man has put poison into his arm, and now he sleeps. This is

not the kind of human the Stranger normally watches. He

likes the drugs that pull back at the edges of the Shadow,

makes humans see things half-real, barely remembered come

morning. This young man is too far gone for fun and games

—a wasted life. A depressing thought that would likely cheer

the others of his Court, but he prefers the bright colors and

shining lights of too much wine and too much song.

There is a whisper as the Shadow parts, and a gaunt

figure steps out from the Abstract Land. This new thing is

made up of barbed wire and gunny sack, a scarecrow of

madness. It twitters, something halfway between a laugh

and the scream of ripping metal.

“Found a plaything, fun fun times?” it asks. He shakes

his head.

“There’s nothing here.” He turns away from the mortal

child, crossing thin white arms against his chest. “What

brings you to the Shadow?”

“News, news is here and coming here, I bring the

news.”

“You came all the way out here to gossip? Risking the

wrath of the Knights, aren’t you?”

“Not breaking the Accord,” it stammers. “No, no, no

rules broke, not me. You, maybe.”

“The Knights are always at my back,” he says with a

shrug. “They don’t know the definition of fun.”

“Well, no.” It tilts its head in a quizzical look, gunny

sack blinking slowly over steel-bolt eyes. “They’re

Knights.” He laughs, moving his arms to plant his hands


firmly in his pockets, and with a motion of his head indi-

cates that the pair should start moving. They do, slipping


past unseeing mortals, their footsteps loud in the empty

Shadow.

“So what’s the gossip, then?”

“The soothsayers speak.”

“And? They’re fortune tellers. They’re always foretelling

something.”

“Mmmm. But this time, this time, oh so sweet and

succulent, a Phantasmer is coming. They have seen it, seen


it in the winds and the waters. Yes, yes, mmm, a Phantas-

mer.” The little creature dances in glee, its barbed wire


hands clicking out a tune in the air. He only scoffs.


“The soothsayers have been prophesying the end of the

world, too, and that hasn’t happened yet.”

“Yet,” it agrees, ducking the vague shape of its head up

and down, up and down.

The two of them pause in front of an artist’s studio, and

almost in unison they take deep breaths. The power of

creation pushes into them, twisting the air in eddies of

sparkling color. He shakes it off first, moving on, and after

a brief second the creature scurries to catch up, chuckling

to itself.

“There’s no Phantasmer,” the man says. “There hasn’t

been one for hundreds of years.”

“Want to hear the gossip or no?”

“I thought that was the gossip?”

“Oh, more, mountains and molehills and more.”

“Fine. Hit me.”

“If, if, when the Phantasmer comes, the Queens,

Queens want him captured, not killed! Put him a gunny


sack, bring him to the Queen!” For a moment the crea-

ture’s body shifts and changes, bulging as if a body were


inside, struggling to get out. Then it deflates, back to the

shapeless mass, as the singsong lilt of its words fades away.

“Wait, what?”

“Capture the Phantasmer, put him a sack! Bring him to

the Unseelie Queen...” The little creature’s song trails off

as he searches for a rhyme for sack, and he fails to find one

before the man beside him interrupts.

“But they always kill the Phantasmer. Ever since the last

great change.”

“Yes. Big change. Big changes made. Big big big! Every

time the Phantasmer comes, we change. Queens are tired

of the stalemate. They think, now, now, they control the

change that’s coming! Turn the wind! Have the power!

Catch catch catch the Phantasmer, mmm, oh yes.”

“Catch the Phantasmer,” he murmurs. He pictures the

young man in the alley, the needle and the poison. Change

could come. Change to the Accord, to the Courts. To

himself, even. “Well, that is news.” His smile is feral, teeth

too white against deep black lips. “Catch the Phantasmer.”

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