Authors: Ruth Silver
Tags: #science fiction, #young adult, #Fantasy & Magic
Table of Contents
Also by Ruth Silver
Copyright © 2014 Ruth Silver
Cover Image: Depositphotos.com [bigdan]
Cover Design: Erica Crouch
Editors: Kellie Sheridan, Erica Crouch, Tracy Seybold, Grace Campbell, Martin Coffee, and Sheila Haab.
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, any events or locales is purely coincidental. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination and are not to be constructed as real.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author, with the exception of quotes used in reviews and critical articles. For information address Ruth Silver at [email protected] or visit her website http://writeawaybliss.com for details.
For my Aunt Patti and Aunt Harriet.
Light streamed in past the curtains, forcing Lil's eyes open. She grumbled and rolled onto her stomach, burying her face farther into the pillow. At any moment, her mother would come into her room and yell at her to get out of bed. She'd be late for school if she didn't hurry. Her stomach growled with impatience. Lil pushed herself out from under the covers and sat up. She grimaced and glanced at the light peeking in through the curtains. Most mornings the light was bright yellow from the sun rising just outside her window. But today, an eerie pink glow bled its way into her room, leaving her bedroom a sickening shade of bubblegum.
“Mom?” Lil called, but she heard no answer. Down below, the porch door squeaked. Lil moved toward the shades. Was this one of Jamey’s pranks? She loved playing tricks on Lil, as any ten-year-old sister would. Lil half expected to see pink plastic wrap on the window. She peered through the curtain and pushed it aside. Lil's heart skipped a beat at the odd hue of the sun. Dark, red clouds gathered and rolled in toward the house. The wind whipped outside, causing the windowpanes to shudder. The clatter sounded as if long talon-like fingernails tapped at the screen. A shadow quickly flew over the house. Lil studied its shape on the ground, unable to see the creature from her window. Was it . . . a dragon? She backed away from the window and froze, hearing the creature land with a thud on the roof. Her eyes shot up toward the ceiling. Something was walking up there. Silently, she hoped it wouldn’t find its way into her home.
“What the . . . ” she mumbled to herself. She had to be dreaming. “Wake up.” Her surroundings didn't change.
Lil rushed down the stairs, two at a time. “Mom?” Her mother would know what was going on. Maybe a storm was coming? Tornados weren't rare occurrences in Missouri. She made her way to the kitchen and found the house quiet and empty. Lil searched the counter, finding it empty. Her mother never left without a note. It wasn't like her. Everything was wrong. She trudged back up the stairs to her room.
“Jamey! Hurry up in there! I have to get ready for school.” Lil pounded on the bathroom door as she passed. She walked toward the closet and pulled at a half-dozen outfits, dropping two on her bed. The rest of her clothes littered the floor. She settled on a pair of jeans and a lavender shirt. Lil stalked to the bathroom and found it uninhabited. “Thank you!”
She stripped down and changed into her clothes. When she looked up at her reflection in the mirror, she took a tentative step back, bumping into the tub behind her. Her reflection was different. Her pale skin had a distinctive creamy glow, and her eyes had brightened to ocean blue instead of their usual faint sky blue. Her long, brown hair now had streaks of blonde highlights. She glanced down at the tips of her fingernails and noticed they were a midnight blue with yellow bolts of lightning.
“What the hell!” Using her thumb she tried to brush the polish off, but it didn't budge. “Jamey!” Lil opened the bathroom door.
Coming out from the bedroom, a little boy with chestnut hair rounded the corner and stared up at her with steel-blue curious eyes. “Yes?” he asked with a warm, inviting smile. “What is it, Willow?”
Staring back at the stranger who wasn’t much older than her sister, Lil’s eyes widened. No one ever called her Willow. She hated her given name, Willow Porter. She much preferred Lil. “Who are you?” she demanded, pushing past the young child toward her sister's room. “Jamey? Jamey, where are you? This isn't funny!” Lil reached the bedroom and found the walls painted with a jungle theme. This wasn't Jamey's room!
Jamey’s room had butterflies and mermaids on the wall. This was a
bedroom . . . What was happening?
The room spun. She swayed in the hall, her eyes widening further in confusion as she saw the pictures on the wall stare back at her—Lil and the same little boy smiling and hugging. Her fingers traced the frame, and she took two steps forward, finding another photograph of herself and the same boy sticking their tongues out and making faces at one another. Not a single family photograph of her family adorned the wall, and none contained her little sister.
“Calm down,” said a familiar voice from behind Lil. She spun around and jumped at the sight of herself staring back at her. “You're not supposed to be here.” The young woman looked exactly like Lil, but with soft blue eyes, simple brown hair, and unpainted nails that had been chewed. She was the perfect reflection of how Lil saw herself every day. Ordinary. Just behind Lil's look-alike stood a boy, muscular and a few inches taller with dark messy hair and pale gray eyes. She didn't recognize him—and she would have remembered a face like his; he was good looking.
“What's she doing here?” His voice had the faintest hint of an Australian accent. “I didn't do this, I swear. You have to send her back. It's not safe for her here, Willow.”
“Rawlie, I know that. Hush,” Willow said, sounding frustrated. “I'll send her back.” She reached out, the tip of her finger touching Lil's arm, transferring a spark of electricity between them.
The jolt bolted Lil upright in bed, and she struggled to catch her breath. She pushed herself out of bed, her heart pounding as she raced for the window, needing to see the truth with her own eyes. She pushed aside the curtains, finding the sun blindingly bright and yellow; the same as it was every other morning. The wind was calm. The world just as she left it when she went to bed. She breathed a sigh of relief and opened her bedroom door. Her little sister, Jamey, walked into the bathroom. “Not so fast!” Lil said.
Lil threw her arms around her little sister, spinning her around in a hug.
“I have to go the bathroom, Lil.” Jamey untangled herself from her sister’s embrace.
“Lil, is that you? Are you awake?” Her mother's voice echoed through the house. Lil released her tight hold on her sister and ran down the hallway. Once downstairs, Lil felt relieved to see her mother.
“Are you feeling all right, dear?”
“I had the strangest dream,” Lil said with a sigh, plopping down at the kitchen table in front of a bowl of cereal. She lifted the spoon and stared down, confused by her fingernails. Her pinky finger was painted midnight blue with a yellow bolt of lightning etched into the center. “Mom.” Her voice hitched at this reminder of her dream. It couldn’t be real, could it? Lil didn’t remember painting her nails last night. A knot grew in her stomach.
“We'll talk when I get home.” Lil's mother planted a soft kiss to her daughter's forehead. “I've got to head out for work; I'm running late. Mrs. Henley is going to come by in a few minutes to make sure Jamey gets off to school when you leave.”
“I know, Mom.” It was the everyday routine. Except for the painted nail, everything seemed ordinary. Lil emitted a heavy sigh, rubbing her forehead and trying to comprehend what had happened. Her dreams never meant anything. In fact, most of the time she couldn't remember them at all. It was strange for her to have such a vivid, realistic dream. Lil watched her mother grab her keys and purse and head out the front door.
“Bye,” Lil whispered.
Jamey stalked down the stairs. Leaning on the railing. “Are you still being weird?”
“You're the weird one,” Lil said, lifting her head and taking another bite of breakfast.
“Is Bray coming by and taking you to school?” Jamey grinned, walking closer to the table and brushing her long blonde locks into two pigtails.
Bray lived across the street from Lil. They were best friends, practically inseparable. “No. He went in early for cross country. What's that look for?” Lil finished the last bite of cereal.
Her sister came to stand in front of her. “Lil and Bray sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S—”
As Lil stood up, Jamey stopped mid-sentence. Jamey didn't wait for Lil's reaction. She tore up the stairs, just as the doorbell sounded.
“I guess I'll get the door.” Lil rolled her eyes and left her empty bowl on the table. She walked to the front door, and noticing a folded blueprint, she bent down. Her mother must have dropped it on her way out of the house. After picking the plan up, Lil unlocked the door, letting Mrs. Henley into the house. Lil walked back to the kitchen with the strange paper. What was her mother working on?
Lil sat inside the classroom at Twain High, her eyes scanning everywhere but the front by the blackboard. Her gaze dropped to her hand, and she put her pen down. One distinctive mark remained. It made no sense. How she could have been someplace else? It had to have been a dream.
Frustrated, she let out a heavy sigh. Her mind wandered, and she glanced out the window. In the distance she saw it—the slightest ripple and flash in the forest preserve just across the lawn. She had just walked through there earlier that morning on her way into school. Lil jumped in her seat. No one seemed to notice. Her eyes widened. Just beyond the trees, a figure stood tall in blue jeans and a blue-striped button-down shirt.
Who are you?
She shook her head as she glanced back at her English teacher, Ms. Lee. Her back was to Lil, so she shifted in her seat and peered out the window at the stranger not more than a dozen yards away. He approached through the trees until he came as far as the clearing. He leaned his back onto a trunk and nodded toward Lil, just once. Lil pinched herself, making sure she was awake. He gestured for her to come outside, letting her know he was there, for her.
Lil gasped. Her palms grew sweaty, and her heart raced. “Ms. Lee, I need to use the bathroom!” Before her teacher could tell her otherwise, Lil jumped out from her seat and grabbed the wooden hall pass. She rushed out of the building, leaving the wooden slot in the doorjamb to allow her access back in through the locked doors. The stranger from her dream, the boy she had just seen outside the window, wasn't there anymore. He had vanished. It made no sense. He wanted her to see him, didn't he? Who was he? Why was he looking for her?
“Where are you?” Lil called out into the forest. She didn't dare set foot any closer. Not for fear of the woods, but knowing she couldn't without risking trouble. She needed to be back in the classroom in two minutes, or Ms. Lee would issue her a detention. “I'm not giving up so easily.” She would get her answers, one way or another. Lil turned and strode back toward the building, retrieving her wooden hall pass, before slumping back behind her desk. She hated school, and this mystery made it much more difficult to focus on the lessons in class.
After school let out, Bray drove Lil home. Lil had been sixteen for eleven months already, and she still didn't have a car, but the day Bray turned sixteen, his uncle pulled up in a beat-up blue Moskvich and tossed him the keys. She was beyond jealous, but it was the good kind of jealous.
“Looking forward to the weekend?” Bray asked.
“I don't have anything planned.” She'd been waiting all day to tell him about this morning. She'd seen him briefly for lunch, but hadn't wanted to garner unwanted attention. “The strangest thing happened to me this morning.” Lil studied Bray's profile as he focused on the road. The drive home was slow. They only lived a few miles from school, close enough to walk through Twain Forest, but no roads cut through.