Of Ghosts and Old Doorbells


The old doorbell had been silent for over twenty years. After this house was abandoned, people eventually stopped coming to visit, or even to try and sell things. It had been so long, in fact, that the ghosts started to assume it was too rusty to ever make another sound.

Three generations of ghosts dwelled in the old house; they drifted lazily up and down the stairs, reenacted balls in the parlor, had the same conversations that had echoed in the halls for hundreds of years. They spoke of wars long finished and weddings whose couples had long been buried together.

In the midst of this nostalgic echo, this perpetual sigh, the doorbell rang. It was really just an old bell situated somewhere by the front door; someone outside rang, and a string caused it to rattle. It wasn’t the loudest sound, and it hadn’t been touched with the greatest strength—the noise it made was indeed feeble—but when that doorbell rang, everything stopped.

The ladies dressed in ballgowns stopped their repetitive gossip to look at the door, wide-eyed. The butler, who had long run out of things to do, stopped mid-pace with his hands clasped behind his back. The scullery maid got to her feet, bouncing; an old greyhound who rested by the chilly fireplace lifted his head, whining.

“Visitors!” cried one of the ladies, fanning herself (in vain, because she could not produce any air with a ghost fan.) “I do miss playing the piano!”

“Stop it, Dinah,” said her companion with a deep, dramatic sigh; “you know as well as I that we cannot touch anything. Not even the door.”

Dinah played with a lock of her long blonde hair; it had come out of her elaborate knot, somehow, over the course of her years being dead. “Then who’s going to answer the door, Annie?”

Her companion, clearly the wiser of the two, shrugged with a regretful smile. “None of us can. We cannot touch anything.”

“But we should be polishing the silver,” said the butler, speaking for the first time in centuries. “Lighting candles. Dusting the curtains!”

“We can do nothing of the sort, Mr Brown.”

The dog whined, putting his head back on the ground, nose twitching as if struggling to hold back real tears.

The doorbell rang again, a bit more loudly this time. The ghosts stared at the bell as it rattled into silence, some hugging themselves, some breathing heavily, all knowing perfectly well that they could do nothing about it; they had no physical hands with which to open the door for them, no real voices with which to greet them or sing happy music.

“Then what did we get from any of this?” asked the maid sadly, sitting back down on the ground and crossing her legs as they listened to gravel crunch—their visitor was walking away, having realized no one was home to answer them.

Annie paused, gazing at the bell as she forced herself to think, really think, for the first time in a while. “It woke us up, Dinah. I think that’s good enough. It woke us up.”

With that, she took a step back and crossed to the other side of the room, where she lifted her chin and stood with her shoulders back.

“And I propose,” she continued, “a change. Shall we spend the next twenty years in this corner, rather than that one?”

Dinah watched Annie with a quaint frown. At last she shrugged, seeing as there was nothing for her to lose anyway; she crossed the room as well, while the baffled Mr Brown watched, himself reluctant to do anything differently from how it had been done a century ago. “I say,” she exclaimed, “it’s sunnier in this corner.”

The dog got up and crossed the room after her, where he sat down at her feet in the exact same position to listen. Annie smiled, taking Dinah’s fan and using it herself—it was her turn, after all.

“Now, then,” she said to her friend, as the other ghosts slowly began to shift position until the next person rang the doorbell, “tell me about your wedding plans.”

Story: Prince of the Haystacks


prince

When the young prince first fled into the barn, he thought it too small and messy for someone of respectable breed to sleep in. Having grown accustomed to feather pillows and silk sheets, he struggled at first to adapt and sleep on the hay.

But he was fleeing an angry wizard’s curse, so it happened more quickly than he’d expected.

Now he gazed sleepily into a corner, remembering long nights spent in hiding from the bitter old man determined to bring about his ruin—all because of a necklace. In the back of his mind, he replayed the moment that amulet shattered when he threw it—he thought of the rage on the old wizard’s face—but he didn’t think of it for long, dousing the memory with a sip of wine.

By now, this place was more than a barn: he’d ordered servants to deliver his most important belongings, like books and comfortable pillows (his mattress wouldn’t fit through the window.) Now it didn’t look like a barn, but a large tree house where no one came to see him.

He gazed at his reflection on the surface of the goblet, wondering not for the first time how he ended up here—but he didn’t wonder long enough to stir his conscience, because at that moment, he heard the old wizard sneezing outside.

“Ha-ha!” cried the prince, delighted for the distraction. “Back again? I see you have yet to brew a cure for your allergies!”

He patted a nearby hay bale fondly. Who would have thought something so common would repel black magic?

Every night at this time, the wizard came to this barn in search of vengeance for his amulet. The prince used to think these appearances irritating, but now he looked forward to them; they broke the monotony of life in this tree house, and it wasn’t as if the wizard could hurt him.

“Oh!” cried the wizard, and sneezed again, loudly. “You—insolent boy! When I get to you, I’ll turn you into a—ah-choo!—a proper toad!”

He took another sip of wine, chuckling. “A rather handsome toad I’d be, don’t you think?” he asked his reflection. “I would be the brightest of all the toads.”

“You would be caged!” cried the wizard. “Caged and then poisoned—or sold to an aquarium—ah-choo!”

“Tell me,” the young man continued, “when are you going to stop coming? I’m sure your allergies are more than fits of sneezing. Perhaps your skin goes up in boils or your nose gets runny. Surely it’s not worth chasing me for one silly necklace.” Deep down, he wanted the wizard to give up so he could go back to his comfortable bedroom.

Ah-choo! Curse you and every word you say! Curse all your ambitions and dreams! When you step out of this barn, I will set every plague on you—”

The prince yawned, drowning out this familiar string of fruitless curses, and decided the barn was comfortable enough. He could always have more books delivered if he ran out. His mother made sure they sent him food and water, and of course wine. It was not yet cold enough for the situation to be too uncomfortable.

Outside, the wizard’s angry words continued; mixed with each curse was a poignant sneeze. Two sneezes, three, four—the prince counted them, thinking that if anyone ever asked, he would tell them he had always found haystacks the most comfortable place to sleep.

The Blue Lady, Conclusion


bluelady

The city was struck by a plague. The old man spoke these words in such a matter-of-fact tone, and little Abigail accepted them without so much as a question. They made no sense to the ghost listening in, though. Evelyn couldn’t remember a plague.

“You probably visited the hospital they built to treat the illness,” he continued. “They built it too late—by then, many people had already perished.”

The fire danced in the hearth, as if nodding in agreement. The spirit dared take a step closer, self-conscious for the first time in years. She saw Abigail shiver a little, wrapping herself up in a blanket.

Outside the window, a heavy breeze rattled the trees, making the floorboards creak. It was not a new sound—the house had always been drafty—but its familiarity made Evelyn feel oddly out-of-place.

“There was something wrong with the water that year,” the man continued. “It poisoned many people who lived in this city. Lady Evelyn was one of the first to perish. Her death was blamed on a witch believed to live in the forest, one who was jealous of the young girl’s beauty. That portrait has been on the mantle ever since.”

“Do you think she’s still here?” asked Abigail, as the spirit took a step away from them and the warmth of the fire.

Her grandfather smiled, looking more lively than he had at the beginning of the conversation. “I know she is, but not for long. Today is the anniversary of her death.”

When he uttered those words, the Blue Lady felt her bond vanish. For the first time, she realized she was free like the wind, no longer gripped by the impulse to roam in search of attention. She took another step back, puzzled—what was happening?

“Is she unhappy?” the young girl asked.

Her grandfather’s smile held. “I think she’s free.”

She’s free. The Blue Lady found herself vanishing into the familiar space of the house, fading into the fibers of the wallpaper, melting into the floorboards. She allowed herself to be carried off by memories, absorbed by the comforting truth.

“I think it’s time to put that portrait away,” said the old man, several seconds later. Despite his old, aching body, he got to his feet and reached up for the portrait on the mantle.

Abigail watched her grandfather carefully remove the portrait from its spot, putting an end to eighty years of mournful display. She gazed at the wall, hugging herself tightly with the wool blanket, and whispered to the ghost she knew was no longer there.

“Happy birthday, Lady Evelyn.”

The End

The Blue Lady, Part I


bluelady

It was that time of the night when insect voices rose in chorus over branches in the breeze. Some said the sighs of a miserable woman could be heard, always a little heavier than the wind. Few came to this part of the forest—only those with hearts of steel dared to camp here.

If only they would visit more often. The Blue Lady got so very lonely with nothing to haunt but owls in trees.

Her long, silky robe made no sound on the ground, though sometimes by chance it would move in time with the rustling foliage. It was clear material, shiny like it had been the day she bought it; sometimes she could still smell the dye.

A silken sleeve slid off her arm as she waved off a firefly. It darted out of her way, scuttling into the night. Nothing could stand between her and her goal; she had chosen to make a change in her life—erm, afterlife.

Evelyn, the Blue Lady, was headed back to the house where her life had ended. She found no comfort in the cold forest, so empty of humans to interact with. She would lurk in the shadows of her old chamber, basking in the familiarity of those cerulean walls.

If she was doomed to roam this earth for all eternity, she wanted to spend it in the place she’d once called home. She felt no sense of belonging here with the trees and birds; they were so full of life that she was a trespasser, but she wouldn’t be for much longer.

Lady Evelyn would return to her home. She had tended to it all her life, hosting parties in the parlors she so lovingly designed. She might only be a spirit now; however, that house had been her home. She chose to wait out eternity in the place that had seen her laugh and cry until her last day.

It was the first choice Evelyn had made since her death. Nothing could get in her way, and thankfully little could slow a ghost in movement.

Her blue cloak made an invisible trail. She walked, head up, determined—dying to go back home.

To Be Continued…

The Looking-Glass, Conclusion


This random bit of fiction I started writing for fun will be a novella soon. Over the course of four days, it’s grown into a plot full of potential, and it’ll be a lot of fun to expand. If you’ve been reading it all this time, I hope you enjoyed it, and thank you!


“Stop lying. What do you see in the mirror?” the looking-glass faery demanded, taking a threatening step closer to the man, who peered into the reflection with uncharacteristic interest.

“Why would I go to the trouble to lie?” asked the traveler. “I see you in this reflection. You’re standing in my way. Whatever does it mean?”

Wrenching the looking-glass away, she looked at the surface, determined to prove he was making it up. Then she let out an exasperated sigh—because when she looked at her reflection in the glass, she was indeed standing in the traveler’s way.

“How difficult can it be to tell me what you see?” she cried.

“I told you what the looking-glass showed me. Do you not see it, too?”

The faery glared at her reflection in the mirror, so deceptively like what the traveler claimed to have seen, and something inside of her snapped. She’d been deceived a third time, and could not find in her the energy to keep arguing.

She hurled the looking-glass against a nearby tree and listened to it shatter. Never again would she read a mortal’s fortune. Never again would she stand on this road waiting for new clients. This traveler had taken the joy and passion out of her gift.

“Well, then,” she said furiously, “if in your future I am in your path, I intend to follow you for the rest of your days.” With a wicked grin, she took a step closer. “Don’t you wish you’d been honest with that reflection now? You will never get away from me. Never!”

But the traveler’s eyes shone with amusement. “No, I’m quite glad I said what I did. I’ve always wanted a travel companion. Don’t you wish you would be more careful with your words?”

“You will pay for this!” the faery cried, taking another step towards him.

“I suppose we’ll have to see,” said the traveler with a boyish grin, “won’t we?” And he broke into a run up the road, laughing at her anger.

The faery could not leave him alone—it was against her nature to break a promise, even one made by accident. She would prove herself to be a horrific travel companion. She would make him pay for having outsmarted her three times.

Revenge in her heart, she stormed after the traveler, leaving the shattered pieces of her looking-glass in the forest behind her.

The End

The Looking-Glass, Part II


Read the first part here!


In the week that followed that deal, curiously few pedestrians passed on the looking-glass faery’s dirt road. She sat on a fallen log, waiting for someone to do business with; all she got was a chill and a cranky temper.

It was evening on the seventh day when the bored traveler returned, deep in conversation with a younger man who accompanied him. The faery stood and waited for them to meet her. She’d been thinking about his fortune for days now, and was determined to read it.

When the traveler spotted her, he rolled his eyes. “Still here, I see.”

“We made a deal,” the faery retorted, “and I’ve been waiting for a week. Now I will see your fortune.” She held out the looking-glass.

“Sitting here for a whole week?” he asked, glancing at the young man, who smirked. “Don’t you have somewhere to go?”

The faery spoke through gritted teeth, glaring at him. “Take—it!”

He laughed. “She swears she’s going to tell me a truth that’ll disturb me,” he told his companion, “if I just look at my reflection.”

“Oh, really?” The young man looked curiously at the glass. “Does it have to be disturbing?”

“That depends on the sort of person you are,” said the faery. “Do you want your fortune told, too?”

He took the looking-glass and peered into his reflection. “Why would you pass up the chance to have your fortune told, Uncle?”

“I was in a hurry. Do you see anything?” the traveler asked his nephew, who had the expression of wonder worn by other regular mortals. It was enough to calm the faery’s temper; she didn’t like thinking that somehow she’d lost her ability to charm.

But his reply was surprising. “No, nothing special.”

The faery narrowed her eyes at him. No one looked into that reflection without seeing something unusual; perhaps the two had made some sort of pact to drive her insane. “Have you taken in all the details?” she asked.

“I have. Should I recite some kind of spell?”

She took the looking-glass and wiped its surface with a sleeve, doubtful that it would help much. “Clear your mind and take a look at the reflection until something appears to surprise you.”

He did, staring at it with a look of comical concentration. Rubbing away goosebumps from the chill, she waited, anxious to get it over with and hand the mirror to his uncle. They still had a deal to carry out.

“I swear I don’t see anything,” he said, after several heartbeats. “Do you, Uncle?” Looking up, he frowned. “Where did he go?”

Oh, I should have known. Clenching her fists, the faery turned and peered down the road, but the man she made a deal with was nowhere to be seen. He’d seized the opportunity to escape while she was distracted.

“Go find him,” she told the baffled young man, “and tell him to come back, or I will trap you in the glass so you can see what’s in it!”

He shoved the object back at her, pale with fright. At least one person still took her seriously. “No need for threats—I’ll go find him. Uncle? Uncle!” She listened to his footsteps as he thundered down the road, shouting at the top of his voice.

The faery kicked away a pebble and sat on the log once more, blood boiling. She would read that traveler’s future, if it was the last thing she ever did. She would not be fooled again.

To Be Continued…

The Faery’s Birthday Gift


There was a long line of frustrated people outside of the movie theater. Rain thumped on colorful umbrellas, for those who cared to pack them. A few had come without umbrellas and were forced to wait in the rain.

The weather was so unpredictable nowadays that it was hard to tell when an umbrella was needed. The day had been dry and miserable an hour before, sunlight bearing down on the town square where shoppers tried to get Christmas shopping done. Now it was wet and miserable; it seemed that misery was the only constant around here, and they couldn’t even escape reality at a movie theater anymore.

“We should have gone to the theater inside the mall,” muttered Natasha, holding the yellow umbrella up over herself and her sister. Being the tallest had its disadvantages.

“You were the one pushing for the cheap theater,” Jane said, hugging herself.

Natasha wrinkled her nose as the rainfall intensified. “It’s your turn to hold this.” She handed Jane the umbrella.

“Why? It’s for my birthday.”

“But I drove. It’s going to be so wet in the theater. Maybe we should just get lunch somewhere.”

Jane crossed her arms. “Two days ago, you said we were going to see—”

“I know what I said. It’s not smart to make plans these days.” Natasha hoped it wouldn’t start thundering.

The world had gone mad, ever since those buildings fell from the sky. It hadn’t even been here in Virginia; the strange phenomenon was in Florida, but seemed to have shattered every ounce of logic. The weather was so unpredictable, it seemed to be a person with real emotions. Anger came in the form of hot sun, sadness as pouring rain; she and her sister hadn’t had a real outing for months, but Jane made a special request for her birthday. The only two theaters still available within their timeframe were here and at the mall; they had to escape home while both their parents were at work.

Jane would have to understand a change of plans for the sake of safety—right?

Natasha eyed the movie posters, crossing her arms as she tried to work out the best decision. It was pushing luck to stand in line for more than five minutes anymore. People said that strange things happened when you were out in the open for too long.

She took a deep breath and began, “How about we get some ice cream—”

But Jane cut her off. “Did you see that?” she cried, craning her neck.

Natasha looked with puzzlement at her sister’s wide eyes. “See what? There are umbrellas everywhere!”

“I thought I saw a puff of smoke.”

She swallowed, turning away. Her friends told stories of strange, colorful smoke appearing just before chaos. Tales filled the halls at school of curses and illusions striking those who stood out in the open, just like they were doing now. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” she said, feigning confidence. “Like I was saying, I have a coupon for ice cream at the place down the road.”

The moment she finished speaking, there was a blur of pink before her very eyes, causing her to blink—smoke like her sister had described, and everyone at school who told stories. People stumbled away, proving to her dismay that she had not imagined it.

From inside that blur of pink smoke, she heard a spine-chilling giggle. An echoing female voice said, “Ice cream sounds lovely.”

Jane’s grip on the umbrella wavered. “Tasha?” she asked in a small voice tainted with fear.

Above them, lightning flashed. In the flash of light that came with it, Natasha saw a willowy blonde woman appear before her very eyes, wearing a flowing pink dress matching the smoke she’d appeared with.

“Surely you’ll invite me to ice cream,” said the woman, peering at them with steely blue eyes. “It’s your birthday, you say?”

Speechless, Jane could only stare at her.

“Everyone deserves a gift for their birthday!” the blonde woman cried, grinning. “How would you like a real escape? Not just a visit to a wet movie theater.”

“Jane,” Natasha said in a low voice, “run.”

Her sister did not seem to hear, or perhaps she couldn’t remember how to move her legs. She stood clinging to the umbrella, staring at the tall creature with horror.

“Of course she doesn’t want to run away from a present. Who would? Now, you two look like you’d enjoy the woods…or perhaps the beach? Maybe you’ll enjoy both!”

“No, don’t!” Natasha cried, but they were already being engulfed in a blinding pink fog. She waved it away, coughing, and reached for her sister but could not feel her anywhere. The sounds of rain and even the woman’s laughter faded, and she was falling, falling, falling through pink clouds.

She passed out just before hitting the ground.

Excerpt: A Hundred Pages


These days I really have been procrastinating edits by writing short stories. I’m not sure what I’ll do with them all, but some I am really happy with; I will be sharing excerpts. I don’t know how long all of them will be, and most will probably be serialized. Briony’s story is still in progress, but I already know the exciting direction in which her story will go!


Few things were lovelier than rainy mornings. Briony knew her friends would disagree, but she looked forward to sleeping in while hearing raindrops thumping on the roof, curled up under thick blankets after dreamless sleep.

However, rainy mornings were better on weekends. One look at the clock shattered the magic of the moment; Mom added to the effect when she knocked at the door and called, “Did you stay up late again?”

Briony groaned and glanced at the book on her bedside table. “It was just a hundred pages,” she shouted back, forcing herself into a sitting position. “I promise.”

“That’s what I said all the time.” Mom opened the door and peered at her. She did not look upset, but amused. “I guess I can’t scold you. Just get ready now.”

“I will,” Briony said, smiling sheepishly. “Sorry.”

“Oh, Bry.” Mom heaved a sigh of mock frustration. “Life has a funny way of repeating itself.” She closed the door with a soft smile.

The cold air outside finally caught up to her. Shivering, Briony wrapped herself in one of the blankets and took a moment to ponder how just a hundred pages had somehow turned into two hundred. She ought to have saved the last chapters of her book for the weekend.

It had been such a good book, though. She’d rushed through her math homework in order to start reading again—a first, since she was an avid hater of math.

But Mom said that as long as she got homework done, she would be left to read all she wanted in peace. Briony was fortunate to have a mother who understood her weakness for a good story. Many of the books she read had been inherited from her mother’s childhood library.

Giveaway Story #2: The Sailor’s Son


Here is the second story for the Dissonance giveaway! (If you just found out about this and want to know details about how to win, click here!) Reads for the first story and responses to that question still count, you can find it here!

Thanks for joining me, and I hope you enjoy! Again, here is the lovely graphic explaining simply how to win!

aboutgiveaway


David West had given his old denim jacket good use. He never explained his attachment to the thing, but now it was battered and threadbare. The material was too soft and it smelled of the ocean, testament to the times Peter spent with his father out on the boats.

Peter hounded his dad to get a new jacket countless times, especially when the buttons began to come off. Now he was the one wearing it.

He picked at the last remaining button he’d secured to the cuff with extra thread. Memory of that hounding filled him with regret. Not long ago this jacket was a cause of embarrassment, but after David’s death, Peter picked up many habits he had once despised.

He still didn’t understand Dad’s attachment to the jacket, but it didn’t matter. Peter sometimes thought he would die wearing it; sometimes he fell asleep wearing it, though his father’s scent was long gone. It kept him warm where his father’s embrace once did, this ratty jacket he’d once despised.

Just like Dad, he refused to part with it, even when Enna offered to buy him a new one.

Road trips made it too easy to get caught up in sad memories. They were headed to the plantation, and had been on the road for several hours. Last time they visited, Peter hadn’t left the car. It had been too soon after the accident; he couldn’t marvel at Julian’s magical world without Dad in it.

A year had passed and Peter wasn’t sure he believed the things Julian told him. More than that, he wasn’t sure if he disbelieved on purpose for the sheer delight of exasperating the Muse—like last week, when he finally lost his patience.

We were friends before,” Julian cried last week, “and you believed me! Why would I lie to you now?”

Peter hadn’t responded. In the past he’d accepted Julian’s tales because David never questioned them.

Dad’s not coming back, said the voice in Peter’s head he hated. It’s time to make your own judgments.

He tuned it out, letting the monotonous crunch of tires on pavement numb his mind into silence.

Before long they’d turned up a driveway, heading for a sprawling plantation with creamy yellow walls. The air around it appeared to shimmer with power Julian said was present—proof the Muse was not lying, proof Peter refused to accept.

But Dad’s not coming back.

Are you awake back there?” Enna asked over her shoulder.

He could not be mad at her. Julian was easy to snap at, but his wife only tried to be a friend. “Yeah,” Peter replied.

She peered at him with a faint smile. “You’re quiet.”

Peter shrugged and nodded to the book next to him. It told of explorers who conquered the ocean; it spoke of ships and brave captains who sailed them. One of Dad’s books—his name was written on the front page, David James West.

A sad glint darkened Enna’s smile when she turned away. She didn’t drag on the conversation, giving him space like she promised on the morning after the accident. Peter liked her, but wasn’t sure about her husband. The Muse had once been his best friend; now there was a chasm between them, and it was probably of Peter’s making.

Julian broke the silence, asking a tentative question: “Do you want to go in? I imagine there’ll be lunch.”

Peter imagined what his dad would say—We’re going inside, boy, you haven’t eaten all day. It’s rude to hide in the car. Julian never did that, keeping his distance as if scared of Peter, who would fight if the Muse told him what to do.

This time Julian hadn’t ordered him in, asking if he wanted to. Peter did feel rather hungry, so he replied: “Yes, I do.”

The Muse raised both eyebrows in surprise at the sound of Peter’s voice. He exchanged a glance with his wife. Peter bit the inside his cheek; they made him feel like a badly behaved puppy who’d finally learned a trick.

You’ll like it in there,” Enna promised. “The architecture is beautiful. They have a lot of sailing relics, too,” she added as an afterthought, triggering in him a rare spark of interest.

Peter hadn’t gone sailing since the accident. He tried filling the void with books about sailors, but words on a page did no justice to the freedom he felt at sea. Seeing maritime objects in person might fill the void a little.

God, he missed his dad.

How should we behave?” Enna asked her husband, as he switched the car off. “Are we in mourning?”

Peter remembered the baffling announcement Julian made earlier that week. One of the twins who lived in the plantation had gone missing. She vanished without a trace; none of the search parties had any luck to this day.

Julian tapped at the steering wheel, torn. “Perhaps it’s best to only speak of Georgiana if she’s brought up.”

It’s still her house, though. Wouldn’t it be rude to pretend nothing happened?”

Peter listened, sliding the book into his backpack. He’d never met the twins, because the last time they came he’d been hiding in the car. However, he sensed a supernatural sadness in the glimmering fields. The Van Meteren plantation was in mourning.

Let’s not make it the dominant topic, darling,” said Julian, taking her hand. “I’m sure by now he’s had plenty of guests give condolences, not knowing for sure if she’s dead.”

Enna nodded with a sigh, holding his gaze as if searching for stability. Peter watched, torn. He’d always harbored the guilt of an intruder, having joined them six months after their wedding. They had a magic bond stronger than marriage, one he’d never understand.

Dad knew about this bond. When Peter asked about it, he said Enna saved Julian’s life. He was careful to cloak the details, as if masking a crime.

Let’s go, then,” Enna said, turning to Peter with the smile she always had for him. “I’m sure they’ll let you explore.”

Explore. He almost smiled, egged on by the word he’d read so many times in his book. It might not be an ocean and he wasn’t in a boat, but he needed an adventure.

He slung the backpack over his shoulder and followed them up the sidewalk. It smelled like roses and rainwater, though the ground was dry. The calendar said it was July, but the weather was mild for the south.

As if reading Peter’s mind, Julian said, “We aren’t in Alabama anymore. We’re in a place called Bonifay.”

He knocked at the front door, assuming a confident gait he always wore when meeting other Muses.

Perhaps it was the Muse’s confidence, but this time Peter didn’t question his claim. If Julian said they’d taken a left turn into a different universe, Peter didn’t need evidence. His life was chaotic to begin with.

The door opened a heartbeat later. Peter tried to look dignified in his ratty jacket. Lear Van Meteren looked like he’d left a corporate meeting, complete with a red necktie, hands clasped behind his back.

Ah,” he said, gray eyes flashing, “Giulino, welcome back—”

Julian,” the other man corrected him as they shook hands. When Lear raised an eyebrow, he explained, “I had to change it. I couldn’t keep on with…the other name.”

I see,” said Lear, words meditative. He glanced at Peter, who shifted uncomfortably, then turned to Enna. “I assume your name has remained the same, Mrs. Alzarsi?”

She smiled, the sadness in her face replaced with pride. “It is,” she said, accepting his handshake daintily. “Thank you for having us…” Peter could hear her unspoken words: Even though your daughter is missing.

If Lear heard them he didn’t respond, instead barking over his shoulder, “Meredith! Hurry down and say hello.”

Peter frowned, thinking it a harsh tone to use on one’s daughter. Then a girl he assumed to be Meredith hurried down the winding stairs and he lost his train of thought. Graceful and blonde, something about her energy distracted him.

She curtsied and greeted the guests with enthusiasm to counter her father’s steely distance.

Meredith!” Enna cried, embracing her. “What a delight to see you again!”

Meredith turned to Peter with eyes of curious blue. He realized his hands were sweaty; he did not know how to greet her. He could only nod, because his hands were too clammy for a handshake.

He thought with distant embarrassment that yes, Julian’s words were true. This had to be another universe because her smile changed something inside of him. For the first time in over a year, he didn’t think of his dead father or his ratty clothes or even sailing.

She’d changed something in him, and perhaps one day he’d find out what.


Question #2: What tragedy has befallen the plantation?