DD – If all my teachers were like Aunt Axi, school would have been okay. She is patient and clear. I’m still Tupac confused, though.
Some of her info I already knew. There are three basic groups of people – humans (like my family), Everweer (like Paul’s family), and hunters (like Chrissie and maybe her two sidekicks, the satellite girls). Humans and hunters divide into many different races and cultures. Everweer are all one race and culture but seem divided because they disagree about everything.
Hunters and Everweer know the three basic groups exist. They are dire enemies and different races of hunters are also enemies. Hunters have anger management issues. Anyway, hunters and Everweer would probably be in wars all the time if it weren’t for hiding reality from the humans.
Around the earth there are maybe a million hunters, thousands of Everweer. But billions of humans, who are like, la la la, we run this planet, we control all these animals and plants. Clueless. Sometimes humans have found out about the other groups of people. They’ve never said, ‘oh good, let’s share’.
Aunt Axi and I sat on the patio sipping fresh lemonade like we were talking about hairstyles.
“Why are they called hunters? Who – what do they hunt?”
“Despite the name, they don’t all hunt. In fact, some hunters are surely vegan. Rather, the hunting is a frame of mind, an approach to life.”
“They sound super creepy.”
“I’d call that a fair assessment of hunters I’ve met.”
I’m glad I didn’t know about hunters when I was around Chrissie, I might have wimped when she harassed me.
“But perhaps I simply don’t understand them. Have you encountered hunters?” Aunt Axi asked.
I’d gone several days without re–living the end of Chrissie, the burning on the beach. Now the memory came back and Aunt Axi saw it in my face.
“Best answer some other time,” she said.
Which saved me from deciding what to say. I’m pretty sure Paul should be the one to tell her what happened to the book of the Everweer, Trigg family edition.
I don’t want to keep secrets from her but there is so much that I don’t think I should say. So many thoughts I don’t dare release into the world.
Now that Paul and Grayfast are gone, I’m realizing how much scary stuff we went through together. – sE
DD – Heartache is an actual thing. I miss Grayfast and Paul so much my entire body hurts. Everything seems too hard to do, even climbing down the ladder into the kitchen. I’m just laying around on the pillows, pretending I’m Grayfast watching the little birds hop on the branches outside. They have extra energy in the morning.
Matty was like that too.
The way I miss Matty, that’s not heartache that’s heartscream.
“May I come up?” Aunt Axi called from the bottom of the ladder.
“It’s your house,” I said then hated myself. She’s not acting like a grownup so don’t treat her like one.
She joined me on the pillows watching the birds, giving me privacy even though next to me.
I shouldn’t have asked to sleep here in the loft last night. I asked because I could feel a lot of crying coming on and I didn’t want to lay in her room biting my fingers to keep quiet. In the loft I cried as much as I wanted to. Well. Wanted? But she probably heard me anyway and crying in a dark new room left me full of holes.
People say crying makes you feel better but some kinds of crying don’t. Correction. Humans say. No clue what makes you feel better, Everweer. No clue for you either, hunters.
Of course, I’m not exactly a human if I’m a changeling. Whatever the Tupac that is. Figures I wouldn’t belong in any of the normal groups.
If Dad were here he’d blow his stupid green plastic horn and announce me as the grand winner in the sorry–for–yourself sweepstakes.
A little choke of a laugh popped out.
Aunt Axi glanced at me to check was I okay, then looked back at the birds. She has golden brown eyes that remind me of a lion. She sank deeper into the pillows and looked around. “This was my sister’s favorite room. After we lost her, it was years before I could come in here again.”
“What happened to her?” But I knew the answer before I heard it.
“She was late to turn and she disappeared. Now I suspect that Alcatur –” She didn’t need to finish the sentence. “Back then we had no notion of his nature.”
“Everweer make zero sense!” Suddenly I was so angry.
“You may be right.”
After that we talked about the hopping birds. – sE
DD – Thanks to Aunt Axi, I stopped hurting so much about Paul and Grayfast. Usually when a grownup tries to distract me they’re obviously sneaky and I feel tricked. But her “obviously” was wanting to help me feel better, so I could accept the help.
She served lunch on a balcony overlooking the woodsy trees behind the house. Pretty sure those were the woods Grayfast hid in, before he interrupted my first dinner with the Triggs. “We can’t leave the building – the grounds are not under my protection – but we can enjoy views of the outdoors from many angles,” she sighed. Staying in the house was Eminem for her, too.
I slid the cheese out of my sandwich and stuffed it in my mouth then remembered the concept of manners.
She interrupted my apology. “I take that as a sign that you feel comfortable around me.”
As a matter of fact I did. Partly because of the Paul connection. Although once Paul said he wasn’t completely sure he could trust her. But then Paul and I trusted Ezra and Natalie. The traitors.
Aunt Axi hadn’t trusted them, that last night.
I slid cheese from the other half of my sandwich. “Paul said you can feel betrayal.”
“I can tell when someone lies. But I rarely know the reason, which makes me second–guess my instinct.”
That didn’t seem like a fun power. “Paul says you’re super powerful.”
“Is that his perspective?” She peeled the bread off a sandwich and offered me the cheese. “Then with great power comes great uncertainty.”
I took the cheese. One side was covered with mustard. Grayfast always stole my cheese except when it was mustardy.
I didn’t know when I’d see them again.
Paul and Grayfast must have showed on my face. Aunt Axi squeezed my hand and said, “I’d like to give you a tour of the Trigg house, which will also be a Trigg history lesson. Your future with Paul will make more sense with some knowledge of our history.”
My future with Paul. She said it like she was sure I would have one.
We made a plan to start our tour in an hour. She seemed to know that I wanted to write now.
She understands so much it feels like mind–reading. But Paul didn’t mention that as a power. Anybody else I’d be creeped but she’s just not creepy.
Ezra. Natalie. – sE
DD – If a person has to be stuck in a house, this is a good one. You can go on expeditions inside. The Trigg house has seven balconies, three patios, and a rooftop greenhouse. Two, no, three lofts, a recreation room, a reading room, a writing retreat, an attic tea room with its own tiny kitchen, a basement game room, two libraries. Plus the usual blah blah like bedrooms.
Stairs and ladders climb everywhere and with so many windows and skylights, even the hallways feel outdoors. The bannisters and window seats are carved with scenes it could take days to describe. And they are full of secret compartments.
During Aunt Axi’s tour, most of me thought, dope to the utmost! But part of me whispered, uh oh.
I happen to know this house has a secret room – the hidden library full of top secret Everweer information. But Aunt Axi did not mention that room on her tour. Fine with me if I never saw that nasty room again. But if she’s going to teach me more about the Everweer. Shouldn’t she mention the room with the Everweer information?
Maybe this house has other secret rooms that were also left off my tour.
It feels bad to like someone so much but not entirely trust her. And it feels less safe. First I wondered why she didn’t mention the library. Then I caught myself wondering what her Everweer weakness might be. Like I might have to fight her someday.
If only she had showed me the hidden library.
I almost interrupted her tour to ask her. Does she know Paul took me in there. Showed me the Everweer book. Before Alcatur killed Ma Warden and we ran away. With the Everweer book. Which – despite promises of death – we read. Which Chrissie destroyed. Which destroyed Chrissie. And maybe the satellite girls who hung out with Chrissie but didn’t act like her. They didn’t deserve to die. I don’t know about Chrissie.
My thoughts spun into a whirlpool and I missed most of what Aunt Axi told me about the Trigg family. I stopped walking, she stopped talking. “I need to lay down, I don’t feel good.” Which was legitimately true, but I think she knew it was not the full story.
Now that I’m alone in my loft, I’m wondering did I overreact. Wondering. I’m not sure about anything. – sE
DD – Aunt Axi did some kitchen clattering then called up my ladder, “May I get you anything?”
“I’m feeling better now. Do you want to come up?” What Mom called waving the olive branch.
Aunt Axi was so graceful, climbing the ladder into the loft. She relaxed into a pillow. “As I share with you about my home and history, I don’t wish to overwhelm you but if I reveal too slowly, do let me know.”
Which felt like I had permission to ask about the secret library, which made me stop worrying about it.
“Also, let me know if you need refreshers on the information so far.”
Which took care of my missing most of what she had said because I got stuck on what she hadn’t said.
“Come, one more stop today,” and she led us up the stairs that started in my loft.
She stopped outside an amazing door that was mostly stained glass. The glass showed trees on a cliff at an ocean. It reminded me of Santa Cruz. Her smile made her mischievous as an elf. “Before we enter Paul’s room, would you care to guess what it will be like?”
Paul’s room. How could I not realize he would have a room in this house.
“Uhhhmm,” I started.
She removed her hand from the door latch. I could take as long as I wanted to guess.
Messy? Books? Computer? Drawing supplies? Empty walls or covered with ––– what?
Eminem. This was hard. I went through all my everyday memories of him and that was so nice.
I closed my eyes to get closer to my memories. Suddenly I knew what to expect on the other side of the Santa Cruz door. “Most of the room will look like a motel. He doesn’t care about decor. His bed will be made but not carefully. One corner – probably a desk – will be packed with interesting stuff that people gave him or he found. With pin holes in the walls like he puts pictures up but only when he’s in there.”
I opened my eyes to Aunt Axi giving me a what the Tupac. Then she rushed over and hugged me. “I look forward to knowing you so well.”
The room was pretty much like I said.
She claimed she had to start dinner so I could hang there by myself.
After she left, I turned in a slow circle a few times. Being in Paul’s room, I was less lonely for him but missed him more than ever. How that is even possible to feel both ways.
I tried sitting at his desk. It took a long time to write this because I kept stopping to hold stuff. Things that mattered to him.
He felt so close and so far. – sE
DD – My time in Paul’s room got me extra missing him. And once I start missing somebody, I start missing everybody.
Dad would have loved Paul’s door. He was really into what he called everyday art. “People being special when there’s no requirement, Ella. That’s a gift.” He was always so cheerful. Same with Matty. I guess I take after Mom. I don’t feel gloomy but things happen that make me gloomy and Dad would say that’s the point.
Dad, I’ve really been trying to not let the things decide for me. How I feel. But.
Mom would have loved the greenhouse on the Trigg roof. Now that Matty was growing and needed less of her attention, she had just gotten back to gardening. Before they. Died.
And Matty. He loved everything in the whole wide except peas. That’s a quote. But he would have especially loved all the hiding places in the Trigg house. He was always playing hide and seek. He never understood it. He’d hide with his round little butt in the air. Amazing how he still managed to win. Wink wink.
I keep having nothing memories of my family. That don’t even make me very sad. But underneath is something. Big. A memory about my family that will blast through the floor and knock everything over.
That memory has something I need to know. No clue how I can be so sure. I’m afraid of it and impatient for it.
The little birds are back, hopping on the branches outside in their sweet cute way. Aunt Axi is clattering in the kitchen below, humming notes without a song. Her voice is strong and soothing like the glossy wood of this window seat.
I’m lounging on pillows in my loft and when I turn my head I see the stairs to Paul’s room. Where I can visit any time.
This might sound weird but who I miss the most is Grayfast. And sharing thoughts and whatever. Ever since I found out that could happen. It changed everything.
I keep paper and pencil handy in case that helps him start some scrabbly writing.
I can’t imagine what they’re going through, wherever they are. Meanwhile I’m lounging on pillows.
However, I’ve been feeling like new problems are looking for me. The feeling has been growing more and more strong but I’m just admitting it now.
I better get going, to learn from Aunt Axi.
The big deal memory might come sooner if I’m busy. – sE
DD – Aunt Axi taught me to make pizza from scratch. A valuable skill and it used a lot of emotions, pounding and stretching and drizzling.
Her instructions were simple which left time to talk. She started by repeating the family stories she told me but I missed on the first house tour.
The house is good for Trigg history lessons because when family come to visit, they have their favorite spots and most of the rooms were originally built to suit somebody.
From the kitchen I could see several rooms, every one beautiful and strange. I tried to imagine the people who fit each room. But lately when I think about Everweer, I imagine poisonous fangs and demon howls.
Aunt Axi handed me peppers to slice and said, “I’m happy Paul has a friend who knows his truth. Many of us grow up feeling freakish.” She gave me a dark smile and set the oven temperature. “We take everything too personally, of course. Most Triggs are artists, our powers tied to our creations.”
It was rude but I blurted, “What is your power?”
“I am a poet.”
How was that a power. “I never get poetry.”
She laughed. “Nor do I, particularly my own.”
We ate at the kitchen table and she reminisced about Triggs. She really missed her family.
So hard to picture Aunt Axi as a kid in my sub. But she grew up here and she would run home because she never knew who might have arrived. “I’d race from room to room to find visitors.”
Her favorite was another cousin, Bruce, who carved the bannisters. “He shaped worlds as detailed as the image in a magnifying glass and as exotic as sun in a hailstorm. He called them his travels but I’ve made study of geography and have never identified a single locale. When I asked him to take me on a trip, he warned that on some journeys, going was easier than returning. I fear he is trapped somewhere but I know not how to find him. Nor if he wants to be found.”
She looked at me like she just realized. “After Paul’s parents disappeared, the house grew so empty. Perhaps the others became afraid. How did we not suspect Alcatur? Or did all but I?”
She dropped her plate and it broke into pieces like arrowheads. She wouldn’t let me help clean the mess.
I can tell when someone wants to be alone, that’s the mood I understand best. So here I am in the loft. The sun is down and Aunt Axi isn’t moving around. She might be sitting in the dark. – sE
DD – I found Aunt Axi staring out a window at the black. Matty did that, waiting for Dad to come home.
“Seems like remembering makes you sad,” I said.
“Somewhat, perhaps, through this lens of new understanding.” She led me to the kitchen. “Let’s greet tonight’s moon with tea.”
We went up to the greenhouse on the roof. The moon rose bright and close. The tea was full of spices.
From the stories Aunt Axi had told me, being an Everweer is awesome and awful. You get a power but you might not have control over it and it might ruin your life. Meanwhile, you know there are other kinds of beings that outnumber you, humans and hunters, and some of them are dangerous but you can’t tell which ones.
I had many questions but they all seemed rude and angry.
Aunt Axi did one of her should–be–creepy mind readings. I swear she doesn’t even know she’s doing it. “You must have many questions, Ella. Please be assured you can ask me anything.”
Okay. “How many in your family have been killed because they didn’t turn?”
“Had you asked me that a few months ago, I would have said ‘none’. Now I fear ‘several’ is the answer.”
“Didn’t you ever wonder about Alcatur like when –” I was going to say, when Grayfast attacked him. But I didn’t want to mention Grayfast. “– he served a new guest such bloody meat?”
“That was ill–advised but not evil.”
“A lot of you are dangerous, right?”
“We are not the cruel ghouls you envision. Alcatur solves imagined problems with violence but his way is not the norm. You enter our world at a time of crisis but surely reason will prevail. Lenience must be our answer. If the only way to survive is to destroy, we cannot justify survival.”
She was one of the Everweer who stood in front of Paul and me for protection when Alcatur’s verdict was read. The verdict after a vote that could have gone the other way and set him free. Like he is now. “How often do Everweer kill Meer?”
“I believe our Alcaturs are rare but I lack evidence to persuade you, or perhaps myself. Your mistrust is evident – and reasonable, given your experience.”
After that we just watched the moon, until it rose so high it kinked my neck to look. Where moonlight hit Aunt Axi she glowed. But black shadows erased parts of her.
Suddenly I knew. Doubt was the weakness that would counteract Aunt Axi’s powers. But please! that I’ll never need to fight her! – sE
DD – The morning started sweet and peaceful. We ate fresh applesauce and toast on the patio then Aunt Axi set a fat scrapbook on the table. Photos of Paul from babyhood to age four. Matty’s age.
Tiny Paul was impossibly cute, of course. But “He’s so serious!” He looked like the camera was yelling at him.
“He never liked cameras.” Aunt Axi turned the page. “Look there, his rabbit, Marceau.”
The rabbit stretched next to Paul in a chair, a lot like Grayfast had done in Chicago.
My view got cloudy with tears.
Aunt Axi turned another page and I recognized a face. “Ms. Benson!” Our algebra teacher, younger and chubbier, sitting on this patio with a woman who had to be Paul’s mother – same long bones and gray eyes. That’s right, they were friends. And Aunt Axi, too, the way she touched the photo before she took the coffee carafe inside. She drinks tons of coffee.
Maybe I would have heard a noise sooner, but I started remembering all the times Ms. Benson had helped me, before Alcatur killed her. Then out of Tupac nowhere a voice said, “Ella.” I startled. A scrapbook page ripped.
The voice came from the field beside the house but I couldn’t see anyone. Turned that way, morning sun blinded my eyes.
I somewhat knew that voice. A female voice. Whoever it was could see me. Maybe it was time to go help Aunt Axi. I stacked our plates to take them inside.
Weeds rustled closer to the patio.
Outside the patio wall stood a satellite girl, one of the Santa Cruz street kids who let Chrissie lead them. I never learned the girl’s name. She had seemed okay except for her taste in leaders.
I had so many reactions in such a short time. Relief that she didn’t die, after all, when the book and Chrissie burned. Confusion about how she could have found me here. Fear, same reason.
From inside the house, through the patio door came clattering of dishes and snappy footsteps. Aunt Axi was returning.
“Don’t tell on me,” the girl whispered and ran, disappearing in the sun glare.
I guess Aunt Axi and I finished looking at the scrapbook. Now I’m in my loft, staring out one window after another. No sign of the girl. I should tell Aunt Axi about her right away but what if I shouldn’t?
Tupac Eminem. – sE
DD – I went downstairs to tell Aunt Axi about the girl and found Aunt Axi at the mail slot in the front room. She handed me an envelope and walked away, calling over her shoulder, “He was always resourceful.”
The words slanted like they were racing. Paul’s handwriting! I read the letter so many times I could read it with my eyes closed, then I taped it to the back of this page.
Paul has ridiculously clear handwriting but the letter was hard to understand. Almost in code like an enemy might intercept it.
I couldn’t read the postmark – someone had taped the stamps which smeared the postmark ink. Letters travel slowly, so no proof they were okay now. But Grayfast would do his best to keep them safe. – sE
Dear you, How bizarre to converse one–way but I have one–way experience you probably don’t realize because I used to talk to you when you were asleep did you know I did that? I always wondered if my words became your dreams and I liked that idea so long as they were good dreams.
The small friend in the portable container wrecked it and I had to buy a new one but that was worth it for the warning. After we left I got a few miles away then changed my mind about leaving you and turned around and we were almost back when the friend grabbed me so hard he ripped through his container. Fortunately I didn’t shout about the pain and stopped running before a car pulled up and two people ran upstairs where we had stayed. People we’ve spent a lot of time with and thought they were friendly but now they didn’t seem friendly and instead more like the one who burned that thing, the thing I stole. I was so relieved that you seemed to be gone because they left again without you and now I’m letting the small friend decide directions, we get on and off public transportation and I’m not sure where we are because I miss a lot when I keep drawing so all I can say is we’re moving around. Soon I will lead us to my drawings but on those journeys, going will be easier than returning.
I will try to write regularly to pretend we’re in touch but I have to go now because the friend is restless again, love, me.
DD – Aunt Axi was busy in the greenhouse, watering pots and cutting herbs, but as soon as I said, “I need to tell you something,” she had us sitting outside in the chairs where we watched the moon. Today she cranked open a thick green umbrella for shade.
Paul’s words about a journey scared me because they sounded exactly like Aunt Axi’s cousin, the missing world carver. “Did you ever tell Paul the story about your cousin and his journeys?”
“I don’t recall, but I may have done so.”
I tried to feel relieved.
“It is only natural for you to worry about Paul,” she said gently.
“He has to follow his drawings somewhere. Where it will be easier to go than return. He used exactly the same words.” Was that me shrieking?
“That does not guarantee the same fate. Nor that my cousin Bruce’s fate was an ill fate.”
I tried to feel better. She kept staring at me until I stared back. “We cannot know our destiny, much less another’s. But I believe you and Paul have many steps to take together.” I tried to nod.
She fished in her basket of cuttings and found us mint leaves to nibble. The sharp cool flavor helped.
She looked out at the trees in the measly woods. “I believe in many things but coincidence is not among them. You entered Paul’s life with a sure step. As did the cat, which is no ordinary cat.”
I noticed stuff about my mint leaves. I didn’t want to discuss Grayfast.
“I mention the cat to point out that he is your creature. He will come back to you. It is reasonable for us to hope he will have Paul with him.”
I almost smiled.
“I would like to discuss whatever happened on the patio this morning that so magnified all your concerns, Ella. That is, if you are comfortable confiding in me.”
How the Queen Latifah she knows this stuff. “Yes, I need to explain about that.”
“I sense a lengthy story. Shall I make lunch first?”
She sent me into the greenhouse to finish watering and she went down to the kitchen. It helps to be busy. And to not keep secrets.
To talk about the girl in the field I have a lot of other talking to do. – sE
DD – I talked and talked. About street kids in Santa Cruz and Chrissie with her satellite girls. How they kept showing up, with Chrissie too curious about Paul’s backpack. That held the Trigg family’s book of the Everweer.
“Paul took our book without permission!”
“Please don’t get mad –”
“I’m not angry with him, I’m shaking for him, for you both. You have no idea how many ways you risked death in taking that book without privilege granted.”
“We got the idea.” I told her about Paul’s skin blisters, and his heart beating wrong, and going beyond frozen when we took it in the ocean. She whispered what sounded like thank you prayers.
“You touched the pages and survived.” She gave a no–way shake to her head.
“Somehow I knew I’d be okay in the ocean.”
“Remarkable. Your creature is a cat but your element is water.”
The sun dropped low and weak. Wind rattled the greenhouse. Downstairs inside would have been more comfortable, but moving would have interrupted us.
“Am I a changeling? What is that anyway?”
“You may be, although no one now living has experience with one. A changeling is a person – human, Everweer or even perhaps hunter – who has powers through connection to an animal. In Everweer childhood games, we fought to play the changeling. It is said that the races of persons have drifted from the races of other animals and lost their sense. It is said that a changeling and his – or her – animal can help people regain sense. And it is said that the changeling is a trick so that other races can oppress Everweer.”
I guess I’m getting to know the Everweer. Crazy suspicion didn’t surprise me.
The wind tipped the umbrella. I held the pole while Aunt Axi cranked the umbrella closed. Time to leave the roof. Aunt Axi sent me downstairs with our old lunch dishes while she picked dinner veggies from the greenhouse. With the greenhouse, we could stay here without going hungry for a long time.
In school I did a report on anti–government survivalists. Everweer were like anti–human survivalists.
How many believed a changeling would try to trick them?
Always more to discuss – and we still had to finish talking about the girl in the woods. – sE
DD – Aunt Axi and I had dinner in a room she didn’t show me on her house tour, which made me feel better about her skipping the secret library. Maybe she skipped a bunch of rooms.
Now that it was dark, having one of Chrissie’s friends just outside the house felt like having Chrissie outside. And of course right when I thought that, Aunt Axi got up and shut the blinds.
Time to talk for real. And relive memories that made me want to scream and hide.
Paul and me taking that surfing lesson. Chrissie and the satellite girls stealing the backpack. Chrissie circling the backpack. Pouncing. Catching fire from the book of the Everweer. The satellite girls disappearing behind the glare of the flames. Empty beach, scorched sand. Paul explaining the flames meant Chrissie was a hunter.
“I thought the book killed all three, but this morning one of them was outside.”
Aunt Axi stayed calm, which I appreciated. “Based on what you witnessed, to be a survivor suggests she is not a hunter.”
“She always seemed okay but now I’m doubting that. I mean, what does she want and how did she know to come here?”
Aunt Axi gave me a shrugging smile. “I see only one way to answer your questions.”
In the morning I’ll be back on the patio alone and if the satellite girl shows up again, I’ll ask her. What she wants. Why she’s here. Aunt Axi will be inside, nearby, listening. But.
“She really can’t get onto the patio?” I tried to sound brave but my voice warbled.
“From all that I know of our world, she cannot. But dearest girl, no one can guarantee safety. It is unlikely, yet possible, that your visitor holds an unknown ability that will surmount my Everweer power. Ella.” She waited until I looked at her. “You do not have to speak with her.”
But how could I not.
So, D, no need to ask could I sleep.
Instead I stared at a blank page, trying to beam messages to Grayfast. Write to me. Show me you’re okay. Show me what Paul’s doing.
Then the sun came up and I stared outside. My eyelids stick when I blink. – sE
DD – Warm sun, fluffy clouds. Beautiful morning on the patio. Like my homemade granola breakfast, I didn’t enjoy it.
I sat pretending to read. Aunt Axi was just inside and if anything bad started to happen, or if she detected a lie, she would come outside. ASAP.
Assuming the girl showed up. It was later than yesterday, the sun was higher, I could see the woods without sun glare. No sign of the girl.
Her voice was soft but it made me jump. “Ella.” The girl stood at the nearest corner by the patio.
“What do you want?”
“I don’t know.” She did a good job looking confused. “I guess I hoped you could explain – what’s been happening.”
No sound of Aunt Axi heading outside, so no lies detected.
“Such as.” I tried to be less suspicious but I couldn’t even say it like a question.
She talked in a huge rush, with fast gasping breaths like she’d been underwater too long. “Azalea and I – my name is Lourdes. My sister was Azalea. We ran from that beach, where Chrissie – whatever it was that happened to Chrissie. We didn’t tell anybody what we saw – just, we didn’t know where Chrissie was. A man showed up. He said he was family looking for you – he needed to tell your boyfriend about an aunt being sick. Azalea and I were behind a house – finding a place to sleep. I guess he could tell we knew you – he kept yelling questions, more and more angry. Azalea asked for money and – he went insane. He grabbed her and I think he broke her neck. I ran and he had to stop chasing me – cops drove by.”
“And now you’re here.”
“I know – it doesn’t make sense. To come to his house – except I thought someone could help me. I thought he would keep searching for you and not come back. I didn’t dream you would be here – but somebody. With answers.”
“How did you find this place?”
“The man showed us his driver’s license and I remembered Trigg and part of the zip code. So then I looked on–line.”
Searching Triggs online was how I found this house.
Lourdes’ eyes kept darting to the bowl of fruit. I tossed her a banana and it flew funny but she snagged it. She caught the apple with one hand. “Sorry – wait.” She gobbled them both.
“Can you come back later?” I couldn’t think with her there.
She looked nervous, maybe scared, but she nodded and ran off right away. Meanwhile, I ran inside. – sE
DD – Waiting is torture. No letter from Paul, no contact from Grayfast. Now the girl, I mean Lourdes, hasn’t come back. Aunt Axi and I have had three meals since Lourdes gobbled that fruit.
After Lourdes ran off, Aunt Axi and I didn’t need to talk for long. We had the same reactions. Aunt Axi didn’t get any of the bad feelings that tell her someone is lying. I agreed Lourdes was telling the truth – but we didn’t think we should let her enter the house, because that was a one–way choice. Aunt Axi said, “She could be an unwitting pawn. We can’t take the chance.”
We dropped a box of help outside the patio wall. Duffel bag. Clothes. Sleeping bag. Cash. Lots of food. Water and so forth. We’ll do what we can for Lourdes.
But she has to come back first.
The worst part of this waiting. Everyone I’m not hearing from could be in danger and that’s why the silence.
I found Aunt Axi in her bedroom, which still had the extra bed just in case I need to sleep nearby. She sat at a desk, reading a book by Stephen King. Which made me laugh. So I had to explain, “Your family is scarier than people in his books!”
Her first reaction was shock like I spit on her bed. As I started an apology, she interrupted, “Only a few!” Then she did a funny blink. “What did I say?”
“Only a few,” I said cautiously.
She giggled. A sound of pure fun like would come from a little kid.
We laughed together about her scary family and I felt so much love for her. From that moment she became my aunt, too.
“I’m ready for you to teach me about Everweer,” I told her and we stopped laughing.
“Then here we go.” She closed her book. “Let me make brief preparations. Shall we meet in the Everweer library in 30 minutes?”
OK, D. Here we go. – sE
DD – The secret library room was not as dark and creepy as I remembered it. Tube skylights filled the air with pale glow that missed the warm parts of sunlight. Aunt Axi set down a tray with cookies and lemonade, which made the reading area almost cozy.
Bookshelves, floor to ceiling. Paul had showed me one shelf. That shelf was empty! I stepped toward it and tripped, which explained where those books went. Scattered all over the floor, bent and mangled.
“Alcatur became upset when he discovered that our family volume was missing.” Aunt Axi knelt to gather books and return them to the shelf.
I helped. “Paul felt terrible about losing the family book.” And we felt just as terrible when he had it.
“The families can help to make another. I won’t ask them to do so now because that could reveal how the Trigg volume was lost and that a Mere has seen its contents. But when the time is right, it is a volume most easily replaced.”
“What are all these books? Do all Everweer have libraries like this?” Books all shapes colors sizes, leather and cloth and paper. Some old enough to fall apart if you opened them fast, with others brand new.
“We Everweer are careful to document our history, politics, philosophy. As you’ve encountered, we entertain opposing views and thus have conflicting versions of most ideas. Some libraries reflect the narrow beliefs of one family, while others, like this one, strive to include all available views. I sympathize with your annoyance.”
I didn’t mean to roll my eyes but. When they’re not dangerous, Everweer can be so lame.
“In addition, these shelves hold written artworks.”
“Like your poems?”
“Some of my poems are here, yes, and –” A chime interrupted her. “The doorbell?”
She went to a desk and opened a laptop. On the screen were nine fuzzy photos. Security cameras! One showed the front porch with three people standing there.
“Wait here,” she murmured and swept out of the room. She came back a minute later and waved me over to the door, which she slid mostly closed, leaving me inside the library. “There appear to be police and officials at the front door. Perhaps they’ll leave. But be prepared to shut yourself inside here.”
She left, then popped back to say, “Don’t worry.”
I swear the books are whispering. I’m standing at the sliding wood door scribbling this page, trying to write louder than the whispers. – sE
DD – I held still so I could hear every word.
Aunt Axi opened the front door. “Good afternoon, officers. Please forgive my keeping the chain on the door – I am cautious about strangers, even those in police uniform.”
“Call the station with our badge numbers to confirm we’re legit.”
“An excellent idea. May I first know the reason for this visit?”
By now she must have detected whether they were lying.
“We’re investigating a report that you’re harboring a runaway.”
I lost my balance. I grabbed my knees and managed to not fall. How they could know I was here.
Aunt Axi’s voice was so calm it made me stop freaking.
“A runaway – person?”
A new voice from the porch described the runaway. Female, seventeen, black hair, dark brown eyes.
The laptop showed motion in a security camera view of the woods. Tupac, of all the times for Lourdes to leave the woods.
Took me a while but I got it. Lourdes = the runaway.
If the cops went back to their car she might be in their view.
I could do nothing but I had to do something. So I pretended I was psychic and beamed messages everywhere. Lourdes, go back in the trees. Aunt Axi, keep them talking. Cops, take forever to go back to your car.
Aunt Axi did keep talking. “Let me confirm your visit.” She called the police station. The front porch security camera showed each cop step forward and hold something up to the door as she read badge numbers over the phone. The third person was a woman with long permed hair and bangs. Eminem, it was Barracuda, my social worker when I was with the wardens!
I freaked again then got the doh. She wasn’t going to recognize me. A, she was looking for Lourdes and B, I was hiding in a secret room.
Aunt Axi finished her phone call with, “A warrant won’t be necessary, I’m happy to let them look around.” Then she said to the front porch, “Would you like to come in?”
“One moment – I must shut the door to remove the chain.”
When she shut her door, I shut mine.
The light hadn’t changed but the library felt darker. I sat at the laptop, watching Lourdes. She paced near the trees, then glanced toward the street and shot into the woods. She must have seen the cop car. Good thing the cops were so obvious. – sE
DD – The headache blasted me so fast. The next thing I knew I was sitting on the rug with this page of scrabbly writing.
TWO–LEG SPEAKING IS BROKEN, MANY WORDS DO NOT LIVE IN THE WORLD. I SEND GROWLS THAT HEAL TO MY TWO–LEGS. SHE IS A BABY BIRD IN A NEST OF FANGS. SHE FEELS THE DANGERS BUT THE DANGERS ARE IN CAGES.
THE TALKING ROCKS CAN OPEN. THE TALKING ROCKS CAN CLOSE. THE TALKING ROCKS HAVE FANGS BUT CANNOT BITE. THEIR CAGES ARE CLOSED.
LEARN TO FLY BABY BIRD. YOUR TWO–LEGS IS FLYING NOW. FLY TO REACH HIM.
MY TWO–LEGS SEES DANGER IN ALL PLACES. your TWO–LEGS SEES DANGER IN NO PLACES. FAST RUNNING TO KEEP OUR LIVES.
THE BIG WATER IS SAFE.
I wished I could thank Grayfast for trying so hard to communicate. I am so proud to be his two–legs.
If I understood his message, it said that we’ll be back at the ocean at some point. That I needed to start my training and stop worrying. And that Paul is causing Grayfast some work, safety–wise. I bet Paul is drawing all the time and not noticing things.
No clue how long I’d been closed in this room. On the laptop, the security cameras showed no information. I was tempted to try the internet but a little voice in my head screamed nooo.
This rug was soft. I stretched out but sat up with a terrible what–if. What if the books left their shelves to bury me.
I have to assume Aunt Axi will open the secret door as soon as she can. That is probably not books whispering but just the plumbing. That’s what Dad would say if Matty didn’t like a noise in the middle of the night. “Just the plumbing.” Once we were in the car and Matty cried about a truck that honked and Dad said, “Just the plumbing.”
When you’re three you believe everything.
Nothing outside the room. Voices. Footsteps. Nope. Nothing but the whispering plumbing.
Stop worrying, self. The talking rocks can’t bite me. Their cages are closed.
What would open the cages, I won’t wonder.
Will the police see something suspicious in my loft? What if Barracuda recognizes my shoes (green Converse with yellow patches)? Did Lourdes find her box outside the patio? What if the police see it?
Good thing I stopped worrying. – sE
DD – At last Aunt Axi opened the door. I shuffled diary pages to hide Grayfast’s scrabbly writing. Protecting Grayfast is becoming a reflex.
Explaining made the hiding look worse. “I write a diary. I’m private about it.” It was the kind of lie where you don’t say the whole truth.
She knew. “You have a right to secrets, Ella.”
If only she looked angry. Or curious. Instead, for a second she looked. Hurt.
“Someday I’ll be able to talk about them.”
“Secrets can be a burden.” She studied the security camera views on the laptop. “Has there been any sign of Lourdes?”
“She showed up right when the cops were outside! But she ran away. What happened with the cops?”
“They were quite thorough. They checked every room and cupboard. I mentioned that I had family visiting, although gone for the weekend. That explained the clothing in your loft, and the extra bed in my room. I encouraged them to stop back any time. I hope that dissuades them from returning.”
By now we were in the kitchen and she handed me carrots to chop. Dinnertime! I’d been shut in the secret library for hours. That made me feel brave. “How did the police know about Lourdes?”
“The woman said she received a complaint, but that felt false. Something about that woman. As the visit went on … ” Aunt Axi trailed off. “Fortunately, nothing came of my permitting her inside this house.”
“I knew her. Before.”
Aunt Axi sat us down at the table. “Go on.”
“After my family died, I was a case and she was the social worker. She took me to doctors and courtrooms.”
Aunt Axi gave a hmm look. “An odd intersection, is it not?” I guess I looked concerned because she patted my hands. “Perhaps coincidence does exist. In any event, whatever future comes our way, we cannot divert it.” She pointed and teased, “If you can tolerate pizza, please get that bowl of dough.”
She let me make the crust and I did a good job. While we added toppings, she asked, “If you don’t mind explaining, why were you in a foster home? Are you without relatives?”
“I have a few. Grandparents in Baltimore in a – place. They aren’t doing too well. And my mom has a brother but nobody hears from him. He’s into drugs.”
She hugged me and we slid the pizza into the oven.
If I hadn’t moved in with the wardens, I wouldn’t have gone to Paul’s school. Or lived near the accident site. Where I met Grayfast. One thing really leads to another. – sE
DD – Another sunny patio morning. Aunt Axi listened from inside, I sat at the table with an herb omelet sending aromas to the woods. All to lure Lourdes.
I have doubts about Lourdes that make me keep picturing a scene I don’t want to see. Alcatur killing her sister.
Lourdes’ story matched what I know of Alcatur. Crazy angry grabbed the sister broke her neck. I’d seen him crazy angry. Coming for me. Too easy to imagine that violent face looming, hands grabbing too tight to pull away.
What’s suspicious is that Lourdes got away. Alcatur was fast and strong enough to grab both girls. Just because some cops drove by, he wouldn’t give up searching for a survivor. Paul and I got away because we got help from Ms. Benson. And Grayfast.
Lourdes wasn’t telling her whole story. That’s what it felt like to me. Aunt Axi agreed. We talked about it last night. Ever since Lourdes arrived, question marks have been flying. We can’t ignore her or pretend we’re done with her.
So there I was spreading jam on toast like I had no other plans.
Once again I didn’t hear Lourdes until she was right outside the patio saying, “Ella.” She acted surprised by my surprise.
The fact that she could sneak up on me made my mistrust grow, but there is something about Lourdes. When I’m around her I feel friendly.
“What’s it like to sleep in those woods?” I greeted her.
“Not bad – especially with the sleeping bag. I’ve slept in way worse places.”
“Where did you used to live?”
“L. A. – had to get out of there.”
“Okay.” Because? hung in the air. But it was only my business if she told me.
“My dad – he’s a bad person.” Lourdes smiled like admitting she wet the bed. Since the accident, when somebody complains about their parents I get full of you’re–lucky–to–have–them. But this time, no. She wasn’t lucky.
“You talk like he’s your fault.”
“My sister wanted to kill our dad – so I made her run away. Should have let her do it – she’d be alive in prison.” Lourdes acted like a sparrow but underneath she was more like a hawk.
“What happened to your sister wasn’t your fault either, dude.”
She wrung her hands, watched them like they were wringing themselves. “If everything’s my fault that makes me pretty powerful, though.”
She grinned and for the first time I saw the real Lourdes underneath the scaredy–cat runaway.
That was the moment when we became friends and we both knew it. – sE
DD – Lourdes held up an amazing leaf she found. I admired it from across the patio wall. We talked about nothing for a while, like how weird it was to live without a cell phone, which neither of us had anymore. As soon as Lourdes sounded comfortable, Aunt Axi stepped out to the patio.
I said as fast as I could, “This is the aunt that the man who killed your sister mentioned. She’s not sick and she didn’t send the man.”
The instant Aunt Axi appeared, Lourdes gave me a look like I threw an ax at her and ran toward the woods but my words caught up with her. She stopped and turned. “Hi,” she said in a mouse voice.
“Good morning, Lourdes, my name is Axinara. I regret we cannot invite you to join us, the house excludes strangers. Please let us know when you need additional supplies and we will do what we can to help you. We hope you will do the same for us.” Aunt Axi sat at the table beside me and lifted the fruit bowl to offer Lourdes some.
Lourdes grabbed her stomach. “No – I ate so much last night. I could barely wake up – thanks to all your food. I slept and slept – I had so many dreams. That was nice – sleep late and dream. Chrissie hated when I dreamed – or slept. She could hardly ever sleep so didn’t let us.”
“Why would you even hang with her?” This wasn’t on the list of questions I was supposed to ask. Aunt Axi and I had made a list in order of importance.
Lourdes shrugged, “Too scary on my own.”
I ate omelet to act like no big deal and went to the top question. “How did you get here, anyway? Santa Cruz is so far.”
“A lady gave me a ride. She seemed okay – she said she knew you.” Lourdes was backing away. “Why are you looking like that – are you mad at me?”
I tried to hide my flip–out. “Rides with strangers, dude.” I forced another casual bite of omelet. “What lady? What did she look like?”
“Hard to remember – I mostly slept. She had – old skin, young hair.”
This freaked me and I reacted. Was she describing Barracuda?! Did my social worker bring Lourdes here? Barracuda was a grandmother with hair like a 1970s teenager.
Lourdes ran and disappeared into the woods.
“I messed it up,” I apologized to Aunt Axi. I was supposed to ask a lot more questions.
“She’ll be back. Please excuse me.”
Aunt Axi hurried inside. She looked as freaked as I felt. Not good. – sE
DD – What was Barracuda doing with Lourdes? No clue. I could barely remember my social worker. I told you about her, D, but what did I say? I got all my sheets of Dear Diary and paged through them like a dog digging for bones. Pages all over the loft before I remembered. Some pages were buried at the accident site. Maybe those pages wrote about Barracuda.
I gathered the tossed pages and made a terrible discovery. I was almost out of paper. I ran upstairs to Paul’s room and searched everywhere. No paper there, either.
Ever notice how the last straw is tiny?
I thought I was crying silently but Aunt Axi came running to my loft. She gave me a big hug, fluffed our pillows like we would stay there as long as I needed. She didn’t give me any there–there–no–need–to–cry.
Words shot out like my mouth was a broken popcorn maker. Somehow Aunt Axi figured out what the Tupac and led me through a door in her bedroom to another room I had never seen. Tons of windows, bookshelves filled with handmade books. Journals. “Here is where I write.”
She stopped by a window seat, lifted the seat. Inside was a cavity filled with more journals. “These are unused and you are welcome to take any that suit you.”
I chose two for starters.
We set out a new box of supplies for Lourdes but we ate lunch on the roof. I kept my back to the woods. We found all the unlikelys and yeah–buts in Lourdes’ story. In between I kept remembering tidbits about Barracuda.
“That social worker is much on your mind today,” Aunt Axi noticed.
“Cuz of trying to figure out why would she drive Lourdes from Santa Cruz.”
Aunt Axi looked like a snapshot of someone about to bite a sandwich. “What an interesting theory. That she might be the driver.” She finished biting her sandwich, staring behind me where the woods are.
I better stop writing for now. Aunt Axi said to lie down and rest even if I can’t sleep. We’re going back to the Everweer library to try again for me to learn stuff. Those police had better not show up again today!
Yesterday I was so nervous about the library. Now I’m more excited than anything else.
D, next time I write to you, it’ll be in a handmade journal covered in black and brown fabric like Grayfast’s fur. – sE
DD – I rested until the squeak–thud. Mail coming through the metal slot and hitting the wood floor. When I got to the front room, Aunt Axi handed me an envelope and left me with a smile. “Join me in the library when you’re ready.”
The first letter from Paul I memorized and whenever I think of it, I smile. This second letter I had to force myself to finish. It scared me even though I didn’t understand it all, he was talking in a code. I could make jokes about his taking writing lessons from Grayfast, if the letter gave any reason to crack jokes.
I’m going to tape the letter here and show it to Aunt Axi. It proves I have to get busy in that creepy library. – sE
I’m writing to warn you that people we thought we could trust, we can’t and you have to watch out for everybody except you, me, your special friend who finally likes me, and Aunt Axi because she has to be okay since everybody wants her dead.
Alcatur is a hero to so many that it makes me sick, he comes to meetings and people cheer, bigger meetings all the time, it’s like violence is a disease and they’re all catching it, infecting as many others as they can. They don’t know that I see them because I can watch better than if I had a telescope or a drone, thanks to that project I was working on, you know when I would get so distracted and you would wait and wait for me to finish.
I want to write you a new letter every minute because it makes me feel closer to you but I may have been wrong that no one would check the snail mail and the way things are going even innocent comments could be dangerous secrets.
Your special friend and I are moving around, faster all the time and I won’t be writing much because as we go from place to place if I send you letters that might show a pattern to our direction.
I don’t understand how all this came to happen but one thing I see very clearly is that you and I have jobs to do and finishing those jobs is the way we can be together without hiding and running our whole lives.
DD – From then on I went to work, to do my job. Um. Whatever that was. Pretty sure that meant learning stuff.
The Everweer library is amazing.
I know, right? After all my creepy, bad, dark.
Which are still true. I wouldn’t want to spend the night in there, except with Grayfast. Some of the books have a bad attitude, like the people who wrote them.
The rest of them, though. Everweer books know who’s reading them and they change depending on what you are ready to read. Even in one day, I saw changes. I learned stuff from one book, which made a few words appear in a different book that was completely blank when I first opened it.
Aunt Axi explained the least little bit about what was happening, then let me discover the rest. She watched me with a sweet smile like I brought her happy memories.
I darted from one shelf to another until my feet throbbed. I kept opening books, searching for words like prizes. I had to stop when my eyes filled with fog. I squeezed them. Open shut open. The fog remained. I flopped into the reading chair and rubbed my eyes. Still fog. So frustrating!
Aunt Axi soothed, “It’s well past time for a break. That will clear your eyes and more importantly, allow you to absorb what you have gathered in so scattershot a manner.”
Now that she mentioned it. My head was stuffed with disconnected words. I wobbled to my feet. When I got to the door I looked back longingly at the shelf with the most readable books.
“Some books can be transported outside this room but there is no painless way to identify which books will permit transport. If you carry an unwilling volume across the threshold, it will fall in such a way that every page will cut you. Each injury is trivial – merely a paper cut, after all. However, hundreds of paper cuts are not an experience I recommend. I speak from experience. Some of those stains are mine.”
The floor near the door was stained with thousands of brown flecks. Blood?!
The creepy bad dark returned.
I lay in my loft while Aunt Axi fixed dinner. The words I had read streamed around me like I was laying in the surf. Some jutted out like rocks as the surf slides away.
Power and doubt … the loneliness of turning … their softest days … relief from the secret way of life … the subtle weaponry of half truth …
I tried to write them down but it was like describing a dream. Every word erased others, every detail blocked a scene. So I lay back and closed my eyes and remembered all that I could. – sE
DD – Meals are a big deal to Aunt Axi – what to make, what order to serve things, where to eat, does the food fit the weather, our moods. We went to the roof to enjoy soup by a fire pit and watch the sun set behind the woods. No sign of Lourdes.
Aunt Axi used to hate to cook and the first time she made something special – cookies for Paul’s kindergarten – she used salt instead of sugar. While we laughed about the reactions after first bites, I calculated. That was about when Paul’s parents disappeared.
Like she heard my thoughts, she said, “We do all we can for those we love, and it is the love that gets remembered, not the mistakes.” I felt her love for Paul. And for her missing sister, Paul’s mom. For a strange moment, I felt lucky to have lost my family through a car crash – an accident, no wondering if I did something could they return. I pushed my soup away.
Aunt Axi jumped up like she’d been waiting for that. “And now, dessert, guaranteed salt–free.” She removed a lid with a ta–da. Pale crust, whipped cream, grated chocolate. “Dessert pizza.”
She had made a bunch of effort to do something special for me.
“This is my favorite dessert ever,” I announced during my third slice.
Her expression turned serious but her eyes kept smiling. “Warm, comfortable, and relaxed. Those are excellent conditions to enhance understanding. Please share what you learned this afternoon.”
“I barely remember a few words. Except –” As soon as I said that, I started to see patterns.
She nodded. “Keep talking, your understanding will emerge.”
I opened my mouth and listened to the sentences that came out. “Everweer lose or weaken their powers when they doubt them. That is the flaw all Everweer share. They know it but they still give in to it. Also they mistrust everyone. I can use that against them, too. When they feel isolated they make bad decisions. Fighting Everweer is a chess game with feelings instead of moves.”
The flames in the firepit flared. I went over my words until I memorized them. I would need them. I don’t know how I knew that.
A tear slipped down Aunt Axi’s cheek. “You are headed for battle.”
I felt the yes inside me. “I need to learn about changelings.”
“Must that happen tonight or can tomorrow suffice?”
“Tomorrow is okay.”
We watched the fire turn to ashes. That night, without discussing it, I slept in the extra bed in her room. I fell asleep right away. – sE
DD – This morning felt like the last day of vacation. We served each other breakfast in bed and Aunt Axi told stories about little kid Paul.
Her room is in the middle of the house so the sounds reached us gradually. Pounding. Hello–are–you–theres. We checked the security cameras. Lourdes. She knocked at the front door, ran around the house to stare at the patio, ran around the house the other way to the front door.
“Unless she’s a long-distance runner, she’ll stop soon,” Aunt Axi said.
We took our juice and coffee out to the patio table. Lourdes arrived with no breath. She bent her arms behind her neck like after a race.
“Good morning,” Aunt Axi said.
Lourdes gasped, “The lady – needs to talk.”
“The one who drove you from Santa Cruz?”
Lourdes nodded. “Can I bring her over?”
“She will stay outside this time,” Aunt Axi said.
“Sure!” Lourdes ran to the woods.
Aunt Axi said, “Quickly, let us review what you remember of this social worker.”
I let the memories jump around. Barracuda playing music in the car. Talking secretly to Ma Warden then pretending surprise when I told her the same thing. Always sneaky.
We took turns glancing toward the woods. Lourdes had been gone a long time.
A bush rustled and there they were, just outside the balcony wall.
Lourdes wasn’t with Barracuda. She was with Natalie.
The Everweer woman whose bangs and size made her look like a little girl but she was older than you could say. Who helped Alcatur escape and tried to kill Aunt Axi. Did kill Trevor and Mr. Colvant.
Natalie sounded angry. “Hear me out. I am not what you believe. I am a spy, not a traitor. My family has always championed leniency. Axinara, you are alive because I took the assignment to kill you.”
“Why are you here?”
“To share what I have learned about our enemy. I will gather information until they stop me, but my sacrifices will be worthless if the information goes unshared.”
“A pretty speech. Good morning to you both.” Aunt Axi gathered our cups on the tray. I got the message and stood to follow her inside.
“Has anyone tested your house wards?” Natalie spread her arms like she was touching an invisible fence.
“It would amuse me to see you try,” Aunt Axi replied. I’d forgotten how cold her queen voice was.
She led us to the kitchen like Natalie was watching through the walls. “Please wait for me in your loft.”
From one window then another, I could watch Lourdes and Natalie. They strolled across the field and disappeared into the woods.
Lourdes has terrible taste in leaders. – sE
DD – Aunt Axi’s voice, muffled, came through the floor. Was someone with her?
I decided to forget that she said to wait in my loft and followed her voice downstairs. She would pause then talk, like on a phone, except she had warned me we shouldn’t connect with anyone, by phone or internet or Everweer book, because that could open the house to attack.
A man’s voice rumbled like he yelled through a pipe.
The voices came from the secret library but when I peeked inside, the library was empty.
Empty and different. One of the bookcases had slid aside, revealing a secret doorway.
The voices came from a secret room inside the secret room.
That was so Everweer.
I had heard that man’s voice before. In the court during Alcatur’s trial.
It scared me that Aunt Axi would talk to someone from the trial. It felt too close to Alcatur.
“She suspects nothing.” Aunt Axi said, and it was like I was dangling over a cliff. Aunt Axi and this unknown man held my ankles. They could pull me to safety. Or.
“First with a hunter and now this purported double agent,” Aunt Axi continued, and I was standing in the doorway again. She was talking about Lourdes, not me.
I should have felt better.
If I couldn’t trust Aunt Axi. I stomped into the library, grabbed an Everweer journal, flopped in the reading chair.
Aunt Axi continued her conversation like I wasn’t making tons of noise.
Suddenly, my head felt like it was ripping apart.
… I lie on the ground. The dirt is cold but dead leaves warm my belly. It is night but not black. The moon shoves light between branches. Wind gives a cold whistle but the branches make a cave around me. Around us. The moon touches his eyes. He is the Other One who belongs to my Two–Legs. He sleeps like there is no danger. I watch him. I watch everything. My Two–Legs can sleep. This is the same moon. We three are safe…
My view through Grayfast’s eyes was short but I kept seeing that image of Paul, asleep in moonlight. I felt so peaceful. Grayfast’s purr rumbled through me like he was right beside me.
Aunt Axi kept talking but I stopped eavesdropping. – sE
DD – My next time in the library, I found a journal that amazed me. Every page was crammed with words that I could see. Maybe because this was the diary of a changeling. A teenage girl who got terrible headaches and thought she was going crazy. Sound familiar?
Except she started as an Everweer instead of a Mere. Although, from reading this journal I learned that having changeling in common is what matters, regardless of what kind of people we start as. Regardless of what animal we connect with. Hers was a rabbit, a practical joker. The rabbit would dig tunnels in a field, then lead hunters over the tunnels and stomp his hind foot when the tunnels caved in and the hunters dropped.
The changeling’s name was Galalena.
She didn’t write in her journal much, so this one book held years of writing. The Everweer believe that changelings come to help in times of danger, but in her day, there was no clear threat like Alcatur and his followers. So her family sent Galalena on a quest to discover her purpose as a changeling and she kept this journal on the trip.
She only had her rabbit for company and not that often. She wrote a lot about feeling lonely. On her travels, when she met Everweer who were bad or dangerous she would get to know them without explaining that she was figuring out, are you the ones I’m supposed to stop. She wrote down what she observed, especially about their powers and flaws.
I leaped over to the bookcase where I got her journal. Yes, every other book on the shelf was also signed Galalena. Her bad guy journals. They might help me fight Alcatur and his followers. But her name was the only word I could read in the other books.
For now, right?
I don’t know the end of Galalena’s story. As she traveled she began to meet other changelings, also searching their destinies. They felt like they must be getting close to answers, if they were gathering near each other. Her last entry, she was excited about finding a woman with a reputation as a sorcerer. Galalena was headed out to meet this woman.
The rest of her journal was blank. Or covered in words I couldn’t see yet.
In a moment I would feel frustrated and impatient and I would find something to worry about. In other words, I would act like myself. But that moment I was different. I was a pattern, a few bits of thread in a huge complicated design that included all the other changelings and bad guys that already happened and someday would be.
Seeing that design was the moment when I became a changeling. – sE
DD – I returned Galalena’s diary to its shelf and stood undecided. Interrupt Aunt Axi? She was still in the secret room inside the library, talking with the man with the echoey voice.
I went back to the chair and tried something I learned in Galalena’s journal. I focused my thoughts and feelings on Grayfast and vowed to connect with him.
… My eyes are low for sleep. My Two–Legs visits in a strong way. My eyes open to let her see her Other One. He sleeps and the night sky ball puts white patches on his belly. I stretch and rumble for my Two–Legs. You have learned much, baby changeling, and now you can fly …
I was out of the moonlight, back in the secret library. D, I went into Grayfast’s head! Tupac A:M:A:Z:I:N:G:!:!:!
Now I don’t have to wait for him to come to me.
Or should I? Did I give him a terrible headache, too? When he’s in my head I barely notice what is happening around me. If I take over Grayfast’s head at the wrong time, I could put him in danger.
I felt brave enough to investigate the secret room.
It was empty except for three comfy chairs arranged in a triangle. The walls glowed white, humming with energy that made me feel stronger. Aunt Axi sat in the middle chair. She had her back to me, staring at a wall that looked into another house, where a man was turning back from a bookshelf.
The man had black skin and ropes of white hair dangling to his shoulders. The way he reacted when he spotted me, I had rainbows for eyebrows. “A changeling.”
“I’m glad you decided to join us,” Aunt Axi said as she turned. When she saw me she jumped up and grabbed both my hands and the way she said, “Ella,” it felt like she was bowing. “May I introduce you to Franklin?”
They looked at me with so much hope and admiration. Whatever they expected, I didn’t know how to give it to them. My mind zoomed around, looking to get back to normal.
“Hi,” I said to Franklin, then to Aunt Axi, “I’m going to fix lunch.” They gave me patient little smiles like I was a stray cat, running under a bed.
On the way to the kitchen I stopped at a mirror. I look exactly the same.
Eminem. I don’t know how to be a changeling! – sE
DD – I didn’t make lunch. Out the kitchen window I saw Lourdes running across the field, so I went out to the patio to meet her.
“The lady said to tell you that they’re trying to get hunters on their side. Hope you know what that means.”
That sounded bad. But I shrugged to hide my reaction. I didn’t know. Whose side Lourdes was on or how many sides there were. “Her name is Natalie. Where is she?”
“I don’t know – think she left. Do you hate her?” Lourdes flopped on the weeds.
“I definitely don’t trust her.”
Lourdes made a face.
“What does that face mean?”
“I never trust the right people,” Lourdes said.
“Uh oh, I trust you,” she teased.
“Get over it,” I teased back.
Lourdes reminds me of Dad, she jumps from one thing to the next. She looked down and said, “My favorite! This kind tastes so good.” She plucked a grassy weed from the dirt, peeled the root bare, nibbled it.
Her nibbling made me long for lunch. Or maybe having a nothing conversation let me feel a normal thing like hunger.
“You shouldn’t show it all the time.” Usually Lourdes talked like a cartoon but now she sounded serious.
“Show what?” She couldn’t possibly know about changelings.
“That you – and me. We – live on the animal planet. The way I hide – I pretend I’m behind a curtain that only I can see through. Watch – curtain off.”
Lourdes got shimmery, like a model in a beauty commercial. She moved her arms and the air they passed through turned pearly gray. Behind her – or in front of her – huge boulders appeared, with a brown and black lizard clinging to a crack between the rocks. Seeing the lizard was like having a memory while talking to somebody. You’re staring at the person but seeing something else. The rocks and lizard weren’t there but I saw them.
Lourdes stretched her arms and legs to match the lizard’s pose. “Almost the same markings as your cat – pretty interesting.” she said. “Curtain on.”
The boulders and lizard disappeared.
“Do I show a cat to everybody?” My voice sounded scared.
“Only today. Anyway, only to people from the animal planet,” Lourdes said.
“You mean only changelings can see it?”
“Is that what we’re called? Changelings.” Lourdes looked more grateful than when I gave her food. “Yes, only changelings.”
Footsteps then clattering in the kitchen. Aunt Axi was finally off the phone.
“Give Axinara the message – from Natalie.” And Lourdes ran to the woods.
I wanted to follow her. Find out everything she knows about changelings. But first things first. I needed a curtain to hide Grayfast. – sE
DD – Imagining a curtain didn’t work for me. From what I could tell. Lourdes knew when her changeling curtain was off, so something must change for her. Some look feeling sound taste smell. Now that I thought about it, ever since I finished Galalena’s journal, ever since my okay–I’m–a–changeling moment, I’d been tingling everywhere. Maybe tingling was the sign that I was shimmering.
Basically, I had no clue how to hide being a changeling. But I kept trying because Grayfast needs to stay secret.
I took a break from trying and relaxed with memories of Grayfast and Paul. Thinking about our times at the ocean, I remembered pulling myself out of the big water onto a surfboard and with that, I discovered the way to hide my changeling nature.
In the water, tingling. Out on the surfboard, tingling stopped. Fortunately to stop the tingling I could just lie on the surfboard. I didn’t have to stand, which was hard to do, even in my imagination.
I wanted to test the change on Aunt Axi. How to ask. Notice anything not different about me anymore?
It smelled like she cooked a lunch but she never came to find me. I bet she was giving me privacy.
She was in the kitchen, washing her lunch dishes. My plate had bean salad and a big empty spot where a grilled cheese sandwich would go.
“There you are,” she said at my footsteps, “start the grill for me, please.” She glanced at me then studied me up and down. I didn’t have to ask anything. “Well done, Ella, how quickly you have learned the need for discretion and the means to achieve it!”
“Lourdes came back,” I said, with reluctance. That news would delay my sandwich.
Sure enough, Aunt Axi sat us the table. “Go on.”
“She brought a message from Natalie. Alcatur’s supporters are trying to get hunters on their side.”
“I heard the same news from Franklin.” She got my sandwich started.
“That’s really bad news, right?”
She turned away from the grill to give me a don’t–worry. “The situation could play out many ways. We’ll have to let it evolve.”
“Since she told us, does that mean Natalie is on our side?”
“What is your sense about that?”
“Words prove nothing.” I gobbled my salad. It was good to be so hungry, I couldn’t focus on hunters or traitors.
“I would agree. Are you comfortable talking with Lourdes?”
“Yes. I like her.”
Lourdes hadn’t dropped her curtain around Aunt Axi so I kept quiet about that part of our conversation. Changelings have extra secrets. – sE
DD – After lunch I went back to the secret library in case I could read the blank pages of Galalena’s journals. Nope.
The bookcases were back in place and I couldn’t figure out which one was the door to the other secret room. None of the cases had hinges or hints that they could move.
I didn’t hear Aunt Axi arrive! She said, “Many dangers come with Everweer connections. For both our sakes, do not use this one on your own.”
“I wasn’t. I just.” I shut up. Curious still counts as snooping. Heat from my cheeks made my eyes water.
She smiled. “Third bookcase, fourth shelf, fifth book. Like this and then so.” The fifth book was a switch to open the bookcase door.
“That is. The dopest.” I closed opened closed it. This house had so many layers and skills, it could be a video game. “How many secret rooms are there here?”
“Seven in total. You’ll see them if and when appropriate.”
Seven in one house. “If I find any I won’t open them on my own,” I promised. I would try to not look for them but I couldn’t make that a promise. I could only guarantee I’d put my job first.
My job. Paul’s job. Every time I have a second without something to do, Paul’s newest letter fills my head, all the dangers outside this house where he and Grayfast are.
As usual, Aunt Axi discussed what was on my mind. “We are safe here but cut off from information, which brings its own dangers and magnifies our fears. I am glad that I contacted Franklin. We shared much of import although we risked attack during that vulnerable contact time.”
The mail slot clunked. Aunt Axi gestured for me to follow her to the front room.
“Who is Franklin?”
“A tireless champion of justice and leniency, and a dear friend of the Trigg family. He raised Paul’s mother.” She always sounds sad when Paul’s mother comes up. “He is an architect and when Paul’s parents disappeared, Franklin crafted their mausoleum, with carvings from their favorite sculptor, Bruce. It is exquisite. We look forward to smashing it to bits, should they return to us.”
“Do you think they might?”
“My heart cannot contemplate that answer.”
I wanted to kick the front door. Just junk mail under the mail slot. Nothing from Paul. Aunt Axi was all sympathy which made me feel worse. I hope I didn’t shout. “It’s fine! Better. Not safe for him to mail stuff.”
She nodded. “I would welcome help in the greenhouse.”
“I don’t even like plants. I’m going to take a nap.”
As soon as I was alone I was sorry. – sE
DD – I am officially bored.
Sorry I haven’t written, D, but I was hoping to have something to write about.
The library books are staying blank.
We’re getting no mail at all.
I tried to visit Grayfast’s mind but something blocked me like a net, I could only push a little way in. I don’t dare try again.
I can’t find any secret rooms. I’ve searched every wall. I’ve slid decorations, pushed woodwork, looked behind and underneath things. I’m embarrassed to admit how much I’ve looked.
Lourdes is pretty lame, she comes out by the edge of the woods and stares at the house then goes back inside the trees. Whether she’s a spy or a friend, what’s the point of that?
Aunt Axi is doing stuff by herself. I can join in but she won’t invite, that’s the message. Why bother, it’s not like she’s doing anything interesting.
How long will we be prisoners in this crazoid house?
Paul’s room is full of high school Paul. Friendly with everyone, interested in so many things. Somebody like that won’t miss a person very much, he’ll always have something new to do.
I’m too old to sulk. I notice I’m doing it and then I feel like a Tupac Kanye. What kind of person sulks at a time like this with so much death and danger.
So weird how you think one way and then the least little thing makes you see everything differently. Lourdes stared from the edge of the woods and the way she touched her stomach. It caused thoughts like fireworks that set each other off. She was hungry. She was way ready for another box of supplies. She wasn’t sure we wanted her around. She wanted to be with us. Near another changeling.
So did I.
The instant I stopped sulking, I realized. I could still be learning even when the books weren’t helping.
I found Aunt Axi in the kitchen. “Lourdes needs more food.”
She smiled a welcome back and we got busy packing a box. I asked, “Do you have any idea why Paul makes so many drawings of the mausoleum? Did you ever talk about it?”
“I recall no conversations of import but we surely discussed its existence.”
“He says he has to go there.”
Aunt Axi dropped a bag and apples skidded around the floor. “He must not! The mausoleum will be watched for just such an opportunity. Violence committed there would harm Franklin as well as Paul.”
She was more tense than if people were screaming. She left the rest of Lourdes’ box to me. “I will see you at dinner.” She stepped over apples and hurried away.
Pretty sure that if I followed her, I’d see another secret room. But this was no time for nosy curiosity.
I spent the afternoon figuring how could I warn Paul through Grayfast. – sE
DD – I can barely tell Grayfast good morning and now I needed to communicate complicated warnings. Keep Paul away from the mausoleum. Someone could be waiting for him.
Danger at mausoleum. That was simpler. But everywhere had dangers. Grayfast could just say, oh, baby bird, of course.
Ambush. That had to be a cat concept, but how did a cat see it?
Under enemy observation? I could barely explain that to myself.
Mausoleum. Um. Cold hard white nest for dead Two–Legs.
I got out my diary pages to study all Grayfast’s scrabbly writing, to figure out how to describe things so Grayfast might understand. Such good luck! I discovered one of Paul’s drawing on the back of one page from a time when Paul had no paper.
He was just starting to do the photograph drawings and this one was not ultra–realistic like the later drawings. No question though, it was the mausoleum.
My first idea was to add blood coloring and maybe a body on the ground in the drawing. I experimented in Paul’s room with his art supplies but had to give up on that idea. I JayZ at drawing.
I stared at the mausoleum drawing and imagined the situation I was trying to avoid. Paul at the mausoleum, getting attacked hurt kidnapped. That was as bad as I could imagine. I pretended I was watching it all happen and let my reactions create feelings. They hurt really bad. I writhed around, which broke my concentration. I lay down with pillows packed around me so I couldn’t move much.
First time rehearsal, second time for real. I pushed my mind out to find Grayfast’s. That net was still there, I pushed more until the net got tight and I couldn’t go any further. I held the drawing in front of my face and, as quickly but carefully as I could, I re–imagined the scene of Paul ambushed at the mausoleum.
The net snapped tighter and popped me out of Grayfast’s mind. The loft ceiling was sharp and shadowy like turning on the light after a nightmare. I rolled over and cried into the pillows.
Did I give Grayfast the message? Did I put him in danger? No clue. But I did all I could do to keep my mausoleum nightmare from coming true. – sE
DD – It was like I was alone in the Trigg house. No noise from Aunt Axi, no sign she was anywhere. I checked every room, patio, balcony.
The roof was empty.
The library and the secret room inside the library were dark.
Doh. Lourdes’ box of supplies wouldn’t help her much, sitting on the kitchen table. I lugged the box to the patio and tied the rope around it. The rope we used to lower supply boxes outside the wall.
The box snagged half way to the ground. I couldn’t lift it or lower it. Eminem.
I poked my head over the wall. The rope was caught on an iron decoration. I wiggled waggled giddyupped the rope. Still stuck.
I flopped my belly across the wall and leaned over, down. I couldn’t quite touch the rope. I raced up to the roof, grabbed a gardening tool with a claw.
The claw pulled the rope free but all my lifting lowering had jammed a corner of the box into the iron decoration. I yanked with the claw. The box budged. Yanked again.
That’s when it happened.
Yanking, I moved farther away from the patio wall and, at a certain distance, the top of my head went white hot pain as if I hit a wall of fire. My scream circled the planet. I dropped the claw, lost my balance, grabbed the box to break my fall.
The box stayed stuck a second longer, which let my legs hook the wall. The box fell, I didn’t. I hung over the wall, shaking from shocking pain. Below me, the supply box split open and again apples skidded. They’ll be so bruised. I can’t believe that was my thought.
I scraped my arms raw, backing up over the wall, and collapsed to the patio tile. My ears filled with a strange noise. It came from my mouth. A gasp choke whimper.
My head hurt so much I expected to touch flaming razor blades if those were even possible. I patted my fingers up there and they came back with bloody clumps of hair. Noooooo.
I rolled on my side and rocked in a ball. The sun crossed the sky and shadows climbed over me. The pain dropped enough that I could kind of think. I sat up, waited until the dizziness passed, used the table legs to pull myself to standing.
The tile was covered with bloody clumps of hair.
I stumbled inside and turned lights on everywhere. I called to Aunt Axi. No reply.
I’m sitting at the kitchen table sucking ice chips. After the sun sets, I might go look in a mirror. – sE
DD – The sun set but I didn’t look in a mirror.
My echoing scream. I can’t get it out of my head.
I made a story about what happened. Alcatur’s followers had a booby–trap with a sound system to tell them when they catch somebody. They were cheering now like Mission Control about a space flight.
I might barf. At all costs I had to not. Even breathing made my head hurt. I was hungry though. I shuffled to the crackers. If I dissolved them on my tongue, I could swallow without disturbing my scalp.
Clumps of hair on the patio.
But a person has so much hair.
Clumps of bloody hair.
I hate blood.
I slid another cracker onto my tongue.
“Ella,” a voice called, thick like through a pillow. Or a wall. Could Aunt Axi get stuck in a secret room?
An apple clunked on the patio. Lourdes.
I shuffled to the patio door. It was too dark to see much.
“Ella – come out if you can. I saw you on the wall – did you get stung by bees?”
I found a patio light switch. Lourdes prayed, “What the – Madre de Dios.”
“How bad am I?” I grabbed the table for support and stared into the dark toward Lourdes’ voice.
“You’re wearing a blood beret.”
I tilted my head toward her. “Do I have bald spots?”
“No – not that I can tell. But how – did you get hurt trying to escape?”
“I’m not a prisoner.” Maybe I hadn’t been hurt by Alcatur’s supporters. Maybe it was the house’s shield.
“I don’t understand – anything.” Lourdes’ voice was tiny in the dark.
I told her what I knew that wouldn’t endanger anybody. I told her how there are three types of people and how she probably started as a Mere since she knows nothing. How Chrissie was a hunter. How Natalie might be helping a dangerous Everweer named Alcatur, who was after me and Aunt Axi.
“What about your boyfriend?”
“Alcatur is after him, too.” Was all I would say.
For some reason, I gave her Lewis’ address and phone number.
“Is he a changeling, too?”
“Lewis knows nothing, he’s a good friend from when I was like him. Ignorant of reality. Tell him ‘Bogwan sent me’. He’ll do everything he can for you.”
Bogwan. Cracking stupid video game jokes with Lewis was a comfy dream from long ago.
Inside the house, running footsteps and Aunt Axi calling my name.
“No thanks,” Lourdes muttered and her steps pounded toward the woods.
So dizzy. I sat and waited for Aunt Axi to find me. – sE
DD – I hate Everweer reality.
“I heard you calling but I couldn’t find you. Oh! Ella!” Aunt Axi greeted me.
She was out of breath from running searching. Except I hadn’t called for her for hours.
That was too much, weirdness–wise. She made me so angry, even though I know Everweer reality isn’t her fault.
As soon as Aunt Axi saw my head, she hurried to the kitchen and clattered around. She returned with a bowl of sludge that smelled like burned fish. She slopped it over my head and aaaah. So soothing, I didn’t care when it oozed down my neck. She led me to the shower and adjusted the nozzle to gentle. It barely stung.
I studied my hair in the bathroom mirrors. Less thick but no obvious bald spots.
Aunt Axi had hot chocolate waiting on the patio with a fuzzy wrap for my legs and an overhead heater. The clumps of hair were gone and the tile glistened, damp.
Eventually I sipped the hot chocolate. I wanted to throw it when she questioned me.
“Why did this occur?” She didn’t ask what or how. So she Tupac knew this could happen.
“The box for Lourdes got stuck and when I tried to free it.”
“Did Lourdes also get hurt?”
“No! You never said we might hurt her by giving her supplies.”
“From the ground, she cannot be hurt. I feared that she had climbed up to help you.”
“No, she didn’t. Phew. Wouldn’t want anybody to help me.” Irrational can be so satisfying – no one can debate you. But Aunt Axi just listened like I made sense, which ruined it. “She didn’t get the supplies though. She ran away. She’s afraid of you now.”
“That may be appropriate.” She gathered our cups. “I’m headed for bed. You are welcome to sleep in my room tonight, should you choose to do so, now or later. Get what rest you can. We must relocate, come the morning. I will explain more when your distress has passed.”
Whaaa? How the Tupac was I supposed to rest after that announcement? My distress was no way going to pass, especially when she treated me so Eminem.
I steamed for a while. Until I could hear the little voice that was Ella making sense … You can’t hear important information in this state of mind. You’ll feel better in the morning …
I’m laying on pillows in my loft and the more I hear the little voice, the more I notice that I’m exhausted.
Goodnight, D. Lucky I can never offend you. – sE
DD – We were gone by noon.
I woke up to delicious smells. Blueberry pancakes. I usually lounge on the pillows and watch the sky after I wake up. But today I was downstairs asap. Partly for pancakes, partly for how I’d acted last night.
How anyone can look queenly, flipping pancakes.
“I’m sorry I blamed you. I’m not sure what I blamed you for.”
“No apology needed but I appreciate your awareness. As soon as you set the patio table, we’ll eat. It’s a lovely morning and I’m hoping to speak to Lourdes before we go.”
Why we were leaving. Aunt Axi must be in a hurry because she explained during breakfast. Usually meals are off–limits to stressful conversation.
“The Triggs have a cottage near the mausoleum you’ve seen in Paul’s drawings. From there, I can monitor the mausoleum to watch for Paul, although I hope he does not visit. Were you successful in warning him?”
“Don’t know. Kind of a one–way conversation.” I slid more pancakes on my plate so I could look down. I hope hiding my Grayfast connection doesn’t seem like lying. “So the cottage is safe?”
“Yes, as is my vehicle, provided we remain inside it. The cottage is uncomfortable for lengthy stays but we’ll manage, won’t we?”
“Sure.” In case that sounded sulky, “How can I help get ready?”
“The cottage holds but a modest Everweer library. If you can tolerate the risk of more injury due to Everweer oddity, see if any of these library books will permit you to take them. When you are done packing, help me harvest produce from the roof. Then we’ll load the car, leave one last box of supplies for Lourdes, and off we go.”
Lourdes couldn’t be too scared because she’d come back in the night to get the supplies. She missed breakfast, though. The field between the patio and the woods was sunny but empty in a lonely way.
“I’ll leave Lourdes a note.”
“Best not. We shouldn’t reveal our plans.” Aunt Axi sounded sad.
“Lourdes will be okay, she’s tough.”
“Shouldn’t I be reassuring you?”
We shared a smile then dashed to get ready.
I took Galalena’s journals across the library threshold in one giant armful. Good thing I guessed right that they would come with me. That would have been a lot of paper cuts. Walking slowly past other shelves, I didn’t get good feelings from any other books. So I left the rest. I also grabbed empty diary books from Aunt Axi’s writing room – and some of her poetry, too.
We filled her minivan, mostly with food. The last time I was in a minivan was the day of the accident.
I turned as we drove away and for a second I had the same view as my first glimpse of the Trigg house with all its crazy levels. It would stay mysterious no matter how well I got to know it.
If I ever saw it again. – sE
DD – It was a two–hour drive to the Trigg cottage but it lasted three hours because Aunt Axi took the most crowded roads. Other drivers could be witnesses and Alcatur’s supporters wouldn’t want witnesses. No Everweer could touch us inside the car but if they caught us in a remote area they could trap us like in a siege, wait until we had to come out, get us then.
Everweer are so fun.
We made the trip without problems, though.
The drive ended with a great surprise. The cottage is next to the ocean! Step outside and you’re on sand. I couldn’t step outside – not protected – but I got the bedroom facing the water and my room had ocean air.
The cottage rooms were munchkins and connected by halls that barely fit one person. Just unloading the minivan, we made each other do so many back–ups that we stopped bothering with excuse–me. The kitchen was big, though, with tons of storage room. Made me wonder. How often Triggs stayed here, prepared for siege.
The roof above my room had a fenced deck. We took snacks there and watched the waves.
“Now that we’ve settled in, I’m headed for the cemetery. I want to be back well before dinner.” Before dark, I think Aunt Axi meant.
“You can’t leave me here.”
“The protections will remain strong while I am away.”
“But if –” My horrible idea stuck and I had to shove it out into the open. “If something happened and you didn’t come back. I wouldn’t know what happened. What to do. I’m okay being in danger together. But alone.”
“I hadn’t considered that perspective.” She sipped coffee and thought about it, in a hurry but calm.
I shoved celery in my mouth to not ask questions that could have unhappy answers like would I get hurt trying to leave here, what could be chasing me as I ran. But I wasn’t nearly as nervous as I acted. To avoid sending lie vibes, I admitted, “Also, I really want to see the mausoleum.”
Aunt Axi nodded and sipped. She set her coffee on our snack tray. “Very well, we’ll go together. We’ll depart in ten minutes.”
I wrote this in about nine minutes, in case you can’t read my writing, D. – sE
DD – The cemetery was on a skinny dirt road in some hills. No witnesses, uh oh. No Alcatur supporters, phew.
Aunt Axi parked below a knob of a hill covered in shimmering green weeds. On the hilltop was the mausoleum in Paul’s drawings. A white marble box with carvings. The air was noisy with birds singing in so many different bird languages.
Aunt Axi closed her eyes, touched her forehead, ears, nose, mouth, opened her eyes. “We are alone.” She sounded certain. “Stay close.”
And we were climbing the hill to the mausoleum that was built to hold the graves of Paul’s parents. If they are dead. If their bodies are ever found.
Bugs scraped the dirt to scramble away. Squeaks came from the mausoleum marble where lizards chased each other in the sun. A bee took off from a flower and the petals rattled.
I was noticing so much, I thought I might be inside Grayfast’s head. Until I realized. For the first time I was experiencing the world as a changeling. Pretty sure my changeling nature came out because I felt danger.
By the time we got to the top of the hill, I was shivering about how complicated and beautiful everything is.
Next came confusion. My job is to get ready for war, but war is the last thing a changeling would ever be into.
Then came anger. Stupid Everweer. If no one followed Alcatur, no changelings would have to go to war. Weird, though. My most and least favorite people are all Everweer.
At the top of the hill, we circled the mausoleum. Aunt Axi studied near and far, ground and sky. Good thing she could pay attention because I was in a flood. Noticing realizing sensing.
“I see no evidence of tampering or recent entry. Do you?” She sounded relieved.
“That’s for sure,” I sounded huhwhereamI.
Up close, the carvings were amazing and I kept expecting the white marble animals and people to come to life. Some scenes were so unusual I couldn’t describe them, other were totally everyday.
One carving stabbed through me. I dropped to my knees and yelled, “That! Is the road, the exact curve, where my family died.”
“Are you certain?” Aunt Axi crouched to stare at the carving.
I was sure. The skimpy woods, the W–shaped turnout, the boulders around the curve. On the far side of the woods was a field and across the field, at the edge of the carving, were the jumbled corners of a house like no other. I pointed to it. “That’s your house.”
“So it is. How very odd.” She touched the carving like she was soothing it.
Why how why would the accident site be in a carving on this mausoleum? “Can Everweer tell the future?”
“Not to my knowledge. The artist may be the only person who can explain why he carved this scene. But we’ll do our best to understand, Ella. I promise you.”
It made no sense and it made me feel so sick. – sE
DD – That carving of the accident site dumped me in a deep cave. I went from changeling reality, noticing everything, to black blank like right after my family died.
My next memory was Aunt Axi tucking a blanket around me on the cottage roof deck and leaving me with hot chocolate and ocean air.
Ha ha your family is dead, one less clump of Meer in the world. That was the carving’s message to me. Which made no sense. The carving was done years before the accident or Alcatur’s trial. A proof I’d been hanging with Everweer too much. I assumed the worst, aimed at me.
Anyway, Aunt Axi made Bruce, her sculptor cousin, sound like a good person. Someone who would believe in leniency. A concept I barely got.
Everweer were lenient to let other races of people live? We outnumbered them, like, billions to thousands, how bad were they at math to think they could wipe out everybody. Everweer weren’t the only ones with fancy powers. Changelings could take them.
For a second, the idea of war made me happy. What bloodthirsty thoughts!
But, um. Changeling power? Lourdes and me versus Alcatur’s hordes? Only in Lewis’ video games would that go well.
The hot chocolate gave me more sensible thoughts. I had to find out. Why that carving. Bruce had to have a reason. But no one knew where he was or even if he was alive. I made a list of questions that needed answers and I finished my chocolate.
Aunt Axi’s camera was in my lap. Camera, right. When we got back from the mausoleum, she had said, “I photographed all the carvings. Perhaps we can identify other scenes.” But I was deep in my black thought cave then.
I went through all the carving photos. A couple carvings seemed familiar. I might have seen something similar in books in the Everweer library.
I had so many questions for that library now! Aunt Axi said there was a small library here. But I hadn’t seen a single book. Hard to picture where a secret room could be in this tiny cottage. But Everweer would find a way to sneak one in. – sE
DD – As usual Aunt Axi knew how to help me and sitting on the roof right by the ocean, I felt lucky as much as unlucky. Or like luck wasn’t the point.
Wind made whitecaps and people on the beach hurried past, hands in pockets. I snuggled deeper under the blanket. The wind brought snips of beach conversations that made no sense in a fun way. My awareness of changeling reality was gone but that was fine for now. It took a lot of energy.
Two voices came from the other direction, the street. I knew those voices. Aunt Axi and – ??? No way!
I crept to the edge and peeked over.
Yup. There she was. At the bottom of the driveway. Natalie. How did she find us? Did this prove she was a traitor or a spy?
Natalie and Aunt Axi were arguing. Aunt Axi stood so queenly she could be seven feet tall. Natalie looked frustrated enough to spit nails, like mom used to say.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Natalie faced me and I didn’t want her to notice me so I would back away from the railing, change position, creep forward to a new spot. Nope. Still no clear words.
Natalie stomped away down the block, turned back to say one more thing. While she talked, she became see-through and behind her, around her, I saw a huge owl with black feathers but a white head.
Natalie looked up, right where I was. The owl vanished, she raised a hand to Aunt Axi like a sarcastic farewell. She got into a car. As she drove away, she glanced right at my hiding place again.
What the. Natalie is a changeling and she wants me to know.
By the time I got back under my blanket, I was shaking but not from the wind.
Is that why Lourdes trusted Natalie? Does Aunt Axi know? I want to run downstairs to ask, but I can’t. I have to keep the secrets of other changelings.
This is huge. Either Natalie can be trusted because she is a changeling, or not all changelings are okay. – sE
DD – I’ve never seen Aunt Axi mad but this came the closest. She was violently chopping vegetables.
“How did she find us?” I didn’t need to say Natalie’s name. The kitchen was crowded with thoughts of her.
“It matters not. She is here.”
“What does she want?” How I could sound calm when my thoughts were screaming.
“To warn that Alcatur is sending guards to the mausoleum.”
“She did not volunteer that information and I displayed indifference to all she said.”
I held up the camera. “We need to figure out why the mausoleum matters. I maybe recognized two of the carvings. From a book. Where is the library here?”
She led me to the roof. Along the railing by the ocean, she counted sections and at “four” she pushed a screw on the deck. Click. The deck tilted and slid, revealing steep stairs to a long narrow room full of bookshelves. There was a window on either side. One saw the ocean, the other saw my bedroom. But when I stood at my bedroom window looking at the ocean, I hadn’t seen this room in between!
We had to use the stairs single file.
“We rely on daylight to read here and the sun will soon set. Where should we begin?”
I pointed at a sick green cover. Another copy of The Book of the Everweer.
I scrolled on Aunt Axi’s camera to the first carving photo that looked familiar. She nodded and paged through the book to a scene that matched. “The garden outside Franklin’s home.”
Took me a minute. Franklin was the man with dreadlocks. She contacted him in the secret room inside the secret library at the Trigg house.
As I scrolled more photos, she stopped me to stare at one. “‘Pomegranate seeds in soft sand.’ A poem of mine. The image was nonsensical but here it is in a carving, too. Mysteries upon mysteries.”
The next carving photo startled her. “How did I not recognize these previously? She paged through the book to an image that matched the carving. “Natalie’s ranch.”
The sun slid into fog and everything turned to white marble. We went up the stairs to the roof.
“Our car needs fuel and gas stations are busy as people return from work, thus I will go to obtain fuel now. I need your help to leave safely.”
I stayed on the roof with a flashlight, watching as Aunt Axi backed out of the garage. If I saw any sign of Natalie, I would signal with the flashlight. Aunt Axi’s minivan disappeared around the corner and nobody followed.
I was safe on the roof but I felt safer when I went to my room. I let myself check that the closet and under the bed were empty, then I examined my window edges but couldn’t see the secret room.
Anyone could be watching. Shut the blinds. – sE
DD – The ocean gets so dark at night. I shut every blind, turned on every light, pretended it was daylight. 60 steps from one end of the cottage to the other. Every time I paced the cottage, that was another minute closer to when Aunt Axi would be back.
I read her poetry journals while I paced. No mention of pomegranate seeds so I guess I didn’t pack that journal. But I found a poem that might match another carving. ‘scorched wood skeletons new green hope’ might be the carving of a mountain after a wildfire.
The carvings didn’t make sense as a collection. Closeups, faraway scenes. Nature people buildings. Boring as the sub, stranger than fairy tales. Aunt Axi’s poems were just as scattered. I pictured her with a poem, and Bruce with a carving, like Paul when he finished a photo drawing and studied it sideways. Hmm why did I make this.
I fell and bumped my chin on the rug. My head did the breaking–apart that came from Grayfast making contact, but with it came a smash of fear. Never before had I felt Grayfast so afraid.
I wasn’t inside Grayfast’s head, this was more like the time he acted like a security camera and I watched street kids break into a house.
… Shadows, black and blacker. Thick gasps by my ear, a white river curling away from me. The gasps were Paul, breathing hard like he just stopped running and was trying to breathe silently by pressing his mouth into Grayfast’s fur.
Some shadows were still and leafy – Grayfast and Paul were inside bushes. Beyond, tall shadows moved. Two–legs, walking slowly. When shadows moved toward the bushes, Grayfast blasted me with fear.
The white river wasn’t water. It was a dirt road in weak moonlight. The road curled to a dark knob that was covered with slow tall shadows and a white box …
No, please no.
Paul and Grayfast were at the cemetery, in bushes near the mausoleum. They were very much not alone. They were hiding, but not safe. Grayfast was afraid.
The cemetery view vanished. Grayfast had disconnected. I screamed and punched the stupid white cottage wall that was all I could see now.
At the cemetery, not alone, hiding, not safe, afraid. Those facts kept slapping me, made it so hard to think. Where was Aunt Axi? How long had she been gone? Should I go out and look for her? We had to get to the cemetery. Didn’t we?
Hiding but not safe. Afraid. Afraid. Afraid.
I’m so helpless I could melt. – sE
DD – Shadows and fear at the cemetery. My connection with Grayfast was back.
… Disgusting wet sniffing from a shadow close to our bushes. “We be not alone,” the shadow called and other shadows headed this way. From the top of the hill, a shadow ordered, “Idiots, do not empty other quadrants.” That was Ezra’s voice. Ezra, one of the Chicago traitors.
The other traitor, Natalie, called, “Over there! Light!” She used her whole arm to point across the cemetery.
“I see no light.” Ezra sounded like he trusted Natalie less than I did.
“I saw a fleeting flash and thought I imagined it, until it came again. Shall I investigate?”
“We’ll go together.” Ezra sounded angry.
“By all means.” Any more cheerful and Natalie would be laughing.
Ezra ordered shadows to hold positions and they did but their attention followed him away. Grayfast’s fear slipped.
Paul’s breathing was normal now. He made a low noise. The curvy dirt road disappeared under a sliding boxy shadow. A car with lights off, gliding silently.
Not a car – Aunt Axi’s minivan. It paused like she knew someone was in the bushes, needing rescue. Paul rustled – he would run for it – then swallowed a noise of pain. Guessing Grayfast bit him to keep him in the bushes.
“I knew you would betray me.” A tall fast shadow stomped down the hill. That proud cruel voice. Alcatur. Aunt Axi’s headlights jumped on. Alcatur squinted but kept coming. “And there you hide in your protected vehicle. Or might I call it your tomb?”
When I was a little kid, skulls scared me because their smiles were a trick. Alcatur had that smile. He gestured to people behind him. They shoved wood and paper under the minivan. With a howling laugh, Alcatur set the paper on fire and kept laughing while others applauded. Watching Aunt Axi burn to death would be the most fun he’d had in ages.
The minivan doors sprang open and the shadows surrounded the minivan and flames climbed its sides. Burning rubber stung my throat. A tire whooshed flat.
Something burst out the other side of the minivan and, as soon as the shadows swarmed it, Aunt Axi sailed out on our side, over the fire and running away. Alcatur shouted with joy and sprinted after her.
Two huge black shadows dropped from the sky. Beating wings. Alcatur fell with arms up for protection. White flashed between the wings. White head, black wings. Natalie’s owl was attacking Alcatur.
“Catch her, I’m fine!” Alcatur yelled. His supporters poured after Aunt Axi.
The next time the owl stretched its talons, Alcatur’s arm shot out and briefly grabbed the bird’s leg. The owl flapped out of reach and stayed there.
The outside of the minivan burned so hot the body bubbled.
Grayfast had stopped transmitting fear. He was confident again. The connection broke.
Thanks to Aunt Axi, Alcatur’s followers had stopped searching the grounds.
Please let her get away. – sE
DD – I was alone in the beach cottage — trapped inside a locked safe. Was the cottage protected like the Trigg house, if I stuck out too far would I get another blood beret, how long until anyone figured out I was here, what if Alcatur knew I was here?
If only I could be running for my life with Aunt Axi. Hiding in bushes with Grayfast and Paul. Not crouched in the hall waiting to hear a noise that meant someone was setting fires outside.
I couldn’t stand it. Being inside.
The roof had a cold wind that made my nose run but the rest of me was good inside a blanket. The waves crashed loud so I couldn’t hear every little creak. My cheeks got sore and cracked in the windy spray but I stayed on the roof. Outside. I only went inside twice, to fetch dry blankets when my cocoon got too damp. I ran back to the roof both times.
By sunrise, my thoughts were as numb as my face. Fine with me.
The fog got brighter then thinner and the wind calmed down. A gust blew my hair and when I looked up, black filled my view. Black wings, white head. A huge owl slowly circled the cottage.
A dented old car hiccupped in the street outside. Lewis! Impossible but there couldn’t be another purple Buick with one red door. Lewis popped out from one side, Lourdes the other.
“Stop!” she yelled and Lewis braked like a cartoon with one leg in the air. It had taken years for him to act that goofy with me. “The house will hurt – don’t get too close.”
Lewis turned alert like he’d entered the top level of a game with only one life left.
Lourdes spotted me on the roof. “Natalie said – get you out of here.”
I ran a loop searching a safe way past the defenses. Maybe if I jumped to the sand then ran to the big water. Below, Lourdes matched my loop. From the driveway, Lewis suggested, “I could ram the door.”
“I know! Get back in the car!” I ran downstairs, opened the garage door. “Test it! Slow!” My hope was that the cottage would allow me to invite them in.
Lourdes directed Lewis to inch the car forward. Nothing bad happened to the headlights, wheels, windshield. They were in the garage without damage! I lowered the door and felt protected instead of trapped.
I hugged Lourdes who I barely knew. Shook hands with Lewis which was the most I’ve ever touched him and he was as shocked as if I grabbed his TMI parts.
“We’re supposed to leave – when the owl comes back,” Lourdes said. “Could we see your food?”
I went inside to get snacks while they watched for the owl. When I passed Lourdes, she whispered about Lewis, “You weren’t kidding – he knows nothing.” – sE
DD – We packed the car with supplies then waited on the roof with a large quantity of snacks. We were on our third round when Lewis hooted.
“Owl Leader returns!” He shoved his finger to point up the road. He was into this ‘game’.
The owl didn’t fly overhead again. Its black wings gleamed as it circled an intersection a block away. We dashed downstairs and Lewis swerved us out of the neighborhood, following the owl. No one followed us. At least not that we could see.
Danger here we come. Too bad that I was the best–informed person on this mission.
Mission. Lewis’ enthusiasm always rubs off. Anyway, it felt good to be taking action, whatever the Tupac that action was.
Lourdes talked to Lewis like she’d known him forever. “Dude, you’re a menace. Drive in one lane.”
Lewis ran the next stop sign more slowly. “We’ve lost Owl Leader. Where to now?”
The answer was obvious. We had to try a rescue. “Turn right. There’s a cemetery …”
They let me trail off. They trusted me to have a plan.
The sun was so bright this morning, no shadows anywhere, not even between the thick trees that lined the dirt road into the cemetery.
The mausoleum glowed white in the sun.
The grounds were empty and bright, but even Lewis got quiet as his car chugged through the cemetery. It felt bad there.
The tombstones were low and the trees scraggly. No place for Everweer to hide. So I must be imagining. Thousands of eyes stabbing us with their interest.
Every clump of bushes, I had Lewis pause. No one emerged.
“What the –” Lourdes whispered. Blocking the road was the burned husk of Aunt Axi’s minivan.
Lewis did a 300–point turn. He and Lourdes stared at the husk, I stared at the bushes. Right there. Had to be where Grayfast and –
I thought it was a fantasy running toward us, until Lewis said, “the guy from the pier” while Lourdes said, “your boyfriend”.
The fantasy jumped in the backseat beside me, clutching a raggedy backpack. A cat shot out of it into my lap.
“Now where?” Our getaway driver asked.
“Far and fast – out of here,” Lourdes replied.
I couldn’t talk. My face was buried in Grayfast’s fur. My eyes were full of Paul.
Lewis swerved us up the dirt road to the cemetery exit. No one seemed to follow us. “Eeny meeny miny – eastbound,” and then we were on a freeway with Lourdes studying Lewis’ phone and debating routes with him.
Grayfast purred. Paul smiled.
I’m the world’s biggest dork. I gushed tears. Didn’t try to cry quietly, much less stop.
I had only friends in the car so no one cared. – sE