Book Three (85 – 130)

Once a week, I compile entries and move them to this page. In between compilations, find Ella’s latest diary entries at the top of the Daily Feed.

Select the Book One menu to read entries 1 – 41.

The Book Two menu takes you to entries 42 – 84.

And if you enjoy DDsE – please tell others (but never Other Ones) about it!

85.

DD – Sitting here trying to remember how to spell words, I’m that freaked. Because we’re home. Back in the sub!

Not on purpose!

When we boarded the train we knew it would head south – back the way we came – but the stop back home would only be four minutes and eventually the train would turn and cross the entire country. Getting that far away seemed worth four minutes. We assumed Paul’s cousin wouldn’t expect us to head his way.

Just outside the station something went wrong with the train and we sat for an hour. Then the train inched into the station and everyone had to get off. Such bad luck. Or. A dark idea said maybe not luck, maybe an Everweer with the power to wreck trains.

Really sorry I thought that.

We found a bench near trees and set the backpack on the ground. Grayfast growled non-stop and wouldn’t come out.

Paul and I gave each other looks. I had an urge to duck, like a giant net was about to fall and capture us.

It’s worse to wonder than to know so I asked. “Are we in any more danger than before? Can your – he — sense when we’re near?”

“Probably not,” Paul said in an unconvincing voice. “He wouldn’t try unless he thought we might be close.” He held out a bag of vending machine potato chips. “I won’t tell him if you don’t.”

“Hmm let me think about that one. Okay, deal.”

I took a chip but couldn’t eat a bite. Still, joking together did make me feel better.

Grayfast kept growling but it got harder to hear him because clumps of train passengers wandered everywhere complaining.

I said, “What about a bus instead?”

… at exactly the same time Paul said, “Let’s not stay here.”

We tried to cash in our train tickets and the ticket agent treated us like bank robbers with toy guns. She snooped at the birthdate on Paul’s ID. “Do you have a guardian with you?”

Tupac. We forgot we were back in the sub. No street kids. Grownups who mind the business of everyone under 18.

I might be out of practice staying unnoticed, but could still whip up a quick alibi about guardians. “They’re double parked outside. They told us to hurry but – if you need to see them?”

We got our money back and now we’re waiting to board a bus. In five minutes unless something else goes wrong. – sE

86.

DD – Grayfast growled for another hour, until the bus had put mountains between us and the sub. When the growling stopped I discovered stinging pain in my hands – I’d been clenching my fists, maybe the whole bus ride, and my nails had cut little bleeding arcs in my palms.

Paul put water on napkins so I could clean my skin. “That was a stressful transition,” he said, and reached down to pat the backpack, then froze. “Don’t want to cause more growls.”

“I bet it’s okay for you to touch him,” I said, hoping I was right. I was. Grayfast shifted position inside the backpack but didn’t growl when Paul patted it.

Paul held his hands out and examined them. “I was shaking for a while there.” He looked past me out the window. “Wonder if we had a real reason to be afraid.”

“Well. Grayfast.” I pointed out. The cat wouldn’t growl for nothing.

“True,” Paul took a big swig of water, then studied the bottle label. “Water is always a soothing drink. Wonder why that is.”

“You’re in a wondering mood,” I teased, and drank water too. Such a relief to not feel scared right now, like we’d left trouble behind in the sub.

Out the window, car roofs slipped past the bus, roof after roof. I let them hypnotize me. When Paul and I weren’t talking – or in danger – I kept thinking about our kiss, and how or when we could do more kissing. Which made the trip seem longer and the bus more crowded than it already was.

Paul ripped the bottom from a paper cup to make Grayfast a water dish. He set the backpack in his lap to block the view of other passengers and put the dish of water between us. Sure enough, Grayfast stuck his head out and finished the water with quick laps of his tongue, then pulled back inside the backpack. Paul refilled the dish and Grayfast finished that serving, too.

Paul’s expression as he watched the cat. I hope Grayfast will let them become friends. – sE

87.

DD – Paul hasn’t been drawing and finally I had a doh! moment – his sketchbook was in his backpack, now a black scorch on sand after Chrissie opened the book and flames erupted.

As soon as I offered him paper he resumed sketching.

Our kiss yesterday. I felt it through my whole body, like an electric ocean sent waves under my skin.

The bus reached a longer stop so we took Grayfast outside for TMI business and when we got back on board, I took a writing break. I put my pen away and Paul cupped his hand on top of mine – holding hands by spooning. His face was serious but his eyes were cheerful.

Passengers strolled the aisle behind him returning to their seats. Some glanced our way but I tilted closer to him anyway.

Voices hit my ears from overhead and under the window – where no passengers could be. Cold and echoey as a windy cave. I only understood a few words. “Feel ye that? We have found them.” Other voices talked on top of each other, excited.

The voice of Paul’s aunt spoke loud and slow like giving instructions. Or warning. “They have opened the way unknowingly. Do not go to them yet. They may reverse -”

Paul rubbed his forehead hard with both hands.

The bus creaked and bounced along the highway. The voices were gone.

I touched his arm to get him to stop the violent rubbing. “I heard them, too.”

I couldn’t hear his reply because the voices were back, louder.

Paul stood up in the bus aisle, like there was somewhere he could go. When he stood, the voices stopped. The bus bumped and he let this knock him back into his seat.

We sat. Frozen. Waiting. No more voices. I reviewed the experience. Grayfast growled each time I heard voices. Did the cat hear them too?

Then I got what happened. To confirm, I touched Paul’s arm – voices. Pulled my hand away – no voices. Pressed my leg against his leg – voices. Slid away – no voices.

“Oh, no!” Paul said, and touched my cheek. Voices. He gave me the world’s quickest kiss before he pulled his hand away. Which made the situation bearable.

We can’t touch each other. When we do, it opens a connection to the Everweer. – sE

88.

DD – Life is full of weirdo twists, funny on some level but who would laugh at that.

When Paul and I figured it out – we can’t touch each other! – I went through more emotions in minutes than I’ve had in my whole life! Starting with anger and disappointment. But you know what, D? The last feeling was relief. My brain had been filling with Paul Paul Paul and what might happen next with him. Even when I was talking about something else! Even while I had other thoughts!

It might sound like bragging but the one way you could call me gifted is in sneaky planning against grownups. To use what we learned from the book and to avoid Paul’s cousin and maybe to find Everweer who could help us – my gifts are good gifts. But lately my ideas have been trapped in Paul Paul Paul whirlpools.

Paul held one end of an unsharpened drawing pencil. “Maybe this will be okay,” he said and I knew what he meant! And why he squinted like he was protecting himself.

I placed my fingers on the other end of the pencil and tensed. No voices. Okay. We could hold hands through the pencil. Another great PaulTrigg idea!

I gave him a Jedi nod but he didn’t notice my homage to him. He was stretched into the aisle to look at the highway signs. “Two more stops and our bus trip ends,” he said.

Being on the run makes me feel helpless. It was time to take action. “Other Ones who might help us – how could we find them?”

“Other Ones are everywhere. We can’t avoid them. I don’t know, now. Before I thought we could search for writers of positive stuff in the book. Without the book -”

I didn’t hear his answer because what he said created so many new questions. They’re everywhere? Why haven’t we run into any Everweer? Or did we? Would I recognize them? Would he? Grayfast would, right?

“Was Chrissie one of the Other Ones?” The way she circled the backpack. Every time I remembered, it seemed less human.

“No. I don’t know what to call her. I haven’t learned the types of predators.”

At which point I realized that I still knew basically nothing about the world of the Triggs. – sE

89.

DD – Q: How do you find the Everweer? A: Not by looking for them.

We started our search with a good theory. Since Everweer were supposed to be pretty common, if we stayed in big crowded public places we were bound to see one eventually; and we were most likely to run into friendlies. From what Paul knew, the Everweer who hated the Mere would avoid crowds.

But it was a weekday in October. People were not out and about in big crowds. And we weren’t in a small compact beach town like Santa Cruz. There. Now that we’ve left I feel safe saying the name. Santa Cruz was our beach town with the boardwalk.

No boardwalk and no ocean where the bus dropped us off. Worse, no such thing as walking distance. Everything was spread out – like our old sub multiplied by a thousand.

One thing apparently all subs have in common. Public transportation is Tupac Eminem. We spent most of the day waiting for buses. It got so that we didn’t want to leave a bus when we arrived anywhere because we’d have to wait so long for another. Still we managed to hang out at a shopping center, a botanical garden, and a Costco. Eating junky food samples at Costco, our theory about running into Everweer felt pretty silly.

Ironically, where we got stranded was at the so-called transit hub, which was shiny metal and white tile like a spaceship bathroom that fell to earth. The hub building had no people, just machines with blinking out-of-order lights. Outside, lines of bus stops had no buses and nobody waiting. Just parked cars to the horizon in every direction. Freeways must be nearby, based on the air filled with the whooshing of tires.

Paul studied a faded map glued on a wall, to see was it worth it to try to walk somewhere. Nope. He looked around with a sneer, as close to angry as I’d ever seen him. “What should we call it here? It can’t be a suburb if it has no city to be the urb part.”

“No way!” I shouted.

Grayfast, who was sniffing some wispy plants, looked up when I yelled.

I lowered my volume. “I used to ask the same thing! Exactly!” And I explained about calling them subs.

“The perfect solution,” Paul said.

And then we smiled at each other. It’s so satisfying when someone you like and respect thinks the same. – sE

90.

DD – Stranded at the transit hub, we got to talk, alone, for the first time since the boardwalk girls stole Paul’s backpack. We sat on a curb while Grayfast rummaged in the wispy plants.

“When you said Chrissie was a predator? You talked like she wasn’t human.” On that beach. She’d circle the backpack then pounce, circle then pounce. “And like there were different kinds of predators.”

“Humans aren’t the only people on the planet.” Paul said it with a yeah-what-else-is-new, then saw my expression. “Did you really not know that?” Like no one ever taught me the alphabet.

“Are the predators a danger to humans too?”

“Sure. Mostly just if they’re cornered. Or surprised.”

I wanted to scream at the unseen cars on the invisible freeway. Just stop! That whooshing rumbling.

“What kind of prey do they eat?”

“They don’t eat. They feed but not in a physical way.”

“Oh.”

“That doesn’t make sense, does it?” He sounded surprised. “It’s something they keep teaching you when you’re a little kid and eventually you know it without understanding it.”

“Like arithmetic.” At last he’d said something I could understand and that broke the power all the creepy new information had over me. “Look!” I pointed to where ants streamed out of at a crack in the cement.

He got what I meant immediately. “We’re not the only life forms at the transit hub!”

We watched the ants swarm, then one of us said: “We grew up in the same place and time but in different worlds.”

And the other one answered, “I don’t know how we can be so much alike.”

Bright sun, highway sounds like ocean waves, talking confidentially, sitting side by side on warm ground, getting what the other person means. Sitting there in the alien transit hub felt like our first days on our beach, before we ever opened the book. Before we ever touched each other – much less had to avoid contact. When you’re with the right person, anywhere can be special. – sE

91.

DD – Humans are not the only people and people are various kinds of predators. Those facts made everything different.

Still stuck at the transit hub, we walked from bus stop kiosk to bus stop kiosk hoping to find a schedule for the current year. Or current decade.

Paul swung the backpack and the flap snapped with a good rhythm. Don’t worry, D, Grayfast wasn’t inside! The cat dashed from one kiosk to another in a playful manner. He wasn’t following us, exactly, but he stayed nearby. Smart as always. If a bus ever did arrive, we could scoop him into the backpack quickly.

If a bus. I couldn’t see entrances to the transit hub past the long rows of parked cars.

How many of those cars belonged to humans? The view blurred and my thoughts dissolved as I stared at the lines of car hoods. Did some of the cars feel dangerous?

I asked Paul, “So every day you see some humans and the rest predators? Or does each kind stick to itself?”

“I know predators exist but can’t detect them. If I ever turn, I’ll be able to.”

“But you knew Chrissie was a predator.”

“I’m guessing. Because of what happened. The book was boobytrapped to destroy predators.” His kicked an innocent piece of gravel. “Do you think the other two girls got destroyed too?”

“They maybe got away up that cliff.”

“Okay.”

“Paul. You didn’t force them to steal the book.”

“I’m responsible. I brought the book out of its habitat.” His eyes were pale and sad. “And I showed it to you. I am so sorry, Ella. You’re in so much danger because of me.”

“You’re twisting it. Weirdness was already happening. You showed me the book to help me understand.”

“Right. Like either of us understand.” He doesn’t get sarcastic often but when he does!

You can’t reason with guilt.

We were back to our curb. I fished in the backpack then handed him paper and drawing pencil. “Maybe you should draw.”

“Maybe I will.”

This was all it took to snap him out of it! Paul is not a moody person. He looked around. “We’ve almost travelled to the bottom of the whole country.” And he drew a big butt squashing the border with Mexico.

“Is that you or me?” I faked suspicion.

He converted his drawing to a cat butt with a gray and black striped tail. Our laughter got nervous when Grayfast trotted by. We needed that laugh, though! – sE

92.

DD – I’ve read about breakdowns but was never sure do they exist. Except. I might be having one.

Everything got better and that’s when my mind collapsed in a heap.

A bus arrived and its destination had ‘Beach’ in the name. The bus took us to wide white sand plus an old pier full of shops and restaurants. The area had plenty of people so we could look for Everweer while visiting the ocean.

We strolled for a while until Paul stopped and said, “I feel one of us – them. Not close but here.” He stood straighter like he was listening. “Yes. An Other One is here. Behind us. Probably up on the pier.”

Grayfast wasn’t growling which was a good sign. Or at least not a bad sign. We turned to walk to the pier and.

I took one step then couldn’t take another. It was odd then annoying. I grabbed my thigh to force a move. Then I started to cry and now I can’t stop.

I want Grayfast’s comfort but when I put my hands in the backpack to touch him, he doesn’t purr. My thoughts say ‘the situation would make any cat nervous’ but my feelings say ‘you fail.’

I want Paul to care about me but not have that look of concern. Like when I cut my head on a pointy cabinet door. My mom held towels against the pouring blood as dad raced us to the emergency room. They wore smiles like masks and pretended they knew everything would be okay.

I can’t stop thinking about my parents and I’m shriveling to get away from my memories but can’t escape. If I could just hear them one more time. Dad making a lame joke. Mom teasing about it. Matty interrupting, “Say to me! Say to me!”

The time we were gardening and a thorn jammed under my fingernail and dad or mom held me while the other one got the thorn. Ever since, when I need soothing I remember the smell of sweat plus fresh-mowed grass. But I can’t find that smell. I’ve lost that smell.

It’s like I spent the last of my bravery and grownup tendencies when I took that step toward the Everweer on the pier. Nothing left.

I can’t look at the pier because I might see swirling shadows like the monster thing behind Paul’s cousin in the Trigg family photo. The photo in the book. That destroyed Chrissie. Who was a predator and not a human.

I thought writing would help.

Wrong. -sE

93.

DD – I got worse. I dropped to my knees and sobbed with screaming coming soon. I fell on my face, which smashed my nose. I shoved my teeth into sand to put myself on mute. The sand was bitter and coated my tongue which made me gag.

Paul touched my arm and I slapped at his fingers like wasps but his sneakers stayed right beside me.

Then I was flying, drizzling sand. Paul held me lopsided, face down and bouncing as he ran. Before I could realize what was happening – which I guess was the idea – his sneakers squished through the surf and he threw me into the ocean. Just deep enough for a soft landing.

After I hit the water, I could breathe again. Think again.

I sat with wimpy waves sloshing my legs.

Paul watched with no expression.

“Well. That was awkward.” I said.

He held his hand out to help me up and I reached for it then we remembered and pulled our hands away. No touching.

“If you want to talk about it, or if you don’t,” he said.

“I know.” Either way he was on my side.

We headed for dry sand. Our wet shoes dragged.

“The water is much warmer here than in Santa Cruz,” I said as we flopped in the sun.

“Cold but not freezing, Paul agreed. “What is he doing?”

Our backpack lay on the sand. Grayfast poked his head out, then inched forward on his belly, then shot away running.

“Kitty!” a little kid screamed, but his mom was on her phone and didn’t look.

Grayfast disappeared in the pilings under the pier. “Maybe he’s going to look for the Other One.”

“No,” Paul poured water out of his shoes like a cartoon. “Whoever was there is gone. I don’t feel anyone.”

“I wrecked our chance.” No! I would not cry again! But I did sigh. “All of a sudden everything piled up on me,” I was able to add, because I knew he would understand without a bunch of explaining.

“This wasn’t the day to meet someone new,” Paul replied. “Do you smell pizza?”

From then on all we did was enjoy our afternoon at the beach.

Who knows what we missed, though. I have to be ready next time. There has to be a next time. – sE

94.

DD – The smell of pizza lured us onto the pier. If only we’d stayed on the beach, we would have just enjoyed a warm glittery afternoon.

When we walked up the ramp from the beach to the pier our shoes squelched and slid. People on the pier looked down at us because of our noise. Just as well the Everweer was gone – no way could we approach unnoticed.

While we stood in line to order pizza slices, Paul kept checking did he sense Everweer. He made it a ritual – hold a finger up, freeze like listening, drop his finger, shake his head. Every head shake relaxed me a little more. Until.

“Ella?!?”

A tall chubby boy with skin like a baby and eyes like a lion stood beside the pizza line.

Tupac Eminem Kanye. It was Lewis. A friend from my first high school back in the sub. I hadn’t seen him since before the accident. We used to always play video games and fantasize about what our lives would turn out to be when we got out. Away from our parents.

I was going to say he had the wrong person but I couldn’t. My split instant of pause made it obvious I knew him. I’d been mad at Lewis for not contacting me after the accident but as soon as I saw him I forgave him. He never knew what to say.

“I heard you. Dead. I never thought. But here.” Lewis doesn’t talk, he emits words. He sounded happy enough to do a backflip. At which I had to smile. Lewis athletic.

“If people find out I’m not dead then I will be. You can’t tell anyone you saw me.”

His eyes got the look of reaching a new game level for the first time. “I won’t!”

But he would. He’d confide super-secretly to one other friend. Who would have to tell somebody, too. And the news would spread.

Lewis and Paul would get along but I couldn’t give Lewis more information. “Lewis, this is my friend Marcus.”

Paul got it, of course. “Good to meet you, Lewis, hope to hang some time. We have to leave soon though. My parents are expecting us for dinner.”

One problem with that alibi: standing in a pizza line. Sadly we could just order drinks and then only return to the beach long enough to get Grayfast.

Paul and I didn’t need to discuss what next. – sE

95.

DD – On the run again. We needed to be far away when Lewis got home to the sub with news of seeing me alive, so we went straight from beach to train station and bought tickets to Texas. The train left right away, which was lucky.

Running into Lewis had expensive consequences. A couple stops out, after the conductor checked tickets, we snuck off the Texas train and bought tickets on a different train, to Chicago. But we couldn’t cash in the Texas tickets – too obvious that we had changed destinations.

I pictured TV detectives determined to bring the runaways back home. And question them. Us. What did we know about the murders of my foster parent and our algebra teacher? The dedicated detectives – a man and woman who talked in wisecracks – would trace our steps from the pizza stand to the train station, across country to Texas. The moment when they’d realize we weren’t in Texas, must have switched trains. They’d run back to the train station and study timetables, narrow possibilities. We could have headed for Chicago or Denver.

They’d pick up our trail but we’d be too far ahead. The episode would end with the detectives headed for Chicago while we started a new life — somewhere. Seattle? Philadelphia? One thing was certain, we’d be working for minimum wage because we were low on cash after buying those decoy train tickets!

If Paul could even get a job. He had no safe ID. Back in Santa Cruz, Paul bought us fake IDs thanks to some of the street kids – but when his backpack burned he lost his, along with half our cash. He still had his real ID and it was probably safe to use that sometimes because his family wouldn’t report him missing. But it felt like bad luck to tell anyone who we actually were.

The train was crowded. We sat near a family with a baby that cried continuously. That made ours the last car to fill up.

“Maybe we should contact the police,” Paul said. “If we help arrest – him, we’ll be safe.”

“Really? You think so?”

He thought about it. “No.”

But at least we were safe on the train and headed away. – sE

96.

DD – We were running out of time. That’s what it felt like. Waiting to randomly run into Everweer who might help us seemed too slow a plan.

We were the only passengers glad for the baby’s crying, which let us have a private conversation in the crowded train car. We bent over to face the backpack on the floor between us. That kept our voices just between us.

I asked, “Do Other Ones hang out, live their lives together or do you only know them through the book?”

“Somewhere in between,” Paul replied. “At home we had visits from some, and we visited others, but not often.”

“Do you know any who would help us?”

“Another way of asking that question is ‘how lenient were they’. Wanting to live and let live is called lenient. My aunt was lenient, I’m pretty sure, and she may know others but it wasn’t something that got discussed around me. First I was just a kid and then I showed no sign of turning.”

“Where did you visit? Do you remember any addresses?”

“The visits weren’t in person. We’d go through the book. I didn’t understand how or what was happening but I always knew it was real. Except not like our sitting here is real. I’d go to a different house but still see mine, faintly.” He sounded embarrassed. Nervous.

“Wow. I can’t believe I know you!” I blurted, and he looked so relieved. It dawned on me that he feared I would think he was a freak. People can be so clueless about themselves. Sure, a lot about the Everweer and the book was terrifying. But the rest of it was amazing.

Paul’s eyes were like smoke at night. “Have you ever dreamed of having a dream? The visits were real like that. And both sides had a book open, from what I remember.”

Again I gave a Jedi nod as an homage to him and again he didn’t get it. Maybe I wasn’t nodding right. “We need another book to visit somebody.”

‘That’s not definite. I’ve been drawing what I remember of the visits and that’s pulling out more memories. I might remember something we can use.”

“Another great idea!” I said.

We stopped actIng nervous. He had thought I’d consider him a freak. I had thought we had no hope of making progress without the book. We were both wrong. Cool. – sE

97.

DD – When a baby cries long enough, the sound becomes strangely soothing. The mom stopped trying to shush him – her? the baby was in the indefinite potato phase – and made sympathetic noises. Whenever she glanced my way across the aisle I pushed a smile onto my lips. I wanted her to know the noise was okay.

Weird to notice: I feel jealous of that baby.

But the noise really is okay. I may fall asleep soon.

Paul has been drawing for thousands of train wheel clickety-clacks. He would show me the drawings if I asked. But I won’t. That would encourage asking. Of course I would let him read you, D. If he asked. Because who says no to their best friend. But. I write so many embarrassing things. Sometimes I try to be careful about what I write in case he reads it but that isn’t writing that’s staring at my eraser.

Even without the kiss, I’ve never had a friend like Paul before. We would not have made sense to each, before. Talking with Lewis made me realize – I’ve changed so much. Or been changed. Back at my old school, in my old life, before the accident. We were all like Lewis still is. You have a simpler attitude when the only bad things that ever happen are inside video games.

Even the most terrible thing can include good pieces. Because of the accident I met Paul. And maybe Grayfast – although I have a feeling I had to meet that cat regardless.

I’ve got the bomb exploding in my head, the feeling I get when Grayfast is about to write something. I poked Paul with my pen, fast, because my hand wanted to get back to the paper. I turned Grayfast was ready to write.

“Grayfast,” I alerted Paul. My fingers slid around the page but I wasn’t moving them. They made big jagged marks, extra-scrabbly, more a design than a word.

I didn’t get it, until Paul frowned and rotated the page.

FLEE

98.

DD – On a train where can you flee.

Train cars connect by doors with short wobbly platforms between the doors and cars. The doors slide with a metal scrape you can hear far away. We read Grayfast’s FLEE just as the door scraped in the car ahead of us.

We grabbed the backpack and headed the other way, leaving our jackets and water bottles. If something was looking for us, maybe it would wait at our seats if we seemed to be coming back.

We got out the door at the back of our train car and paused to look back through the window. The lights were dim in the car so people could sleep. At the other end of the car, shadows of two people moved along the aisle in a crouch like they were following a scent. They stopped at our empty seats.

Paul shoved open the door to the next car then we jumped sideways and ran down the stairs to the lower level. This car had fancy bedrooms with private baths and most of the fancy bedrooms were empty. We ducked inside one and ran along its short narrow hall into a room. We crouched on seats in the dark, out of sight from the train aisle outside.

I strained to hear metal scrapes of a door opening. A train is never quiet and it was hard to hear over the clickety-clacks. The backpack rumbled – Grayfast, growling.

Paul got his pocket timetable and held it down by the dim light built into the wall. He pointed to a row. 312a. The next stop. He fished our watch out of the backpack. 2:30.

Grayfast stopped growling, mid-growl. Upstairs, metal scraped? I couldn’t hear through the clickety clacks. Maybe two pairs of soft feet came down the stairs? Along the aisle? Into our hall?

The entry to our hideout room was a black rectangle. I stared into it, watching for blacker shadows.

On the edge of hearing, metal scraped. A door at the far end of this car?

Grayfast shifted his weight inside the backpack and resumed growling.

The loudspeaker announced the stop.

Those were the hardest steps I’ve ever taken. To get off the train we had to leave our hideout and stand in the waiting area by the exit door.

No one joined us in the waiting area. We were the only ones who got off the train at that stop. Who knows whether anyone watched us walk through the lights on the station platform. – sE

99.

DD – I’m so cold and shaking so bad I should give up trying to write this. I’m doing scrabble writing without Grayfast!

No clue where we are. When Paul showed me the timetable, all I noticed was the time of the next stop, not the name.

When we got off the train we kept moving, away from the station, which had lights everywhere. We couldn’t stay at the station. Anyone who passed by – such as the local police – would have to wonder about two teenagers outside a closed locked train station in the middle of the night.

Gas station, strip mall, everything closed. A few apartments, a cluster of houses, everything dark. No street lights but a bright moon. Buildings scattered between dark patches.

We headed for a nice dark patch. It was covered in pine needles and skinny tree trunks. No branches near the ground. Above our heads, shadowy lines crossed the moon and might be branches, really high.

We settled under a tree with no clue whether it was shelter.

This place will look so different come morning.

We must be high altitude, my ears have popped twice. And the air feels like mountains. And it is so cold. I’m longing for my jacket, abandoned on the train. Before we got on this train, by the train station Paul bought silver space blankets. They’re thin as sheets so some part of me can’t believe I’m warm under mine. Grayfast is tucked under with me. He’s not purring, but he’s not growling.

“Were those Other Ones on the train?” I murmured.

“No. Hunters, definitely, though.” Paul murmured back.

“How did they know we were there?” If Paul’s cousin had helpers.

“Maybe they didn’t, maybe they sensed someone more than human and came to investigate.”

“Just curious, you mean?” Was curious how they acted? I couldn’t get my memory clear enough to know. But Grayfast growled, remember that! I didn’t say…

… because Paul’s breathing changed.

He always falls asleep before I do. – sE

100.

DD – Grayfast woke me, sharpening claws on the tree by my head. Paul kept sleeping with a face that belonged in a painting.

In daylight, our dark patch was a bit of pine forest. We were in a town nestled in forest. Or forest stuck in a town.

“Our attitude decides us.” Dad’s voice said. Matty had made me a darling drawing and Dad was advising me about framing it. The page was wrinkly and hard to frame. As I slid the back on the frame – done at last – the glass cracked.

“What else can go wrong?” I wanted to smash it but took it apart carefully because Matty was watching.

Dad held the empty frame around his face. “Good day,” he smiled. Then he faked a frown. “Uh, oh, that’ll be a bad day!” He laughed again. “Look! Good day!” He gave me the frame. “See what I did there?”

I had some Kanye remark until Matty screeched, “Daddy on TV! Again! Again!”

Paul’s voice brought me back to our morning.

“Couldn’t you sleep?” He looked at me with concern. And love. I could actually see love in his eyes. If I’d seen that last night I wouldn’t have needed a space blanket.

“Family memory.” I surprised us both by describing it.

“I like hearing about your family,” he said.

He always says the right thing. We lay side by side and a kiss was about to happen, even with the danger that touching would bring. Only so many times can you say no and have yourself listen.

Grayfast broke the moment. He skittered up a tree trunk like a kitten-monkey then leaped to another trunk. When his soft gray belly flew over our heads, we sat up, laughing.

My stomach growled, maybe because I spotted a cafe at the edge of our forest patch.

After we ordered apple pancakes, I fished in the backpack for cash. With Grayfast out, I could feel everywhere. I made a terrible discovery. “We only have one roll of cash left!”

Now we have to decide, should we cash in our train tickets and stay here to work for a while, or keep going on tonight’s train? It might be easier to find jobs in Chicago but we won’t have patches of forest to sleep in. Are there jobs here? There are outdoorsy tourists but the town is small.

If we make the wrong choice we could get stuck somewhere without money. Money is what let us run this far.

We’re going for a walk to think some more. Everweer and hunters feel far away from here. – sE

101.

DD – Cat votes count for more than people votes.

It was so peaceful and new in the pine forest with its mountain air. By the time Paul and I finished pancakes, we’d decided to stay and find jobs. (But we’d keep the train tickets to Chicago just in case.)

“Maybe ask here,” I said.

Paul laughed, “You’re the brain, I’m the mouth.”

He grew one of his big friendly smiles and when the waitress brought our change, he asked about jobs at the cafe.

Paul’s smile spread to the waitress, who replied, “Let me talk to my manager. And my roommate. He works at the lift, they’ve always got openings. Check back tomorrow, kiddos.”

Outside the air was so fresh, every inhale erased problems. Nowhere else was open yet, so we wandered and made notes about places to check later for jobs. If we could find the places again. We got lost a lot. Buildings scattered through pine forest all look the same. Also I kept getting dizzy from the altitude so I had to concentrate on balance, not locations, until Paul found me a branch for a walking stick.

I leaned on the branch forever during health enthusiast rush hour – a crazy long line of mountain bikers zipped past us, one after another, leaving no safe openings to cross the road. A pair of them slowed and stared at us as they went by. Paul stared back then I felt why. I felt. Something. About these two. A man and a woman in red and white striped bike shorts. They weren’t humans.

But their looks at us weren’t threatening, just curious. They zipped past and kept going.

“Not Other Ones, not hunters?” I asked.

Paul looked startled. “You could sense that? Wow!” He sounded proud.

I clutched my walking stick to keep from falling. For the third but not the last time that day, my skull felt like it was being ripped apart. Train wheels slid past my eyes and damp dirt smells filled my nose.

“Grayfast is still at the train station. He just showed me another train leaving the station.”

“He wants us to leave here.” What other conclusion could we draw?

“Sigh.”

And so we changed our plan and just visited that wonderful mountain town for one long long day, waiting for the next train to Chicago at 312a. Even when we don’t understand Grayfast, we know he knows more than we do. – sE

102.

DD – We’re surrounded by corn.

When I was a kid my favorite movie was “Second-Hand Lions” about some old guys and a kid and a has-been circus lion. The lion loved a cornfield. Don’t know how Grayfast feels about corn but he brought us to this cornfield, no question.

That night’s train to Chicago was nearly empty and we had a whole car to ourselves. A part of me stayed alert, listening for doors opening on either end of the car. But the doors only opened once, when the conductor checked tickets.

The mountain air had made me calm and with the empty train, my sense of relaxation grew until the next afternoon. The only problem was how hard it was to sit next to Paul but avoid touching him. The way he kept noticing when I shifted position, I’d say he was feeling the same. But I didn’t dare ask. If the idea of touching got out into the open.

We were about an hour outside Chicago when Grayfast started squirming, so extreme that the backpack bounced.

“Maybe he wants out?” Paul unzipped the backpack.

Nope. But now we could hear him growling.

“Do we have to leave the train?” I wondered.

“Let’s go to the exit and see what he does” Paul suggested.

So we went downstairs to wait by an exit door. Grayfast grew still but Paul and I kept looking everywhere. Mid-afternoon but I kept seeing those hunters in the night.

At one point, we left the waiting area to return to seats. Grayfast resumed growling.

So we left the train at the next stop, but never learned a reason for Grayfast’s reaction. Again, no one else left the train when we did.

This station was in a rundown town with cars blowing exhaust at boarded windows. We dropped onto a bench with splintered slats. The backpack wiggled and Grayfast shot out, down the street under one parked car then another. Half a block away he came to the sidewalk and stared at us.

“Should we follow or wait?” Paul asked.

“No clue.” I stood to see better. The cat turned and trotted away.

Follow.

He led like he knew the area! A few blocks away, the roads became gravel through farms. Most of the fields held churned dirt, but one held tall brown dead corn plants. Grayfast trotted us into the middle of these, then flopped down and closed his eyes. Seriously. Like this was our destination all along.

I’ve got paper and pen in case he wants to communicate. But he continues to snooze. – sE

103.

DD – Fun facts about corn.

When dead plants rattle in the wind they sound like pebbles washing in surf.

When corn stands in the rain and sun long enough it shrivels into the cob and you can’t bite it no matter how bored you are with munching energy bars from your backpack.

A corn plant can grow six feet tall but no matter how big it gets, it has one ear of corn. All that plant, one spoiled princess corn cob. That fact is Eminem and it makes me mad. I didn’t know nature could be wasteful. Or maybe humans did this, maybe wild corn is more sensible.

Cornfields have enough mice to keep a cat busy for years.

Yes, D, we are still in the cornfield.

I’m writing whatever because bombs keep going off in my head, which happens before Grayfast writes. If I am already writing that might make it easier for him to start.

Paul is dozing. That guy could sleep anywhere. Sometimes a gnat lands on him and I blow at it and he twitches but keeps snoozing.

Watching him I am filled with. Love. Amazement that he loves me back. Wanting. Fear. Something about him is changing. I think he might be. No. I can’t even say it to you, D. Can’t let that thought loose.

Suddenly my headache is so bad my eyes could melt.

MY TWO LEGS AND HER OTHER ONE TOUCH SAFE FRIENDS HELP
NOW ONLY

Scrabble writing appeared on this page and as I tried to understand it, a memory came to me that was not mine. I re-lived a scene from weeks before, witnessed from inside Grayfast’s head.

… My nose fills with the smell of dirt. Leaves slide past me, the ground glides underneath. I see the patio of the Trigg house. Light flashes on glass. Paul’s aunt walks out. I back up and leaves block my view. She looks over like she can see me hidden in this bush. I feel her words but her mouth is closed. ‘Welcome, friend.’…

I should wake Paul about this. But I’ll watch him sleep a moment longer. – sE

104.

DD – Paul always wakes up slowly. Like coming back from a vacation in sweet dreamland.

The last couple weeks before the accident, Matty got scared of going to sleep and that’s what my mom started calling it. At bedtime she would say, time for a visit to sweet dreamland. I liked the sound of that! Although I never let her know. Matty would whimper until somebody crawled into bed with him. When it wasn’t school nights I would do it. His breath on my throat, his sweet sweaty hair.

Sometimes I go all occult and wonder if Matty sensed what was coming. But that can’t be the way things work, to do that to a little kid.

My memories spill out at the W:O:R:S:T times! Though when would a good time be.

I poked Paul again with a corn cob, which I’d been using to wake him.

He awoke with a gradual smile then saw my face and sat up fast. “What’s wrong?”

I guess the Matty memories were on my face. I reassured Paul and explained about Grayfast’s twin messages, the scrabble writing and how Paul’s aunt welcomed the cat.

As always, the scrabble writing felt like it should make sense but. We couldn’t understand it. We had to assume the FRIEND related to Paul’s aunt, that I was the TWO LEGS and Paul was “HER OTHER ONE”. But otherwise. ??.

MY TWO LEGS AND HER OTHER ONE TOUCH SAFE FRIENDS HELP
NOW ONLY

Paul copied it on a sheet of paper, several times, and we tried adding punctuation in different places. We continued to not get it but Paul remained enthusiastic about its mystery. Another thing we have in common. Puzzles.

“Let’s compare this to what he’s written on other diary pages, maybe we’ll notice a pattern,” Paul suggested.

“Oh.” I stumbled over that one short sound. What had I written about Paul on those same pages?

From which Paul realized I didn’t want to show him my diary. “Well. We’ll figure it out. Okay. I’m going for a walk.”

He shoved through plants away from our clearing so we got to be embarrassed alone.

Just when you think the awkward is over. And like my family memories it came at the worst time. – sE

105.

DD – I had to clear up the misunderstanding right away so I followed Paul’s trail. Following was easy. Dead corn plants snapped their stalks where Paul shoved through them and they lay in the dirt pointing his direction.

I didn’t try to sneak up but maybe I was quiet. Anyway he didn’t turn when I caught up to him. His back went in and out with every breath. He stared at dead corn and breathed.

He did turn when I said his name. His cheeks were so red they had white blotches. It seemed to be worst case scenario – he thought I didn’t trust him.

He took one more inhale then said, “I have an idea what Grayfast meant with part of the writing.”

At the same moment I said, “I always wrote stuff about you. I didn’t want you to know I’m a dork.” No doubt my cheeks were just as red.

After a while he said, “I can understand that.”

At exactly the same time I said, “What’s your idea?”

I gave one of his Jedi nods. He did a combo head shake plus eye roll like I always do.

He covered his mouth with his fingers, kissed them, then held them out to me. For me.

I felt so many things at once that I just stood there.

Grayfast zoomed past us, chasing mice and reminding us we had a job to do.

When we got back to the scrabble writing only one interpretation made sense. I suppose I saw that all along but couldn’t decide whether it was what I saw or what I wanted.

But when Paul read it the same way.

According to us, Grayfast wrote that we’re supposed to touch each other again, to create the connection to Other Ones. The connection we’ve been trying to prevent. We need to contact Paul’s aunt.

We’re taking a short break and finishing the last two energy bars. Then we’ll try it.

If this is my last D entry you’ll know something went very wrong.

No, Grayfast wouldn’t doom us.

Assuming we interpreted his message correctly. – sE

106.

DD – Grayfast stopped chasing mice and sat next to us like an Egyptian cat statue.

“Guess it’s time to try to make contact,” Paul said. We stood up and faced each other, keeping Grayfast close.

“What’s your aunt’s name, again?” It was a name I’d never heard before I met her.

“Axinara. It means wise morning.”

“Interesting. In what language?”

“Hmm. Never thought to ask.” Paul gave a my-bad shrug.

I held out my hand for him to take it. “I think we’re stalling. Anyway, I am. I’m maximum nervous about this.”

Paul reached a hand toward mine then paused. “If we’re taking the risk anyway.” He grabbed both hands and pulled me closer for a kiss. The kiss kept going long enough that I forgot why it started.

But then my spine got icy. Chill spread into my bones. I’d felt that peculiar sensation once before, when Paul and I first discovered that our touching put us in contact with Other Ones.

We pulled away from our kiss. Paul was looking at me but not seeing me. Not seeing anything. Like all his concentration was on something invisible. His clutched my hands tight. He was shaking and so was I and not from cold.

A voice came, muffled at first, like talking through glass. Then suddenly, like a window opened, the next words were clear.

“Who seeks to connect?” It was Paul’s aunt. Her voice was sing-song and formal like if you answered a phone with who’s-calling-please.

“Aunt Axi,” Paul croaked.

Which made me swallow, which made me notice that my throat felt icy.

She made a noise that was half gasp, half laugh, then said quickly, “Stop! Say nothing more.”

Paul blinked a few times and then his gray eyes saw me again.

His aunt spoke with a tiny pause between each word, like she chose them exactly. “We have much news to share but not yet. Count to 3000 and repeat your contact. By then I shall make ready in safety. But perhaps I cannot.” She repeated this softly like she was thinking aloud. “Yes. When I answer next, if I say my name, detach immediately and do not try again to reach me. Now detach! Goodbye.”

Which was about as clear as scrabble writing. – sE

107.

DD – Counting to 3000 would take a little less than an hour but there are no clocks in a cornfield and our watch was dead. So we took turns counting.

Turns out that when I’m hungry, my stomach growls every 12-15 seconds. Who knew. Who wanted to.

The sun was getting low and the tops of dead corn plants cast jagged spearhead shadows across Paul’s face. “Seventeen ninety-eight, seventeen ninety-nine.” He waved his hands – get ready to start counting.

“I don’t want to stay here after dark,” I said fast, then took over the count. “Eighteen hundred. Eighteen oh-one.”

“Let’s find somewhere else,” Paul agreed and headed away from our clearing. I followed while counting.

Grayfast trotted beside us, calm until we got to the edge of the cornfield. Then he attacked our ankles, alternating Paul’s then mine. He stopped when we stepped back deeper into the cornfield.

“Maybe this isn’t a good spot for us to emerge,” Paul led us back through the cornfield.

“Maybe,” I said. The rest of my count was in a discouraged voice.

“Twenty-one hundred.” Paul took over counting and I led us to an opposite edge of the cornfield, closer to a road. Tires churned up gravel as a car sped past just beyond the thick outer row of dead corn.

On this side of the cornfield, Grayfast attacked our ankles before we got to the final screen of corn. He trotted beside us as we returned to the central clearing. He seemed to understand what we had in mind now, because as soon as we left the clearing to try a third direction, he attacked our ankles.

We’re finishing our count in the clearing. And we’re searching the dead corn for cobs that aren’t like cement. Edible kernels here and there. So far not enough to make my stomach shut up.

Suddenly Grayfast puffed up and we stopped foraging in the dead corn. Without that noisy rustling we noticed two sounds. Grayfast growling in the direction of the road, and out that way, a vehicle idling. Heavy feet scraped in gravel then a door slammed and the vehicle resumed driving, away.

We’re sitting on the ground, finishing the count by flashing fingers. I’m writing whenever Paul counts to keep my mind off things. It’s almost completely dark and I can only see this white page in this Eminem cornfield. – sE

108.

DD – The contact came quicker this time so we didn’t get much of a kiss. Behind us, the night air was black, but with contact, the air between us became pale pearly gray.

“Who seeks to connect?” Paul’s aunt had a beautiful soothing voice and I needed it right then!

“Same as before,” Paul replied.

Murmuring voices filled the gray air. Aunt Axi wasn’t alone.

“We give praise that you entrust us with attachment.” A man’s voice said, like he was demonstrating how to pronounce each word.

I’d heard that voice before! What the Tupac.

He continued, “You have run far from home. It is our wish to bring you to safety and we hope you accept our help. If not, you are free to detach at any time.”

A woman with a smoky voice snapped like she was arguing, “But know that the actions of Alcatur Trigg have polarized the Everweer. Those who support him are many and powerful.”

A different woman said, “This be a trick, I say. They must provide proof!”

The voices sounded like they’d been arguing for a while. Paul’s aunt said a few sharp words that brought silence.

A different man spoke, so squeaky and fast that I missed some words. “To bring … to safety … even so … cannot guarantee success.”

The first voice resumed. “Our chances of saving you are better than yours, of course.” His voice shifted. “Please! Let me finish, friend!”

I could imagine him holding his hand up like a stop sign against more interruptions and then I recognized that know-it-all voice. It belonged to our history teacher. “Mr. Colvant!”

Paul looked startled then nodded.

The man’s voice sounded surprised. And angry. “The changeling identifies me.”

Murmurs rose and Aunt Axi had to yell. “We must conclude. With attachment, your risk increases. Three come to fetch you. They should arrive with the sun. Know they are genuine when they speak of a favorite winter brew. And now detach. Safe travels.”

So. Spending the night in the cornfield. Sometimes Grayfast growls and of course that freaks me – and probably Paul, too, but it’s too dark to see him. And I can’t ask because we don’t think we should be talking.

No moon, but so many stars they add up to decent light. Enough to write. And draw. I don’t know what to be afraid of tonight so I’m optimistic we’ll make it to morning. – sE

109.

DD – When birds started a new day’s chirping we felt safe to talk again. We walked around our clearing in the cornfield to stretch after so many hours on cold dirt. Then we did drawing and writing to make the time pass faster.

“What did your aunt mean about a favorite winter brew?”

“I did a lot of kitchen experiments. Her favorite was hot lemonade with orange slices with cloves.”

“Er.”

“Feel free to gag. I’m used to it. I’ll invent something you like, though.”

Although my stomach remained concerned, his statement made my heart feel good. That we’d get to a normal life with kitchens in it. That we’d be together then.

We flopped on the ground.

“I’m surprised Mr. Colvant is on our side,” Paul said.

“I know, right! He gave me a bogus F once and I swear it was cuz I didn’t laugh at his so-called jokes.”

“Only once? Teacher’s pet!”

As always, fooling let us get to serious. “Except for your aunt, nobody on that call sounded very sure they were on our side.”

“Welcome to the world of the Other Ones. We – they can never agree.”

Grayfast trotted up and shoved his nose against the backpack. I lifted the flap and he slipped inside.

“That’s a first,” Paul said.

Usually the cat bumps around before he settles, but he went still immediately. Before I could point that out, outside the cornfield, tires scraped gravel and three car doors slammed.

I held up three fingers. Paul nodded.

Three were coming for us. Check. When the sun came up. Check.

A woman’s voice called, “Let’s stop to eat. I’m in the mood for hot chocolate with cherry juice.”

Paul fake-smacked his head. “Forgot about that one.”

No doubt this was our ride. Our rescue. But.

We kept drawing and writing. It was hard to leave a good hiding place.

A man’s voice shouted, “It’s the hot lemonade with cloves that I want.”

A different man’s voice said, “With orange slices.” He sounded puzzled. I imagined the three staring at the dead corn, wondering. Was it the right field, were we still here.

I grabbed Paul’s pencil to get his attention without noise. I walked my fingers through the air. It didn’t make sense to mistrust them now – did it?

Sharp pencil strokes, then Paul gave a Jedi nod. Time to leave our dead cornfield. – sE

110.

DD – The corn snapped and rustled as we shoved through it so they had to know we were coming.

“Good morning.” They barely glanced at us. Two of them returned to the car like they always picked us up from a cornfield. One man opened the trunk and reached for my backpack. I shook my head and clutched it to me, feeling the warm lump of Grayfast inside. The man shut the trunk lid with a fine-with-me.

They looked like anybody. Typical clothes, average faces and sizes, common car – Toyota? The two men rode in front. The woman scrunched in back with us.

“We’ve got two hours of driving,” the driver said.

“Thank you,” Paul said.

That was it for conversation, until Paul’s and my stomachs started growling. Loud. The driver’s eyes looked surprised then amused in the rear view mirror.

He had friendly blue eyes.

The front passenger looked back at the dead cornfield. “Kernels kernels everywhere but not a bite to eat.”

It was a joke my dad might have made.

The woman offered an apple from her purse. She sounded sympathetic. “You’ll have to share this. We dare not stop for breakfast.”

Because we’re in danger, was how she said it. But none of them acted scared, just cautious.

Paul and I handed the apple back and forth and the hand-offs gave me a reason to look at the woman, who watched out the window. Her skin was covered in tiny wrinkles. She was much older than she seemed at first glance because her hair was black and cut like a little girl’s.

We stopped at some suburb-looking town and the woman opened her door and said to me, “I’ll go on ahead.” She stood on the corner looking totally out of place.

The passenger turned to watch her stand there as we drove away, then pushed a smile our way. “So you’re Axinara’s ward.”

The driver shook his head like he disapproved.

Meanwhile, Paul replied “I am,” then said, like it was a saying, “May I know the state of our affairs?”

The passenger was maybe embarrassed. “I erred to speak in such open air.” And he turned to face front, and that was it for conversation again.

I didn’t know what to expect but these Other Ones are not what I expected. So far I’d say they’re probably nice, definitely weird. – sE

111.

DD – I hope I can come back to Chicago when we’re not hiding for our lives.

Chicago is different from the sub in every way. Rivers cut through the city. With drawbridges! So many huge tall buildings, each one different and worth staring at. Just looking at those buildings, you can tell. They are full of mystery. They have secret passageways.

And even the new buildings are stylish. Our car pulled up in a red zone outside an office tower with blue glass walls. Waiting out front was the woman we left standing on a corner. How did she do that? Get here first!

We took an elevator to a high floor. I think it was a law office because the business was a list of names. All the desks and cubicles were empty. They led us into a big back office without knocking.

“We’ll be back with breakfast,” the driver said and pointed to a door. “Bathroom there.”

Pretty sure that click was them locking the door from the outside. But I wanted to trust them so I didn’t check.

Paul immediately hunched over a drawing. Lately his drawing seems not like a pastime but a requirement. So much to discuss with him but maybe this wasn’t a good place for private conversation.

I didn’t entirely trust them.

I unzipped the backpack but Grayfast stayed inside. No surprise. I scritched his head and he purred for a second.

The doorknob rattled and the three Other Ones came back with a dream breakfast. Fancy doughnuts that were still warm. Orange juice. And cold pizza! Actually the pizza was for the front passenger but when he saw me eyeing it he shared without delay.

As soon as we finished eating they went to the door.

“We’re waiting for two more people,” the woman said. “We can only guarantee protection on these premises so please wait here.”

“The larger reality is in chaos this morning,” the driver said. He sat at the desk like it was his but his shaggy hair was more surfer than lawyer.

“The chaos is why we’ll be asking for your help,” the front passenger said.

The other two looked at him like he shouldn’t have said that. And then they walked out.

“You can’t say something like that and then leave!” I said… after they locked the door behind them.

“What do you think that meant?” I asked but Paul didn’t answer. He was already drawing again.

What the Tupac. – sE

112.

DD – I watched Paul draw and as far as I could tell he didn’t know I was there. Grayfast emerged from the backpack and, crouching low, trotted around sniffing everything. He spent extra time sniffing the chairs where each of the Other Ones sat during breakfast.

Paul didn’t notice any of this.

I concentrated super hard on what Grayfast was doing because otherwise I felt alone and all sorts of fears pounded inside my head. Chaos. Door locked from outside. Protection but only on the premises. Asking for your help.

I could face a lot more with Paul than on my own. The way he was drawing, so completely into it, like he wasn’t here. Without Paul I.

I couldn’t finish that sentence.

I sat with a pen and fresh piece of paper in case Grayfast had any scrabble writing to share but he didn’t. He finished his sniffing mission and trotted over to the backpack. Fortunately he stopped slinking and gave me a calm look before he slipped inside the backpack and lay still. Which made me feel better about our situation.

I rolled my chair beside Paul’s and leaned on the table. Nope, he didn’t notice. Then I saw his drawing and I gasped. He kept drawing. I pulled the page away from him. He looked around like he couldn’t figure out what had changed, then frowned. “Ella?”

He sounded surprised to see me!

But I was way more surprised to see his drawing. It was like a photograph. I don’t mean it was realistic, although it probably was. It was an image of the inside of a room and it was shaded to look exactly like a shiny black and white photograph.

“How did you do this?” I asked and he looked puzzled. I showed him his drawing and said, “Not me, I’m not into photography. Where is that? Wait, can I see that?”

I was afraid he would start drawing again but instead he stared and stared. “This is the room I have to get to,” he said.

“Where is it? What room is it?”

He shook his head. “No idea. I just know I have to.”

Then we’ll figure it out, I wanted to say, but I didn’t because the way he talked about it, I could feel. This wasn’t a we situation. -sE

113.

DD – Paul got more paper and I thought I would lose him again to his weird intense drawing but he just did some test sketches – trying to duplicate his other drawing.

“How did I do this?” He held the page sideways and examined the pencil strokes.

“And why don’t you remember?” I pointed out.

He set the page down. “I know that’s the main question.” He kept looking at me.

Later I realized it was romantic but at the time I got awkward. “Do I have pizza on my face?”

He looked startled then almost laughed. “No. Nothing like that.” He went back to studying his drawing and said, “Do you ever think about what if we hadn’t met?”

“Not until now.” I wasn’t feeling cheerful but I tried to tease him. He seemed so. Sad or worse.

“All the bad stuff we’ve been through, I still feel lucky.” He looked at me again.

This time I recognized the romantic. “Me too. But. Are you okay?”

He shook his head. He went over to the window, which had a steep view down to a river and into windows of other tall buildings. “I’ve been having dreams while I’m awake. Sudden little bursts.”

“What are they about?”

He came back and sat with his face in his hands, staring at the drawing. “This. Walking up to it. Finding it.”

“How do you find the inside of a room? Even an unusual one?”

This room’s walls were pure cold white with one tiny window and a bench that looked carved out of the wall. Which maybe was marble.

Gently, to not disturb Grayfast, Paul got two more drawings out of his compartment in our backpack and set them on the table. Same glossy photo style. These showed a boxy little white house on a green hill. Really, just a room, not a house.

“I’ve seen a place like this but I can’t remember where.” I shuffled the drawings and stared at them from different angles.

Paul got as still as Grayfast and watched me study the drawings.

Then my memory clicked. “It looks like a mausoleum at a cemetery.”

“A cemetery?” Paul took the drawings like he couldn’t believe it.

Finally he looked at me again, with such a lonely look. “I think I might be starting to turn, Ella.”

“I know. I’ve been thinking that, too.”

Then we just sat with our hands on the drawings, connected through them. – sE

114.

DD – The door opened so suddenly I didn’t have time to jump. Paul’s aunt Axinara entered, then spun to block the door behind her. “Give us a family moment,” she told someone, then shut the door in whoever’s face. Not even an Other One would dare argue with her.

She hurried to our table, removing a scarf from her throat and adjusting a necklace of black stones like it needed to lie a certain way. She scooped us into a giant hug. “Never have I felt more grateful than to see you alive today.”

My eyes leaked tears even though I barely knew her.

“Soon it begins,” she whispered between our ears. “Be wary but bold and remember your rights.”

Much louder she said, “I hear you have slept in a cornfield.”

All of this happened so fast my memories are a swirl. Paul and I were still sitting holding a drawing. Like we lived at a different speed than she did.

She stepped back and smiled, and her caring was so true and obvious, I smiled back and wiped my tears in front of her.

Then she saw Paul’s drawings. She covered her mouth as if to block a scream. “Hide those,” she hissed a whisper.

Paul jumped up and took the drawings to the backpack. Aunt Axi didn’t wait to see if he would obey. She went back to the door and said over her shoulder, super casual, “Why don’t you move that backpack out of the way so no one will trip over it.”

With a hand on the doorknob, she waited until Paul stowed the backpack between our feet. The way she watched the backpack, I got the feeling she knew Grayfast was in there.

She swept open the door and talked more out the door than to us, “I’ve missed you my dears. We’ll all be in with you soon.”

And then we were alone again. I shifted my leg to hold it next to Grayfast inside the backpack.

“She recognized it,” Paul said.

I knew he was talking about the drawing.

“Later,” I did a zip the lip motion.

Paul nodded slowly. “Wary but bold,” he added with an uh-oh voice.

“Which one do you want?” I asked. “Wary or bold?”

Those were our options. Be scared or crack jokes. – sE

115.

DD – They came in together. Paul’s aunt. The three who brought us here. And a familiar fat bald head. Mr. Colvant the history teacher.

Aunt Axi introduced everybody. The driver who looked like a surfer was Martin, the old woman who looked like a child was Natalie. The guy who said stuff he shouldn’t was Ezra. They sat in chairs all around the office.

Mr. Colvant smiled, as sincere as a commercial. “Ella, Ella, I knew you were gifted.”

“Did you?” I said.

He pretended to chuckle then got serious. “We’re here because we’re concerned for your safety.” He always sounds so phony I feel sorry for him if he’s ever sincere.

“Altruistic,” I said to Paul. “Did you get that right on the English test?”

Ezra laughed, “Not altruistic! We’re protecting ourselves, too.” Nobody reacted like he said the wrong thing, this time.

“Why did you bring us here?” Paul asked.

Natalie kept flicking her bangs like they bugged her eyes. Can’t explain, but this made me trust her. “Alcatur Trigg faces trial for two murders. If you testify against him, he can be imprisoned. But he will hold you responsible. Should you testify, his supporters will view you as a threat.”

“How could anyone support him?” Paul was so angry. “He claims he protected Everweer secrets but his victims knew nothing!”

They just stared.

Finally I said, “I didn’t see anything and why would they believe me?”

“You are not one of us. You have nothing to gain by an alliance against Alcatur.”

Ezra added, “Without your testimony he will go free.”

Mr. Colvant said, “With your testimony, all in this room will be marked as conspirators against our kind.” He sounded like he was taunting somebody.

Paul rubbed a finger on the table. Like he was drawing. Like he was no longer aware of us.

“Could you get us lunch while we decide?” I sensed it wasn’t safe for Paul if they found out what he was going through.

“They have much to discuss. Leave them.” Paul’s aunt swept out the door without looking at us. The others followed, also ignoring us. Other Ones have weird manners. Except Ezra.

“Pizza okay?” Ezra grinned as he shut the door.

I tried to get Paul’s attention. Then I gave him pencil and paper. Hoping that when he finishes what he must draw he’ll come back to me. We so need to talk.

No duh that testifying against Paul’s cousin would be bad. But the Other Ones acted like it would be worse than anything. Something is at stake here that I don’t understand. -sE

116.

DD – Definitely a mausoleum. Paul’s strange photo drawings. His latest shows a different part of the room. Carved stone box that would hold a coffin, candleholders everywhere, and an engraved stone that must be a tombstone, with words and numbers we can’t quite read.

This time Paul only got weird for a short time. He finished the latest drawing quickly and when he looked up, his eyes saw me. Knew where we were.

“You didn’t miss anything,” I told him, “you started drawing at the end. And you only drew for a little while.”

“I’m sorry Ella.”

“Like you’re doing it on purpose.” I turned the drawing so we could both study it.

“Aunt Axi had a bad reaction when she recognized my drawings but I don’t even care why,” Paul said. “It’s such a relief that she recognized this place.”

“She must think the Others would recognize it too.”

Paul nodded. “Otherwise why hide the drawings? Speaking of which.” He slipped the new drawing inside the backpack. “We can ask her why after this is over.”

Sometimes I’m so embarrassing. I started to cry. Not sweet little trickles of tears. Dying-fish sobs. I ran into the bathroom so the sound wouldn’t carry to the Everweer. Paul joined me, sitting in the shower stall with the glass door closed. He brought the backpack. Grayfast poked his nose out, at which I had to smile. Which stopped the sobs.

Paul’s voice echoed in our shower cave. “Talk about it or don’t, whatever helps. And do this.”

I copied his deep slow breathing. “What will the trial be like? Why are they acting like it will be such a big dangerous deal?”

“I only know a little about trials, from eavesdropping on grownups. At a trial, the accused questions the witnesses, which gets intimidating. Sometimes Other Ones disagree with a verdict so much that battles flare up, especially if people take sides, like is happening here.”

Thoughts are so much faster than words. By the time Paul finished, I imagined five ways that we could sneak out of here and disappear into a peaceful new life. If only.

“I have to testify. How could I not.”

“I know,” Paul said. “I’m so sorry.”

“My only reassurance is that Grayfast kind of led us to this point.”

Paul gave a long relieved sigh. “Thank you for that reminder. I i’m not sure I can completely trust my aunt but I know I can trust Grayfast. And you of course.”

“And you.”

After that what else was there to say. – sE

117.

DD – When Paul and I came back from the bathroom, they were in the office. Mr. Colvant was too curious about the backpac.k. Paul stowed it under our table and sat down. The backpack was out of sight but Mr. Colvant continued to stare.

I could distract Mr. Colvant. “I agree to testify.”

The other Everweer looked at Aunt Axi. She touched the stones in her necklace and her lips moved like a prayer.

Then they all looked at me.

At which Paul jumped up and pushed in front of me.

Aunt Axi took a step toward us. She and Paul exchanged stares, then he sat down again. I sat too.

These basic movements added up to so bizarre, like a dream when you have a fever.

Natalie made things everyday again. “Thanks for your willingness to help.”

“y’re’welc’m,” I said but it came out as a croak. At which Ezra rushed over with bottles of water.

“We have arrangements to make,” Mr. Colvant reminded them.

All but Aunt Axi began shoving chairs. She stared out the window, one hand on her necklace.

The other four arranged four chairs in a diamond pattern then put three chairs in the center. They’d sit like they were listening, adjust a chair, listen again. Obviously it was a special arrangement. It got me wondering.

“I have questions first,” I was surprised to hear my voice. Aunt Axi turned. Colvant looked smug, as always. The others gave me friendly curious faces.

“Why are you here? How will you help us after the trial? What powers do you have?”

Their expressions changed like when a child is smart but rude.

I kept going. “And what about the Other Ones who are at the trial?”

Mr. Colvant yelled. “What! Did you say?”

They all muttered and crossed themselves.

I couldn’t take any more weird. I dug fingernails into palms to make sure I didn’t scream. “Why are you acting like this?” but they Tupac ignored me! “If you don’t tell me I won’t testify.”

“Not everyone believes in changelings, dear Ella,” Mr. Colvant said. “But only a changeling would know that name for Everweer.”

“Now what?” Martin slumped at his desk. All but Aunt Axi joined him there.

“Don’t ask don’t tell,” Mr. Colvant chuckled.

Aunt Axi sat with us and explained gently, “This knowledge would change the weighting of testimony.”

“And strengthen Alcatur’s case,” Ezra called over.

They wouldn’t trust or believe a changeling. For once I agreed with Mr. Colvant. “Then I can’t let them know.”

They murmured a while then headed out the door. Natalie announced, “When we return it will be time.”

Tupac Eminem.

As soon as they left, Paul touched the backpack and said, “Ella. We’re with you.” And the way he said it was nearly as good as getting the hug I super needed right then. – sE

118.

DD – When they returned, everything happened fast.

“You’ll testify soon,” Natalie said as she locked the door behind her.

“Together, we should be able to protect you from most eventualities,” Ezra said. The rest of them reacted with a will-you-shut-up.

Martin removed a painting and opened a hidden wall safe, to get something I never wanted to see again. An Everweer book.

Aunt Axi led us to the chairs inside the diamond and sat between us, gripping our hands like we were falling.

Mr. Colvant caressed the book and opened it. My spine got icy. Soon only Aunt Axi’s hand had warmth. The wall in front of me swirled like the smoke in an Everweer picture. The smoke cleared and there was another room, with wood panels and people sitting in boxy sections. And we were separate but we were there. Or they were here.

Paul’s cousin sat in a boxy section by himself. When he saw us he laughed.

People came into view one by one and asked me questions. A lot of them had voices I recognized, from the first time Paul and I contacted Aunt Axi. They all acted friendly, which warned me I could not trust them, because many of those voices had been hostile when we first made contact. I focused on their questions to ignore their attitudes.

Bit by bit my answers told the story of what I experienced. The night Ma Warden died. The next morning when I got Ms. Benson involved and she helped Paul and I to run away. Almost the whole story. I never mentioned Grayfast.

What I mostly remember are the times between people asking questions. They’d step away and there he would be. Paul’s cousin. Alcatur Trigg. Smiling at me like I was his next meal and he couldn’t wait for the first bite.

So suddenly – before anyone in either room could react – he leaped out of his box and the smoke swirled around him. And then he was in our room, not the trial room. Martin and Natalie jumped from their chairs. Mr. Colvant slammed the book shut. White smoke swirled and Alcatur vanished. The trial room faded away.

Across the office, under the table, rumbling. Grayfast, growling. Before anyone could hear it, I faked an okay voice. “That was close! I didn’t know that could happen!” If I stopped talking I wouldn’t be able to start again. “Am I done now?”

“No. By law the accused questions you next.” Mr. Colvant almost sounded sympathetic.

“We do not have to continue,” Natalie said.

“I just need a break, I’m fine,” I said.

But I wasn’t. – sE

119.

DD – I wanted to pretend the trial was a nightmare but I couldn’t trick myself at that level.

As soon as the Everweer left the office I collapsed at our table. “How long did that even take? Did they ask tons of questions? How many people asked me questions?” I didn’t care about the answers but facts might make my memories calmer.

Paul sat across from me and locked eyes while he stretched his arms on the table beside mine, as close as he could get without touching. He gave me answers I didn’t hear while his low soothing voice surrounded us like a force field.

Proof of how strange things were. Grayfast emerged from the backpack —

— and got in my lap. He purred urgently and rubbed his cheeks against mine. I shoved my face in his soft fur and he let me.

Thanks to Paul and Grayfast I didn’t lose it. My mind. My hope. My stubbornness to fight Paul’s cousin.

Alcatur Trigg is an Everweer with big deal powers. Tupac him. Because he doesn’t have the right to hurt innocent people. And because I am a changeling. No clue what that means except it makes Everweer whisper prayers.

I must have said this, not thought it, because Paul applauded and laughed. “I should have known that I didn’t need to worry about you! Ella! I’m proud to be your – to know you.”

“You are my.” I replied.

Who turned more red. Our specialty, blushing. Yes D, even in life and death situations, awkward can happen.

Grayfast stopped purring, tilted like he was listening, then slipped down to the carpet and into the backpack. I tried to memorize Paul’s face before the Everweer returned.

“You did great with your testimony,” he said. “It seemed like they all believed you.”

“Yeah but they all seemed to like me, too. And the other night they didn’t.”

“Good point,” Paul sighed. They’re – we’re good at seeming.”You don’t have to finish the trial. I think it gets harder after this.”

“Did your cousin really jump into this office?”

“Almost. The first seconds of a transfer are an illusion. It takes longer for the body to actually change location that way.”

So it was all real except not quite.

But how could I not continue with the trial? I owed it to Ms. Benson and Ma Warden. -sE

120.

DD – When the trial resumed, Alcatur Trigg had heavy chains connecting wrists to ankles but he looked as confident and cruel as before.

This time I sat in the middle of the diamond. Aunt Axi held one hand and Paul held the other. My bones were so cold I couldn’t feel either hand.

Aunt Axi had warned me what would happen next.

White smoke swirled and half the office went missing, replaced with half the trial room. Nine people sat in long box sections. Alcatur Trigg stood between two wide men with thick biceps. They grabbed his chains and walked him to a box. It was the accused’s turn to question the witness.

He studied me like he was deciding which way to hurt me first. Paul’s grip on my hand got tighter.

The men tugged Alcatur’s chains. “Very well,” he said. “You dined at my home. What happened that evening?”

“You served me bloody meat.”

“Which you never had the opportunity to eat. Why not?”

“You know the answer. A cat attacked you and you threw the table.”

I could feel how much he wanted to grab me.

“You knew that cat, didn’t you?”

“I saw it before. In trees by the highway. It wouldn’t let me get near.”

“You were asleep when the attacker came to your foster home. What woke you?”

“I don’t know. I was asleep.”

He couldn’t know that Grayfast had jumped on me. But he smiled like he caught me in a lie.

So many questions. Alcatur kept bringing up Grayfast. The worst was when he asked did I see the cat after we ran away. I didn’t react with the right kind of surprise.

Alcatur said to all the Everweer, in the trial and the office, “My fellows, sense you not her lies about this feline?”

A man replied, “I sense unease during questions of no relevance. That does not prove your claim that she and that cat are cohorts.”

A woman added, “Round and round you spin this tale with no end in sight. I move to conclude this questioning.”

Nine voices voted, “Aye.”

Alcatur went berserk. The guards couldn’t hold him, the nine swarmed around him. Mr. Colvant slammed the book shut and Aunt Axi pulled my hand away from Paul’s.

We were in an office in Chicago with no sign of the trial’s room or people.

“Well played, Ella,” Mr. Colvant said. They kept thanking me and congratulating each other. We had a great chance of sending Alcatur to prison. Thanks to me.

I pretended to celebrate but all I could think was keep hiding Grayfast. Suddenly I realized how important that was. – sE

121.

DD – “You’ll be safe here overnight,” Aunt Axi told us.

Here: tall round cement room, thick wood floor. A cement staircase curled up and down to other thick wood floors. Rusted gears chains dials stuck out of the wall.

“What is this place?” Paul asked.

Ezra sounded proud. “This was the control house for a river drawbridge. Now it’s an Everweer safe house. Nothing goes through, any direction.” He patted the walls.

“Neither thoughts nor matter can penetrate,” Aunt Axi said. “No one can reach you here. Only Ezra and I can enter while you are here.”

“And you’ll be cut off when we leave, but that’s okay for a night, right?” Ezra didn’t wait for our answers. “You’re completely safe, unless Axi and I are secret enemies.” Only Ezra laughed. Interesting to meet a grownup who made awkward happen as often as any kid.

He laughed at our nervous reactions. “Too soon? On the other levels are amenities. The best the nineteenth century had to offer. Explore! Partake!”

“We shall return in the morning before the trial resumes.” Aunt Axi said.

“How much more?” I only made a small groan.

“Closing arguments, then deliberation and with all good grace, a verdict.” Aunt Axi replied.

“Who decides? Those nine who asked questions?”

“All over the world, Everweer observed. The Everweer community shall judge Alcatur.”

“They all saw me testify?”

“They did. Didn’t you know?” Ezra gave Aunt Axi a frown.

“Too late now,” I said. Oh well wasn’t what I felt. Chased by invisible hunters is what I felt. But it wasn’t fair to blame Aunt Axi.

As soon as they left, without discussing it, we pretended the trial – tomorrow – didn’t exist. Grayfast popped out of the backpack and sprinted upstairs. Claws scraped cement and echoed above us… closer… below us … Grayfast sprinted downstairs next.

Paul and I shouted laughs and headed for the stairs. We ran all the way up then down. We passed Grayfast more than once as he sprinted around. Such a relief to be moving and safe and alone.

We checked out every item on every floor. Bathroom. Sleeping areas. A library with relaxing chairs and no scary books. A kitchen with no refrigerator. No electricity, based on the candles everywhere. But lots of delectable munchables. We sampled most of them.

We’re cut off. No way to connect to the Everweer. So we can touch each other. We haven’t yet. Pretty sure that’ll be a one-way road. Once we start…

I can’t wait but the wait is exciting.

Paul is doing weird photo drawings, three at once. I’m somewhat writing and somewhat exploring with Grayfast and somewhat waiting for Paul. -sE

122.

DD – I don’t have to live my entire life to know this is the best night of my life.

Was the best. The tiny windows above the staircase already turned pink then pale so it is morning. Paul fell asleep a little while ago, curled inside a big chair with Grayfast. As usual I’m still awake, but not because my thoughts are zooming. If I go to sleep this night officially ends.

I wish I could do weird photo drawings, then I could save every bit of the view of them sleeping together. I’ll have to rely on memories to bring back the whispers of Paul’s breathing and the mix of smells – old damp cement, dusty wood, sweat, cat food.

I need to memorize every moment of this night. Which scares me. My feeling that I will need these memories. That none of this will be again.

When we finished running and exploring, we put food and water out for Grayfast and watched him empty both bowls. Paul said, “He hasn’t gone inside your head for a while. Is it because I know about that?”

“I think he’s trying to avoid detection by Everweer.”

“Maybe!” Paul’s expression went sad to happy so fast he could have been a cartoon.

“Grayfast likes you now, how do you not know that?”

For the first time we legitimately looked at each other. And then we were kissing and stuff. Until a giant crashing noise brought us upstairs. Nothing fell, nothing broke. Grayfast stood where the noise had been.

And that’s how it went all night. It was like, we’d get too TMI for Grayfast and he’d do something that interrupted us. Temporarily.

Eventually he stopped interrupting. Or maybe we stopped noticing. Sometimes it seemed like too long since we saw him, then we’d go hunt for him.

He moved around. So did we. We spent time in every part of our hideout, except the floors that had beds. Those were awkward.

We didn’t talk much. Words brought the world in.

When we sat in the soft chairs Paul tried to stay awake because he knew I would. But his eyes kept closing. They closed one time more than he forced them back open.

I’m watching him sleep and smiling so much my cheeks hurt.

Sometimes I baffle me. Paul is so funny and smart and confident and he’s not just cute he’s Tupac amazing. So I don’t understand. How I can be comfortable around him. How I can know he loves me back.

Upstairs. Eminem, is that the door? Ezra’s voice. – sE

123.

DD – Ezra can be a pest. When he and Aunt Axi arrived, Paul kept trying to get Aunt Axi alone to discuss his weird photo drawings. Because she recognized the place he was drawing. I asked Ezra about cool stuff around the hideout, but I couldn’t distract him away from Aunt Axi and Paul. He kept popping back like they were magnetized.

When we got to Martin’s office, the other Everweer were waiting. Nobody smiled or mentioned winning the trial.

Today Paul and I got to sit at our table. No chairs in a diamond.

Mr. Colvant opened the book and the room went icy. Every wall and window swirled with the white smoke of Everweer connection. I felt them. Hundreds? Thousands?

The trial room appeared, like looking through a window at it. Not like yesterday when it joined our office. “It be time for the final persuasions,” a voice said.

Alcatur spoke from his box. How terrible it was to have to kill, even a couple of Mere. But he had done his duty to protect Everweer secrets. He remembered times when Everweer died because they trusted a Mere or acted with lenience. “I hope to never be required to kill again. But if I am, so I must. Duty first.” He stared at Paul and me.

Aunt Axi circled our room and spoke to unseen people. “Alcatur says lenience is weakness. No. It is our greatest strength and best protection from annihilation. We Everweer are the most powerful, yet least plentiful among all the peoples. We cannot vanquish all others. Moreover, Alcatur’s victims were ill-chosen. One Mere had not an inkling of our existence. The other had long friendship with our kind. The deaths, predictably, attracted attention of diverse predators, unbalancing our precarious harmony with the creatures of blood. Also predictably, the murders brought attention from Mere police and media whose scrutiny so often exposes secrets.”

She sat like she was too tired to stand. “This is not the first time that Alcatur’s misguided rage has brought destruction to my family. I demand a second hearing to investigate his role in the disappearance of my sister and her mate, the parents of my nephew Paul.”

At which Alcatur lunged and Mr. Colvant slammed the book shut and the Everweer rushed out of our office, probably to talk where Paul and I couldn’t hear.

Paul had been listening until Aunt Axi mentioned his parents. Then his fingers began to jerk around – sketching a weird photo drawing without paper or pencil.

I reached into the backpack for the comfort of Grayfast’s silky fur and I whispered a hope that Paul will come back before the Everweer do. – sE

124.

DD – It’s over! We won! Alcatur is going to Everweer prison and from the way everybody’s acting, no one ever gets out of there. In the trial room, it took four huge guards to control him even with all his chains. He kept yelling, so angry he slobbered. Except for a moment when he whispered at Paul, “I should have culled you years ago. Worthless. Traitor.”

Paul gave Alcatur a little wave. Bye bye. And Mr. Colvant shut the book, and just as the connection with the trial room broke I heard the creepiest sound. Icy laughter. Everweer observing the trial were laughing at Paul’s wave.

Everyone in our office was talking at once, super cheerful, planning to celebrate. But I had trouble getting into their mood. I couldn’t drop my fear.

They hadn’t acted confident about how the vote would go. The vote for Alcatur going to prison or going free. When Mr. Colvant got the book out to connect our office, all of our Everweer stood in front of Paul and me, like they might have to protect us. Even Ezra seemed tense.

But then somehow Everweer voted from all over the world, and somehow the votes got counted in the trial room. I couldn’t see the somehows with everybody standing in front of me. But I heard the same verdict, twice. “Murder unjustified.”

And now we’re going out to dinner, walking past buildings so amazing they have special lights at night so people can keep admiring them. Almost everyone is in a great mood. But I keep thinking how they had to protect us. How the vote could have gone the other way, most of the Everweer siding with Alcatur.

Did he get a lot of votes? From those Everweer who know who I am now?

Aunt Axi is not celebrating, either. She is getting more and more serious.

I wish I could talk to her. Or Paul, who is at the other end of the table, between Natalie and Mr. Colvant.

Ezra says this restaurant serves the best pizza in Chicago and the smells say he’s right but I’m not hungry. -sE

125.

DD – After dinner we took a cold beautiful walk back to Martin’s office. The building lights were glittery twisted reflections in the river.

Ezra stepped away to answer a phone call. He came back looking excited and called to the group, “By quorum, the hearing is reopening now, to debate the length of Alcatur’s sentence.”

Everyone walked faster. Until Aunt Axi stopped and said in her most queenly voice, “We’ll drop the children at the safe house first.”

“But they’re all waiting for us to begin,” Ezra said.

“Ella left something this morning. She’ll have no time to search later, as our flight departs tonight.”

I didn’t know why she was lying but I joined her. “A book of poems my dad wrote. He was going to make a book. It’s a set of loose papers. I’m missing a few.” I was rusty, telling alibis. But they accepted my lie and detoured to leave us at the safe house.

Suddenly we were alone in our hideout, Paul Grayfast me. Nothing like last night because the others could return any time.

And because Paul made a decision. He grabbed me into a tight long hug and talked into my hair. “I have to leave, Ella. I’m turning. I don’t know how long that will take or what it will do to me. I have to get somewhere alone, away from all of them.”

“And me,” slipped out. I didn’t want to make him feel worse. Somehow, somewhere inside, I had known – I wasn’t surprised.

“I’ll find you again. Afterwards. You might not want to know me then but I’ll find you and you can decide.”

I hugged him back until I couldn’t feel anymore. “You’d better go before they can stop you.” We kept hugging as we walked to the door.

“Don’t tell them my reason. You won’t be safe if they know you know.”

“Don’t worry, I’m good at lying to grownups.”

“Be extra careful. The way Aunt Axi was acting – she senses betrayal.”

We hugged at the door. His heartbeat vibrated through me, strong and even now that the Trigg family book couldn’t hurt him anymore.

Finally we let each other go. Paul opened the door with a phew – we were afraid it might be locked from the outside.

“Grayfast! No!”

The cat ran outside but stopped. I hugged him while Paul walked down the steps. Grayfast squirmed away and ran to Paul again.

“He wants to go with you,” I realized. “Yes. Wait.” I dumped my stuff from the backpack and set it on the steps. Grayfast slipped inside.

I put fingers on Paul’s lips to block his arguments. “He can let me know you’re okay.”

“Wow,” Paul said, and took the backpack.

He walked slowly at first but by the time he disappeared up the dark street his steps were running.

And now they’re gone. – sE

126.

DD – Paul and Grayfast are gone. I don’t understand how I can feel so hollow but so full of sadness.

When my family died, I couldn’t feel at all. Right now I felt worse, because I believed I would see Paul and Grayfast again, so I didn’t go numb.

I wandered from floor to floor of the safe house, remembering the night before.

A door slammed open and Aunt Axi called, “Paul, Ella, come now.” She ran upstairs as I came downstairs. “Where is Paul?”

Strange – she was alone. “He had to leave.” I made sure no one was behind her. “He’s turning.”

She reacted like we were in a car and the front tires just went off a cliff. “Take care. That is not a thing to speak about,” she said.

“Could it be? Of all times, must this be his moment?” she said to herself, then noticed me again. “Come, quickly. Where is your – backpack?”

She meant Grayfast. “With Paul.”

She touched her stone necklace with the same gesture that she and the other Everweer made when they heard me say “Other Ones”. Like it was part of a prayer. She waved me toward the door. “These are wonders but we have no time for wonder. We must run. I will explain when I can.”

I already had my stuff in a pillowcase. I grabbed it and followed her outside, where a taxi waited.

We made blah blah conversation on the way to the airport then waited in the terminal without talking much at all. After all the weeks of hiding out with Paul and Grayfast, mostly sticking to ourselves. Now they were gone and I sat in a giant lobby packed with strangers. Too weird. I kept pinching my arm but it never seemed real. I was watching myself in a movie.

Aunt Axi sat us against a wall next to an emergency door. She looked around with a light calm smile like she enjoyed people-watching. But I suspected she was watching for danger. The way she acted when she got me from the safe house. Something was very wrong. What could have happened? She must have bad news. Alcatur got a super light sentence. Another Everweer hurt a Mere. Her request for a hearing about Paul’s parents got denied.

Everything kept changing so suddenly. I didn’t even get to thank Ezra for all the pizza. Maybe I could mail him a note.

Which distracted me from worrying, until I asked, “Do you know Ezra’s mailing address?”

“I do not!” Aunt Axi said with so much anger. But not at me.

This waiting needs to end. I need to hear what the Tupac is going on. -sE

127.

DD – On the plane we had a row to ourselves because Paul wasn’t with us. Between us. As soon as the plane reached the sky, Aunt Axi slid into his empty middle seat and took my hands in hers. Her fingers were light but strong.

“They think me dead, they think you locked in the safe house. I believe this gives us time to reach my home and safety. If I am wrong, we are running to our deaths. Forgive me.”

The flight attendant interrupted us. Aunt Axi ordered orange juice for us and the flight attendant moved along. Aunt Axi leaned close and spoke calmly. I heard her words and I heard the crying and screaming that most other people would have added to that story.

What had happened. They left Paul and me at the safe house and hurried back to Martin’s office for the sudden hearing to discuss Alcatur’s sentence. But that hearing was bogus, an excuse to re-open a wide connection among Everweer. Through the connection, Alcatur’s supporters attacked, killing his guards. He used the connection to escape the courtroom. He was somewhere unknown, with his supporters – other Everweer who agreed that all Mere are threats and deserve to die.

The attack came to Martin’s office, also. Two of our group were secret supporters of Alcatur. They tried to kill Aunt Axi, left her for dead. Would have killed Paul and me if we had been there. They attacked then used the Everweer connection to join Alcatur. They. Ezra and Natalie. The nicest ones.

Before they got away, they killed Martin. They killed Mr. Colvant.

Hearing that is the last thing I remember about our trip.

Aunt Axi guessed right about fleeing to safety. We made it. We’re back in the sub, in the Trigg house. It would be weird to be here, if I could feel weird.

Aunt Axi says no one can enter unless she allows it. So we are safe here.

I helped her move a second bed into her bedroom and she plugged in a nightlight and now I’m laying in the almost dark, near her but I don’t hear her breathing. I think she’s awake too.

Tupac. – sE

128.

DD – Flying back to the sub broke the thread. The thread that connected me to Paul and Grayfast, to all our paths and places together.

But if we hadn’t flown, Alcatur’s supporters would have caught us.

I kept feeling like I was watching myself in a movie.

My short visits to the Trigg house before we ran away from the sub left strong memories that flooded my head now… the first time I discovered the strange building with all its levels and secrets… inside, the beautiful carved wood… meeting Aunt Axi… dinner with Alcatur and his plate of bloody meat… Grayfast watching from the bushes… Grayfast attacking Alcatur… Ms. Benson dropping me off with instructions to run if necessary… the secret library… Paul introducing me to the book of the Everweer…

The Everweer. How could Ezra and Natalie be on Alcatur’s side? They were the ones who were friendly. Martin was more, just polite. And Mr. Colvant. He was the one I would have expected to be a secret traitor.

Maybe I was wrong about everybody.

No. Not everybody.

I miss Paul and Grayfast so much, words are too weak to describe it. I bet Paul is asleep, wherever he and Grayfast are. Maybe Grayfast would be curled under a space blanket next to Paul.

I still couldn’t hear Aunt Axi breathe. I stopped writing. How could I ask, was I keeping her awake, without waking her with the asking?

“Would you like a light to write more easily?” Aunt Axi asked. Yup. Awake.

“No thank you, I’m used to writing in the dark.” But Paul couldn’t draw in the dark, until he started making the photograph drawings. Those came from somewhere that didn’t need his eyes to see.

“Those drawings that Paul had in the office.”

Her bed creaked. The nightlight made her a silhouette – she was leaning on an arm, no longer flat in bed. She asked, “Did anyone else see his drawings?”

When I said no, she flopped back onto her pillow like she was relieved. I asked, “What do the drawings show? Where is that white room?”

“The drawings show the crypt where Paul’s parents would one day be buried. Had they not vanished. Paul has never visited that crypt.”

“But he can draw it, inside and out.”

“His powers emerge.” Aunt Axi sounded proud and curious.

But not worried. I’m trying to copy her.

And now I hear her breathing. Once again I’m the only one awake. – sE

129.

DD – This morning, Aunt Axi served breakfast on the hidden patio where Grayfast had interrupted my dinner visit. Back when I barely knew Paul. The patio table was beautiful with blueberry pancakes and fresh lemonade. I managed a bite and a sip.

Aunt Axi was like a fairy godmother today. “There is much you need to know but I won’t barrage you with information, I will let your questions guide me. And I am always comfortable in silence. Do try to eat.”

“Why is this house safe? Did you cast a spell?”

“Unfamiliar technology can seem like magic. Security here is keyed to my thoughts and instincts.” She smiled at my reaction. “This will make more sense after I have helped you to learn about the Everweer, which we will begin when you are ready.”

“Now that Alcatur has followers, will they attack here?”

“Here and elsewhere. War is coming, I fear.” She gave me a look that said she was ready for whatever came next. “And that is why you must eat a good breakfast, my dear.”

I forced another sip and bite.

“After Paul turns, will your house let him in?”

She always answers my real questions, even when I don’t know them. “In turning, Paul accesses more of his nature. He will still be our Paul and he will come back to us. The cat is a powerful ally. They will survive.”

After that I didn’t have to force myself to eat.

We washed the breakfast dishes in companionable silence, like Paul and I used to share. Then she led me up a ladder into a loft full of windows and cushions. It was a room I had admired on my first visit, but Aunt Axi wouldn’t let me explore it back then. She said, “Here in the heart of my home, let this be your private solace.” She touched my cheek, then left me.

This room feels good. Even when I think about all the bad stuff. But it’s hard to keep thinking when I’m in here. Mostly I’m watching little birds hop from branch to branch outside. – sE

130.

DD – I’m excited that I have a terrible headache, a combo. My head is breaking open and a bomb is exploding behind my eyes. Grayfast style of headaches. I so want Grayfast to make contact that the rippling pain makes me smile.

The sun is too bright for my eyes but I keep staring out the windows of my loft – Grayfast would be quite interested to see all those little hopping birds.

MY TWO-LEGS HIDES IN THE SHARP NEST OF HER TWO-LEGS. HE IS NOT FOOD. I STOP THE EATING.

^ That part of the page up above is empty because my pen can’t write there. The paper is too wet — because when I saw the scrabble writing I cried like a faucet. The paper is wet, my shirt is wet, a pillow is wet.

I’m blinking and staring at the hopping birds, and in my head making lists of all the things Grayfast’s message could mean. As usual I don’t get what he wrote but I’m not criticizing. He speaks human a lot better than I speak cat!

I think he means he’s protecting Paul from danger.

Also, he might know I’m here at the Trigg house.

Around me, the loft got vague. I was sitting among pillows but I was running low to the ground on all fours. Dirt skimmed under my belly.

I run to find our path. The dirt is wet and sucks at my toes. One more step and the dirt falls away. Below my paws, water runs and growls. This is the edge of the ground. My paws step backward and I run back the way I came. The scrape scrape scrapes lead me to our place, the hole inside the bushes. The two-legs holds a stick that scrapes the white. The stick bleeds brown lines on the white. I stop and he stops. His gray eyes see me and he shows his teeth in the snarl that means friends.

The scene vanished – Grayfast had showed me Paul in a park or woods near a river.

When I saw Paul I must have made a noise. Aunt Axi stopped clattering around in the kitchen below my loft. “Ella, are you alright?”

I smiled at the red and orange patterns on the loft pillows. “Yes. Definitely.”

I’d better keep my connection with Grayfast a secret, so I couldn’t tell Aunt Axi the good news. I saw Paul. He’s okay, still drawing like crazy. And Grayfast is finding their way.

So I’m with Paul’s aunt and he’s with my cat and somehow we’ll get back together. – sE

+++ End of Book Three +++

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