Book Two (42 – 84)

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.

And if you enjoy DDsE – please tell others (but not Other Ones) about it!

42.

DD- Train train bus train bus. I’ve lost track of where we’ve been. Hope that makes us hard to find. The changes weren’t on purpose or at least not human purpose. We’d get off at every long stop and I’d open the backpack somewhere private near the station, in case Grayfast had some TMI business to conduct. Grayfast would run away, fast and sure, like he was familiar with whatever stinking alley or dumpy park we were in.

The first time he ran out of view it was like my chest split open. I was so afraid I’d never see him again. But he showed up again and we got back for the “all abo-o-a-ard”. They actually say that, trains are like transportation into old corny movies.

Some other times, Grayfast was gone way long and we missed the all-aboard and cashed in the rest of those tickets and bought different ones when Grayfast finally showed up. PaulTrigg knew we could do that.

After the first time I haven’t been scared about losing Grayfast. He hasn’t been inside my head officially since we ran away, but I just know some things about him and I know that he’ll come back when he runs. Another thing I know is that Grayfast hates and fears PaulTrigg as one of the Other Ones.

I didn’t need a magic connection with the cat to know that, though. It’s obvious to PaulTrigg, too. I sit with the backpack on one side of me and PaulTrigg on the other – any closer and Grayfast growls from inside the backpack. PaulTrigg just nods when that happens.

My mom’s version of looking on the bright side was “Things can hardly get worse so the situation is bound to improve.” Right now that makes me smile. Grayfast growling into my ankle, PaulTrigg nodding with his eyes closed. It is so Tupac amazing to be right next to PaulTrigg for such a long time even though neither of us feels like talking. And Grayfast. He’s part of me. Vice versa. -sE

43.

DD – I guess our traveling is over. Grayfast left and won’t come back, won’t come near though I spot him sometimes in the trees by the railroad station.

THE WATER IS BIG. IT PROTECTS MY TWO-LEGS. STAY. HIDE. LIVE.

My head just had a bomb explosion and when I came to, I found this scrabble writing. I guess it means my guess was right. This is our new home. I wish I understood more of what Grayfast wrote. I wish I could ask are we supposed to hide here or by being here are we hiding. I want to consult PaulTrigg but I can’t show him the scrabble writing until Grayfast trusts him.

Big water is probably the ocean. We are so close to the ocean here!

I L:O:V:E the ocean.

Surprised to hear a cat say good things about so much water but everything about Grayfast is a surprise so why not this too.

Dad and Mom brought us here for vacations. I never got to try the boardwalk rides because they weren’t safe. Mom. All your safety obsessing and look where we ended up.

Sad sad news on the radio, calling our sub this week’s murder capital of America. Another home invasion victim, dead this time is a high school algebra teacher. In other words, PaulTrigg’s cousin got Ms. Benson.

Did I even thank her for helping us?

Horrible that she is dead. I think that like a robot writing a news story. Same with Ma Warden. Thoughts facts no feelings. Because I’m programmed to keep going.

The news said I am missing presumed dead but had no mention of PaulTrigg’s absence. His family has to know he is with me and Grayfast. Two plus two.

I’d better go tell PaulTrigg we’re living here now according to Grayfast. PaulTrigg waited inside the train station in case Grayfast would come to me if PaulTrigg wasn’t around.

Sometimes I wonder what if Grayfast is right about PaulTrigg but I just can’t believe that he poses danger. -sE

44.

DD – Suddenly I couldn’t breathe or see in focus. I was so scared about everything that happened with his cousin that I was too scared to feel the fear. It was eating into my bones and soon I wouldn’t be able to stand.

The splotches on this page are from water drops. How I snapped out of it was I went into the bathroom and scooped water from the sink onto my head.

I kept thinking of the night my family went to a fancy Halloween party, a benefit for one of mom’s charities. The buffet tables had ice sculptures from fairy tales. Hansel and Gretel stood over the best guacamole ever, so I kept seeing them.

The sculptures were cutesy – at first. Hansel and Gretel had big O mouths, gazing at the witch’s candy house like all their dreams had come true. I was pretty young, like fourteen. But even then, I knew it was sad that Hansel and Gretel had no life – they got that excited about candy.

I’m ashamed to say I was mean back then. I liked it when the sculptures started to melt, too early – I don’t think the party organizers knew how hot the air gets around a bunch of excited kids. The sculptures flooded the food and I thought that was hilarious.

Matty pointed at the statue of Gretel, which was curling over, and asked me, “why did she break?”

Matty had been super pesty, following me everywhere, and I wanted a break so I said, “Because the witch sucked out her bones,” and when he didn’t act scared enough I made a snarling sucking sound that got him to cry and run for Dad. Our dad whisked Matty up to his shoulder and started comforting by acting silly. Dad gave me a you-did-this-to-your-itty-bitty-brother look and I stopped laughing and got very interested in the food table.

The guacamole had a steady drip of icy water from Gretel’s face. The way she was melting, her eyes bulged while her face stretched. She looked like a corpse who had died while crying. I had nightmares about that face for months, which I guess served me right. Gretel looked trapped in fear, like it was eating her inside out. Today I could relate.

Standing in the train station bathroom, soaking my head in water that smelled like rust and chlorine, I kept thinking about that statue. Finally I could sit in the lobby and write this. Writing usually calms me down.

I think I just spotted PaulTrigg outside the station window. -sE

45.

DD – Walking outside the transit center, I had so many reactions I got dizzy. It was a relief to say okay we’re here. Destination. Arrived. Riding on the train and bus had been so in-between, it didn’t seem real. My sneakers scritched cement as I walked toward the bench where PaulTrigg sat. Real again. It was good to be walking on ground, not aisles.

But now here we were in our new life. So big and different that I felt 2-D. And we weren’t together, not sitting so close I felt PaulTrigg’s breath on my arm and Grayfast’s growl against my leg. Riding like that had made it easy to not think, just hope.

Now I barely knew where Grayfast was. And PaulTrigg didn’t even notice me, he was looking down and frowning, fishing around inside his backpack.

Now what? What direction should we go? What actions should we take? Should we try to hide? And what about lunch? In my runaway fantasies I never imagined the details of somewhere new.

PaulTrigg zipped his backpack like it made him mad, but when he spotted me, he smiled. And that put my worries on mute.

“Want to eat at the food truck?” he asked, and only then did I notice the rumble of a generator and delicious smells. I had walked by a line of people waiting to order, without noticing! When I worry, my eyes are shut when they’re open.

I got the best green burrito and PaulTrigg said his nachos were also great. We ate on the bench and a gray flash under a bush said Grayfast was nearby. PaulTrigg threw a wad of cheese under the bush but only got a hiss for it.

I wanted to distract him. “Do you ever like to go to a boardwalk? We’re a couple blocks from one.”

“I’ve never been but it sounds fun. You’ve been here before?”

“This was my dad’s favorite vacation spot.”

PaulTrigg frowned and stared. “Will that make it hard for you to be here?”

“I’ll be fine,” I said. What I didn’t know how to say: I feel equally bad wherever I am, except with you and Grayfast.

Anyway he was so concerned already.

We finished lunch without talking but it wasn’t awkward.

“Before we visit the boardwalk we should go to a beach and take turns sleeping. Since we’re new here, that might be how we rest for a while.”

“I would never have thought of that!” I guess I sounded way admiring because PaulTrigg turned red. He’s like me – if we didn’t blush people would know a lot less about us.- sE

46.

DD – The boardwalk should have been ultra fun. On our own, we could do whatever we wanted! But I didn’t want to be entertained. I wanted to be safe. And I had cash from Ms. Benson but it wasn’t much and what if we spent it all on rides.

We wandered past ride after ride, line after line. Families with kids who bounced in impatience. Teenagers chattering like they just happened to be standing there, but then they would count, how many people until their turn. Based on the screams and groans, the roller coaster and the spinning flying seats would frighten us and make us regret eating lunch.

Perfect. But we kept walking and whenever we passed a ticket booth PaulTrigg gave an apology smile. Eventually I said, “It’s like, now we know what to try some other time but today not so much.”

His smile touched his eyes. “You’re right. We can come back any time. We live here now.”

I guess we stopped walking like tourists, because we started to get stares from the boardwalk denizens. (Finally got to use that word! Denizens!) Street kids, many younger than us. A tall boy with a smooth face and homemade tattoos stuck out a grimy foot. PaulTrigg jumped a sandal with duct tape straps and said, “Almost got me!” His friendliness startled the boy and kids behind him.

“You’re new here.” One of them spit at us but did an Eminem job of it.

“Not for long,” PaulTrigg said cheerfully. “Hey maybe one of you knows…” He stepped close and spoke quietly – parents in a nearby line were eavesdropping. Within a minute, the street kids closed around him like an old friend.

I was studying how could he make friends so easily when somebody shoved my arm. Three girls were behind me. Two with brown hair, one with blonde hair, who said, “Who let you off leash, dog?”

“Aren’t you in the dog park too?” popped out of my mouth. No clue what it meant but I said it like an insult. The blonde looked confused and thus mad. The others just watched. They seemed smarter. And stronger. I wouldn’t mind getting to know those two.

PaulTrigg returned, excited. “Got some good advice! Ready to go?”

All three girls ogled him, which only I noticed. As we walked away, the blonde held up both hands and flipped me off double. I could only feel sorry for her. – sE

47.

DD – I’m afraid to write down the name of the town we are in. Superstitions are so lame. Like writing it down will make us easier to find.

So many street kids and runaways here, no one questions our being out and about. Lots of good advice about where to get a shower, which stores let you use the bathroom without buying stuff.

PaulTrigg says we need to be friendly but nondescript so people don’t remember us. He doesn’t realize. How noticeable he is. With the girls who hang near the boardwalk I have enemies I never earned. They hate me because I exist, beside him.

Sometimes I think about kissing PaulTrigg and then I look up and Grayfast is in some tree staring at me. Eminem. Cats make terrible chaperones, they can watch you forever.

We have a good place to sleep for now. Yesterday I followed Grayfast along a line of trees beside a storm drain. The trees go all the way to a cliff above the ocean. On the cliff are two houses surrounded by trees and hedges. And a chain-link fence. There’s a low spot under the fence and the dirt is smooth from animals rubbing through underneath. It was easy for us to wiggle under the fence and get to the houses.

The houses are empty and closed like vacation homes when vacation is over. They have decks over the ocean and that’s where we slept last night. The deck furniture has covers that make okay blankets. Last night was so dark, full of ocean smell and waves smashing into the cliff. The spray and the fog filled the air and gave Grayfast wet fur. He crawled under my blanket and got me wet too. Sometimes between waves I heard PaulTrigg breathing.

“Which deck do you want?” PaulTrigg had asked me when we first got to the houses.

“Whichever one you’re on,” I said. Which shocked us both.

We sat in the dark listening to the waves until we caught each other’s yawns. Companionable silence. I saw that in a book once. Now I know what it means. -sE

48.

DD – This morning PaulTrigg was gone and Grayfast sat on the deck railing, flicking his ears at the fog. I turned our “blankets” back into furniture covers. The deck was wet except for two cocoon shapes where we had slept.

“Please give PaulTrigg a chance,” I said to the cat’s back.

Grayfast hissed to the trees. The chain-link fence jangled and PaulTrigg slide underneath, pushing his backpack before him. Grayfast ran around the far side of the houses.

PaulTrigg nodded like he always does when Grayfast rejects him and joined me at the table. He waved an open bag so I could enjoy the perfume: fresh dough. He dealt us bagels like cards then put a jar of orange juice between us. “I forgot cups.”

I swigged from the OJ jar, which made him smile.

I’m not a delicate eater. He might as well find out now. I finished my bagel before he sat down. “Take more bagels, I bought a dozen for the free one.” The most words he’d spoken since we ran away.

I was full but took another. Don’t waste them. “I hardly have any cash,” I said. “We need to get jobs.”

“Not yet. Here.” He reached inside his backpack a bunch of times and every time pulled out a handful of twenty-dollar bills. “We should spread this between our backpacks and pockets.”

I choked and pretended the bagel did it. “Now you’ll be wanted for theft!”

“Naw, my aunt and cousin won’t notice that I took this.” The way he said it, he took something else that they would notice.

I lined my backpack with bills and wondered if Grayfast would smell the cousin on them.

The ocean was full of sun glitter. It diluted my worry.

But not PaulTrigg’s. He stared off the deck a long time. “Could Grayfast be right about me?”

“No!” I spoke fast without thinking but it was my true thought.

“How can you be sure?”

“I don’t know but I am.”

“You could be trying to…” He pounded his bagel. “… placate me. Sometimes I forget normal words. Sorry.”

“I’m not into … appeasement. You’ll learn that about me.” I can’t say why he smiled. My smile came from being together that much.

He stood. “I’ll leave so Grayfast will come back.”

Suddenly I knew how to convince PaulTrigg that I trust him. “Would you mind if I wrote in my diary?”

“No go ahead.” He sounded curious and proud. Super proud.

From now on I’ll be sure to write when he’s around. -sE

49.

DD – I’m writing this so PaulTrigg will see me writing in front of him. Not much to say but I keep writing writing writing.

Being near the ocean could have bad effect on me and I need to watch out for that. The washing of the waves and the tangy fresh air bring so many memories of family vacations. I’m not ready for memories of my family.

I miss Grayfast. I don’t mean since he ran off the deck. I miss seeing his cat world, I miss him using me to write in scrabbly letters that I can barely read or understand. I don’t miss the headaches that came along but they were getting a little less severe, or I was convincing myself that they were better and that’s just as good.

It’s weird but awesome how sometimes I just know things about Grayfast and I know that he wants to hide our connection. He won’t be back in my head until/unless he comes to trust PaulTrigg.

I think I must be in shock. A homicidal maniac thing is after us but I don’t feel any of the fear I know is inside me. I don’t feel anything about PaulTrigg’s cousin, it’s like all my thoughts and memories of him are inside a gray rubber sack. My feelings about his victims are in a separate sack. Poor Ms. Benson. Poor Ma Warden. Poor everybody that lost them.

PaulTrigg asked, “Wouldn’t you rather be on the beach?”

“Definitely, let’s go down there!”

Interesting timing! PaulTrigg suggested this just as Grayfast disappeared into the storm drain channel, headed toward the ocean. Maybe Grayfast has ways of communicating with PaulTrigg, too! -sE

50.

DD – We went down to the beach using the little canyon that the storm drain runs through. Dangerous. Dirt and pebbles rained around us and it was so steep we had to go single file and hang onto bushes. Grayfast perched on the cliff with his fur puffed and as PaulTrigg went by, Grayfast hissed and growled and spat. I had a terrible fantasy of Grayfast attacking PaulTrigg’s eyes and sped up in case my being closer was protection.

Grayfast remained on the cliff like a statue with sound effects and when we got to the beach he was still up there, puffed and glaring.

“I’m getting the feeling that cat might not like me,” PaulTrigg said, and yes, D, he was being sarcastic.

“He just needs to get to know you,” I said and it was what I hope, which kept it from sounding totally bogus. But talking about Grayfast makes me nervous – so many things I have to be careful to not say. I found a change of subject near Grayfast on the cliff.

“We are so stupid,” I said. From down here on the sand it was obvious that our storm drain channel was too steep and crumbly for a person to climb. Our feet had started little landslides that continued to flow toward us on the beach like the dirt was hunting us and had our scent.

“If you think that’s stupid, look at this!” PaulTrigg gently rotated my shoulders so that I was looking in the same direction he was. Past our storm drain, another fifty feet beyond where we had started, was a wooden staircase, an official zigzag route for people to get down the cliff to the beach. “I’m glad we didn’t go that way, too risky, we could have gotten splinters,” he added.

We started to laugh and we couldn’t stop. I was rolling on the sand holding my stomach and laughing and yelling ow ow ow. I couldn’t remember a time I laughed like that. It was like all my sadness and fear were exploding out of me in that laugh and they didn’t leave easily but they left. Good riddance! – sE

51.

DD – Sometimes I can be really busy but bored. Other times I do basically nothing and want it to never end, like that morning at the beach with PaulTrigg. Watching the waves, we sat so long that the sand changed from damp and chilly to dry and baking.

He said, “We’re going to get sunburned,” and he kept watching the waves.

I said, “I feel my skin already burning,” and kept watching the waves except for a peek at PaulTrigg. “Your nose is pink.”

I made a tent with my hands to shade my face. He copied me. But then I dropped my hands because I realized. What was different about the street kids here. Their skin was shiny from sunburn on top of sunburn. Once we got burned that would help us blend in. I explained this to PaulTrigg. He dropped his hands. We watched more waves.

“Ella, I want to tell you something that nobody else knows.”

I almost gasped in shock and joy but I said, “Okay.” Then I realized, considering his family, maybe I don’t want to know. I forced myself to not get all tense.

“I like to draw but I don’t show my drawings to anybody. From now on when you work on your diary I will usually draw.”

Not a horrible family secret. I made a relieved noise but he reacted like I had laughed, so I blurted, “I’m not laughing, I thought you might say something bad like about your cousin.”

“Oh. That makes sense.” He sounded so sad.

Well we had a new record for length of time together without going awkward. It had to end sometime. I threw sand at the waves and I told him, “I’m not criticizing, just explaining. So you are like me, you keep a diary but yours is sketches.”

He didn’t say anything for several waves and I thought we had lost that good moment but then he said, “I knew you would understand.” Several waves later, he said, “We should buy hats, my skin stings.” But the beach must have wanted us to stay there, too, because thick fog swirled in to block the sun from our poor pink skin.

We had bagels with sand for lunch and now we are sitting in companionable silence while I write and he draws. So peaceful.

And private. We are in a little cove between two big beaches. Sometimes people wander past but apparently this beach only seems great to us.

I might take a nap. -sE

52.

DD – I fell asleep to the washing of the waves and the scratching of PaulTrigg’s pencil. But I had a bad dream memory.

Naps on the beach. The best part of vacation. My dad taught Matty to prop a hat over his face to get some dark. “Or bend your arm over your eyes. Like this. I call this the SSS.” And Dad got one of his stupid grins. Warning Lame Joke in Progress. Matty didn’t know better so he asked what that meant. SSS. “Son, that’s short for sandy siesta salute. See? When your elbow’s across your eyes, that’s the salute.”

Mom didn’t look up from her book. “When it takes that much effort to explain.” Dad didn’t seem to hear her but a few minutes later he got his revenge, sneaking in from the cooler with a handful of ice to stick down her back. She screeched like one of Matty’s friends.

I sat up fast and I was back on the beach with PaulTrigg.

He stopped drawing. “Are you okay?”

“I got sand in my eyes,” I lied.

I watched the waves and PaulTrigg went back to drawing. Off and on I’d hear a strange noise. Like angry bees on a roller coaster. I looked all around to figure out what was that.

“It’s not just you the cat hates. Check it,” I told PaulTrigg and pointed back to where we left our backpacks.

Grayfast was on the beach at the bottom of the storm drain channel, having a one-way catfight with an inanimate object – hissing and shrieking at PaulTrigg’s backpack.

“Amazing! He knows I brought the book!”

I didn’t have to ask which book PaulTrigg meant. The book from the Trigg library, the book about the Everweer.

“Why-?” did you bring that? I couldn’t finish the sentence because I thought I might barf.

He knew what I meant to ask. “Because we need more knowledge, it’s our only hope for protection.”

I saw his reasoning but I wished that thing wasn’t here with us. I turned my back to it but I felt it behind me. And after that all I noticed was how cold the fog was and how empty the beach had become. -sE

53.

DD – We walked up the beach until the tide forced us to the road, then we found a store. PaulTrigg did hats. My job was sunblock. Why are there so many choices?

Another memory attacked me. A supermarket with five million detergents. Dad taking pictures. “We’ll build a time machine and travel to the past and future where no one will believe our consumer society.” He didn’t notice the wail from the produce section.

“Mom said hurry before Matty had a meltdown,” I reminded. Everything distracted Dad. “Don’t you hear that?”

He listened and smiled. “Mother’s intuition for the win. Here, stand by the shelf for scale.”

Mom came up with our wailing baby and when she saw dad posing me her expression went from anger to total love to frustration.

When she got to love I started to cry.

Fortunately the boardwalk girls showed up in the aisle, which cancelled that memory. I studied a sunblock label.

The blonde leader said, “Poor wittle suburban baby does the sun hurty wurt?”

“Didn’t sunburns ever bother you?” I replied like we were having a conversation, not a situation.

One of the two satellite girls said, “Still do.” She rubbed her red brown arms like they hurt.

I chose a tube based on package colors. “If you want to use some of this.”

I knew you were rich,” the leader sneered.

“I wish,” I said. I couldn’t tell did they want to be friends or enemies so I didn’t react too much.

“Where’s the hot guy, ditch you already?” The leader sounded jealous.

“You talk like a TV show,” I said. “That a grandparent would watch.”

Mistake. The satellite girls laughed.

PaulTrigg came around a corner, seconds too late to save me from making Chrissie hate me.

He said hey to everybody then handed me a baseball cap with no team logo. “This one should fit.”

I tried it and nodded. We hadn’t discussed colors but this was teal, my favorite. “See you around,” I told the boardwalk girls. I focused on the satellites to keep my voice friendly.

“Later,” PaulTrigg told them and we headed for the check-out.

“Where are you staying?” the leader called to us.

A satellite said, “Chrissie!” like that was the rudest question ever.

PaulTrigg ignored them so I did too. At the register, he didn’t have enough cash so I added crumpled bills to pay the rest. This was PaulTrigg’s idea to hide the fact we have lots of cash on us. Crumpled bills was my idea. We make a good team. – sE

54.

DD – Does my printing look different? I am writing this in the dark under my furniture cover. Super late. PaulTrigg has been asleep for hours but I can’t close my eyes. Whenever I do I guess that’s a signal to my ears to listen harder. I close my eyes and I hear muttering from PaulTrigg’s backpack. Where the book is. The book of the Everweer.

It has to be my imagination, right, because I didn’t hear muttering until I knew the book was there.

Thinking about that stupid book, I enjoyed the sunset more than usual though. Back on our deck we finished the bagels and OJ for dinner and that is when I started hearing muttering. I had to force myself to focus on other stuff. I was all, the book the book the horrible book the book wow that sunset! Thick clouds filled the sky but in its last minutes the sun dropped below them. It shot golden rays everywhere and turned the bellies of the clouds bright orange.

Our second beautiful sunset together.

Maybe I’m not the only one nervous about the book. PaulTrigg watched the sunset too but all he said was, “As soon as you’re done eating let’s start reading. We won’t be able to read much at one time. The book will take our energy.”

“That doesn’t exactly make me eager to start. And for me it’s too dark to read it.”

“I bought a flashlight today.”

“I mean I can’t face that book in the dark. I need bright sunlight.”

“Hmm you have a point.”

Which creeped me out. I’d rather be overreacting. PaulTrigg was acting worried and in a hurry. What the Queen Latifah is up? I need to talk to him about that. In daylight.

I’m glad I know about the book in the backpack for one reason though. It helped me notice that Grayfast only growls at PaulTrigg when he is wearing the backpack. So maybe it’s just the book that Grayfast hates.

PaulTrigg stowed his backpack inside the hood of the barbecue on the deck and after that, Grayfast hung out with us. When I put food out, Grayfast ate with his back to PaulTrigg. Before, he kept PaulTrigg in view and hissed at him between bites. Progress. – sE

55.

DD – Bright sun all day, no excuse to avoid the book. We read on the beach. Something about the ocean, I’m not as scared of the book when I’m near the ocean. Maybe it’s what Grayfast wrote about big water protecting me.

When we had the book out, Grayfast left the trees on the cliff and went down near the surf. At first I thought he was hunting shore birds but then it seemed like he didn’t want the book between him and the ocean.

PaulTrigg set the book on his lap. “I’d better be the only one to touch this.” He kept going like he wasn’t expecting an argument. “I’ll be able to see more words than you do so I’ll read aloud but it’s like a different language and I’m not fluent. Sometimes you might get a word that I don’t.”

“Should I take notes?”

“Sure though I doubt we can forget what we learn here. The other thing you need to know is that reading this book marks us for death.”

“Pretty sure your cousin is not hunting us to take us to the movies.”

PaulTrigg opened the book. Down at the water, Grayfast seemed to flinch.

Right on the first page of calligraphy was what PaulTrigg meant about seeing words. You know how if you daydream while reading and the words go fuzzy, you have to concentrate again to read the words? Anywhere I concentrated, these words stayed fuzzy. Off the edges they made sense unless I concentrated on an edge and then THOSE words went fuzzy. But every once in a while a word was clear and that was startling.

I will write what PaulTrigg reads from the book but I might trash those pages later. -sE

56.

DD – PaulTrigg read slowly. The words shifted for him, too, but not as much as for me.

The calligraphy also changed from page to page. PaulTrigg explained that each Everweer family had a copy of the book and made changes through generations.

“Does every family have a different version then?”

He thought a while. “No. New pages would suddenly appear in our book and my aunt would say someone revised theirs. I noticed because when I was little I looked through the book every day, trying to understand how some pages could be hot or cold. How the words, pictures could change. It was like magic.”

All my life I’ve longed for magic but now I stopped. “Well, yeah, it is magic, right?”

“More like ESP. I better start, the words get harder to read the longer the book is open.”

I used red ink to write what he read. Lucky I had that pen in my backpack. Words in caps are the ones I could read.

++++++

The Book of the Everweer.

If ye read this book and be not one of us, by this reading for DEATH do ye mark thyself.

We be human like the Mere, yet more than human. Long ago we lived openly with the Mere, but their jalousies and kontrols would PERSECUTE us into and beyond the grave.

Our secrecy is our salvation. Any who reveals our existence threatens it, is a TRAITOR and murderer, and must be treated swiftly and harshly as though our lives depend on it – which they do.

The tragedy of the Everweer is that love brings danger, fatal weakness. This is most evident when parents must remove endangering offspring. Each child should be raised in the knowledge of Everweer, but not every child will evolve and those that fail to evolve will INEVITABLY BETRAY our secret. For our very survival, all possible betrayers must be culled from the herd at the earliest right moment. The good of the many steadies our wavering hands.

++++++

PaulTrigg’s voice and hands shook. “Stop for a while,” I said. He showed no reaction but I knew he heard me because he returned the book to the backpack and left it by the cliff, then sat beside me.

An amazing thing happened. Grayfast sprinted to the cliff – but as he passed us, he swerved to rub against PaulTrigg’s leg.

“Wow,” PaulTrigg said. I had to agree. – sE

57.

DD – We would discuss the reading eventually but right then we rested on the beach.

I had a strange urge. “I have to go in the ocean.”

PaulTrigg looked surprised then did one of his Jedi nods. “I was thinking the same thing.”

Like we were racing, we rolled up our pants and ran into the surf. The water was insanely cold and I screamed when my toes first touched. PaulTrigg was already yelling. I shivered forever but even though I only got wet to my knees, the water made me feel safe again.

“I need pizza,” I said when we were back on the sand.

“Me too! But we have to hurry so we don’t lose our light.”

We jogged to the pizza place near the beach parking lot and I hate to run but I felt happy. I knew PaulTrigg well enough to understand what he meant! We needed to read more from the book by the ocean in bright daylight and you never know when fog will come on the beach.

We ordered a large veggie and wrapped pieces in foil for other meals. Knowing we’d have pizza for breakfast put me in a really good mood until we settled in to the sand to read more of the book.

As soon as PaulTrigg got the book, Grayfast ran from the cliff to the water line. Doing it twice couldn’t be a coincidence.

PaulTrigg kept turning one page back and forth.

“You finished page 4,” I said.

“Is it different now? I think the words changed.”

He was right. I could read VIOLENCE WARRANTED but before I read INEVITABLY BETRAYED.

We looked at each other. “Don’t criticize,” he said softly, like the book was listening.

I wanted to burn the book then throw it in the ocean and run as fast as possible away from the remains. But we shouldn’t contaminate the ocean and I trusted PaulTrigg that we had to learn this stuff. “I vote just keep going, We can’t keep starting over.”

PaulTrigg shut the book again. “Touching this, reading it makes me feel so bad. Like I’m a rabbit getting chased by a wolf and I’m too weak to get to my hiding place. That must be a sign that it was wrong for me to take the book.”

“You had to do it. But can we stop for today?” We waded back in the ocean, then spent the rest of the day and night in our companionable silence. – sE

58.

DD – PaulTrigg thrashed and whimpered with nightmares last night. As soon as we finished our breakfast pizza, we went back to the beach for more reading.

+++++++

On rare occasion, a Mere evolves to Everweer. Who will evolve cannot be predicted. We of PUREBLOOD are divided on this. Some say welcome them, teach them our ways. Others say they must be destroyed. We the Everweer SANCTION BOTH responses.

Wonder not that the Everweer struggle to survive when every concept faces dispute. What is pureblood? Some say our weaknesses and aversions trace to Mere blood. In contradiction, others say that narrow blood lines weaken our breed much as a purebred dog has more flaws than a mutt.

+++++++

PaulTrigg made a disgusted noise and flipped through the pages. “Somewhere it talks about the weaknesses and aversions. Ow!”

The book gave him a paper cut and his finger bled. He stuck the finger in his mouth and the book fell open at the double page photo of his family’s Everweer. A drop of blood hit the page. Just as I was starting to notice something, sand sprayed on us.

Grayfast attacked PaulTrigg, biting his legs. PaulTrigg jumped to his feet and the book fell to the sand, closed. Grayfast jumped back from the book, hissed, and ran for the cliff.

“Did you see that?” PaulTrigg demanded. But he meant Grayfast’s attack, not what I saw.

I couldn’t get words out until he reached for the book. “Leave it!” I didn’t understand what I had seen but suddenly I just knew, “We need to get back in the water.” And in the water I could describe what I saw.

That horrible photo. PaulTrigg showed it to me in the secret library at his house. Seven people in a line, with his aunt and cousin in the middle. Behind each person was a chain of shadows that resembled the front person but were different ages, genders, and features, not all human. The cousin and one other person had shadows that sucked air like they were feeding on it.

Today the images moved. The shadows changed with gradual swirls. When the drop of blood hit the page, PaulTrigg’s cousin sniffed and all his shadow eyes got sharp like they were focusing, like the page was a window to our beach.

I felt sure that if we had left the book open, the cousin would have looked right at us. Seen where we were. Thanks to Grayfast, the book shut before that could happen. – sE

59.

DD – We agreed that Grayfast had saved us – from what, we couldn’t say. Could PaulTrigg’s cousin find us, hurt us, through the book? PaulTrigg didn’t know so I sure didn’t. We couldn’t open the book again until we figured that out. But what if we needed to read the book to figure it out?!

We stayed in the water until our feet got so cold we couldn’t wiggle toes. Back on the beach, PaulTrigg shoved the book in his backpack and ran the backpack to the cliff, which made the beach more comfortable. After that we alternated freeze and thaw, wading and sunning.

On the beach, it felt like the air was listening, so we kept silent. Wading in the surf, we talked.

“What are your thoughts so far?”

Even my icy feet felt warmer because PaulTrigg valued my opinion. “I can’t use the name to talk about them. It’s like I can’t say it quietly enough. So I’ll use Grayfast’s name.”

“The Other Ones.” PaulTrigg nodded and looked toward the trees on the cliff. I couldn’t see the cat but I felt his attention on us.

“In some ways I’m less scared of them now that you’re reading. Sometimes they’re whiny and feeling sorry for themselves and arguing and that reminds me they’re people. Partly. People with crazy powers. Who can hold a grudge for years. Lifetimes.”

“Centuries,” PaulTrigg agreed. “But it’s like I told you once. They’re – we’re not all bad.”

He stopped to include himself like that was important. Maybe he saw signs that he was turning. Before I could ask him, motion by the cliff distracted me.

“Hey! Leave our stuff alone!” I yelled. The boardwalk girls were on our beach and messing with our backpacks.

“Hello again,” PaulTrigg called in a less harsh voice than mine. The blonde leader, Chrissie, dropped the backpacks and watched us head their way. “Can we borrow sunblock now?” She used this as an excuse to unzip the backpacks.

“It’s not in there,” I called. A lie.

A satellite girl said something to Chrissie and she dropped the backpacks sarcastically. The other satellite girl zipped the packs up again, looking away to not be snooping.

It disappoints me that homeless cliques aren’t any better than high school cliques. The smart decent ones are never the leaders. And if there is only one blonde she will be the boss. Even though Chrissie’s hair is stringy and thin. The satellite girls have thick wavy black hair. They might be Hispanic. – sE

60.

DD – PaulTrigg and I wandered for hours, far into town, so the Boardwalk girls wouldn’t suspect that we were staying on that deck. They had to be following us because they kept reappearing.

We went to the homeless shelter that lets street kids take showers, no questions asked. We took turns watching each other’s backpack while the other got clean. When I was alone with his backpack I swear I heard muttering but fortunately not when he was there.

In the shower room was a mirror that had so much graffiti it cut my face into a hundred pieces. I startled when I first looked – I forgot I died my hair red! Some brown roots already showed. Kanye. Although maybe it didn’t matter. No disguise would fool PaulTrigg’s cousin.

After our showers we walked and talked, detouring through food stores with free samples. We spent ages at the cafe all the street kids use. The day waitress gives you free refills until her shift ends, and giving her a giant tip is cheaper than buying food.

“What do you remember being in the book when you read it as a kid?”

PaulTrigg stirred his coffee into a whirlpool. “The various powers and how to fight them. Weaknesses. How to strengthen your power. Families. How to recognize an Other One. What to do if a Mere detects you. What you’re allowed to do.”

“Has your cousin been acting within those rules?”

“I hope not.” PaulTrigg looked out the restaurant window. “Those three girls are across the street.”

“Ya. They walked by this window three times so far.”

“Do you think they know we have.” He rubbed his fingertips together, that symbol for money.

“I think they’re crushing.”

D, he started to ask “crushing on who”! Then his mouth made an “Oh” and his sunburned cheeks got brighter.

We resumed wandering and finally lost the boardwalk girls at a free evening concert at the downtown promenade.

We were about 2 miles from our deck. Going back, we had to detour way out of our way, to stay on streets where street kids wouldn’t attract attention at night. We discussed whether to risk more reading and what PaulTrigg’s cousin might know about our location. No decisions.

By the time we got home we were too tired for dinner. PaulTrigg fell asleep as soon as he lay down. I wrote this as fast as I could and now I hope to fall asleep just as fast. Grayfast has wiggled under my covers so it’s bedtime for all. – sE

61.

MY TWO-LEGS AND HER OTHER ONE OPEN THE TRAP. THE BIG WATER SHUTS THE TRAP. ONLY THE BIG WATER.

DD – Scrabble writing on my diary page! At last! The feeling of a bomb in my head was back, too, but didn’t hurt as much as before, maybe because I was so happy to connect with Grayfast again!

Did this mean that Grayfast was starting to trust PaulTrigg?

This scrabble writing might tell us what to do about the book. I should discuss it with PaulTrigg except how would Grayfast react to that? Too many decisions so I made none.

PaulTrigg and I went down to the beach right after pizza breakfast, again debating whether to open the book. No choices looked right. First I was scared and PaulTrigg was frustrated. Then we switched.

“I’m going to draw, that helps me think,” Paul Trigg said.

So I got out this page and the next thing I knew, scrabble writing.

How did I act? Did I go all strange when Grayfast wrote through my fingers?

I said, “Weird question but did I do anything – unusual since I got my diary out?”

He gave me the kind of look you’d expect for that question, with a coating of friendliness that PaulTrigg always has. “Not at all. Why?”

“Sometimes my writing surprises me, like it comes from somewhere deep. Or far. So I’m wondering if I acted different when that happened.”

He looked excited. “Okay! Same for my drawing. Sometimes I don’t remember doing it. Ms. Benson said that happens with math, too, when our subconscious collaborates with us. Or our unconscious. I can never keep those ideas straight.”

I wished so bad that we could just keep talking about interesting stuff.

Grayfast called the book a trap (pretty sure he meant the book) and I felt it waiting to get us. If we opened it wrong. Or if we ignored it.

Suddenly I knew what to try. “I feel safer in the ocean. What if we open the book while we stand in the water?”

We stared at the waves. After a while, Grayfast showed up at the surf line. The tide was low and he seemed far away.

“Yes,” PaulTrigg said like he was trying a new language for the first time. “We should try that.”

He finished his drawing first. Now he’s removing his shoes.

Wish us luck, D! – sE

62.

DD – We’re still alive and PaulTrigg’s cousin hasn’t appeared. That’s the good news about the reading.

The book got crazy hard to hold when we stepped in the water. t\To keep it from falling, PaulTrigg moved like he was juggling.

“It gets heavy then light, then heavy there but light over here. It’s like it wants me to drop it.”

“My advice is, don’t do anything that book wants you to do.”

“I know, right?” And the book popped out of his hands and he fell to his knees to catch the book before it got wet.

When the book dropped I gasped so hard I started to cough. Once PaulTrigg was standing again he raised the book above his head and we looked at each other, shaking our heads.

“We don’t actually know that dropping the book in the ocean would be bad,” I pointed out.

“We don’t actually know anything,” he said. He opened the book in the middle so he could grip the pages plus covers tight against his stomach.

On the open pages was a photo of an Everweer family. The shadows behind the people started to swirl. “No photos!” I may have yelled. PaulTrigg did a weird maneuver to keep his grip on the book while turning the page. It would be so much easier if I could help hold the book.

The next two pages were text only. I couldn’t read a single word.

“Do you get any of this?” he asked. He couldn’t read any of it, either.

The same thing kept happening – big effort to turn the page, then might as well not bother. PaulTrigg went back to the beginning, to pages he had read before, and those words were unreadable now, too.

“Your book is messing with us. And I can’t feel my feet anymore.” My teeth knocked together when I talked, I was that cold.

“Meanwhile, touching this burns my hands.” He used his fingernails like tongs to hold the pages.

Who knows how long we would have gone without results if the water had been warmer. But I had a full body shiver that threw my balance and my hands shot out. One hand touched it. The book. My other hand grabbed PaulTrigg’s arm. With my hands touching PaulTrigg and the book, I could read all the words. We both could.

Now we’re on the beach and as soon as our feet are out of hypothermia we’re going back in to read this Tupac book before it pulls any other stunts. – sE

63.

DD – We read a lot then had to stop because of our injuries. The top of PaulTrigg’s hands had a rash like scorched blood blisters. Weirdly, the skin that didn’t touch the book had the blisters. And after so much time in that cold water, my toes turned gray and numb.

We sat on our beach. Warm sand warm sun. “Extreme trouble with our extreme-ities,” PaulTrigg joked. He knows I ignore puns so he didn’t look for a reaction. He was cheerful because Grayfast ate a morsel of food that he tossed. Apparently PaulTrigg is no longer a dangerous enemy.

PaulTrigg wiggled my toes for me while l wrote down what we had learned. Although, like PaulTrigg said, we won’t/can’t forget that book’s words.

My toes felt nothing. It was like watching somebody else’s toes get wiggled. Until suddenly I got super embarrassed and pulled my feet away. “That’s enough.” My voice sounded harsh so I added, “Thanks, that helped.” I tucked my feet under me. When my toes stopped being numb, they felt so good to have PaulTrigg touching them. So good it was embarrassing.

How I can have feelings like that when I’m learning such creepy scary Eminem.

+++++++

The powers of each Everweer are unique in their combination yet draw from broad categories of resources that others share. Great speed, battle prowess, vision across distance or time, a nose for secrets, the wisdom to anticipate another’s action or path, leaps that substitute for flight, inscrutable cunning, amplification of sensation. Each of our kind has powers, and every power comes with kindred flaw.

To a stranger, the powers may prove insurmountable, but the powers are vulnerable to those who know them. We disguise our powers, and mask our flaws, but those close to us have opportunity to see and recognize both.

Expect betrayal. It be guaranteed when Everweer develop attachment to Mere. Neither friend nor foe ought these races be, but separate. Intermingling exposes and weakens us. Gravest danger arises from Meer changelings who have Everweer power but Mere ignorance. Changelings be not our fellows, they be mutants. They be deadly even as infants and we dasn’t coexist.

+++++++++

D, the way PaulTrigg looked away – he thinks I’m a changeling. Have to ask him about that. As soon as I get the courage. – sE

64.

DD – I was hungry and cold but couldn’t stop writing. I had to get the book’s words on paper to get them out of my head. PaulTrigg went to get food and I stayed on the beach. It was the first time we split up since we ran away together and I was glad to know Grayfast was nearby, in the trees on the cliff.

++++++++

Our flaws be as particular as our powers, yet we have broad strategies to identify flaws and wield this knowledge to quench powers. Look to opposites and mirrors. Cunning may be thwarted by simplicity. Great speed fares ill on occasions that require care and finesse.

When we kill, never call it unprovoked. Those who say we kill in haste forget the history of our kind. Pogroms, exile, grief, isolation. A better future demands that we strike decisively. We cannot afford compassion.

The hunters are our true foes. Waste not your strength nor attention on the Mere and the changelings, Some say that hunters are a kind of changeling. In my experience, the changeling is the hunter’s pawn.

We often say that those with greatest powers evolve last. Follows it then, that those will have the greatest flaws? Perhaps there be no futile births, no barren minds. Perhaps all Everweer could eventually develop powers, were they not untimely murdered by their peers.

++++++++

My life was so simple with the wardens, before Grayfast and PaulTrigg. I always knew what to do – follow the rules or get sneaky. I always knew what I wanted to do – basically, nothing. I wouldn’t go back to those days, though, even if I could. I’m so sorry about Ma Warden. I never liked her but. If I hadn’t been in her house she’d still be alive.

I’m glad I never wished her dead.

PaulTrigg has been gone a long time. I’m going back to our deck. -sE

65.

DD – Someone was on our deck while we were gone. The furniture covers were dumped in heaps on the ground. That was the first time I missed cell phones. I wanted to text PaulTrigg did he do this but I knew he didn’t, he treated things with respect.

And I wanted to tell him where I was and hurry back. But he would find me. And he would bring back something good to eat.

Part of me tried to worry and the rest of me thought everything would be okay. Grayfast hopped onto the deck railing and that said the deck was okay.

PaulTrigg returned with dips that were healthy yet delicious plus chips and actual vegetables. “You can choose my food forever!” Eminem did that sound like a marriage proposal? Why do words sound so different once they escape my mouth? I jumped up to feed Grayfast so we could be embarrassed in private.

“I bet you this candy bar,” PaulTrigg said, “that the fog will come in and block the sunset.”

“Deal. Bet. Whatever. The fog will wait for another great sunset.”

“I’m happy to lose that bet,” he smiled. “By the way, why did you do that to the furniture covers?”

“I wanted you to see them before I straightened.” I explained what I’d found, and concluded, “Grayfast has been acting comfortable so I don’t think anyone is nearby. But we need to remember this isn’t really our private hideaway.”

PaulTrigg gave one of his wise nods. “It just feels that way. Duly noted, intruders.”

We discussed whether we should leave things messed up so the intruders wouldn’t know we had been here, but it seemed wrong to let vandals win.

While it was still bright afternoon, I read aloud all the entries I transcribed from the book. Now we are taking a break to draw and write and cling to what’s left of our good mood. Then we’ll talk about the book until it’s time to watch the sunset. Then we’ll keep talking until we know what we think about what we’ve read. -sE

66.

DD – What did we know about the Other Ones? They have different powers, each with a flaw that could stop that power. They debate and disagree about – everything, but especially the Mere, which are people without powers. The Mere persecuted the Other Ones hundreds of years ago but hatred fear resentment remains strong as yesterday.

Some of the Other Ones sounded like a kid at my old school who everybody expected to become a school shooter. He blamed everyone for everything and said “I’ll get you for that” like other people say “Have a good lunch”.

But some of the Other Ones seemed fair and noble like PaulTrigg’s aunt.

“What powers does your aunt have?”

“I’m not sure. No one talks about power or weakness, those just -” PaulTrigg struggled for the right words then waved like the air annoyed him. “Those just are. Like having brown hair.”

Or Tupac amazing gray eyes like his. Fog at midnight.

“But my aunt’s powers have to do with sensing what people are thinking.”

“Not just people. Once -” I shut up, still not sure whether I could talk about my connection with Grayfast. One day I saw PaulTrigg’s family through Grayfast’s eyes and his aunt sent a thought message to the cat, ‘welcome, friend’.

PaulTrigg gave me a friendly patient look like it’s your barista’s first day so she is Queen Latifah slow. I didn’t bother to find a bogus ending to my sentence. With PaulTrigg it’s okay to change the subject.

Nothing we had read in the book seemed to explain Grayfast’s connection to the Other Ones. But maybe mine was in there. “What’s a changeling? Am I one?”

“I’m not sure. A lot of this information is new to me because my uncle won’t trust me until – unless – I turn. But after you came over for dinner, I heard them arguing and my aunt said you might be one. A changeling.”

“Which makes me more dangerous than a Mere.” Which made me angry as much as scared.

“To the paranoid ones like my uncle, yeah, exactly.” For most of our talk, PaulTrigg watched Grayfast watch the ocean, but now he looked at me, and he didn’t touch me but I felt like he gave me a big long hug.

“If I understand the book right, we need to figure out your uncle’s flaws if we want to survive.”

“That’s my understanding too. It’s time to watch the sun set, though.”

As the pink and orange spread over the sky, it was easier to feel safe. – sE

67.

DD – The sunset ended blood red. “Time to talk about your cousin,” I joked. Even when a joke is not funny or actually kidding, it helps. I turned my chair to face PaulTrigg across the table. “His powers involve hunting.”

“Maybe. He’s very physical and coordinated. My earliest memories of him are athletic stuff. Cheering for him at marathon finish lines. He would wrestle my dad – his uncle – and always win. My cousin has to win. When I was little I was proud when I pleased him. He pushed me to try my best. But then he turned mean. Now he overreacts like crazy.”

Overreaction. I had seen that. PaulTrigg’s cousin didn’t need to toss the dinner table when Grayfast scratched him. He certainly didn’t need to kill Ma Warden. Or Ms. Benson. “Maybe that’s a flaw we can use against him.”

“He overreacts, and then he goes wild about overreacting. About any hint that he made a mistake. And he only acts or reacts. He doesn’t think or plan.”

“Then we’re a lot safer hiding from him like we are now. Finding someone takes strategy – planning. Not planning is a flaw we can use! Somehow.”

“Somehow. We’ll figure it out when we have to.” PaulTrigg was so sure that he gave me confidence too. Anyway, when I’m with PaulTrigg I can’t feel scared-and-nothing-but. A little bit of fun always creeps in.

“Um. We’re the ones who do the thinking and planning.”

He gave his laugh like being tickled. Which reminded me of when dad would tickle Matty and me. Instant sadness. I didn’t mean to make PaulTrigg sad too – or did I? – when I asked, “So your parents were around long enough for you to have memories? I thought they disappeared right after you were born.”

“I have memories but I don’t let them out because they take over.” PaulTrigg sounded like I’ve felt since the accident. “Do you know about OCD? Obsessive compulsive disorder?”

I shrugged. “Sometimes hearing a name, you think you know stuff about it.”

“I have OCD about my parents. Whenever I start thinking about them I can’t stop, I dig deeper and deeper into every memory.”

“And eventually you can’t remember the memory, from studying every little detail.”

It was too dark to see him but I felt him looking at me so I looked back.

“It is such a relief to talk to someone who thinks the same ways.”

“Same here.”

After that we took turns talking about our parents. What we remembered. What we wished we knew. D, writing that down tonight would make me too emotional but I promise I’ll tell you details later. -sE

68.

DD – PaulTrigg didn’t eat much breakfast though it was our favorite. Cold veggie pizza. I finished my second pizza slice. Oops. Maybe third. Second for the second time. “I’m crazy hungry this morning!” I said.

He officially pushed breakfast away. “I dreamt about my family last night.”

“I’m glad I don’t dream.”

“Everyone dreams. You just don’t remember yours, which can be worse.”

Which made me so mad at him. I want to never fight with PaulTrigg so I shoved pizza in my mouth before I replied so I wouldn’t sound angry. “What was your dream, can you talk about it?”

“It was like memories strung in a row to tell a story. A different story than when the memories were separate. Or that’s what it seems like to me. Tell me what you think. First, memories of my dad and cousin running and playing basketball and wrestling. My cousin getting mad when my dad wasn’t trying hard enough but getting even more mad if my dad beat him. My dad saying some people don’t understand the concept of fun. Other memories of them doing stuff together, building a new fence, changing my diaper.”

I swallowed orange juice weird and it went in my nose. Don’t ever do that. “You remember a diaper change? How old were you?”

PaulTrigg looked embarrassed. “That would be weird huh? Maybe that was just a dream, not a memory.”

He said it like he knew it was a memory. I had to reassure him. “Having memories that young says you’re special, not strange.”

“Thanks for saying that.” He looked out the deck where the ocean would be if it weren’t so foggy. “I need to draw for a while.”

I hope he shows me his drawings someday. I know they’re great. -sE

69.

DD – PaulTrigg finished drawing and continued talking like there hadn’t been an hour gap between his sentences. “Anyway the point is that my dad and cousin were always friends or at least friendly. My cousin wasn’t the friend type. But things changed. My mom and my aunt would shut doors and stay in rooms with me, pretending they wanted to play but listening to my dad and cousin fight in another room. Jumping when there was a crash. Reassuring me everything was okay but with voices that disagreed.”

Grayfast trotted off the deck toward the trees at the edge of the property line. When I thought about it later, I realized the cat was growling but at the time I concentrated on PaulTrigg’s words.

“One day my cousin broke my dad’s arm. Really bad – the bone stuck out. Then my parents disappeared. It was about that time. My last memory of my dad, his arm was in a cast.”

I had a million questions but before I could ask any of them, my skull felt like it was ripping apart.

And then I was in two places. I was sitting at the table on the deck but I was running on dirt under trees. Leaves scraped past my eyes. My throat tickled with a rumble. A silent growl. Beyond the leaves was the dirt of the cliff and on the edge of the cliff, ten legs walked toward me. Dirty legs with dark tans. Sandals with duct tape. I ran back toward the deck where PaulTrigg sat with a girl that looked like me.

At the trees by the edge of the property, Grayfast scurried under the fence then ran fast toward us.

“Hide! People are coming!” I told PaulTrigg. We grabbed our food and dashed around the back of the house, just as the ten legs reached the fence. Approaching the deck, the five people made so much noise it was easy to know where they were and keep the two houses between us and them.

“Somebody was here. They changed everything,” Chrissie’s voice yelled from the deck, confirming these were yesterday’s intruders. Wooshes as they pulled the covers off the furniture. Scrapes as they slid chairs around the deck. Fortunately, no squeaks that would have meant they opened the lid of the bar-b-q grill, where our backpacks hid.

They messed everything up just to mess things up. I thought they would never leave but finally they did. – sE

70.

DD – I’m so happy to have this part of my connection with Grayfast back. Seeing through his eyes! The headache at the start wasn’t as bad this time – maybe we are learning how to do this. Connect our minds.

Maybe I will figure out how to ask the cat questions that he can answer. For one thing, I will ask permission to tell PaulTrigg about the connection.

But the first priority was to make sure Grayfast was okay. As the intruders were leaving, one of them shouted “There’s that stupid cat again,” and after scraping noises I couldn’t identify, the same voice yelled, “Yes! I hit him. Did I knock him off the cliff? Where’d he go?”

Another intruder said, “Don’t throw rocks at the trees, lame-o, they’ll hit somebody on the beach.”

“Why would I care?” the rock thrower said.

“Because the cops will investigate and we’ll have to leave.”

Bad news, the intruders planned to stay in this area. PaulTrigg and I gave each other eye rolls and grimaces. If they were staying, we had to leave.

When the voices were out of hearing range, we went back to the deck to get our backpacks then headed for the beach, the long way around so it wouldn’t seem like we came from the deck if we ran into anybody.

When we got to the beach we searched the trees for signs of Grayfast.

“There!” A gray and black blur scampered down the storm channel like a kitten coming to play. “He’s fine!” Deep down I knew those intruders couldn’t hurt Grayfast. Only someone like PaulTrigg’s cousin could.

PaulTrigg watched me like he expected my face to say something different than my words as he asked, “How did you know people were coming? I didn’t hear anything.”

“I noticed Grayfast growling.” I let him see how uncomfortable I was with my answer. Maybe he would understand that I wanted to say more.

Grayfast stopped at the bottom of the storm channel and stared. PaulTrigg looked from the cat to me. The way he said, “That cat completely trusts you,” I bet when I explain about my connection, PaulTrigg will say oh yeah I know. Because that’s how he is. He figures everything out. – sE

71.

DD – We had plenty more to read in the book but I agreed when PaulTrigg said, “We’ve earned a day off!”

Anyway we needed to find a new place to stay, now that intruders had invaded our deck. We walked from one beach to the next, slowly like we were exploring during low tide but mostly to check out houses above the cliff without being obvious. And also to give Grayfast time to follow. He’d go up a storm channel, run along the cliff, return to the sand. This went on for an hour, then he stopped coming down to the beach. We searched the cliff for him and there he was, far back, a gray speck on a short wooden fence along one stretch of the cliff.

“We should check that place.” After all, it was Grayfast who led us to our deck. And so we went up and around, into the neighborhood above this current beach. The houses were smaller and closer here than in the neighborhood by our deck, but it wasn’t suspicious for us to be walking because every block had a stairway down to the beach. The short wooden fence where Grayfast had stopped ran along the back of a yard next to a beach stairway. A cement block wall blocked the yard from the walkway. But there was a gap between the cement wall on the side and the wood fence.

To reach the gap, we had to jump across a cement ditch with a steep drop. I wouldn’t call it safe, but I jumped with confidence because Grayfast waited on the fence.

Behind the cement wall, the backyard was full of dead weeds. The house’s back windows had plywood nailed over them. We snuck around the other side and out a gate that squeaked. On the street side, the house looked better. From a post in the lawn dangled two signs. For Sale. In Escrow.

“That padlock thing on the front door?” PaulTrigg said. “Realtors use that when a house is empty.”

I got paper and made a show of writing down the phone number from the sign, then led us away, around the curve of the street until the house was out of sight. “Neighbor was watching out their window,” I explained.

“Good catch,” PaulTrigg said. Then he found a new way to get to the backyard, by walking outside the wood fence along the cliff from a different beach stairway.

Another proof of what a good team we make. – sE

72.

DD – We sat on steps in the escrow house backyard and watched the cypress tree that twisted across the fence over the cliff. The tree was packed with hopping chirping birds. Below them crouched a quiet cat. Sometimes Grayfast’s tail would twitch. He watched every bird, while none of them seemed to notice him. Grayfast was a great jumper but the first cypress branch was higher than the roof. So the birds looked safely out of his reach.

“One time I was – with Grayfast and I ruined his day because I cried out and that warned the birds he was hunting.” I choked on with. No easy way to describe sharing-the-cat’s-head-and-causing-him-to-meow-right-when-he-lunged.

“Do you ever feel like you’re a fat little bird who doesn’t see what’s stalking you?”

I turned to face PaulTrigg so he could see I was kidding, and said, “No, I’m not good at being cheerful like that.” I watched Grayfast again. “Anyway we know who our stalker is.”

“One of them, anyway.”

“When it’s not our day off you’ll need to explain that.” I stood up and dusted off my pants. Tiny birds scattered in a cloud of cheeps. Grayfast gave us a look then trotted out of sight.

PaulTrigg shrugged like he was knocking stuff off his shoulders and asked, “If you could do anything today what would it be?”

“I’d go in circles.” I tried not to smile.

PaulTrigg looked as surprised and confused as I could have hoped. He caught me grinning and he laughed even though he knew the joke was on him and he still didn’t get it.

“I’ll give you two hints. One.” I traced a circle in the air like going around the rim of a clock. “And two.” I traced another circle, this one like the edge of a barrel.

“How is that two hints?”

“No stalling.”

“I give.”

I traced the circles again. “Ferris wheel. Merry-go-round”.

“The boardwalk! Yes!”

After all, if the intruders were on our deck, we might as well enjoy their usual hangout. – sE

73.

DD – Cotton candy is like a polluted cloud! I tried one bite then threw the rest away. After all those years of being mad at my mom for saying no you can’t it’s unhealthy.

I told PaulTrigg, “She should have let me buy it the first time I asked. I would never have mentioned it again.”

He finally finished laughing at my expression tasting it, and offered me the ice cream he had wisely chosen instead.

Back in school PaulTrigg used to laugh more often. I never laughed. For all the bad and scary experiences we’ve shared, I’m happier today. Especially today because we left our backpacks hidden behind the escrow house.

I bet that’s why he stopped laughing. Carrying that book.

Our plan was to ride every boardwalk ride. But when we tried a kiddie ride, a tall bony ride cop blocked our way.

“You’re too big for this one. Under 48 inches.”

“What about them?” I pointed at a mom and dad, each in a seat with a small kid.

“They have little ones to chaperone.” The guard turned his back – done with us.

I unfolded our boardwalk map to put an X on the ride but PaulTrigg stopped me. He pointed to a big unruly family. “They need more chaperones. Let’s volunteer.”

“Why aren’t you kidding?” I replied.

“Otherwise we lose all these rides.” His finger circled the kiddie area on the map. I’ve learned that about him. When he makes a goal he has to meet it. No matter what the goal is.

I gave him a watch-this then put an X through the whole area. He looked shocked! Then we faked shocked gasps. Then we got in line for the wooden roller coaster.

This had the longest line. As far as we could tell, what made the ride scary was its antique age, not height or turns. We’d find out … eventually. Meanwhile we sat on the ground drawing and writing.

“Did I get him right?” PaulTrigg turned his sketchbook around to show me. He had turned the tall bony guard into a cartoon grasshopper clinging to a plant with kiddie ride cars instead of flowers. It didn’t make sense but made perfect sense.

“Amazing!” I said.

He knew I meant it and smiled as he turned to a fresh page.

He showed me a drawing! Maybe I should show him a diary page but that seems weird. – sE

74.

DD – Afterwards people joked about our special one-time-only ride but not when it happened.

A few of the rides were under the boardwalk, indoors. We rode through these pretty fast because their lines were shorter. PaulTrigg had the map now and drew a star on a completed ride each time with a different crazy wave of his arm. I didn’t know how he could keep topping himself.

I didn’t need to tell you that, D, it has nothing to do with what happened. Guess I like to brag about how funny and fun he is.

Anyway, during the haunted house ride, the ride train jerked shuddered stopped then the lights went out. The light had been low and full of startling flashes to be spooky but this was different. This was dark everywhere, too black to see.

Didn’t notice how noisy the ride was until the noise stopped.

“We’re still here, right?” PaulTrigg joked. He groped his hands like he was desperate to feel something. He grabbed my arm.

So funny – I was doing the same thing! I assumed the dark was part of the ride.

While we playacted about being scared, other riders actually were. At first people in other cars whispered about what did they think was going on. Then a little kid said, “Mom I want the sun back.” After that people started calling and shouting and I’m pretty sure I heard grownup crying.

Rectangles of bright light flashed when workers opened doors at the edges of the ride. “Folks, we’ve had a power outage, you’ll need to walk out, hold tight for our flashlights and guides so you can step safely.”

Flashlights bobbed toward us from both ends. PaulTrigg and I were in the middle of the train so we got out last, which was fine because we sat really close as we waited. Then the people with flashlights asked could we hold hands as we walked. Okay!

Cables and metal tracks everywhere so we had to tiptoe. PaulTrigg stumbled and after that he twined his fingers with mine. Except for that, I was glad to get out of the black ride cave, which smelled like chlorine and mildew.

Outside, the other riders squinted and waited for bags of candy and passes. The boardwalk handed these out to apologize.

While PaulTrigg and I waited for our apology treats, we kept holding hands and I don’t think it was because he forgot we were doing it. – sE

75.

DD – We did it! Or we’re about to! Achieve our meaningless goal and ride all the boardwalk rides in one day. Even the kiddie rides – the grasshopper guard left and the substitute guard didn’t care who did what.

Our boardwalk map was covered in stars. Only one gap remained and we were sitting in line to take care of that.

PaulTrigg admired the stars then folded the map with fancy hand moves like a magician. He dropped his phony Performer’s Smile. “You probably think I’m nerding out to care about something – like this.”

He didn’t look at me but I felt his attention. My answer mattered. “We need a special star ceremony for the last ride.”

He gave me a look I can’t describe that made me feel like a puppy. Then a memory hit.

Mom was meeting us at the car so we had to hurry but no one could hurry Matty now that he was too big for even Dad to carry. Dad wasn’t thinking and walked us by the pet store. In the window was a pile of puppies, climbing each other to reach us. Dad distracted Matty from get-one-get-them-all begging. “Look, that one’s saying, ‘throw that ball in here’ and that one’s saying ‘oof you stepped on my dose’ and that one’s saying ‘that’s no ball it’s a cupcake, throw that in here'”. Matty giggled and clutched his cupcake then looked for how to throw it to the puppies. Mom pulled up and we drove toward what was not yet the accident site. If we had stopped to buy a puppy we would have been nowhere near the accident site when that trucker blasted by, texting.

The puppy cupcake was the same afternoon as the accident. Tupac! Would I someday get my memories back of the accident itself? Please no!

After that memory I couldn’t swallow and I choked when I tried.

Usually PaulTrigg notices when I’m upset but he rubbed his forehead like trying to erase something. He sounded hoarse. “Can we leave? I need – to go.”

!!! – sE

76.

DD – We got hot chocolates and went down to the ocean. Foggy and dark so the waves were invisible but must have been rough. Spray kept hitting my cheeks.

The sand was damp and the breeze was sharp so we only sat for a minute then walked back and forth on a little sliver of beach. We did all of this without discussing anything. We agreed without words.

PaulTrigg looked around and whispered, “Did you hear that?”

The distant-highway rumble of the ocean. Happy shouts from the roller coaster, muffled in fog. Our shoes scritching on wet sand. “I don’t think so. What did you hear?”

He rubbed his forehead again. “My aunt’s voice. Ever since we were in that line for our last ride. I can’t understand her words, it’s like playing a recording backwards and you hear talking and pauses. She might be saying my name but it’s ‘ow egg’. She sounds excited. In a bad way.”

“Like she’s angry, you mean?”

“Like.” He stopped to remember or listen. “She’s terrified.”

We headed toward the parking lot with its bright lights. “Your cousin wouldn’t hurt her, would he?”

“I don’t think so.”

We thought about stuff and finished our formerly hot chocolates under a cluster of lights.

“Have you ever heard her voice like that before?” I didn’t know what it would mean if he had – or hadn’t. But it seemed less ominous if he always had that kind of connection with her.

“Never.” He crumpled his paper cup, watched chocolate drops splat on the asphalt.

It didn’t feel safe standing in the light, now that we were there. It felt like, out in the dark areas were eyes, watching us.

“Let’s eat at that 24-hour diner with the good soups,” he said.

“The one by the police station,” I agreed. Saying that phrase made me feel better, although I doubt that cops could protect us from PaulTrigg’s cousin. – sE

77.

DD – The waitress was clearing our dinner plates when suddenly my skull felt like it was breaking apart. That kind of headache means I’m about to see through Grayfast’s eyes! I stared at the tablecloth so I could focus on Grayfast with less confusion.

The world is shades of black, sharp edges, glowing shadows. I crouch on grass that has lost its life heat. It stinks of poisons. A noise, a noise that does not belong to this place. The night birds stop talking. I run to hide and the grass breaks under my paws. Two-legs are here. They move in dizzy circles then fall by the empty cave. Their squawks scrape my ears.

“Oh no!” I whispered in the diner, then felt reassured. Grayfast sensed danger but he wasn’t in danger – he could handle it.

PaulTrigg’s fingers were warm on top of mine and I realized he had been asking me and asking me, “What’s wrong? What is it?”

Suddenly I was so grateful – because I knew it was okay for me to tell PaulTrigg what was happening, reveal my connection with Grayfast. I had the cat’s approval. No more secrets from PaulTrigg.

In the past if I spoke while connected to Grayfast like this, that broke the connection, or made sound come out the cat’s mouth. Fortunately neither thing happened now. I murmured in a low voice to PaulTrigg while I kept watching through Grayfast’s eyes. “Grayfast is at the escrow house. A bunch of street kids are in the backyard. They’re drunk or high. They tripped on the steps then laughed.”

“Did they find our backpacks?” PaulTrigg spoke like the words were knives. Our backpacks were hiding deep in the tangled bushes in a corner of the backyard.

“No. Not yet? I think we’re okay. They’re breaking into the house… they just wrecked the door, it splintered around the lock. They turned on a light inside and now they’re cheering. They’re loud… Lights went on in the house next door so they’re shushing each other. Gross, somebody barfed… More people are coming through the gate carrying bags of bottles. They’re going inside. I think they broke in to have a party… everyone is inside now. Wait. The three girls from the boardwalk came back out the door. That blonde one Chrissie is staring around the backyard… Okay, somebody yelled her name and all three went inside again.”

The party got bigger and louder but stayed indoors. Grayfast was like a hidden camera on the scene. He stayed still and watchful with nothing new to report. I looked up from the table and PaulTrigg was watching me with a hmmm look. – sE

78.

DD – I was less nervous than PaulTrigg about the intruders finding our backpacks. Even in sunlight it was dark under the bushes where we hid them. No one could notice them on this foggy night. PaulTrigg’s nerves were about the book in his backpack, obviously. He hated and feared it but had to protect it.

Or was he afraid the book would do something if it got stolen? That was such a weird idea I couldn’t ask him. He might say yes. I didn’t want to know that about the book until we finished it.

Out the diner window the view was of the police station. Across the diner aisle were two cops finishing dinner and talking in a decent manner to the homeless guy drinking coffee at the back corner table.

“If we told the police about the party. That would break it up quickest. Wait…” In the escrow house backyard, Grayfast turned his head and I concentrated on the tablecloth to see what caught his attention. “More people arrived with more bottles in bags.”

I tapped my fingertips everywhere around my head and eye sockets. My headache had faded but it was so confusing to see in two places at once. Each time I saw the backyard it got harder to focus back to the diner.

PaulTrigg said, “We should only make an anonymous tip to the police. And soon. Before the party spreads into the backyard.”

The waitress brought our check but we handed it back and ordered dessert to share. We couldn’t leave yet. Meanwhile, the cops tossed a tip on their table and walked by us, outside. PaulTrigg and I gave each other an oh-well but let’s face it. We wouldn’t have talked to the cops, even if the waitress wasn’t there.

PaulTrigg doodled on napkin after napkin from the dispenser on the table.

“What if -” I stopped, words lost. No clue what I meant to say. How long could I keep the connection and my sanity?

Grayfast tensed. I murmured reassurance to him, then told PaulTrigg, “The fog above the house is full of flashing blue and red lights. Cop cars – plural – just drove up to the front side of the house.”

“The neighbors must have called.” PaulTrigg was instantly cheerful.

“Some kids ran out the back but cops were waiting for them.” I stopped narrating. Cops were going through the backyard with strong flashlights. Knowing that would freak PaulTrigg. I’d tell him if they found the backpacks. But they didn’t. The yard and house grew quiet and dark.

Yup, that party was over. – sE

79.

DD – Grayfast jumped to the gate and observed the front yard of the escrow house. Cops stopped their flashing lights and drove away. But one cop car stayed in the driveway.

At the diner, we ordered coffee and as soon as the waitress walked away PaulTrigg asked, “How did you know what was happening at the escrow house?”

Such a relief to talk about it. Or try to explain, anyway. “From Grayfast. I have. Something happens. I get. I call it my connection with him. It’s like I’m sharing his head.”

I didn’t expect PaulTrigg to have a bad reaction but I was relieved when he gave his Jedi nod.

I kept going. “Sometimes it’s super weird and intense, like I’m sharing a cat’s life. Which sounds cool but his thinking is so different, the connection makes me feel lost and confused.” For the first time, I wondered if the connection was hard for Grayfast, too. What a Kanye to never wonder that before! “Other times the connection is less intense, it seems less complete. Like tonight. That was more, watching a security camera feed. What?” I demanded. While I talked, PaulTrigg stared and he stared.

“My aunt was right. You are a changeling.”

“You said you didn’t know what those are.”

“I know they’re rare and they communicate with certain animals.”

“Is being a changeling bad?” But I could tell it wasn’t – he looked at me like I was a butterfly that had been thought to be extinct.

“Most of the Ever – the Other Ones – think changelings are important. Special.” He got silent for a while. “That might be how we survive.”

“You mean some of the Other Ones might help us to hide?” Suddenly I felt like Matty. When he was scared he wanted to dive onto his bed, under the comforter.

“Or they might fight my cousin.”

“Wow. How do we know which ones would help us?” Maybe there were beds and comforters somewhere for us.

“That I couldn’t say.” PaulTrigg got this sad ashamed look. He reminded me of a documentary we saw in history class, the expression on a guy who talked about his family in the Ku Klux Klan.

“We’ll find out. From your aunt. Or from the book. Somehow.”

It was good to have hope even if we didn’t know how to make it reality. -sE

80.

DD – The last police car took forever to leave. We waited on the beach below the neighborhood stairs, shivering in the dark. The fog made our hair wet and our clothes sticky.

Grayfast trotted to the top stair and stared down at us like, what were we waiting for.

It was risky to go back to the escrow house, but we had to get our backpacks. And we had nowhere else to go. And it was so late that no one was up to notice us. And we were too cold and tired to think of a different plan.

We slept, sort-of, in the far corner of the backyard, closest to the cliff. We might get caught for trespassing but no one could accuse of breaking and entering. Could they?

The dirt was hard and smelled like weed killer. No blankets so we lay with our backs pressed together, our legs curled up, wearing every piece of our clothes. I stuck my feet inside my backpack. It was PaulTrigg’s idea but he left his own backpack in the bushes.

“This makes my feet much warmer. How come you don’t want yours?”

We lay in the dark, back to back, whispering like we were at a slumber party after grownups gave their last warning to stop talking.

“The book makes me feel wrong.” His back got tense against mine. He didn’t want to explain.

But it seemed important. “What does ‘wrong’ mean?”

No way did I expect his answer. “Ever since we read it in the water, when I’m close to it on land, my heart loses its rhythm. The beats are getting so random it’s scary.”

“Tupac Eminem.”

“What?”

At which I had to explain about my swear words.

At which his back got a lot less tense. “Very resourceful!” I could hear his smile. And then his breathing said he was asleep.

I lay there hating the book.

He woke at dawn and we got up. I put his backpack on and he didn’t argue. I waited a minute, furious, daring the book to try to hurt me. But I kept feeling okay except for no sleep and my heart beat firmly. PaulTrigg grabbed my backpack and we headed for the shelter.

While PaulTrigg took a shower I sat with the backpacks. A box of matches was on a table and all I did was fantasize about burning that evil book in the wastebasket.

One more problem and you’re gone, book. We need you but we don’t need anything that much.- sE

81.

DD – Summer day in the middle of fall. Perfect beach weather. We took the bus down the coast to the next town and its beaches. An ultra-rich area with fewer street kids – and even more tourists.

The shopping area was a Quaint Little Town and it was crowded. Two middle-school boys on skateboards wove around clumps of people but they weren’t stable skaters. One of them wobbled and his board shot out from under him. PaulTrigg lunged and snagged it before it hit a family waiting outside a restaurant. They never knew what almost hit them!

PaulTrigg took the board to the skaters but held it high above his tall head until they promised to skate elsewhere. They were angry rebels at first but by the time he returned the board they were joking and teasing as they skated away from the crowds.

I’ve never liked anyone as much as PaulTrigg.

He turned to me and whatever my expression was it startled him. We kept looking at each other and it got intense then we resumed walking. “Kids today,” he joked. “Why aren’t those boys in school?”

“My brother -” I started then my voice gave out. With any thought of Matty, my body stops working. I shook my head in apology.

“Talk or don’t, either way is okay.” PaulTrigg said.

“His school has a fall break week. He wanted to go to Mars this year.” Then I was out of words.

“I wish I’d met him,” PaulTrigg said.

I felt worse yet better. We kept walking until suddenly we stopped at chalkboard signs outside a store.

“Kayak rentals!”

“Surfing lessons!”

PaulTrigg flipped an imaginary coin. Surfing won.

“We’re spending lots of money lately,” I said like my father.

“This will have to be the last,” PaulTrigg replied like my mother.

It turns out I’m good at surfing! I stood up right away. But I preferred being in the water because a wet suit is embarrassing. Fortunately, PaulTrigg finally stood up and the instructor kept giving him pointers and no one looked at me riding those baby waves. – sE

82.

DD – After the surf lesson we warmed up on sunny sand. The water had been so cold, even through wet suits.

“We should take the book in the ocean soon while it’s warm out.”

“Agreed. I want pizza.”

“Me too.”

Thanks to the surf lesson, our legs wouldn’t bend right and standing up became a comedy show. We finally finished laughing.

And then we were standing there looking at each other.

And then we were kissing.

Up close, PaulTrigg’s eyes were the same gray as Grayfast’s fur.

We closed our eyes. His lips on my lips, his fingers on my arms. The hot sun, the cool breeze. His wanting to kiss me. Even while it was happening I knew this was the happiest I’d ever been.

Finally the kiss was over and he whispered “Ella,” and he hugged me and that was maybe even better. Where his arms and his body touched me, it was like I had ladybugs running over and under my skin.

I whispered, “Paul” and I pressed my face into his chest. I could smell his skin. His heart throbbed in my bones. The beats were fast but steady.

Which reminded me of that miserable book.

After that I was enjoying the hug but not in the same way because my brain started going again. Thinking about now he seemed like Paul, not PaulTrigg. About how the ladybugs could feel great and uncomfortable at the same time. About was it the ocean that changed the book or maybe some chemical in the water that we could use on land.

We let go of each other and headed into Quaint Little Town to find pizza.

We sat at a tiny table waiting for our pizza, watching families stream past on the main shopping street. Paul did quick sketches of people going by. I wrote, of course.

Everyone looked relaxed and content, although not as happy as me. Paul took my hand but it wasn’t too long before he dropped it and looked around everywhere. “Did you hear her?” He sounded frightened. “My aunt’s voice again. She’s screaming.”

Then my head ripped apart and I was seeing through Grayfast’s eyes. I didn’t understand what I was seeing but then

Backpacks! – sE

83.

DD – Something terrible was about to happen. I had the same feeling as when Grayfast woke me up, the night Paul’s cousin killed Ma Warden.

We ran from the pizza place and I couldn’t explain why we had to hurry because talking would slow us down. We had to get to the office where we signed up for surfing lessons. Where they provided lockers and we had our backpacks stored.

I was in Grayfast’s head briefly. I saw three teenage girls talking to the kindly grandma at the counter. Two dark, one blonde. The boardwalk girls. Chrissie was crying, pulling paper scraps from her pockets. I didn’t need sound to understand her scam: Help, she had lost her locker key and receipt. Gosh, how could she get her things back? She patted the locker that held our backpacks.

More flashes from Grayfast: legs, car tires, sand.

We got to the locker too late. It was empty. “Chrissie,” I gasped to Paul. “They went to a beach.”

On the walkway between parking lot and beach we found my backpack. Nothing missing.

“There,” Paul spotted them, far ahead. We stopped and watched. Even from here they looked – dangerous.

They were in a cove that was losing its sand to high tide. The satellite girls stood by the cliff, watching Paul’s backpack, which was on the ground. Chrissie circled it, crouching, then pounced on it. Ripped it open at the zipper. The satellite girls scratched at the cliff like they wanted to climb the rock and get away.

Chrissie held the book, kissed it, then grabbed her lips like they hurt. She shrieked a laugh then paged through the book, faster and faster, back and forth. One page made her stop and stare.

I rubbed my eyes but couldn’t change what I saw. Smoke rose from the pages, slowly like water trickling up, then flowing, then gushing. Wherever the smoke touched Chrissie, it flared into gusting flames. Chrissie howled but no sound came from her mouth. Within seconds the flames disappeared.

The cove was empty. Waves washed over sand.

Paul and I waited and waited and only moved closer right before the tide swamped the beach. Scorched sand marked where the backpack had been. No sign the boardwalk girls had ever been there. Or the book. – sE

84.

DD – We found the shortest route off the beach and got away from there, holding hands. We passed other couples holding hands, all headed toward the ocean. Almost time for sunset. Some of them looked at us, puzzled. By their standards, we were headed the wrong way. But I, at least, wasn’t interested in romantic beach walks and doubted Paul was, either.

Holding hands reminded me I was breathing. Alive.

Every time I thought about Chrissie and the flames, the scene got closer, bigger. My memory kept zooming in. Holding hands with Paul helped me keep a distance. Then Grayfast ran zigzag in front of us. I never knew when the cat would reappear and watching for him was a great distraction.

We were crossing a street when Paul stopped moving. A car honked and I dragged him forward. He stopped us again when we got to the curb, then dropped my hand to rub his forehead.

“This time, I heard your aunt’s voice, too,” I told him. “She does sound afraid.” But like a queen. Fear won’t stop her.

He looked so relieved. “Words this time, I understood words, did you?”

“Yes. Unfortunately. What I heard was ‘Paul Trigg, they see you. They know you. Paul Trigg, you must run.'”

He gave a Jedi nod. “I heard the same.”

So here we are, on a train again. We chose the farthest we could go that left tonight.

In some ways this is just like our first trip. Beautiful views (tonight under a bright moon). Grayfast in my backpack. Paul silent and sometimes sleeping beside me. I’m avoiding more memories of what just happened. And when I wonder what the future holds for us, it’s easy to feel scared.

But really everything has changed. We have knowledge to fight what’s chasing us. Maybe we’ll even find allies. Yes, Grayfast is in my backpack – but tonight that’s resting against Paul’s leg too! And when the backpack buzzes it’s purring, not growling. Tonight we are all three together in new ways.

On our last trip I felt hope. This is more. It might be – optimism. Yes. I think it is. – sE

+++ End of Book Two +++

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