Excerpt for DDsE, Book 5 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



DDsE

Book 5





Sue Perry







Copyright 2017 Sue Perry

Published by Sue Perry at Smashwords

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Book 5 Table of Contents

Ella's Diary, Entries 178.-217.

Acknowledgements

About Sue Perry and her Novels











***

Dedication

For Leo.

178.

DD – Which way. Where to now. At first those decisions were easy. Whatever took us away from the cemetery was right. From what I could hear, Lewis and Lourdes made a good team figuring out directions, and, amazingly, he seemed so comfortable around her that he didn't just emit words. Sometimes he spoke in sentences.

I didn't hear much, though. I was Paul Paul Paul. His hair was longer and raggedy, his shirt was faded and raggedy. The backpack had ripped parts. Raggedy. The gray in Paul's eyes was darker now, maybe because he was extra serious. His face was happy, though, crinkled and stretched in the world's biggest smile which got bigger every time he looked at me. But the smile added no light to his eyes.

Grayfast stretched between us, purring so hard the rumble tickled my leg. I rubbed his favorite spots and kept hitting nicks and scabs under his fur. Recent fights?

When we got some time alone I'd hear the details, but already I could tell. Paul and Grayfast had been through rough times.

Here. Alive. Fine. Together. Was what mattered.

Paul pulled a pencil from the backpack, offered me one end. He was right, we had to assume that touching each other could still open a connection to Everweer. Of course I took the other end.

So many things to tell him, ask him. But not in front of Lewis or Lourdes. We were running for our lives together. But I didn't dare blab a secret unless I was sure it was one that was okay to share.

But I couldn't wait to tell Paul about ... I pictured myself in the changeling ocean and climbed onto a surfboard. As soon as the tingling began, Grayfast stopped purring, like he was paying special attention. Paul's loving smile turned amazed. I couldn't wait to ask what he saw! But I would have to, because Lewis was totally out of the changeling loop. He kept driving driving la la la.

Lourdes whipped around immediately, though. She frowned then grinned and began to shimmer.

Paul looked at us with shock and excitement. Then he –– lunged for the backpack, pulled out paper, and began drawing like crazy, alone in his head. Another photo drawing. Some strange lumpy tower.

I shrugged at Lourdes and slipped off my surfboard. Lourdes shrugged back and stopped shimmering. Paul's pencil moved fast over his page. Lewis held the wheel at 10 and 2 and his eyes flicked between mirrors and road like a driver's ed demo.

Aware but oblivious. Okay. Grayfast resumed purring, Lourdes faced forward, and I just had to smile. – sE



179.

DD – I was in changeling reality. Grayfast's purr was so complicated. Its revs and rumbles were a beautiful maze. I was noticing so much that – heh. I failed to notice Lewis and Lourdes.

"Ellllllaaaaaa!" pulled me back.

"I take it that wasn't the first thing you said to me," I replied.

Lourdes made a noise too sarcastic for words. "You two – perfect couple."

Paul hunched over a page, pencil flying in tight circles. He was drawing a closeup of holes in the lumpy tower.

I had assumed the photo drawing obsession would go away after he turned Everweer. Instead, it seemed more intense but that might be because I wasn't used to it anymore.

I was doing a lot of shrugging that morning.

Lewis announced, "This traffic. It's an opportunity. Decide our direction."

Lourdes added, "Or lack thereof."

Lewis replied, "Like a novel. That's how you sound."

Lourdes said, "Thank you?"

I glanced outside and jumped. When you're on the freeway you don't expect to see torsos.

People walked past our windshield like we were in a parking lot.

Lewis turned his car off. "Gas is low. Again. A getaway car. Is what we need. One of my parents' cars?" He asked in the rear view mirror, to me, then added to Lourdes, "Out of town.They won't know." His parents were big deals at a corporation and were usually gone.

Whether we should go back to the sub was a huge decision. I wanted to ask Paul and I would have yanked his drawing away if I thought that would get his attention. But he would have kept drawing in air.

"What do you think?" I asked Lourdes.

She looked surprised and happy to be asked. "We should try it. If we're wrong – they'll stop us."

They. Grayfast and her lizard.

"I'm glad I'm not alone," I blurted.

Lewis' eyes in the mirror went squinty, embarrassed. On some level I was talking to him, too. But what I meant was, glad I'm not the only changeling.

"Agree." Lourdes reached inside a huge pocket on her flannel overshirt then rested her hand on the back of her seat. An iridescent lizard slipped from her fingers to face us. To stare at Grayfast. Who stared back.

For once, the cat showed no interest in hunting a small animal. It was like they knew each other. – sE



180.

DD – The trip to Lewis' house for a better car had issues.

Issue one. Good thing traffic was stopped because when Lewis spotted the lizard, he berserked. Turns out he is the only kid from a suburb who never managed to catch a lizard and this left a special hole in his heart.

The lizard jumped to Lewis' seat, skittered across his shoulders, vanished down the door. Lewis actually laughed.

Owl Leader, dangerous cemetery, getaway driver, and now a lizard. I've never seen Lewis happier than on this mission. Which made me happy for him, except for the whispers in my head.

A whisper escaped. "Helping us puts you in danger, Lewis. Bigtime."

"I know." The lizard streaked across the dashboard. Lewis laughed again.

Which made me mad. "People have died."

Another first. Lewis looked me right in the eye. "Not a game." He started the car and grabbed the wheel at 10 and 2. Traffic was starting to move again.

Issue 2. I barfed. Lewis lives near my home and I hadn't been there since the day I packed to go to the foster family. Those streets. Every day then never again. Seeing them shot nails into my stomach.

It wasn't much barf because we'd skipped meals, but the smell brought Paul back from his drawing trance. No point stopping to clean up, though. Lewis' house was just blocks away.

Issue 3. We couldn't stop at Lewis' house. Cop car outside. Strangely familiar scene at the front door – housekeeper talking to two cops in uniform, one woman with shaggy hair like a '70s rock star. Barracuda, my social worker!

"That can't be a coincidence!" I quick explained how Barracuda had come to the Trigg house, supposedly looking for Lourdes as a runaway.

"Nobody reported me for runaway," Lourdes said in a black voice.

The housekeeper had to recognize Lewis' car, but he was her darling since diaper days and she gave no sign to the cops as we slid past the house, around the corner, away.

"They'll watch that house, we can't go back there," Paul said. "What?"

We all stared. Those were his first words since we rescued him! His voice was rusty like he hadn't talked forever.

"Forgot you," Lewis said to the mirror.

"Didn't know you noticed – anything." Lourdes made a scribbling motion.

Paul studied his fingers like they were aliens.

Maximum awkward.

"Don't look," I said to grab attention. I removed the barf shirt without contaminating my head, wadded the shirt, threw it out the window. Me sitting in my green bra until Paul found me a cleanish t–shirt. That was no one I ever met before, the Ella who could do that.

Grayfast's snoozing purr made me braver. – sE



181.

DD – It was my idea to go to the Trigg house. For the books and to try to contact the mausoleum architect, Franklin, like Aunt Axi did in the secret room inside the secret library.

Our plan: watch the house today and tonight. If we see no hint of Alcatur supporters, we'll go inside tomorrow morning.

Lourdes was expert at spying from the scraggly woods. She had Lewis park near the accident site and I froze my mind to make it just a place to hide a car. Right about there, once when I was leaving fresh flowers, I first saw Grayfast.

As Lourdes led us through trees, Lewis said, "Enemies could be spying here, too."

Lourdes doh–ed her forehead. "Fast walkers – slow thinkers." The woods surrounded us, full of enemy hiding places.

Paul made us feel less dim. "Grayfast would have felt danger and stopped us."

"Oh – same with Scatterlegs," Lourdes said, cheerful again. She ducked between sagging branches. "This is where I slept."

Scatterlegs. Her lizard. He (she?) and Grayfast zipped up a tree, not friends, exactly, but each leading the other.

We dropped our backpacks in Lourdes' hideout and she showed us where to sneak to watch two sides of the Trigg house, the patio, and the street out front. It all seemed empty, ignored.

We sat around Lourdes' hideout and shared snacks. Sometimes cars whizzed by on the other side of the woods. By the accident site. Brakes screeched on a car that must have been too fast through the curve. I shoved my feet down so I wouldn't jerk around in the crash.

No crash. The tires skidded away. But my feet kept shoving. About to crash to crash to crash.

"Ella." Paul's voice unlocked my thoughts again.

Everyone stared at me. I pointed toward the road. "That's where my family died." Some memories escaped. "A truck coming the other way. Dad couldn't swerve enough. Cops found me in the dirt. I don't know how I got out."

I wasn’t the only one who deserved sympathy. Paul with those eyes that didn't smile anymore. "Paul. Doesn't even know what happened to his parents."

"Which lets me still hope," he said, with a look as good as a hug.

I don't know why I needed to be the anti–Pollyanna. "Alcatur killed Lourdes' sister and she watched it happen."

Lourdes turned so no one could see her face.

"My uncle," Paul said, like Alcatur was a mistake he could apologize for.

"So much. You've been through," Lewis said. He grew a super– serious face. "Me, too. On a single Sunday morning, my Playstation AND my XBox broke."

Total silence.

Lourdes sprayed chewed apple and laughed. Paul laughed next. Lewis turned the super– sErious on me until I broke, too. Finally, he laughed at us laughing.

You never know who or how will save the day. – sE



182.

DD – All afternoon we took turns sneaking through the woods to check the Trigg house. One time Paul and I got back to an empty hideout. A chance to talk! Except he lunged for paper to start a photo drawing. Another lumpy tower.

I wished I still had Aunt Axi's camera so I could show him the mausoleum carvings. No lumpy towers in the carvings, but he might recognize other scenes. I was starting to think it was all connected – all Everweer art that comes during obsession sessions. Must draw. Must rhyme. Must carve.

Sorry I thought about Aunt Axi's camera because that got me remembering. Alcatur chasing her through the cemetery.

She had to get away. She has to be okay, somewhere.

You hear about people facing their fears. I eject mine. I'm a spaceship and my fears cling outside my hull where there's no air. If I let them in they'll swallow me.

Seeing the Trigg house looking so empty, I realized one reason I brought us here. Hope that Aunt Axi somehow made it back here. But no sign of her.

Scatterlegs ran down a tree with Grayfast close behind. The cat stopped by me and the way he watched the lizard. He wanted to chase it. Would definitely catch it. But he resisted his hunter side and it was so hard for him – I could feel that. But he did it.

Lourdes and Lewis flopped on the ground facing Paul and me. They moved like they practiced together.

Scatterlegs ran into Lourdes' pocket and stayed there. Lourdes gave Grayfast a hmmm and said, "The house still seems deserted."

Lewis stood. "We can't be sure. We need to see the other side. But you three have to hide. They're looking for you. No one knows about me. I can look at the other side." He handed me his car keys, "In case I'm wrong."

Lourdes sounded panicky. "Don't let him go. I told him – bad idea to split up."

Paul stopped drawing. "He's right, though."

We compromised and made Lewis take the car on his reconnaissance mission to the far side of the Trigg house. He promised he'd be back before sunset.

Paul and I took turns checking this side of the house. All Lourdes could do was check, was Lewis back yet.

Embarrassing that I could know Lewis for so long but be so surprised by him. He was brave enough to be a hero and he figured out important stuff even though he had zero experience outside his living room.

He's been gone a long time. Paul is drawing again, Lourdes is watching for Lewis' car, and I'm hearing imaginary clocks tick. – sE



183.

DD – Guy–shaped protoplasm. That's how Lewis describes himself. Before this mission, his claim to fame was the day he rigged a swivel seat surrounded by controllers wands joysticks so he could win six games at once.

He got back right at sunset. By then, we were all by the turnout watching for him.

"Reconnaissance report, sir," Lewis saluted Grayfast. You know how cats are, they make you look like an idiot even when you aren't being one. Grayfast flicked his tail. Lewis' blotchy cheeks turned pure pink. An embarrassed stuffed animal.

"What did you see?" Paul asked.

Lewis looked relieved. "On the far side of the house. Nothing different. Just as empty." We followed him to the hideout and flopped down when he did. "I went by twice. Got gas, too."

"Good thinking," Paul said.

"Thanks. Are you done drawing?"

"I never know," Paul said cheerfully. "It's a power I don't control. Maybe someday. Maybe never."

No one knew how to react.

Lourdes arranged backpacks like placemats and divided protein bars into servings. "Keep our voices right above whisper – that's when we're quietest."

Lewis tested a different voice level with every word. "What were you drawing?"

"I never know," Paul murmured. "For a long time I only drew that one cemetery. Over and over."

"And over," I added. It was easier to whisper than to talk a notch louder. "Do any of your drawings include the mausoleum carvings?" Maybe we didn't need Aunt Axi's camera.

"Maybe. I never look at my drawings." He pulled a thick stack of papers from the backpack and distributed them. We had about two minutes of weak sunset before it got too dark to see the pages.

Lewis held up a drawing with a lumpy tower. "Mono Lake! So cool there. Couldn't believe my parents took me."

"Mono – lake?" Paul sounded puzzled. He pointed at the bottom of a drawing. "Is that water?"

"I think so. I recognized the tufa," Lewis pointed to the lumpy tower. "Tufa is a formation. Rock formation? Limestone?"

Lourdes clowned around making confused expressions.

Lewis examined the drawing. "You have an amazing memory."

"I've never been there," Paul said. "Maybe we're supposed to go."

"Are these? Why you went to that cemetery?" Lewis waved a stack of mausoleum drawings.

"I think so," Paul's voice said.

It was now too dark to see faces.

Lourdes' voice said, "I take orders from a lizard – he obeys drawings. What could go wrong?"

Part of me wanted to joke about following Grayfast but the words stuck. I can't join the group where he's concerned. – sE



184.

DD – It was a long weird night, eventually in a good way. It was so dark in the hideout that every time somebody talked, there'd be a rustle–uh! because the voice startled somebody else. Which made somebody laugh, a little. The dark was so thick it swallowed sounds and movements.

"At least there's no corn," I said toward Paul.

"I was just thinking that. Not." Lewis said.

"No Trigg will ever plant corn in our field," Paul vowed.

Scrape–rustles from Lourdes. She must have stood because her words came from above my head, "Time to check for lights in the house."

Scrape–rustles from Paul. He and Lourdes would do the walking through the woods tonight because they were the least clumsy. Most likely to move quietly. Sure enough, their footsteps made less sound than the breeze in the leaves.

Lewis asked without asking, "He's your boyfriend but you never touch each other."

"We can't. It opens a portal to our enemies."

His wow filled the hideout. "How did you two acquire your magic?" I never expected Lewis to send such admiration my way.

"No idea. We might be discovering it, not acquiring it."

"Thank you! For sending Lourdes to my house."

Two pairs of feet jogged into the hideout. Lourdes whispered, "We could hear you over by the field. We better stop talking."

We sat on dirt and dead leaves. Waiting for what. I touched my eyelids. Eyes still open. I pictured the Trigg house, windows black. If there was light in a secret room would it show? The two secret rooms I knew had skylights. Maybe those would glow.

My view got clearer. I was seeing through Grayfast's eyes.

… Leaves brushed my face, twitched my ears. The nest of the Other Ones was dark and its smells were old. I pressed my belly low and ran like a shadow. A line through the weeds, a circle around the nest. Stale. Quiet. Empty. No fear, baby birds …

Grayfast had figured out that we wanted to watch the house!

"Everybody get in the car! I can watch the house from there." Excitement cracked my whisper. The car would be less uncomfortable and we could talk if we kept the windows up.

For for the rest of the night, Grayfast patrolled for us. I'd interrupt the conversation every once in a while, "Still dark and quiet at the house."

After a few reports, Lewis got frustrated. "I'm the only one. Wondering how you know."

At this point, keeping Grayfast's secrets basically meant excluding Lewis. I could at least raise Lewis to Paul's level of partial understanding. "Grayfast is checking the house and lets me know."

"Your cat."

"The cat, yes."

It was too dark to see expressions. Lewis' shoulders scrunched up. His silhouette head looked from Lourdes to Paul. His shoulders dropped.

"Okay," he replied. And repeated after each of Grayfast's reports, which continued until dawn. – sE



185.

DD – We stood at the edge of the woods. Across the field, the windows of the Trigg house were pink with sunrise.

"Should we go in?" Paul wondered.

"I need to try it but I can't decide for anybody else," I said.

"I'm good either way," Lourdes said in a no voice.

"Where you live. I want to see it," Lewis said. Which made me angry. Clueless Lewis. True, he doesn't have the background information. But couldn't he notice how nervous we were?

"Staring longer won't make it safer. Come on," Paul led us across the field. "I'll check inside first. Then I'll open the front door, invite you to enter, and cross the threshold in front of each of you. That should permit you to enter."

We stopped where the field met the driveway.

Paul handed me his backpack and held on to it after I took it. Our hug goodbye. "It'll take me several minutes to check inside."

He entered his house.

Grayfast and Scatterlegs stood beside us, Scatterlegs on Grayfast's back. Friends again, not hunter and prey. I wished they would go with Paul but I was relieved they stayed with us.

I pictured Paul checking from room to room. How many secret rooms did he know? How long would those take to check? He must have walked fast because I was surprised at how soon he opened the front door.

With a wave and a call, he invited us inside. Clueless ran up the porch steps right away. Lourdes and I didn't move. We didn't have to ask, did we remember. My head touching the house protections. My blood beret.

Sometimes you have to assume you'll be okay. We walked up the steps.

And I was. We were. It was.

Except.

Grayfast and Scatterlegs wouldn't follow. They stayed in the field. From the door, Lourdes and I and made noises to lure Grayfast like he was some normal cat. He ignored us.

Scatterlegs disappeared into the weeds. The cat trotted away like he was following the lizard.

"They won't come in? Or can't?" Lourdes asked.

"I'm going to try to ask," I said. Lourdes snorted like she got why I was uncertain. Then she went quiet, like I did. SUCH a relief to know another changeling.

I pushed into Grayfast's mind and felt only calm. Lourdes shrugged – Scatterlegs must be calm, too. Okay.

We went inside and Paul showed us around. Lourdes and Lewis were all, no way you live here. Which reminded me how amazing the Trigg house is. But mostly being inside made me notice the giant hole left by Aunt Axi.

Sometimes you have to assume they'll be okay.

Paul continued the tour and I went to the secret library. – sE



186.

DD – Everweer books are annoying. Useless. No way to tell which ones could I read. It would take so long to check every book. I opened a few, saw words here and there. Nothing helpful.

I counted cases shelves books and flipped the latch to the secret room. The bookcase door slid aside with silly squeaks like mice were involved. I laughed, which made me notice how tense I was.

Of course I was tense. Aunt Axi had warned me it was dangerous. What I was about to do. Trying to contact Franklin, the mausoleum architect. Because he might know about the mausoleum carvings.

I stared at the wall where Franklin had appeared for Aunt Axi. To connect with him, I would open a connection to enemies. That I wouldn't know how to fight.

If I could even figure out how to connect. Did the connection require powers? I searched the room for levers or dials. Nothing. Not even a light switch. I couldn't find a motion sensor either, if that was why the ceiling lights glowed when I stepped inside the room.

"You'll get it Ella, you can do this," I gave myself a pep talk. Out loud. Words are more real than thoughts.

This was basically an empty room – not many hiding places. "Sure. You can do this." My pep talk turned sarcastic. I flopped in the chair where Aunt Axi had talked with Franklin. I smacked my hands on the arms. Frustration is my least favorite feeling.

My exhale sounded like a jet engine. I held my breath until I couldn't.

Oh. Aha. Back when I smacked the chair arms, one of them sounded hollow.

So Everweer. One chair arm slid to reveal a secret compartment. With buttons and dials.

I had done it. Found the screen controls. Now I was like a gif animation that repeats. Reach toward the controls, pull away. Toward. Away. Toward.

Away. Tupac. I was scared to push the buttons.

I stomped back to the secret library. An empty bookshelf gave me courage. It once held Galalena's journals, now stuffed in the trunk of Lewis' car. Galalena tried to figure out her role as a changeling by interviewing bad guys. She was super brave. So were the other changelings she met.

I wasn't alone. Doh.

I imagined slipping off a surfboard into the ocean. My changeling tingling started. I reached my mind out to Grayfast. He and Scatterlegs were keeping watch outside. He was still calm and stayed that way when I shared thoughts about contacting Franklin. If he understood me, he approved.

OK I could do this.

Soon.

I'm back in the library but the frustration is gone. I'm stalling but it's fine. I'm writing a list of questions so I don't forget to ask Franklin anything. That's my last excuse. – sE



187.

DD – A piece of paper made me feel much better.

In the secret room, inside the chair arm next to the screen's control buttons was a folded piece of paper with Aunt Axi's beautiful handwriting like every letter was art. She writes as fast as anybody but this comes out.

I touched the paper and memories filled me. Aunt Axi made me a dessert pizza. She giggled about reading Stephen King. She protected us in Chicago. She leaped from the burning van and ran from Alcatur.

She survived. The feeling was so strong. I had to believe it.

The paper said CHEAT SHEET. It showed the buttons and dials in the chair arm, with words and arrows saying what did what. Pushing buttons in different order created different codes. At the bottom were names with button codes. Franklin was the name I recognized.

The CHEAT SHEET was such an everyday thing it got less scary. What I was about to do. I pushed buttons. Open. Connect. Franklin.

The screen turned red and a deep voice grunted in pain. "Who?" Franklin gasped between grunts.

"Um." I searched the CHEAT SHEET for the disconnect code.

The red screen washed into brown and orange. I call it a screen but it was more like an opening. The room had been stuffy and now had a draft.

The brown and orange were leaves on dirt. Franklin, knees bent, carried a crate of dirt and grunted with each step. He dumped the dirt onto a compost pile, searched the "screen", found me.

"Brave and resourceful," he greeted me and I felt hope. He dropped the crate and his hair bounced. His dreadlocks were in pigtails. I stared and he touched them. "My granddaughter coiffed me."

Everweer and humans were all just people.

We flashed smiles.

"How may I be of service? We must speak but briefly."

His voice was so gentle. My view blurred with tears and my mind raced from one question to the next. Which first?

Instead of careful questions, I gushed, "We don't know. Whether to fight or run. Where to go or who to trust. What powers we have or how to use them. What the mausoleum means or why the carvings matter. We're learning but not fast enough. What we should do or how we can find out."

"Bring those children here, changeling." Franklin reached his hand toward me then froze like he heard something. "Disconnect!"

His arm snapped and the view disappeared. The air got stale again but the wall stayed red. Was I disconnected? The CHEAT SHEET had no disconnect code! I reversed the connect code and the wall faded to faint pale pink.

I ran to the library and searched books for clues. About where Franklin was. About Everweer screens.

Gee what a surprise, the books were no help.

Maybe Paul knew. – sE



188.

DD – The others were wandering downstairs, looking out one window after another. "What's happening?" I asked.

All three spun around at the first sound of my voice. Paul gave a Jedi nod, Lourdes slapped her hands over her mouth to stop a yell.

Lewis. Started to cry. "You're okay!"

Lourdes said, "You vanished."

"I said I was going to the library." Nobody did an oh–yeah–now–that–you–mention–it. "Didn't I?"

"Not that I heard, but my hearing lately," Paul waved a handful of photo drawings.

"He keeps drawing the same picture but it's already perfect," Lewis said.

Lourdes seemed mad. "You said nothing then – poof."

"Weird. I thought I. Sorry." I told you, D, but not them. Hmm.

Paul said something I missed. It was hard to focus, everything was so complicated. Oh. I was in changeling reality. I imagined that I climbed out of my ocean onto my surfboard. I stopped tingling and things got simple again.

When my shimmering disappeared, Paul gave another nod. "Are you hungry? We made lunch."

"But we waited to eat. Waited – for you. No wonder I'm crabby," Lourdes said.

"Let's eat in the secret library, I need help there," I said.

"Secret library," Lewis sighed.

With everyone lugging supplies, we only needed one trip from kitchen to library, which was good because I was more and more tense about the screen staying pink.

Paul spread a beach towel on the rug for a picnic and everyone placed their armfuls. Lewis spilled the dip because he was ogling the laptop with the security camera feeds.

Paul said, "These are private books that most people aren't allowed to read. Please don't touch anything. You could get hurt. Or somebody else could. That's not much of a welcome." He knelt to help Lewis rescue the dip.

"We feel you," Lourdes said. "Thanks for – trusting us."

"But only Paul can come in here," I said from the opening to the inner room.

"We'll build sandwiches." Lourdes started giving Lewis assignments.

Paul followed me into the screen room, looking startled. I explained about my call to Franklin and my effort to disconnect. The screen was the same dull pink.

Paul messed with the chair arm controls. "Reversing the connect code should have worked. Someone is holding the connection open."

"Maybe Franklin didn't disconnect completely?"

"Maybe," Paul said. "But doubtful. Well, there's nothing we can do except be cautious."

"We could run."

"Nothing has happened yet, that is probably a good sign. Let's find a book that says where Franklin lives, then get out of here."

We closed the bookcase to the screen room and Lewis acted like we'd teleported to Christmas morning. Still clueless. Lourdes stopped eating. She could tell our situation wasn't good. – sE



189.

DD – I'm writing this in case it helps someone understand what happened to us.

To find where Franklin lives, Paul went to a shelf of thick books. "Every ten years, Everweer contribute to a report about all the families. Franklin's family pages might have details that let us figure out where he is. I visited but only as a little kid."

Paul read aloud, all the words he could see, and I took notes but the snips of sentences didn't make sense. Lourdes and Lewis went back to their own conversation.

I kept listening for any noise from inside the screen room.

Paul murmured, "I keep hoping Franklin lives near Chicago. So we can visit that safe room."

Where we could touch. "Me too!" I hid my blush between me and Paul.

Clueless Lewis joked to Lourdes, "Me three, you four." If he knew what Paul and I were talking about, he'd turn redder than sunburn.

Paul opened the last of the thick multi–family reports. "We should leave after this."

I had pages of notes. "If we go to a library and Google these descriptions, they could add up to a location."

Lewis stood. "Bathroom. Where?"

Lourdes picked up lunch dishes, "By the kitchen. I’ll show you."

Paul and I looked from each other to the bookcase that blocked the secret room. Should they stay here with us? If an enemy came through the screen could we fight it, with or without them?

"Pack what food makes sense," Paul instructed.

And they were gone, lugging lunch remains.

Their footsteps faded and it went so quiet. No sound from Lewis or Lourdes. But also no noise from the screen room. And on the security cameras, Grayfast and Scatterlegs continued to patrol outside, watchful but calm.

Paul found the Franklin family section in the last report book and smiled. "At last! 'Our sculptor cousin Bruce memorialized our view when he carved a tufa tower.' Tufa. Franklin's family lives near –"

"Mono Lake! Which you've been drawing."

Motion on the security cameras. Outside, Grayfast and Scatterlegs dashed in crazy circles. No longer calm.

Like it came on the wind from miles away, a faint long scream filled the library.

Lourdes dashed in. "I can't find Lewis. Did you hear the scream?"

Paul asked, "Is Lewis into practical jokes?"

I pointed at Grayfast and Scatterlegs, flipping out. That was no joke.

How can a person disappear inside a house? If one person disappears, will four people disappear? – sE



190.

DD – We talked fast. We didn't know how much time we had.

Maybe Lewis went outside? No, the screaming would have been way worse if he walked into the house protections.

Maybe we should flee? No, we couldn’t ditch Lewis in the house.

"We have to find him," I said for all of us. If he could just be okay. I would never call him Clueless again.

Lourdes let her changeling nature out. Her shimmering was like armor. "Lewis and us – we're not the only ones in this house."

She was right. I felt someone. Something. Else. My stomach dropped away from my head like I was biking downhill and hit a grease patch.

I slipped off my surfboard into my changeling ocean. The tingling came and as soon as I went changeling, I felt it under everything. Thick hulking danger.

Grayfast blurted feelings: Danger. Nowhere to hide. Look big. Act strong. Danger.

The extra sensations of changeling reality overwhelmed me. But Lourdes seemed fine. It helped to know that fine was possible. It took so much energy to ignore what I didn't need. My mouth dropped open. I was panting!

Paul almost smiled about our shimmering. "Looks like we're all set."

We linked arms and, with Lourdes in the middle, went room to room to search for Lewis. And meet the danger, if we had to.

The kitchen was trashed. Broken everything. Blinds dangling. Refrigerator on its side!

"The Trigg family home," Paul said, low and angry.

Next we checked my loft and I had to cling to Lourdes. Otherwise it would have knocked me over. The hate in the loft. Which was demolished. The colorful pillows were now piles of shredded cloth.

Single file upstairs to Paul's room. It was fine. Untouched.

As we headed back through the loft, loud bangs and smashes came from the other side of the house. From one direction, then another, then another.

"Three noise areas. Like we're going to split up to investigate," Lourdes said. "Nice try."

Outside in the field, Grayfast darted back and forth, one way then the other. His thoughts were muffled. Were they being blocked by the thing in the house with us?

I moved closer to the window. So did Lourdes.

I never thought of Lewis as having a smell but here the air smelled like him.

I raised the lid of the window seat and in the compartment. The impossible too small compartment. Lewis was crammed in a position no body could be in.

We had to break the edges of the wooden seat. We used a rock Paul kept in his room.

Lewis couldn't move so we dragged him out. He hurts when we touch him. – sE



191.

DD – Lewis has always been kind of spongy but that doesn't explain how he could fit in that window seat. He couldn't say how he got there.

He kept saying stuff like, "So beautiful. So angry. Made of smoke. How could anybody. I'm sorry! For what?"

We couldn't get his attention.

We sat around my loft. I kept still for two reasons. Moving stirred clouds of ripped fabric that used to be the pillows. And I was listening hard to smashing destruction around the Trigg house. Not sure what I'll do if the sounds head this way but I still want to know if they’re coming.

Lourdes and I looked out the windows a lot but Grayfast and Scatterlegs were out of view. They had run toward the front of the house. Where the smashing destruction was.

"If I know who is here we'll have a better chance of fighting him or her," Paul said.

"Her. So beautiful. So angry. Made of smoke," Lewis said.

"We know. You told us," Lourdes got mad whenever Lewis mentioned the beautiful.

"Your family photo had rows of extra people in back. They looked made of smoke." The really scary mean ones.

"I think it's something else, more dangerous," Paul said.

"They looked plenty dangerous," I said in a mouse voice.

Paul nodded like it hurt to agree.

Maybe someday Paul, Lourdes, and I will be super powerful, too, but we are still all just learning. And with the changelings cut off from their animals.

Was the destruction moving closer?

"I have an idea," I said.

Lourdes stopped fidgeting. Paul gave a Jedi nod.

Well. Maybe I had an idea. "Do all Everweer houses have protections like this one?"

Paul shook his head.

"How many people know about these protections?"

"Hardly anybody," he said fast like I was on the right track.

"Instead of trying to fight the visitor, let's lure her into the protections."

"Yes we must protect her," Lewis said.

We looked at each other. "Is he under a spell?" Lourdes asked.

Paul nodded, "I think I'm getting this." He yanked paper from backpack, sketched fast. "Is this –"

Before he could finish asking, Lewis grabbed the page and kissed it.

"Wow," Paul said. "A sirene is in the house with us. No matter what, don't let her touch you."

It was hard to think with all the crashing, but we made a plan. It felt bad lying to Lewis about the plan but what could we do. We had rescued his body but not his mind. Paul said, "We have to get safe before we can help Lewis more."

Lewis said, "Save her first."

It was almost funny. Except she only had to touch us and we'd be in the same condition. Or worse – sE



192.

DD – We escaped the house through a back door while the sirene crashed around the front stairs. I hoped she wasn't destroying the bannister carvings.

Paul invited us through the protections so we were safe to leave. As soon as we were past the protections, we made tons of noise and walked slowly and obviously toward the woods.

Here sirene, here sirene, come out and chase us.

But she didn't.

Because she knew about the protections? Because Grayfast and Scatterlegs were looping in excited circles around us?

Paul said, "She may not understand that a window shows outside. She's not a person."

"Angel." One guess who said that.

We sat at the edge of the woods like we were hiding, badly, and discussed how to lure her into the protections. The discussion took a while because we had to keep tricking Lewis.

Lourdes said, "We got out – let's keep going. She didn't follow – that's a good thing."

Paul said, "Eventually she'll track us."

"Scatterlegs and Grayfast must be expecting that." I pointed to the middle of the field, where they hid in the weeds and watched the house like they were waiting to ambush somebody.

"Let's go back for her. There's room in my car for one more," Lewis said.

Lourdes slapped a tree and said Spanish words that could only be swearing. No way around it. She's jealous. She capital–L Likes Lewis. Whaaa? They're probably about the same age but she is so much older than he is. I need to change my opinion of one of them.

Paul knew how to talk Eminem to Lewis with complete bogus sincerity. "Without the protections we can't risk it, we don't want to lead her into danger with us."

"Of course. Thanks!" Lewis gushed. You had to worry about him: he couldn't see how Paul made no sense. Lewis was a great game player because he was so logical. Now it was like his brain got fried.

"So what now – wait for her to wander out here?" Lourdes asked.

Paul spoke with long pauses. "No. She might see our animal friends and ... call for ... friends of her own. And those friends might sense the protections and ... get greedy, hog them, not share with her. We need to convince her to come out here ... soon, right away, by herself."

Lewis stood. "Let's go back and get her."

Paul warned, "That's a last resort. Every time anyone passes through the protections, there will be less for her."

"What do you think we should do?" Lewis asked Lourdes.

"You don't want to know," she replied. And that was no Eminem. – sE



193.

DD – Some hunters numb their victims and that happened to Lewis, Paul explained. The longer Lewis was out of the window seat, the more pain he showed.

While the rest of us discussed ideas to lure the sirene, Lewis shifted around like he couldn't find a good position, and finished each breath with a whimper.

Lourdes noticed. "You might need a hospital. Not for cracked ribs. But – broken. Or – a punctured lung. Sometimes liver damage feels the same." She asked him tons of questions about where and how it hurt. "Cracked ribs, sounds like. And something – with your collar bone." She showed him a way to breathe that hurt less.

"Do you have doctors in your family?" Paul asked.

"Our parents taught us lots about injuries," Lourdes said with a don't–ask. "I vote for the porch plan."

Paul and I agreed. The porch plan. We would use Lewis and Paul as bait to lure the sirene outside.

Paul opened the front door of the Trigg house, then he and Lewis sat on the steps off the front porch, their backs to the open door.

Lourdes and I couldn't sit with them because Scatterlegs and Grayfast insisted on staying beside us. If the sirene knew about changelings, seeing the animals so close would guarantee she'd get help.

Lourdes and I couldn't even watch. To keep our animals far enough away, we had to go through the woods and wait in the car.

Horrible to walk away. Paul sat beside Lewis but looked so alone. Lourdes waved good luck from the woods and Lewis called, "Can you sit in the back from now on?" So the sirene could sit beside him in the car.

Lourdes didn't answer but when we got to the car she sat in the driver's seat.

Grayfast and Scatterlegs stretched in sun on the car’s hood. They acted calm again but Grayfast kept his mind closed to me like he did when he was battling danger. In the bright sun, Scatterlegs had skin like abalone shell and Grayfast's ears had white tips.

The animals leaped up and darted into the woods. An instant later, wails screams shouts hit the car. I ran almost as fast as Lourdes back to the Trigg house.

Our plan worked but it missed something. Important. How it would affect Lewis to see the sirene get hurt by the protections.

Paul and Lewis wrestled on the front walkway, Paul to keep Lewis away from the porch. Lewis got an arm free and Lourdes threw herself on top to keep him pinned.

At the open front door a black fog tornado spun. Red blobs shot away from the tornado and with every blob came a violent moan of pain. Even I felt sorry for the sirene. Whatever was happening must hurt insanely.

The tornado disintegrated. The only sound was Lewis crying. – sE



194.

DD – "She's not dead, she went back to where she comes from." Paul crawled to the porch step and kept talking to Lewis. "She couldn't stay here, she's dangerous to us."

Lewis stayed curled in a sobbing heap.

Paul told Lourdes, "Watch him. We have to go inside to make sure nothing else gets through.”

Good thing Paul knew what to do, I was ready to collapse on the walkway with Lewis.

At the front door, Paul made a gesture that I recognized. Giving me permission to enter. "Come on. And take care. Every place the sirene touched will be a booby trap."

"Don't touch – – –" His lips moved but I couldn't hear with Grayfast freaking inside my head.

BABY BIRD DANGER IN NEST

I hoped Grayfast was only sensing the booby traps. I kept sending him one thought: I have to.

Paul and I jogged through the house. In every room all the furniture was in tiny pieces but the structure of the house, the carvings, the art, looked okay.

But they weren't okay. I was still open to changeling reality and I could feel the bad areas. Spinning, sticky – and growing.

"Stop!" I screamed and Paul did. He didn't sense sticky tendrils reaching from a bannister. "I better lead," I yelled and curved us wide of the problem. If we didn't get out soon, the tendrils would block our escape.

Luckily my scream also pushed Grayfast out of my head. So hard to think with his warnings blasting between my ears.

We made it to the secret screen room. There were no sticky bad areas there or in the secret library. Interesting, if I had time to think about it.

In the secret screen room, the wall still glowed but no longer seemed frozen. Pink swirled with white.

"I think the sirene came through here and was already holding the way open when we were trying to disconnect," Paul reached for the controls in the chair, then waved me toward them. "The person who opens a connection has best chance of closing it."

I pushed the connect button sequence in reverse. Like we had tried so many times before. This time, the swirling colors faded and the wall became a wall.

Paul gave me a look that sent a hug kiss high–five.

Invisible sticky tendrils had grown to fill the front of the house but we got out the back.

Lewis was still in a heap on the front walkway. Lourdes sat beside him. Scatterlegs skittered across Lewis' back.

I sat on Lewis' other side and Grayfast was there instantly, nuzzling me like crazy.

Paul used a key to scratch giant words in the front door. SIRENE ATTACK. Then he joined us, surrounding Lewis. – sE


195.

DD – We couldn't get through to Lewis about how the sirene had to go and would be okay. Oh sure, we said words and he heard them. But. He wasn't really there. Or we weren't. Like he was shipwrecked and thought he was imagining us.

He hugged his knees and rocked. And stared at the scratched words on the door. "You're bragging about hurting her."

"No, I wrote a warning. No one can go inside until her attack is stopped and that takes special equipment and a lot of time. It's okay for us to leave, though. People who don't understand the warning won't be capable of breaking in to this house, anyway," Paul said.

"I want to leave," Lourdes said.

Lewis stood. "My car keys. You have them."

It was like a stranger was imitating Lewis' voice. And the way he stood. Taller and further away. Before, one look at Lewis and you knew everything. Now his eyes were full of secrets.

We all stared at him, including Grayfast and Scatterlegs.

Lourdes tossed him the keys.

Lewis looked us over. "Lourdes and Ella are blurry."

Lourdes stopped her changeling shimmering. "Is that better?"

Lewis said, "Yeah," and headed for the woods. Except Lewis should have been crazy curious how she did that.

Lourdes snapped back into shimmering. "He's in trouble – or we are."

"Our animals are still calm, though," I said. Which kept me calm–ish. "Franklin might know what's going on with Lewis."

"Who?" Lourdes asked.

I explained about my conversation with Franklin. So long ago now. This day had become nothing but sirene attack. Which maybe was continuing inside Lewis.

We went through the woods to the car. Way up ahead, the fabric on Lewis' pants rustled as he walked. The sun was low and the car must be waiting in shade now, because the air around it was cool. I couldn't see it but I knew that. From staying in changeling reality. I was getting more information without getting overwhelmed by it.

Lourdes asked, "Where is Franklin?"

Paul said, "Mono Lake. Actually I think he lives more than one place but Aunt Axi always visited him there."

"You've been drawing Mono Lake," Lourdes realized. "And Lewis has been there."

Yup. Mono Lake here we come. – sE



196.

DD – All I want is to be out of this Tupac car, alone with Paul and Grayfast.

Lourdes probably knows I wrote that, she notices everything. Driving me crazy. Which she notices. I wish she would get mad at me. At some level I know it's Eminem to blame her. Instead she stares out the windshield like that will give me privacy.

I slide off and on my surfboard, in and out of the changeling ocean. Every time I make the switch, Lourdes twitches. She feels the change, she can't help it, she can't give me privacy. She can't give anyone privacy.

She has always been that way and I just started noticing, or this is how changelings get and she has evolved farther along than I am. I would ask her which, but nobody is talking.

Grayfast is behind me, on the shelf under the back window. Scatterlegs is on the dashboard by Lourdes. They seem to be lounging in the sun but I know Grayfast well enough to know that he is watching. Alert.

Paul stays very still, like he's listening but I don't know to what. No music, no conversation.

The tires rumble and the highway has more and more rough patches. Along the road are long white ledges. Snow!

"Actual winter. Actual mountains," Lewis says. It's the kind of thing Lewis would say, but it doesn't feel like Lewis is with us.

Lewis is the focus of everyone's attention. He doesn't seem to notice. He's still driving like a driver's education demo. Perfect position, eyes always moving. Every time his eyes see Paul in the rear–view mirror, they shoot hate daggers.

We stop for gas every hour or so. Fortunately, amazingly, when we were in the Trigg house Paul realized we'd need money and filled the backpack with cash. After getting it out of the trunk. Like we might have to make a fast getaway. But from what?

Every stop is the same. Lewis opens his hand over his shoulder, Paul sets cash in it even though Lewis has leftover cash from other stops. Lewis leaves the car, sticks his head back in. "Try not to trap or kill anybody while I'm gone." He glares at each of us. Longest at Paul. Lewis slams the door, Lourdes swears in Spanish, Paul zips his backpack. Scatterlegs runs along the dash, keeping Lewis in view during the fill up.

This stop there's more. Lourdes turns around. "He's going to murder us – in our sleep."

Paul replies, "No, Franklin will protect us."

Notice nobody says ha ha don't be silly. – sE



197.

DD – How does anyone open a car door with a slam? Lewis got out for a gas fill up, his voice a hammer on glass. "Writing a confession?"

"Just writing. Just something to do," I replied.

"Driving is boring too. You can't drive, only I'm insured!"

On the seat beside me Grayfast stopped lounging.

"You explained about the driving already, it's fine. I write all the time, it's my diary."

"I'll read the parts about me," Lewis 'laughed'.

"So far I don't let anyone read it but when I do, sure." I did a decent job sounding friendly, shy, normal, considering. Inside I was screaming. No way could Lewis see my diary and learn more about the situation. Knowledge could become a weapon in his hands. Or whoever controlled his hands.

I had no actual clue what was going on with Lewis and maybe I could only see my own experience. But I suspected that the sirene was in Lewis' head, like Grayfast gets in mine.

When the sun dropped behind the mountains, night came so fast. So dark. All black except on curves, where our headlights caught the snowbanks that lined the road. More like ice banks.

Ice sculpture. My eyes avoided the snowbanks. I didn't want to see the melting faces of Hansel and Gretel. The ice sculpture that ruined the food at that party where I was mean to Matty.

I wasn't mean to Lewis but I felt just as bad. If only I never gave Lourdes his address.

Lewis was humming, shoulders bopping. He was suddenly loose and cheerful, which made the rest of us more tense.

Another gas stop. Lourdes shot outside before Lewis stopped the car. Bathroom break! Great idea. Or excuse. To get farther away from Lewis.

The air was frosty outside. While Lewis pumped gas, he blew breath in smoky swirls and complimented himself, "Best ones yet."

The changes weren't as clear in the car but at every gas stop, he was obviously weirder. At first he was just different. Then strange. Then angry. Now crazy.

Lourdes and Paul were in the back of the gas station mini–mart. Stapled there was a ragged faded map.

"You – we are here." Lourdes touched a pink dot, formerly red.

Near the dot stretched a huge pale blob. Leaning close I made out the name. "Mono Lake! We made it?!"

Paul touched a road that crossed the highway a couple inches up. "This goes to Franklin."

Franklin, who might help Lewis as well as us.

"No!" Lourdes grabbed her head and ran toward the gas pumps. I was already running, hitting mini–mart shelves, because I was seeing through Grayfast's eyes. Inside the car.

The gas pumps were empty. The car was gone. Lewis was gunning it down the highway. With the animals still inside. – sE



198.

DD – Grayfast must be in the back seat.

… Lewis kept looking over his shoulder. He drove like a cartoon, curving with steering wheel turns. He never looked out the windshield. When he wasn't wincing over his shoulder he glared to his side.

A blur shot from the passenger seat, hit Lewis on the face, flashed away.

Lewis grabbed his face. With both hands! The car swerved and now he looked out the windshield. He yelled and yanked the wheel and must have stayed on the road. Anyway, no crash.

I smelled blood because Grayfast did. Long bloody scratches on Lewis' cheek. Tiny blood dots on the dashboard, where Scatterlegs jumped after scratching Lewis. The lizard crouched, ready to jump again.

When Grayfast thought about me, he filled with fondness for his baby bird. When Grayfast looked at Scatterlegs, he filled with respect.

Lewis shot an arm out, yelled, "Stay away." His anger heated the air inside the car. His voice changed like he swallowed his tongue. "I'll catch you. I'll eat you." …

Next to me, Lourdes said, "Ha – right!" I guess she was watching through Scatterlegs.

She didn't believe Lewis but I did. He sounded totally insane.

… He twisted the wheel and shoved his legs. Everything jerked. He jumped out and opened all the doors, roaring, "Out! Out!"

Grayfast sauntered away from the car with Scatterlegs riding his back. Lewis slammed all the doors and peeled out. Grayfast slipped inside a bush, out of the wind…

"They're waiting for us – that way," Lourdes pointed.

"The same way to Franklin," Paul said from my other side.

How they could know. Dark empty highway all looks the same.

The gas station had the only lights anywhere. It was hard to leave that ugly green glow but easier to walk the highway when no light blinded us. We walked with chicken wings, hands in pockets for warmth, elbows out for balance.

The wind skidded clouds. Cloudy. Clear. Cloudy. Clear. We walked faster during clears, when 1) Moonlight showed where to put our feet. 2) The temperature dropped a million degrees.

A huge truck whooshed by and for a second we could see. Right off our side was a steep crumbly drop into black.

I stumbled. My feet were so cold I couldn't walk straight. I could barely ask, "How far is Franklin's road?"

"We might have passed it," Paul mumbled. His lips sounded stiffer than mine.

"Here they are!" Lourdes slip–crawled over the steep crumbly edge.

A couple slips downhill, a broken pine tree made a tent with snapped branches. Inside, the animals waited. And scampered as we joined them on hands and knees.

"Warmer in here," Paul noticed.

We huddled with our backs pressed together and waited for daylight. – sE



199.

DD – Walking along the highway was creepier after dawn. Lewis could loom up at any moment. The road was mostly empty and when something drove near, the sound of tires arrived before we could spot movement. The tires echoed, so no telling which way anything was coming or what it was. Car, truck, motorcycle (brrr!).

The mountains were white with snow. The sun glared strong but the air stayed frosty. I bet if I tossed water it would freeze before it hit the ground. I couldn't win that bet, though, because we ran out of water last night.


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