Isobel looked out the living room windows. She searched the snow-laden trees for crows, wondering how it could be possible when she had severed the link.

Nothing from the dream realm was supposed to be able to enter reality. In burning Varen’s journal, she herself had ensured that. The very fact that Varen remained imprisoned there proved that.

Yet hadn’t Reynolds, with his yearly visit to Poe’s grave, already shown that there were other ways to pass between worlds? If he had lied about Varen, what would have stopped him from lying about other things too?

“Did you ever think maybe that’s what she needs to get away from?” Isobel heard her dad say. “Clearly that kid had issues, Jeannine. And the fact remains that neither of us knows what happened between the two of them, let alone what happened that night. The only thing we do know is that our daughter hasn’t been the same since.”

“What if she’s trying to find him?” her mom asked, the anger in her voice giving way to quiet panic.

Isobel drew a quick breath and held it.

“Why would she come to us?” her dad asked. “It’s clear she doesn’t trust us right now. And why should she, when she’s been asking us for help and we’ve just been pushing that aside, hoping things will eventually smooth over on their own? Maybe if we listen to her, maybe if we let her do something that will take her mind off everything, she’ll actually start opening up. You saw her just now, didn’t you? When was the last time you heard her laugh? And when was the last time you saw her smile like that? I mean, really smile.”

For a long moment, Isobel heard only the hum of the refrigerator.

“You could have at least told me before you told her,” her mom snapped, her anger renewed. “Why would you leave me out of something like this?”

“Because I knew that if I told you first, then I would’ve had to wait to tell her. And after whatever that was she went through this morning, I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to do something.”

A quiet knock at the front door caused Isobel’s head to jerk up.


“I hate feeling helpless like this,” her dad continued. “I don’t have a better idea, and honestly, I don’t think you do either. It’s Christmas, Jeannine. All I wanted this year was to see my little girl happy again.”

“You don’t think I’ve wanted the same thing?”

Her parents continued to argue, their voices rising over each other’s.

They had not heard the knock.

It came again, louder this time.

Isobel pushed away from the wall. Doing her best to move quietly, she crept around the couch and made her way into the foyer, where she moved close to the door.

Peering through the peephole, she found the porch outside empty.

Fear tugged at her gut when she noticed the set of fresh footprints in the snow, which led all the way up the curved sidewalk and concrete steps.

Isobel stepped back from the door. Spotting the brass umbrella stand, she grabbed the handle of her father’s large blue-and-white golf umbrella. She pulled it forth slowly, as though drawing a sword from its sheath.

Fastening her free hand to the doorknob, she pressed her ear to the smooth, cool surface to listen.

At first she heard only the faint hiss of the wind. Then the knock came a third time, loud enough to send a painful buzz reverberating through her skull.

Isobel reared back. She flung open the door, then pushed through the storm door and out onto the porch. She held the umbrella in both hands, like a baseball bat, ready to swing.

Outside, the winter air clung to the bare skin of her legs while a few stray flakes drifted from an otherwise tranquil sky.

Layers of white capped the flat tops of evergreen shrubs, which glistened like frosted cupcakes. Across the street, a pair of fluffy-tailed squirrels skittered and chased each other around the trunk of Mrs. Finley’s oak.

The sunlight bouncing off the snow seared Isobel’s eyes.

She squinted through the glare, scanning the quiet scene of her neighborhood.

Until she heard the storm door creak open behind her.

Isobel froze. Turning her head, she caught sight of a dark blur as it slid away from the brick siding and darted inside her house.



Heart hammering, Isobel spun. She threw open the storm door and charged back inside, rushing the black-clad figure.

Arms raised, the intruder stumbled backward, sprawling on the stairs with a heavy clump.

Isobel lifted the umbrella high over her head, preparing to bring it down like a sledgehammer.

“Don’t shoot!”

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