“At first Bubbe and I were alone. But then I saw someone moving through the garden. When he passed by one of the archways, he stopped to look in our direction, like he was surprised to see us there. And then I woke up. But not before I realized who it was.” Gwen stood.

Varen, Isobel thought. Not only had Gwen dreamed about the same place she had, she’d seen Varen there too.

Unfolding the paper, Gwen stepped toward her, holding it out.

Confused, Isobel took the white sheet, an Internet printout of the same black-and-white image of the cloaked and kneeling figure that Mr. Swanson had passed back along with her and Varen’s essay.


Isobel’s grip tightened, the paper crunching in her fist.

“Him,” Gwen said. “It was him.”


White Noise

Isobel lay awake that night.

She’d left her door open, giving her a clear view of the darkened hallway.


Occasionally flashes of light sparked from behind Danny’s door, though it seemed as if the headphones she’d given him had done the trick of blocking out the sound of sword swipes and repetitious cries of agony.

So far, however, the renewed silence wasn’t helping her get to sleep any faster. All things considered, she could have been tucked away in the presidential suite at the Hilton and still be watching the walls wide-eyed.

As midnight came and went, not being able to drift off became its own brand of torture. Especially since, right then, sleep was the one thing she wanted more than anything. Because unconsciousness was the only way she knew to slide back the screen standing between her and Varen.

If she fell asleep, if she began to dream, then maybe he would find her again. Even if she only remembered snippets when the sun rose, even if she woke as soon as she saw him, it would still amount to more than she had now.

At the same time, Isobel could not forget the horror of that morning’s encounter with Pinfeathers.

Before climbing into bed, she’d taken care to grab her “Number One Flyer” trophy from her dresser. She kept it buried beneath the covers with her, one hand wrapped around the plastic golden cheerleading figurine, confident that the statue’s hard granite base would provide enough of a blunt edge to smash in the Noc’s face.

The Nocs were brittle, hollow creatures, their hard outer shells as fragile and breakable as porcelain. But they also held the power to transform themselves to smoke, to slither around in violet, inklike swirls, sliding through the air as intangible wraiths. The trick to shattering one was catching it in solid form, getting it to hold still long enough to land a blow.

Isobel had managed to inflict significant damage to Pinfeathers once before, kicking in one side of his torso and snapping off an entire arm.

She already knew Pinfeathers must have managed to rebuild himself, though. When he had appeared to her that morning, taking on Varen’s form, he’d had both arms. The lightning-bolt scar zigzagging down his bare torso now explained itself as well.

Isobel’s hand tightened around the trophy.

The Noc might have caught her off guard that morning, but Isobel knew that Pinfeathers’s power lay in his ability to surprise her—an advantage she would not allow him to have again. Not now that she knew he’d found a loophole through which to enter her world again.

It made her wonder if a version of that same loophole existed for Varen, if its emergence had any correlation to his repeated appearances in her dreams. Not to mention Lilith’s intervention that afternoon through Gwen’s book.

Isobel recalled the statue that had stood atop the fountain in the rose garden in her dream. She remembered how the figure had turned its head to look at her, its pair of empty black eyes matching those of the woman in the etching.

Other images of the dream continued to swirl through her mind.

The absence of her reflection in Varen’s sunglasses. The interior of his car. The spinning dashboard clock. The nothingness inside those eyes.

Gwen’s mention of the rose garden had tipped the first domino of Isobel’s recollection, bringing the rest of the dream into stark relief.

It was clear that somehow, some way, they had both visited the same dream space.

If so, why had Reynolds appeared to Gwen and not her? What had he been doing there in the garden?

It made her think about the strange aroma that clung to him. It had been almost overpowering that night Reynolds had carried her home—that musty smell of sweet decay, exactly like roses on a grave.

Isobel rolled onto her back to face the ceiling, the blank white space offering a better canvas on which to connect the emerging series of dots.

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