“Fairly,” Isobel allowed. Her grip on her pen tightened.

“That day,” Mr. Swanson said. “He . . . he seemed a bit strange, don’t you think? Stranger than usual, that is. Kind of out of it. Did you notice?”

Isobel glanced down at her notebook. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, aware that this was Swanson’s not-so-subtle way of looking for an in. And aside from the fact that she couldn’t think of a single response that wouldn’t give him just that, she found herself once again struggling to come up with a comprehensible answer concerning that particular hour of Halloween day.

It was the one big paradox of the entire twenty-four-hour period, a giant piece missing from a fragmented puzzle already riddled with so many holes.

That day Varen had been here, in this very room, present for all to see and yet, supposedly, also fast asleep in the attic of Nobit’s Nook.

“I remember,” Mr. Swanson said, his voice cutting through her thoughts, “that he wouldn’t take off his sunglasses when I asked him. He’s never done that before. Looking back, I should have known right then that there was something the matter.”

Isobel maintained her silence. She told herself not to say anything, to just nod, unable to trust herself not to give something away.

So many times she had played and replayed the events of Halloween in her head, always starting with the enigma of Varen’s strange dual existence during Mr. Swanson’s class. She could also recall how, after everything was over, even Reynolds hadn’t been able to explain the why or how of what had happened. He’d even seemed shocked when Isobel had brought it up. Or if not shocked, at the very least dismayed.

“I hope you don’t mind my asking,” said Mr. Swanson. “But did Varen happen to . . . mention anything to you about what might have been going on?”

“I . . . ,” Isobel began. She started to nod again but caught herself. “No.” She shook her head. “He didn’t.”

At this point, she knew that it was time to go. From here, the questions could only get more specific and her resolve not to answer them would only get weaker.


Sliding from her chair, fumbling for her things, she gathered her backpack, pen, and notebook while out in the hall, the bell indicating the beginning of lunch sounded with a shrill cry.

“About the project paper,” she said, avoiding eye contact with him as she slipped her quiz into an open pocket of her bag. “Was that all you wanted?”

After a beat, he clasped his knees and said, “Yes. I . . . suppose it was.”

Isobel made a beeline for the door. She could feel Swanson’s eyes following her.

That she wanted to leave his classroom so badly must have been a dead giveaway that she knew more than she was letting on. But she needed to get out of there as soon as possible. To regroup. She was going to have to try and figure out some way to get through the next two weeks of his class—of life—without blowing her own cover.

The entire Baltimore trip depended on it.

Gripping the doorknob, Isobel froze, her hand tightening around the cool metal fixture as a new thought struck her.

Letting go of the knob, she pivoted to face him.

“Mr. Swanson?”

“Yes, Miss Lanley?”

“Speaking of the project paper,” she said, “do you . . . do you remember that article you handed back with our grade? The one about the—”

“Poe Toaster?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Him. How . . . how did you know about all that?”

Mr. Swanson stood from where he’d been leaning against his desk. Arms remaining folded, he glanced down at his loafers. “Oh well, you know us scholarly types,” he said. “When someone goes to such extremes to pay tribute to one of the famous dead litterateurs, we can’t help but take an interest. Now that I think about it, he’s due fairly soon, isn’t he?”

“The nineteenth,” Isobel blurted.

“That’s right,” Mr. Swanson said. Looking up, he squinted at her in surprise. “The morning of Poe’s birthday. I should give you extra credit for remembering that. I’m sure there’ll be quite a crowd there this year. It’s becoming more and more popular, you know. I daresay I’d like to go myself one day. Wouldn’t that make for a heck of a field trip?”

She watched him round his desk. Picking up Varen’s paper on Poe, he sighed and stuffed it back into the top drawer. “Doubt I could get the board to sign off on that one, though, much less the county.”

“Sorry,” Isobel said, “did you say crowd?”

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