His face, drawn, worn, and full of fright, seemed so altered from the face she remembered. His features, now gaunt and haunted-looking, no longer held their sharp and chiseled all-American boyishness. His eyes, too, had lost that piercing blue-diamond luster that could cut as much as convince. Along with the former beach-tan hue of his skin, their color had since faded, dulled to a slate-metal tone that reminded Isobel of steel bars.

Isobel watched as he struggled to right himself. He fumbled for his crutches, using them to maneuver his way out of the corner she seemed to have driven him into.

“Wait,” Isobel said.

To her surprise, he stopped when he reached the open walkway between the locker-room entrance and the door that led to the showers. He stood stock-still with his back to her, his head down.

For the first time, Isobel noticed the streak of white at his temple, showing up like a patch of frost against his otherwise coppery curls.

He trembled where he stood and kept his face turned away from the mirror, his eyes rolling in her direction, pupils expanding. Tiny beads of sweat began to form on his upper lip.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in practice right now?” he asked her in a shaky whisper.

Isobel swallowed. “I got out . . . early.”

“What do you want?”

“To talk,” she said. “Just to talk.” She reached a hand toward him but pulled back when he cringed and angled away from her.

“You’re going to ask me what happened,” he said. “Just like everybody else. Aren’t you?”


Isobel didn’t answer.

“Except,” he continued, “unlike everybody else, Izo, you know what happened. In fact, you’re the only one who knows what happened. You were there. I saw you.”

She watched as he hobbled back to the bench. Bracing his crutches against the lockers again, he lowered himself next to his duffel, extracting from it a black trash bag. Bad leg extended, he leaned forward at the waist and began to stuff the things lying on the floor into the bag.

“You . . . remember that?” she asked.

“Every single time I shut my eyes,” he said.

Isobel shifted uncomfortably where she stood. She knew they were talking about Halloween night, but she couldn’t be certain yet if he recalled any of the time he’d spent in the dreamworld, or if he was simply referring to what happened on the field when the Nocs cornered him during a play, snapping his leg.

Immediately after the attack, he’d fallen unconscious on the turf. Isobel had been there with him, calling out to him. But she didn’t find out until later that his spirit, his “astral form” as Reynolds had called it, had been dragged from his body by the Nocs and taken by force into the dreamworld. It was there that Isobel later discovered him, alerted to his presence by desperate screams only moments after she’d found Varen locked inside another room.

Promising Varen she’d come back for him, Isobel had gone to try and save Brad from being tortured by the Nocs. But she’d arrived too late.

She’d watched Brad, against his will, become the blood-drenched figure of the Red Death, his soul sucked into a cemetery statue that burst into life, its gray stone robes transforming into sodden sheets of tattered crimson.

She could still picture the way the phantasm had moved, floating over the ground with its cloak billowing behind. Helpless, Isobel had watched from within the pit of an open grave as the hooded figure descended from its plinth. With one wave of its skeletal hand, the creature had sent the dirt walls of her prison caving in, burying her alive.

Reality and the realm of dreams had already begun to merge by that time, and under the Red Death’s control, Brad entered the real world again, ready to carry out the final events of Poe’s gruesome story.

Only Reynolds had prevented him from killing everyone at the Grim Facade.

After rescuing her, he had fought to keep the Red Death at bay while she returned to the woodlands to destroy Varen’s journal, severing the link between worlds. Though doing so had been enough to free Brad and allow him to return to his body and to reality, it had not been enough to ensure Varen’s return. In fact, it had done just the opposite.

“Brad,” Isobel began, “listen. I’m sorry about . . . what happened on the field. And . . . I’m sorry that you can’t—”

He laughed, a bitter, cold sound. “You know I’m not talking about what happened on the field,” he said. “And keep your pity for yourself. I hated football.” She watched him shove the blue-and-gold jersey into the trash bag.

Isobel gaped at him, stunned. “What?”

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