Only then did Isobel break her gaze with the mirror.

She crept to her door and, opening it a fraction of an inch, peeked out into the hall. Through the banister rungs of the landing, she saw her mother standing in the foyer below. Stepping out from the living room, her father took her coat while they exchanged words too low for Isobel to make out.

“Upstairs,” her dad said.

Before her mother could look in her direction, Isobel took a quick step back. Hearing shuffling on the stairs, she hurried to her bed. She threw back the covers and slipped under them, then rolled to face her window and shut her eyes.

The hinges of her bedroom door squeaked as it opened.

Even though no other sound came for some time after, Isobel could still sense her mother watching her.

Isobel kept her breathing even and heavy.

She heard the rustle of clothing and then the quiet click of her bedside lamp.

The darkness behind her lids became absolute.

A moment later and she felt her mother’s lips, still chilled from the night air, brush her temple. The remnants of that morning’s spritz of perfume invaded Isobel’s nostrils, an airy blend of apricots and field flowers in full bloom—a breath of midsummer in the bleakest part of winter.

Even after Isobel’s mother left her room, the calmness she had brought with her remained, soothing Isobel’s nerves and robbing the pressing darkness of its power.


In its place, sleep closed in to claim her.

STANDING ON THE SIDEWALK, RIGHT at the edge of the curb, Isobel tilted her head back to peer up at the front of the bookstore.

Above the pointed rooftop, just beyond the crumbling chimney, a thin layer of low-lying clouds rushed by. The fast-moving backdrop created the optical illusion that the narrow building housing the shop was tipping forward, on its way to crush her.

A high-pitched squeaking noise drew her attention directly overhead, to the once straight-hanging sign for Nobit’s Nook. Now, though, the wooden board dangled lopsided from its iron bracket. Suspended by only a single link, the sign whined as it rocked and swiveled.

But why was the lettering . . . backward?

The wind swished past her in a low hush, dragging cool fingers through her hair.

Isobel looked toward the front window of the shop when she heard someone inside begin to cough.

She listened as the hacking grew distant and knew it had to be the elderly bookshop owner, Bruce.

Stepping forward, she peered through the glass. Though the lights were on in the main room, she saw no one standing near the book-swamped checkout counter or amid the tall rows of packed shelves. The shop appeared deserted, identical in every aspect to how she remembered it—save for one difference.

It was all reversed, everything completely flipped.

Just like the image in a mirror.

Isobel backed away from the window. She spun to look around, suddenly realizing where she was, that she was not only currently asleep in her bed and dreaming, but that somehow she was also standing within the dreamworld.

As far as she could see, the woodlands stretched long in every direction, their darkened borders occupying the space that in the real world would have held a string of storefronts.

The trees themselves stood in thick union, close as grass blades, almost as though they had conspired to merge nearer to one another in order to block anyone who might dare cross their boundaries. Or, she thought, try to escape them.

Layers of ash spilled out from between the blackened tree trunks. The dust reached far enough to swallow the legs of a bus stop bench as well as the bases of signposts and all the streetlamps, which gave off an eerie glow through the mist-filled air.

Like a slumbering black dragon, a certain vintage car sat parked close to the curb, only a few feet away from where she stood. White ash caked the treads of its tires.

Varen. He was here.

Isobel hurried up the short stoop to the door. Though the flip sign read CLOSED in reverse, she tried the handle anyway.

The belt of bells jangled as the door swung open. Isobel entered the shop, the floorboards moaning underfoot.


At first there came no answer. But then a small, soft voice, that of a woman’s, sliced through the silence.

“Hello there.”

Isobel halted.

Raising a hand to her throat, she groped for the pendant Gwen had given her. The hamsa felt warm and solid in her fist, and again, she had to remind herself that this wasn’t real. Or at the very least, that it wasn’t reality.

Willing herself to stand her ground, Isobel waited for something else to happen, steeling herself to move in the event that it did.

“It’s okay.” The woman’s voice, overlapped by a faint crackle of static, broke through the quietness of the shop, her tone reassuring. “You can come in.”

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