Isobel leaned out to peek around the bookcase again.

The shop owner sat in the exact same position.

He looked frailer than she remembered, his once round body having shrunken enough so the sleeves of his thick brown sweater hung from his arms in loose folds, like the skin of a bloodhound. His hair had thinned as well since the last time she’d seen him, the shock of Einstein-white gone, leaving mere wisps on his otherwise bald head.

His breathing, slow and rhythmic, came with a wet, rattling sound. He didn’t blink. But when he didn’t cough, either, Isobel took that as the most telling sign of all.

She released the breath she’d been holding and took a cautious step out from behind the shelf. Watching him closely as she crept past the counter, Isobel paused again when his other eye came into view. As she’d suspected, it was pinched shut.

At the far end of the counter, opposite where Bruce sat, a gramophone, identical to the one in her dream, caught her eye.

The seed of dread within her dropped out of her heart and into her gut. There it grew, transforming into quiet panic.

She hurried to the rear of the shop, taking the short step up and through the archway, into the section that housed the nonfiction books and encyclopedias. She ignored the stacks of boxes and the emptied shelves, heading straight for the door that would take her to the attic.

Below the DO NOT ENTER sign, she saw the yellowing and far more ominous handwritten note that bore the familiar words BEWARE OF BESS.

Before she knew what she was doing, Isobel ripped the handwritten sign free, crumpled it, then let it drop to the floor. She pulled the door open.

The enclosed stairway stretched up before her. Above, the attic room appeared to be intact, no longer exposed to the sky as it had been in the dream. Solid walls met with the wood-and-rafter ceiling, and cold light poured in from the window above the staircase, dust particles drifting through the sharply slanted shafts like flotsam.


Isobel moved beyond the threshold, pulling the door shut behind her. She mounted the stairs, and as she moved through the patchwork of light and dimness, she thought she could smell the bitter scent of seared wood.

She opened her arms and placed her hands to the wood paneling on either side of her. Her fingers trailed the coarse surface, bumping over the grooves as she used the walls to guide herself up, every step taking its turn to groan beneath her.

When Isobel reached the top landing, she found the attic room just how she remembered it, right down to the little café-style table and matching chairs that sat beneath the small oval window overlooking the street below.

For a second, Isobel felt as though she was reliving a moment she’d experienced before, that time she’d rushed up the steps after forgetting the Poe book Varen had lent her.

She’d heard voices coming from the tiny attic room. His, and a woman’s . . .

But when she’d reached the top of the stairs, she’d found the room empty, just like it was now.

Her attention fell on the odd black scorch mark that marred the very center of the floorboards, taking the place of the ragged orange-brown throw rug, which lay rolled up against the far wall.

Her ribbon did not lie within the perimeters of the black mark. Or anywhere else.

The fear that had gripped her throughout the day loosened in an instant, but only by a fraction. Because, despite her ribbon’s absence, the attic’s emptiness answered nothing. Her uncertainty remained, growing twofold as she stared at the burn mark.

Isobel drifted toward the spot, keeping her footsteps light as she made her way to stand in the center of the starburst-shaped blot.

Only when her shoes matched up with two similarly shaped smudges branded into the wood did she realize where it was she stood.

This was the spot in which she had ignited Varen’s journal in the dreamworld.

In that moment, the two worlds had been so close, practically superimposed over each other. She had belonged to both realms, and like the floor, she should have burned.

Yet she hadn’t.

Her thoughts went back to what Pinfeathers had said in her living room about how she had evaded destruction.

Even Reynolds hadn’t had much of an explanation for why she had survived. His response to that particular question had been murky at best, filled with flimsy guesswork—another reminder that, despite what he wanted her to believe, he didn’t know everything.

The low pulsing buzz of her cell phone cut the strand of her thoughts.

She drew her phone out and flipped it open. Scowling at the screen, she watched the time display jump, the numbers changing at random. The service bars faded down, flickering.

Isobel moved toward the window, hoping for better reception. But as soon as her feet left the black marking, her normal display returned. The bars reappeared and the time showed five forty-five.

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