Isobel hesitated before flipping the photo over, afraid of what she might find. She turned it slowly, allowing the candlelight to reveal another poem.

Previously, Varen had only mentioned his mother in passing, saying that she’d left when he was eight. He hadn’t elaborated, and Isobel had refrained from asking questions, knowing all too well how quickly his walls could snap into place.

Now, ten years later, he was still thinking of her, still holding on to the last remnants of her existence in his life.

Isobel found herself reluctant to read even a single line.

It was true that she had never hesitated to pry into Varen’s writing before. That was part of how this had all started, that day when she’d gone snooping in his journal. But there was something about this poem that made her dread its message. Perhaps it was the title, presented like a simple salutation in a letter. “To Madeline,” it said at the top, the letters scriptlike and looping, written in his best hand.

Isobel could not recall a single instance in which she had ever called her own mother anything other than “Mom.” Of course, she couldn’t recall a single instance in which her mother hadn’t been there, either.

Swallowing, she began to read.

To Madeline,

This subtle second self

Sheaf of me

Can do more than you ever could.


Like you, it can leave

And go

Somewhere else.

The night splits me in two.

I disconnect—

To sink, to fall, to fly

And rage


And always

Without you.

Isobel read the lines again and then again. From the craterlike feeling of emptiness the words themselves left within her, there bubbled up a familiar echo, a repetition of things heard and learned of in the past.

Second self?

Lucid dreaming. Astral projection.

Isobel glanced back to Varen’s sleeping bag as, all at once, its presence there held new meaning. Her eyes returned to the mural on the wall, suddenly knowing that his canvas—his hideaway—stretched much farther than this room.

Isobel pressed the picture of Varen’s mother facedown on the floor next to her, then picked up the remainder of the stack. She flipped through the rest of the photos slowly, one at a time. There were no more people, though, only images of stone figures, and artsy shots of the same autumn tree, its red-and-gold-sleeved limbs in various states of undress, like he’d been in the process of creating a flip book.

There were more pictures of turrets and iron gates, passageways glimpsed through keyhole doorways and windows. There were also a few shots that showed snarling gargoyles who leered from rooftops, and still more depicting stone angels mourning from their high perches atop cemetery monuments.

Much like books, Isobel could tell how voiceless things had provided a brand of companionship more compatible to Varen’s nature than human friendship had ever been. These things, locked in their inanimate ways, fed him ideas, she thought. They whispered their tales to him through unmoving lips and he listened, opening himself to their world so much more than any normal passerby. That much was evident in the way he’d taken the photos, as if he’d caught each soulless thing in a candid moment of secret animation. Like they’d sensed him coming and so turned themselves his way because they knew that he held the power to translate their silence into words.

By putting their stories on the page, he could give them life.

A beautiful gift that had turned dangerous.

Maybe none of this would ever have happened, she thought, if Varen’s mother had stayed.

Isobel had often wondered why his mother had left. Always, her presumed answer pointed at one individual: Varen’s father. But even if she—Madeline—had needed to escape, even if she’d had to get away, how could she have left her son behind? She must have known about him, that he was different. Special.

Hadn’t she cared?

Lost in her thoughts, Isobel hadn’t realized that she’d flipped to the last photo in the stack, one that showed a solitary stone face that peered out from an alabaster wall.

Isobel looked closer, realizing that she knew that face. She recognized it from one of the houses on Varen’s street. It was one of the “green men” he had told her about, the group of gargoyle busts said to act as protectors against evil.

“Sleeping on the job,” Isobel muttered at the photo.

The face of the gargoyle glowered up at her. He looked almost human, except for the oversize, orblike eyes that stared sightlessly forward.

Isobel sighed and gathered the photos. Before tucking them back into the box, she took a moment to sift through the remaining contents, a collection of bits and pieces strewn along the violet crushed-velvet lining. Broken typewriter keys lay intermixed with antique jewelry, buttons, and brooches, and folded slips of . . . sheet music?

Most Popular