The fountain.

Isobel’s thoughts bounced back to the dream in the rose garden, when Varen had taken her to the very same fountain. She thought about the bookstore, too, realizing that she had now dreamed him in two places that paralleled reality. And like Varen’s father, she’d even seen him once in reality itself.

On Halloween. The day their project on Poe had been due.

Varen had shown up in class, yet supposedly he’d been at Nobit’s Nook at the exact same time.

Isobel frowned, recalling how Varen had refused to shake Isobel’s father’s hand during their presentation. In fact, he hadn’t touched anyone. And when he’d picked up her boom box, the speakers had spiked with static, even though it had no batteries in it. Then, right after class, he’d vanished into thin air.

Just like a ghost.

I don’t believe in ghosts, Varen’s father had said.

And yet, he’d seen one.

Just as she had that day in Mr. Swanson’s class.

With that thought, Isobel tossed back her covers and climbed out of bed.

Her digital clock read 4:40 A.M.


That left her with just under two hours before she was supposed to be up for school.

Isobel scrambled to get dressed in the dark, thinking that it might be just enough time to get there—to the fountain—and back before anyone noticed she was missing.

PEDALING FAST ON DANNY’S MOUNTAIN bike, it took Isobel just over twenty minutes before she arrived at the entrance to the stately and quiet neighborhood.

She had dressed in layers, but the stinging predawn air still managed to singe her lungs each time she drew a breath. The ski cap that she wore, pulled low over her ears, protected her head from the cold, though her cheeks burned from the sharp wind that had pressed against her the whole way, almost like an invisible force trying to hold her back.

Isobel’s heart thrummed as she steered the bike around the last corner and onto St. Francis Court, the street where Varen lived.

Used to live . . .

Brown leaves plastered the pavement beneath her wheels, their slick bodies smoothed sticker-flat by the rain and the tires of passing cars. The gas lamps lining the grass median between the two one-way lanes glowed with live flames that fluttered tall and thin within their glass holders.

She stopped pedaling and let the bike roll on its own, gliding between the two rows of darkened Victorian homes while she took a moment to catch her breath.

Their wide windows, like so many eyes, seemed to follow her as she went.

Isobel clutched the handle brakes as she drew nearer to the solemn redbrick house Varen had once invited her into. Even though she had not planned to, as soon as the darkened stained-glass front door came into view, Isobel extended one foot and pressed her toe to the pavement, stopping the bike. From the middle of the street, she watched the house.

Looking up at Varen’s bedroom window on the third floor, she felt as though something within was watching her back. But she could see nothing beyond the darkened panes.

Isobel turned away and pushed off on the bike once more, telling herself she couldn’t afford to linger. Not when she needed to be back in her room before her mother woke to make her dad’s coffee and pack Danny’s lunch.

As she approached the fountain, she again squeezed the handlebar brakes. The tires squealed very slightly, and she did not wait for the bike to reach a complete stop before standing up on the pedals, swinging one leg over, and dismounting.

She walked the bike to the circular curb that surrounded the fountain and, gently lowering it to the pavement, strode across the brief strip of grass all the way up to the ornate grillwork railing that separated the dry concrete reservoir from the frozen turf.

Wrapping her already numb hands around the painted metal, Isobel peered up at the fountain. Floodlights, nestled just below the drained concrete base, lit the tarnished bronze basin from every angle, illuminating the leaf-and-scroll-flourished underside of the shallow and empty, goblet-shaped basin.

Isobel glanced to her left and then to her right.

Even though a row of parked cars lined both of the lanes and a few sconce lights glowed beneath porticos and wrap-around porches, the neighborhood felt eerily deserted.

Her grip on the railing tightened, and with a sinking sensation, as though she were standing in quicksand and not on solid ground, she began to wonder why she’d come. What had she been hoping for? That he would appear before her the way his father’s note said he had last night?

Maybe, she thought, she’d been holding on to the distant hope that, like the bookstore, the place he had told her she would find him in the dreamworld had some connection to its real-world counterpart. Some traversable link.

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