She could see there was someone else there now. A stranger, who approached her from behind.

A jab of fear sent Isobel rushing toward herself. The world whirred into a blur as her two selves snapped into one.

Isobel blinked dry and stinging eyes. She dropped her arm, her bicep screaming as if she’d been standing that way for hours, and swung around to face the person who had nearly touched her shoulder.


Conscience Grim

“Oh!” The woman jumped, pulling back her hand the moment Isobel whirled to face her.

Young and blond with pretty gray eyes and a complexion too tan for this late in winter, the woman, who had to be somewhere in her early thirties, wore a fashionable heather-gray coat along with matching gloves. Her hair, straw colored and straight, lay neatly arranged on either of her shoulders, making her look like a model from a Macy’s clothing ad.

The woman regarded Isobel with caution, as though she couldn’t be certain if she’d stumbled on an insane asylum escapee.

“Did you not hear me?” she asked. “I said, is this your bike sitting here in the middle of the street?”

The woman pointed behind her to Danny’s blue bike, which still lay on its side next to the curb. Isobel’s gaze darted from the bike back to the woman and then beyond her willowy form to the chrome-colored Lexus idling in the road. The driver’s-side door hung wide open, as if the woman had jumped out quickly, hoping to jump back in just as quickly.

“I—” Isobel stammered, and then looked toward the fountain again, her momentary confusion lifting at the sight of it.


She’d been gone, she realized. Not physically. Her body had remained here while her astral self, her spirit, had been transported elsewhere—to a memory from the past.

She was back now, though, and she knew in her bones that what Pinfeathers had shown her had been the truth.

Reynolds had killed Poe. He’d told Isobel that Lilith was responsible for his death, but that had been another lie. But why had he done it? Why, when Poe had been crying out to him, pleading with him for help? Why, when Reynolds had told her they’d been friends? Had that, too, been just another falsehood?

“Are—are you lost?” the woman asked.

Yes, Isobel wanted to say. More than ever before.

Glancing skyward, she could see that it had begun to get lighter, though just scarcely so. Enough for her to wonder how much time had elapsed since she’d first arrived at the fountain.

“What—what time is it?” Isobel asked the woman.

“Early,” she replied. “High school doesn’t start for at least another hour. Is that where you were headed before you stopped here? Where do you go?”

Isobel didn’t answer. She was too busy making time calculations. If she had an hour before school, then that left her with thirty minutes to get home before her alarm went off. Less if her mom decided to pop her head in and check on her. If she hadn’t already.

God, what would her mother think if she looked in and found her bed empty?

She’d freak for sure. She’d call Isobel’s dad and then . . .

“Are you . . . is everything all right?” the woman asked. “You look a little . . .” She stopped, her glossed lips still parted as if her next words had simply flown out before she’d had a chance to utter them. Squinting at Isobel, the woman tilted her head to one side. “I’m sorry. Do—do I know you?” she asked abruptly.

Immediately, Isobel realized who she was talking to.

This was Varen’s stepmother.

They’d seen each other only once before, on that night Varen had argued with his father. After his parents had left his room, Isobel had come out from hiding in his closet and, together, she and Varen took the fire escape outside his window. Just as they’d climbed into his car, this woman had run out onto the porch and down the sidewalk, calling out to them. She and Isobel had locked eyes for only a split second before Varen pressed his foot to the gas pedal and took off, but apparently, that had been long enough.

Isobel shook her head, even though she could already tell it was too late for denial.

“No,” the woman said, and pointed at Isobel with one gloved finger. “I do know you. You were with Varen that night he—What are you doing here? Who are you? Tell me your name.”

“I—” Isobel broke off.

Turning, she lunged for Danny’s bike. Plucking it from the road, she began to run alongside it.

“Wait!” the woman cried. “Stop!”

Isobel swung herself onto the bike seat and began to pedal hard.

Most Popular