Chapter 28: Smiles and Tears

I was afraid that we were losing Rem again. He was probably spiralling back towards depression, and we all knew that it was mostly because his mind was in so much turmoil over our complicated family situation. Our parents felt awful about it, I knew, but they also didn’t want to risk letting Rem go back. They didn’t even seem to want to try mending fences with the fairies. Or then they wanted to, but didn’t know how to go about it.

Alvar and Kielo had visited only once after the argument. The visit was brief and tense, with a lot of clipped words and strained smiles. When they left, Alvar was nearly in tears and Rem locked himself in his room. Patrick looked devastated and mum tried her best to support him even as she too fought tears. Merrill was left among depressed and confused people, his eyes wide and going from one person to another until Patrick finally took him in his arms and hugged him tight. We didn’t even try to pretend that things were okay. None of us really knew what to do.

I lay in my bed that night, awake even as the clock struck four a.m. It was going to be a school day tomorrow, and I knew I’d be a zombie if I didn’t get any sleep. But my mind was too full of thoughts and problems to fall asleep. Sometimes I got up to write, but even that didn’t make me feel better. We were a mess. Again. Why couldn’t our lives ever stay fixed?

Maybe that was just how lives went; ups and downs and all that. Some had more downs than ups. I tried to figure out if we were just always going downhill or if we had enough happiness to balance it out. Maybe we did. But that was again one of those moments when I found it hard to see anything in a positive light. Maybe even us staying together as a family and loving each other was bad because that just made us feel like we always had too much to lose.

No, I decided then and would always decide. Us being a family couldn’t be a mistake. Loving and caring for others had to have something good in it. Always. Even when it backfired.

We just had to figure this out. We had to decide whether we could trust the fair folk or not. And we needed to decide what to do about Donna. She had suffered a lot and probably deserved none of it. Sure, she had acted horribly towards Rem back when we’d gone to see her, but I could understand her lashing out. I wasn’t a mum, but I could imagine that being one and then losing one’s child and no one doing anything about it was so awful that I didn’t even have the words for it. And I had a feeling that Donna had even less words for her pain; it was too close and too horrible.

I curled up in my bed, staring at the slivers of starlight that speared my window. The night was too beautiful for depression, I decided, and then frowned at the patch of night sky I could see. Why couldn’t the night be more fitting for the mood? It was an incredibly childish thought, I knew. But sometimes being childish and thinking silly thoughts was all I could do.

I dragged myself over to Sabine’s place the next day after school even though I – just as I’d predicted – felt like a zombie. We made some salad together and I managed to eat it even though I didn’t feel like eating. The salad was tasty and fresh, but it slid down my zombified throat like papier-mâché.

“Well, what’s the matter?” Sabine asked when we had sat down in her living room after dinner, “You look like your gears got stuck.”

I blinked.

“What?”

“Like you have too many things on your mind. Things that don’t fit together.”

I raised a brow.

“Wow. That’s a pretty good way to describe it,” I sighed, “I didn’t get much sleep. Family issues.”

“Ah,” Sabine nodded, “Those usually cut the deepest.”

There was a faraway look in her eyes, and I knew she was thinking about her own family issues. About Félix.

“What would you do if a group of people you want as a part of your family kept doing things that made you question whether they can be trusted or not?” I asked, trying to be vague or at least sound like I wasn’t talking about magical things.

Sabine frowned.

“I think trust is very important. Why would you want untrustworthy people in your family? Are they related by blood?”

“Sort of,” I said, “And they’ve been really helpful and I know they want us to be family too. And thanks to them my brother is dealing with his life much better. But… it’s… complicated.”

“Family matters often are,” Sabine said, “These things these people have done… are they very bad?”

I wanted to say yes. Because they were. But on the other hand, the ones who had made the worst mistakes had been Taru and Villia, and they were both dead. And Kielo… she had wiped Donna’s memories, yes, but I could actually believe that she had done so in self-defence. But the threat of them again doing something harmful was still there. I had come to realise that the stories about the weird morality of fairies had quite a bit of truth in them. Sure, they didn’t seem quite as twisted or fey as the fair folk in a lot of the stories, but there was still something… off about them. I hated thinking like that. It made me feel prejudiced. But the fair folk had sort of brought our doubts upon themselves by doing such awful and stupid things.

“I don’t know,” I finally said, “They’ve mostly just kept things from us. And told lies. But then again, they’ve also been protecting themselves because they’re a bit afraid. And I don’t want to disrespect that, but I also don’t want our family to get in trouble or broken.”

I shook my head.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to dump this all on you.”

“I don’t mind you sharing your worries,” Sabine said, “I feel like I’ve been dumping my fair share of worries on you too.”

She smiled.

“Well, you may not think I’ve said that much, but compared to decades of keeping everything to myself, it’s a lot. As for your problem, I’m sorry to say that I don’t have any readymade answers for you.”

“It’s okay,” I said quickly.

Sabine smiled, the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and mouth making her face look surprisingly more alive.

“But I can tell you this: if you ever get a feeling that you will regret deciding something, then you should think very hard before you actually decide. And problems usually don’t go away unless you try to solve them. Even if it requires facing things and people that are painful.”

Her smiled became sad and almost bitter.

“I wish I’d have taken that advice so many years ago. Now it’s too late.”

I nodded silently. I didn’t really know what to say.

“So how’s the rest of your family taking this all?” Sabine asked.

“Not that well,” I said, “Rem’s especially pretty depressed. And my mum and dad are also… conflicted. We’re all torn.”

“Then I’d say you should figure things out,” Sabine said. She was sometimes so blunt that she sounded rude, but I really appreciated her direct comments. At least with her I didn’t need to dig out the true meaning behind her words.

“I know,” I said, “Thanks, Sabine.”

“You’re welcome. Giving a bit of advice is the least I can do when you waste all this time helping me.”

“It’s not wasting time if I like it,” I said for the nth time. Sabine let out a short, dry laugh.

“Maybe we shouldn’t start this old argument again.”

I nodded and we fell into a comfortable silence. I let my mind wander and looked out the windows. Spring was already here. It was always so fast in Sunset Valley. Something akin to winter shifting to blooming flowers in the blink of an eye.

“It’s really nice outside,” I said.

“Yes, it is.”

“When was the last time you got out of here?” I had to ask, “Other than to buy groceries?”

Sabine shrugged.

“I don’t remember.”

She looked at me with narrowed eyes.

“What? Are you planning on dragging an old woman out there into the world? Like that would somehow solve something?”

I looked out the window again.

“No. I’m not that idealistic,” I said, “But I might still drag you out someday. Because it would be fun for you too. A little change of pace.”

Sabine smiled and shook her head.

“I’m too old for changes of pace.”

“No one’s too old for that.”

“You just said you’re not that idealistic,” Sabine almost laughed, “Well, I’ll think about it.”

Even though Sabine’s words or almost-smile didn’t make my or my family’s problems disappear, they did make me feel a little better.


I think I managed to keep my mood pretty good for the next few days, by focusing on school and friends and sometimes talking with mum.

At the moment mum was the most level-headed of us about this matter. She was worried and maybe even scared, sure, but she wasn’t as livid as Patrick seemed to be, or as depressed as Rem.

“We just need some time to think,” she kept saying, “But we’re not going to just leave things hanging for too long.”

She glanced towards the yard, where Patrick was tending to his vegetable garden with a very preoccupied look on his face. He didn’t even seem to notice that it was raining.

“I really hope we can get this settled. Patrick wants Alvar to visit again. But it’s… complicated.”

“Yeah,” I said, “Tell me about it.”

Mum smiled.

“You know, I’ve been thinking that maybe we should try to invite them over. To talk to them.”

She frowned a bit.

“And I’ve been thinking about Donna as well… I don’t know her, and from what I’ve heard, she has done and said some unpleasant things to Patrick and Rem. But I understand her a little bit. One’s children being taken… it’s like being ripped apart.”

I nodded silently.

“I’ve been contemplating on calling her after all,” mum said, “Or letting Patrick call her. Maybe it’ll be a disaster, but I do think she deserves to know.”

“Yeah, maybe,” I said, “But Donna was… I can believe she lashed out at Kielo. I… the fair folk may be ambiguous, but I think that a lot of them are trying.”

Mum sighed.

“I think so too. In this world… it’s sometimes difficult to do the right thing.”

She was definitely right about that.


The night after my conversation with mum, I woke up to muffled, distressed noises coming from Rem and Mer’s room. I fumbled for my cell phone in the dark and checked the time. Too early. Way too early. I buried my head into the pillow, but the noises continued. It was like Rem was shouting in fear or pain but trying not to be too loud.

Oh, hell.

Was he having Boogeyman nightmares again? I hoped not. That would probably mean that our lives weren’t getting easier any time soon.

I got up from the bed and walked across the eerily silent corridor to the boys’ room. I cracked the door open and my eyes immediately fell on Rem. He had thrown off in his covers and was tossing and turning in his sleep. His face was twisted up into a grimace and he was muttering unintelligible words and occasionally almost shouting. His hands clutched his pillow almost convulsively.

I sighed. I glanced at Mer, who was sleeping soundly and didn’t seem to be disturbed by his brother’s nightmares. Well, at least that meant that Rem really had got better at keeping some of his powers in check; he kept his dreams to himself now. I sneaked across the room and let my hand hover over Rem’s shoulder. Man, this was awkward. I’d never been natural about shaking people awake.

“Rem?” I whispered, “Rem? Wake up. It’s just a dream.”

No effect. I pressed my mouth into a thin line and then grabbed my brother’s hand and shook him.

All of a sudden we were in a white, empty room that had been decorated by a painter who was really into abstract expressionism. I squeezed my eyes shut so that I wouldn’t scream and wake the others. Rem’s eyes snapped open, and for a moment I could’ve sworn his pupils were gone again. Dark shadows surrounded us, and we both held our breath.

Then Rem finally relaxed, and we were back in Rem and Merrill’s room.

I let go of the hand I had been clutching and slumped onto the floor. Somewhere near me, Rem was breathing heavily, almost choking on air.

It took us several moments to calm down.

I couldn’t believe Merrill was still fast asleep right next to us.

“Wh-what the hell was that?” I finally managed to choke out. I looked up at Rem, whose haunted eyes almost glowed in the dark.

“I…” Rem said quietly, “I don’t know. Vision? They haven’t been this strong since…”

He sighed.

“They pretty much stopped after I started training with Lumi.”

A headache was building up behind my eyeballs. I leaned my back against the ladder of Rem’s bunk bed.

“We really have to take care of this all,” I said, “Maybe your powers are going haywire again when no one’s teaching you. Maybe even because you’re so messed up about that whole argument with the… your other family.”

Rem tucked his knees under his chin, hugging his legs and looking miserable.

“Maybe,” he whispered, “I’m sorry I woke you. And freaked you out.”

“Meh, I’m used to your weirdness.”

Rem managed to almost smile.

“Thanks. And thanks for waking me up.”

“Could you make any sense about your nightmare?”

Rem shrugged.

“Not really. I was just really scared. And I smelled antiseptic. Or dreamed I smelled that. It could’ve also been a flashback of the hospital from after I got shot. Maybe it wasn’t a vision at all.”

“I think I saw shadows when I was pulled into it,” I said, “Didn’t that mean death?”

Rem nodded.

“Yeah. But my visions have all been tangled together lately. I’m trying to sort them out. It’s like… when I get upset, they get more confusing. And now that I know where I come from… the confusion isn’t so… I don’t know…”

“Focused on one thing?” I suggested.

“Yeah.”

I ran a hand over my face. I was suddenly sleepy again. The white room and darkness flashed on my retinas, and I shook my head.

“Can you get back to sleep?” I asked, “Because that would be awesome. It’s way too early to be awake.”

“I can try. Thanks again, Lynn.”

“No problem.”

When I crashed back into my bed, I was worried for a moment that I wouldn’t be able to sleep that night. But I think I was out pretty quickly after settling back under the covers. My dreams were restless and sketchy and had a dark figure stalking someone. I didn’t know whom.

I figured it was Rem’s influence making me see things again. It was worrying and annoying, but I was fairly sure it would pass. It had passed in a few days before. I was prepared for about a week of weird visions at the corner of my eye now that Rem was older and probably more powerful.

I could handle it. A few dark shadows and maybe a messed up dream or two were nothing at this point.

What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was seeing Sabine two days later.

Sure, visiting her had been planned and there was nothing odd about that. I had agreed to help her clean the house again, and she was expecting me after school. I threw my backpack over my shoulder after a rather long school day and was glad I didn’t have homework for tomorrow. I could take my time at Sabine’s place. Clean up the place and maybe have some Sim Cola and a chat with Sabine. I rang the doorbell, and Sabine opened the door.

There was a shadow person standing behind her.

I almost screamed, but then I remembered Rem and the aftereffects of him pulling me into his vision. Sabine frowned.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

I quickly shook my head and smiled. The smile was probably fake as hell but it was the best I could do at the moment.

“Nothing. I just thought I saw something… weird.”

“It’s just my face,” Sabine said, and I had to laugh. I blinked furiously while I laughed, and the dark shadow flickered in and out of existence until I was convinced it wasn’t there. Sabine let me in and I started cleaning. I pretended I scrubbed the shadows out too.

I again thought about Sabine’s fading health and Rem’s ominous words about her and the darkness. Now I saw it too. But Rem had told me he’d just seen sparks on darkness before. Maybe she had got worse. Or maybe I was losing it, overthinking things that could have been just random afterimages that meant nothing. I thought about what Rem had said about the shadows referring to death. To a goddess named Tuonetar, as the fairies called her.

I stayed with Sabine until it was getting dark and Sabine finally ushered me out.

“Your parents will get worried if you get stuck here for too long,” she said.

I stopped at the front door and hesitated for a moment before I said.

“Sabine, are you okay?”

Sabine sighed.

“How many times do I have to tell you? Yes! I am!”

“Right. Sorry.”

I bit my lip.

“Well, um… bye, then. I’ll see you later.”

“Sure.”

When I got home, I almost expected mum to ask where I’d been. I usually didn’t stay at Sabine’s for this long. But mum was talking on the phone and didn’t seem too worried about me.

She just waved her hand when I got inside and nodded at the phone to indicate she couldn’t talk. Then she turned her focus back to whoever was on the other end of the call.

“Yes. That would be great. I’ll see you later.”

She put the phone away. I had made it to the stairs, but mum called me back.

“Lynn.”

I turned. I had celebrated too soon.

“I was at Sabine’s,” I said, “I helped her clean her house.”

“Yeah, you told me you’d go to her after school,” mum said, “That’s not what I wanted to talk about. I just called Kielo.”

I raised a brow.

“Really? Their phone still works?”

“Apparently.”

“Huh, I could have bet that Kielo had taken it apart out of curiosity ages ago. So… what did you say to her?”

“I asked her and Alvar to come visit us again,” mum said, “To talk. They agreed to come in about two weeks. Apparently spring is busy for them… I think they’re maybe avoiding this whole thing too, but at least they didn’t completely say no to talking.”

“Oh. That’s good. Rem’s really messed up because of this.”

“He is,” mum nodded, “And Patrick isn’t doing so well either. He cries sometimes. Cries. That’s not right.”

It definitely wasn’t.

“Do Rem or Patrick know?” I asked.

“Patrick is at a parent-teacher conference. I’ll tell him when he gets back. Rem knows. He’s upstairs, doing homework, I think.”

“Okay,” I smiled, “Let’s hope this goes well.”

Mum nodded.

“However it goes, it’s better than doing nothing.”

“Definitely.”

Maybe things would get better again. Maybe. I hoped so.


I decided that I should do something to make things better too. Our family’s problems felt like something I couldn’t fix on my own, so I turned my attention to Sabine. Sure, I couldn’t fix her problems either, and she didn’t even seem to want my help about some things, but I wanted to do something that would maybe make her less… shadowy. I had asked Rem about Sabine and shadows and he had said that Sabine was indeed sick, but that she was also not doing a whole lot of living either.

“That whole house feels dead,” he said, “Maybe she’s been there for too long so the shadows are even worse than they’d be if she just went out a bit more. Maybe then Tuonetar would leave her alone.”

I wished he’d stop talking about death like it was an actual person. Soon I’d be imagining that too. Then I thought about Sabine for a moment and I had to agree with her house feeling dead.

Sabine’s garden may have looked much neater now, and the house was lovelier inside than it looked from the outside, but it was still a very quiet and sad home. It was beautiful too, but beautiful like frozen, dead flowers were.

I figured it was time to make a plan.

After some contemplation and spending some of my hard-earned cash, my plan was ready and I made my way to Sabine’s house dressed in somewhat presentable clothes. Telling mum about my plan had had the benefit of mum being all too happy to pitch in, so I could afford a really nice-looking vest that went well together with my black, ruffled skirt. I rang Sabine’s doorbell, and she answered quickly enough.

Bonsoir,” I greeted.

“Well, don’t you look fancy,” Sabine replied, “I like the vest.”

“Thanks!” I beamed at her, “You should get dressed up too, because I’ve got tickets to Sunset Valley’s symphony orchestra’s concert.”

Sabine looked at me as if I’d spontaneously sprouted deer horns.

“What?”

I took the tickets out of my skirt’s hidden pocket and waved them at her.

“I’m going to get you out of the house. Idealism or not, the weather’s awesome and you like classical music. I think today they’re actually also playing songs from some film soundtracks.”

Sabine stared at me blankly. All my previous confidence and enthusiasm about my plan started to fade away. I was suddenly sure that Sabine would say no. That she didn’t even want out of her shadow house and her memories. Her safe bubble where people didn’t think of her as a witch.

But then, after a moment of silence, she actually smiled.

“Oh, okay then. Let me go change into something fancier than these old rags.”

I almost let out a whoop of victory, but felt that would have been a bit too uncool.

Around five o’clock we were standing in front of the city hall, where the concert hall was also located. I’d always thought it was a neat way to give a nicer image to a usually very dull building filled with offices and bureaucracy. I smiled at Sabine, who looked much less dead and much more… well, radiant in an old formal dress and with her hair up even more neatly than usually. She was leaning quite heavily on her cane, but she managed to keep her back almost straight. She looked up at the city hall and then shook her head.

“Well, I guess we should go in, then. I can’t believe you talked me into this.”

“You’ll love it,” I assured her, feeling the confidence returning. I helped Sabine up the stairs and we walked into the world of light and music.

Sabine had liked it. I’d sneaked glances at her face during the concert, and her slightly bitter, tough exterior had melted away into smiles. She had closed her eyes at several points, her fingers quietly following some of the melodies as if she was playing some invisible instrument. I was so happy that I almost forgot to follow the concert. But it was good. I wasn’t usually that into symphony orchestras, but I liked good music and seeing people who were skilled at something using their skills. So it was definitely something I could get behind. And Sabine’s excitement kind of got me enthusiastic about it all too. So when the last notes were played, I wanted more.

We walked outside and ended up sitting at a fountain in the central park that was situated across from the city hall. Sabine took several deep breaths as if she had forgotten what fresh air smelled like. She smiled at me.

“Well, you were right,” she said, “It was a very nice change to the old routines.”

“I thought so,” I said.

“I hope you didn’t waste too much money on this. Those tickets aren’t cheap.”

“Hey, it’s my money. I earned it and I do what I want with it.”

Sabine sighed. She stood up and turned her back on me, walked up to one of the small ponds in the park, again breathing in deep.

I followed her to a skinny tree and heard frogs croaking drowsily somewhere near the lily pads in the pond. It was one of those perfectly picturesque Sunset Valley spring nights. The sun had set, but its warm, pink traces were still in the air. Spring flowers smelled sweet and were shining even in the falling dark. A cold breeze ruffled the grass and would have been a bit more pleasant if I’d remembered to pack some kind of jacket. My sleeveless top and vest weren’t doing anything against the cooling night.

But I didn’t care much about the cold at that moment. I was more worried about what I’d said wrong to Sabine now. She seemed tense, leaning to her cane and looking very fragile again despite her elegant clothes and proud air. A queen of a forgotten kingdom, who had spent too much time locked up in a tower.

“Thank you,” Sabine finally said, “For arranging all this. And I’m sorry that I haven’t been very appreciative of everything you’ve done for me.”

I didn’t say anything. I think Sabine knew that I knew that she really did appreciate what I did. And it wasn’t like I was just being altruistic; Sabine was a friend I liked spending time with.

“It’s just… confusing,” Sabine went on, looking into the distance, “To have someone who cares again. I don’t think I’ve had friends in years. Everyone else is already gone.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Oh, don’t be. That’s the natural way of life. We’re here for a while, and then we go… Some too early, and some maybe too late.”

She looked at me and smiled, and it was like years had vanished from her face in that moment.

“But really, Lynn. Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Sabine’s smile lingered in the night even as we started walking back to my car and towards our homes.

I convinced myself then that everything would be alright. Kielo and Alvar would visit soon, and we could talk things through. That would hopefully make Rem and Patrick and everyone happier again. And it would make our family feel less tangled. I visited Sabine and spent some time with my other friends too, and school days went by as we waited for more pieces to fall into place.

It was all going to be alright, I dared to say.

And that was of course when the lingering shadows in my mind made my alarm bells ring one evening.

I couldn’t explain it. I got a bad feeling soon after school and dropped my homework and went to Rem’s room.

“Rem? You know that thing you do that makes you have premonitions?”

“Of course,” Rem said.

“I think the bit you accidentally transferred into me is acting up. I think something’s wrong.”

Rem looked at me with wide eyes.

“With Sabine?” he asked, “You’ve been worried about her, right?”

Pieces did fall into place, then. But not in the way I wanted.

“Oh, shit,” I said, “I have to go.”

I spun around and ran to our car and then sped towards Sabine’s home. As I drove, rain started ominously drumming against the car roof. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I had to be there. I thought about the shadows and cursed them in my mind. Sabine was more alive now. She had to be alright! She had to.

I parked the car clumsily when I reached Sabine’s waterlogged house and ran to the front door. No one answered when I rang the doorbell or knocked, and that made me worried. Sabine was never out of the house alone.

She had given me the keys to her place about a year ago, when I’d started helping her more and more. I fumbled with them for a moment before I got the door open with shaky hands.

“Sabine?” I said as soon as I stepped inside, “Are you okay?”

The house was silent except for the TV, where a cheesy cooking show was in full swing. I almost had time to think that I’d been silly and that Sabine was probably just taking a nap.

And that was when I saw her.

She hadn’t even been in good enough condition to change out of her nightgown or put her hair up. It was so weird to see her so… ungroomed. Or it would have been if I hadn’t been too preoccupied with the fact that she was lying face-down on the floor.

“Sabine!”

I froze for a mind-numbing second before I got my body to move. I crouched down next to Sabine’s unmoving form and shook her. She was probably having some kind of stroke. She was still breathing, but her limbs were stiff and her eyes were unfocused.

“Sabine? Sabine? Sabine!”

I realised I was just repeating her name like a mantra, like it would somehow help anything. I mentally shook myself.

Stupid! She needs an ambulance!

I scrambled back to my feet and called the emergency number. My voice was shaking and I was probably whining hysterically for most of the call – I don’t really remember. But the voice on the other end was calm and knew what they were doing, so they must have got the right answers out of me.

“The ambulance will be there shortly. Can you wait there with her?”

“Of course!” I almost shouted, “I’m not going anywhere. Just hurry, please!”

“We will, of course. Thank you for your help. You can now hang up.”

I stared at Sabine’s slack face when I ended the call. Apparently there wasn’t much I could do. Sabine was already on her side, so I just adjusted her a bit so that she was able to breathe for sure. Then I backed against the front door of the small house and slid down. I hugged my knees and tried to take deep breaths.

“It’s okay, Sabine,” I said to her, or maybe more to myself, “Help is on its way. You’ll be on your feet in no time. You’ll be okay. You’ll be okay. You’ll be okay.”

I pressed my back against the door and tried to listen to the sirens that were no doubt on their way.

You’ll be okay. You have to be.

The calm voice on the phone had told me it would take a few minutes for the ambulance to get there. To me, it felt like eternities. The clock on the wall kept ticking, and Sabine kept breathing too slowly. The seconds seemed to stretch on forever. Shadows were gathering around me again, shaping themselves into people.

Get out, shadows! You’re so not wanted here!

They were the last thing I wanted to see. The echoes of Rem’s power had helped me get to Sabine in time, and that was awesome, but right now I didn’t want to see anything I didn’t need to. All I wanted to see was help arriving right on time.

“It’s fine… it’s just fine…” I whispered to myself, “You’ll be fine, Sabine. You’ll be-“

The shadows moved and solidified.

All of a sudden I realised I was looking at a pair of mismatched trainers and long, skinny legs. The legs were walking towards Sabine. I blinked.

…the hell?

I looked up and saw a woman. She definitely didn’t look like a paramedic.

Besides, the sirens were still in the distance. I could already hear them, but they were still on their way.

“Hey!” I managed to shout, “What the hell are you doing here?”

The woman halted and turned to look at me. My breath caught in my throat when my eyes fell on her pretty but somehow not-quite-right face and her too pale, moonlit eyes.

“Well, this is unexpected,” she said, her voice coming from somewhere far away.

I would have screamed, but I was too scared, too paralyzed to do anything for a moment.

I knew who she was.

“Please, don’t-“ I choked out, but the woman shook her head and turned back towards Sabine.

Then she was gone.

I never did figure out if she had been real. If I’d just been seeing things in my panic or if it was Rem’s powers letting me see what was normally hidden. At that moment, I was sure I’d been imagining her.

But then I forgot all about her for a long while, because I realised that Sabine had stopped breathing.

I had to get away. Nausea and terror and panic drove out all coherent thoughts, and before I knew it I was running.

I didn’t make it farther than the porch. My legs failed me, collapsed like a cheap folding chair. The sirens were closer now, but I already knew they were too late.

I started sobbing uncontrollably.

Author’s Note: I’m sorry guys! It took me way too long to get this out! I’ve been spinning this chapter around and around in my head and trying to make it work because… well, death. It’s tricky and heavy to write. And when I finally started writing this chapter, I was suddenly swarmed by so much schoolwork and other stuff that I barely had any time or energy to really sit down and finish this. So I’ve had to sit on this for days so I can edit it little by little. But it’s here now. It’s done. And I’m super tired.

So yeah… um… well, I hope you enjoyed even though there’s character death. And even though I may not be at my best because I’m really worn out because of all the stress and work. Maybe things’ll get a bit less busy soon. I hope.

Also yes, Tuonetar who may or may not have been there might prove that this story happens in a universe that’s not exactly the same as my Tango -universe, but somewhat close to it? I do think it’s a different universe, because the magic rules are different and there’s not as many supernaturals. Also no, she was totally not needed there but this whole scene was stuck in my head like this for so long that I had to keep it this way.

I’ll see you later and try to get some updates done when I have time and energy. Thanks for your patience, people!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Clash

NEXT Chapter: Grief and Closure

Chapter 19: Rabbit Hole

As soon as I got outside, I dug my phone out of the small pocket on the inside of my shirt and checked the screen out of some very wishful thinking that I might get a signal and be able to call Grandma and Grandpa. No such luck. Of course not.

I cursed silently and looked around in the empty fairy village that still surrounded me like an especially stubborn dream. Rem could be anywhere in the village by now. I knew that Rem could run really fast when he wanted to – and he wanted to very often – and he was usually at home moving among the trees. But here nothing was really home, maybe even less so for Rem, who had apparently been born here to a very selfish mother. I knew I shouldn’t think bad things about the dead, but all of this was just so… gah! I just couldn’t get over it. And I had a feeling Rem wasn’t about to get over it any time soon either.

“Rem!” I raised my voice above the quiet whispers of the curly tree branches, “Where are you? Come on! You were the one who wanted to face this!”

There was no response, save for the unnerving feeling of being watched. Maybe that was some sort of default addition to any enchanted glade. I sighed and walked into the darkness.

I heard the faint buzzing of bees as I passed what was probably a bunch of hives. I saw glimpses of fairy lights among the trees. I’d read enough stories to not follow them. I kept shouting out Rem’s name, not caring if I was waking up some sleeping fair folk. They’d got us into this mess, so they could suffer a night of not getting enough sleep because of us.

I found Rem after some searching. He’d collapsed near an opening where I could see the remains of a large bonfire. I got a very strong sense of déjà vu as I approached my brother’s hunched form. We had to stop going to places that would lead to Rem rushing outside to cry.

“Rem?” I shouted, “You okay?”

The words sounded stupid even as they left my mouth. Of course he wasn’t okay.

When I got closer I noticed that Rem was in fact not crying this time. He was, however, breathing too fast, breath hitching in his throat in a very panicky manner. His hands clutched the grass under him and I could feel the air getting lighter when I approached him. I remembered Villia’s words about stress-induced magic surges and hoped it wasn’t anything really bad.

“Rem? Hey, Rem? It’s me, Lynn. It’s alright.”

I sat down next to him.

“Or, hell, it’s not really alright, I know. But… you know… just breathe. We’ll make this alright. You just need to calm down.”

Rem shook his head, putting his hands over his ears.

“I-I’m trying,” he managed to get out between his hysterical breaths, “I really am… Just…”

I looked around, not really knowing what I was looking for. I had no idea what to do. I tried to calm my mind with the knowledge that usually Rem had just projected this place with his… illusions or whatever they were into his surroundings. So here one could barely tell the difference. Unless… unless now that he’d finally found the source of his maybe-memories, he’d have got subconsciously bored with growing dandelions out of the floor.

I hoped that wasn’t the case. I hoped he’d just stick to the familiar and not to something that would be harder to handle.

I saw a spark behind Rem, and in a few moments there was a flame. And it was growing.

“Oh, hell,” I whispered, “Rem! Stop that now!”

He didn’t stop. The fire grew until I honestly couldn’t tell if it was real or not. I felt the heat on my face and could almost also feel the skin on my scars peeling back. The peeling continued all the way through the flesh, through the bone, and right into my traumatic memories.

“Help!” I shouted, “Someone! Help!”

I faintly saw someone green approaching us. Then I saw and felt a flash, or something like air rushing out of the universe around us. Rem yelped as if he’d been struck, and then the flames were gone.

I blinked away tears I hadn’t noticed had spilled, and saw Rem on the ground, holding his stomach as if feeling really ill. The guard-man… M… Muesli or something, stood above him, his face distorted with anger.

“I knew I should be watching you!” he snapped, “This kind of uncontrollable behaviour is unacceptable here!”

Rem didn’t answer. He didn’t seem to be able to. To my horror, he collapsed on the ground.

“Rem!”

I crouched again and saw to my immense relief that he was still breathing. He wasn’t responding, though, and I could only hope that Muesli-man’s whatever-power-he’d-used hadn’t done any serious damage.

“What did you do to him?”

My voice was bordering on hysterical. The uptight guard didn’t seem to notice.

“I suppressed his uncontrollable magic, of course. Do you think that-“

“Myrsky!”

The voice that cut the man off belonged to Villia. She was running down the same slope I had ran just moments ago. Her too-green eyes were blazing with fury.

“What are you doing?” she marched to Mue… I mean Myrsky, with very pointed steps, “If you hurt him, then I swear-!”

“I didn’t hurt him, Villia!” Myrsky snapped back, “I just suppressed his magic. It was going haywire. He reacted much more strongly than I expected, though.”

“Of course he did!” Villia almost shouted, “He has zero experience about this! And he’s a teenager!”

“I was just doing my job!”

“You could have been a bit gentler about it!”

“So I was supposed to just watch and let him fake-burn this entire glade down?”

Villia glared murderously at Myrsky, but then let out a reluctant sigh.

“Whatever,” she muttered, “I guess you did what you had to…”

She crouched next to me and glanced at Rem’s unmoving body. I stiffened and my instincts told me to stay put while my bad memories told me to run. Villia smiled in what she clearly hoped was a reassuring way.

“He’ll be fine once he just sleeps it off,” she said, “Come on, let’s get him to bed so he doesn’t have to be out here in the cold.”

All I could do was give her a shaky nod.

I’d never before had to carry Rem around, but even with Villia helping me I realised that he was much lighter than I’d expected. Not that he looked very heavy to begin with. It was like his bones were hollow or made of a lighter material than they should be. Maybe it too was a fairy thing. I’d always noticed the little oddities in Rem’s physical appearance, but now they looked so obvious I couldn’t ignore them. I noted the pointy ears and how unlikely it was for humans to have them naturally. I noted the facial features that didn’t look like anyone from Patrick’s family – or even what little I’d seen of Donna. I thought about the yellow eyes that were now hidden behind closed lids. What had they been called sometimes? Genetic anomalies? Yeah, maybe with some people, but with Rem, it was just his fair folk showing.

Kielo was waiting for us, and she led us into the house next to the one we’d talked in. Apparently that one belonged to her as well, and it housed her bedroom. A woodland-style canopy bed took up most of the space there, and Villia and I set Rem on it. He curled up, and I hoped it meant he was really asleep instead of unconscious now. Kielo looked worried.

“What happened to him?”

“Myrsky hit him with a suppressor,” Villia said, “He’ll be fine. Physically at least. As for… well, I think these two need a little time to think about this.”

“You think?” I said.

Villia narrowed her eyes.

“There’s no need for sass.”

“Give them a break, Vil,” Kielo said quietly, and then turned to me, “We’re very sorry about all this. Is there anything we can do to help?”

I crossed my arms.

“I think you’ve helped enough,” I said.

“Of course. Sorry. Come on, Vil, let’s go,” Kielo gave me a very Rem-like smile, “Just give us a shout if you need anything.”

Then they were gone, and I was left at my brother’s bedside with way too many questions in my head.

I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to sleep, but somehow I must have at some point, because when I opened my eyes I was on the floor and looking at unfamiliar furniture for a moment before I remembered where I was. Rem’s bare feet got in my field of vision, and I jumped up as quickly as I could in my groggy state.

“Ugh… hey, you okay?” I managed. Darn, everything ached. Sleeping on the floor wasn’t a good idea at all. Not that it had been an idea to begin with.

Rem slid down from the edge of the bed he’d been sitting on. He looked much better than he had last night. If it weren’t for the conflicted, almost haunted look in his eyes, I could have said he was back to normal.

“I guess I’m fine,” Rem said quietly, “Are you?”

“Me? I’m sure my spine will recover,” I said, “I’m never sleeping on the floor like that again, though.”

“No, I meant… I’m so sorry. I don’t remember much about what happened after… Alvar walked in. But I remember flames. You saw them too, didn’t you?”

I shrugged uncomfortably.

“Well… yeah.”

“I didn’t mean to do it.”

“I know,” I said, trying to give him my gentlest smile, “Seriously, don’t worry about me.”

Rem nodded slowly.

“I… Okay,” he sighed, “I’ve been thinking a lot. What are we going to do?”

“Why’re you asking me? This is more about you right now, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but you’re better at solutions than I am.”

I raised a brow.

“Really?”

“Yeah. You’re smart. And you’re not seeing things that confuse you.”

I almost laughed at that.

“Rem, right now everything I see around me confuses me. But, well, I’d say we should at least get out of here soon. I mean, Grandma and Grandpa are probably way too worried about us. And they’ve no doubt told mum and Patrick, and if that’s the case, we’re already on milk cartons or something.”

“So you think we should just leave?” Rem asked almost disbelievingly.

“Well… not without real closure, of course.”

“Right. Closure,” Rem looked uncomfortable, “But… what about Alvar?”

Oh. Right. Damn.

“Yeah, that’s bad… I mean, don’t you think Donna and Patrick deserve the truth?”

Rem bit his lip.

“But we can’t just bring a random guy in front of them and say ‘hi, here’s your real kid’. I mean, what if he doesn’t want to leave? What do you think Donna or dad are supposed to do with all that? What if this all just gets worse? What if… what if I have to leave you?”

I stared.

“Why would you have to leave us? Rem, you’re much more Patrick’s kid than that Alvar-guy is.”

“I… yeah, but…” Rem sighed, “I have to talk to them, right? I mean, I do want to, but… I’m scared.”

“I know. I’m still scared too,” I touched his shoulder in what I hoped was a comforting manner, “This all is so… weird.”

“Tell me about it.”

We stood in silence for a moment, before we slowly opened the door and greeted the weirdness.

What we saw when we stepped outside was not what I’d been expecting. True, I hadn’t had much time to think about what I’d imagined the fairy town to look like in daylight, but for some reason the image of the two kids from last night and Villia sitting on a clichéd picnic blanket and eating hamburgers would have probably never even crossed my mind. The only boy in the group looked up at us and waved.

“Hey!” he said in a voice that sounded a little bit like a cricket, “They’re awake! Come eat! We made fast food!”

Rem and I exchanged glances and stepped cautiously towards the blanket. Villia chuckled. She looked odd in a torn T-shirt and black capris when I’d got used to seeing her in much more stylish clothes. She was demonstrating impressive flexibility by sitting down in a perfect split, and I honestly couldn’t tell if she was showing off or just doing some morning stretches.

“They wanted you to feel more welcome,” she said, “I doubt these taste the same as the stuff you eat, but I’d say it’s pretty close.”

The little girl who seemed to have berries in her hair looked up at us.

“Sit down! I’m Kuura and this is my brother Halla! Villia told us you’re Lynn and Rem!”

I glanced at Rem again, and Rem flashed the two frosty-eyed siblings a slightly shy smile.

“Yeah, that’s us. I’m Rem. Lynn’s my sister. It’s nice to meet you.”

He sat down, then, just like that. It was such a Rem thing to do that I felt almost relieved even though we were still in very unfamiliar territory.

I sat down next to Rem and took a hot dog that looked much less like plastic than usual human fast food. It reminded me a lot of the organic veggie burgers and tofu hot dogs Patrick made, actually. I’m pretty sure the food was made mostly out of nuts and avocado. Those who’d been taken by the paleo diet craze would love this place.

“You eat a lot of stuff like this at your place?” asked Halla, “We’ve never been that far outside the glade.”

“Mother says it’s dangerous,” said Kuura, “And I guess she’s right. But Villia is always telling so much about the cities!”

“And Kielo keeps fixing human tech-things,” Halla added, “They’re really cool. And your names are a lot of fun too!”

“I wish we could go there,” Kuura said, “To a real city. You know, just to see it. But we have to master our glamour first.”

“And even then mother probably won’t let us go,” Halla sighed.

Villia smiled and flopped down on her back.

“Yeah, I doubt she will. And if you keep dreaming about sneaking into human civilisation, your mother might even forbid me from telling you stories anymore.”

“That’s not fair!” Kuura whined. Then she turned to me, her icy eyes twinkling, “You’re really pretty! When I grow up, I want to look like you!”

I almost coughed up my paleo hot dog.

“Seriously?” I managed, “You need better role models than me!”

“Don’t sell yourself short,” said Rem. He was smiling like crazy, and I couldn’t tell if his cheerfulness was real or just an attempt to hide the turmoil in his head.

“Mother isn’t going to let you dye your hair like that for years,” Halla said, “But hey, you could make your glamour hair like that.”

“I could, couldn’t I?” Kuura said, “Mum isn’t going to like it, though… she’s all proper. But you know, I could just tell her I couldn’t get it any other way!”

“Who’s your mum?” Rem asked.

“Her name’s Lumi,” Kuura said, “She’s our best healer, and the second-in-command here. You know, right next to the matriarch herself. And she’s really busy all the time.”

“Not that the title means that much,” said Halla, “The adults all decide on stuff… but the matriarch and mother just make sure the adults stay civil in the meetings. And sometimes they talk about smart stuff, I guess.”

He shrugged, clearly uninterested in talking about fairy politics.

“So… what do you do for fun in human places? We play in the woods, and do fun stuff with magic. And Kuura paints. Alvar watches the stars a lot. And when Villia’s home we play with her a lot because she’s really nice. What do you guys do?”

“Actually, a lot of the same stuff,” said Rem, “I love painting.”

“Oh, really?” said Kuura, “That’s… awesome! Hey Villia? Can you play with us now? You promised you would?”

Villia laughed.

“I did, didn’t I? I guess I have no choice. You want to play tag?”

“Yeah!”

“All right, then you’d better try and catch me!”

I looked in mild confusion when the two kids jumped up and darted after Villia, who moved with flashy grace and put her body through some sort of acrobatic routine, much to the delight of the kids.

“Well, this is… huh…” I said.

“It’s a lovely place, in the end,” Rem said.

“Yeah. That’s a bit scary. I didn’t expect that.”

“They’re not the bad guys.”

“Well, no. I didn’t think they were… Okay, maybe I did a bit, but still… I mean, I didn’t expect evil castles and decorative wall corpses -evil, but… this is too normal, in its own way.”

“Yeah,” Rem said, and then sighed, “You gonna be okay for a while? I want to find Kielo and… Alvar. I need to talk to them. Alone.”

“I’ll be fine,” I said, “How about you? You sure about what you’re about to do?”

Rem looked around in the glade. Kuura, Halla, and Villia’s laughter rang out around us.

“No,” he finally said, “But we’ve been over this so many times already. I have to… I have to do this.”

“Yeah. Good luck. Give me a shout if you need any help.”

“You too.”

When Rem got up and walked to Kielo’s house, I felt apprehension in the pit of my stomach again. For some reason the bright colours of the fairy trees just made it worse. We’d followed the breadcrumbs and then the rabbit hole, and it had just led us to a whole bunch of new problems. We really had a changeling scenario in our hands. And Patrick and Donna’s real kid was alive and well here. Among people who didn’t want to be found. Now that the initial shock had worn off, my brain finally had time to really try to process it all, and it kept reaching this very persistent question I had no answer to yet.

What the hell are we going to do?

I didn’t like the thought of us splitting up in this place, but I had to let Rem have his space when he confronted his so called family. I ended up wandering around the small village square and trying to find signal for my phone to no avail. There were many curious eyes all around me. The two little kids in the neighbourhood were especially interested in me. They even side-tracked me from my signal hunting by taking me to see their house, which was an odd assortment of do-it-yourself shelves and plants.

There was even a fountain that Kuura explained was mostly for practising illusions. Apparently water made it easier – something I didn’t really get. She asked me a lot of questions and was ecstatic to hear that I had a tattoo. Apparently only shamans – which I concluded meant experienced clairvoyants and healers – got tattoos in their culture, and the only shamans they’d had in Kuura’s lifetime were Lumi, and Rem’s mother, and apparently they’d never been big on tattoos. I showed the flowers on my arm to her, and she looked at it in wonder.

She looked just like a normal kid who had just found an older girl to be her role model. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I guess it was nice, in a way. To know that there really weren’t conspiracies or evil powers at work here… probably. There seemed to be just… life. Lives that were maybe broken just like ours and that had broken our lives even more. But in some other way it was… maybe even more infuriating. In a way I would have felt better about it all if there had been someone I could really hate and blame. But here in the bright and colourful and maybe magical but still very normal glade all my hate wanted to just evaporate from my mind and body. The slates and I were being wiped clean of this all. And I didn’t want to be cleansed yet.
After I managed to get Kuura and her brother to leave me alone for a while I wandered back to the riverside where the bonfire was located. I tried not to shudder at the memory of last night’s flames.

They weren’t real. Get over it!

I looked at the familiar swamp across the river. It seemed to be so close, but I knew that the closeness was probably another illusion. We’d walked for hours to get here. Or then we’d just been meandering a lot because Villia had wanted to mess with us. Either way seemed just as likely.

“Hey,” said a voice I’d already learned to recognise.

I sighed. Had I summoned her with my thoughts or something? Sure, I did want to talk to her, but… not now. I didn’t feel like I was ready to be civil with her. Not without Rem holding me back.

Or then I was. Why was everything so confusing?

Because everything’s messed up again. Because we’re in fairyland.

Oh, right.

“Hey,” I said coldly.

“Yeah, I still get it,” Villia replied, “Look, Rem is working things out with his family. Maybe I should try to work things out too. I just want to… well, I don’t know what I want. I know you’ll probably never forgive me, and I understand that. I mean, I don’t think I’ll forgive myself either. Even though I was doing what I thought was right.”

“Really?” I scoffed, “Then your idea of ‘right’ is very different from mine.”

“That’s life, kid, get used to it,” Villia said, but then her frown softened, “But you’re right. It really wasn’t a good thing to do. You have to understand that we haven’t needed to do this before. This… changeling business was supposed to be a thing of the past. And then one of my best friends starts messing with it… I just wanted to help Taru. After the whole fiasco with Laketon we left you alone for a time. I had just planned to keep tabs on you, but then you moved and escaped from us.”

“Like that stopped you,” I said, “Or did it?”

Villia nodded.

“For a time. We have a code of honour. If one of us doesn’t want to be found, they won’t be until they wish it again.”

“Huh.”

“But after Taru started stressing about it…” Villia trailed off. It was obvious now that Rem’s mother’s death had hit her hard. I couldn’t imagine what it felt like to lose a friend or a loved one. I mean, to really lose them. Knowing that I’d never see them again… I found myself feeling a little bit sorry for Villia.

Villia cleared her throat.

“After she started fading, even our matriarch asked me to keep looking for Rem. Not that I wouldn’t have anyway. Taru had been our clairvoyant, and so far no one else here has displayed that ability. Not in this generation at least. But Rem has clearly inherited it.”

She sighed.

“The matriarch wants to see him. I told him that we’d go once he’s talked to his family.”

“Oh.”

I didn’t know what to say, really. I wanted answers, but the answers probably wouldn’t make sense without a proper history or culture lesson. And I also wanted to go home, but we couldn’t just leave now. I didn’t think the fair folk would let us leave without us seeing this matriarch first. And who knew what she’d want? They kept talking about Rem’s visions being valuable to them, I think. Did they want him to stay? My hands curled into fists. I didn’t care if these people were his flesh and blood. I wouldn’t let them have him. At least not unless Rem really wanted to stay. But he wouldn’t, right? This wasn’t his home, no matter how many dreams he’d had about it.

“Rem’s mum… how did she die?” I asked before I could stop myself.

Villia looked at the river, smiled at its gentle waves as if she could see her friend there.

“She got lost in her visions,” she finally said, “She felt guilty in the end, I think. She kept trying to find Rem.”

I stared at the water without really seeing it. An ominous feeling of nausea started building up in my throat.

“Don’t blame yourselves,” Villia said as if reading my thoughts, “I think that at first she knew what she was getting into, but then… she couldn’t stop looking. She tried to force herself to see. So she fell asleep. Then into a coma.”

“We watched over her. I tried to find you so Taru would stop. I think she did want to stop at some point, but she was so far gone that she couldn’t get back anymore.”

“It was… surprising. Shocking, even. She was so experienced. We didn’t imagine she could get lost.”

Villia fell silent again for a while. I could hear her swallowing what was probably tears.

“That’s also why we wanted to find Rem. To prevent further tragedies like that in our family, no matter how distant he was. He was becoming an adult, so he was at risk of really starting to misuse his powers without proper training. We didn’t want him to become a danger to himself or others.”

She pursed her lips.

“But I shouldn’t try to make us sound all noble. The truth is that… I manipulated you all. I’m rather good at it, so why not, right?” she laughed bitterly, “But I know we were selfish. Most of all we just wanted him back. We wanted everything to go back to normal.”

For a while, the river and the bees were the only sounds I could hear. They felt almost intrusively loud in my ears.

“Then…” I cleared my throat, “Then I guess we have something in common.”

Villia managed a sad smile.

“I suppose we do.”

We stood together on the shore, me and a fairy guide I’d hated for so many years. It was a strange experience. I could only imagine how Rem was doing.

“Oh, wow, you have your own vinyl player? That’s so cool!”

“Yeah. Aunt Kielo fixed it for me. She does stuff like that. She even gave me the camera I’ve taken pictures with. Sometimes she and mum take me to a human town… well, now it’s just Kielo, obviously. And Villia, when she’s around.”

“I… I’m sorry for your loss.”

“I’m sorry too.”

“So… you’ve always known that you’re…”

“A changeling? Yeah. I mean, it’s pretty obvious. We humans don’t have fancy magical disguises like you.”

“And you never considered… finding where your real parents were?”

“Why should I? I had a mum who loved me. And a big family. I’m happy here. I mean, from what I heard, you didn’t want to really find out the truth either.”

“I didn’t know the truth wasn’t what I believed!”

“So you never even doubted it?”

“I… Well, I… yeah, I did.”

“See?”

“So you don’t want to even meet them?”

“You think that’d be smart? Mum kept saying they didn’t love me.”

“Well, that’s not true. They did. Your biological mum especially… she loved you so much that she… she always knew you were missing.”

“She did? Wow… I… but I can’t just… go, can I?”

“I don’t know. It might be a very good thing… but then again, it might go awfully wrong too.”

“Yeah.”

“So uh… do you want to talk to Aunt Kielo too?”

“Yeah, that’d be nice.”

I met Rem in front of Kielo and Alvar’s house a few hours later. He was smiling, and there was genuine happiness in his eyes. But I could see that he was still just as confused as ever.

“So?” I asked.

“So we talked. A lot,” said Rem.

“Yeah? And it was a good talk?”

Rem’s smile widened.

“Yeah. Well, it was weird. But it was nice too.”

“Alvar and Kielo are really friendly. They told me about Taru, about how she lived and… died. They told me about their life too.

“In the end it almost really felt like… like maybe one day I could… I don’t know.”

“Be family?” I asked.

Rem shrugged.

“Well, that’s a bit early to say. I mean, I want to believe that… maybe,” he massaged his temples, “This is just still so overwhelming. And now the matriarch wants to talk to us.”

“Yeah. Villia told me. Is she going to take us to her?”

Rem nodded.

“I’m happy we got here,” he said out of the blue, “But I’m just wondering where it’ll end.”

“Me too,” I said, “I think there’s still plenty of rabbit hole to go.”

I looked at Rem, trying to find some evidence that he too wanted to go home. To our real home. I mean, this was nice, I guess, knowing and all. But mum and Patrick and Grandma and Grandpa were probably beside themselves with worry by now. We might have been in fairyland, but out there, across the fake-short distance, real life was still going on. And it was calling us back.

“What are you going to do?” I asked, “What do you think they want now that you’re here?”

Rem looked almost scared when he said:

“I don’t know.”

Author’s Note: More exposition for you. Yay. Also I have a new computer now. I’m having mixed feelings about that. I mean, it’s definitely good and in many ways better than the old one, and my old one was already pretty… well, old, and it was becoming kind of unusable because of all the malfunctions it had. That said, I’m pretty sure the major things that are broken are the hard drive and the battery, so they are things I could just replace… but it would already be the second time I’d have to get a new hard drive for it, but on the other hand… agh! Spending natural resources and probably supporting the very poor working conditions of computer makers makes me sad! I didn’t throw the old laptop away yet, so maybe I’ll get some use out of it still…

Well, what’s done is done, and at least my TS3 works on the new computer and it actually runs much smoother and the computer doesn’t heat up like crazy when I play. Yay! And because of the new computer my screenshots are going to be IN WIDESRCEEN in the future. I’m still debating whether I want to crop them differently or just use the proportions I automatically get, but I am liking the pics I can take now. Also some of the pics in this one were already taken with the new computer and I cropped them to match the old ones because it would be weird to change randomly in the middle of a chapter. Even if that meant a couple of the pics look a bit weird because of the cropping. But from the next chapter onward there will be slightly different pictures. Just a heads up.

Ugh, I ruined my “use only one word for chapter names” -rule that I had for this story (except for the prologue) for… reasons. I don’t even remember why I had that rule. But hey, I was getting tired of it and my Finnish mind keeps telling me that “rabbit hole” is just one word so whatever.

Also more Finnish names/words in this chapter:

Kuura: Finnish for the physical frost that forms on the windows etc.

Halla: Finnish for the phenomenon when the temperature drops below zero degrees Celsius near the ground but not higher up (the English-speakers call this frost as well).

Lumi: Finnish for snow.

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Chapter 4: Boogeyman

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I loved Twinbrook, especially in the autumn. Yeah, sure, it was located partially in a swamp and it had some real shifty people living in way too nice houses, but I had read and seen enough to guess that most towns had those anyway. It was the unfair natural order of things. But Twinbrook had a rhythm to it that I liked. I liked the people, even though I didn’t like talking to most of them because that was just the way I was.

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I liked knowing a little bit about their lives, to know they passed through ups and downs just like ours. I liked getting glimpses of stories I knew I’d never hear the conclusion of. And I liked being a part of it, albeit a small, quiet part that would probably be shoved into the end credits as “Blonde girl #4”.

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Somehow the trees being painted orange by the powers of biology made everything stand out even more, and even the rain that always seemed to come from the swamp felt like it belonged. Yep, it was probably my favourite season out of them all. Well, besides summer.

The autumn was sadly also the time of the most schoolwork, especially now that the teachers had started to think that we’d have to be prepared for more serious studying and deciding what we wanted to do when we grew up, as if anyone could tell that at the age of twelve. So most of our days went by doing homework and trying to cram some free time into the midst of it. How someone like Bree managed flute lessons and three other after-school clubs in her life on top of it all was anyone’s guess.

I clapped my locker shut and stretched my neck muscles. I’d spent the entire previous class staring at a paper on my desk and writing like crazy. It had been a literature class, and I’d been in a hurry to finish my book report so that I didn’t have to worry about it at home. I glanced about in the hallway. We’d had our classes mostly in the top floor now that we were older; maybe they thought the older kids needed the exercise of climbing the stairs all the time because we didn’t run around so much like the younger kids did.

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Jace’s voice caught my attention and I saw him walk out of the classroom as well. He’d at some point stopped caring if his hair was neatly cut and focused more on things like soccer and rollerblades. He was also a bit less shouty nowadays.

“Hey, Lynn,” he said almost shyly, “You got the book thing done?”

“Yeah,” I said, “You?”

Jace sighed.

“No. And Uncle Bob’s going to be at our place today. He’s so going to force me to finish it in the evening.”

“Wow, how horrible. Your teacher-uncle is going to give you free hints for writing a super book report,” I said flatly. Jace grinned, but the grin quickly faded in the face of the depressing reality he seemed to be stuck in right now.

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“Well, okay, fine… but we’ll have a big game later and I was going to practise in the park today. But my friends have to leave before it gets too late. So I’ll be kicking my soccer ball all alone with my mum, who hates playing soccer. Awesome.”

He was looking deflated, and I reached out to punch him lightly in the shoulder.

“Hey, I’ve got time after school, and mum and Patrick will let me be at the park until a bit later especially if your mum’s around. I could help you practise your kicks.”

Jace looked at me with a mix of boundless gratitude and certain dubiousness.

“You’d do that for me? But…”

“But what?”

“But… you suck at soccer.”

“Hey, it’s either me or nothing. Unless Bree’d like to…”

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“What are you two talking about?” Bree’s voice cut in like a very gentle knife made of sounds, “If it’s about Jace’s obvious crush in…”

“It’s about soccer!” Jace said a little too quickly, “Lynn just offered to help me practise soccer in the park tonight. Want to join?”

Bree pursed her lips.

“Sorry, but you guys know I suck at soccer. Even worse than Lynn.”

“Hey, I’m not that bad!” I protested.

“You kicked Seidi in the shin in the last sports class,” Bree pointed out, “Twice. And she was just standing still.”

“Only one of them was an accident! She was being a jerk!”

“Yeah, because that makes it better,” Bree smiled, “I think I’ll still pass on the soccer. You two have fun on your date.”

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I rolled my eyes. For some reason Bree had started obsessing over romance in the last few months. I didn’t get it. She was still the same, nice Bree who liked maths and working hard and dreaming about greatness, but now giggling and syrupy books had come into play as well. She sometimes giggled with the other girls in class too. It was pretty annoying, so I usually ignored it, as I did now.

“It’s not a date!” Jace said rather vehemently, “We’re just playing ball.”

“Right, right. Have fun, anyway. Are you coming outside before the teachers start whining again?”

That evening, like I’d promised, I asked mum for a permission to go out to the park and changed my clothes into a bit more sporty ones. I was on my way outside when Rem stopped me, trying to share his worries about a nightmare he’d had.

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It was something about boogeymen behind doors, which I thought was kind of stupid considering Rem didn’t even have the traditional closet that monsters could jump out of. He still insisted one would get in and grab us, and didn’t calm down until I promised to punch the monster in the face if it did get in.

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I tried to ignore the haunted look in his eyes when he finally at least pretended to calm down. I wasn’t in the mood for dealing with these things right now. If Rem wanted a more thorough talk about closet-monsters and the lack of their existence, he could talk to Patrick. I jumped on my bike and pedalled into one of the last pleasantly warm autumn evenings of the year.

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Some of the trees had lost almost all of their leaves, but bunches of them were still clinging to the branches like leafy flames. Some trees were still boasting a nearly whole set of foliage, too stubborn to let go until it started snowing and the leaves would be brown and crispy. I breathed in deep, smelled the dewy, fresh air. At times like this I really understood Rem’s love for the great outdoors.

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Jace was waiting for me at the Twinbrook Town Centre -park, and I saw his mum sitting nearby, trying to pretend she wasn’t really there. There was always a soccer goal set up there in the park before the snowing started, and the park was close to our house as well as Jace’s. So it was perfect for our unofficial soccer practise. Jace looked excited and was dressed to the clothes he and the school team wore in their practise matches. He waved at me wildly.

“Check it out, Lynn! They’re already decorating the park for Spooky Day, even though it’s almost a week from now!”

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I looked around and saw that the place had indeed been already set up for the annual harvest festival that had become a memorial day, a scaring others day, and nowadays also a dressing up and begging for candy day once agriculture had become less and less of a common profession. The traditional pumpkin patch had been set up, along with balloons. There was even a small, ramshackle shack that played the part of a haunted house for Spooky Day until it was probably shoved into some sort of storage or redecorated to be a gingerbread house for a summer theatre or something. It looked quite impressive, even though Spooky Day had never been my favourite festival. Jace loved it, though.

“Are you gonna dress up this year?” he asked, “I’m gonna be a Roman soldier. I got a really awesome costume too.”

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“That sounds cool,” I said, “I’m going as a cowplant. You know, those really big, carnivorous ones? Although I’m not that big on putting on a costume and hiding my face…”

“Awesome! You think you’d like to come to the festival here?”

Jace sounded a bit shy again, and I could have sworn he was blushing. I ignored it and shrugged.

“Yeah, I guess my family is going. Rem loves the festival.”

“Would you like to… to meet up there?” Jace asked awkwardly, and now he was definitely blushing.

“Yeah, sure. Hey, you okay? Your face is all red.”

Jace shook his head.

“Oh, yeah. I’m fine. Hey, you ready?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said again, not sounding nearly as excited as Jace was. Even though I had readily offered to help Jace – because he was a friend and it was a nice thing to do – I had to admit that my friends were right to belittle my soccer skills. I was really hoping Jace would just settle for penalty kicks. I could handle playing the part of a goalkeeper decently. Jace smiled, probably seeing my reluctance.

“What, getting cold feet, Farley?”

I rolled my eyes.

“I’m here to help you, Herring. So be nice. We’ll just do penalty kicks, right?”

Jace laughed.

“That works. Then you don’t have to worry about kicking me.”

I aimed a half-hearted kick at his shin, missing deliberately.

“Don’t count on it,” I said playfully.

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We sought out the soccer goal that was tucked to the sidelines for the festivities. It was still usable, though, and I quickly took my place in front of it to fend off any others who might have a mind for some autumn soccer. I braced myself for possible hits to the face, and swore to do my best.

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The next hour or so was a blur of kicks, catches and a soccer ball that bounced between the goal and Jace. I knew I was not the best practise partner for someone who played in the school team, but it seemed to be enough for Jace at the moment.

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He was smiling like crazy and laughing and shouting triumphantly whenever he scored a goal – and also whenever I managed to protect the goal particularly well. By the end I was sweating and getting tired, but I had to admit that it had been fun.

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“Thank you so much about this!” Jace said when we finally wrapped up our practise. His face was tomato-red from the running and kicking, but his smile was wide.

“Well, glad I helped,” I said, wiping my forehead, “I think it’s time to go home, though. It’s almost dark.”

“Yeah. So, uh… I’ll see you at school.”

“See you.”

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Jace and I parted ways at one of the entrances to the park, and I wondered idly why Jace was being so awkward nowadays. Maybe the reasons were along the same lines as what there was behind Bree’s sudden giggling. I wasn’t feeling giggly, though. I was just feeling less and less excited when playing kids’ games or thinking about trick or treating.

Maybe we were all growing up. If that was the case, growing up was strange.

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Because autumn was harvest time, professional and amateur gardeners alike would have all sorts of get-togethers in Twinbrook, which despite the surrounding swamp had a pretty thriving gardener community. Patrick wasn’t the most active member, but even he and his little vegetable garden wanted to take part in some organic farmers’ get-togethers every once in a while. So he spent his free time picking out the perfect vegetables out of his garden and carving jack-o-lanterns out of the pumpkins that weren’t prime quality. Rem loved to help him, even though he was way less handy with a knife than he was with pencils or a brush. Patrick loved to spend time with him, however, even if it meant our front yard would have some lopsidedly grinning lanterns on Spooky Day.

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It was a couple of days before Spooky Day when Patrick and mum left us alone so they could spend a night together with some gardening hippies and talk about vegetables and herbs. It mostly sounded unbelievably boring, and I was so glad Rem and I were left home without questions.

The sun was setting earlier and earlier in preparation for winter, and Rem was painting spring colours into the shapes of dragons. I was reading the newest novel in a series about a young wizard. The armchair was nice and cosy and the house was warm, keeping out the cold night air. It was one of those moments of perfect relaxation.

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So of course that was when the doorbell had to ring. I sighed. Had mum and Patrick forgotten their keys? That almost never happened. Why did it have to be now when I was about to reach something close to a Zen state?

“Rem? Can you get that?” I asked, carefully setting my book aside.

“My hands are covered in paint,” Rem said, “I’ve got to wash them first.”

The doorbell rang again. I slid down from my seat.

“Oh, fine, I’ll get it. Hold on!”

I walked to the door and heard Rem turn on the tap in the bathroom. My hand reached the handle just when the water stopped flowing and Rem shouted:

“Wait, Lynn! Don’t open that!”

My hand had already pushed the handle down. And I was gripped with a rather unpleasant sense of déjà vu.

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Nils Laketon, my deadbeat dad, studied me from behind dark aviator glasses. His leather jacket was dirtier than before, and there was something very different about him. He stood like a statue at our door, nodding stiffly at me but not saying a word.

“Laketon?” I said, “I mean, dad? Nils? What are you doing here?”

Nils Laketon said nothing. I was starting to feel seriously creeped out.

“Mum’s not home,” I added uneasily, “So… uh… sorry?”

Laketon’s mouth twitched. I heard Rem’s bare feet slap against the floor.

“Lynn? Is it the boogeyman?” his voice was agitated. What was going on? I looked at Laketon’s stony face and listened to Rem’s tone and made my decision.

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I slammed the door shut. To my horror, it didn’t go all the way. Something pushed it back open with a force enough to tip a bear, and I staggered out of the way. I caught another glimpse of a snarl on Laketon’s face before a strong arm wrapped around my waist and lifted me off my feet.

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I struggled against the grip, but it didn’t yield. Laketon stepped into our house, and I could barely see from the tears that now clouded my vision.

“Rem! Get away from here!” I shouted, “SOMEONE, HELP US!”

The front door slammed shut behind me, blocking my calls for help from the neighbours. Fear and panic clouded everything. One of my strongest thoughts was to keep yelling at Rem to run. Rem, who stood frozen in place in our living room.

“Run! Just GO!”

“Or don’t,” said Laketon in a cold, even voice, “If you come with me nicely, kid, I won’t hurt your sister. How about it?”

“Don’t listen to him!” I shouted and tried punching the steely arm around my waist. Laketon’s grip just tightened and he shook me painfully. Rem wasn’t running. His eyes were wide and brimming with tears. And my muddled thoughts realised in one fleeting moment that Rem’s nightmare had just come true.

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“Come on, freak!” Laketon snapped, “Do I have to grab you too? Either way, we’re all getting out of here.”

Rem took slow, zombie-like steps towards me and Laketon. I shouted again at him to run. He didn’t.

“I’ll come with you,” he said in a barely audible voice, “Just don’t hurt her.”

“No!” I snapped, “I’ll be fine, Rem! Run and call the police!”

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Rem shook his head. He walked obediently next to Laketon as he dragged me kicking and screaming into a truck he had haphazardly parked on the road near our house. The neighbours’ houses were mostly dark, but I still shouted in hopes that somebody would hear us. Laketon shook me again, quickened his steps and shoved me into the car without any problems despite my struggling. He was strong. Scarily strong. Rem sat next to me, stiff with fear and crying silently. Laketon sped to the road, destroying any chance of escaping. I wrapped my arms around Rem and Rem buried his face in my shoulder. I had screamed for help outside, but now it was no use. Our house was left behind, and we were headed towards the swampy outskirts of Twinbrook.

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We could only watch as our house disappeared into the gathering dark.

I had never been so afraid.

Author’s Note: Yeah… Stuff gets a bit intense in this one… One of the reasons I haven’t updated for a while was because I was debating with myself whether to start this part of the plot yet or keep putting out filler, but then decided that filler wouldn’t do anything… ugh, pacing is haaaaard. Anyway, hope you guys like it! I tried to make it possible for anyone to comment. Not sure if it worked but if it did, then great!

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