Chapter 24: Family Ties

I’d formed a new routine when winter had started. Every Saturday I woke up so early that the others were still asleep. I quickly shovelled down a hastily made omelette, brushed my teeth, got dressed and tried to fade out my scars with makeup before I headed out. The morning air was frosty and stung my nostrils in that peppery way chilly air tended to do.

I trudged through the freshly fallen snow and got into our car, driving through a by now familiar route towards the local witch’s house. Sabine was of course still not a witch. I mean, that would be silly because the only real magic was fairies who used their powers to hide and switch up babies. In all seriousness, I wouldn’t be surprised anymore if there was a whole world of all sorts of magical creatures out there. But Sabine Bellechance wasn’t one of them. She was just an old woman who had a lot of compassion and wisdom underneath her bitter and aloof shell.

I’d worked on her garden until it was cleaned up, and then proceeded to maintain it. But when the winter rolled in, I of course wasn’t needed. Not until this year, when Sabine had asked me to help with her groceries and cleaning too. I hadn’t needed to think about it much; I’d said yes almost immediately. Not just because it meant more money. I’d done it mostly because I really liked Sabine.

She was getting older. I noticed it from the way her walking had got slower and of course from the fact that she needed a cane to walk long distances now. But despite that, she kept her back as straight as she could and insisted on walking to the store with me. She looked very snazzy in her sleek coat and her awesome purple bowler hat. She didn’t even seem to mind the cold or the people who occasionally stared at her with suspicion because of the witch-rumours.

“Oh, they need to have their gossip,” she said nonchalantly when we were making our way to the EverFresh Delights Supermarket and a couple of people had started whispering when we’d passed by, “It makes life feel more interesting than it really is here.”

“I guess…” I said, “It’s not nice, though.”

“Well, no. It’s not. But then again, I don’t care enough to let it hurt me.”

She kept her head high, and I secretly wished that I too could grow old as gracefully as she did. Sure, she came off as rather cold sometimes, but maybe it was the coldness that had preserved something important in her soul. Maybe. Whatever it was, it seemed to work for her.

But I had a feeling she didn’t think it would work for anyone else. Especially for me. She talked about it several times when we got back to her house and took a moment to sit down and chat. She especially talked about how people shouldn’t be so apathetic and let life pass them by.

“I don’t mean to point fingers, especially at you,” she said today after I’d helped her with cleaning the house and we’d gone outside to sit in the beautiful snowy afternoon, “I mean, I don’t know everything that has happened to you, but from what I’ve heard, you’ve been taking steps to live a life the way you want despite all the hardships.”

She smiled.

“Although, you’re also spending time with an old woman like me.”

“Maybe that’s also a part of the life I want,” I replied, idly poking the frozen plastic daffodils on Sabine’s garden table, “I like talking to you.”

“And I’m glad about that. But I also think I’m not the most uplifting company.”

“I’m not uplifting either.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit,” Sabine smiled, “You see a lot of beauty in the world. I read the short story you sent to that contest. You know, the one that got published on the web.”

“Really?” I blushed, “You didn’t tell me that.”

“It wasn’t too long ago. I liked it. Dark but beautiful. I especially liked the bit about the two worlds.”

I smiled shyly.


Sabine returned my smile with her own.

“Just don’t let life get you down. It did that once, and I never really got over it.”

I pondered her words when I finally started to drive back home. Sometimes I spent the entire day at Sabine’s, and this was one of those days, but I was still almost surprised to see how dark it had got. I wondered if Sabine thought that I spent time with her out of pity. Because it felt like she really had no one in her life other than me now. She at least seemed to think that her presence made my depression worse or something. It didn’t, really. I really felt like we could become good friends once she finally accepted that I did enjoy spending time with her and respected her despite – or partly because – of the slightly sour, mysterious aura that surrounded her.

I tried to remember when the last time I’d thought about the letters we’d dug up with Min had been. I was still way too curious about them, but I knew enough not to pry. It was Sabine’s secret, and a big part of me had already accepted that she didn’t want to talk about it. I convinced myself that after all this wondering, the actual answers would just be anticlimactic anyway.

When I got back home I was met with a happy greeting from Rem. He and Merrill had braved the cold weather – which to be fair had got considerably less cold during the day – and got out to build a snowman. The snow had become just sticky enough once the weather had warmed up a bit, and Rem had already rolled up most of the snowman while Merrill occasionally took a break from eating snow to pat the snowman’s sides where he could reach them.

“You wanna help us?” Rem asked excitedly, “I think we’re going for a traditional touch with this one!”

I thought about wasted time I could instead waste on reading or surfing on the internet. Then I thought about silly cheerful things that made the blanket over my mind thin.

“Sure. Why not.”

“No man snowman!” Merrill sang in response and punched the snowman’s side with his small fist.

“Merry, what have I told about mistreating other people’s work?”

“It’s bad?”

“Exactly. Don’t worry, you can still stick the carrot-nose on no-man-snowman’s face, okay?”

I grinned at my brothers and joined them.

“Kielo and Alvar are going to visit tomorrow,” Rem said once the snowman was done and he had flopped onto his back into the snow.

“Really?” I asked and picked up Merrill, who was starting to complain about the cold, “They got their phones finally working again?”

“Nah. I saw them. I’m really trying to see little things so I can then maybe see the more important things without messing them up.”

Rem moved his arms and legs to make a snow angel – or a snow fairy – and didn’t seem to care that the sticky snow was quickly soaking his jacket.

“Sometimes it’s easy…” he said, “Seeing… but a lot of the times I still don’t get it.”

“Are you going back to Twinbrook again, then?” I asked, “For some more lessons?”

“Probably, yeah. Maybe tomorrow for a quick visit. I asked mum and dad and they said it was fine as long as I was back before the night.”

I remembered a time when mum and Patrick had been really uncertain to let their son go alone to study with fairies, but things had changed. It had taken a lot of visits from Kielo, and she’d even had to show mum and Patrick the forest until they’d been happy. She’d been a bit hesitant to do it, but in the end she had agreed. Now it almost felt like a devastating family secret had become a hobby of sorts. Like evening classes about wonky magic.

“You wanna come with us?” Rem asked, “Kuura especially has been asking about you a lot.”

I shrugged.

“Maybe later. I’ve still got some schoolwork I want to do.”

“I wanna go!” Merril suddenly said.

Rem smiled.

“Sorry, Merry. Not until you’re older.”

Merrill scrunched up his nose and then turned to whisper into my ear:

“Rem is stupidhead.”

“Hey! I heard that!”

I laughed. There really was a lot of sense in not letting life get to me. Sometimes I thought that I already had, but then I found these little moments when I felt light and happy. That was when I knew that I wasn’t a completely lost cause yet.

Sure enough, Kielo managed to call us that night with her cell phone, which she had excitedly figured out about six months ago, but which kept breaking because she tended to experiment with it too eagerly. She and Alvar arrived early in the next morning after they got permission to take Rem away for a day. They looked almost convincing in their winter clothes, though I was pretty sure the clothes had been either scavenged or stolen from somewhere. They kicked their shoes off as soon as they got in, but they didn’t even have time to take off their coats before Patrick was there, hugging his biological son and welcoming them to the house.

“I guess we should visit more often and not just come here to take Rem away every once in a while,” Alvar said, and then seemed to realise how wrong his words sounded in light of what had happened all those years ago, when the fair folk really had just tried to take him away, “…sorry.”

“Don’t be,” said Patrick, “But yes, you should visit more often!”

They shed their winter clothes, and then it was time for more hugs. It had become a ritual whenever Alvar visited. Lots of hugs and pleasantries followed by Rem often leaving for the day and then returning at night. This time was no different.

“Hey there, little guy!” Alvar said as soon as he got a hold of Merrill and lifted him high into the air, “You’re growing so fast! I don’t think I’ll be able to toss you around like this much longer. Soon you’ll be wrestling all your siblings to the ground!”

Merrill giggled and flailed his arms wildly. He’d really got attached to his half-brother, and seemed to always remember him even after a longer break from seeing him. That was quite remarkable for a pretty self-absorbed three-year-old. Rem and Alvar had also developed this very natural sort of camaraderie that made me smile. Though I had a feeling it wasn’t without its tensions. They were simply very good at hiding their problems. Or then I was just being pessimistic again.

We traded news about our respective lives, and mum and Patrick asked slightly stern questions about what Rem would be doing among the fair folk this time, like they always did. Usually the anwer was more of the same: practising. Rem had been very eager to learn how to control his fairy magic powers, and he really had made good progress with it during his visits.

“I think Lumi has planned some focus training or something,” Kielo explained this time when Patrick asked her about it, “You know, practising the… doing what you want to do with magic stuff. I’m not really good at the academic terms for magic, you know. I can barely pull off my glamour.”

“I think it looks fine,” I said, “Especially the fauxhawk.”

“The what?” Kielo frowned.

“Your haircut.”

“Oh, is that what you call it? Cool!”

“I just hope there’ll be some time to do stuff together too,” Rem told Alvar, who was trying his best to chat with him while holding a wiggling Merrill, “We can maybe try to finish building that treehouse for the kids.”

“Yeah!” Alvar laughed and then winced when Merrill tugged his dreadlocks a bit too hard, “Kuura, Halla and Marras have been pestering me about getting it done for weeks now!”

“It sounds like things are really going well for you,” I said, “You know, despite the pestering kids.”

Kielo smiled.

“We always pull through.”

“Is the winter rough for you, though?” asked Patrick, “It’s much colder than last year. Don’t you do a lot of gathering and farming?”

“Oh, our winters are always really mild,” Kielo said, “It’s a part of having magic hiding us; it also gives us pretty good shields against the frost and snow.”

“I love the snow here, though,” Alvar said, “I wish we had more of it in the forest. It’s so beautiful.”

“And fun, right?” Rem added, “If it were a bit warmer, we could build snowmen and have snowball fights again!”

“Well, maybe next time.”

“Right…” Rem glanced at the clock on his cell phone, “Hey, I think we should be leaving already. I’ve got school tomorrow.”

“Exactly. Remember to get back in the ten o’clock bus,” mum said for the fifteenth time that weekend. Rem nodded and dashed upstairs to cram his backpack full of essentials like muesli bars, sketchbooks and pens.

They were always gone so quickly. We had a quick chat that didn’t tell anyone much about anything, and then dad was standing on the porch, waving goodbye to an excited Rem and our new-ish relatives. He always smiled after them until they were gone. Then he stood on the porch a bit too long and his expression changed to a forlorn one.

I had a feeling I knew what he was thinking. He was maybe afraid that someday Rem wouldn’t come back. That Rem would want to stay among his people instead of us. I knew that was a totally irrational fear. Rem had chosen us long ago, and I doubted a few visits were going to change that.

Especially considering that the visits were like attending school on weekends. Rem had told us in detail how it all usually played out. It involved quick hellos to the other fairy villagers, and maybe some time to spend with Alvar and Kielo before Rem had to go see the Matriarch’s adviser Lumi, who was the resident magic expert and healer. She always had a magic lesson planned for Rem, and she was stern and demanding.

Usually it began with her leaving Rem to meditate by the river for an hour while she was finishing up her chores for the day. After that came the actual teaching. Sometimes she taught illusions and magic that the fair folk could do. It was apparently essential to survival.

“If you can’t master it, you could be killed, or kill someone else with an ill-timed magic surge!” was what she’d said. Her motivational speeches were usually more on the terrifying side.

Sometimes she tried her best to teach Rem how to control his gift of clairvoyance. Because Rem’s mum had been the only actual clairvoyant in the village, there was no one there who could properly teach him that anymore. But Lumi was apparently doing pretty well with what she knew. She explained the importance of focus and of not getting lost into the visions, which I recalled had been what had killed Rem’s mum. She also told Rem about the most common symbols in visions.

I had thought that Rem’s visions were just personal things, just his way of getting glimpses of something he then usually interpreted through fairytales. But apparently there were some universal details in weird psychic powers too. Rem had once excitedly told me about what some of the things he saw could mean. About how animals often represented people and how a stormy weather in visions usually meant that something bad was about to happen.

I was especially fascinated and horrified by his description of the shadowy, silhouetted figure that was apparently an omen of death. The fair folk, influenced by their matriarchal society, had at some point decided that it was female despite not having enough characteristics to tell for sure. They had named her Tuonetar, who was apparently a benevolent if morbid figure in the fair folk’s mythology. The death goddess or something. Someone who ferried the souls of the dead to the beyond.

It had all been interesting, sure, but all I could think about when I heard the description was the black figure I had seen in my dreams after the fire. Rem had mused that it must have been because he had linked his dreams with mine, and because he had seen death. My near-death, probably. The mere thought made me feel dizzy. I also remembered the shadowy figures we’d sometimes been surrounded with back when we’d been little. Maybe Rem had been seeing them a lot and then just accidentally made me see them too. He had been so close to death when he had been born, after all. It was unnerving to say the least.

I wondered what his lessons would be like today. Maybe more of the same. Or maybe he’d be learning about fairy dreams this time. About how he had been able to link his dreams with me sometimes. Before this, Rem had done all those things mostly without knowing what he’d been doing. Now he had the chance to actually learn it.

It was hard work, definitely, and Rem often returned half-asleep and with a headache that made Patrick regret his decision to let his son go on fairy field trips even more. But the next morning he’d again be happy and jumping around like he always was. And he was always so excited about finally learning how to control the visions and powers that had previously manifested as confusing fairytale-esque metaphors. So I figured it was just good for him.

But while Rem was away, I spent the day mostly writing and doing schoolwork and helping mum and Patrick around the house. And because of that I had plenty of time to catch glimpses of Patrick’s worried face and quiet moments of regret.

In those moments I really hoped that he was worrying for nothing. And I also hoped I could have said something to make him feel better. But I could never come up with anything convincing.

But Rem came back, like he always did. He was tired and went straight to bed, and the next day he was skipping through the snow into the school bus as if nothing weird had happened. And Patrick could sigh in relief and our week could properly start. Happy. Safe. And normal for us.

After school I came home to find Rem outside on our swing set. That wasn’t anything new, really. However, he wasn’t really swinging, but instead just sitting and staring wistfully into space. He was even ignoring the awesome igloo Patrick had built for us while trying to think happy thoughts before Rem came back from Twinbrook.

“Hey, you okay?” I said.

Rem looked up at me and smiled weakly.

“Hi. It was a long day.”

“You were home long before I was.”

“Yeah…” Rem leaned his forehead against one of the swing’s chains, “Yesterday… Lumi told me that I was making a lot progress. That I wasn’t completely hopeless with magic anymore.”

He fell silent for a while, and blinked a few stray snowflakes from his eyelashes. I slowly sat on the other swing and waited.

“She told me that I might be ready to start officially becoming a shaman… their new clairvoyant.”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Really? Already?”

“That’s what I wondered too,” Rem pursed his lips, deep in thought, “She did say it would mean a pretty long process of studying and practise and rituals and all… but… I still don’t know. I think they just want someone who can see the future into their village again. And I think…”

He hesitated, and I dared to finish his sentence with what Patrick was secretly fearing:

“That they want to make you stay?”

Rem nodded.

“I think they want me to feel like I have to,” he said, “They’re being nice about it, though.”

“Well, what do you really want?” I asked, “Would you want to become their shaman? I have to admit it would look awesome on a résumé.”

Rem laughed, but the laugh was clipped and not natural like it usually was.

“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, really,” he said, “I don’t think I even have to know yet. But I… I do know that I want to stay here. But I want us all to be happy. Them too. My other family, I mean.”

I nodded slowly.

“I think that sounds like a plan. We should be able to work with that somehow. And don’t worry; we’ll all make sure no one will break us apart again. Not even if they’re being nice about it.”

Rem laughed again, this time sounding much more like himself. He kicked the ground with his feet and quickly worked up speed as he swung back and forth, back and forth. His smile lingered in the air amidst the snowflakes.

“You’re right,” he said, “At least I want to think that.”

I watched my brother trying to reach the sky and thought about how far we’d come. I wasn’t sure if I could keep my spontaneous promise of us staying together no matter what. In fact, my pessimistic, usually overpowering side said it was unlikely. But I forced myself to silence it, and closed my eyes and let the lazy snowflakes fall on my face.

Even if it was unlikely, I’d definitely do everything I could to keep us all together and safe.

“No… no…”


“It was all a lie… You… YOU ALL KEEP LYING TO ME!”

“Please, ma’am. Calm down. What is-?”


“…They took my son…”

Author’s Note: Yeah, this is another sort of set-up chapter. I could have merged this and the previous one together but ehh… I wanted to get something out sooner so the previous interlude-thing was born. So… setting up possible conflicts and other things and desperately trying to make sense of the very random shadow-people comment in the prologue that really went nowhere because I changed my mind about the nature of the story quite a bit in the beginning. That’s what I get for not planning ahead enough!

But let’s talk about something more positive now… uh… I love how cute everyone looks in their winter hats! Yeah! And winter in general looks gorgeous. I could just take endless screenshots of the snowy scenery!

Also, Tuonetar is a death goddess in old Finnish mythology, though not exactly what I described the fair folk’s version of her being like. I figured that since I’ve used gratuitous Finnish to name every fairy in the story, it stands to reason that their gods/spirit guide-creatures also have Finnish names. I apologise for cramming my native culture down your throats… or then I’m not, because I figure I’ve done it mostly tastefully so far. Feel free to complain if it’s too much.

I’ve been having some trouble with loading some of my Fey saves. I think it’s because the saves are getting too big. I’ve been trying to clean them up and so far I’ve managed to at least get them working. Let’s hope I can keep things functional. So far my TS3 has been very kind to me so we can hope it will keep doing that.

I hope you enjoy! I’ll start working on the next chapter as soon as I have time and energy. Right now I’m pretty busy with school and all. Have a lovely time you all!

PREVIOUS Chapter: One And a Half Years

NEXT Chapter: The Princess and the Pixie

Chapter 23: One And a Half Years

Excerpts from Simbook, one year after what the Monsoon-Farley family has dubbed simply “The Incident”:

Lynn Farley
14 July
Finally getting on a plane towards Shang Simla. It’s been way too much waiting.

Margaret Farley
Remember to be careful!

Rem Monsoon
😀 Mum’s thinking you’ll try to bungee jump off the plane.

 Lynn Farley

Lynn Farley
14 July

The accommodations could definitely be worse. It’s really close to the centre, and the building is super cool! Also the picture I took is proof that we survived the flight, with just some numbed muscles and major jet lag.

Jace Herring
The place is awesome. I’m calling the fancy bunk!

Lynn Farley
Jace, I’m right next to you. You can just turn your head and talk to me. 😛

Lynn Farley
15 July

Went for a walk in the centre. It’s really beautiful. Behind Bree and I you can see the Halls of the Lost Army.

Rem Monsoon
Nice! Can you take lots of pictures on pretty scenery? I wanna paint EVERYTHING there.

Margaret Farley
hi lynaöaflk paskxliw llkasöd.

Margaret Farley
Sorry. Merry wanted to say hi too. He can almost type already!

Lynn Farley
Mum, there are such things as delete and backspace…

Bree Vasquez

Lynn Farley
16 July

Got to visit the famous Scholar’s Garden. It really is as peaceful as the websites claim.

Min Han
Not pictured: Michel falling into the pond.

Michel Faroffington
Hey! 😡

 Jace Herring

Lynn Farley
18 July

Okay, here’s some scenery pics. Shang Simla is amazing.

Rem Monsoon
Yay, thanks!

 Lynn Farley
19 July
The time to get back home is getting closer, but there’s still plenty of time to do stuff. Today was a shopping day, but I’m hoping we’ll get to see the terracotta army later.

Lynn Farley
19 July

Aaaw, yeah!

Rem Monsoon
Did they look like they might wanna come to life and attack people?

Lynn Farley
Stop watching so many movies.

Rem Monsoon
Been raiding your bookshelf, actually. 😛

Lynn Farley
As long as you don’t destroy anything…

Lynn Farley
July 20

One of the last times we visited the centre. I’ll be missing this place later.

Min Han
Me too. It’s been amazing.

It really had been.

I sighed wistfully and logged out from Simbook and from my trip down memory lane. It’d been over half a year since we’d visited China. I’d been wanting to get out, to explore the world, and I’d asked my closest friends to go with me. After some planning and meeting up together several times, Jace, Bree, Michel, and Min had all said yes. And then, a year of working between studies and saving up every Simoleon I made had done it. Barely. To be honest, we couldn’t have gone if it hadn’t been for Michel being rich and helping us all. I hadn’t been a fan of the idea of him paying a bit more than the rest of us, but he didn’t seem to mind. Neither had Mrs. Faroffington, who had volunteered as our chaperone and then stayed out of our way as much as she could to have a holiday of her own. We’d had so much fun, and I felt like it had helped my depression more than a year of therapy and pills could. Not that it had magically cured it; it was still there, a blanket on my mind, but not as suffocating as before.

After that, it had been back to the everyday life. But even that hadn’t felt that bad. Things had changed, and I’d say the changes were for the better.

We’d done some renovating in the house, making the cold white walls a bit warmer with some wood panelling and brown paint. Mum and Patrick had loved fixing up the house, and Rem had always been the first to wake up to paint the walls. I’d loved carrying around the new stone tiles that were then put over the kitchen walls, and just helping things come together. Merrill had loved trying to paint everything in sight until we took the paints away from his reach. Oh boy, had he screamed.

Despite his occasional primadonna antics being mostly unchanged, Merrill had grown. He was talking a lot more, and his walking was much better. He could even draw, write some of the alphabets, and do something resembling very basic maths. And when he played his xylophone, it almost seemed like he knew what he was doing. Not that it made the sounds of him violently pummelling the notes out of the xylophone any less cringe-worthy.

Mum had enrolled on an online university course on computing and media to make her blog better. She had even bought a dorky university shirt and liked to walk around in it like she was the queen of the world. She seemed to worry a bit less too. I liked that. And she liked her studies, especially because studying and working mostly from home meant that she could still spend a lot of time with Merrill. She kept talking about how fast he grew, and how soon they’d all miss these days when Merrill was cute and little instead of cute and slightly less little. I suppose that made sense.

Patrick was… well, Patrick. I don’t know if even the apocalypse could change him. He still liked hugging trees and making responsible consumer choices. He spent most of his free time in the garden, until frost attacked it and he had to let it fall dormant for the rest of the year. Then he moved back indoors to be himself. He still loved teaching and kept his mostly calm, warm nature intact even when paying therapy bills and seeing me sit in my room with a blank expression on my face. But now, when I did the blank staring much less, I noticed that he smiled a little more.

Rem was also still his own, kind of childish and definitely creative self. He’d been shaken by everything that had happened, sure, but he seemed to get over it much better this time. I’m sure that seeing his other family helped a lot too. Sometimes Alvar would visit us, and sometimes Rem would take the bus to Twinbrook and then walk beyond that. It made him less confused, at least, and I think he was slowly finding his identity. I’m sure the doubts about him not being Patrick’s kid had kept it on shaky grounds. Sometimes it was weird how having one’s fears confirmed actually made things easier. But only sometimes.

I could say that I was annoyed or embarrassed by my brother’s childish antics whenever he tried to cheer me up or just felt like being an idiot…

…but I had to admit that I’d learned to love that. Probably way before we’d started to become closer as siblings.

I think that one of the best things about facing all that awfulness in the past was that the smaller hurts felt… well, smaller. I could face difficult things with more bravery because I’d already been so scared and broken and yet managed to get over it. Almost.

Maybe that was why I was having a peaceful nostalgia moment instead of worrying about the upcoming spring that would surely be hell for anyone my age who wanted to have a future.

The pushy society dictated that I should already start to worry about graduating high school, even though this was only my second-to-last year. Not to mention how I was about to become eighteen years old. Almost an adult, legally responsible enough to be held fully responsible for screwing up. And Rem was on his way to high school now. I figured I should at some point start to mentally prepare for studying overloads and shattered dreams.

But not right now. Right now I was happy to just look out the window, at the gentle snowfall that had finally covered Sunset Valley after a too-long, dark autumn. The New Year was upon us, and Snowflake Day was already enough in the past for us to have eaten most of the festive food. I felt like I should go for a jog. I’d been eating way too much in the last few days.

I thought about it for a while, and then called Min and asked her if she wanted to challenge her lungs with the frosty air. She said yes, as long as she could first finish the video call she was having with… someone.

I had a feeling I knew who she was calling, even though she didn’t say it. Even I hadn’t missed the looks Min and Jace had given each other when we’d been in Shang Simla. And Bree had been gushing about the two endlessly after the trip. It was oddly cute, I suppose.

I stood up from my chair and didn’t make it far until Rem almost ran into me.

“Hey, Lynn! I was just practising in my room!” he said excitedly, “Look what I can do now!”

He lifted his hands, and light started to form between them. He scrunched up his forehead, and the light turned into a flower.

“See?” he said, “Look how precise my illusions are now!”

I smiled.

“Yeah, it’s awesome.”

Rem beamed back at me.


Then he ran downstairs, probably to either paint or to go outside and frolic in the snow. I realised I was still smiling. Yup, things had definitely turned out for the better in the last year and a half.

I tried my best to ignore the feel of a phantom gun in my hand and walked downstairs after my brother.

Author’s Note: Yay for a short interlude-ish thing that probably shows that I don’t use Facebook or the actual Simbook or anything like that… and it also shows my unwillingness to use chatspeak, since all the characters are surprisingly eloquent in their “Simbook-comments”.

For this story I now have a bunch of events that are out of order and kind of disjointed and I’m trying to weave them together into a logical plot-like thing. So I’m not sure how long it’ll take for this arc to really get going, but I’ll do my best to not leave you hanging for too long.

Have a lovely time!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Rebirth

NEXT Chapter: Family Ties

Chapter 18: Changeling

I had never considered myself a violent person. Sure, I’d been doing some Sim Fu and that had meant a lot of punching and kicking air and sometimes sparring partners, but that was not violence. That was just a fun lifestyle derived from violence. But now, when I looked at Villia’s friendly smile, I seriously wanted to deck her in the face. Rem stepped between her and me, though, before I could do anything of the sort, and raised his hands in a calming gesture.

“At least hear her out,” he said.

“Exactly,” said Villia, “I owe you that much.”

I gritted my teeth and glared at her. Rem put his hand on my shoulder.

“It’s okay,” he said quietly, “She has the answers.”

“Like we have any reason to trust her!” I hissed.

“Yeah, I suppose you don’t,” Villia said, “I know I messed up. Badly, and many times. But I’m here to fix what I can. Rem wanted to find his family, and I wanted him to find them, so here we are.”

My eyes narrowed.

“So wait, you’re saying that you’ve known all along who and – more importantly – where Rem’s real parents were all this time? Seriously?”

“Yes,” said Rem, “I think that… I think that she’s been lying about very little during all these years.”

“Well, thank you for giving me that, at least,” Villia smiled, “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. Terribly sorry. I never realised things would go this wrong. And I completely understand why you’ve been avoiding me.”

“But not anymore,” Rem said, “Tell Lynn what you told me, please.”

“What?” I asked, “Here?”

“There’s no one around,” Villia shrugged, “Besides, it’s easy to make people ignore things. That’s how no one knew I was at the bar with Laketon.”

I stared. Villia smiled.


“Let me start from at least some sort of beginning. First of all, yes, you could call us fairies, though we prefer the term fair folk.”

I opened my mouth to say something, but an annoyed look from Villia silenced me. Not that I’d have much to say other than “What? Seriously?” Even after all this time of suspecting something like that, it was still a bit of a shock to hear someone say it. Not to mention it sounded like a half-baked, crazy story. At this point I was really hoping that Villia wasn’t lying, though. At least that would take us forward.

“Second of all,” Villia went on, “Yes, Rem is a changeling – which I’ve been trying to tell him for years. I was tasked with bringing him back home with us.

She tilted her head.

“But you seem to have finally accepted that part. I guess talking to Mrs. Brooke was what you really needed. I should have maybe realised that.”

“You knew about Donna?” I asked before I could stop myself.

“Of course I did,” Villia said, “She saw right through Rem from the beginning. Some people are better at that that sort of thing than most. Like you are, Lynn. Your father… I’m sorry, Laketon, is pretty good at it too.”

Villia glanced around as if to make sure we weren’t being eavesdropped on. I took that moment to ask the question that had become the most pressing in the last few moments:

“Why? Why did you do all this?”

Villia sighed.

“If you’re looking for some kind of conspiracy, don’t bother: there is none. We used to go around switching babies back in the Dark Ages, but we don’t do that sort of thing anymore. Rem was a secret to us too for the first ten years. We thought he was dead.”

She looked a bit uncomfortable now. She cleared her throat and the sound rang in the empty park before it was muffled by the vegetation.

“Look, this is getting into awkward family talk territory, and I’m not quite family. Rem told me he’s finally agreed to see his home and his family. I can take you to them.”

“To Rem’s real parents?” I asked.

“No,” said Rem in a very quiet voice, “She told me they’re dead. I didn’t believe it before, but…”

Villia nodded, a hint of regret on her face.

“But there is still family left for you. Your aunt, for one, and the rest of us, if you want to count that.”


Rem looked questioningly at me, and I looked back. Then I glanced at Villia. I still couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that Rem seemed to be just forgiving this woman. Or well, maybe not forgiving, but at least tolerating her enough to listen and maybe even to trust her. I didn’t know if I was even ready to believe that she was sorry about all the pain she’d caused us. Maybe she was. But was that enough? And oh, right, she was also spilling secrets about some kind of fair folk and magic. In a way I found myself to be strangely calm about that part.

Finally, after a thoughtful and definitely awkward silence, Rem spoke again:

“I’ll go with you.”

I sighed. So Rem really was going to follow her to the truth, or whatever it was that we would find if we listened to her. And I couldn’t possibly leave him alone with this manipulative, life-ruining bitch no matter how sincere she was being now.

“Alright,” I said, and then turned to Villia, “But if anything goes wrong, I’ll make you regret it.”

They were mostly empty words, and Villia must have known that. But at least I was fulfilling my protective big sister duties.

When Villia turned and started leading us out of the gardens, I felt Rem’s hand close around mine and squeeze in a desperate search for comfort and safety. I squeezed his hand back briefly before I let go again. Sometimes I forgot that he was still really, really young. That I too was – as much as I hated to admit it. We were just two scared kids, possibly walking into death or misery. Like Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods and stumbling upon a gingerbread house inhabited by a man-eating witch. We could only hope there would be no man-eating anything in our tale.

We walked out of the town centre, towards the swampy edges where the houses turned smaller and eventually more ramshackle. The summer day had been quite hot in the town, but here amidst the trees and the watery ground it felt much colder and I wished I’d worn my hoodie. Next to me, Rem shivered a bit, but he voiced no complaints. His eyes stayed fixed on Villia’s back. Villia herself didn’t seem to be bothered by the temperature, even in her short shorts and light shirt. I didn’t know if that was a fair folk -thing or if she just wanted to show how badass she was by not being inconvenienced by something as trivial as weather.

We didn’t talk for a long while. There was just the wet splash of our shoes – and Rem’s feet – against the ground, along with the occasional rustle in the leaves of the limp tree branches. Even the air felt quieter than normal. The silence made things feel even colder. I reminded myself that this was home. Or at least used to be. This was Twinbrook, the place we’d done a lot of our growing up in. We’d sometimes come to the edges of the swamp to play, though only with our parents coming with us to make sure we didn’t wander off. But that had been years ago. Lives ago, almost. And now we were much deeper into the woods than we’d ever been. At least if one didn’t count Rem’s dreamworld excursions. And I didn’t.

We were way past anything familiar when Rem spoke. His voice cut the silence like rusty scissors, hesitant but still effective:


Villia halted and turned around. She smiled her too-sweet smile.


“Now that we’re outside of the town, I want you to stop hiding. I want Lynn to see your real face too.”

I raised a brow. Rem had said something about not real faces before, hadn’t he? I found myself holding my breath. Villia let out a small chuckle.

“Oh, fine. I guess I owe you that too.”

And then she changed.

At first I almost didn’t notice it, because it felt for a second like she had always been the greenish-skinned, gangly redhead. But then my brain caught up with what I was seeing and I gasped. Villia turned around, her creepily pretty face less human-like and her too green eyes now entirely too green. They reminded me of Rem’s eyes back when he had been sick. Villia smiled, straight from the depths of the uncanny valley.

“Well? Happy now?” she asked.

Rem nodded.

“Thank you.”

“So that’s… what you really look like?” I asked, my voice all too uncertain for my liking.


I glanced at Rem.

“And Rem…”

“Looks the way he is used to,” Villia said, “Our people have a knack for tricking the eyes and the mind of others. You know, illusions, glamour, subtle manipulation… all that.”

“Yeah, I’ve gathered,” I said, “What else? You shoot fireballs from your hands too?”

“No, of course not,” Villia said with a snort, “Some of us have more uncommon abilities, of course, just like you humans do. Like Rem and his ability to get glimpses of possible futures. Look, it’ll take some time to explain, so I’d rather not do it right now. It’s already dark and I don’t want to take all night to get home.”

Rem looked at me, trying to give me an encouraging smile. The keyword being “trying”. The encouragement-thing didn’t really work when he was just as unsure as I was. We didn’t have much time to hesitate, though, because Villia was again walking, and I really didn’t want to be left this deep into the swamp without someone who knew where she was going. Rem and I hurried after her.

It really was getting dark. I kept glancing at my cell phone’s clock. It went past six, then seven… almost eight… my legs were starting to ache from trudging through the swamp. Villia didn’t seem to be showing any signs that we were anywhere near the end. Not that anything around us looked like a fairy forest or whatever it was that we were going towards anyway. I glanced at the clock again and realised only now that we were long past getting a signal to the phone.

“Rem?” I said.


“We’re so going to make Grandma and Grandpa worried.”

“It’s not far anymore,” said Villia, “Just a little bit longer.”

“Yeah,” I scoffed, “that’s not very comforting when we’ve already been walking for hours.”

“If we lived right next to humans we wouldn’t be that well-hidden, now would we?”

So why are you hiding, anyway?

That was only one of the things I wanted to ask. But Villia was again picking up her pace. I had a feeling she wanted to sit on most of her answers until we were “home”, as she kept calling it. If she even wanted to really tell us anything. She could be leading us right into some kind of messed up trap for all we knew. Almost all of my thoughts kept screaming at me to turn back, to take Rem with me and run until we found someone or could call for help. But I kept ignoring it. Maybe it was because of my damned curiosity. Or maybe it was because I could see something sincere in Villia’s apologies even though I still wanted to be mad at her. Or maybe I was just so tired of being confused.

Finally Villia stopped and turned around.

“Well, here we are,” she said.

I looked around. Nothing looked especially different.

“Uhh… what’s this all about?” I asked.

“Oh, right, the wards…” Villia muttered and then trailed off. She seemed to focus intently on something I couldn’t see.

I looked at Rem and noticed that he was staring.

“It’s… it’s just the way I remembered…” he said almost disbelievingly, “I didn’t think it would be this… accurate.”

“What? The swamp? What are you-? What the hell?!”

The scene changed. Instead of the by now numbingly repetitive swampy forest I saw Rem’s dream in the distance. I blinked rapidly and even looked at my hands to make sure I wasn’t dreaming this time too. I wasn’t. And the fairy forest was still there when I looked back up.

“I take it you see it now?” said Villia almost smugly, “It always takes a bit of adjusting for a human to get in.”


Villia spun around and I saw a man walking menacingly towards us. Villia sighed.

“Oh, right… This will require some explaining. Bringing humans here isn’t exactly legal. Don’t worry. I’ll speak for you.”

The man stopped in front of Villia, and in the dark he looked very eerie. Maybe it was the eyes. Maybe it was the almost porcelain-looking skin. Maybe it was the look of utter distrust he sent my way. He said a few words in a low voice, and I wasn’t sure if he was speaking in another language or just mumbled deliberately so we wouldn’t understand. Villia responded to him in clear Simlish, though.

“Oh, give me a break, Myrsky!” she snapped, “I’ve finally accomplished my mission and you start lecturing me about protocol? I brought the changeling, so I’d say that’s a reason for some rule-bending!”

The man whose name I couldn’t pronounce looked at me again. His eyes narrowed and he turned back to Villia.

“If something happens, it’ll be on you!” he said, “We’ll deal with this later.”

“Nobody has to ‘deal’ with this but me. I’ll inform the matriarch and the family. Now just… keep doing your job!”

“I am doing my job at this very moment.”

“Yes. Great. Now let me pass; everything’s under control.”

The man who was apparently some sort of guard shook his head, but stepped aside. I noticed Rem walking closer to me, and I wasn’t sure if it was to protect me or himself.

“I don’t think we’re wanted here,” he said.

“Oh, don’t worry,” said Villia, “It’s Myrsky’s job to be overly paranoid and a stickler to rules. He’s not that bad otherwise.”

I wasn’t convinced. I heard the quiet shuffle of the man’s feet and knew he was trailing closely behind us. Villia didn’t seem to mind, though, and just led us through the final stretch that led us under odd spike-trees and spiralling branches that seemed to glow in the dark. It was almost nine in the evening. Grandma and Grandpa were probably already organising search parties.

We circled around the windows that peeked through the branches until the trees parted and we came into a clearing.

Some sort of crystal ball-like contraption shone light on the houses that seemed to be build out of very old wood. They were like an unholy mix of honeycombs and layered birthday cakes, but they had a certain quirky charm to them. As we stood in the clearing, surrounded by the strange houses, giant mushrooms and bizarre trees, it all really sunk in and I felt my lungs become weightless and my arms lose all strength. I struggled to keep my legs at least somewhat functional even though I was lost in some sort of haze. Reality crashed in, except reality was fantasy now. We really were in fairyland.

I found myself staring, but my widened eyes were nothing compared to Rem’s look of enthusiasm and awe. For a moment he seemed to forget how to breathe.

“Home sweet home, as you’d say,” Villia said, “Now come on, there’s someone you must meet. Well, many someones. But I figured we should start with the family.”

“Family?” Rem managed to say in a very small voice. I couldn’t help noticing that he was swaying on his feet.

“I think we need a moment here,” I said.

“You can have a break once we’re indoors,” Villia said and pointed towards the nearest house, “It’s right there.”

A small child ran past us and greeted Villia. Villia’s usually either annoyed or too-sweet expression melted into genuine fondness and she greeted the boy back. Another set of tiny footsteps stopped near us as well.

“Humans?” said a girl whose white hair and pale skin matched the boy’s so well I assumed the two were siblings, “What’re they doing here?”

She squinted her ice blue eyes at Rem.

“Wait, he’s one of us! He just looks a bit like a human. Is he… hey, did you finally get him to follow?”

Villia chuckled.

“Yes, I did. Now run along, I can watch you two tomorrow if your mother is busy.”

The girl and the boy let out whoops of joy and were on their way. If it weren’t for their looks and the otherworldly feeling they gave me they could have been completely ordinary kids playing tag. Villia looked at their retreating backs with an almost motherly smile on her face, though only for a moment before she turned back to her task at hand and knocked on the nearest house’s door.

Rem stopped breathing again for a worryingly long while. He didn’t seem to be able to get comfortable in his skin. He was still staring wide-eyed at the not-dream around us, and I saw his fingers occasionally twitch as if he wanted to try to tear it all down… or possibly embrace it. I myself managed to find a nice spot in a state of floating between dream and reality and settled there. Maybe we would both wake up in our sleeping bags. Or maybe we wouldn’t. At this point I honestly didn’t know which would have been preferable.

The door was opened, and a woman with greenish skin and red hair stepped out. Her eyes were yellow – almost gold. Like Rem’s. She greeted Villia with a smile and a hug and they talked in hushed voices for a while.

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“Rem?” I whispered.

Rem only tilted his head.

“This is really happening, isn’t it?”

Rem nodded.

“I’m scared,” he said.

“Me too.”

The women stopped talking, and the one with the Rem-eyes turned to scrutinise my brother.

“Hello,” she said in a soft voice that sounded a bit like water flowing through rocks, “You’re finally here.”

“I… yes?” Rem squeaked.

The woman let out a long-suffering sigh when she glanced at me.

“And you brought a kid from the human family as well… Oh dear… this should be fun… what a fine mess my sister left me…”

Rem’s eyes became way too big again.

“You mean you’re…”

“Your aunt, yes. I am Kielo. Honestly, Villia, haven’t you told the poor boy anything?”

Villia huffed.

“Hey, I told him most of what he needed to know in order to come home! He just never listened until now.”

“Yes. I’ve heard,” Kielo said and sighed again, “Well, come on in. I think it’s high time someone actually explained these things to you.”

She opened her front door further, and Rem and I walked in with numb legs.

I wasn’t sure what I’d been expecting to find inside the honeycomb-cake house. Maybe another forest with flower-people prancing about in it. Or maybe some kind of chamber built into an ancient, huge tree. The latter was more accurate. It really felt a bit like we had stepped inside a hollow tree trunk. There was an appropriately woodland-style sofa against a wall, and there were candles lighting the place up with gentle flames. But then there were the mismatched chairs that reminded me more of Grandma and Grandpa than fairytales, and the stove that stuck out like a sore thumb. Kielo noticed when I stared at it a moment too long and smiled at me.

“I’m a bit of a scavenger. Quite a lot of us are, actually. Technology is just so fascinating!”

“Uh… sure is,” I said. Kielo sat us all down around a very plain-looking garden table and then took a deep breath. In the light of the candles I could see her freckles and the nuances in her skin colour that could have been make-up or just natural variety. I couldn’t tell for sure. She reminded me a bit of a human-shaped plant. All of the fair folk did, really.

“Okay…” Kielo said wearily, “Well, I guess I should say ‘welcome home, child’, or something like that, first. So, welcome home.”

“Thank you,” Rem said.

Kielo smiled. It was a mixture of nervousness, compassion and even understanding, so it made for an odd smile to say the least.

“This must be a bit of a shock to you. Or is it?”

Rem stared at the table for a moment, his body tense.

“I… I don’t really know what to feel about all this. It’s all so… overwhelming. I guess a part of me always knew… but I didn’t want to listen. Especially after… after things went wrong.”

“Right. Villia’s oh-so-brilliant plan of masking your disappearance by making it seem like a crazed man did it,” Kielo said, “And making herself look like a trustworthy person by being the one to save you from him. I told you it wouldn’t work!”

“What?” I said, “That’s why you did all that?”

“Hey! I’d like to see you do better!” Villia retorted, glaring at Kielo and ignoring me completely. My desire to punch her was back with a vengeance, “This isn’t exactly something we’ve had much experience with!”

“Don’t start again! We’re not here to judge stupid decisions. We’re here to help confused children.”

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“No, I want to talk about this!” I said, “You made Laketon take us just so you could take Rem ‘home’ without people coming to look for him?”

I looked at Rem, who had fallen silent. He was trembling and his eyes had that desperately suppressed shine that I could guess was somehow related to his episodes of uncontrollable magic.

Yes!” Villia snapped, “But I never meant it to go that far! It was supposed to be simple, but Laketon was far more unpredictable than I thought! I told you I was sorry and I promise not to do that again. I was wrong and stupid. Are you happy now?”

I glared at her in disbelieving rage.

No! I’m the opposite of happy about all this!”

“Fine!” Villia snapped, and then her defiant expression melted into regret, “Just… I’m trying to make up for it. I really am.”

“I believe you,” Rem whispered. His shoulders were still far too tense and his fists were clenched. I felt his magic thinning the air around us.

“Alright, let’s all calm down,” said Kielo, “We can all agree that Villia was an idiot. But she was just trying to fix the mess my sister started.”

“Um… What mess?” Rem asked, “Villia told us that I’m a changeling… and I guess I have to believe it now. It’s hard not to, really. She told me that this isn’t… normal for you. I… I still don’t understand this.”

“Of course you don’t,” Kielo said, “That’s why we’re here, having this questioning session. Now… first, a little history lesson. Back in the happy, birdsong-filled ancient past our kind would sometimes meddle with humans, and humans would meddle with us. Back then the fair folk was more curious about people, and it was almost customary to switch some of their babies with ours to see how the families would react. Messed up, I know.”

She laughed bitterly and I realised that I might actually be able to like her.

“Later it was done to give some of our orphaned children a good home. We’d find a family with a dying baby and make the switch. The changeling would subconsciously adapt to the new environment by creating their human disguise, which they grow into so well that it basically becomes their real shape. Usually the human parents’ relief of their child being ‘miraculously healed’ combined with the baby’s illusions was enough to fool them. The human baby usually died soon after in the care of the fair folk, and eventually the changeling would return to us after giving the human parents a taste of parental love.”

Kielo paused, looking thoughtfully at the table and tracing her finger in the seams between the planks. The mix of regret and discomfort on her face was obvious.

“But nowadays we hardly do anything to mingle with humans,” she said, “Some, like Villia here, are pretty good at blending in and helping us understand people, but that’s about it. There’s no messed up baby-switches or… magical deals that always go wrong. We just want to be left in peace for the most part.”

“So… why did my mother switch me?” Rem asked, his voice trembling just a bit.

Kielo wrung her hands and laughed nervously.

“Yeah, that is the big question, huh? Oh, I so love crushing other people’s nice worldviews and talking judgementally about my dead sister. Well, long story short… she did it because you were sick and dying.”

Rem stared.


“It was a nasty illness,” Kielo said, “Some kind of influenza, or whatever it is you call it, but much angrier than usually. Normally we are very resilient to most illnesses, but this one got straight through our immune system. We lost many to it, including your father. His name was Kaita. Your mother – Taru – was expecting at the time and had you soon after your father’s passing…”

“To be honest, Kaita and Taru’s whole relationship had basically been a fling, nothing more… but I guess his passing hit her harder than she wanted to admit. She named you after him and tried to move on. But you got sick with the same illness almost right after.”

She took a deep, mournful breath.

“I remember her crying, being desperate, begging the healers to help. She had seen your death so many times in her mind. She was clairvoyant, much like you are from what I’ve heard. Though it didn’t really take a vision to see that we were just delaying the inevitable.”

Rem’s breath hitched. He wasn’t crying, but his fists were clenched so tight that it was a wonder his fingernails hadn’t drawn blood yet.

“Then, only a week or two after you were born, Taru disappeared with you,” Kielo went on, “She was gone for days, and none of us could tell where she had gone.”

“When she returned she had a human baby with her. She claimed she had had one of her visions. That there had been a baby abandoned in the woods nearby. She said you were dead and that she had buried you, that the new child was like a gift from the forest. She called him Alvar.”

Kielo shook her head.

“We were stupid to believe her. Even though she had always been the most honest of us, we should have seen that her grief had made her desperate. It took us years to realise she’d been lying…”

“…that she had walked right into a nearby hospital and pretended it was the Dark Ages and that changelings were okay.”

“She took a healthy baby boy with her, and left her dying child for the humans to sort out.”

“Even she couldn’t see that they would manage to save him. Human medicine has been ahead of ours for decades now, so maybe we could have realised before… but no… it took us years to figure it out.”

Kielo sighed.

“At first we were just happy to see Taru smile again. I guess we didn’t want to believe she could have been lying. When we found out, we were so angry with her. But we’d already learned to love Alvar, and there was no way we could have taken him back. But we couldn’t just ignore you either. In the old times the changelings used to eventually seek their way back home. You know, before they reached their teenage years and would need guidance with their developing magic. But you wouldn’t come back. We knew we needed to fix it somehow.”

“So they sent me,” said Villia, “I was an old family friend, and I felt rather at home during my visits to the human world. But you know the rest. Needless to say, things didn’t work out like we planned.”

My mouth had suddenly become very dry. These… these people… Rem’s mother had stolen a frickin’ baby from Patrick and Donna? And thought that it would have been okay to dump the grief of losing a child on someone else? And more importantly, she had been okay with just abandoning her own dying child, rather than facing the possibility of losing him? It was so fucked up that I couldn’t find any civilised words for it. And then Villia had continued the same messed up logic and thought it would have been okay to steal a kid from our family again and let us believe that Rem had died… or worse?

“What the hell is wrong with you people?” I managed to hiss through my teeth.

Kielo raised her hands defensively.

“Hey, I was always against all of this! I mean, I wanted our Kaita home once I heard he was alive, but not like… not like this. Kai- I mean, Rem? Are you… can you hear me?”

I turned to look at my stepbrother, who wasn’t really my stepbrother at all. He didn’t seem to find any words for this. He was shaking and his eyes had a frighteningly shocked look in them. The air around him seemed to waver. Villia shifted in her seat.

“I think he’s having a stress-induced power surge,” she said and to her credit managed to sound genuinely worried despite her clinical choice of words, “Just breathe, Rem.”

“Hey, what’s going on here? People are talking that… oh, guests! Hi!”

Rem suddenly stopped shaking at the sound of the new voice. In fact, he became completely still. I looked over his shoulder and saw a teenager at the door. And even though I had already begun expecting to see him at some point after the pieces of Rem’s past had started clicking together, it was still a shock.

I stared at the human who had the unmistakable features of Patrick and Donna on his face. The boy whom Donna Brooke had lost and mourned at the cost of hating the rest of her family. My real stepbrother.

Rem stood and pushed past the teen without looking at him. He was running before I could stop him. The boy at the door looked at Kielo and Villia helplessly.

“Uh… was it something I said?” he asked.

Then his eyes found me, and he smiled.

“Oh? Hi! You’re different! There’s never been another human here! I’m Alvar.”

“Yeah,” I said, my vocal cords feeling strangely weak, “I kinda guessed that.”

Then I rushed outside after Rem.

Author’s Note: Well, that was… problematic to write. Aside from this part of the story requiring a lot of building and Sim-creation – which I love, but will also admit that it takes a lot of time – I’m again almost having these “this story sucks and should be destroyed” -moods, but I’m trying to fix that by really trying to bring the threads of the plot together. So the answer to the mystery that has plagued the Farley-Monsoon family iiiis… that people have been in denial a lot about things they could have known earlier and that Rem’s past is filled with some really selfish people. Then again, they have their reasons, even though they’ve been pretty stupid at times. Oh, well, you can be the judge of just how messed up these people were. I mean, I can at least think of hundreds of ways they could have been worse.

And oh man, Rem’s mum turned out pretty even if I say so myself. I was especially surprised by her human form, which I made by creating a twin of the pixie form and just changing the skin tone, hair, clothes and makeup.

But I’m rambling now. I hope you’ve been enjoying this mess of a story. I’m super, super grateful of all the wonderful comments and other support you people have given me. 🙂 Now don’t worry (or do worry, depending on how you like my story), this story is far from being over even after this whole changeling-mess has been sorted out. I mean, these characters are just kids so they still have plenty of life left for me to mess with! *evil chuckle*

Also here’s a fun(?) bit of trivia for you: All of the names of the fair folk are either Finnish words, Finnish names (most are both), or at the very least slightly modified versions of them. For those who are curious, here’s a list of the ones that were mentioned in this chapter:

Villia: This is an intentional butchering of the word vilja, which is Finnish for grain/crop. I modified the word in a way that should hopefully trick English-speakers into pronouncing it correctly (In Finnish, the letter ‘j’ is always pronounced like the ‘y’ in ‘you’). There’s also the word villi in the name. It means wild.

Kielo: Finnish for a lily of the valley.

Myrsky: Finnish for storm. It’s also a word that is probably going to be a pain for English speakers to pronounce correctly. 😛 Sorry, I’m evil. (The letter ‘y’ is always pronounced like the ‘u’ in the French word ‘lune’ (moon), for example).

Taru: Finnish for (fairytale-like) legend or myth.

Kaita: Finnish for narrow, though the word is almost never used and people use the same-meaning word kapea much more often. Can also be an older, nowadays not often used form of the verb kaitsea, which means to shepherd, to guard, or to protect (with devotion).

Alvar: A Finnish name, though uncommon and not a native one. Comes from the Old Norse name Alfarr, which is formed from alfr (elf) and arr (warrior). Also a Swedish and Estonian name. One of the most famous Finnish architects/designers was called Alvar Aalto.

Whew, that’s that. I hope you have a lovely time!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Puzzled

NEXT Chapter: Rabbit Hole

Chapter 16: Mother


I stared at Rem’s excited expression and could only muster up surprise in return. We had gone up to Rem and Merrill’s room after our delicious dim sum dinner to talk more about the Hunter’s findings. I hadn’t known what I’d been expecting, really. But somehow it hadn’t been this.

From what Rem had told me, Douglas had found out everything about Donna. Everything that mattered, at least. That wasn’t the surprising part. Donna had remarried a year after her and Patrick’s divorce, and now had a new husband and two kids under the surname Brooke. The family had lived abroad for the last six years, but a couple of years ago they had move back to SimNation. They now lived in a town called Willowglade, a place I’d heard of vaguely, mostly because it was not far away from…


“Twinbrook?” I said out loud when we finally got to that part of Rem’s hushed explanation, “She’s been a twenty-minute drive away from our old home this whole time?”

“Not this whole time,” Rem corrected, “More like a few years. But yeah, it’s funny. Maybe she couldn’t stay away from her home, but didn’t want to go all the way back.”

Maybe. Not that it really mattered. What mattered was that it was actually very convenient for us.

“Well, at least we have an excuse to travel there, if it comes down to that” I said, “We can tell mum and Patrick that we want to visit grandma and grandpa. And see our old friends.”

Rem nodded, a familiar bright smile splitting his face.

“That’s a good idea! You can ask. I don’t think I can ask it in a way that dad doesn’t get suspicious. You’re better at pretending that this isn’t a big deal.”

I wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or not. Maybe it was supposed to be.

“Weren’t you supposed to call her first?”


“Oh, right. Yeah, I’ll do that right away.”

We heard Patrick calling us downstairs. We glanced at each other with an unspoken agreement.


The next day things didn’t look quite as promising any longer. Rem left to the town centre in the morning, and I knew it was because he wanted to call from somewhere where he could be sure that mum and Patrick couldn’t hear him. He was gone for far too long for one measly phone call, though, and returned in the afternoon, all yesterday’s excitement gone from his face. I caught up with him at the porch and we sat on the stairs that were still warm after the sunny day.


Rem looked down, embarrassment mixing with sadness on his face.

“She hung up on me,” he said very quietly, “I told her who I was, and she became angry. Said that dad had promised not to butt into her life.”

Wow. Harsh. And strange. What was going on with Rem’s old family?

“What did you do?” I asked gently. I still wasn’t good at this comforting thing, but I at least had to try.

Rem leaned heavily against the railing, trying to disappear into his oversized sweater.

“Well, I tried calling her one more time, but the result was the same. So I went to a park to calm down. Sat in a tree all day.”

“And… after all that, you still want to talk to her?” I asked, even though I knew what the answer was going to be.

“Yes. I have to go there.”


“Rem…” I hesitated a moment, “I know you want answers, but are you sure this is the smart idea? Just showing up on her doorstep?”

Rem bit his lip.

“I don’t know,” he finally said, “But I have to get some answers. You’ll help me, right? I promise I won’t ask you to do anything so… possibly stupid ever again.”

I sighed and reminded myself that we’d already come this far. To the point where we’d really have to work to get even more forward.

I’d do it. I already knew that when I questioned it in my mind.


The first step was to ask for permission to go all the way to Twinbrook by ourselves. I waited until my next driving lesson with mum to do that. Then I had an excuse to not look her directly in the eyes when I talked. I kept my eyes on the road like I’d been taught and tried to keep my grip on the steering wheel relaxed. My mouth felt dry, and I licked my lips nervously, hoping mum wouldn’t notice it.

“Hey, mum,” I began, “I’ve been thinking… well, Rem and I’ve been thinking that we’d like to visit Twinbrook again.”

Mum nodded, an enthusiastic smile on her face.

“Of course,” she said, “I’m sure Patrick can take you. I’m so busy with my articles right now.”


“Umm… Actually, we were wondering if we could just take the bus. You know, to see our friends.”

I saw mum frown and hurried to add:

“We can ask Grandma Brandi and Grandpa Lórccan if we can stay there for a couple of nights.”

Mum’s eyes softened at that.

“I get it,” she said with laughter in her voice, “You don’t want your old mum and dad dragging you around on a family vacation.”

“It’s not that,” I said, but then rethought it, “Well, it kind of is. But we’d love to go somewhere as a family too! Just… sometimes I’d really like to just… go, you know? On my own. Well, with Rem now, obviously. I promise I’ll make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.”

Damn. I wasn’t good at this. Why did I agree to be the spokesperson? Mum was quiet for a while, and for that while I was sure that she’d start a lecture about how she and Patrick had always known about our little plan and how we shouldn’t hide things from them, and-

“This is what it’s been about, then,” she said, “You and Rem have been planning something, haven’t you? It’s been this trip.”


It took a lot of self-control to stop a groan of defeat. I mean, she only knew the half of it. The most important part was still safe. I hoped.

“Yeah,” I said, playing up the guilt in my voice a bit, “We’ve both been missing our friends.”

Mum nodded, but she still wasn’t totally fine with it.

“You do remember that… Laketon is out of prison now,” she said, “I don’t want to scare you with him, but I just…”

“Yeah, I know,” I said and swallowed down a lump in my throat, “But he’s not in Twinbrook, right? He’s probably back at his home. And I don’t think he’ll just jump out at us from the first bush even if we go there.”

I squeezed the steering wheel a bit tighter, and then forced myself to relax then.

“We’ve been talking about how we can’t be afraid forever,” I said, “I think it’s high time to prove that we aren’t.”

I was surprised to realise that I believed my own words. Almost, at least. It was a far cry from the time we’d run away from our old home because we’d felt that Laketon’s prison cell had been too close to it. Mum was probably thinking along those lines as well, because she gave me a shaky smile.

“Well then, I guess you are old enough to get on a bus on your own. But we have to talk with Patrick about this. And you will have to stay at Brandi and Lórccan’s.”

I nodded furiously.


“Sure! Let’s call them right away. Well, after we get back home.”

Grandma Brandi and Grandpa Lórccan were ecstatic to accommodate us for a few days. Not surprising, since we hadn’t had time to properly visit them more than once this summer.


Well, Patrick and Merrill had driven there one Wednesday when the rest of us had been busy, and I could imagine that visit had been nothing but gushing over how much Mer had grown and how cute he still was. I had to admit that I was pretty excited to see Grandma and Grandpa too. Not to mention that I’d have a chance to spend some time with Bree and Jace. I had been neglecting them too lately, only talking to them through video calls and social media. We agreed to go to Twinbrook the very next week, and to stay there for four nights. It wasn’t a long time considering we needed to secretly hunt for some clues about Rem’s past while we were there, but we didn’t want to push it either. We would already be bothering Grandma and Grandpa enough, even though they probably wouldn’t mind.

I still minded, though. Not just bothering them, but bothering a family who had clearly cut ties to Patrick and Rem ages ago. The whole thing felt wrong to me. What kind of mother hangs up on their child, even if her divorce with the dad had been a rocky one? I again thought of Laketon, and how much trouble and pain he had caused us by just appearing on our doorstep. Now we would be doing pretty much the same to the Brookes. And even though Douglas had said that they seemed like a normal, happy family of four, I was afraid of what we were going to find.


Rem seemed to be bothered too. He immersed himself into painting for hours and hours every day, using his current in-progress commission as an excuse. I could see through it, though, and I’m sure that mum and Patrick did too. They weren’t stupid. I hoped Rem at least knew how obviously suspicious he was being with his shifty eyes and restless feet. But even if he knew, he just couldn’t help it.


It especially strained his relationship with Patrick. There was a tense silence between them more often than not. I really hoped it was not permanent. Patrick and Rem had always been on such great terms. Maybe Rem was afraid that Donna would get annoyed enough by the two calls he’d made that she’d seek out Patrick’s number and unknowingly bust us. To be fair, I was a bit afraid of that too. But if either mum or Patrick were suspicious of something, they didn’t say anything about it.


Then the week of awkward silence was over, and Rem and I were standing at our porch, a bunch of clothing stuffed into our backpacks. Mum, Patrick, and Merrill crowded the front door to say goodbye to us. I supposed it shouldn’t have been such a big deal for teenagers to take a bus to their grandparents on their own, but to be fair, most teenagers probably hadn’t been traumatised and/or burned half to death because of angry and possibly crazed fathers either. Thank goodness, really.

“You watch yourselves out there,” said mum, “And give our regards to Brandi and Lórccan.”


“We will,” said Rem, “And you take care too. Bye, Merry!”

Merrill giggled when Rem wiggled his fingers at his face as a goodbye.

“Bye!” Mer said, “Watch out for thombies!”

“Zombies,” I corrected, “And yeah, we’ll watch out for them.”

They gave us a bit more hugs before we were set to go. Rem hopped down the stairs and started sprinting.


“Hey, Lynn! I’ll race you to the bus stop!”

He broke into a run, and I trailed behind without really accepting his challenge. Once we were almost at the road I glanced back and saw mum, Patrick, and Merrill still watching us go, waving and smiling.

I really hoped that once this was done, we could come back to this and everything would still be the way it was now.


I really, really hoped that.


Twinbrook still looked the same, at least. The swamp was still there, uninviting but somehow reassuringly Twinbrook-ish. The Always Studious Bookstore was still open, and the library was as sturdy as ever. Our school went by, and a few blocks from where our bus meandered through was our house. We didn’t catch a glimpse of it, but I still looked towards it as if I could see it through the centre’s buildings. It all made me feel nostalgic, and I wondered if it could feel like home again. Maybe. Not that we were planning on moving back. We were Sunset Valley people now, more or less.


Grandma Brandi and Grandpa Lórccan were waiting for us at their porch like a proper welcome committee. They greeted us with hugs and ushered us inside. They were all smiles and warm welcomes, and Grandma Brandi practically hopped into their kitchenette to cook some salad for us. There was an enthusiastic hostess mixed with a huge dose of bohemian in her, and I loved it. It was the kind of hospitality that was ready with warm beverages but also approved of feet on the table. As Grandma Brandi worked, Grandpa took out some sleeping bags, and we set them on the living room floor.


Rem was especially excited about the sleeping bags, probably getting campfire and marshmallow-filled flashbacks courtesy of his Boy Scout days.

“This is neat!” he said, “It’s like we’re camping, but indoors. I mean, it’s not as neat as a forest, but this place has samurai swords on the wall!”

“And the music box,” I said, amused. My brother was never going to grow up, was he?

His smile widened.

“Exactly! Hold on, I haven’t greeted good old Davey yet!”

I sat down on the old couch and watched my brother scurry to his favourite table and start fiddling with the music box. I felt Grandpa Lórccan’s presence shifting the couch cushions.


“You know, I would never have guessed that an old, spinning gnome would become a constant thing in our lives,” I said, “Or at least in our visits here.”

Grandpa Lórccan smiled, and I could see that he looked older than before. Like he had aged a year or five between our visits. He looked more tired, too. That didn’t stop him from laughing the same warm laugh I’d got used to hearing from him.

“Hey, anything can become a constant. I’d say a dancing gnome isn’t a bad choice.”

“It could be worse, I guess.”


“Definitely,” Grandpa Lórccan chuckled, “But aside from playing with music boxes, what are your plans here? Going to see your friends, right?”

“Yeah,” I said, “I agreed to meet with Bree Vasquez at her summer job place. She’s working at a café.”

Grandpa nodded.

“I’ve seen her working. Café Pistachio, right? It’s a nice place. And your other friend, Jace?”

“He’ll catch up with us. It’s all figured out. And Rem’s meeting up with his old buddies on his own. It’s going to be a fun day.”

Well, a fun morning, at least. The bus to Willowglade would leave in the afternoon. But Grandpa and Grandma didn’t need to know that. We’d be back for the evening, and everything would be fine.


The gnome danced to the tune it never got tired of. Rem’s eyes were closed, and he was smiling serenely. It was the last time I saw him so relaxed in a long time.




Café Pistachio was a small cupcake of a house in the midst of more business-like buildings. I remembered it being there before, but I hadn’t paid it much notice before. Now I was looking at it with a different perspective. Bree had been really excited about the job she’d got there, and I could kind of see why. The place was pretty, cosy, and warm, and the woman behind the counter was smiling like she’d known me all her life. Usually that kind of friendliness didn’t fly with me, but she made it look so genuine and natural that it made me smile too.


“Hello!” the woman said, “Don’t tell me! You’re here for Bree, right?”

“Yeah,” I said shyly, “I’m Lynn.”

“It’s lovely to meet you,” the woman said, and her smile confirmed that it indeed was lovely to meet me, “I’m Shauna. Bree’s in the back, but I told her to take the morning off so she can see you. We don’t get that many customers at this hour anyway. Bree! Your friend’s here!”


Bree emerged from the back, beaming as if Shauna’s smile was contagious. And I had to admit that it kind of was. She greeted me with a hug, and I didn’t mind it this time. We hadn’t seen each other outside of video calls for a year. Again.

“I’m so not getting out of here before you’ve tried some of the hot cocoa here,” Bree said as soon as she released me, “And Shauna’s lemon tarts are the best!”

I chuckled.

“All right, I guess I have to.”


“Now, Bree, what have I said about holding your friends hostage here?” Shauna said in a joking tone.

Bree pretended to think about it.

“Only if I make them try some cookies too?”

Shauna winked.

“That’s right!”

We all laughed and ordered some cocoa and cookies. There was no way I was going to say no.


We talked for a couple of hours, and it felt like too short a time. Bree hadn’t become an astronaut or a leader, but she was furiously saving up money to go to the university so she could study business. She was also involved in a mind-boggling amount of projects in and out of school, ranging from music events to amateur filmmaking and volunteer work. She had always had that superpower of crazy time-managing and endless energy for activities. She also had a boyfriend now. Someone named Preston Daley. I remembered him vaguely as the kid who’d delivered newspapers back when we’d lived here. Huh, everyone had to grow up someday, I supposed.

I told her about the writing contests, jogging, gaming sessions with Michel, and Merrill’s latest cute moments. An hour into our meeting Jace barged in like we’d agreed, out of breath after running from helping his parents with something all morning.


“Hey, Jace,” I said, and Jace froze for a moment, his eyes darting to me with impressive speed.

“Hey, Lynn! You’re here,” he said.

“Yeah. Just like we agreed.”

“Yeah, yeah, we did. Hey, Shauna, you still have that good coffee?”

“What’s up with him?” I whispered when Jace had clumsily excused himself and walked to the counter way too nonchalantly to really be nonchalant.

Bree stared back at me with something akin to disbelief.

“You can’t guess? Still?” she asked.

I frowned.

“Guess what?”


“You seriously can’t?” Bree chuckled, “Okay then, I’ll tell you later.”

“Rrrriiiight. Way to make me feel dumb for not getting something you find obvious.”

Bree shook her head, still way too amused.

“Sorry! It’s just that this is not the best of times to talk about it. Jace is super awkward about this.”

“About what?”


“So, Lynn!” Jace said and slapped his coffee cup on the table, almost all of his previous nervousness gone, “How’re things?”

I glanced at Bree, but she just smiled again in an annoyingly knowing way. Man, I hated it when I stumbled upon some inside thing I’d missed because I didn’t live here anymore. Wouldn’t be the first time that had happened. As much as it annoyed me, though, it seemed I wouldn’t get an explanation now. So I just turned to Jace and smiled and started talking again. There was, after all, a lot of catching up to do.


Jace was still into sports. His parents were a bit distant both from each other and from him, but Mr. Bob was as awesome an uncle as ever. Apparently Mr. Bob was planning to get married with a man he’d been dating for a few years now. His name was Brian, and he told funny jokes and had the most awesome dreadlocks Jace had ever seen.

Jace wasn’t too concerned about what he was going to do after high school yet. And he was also still single, something he reminded me quite often about for some reason. It was a bit annoying, really, but I gave him the usual “Oh, you’ll find someone; give it time” reply I always did. It was probably not the best or the most encouraging response, but it was all I could do. Romance was just something I couldn’t get excited about.

In return I showed them my tattoo, even though they’d already seen pictures of it. I told a bit more about how things were going in Sunset Valley, and deftly managed to leave out my and Rem’s secret plans once again. I checked the time when I was starting to feel a bit too comfortable with how much time we had.

“Oh, shoot,” I huffed, “It’s almost one. I agreed to meet up with Rem half past.”

“You’re already leaving?” Jace asked, sounding as disappointed as I was feeling.

“Yeah, sorry,” I said, “But hey, we can meet up again later, before we go back to Valley. I’ll message you, okay?”


I left reluctantly after saying goodbyes, and Shauna waved at me from behind the counter as I passed her. I jogged to meet Rem near the bus stop where the bus to Willowglade was going to leave from. Rem was already waiting for me there.

Our chosen meeting place just happened to be right next to our old house. We’d both agreed that it was totally just a coincidence. The house was still where we’d left it. Not that I’d expected anything else. It was still the same kicked-over industrial building that had been turned into a nice place to live. It was apparently now occupied by a family with kids, just like it had been when we’d lived there. But it was different too. There was no garden or the small fountain I’d sometimes sit at. There was no car in the yard either, which was probably good seeing how it meant that at least some of the occupants weren’t at home to witness a weird pixie boy and his sister staring at their house.


“Look at that!” Rem said with overdramatic outrage, “These new people have a trampoline! I’ve always wanted one!”

I looked.

“Huh. But it looks like they had to fell one of our trees to fit it there.”

“Yeah, that’s true. So… not worth it,” Rem sighed, “This place even smells familiar.”

“That sounds creepy,” I automatically took a deep breath, “But yeah, it’s also true.


We stood there together, lost in a stalkery nostalgia trip. It was funny; all these years I’d sometimes missed this place, but I’d never spared much thought to who might be living here now. I had never even asked if mum or Patrick knew. I wondered briefly what the new occupants were like. If the pirate ship in the yard was loved, and if the kids playing with it were even more so. What would it be like to just go there and ring the doorbell? How had they set up their furniture? Who lived in my room now?

I decided not to get any answers to those questions. We would already be harassing one unfamiliar family during this trip.

“Should we get going?” I asked, “The bus will be at the stop soon.”

Rem nodded slowly.

“Yeah. Let’s go.”


Willowglade looked a lot like Twinbrook in my eyes. Except with much less swamp and more willows. And glades. Someone had been very unoriginal with names. The Brookes lived in a yellow house that we found after some wandering around and using my phone’s navigator. The house looked so… normal. It was hard to imagine a pixie-woman living here with her family. But it had to be her, right? That was Rem’s theory anyway. The whole place was peaceful and pleasant and everything I wouldn’t want to disturb with ghosts from the past and family feuds. But here we were, nevertheless.

Rem reached his hand towards the mailbox that said Brooke, and hesitated for a long moment.


“Are you getting cold feet now?” I asked, “You could have told me before we wasted our money coming here.”

“No… I’m fine,” said Rem, not sounding fine at all, “It’s just… I’m getting a feeling… flashes of something unpleasant. I’m not sure what, though.”

He sighed, this time heavily.

“Why can’t I ever see anything that could actually help us?”

I considered patting his shoulder, but then decided not to.

“Life sucks, doesn’t it?” I just said, “Sorry, you know I’m not very good at this. So… maybe we should just ring that doorbell and see if things really are as bad as you think, right? I mean, we already made it through one fire. Why not another one?”

Rem smiled weakly.

“You’re right. I got this.”


He walked up to the innocent-looking front door and pushed the doorbell button. The ring was ominously cheery and kind of annoying at the same time. I’m pretty sure it played some kind of public domain tune that I couldn’t quite place except in my dullest nightmares. The door opened quickly, and an astronaut greeted us.


“Hi!” the child’s voice was a bit out of breath, but still bright as a bell. She probably sounded like magic when she started singing, “Who are you? We’re not buying anything.”

Rem cleared his throat.

“And we’re not selling anything. Is… is your mother named Donna?”

The astronaut nodded and bounced up and down.

“Yeah, she is! I’m Gabrielle! Mum is right here at home now! Do you want to talk to her? Who are you people? Your ears are funny! Are they real? Why’re your eyes yellow? I’d like to have funny eyes too!”

She talked so fast and so cheerfully that I shut down for a second. Rem didn’t seem to mind, though. Probably because he was almost as bubbly at the best of times.

“I look like this because I’m magic,” he said with a smile, “And yes, I would like to talk to your mum. Can you ask her to come here?”

Gabrielle’s eyes sparkled with excitement.

“You’re really magic?”



“Awesome! Come on in!”

She led us inside into a house that at first glance looked a bit small for a family of four. It was pretty homely, though, so maybe the size worked for its advantage. At least it was most likely less of a pain to clean than our two story house.


“Mum!” said Gabrielle, “There’s a magic boy and a punky girl who want to talk to you here!”


I shifted my focus from the brick walls to the family in front of me. A boy my age was playing a video game and wearing a pretty nice studded collar. I did some quick counting and figured that he was probably not biologically Donna’s kid, considering Donna had been married to Mr. Brooke for just around thirteen years. A very neatly dressed man had his back turned to me, but I could catch a glimpse of a thick book on his lap. Then there was Donna, who was an older, much more neatly dressed version of the world-embracing woman I’d seen in Patrick’s yearbook. I heard Rem stop breathing for a while, and I had to admit that I didn’t really know what to feel either, other than like my stomach had suddenly been carved hollow.


Donna Brooke took one look at us, and gasped, and I knew she recognised at least one of us too.

“Um…” said Rem, but couldn’t continue. He didn’t have time to, either, because Donna jumped up from her seat.

“Kids, honey, could you give us some privacy?” she asked tensely.

Her husband looked at her questioningly, but took control of the kids with admirable ease and led them outside after taking a good look at us to make sure we wouldn’t pose a threat to his precious wife. It was all over in a few moments, and I had to admire the efficiency this family displayed. Or maybe Donna had expected us in a way and briefed the family in case of our arrival. Rem had called her pretty recently, after all.

Donna stood in front of us, and the silence was so heavy it was hard to breathe in.

Finally, she spoke, in an icy voice that cut the silence in half.

“What are you doing here?”

Man, she could be intimidating. Rem actually cringed and hid halfway behind me. I looked at him pointedly. I was definitely not going to be the one to do the talking here.


“I’m sorry!” Rem managed to squeak, “I don’t want to bother you! I just-“

“Then why are you here?” Donna asked. This time her voice was a bit softer, almost gentle. Rem peeked from behind my shoulder.

“I know you don’t want to talk to me, but I just wanted to know… why you left… and if I… if you were…”

He was probably going to say “like me”, or “magic”, but he trailed off before he could finish. I could understand why. There was nothing magical about Donna Brooke. At least not in the way it applied to Rem or Villia. Even I could see that.

…So yeah, something was not right.

Donna frowned, and looked for a moment like she was going to just shoo us out and go on with her life, but then she sighed.

“Fine,” she said, “So Patrick hasn’t told you anything?”

“She said you had problems,” Rem replied timidly, “Nothing more. I was just wondering… I just wanted to meet my biological mum.”

Donna sighed again.

“Okay, you get one talk with me. Sit down. And who are you supposed to be?”

I was startled when I realised she was looking at me with a suspicious look on her face. Rem was quick to come to my defence, though:

“She’s Lynn. My sister. Well, stepsister, but still. She’s with me.”

“Well, if you say so,” there was still suspicion on Donna’s face, but it was now directed more at the situation in general, “Sit down, both of you, then.”

Her voice was again like a knife. I didn’t like it. It didn’t fit the image of the smiling woman in the pictures.


Donna took a long moment to think about her words. In hindsight, it was probably for the best, because what she had to say was not pretty. I was dreading it already when she pressed her palms together in front of her mouth and then lowered them slowly like she was about to announce a death sentence to someone. Perhaps to hope or optimism.

“To be honest,” she started slowly and wearily, “I’ve been dreading this day for years now. I had a hunch that Patrick wouldn’t want to talk about this to… you. Then again, I probably wouldn’t want to either, seeing how no child wants to hear that their parents… well, split up because of them.”

It took me a moment to process what she had just said. Apparently it took some time for Rem too.

“Wait… what?” he said, “What… what do you mean?”


“At first I was so angry at Patrick. At you,” Donna said as if she hadn’t heard him, “I imagined either of you showing up here and me just… yelling at you. Screaming, really. But now… I’ve had some more time to think. And… you were just a baby, so it couldn’t have been your fault.”

“What?” Rem asked in a shaky voice.

Donna pressed her mouth into a thin line.

“I am not your mother.”



A very painful silence filled the living room. I was too busy chanting What? in my head to speak, and probably Rem was too. Donna, however, was again lost in a memory she clearly didn’t like.

“When my first child was born, it was a perfect moment,” she said, a sad smile on her face, “Patrick and I were so happy. He was a perfect little boy. But we… we didn’t even make it out of the hospital before they told us that our child was very sick and might not make it.”

She swallowed down what sounded like tears.


“It made no sense. He’d been perfectly healthy once he’d been born. Our Nathaniel… We couldn’t see him for days. They said they were doing their best to save him, but… the hardest part was to wait without knowing if… if we’d have to face the worst.”

I remembered Rem’s first name being an emergency naming. I remembered Patrick talking about how sick Rem had been when he’d been a baby. But Donna wasn’t done yet:

“Then we heard that he was going to be just fine. That they’d saved him. I was… again almost as happy as when our Nathaniel was born. Then they brought him back to me, and…”

This time the tears did make it through.

“It wasn’t him. But they all claimed it was. That I was wrong. That I couldn’t recognise my own child somehow.”

She sniffed.

“They took my child from me. And tried to replace him with you.”

She looked at Rem with such open hostility, then, that he cringed back in his seat.

“But…” he said in a broken voice, “I don’t think Twinbrook’s hospital would do anything like…”


“I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK!” Donna snapped, and Rem actually jumped up to get away from the raging woman, “Do you think I haven’t heard that a million times already?! Do you think I haven’t sat in therapy for hours for being ‘delusional’? Do you think it was easy when even Patrick refused to believe me and loved the… the thing that those hospital people had presented as our Nathaniel? Do you think it’s easy doubting that all this time, it really has been me who got it wrong? That I have hated my own child? NO! I… I…”

She took a few deep breaths.


“I think you should just go… I… I tried to… I just can’t…”

She couldn’t even finish the sentence.

Rem seemed to sway on his feet, and then managed a very, very quiet:

“I… I see. I’m so sorry.”


He turned and ran right through the front door and disappeared outside. I was too shocked to react to anything anymore. This was just… what? I couldn’t even find the words in my mind. I excused myself, stood on legs that had been much stronger when we’d got in, and ran after Rem.


I imagined Donna Brooke standing in her living room, with the tears still in her eyes.


Rem didn’t make it far. He collapsed on the Brookes’ yard, and his shoulders shook with the sobs I could hear even to the front door.

I really, really couldn’t blame him.

Hell, at least my dad had been more straightforwardly messed up. Then again, at least Donna hadn’t burned us. Physically, at least. With her words, however, she’d probably more like cut Rem to ribbons.


“Hey,” I said as gently as I could, “Are you okay?”

Rem was up so quickly it was almost scary.


Well what the hell do you think?!” he snapped, screamed, really.

I took a step back when he practically lashed out at me. For a moment I feared that hallucinatory plants would start appearing around us again.

“Okay, calm down,” I said, “This was definitely not what we expected, and yeah, it was… pretty bad. Well, really bad. But…”

But what? There was really nothing I could say to make this better.

Rem glared at me, tears running down his cheeks. Then he broke again, all of his rage spent in just a few seconds.

“I… I don’t know what to do,” he whispered.

He looked like he was about to collapse again, but something – and I still don’t know what – barely kept him standing.

“The worst part…” his words broke, and he fumbled to get them back together, “The worst part is that I know that she was right. That I…”

He couldn’t finish it. I slowly stepped towards him and, when he didn’t lash out, pulled him into a tight hug.


“I’m sorry,” I said.

I could have said that it was going to be alright, but at the moment I knew that Rem didn’t want to hear it.

I’d say it later, when it would actually mean something.



Author’s Note: Whew, finally got this done! It took some time because for some reason the café scene really got me stuck. I even considered leaving it out but it does sort of reintroduce Bree and Jace so… yeah.

Also, if you haven’t noticed, I’ve also started a new story called The Chrysanthemum Tango! It’s a fantasy story with a bit of an attempt at some kind of humour (though so far not that much), and it’s going to be an adventure/mystery with some slice-of-life thrown in. Kind of like this one, except not really in any way.

Check it out if you haven’t already and are feeling curious! Three chapters are already out. Note that although I’m writing that story as well, it doesn’t mean that I’m giving up on this one. I’m just juggling these two according to what I feel like doing at the moment.

Have a wonderful time!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Hunter

NEXT Chapter: Puzzled

Chapter 15: Hunter


I hadn’t expected Rem to actually contact this “Hunter” – whose real name was Brent Douglas – so quickly after our decision. But he did, and a few days, some emails, and a couple of secret phone calls later Rem bounced into my room with renewed enthusiasm and told me that detective Douglas had agreed to meet us here in Sunset Valley. A few days after that we really were standing in front of a diner where Rem had told detective Douglas to show up in. It was all happening so… fast, especially after all that waiting and dead ends we’d encountered with so far. I guess I shouldn’t complain. I had to remind myself that hiring a detective would be just the start of finding Donna. Heck, we didn’t even know if we could afford to hire him. Or if he even was there. Or if…


“Are you sure that this is gonna work?” I asked, “That we can trust him?”

Rem nodded.

“He saved us,” he said, “Well, after he got us in that trouble he saved us from. But he didn’t mean it. Getting people in trouble, I mean. Besides, we can’t turn back now.”

“Actually, we could,” I smiled, “But there’s no way we’re doing it. I was just voicing the obligatory worries.”

“Oh? Ooo…kay. You’re weird sometimes.”

I raised my brows.

“Hey, that’s what I keep saying about you.”

Rem stuck out his tongue– real mature – and pushed the diner’s door open.

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We hadn’t eaten in that diner before. Actually, aside from the occasional moment of celebration, we didn’t eat out much in general. Patrick loved cooking, and his food had been delicious for as long as I could remember, so why waste time waiting 45 minutes for possibly unimpressive food in a crowded restaurant? And that was for the nice places. This diner was… well, I guess it was cosy in a way, but it looked like whoever had designed it had gone through a checklist of diner clichés and put them together. The tartan upholstery for the booths was maybe a bit more original, but the checkerboard floors and the rubber trees kind of made my eyes hurt.

“He’s there, at the back booth,” said Rem in a low voice, as if he didn’t want to disturb the other customers.

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I looked and saw a brown-haired man sitting alone there. He had a bottle of ice tea in front of him, and he seemed to be expecting company. I had never seen the man before, but Rem seemed to know exactly what Mr. Douglas looked like. Maybe he had seen the man when I’d been in a coma in the hospital. Or then he’d seen him in those visions he had told his story about so long ago.

We made our way to the booth, and the man looked up when we got close enough. His face was serious, but there was a bit of warmth in his eyes. They sparked with recognition, and he actually smiled. Some of the seriousness still remained, though.

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“I really never imagined I’d be seeing you again,” he said. His voice was surprisingly deep and kind of rough, “Wow, this is… kind of strange.”

“Hello,” said Rem, “You’re Brent Douglas, aren’t you? We talked on the phone.”

“Yeah, we did,” said Brent Douglas, “You’re Rem Monsoon and Marilynn Farley.”

I nodded. Detective Douglas seemed to ponder something for a while, and then he sighed.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t know… back then. I didn’t know he’d do anything like that.”

“It’s fine,” said Rem at once, “You didn’t mean it.”

“Right,” I could only say, “If it’s okay, we could maybe not talk about it? It’s… what’s done is done.”

Douglas nodded.

“Alright. I understand. But the apologies needed to be said,” he managed a small shred of a smile, “So, I guess we need to talk business, then. You had a case for me.”

I shifted uncomfortably. Douglas gestured towards the empty seats in front of him.

“There’s no need to be so on edge. You can sit down. And buy something if you want. The food here isn’t that great, but the snacks and desserts are pretty damn good.”

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We bought a bagel for me, a piece of lime pie for Rem, and a bottle of ice tea we could split. Rem had at first wanted hot tea, but had backed down immediately after he’d realised the only flavour available was Simpton Yellow Label, which he detested. We took our food to Douglas’s table and sat down after stiffly shaking his hand. I studied the man discreetly while I let Rem do the talking like I had told him. I still couldn’t quite decide how to deal with this. This was the man who had let Laketon find us. He seemed friendly, even when he stayed in the business talk like the professional he probably was. There was also something kind of relaxed about him. I could imagine him in a basement office, drinking the occasional beer while he went through his case files, and maybe even monologuing sometimes when he thought it was funny. If he hadn’t done what he had, I could have probably liked him. But even as I tried convincing myself that Douglas had been just an unwitting pawn, and that if he hadn’t taken the job, Laketon would just have found someone else, a small part of me had to be a little mad at Douglas. Maybe I just needed more time. How much, I didn’t know.

“So, Rem already told me the basics on the phone,” said Douglas, looking at me and I was mentally startled for a moment until I realised that he was just trying to bring us all up to speed and in fact hadn’t somehow heard my inner anger, “So we don’t have to start holding a presentation here in a public place. Now I just need to know where to start. You said you have something on that, right?”

“Right,” said Rem and pulled a small folder from under his sleeveless hoodie. Apparently hiding it there had made things more secret. Rem pushed the folder across the table, “We don’t know anything about where she is now. But there are pictures. And an old address. She doesn’t live there anymore as far as we know.”

Douglas went through the couple of copied pictures and the notes we had stored into the folder. He nodded a couple of times, and then leaned on the edge of the table with the serious expression back on his face.

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“I can work with this,” he said, “But… look, I actually don’t take cases from minors.”

Rem bit his lip.

“I understand. But… my dad doesn’t want my mother to be found. Our parents wouldn’t let you do this.”

“Yeah, you told me. I just… you have to realise I’m really making an exception with you guys in many ways. And yes, it has a lot to do with guilt.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re honest about it,” I said before I could stop myself.

“Hey, you shouldn’t complain. I get the job done,” said Douglas with a bit of a smirk, and I definitely would have got along with him hadn’t there been flames and crazy biological parents between us. Then he was serious again.

“Look, this really isn’t the best place to talk about the details. Confidentiality and all that. I got my papers and I got to see that you’re okay. And apologise. That was all I wanted.”

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“So you’ll help us?” Rem asked with enthusiasm he didn’t even try to contain.

“Yes,” said Douglas, “Call my work number, and we’ll iron out the final details.”

Rem glanced at me, a grin of anticipation on his face. It was contagious.

“Thank you,” Rem said, maybe mostly to Douglas, but a little bit to me too.

At least Douglas seemed to be right about one thing: the diner had some pretty good snacks and desserts. We parted ways after we were done eating, but Rem wanted to call him right once we got to a quieter place. Mum and Patrick were home, so we went to Sunset Valley’s central park and spent an hour there until we figured Douglas had got back to his hotel room or wherever he went for the night. So we found a quiet spot and called him, with Rem putting the speaker on so quiet that we both had to strain our ears to hear it.


Douglas’s voice came through muffled because of the volume:

“So, here we go: I hope you don’t make a habit out of this. This is a one-time deal from me. And even though I can give you a discount, you have to realise that I’m going to be working on more official cases and this will just be on the side.”

“We understand,” Rem said quietly, “We all need money to live. Well, unless we move into the wilderness and become self-sufficient, like dad sometimes dreams of. So how much would this cost?”

Douglas was quiet for a while. I heard some very faint rustling through the phone and imagined he was thoughtfully leafing through the measly information we had dug up about Donna, and then maybe thinking about secrecy and why he was doing this and then coming back to guilt and wanting to do a favour. Or something like that.

“I can probably keep this around three hundred,” he finally said, “But I can only know for sure once the job’s done. Is that okay?”

We looked at each other. It would be a lot of money for jobless teens like us, but not as much as I had feared. I thought about my savings. I had around two hundred there. Enough for one tattoo for my arm. Rem saw my hesitation and then smiled.

“I’ll get the money for this; it is for me anyway.”

“You’re pretty broke, as far as I know,” I pointed out, “Don’t you use all your money on art supplies?”

Rem shrugged.

“I’ll just… help dad in the garden now that you’re the witch’s helper. And I can do drawing commissions for our friends. And maybe dad and mum also know someone who’d like a painting or something.”

He turned back to the phone.

“It’s okay. Thank you.”


“Good,” said Douglas, “I’m going to keep this mostly a desk job, which should be enough with my connections, unless there’s something really fishy going on with your mum. If she’s dead like you said might be an option, I’ll get proof. If she isn’t, I’ll do a little bit of surveillance to make sure she really lives where I’ll trace her. Then I’ll get back to you. I don’t know when, but it shouldn’t take too long. I’ve done this before.”

Yup. He certainly had.

We exchanged goodbyes and Rem put his phone away. We looked at each other in the darkening park, the new secret hanging heavy around us.

“Now we just have to hope your mum isn’t magical enough to hide from a private detective,” I said in an attempt to both voice our unspoken worry and lighten the mood.

Rem shrugged his shoulders.

“Let’s think about that if that happens. This is better than doing nothing, right?”

It was, maybe. But someone had to be the realist in this situation. And years of experience had proven that it would almost inevitably be me when Rem and I were put in the same room.

“What if she really is dead?” I asked solemnly.

“I don’t think she is,” said Rem.

“Is that something you just know?”

Rem looked a bit uncomfortable.

“Well, no. But it’s something I want to believe.”

I guess hope was worth a few hundred simoleons, even if it might end up in tears. And even if it did, we would probably at least have more answers then. I tried to smile.

“Come on, let’s go home before mum and Patrick get worried.”

We didn’t hear from Douglas the Hunter for quite a while. We tried to pretend like everything was normal and act like we totally weren’t up to something. I wasn’t sure if it worked all the time, but at least mum and Patrick didn’t get suspicious enough to start questioning us. To forget about the wait, we both immersed ourselves into our summer break activities the best we could.

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Rem really seemed to take his promise to pay Douglas seriously. He started asking around if people wanted something drawn or painted for them, and even asked mum and Patrick to find more customers for him. Mum and Patrick were just happy that both of their kids were so hard-working and willingly integrating into the working community – mum’s words, not mine – so they did their best to help. Patrick was especially enthusiastic to let Rem help him with the gardening and even cooking.


That last part wasn’t so great, because Rem was an atrocious cook. I wasn’t sure how he did it, but there didn’t seem to be a dish he couldn’t get burned, or too salty, or just plain messed up and looking like some kind of greyish pink mush. After a couple of end results like that Patrick took it upon himself to teach his son to become a better cook and did his best to keep Rem away from the family’s food at the same time. For the most part Patrick’s teachings weren’t really getting through, but at least Rem did learn to make pretty good salads and even some tasty wok – with seitan, fresh vegetables, and plenty of coconut milk – by the end of summer.

I, on the other hand, was busy with Sabine’s garden. It was still a constant battle with stubborn and sometimes even bizarrely sturdy weeds and partly hardened soil. Sabine usually offered me a glass of cola after I was done for the day, and I took my chance to talk to her whenever I could. I even managed to connect with her through what she and 99 percent of people couldn’t resist – cat videos. She smiled and her usually sombre façade melted away whenever she saw goofy kittens on the screen of my smartphone. I could count that as a success, possibly a step towards solving the other mystery that was still in my hands.



Or maybe I could count that as a step towards befriending the kind of surly not-witch of Sunset Valley. Because there was something about Sabine I could really identify with. Maybe it was her disconnect from most people. Maybe it was the little things I could learn about her, like how she still played contrabass and had dreamed of becoming a film composer when she was younger. She was interesting, to put it simply. Someone I really wanted to talk to.

So one rainy day I even walked all the way to her house and greeted her before she pointed out that I shouldn’t have come today because the weather was abysmal.

“I’m not about to put you out in the rain,” she said, almost snapped as if I had actually insulted her by showing up.

“Oh,” I said. I looked outside and only now really registered what rain meant for my gardening job, “I guess I was just that excited about pulling out those weeds. That backyard’s starting to look a lot better now.”

There was an awkward silence, one I broke with a smile that cut through it like a grin-shaped shard of glass.

“Well, I’m not made of sugar. I can handle a little rain.”

“No way!” Sabine snapped, “If you get sick out there, it’s on me! I should sent you right back home.”

“What?” I said in mock hurt, “Out in the rain? But if I get sick, it’s on you.”

Sabine almost smiled.

“Kids these days,” she muttered, “Such nerve… Fine, you can stay for a while. Until the rain lets up. You know how it is around here. There’s usually a break in it soon enough. Maybe you can make yourself useful and help me make some coffee. The damn coffee tin is stuck again…”

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We ended up drinking the coffee and then watching a film on TV. It was in black and white, about a game of chess with death. I was enthralled with it.

“I’ve seen this film a couple of times,” Sabine said during one annoying commercial break, “But it’s certainly good for a few more views.”

There was a hint of tears in her voice, but none on her face.

“I didn’t even know about this film,” I said, “It’s nice, though.”

“You kids don’t get enough good entertainment, if you don’t even hear about classics like this,” Sabine scoffed.

“Hey, give me a break. There are good modern classics too. Besides, I’m more of a reader than watcher.”

I leaned back on the comfortable couch.

“Were films like this that made you want to get into film industry?”

“Among others,” Sabine said, “But those dreams were just too grand. I ended up as a nurse. Definitely not a bad career to work in either.”

“So… how did that happen?”

Sabine shook her head.

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“You are too curious,” she said, “Sometimes, not all questions need to be answered.”

I stiffened slightly. Did she know? Maybe. She was looking at me with very knowing eyes, at least.

“I…” I said, but then realised I didn’t know how to go on, “Of course they… don’t.”

Oh, damn, that was pathetic. Sabine sighed.

“You have been very helpful, and it’s nice talking to you. I’m not sending you away just because you have too many questions.”

“Oh… well, thanks. I mean, there’s still a lot of work to do.”

We didn’t talk much after that. I just thanked her and said that the sky was clearing once the film was over. Then I left home and promised to come back to work tomorrow if the weather was being less soggy.

I only realised later in the evening that there had been something very fragile in Sabine’s eyes when she had talked about curiosity and questions.


Out of all of us, mum was the only one who had official work during most of the summer. She was writing her articles and her blog, and sometimes she invited her writer colleagues – usually a nice man named Connor Frio – to our house to talk about a story. We usually steered clear of her then, because she hated being interrupted during a crucial working time. When she had free time, however, she was again our nice, smiling, excitable mum who loved to go outside for walks and talk about everything we found interesting.


Perhaps most importantly considering my summer, she was also teaching me to drive a car, like she’d promised during the spring. She was a patient teacher, even though for the most part she didn’t need to be because I found myself learning very quickly. I really liked driving, and not just because a driver’s license meant more freedom and was a sign of being nearly a grown-up – although that definitely helped too. I liked the smooth way our car responded to my controls, and the appropriate challenge of weaving through traffic. It was oddly relaxing even when the driving school’s endless lessons about being on high alert and looking around like a total paranoid were echoing in my head, and the driving lessons in fact became our relaxing mother-daughter moments of the summer.

I really loved it.


When it came to parenting, Patrick was definitely no slouch either. Patrick usually took his summer breaks very seriously. As in, he definitely didn’t want to do any school-related things during them, save for the obligatory duties in preparation for the next semester, and the spontaneous teaching he did as a dad of the family. Merrill could stay home from kindergarten, and my – or Rem’s – babysitter services weren’t needed nearly as often. Patrick loved to stay home with us. Although since Rem and I were out of the house so much, he mostly stayed home with just Merrill. They did finger painting and went for walks outside and played at the local playgrounds. Patrick often enthused about how he could again break out the old games Rem and I were too old to play. He was such a dork, and I say that in a very loving manner.

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And even though most of his time went for taking care of Merrill, he found time for the rest of us too. Sometimes he and mum did the sappiest possible things, such as went outside to stargaze romantically. He and Rem did gardening together, and went out for walks in the forest. And with me… well, I usually turned to mum for most things, as much as I loved Patrick. Mum usually understood me better. But to my surprise Patrick took an interest in my tattoo plans. I wouldn’t have expected the all-natural Patrick to really care for tattoos, but he actually spent a lot of time doing research on them and even promised to give his written consent that was required when a minor went to get tattooed any day.

So when the day I was ready to get my first tattoo arrived, he and I got on a bus that took us all the way to the huge city of Bridgeport, because Patrick’s research had turned up – among other things – how many animal parts usually went under the skin in the tattooing process. So Patrick had looked up all the nearby and not so nearby vegan tattoo places for me. Finally we had settled for a place simply called Bridgeport CMYK, mostly because their work looked good and they had actually agreed to tattoo me despite me being only sixteen. They had only agreed for one picture, though, so I’d had to choose which scar to cover first.


That was why I sat in the bus with Patrick for nearly three hours, occasionally nervously scratching my bicep that would soon have a picture on it. Rem had helped me turn a simple idea into a pretty nice design. It would be nothing too fancy. Just some watery swirls and some flowers. Something I could possibly expand or modify later in life. It would cover up the scar nicely, I hoped, even though the skin would still be just as uneven as before.

“Are you scared?” Patrick asked at one point, “You look a bit nervous.”

“Meh, it’s nothing.”

“That’s good. Sure, it will hurt, but it’s not that bad. Some say it’s like getting a bee sting, or being burned… in the sun.”

He added that last part hastily when I squeezed the edge of my seat a bit too tightly. Patrick smiled.

“It’ll be fine. And hey, we can grab a bite at a café somewhere. Bridgeport has some great ones, I’ve heard. They have organic vegan lattes! I’m not even a coffee guy and I want to try some.”

I smiled. It was hard to stay too nervous with Patrick around.

“And if my tattoo comes out nicely, I can finally wear short sleeves again,” I said, “That really would be nice. This hot weather is killing me.”

Patrick smiled back at me.

“That’s the spirit!”


The tattoo place was surprisingly cosy, and it had a nice owner. That didn’t make my nervousness fade a whole lot, and the next few hours were pretty unpleasant all in all. People I didn’t know around me, sticking a needle into my skin thousands of times. But then it was done, and we were sitting in a nice café with organic soy lattes in front of us. My arm was covered with my clothing, a sterile pad, and tons of anti-bacterial aftercare ointment, and I was in some sort of daze. I stared at the cute foam kitten in my cup for what felt like an hour before I remembered to take a sip of it.


“Hey, dad,” I said after putting my now kittenless latte down.

Patrick’s mouth quirked into an especially happy smile.


“This stuff really is good. Also… thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.”

He drank the rest of his drink and then looked at the cup like he was trying to predict the future from the remains of the coffee.

“You know what? I think they have courses on making fancy coffees in Sunset Valley. You think I should go to one?”

He thought about it for a moment longer.


“Nah. I think we can use the money for something better. Like coming back here when you’re allowed to get the rest of your arm done.”

“So you really like it?” I said and lifted my newly wounded arm.

“Yeah. It came out real nice.”

“I can’t wait to show it to Min. And Michel. And mum. And, well, everyone.”


I hadn’t thought it was possible for Patrick to look even happier than before, but he sure did after that statement.

When we got back home, our happiness dwindled quickly, however, because we found mum sitting on our couch, her shoulders tense and a calendar open in her phone. Rem was sitting next to her, and Merrill was playing on the floor and seemed to be the only carefree person in the room.

“Honey?” Patrick asked, “What’s wrong?”


He glanced at the phone and then paled a bit.

“Oh, wait… today is… oh, has it been that long already?”

Mum nodded.

“What?” I asked, “What day is today?”

“Laketon got out of jail,” mum said quietly, “We were informed a few weeks ago that he’d be getting out a bit sooner than what he was sentenced for… they told us not to worry, but just that we should know.”

I felt ice in my stomach and fire in my veins. I slumped on the floor next to the couch, and mum reached out to put her hand on my shoulder.

“It’s okay,” she said and tried her best to sound confident through her own worry, “He can’t get us here. They’ll be watching him. And we’ll be watching out.”

“He doesn’t know we’re here,” Patrick added, “And I doubt he wants to mess everything up again.”

I only nodded. I felt hollow, and I had no idea what to feel. Scared? I didn’t want to be scared anymore. But I was. A little. I couldn’t help it. Angry at the justice system for not locking Laketon up for longer? Maybe, but raging wouldn’t solve anything. Or should I just think rationally that he had probably been influenced by Villia and wouldn’t come back for us?

I really wanted to believe that. And I certainly wasn’t about to go back to looking over my shoulder. We were here. Far away from him. There was no need to worry.


Still, we all huddled up together that evening and put on the TV to drown out our worry-filled silence. The only one who still didn’t have a care in the world was Merrill, although even he could sense that something was wrong, so he mostly stayed quiet aside from the occasional giggle when the silly people on TV did something funny. For the most part he just made faces at the TV and enjoyed the cuddles we gave him. It occurred to me that one day little Mer would grow up too. And that at one point we would have to tell him about Laketon and the fire. Merrill was a part of our family, and the fire was – no matter how little we wanted to admit it – something that had defined us in many ways for so many years now.

But right now, he didn’t need to know that.

“Hey, Rem,” I said, my voice so quiet it almost got lost in the TV noise.


“I think it’s my turn to hold Mer now.”

Rem smiled.

“What do you say, Merry? You want a hug from Lynn too?”

Mer glanced at me, eyes big and innocent. He reached his small arms out to me.

“Yes, please!”

Yup. He definitely didn’t need to know about the dark side of life yet. Not to that degree anyway. Boogeymen could stay in storybooks for a little longer.

Laketon didn’t jump through our window that night, or the nights after that. Life went back to normal again, with the usual slight tension in the background. I went back to work. Sabine’s garden was still only half-done, and I liked how the great war against weeds, along with the driving lessons and my moments with friends, kept me busy and my thoughts away from freed convicts.

Then, when the summer break was only a month from being over, we really got something else to think about; we heard from the Hunter again. That day was a warm one, and I had offered to take Merrill to the playground while the others took a break from our endlessly cute but also endlessly demanding toddler. It was a warm day, but the warmth was not as heavy as it had been a month ago. It wouldn’t be that long before the air would become lighter and cooler, and autumn would start sneaking in and painting the trees with flames like a particularly hard to catch graffiti artist. I found myself actually wondering if we would have time to go to the beach before the weather made water too chilly. Wow, one picture in my arm really did wonders for my self-esteem, didn’t it?


“Okay, Mer,” I said after glancing at the time, “I think it’s time to start getting back home. One more ride on the rocket and then we’ll leave.”

Merrill, who had been driving the spring-mounted rocket ship for the last fifteen minutes, looked at me with a small frown.

“No!” he said adamantly, “Five rides!”





“Hey, you’re slowly learning to haggle. Congrats. Okay, you get two, but that’s as high as I’ll go. And one ride means two minutes. So how much is two rides?

Merrill’s face scrunched up.

“Two and two?”

“Yeah,” I held up two and two fingers. Merrill looked for a while and then he smiled.


“That’s right! And I’m counting… now!”


I had just got to four minutes and started another small argument with Merrill about getting off the plane when Rem came running to the playground and stopped near me with his face red and voice winded.

“Lynn!” he gasped, “You’ve got to hear this!”

“Hang on,” I said, “And catch your breath. One thing at a time.”

I looked at Mer with a very pointed look.


“Okay, kiddo, someone needs to be the bad guy and teach you that life sucks most of the time. We’re going home right now. The rocket’s landed, and Patrick’s making dim sum.”

Merrill crossed his tiny arms and pouted. Very impressively.


“You don’t even know what dim sum is, kid.”


“I’m getting you out of that thing now.”

“NO! Lynn is being bad!”


“That’s not going to work this time,” I said and snatched him up, lifting him high above my head where his would-be scream turned into a giggle, before I propped him properly against my hip.


“Lynn!” Rem said impatiently, “This is really important! The Hunter just called, and-“

“Okay, slow down,” I said, “You ran all the way here to talk to me about that when this little tattletale is right here with us!”

I nudged my head towards Merrill, who was still pouting and slowly processing crash-landed rocket ships and the unfairness of the world. Rem looked at Merrill, and then at me, his enthusiastic smile turning into an embarrassed chuckle.

“Oh. Right. Hold on.”


He pulled out his phone and quickly started typing a message.

“Oh, for the love of-“ I sighed, “Seriously?”


I set Mer down and read the message. It was three words, the words we’d been hoping to hear the moment we’d hired Douglas.

Hunter found her.

I looked up at Rem, and slowly pushed delete.


“Whoa,” I said, “This is…”

“Awesome? In both meanings of the word?”

“Yeah. Exactly.”






“Hey, Laketon, long time no see.”

“What the-? Oh, shit… I mean hey, Sticks! How’s your boss?”


“You didn’t think we’d forget about you, right? You still owe us.”

“I know. 15 000 simoleons. I’m on it. You just don’t get rich in prison-”



“Yeah, I know. And I don’t care. You got two months to scrape that together. After that, there’ll be no second chances.”

“…You’ll get it! I promise!”

“Oh, yeah. We will. We’ve been pretty lenient with you lately. But now you’re just pushing it.”

“Yeah, I-”

“Two months.”

“I got it, okay?!”


“Yeah. I’m sure you did. Good day, Laketon.”



Author’s Note: Well, I’m back. Aaaannnd… PLOT IS HAPPENING! Also something I call character development and character moments. And some familiar faces are back too. So this chapter had a lot of stuff happening, some unnecessary for the plot, but I sure like my pointless descriptions of everyday things.

The film Lynn and Sabine are watching is strongly hinted to be the classic Swedish black and white film, The Seventh Seal (originally Det Sjunde Inseglet). I’ve only seen some clips of it but it’s a film I’d really like to see in its entirety. Now that I have a Swedish course again I could watch it during a time I should be studying and claim it is studying. Genius!

It probably tells a lot about me that I knew more about vegan tattoos than I knew about tattoo age laws before doing some research for this chapter.

And another fun fact: Brent Douglas’s last name is a nod to a detective character in Silent Hill 3, who is named Douglas Cartland, and who is tasked with finding the main character Heather and thus invites tragedy into her life. As a sidenote, Lynn’s hairstyle is kind of reminiscent of Heather in that game too, what with being short, blonde and dyed, though with Heather the blonde is the dyed part. That is actually a coincidence, though. I didn’t think about it until now. For those who are unfamiliar with the game I’m talking about, here’s a link to a pic of Heather:

PREVIOUS Chapter: Breadcrumbs

NEXT Chapter: Mother

Chapter 14: Breadcrumbs





Just keep your head in the game, Rem. And stop talking to yourself in your head.

Yeah, it’s time to face the facts. Villia could be lying, but then again, she probably isn’t. There’s a… big percent chance that she isn’t, and it’s getting more and more likely by the thought. So I’m probably a fairy, an elf, a sprite, whatever one wants to call them. But what does that really mean? How do I actually know how this works? How work?

The books are full of guesswork and legends, but the legends had to come from somewhere, didn’t they? And a lot of it matches. So well it’s… scary. Let’s leave out the obvious things, like the fact that I don’t have wings like many of the stories say I should have. Which kind of sucks because I’d love to fly. Maybe then I could fly out of here and go somewhere where I’m not getting my family in trouble. Then again, Villia could follow me because she’s like me and she would have wings too. Still, we would be somewhere that isn’t here. I love it here too much for her to ruin it. Not that I’m sure if she wants to do that. I don’t really know. She said I could see things, and I do. But why can’t I see the most important things, then? Like… something that would help me figure this out. I don’t know how it works either, or how to pick what I see. Could I? I just. Don’t. Know.

I need to find out more, and sort out my thoughts.

Okay. Just stay calm and happy. Don’t go back into the dark places.

Alright. Here’s the list of Fae-like things about me, as figured out by… well, me:


Usually the fair folk is depicted as mischievous, tiny, and pointy-eared. Uhh… check, except for the mischievous part, I guess. But that’s a generalisation, right? It’s like saying all humans are greedy. Because there’s at least a few non-greedy humans I know. Also, red hair and freckles, but Grandpa Lórccan is Irish, so there’s a bigger chance for me to just have the stereotypical Irish genes.

Fairies can change their appearance, or at least appear to do so. It’s called glamour, and they usually use it to look prettier for people they want to lure into their traps. Villia could do it. I’m sure she used it to lure Laketon in. She has curly hair and freckles, just like mum. Maybe Laketon liked that. Or maybe Villia just likes to look like that and the fact that she and mum have similar features is a coincidence.

I can’t do it. That’s a relief. Because if I could, then my face wouldn’t be my real one.

But maybe I just don’t know how? Or maybe… maybe Villia is wrong after all and I’m just a human with powers. Not sure how that’s any better.

Maybe I’m nothing like I thought I was. Maybe I’m just lying to everyone.

I don’t want to hide anymore.


Speaking of glamour, fairies usually have the power of causing other illusions as well.



That one… definitely check. I feel it all the time. My fingertips tingling. A warm twist in my chest. Sometimes it’s a spike in the back of my head. Sometimes I don’t even know when I’m doing it. I don’t want to lose control.


And the last one that might be true: Fairies are weak to “cold iron”. I’m really not going to test that one… everyone got really scared back when I was sick. I mean, if I bought some iron pills and took them just to see if it killed me, I… I’d make everyone safer, I guess, but I don’t…

I don’t want to die. And I don’t want the others to feel sad because of me. People need to be happy. I need to be happy to keep everything together.

But if I am a fairy, then how? Patrick isn’t. Neither is Merrill, or Grandma and Grandpa. They don’t feel like it. So that leaves only my real mother. Donna. Villia said that she’s dead, but she has lied before. So many times.

There was real sadness in her voice when she said it, though.

I have to know the truth.



I could sense a new shadow over our family. It wasn’t nearly as dark as what Laketon had caused, but it was still noticeable. Mum was worrying a lot more again, and Patrick had slipped back into his overprotective mode especially when it came to Rem. Now it felt even more ridiculous, because Rem was already fourteen and could for the most part take care of himself. Patrick had tried to keep his overprotectiveness subtle, like by casually suggesting we all went home from school together if his classes were over around the same time as ours. I could see through it plain as day, but I was happy that he at least didn’t embarrass us by announcing his undying worry to the world.

To be fair, I worried about Rem a bit too. Sometimes he went out for hours, and even though it was normal for him – he had friends after all – he almost seemed guilty about it after he got home. And he had nightmares. I knew that because sometimes I had his nightmares too. Sometimes the morning would find him on our living room couch, because apparently sleeping farther away from us made it less likely for him to project his dreams into our heads. At least it meant that Merrill didn’t wake up screaming at night because the big brother that slept in the same room had fairy dreams. Rem insisted that he was fine, though, and we really didn’t have much choice but to believe him. Not without keeping a closer eye on him, though.


But I didn’t really have time to watch my family members 24/7. Summer break was only a couple of weeks away, and I was almost shocked to realise how fast it was upon us. We were swamped with schoolwork, and the teachers were dedicated to making sure that we all prepared for the final exams as well as we could. And I also had to shove theory lessons at driving school into my days, which would have been more of an announcement in my life if I hadn’t had more important things to think about than learning how to drive a car. Things like how I’d manage to do my part to keep our family happy. And how to scrape together enough money with just my gardening and babysitting jobs during the summer.

Min, in one of her many brilliant moments, suggested I’d try to submit some of my stories to some writing contests. After some contemplation and being ensured that I wouldn’t have to read my stories out loud to anyone, I got so excited that for a moment I almost forgot that I should be worried about our family possibly leaning towards another crisis. If I wanted to be a writer – which I definitely did – a few writing competitions under my belt wouldn’t hurt. Or then it would at least help me get used to rejection and failure. After years of watching mum’s work I’d learned that it was a part of the job for every writer.


My writing plans and the workload at school usually got me through the school without too many worries. Then I got home, and it all came crashing down on me again when I sensed the slight tension in the mood. I didn’t want to deal with it right after school, so I usually left to Sabine’s place to do some very cathartic weeding. Her flowers were hidden under a huge amount of very stubborn weeds, and I tore them from the ground and wished I could unplug our problems as easily.

At least Sabine was happy after I’d cleaned up a whole patch of ground, and I was pretty proud of my handiwork too. The garden still looked awful, but it was a start towards the right direction. I even chatted a bit with Sabine, and she seemed pleased to have someone to talk with. There was nothing about the letters, but I could worry about that after she’d warmed up to me a bit more. It was going to be a slow process, but I didn’t mind as long as the payoff was good. I’d been sometimes complimented on my patience. This was one of those times I could certainly agree with the compliments.


One evening I got home, especially exhausted after a fierce battle with a very stubborn patch of deep-rooted weeds, and went straight to my room without even grabbing dinner. I ended up on my bed, reading a book and immersing myself into the world of story, telling my mind to stop caring about my almost bleeding fingers and sore arms. Reading almost always worked, and this time was no exception. The book had adventure in exotic locations and a wonderfully snarky main character I could identify with very well. Nothing too deep and philosophical. It was just smart enough for me to not feel dumb for reading it, and brainless enough to help me just relax and forget all my worries. I had almost relaxed completely when a soft knock on my door dragged me back into the more troublesome reality.

I contemplated for a second if I could get away with pretending I wasn’t here and just keep going through the imaginary adventure, but the knocking persisted.

“Come on in,” I said with a sigh after it became clear that whoever was at my door wasn’t going to leave.

A moment later Rem’s sad face looked at me over my book.


“Uh… do you have a moment?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said and frowned a bit, “Is something wrong?”

“No… yeah… maybe. I don’t know.”

“Oo…kay? Shouldn’t you talk to Patrick about it?”

Rem shook his head.

“No. I want to talk to you, if that’s okay.”

Darn. I wasn’t good at this. And he really seemed a bit upset about something. I sat up on my bed to make room for Rem, who sat next to me, and I was reminded of the time we had talked on my bed so many years ago. Just some time before everything in our life had gone wrong.


“So. Are you okay?” I asked awkwardly.

Rem shrugged.

“I… yeah. I think. I’ve been thinking… that party at Carla’s place was… it didn’t go well. Do you think the people are mad at me?”

I raised a brow. This couldn’t be what he really wanted to talk about, right?

“I think they’re either mad at that bitch Vilya or whatever, or just don’t care. You shouldn’t worry about it.”

“I guess…” Rem wrung his hands, “I’ve been wanting to apologise to Carla, but I’m afraid that I’d just start a scene at school. And I don’t want that.”

“That’s probably a good call. She’ll probably just trash you verbally,” I frowned when what Rem had said really sunk in, “But why’d you care too much about her? She seems fine to me.”

Rem looked a bit uncomfortable, as if he was about to say something he wasn’t supposed to. Finally he sighed and spilled the beans:

“Well…  It’s because we’re friends.”



I stared at Rem, my artistic, odd, pointy-eared brother, and then thought of our school’s princess Carla. They just didn’t go together in my head.


“Since when have you been friends with her?” I couldn’t help asking. It just didn’t click.

Rem actually chuckled a bit.

“We bumped into each other one day almost… about a year ago. It was at the supermarket. I was buying carrot juice. At first she didn’t really want anything to do with me, but we were in the same line so I talked to her, just to be friendly, and then… I don’t know. I guess she liked how I really wanted to listen to her. Most people actually don’t, even though so many people want to be around her. So… then she wanted to talk some more. But she didn’t want others to know about it.”

“Yeah, I guessed that part.”

“She does annoy me sometimes. I mean, I don’t want to hide being friends with someone,” Rem bit his lip, “But I just don’t want to start conflicts. I have to be nice to everyone so no one gets upset because of me. That’s what I always do.”

He frowned, almost scowled at the air, and I was really starting to suspect that talking about Carla was just an easy way to get to the difficult stuff. I tried to smile comfortingly.


“Rem, you do know that you can’t possibly please everyone, right?”

He nodded slowly with defeat, and we were quiet for a long while.

“I don’t want to go back into the dark,” Rem said suddenly, “I need to be happy, and I can’t do anything to ruin it. To… to ruin it for us all.”

I tried not to stare. I really did. But my brother’s sunny smiles were crumbling in front of me and revealing a scared kid trying to keep up the happy-go-lucky personality he’d had before Laketon and the fire. I’d known he was more shaken about what had happened with Villia and… well, about everything else that had gone wrong than he’d like to admit, but to this degree? And he’d been trying to cover it all up and pretend like he was fine? That was just… not healthy.

“You don’t have to pretend to be happy all the time”, I said, “Eventually it’s just going to come back to bite you.”

“It’s been easy after Merry was born,” Rem said, everything spilling out in halting, quiet sentences, “Because I really was happier again. Out of the dark. Everything was turning around. We’ve all been happier lately. With less… less running… Or hiding. But that’s what we still do, don’t we? A little bit.”

“Yeah,” I managed to say quietly, “But we’re also going towards something now.”

“Right… Just… living.”


“But now it’s happening again. With Villia.”

“Are you scared of her?” I asked as gently as I could, “I mean, I don’t blame you if you are.”


“I guess,” Rem said and took a deep breath, “Well, actually, I know I am. But I’ve also started to think that she doesn’t want to hurt us… not just to be mean, anyway. She… did some really stupid things that got us to this point, but I think she does have a lot of answers. About me. About what I am and why I can do all… this.”

He wiggled his fingers as if to mimic a stage magician casting a spell. Nothing happened, but I got the message.

“When I first saw her, I was too young to understand what she meant. Then I didn’t want to listen because she had ruined our lives. At the party I was ready to let her talk, if just so that she’d leave us alone. But now she’s not here anymore, and the police are looking for her.”

“You said you think she won’t be coming back any time soon,” I said, “You still think that?”

“I do. But… the last time I said no and she came back, she brought in Laketon. Who knows what she’ll do now? Besides, without her, we’re just stuck here fearing and not knowing.”

He seemed to be contemplating something for a long while again. Then a decision was made, and he looked at me with only slightly unsteady confidence.

“So… I was thinking… if you’d like to help me figure this out. You know, to solve a mystery. You like those, right?”

I raised my eyebrows again. Yeah. I did like mysteries. And this was the biggest of our life so far. The mystery that had been a part of our family for more than a decade now. Rem Monsoon. The magic kid. The mystery that we’d maybe thought would eventually stop being a mystery without us ever needing other answers than “we’re family, who cares about the rest.”

“Really?” I said, “You actually want to do this? After we’ve spent such a long time pretending that thinking about normal things will make all the weirdness and traumas go away?”

Rem nodded.


“It’s not going to go away,” he said, and his voice wavered, “No matter how many times we’d move, or how many happy thoughts we’d think… I’m always going to be this way. And I want to finally know what I am. So I don’t have to be so… defined by this… by being confused and afraid.”

I probably should have been the responsible older sibling at this point and tell him to go talk to our parents about this. Well, actually I really should have. But where was the fun in that?

“Where did you think we’d start?” I just asked.

Rem smiled, and now it didn’t look so sad anymore.

“Thanks, Lynn. You’re awesome.”

“I can’t just leave you alone with this, can I? So, where?”

“Right,” Rem said, his voice a bit stronger again, “Well, I was thinking that we should try to find my mother. Donna. Villia… Villia said that she knew her, and that she was dead. But it might not be true. And even though dad claims that he doesn’t know where Donna is, there has to be something about her around our house, right?”

“Well, there actually might not be,” I said slowly, my mind working furiously to find more ways to solve this, “Buuuut at least we do have a chance to get more info on her than on Villia, unless she shows up again. It’s a start. So… next time mum and dad are not home?”

Rem’s smile widened.

“Let’s do it! Thanks. I really mean it.”

“Yeah. I know.”


We got our chance a few days later, when mum and Patrick had to attend a parent and child -evening at Merrill’s kindergarten. They said goodbyes to us before leaving with Merrill to have fun at the kindergarten and told us to be careful, and I could only barely keep a straight face. We’d be going through mum and Patrick’s papers again. This time it wasn’t just to find some measly birth certificate, but to find out something that Patrick clearly didn’t want us to find out, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. Then again, it was something that Rem deserved to know in my opinion. This was his mother we were talking about. And yeah, my curiosity made me biased, I know. As soon as mum, Patrick, and Mer were gone, I shared a look with Rem and we rushed upstairs to dig up mum and Patrick’s official papers.

It was probably not the most exciting way to start solving a magical mystery, but it was the most rational one that we could think of.


“So, all we know is that her name was Donna?” I said after commandeering the computer because I was way better at scrounging up digital files than Rem, “We don’t even have her last name?”

Rem barely looked up from the piles of official-looking files and university yearbooks that we’d managed to find after some thorough digging.

“No. It was Monsoon when I was born, but I doubt it’s that anymore. Dad either doesn’t know or doesn’t want to tell me.”

“Why do you think he’s so adamant about us not knowing?” I wondered.

“I don’t know. Maybe she really hurt him.”


I thought about it, my fingers tapping an irregular rhythm against the edge of the keyboard.

“Patrick’s pretty easy-going. It would take something seriously bad to really get to him.”

I was silent for a while again when a heavy thought sunk in.

“Do you think that mum and Patrick were drawn together because their spouses were screwed up? You know, at first, before they fell in love.”

Now Rem did look up.


“Huh. Maybe they did,” he said, and his forehead creased a little in contemplation, “It’s a bit of a wonder we’re this happy.”

“I’d say we’ve been pretty much in shambles,” I pointed out, “But I’m sure there are a lot of families with way more mismatching pieces than ours.”

“Yeah. That’s true. And we’re holding together.”

I smiled.

“We are.”

We worked together in silence for a good while, then. The clicks of a mouse and the flutter of book pages – both sounds I found very soothing – were the only thing accompanying us. I clicked through what seemed like endless boring files and carefully stayed away from Patrick’s school stuff and mum’s unfinished writings. There were some lines I wouldn’t cross, after all. There wasn’t much on the woman named Donna. There was nothing about her, to be fair. No secret emails – sorry, for going through your mail, Patrick. I didn’t look too closely, I swear. But you know, you should really not have your email programme automatically logging in with just a click – no official child support papers… nothing.


“There’s a picture of her in this yearbook,” Rem spoke up, “I don’t think I’ve seen this one before. Maybe dad forgot about it.”

My mouse clicks faded away. I jumped up from the desk chair and crouched next to Rem.


Rem pointed.

“Yeah. I think this is the second picture I’ve ever seen of her. Another one was their wedding photo that dad keeps in one of the albums he doesn’t like to look at too much. We can get that too if you want.”


I looked at the picture. A blonde woman was embracing the world, and a younger and even more hippyish-looking Patrick was embracing her. They were both smiling to the camera with what seemed like genuine happiness. There were writings around the picture about how cute a couple they made. A piece of the past between heavy pages. I could see no evidence of any screwed-up-ness that might have been going on in their relationship, but then again, that was hard to tell by just one picture. I brushed my hand along the page as if I could somehow draw answers from it that way, and all I felt were the scratches left by ballpoint pens.

“It isn’t much,” Rem admitted, “How about the computer?”

“Nothing so far.”

“I doubt dad saved much of mum there anyway. It’s probably all here.”

“It was worth a check,” I said and grabbed the nearest book Rem hadn’t yet checked, “Let me help you with these.”


Aside from a couple of pictures, Donna stayed mostly a mystery. I did uncover an old letter from between the pages of one book. It had an address on it, pointing to a town pretty close to Twinbrook, and a lot of crossed out words. We couldn’t make out what it said, but it seemed to be meant for Donna. I wrote the address down and we put the letter back. It felt too wrong to take it. And an address, no matter how old, was a start, anyway.

We searched for as long as we could before it was close to the time when the others came back home. Then it was a blur of frantically trying to get everything back where it belonged. Once the front door clicked open, all evidence that was left of our little search were the guilty feelings we tried our best to hide for the rest of the evening. In the morning it would again be easier, or at least that was what I kept telling myself as I lay awake. I was too full of adrenaline and mild guilt, or just excitement. After all these years we were taking steps towards something in our past instead of away from it. I wouldn’t have thought any of us had the resolve for it.

And maybe we didn’t. Not individually. But together… it seemed like we might. It was either that or just responding to Villia’s reappearance with the same fear as we’d felt before – albeit for justified reasons. This felt much better.

My dreams were restless when I finally got some sleep. This time they at least felt like my own.


It was times like this that I really hated the flood of schoolwork that tried to completely drown our free time. Not that I was too crazy about it in general either. But now I had another quest in my life, that of finding Rem’s mother, and we both had to push it aside for the last days of school. It felt especially frustrating, but at least it was eventually over. Pretty quickly to be honest, but at the time it felt like time was inching its way towards the moment of freedom painfully slowly. I spent the last evenings before summer break finishing up my last assignments and even neglecting Sabine’s garden and the jogs with Min to get things done. In the end it did show on my report card, and mum and Patrick were proud of me. Rem had done well too, and we had dinner in a restaurant to celebrate both our pretty good grades and our well-earned summer break.

And what a summer break it was going to be. I had two mysteries to solve and two jobs to get money from, and mum had promised to teach me how to drive. I could do something fun with Min in-between all the numerous sports camps she would be coaching, and maybe get to play games and hang out with Michel a bit more than I’d had time for lately. Plus if I managed to squeeze in some time, I might be able to visit Twinbrook again to see Bree and Jace. I hadn’t really seen them for… a year now, I think. And the visit I’d managed last summer had been way too brief. It had the makings of a busy, but fun and even exciting time.






After the first few weeks I had to admit that with the excitement also came more frustration. The address we’d found that might have led to Rem’s mum no longer had any Donnas living in it, and we didn’t know how to pick up her trail. Rem had managed to get Patrick to at least mention Donna’s maiden name – Charles – and we had tried looking for her with that. Of course it was just a guess, and she might have never taken her maiden name back like my mum had done with hers, but it was better than nothing. Still, it quickly became evident that finding one person was way harder than we had imagined.


“This is getting us nowhere,” I said one night when we’d gathered together to the park near our house to figure out our next step, “We’re not going to find her when we have this little to go with.”

Rem nodded slowly, the disappointment so evident in his eyes that even the optimistic smile he tried to give did nothing to mask it.

“Well, maybe we’ll just have to find something more to go on.”

“Where? We’ve already checked so many places. We’d need to be actual detectives to really get forward. And we’re not…”

I trailed off when a light bulb went off in my head. Why hadn’t we thought of this sooner?

“Wait, why don’t we get a detective for this case?” I asked.


Rem’s eyes snapped wide.

“What? Really? Because that’s… a great idea! Why didn’t we think of that before?”

He jumped up from the park bench and started pacing with excitement.

“It’s going to be expensive…” Rem muttered more to himself, “But maybe a bit cheaper if we use the Hunter.”

Okay, now I had missed something.

“The who?”

Rem halted and spread his arms.

“You know, the Hunter! Who helped mum and dad find us back at… back when… you know, the… basement.”

It clicked. With a slightly unpleasant click.


“That… detective guy?” I said slowly, “But he was the one who brought Laketon to our doorstep to begin with, right?”

Rem nodded enthusiastically as if there was nothing weird about calling a ghost from our past back in.

“That’s right! He was not a bad guy! He was sorry about what he did, so maybe he’ll help us now!”

Well, yeah. He could. But there were other detectives out there, right? People we didn’t have a past with. Then again, detectives really were expensive from what I knew, so it would probably be smart to at least try to start with someone we could guilt-trip into giving us a discount. That… didn’t sound entirely right. I had to probably question my sanity because I chose to ignore how not right that sounded. I took a deep breath and let it out.

“It wouldn’t hurt to try, I guess,” I said, “Alright. But you’re going to do the talking.”

Author’s Note: Well, this needed a few rewrites before I knew where I was going with this. At one point Rem was actually going to poison himself with the iron, and the whole thing could have gone way differently. But here we are, actually making progress in the story because the mystery can’t stay mystery forever. Not this one, anyway.

The painting in the pic about Rem’s winter illusion is again done by me.

I think I’m going to take a little break from this story now, just to let it rest and let my thoughts about it shape up better. Also I’ve reached the point I reach with everything I create where I think this is absolute crap and should be destroyed with fire. That’s usually a sign for me to step back, reread, rethink, and then decide whether this really is as bad as I feel it is, and possibly do a bit of editing.

I don’t think this will become a proper hiatus, though. I mean, these last few chapters have come out pretty fast compared to my usual updates, so maybe this just means that I’ll go back to my normal schedule Not that I have a schedule, really. I just post when I get things done. Anyway, thanks for sticking with me. Comments, other feedback, and just taking time to read even parts of this are so much loved.

EDIT: MORE REWRITES! At least I’m way happier with this now than I was before. The  pacing is better and it’s actually going somewhere instead of a whole lot of nowheres. It is mostly just set up to the next big steps in the plotline, but next time we can actually get to… stuff! Also, I had a lot of fun shooting some of these new pics.

PREVIOUS Chapter: Crashing

NEXT Chapter: Hunter

Chapter 13: Crashing

I did get the job as the local witch’s gardener even after talking to my parents about it. Patrick and mum thought it was a good idea, especially since Patrick had been a bit reluctant to let me do the gardening in his vegetable patch. Not because he didn’t trust my weeding skills, but because he loved to take care of his garden himself. I had to applaud him for giving up even a part of something so dear just so I could have an excuse to ask for money. Now, though, I had another patch of land to clean up and water, and it was going to take a lot of work before that patch would start resembling anything other than something a dryad had thrown up.


Patrick actually went to see Sabine with me, and talked with her about the finer points of gardening for what felt like hours. She seemed pleased, and didn’t mind when Patrick ended their pleasant chat by making her swear not to overwork his precious stepdaughter. Embarrassing? Oh, yeah. I sat there quietly with my face and ears red and felt like I now really understood the other teens when they told about how embarrassing their parents could be. Sure, Patrick occasionally stood on soapboxes – metaphorically, thankfully enough – and always walked around in decade-old second-hand clothes, but I didn’t mind. He was mostly cool. But this… I could have done without.

Still, we got all the details on my unofficial job sorted out, and I promised to start right after my schoolwork wouldn’t demand so much of my time. The essay on owls was done, but now the teachers had thrown a whole new pile of reading assignments, writing projects, and even a dreaded presentation our way. I didn’t mind a small delay, though. The secret of the letters had waited for this long; it could wait a bit more now that I knew I actually had a chance of finding it out. Also, Sabine’s backyard was in such a terrible shape that it couldn’t get any worse in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile there was the party to worry about. The party at Faroffingtons’. I had never been to their fancy house, if one didn’t count the time when I’d sneaked to their yard to scare Carla with ladybugs. It felt odd to be actually invited there, although I had a feeling that the rest of us had been invited just so mum wouldn’t complain about it. Not that she would; she was too nice for that kind of thing. I still wasn’t too happy about going, but I didn’t really have any allies to back me up about it.

When Rem was asked if he wanted to go, he had simply said yes and only frowned when mum had told him he would have to wear his dress shoes. There was even a small argument about the shoes, but in the end mum won and Rem promised to wear them. Rem’s distaste for shoes was a bit funny to me, actually. I personally liked how grounded shoes made me feel. I stomped around in our house in my combat boots, and even though mum usually insisted that we shouldn’t wear the same shoes outdoors than we did indoors, she had caved in to my boot-wearing habits long ago as long as I took good care of cleaning the soles whenever I got inside.


After mum was done with approving of Rem’s formal clothing, she turned her attention to me. I didn’t have a proper formal dress, so she took me out clothes shopping. It was brave of her, because I knew finding a formal outfit I’d say yes to would take a lot of time and disappointments and complaints. Almost everything was too girly or too uncomfortable or too short-sleeved. And the suits didn’t feel right either. And the clothes in the men’s section were too big for me.

“You know,” I said after we’d exited the sixth or seventh shop – we weren’t fancy enough to go to boutiques – empty-handed, and a spring shower had caught up with us, “I could just stay home in my jeans and hoodie and look after Mer while the rest of you go.”


Mum seemed to think about it for a while, or at least pretended to. I had a feeling that she had already decided that I should go, though.

“You could do that, sure,” she said slowly, “But then you’d miss a chance to try something new.”

“I’m good, trust me.”

“And,” said mum, with her special “mum” tone of voice. I’m pretty sure that all mothers had their own version of it, and it always demanded people’s attention, “This could be your chance to show one of your classmates that there is no ill will between you.”

“What?” I blurted out, “That’s what this is about? I’m fine with Carla! I haven’t clashed with her in ages.”

“That tends to happen when you avoid someone,” mum said.

“Has Patrick been feeding you info about the school’s relationship messes?” I asked in a surly tone, “Because it’s weird that the teachers who are supposed to be old and not in with the times actually know what’s going on.”

“It’s normal. You kids just think they are clueless.”

“Yeah. I know.”

Mum smiled.

“You don’t have to be the best of friends, just… trust me, it’s better to not leave things like this just hanging.”

“You make that sound like there’s someone out there that you have an eternity of bad blood with,” I said, “And that’s even weirder. Because you’re you. You never get into fights with anyone.”

“Oh, believe me, I wasn’t always this friendly. And I’m sure you can guess that a quiet young writer with glasses and tons of freckles is a good target to be picked on.”


I stared at mum and tried to see a nerdy young woman instead of the slightly nerdy middle-aged mum she was now. I couldn’t, but I knew she was somewhere in there. Maybe. I’d seen a bit of her in old pictures.

“Oh,” I just said, “Look… just, well… fine. I’ll go. But don’t expect me to have a tearful hug with her.”

“Just being there is enough,” said mum, “Now let’s see if we can find something for you to wear. I’m not ready to give up, yet.”

In the end we did find a long-sleeved outfit that I liked. It was a bit short at the hem, and mum frowned at it a bit, but I promised to wear thick leggings and the matter was settled. I wasn’t one to show off my body anyway. Firstly, there was nothing to show off. Secondly, I really didn’t see any point in it.

I did have a bit more of a point in actually going to the prissy party at the Faroffingtons’ estate now, though. Even if it was just for mum. It would do.


We didn’t get a babysitter for Merrill. Usually a girl Rem’s age named Candy Ashleydale was our go-to sitter, but she was busy with other things on the day of the party. So Patrick stayed home, just like Mr. Faroffington had hoped, and assured mum that it would be for the best.

“You know me,” he said, “I’d just end up in an argument with the big shots of the town.”

He actually probably wouldn’t. But it was a good enough excuse. So he and Merrill waved at us when we packed into our car and drove off. I couldn’t help thinking that Patrick had got the easy way out. Apparently mum didn’t think there was any bad blood he needed to sort out by attending.


The Faroffingtons’ house looked pretty much the same as before: kind of like a very modern castle. When we got inside I noticed that the downstairs space, which had been pretty empty from what I’d seen through the windows a few years ago, had now been transformed into something like a ballroom, or at least a very big dining room. I think a part of it consisted of an old garage that had been very expertly merged with the rest of the space. Maybe the Faroffingtons’ had tried to appear greener by getting rid of their third car or something. Anyway, the place was elegant, I guess, with its light colour scheme and the grand piano in the corner. It was also full of people in formal clothes, most of them probably very important folk. I could recognise some of the Altos, and at least one Landgraab. It was a bit intimidating, being there in the midst of so many people I’d heard about but didn’t really know.

“Okay, kids,” said mum, who actually blended in really well in her new black dress and the fact that she probably knew all of the people at least somehow. Despite all that I could see even she was a bit nervous about being there, “Here we go.”

“Margaret Farley!” said the voice of Sindy Faroffington, who strolled to greet mum like the hostess of the evening was supposed to, “And your children made it here too! How lovely!”


She had a surprisingly real smile for a member of the family I usually associated with pretentiousness. Mum smiled back at her.

“It’s exciting to be here, Sindy,” she said, “Patrick couldn’t make it, though. We didn’t find a sitter for Merrill.”

“I’m sure we’ll manage,” Sindy said pleasantly.

Mum gave Rem and I a look that told us to enjoy our evening and go talk to the other teenagers who were present. Or then it said “sorry I dragged you here. Try to make the most of it and don’t mope in a corner.” I wasn’t sure which. I detached myself from the wall and made it to the buffet tables at the back of the room. There was some good-looking salad there, and I ate a little of it. I tasted the sugary cocktails – after making sure they were non-alcoholic because mum would freak out if I got drunk there – and then somehow ended up sitting in the same table as Carla’s brother Michel and Carla’s boyfriend Mark Jones. I guess that was better than actually talking to Carla, who was exchanging pretty pleasant words with Rem of all people. I sat there awkwardly and waited for either of the two guys to start the conversation because leaving the table randomly would just be too weird.


“So, you were the notebook girl?” said Michel suddenly, “From Carla’s class?”

“Yeah,” I said, “Lynn Farley. That’s me. That’s old news, though. Get in with the times. Now the laugh of the day is the guy who fainted in biology when we were dissecting frogs.”

“Oh, I know of him, too,” Michel said, “Bob Preston?”

“Yeah, that’s the one,” said Mark, “It was hilarious!”

“Didn’t he hit his head a bit?” I asked, “That part wasn’t so funny.”

“Oh, right, ruin my fun.”


“Well, sorry,” I said, “But hey, schadenfreude doesn’t suit you anyway.”

“What’s that?” said Mark, frowning like a monkey trying to figure out advanced coding.

“It’s happiness derived from others’ suffering,” said Michel.

“Oh, gotcha,” Mark glanced a bit angrily to the side, towards Carla and Rem, who were still hitting it off pretty well, “Hey, look. You guys have fun with your fancy words. I need to go there and make sure Lynn’s brother doesn’t completely steal my girl.”


“Don’t worry about it,” I said when Mark stood up, “He’d be too good for her anyway.”

I saw Mark flip me off covertly and wondered if I’d gone too far. Well, what was said was said, and at least Mark didn’t start a scene. He just walked away and slipped into Rem and Carla’s conversation actually kind of smoothly.

“Well, there he goes,” said Michel, “Hey, are you as bored as I am?”

“What?” I turned my attention back to him, “Me?”

“Yeah, you sure look like it.”

“Depends on how bored you are.”

“Very. Dad insists I have to be here, but I’d much rather shut myself upstairs and play video games or something.”

“What kinds of video games?” I asked. The conversation had turned interesting immediately.

“RPGs, shooters, and survival horror,” Michel listed quickly, “My favourite right now is Mass Effect.”

“Ooh, I love it too! Especially the second one.”

“That’s the best one, naturally.”

Michel thought about it for a moment.

“Hey, mum took my controllers so I can’t sneak upstairs to play like I’ve done sometimes, but there is a foosball table up there they didn’t account for. Wanna play?”


“You have your own table soccer?” I gasped, “That’s awesome!”

“Yeah. I guess it is.”

“All we have is an actual soccer ball. And I never play with it. I suck at soccer.”

“Well, then this should be an easy match, then,” Michel said.

“Don’t get too cocky,” I grinned, “Foosball has absolutely nothing to do with soccer.”


Michel laughed. He got up from his seat and led me upstairs. As we got there– to the third floor because these people apparently needed one – it turned out that Michel hadn’t been kidding. There really was a foosball table in there. I immediately took a side and grabbed some of the handles.


“Wow, this is so great!”

“You play table soccer often?” Michel asked.

“Nah, but it’s a lot of fun,” I hit one of the handles so that it sent the entire row of blocky players into a dizzying amount of somersaults, “There’s a table at this old café and I always take it over whenever I’m there.”

“So, are you really any good?” Michel asked, “Oh, wait, don’t answer. We’ll see that soon enough.”

I wasn’t very good, to be honest, but I didn’t care. Soon we were laughing and pushing the little players around with randomly changing tactics. The sounds of our voices and the table’s mechanics were enough to mostly cover up the sounds coming from downstairs. I thought I recognised Rem’s slightly agitated voice at some point, but I pushed it from my mind. I was sure it was nothing really bad. Maybe he was just as bored as I was and didn’t get an escape into the world of small plastic people, who had been enslaved into playing endless soccer.


“Rem, stop running! We don’t want to start an incident in a nice party, do we?”

“Okay, fine! You win! You wanted to talk, then talk!”


“I’d show a little more respect if I were you! Especially since I have the answers to all the questions you keep asking yourself.”

“Okay, first of all, I don’t even want to know how closely you’ve been stalking me. Second, maybe I would be more inclined to listen to you if you hadn’t messed up our life first!”

“I said I was sorry! And besides, I tried asking you to come home before…”

“You think sorry is enough? And I was ten! And in a loving family! What the hell did you expect?!”

“Yes… yes, I know. And that’s why I left you be after… after it all went wrong. Now though, things have changed again. First of all, you’re becoming an adult. You will need help in order to keep control of you magic.”

“Wait… so…”

“Yes! That should be obvious now! Gods, you can be stupid!”

“Hey, either stop insulting me, or leave.”

“Sorry, sorry. I didn’t… the other thing is more difficult. But you do need to know. Your… your mother passed away a few months ago.”


“…What? I… you knew her?”

“Of course! I was her friend.”

“And she…”

“She’s dead, yes. I’m sorry. She was dear to us. She was our clairvoyant. And now we need a new one.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You, Rem. You can see things before they happen. That’s just one of the skills you need to master if you don’t want to end up hurting these people. And to do that, you have to come with me.”


“Oh, there it is again. What, you just come here, casually tell me my mum’s dead and then still want to kidnap me or whatever? I’m trying to believe you, but… but I just want you to stop hiding things from me!”



“Well? Are you happy now? I mean oh no, you’ve got through my glamour! The shock and horror.”

“I told you to stop mocking me!”


“Look, I can see this is a lot to take in, so I’ll give you some time to think. And you should really stop trying to tear down my defences, it’s just going to wear you down, and…”


There was a screech, like something out of a horror movie. It sounded inhuman, closer to a machine coming to a forced halt than anything living. I gasped when a series of pictures scrolled rapidly through my head. Forests and fairies and boogeymen, melting into a watercolour sketch and then sharpening up into an almost realistic image. I gasped and shook my head to clear my vision.

“What the hell was that?” Michel exclaimed.

There was a shout of pain, and I paled when I realised that I recognised the voice.





“Now look what you did! Stop that! I realise you’re trying to keep control, but you are just creating illusions willy-nilly and it’s not helping!”




“Rem. Rem, listen to me.”


“Rem! Kaita!


I rushed downstairs with Michel, but only made it to the second floor when I spotted a blonde woman in a nice dress standing over the huddled form of…

“Hey!” I snapped when I saw the pained expression on my brother’s face, “Leave him alone!”

I barely registered the trees and weeds growing from the floor, and I had no idea if Michel saw them too. I was ready to push the stranger away from Rem, but another shout stopped me, or at least slowed me down a bit.

“Kids? Are you okay?” it was mum, followed by a:

“Vivian? Wait… what’s going on here? Who the hell are you?”

That voice belonged to a very perplexed Sindy Faroffington. The woman in front of us growled something incomprehensible and, when Sindy threatened to call the police, turned towards her only viable escape route. She rushed to open a glass door to one of the many balconies of the Faroffington estate.


“Hey!” I shouted, “Wait! Stop!”


But she was already going. She vaulted over the balcony’s railing and jumped impressively high before landing with only a little bit of stumbling because of her high heels. Then she ran, so fast I could barely keep up with her with my eyes. Before any of us could stop her, she was already gone.




I stared at the scene, not really knowing what to do. I really didn’t even know what had just happened. Sindy stepped aside to call the police, leaving mum to comfort a very badly shaken Rem.

“Sweetheart, what happened?” she said in an almost too gentle voice she had used more often when we had been younger, and especially when we’d been in the darkness, “Did she hurt you?”

“I… no. I don’t know,” Rem mumbled. His eyes were misty, and I was again reminded of the time when his pupils had disappeared. At least the place wasn’t filled with not-real plants anymore, “I don’t know what she wanted.”

“I’m really, really sorry about this,” said Sindy when she had been given permission to hang up her phone, “I don’t know what happened. I could have sworn she was an old friend of mine, but… I don’t think that was right.”

“It wasn’t,” Rem said very quietly, staring at the floor like that was the answer to all of his problems, “She tells lies, and she can make people think they’re not lies. At least… I think that’s what she does. She lied to me too.”

I looked at the still ajar glass door and shivered. I had a feeling we’d just met the Tree Lady Rem had once been so afraid of. I glanced at Michel, who clearly didn’t know what to do or say about this all. Not that any of us did. I felt like we were standing in a dream. And the most surreal part of it all was that downstairs, the party was still going like nothing had happened.


We got home later than intended, because we had to wait for the police and give them our reports. They didn’t seem too worried about the situation. Not that I blamed them. We didn’t have proof that the woman had done much more than scared one teenager, and then run off admittedly suspiciously. However, Rem had been convinced that she had tried to do something bad, however. Like take him away. The police had then launched into a full-blown third degree about why Rem would think that, and I could see his panic levels rising until mum told the police very sternly to back off and stay in the subject.

The whole interrogation felt endless, and I could only imagine what it had felt like for Rem, who had again retreated into the creepy corner of his mind that was probably just darkness. I remembered that place from my own mind and hoped that Rem wouldn’t slip back there. Finally we got home, and mum led Rem inside and told Patrick what had happened only after Rem had calmed down enough to go upstairs to sleep. I stood near the living room, momentarily – and understandably – forgotten, when Patrick fought to keep his voice down while taking in the news of what had happened.


What? Who the hell was she?” he was saying, “The police will catch her, right?”

“I really hope so,” mum said, “But I doubt they think that she’s all that dangerous. I mean, according to Rem she just talked to him, and the police isn’t convinced she was actually trying to hurt or kidnap him. We have no idea who she was. Sindy told us that she claimed to be named Vivian Kenson, but Rem said she was called Vilya… or something.”

She sighed.

“I had hoped that Sunset Valley would be a new, safe start for us. That we’d never have to worry about anything like that. I know it was silly to think that.”

“Maybe it was,” Patrick said, “But I hoped that too, so I guess we were silly together.”


Mum wrapped her arm around Patrick, and I really didn’t know which one needed the comfort more. Maybe both. Even I felt a bit like hugging someone, so I wrapped my arms around myself and quietly retreated upstairs to my room. Or tried to. I found Rem sitting in front of his door, and it was kind of hard to just walk past him when he had clearly been crying.



“Hey, Rem?” I whispered, “Are you gonna be alright?”

Rem nodded slowly. I sat next to him on the floor.

“It was quite a night, huh?” I said, “So… hey, I’m sorry I’ve been dismissive of the whole Tree Lady -thing. That was her, wasn’t she?”

Rem nodded again.

“She’s the one who told Laketon to… take us.”

I opened my mouth, but no words came out. Rem had said something about that before, sure, but now I actually thought about it. I had a new face to put into that trauma. A pretty, very hard to read face that was attached to someone who had just hurt my brother and jumped off a balcony.

“Wow,” I finally said, “Just… yeah. Bitch.”

It felt like a weak thing to say. Hell, I felt weak. I unconsciously touched my scarred cheek that would never look even remotely pretty and remembered the darkness again. I hoped Rem was wrong. But he had turned out to be right about the strange things too often.

“I don’t think she meant it, though,” Rem said, “I thought she did at first, but then… I doubt she lied about that.”

He sighed, and more tears fell on his cheeks.

“She didn’t even hurt me, really,” he said, “I did.”

I frowned.


“With magic. She told me that it would be hard to control it, because I’m becoming an adult. I think she was right.”


“So you’re going through magic puberty too, now?” I said, and couldn’t help the doubtful tone that crept in, “Right.”

“She’s not coming back,” Rem said, “Not for some time. The police has her scared, and now that people saw her, it will be harder for her to hide.”

He sniffed, and pressed his cheek against his knees.

“I think… maybe it would be better if she did get me. Or if… if I’d never been a part of this family.”

Okay, that was getting way too dark.

“Hey, don’t say that,” I said, “You’re awesome. And mum loves you too. Mer absolutely adores you. And Patrick… well, he’s your dad and loves you more than anyone.”

“Yeah,” Rem said weakly, “Yeah, I guess so.”

It wasn’t convincing. Rem suddenly stood up, thanked me and then went into his room, leaving me alone on the floor.

A few days passed and we didn’t hear anything from the police. Rem seemed to get a bit better after his shock, or at least to not care anymore. I hoped it would last, but by now I knew that it wouldn’t.

If there was one good thing that had come out of the party, it was that I’d made a new friend.


I now regularly played video games with Michel Faroffington, and occasionally fawned over the old arcade machine he had in his room. We played foosball too, and sometimes we even went outside to play actual soccer, even though we both sucked at it. It reminded me a bit of my time with Jace in the park back in Twinbrook. The few times when I managed to arrange something to do with both Min and Michel at the same time I almost felt like my old friend posse was back together. Except it was very different, because of course it was. Still, I loved it, and I don’t remember ever having so much fun after moving to Sunset Valley. When I told Bree and Jace about it over the Internet, they sounded a bit jealous, but I knew they weren’t really serious about it.

And then I finally had time to start working for Sabine, too, and I could again focus of her mysteries. And money. At this point, though, it was mostly to forget what had happened at the party, and how Rem seemed to be jumpier than before. About how I wasn’t sure if our family could take another incident like what had happened in Twinbrook.

Author’s Note: My old acrylic painting returns with a vengeance! I should paint more stuff I could use to spice up my pics randomly. I mean, symbolically, and to give this story a unique feel. Yeah. I’ve been drawing mostly portraits and other pics with people in them lately, so more fairytale landscapes would be a welcome change.

I had soooo much fun shooting this chapter. And I’m really excited to start working on the next one. Just goes to show how much easier for me it is to get things done when the story gets less happy. And it will go even more downhill for a while again. Sorry, my darling Sims!

I think I’ve said some time that I don’t want to put many obvious real-life references into my Sims stories, but it is pretty clear that the EA Games -titles exist in the Sims -world (because product placement), so I figured I could name-drop Mass Effect because I needed something to make the video game conversation seem a bit more realistic. Also Mass Effect is one of my favourite game series so why not?

Also, I managed to go on a pointless bit about shoes. I myself find the thought of shoes indoors very uncomfortable and just a very good way to mess up the floors, but I hadn’t really thought about starting to switch the shoes on and off all the time before I was in chapter 10 or so. Oh, well.

The tear makeup is from

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NEXT Chapter: Breadcrumbs

Chapter 6: Ashes


There was nothing. Well, darkness was probably something, but it was not something I wanted to see right now. Something about the darkness was bad, like it was trying to hide something awful. But what? I didn’t know. Or remember. Not remembering felt more accurate. It was annoying, though.

What had happened to me?


The darkness parted to give way to orange light. It was warm, too much so. Flames? Yeah, they looked like sketchy flames painted with watercolours, and that was weird because fire and water didn’t mix well. I would have found it more amusing if the flames didn’t make me feel incredibly hollow all of a sudden.

I heard a crackle that could have been wood bursting because of the heat of fire. There were screams, and some of them sounded like my own. A dark figure shimmered to view from the suffocating smoke that had invaded my personal space faster than I could register.

I wanted out, but I couldn’t move.

What was wrong with me?

I tried to call out to the figure in the dark, but it shattered into ashes before it could reach me.


I woke up with the feel of dewy grass under me. I shivered, but then I realised I didn’t really feel cold. I had just expected to feel it because mornings were almost always cold in Twinbrook. I opened my eyes and realised I was probably not in Twinbrook at all.


The forest was everywhere, and it was filled with the weirdest trees and giant mushrooms. It should’ve been autumn, but none of the trees had got the memo. The colours were bright enough to make my head spin. I looked down and saw flowers all around my bare feet. And… wait… that was weird; I was wearing a black dress with leaf print, a dress I’d seen on a store window and wanted but never got. So really, what was going on?

I again thought of the forest I’d seen so many years ago. This was different. The forest from before had been like a painting. This one felt realer. Too real, actually.

A shiver went through me before I could dwell on it more. It still wasn’t because of the cold, because there still wasn’t coldness here. It was just a feeling. Like I really shouldn’t be here.


Like I should really be somewhere else. But that somewhere else was worse than here so I didn’t want to go.


I smelled the air, and there was a faint odour of burning meat, but a non-existent wind drove it away quickly. Okay, this was getting really freaky. As if it hadn’t been already freaky enough.

“Lynn? You have to listen to me.”



I almost jumped at the familiar voice behind me. Rem was sitting on a stony fairy tale bench, dressed pretty ridiculously in what looked like vines and hemp shorts. At first I thought it was as fake as a similar costume he’d worn one Halloween, but then I noticed the waxy plant texture and concluded that it was like a fake costume made out of real plants.


“Rem?” I asked and my voice came out all quiet and raspy, “Where are we? Is this one of those weird tricks you do?”

Rem looked a bit confused, but his eyes were shining even more than normal.


“No, this is your dream, and I just came here to get you back,” said Rem, spreading his arms up to encompass as much of the strange forest around us as he could, “But I did change your dream to be like this, so I could enter it better.”

“What?” I asked. His explanation made even less sense than his usual stories.

“I get it now, Lynn. I’m in a cold place but it helps me understand. I knew I could get to you because you could really see me. You and your Boogeyman-father both knew I wasn’t like the others, and that made it easier to connect. And it makes it easier for you to see through it too.”

“Through what?”

“The illusions. Or dreams. Or memories. I think this is a memory. My memory, even though I don’t remember it properly. Whatever it is, you have to get out and wake up.”



“Because if you don’t wake up soon, you will not wake up at all. You’ll probably die, and no one wants you to die.”

I heard the words, but I didn’t really register them. It was all muffled, not real. Like nothing that could happen to me really mattered.


I blinked, and suddenly we were standing on mushrooms. I had heard that some mushrooms could make people see weird things, but I thought they should normally be digested first. These just appeared under our feet and grew until I could see the strange fairy forest far below and stretching as far as I could see. And as the mushrooms grew, the air became colder and frost started spreading on the pale blue.

“Do you see now?” asked Rem, who was sitting even higher up than I was, “None of this is really here. It’s a dream and I could change it because I knew what it was.”


I nodded slowly, pretending to understand. I did get the point, at least. Snow started falling, but it didn’t feel like real snow. It wasn’t cold and it didn’t melt. It was like tufts of feathers from newly born ducklings.

“I believe you,” I said, “But how do I get out?”

Rem’s warning of dying if I didn’t get out finally managed to have some impact on me. Everything was still too much of a blur, though. The air was light, and I was reminded of Rem’s episode when he’d been sick so long ago. But this time the air was also warm and made me want to wrap it around me like a blanket.

“Don’t try to go further into the dream,” said Rem from somewhere far away, “Think of mum, and dad, and even me, if it helps. But not me as in the fairy me here. Think of the me that’s waiting for you in the hospital and is close to falling into scary emptiness. Think of waking up.”


And then the fairy forest was gone. I lifted my hand and caught some of the feather snowflakes that piled onto my hand. There it looked more like sugar.

Focus, Lynn! I reminded myself. Rem had told me to wake up. This wasn’t real. And I needed to be where it was real or else I would never be anywhere at all.


I looked up at the sky, focused on how wrong it looked. The stars were too bright and too colourful. The snow was too soft and too dry, and it wasn’t really even winter. And I was wearing a dress I’d most likely never have for real. It was a dream, and dreams could be controlled.

I grabbed a hold of the sky, and tore it aside, along with my dream.


There were beeps and whispers. My head and cheeks and arms hurt, and everything felt wrong. Now I saw only darkness, and it was just as uninviting as before. I pried my eyes open and felt as if they were instantly scrubbed with disinfectant. Everything was so… clean. Sterile. Mostly white but with a little bit of light blues and browns to break it a bit and calm the glaring whiteness. A vase full of pink fake roses gave me something to focus on when I tried to get my bearings.

A woman dressed in a doctor’s coat looked at me. She said something about me being awake and asked a bunch of questions in a sweet but business-like voice. It got all lumped and mixed together like cotton candy in my head, but I thought I managed to at least mutter something through my unbearably scratchy throat. I still wasn’t clear on where I was – except that all clues pointed to a hospital – or what had happened. Something about a basement… and phoenixes. Did I even want for it to come back?

The doctor did some tests, called over a few nurses, and asked more questions and looked at several monitors while I lay on the hospital bed, too weak to move and too confused to ask anything that would clear things up.

“…a minor carbon monoxide poisoning, but that should be better now… The worst part were the burns, but even they should mostly heal… time and some minor skin grafts… Most are well on their way already… Some scarring will stay, but we’ll do our best to keep it minimal… the important thing is she’s awake. She was very close to slipping too far into a coma… mostly shock and trauma, as far as I can tell…”

It was mostly said from one doctor to another, but a couple of times the doctor looked at me, explaining the same things she told the nurses to me in simpler words and adding in some encouraging smiles. As if I didn’t understand the horrible things from the more clinical talk. I just stayed on my back, staring at the ceiling even when the doctor talked to me. Everything returned in a sluggish flow. Like tar. Just as unpleasant, too. Laketon, the kidnapping, the fire… It couldn’t have happened really. It had to be a nightmare, because these kinds of things didn’t happen to us. To someone else, maybe. In books, or on TV, or in wildly exaggerated news stories.

Finally, finally, the lady doctor smiled at me and said:


“All right. We’ll let you rest for a while and then your family can come in. They’re pretty anxious to see you.”


She left, and after a while the door slid open and my mum’s face was the first thing I saw from the gap. Said face went through very deep sadness and apology before getting overshadowed by pure joy. Mum had always been enthusiastic about things, but now she looked like she could explode into confetti. Behind her in came Patrick and Rem, who flashed me a dead smile before his eyes glazed over. At least they all seemed to be physically just fine.


“Lynn! Honey, we’re so glad you’re awake!” mum gushed, barely letting me get out of bed before tugging me into a fierce hug. It was desperate and relieved and loving and almost made me cry. I hugged back, wishing I could just stay there forever. But a nasty sting of pain in my cheek made me pull away sooner than I’d wanted.

“What happened?” I managed to ask, “I… there was a fire.”

It sounded feeble and confused, but I just couldn’t do better.

“The fire… yes,” mum sniffed, “It was awful… but we’ll be okay now, won’t we? How are you feeling? The doctor said we shouldn’t be here for long today. You still need plenty of rest.”

I really did feel like it, too. My legs could barely support me, and I was hurting all over. At least I wasn’t plugged into any machines now, but apparently I had been before waking up. None of this still answered my questions, though. The things wrong with me that the doctor had told me about had only cleared up that I was badly hurt, but I just couldn’t really process it all yet.


“What happened?” I said again.

Mum glanced at Patrick, who sighed.

“Lynn, you don’t have to go through this right now,” he said in a low voice.

“Go through what?” I asked, “What happened? Where… oh, damn, where’s L-laketon? Did he…?”

“He didn’t hurt anyone else,” Patrick said reassuringly, “He ran when the fire started, but detective Douglas and the police who just got there caught him. He’s in jail now. And your mum and I pulled you out of the fire before… well, before things got really bad.”

The edge in his voice told me that things actually were really bad. And who the hell was detective Douglas?

“So… how bad was it?”

“Bad,” said Rem, and I looked at him in surprise. His voice was flat, quiet, and in every way nothing like the bubbly, happy Rem I’d grown up with so far, “You were awake, but mostly not when they healed you. They said you might not wake up yesterday.”

“Rem,” mum said gently, “Lynn doesn’t need to hear that.”

“I’m alright, mum,” I said, “What’s wrong with me? And Rem? Is he okay?”

Mum and Patrick exchanged a look again. It was getting unnerving.

“We’ll be fine,” mum insisted.

“No! Don’t start doing this to me! I want to know what’s going on! The doctors said I was… I burned.”


“I…” mum started, “Don’t… oh, honey…”

“Well, yes,” Patrick said when mum started dissolving into sniffles, “You have a lot of injuries, as… as you can probably feel. But the doctors had made it much better already. And it wasn’t… well, it could have been very bad, but we got here in time.”

My cheek stung, and my skin felt a bit too small there. I lifted a hand to feel it.

“Wait, don’t,” mum said gently, “There’s a burn there. Quite bad. Let it heal.”

A burn? One of them was on my face? How bad was it? I immediately located a mirror near the sink that was in the room and dragged my feet over to it despite my parents’ protests.


I looked at the mirror, first blankly, and then felt ice sinking into my stomach.

I looked terrible. The gauze that covered most of my right cheek did nothing to hide the fact that nearly the entire side of my face was charred. My hair was messily cropped short, and I could imagine it was because at some point it had been on fire. I slowly lifted the sleeve of my hospital clothes and saw bandages around my arm as well. I didn’t have to look under them to know what they were hiding. My breath caught in my throat.


“Lynn?” I heard mum say cautiously, like I would break if she said it any louder. And maybe I actually would.

It all just crashed down on me then. It was all real. The things that didn’t happen to us but to some other people had really happened. We’d almost… we’d almost…

I couldn’t even finish my thought. I breathed out, and with the air came the tears.


Mum held me again, for I don’t know how long. I didn’t care, though. It was as close to forever as we could get in that moment. And that too was over too quickly, because then another eternity would start, and it would be awful. The doctor had called it “recovery”. Right now, I didn’t even want to think about anything else than the fact that we were all in the same room, and it was not on fire, and we were safe, if broken.

Because that’s what we were. I heard mum sniffing and then crying. I felt the void that Rem’s quietness was filling the room with. I knew Patrick was trying and failing to be strong when he gave us whispered words of encouragement in the background.

My eyes were shut, and I saw darkness, but this time it was welcome, because there I didn’t have to think about what was outside it and my mother’s arms.


I didn’t care to count the days that followed, when I had to stay in the hospital and go through all kinds of procedures and check-ups. I didn’t care about most of them, as long as they just made the hurts and the scars go away. The worst scars were in my head, though, and that was where the psychiatrists came in. I went to several sessions with a man who was kind of friendly but not too much, and was actually very good at making people pour their hearts out and making them feel better. I guess he was supposed to nudge me away from the dark pit I’d dug myself in just to escape the fear and the horrible memories, but I couldn’t tell if it was working. The darkness was safe; forgetting didn’t hurt. It dulled the pain, and even though it dulled everything else too, it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.

I hated my burns. I had never been the prettiest girl in class and I didn’t even care to be, but I sure as hell didn’t want any visible reminders about the awful events that had happened in Laketon’s basement. And yes, they did look awful, which bothered me too. The worst part was knowing that they made people stare at me, and I hated being stared at. My only consolation was that the treatments were making them look better bit by bit. Some of them faded away entirely, as they had been only first or second degree burns. The ones on my face and right arm had gone to third degree in several places. I was told later that that amount of burns had been life-threatening and that I was really lucky to be alive. I didn’t feel so lucky, and I certainly didn’t feel like I wanted to hear anyone say those kinds of things to my face when I was still in a pit of trauma.


In between the treatments, I sat in my room, with my family around me. They usually stayed for as long as they could. Mum and Patrick talked to us, telling about how things would be better. A lot of the times we just sat together in silence, though. We were drawing even closer than before. In a way, I think our family was knitting tighter together to compensate for the fact that each of us was so close to falling apart at the seams.


I wasn’t the only one getting therapy. Mum and Patrick had a couple of sessions too, but they didn’t discuss that too much. Instead they focused me, and Rem, who was seeing the psychiatrist as much as I was. Rem scared me even more than anything else did, and that was saying a lot in this situation. He didn’t talk much, and when he did, it came out in quiet, short sentences, lacking all his joy and dreaminess. He was like a Rem-shaped husk, a zombie going through the motions of life. I really hoped the psychiatrist could fix that. It just wasn’t right.

We heard about Laketon a little. Mum and Patrick had been in contact with the police, who had wanted witness statements from them and who had wanted to talk to us too. They weren’t let in for more than a few minutes, though, and even that only after some serious waiting and complaining about disturbing already disturbed kids. Rem and I told the police what had happened the best we could. Well, I forced myself to talk because Rem barely spoke. Later we heard that Laketon would spend a long time in jail, and I thought he deserved worse. We were assured that we would be safe, but I couldn’t really believe it anymore.

There were other visitors too. Our grandparents from Patrick’s side, because mum’s had cut most ties to us after mum had become a single mother. Mum and Patrick’s close friends visited too, as did some of Rem’s buddies, and Jace and Bree. Our story made the news, so some more curious and distant acquaintances tried to barge in as well, but mum and Patrick didn’t let them near Rem or I. All of those visits just seemed to come and go, with only Bree and Jace sticking in my memory because they were my friends and cared enough to not care about my hideous face or the fact that I didn’t want to talk much. But even their visits were over soon, and then replaced by the dark that wanted to slowly break away and expose me to the world again. I wondered if Rem was in similar darkness. Or if mum or Patrick felt the same. We talked about it a bit, but I still didn’t have an answer. I’d never be able to feel what they did, but that was fine. I had plenty to deal with in my own jumbled feelings.


It was Patrick who finally started to turn the conversations to a more normal direction. Things like school, mum’s writings, books, pumpkins. At first I didn’t really want to go there, because I was afraid that after this, there would be no normal for us. But Patrick insisted on talking, day after day, and little by little, mum joined in. She was smiling a bit more genuinely than before, and her voice wasn’t so quiet anymore. It tore apart the darkness and I clung to the shreds, but finally realised my mouth was moving and I was asking if mum or Patrick could be bothered to bring me something to read. Mum smiled and nodded enthusiastically.

“What would you like to read, Lynn? I remember you have a Where’s Bella? -book unfinished at home.”

I nodded slowly.

“Yeah, that sounds about right,” a thought occurred to me, “Hey, Patrick, how’re our apple trees?”

“It’s almost winter. They’re nearly hibernating.”

“Darn, I’d really like some apple sauce right now.”

For some reason, mum beamed at me, then, as if I wanting apples was the best thing ever. And seeing how I really hadn’t cared about eating much of anything lately, maybe it was. Where had that even come from, anyway?


That was probably when I climbed back over the edge the therapy and time had pushed me towards, and I managed to smile and feel like there was something other than hiding. It was a start, and when I watched Rem’s still passive face that had become only a little less zombie-like, I knew the start wouldn’t mean the end was anywhere in sight.

It was so easy to break something. It was almost always harder to put it back together.

Sometime later the doctors started to talk about letting me go. I was confused. I still had the scars on my face and my arm, even though they didn’t hurt anymore and the doctors said they would just fade to some extent with time and treatment. That couldn’t be right. They were supposed to heal me, not leave me looking like a comic book villain with a split personality. And I knew I was still treading on thin ice with my mind too. I was getting there, but I still didn’t feel like I could find anything lasting to keep me safe. My parents weren’t all-powerful. They were scared human beings who wanted to protect us even if it killed them. Our house wasn’t safe, and my chirpy brother had closed himself off and sunk into depression. I was only twelve, and the world was dumping things that I felt I wasn’t yet old enough to understand on me. And now they were going to let me go out there?




Mum and Patrick assured me that our home was fine and waiting for me. They also said that Rem and I would have to come back for therapy sessions and some more check-ups later, but that things could go back to normal. Yeah, right. But despite my doubting, I did quite soon find myself sitting on a chair with an old hat mum had found for me because I didn’t feel like attracting looks right away after stepping out of the hospital. The doctor was talking to mum and Patrick and looking at her computer before finally saying that yes, we could indeed leave. Mum practically whooped with joy, then dissolved into gushing about how our home had missed me.

I’d missed it too. Even if it wasn’t as safe as before.


The ride back home was quiet, and when we stepped out, I just stood there, staring at the old industrial building turned home as if seeing it for the first time. It was different than I remembered. Less inviting. But it was also where I really did want to be, or at least it was where I wanted to be more than anywhere else. I felt my parents’ encouraging smiles at my back, just like I felt Rem’s sad stare. I looked across our front yard, past the small garden fountain and the almost obsessively groomed flowerbeds. I wondered if Patrick had been gardening like crazy to get his own traumatised mind back into normal. The vegetable garden looked perfect as well even though it was so cold nothing grew anymore, so I was probably not far off.


I swallowed through my thick throat.

“Home, sweet home,” I said weakly, not really feeling it.

Together, we took the steps to our front door.

Author’s Note: Well, that was pretty difficult to write. The painting of a burning man is again done by me.

A very special thanks to BILLABONG_ on The Sims Resource for the bloody faces CC that I’ve used here (with slight photoshopping in the photos).

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