Writing Challenge Winner: In the Shadows by Marley Bowker

Marley is a 13 year old writer who participated in the Spring 2020 Bad Guy Writing Challenge. Below is her creepy and action-packed short story about a family plagued by a strange nature spirit that roams their house.

Chapter 1

It peered down on the family from the tall tree where it had been stationed for the past hour observing them. “Hold on, watch this real quick” says Lili’s dad. Laughs fade to silence, and eyes flick towards him, as he throws a piece of what looks to be plastic into the large bonfire. After only a couple of seconds, the fire bursts out into a beautiful blue color, with purple streaks and if you look hard enough, even a very faint tone of green.

Everyone is silent, observing the fire in awe as the colors fade back into the traditional array of warm colors. As the night takes over on the chilly evening in the town of Springwood Pennsylvania, the Locke family decides to head inside as their bonfire grows smaller. Lili, the second oldest child, with two younger sisters and an older brother, decides to stay out after the rest of the family for just a few minutes. She liked watching when their monthly bonfires slowly die out, especially towards the end of the fire when all the tiny flames dance in the glowing red pieces of wood at the bottom of the pile.

Lili found it very awing that the giant piles of leaves, sticks, branches, and the occasional piece of broken furniture from the home could turn into a way smaller mound of ash that could be disposed of by simply blowing it around the yard. As the last few flames danced in the breeze, she saw something amongst the treeline. Two balls of warm white light, like a reflection. She giggled, because she knew it was her brother hiding trying to scare her as he normally did. However, when there was no response back, she became skeptical. She saw the two reflections go away for only a second, then appear right back in the same spot, like they were blinking. At that point, she was certain it was her brother trying to scare her, and he had simply blinked because he didn’t realise that you could see the reflection of their eyes.

And that’s when the thought hit her- human eyes don’t reflect light, such as the light from the fire which was probably causing it. Lili saw the eyes slowly moving, as if the unknown creature was moving, and then the eyes disappeared into the darkness in the forest. Just then, she heard a large crash from the trees as she had turned to head back to the house. There was another one. Then another. She recognized the sound as falling trees, but there was no noise indicating someone had cut them down such as a chainsaw. They were also falling at a rate that no person could cut down that quickly. One right after another, there must have been two trees falling every five seconds. Spooked, she sprinted back to the house, and ran into the bathroom to shower and get the smell of smoke, which she had grown to love over time, off of her body and out of her long, brown hair. Lili was just turning the water on in the shower when she heard something downstairs fall and break, so she decided to brave the walk down the stairs and see what had happened.

Then she saw it- her mother laying in her husband’s arms. The floor was covered with blood, and there were two huge gashes on the backs of her calves. Lili’s mom, dad, and the kitchen floor were drenched blood spatter, as if something had come behind her and slashed her legs open. Her dad picked up the phone, and tried to call an ambulance, or someone that could help. Just as he had hit the call button, the phone just beeped like there was no service. The only other time she had heard that noise was right after a category 4 hurricane had hit near her home along the border of Pennsylvania, and torn the power lines right in half. How could that be? Lili thought, because the power was still on.

“Dad, I’m going to check on the lines outside to see if something happened to them. Try and figure out what happened to mom!” She grabbed the flashlight off the table, and ran outside to check. As the light flooded the darkness, she saw that a single part of the line was cut cleanly in half. The two halves were swaying as if there was wind that was blowing them around, but there wasn’t. The breeze had gone away. That could only mean one thing, Lili thought. The line had to have been cut very recently if they were still swaying like that. She shined the light around the lines looking for an answer. She didn’t see anything. She was shining the light all the way down both sides of the cables until the light could not shine any further. But when she flashed it back to where it was originally cut, there it was again.

That pair of eyes shining in the darkness. Again, reflecting the light, only this time, it was the flashlight and not the fire. Lili could not see exactly where the eyes were shining, but she felt that they were staring straight into hers. They blinked again, and the creature started moving. It began slowly, and then all at once, began leaping from one post to the next. She was in shock at how it could move like that, because all the posts must have been at least thirty feet apart from each other. Shining the flashlight towards whatever was jumping, she saw a large bony body, light grey in color, and it had almost looked transparent. Lili still had no clue what it could be, but one thing she knew for sure, and that was that it definitely could not be human.

She then ran as quickly as possible back into the house to tell her dad what she had seen. But when she tried getting inside the door, it was locked. She banged on it for someone to let her in, but within twenty seconds no one answered it. So she ran over to grab the ladder and come back in her window that she knew was unlocked. She set the ladder on the house, and climbed up onto a part of the roof, where she then pushed it back down so nothing could follow her, and ran to her window. She had always left it unlocked because the doors sometimes got jammed and they needed a way to get inside the house, but when she went to pull it open, it was locked. She tried every other window, but they were all locked too. Lili ran back to where she had put the ladder so she could get back down and try another way, but when she got there, she realized that she had pushed the ladder down, and she was now stuck on the roof.

Chapter 2

               Don’t think you’re getting away that easy, sweetheart. It thought. Good luck getting down without a ladder. You want to take my family away from me? Two can play at that game. My nest used to belong where your huge brick nest is that you’re constantly inside. Sleeping, eating, everything. Why your nest is so much bigger than mine was, I don’t know. But I’m going to take care of it. Once and for all. Good luck to you all, Locke’s.

The games have begun. It watched Lili scrambling to the windows looking for a way down, but there was nothing. Windows? Locked. Ladders? Tipped over. There was nothing she could do. The drop down from the first story section of the roof was still a nine foot drop. Curse you, country houses for having such high roofs she thought. Then she remembered she had a trampoline in her back yard. She tried running around on the roof on the first story, but it got blocked off before she was at the point she could jump. So she climbed up onto the second story section, which was very easy as part of it came down close to the first story roofing above the porch.

So she got up there, and eventually made her way around to the back of the house. Looking up from the trampoline onto the roof had not looked like that tall of a drop, but now that she looked where she had to land and how far down it was, she was hesitant. She had to drop nearly two stories and jump out six feet to hit the edge of the trampoline. It was very dark too, since none of the back lights had been turned on because they were motion sensors. This is the only way. I have to do this. For mom. She took a large breath, and jumped as she exhaled, pushing forward with all her strength. She landed on the trampoline, and fell through the padding onto the ground. Could’ve been worse. And then she got up- almost. She noticed that her leg was bent in a way it should not have been bending. That’s when the pain set in. Nothing hurt her until she realized that there was something wrong with her leg and that it was messed up somehow.

The pain quickly seared through her ankle and up to her knee. It was like someone had struck it with a metal club that was on fire. She tried to touch it, but she instantly regretted it as she had touched her ankle directly on the injury. She tried to pull herself to her feet from the metal framing of the trampoline, but when she got on her feet, she fell right back down. What am I supposed to do? Mom and Dad are in serious trouble and I can’t even be there for them! Lili thought, tears rolling down her cheeks, pale from fright. She eventually got on her feet again and began hopping on one foot, headed for the back door. She tried to stand on her hurt foot, but it could not yet support her. So she continued hobbling on her right foot until she reached the back door.

She pulled it open, and walked in between the counters and used them almost like crutches. She turned the corner into the dining room and saw that her mom and dad were still in the same peril state. She bent down and touched her mother’s head, making sure she knew Lili was there too. Her mother slowly looked at her, eyes red and wet. “Lili, honey, you know I love you right?” These words brought tears to Lili’s eyes as well, knowing what the next few following sentences would bring. She nodded. “You know that wherever I may go, I’ll always be right here with you, don’t you?” Her heart dropped. “Yes”. Lili looked up at her dad, who was trying very hard to hide the fact that he was hurting. But Lili could tell he was crying, both on the inside and on the outside.

It was at this moment she realized how much blood her mother had really lost. She didn’t have anything to say. She just bent over and gave her mom a hug. She didn’t care that her shirt was covered in blood at that point, she just cared that she was with her mother, while her mother was still with her. Her dad pulled out his phone to try to call someone one last time, and to everyone’s shock, it worked.

He called an ambulance and they were out in nearly ten minutes. They put Lili’s mom on a stretcher and took her away. At that point her dad quit trying to be strong. He grabbed Lili and held her, sobbing. She held him just at tight as he had. “I love you baby girl” he said. “I love you too dad.” Those were the last words they spoke to each other for the next twenty minutes. Eventually they got in the pickup truck, and headed to the hospital. They weren’t allowed in the ambulance simply because there would have been too many people, but nevertheless, they were on their way.

Chapter 3

               They arrived at the hospital half an hour later, and they sat down in the waiting room. This gave Lili time to think about everything. What it was, who it was, what it’s problem was with her family, and why it was trying to hurt them. It had nearly killed her mother already, who knows what else it could do. She tried to think about all the stories she’d read as a girl, about all these different kinds of paranormal and extraterrestrial creatures that may or may not exist. She’d always been a fan of stories and documentaries on the subject, but she never thought she would be living in one. She gave herself a list of things to figure out; what it was, why it was targeting her family, and what it wanted. She thought and thought for hours on end and never came up with anything. There was no lead. They hadn’t done anything spiritual that might have triggered it such as a ouija board. “Hey dad?” He looked over at her. “Have you ever seen it?”

“Seen what?”

“That creature, the one that hurt mom?”

“What creature? You know what did this to her?”

“I think so. I went outside to check why you couldn’t call anyone earlier, and I saw this thing on the power lines. It wasn’t the first time I had seen it either. Do you remember the other night when we had the bonfire in the yard?” He nodded. “Along the treeline facing the back of the house really far away I saw it then too.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t just someone from the other side of the tree line? There are a couple of houses on the opposite side like ours.” He asked.

“Yeah, I’m sure. Human eyes don’t reflect light, that thing’s did. I have no clue what is going on.” Lili looked down at the cast on her ankle and wondered why she jumped from the highest spot instead of hanging off the edge and dropping. She would have only been a couple feet off the ground. And it would have saved her a lot of pain. It was too late at that point, however. Her thoughts wandered back to her mom. She wondered when she would get to see her, and if she would be okay. About an hour of thinking later, she still had come up with no explanation, nor a place to start.

A nurse came into the waiting room from a door across the room. “Are the Locke’s here?” Lili’s dad shot up from his chair, and Lili followed. She giggled at the fact that there was an indention where her dad had been sitting, but the joke quickly escaped her mind when they walked through the doors into a long hallway. The nurse showed them where Lili’s mom was staying, opened the door to the room, and stepped aside so they could walk in. She let the door close behind them as she continued down the hallway to do her job. The room scared Lili, as there were multiple tubes coming out of her mom’s arms, and machines beeping, over and over. She felt trapped. She watched the heart monitor continue in the same path. With each beep, it would spike, then go back down. Then again, and again, and again. It never sped up, it never slowed down. Until it did.

“Hey mom, can you hear me?” No response. The nurse had told them that because of the medicine she had given her, she might be unresponsive because she was sleeping. Lili reached for her hand, and laid hers on top of her moms.

“I know you’re in there, mom. Keep fighting. Don’t give up on us. You can’t give up on us. I need you.” Silence followed by the beeping of the monitor. Then it began speeding up. A lot. Doctors burst into the room and ordered the family out. So they left the room in a panic. They turned to look from outside the window on the side, but the curtain closed on them. They could hear faint shouting coming from the other side of the room.

“Is she going to be okay, Dad? Please tell me she is going to be fine.” He did not respond for a few seconds.

“I don’t know yet, Tiger.” Tiger. She’d been called Tiger once before by her dad, and that was when she fell off of her bicycle when she was younger and broke her arm. That sent a wave of shock over her, and her heart dropped yet again. The same nurse began walking towards them from the direction she had left earlier, and ushered them to another waiting room. There were no people in this one, and it was much smaller. This room had to be four times smaller than the normal one, with only ten chairs and a small coffee table. A TV was mounted to the wall, and it was broadcasting some little kid show Lili had never seen before. Just like in any other waiting room, the volume had been turned down very quiet. In that room they sat.

One hour, two hours, three hours. The room had gradually become darker as dusk had set in. Finally, someone had come into the room. By that point, both Lili and her dad were dozing off, and the sudden burst of the door startled them both awake. It took them a second to realize where they were but once they did, the doctor took them to see Lili’s mom. The doctor said that she had a seizure, but that she was stable as of right now. Lili walked over to see her mother with bags under her eyes. Meanwhile, the creature was trying to find where the Locke’s were at. They were not inside nor outside the house. It had checked already. Maybe I finally got rid of that stupid family. They decided to take my family away from me, don’t think I’ve forgotten that easily. The creature posted up on the roof, scanning the surrounding area for signs of the family. But when nothing came up, it moved on. I’ll be back in the morning. Prepare yourselves Lockes. I will get my revenge. Don’t you doubt it for a second. And just as quickly as it had appeared, it sped off into the treeline.

Chapter 4

               As they drove away from the hospital, Lili’s mother began to speak. “I’m still so confused as to what happened.”

“Something attacked you, Mom. What do you remember? Did you see it? Hear it? Tell me everything.” Lili said.

“I didn’t see much, all I remember was that I was at the counter making sandwiches for dinner that night, and something knocked me to the ground. I could not see what it was, I just felt a sharp pain in the backs of my legs. When I turned around to see what happened, nothing was there. I tried to scream for someone to come help me, but I couldn’t. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t. Then I passed out and woke up in that hospital bed.”

Lili pondered on this for a bit. If that creature she had seen multiple times before was the culprit, it would make sense. Her mother said it was quiet, and she never heard anything. Lili didn’t hear anything when it was leaping away on the telephone poles. Her mom said it was so fast she could not see it. That thing had been pretty quick when Lili saw it. It all connected.

Okay, well at least I’ve got somewhere to start now Lili thought. I know now that the creature I saw was probably what hurt mom. I still don’t have the why, but at least I have the who. The Lockes got home, and at that point it was nearly two in the morning, so everyone went to bed.

When Lili woke up the next morning, she went downstairs to make herself some breakfast, thinking this whole thing would be over and done with. But after her parents did not come down stairs, she became skeptical. She went upstairs to check on them at about noon, which was way late for them to get up, as they are early risers and are usually out and about by nine. She opened the door to her parents room, but they were not there. Lili searched the whole house, but could not find anyone. She soon pulled out her phone, and called her dad. No answer. Then she tried her mom. No answer. She went outside to look for them out there, because sometimes they liked to go out to the pastures and groom the horses and milk the cows. But they were not there.

In fact, nothing was there. The cows were all gone, and so were the horses and chickens. She checked and even the eggs were gone from the coop. This had never happened before. She tried calling again, but there was still no answer. Eventually she began running back to the house, and called her mom one more time. This time, instead of hearing her own phone ring, she heard her mom’s ringtone going off in the distance. Confused and terrified, she called again and again, until she found the source of the sound. Lili found both of her parents’s phones laying right next to each other, perfectly straight. None of this made any sense. And then that is when she saw the eyes again. Along the treeline yet again, but instead of being at her house looking towards the trees, she was only yards away. They blinked, and moved forward. It was at this moment Lili realized how large the creature really was, towering above her nearly as tall as her house did.

“Lili, I see we finally meet face to face.” She heard the voice, it was deep and monotone. She did not see a mouth for a moment, because the creature was black. Really black. Darker than the night sky. When she did eventually find it, it looked like someone had attempted to stitch it closed and failed. Skin stretched between the lips as it’s mouth opened, making it even more terrifying than it was before. “Who are you, and what do you want with me? Where are my mom and dad?” Lili shouted at the creature.

“Me? I’m surprised you don’t remember me, Lili Locke.” A shiver ran down her back.

“Who are you!” She screamed.

“Oh honey, you shouldn’t be worried about me. It is your parents you should be concerned about. Do you know where they are?” Silence. “Oh, that’s right. I have them. You guys took my family from me and left me alone for years, so I am going to do the same to you, Lili Locke.”

“Why are you doing this?” She shouted at it, tears beginning to sting her eyes.

“You killed my family when you built this house. You took away the only people I have ever loved. So I am going to  do the same to you.” The creature pulled out an arm with long, sharp looking fingers, which only added to the terrifying aspect of this creature. It pointed behind the tree line, where there was an open area. It was at this point she saw her mother and father, wrapped in web-like material, from there feet to their necks. They were motionless and their eyes were closed. “What family are you talking about? Who did we take from you?”

“My mother, my father, and my brothers and sisters. When you burned down the forest to create this area of land to build your giant house on, you burned my family’s home. I was the only lucky one that was able to get out!”

Chapter 5

               “What even are you?” Lili asked.

“That doesn’t matter! Who do you all think you are, to come to my forrest, burn it all, and claim the land as your own? Why should you get to keep your family, but I lost mine?”

“Because I didn’t do anything to deserve to lose my family!”

“And you think I did? I was very young, I had known my family for less then a year! You’ve had yours way longer, and it’s finally time you feel what i’ve felt all along.” Lili went stiff as a board. She had no clue what to say.

“We aren’t the ones who burned your forest! This house has been here longer then any of us have been alive!” Even though Lili knew this was a lie, she had to try everything she could in order to save her family. Years ago, many before she was born, they had bought out the plot of land and burned it to make a new life here. They had hundreds of acres of forest burned down for them, and never replanted a single tree.

“LIES! I watched your father light the match and toss it at the tree! Don’t try and lie to me, Lili Locke, you WILL regret it.” the creature got closer to her face. This made Lili very uncomfortable, and she stumbled backwards.

“I’ve seen what your family can and will do to get their way. And I think it’s finally time they pay for that, don’t you?”

“Please, you’ve got to take piddy on me, I wasn’t even alive yet when it happened, please don’t punish me!”

“It’s too late. Begging isn’t going to do anything. I wish you would see that already.” The creature leaped over the tall trees back into the clearing where Lili’s parents were being kept. She sprinted as fast as possible towards them, and stood in front of them. She shook them aggressively, but they did not come out of their state.

“Wake up! Mom! Dad! Don’t leave me like this!!” she screamed, but it was useless.

“Move child, or you’re going with them.” The creature said. She did not budge. Lili simply stood there in between her parents, as if she was guarding them.

“Dang it kid, I said move!” The creature was now only half a foot away from her face. She could feel it breathing on her as she reached up and grabbed it’s head. She punched it multiple times, until eventually it threw her off of him. Thats when something happened that no one expected. Lili’s eyes shone bright green beams of light, and began rising into the sky.

“Let. Them. Go. Now.” She said.

“Silly girl, haven’t you realized by now-” he was cut off. The same green appeared in his eyes that were in Lili’s eyes.

 “Wha- Whats happening?” it cried. Lili watched as it began fading colors, shifting grey, then white, until it was nearly transparent. Thats when everything began to pan out. With the loudest BOOM Lili had ever heard, the creature was gone. The explosion sent her flying backwards towards the ground, and she blacked out. When she came to, she saw her mom standing over her. She sat up, wondering what had happened.

“Where am I?” she asked. Her mom simply giggled.

“Honey, you’re still in bed. It’s time to wake up, you’ve slept way longer than usual. Are you feeling alright?” Lili was just confused at this point.

“Wait, but how did you get out of the web nets?” Her parents now looked as confused as Lili.

“What web nets, you crazy?” Her mom said, laughing.

“The ones the creature wrapped you up in! You and dad were both stuck and when I tried to shake you awake, you didn’t wake up!”

“Sweetheart, I think you’ve been dreaming a lot lately. Come on, I made breakfast. It’s your favorite, scrambled eggs, toast, and bacon! It’s real bacon this time too, not the turkey bacon you said you didn’t like. But I don’t understand how you don’t like turkey bacon, I honestly like it more than normal bacon. Come down when you’re dressed.” She turned and walked away. Lili looked at the back of her moms legs as she walked out, and there were no signs of cuts. Not even any scars. She got up and looked in the mirror. Her eyes weren’t green anymore. Just her normal blue. Maybe it was all just a dream She thought. But it felt so real! It was like I was right there. Even now that I know it was just a dream, it still feels like i’m going to walk into the kitchen and see mom laying on the floor in peril again. Lili got dressed, and headed down stairs. Her mom greeted her in the kitchen with a hug, and handed her a glass plate to get her food. Lili looked at all the amazing food, and it smelled so good. She couldn’t wait to dig in, but she let her mom get her food first since she cooked it all.

“Hey, where is dad at? I haven’t seen him yet today.” Lili asked.

“Oh, he just went out to do some work around the pastures, fixing old broken boards and that horrible old gate. He went out to get wood and stuff last night to fix it. Said it should all be done around supper time.” Lili wondered if she should help him or not

“Do you think he would want any help? I don’t think I have anything to do today. I finished the replica you told me to build.”

“I’m sure he would love some help, honey. You can go out there after you’re done eating. Did you sleep well?”

“Yeah.” She was reminded of the dream again. She sat down at the dining table across from her mom, and began eating. So much happened in so little time, I still can’t believe it was only a dream.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Katheryn Howard, the Scandalous Queen

Katheryn Howard, the Scandalous Queen by Alison Weir

First line: Katheryn was seven when her mother died.

Summary: Katheryn Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, lead a very scandalous life before her marriage. She grew up as a charity case, living off of the kindness of family. However, she got the great chance of living with her step-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. While there she meets several men who she falls quickly in and out of love with. And then one day she earns a place among Queen Anna of Kleves household which puts her in the path of the King. She is delighted but when the King sets his sights on her she begins to worry that her past will catch up with her.

My Thoughts: I have enjoyed all of Weir’s Six Wives books. I think she did a great job bringing Katheryn’s story to life. Unfortunately the girl made some terrible mistakes and had to pay for them so dearly. I learned more about her earlier life. I was fairly familiar with her time in the Duchess’ household and in Henry’s court but before that was a mystery to me.

It’s sad that she was pushed around from house to house. It makes it easy for me to see why she was constantly looking for someone to love and love her back. Out of all the women I think her story is the saddest. She was so young. She was being maneuvered by her family into the King’s life. She had very little choice over her life. I am looking forward to the final novel about Katherine Parr.

FYI: There are several intimate scenes throughout her story.

Amelia’s Favorites: Shoot for the Moon!

Shoot for the Moon! by Corinne Humphrey

I picked this book out for Amelia solely on the cover. She absolutely loved looking at it, and I’d catch her browsing the pages when I wasn’t reading it to her.

This book is about a shelter dog named Rudy, and some life lessons we can all learn. Something that truly hit me was when it said “it doesn’t matter what kind of dog you are…you can create the life you want.” I thought that was so powerful. Amelia loved when Rudy saw his shadow, and was trying to balance on the ball.

This book was inspired by the real life story of a shelter dog named Rudy and his owner Corrine. The back of the book has a little bio about them which made me enjoy the book that much more.

If it’s any indication as to if Amelia liked this book, we kept it the full 3 week checkout!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Dry

Dry by Neal & Jarrod Shusterman

First line: The kitchen faucet makes the most bizarre sounds.

Summary: When a severe drought hits California people are forced to make extreme choices in order to survive. Cutting back on water usage sounds doable until the water runs dry. As people start to experience life threatening thirst they become animals. Life has become a war zone and people are going to die.

Alyssa, a high school student in California, is shocked when the faucets stop working. Her family try to stay calm and find new water sources. However, when they don’t return from a water run Alyssa decides that she has to take matters into her own hands to keep herself and her younger brother alive. With the help of the neighbor boy, and his prepper family, she thinks that maybe they will survive the Tap-Out until one night when the rest of the neighborhood turns on them.

My Thoughts: This story felt oddly familiar. I feel like in a way we are living this reality right now. People are scared. The world has changed. Life is almost unrecognizable. I don’t know if this made the book even more intriguing or scarier.

I have to say that I learned a lot about dehydration and how the human body needs water for survival. Hopefully this will never become a reality because it is terrifying. I found myself drinking a lot more water while reading this.

I enjoyed the characters. There were some I liked and others not. I liked how the author incorporated news casts, snapshots into other people during the crisis and then sometimes gave those snapshots bigger parts later in the story. My heart was pounding and I could not put the book down during the last 150 pages. I had to know if Alyssa and her crew were going to survive.

I love that Shusterman brings important issues to teens. Water conservation is something we need to be careful about and plan for at one point. I highly recommend reading this. It gives a scary but realistic view into what could be a future world disaster.

FYI: Also try Scythe by the same author!

*This is my pick for category #11 (A “cli-fi” (climate fiction) novel or book about a natural disaster) for the ReadICT challenge.*

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Half Sister

The Half Sister by Sandie Jones

First line: Kate sees the familiar nameplate on Dr. Williams’ office door and feels a knot in her stomach.

Summary: Kate and Lauren are sisters who recently lost their dad but each of them has a different idea of who the man actually was. Kate idolized him. Lauren’s relationship was more distant. Then one night at a family dinner a woman shows up who claims to be their father’s daughter. Everyone is shocked by the revelation but none more than Kate. She is determined to prove that Jess is a liar. Lauren is more accepting of her which leads to even more discord in the family. As Kate looks deeper into Jess’s story she finds that not everything is as simple as Jess claims.

My Thoughts: This book kept me reading! I kept telling myself just one more chapter. One more chapter. I loved the different viewpoints. I liked that each woman was completely different from each other. It made the story more interesting because of the conflict. Little clues and hints appeared throughout. Some were red herrings. Others were not. I flew through this book with my heart pounding waiting for the ending.

I do have to say though that some of the stuff seemed a little farfetched. There were some overreactions and wild theories from the characters. I rolled my eyes a few times because it got a little dramatic but it did not stop me from reading it. I was pleased with the ending. I would highly recommend this for fans of thrillers and fast paced novels.

FYI: Great for fans of Ruth Ware and Shari Lapena.

Book Suggestion Super Heroes aka Librarians!

One of my favorite parts of being a librarian is helping someone find the perfect book. That book that calls to them when they have to put it down. The book filled with characters that become friends and family. The book that allows the person to escape for a time. It’s really good stuff.

I haven’t been able to do this as often in person lately but it doesn’t mean that I can’t help from afar! We have several options to help find you the perfect book for yourself or your child. So, jump in and put us to work!

Book Fix

Book Fix is a fantastic option set up by our amazing staff members to have you answer a couple questions and then we pick out up to 6 books for you based on that information. Then we pull those books, give you a call/email when they are ready, and you pick them up in the drive-thru! You can use this service for kids or adults. I got to put together a pile of books for a kiddo last week full of construction vehicles and monsters. It was so much fun! Click on “Book Fix” above to get started or find this service under “Readers Advisory” on our home page under “Services”.

Themed Book Lists and Award Winners

Looking for books all about the same theme? Or curious about all the Caldecott winners for a specific year? Need some help with potty training? Explaining divorce or other challenging issue?

We’ve got books for that. Click on the link above to see!

We’ve put together lists of books by theme. Simply click on the desired theme and you will be taken to the page for those titles. On that page will be a list of books that you can click on and then place them on hold. We pull the books from the shelves and then give you a call/email that they are ready. A trip through the drive-thru later and you have a new stack of books ready to go!

So whether you want a stack of surprises or the best books on insects we are ready to help! Books for littles, school age, teens or you, we would love nothing more than to put together a stack tailored to your individual house.

Love,

Youth Services @Derby Library

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Queen’s Secret

The Queen’s Secret by Karen Harper

First line: After all the grand celebrations leading to my one hundredth birthday, I had feared dreadfully that the calendar day itself would be a disappointment.

Summary: Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, also known as the Queen Mother, took on an important role during the Second World War. Hitler even called her “the most dangerous woman in Europe” because of her popularity and determination to stop the Nazi threat. Using her position she helped Londoners get through the hard years of bombings and rationing. Her support of her husband and Winston Churchill made her a force to be reckoned with. She knew and participated in the most important plans of the war. But even as she was keeping the countries secrets she was hiding a few of her own.

My Thoughts: I am not a 100% sure how I feel about this book. As a story it was a nice easy read. I learned somethings about the time period and the role of the royals during it. It was interesting to see what life was like for them. Elizabeth sounds like a fascinating woman. She lived to be over 100 years old. She saw the world change drastically. I really would love to read a good biography on her someday.

But I had a hard time believing some of the secrets she dealt with from her past. When searching for any confirmation on them I only found one source which was a tell-all book from a member of the aristocracy. I don’t know how accurate it is but it made for an interesting story plot. And since the queen mother is gone it will not be able to be truly known.

I immediately wanted to watch The King’s Speech and The Crown after finishing this!

FYI: This is perfect for fans of The Crown!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Home Before Dark

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

First line: Every house has a story to tell and a secret to share.

Summary: Maggie Holt has lived in the shadow of the book, House of Horrors, written by her father about the time they spent living at Baneberry House. She has no memories of their time there and cannot get answers about what really occurred there twenty-five years earlier. When she learns that she has inherited the house from her father she decides to go back, against the dying wish of her father, and try to find some answers.

My Thoughts: I think this is one of my favorite books by Riley Sager. He does a phenomenal job of creating a tense and thrilling story. I find it interesting that he always writes women but he does it so well.

From the very beginning I was hooked on Maggie’s story. I needed to know what happened just as much as she did. I could not turn the pages fast enough. I liked how the chapters alternated between “the Book” and Maggie in present day. The parallels made me want to keep reading with all the foreshadowing. There were several scenes where I had to set the book down and breathe a little bit to get past it.

This definitely has a The Haunting of Hill House vibe to it. A big scary house where a family it tormented. What could be better? But Sager does a great job of making this story his own. He has his classic twists and turns. I could not recommend this enough to anyone who loves a good thriller/ghost story.

FYI: Perfect for fans of The Haunting of Hill House, the Netflix show and book.

Writing Challenge Winner: Neutral Zone by Olivia Kasych

Olivia is a 15 year old writer who has participated in many of the library’s writing challenges, including last summer’s Voyager Writing Challenge and this spring’s Bad Guy Writing Challenge. Neutral Zone is a science fiction story that leads the main character through multiple universes to battle against his alternate self!

Check it out below!

Original artwork by Olivia!

Derick slouched in his chair. The seemingly endless babble of his History teacher discouraged any interest he had in the Industrial Revolution, which was none in the first place. He just wanted the class to be over and the weekend to start. He stared blankly at his History book, trying to make sense of it. His teacher was not even talking about the Industrial Revolution at this point, instead about a bet that he made with one of Derick’s classmates. It was something about a race around the school with Derick’s fastest classmate.

Derick shrugged and tried to fill out notes for the section. He hurried through them, barely reading the section, so he could finish before the bell, which was supposed to go off in five minutes.

When the clock was in the last minute, Derick could hear the sea of eager children quickly stacking all the stuff they had in messy piles on their desks. He was doing it too, so he had no room to judge.

The bell rang and Derick almost had to run out of the classroom to get to his locker before the hallway became too crowded. He shoved his stuff in his backpack, closed his locker, and was out the door before someone could count to ten.

“Hey, dude!” called someone from behind him. Derick looked over his shoulder to find his friend Chris running after him. “You’re taking me home today, remember? And what’s got you hurrying?”

“Sorry, I forgot,” Derick answered as he slowed down a bit for Chris to catch up. “And Mom’s got to go for her yearly check up today. I didn’t want to miss my chance.”

“You knew I was coming you dumb nut, and okay.” They both continued to run to Derick’s mom’s car. The red minivan was not hard to miss. Sprinting across the parking lot was not their best idea, Derick admitted, but they did get there faster than they would have any other way.

“Boys!” Derick’s mom exclaimed once they got in the car.

“Sorry for Sprinting,” Derick apologized. “But the car was over the Verizon.” He added gun fingers.

“Derick no!” Chris said, threatening to get out of his seat and leave.

“Derick yes!” Derick retorted. He loved to mess with Chris like that.

His mom sighed. “Can we not have one moment of peace?” she asked wishfully.

“Nope,” Derick and Chris said at the same time.

The drive home was a quick three minutes. Derick’s mom dropped them at the front door and drove off. Derick walked up to the door and rummaged around in his pocket to find the key to the house…

Of which he accidentally left in the long gone red minivan that belongs to his mom. He face palmed.

“You left the key in the car, didn’t you?” Chris asked, already knowing the answer.

“Yep,” Derick said.

“Dude, you have a problem. That’s the third time this week.”

“I know.”

“And your mom’s going to kill you next time you do it.”

“I know.”

“Just saying.” Chris sat down on the front step. “You know, that cloud looks like a dragon.”

Derick joined him. “No, it looks like a Star Destroyer from Star Wars.”

“You and your Star Wars.” Chris said, shaking his head.

Derick heard something that sounded like a bomb went off in his backyard. He noticed Chris was not put off by it. Derick wondered if he was hearing things, but he figured it would be safe to check anyway.

“Hey, I’m gonna go check on something,” he told Chris while trying to strain his neck around to see his backyard.

“Sure dude,” Chris shrugged and went back to stabbing the ground with sticks he found laying in the grass. Derick rolled his eyes.

Derick quickly climbed over his fence to see what was going on. He could not believe what he saw. There was a huge crater in the middle of his backyard. In the center was a short person, about a head shorter than Derick. He wore a tan short-sleeve shirt with one light green triangle in the center of the sleeve. The tan color matched the color of his skin pretty well, but his skin was a tad bit lighter. Under it was an orange shirt with sleeves that reached his elbows. It was matched with dark brown cargo shorts. He had light blue shoes on and a sash that contained little containers full of paint that was pretty much every color of the rainbow. He had dark brown hair, the color matched Derick’s, and different colored eyes which seemed to change every few seconds. Some black paint was splatted near where his nose was, but he did not seem to notice.

Derick only had about a thousand questions for him, but another person was hovering in the air. Derick looked again and realized that he was not hovering, but sitting on a swing made of blood red strings. The strings seemed to be coming from markings on his arms. He wore a black t-shirt with grey sweats. He had on black shoes. His skin was a dark brown and his hair pitch black. His crazed grin sent a shiver down Derick’s spine. He had a bad feeling about this.

“It’s all your fault, Terrace,” the person on the swing said. “If you let me do my job, we wouldn’t be here, would we?”

“If I let you do your ‘job,’ Vick,” Terrace said. Derick assumed that was his name because the other person said so. “There wouldn’t be anything left!”

Derick was glad both of them had not noticed him yet. They both looked piping mad at each other and he wanted no part in that. He tried sneaking back over the fence. It was going well, he almost made it over.

Almost.

Another chill went down his spine. He felt like he was being watched. He froze, not daring to move.

“Well, what do we have here?” sneered Vick. Derick could tell it was him because his voice was a lot harsher than Terrace’s.

“Gosh darn it,” Derick mumbled to himself. He turned his head back around. He saw both of them now staring at him.

Terrace had a terrified look on his face while Vick continued to smile. Vick pointed his hand at Derick and his markings started to glow.

“Don’t do it Vick!” Terrace yelled. “You can’t kill him! This is the original AW, don’t you know that?” He pronounced ‘AW’ as two individual letters.

Derick was confused. He had no idea what was going on.

Vick lowered his hand and his markings stopped glowing. “What makes you think I was gonna kill him?” he asked Terrace. “You brought us here anyway.”

“No I didn’t!” Terrace yelled back. “You did!”

Derick noticed that, at this point, their battle had been forgotten and they now resorted to bickering with each other. Derick used this time to finish making his way over the fence. He could not leave them like that in his backyard, so he used a crack in the fence to watch them.

“Hi!” someone exclaimed next to Derick. He jumped back and turned to look at the person. He was wearing a light grey t-shirt and dark blue basketball shorts. He had on light blue shoes, which matched the color of the scarf he had around his neck. His skin tone was the same as Derick’s, a tan color, light brown hair, and, to Derick’s surprise, green eyes. He had on a big smile.

“What are you doing here?” Derick asked. He had no idea who this person was. “It isn’t safe!”

“You mean them?” The person pointed at the fence, but Derick knew what he meant. “They always do that! That’ll be over soon!” He giggled. “I’m Cerulean by the way!”

Derick shook Cerulean’s outstretched hand.

“You know them?”

“Of course I do! Terrace is my friend! He helped create the multiverse and the AWs! Vick destroys the AWs.”

“Hold up, what multiverse? That’s just a dumb theory. It’s not real!”

“You better believe it! Where you live is called an Alternate World, or AW for short! Your AW is the first one and mine’s the second!”

“You’re bluffing!”

“Nope! Derick, everything I said was true!”

“How do you know my name?” Cerulean did not answer. “I don’t remember telling you.”

Cerulean took a deep breath in and out. “Derick, I-”

Something blasted the fence gate and destroyed it. Cerulean and Derick ducked for cover. When he looked up, Derick saw Terrace run over towards them. “Cerulean!?” he called frantically.

“I’m here!” Cerulean called back from behind a bush. Terrace looked relieved. “So is Derick!” Cerulean added.

“I’m over here!” Derick called. He and Cerulean got up from behind the bushes. Derick quickly looked at the damage to the fence gate. He could not even recognize that there was a fence there. He further looked around the wreckage into his backyard to check for Vick.

“What happened?” He heard Cerulean ask Terrace behind him.

“Well, Vick and I were arguing for a bit and, well, you know how unstable he is,

he…uh…” Terrace stumbled around for words to describe it. “Kinda wrapped his strings around part of the porch and threw it at me. I dodged and it hit the gate. Then I laughed at him for missing me and he tried to hit me with a fence post. He stormed off to who-knows-where.”

“Man! How am I going to explain this!” Derick exclaimed. “I’m home for ten minutes and my backyard looks like I was experimenting with nukes and accidentally exploded one!” Derick was freaking out.

“Derick!” Terrace yelled. Derick stopped. “I can fix this, just give me a sec!”

“Really?” Derick scoffed. “This is not a one man jo—” Terrace generated two paint brushes out of thin air and, with a determined look in his eyes, proceeded to draw Derick’s backyard back to its original state.

“How?” Derick gaped. He was in shock.

“Terrace is the god of Creativity,” Cerulean added.

“Oh.” Derick recalled Cerulean saying something like that earlier.

“Oh yeah! I was going to tell you how I knew your name!”

“I would still like to know.”

“Well, so, basically, I’M YOU IN MY AW!”

Derick was surprised. He did not see the connection until then. “So are Terrace and Vick?”

“Yes,” Cerulean said, with less enthusiasm.

“What’s with the nicknames then?”

“Derick, you are more important than you realize!”

Terrace started laughing, much to both of their surprise. They both looked at him weirdly. “What?” Terrace asked.

“Does he always do that?” Derick asked Cerulean quietly.

“Yes, but sometimes it’s a bit different. The other day, he got really mad at me for no reason. A second later, he apologized to me for it and claimed he didn’t know what got over him. I think he’s keeping something from me.” Cerulean whispered back.

“ ‘I got a bad feeling about this,’ ” Derick said in his best impersonation of Han Solo. Cerulean laughed.

“You want to see something cool?” Cerulean asked Derick excitedly.

“Sure,” Derick said, winking one eye and smiling.

Cerulean bounded over to Terrace. “Terrace!! Can we show him the place??” he asked.

“Which place?” Terrace asked playfully. Derick could tell Terrace knew which place Cerulean was talking about.

“You know what place, silly!” Cerulean smiled.

“Okay,” Terrace said. “I guess I can do that.”

“Yay!” Cerulean cheered. “Come on, Derick!” Terrace drew a big portal-like thing with his paint brushes, stepped in, and disappeared. Cerulean did the same.

Derick did not know if he wanted to go with some strangers to some place. Scratch that, he wanted to go, he just did not know if he should. He figured a few moments could not hurt, so he walked through the portal. ​Gotta trust myself at some pointhe sighed. ~~~~~~

Derick had to take a step back. The teleportation made him a bit queasy, but Terrace reassured him that it was only because it was his first time.

“Derick, welcome to AW 10,” Terrace said. “Or, specifically, to Upmost, Earth satellite and a hospitable place for humans.”

At the moment, Derick realized…

He was in space.

Derick had to step back to take in the breathtaking view of the Earth from space. He could see the sun peaking out from just over the horizon the Earth made.

“Wait, how can we breathe up here?” Derick asked.

“This place is covered by a sort of force field,” Cerulean explained. “I’m not sure exactly how it works, but in the building over there is a generator that generates oxygen.” Cerulean gestured toward a whitish-grey covered building in the distance. The building seemed to be laid out in sections and each section was connected by some sort of above-ground tunnel.

“Here comes the head man,” Terrace announced. Derick saw someone emerge from the building. He was taller than all of them and wore a white lab coat over a dark gray shirt. “Derick, this is Astro. He’s a future you that’s a scientist. He also runs things around here.”

“Hello,” Astro said. Derick gave him a small wave. Astro turned his attention towards Terrace. “Terrace, I don’t mind that you come here, but you have to tell me beforehand, got it?”

“Sorry,” Terrace apologized. “But I had to show Derick around, Cerulean begged me.”

“This is your one pass,” Astro said.

“Hey Derick!” Cerulean pulled on Derick’s shirt. “How about I show you around?”

“Okay.” Derick followed Cerulean inside the building.

Derick barely paid attention to Cerulean giving him a tour. He really was fascinated by the structure, but he was not feeling well. Shortly after entering the building, he heard a ringing sound in his ears. After a while, he also felt incredibly hot.

“Hey, Cerulean?” Derick started to ask. “Is it hot in here or what?”

“Derick, are you okay?” Cerulean asked. “This room is practically a big freezer for all the food here.”

“Nah, I’m fine,” Derick lied. His vision started to blur. His knees buckled and he fell forward.

“Derick!” Cerulean screamed, but Derick did not hear him. He had blacked out.

Derick opened his eyes. He seemed to still be in the building. The air was musty with the smell of blood. A strange fog covered the area, giving it an eerie feel. Derick started walking around. He saw a shadowy outline in the fog. After getting a bit closer, he identified the outline as Cerulean.

Cerulean was really beat up. He had generated some sort of weapon that hung loosely in his right hand. Derick made a mental note to ask about it later.

Cerulean noticed Derick. “What are you doing here? It’s not safe!” Derick heard laughter behind him. “Watch out!” Cerulean yelled. Derick turned around to try and identify what the threat was. He tried to move, but he was not fast enough.

He could feel the terrible pain of a knife piercing his side. His hands flew to the place where the knife was. He could feel his blood on it. In front of him, he saw another outline in the fog.

“Who—” Derick started to say but was interrupted by a coughing fit. He could feel blood trickling down from his mouth. “Who are you?” he rasped.

“Who am I?” The person stepped out of the fog. He was wearing a black hoodie and black sweatpants. His hood was pulled over his eye line and he held another knife. “I’m you, but everyone calls me Blood.”

Blood walked closer to Derick. “It’s so nice to haunt your dreams. Too bad you’re not actually here. This would have been so much more fun if so.” Derick only stared. He knew he did not have the strength to run.

Blood stood in front of Derick. He smiled. “You must have thought Vick was the only one.” Blood pulled out the knife that was wedged in Derick. The ripping motion reopened the wound and blood flowed out of it. Derick desperately tried to stop the blood flow with his hands and, while doing so, sank to his knees. He felt a hand grip his hair, forcing his head to tilt upward. He saw Blood’s merciless eyes staring back.

“Silly,” he laughed. “There are a lot of us.” Blood stabbed Derick again. “Goodbye, for now.”

Derick jolted awake. He saw Terrace and Cerulean staring at him. He grew a little uncomfortable. He seemed to be in some sort of infirmary. “Welcome back, Derick,” he heard Astro say. Derick got up from what resembled a hospital bed. He felt a weird pain from his side.

The pain was close to nothing, but it was enough to remind Derick about his dream, if it could even be called that. He could still perfectly picture the knife in his side and Blood laughing at him. He all of a sudden wanted to get out of the building.

Derick walked out of the room before anyone could say anything. Somehow, his feet remembered which way he entered from. He could hear Cerulean following him; Derick knew it was him because he was calling Derick’s name. He continued on.

He finally found his way to the exit. He was going to open the door, but his side started hurting more. He figured it was because he had been running, so he casted it aside. He tried to open the door again, but Cerulean caught up with him.

“Derick!” Cerulean yelled. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Derick said. “I just need some fresh air.” He reached again for the handle.

“That’s not a good reason why you bolted off!” At this point, Derick’s side was throbbing

with pain. Derick opened the door.

~~~~~~

Derick was planning on going through the door, but he did not. He took a step back and stared forward. ​Speak of the devilDerick thought.

“What’s wrong?” Cerulean asked. He also looked forward and flinched.

“Aww, this is so cute,” Blood said. “I actually get to kill someone.”

“When you said ‘for now,’ I didn’t think you meant in five minutes,” Derick said, trying to be funny for his own sake.

Blood was obviously not amused. “Your humor is stupid,” he said. He took a step forward. Out of the corner of his eye Derick saw Cerulean generate a slingshot. ​That’s what that wasDerick realized.

“Don’t come any closer!” Cerulean warned.

“Or what? You’re going to hit me with that?” Blood laughed. “You can’t aim!”

“Yes I can!” To prove his point, Cerulean flung a rock like object at Blood. It hit him in the face. It did not seem to hurt him, but it did surprise him.

Blood was furious. He generated a knife. “This has your name on it Cerulean.”

“Get behind me, Derick,” Cerulean ordered “So he can’t hit you.” Derick did what he was told.

“I already did,” Blood smiled. He snapped his fingers. Derick’s side started hurting as much as it did in his dream. Again, he imagined a knife in his side. He grabbed onto Cerulean’s shirt to try to stay standing.

“Derick!” Cerulean shrieked. He put his arms around Derick to steady him. Cerulean looked back at Blood “What did you do?!”

“No, Cerulean,” Blood shook his head “It’s ‘what did you do?’” Cerulean flinched. “You’ve kept the truth long enough. Heck, you’ve lied to keep the truth. Now what kind of friend is that?”

“Cerulean, what is he talking about?” Derick asked. He was skeptical about what Blood was saying but Cerulean’s reaction made it seem like it was true. “What truth?”

“It’s nothing,” Cerulean said. Cerulean did not make eye contact with Derick.

“‘Nothing’? I’ve been living ‘nothing’ my whole life?!” Blood spat. “I’m only here because of you! Do you know what it’s like to be made of someone’s insecurities? Huh?”

“I didn’t know it would turn out like this!” Cerulean said.

“Oh, so you ‘didn’t know’ you were lying about Terrace? Is that how this is going? And now you’re pulling not just another person, but the original into this?”

Derick was completely lost. The pain in his side subsided, finally, but Cerulean would not let go of him. Somehow, he felt like he needed to be strong for Cerulean. “I don’t get it,” Derick asked. “Who are you?” He directed the question at Blood.

Cerulean answered. “He’s me, Derick.” Derick just stared at him. “In my… our AW, people are born with the natural ability to do magic. Some are better than others. And you can be whatever you want to be!”

“But that’s true for everyone…?” Derick half asked.

“Well, I took it more literal than everyone else. I wanted to be the best me I could be by locking away almost all of my negative traits. It took almost all of my magic to do, but I was a better person. I loved it!

“Over time, all those negative feelings grew a literal mind of their own. First, it was just nightmares. Those nightmares gave me back my regret. And then, after a while, they had a body that followed me around like a ghost. He was stable at first. He gave me criticism, but I mostly ignored it.

“You actually heard me?” Blood looked surprised.

“Yes,” Cerulean answered. “Anyway, I met at Terrace one day. I showed Terrace around my home, and we became friends. When he asked if I wanted to go with him, I immediately said yes. He showed me his favorite places in the AWs, and we had fun. During this, I didn’t realize my negative ghost was gone. When I finally did, I was concerned, actually.

“Yeah right,” Blood scoffed.

”I’m not kidding. I was so used to the constant commentary that I felt weird without it. Well, the days went on and I met Blood, he was calling himself that, truly on accident. I recognized him instantly.”

“So you’ve lied about this instead of telling the truth?” Derick pieced together. “I know the truth is very important. While you were telling the story, did you realize Blood lost the insane look he had before?” Cerulean was stunned. So was Blood. “The more you lied, the more piled on Blood, the more crazy he seemed, and the more positive you were.” As a joke, he added. “Come on, you guys do magic. You’re, like, ten times more powerful than me.” Cerulean laughed. Blood chuckled a bit too.

“You are going to explain to him this one,” Cerulean said to Blood.

“Fine,” Blood took a deep breath. “Derick, you know you are the original, right?”

“Yes?” Derick said. He did not know why that mattered.

“You get certain powers because of that. The most important one is that if you die outside your AW, all other yous die and all AWs collapse and there goes the multiverse. You can traverse the multiverse without help and…um…”

“We don’t know all of those powers,” Cerulean finished.

“Wow,” Derick said. “That’s awesome! I have one question though.”

“Shoot for it,” Cerulean said.

“Are you ready to tell Terrace?”

“I don’t know. I’ll need time. I’ve known him longer and I don’t know if he’ll take it well.”

“We’ll tell him together, all three of us,” Derick assured Cerulean. “In about five seconds.”

“What?!” Cerulean and Blood said at the same time.

The door slammed open. “Oh my gosh! Did someone die?” Terrace demanded. Derick saw that he had his paintbrushes out.

“Everyone is alive!” Derick yelled back.

“Not while he’s here!” Terrace started at Blood. Cerulean stepped in between them.

“We have something to tell you,” Cerulean said.

~~~

It took a while, but the three of them told Terrace the whole story. Terrace took it surprisingly well.

“Do we have to tell Astro that Terrace broke the door?” Derick asked.

“Nah, Terrace will fix it,” Cerulean assured Derick.

“He was you the whole time?!” Terrace asked. Cerulean nodded. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to think less of me,” Cerulean admitted. “And I was ashamed of it.” “Cerulean, you’re my friend. I would never.” Terrace gave Cerulean a reassuring smile.

Derick was happy for the two. He could not help but glance in Blood’s direction. “So,” Derick started. “What will you do now? I mean, you have things sorted out with Cerulean, and you’re done with that knife trick of yours.”

“Who said I was?” Blood smirked. Derick felt a bit of pain from his side. He elbowed Blood. “Hey, I was kidding.”

“How do you do that anyway?” Derick asked.

“Magic.” Blood grinned. Derick glared at him. “Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do now.”

“This may seem stupid, but what if you helped the multiverse?”

“Me?” Blood laughed. “I’m the literal opposite of the hero type.”

“Cerulean just admitted to being ashamed. Maybe you two share some emotions instead of trade them off.”

“Derick, I’ve killed a lot of people. How am I going to come back from that?”

“One step at a time. You’ll have to give yourself some sort of chance at redemption.”

“You are very hopeful.” Blood stared up at the stars. “I’ll consider it.”

Derick smiled. He noticed that Astro was coming out of the building. “Terrace! The door!” Derick shouted.

“Shoot!” Terrace exclaimed. He quickly repainted the door. It reminded Derick about his yard. For the first time during the trip, Derick felt homesick.

He chuckled to himself. “Man, my life will never be the same after this,” he said.

“Welcome to the club,” Blood said. “If Cerulean doesn’t throw off any more negativity, I can finally act sane for once. It’ll be nice.” He smiled.

“Derick! Are you ready to go home?” Terrace called.

“Not yet!” Derick called back. He looked at Blood. “After all you put me through, I’m going to miss you.”

“Heh, me too,” Blood said. “I might just have to invade your dreams again.”

“If you do, pick somewhere less creepy, okay?” Derick and Blood both laughed. Derick had a feeling that, deep down, something sparked in Blood.

“In that case, see you on the flip side,” Blood said. “Make sure you talk to Cerulean, it looks like he has something for you.”

“Okay,” Derick waved back at Blood before walking over to Cerulean.

“Oh, Derick!” Cerulean said. “Thank you for giving me another chance! I did a terrible thing and I told big lies to cover it up and I just went about it the wrong way and I really should have known better and—” Cerulean was almost in tears.

“Cerulean,” Derick said, cutting Cerulean off. He looked Cerulean in the eyes. “It’s okay. Making mistakes is what makes us human. It’s not healthy to beat yourself up about it. You have to accept that you did something wrong so you can move on.”

“I don’t think Blood will let me.”

“Yes he will. He’s as done with the lies as you are.”

Cerulean grinned. “Thank you, again, Derick.”

“Anytime.”

“That reminds me!” Cerulean held out a piece of paper. “It’s my number. If you need anything, just ask!”

Derick pocketed the paper. “Thanks Cerulean.” Derick turned toward Terrace. “I’m ready now.”

“Okay, give me a quick second,” Terrace created a portal. “See you, Derick.”

“Come by anytime, Terrace!” Derick smiled. He went through the portal and ended up back in his backyard. He waved at his new friends through the portal before it closed. He climbed back over his fence.

“Hey dude,” Chris said. “Did you see something?”

“Well,” Derick looked back at his backyard. “I guess you could say that.”

“Cool.”

~~~

Derick’s mom was disappointed with Derick. After she dropped Chris back at his house, she talked to Derick about being responsible with things that were not his. Derick promised to do better.

After dinner, when Derick had enough time to himself, he whipped out his phone. He took out the slip of paper in his pocket. He entered in Cerulean’s phone number. He was about to close the contact when he saw the words “dial (-) first” scribbled on the back of the slip. He completed the contact. He took a deep breath. He hoped it worked and he would not accidentally text some random person instead. He texted “Heya, it’s Derick.”

The response was almost instant. “Hi Derick! It’s Cerulean!” Derick smiled. He had a feeling he would see him again soon. Above everything, he was really tired. He had had too much excitement for one day. He said good night to his parents and went to bed.

It did not last long. Derick woke up to a crashing sound. He reached over to his light switch and flicked it on. He saw Cerulean tangled up in a cord. Derick was not sure what it was to. “Why are you here, Cerulean?” he said groggily. “It’s probably midnight.”

“It’s eleven,” Cerulean said. “And we need your help!”

“Why didn’t you call me?” Derick was not fully awake. He was not thinking straight.

“This calls for drastic measures!” Cerulean gave someone behind Derick a thumbs up.

In an instant, Derick felt a cold liquid poor down his shirt. That woke him up.

“What the—” Derick started to say. He looked behind him. He saw Blood laughing his head off. “Guys, my parents!”

“They’re fine,” Blood said. “Extra sleep won’t hurt.” Derick got the idea.

“So what is it?” Derick asked.

“It’s Vick,” Cerulean said. “He’s at it again.”

“Where are we meeting?”

“Upmost.”

“Okay, I’ll meet you there.” Derick took a deep breath. “I’m going to try it.”

“Be careful,” Blood said. He and Cerulean disappeared.

Derick had no idea how to teleport. Well, he had one. He cleared his mind and closed his eyes. He thought about the spectacular view of Earth from Upmost.

A second later, he opened his eyes. He found himself in the same spot he thought about. He pumped his fist in the air.

“Oh good! You made it!” Cerulean said.

“Cerulean was worried sick,” Blood said. “He wanted to go back to help you, but I told him you’d be fine.”

“How were you so sure?” Derick asked. Blood pointed to Derick’s side.

“We have a small link now,” he said. “Don’t worry, it can only do dreams and really good hunches.”

“How long will it be there?” Blood shrugged. All three of them laughed.

“We should probably get going,” Cerulean said. “Terrace is waiting inside the building.”

They walked towards the door. Derick felt ready. He knew that whatever Vick was doing would be stopped by the four of them.

He felt truly invincible.

Look out for Olivia’s sequel called Red Strings coming soon to the blog!