Her headaches let her see another world… and it doesn’t like to be seen.
Morland is not a place you go on purpose. Derek spent years trapped on that nightmare of a magic planet and he is never going back. But Elinor’s magic headaches are spinning out of control and she needs all the helps she can get. She’ll even take help from Derek, a soulless murderer with a blog who also happens to be the lastborn prince of a darkness-wielding fire Queen.
She’s doomed. But time is running out. Morland is coming. And Derek will just have to do.
This culture rich fantasy novel will delight fans of Shiver and Daughter of Smoke and Bones.
There is always magic mixed into the everyday, even in Waxhaw, North Carolina and that handsome boy is definitely hiding a dark secret.
Enjoy the first chapter of my new novel Magic Headaches. Available on Amazon.com
I’d thought that becoming an only child again would be liberating. I’d imagined that the deaths of my siblings would destroy that monster of a Queen, mother of ours. But it didn’t and she was now coming for me with no distractions to slow her down. I shouldn’t have bothered running in the woods. First, because there was no hiding from her. The moon felt like her searchlight tagging me through the branches. And second, because if I hadn’t found the way back home in the five years I’d been trapped on Morland it wasn’t going to happen at night as I ran like a maniac hiding from the moon.
My running took me to the least sympathetic man I’d ever met. Jol was a fire mage, one of only two magic wielders in Morland. The other was, of course, the Queen. But even if Jol was the Queen’s assassin he had for some reason kept my secret. He’d never told her that Morland was not my home. He’d never told her that I’d been born on Earth and that by climbing a tree I’d somehow become trapped on his stupid planet. Morland was the worst.
I knew I wouldn’t find the way back. My best chance had probably been when I’d first arrived in Morland five years earlier. I could hardly remember anything about that day. My memories were as misty as a new morning. If I were ever to have found the way home, it would have been right away. Not now when five years of hell had clogged my brain. For the millionth time, I cursed the woods for not showing me the way. The path home had to be out there somewhere. Or maybe it was a one-way road that I’d taken. I wondered if I’d even recognize it now. Would I know it if I were face to face with it?
She was coming for me and there was nowhere to hide and nowhere to run and yet hope wouldn’t die so I pounded on Jol’s door. My hope opened the door a crack and did not let me in. His glare was somehow casual and yet also piercing. His gray hair was cut choppily at his shoulders and his eyebrows were always in a furrow of irritation but maybe that was because I only saw them when he was around me.
“There is a warrant on your head, boy,” he said, “You know what it means coming here to me. Why do you endanger a poor old man?”
“Ha,” I barked as I caught my breath. “I’d like to see any of her soldiers just try and take you. I didn’t win that bloody competition and become prince with my untutored talent.”
“Why are you here, Derek?” Jol asked. I could see the beginning on flames sparking at his fingertips. Did the Mage really think I was a threat to him?
“I need you to send me home,” I said putting pressure on the door. I didn’t like being out in the open; the moon could see me.
He sighed letting me in as he flicked his wrist and extinguished the flames. “We’ve discussed this so many, many times. It is not possible. If you can’t find the way you came then I cannot help you,” he said in the dismissive exasperation that was his greatest skill.
“Yes, you can,” I said coming to tower over him. “There is a way. I heard you that night.” The first night Jol had brought me to his home I’d heard him talking to himself after he thought I was asleep and I remembered every word he’d said even if he denied them now.
“Oh, not this again,” Jol growled, “How many times do I have to tell you that that conversation never happened? It was a dream. If I could send you home, don’t you think I would? Don’t you think I wouldn’t love to be free of you? I assure you that the dream of a Derek-free Morland is the only thing that can send me off to sleep.”
“Maybe,” I conceded, “because what reason could you have to keep this from me? But that night you said ‘it would probably never work’. I remember it crystal clear. That means there is something to try. Something that will only probably never work. That’s much better than my nonexistent plan which will definitely never work.”
Seeing that my intimidating pose wasn’t working I did the only thing I could think to do. I dropped to my knees and pleaded. “Please, Jol. She’s going to kill me tonight. No, it’s worse than death. It’s worse than anything you could imagine. She’s going to give my soul to the Darkness. You’ve got to get me out of here. I’ll do anything!”
“You’d do anything for sure,” he said and then added speaking slowly, “But would you give anything?”
“I have nothing and I have no one,” I said speaking true.
“You’ll think that until you hear the price. Whatever your price will be,” he said turning around, not looking at me as he rummaged through a large wooden chest at the end of his bed.
“Oh! Then there is a way!” The sheer relief made me feel like I might collapse into liquid or worse actually try and hug the old man.
“You will curse me for this one day,” Jol said, “I don’t know what your price will be but you’ll wish I had never mentioned this.”
I assured him that I wouldn’t. I assured him that anything was better than the living death that was laid out before me. Of course I was wrong. I’ve never cursed him for it but… the weight of it rests on me constantly. I just wish I had been the one to pay the final price. Jol handed me a small parcel and explained what I had to do with it.
I had no sooner slipped it into my pocket when four guards burst through his door and hauled me back to her. They didn’t let go of my arms until they forced me into the great hall of the castle. The mirrors to either side played tricks with the mind making one think it spanned endlessly to the right and left. Looking into the mirrors a warrior stared back. Morland had made me a deadly tool. My dark red hair was tied back at my neck and my fitted leather armor showed the man I’d become. A thirteen-year-old kid dropped all alone on a nightmare planet became a man very fast. I was now eighteen but I felt ancient.
The reflecting mirrors made it look like I’d brought an army of doppelgängers with me but I was alone. There was no one on my side. My escorts stayed behind me and a small retinue lined the wall behind the throne but even with them the great hall was empty and cold, just like the Queen sitting before me.
Both of her hands rested under her chin and her black hair hung loose behind her. Her relaxed posture did nothing to lessen her harshness. She was only harshness. Sharp edges. Poison dipped thorns. Despite her smooth skin and youthful appearance, she’d been the mother to seven children even if they were all adopted. But her intense black eyes held no youth, only death. Her appearance was as much a game as everything else was to her. And I could feel her dark magic roiling beneath her beautiful calm face.
I bowed low kissing the ground and said “Mother.” I looked up wondering if I’d even have a chance to try my escape but she nodded her head and the guards took a step back.
“Thank you for extending the courtesy of not executing me on the spot for my rebellion,” I said standing.
“Of course, Derek. How could I do that to my favorite son?” she said.
Your only son, I amended to myself. But maybe she didn’t know about Gabriel yet.
“What have you decided?” she asked but it wasn’t a question and I could see her fingers start to itch as she looked up at the ceiling judging where the moon would be.
“Probably certain death,” I said as I took out Jol’s present, a red flower, and ate the whole thing in one bite. I said a silent prayer to a god I knew didn’t exist to send me home. As soon as I swallowed the flower I felt it. Strong magic. Dangerous magic. It felt like… how could I possibly describe it? It felt exactly like it should have. Unbearable. It felt like being ripped into a million pieces and then put back together all wrong. I felt my soul being held back and I knew my price. He had to stay.
I was gone in the blink of an eye hurtling across how many miles, through time and space, to the woods outside of Waxhaw, North Carolina where I’d left five years earlier. I could already see houses and cars driving by and the relief that it was all over sent me to my knees.
Excerpt from http://www.TheMorlandPrince.wordpress.com
Derek Jensen closed his laptop and rubbed his eyes raw. He could still see the afterglow of the screen even with his eyes closed and the contrast of his dark bedroom made him feel blind. He’d read it again. He was such an idiot. He should never read his own blog, especially at night. Rookie mistake. Night blurred the lines of reality. Derek raked his hands through his too short hair. He sometimes forgot which version of himself he was. He hated his short hair but it was different from how he’d had it before so he kept it.
Now that his eyes had adjusted, he saw how true the night was. There was no moon and he sat in the pure vast dark. He could have been anywhere it was so dark. He could have been back on Morland. He knew he wasn’t. He knew it but his hand rose to his right side all the same. He traced the cursive tattoo of her name and took a deep breath. That tattoo was his touchstone, his one truth in a life of lies. That tattoo told him three things: that he was on Earth, that he was alive, and that his sister was dead.
He ran his fingers over the letters in their black lines that spanned along his right side from his lower ribs to his waist covering up exactly where she had stabbed him: B-r-i-g-i-t-t-e. He never should have reread his stupid blog. He slept poorly enough as it was.
He’d written it out a couple years ago so that it didn’t have to live in his brain anymore. But now it just lived in two places. His friend, Peter, had been the one who’d encouraged him to put it on the internet. Derek did and didn’t want to find someone who had been to Morland before. He lived with a constant background fear running along his spine that something or someone would drag him back to that horrible nightmare of a planet but he also craved finding some link. He needed to know how he had fallen into Morland in the first place. And he would have given a lot to talk to someone else who had been there and back, a fellow veteran of the Queen’s reign of terror.
But the only people who left comments on his blog were fantasy nerds who said his story was ‘A-mazing!”. It made him roll his eyes whenever that happened. He didn’t want praise on his autobiography of pain and suffering. Derek had only hoped to find a little peace in writing it all down but peace wasn’t a commodity easy to find for murderers like himself.
Derek had read it again because he felt something coming, some storm off the coast or some slumbering giant starting to stir. He was sure it was nothing. He sure it was just a soulless man’s paranoia. But he’d found himself reading his own story like a treasure hunter looking for clues. As if he didn’t know every word. As if he could forget even one. As if it didn’t haunt his every nightmare. Morland, pah! Morland was the bloody worst.
He’d thought about writing an addendum to the blog. But it would take away the feeling of victory. It was better that it ended with him escaping. People might think ‘Oh good he’s okay now. He’s home on Earth. Home in Waxhaw, North Carolina. Everything is okay. I don’t need to worry about him anymore.’
But Derek was not okay. He never would be. And he was pretty sure no one really believed that his blog was based on his life. The best place to hide the truth was in plain sight, right?
Derek knew Morland was far away. So far Earth’s telescopes couldn’t see it and it definitely couldn’t see him but sometimes, like tonight, it was as if Morland was breathing over his shoulder, up his neck. He couldn’t run from that. He couldn’t run from his own mind. He’d tried. Because sometimes the loneliness and the fear locked inside himself made it hard to breathe. But there was one thing a soulless man was good at and that was making himself feel nothing. So Derek took a breath and forced himself to shake off the feeling of unease and coming disaster. Nothing ever happened in Waxhaw, North Carolina. Everything would stay the same and that thought was a comforting little nightmare itself.
Waxhaw, North Carolina was trying to kill Elinor Lirdin. Something had broken inside herself over the last twenty-four hours. She had been taking a walk in the woods behind her new house with her little brother and sister when she had felt that something was wrong. The ill-at-ease feeling only got worse as she walked deeper into the woods. Just as she was calling her siblings to come back inside the feeling of wrongness slammed into her like a tidal wave. Her vision started flashing gold like a strobe light was going off and it felt like fire was raging through her skull. She’d woken up in the hospital a couple hours later. The flashing light was gone but the pain in her head was definitely not.
Her head hurt like poison bombs were exploding in her veins and filling her head with pressure and making her temples pound like a marching band. It was a colossal pain that made it hard to catch her breath but the headache was the best of the new things that was happening to her. Because she was also going mad and the madness was in the form of trees, a whole forest of them.
Elinor studied her surrounding carefully before she tried it again. The hospital was one shade of cream: walls, floor, and ceiling. Her dad had his eyes closed in the chair next to her, the stressful hours finally catching up with him. She took a deep breath and then closed her eyes. She waited there a moment, in the in-between. She let her breath out long and slow and opened her eyes.
Well, crap, Elinor thought, I really am going crazy. When Elinor looked around she didn’t see her hospital room with its boring walls, floor, and ceiling or her sleeping father. She was now seeing a forest with trees as far as she could see in every direction but not normal trees. As if hallucinatory imaginary trees could be normal. No, the trees and everything else around her was sepia colored like a filter on an old photo. The sky above was obstructed by the forest canopy and the floor below was littered with leaves and small plants. There was no one in the woods but her and she wasn’t even really there.
Because despite what her eyes were telling her, Elinor knew she was still in the hospital. She could feel the bed beneath her and hear the noises of the hospital with its incessant beeping and hurried steps. She took one last look around and blinked her eyes trying not to flinch at the sudden appearance of her hospital room. A sigh escaped but it sounded more like a soft moan to her own ears.
Every time Elinor blinked her vision shifted from forest to hospital and back again. Over and over. Blink. Hospital. Blink. Forest. Blink. Hospital. Blink. Forest. Repeat. It made her breath catch in her chest and she covered her mouth to keep in a terrified cry. She didn’t want to wake her dad and have to tell him why she was crying. She didn’t want to be crazy. I don’t want to be crazy, her broken little mind cried. She didn’t want to see a forest every other blink. That wasn’t normal. But her madness wasn’t why she was in the hospital. She was there because of the pain that wouldn’t go away.
Elinor looked over at her dad and decided to wake him. He hadn’t been in the room when she’d woken up earlier only to be injected with more medicine that put her back to sleep. She didn’t want the two of them to keep being ships passing in the night.
George Lirdin looked tired, aged somehow. He’d always been a handsome man with fair hair and the face of a Disney prince but that pose of exhaustion made him look other. It reminded her instantly of how he had looked when her mother had died. Empty. Vast. So far from her. She didn’t like it and tried to call him back.
“Dad,” Elinor said.
“Oh thank God!” he said waking in an instant and running forward to kiss her forehead and hold her hands. “Nurse!” he yelled without taking his eyes from her. “How are you feeling?” he asked with furrowed brows.
“I don’t know. But my head hurts so bad. How can my head hurt this bad?” she asked her father, her voice coming out scared as tears instantly pooled. She hadn’t meant to say any of that but it had just slipped out. It was their way. Their bond had deepened and tightened after her mom had died and it had been the two of them for a while. She thought for a moment about telling him what she saw when she blinked. But she only ended up licking her lips. Later.
“I don’t know what’s wrong but we’ll figure it out. I promise, baby,” he said pulling her into a hug.
“Oh Elinor!” her stepmom said entering the room summoned by her husband’s voice. She had tears already rolling down her cheeks. “I’m so glad you are awake.” Rebecca Michaels-Lirdin was a quick crier. Her dark hair was knotted in a messy bun at the back of her head and she looked like she hadn’t slept in a week. Maybe it was the stress bomb of having a child in the hospital that made her look so weary. Being held by her made Elinor feel like everything might be okay. A mother’s hug was a kind of temporary magic but then Elinor blinked and gasped. Trees everywhere. She had forgotten for a moment.
“So what’s the plan?” Elinor asked pulling back. She needed a plan. A plan would keep the madness in-check.
A ghost of a smile flickered across her father’s face and then vanished. “First, they want to do an MRI just to make sure you don’t have a brain tumor or anything,” her dad said, “They don’t think you do but it’s just something to rule out. Then they will also take a blood sample and check some things. But one thing at a time, honey.”
Elinor took a deep breath and felt calmed. She loved a good plan. While her parents held her in a protective huddle, she heard her dad’s soft spoken prayer into her hair about God being in control and asking for healing and wise doctors. And it helped ease the panic of the sepia woods to remember that her God was bigger than whatever else was going on.
The doctors ran a half dozen tests and pumped her I.V. with drugs Elinor had never heard of even with her interest in medicine and her plan to start premed at Chapel Hill when she graduated next spring. But whatever the drugs were, they only lessened the pain temporarily because the minute the medicine was through her system the pain started building again.
The doctors found nothing wrong with Elinor and when the headache still didn’t go away, they told her she needed to stay the night. They also told her that she was probably having a migraine and that seemed to mean something. It meant something more than just a headache. She didn’t care what they called it as long as they could make it go away, which they couldn’t. If only that had been the worst of it, but there was also the madness. She’d known it was probably coming for her one day but she’d deluded herself that it was just a silly childhood fear, nothing substantial, nothing she’d needed to worry about. She wondered if being aware she was going mad meant there was still a little hope for herself.
Even though she had repeated that experiment a thousand times, Elinor was still so disappointed when she saw the forest again. While looking at the forest one time, she happened to look down at herself and found she was not herself. She was all misty and see-through. Her long blonde hair looked like fog blowing in a breeze she couldn’t feel. But she didn’t feel see-through. She didn’t feel different. And she couldn’t touch the trees that were inches from her shoulder. She passed right through them like they weren’t there.
So I’m only having visual hallucination, she thought, super. She was only seventeen. Teenagers weren’t supposed to have hallucinations when they didn’t do drugs. A wave of aloneness hit her hard and she was still deciding if she should tell the doctor when a man walked through the sepia forest. He just ambled along without noticing her. He had red hair to his shoulders and he was wearing some sort of leather clothing with a sword strapped to his waist. He looked to be about twenty or so. He looked like handsome trouble. Was she sharing her delusions with someone else? She blinked on accident and when she looked back at the forest he was gone.
He was one of the reasons that she didn’t tell the doctor. Seeing him, seeing anyone, in the forest made it feel real somehow. She knew it wasn’t. It couldn’t be. But it just didn’t feel like a hallucination, whatever they felt like. The second reason she didn’t tell anyone was because she was so scared, scared that she was really and truly crazy. And if that was true, where was she supposed to go from there? She imagined how her conversation with the doctor might play out if she told him.
“Hello Doctor, whenever I blink I see a forest.”
“You mean you see everything in a green hue? What an interesting aura manifestation,” he’d say. She’d learned what auras were from the nurse earlier, a bright white light that flickered across someone’s vision before they had a migraine.
“No, not an aura,” she would clarify. “I see trees. Like in a forest.”
“How long have you had these hallucinations?” he would ask seriously.
“No, it wasn’t like that,” she’d say getting defensive. ‘Hallucinations’ was a danger word. The word that lead you to the ‘special’ room down the hall. “I mean it might have been but when I blinked my vision was back to normal. But the trees seemed very real, even if I can’t touch them.”
“Oh, so you just imagined it?” he’d ask, no doubt wondering if they’d given her too much pain medicine.
“No,” she would say hotly, “It wasn’t like that. It’s hard to explain.”
And that was the problem exactly. It was unexplainable. She’d never heard of anything like this. Maybe Colton had. Her little brother was the king of research. He had so much useless knowledge stuffed into his little brain. But she didn’t want to bring him into it any more than she did the doctors.
Craziness was a sensitive topic in her family. Her grandmother, her dad’s mom, had gone crazy. She’d just lost all her marbles one day, the day her husband left. He walked out the door, barefoot, without a word and never came back. He’d left all his shoes even his wallet and keys. Elinor’s dad hated to talk about it. He’d been twelve at the time but the wound was nowhere near healed. She’d only seen one picture of her grandfather. Her grandmother had kept it on her nightstand at the elderly home she lived in before she had died a couple years ago.
Elinor had pieced most of the story together. Her dad had found his mother sobbing on the floor, crying that her husband was gone forever. He had wanted to call the police, to get everyone out looking for him. But his mother was insistent. She said no one would ever find him and they might as well not look. The mystery tore at her dad but he had had to start taking care of his mother instantly. She’d been unable to handle what her life was and she retreated inside herself. She never made another lunch or went to another baseball game. She was gone. Elinor wondered if her father had ever really forgiven his mother for quitting on him. Maybe he had.
Elinor remembered how he had struggled when her mom died. Adele Lirdin had died quickly in a car accident on a March Wednesday. She’d been on her way home from a store. No mystery. No betrayal. But he’d looked haunted all the same. Elinor had been six at the time and it felt like her dad was just waiting for her mom to come home, like she was just missing and not dead. He’d sit at the dining room table staring at her purse that the police had brought in a box of her things. Each day he seemed to be sinking deeper and deeper into his personal despair. Elinor had felt so horribly alone.
A lot of that time was a haze but she remembered the last day of it very clearly. The casseroles had stopped coming and the pantry was empty. She walked up to the dining room table and demanded, hands on her hips, that he take her to the grocery store because she was starving. He took a deep breath and then a beautiful chuckle escaped from his gravelly throat. “Yes ma’am,” he said turning quickly to lift Elinor onto his back for a piggyback ride. They were in the car headed for ice cream and then the grocery store and then on their way to finding their new normal.
He’d married Rebecca Michaels a year later. Her and her son had come into their life like the coolest breeze from the Blue Ridge Mountains purifying their stuffy southern Atlanta air. Ryan was just shy of three years older than Elinor and she worshiped the ground he walked on. He had felt like a brother almost instantly. He had a brand of aloof kindness that let her hang around like he didn’t really care either way. His parents had been divorced since he had started kindergarten and his dad had moved out West without a backwards glance for Ryan.
Then a couple years later came Colton. Then two more years later came Katie and their second-chance family was complete. But her dad always had a haunted look in his eyes when his parents come up in conversation. And Elinor knew while she contemplated her possible madness that she could never tell her father. The forest visions filled her stomach with dread and fear. She knew she didn’t have what her grandmother had but this could just be her own unique strand of madness.
It took Elinor until the next day to notice it, the only outward sign of her delusions. And instead of terrifying her, which it should have, Elinor nearly burst out laughing. It was proof. Proof of what, she didn’t know. But it was evidence that something was really going on. She noticed it when she was putting on mascara in the bathroom. She’d decided to put it on as an outward defiance of her symptoms. If she looked better, she’d feel better.
She blinked and saw the forest, which was especially unhelpful when she was pointing something at her eyeball. So she only blinked one eye so she could at least partly see what she was doing when she saw it. Her eyes were different colors. One was blue and one was green. It wasn’t a shocking difference and when she blinked her eyes to get a closer look she saw them change. The eye that was seeing the mirror was the normal blue her eyes always were but the eye seeing the forest was green. And they switched instantly when she blinked. It is pretty cool, she thought grudgingly.
She spent a good ten minutes studying her eyes in the mirror as she sat on the sink counter. The eye that was seeing the forest was still her eye but there was a difference. There was a gold ring in the iris that mixed with the blue to make her eyes look green. Her other eye didn’t have a gold ring. It was fascinating. She stopped herself from calling her family in because it didn’t actually prove anything. It was just another weird thing her body was doing. It was unexplainable. There was still no way she could convince doctors they weren’t hallucinations. Maybe she was only imagining the yellow ring. She didn’t think so but she ultimately decided to keep it to herself for now. She could always tell them later but she couldn’t take it back.
All the tests came back inconclusive and Elinor was sent home. Nothing was wrong that anyone could find but her head never stopped hurting. They referred her to a neurologist which sounded scary. Maybe they suspected she was keeping a secret. She saw the forest man once more before she left the hospital. It had been just as fleeting but it held steady her resolve. Maybe she wasn’t crazy… Maybe it was something else. If my life was a book, Elinor thought, this would be the part where my mentor finds me and tells me I’m the chosen one or at least that I’m a witch and I’ll get to go to an awesome magic school. But real life is, alas, not like books. And this is my real life. I’m not imagining this. That thought was jarring. This was all real and it was really happening to her. So it had to mean something then.
She relived the previous week over and over in her mind. She kept hoping she’d find the trigger that started the pain and the hallucinations but nothing stuck out. They had just moved to Waxhaw, North Carolina from Atlanta, Georgia on July third. Her parents had wanted to little ones to grow up around trees instead of the congestion of Atlanta. Her dad had found a job at a manufacturing plant and her mom found a job as a chef for a large catering company.
On the fourth of July they’d stopped their unpacking and went to the fireworks festival in downtown Waxhaw. Then the next day Elinor had gone on a walk in the forest behind her house with Katie and Colton and she’d broken. In an instant. In a moment. It didn’t make sense. She just didn’t know what had gone so horribly wrong. What was wrong with the woods behind her house? And why did it only break her?
Ryan Michaels looked over at his step-sister and was angry. Elinor looked absolutely pitiful. This wasn’t supposed to be her life. Seeing her in pain was painful for him. It had been two weeks since the hospital trip and Ryan had tried to spend as little time as possible at his summer internship in Raleigh. He wanted to be home. Everyone was a mess.
Colton had dived off the deep end. Elinor was the greatest, most important puzzle he’d ever seen and he was obsessed with curing her. He currently had her neck bent over a foam pillow and her forehead strapped backwards so she was looking upside down at the far wall. He scribbled in one of a seemingly endless supply of notebooks while he straightened his glasses like a little villain. Ryan would have laughed if it weren’t so heartbreaking. Elinor tried every stupid migraine cure Colton found and he found many. Ryan was pretty sure that Elinor tried them mostly for Colton’s sake.
Ryan wouldn’t let himself hover. Their parents were doing enough for everyone. They were always touching her forehead as if migraines were a fever they just had to break. Katie was usually at Elinor’s side holding her hands and shooting Elinor with the biggest puppy dog eyes the world had ever seen. Elinor wasn’t doing well. He could see the trapped feeling in her eyes. She needed alone time. She was a strange first born/middle child mix who needed a surprising amount of alone time to function, to recharge. He couldn’t give her that yet but he could get her close.
“Had enough attention for one day?” Ryan asked with a smile during one of the rare periods where they were the only two in the room.
“Is this how you feel all the time?” she replied with a smile to match his.
“Yes,” he sighed dramatically. “You were never meant for the pressure of a firstborn. It’s a good thing I came along to help you out. Get up. We are going for a walk.”
Ryan headed straight for the backyard and Elinor followed along cheerfully. They walked for a couple minutes in companionable silence.
“How are you really?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Not super. It’ll be better when school starts. When the machine of our family starts whirring again into routine. And it’ll probably be better when I have my appointment with the neurologist. They will know what’s wrong with my dumb head. When do you head back to Chapel Hill?”
“A couple days. But I’ll be sure to come back for my fall break.”
Elinor stopped walking and pointed to a tree ahead of them. “What is that?” she said.
“What do you mean?” Ryan said trying to follow her finger. “That big tree? It’s a little bigger than the ones around it, I guess.”
“No, it’s glowing. Don’t you see?” She walked to the base of it and started to pull herself up to get a closer look.
“Okay. You are pushing your luck, nature girl. If I bring you back with a scratch, I’ll never hear the end of it,” he said as he climbed the tree in her stead. “What am I looking for exactly?”
“The pretty shiny area in-between the branches.”
Ryan climbed up and stuck his head through the branches looking around. The small amount of sun that was able to filter through the leaves and branches made the light look dappled and dark, almost brown.
“Sure is pretty,” Ryan said looking down at Elinor but he couldn’t quite see her.
“Ryan!” Elinor yelled tugging on his pant leg. He disappeared before her eyes. His torso was fading in and out as she blinked. He was saying something but she couldn’t hear him. She tugged harder on his ankle and he climbed down. Elinor hugged him.
“What was that?” she said assessing him to make sure he was all in one piece.
“What was what?” he asked.
“You disappeared for a second. I couldn’t see you from the waist up…” she trailed when she saw his face.
“El… I think you were just at a weird angle around the tree. I couldn’t see you for a second either but here we are safe and sound. I think we should head back inside,” he said grabbing her shoulder to herd her back to the house.
She took a last look over her shoulder watching the gold shimmering light between the branches. It was probably just light reflecting off something or maybe she had fully crossed over into crazy land.
“Hey El, maybe you should stay away from that tree, from these woods. Don’t go messing here when I’m not around,” Ryan said.
“Yeah,” she said. She had enough to worry about besides one real tree in a forest of hallucinatory trees. It was starting to feel like too much.
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