Dedicated to my Mom.
Shakespir Edition Copyright 2015
License Notes: This free ebook may NOT be copied, distributed, reposted, reprinted and shared without permission of the writer.
A sweet, summer wind ripped gently through the deep, indigo sky that night, as the glowing stars twinkled up in the cosmos and down below to Earth, where they were clearly visible from the quaint, little bedroom window of eight-year-old Penelope Glenwood. It was a warm August evening in New York, New York, well past her bed-time of eight ‘o clock, but, being fanatically wired by the amazement of childhood, she could not sleep even a small wink.
Penelope lay fully awake, sitting cross-legged at the end of her frilly twin bed, her starkly curious blue eyes staring out into the beautiful and mysterious dark that lie beyond the depths of what she could readily see. Her twin sister, Selena, who had always been much more complacent than she, slept soundly in the adjacent bed. To Penelope, who was often plagued by envy, her sister’s identical features were much more favorable than her own. Of course, they had the same oceanic eyes; the same pale skin; the same ebony ringlets which hung symmetrically from either side of their cherubic faces until reaching their narrow backs. Yet, there was something about Selena that Penelope herself did not possess, and that was the lovely part of her—the personality—that left her feeling jealous.
Still filled with the unwavering energy of her youth, she toiled lackadaisically with the pink, checkered curtain, its fine, sheer fibers creating an electric friction between the natural grooves of her tiny fingertips and the rough fabric itself. She watched intently as the stars flickered and sparkled like tiny candle-wicks far out, in the night sky. It was about as mesmerizing as she could imagine anything might be.
Below her third-story window, a larger and brighter mass of light appeared, gradually rising up from the expanse of the soft, emerald-green grass that lay far, down below. Penelope did not think much of it. After all, she was merely a child, us quivered by the evils of the world in which she had lived so little, yet thought she knew so well. At last, she was beginning to feel a rather welcoming sense of fatigue burning up from inside her simple mind, and out to her eyes, as they blinked involuntarily with defeat. So, like every child does at some point, she gave in and she slowly climbed under her fluffy purple comforter, eyelids sagging and drooping until they finally gave out and she was fast asleep.
The next morning, when Penelope woke up, her sister was gone.
Ten years later…
The day that Penelope had been waiting for was finally here. High school seemed far in her past, although it had been only three weeks since her graduation. Although that day had lifted a weight off of her burdened shoulders, this day would be even more special. After only a short wait, Penelope had received the phone call announcing that she had gotten the job she applied for. It wasn’t exactly a stay-there-forever kind of job; after all, it was only a part-time position as a librarian’s assistant at a downtown bookstore called Hear the Word. But, it would have to be good enough for Penelope. After all, she didn’t have nearly enough money saved up to be able to afford a college education. She hoped that her new job would change that. Maybe, she thought. Just maybe.
Realizing that she had woken up several minutes late by the advanced time on her wall clock, Penelope quickly dressed in a pair of faded blue jeans and a green blouse. She had not gotten new clothes in a couple of years and she had to wiggle and shimmy a little to get into her pants. She sincerely hoped that she wasn’t already starting to put on the freshman fifteen. Then she realized that, for a split second, she had thought that she was going to college in the fall. But, in all reality, she wasn’t. Penelope sighed and then slipped on a pair of high-top sneakers over her tacky argyle socks. She hated those ugly things.
Penelope then turned to look in the full-length mirror by her bedside. Her curly black hair fell in soft ringlets past her pale and rounded face. Her icy blue eyes were the same as they had always been, she noticed as she applied her mascara. She took a compact of bronzer out of her dresser drawer and traced it over her high cheekbones. Lastly, she swiped a tube of pale pink gloss over her full lips.
“Penelope,” she heard her mother call from down below as she descended the stairs, before she even reached the dining room. “Where are you? You’re going to be super late. Dad and I can’t just support you forever.” Her mother was tough like that; anxious for her adult daughter to get out of the house and go off on her own.
“I should hope not, Ma.” She was going to be even later for her first day at work if she didn’t hurry up and stop entertaining her mother’s signature stating of the obvious.
Penelope hurried out the door and past the lawn to her beat-up Subaru. “Aren’t you going to eat something for breakfast?” her mother asked from the door, as if Penelope were a child leaving for kindergarten. “Is that how you’re going to be taking care of yourself someday, when you finally decide to move out?”
“I guess I’ll pick up a coffee and a muffin on the way,” she called.
“Yeah, okay,” her mom said, although her voice was already droning away as Penelope’s car pulled out of the yard. “That is not healthy!” she exclaimed, but her daughter was already halfway down the street and could not hear her.
Penelope sped recklessly down the next few streets, until she reached the drive-thru of a local bagel shop.
“Can I take your order?” a young women older than her, but younger than her mother, asked in a weary tone. She had probably worked the night shift.
“One blueberry muffin and an iced coffee.”
“How would you like that?”
“Black. Six spoons of sugar.”
“Is that all?” the worker asked, looking as if she were taken aback by Penelope’s bold order. “You got some exams to study for or something?”
A thick knot in Penelope’s throat tightened. I wish, she thought. “Nope. I’m going to be heading off to work. I’m actually kind of nervous about it.”
“Well, caffeine ain’t gonna help you. Just saying. But, anyway, you’d better stop chit-chatting. You’re holding up all of my lines.”
Penelope’s car continued at its fastest pace. She flew past convenience stores, pharmacies, apartment buildings, and abandoned gas stations. Finally, she reached a long stretch of road lined with mom and pop shops. Glancing around, she spotted a small bank, a few jewelry stores, an insurance agency, and then Hear the Word Bookstore.
From the outside, the place was pretty dismal. It was made of dark grey stone bricks that didn’t seem to line up right, and the once-red door now boasted peeling paint the color of rust. The glass in the window was scratched up, and obscenities were etched into it, probably with old car keys. A sign that read “open” and another one that read “books here” flashed with neon lights that had lost some of their luminescence.
Penelope got out of her car and grudgingly crossed onto the craggy sidewalk and past the hideous entrance, a bell chiming as the door shut behind her. She looked around. There were books everywhere; on the floor, in piles, on desks, on shelves. Gee, she thought. Why not hang them from the ceiling. Then, she noticed something odd as her eyes grazed over the spines of the books. Many of their titles were written in other languages.
After searching for a few minutes, she finally found a book that was actually in English. However, the name on the spine was worn out. All she could see was the word “moon” followed by the letter “L” and the rest was faded with age. Penelope lifted the ancient-looking volume from where it sat on the floor, running her dainty hands over the rough material of its dark blue cover.
“Excuse me, Miss,” a woman’s voice called from out of nowhere. Penelope turned to see an aging woman, who was at least a handful of years older than her own grandmother, had walked in from a door at the back, behind a tall stack of Latin encyclopedias. Her hair was a metallic shade of grey and she was dressed entirely in black.
“Excuse me,” she said again when Penelope didn’t choose to respond. “Are you Penelope Glenwood, my new assistant?” she asked, looking at her with eerie slanted eyes as if she could read her mind. “Don’t touch that!” she yelled abruptly, almost screaming.
“Why not?” Penelope stuttered, dropping the book so that it thumped hard onto the faux hardwood floors. She was so startled that her hands were shaking.
Instead of answering her, the woman simply put a finger to her lips then removed it, using the same finger to beckon Penelope into a back room. “Come,” she said.
Penelope was hesitant, but she followed the woman anyway. As she stood in the open doorway, she could not believe her eyes. Before her was an expanse of books much larger than she had ever imagined could possibly exist. There had to have been thousands of them, all lined up neatly on sturdy wooded shelves, which contrasted greatly with the disaster in the main room of the bookstore.
“What is this?” she asked the woman?
“Why, these are the archives.”
“Archives of what?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Well, why not?” Penelope inquired. “And, why can’t I touch that book that I was holding?” She was honest-to-God curious.
“To be quite frank,” the woman began, “you can’t touch any of the books in this store.”
“Then how come people can buy them here? Isn’t this open to the public?”
“Don’t fuss about it. You still have much to learn before you are worthy.” Okay, that wasn’t a freaky thing to say at all, she thought. Penelope could already tell that this new job would make her summer very interesting. It would definitely give her something to talk about in the fall when—and then the realization hit her again. This is my life now. Just great.
“We have a great deal of work to do today,” the woman said.
“You never told me,” Penelope began. “What is your name?” She could feel this newfound sense of curiosity bubbling up inside of her once again.
“My name is Damari,” she said. “Damari Agnes Trent, to be exact.”
“It’s a wonderful name,” said Penelope, adding, “It’s very, well, unique.”
“Then it suits me because I am indeed one of a kind. We all are. Especially you, Penelope.” She gave the weird-eye stare again.
“I’m pretty sure that I’m just a regular girl.”
“Nonsense, you are quite the opposite. There is no such thing as being regular; as being ‘average.’ There was only a one in seven billion chance that you would be born you, but, yet, here you are. You’re very special. You may not think so now, but you will see.”
Penelope didn’t think she would ever be considered special by any means, but she went along with what Damari said to her because, deep down, she knew just how badly she wanted it to be true. Maybe it wasn’t, but, maybe it was.
“So, you were a twin?” Damari asked as Penelope paced around the vacant bookstore, not having any idea what her important job was.
“Yes,” she replied. “My sister’s name was Selena. She was kidnapped during the night ten years ago. Nobody knows what happened to her. Perhaps she ran away.”
“Do you ever think of trying to find her?” asked Damari. The old woman placed her wrinkled hands in the center of her lap and tilted her head off to the side, prepared to listen intently and absorb every word that Penelope said.
“I wish I could, but what are the chances of that. It’s been so many years. She could be dead. Or she could have forgotten us and have a different name by now. Sometimes I wish it had been me instead. After all, Selena was always the smarter one. She would have gotten a scholarship. She wouldn’t have needed money to go to school.”
“Penelope, child,” she began. “There is a fifty-fifty chance of everything. You just have to believe in yourself; believe in your dreams; your destiny. Don’t listen to what other people say. Everyone has the chance to do something wonderful; something great. All you have to to is try, and, if you die trying, at least you will not have died in vain.”
Penelope hated that the old lady called her a child, but she knew that she was just being the way geriatric people always seemed to be. Wise. In addition, she knew that Damari was right. I mean, she has to be. Right? How else could anyone have something to hope for?
“Uh, when are we going to do work?”
“You have done all that is required of you today,” she said. “Go home and do not tell anyone about this place. That is a warning.” Slightly shaken up by that last statement, Penelope hurried out to her car and slowly drove home, thinking the whole time about what Damari said. She kept her eyes on the road ahead and did not enjoy the sights as she usually took the time to do. She wanted to play it safe for some reason.
Looking down at her watch, Penelope saw that she had only been gone about an hour. What would her mother think? Would she accuse her of partying? Did she care? The drab white door to the Glenwoods’’ home creaked quietly behind Penelope as she entered the combination living and dining room. She breathed a sigh of relief.
Mrs. Glenwood was sitting at her cherry-furnished desk, filling out some paperwork and getting the checks for all of their bills ready to mail. A stack of about a half-dozen rectangular envelopes was already perched on the corner of the desk, adorned with forever stamps and floral address labels. She looked up.
“Back so soon?” she asked Penelope, her fine eyebrows rising with curiosity as she licked the stamp seal on the envelope for their last payment.
“Yeah,” she answered.
“How come?” Mrs. Glenwood looked a bit concerned and perhaps too motherly for Penelope’s age.
“I finished early,” she said, leaning on the desk and anxiously drumming her fingers against its lacquered surface.
“Did you get paid?” her mother asked.
“No, not yet.”
Mrs. Glenwood simply shrugged her shoulders. “Hey, Penelope,” she called. “Can you get some water started so we can make spaghetti for dinner before your father gets home?” Her voice was rather stern. “You know that if you don’t move out soon, you’re going to have a lot more responsibilities around here, right?”
“Yes, I do. I’ll try to find my own place as soon as I can afford it. Besides, I’m not in any hurry to leave you guys. I’m too spoiled and comfortable here.”
“Uh oh,” Mrs. Glenwood laughed. “We might need to do something to fix that then.”
“Please don’t,” Penelope chuckled. “Not yet, anyway.”
She walked off into the kitchen and got a silver pot out of the worn oak cabinets. She closed her eyes and listened to the soft sound of water rushing into the pot from the sink faucet. Penelope didn’t realize until she felt a hot gush over her hands that the pot was overflowing. She hastily closed the handle of the faucet and drained out some of the water into the sink. She could see the hot, steaming bubbles forming around the drain hole.
Wiping her hands off onto a towel, she then placed the pot on the stove and heated it up. By the time she had fished the box of pasta out of the cupboard, it had reached a rolling boil. She then painstakingly proceeded to stir the spaghetti as it cooked.
As if he had a biological clock for detecting food, her father, Robert Glenwood, can bursting through the door minutes after the meal had reached an al dente texture. Penelope took off her oven mitts and gave her parents the honor of making their own plates. She plopped few tangles of pasta onto her own, grabbing a set of mismatched silverware from its drawer, then sitting down at her place near the window.
“So, how was work?” Mr. Glenwood asked. He took a forkful of pasta and jammed it into his mouth, chewing and swallowing it in a matter of seconds.
“It was fine, I guess,” said Penelope, gulping down a swig of diet cola from her green plastic tumbler.
“Did you make any money yet?” he inquired, pausing to look over at his daughter. He wiped his hands on a cheaply made polka-dot napkin.
“Well,” she began. “Not exactly.”
“Did you do what your boss wanted you to do?”
“I can’t say.”
“What do you mean, you can’t say?” he asked, sounding a bit angry. “You’re not out partying and lying about your job, are you?”
“She was only gone for an hour,” said her mother, Lila. “She probably wouldn’t have had the time.”
“Gone for only an hour on the first day?” Robert questioned. “Did you get fired, Penelope?” A deep frown formed on his work-tanned face.
“No. I’m, uh, working for the government,” she said. “It’s top secret. Classified.”
“Is it safe?” Lila asked, sounding worried.
“It is if she shuts her mouth about it,” Robert responded. “Good job, Penelope. You’ve got a decent shot at a real future after all. Maybe everyone was wrong when they said you needed college. Who knows? Maybe your boss will get you a scholarship and you can go after all. Make sure you do a good job.” His anger had shifted to satisfaction.
“Well, I’m a bit tired,” Penelope said, taking her empty plate over to the sink. “I think I’ll turn in early. I don’t want to be late for work again today.” She let out an exaggerated yawn. “Besides, I really should work on getting that scholarship.”
“Really?” Robert asked. “It’s only four-thirty. Won’t you get a headache? You weren’t up until noon this morning.”
“Work starts at eight tomorrow,” she said, although the truth was that Damari hadn’t given her any insight whatsoever into what time she was supposed to show up for work. In fact, the woman hand’t even asked her to go again the next day, but she assumed that she had to. After all, the woman was a bit off-color; strange, even. Penelope got the impression that Damari Agnes Trent wasn’t the type of woman to be direct and up-front about absolutely anything that she said or did. Penelope would just have to wait and see.
She arrived at her room and quickly hurried over to the window to close the curtains. She faintly recalled how much she used to love looking out the window when she was a child. However, since the day Selena had disappeared, she could not bear it. Quietly, she changed into a pair of board shorts and an oversized T-shirt, then climbed into bed.
Within a few minutes, Penelope Glenwood could feel herself drifting off into a light slumber, and then a very deep one. At first, she slept peacefully.
And then came the dream.
It was dark and all Penelope could see was the deep blue-black sky lit with stars that resembled the end of fireflies. The perfectly spherical moon rested high in its midst, shining down on her from the night above. Its off-white color glistened like the hair of an angel from its high-up location, and the whole world was peaceful. The wind blew just right; perfectly; the air was cool but warm at the same time, and it caressed her skin ever so gently.
She was standing on a smooth, silvery rock that was shaped like seraphim’s toe, only much larger. Surrounding her were eons and eons of perfectly formed grass. It was a shade of deep green likened to that of an exotic rainforest and it could have easily been heaven on earth. From afar, Penelope could hear a soft, running stream, its water trickling along some rugged yet beautifully-crafted stones. She felt completely relaxed and safe. There was nothing she could have ever imagined that would have been better than that moment.
Penelope closed her berry-colored eyes, her deep black eyelashes twitching as slightly and flawlessly as was possible against her milky skin. She heard a sound. Footsteps in the infallible earth, coming closer and closer to where she then stood. They sounded harmless, yet she could sense the imminent danger erupting as each foreign digit pressed lightly against the chocolate-colored dirt; leaving tiny footprints in their wake.
The tiny hairs on the back of Penelope’s neck stood up on end; every single one of them. She could feel the goosebumps forming on her perfect arms, which were neither too slender nor fleshy; but, like the rest of her, just right. As her long fingers began to tremble furiously with fear of what may be to come, she heard a voice. It was the voice of a child. Her sister.
Selena was perfectly preserved from that day nearly ten full years earlier; the day that she had been taken from Penelope and her family. She still had the same blue eyes, the same pale skin, the same small, rounded face and long black hair. She was an exact replica of Penelope herself, save their decade-long difference in age.
The little girl first pressed her tiny finger to her lips, then quietly summoned someone—or something—from behind the shadowy green bushes that lay beyond where the two sisters stood. Dozens of other small children emerged out from past them. One was a boy on older than five. Penelope noticed that he was equally pale and had similar features to herself as well. So did all of the other children, who ranged from barely two years old to about ten or eleven.
Within minutes, perhaps seconds, even, there were no less than two or three hundred of these flawless and eerie young people, all gathered in a familial circle around a patch of fine twigs that had previously been gathered into a large pile about the size of a large apartment building. Penelope gasped, and she was at a complete loss for words. Finally, she was able to muster the strength and the confidence to say something.
“Sister,” she said. “Selena, is that you?” She could feel the color draining from her lips so that it matched the hue of her light face.
“Yes, Penelope,” she replied, turning away from the other children. “We have to stay quiet now,” she added, speaking in her lowest whisper.
“Why do we have to stay quiet?” asked Penelope.
“If we’re too loud, then they will find out you’re here. They’ll know that I brought you. They’ll get you in trouble. And me, too.” She had also begun to look frightened.
“Who? Selena, what do you mean? Are you safe here? Why haven’t you come home?” The elder sister was extremely troubled at the situation.
“You have to leave now,” she said. “Before they catch you.”
Penelope reached her arm far out to where her sister’s tiny hand was fixed at her side. She tried to grab her; to pick her up and take her home, but it was too late. Before their hands could touch, the dream was over.
Penelope Glenwood awoke with a start. She was covered in sweat, and more still poured from every pore in her body. The bed-sheets were wrapped around her and hung half-way off of the bed, trailing onto the floor. Penelope’s heart was thumping heavily inside her chest. She could somehow feel its thick muscle against the hardness of her ribcage, and the beating sounded from within her ears and made a noise which was deafening to her head.
She got up out of the bed and slipped on her purple flip-flops, then walked carefully over to her dresser. She looked into the mirror and saw how droopy and tired her eyes were. Dark bags hung below them, sinking them in and causing her to look worn-out. She then glanced over at the digital alarm clock that rested on her bedside table. It was three forty-three in the morning.
So much for getting a good night’s rest before work tomorrow, she though. Oh, wait, it’s already tomorrow. Tomorrow is today. Damn it!
Penelope, realizing that she was extremely thirsty, dragged her aching feet across the floor and into her kitchen, turning the light-switch on to put an end to its darkness. Her vision was a bit blurry and her eyes were woozier than they had been a couple of years earlier when she tried beer for the first time.
Dizzy, she rested her shaking hand on the edge of the brown marble countertops, then pulled herself up as much as she could and reached for a plastic cup inside the kitchen cabinet. She clutched it firmly between her unsteady fingers and staggered over to the stainless steel sink. She let the tap water run into the bright pink cup, then turned off the faucet and lifted it to her dry, dehydrated lips, savoring each and every ample gulp than ran down her burning throat.
Once her thirst was satisfied and she had enough water to replenish her body for the rest of the night, or, rather, morning, she stumbled over to the leather couch that resembled her hair in its color. Her hand, now much more steady, fumbled along its grooves until they found the hard plastic of the TV remote. She picked it up and pressed her index finger firmly against the power button until the huge black screen filled with the color picture of the night-time news.
Penelope leaned back into her favorite seat, trying to relax after the strange nightmare that she had. Just then, the pretty blonde news reporter came on with the latest breaking story.
“Good morning, New York,” she said. “However, it is not exactly a good morning for some of us. Linda and Walden Hertz, a couple from our town, woke up to find their four-year-old son, Tommy Hertz, missing from his bed.” The screen flashed a huge picture of the child, and Penelope became aware almost immediately that it was the same boy that had been standing with her much younger-looking twin sister in the dream she just awoke from.
The tremor in Penelope’s limbs returned. She hoped that what she now saw on the news was only a second part to her horrid nightmare. However, when she touched her hand to the coffee table and rubbed a thick, glass coaster repeatedly with it and she could feel every minute detail, she became aware once and for all that she was no longer dreaming. This was real.
Afraid that her parents would wake up and find her stirring about in the middle of the night, prowling in the wee hours of the morning, she tried the best that she could to re-gather her sanity and return to her own bedroom. Once inside, she turned on—and left on—the light, then jumped into her bed. She pulled the mangled covers back around her perspiring body.
Eventually, Penelope must have fallen asleep, because, when she woke up for the second time, it was past seven-thirty in the morning. Realizing that she had planned on being at work for eight, she quickly grabbed a pair of shorts and a tank top, then, after weighing the options of being on time and sweaty or late and clean, rushed into the shower.
Once inside, she could feel the water gushing out over her skin as she lathered it up with lavender-scented soap. She let it run long and hot over her body, rubbing coconut shampoo into the tangles of her hair, then pulling a brush through it before rinsing. After she finally felt squeaky-clean, she got out, drying herself with a pale peach-colored bath towel, then dressing as quickly as possible in her basic summer clothing.
Penelope hurried down the stairs once she was dressed. Her mother was already sitting down in the kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee with some toast and jelly. She grabbed an extra slice off of a plate in the center of the table, eating it practically whole along with a few gulps from a giant mug of iced cappuccino.
“So,” Mrs. Glenwood said. “You’re eating breakfast before you take off today. Is that a good sign or a bad sign?” she asked.
“It’s more of a bad sign, Mom,” she replied, wiping her mouth off on a napkin and throwing it down onto the table.
“It is?” she inquired. “Well, that’s just perfect,” she added.
“Anyway, I’ve got to go,” Penelope said to her mother, licking a smidgen of jelly from her right pinkie finger. “I’m already late for work. Bye.”
She got into her car, and, as she drove along the road leading to where Hear the Word bookstore resided, she could not help but think that she was being a bad daughter. After all, she had been blowing her mother and father off whenever they showed nothing but pure and utter concern—love, even. And, it had all started when she first got the job working for Damari. She had only been officially employed there for about a day, but her reclusiveness had begun before that. She’d seemed distant to her whole family ever since she filled out the application; ever since she’d finished high school and taken on a job instead of going off to college. Perhaps it had started when she failed to earn the grades to get a scholarship. But, in Penelope’s own opinion, it had started ten years earlier—on the night that Selena disappeared. She shuddered.
Just then, Penelope heard a loud screeching sound and felt her foot instinctively slam down on the brake peddles just in time for her to avoid hitting an old-fashioned blue Mustang from the 1960s head-on. She rushed out of the car as soon as she had it back under control. When she looked up from the pebbly street to the buildings that lay in front of her, Penelope was amazed to realize that she had gotten all the way to the very front lot of Hear the Word. That sent a deep shiver through her spine, and it radiated all the way up to the dark hairs on her head, leaving them wrought with a strange, tingling sensation in the roots.
A bit shaken, but mostly undaunted, Penelope proceeded into the entrance room of the bookstore. Damari was behind the front desk, leafing through the yellowed pages of a book with binding that closely resembled that of the very book she had been forbidden to touch—so closely, in fact, that she was sure it was the exact same volume.
When Damari noticed Penelope staring at her from the front door, the old woman slammed the mysterious book shut, placing it somewhere under the desk and far out of sight. She looked up at her new employee with anger in her expression.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I’m just here to do my job,” Penelope replied, adding, “Whatever that might be.”
“Pardon?” inquired Damari, looking rather offended.
“Nothing,” she answered, becoming increasingly anxious.
“Good,” Damari responded. “So, child,” she began. “How did you sleep last night?” she asked, cocking her head off to one side.
“W-what are you talking about?” Penelope asked her, astonished. She had put in her best efforts with make-up to cover the dark circles from her night of lost slumber.
“Last night was a special night, now, wasn’t it?” she asked boldly, grinning a strange and eerie smile. Penelope didn’t know what to say.
“What’s the matter?” the woman added.
That was the last thing that Penelope remembered before it happened.
When Penelope woke up after passing out, she was still at Hear the Word. What is Damari hiding, she thought? Why didn’t she bring me to the hospital? She really wanted to know. However, the only thing that was now completely clear to Penelope was that her new boss was hiding something. But, what could it be? She decided to step up and ask her.
“How did you know about my dream?” she asked Damari, raking her fingers through her deep black mane out of frustration and anxiety. “What other kinds of things are you hiding from me? How am I ever going to be able to trust you? To be quite honest, I’m kind of freaked out right now and you apparently know what’s going on but you won’t tell me.”
“Child, child,” Damari replied. “You are still not ready to learn the truth. I must train you first. On the exact day that marks a decade since Selena’s disappearance; that is the day that you will finally be ready. Your official training will begin today, Penelope.”
“Really?” Penelope asked, adding, “Because you said yesterday that we had ‘much work to do,’ yet you won’t even let me look at any of these books.” She tossed her arms up into the air. “Wouldn’t you think that was, well, I don’t know, a little—suspicious?”
“There is no need to fear me, child,” she said. “Now, come. Come to the archives. I have something to show you.” Damari began walking past the dizzying array of books, all the way to her secret chamber of knowledge.
Penelope followed her into the forbidden room, wondering what she was about to discover. She bit her fingernails nervously as she approached the door to Damari’s archives, then finally found enough bravery to enter. The room looked the same as it had the day before; with its uncharacteristic orderliness that contrasted with the rest of the building. Penelope guessed that whoever had organized the archives so carefully had not been the woman that stood before her now. She wondered how Damari—and whoever else had ever worked here—had managed to run a bookstore that did not sell books. Had they sold some at one time, long ago? Perhaps a time when the knowledge contained in the books had not been so guarded a secret? How did they keep customers away? Did they die?
As she walked along through the rows upon rows of dusty volumes, Penelope traced her index finger over some of their spines, feeling a sense of the ages-old abandonment that these books must have faced while tucked away in that very room. Great, she thought. I’m going crazy now; thinking that books have feelings and—even worse—that I can sense them. What the hell is wrong with me? Maybe I should get out of here…her thoughts trailed off, lost in the infinite depths of her own mind forever, or, at least for now. Penelope did not know at all what her future might hold; only that her life would soon be changed.
She noticed that Damari watched her as she touched each and every one of the books in passing, yet, the woman did not seem to care. Only the day before, her employer would hardly let her stand next to one of the books, and, now, it didn’t seem to matter that she was violating that demand. Considering that Penelope had subtly admitted being a witness, if not an actual participant, in the strange occurrence of the night before, perhaps Damari had come to trust her assistant enough to know that she meant no harm. After all, had Penelope not stayed at work even after passing out from fright at her boss’ comment?
It was then that she realized something that she had not picked up on before. It had been a test. Asking her about the dream had been a test. A test to see if she was trustworthy; If she was—Penelope could hardly admit it—special.
“It is time, child,” she heard the woman say. “Time,” she began again, “For you to see the first clue as to why you are destined to be so much more than you currently are.” Damari was standing next to a shelf located towards the back of the room. It was rather secluded; sitting by the wall on its own; without any adjacent collections.
“I’ll be ready when you say I am.” Her throat tightened.
“Good,” replied Damari. “Exactly what I was hoping to hear,” she continued. “Now, let’s take the first step towards your mission.”
“What mission?” Penelope asked, feeling somewhat confused.
“That,” she answered, “you will not become aware of just yet.” The woman pulled her long, gray hair back into a tight bun, tying it with a time-faded blue ribbon that matched her simple sundress, which trailed past her ankles, grazing the floor with every step that she took. Then, Damari reached for a thin, unlabeled book with an outer sleeve made of coarse, yellowed paper. It looked as if it had been on this lonely shelf for not a day less than one hundred years. There I go again, Penelope thought. Thinking that a book could be lonely. She opened the front cover, gently pushing away some cobwebs that tangled through tiny little holes in the material of the binding. A spider the color of Penelope’s hair crawled away from the web that had, by now, reached the floor.
Instinctively, Penelope began to reach towards it with the tip of her shoe. Just before her foot slammed down to hit the spider, Damari grabbed her by the leg, startling her. Penelope was surprised at how strong Damari was for an old woman. Then, she gently placed her leg down in another direction, away from the spider. A stern glare formed on the woman’s face. She looked at Penelope. “Never, and I mean never even try to do something like that, ever again.”
Feeling suddenly ashamed at her actions, Penelope glanced down at the spider. As it scurried away, she could have sworn she saw tiny blue beads where the spider’s eyes should have been. Her thoughts immediately shifted to the children that she had seen in her dream the night before—to her sister, Selena. A shiver ran up her spine, goosebumps covering her limbs. Hoping that Damari would not notice, she quickly and vigorously rubbed at the skin on her arms until the goosebumps disappeared.
Unfortunately, Damari had noticed. “So,” she said. “Now you see? You are learning very quickly,” she noted, adding, “much more quickly than I would have expected.”
“Are we going to look at the book now?” Penelope asked, hoping that she had not just proved herself unworthy and reset the clock back to her theoretical probation.
“Go right ahead,” Damari responded, handing her the gritty book. Penelope began to flip through the pages, glancing over them in disbelief at what they contained.
“They’re empty,” she said, astonished. “Why are they empty? I thought I was going to learn something.” Silent tears of frustration began to well up within the unseen soul of Penelope’s eyes. She began to suspect that this was all a game.
Damari laughed. “Well, of course the book is empty!” she exclaimed. “Did you really think that I was ever going to let you look at classified information after working for me only two days?” she asked scoffing again. “The spider was the lesson for today.”
“The spider?” Penelope asked, somewhat amused, but much more frightened than the former. “How on earth did you know that I was going to try to step on it?” she questioned rather curiously.
Damari’s chuckle returned. “I will always know what you are going to do in advance,” she said. “How else do you think I would have known to hire you—or any of the other things that I seem to know about me without you ever telling me?”
“I—well, I didn’t really think of that.” Penelope just stood there for a moment, wondering why Damari did not respond.
“Why are you still here, child?” she asked, using her familiar over-motherly tone, which Penelope still found a little bit disquieting since she did not really know Damari very well.
“Isn’t there something else to do today?” she questioned, though, if it was to be anything like the day before, she already had a pretty good idea of what the answer would be.
“You can go home now,” Damari replied, confirming Penelope’s prior assumption.
“Okay, then.” She walked out the front door, trudging over to her car. Once inside the vehicle, Penelope drove slowly, having a more responsible approach towards driving since her near-accident earlier that morning.
About half-way on her trip home, she stopped at an old-fashioned diner with classic 1950s metal exterior. Penelope went inside, hoping to wait out the rest of her shift so her parents would not ask questions that could lead to her giving up any of what Damari had shown her. A friendly-looking waitress with red hair and sparkling green eyes approached her, dressed completely in vintage-style restaurant garb.
“May I take your order?” the girl questioned cheerfully.
“Sure,” Penelope responded, probably sounding a bit disgruntled.
“What would you like?” asked the waitress, her voice faltering ever so slightly but enough that Penelope briefly wondered if her rudeness had offended the girl.
“Just a big piece of old-fashioned apple pie and a strawberry milkshake,” she said, involuntarily sounding a bit fresh again.
The waitress laughed. “We don’t sell that here anymore,” she replied. “Haven’t since my grandmother’s time,” she added. “But we do have doughnuts and diet smoothies.”
“That’s fine,” I guess. There I am being rude again, she thought.
“Are you fine?” the waitress inquired, surprising her just a bit. How could she tell that she wasn’t? Would her parents be able to when she got home? Penelope hesitated, postponing her eventual answer.
“I could tell,” she said. “I have a daughter at home. She’s a lot younger than you though, obviously,” the girl said, looking at her sideways. She must have picked up on the fact that Penelope was worried she’d been rude. Good, Penelope thought. She doesn’t mind. I didn’t hurt her feelings. “After all,” the young woman said, “I am only twenty-eight.”
“You’re still ten years older than me,” Penelope said, testing to see if the waitress was still cool with her surly attitude. Her voice cracked at the end of her sentence, just after the words “ten years” passed from the boundaries of her lips. She was yet again reminded of Selena and all of the things that Damari would soon teach her. Your mission, she had said.
“You’re eighteen?” she asked. “You have a job? We’re hiring here…”
“Yeah, I have a job at a—library,” she replied, trying her very best not to hesitate when she spoke. She had to be careful with that. Then, trying to change the subject, she added, “So, anyway, you never told me how old your daughter was.” Part of Penelope’s curiosity surely stemmed from the recent revival of her Selena-centered thinking. Deep down, she was wondering if the girl’s daughter was someone that she could get to know and be like a sister with if she never found Selena as Damari had promised.
“My daughter?” she questioned, looking a bit puzzled. Her brow furrowed, making the previously invisible wrinkles on her face much more prominent. “She’s eight years old; in the third grade starting this fall.”
There’s the ten years thing again, Penelope thought. She’s ten years younger than me. Then, in a startled realization, Penelope became aware that the waitress’ daughter was the same age that Selena had been on the night of her disappearance. “Do you have a picture of her?” she asked the girl, hoping it wasn’t a total line crosser. She desperately needed to see one.
“Sure,” said Rory, which, by the tag on the front of her apron, Penelope now noted, was her name. Well, her first name, anyway. She reached into a pocket on the left side of her short uniform skirt, pulling out a vivid color photo of her little girl. She then handed it to Penelope.
Looking at the photo up close, she was startled, but not surprised. The child in the photo was much like she and her sister. Black hair. Blue eyes. White skin. Angelic-looking. Penelope handed the photo back to Rory. She tried to keep calm and smile as she did so, saying, “She’s adorable. Reminds me of my sister.” Of course, it hurt just a little even to say that.
“Actually,” Rory began, “she looks a lot more like you than me.”
“Is she your, uh, biological kid?” If Penelope had not offended Rory before, she suspected that she might have at that point.
“Yup, she sure is!” Rory exclaimed, and, to Penelope’s relief, she didn’t sound insulted in the least. “People ask me that all the time, with my red hair and all. I tell ‘em ‘Yes! And her father was a Colombian immigrant.’”
“Wow.” That was all that she could manage to say. She stuffed the last bite of her doughnut into her mouth and sucked down the milky ice-water that was left of her smoothie. “I guess I’ll be going home now,” she said, fibbing, “I have to be on time for a college entrance exam later this afternoon.”
“Oh, okay,” Rory answered as she picked up Penelope’s plate and glass off the table, turning and retreating behind the front counter, into the kitchen where Penelope could hear her drop the dishes into the sink with a mixture of care and carelessness.
Just before walking away, Penelope asked Rory, “What’s your daughter’s name?”
“Abby,” she said. “Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know,” Penelope lied. Pushing even further past personal boundaries, she proceeded to question, “What’s her birthday?” Quickly realizing that she had gone way, way too far, she abruptly added, “If you don’t mind me asking, that is.”
It was extremely clear that Rory felt a bit uncomfortable with Penelope’s questions; maybe even a little beyond that; perhaps totally weirded-out. But, she responded anyway.
“September twenty-first,” she said.
Penelope’s heart felt as though it had stopped for a second. September twenty-first was her birthday. It was Selena’s birthday. Was Abby next?
Trying not to seem even more freaked-out than what Rory was, which, in all due fact, was exactly how she felt, Penelope grabbed the soft yellow shoulder-purse that she carried with her everywhere and had almost forgotten on the barstool-like chair. Before Rory had any chance of noticing her very noticeable fear, she ran out of the diner and out to her car.
Once she had arrived home, Penelope Glenwood knew that she was dead set on what she needed to do next. As she walked through the front door, her mother, who stood by the telephone, chatting away to an insurance agency, did not address her, but, rather, seemed to take into account that her daughter had presumably spent a longer and much more productive day at work than she had during her previous attempt. She seemed to be satisfied enough with that not to push any farther into questioning Penelope about what she had actually accomplished.
Penelope charged into her bedroom and walked over to her simple oak computer desk, her summer shoes thumping reverently on the hard ground. She roughly and somewhat carelessly grabbed her thin silver laptop from the desk and sat down on her bed. She looked out the window at the budding stars for the first time in ten years before opening the lid of her computer.
Once the thing had turned on, which didn’t take very long at all considering the ample supply of Random Access Memory on her machine, Penelope double-clicked the round, colorful icon for her web browser and waited about half a second for the search engine on her homepage to fire up and load. She wrestled with the unruly touchpad until her cursor finally rested over the search bar, then she clicked, typing in “Massachusetts birth records.”
Penelope had to scroll through a few pages of search engine results that would most likely lead to crooked malware distributors or identity thieves, before finding a reputable link that got the green check mark of approval from her built-in antivirus software. She loaded up the page and then did a reverse lookup on children born on September twenty-first over the course of the last thirty years, just to be sure.
When the data finally ran through, thousands of names popped up. Her own and her sister’s were there near the top of the list, with the rest of the C’s. After some brief hesitation, she did a key command search for Tommy Hertz. A listing for his birth certificate came up, but, when she clicked on it, it was password protected.
I didn’t want to have to do this, Penelope thought. She pulled up her password-cracking program that she had built a few months earlier to get at the instant messages of her friend’s ex to see if he was cheating. The program ran through dozens of possible combinations before stopping when it hit the combo “password1.” Seriously, she thought. Okay.
The birth certificate was up on her computer screen. Her eyes ran through until she reached the birthdate. September twenty-first. Then, she noticed something else. Tommy Hertz had a twin brother named Dylan who, unlike Tommy, had never been reported missing. Penelope gasped, her eyes gaping wide open. She quickly closed the file and then did an advanced search for children named Abby with a mother named Rory. Only one came up; Abby Addison, the daughter of Rory Addison and Juan Sanchez. Well, I guess Rory tells the truth.
Just as Penelope was about to click the x-button in the corner of the screen, she noticed that there was another file in that folder. She opened it and could not believe what she saw. There was another child listed on the same birthday for Rory and Juan; a girl named Lindsey. Penelope scrolled down the page. Across the bottom was a huge red word printed in all capitals: DECEASED. Penelope almost cried. Not knowing if she could take what she might find, she did another search for Lindsey’s death records. To her surprise, there wasn’t one.
Apparently, a missing child report had been filed two years earlier for her, but the police stopped searching and presumed her dead after finding an unknown child’s body that had been hit by a car nearby. But, what if it wasn’t her, Penelope thought. What if she’s with Selena and Tommy? What if Damari is right? What if I can find them?
Before powering her laptop down, Penelope had one search left to do. She ran a check for all missing child reports in the country of Caucasian children with blue eyes and black hair. When the page finally loaded, it brought back seven hundred and seventy-three results. This time, Penelope did cry. Then, all of a sudden, her computer system had a glitch. Head-shots of all the children began popping up onto the screen. They were definitely the children that she had seen in her dream. The only difference was that, in her dream, there had been many more. She scaled back the search range to the beginning of the public records.
Her face fell. There had been thousands and thousands more, beginning in 1856. Exactly seven hundred and seventy-seven were taken the same way, mysteriously in the night, per ten years. The time frames and the numbers per week, month, and single year, were completely unpredictable as far as Penelope could tell. The current year was 2013. That meant that there were three years left in this cycle. Four more children, and eight more sets of twins.
I have to tell Damari, she thought. Well, tomorrow, that is. Having lost her appetite, Penelope went to bed without her dinner, but it would be a long time before she would be able to sleep easy once again.
That night, Penelope Glenwood did not have any dreams. However, she had just as difficult of a night as she would on an eve amidst the worst nightmare imaginable. For the majority of the time, as the bright green numbers on her digital alarm clock slowly, yet surely, increased, she tossed and turned recklessly. Her bed covers once again twisted beneath her over-heated self, tangling with her body until they ended up falling to the floor with the various clothes and footwear that she so often tossed messily around without a care.
From within her blackened, disturbed slumber, Penelope could hear the goings on around the seemingly sleepless house. Her mind filled with strange images and strings of nonsense words; so much that her head began to throb. She saw Selena again; her face, her eyes, her sadness, but it was not a dream, for she was surely not sleeping.
Thankfully, the morning woke her at eight, and she would presumably be on time for work the first time that week. As usual, she showered, dressed, ate, and left for Hear the Word as soon as she could, although she was still somewhat dispassionate to the strangeness of the place. Gladly, she did not face any accidents on the way there.
Once her car was parked in front of the eerie bookstore, Penelope charged forth into it with a different kind of determination than what she used to have. The door slammed behind her and she walked straight up to Damari’s old desk.
“I didn’t sleep well last night,” she said, sure that the woman already knew.
“Ah, child,” she began, “I figured as much with those bags under your eyes and your clothes in complete disarray.” Damari looked pensive.
“You mean your psychic powers didn’t alert you to it before I came?” Penelope inquired sarcastically, rolling her eyes just slightly.
“Well, that too, I suppose,” Damari said, adding, “And, I see you are in the process of acquiring a fine sense of humor, am I right?”
“Not in the slightest. Besides, there’s nothing humorous about what I saw on some state records on my computer last night.”
“The photos and records of the other lost children?” she asked.
“Yes,” Penelope replied, startled. “How did you know?”
“You have to ask?”
“I guess not.”
Damari walked out from behind her desk, dressed in a drab grey dress with brown sandals like the ones male biblical figures often wore in famous paintings. Her hair was tied back in its usual tight bun, the silver color shining out from beneath a thick layer of hairpins that varied in their hue.
“We need to talk,” she said. “And not just the way that we have been.”
“Go on,” Penelope responded submissively.
“You see, there are a special kind of people out there that few people know about. They are called the Dream Reapers.”
“Aren’t Dream Reapers people who steal?”
“Yes,” she replied. “But these Dream Reapers are so much more than that.”
“Dream Reapers are people who have the power to retrieve things from within other realms; from within their own dreams. They are made like the moon despite their origins: black hair like the night sky, blue eyes like dust, skin as white as a glowing star. They are always born in sets of twins. One of the twins, the second to be born, is taken in the night, from within their own dreams, so that they may go to the world of dreams and use their special connection with their twin for the power of good.”
“How do they do that?” Penelope asked Damari.
“You see, the twin that stays on Earth is the one who has the power to retrieve anything they want or need from within a dream. However, they cannot do that without their twin; their other half, being a part of the other realm in order to permanently tie them to the endless night sky of possibilities.”
“That doesn’t tell me what I want to know,” Penelope said. “How do I get Selena back?”
“Penelope, child,” she said, rubbing her hands together. “You will only get your sister back if you can complete the mission that will be revealed to you on the anniversary of her disappearance. Among all of the Earth twins, you have been chosen for this duty. When your sister returns with you, so will all other Dream Reapers whose siblings are still alive.”
“If it’s not going to be revealed to me yet,” she asked, “Then, why are you telling me all of this now?” Penelope’s curiosity peaked nearly as much as it had when she first saw the forbidden book in the store’s main lobby.
“Because,” she said. “I must begin to train you in the art of Dream Piracy; you must learn to take things from within your dreams; simple objects at first, then more. Perhaps. With the help of your sister and the other Dream Reapers, of course.”
“When do we start?” Penelope asked, fiddling with the top of her shirt collar. Her neck felt itchy all of a sudden.
Damari waved her arm for Penelope to follow, and then they walked back to the archives as they had the day before. She lead her towards a different corner at the back of the room; one with a door that was barely visible, its faint outline peeping out from beneath a flawless similarity in the paint color of the door itself and the door surrounding it.
Penelope was rather surprised to see the most beautiful garden that she had ever seen, awaiting her beyond the door. Blue-green grass adorned the soft-soiled ground, which was also lined with fine daisies and blooming roses. The sky in this garden was deeper and darker than that which hovered above the rest of the world. It was studded with the most glorious stars, made of yellowish-white beauty, that Penelope had ever seen. In the epicenter of the garden was a smooth iron park bench topped with soft gold pillows.
“Lay down there,” Damari said. “It is specially designed for the first Dream Piracy because it is sprinkled with the ashes of the first martyred .”
“Okay, sure,” Penelope replied hesitantly, a little scared at the thought of sleeping on someone’s ashes that she did not even know. She laid down upon the bench, trying to relax. To her surprise, she was asleep almost immediately, but she could still hear the sounds from around her in the garden.
“Imagine something that you’ve always wanted, but could not have, and say it out loud,” Damari’s voice said. Before Penelope had a chance to speak, she added, “Let’s begin with something small; perhaps a toy you wanted as a child or a new shirt or something.”
“Okay,” she said. “Well, I’ve always wanted gold hoop earrings with diamonds lined up all around them.”
“Good. Now, imagine that they are right in front of you. Tell me what you see.”
“I see a jewelry store with a pretty glass window and the earrings are resting on a green velvet case in the window. I am outside looking at them.”
“Now, picture the glass disappearing.”
“Okay, I pictured the glass disappearing. Now what?”
“Imagine that Selena is there with you. She is inside the jewelry store, holding the earrings in her hand; holding them out to you.”
Penelope gulped. Her long-missing sister now stood before her. The little earrings were pressed against the child’s tiny palm, which was distended away from her frail body, held out towards Penelope as she had been told to envision.
“Now, reach out, and gently take them. As you do so, wish with all your heart that you had them. Do not focus your attention on anything—or anyone—else.”
She reached out her hands and moved towards Selena, trying as hard as she could to wish only for the earrings. She let her sister’s face blur away from the focus of her vision. Concentrating with all of her might, she took the earrings from the girl. At first, they were like empty air in her fingers. She wished for them harder. They became solid, icy and metallic to the touch, the rugged stones against the pads of her fingertips.
“Leave now,” Damari’s voice said to her. “You are finished.” Penelope could feel something in side of her being sucked through the air, as if she were traveling through a vortex. She felt dizzy and disoriented. Then, she felt as if she were laying down once again. As she did so, she noticed herself lying on the bench. Then, she was lying on the bench. She woke up.
“See,” Damari added, “That wasn’t so terrible, now? Was it?”
“No,” Penelope responded. “I guess it wasn’t.” She was sweaty and clammy as she had been when she awoke from her nightmares back at home. Suddenly, she realized she could feel something clutched between the tired fingers of her right hand. The earrings, she thought.
Fiddling nervously with the jewelry, she looked to Damari. “I…I took these…from a jewelry store,” she stuttered. “Isn’t that stealing?”
Damari laughed dismissively. “No, of course it isn’t,” she answered. “You see,” she began again, “You only extracted the essence of those from the real thing and then made it real. Those earrings are still exactly where you saw them; in a diamond shop out in Finland.”
“Finland?” Penelope asked, feeling quite shocked. She still clutched the jewelry in her hand, and it felt like a combination of energy and poison against her delicate skin.
“Yes,” Damari answered. “You know, I’m rather impressed. Most people can only travel a few miles away on their first attempt. It really does prove that you are destined for this great mission more than anyone else could have been.”
“There were others before me?” she asked, not sure whether to be insulted that she wasn’t as special as Damari claimed, or relieved that she wasn’t going to venture out into something that was technically a complete world of the unknown.
“Only two. Neither of them ever went on an actual mission. They were unable to pass the final tests that would determine their ability to venture out; nor were they ever able to completely prove their integrity.”
So much for not venturing out into the unknown, Penelope thought. “Wait,” she said to Damari, adjusting her clothes, which had gotten wrinkled up from lying on the bench for so long. “Why couldn’t I just have brought Selena home right then and there instead of working so hard for a stupid piece of jewelry?”
“Patience, child,” Damari replied. “You are not yet ready to complete your vital mission; not until the day that I will reveal the final truths to you. If you had even attempted to retrieve Selena today, you could have lost her to that realm forever. In addition, when you do complete the mission; your destiny; you must bring back all of the Dream Reapers, with no exceptions. If you cared only to get your sister back, then you would be dismissed from this mission. However, even before I selected you out of all the remaining twins, I knew deep down that you are very empathetic and that you do care about all of those children; not just Selena. This is true even if you do not believe it to be so in the present hour. In the end, you will bring them all back.”
“How can you be so sure that I will?” Penelope inquired. “How can you be sure that I can? That I’m good enough?”
“Believe, child,” she said. “Simply believe and you will succeed.” Damari let her hair loose from her typical bun, looking suddenly tired. “Go home now,” she said. “Enjoy today because yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come. Don’t live in the past or worry about the future; every thing will turn out perfectly as long as it is meant to be. Those are words told to me by the wisest people of all.”
Penelope left Hear the Word and drove home. When she arrived, she found her mother and father already eating their dinner. Apparently, to her own surprise, she had stayed at work much longer than she thought she had. Yet, her family seemed happy to see her taking charge of her own life, and they did not seem to mind that she was late arriving home.
“Hey, Mom; Hey, Dad,” she said to them, filling a plate with the chicken and white rice that was already cooked and sitting in a large pan atop their electric stovetop. Once she had piled her helping onto the dish, she took a seat beside her mother.
“Penelope,” Mrs. Glenwood said. “How was work today?” Her voice sounded much cheerier than usual, as if she had experienced a better day than she had in a very long time.
“It was good,” she answered, although she still did not know exactly what to make of the strange day that she’d just had.
“Glad to hear that,” Mr. Glenwood replied, spooning some rice into his mouth. “I can’t believe that my little girl is done with school and working already. I’m so much prouder of you than I could have been if you had gone to college. You’re learning to work for a living the way your mother and I did years ago. It’s different for the time, but I like it.”
“Thanks, Dad,” she responded, digging in to her food with a voracious appetite, probably fueled by her newfound sense of self-acceptance and overall importance. Within minutes, she had finished. After that, she helped clean up and headed off to bed.
Penelope’s ability to dream returned to her that night. Just before she fell asleep, she had begun to wonder exactly why she’d been going to bed so early since she started to work for Damari at Hear the Word. I hope this dream realm isn’t taking over my real life, she had thought. Now, once again being deep within her slumber, she could feel the initiation of a new dream creeping up from the back of her mind.
Her mind was soon consumed by it; she did not seem to have any more control over the images that flew through the depths of her consciousness. She was in an empty, barren field. Only wispy tufts of pale grey grass sprouted at infrequent places in the hard, dry soil. Not a single flower or blossomed fruit appeared in its endless expanse. There were no other plants to be seen from a great distance. She was alone.
Penelope walked and walked along the stone cold dirt; her feet were bare and her exposed arms shivered in the biting wind that swept over her, causing her night dress to sway in its wake. The sky was colored an unusual shade of pale orange; much different from what she had grown accustomed to over the course of her lifetime. It appeared to be some strange combination of a sunset and a night sky, all pictured as if amidst a blaring snowstorm coupled with thunder and the infinitesimal, almost indistinguishable presence of a summer sun that could easily have been hiding behind the majestic blue moon that rose above her head.
As Penelope walked along the infinite sterile landscape, it began to rain. The colorless drops were icy like hail as they hit her skin, first dampening her hair, they tracing down along her to her toes. Then, they grew suddenly warm before they fell to the ground, where each and every one of them was soaked up eagerly by the spongy earthen floor.
Just then, she heard a cry in the distance; the cry of a young child. Her eyes were soon blinded by a flash of thunder so deafening, yet which was far dull enough that her ears were not spared the sounds of tiny footsteps. As their noise grew louder, a small figure became increasingly clear within the immense fog surrounding the over-filled clouds. Penelope’s hands were shaking; she felt suddenly colder and warmer in the very same moment; her mind and her eyes were wrought with the confusion which accompanied this inevitable encounter. She could see and know with absolute certainty that the child was her sister, Selena. With that realization came the fright that almost drew away the breath from her lungs that were already clouded with the pale and invisible smoke that swept in from afar.
“I knew you would come back, Penelope,” the little girl said to her, smiling a purely innocent smile and holding a single red flower in her hand.”
“Where did you get that?” she asked her sister, pointing to the flower in the child’s hand. She had not seen any sign of natural life aside from the two of them before.
She did not answer Penelope’s question. Instead she simply supplied, “It’s for you.” She smiled again. When her sister did not respond, the corners of her pallid lips turned downward into a bereaved pout. “Don’t you like it?” she asked.
“Of course I do,” Penelope said, holding out her hand towards the girl. She attempted to touch the child’s shoulder with care as if she really were her elder sibling, but Selena pulled away from her, and, just as she did, Penelope could tell that her sister was made completely out of the same misty air which surrounded them and enveloped her so cruelly.
“It’s not time,” she said, adding, “You’re not ready. Listen to Damari; she knows.” Selena looked down, her eyes shutting for a moment as they prepared to trace over the ground. She still held the flower in her hand; Penelope had not yet taken it. When she saw her sister’s longing, grieving gaze meet her, she held out the flower. “Here, It’s for you,” she said again.
Penelope took the florid petal from her sister’s fragile hand, into her much larger and burlier one. She was careful not to crush the dainty rose with the burst of anxious strength that bubbled up inside her knotted stomach. The flower was completely solid as soon as it touched her skin. She was improving her ability to moonlight already. She closed her eyes and willed with all her might that she and the flower would return together, safely, to her home.
Once more, she could feel herself being sucked from the realm of dreams and back into her unconscious body. After her spirit and corporeal forms had joined yet again, she could feel the immense heat that covered her. Perspiration poured from her scalp; moistening her ebony locks nearly as thoroughly as the rain had in her dream. Despite this, however, she still shivered with the icy cold feeling of indefinite fear.
Her alarm clock buzzed; it was already eight in the morning. Penelope turned over sleepily and groaned; she was still drained of energy from her unusual dream. She could hear her mother calling her from downstairs in the kitchen, which was situated just below her bedroom.
“Penelope, I made blueberry pancakes.” Just then, she realized that she was hungry for them. In fact, she had never been hungrier in her life. She got up without even bothering to get dressed. As she stumbled groggily over to her bedroom door, she inadvertently released her hand from the fist it had made. Something fell to the floor. She looked down; it was the rose.
For the first time in quite a while, Penelope smiled; really smiled. She got dressed as quickly as she could, and ran downstairs.
I finally did it, Penelope thought as she left the house after breakfast. I can moonlight on my own. But, what will Damari think? She was feeling ecstatic; although the week before, she had known absolutely nothing about Dream Piracy, the fact that she had retrieved a flower from her own dream without her tutor’s guidance despite having just learned the skill made her feel accomplished in such a way that she could not have felt had she acquired any normal job. Penelope could not wait to tell Damari that she had dream reaped on her own, yet she was somewhat hesitant to do so because she was afraid of what the woman would think.
Feeling as if there was nothing in the world she could not handle, Penelope Glenwood drove to work at Hear the Word Bookstore just a little bit faster that morning, while still remaining as careful to avoid an accident as possible. She burst into the main lobby with great energy.
“Feeling a bit full of yourself today, are you?” Damari asked, throwing Penelope a sideways glance before looking down at a stack of file cards on her desk.
“Maybe,” she answered, not exactly trying to make it obvious that she had possibly broken a major rule the night before. She clicked her fingernails nervously on a rail that blocked off a section of shelving by the side wall.
Damari took a deep breath. “I figured you would moonlight on your own after the precocious experience we had with you yesterday. I take it you didn’t traumatize your own senses so much that you want to abandon the mission?”
Penelope laughed, tying her frayed hair up into a ponytail. “Nope,” she said, adding, “I mean, I was a little freaked out at first, but I’m actually starting to think that this Dream Piracy stuff is pretty chill, except for the super-extreme weather part.”
“I’m glad to hear that you’re growing accustomed to the whole thing,” Damari replied, shoving a handful of the file cards into a neat little yellow container and stashing it into the top drawer of her desk. “But,” she began, pointing a finger at Penelope, “You need to be careful, too, child. Very careful indeed.” The woman clicked the toe of her black leather sandals on the floor; they made a peculiarly benign tapping sound.
“Of course I’ll be careful,” Penelope replied solemnly. “I know all too well what Dream Piracy can do. I mean, just look at what ended up happening to Selena the very first time she crossed over into the realm where Dream Reapers are.” She crossed her arms over her chest, bringing the left one over to her mouth so that she could bite her already gnawed-off fingernails. She had always been the nervous one as a kid; Selena had been fearless and brave. Look where that got her, she thought. Maybe I’m not cut out for this after all.
“Good.” Damari was looking intently at an ancient clock ticking away up on the wall. It had to be even older than the oldest of the books Penelope had seen so far. “I don’t think you need me anymore, child,” she said. “At least not until the day,” she added sternly.
“You mean, like, I don’t have to come into work every day anymore,” Penelope asked, feeling rather confused.
“That is definitely how I would take it if I were my own boss and I said that,” she replied matter-of-factly, scratching an itch on her left ankle. She adjusted the strap of her sandal, then smoothed out her solid blue skirt with a wrinkled hand.
“But,” Penelope began, “What about my mother and my father?” she asked. “They think that I’ve been working hard. They’re finally at least a little proud of me because they think I’m making some money so I can move out and, you know, support myself. You haven’t even mentioned when you were going to cut me a check. I’m starting to think that you never will.”
“Relax, child,” Damari said. “If you need, I can send you checks in the mail for the rest of your life to please your parents. As for the time spent at work, you’re just going to have to find some other way to occupy your time during the day to make them think that you’re still coming.”
“How the hell am I supposed to do that, Damari?” she asked her mentor, anger rising from her soul up into her throat. “They probably have a GPs on my cell phone for crying out loud.” Penelope was becoming uncharacteristically choked up. She felt way too sappy for her usual self—or her own liking, for that matter.
Damari glanced over at Penelope, nodding and shaking her head silently as it rested in her aging hands. “Look,” she began, feeling guilty. “I didn’t mean to upset you, Damari,” Penelope said regretfully. “I just lashed out because I guess that I’m a bit more overwhelmed with Dream Piracy and my sister and the dreams than what I could have possibly ever let you know.”
“Child, child,” Damari finally said, sounding tired and alone in such a way that made Penelope’s heart ache. “I am an old, lonely woman. I was once strong and independent like you are beginning to become now. Yet, as I grow older each and every day, I begin to realize more and more that I am losing my place in the world—perhaps even with the Dream Reapers.”
“Are you trying to make me feel bad on purpose?” Penelope asked her. “Is this another test to see if I am worthy enough to go through with this unknown mission?” she added.
“No, I am not,” she said. “I sincerely believe that my assistance to your cause can be postponed until the anniversary of your sister, Selena’s disappearance.” She retrieved a worn-out looking handkerchief from the pocket of her button-down blouse and wiped at the budding tears in the corners of her eyes. “Now, go, child,” she said once more.
“Okay,” Penelope finally answered. “I’ll try, I guess.” She walked away, then looked back for a moment at Damari’s fragile, weakened frame before heading out to her car and driving home. This is going to be much, much harder than I had originally predicted, Penelope thought.
She drove home more slowly than she ever had, taking in all the sights of the world around her. On the highway, Penelope noticed that a young couple walked down the street with a baby and their little Yorkshire Terrier, without a single care to their names. An elderly man crossed in front of a neighboring car with his walker, and some pre-teen children could be heard playing baseball in a park somewhere out into the distance.
At that point, Penelope had absolutely no idea where she was going; only that she had to go somewhere; anywhere other than her home, or else she would have many questions to answer to. She couldn’t risk that; her whole family could be in danger if they ever came into contact with even the slightest bit of classified information on the Dream Reapers. She passed by a small coffee shop. It was different from the one that she usually went to, but it would have to do for now.
Penelope pulled into the parking lot of the tiny mom-and-pop cafe, careful not to arouse suspicion from the owners of the nearly vacant place. She crossed over to the perfectly smoothed sidewalk that was so much neater than the one leading up to Hear the Word. Penelope, noticing that there was no chime by the door, knocked shyly at the battered window; its glass not glass at all, but, rather, a flimsy kind of plastic likened to that which packaged the dolls she had played with as a child. A woman even older than Damari answered the door.
“Hello, I’m Cindy,” she said. “Can I help you with anything?” she asked, pulling up the faded sleeve of her pale pink blouse. “Maybe you’d like me to give you directions or something?” The woman looked surprised to see Penelope.
“No thank you,” she replied, briefly looking back to make sure that her car had not been stolen; after all, it was a rough neighborhood. “I was hoping to eat here and hang out for a little while. What do you have? Maybe a donut and a fruit smoothie?” Even saying this, though, she knew anything she ate at such a dingy place would surely not compare to what she’d had at the diner a couple of days earlier.
Cindy laughed, coughing the cough of a long-time smoker in the process. “Sorry, kiddo,” she replied. “I can only get you a strawberry milkshake and some good, old-fashioned apple pie.” Penelope smiled just as the woman added, “It’s fresh out of the oven, too. I make it all myself—from scratch. You don’t get that very often these days.”
“You sure don’t,” Penelope said, pushing a fallen piece of hair back, away from her snow-white face. “At least not anywhere I’ve been.”
“They used to have it at the diner downtown,” Cindy responded. “That actually used to be my place before. Now my granddaughter, Rory, works there. She’s a piece of work, that girl. But, a nice young woman like you? You probably haven’t been there.”
“You’re kidding,” Penelope supplied. “You know,” she said, chuckling, “I have been there; recently, to be quite honest. Rory is a little eccentric, but there’s no harm in that. I like her.”
“Oh,” Cindy began, “don’t get me wrong, she’s great and all. It’s not at all that I don’t like her. It’s more that she doesn’t like herself.” The woman began to walk into the empty coffee shop, ushering with her hand for Penelope to follow.
After she had finished what had to have been the most delicious pie and milkshake of her life, Penelope decided to dig a little deeper into the thing with Abby and Lindsey by grilling Cindy in the most subtle way possible. After all, she thought, I must have ended up here for a reason, right? Maybe Damari is watching out for me still, in her own weird way.
“So,” she began, addressing Cindy casually. “Why do you think that Rory doesn’t like herself? She seemed pretty optimistic and outgoing to me.”
“Well,” said Cindy, “she had some issues. Got involved with the wrong type of man; had twin girls when she was still kind of young. Then, that terrible thing happened.”
“What terrible thing?” Penelope pretended to ask, adding quickly, “If you don’t mind talking about it, that is.”
“Lindsey went missing a couple of years ago,” she said. “The poor kid just went A-wall in the middle of the night and they never found her. They think that she ran off and got hit by a car; a drunk driver or something like that.” Cindy was almost in tears. She wiped away at her moist eyes with a cheesy paper napkin. “I miss her so, so much,” she added. The woman was nearly wailing by then.
Well, I guess she doesn’t know anything about what really happened to Lindsey, Penelope thought, regretting her choice to bring it up. “Look,” she said, trying to show as much sympathy as she possibly could to someone she did not know. “I’m so sorry, Cindy. I should never have asked you something so personal; I apologize.” She reached out to put her hand on Cindy’s thin shoulder.
“Ah,” the woman said, shooing away Penelope’s hand before it touched her. “I’m fine. Besides, it’s getting late.” She pointed at a wall clock that was shaped like a coffee cup. The time-piece read five o’ clock at night; later than what Penelope thought it was. “You should go home now,” Cindy said, “to your family—or your friends—whoever they might be.” She patted at her eyes again. “You just never know when they’ll be taken away from you, or you from them. Just never know.” Cindy’s voice was shaking.
Although she hated leaving Cindy in such a state, Penelope didn’t really know what else to do, so she simply looked at her as kindly as possible, then left for home. She was all on her own now. At least, until August, that was.
The next morning, Penelope slept in. After all, Damari had dismissed her from her imaginary career, at least for the time being. To her surprise, and, frankly, her relief, Penelope’s mother and father said absolutely nothing about it. By about ten in the morning, though, she had gotten tired enough of lying in bed all day, so she decided to get up. She was not sure of what she’d end up doing with the rest of her day, but she knew that she had to do something or else her parents would realize that she had not actually been working and that there was more to her new life than she was leading on to them.
After pulling herself out of bed against the force of its infinite coziness, she took a longer-than-usual shower and took her time to dress in a cute skirt, a pink beaded tank top, and wedge sandals. Then, she did her makeup, covering her face in electric foundation, followed by thick black eyeliner and mascara. She painted her lips cherry red, and, after looking in the mirror for a moment, decided to add a smidgen of blue eyeliner that was barely a shade off from the color of her icy, Antarctic irises.
Penelope headed downstairs to the kitchen. “Mom?” she called. No answer. I guess they’re the ones who really slept in today, she thought. “I guess I’ll go make myself a fruit smoothie,” she said out loud to no one in particular.
She carefully blended a mix of blueberries, banana, and soy milk, pouring it into her oversized glass. She always liked to stir it by hand with a whisk; never rushing her method to ensure that her smoothie came out just right. Once it was done, she gulped it down as quickly as possible before heading out.
Penelope wasn’t sure where she expected to find herself when she actually decided on a destination, but she knew that she wanted to have a little fun. After some thought as she drove aimlessly around New York, she finally chose a large shopping mall where people her age often hung out in the summer time.
Well, she thought. Here goes nothing. Penelope Glenwood walked into the main plaza of the mall. Suddenly feeling hungry, she stopped at the food court to pick up a muffin. So much for that diet she was on. The person at the counter was a teenage boy, at least, that was what his voice sounded like.
“What would you like?” He asked before the voice abruptly ceased to speak. Penelope looked up and she instantly saw why he was now staring at her. The two of them could have been twins; that was how eerily alike they looked.
“A muffin,” she said.
“Right up.” The guy still looked completely awestruck. “I’m Michael,” he added.
“I’m Penelope.” Michael handed her a cranberry muffin from a large tray behind the polished metal counter.
“Is this one okay with you?” He asked. His eyebrow furrowed and his mouth formed a friendly smile. It wasn’t at all creepy like Damari’s.
“Of course.” Penelope took a huge bite out of her muffin, suddenly noticing that she was tired and her mouth was a bit dry.
As if he instinctively knew what she was thinking, Michael went back into the kitchen. He came back with an iced coffee and handed it to her. “I thought you might want this.”
Penelope smiled, batting her eyelashes as flirtatiously as she could with all of her inexperience. She started to feel just a little bit self-conscious about her looks, even though she was dressed more nicely than she often did. I wonder if that’s a coincidence. Hmm. She was pretty sure at this point that Michael was a Dream Reaper; probably the twin brother of a Dream Dream ReapedChild. But, did he know? She wished for about a billionth of a second that her mentor were there, but, once she was reminded of the situation by Michael’s stares, she was glad that was not the case. After all, they definitely had a lot in common.
Snap out of it, Penelope. She figured that she was kidding herself if she thought even for just a moment that she or Michael or Selena or any of them could have a normal life outside of Dream Piracy. Whoa, she thought. I’m getting ahead of myself here. Technically, I’m not even a real Dream Dream Reaper yet.
“Thanks,” she said. Michael smiled back with perfectly white teeth and full pink lips. Penelope walked back out of the food court. She breezed past a big blur of shoppers before sitting down at a park-style bench by the water fountain. The cranberry muffin and iced coffee were an absolutely delicious combination. Her mouth slowly savored the sweetness mixed with bitterness that hinted at a tinge of French vanilla. Michael must have added it to her coffee without her asking. It was a punishable offense to most people, but Penelope didn’t mind in the very least.
A small blonde girl walked up to the fountain. She was about three or four years old and dressed in the stereotypical pink, fluffy dress. She held a weathered copper penny in her little hand, and she looked over curiously at Penelope as she attempted to toss it into the center of the pristine fountain. The penny landed on the floor by the bench where she sat.
“Here you go,” Penelope said, picking up the coin from in front of her feet. “Let’s try that again.” She handed the penny back to the little girl. She smiled as she threw it into the water. Bull’s eye.
“See,” she said to the little girl. “You’ve got it.”
“Melanie,” a woman’s frustrated voice called out. A thirty-something who looked like an older version of the child rushed up to her and picked her up. “How many times did Mommy tell you not to run off on me or talk to strangers? Huh? How many?”
The child’s eyes widened, ashamed. “A lot,” she replied. “Like millions and millions!” the girl giggled, forgetting to be upset. The mother gave Penelope a dirty look and took off with her daughter in her arms.
Penelope shrugged it off. Whatever. She sucked down the last bit of her coffee and tossed the clear, plastic cup into a trash can near the other side of the fountain. She noticed a large sign in the window of her favorite boutique. It read: SALE HERE 50% OFF! With that, Penelope decided to go into the store.
She spotted a rack of sundresses in the sale aisle, and a mint green one with pale purple flowers speckled over it, immediately caught her eye. Penelope absolutely loved the thick, wide waistband made of eyelet lace. She felt down the sleeve until her hands found the rough cardboard price tag. Huge red numbers put the sale price at seventy-five dollars; more than she could ever afford. The blacked-out original had been a hundred and fifty. She sighed, but, before long, she got an idea.
Once Penelope was at home, she decided to carry out her plan. Of course, with the coffee and the fact that it was still somewhat early, she wasn’t even close to tired. She would have needed Damari in order to be hypnotized. That left her with the other option. I really shouldn’t do this, she thought. But, she did anyway.
In the kitchen, she reached her hand into a cabinet and looked through some old pill bottles. Antibiotics. Nope. Allergy medication. Not that either. Grandma’s sleeping pills? There they are, those little buggers. Penelope filled herself a glass of tap water from the sink and put two of the sleeping pills in her mouth. They tasted terrible, probably because they were already expired. Yuck. She quickly gulped down the whole cup of water, the tiny blue tablets washing their merry way down her throat with it.
By the time she got to her bedroom, Penelope was already feeling drowsy. She laid down in her bed and began to drift off. Soon, she could feel her consciousness drifting away from her physical body. She was in the store, standing right in front of the dress, looking at it. She picked it up in her hands, but it felt like air.
Where is Selena? Panic rose up from inside of her. Her sister was not there. Why was this happening to her? Was it possible that she had done something wrong—that there would be—rules? Penelope began clutching and grasping tightly at the non-existent dress. She looked around her; people were everywhere, but not one of them looked over in her direction.
Before she had any idea what was happening to her, Penelope could feel herself start turning into air along with the dress. Tiny speckles of herself began to lose density and disperse; at least that’s what seemed to be happening, anyway. The other, more realistic mall shoppers were laughing and going about their activities as usual.
The feeling of being in a large vortex returned to her and she was being sucked deeper and deeper into it. Penelope felt a sudden chill creep up along her entire body. She was spinning in infinite circles for what seemed like forever. She feared that there would be no escape from this journey. Her heart raced with lightning speed and she felt entirely helpless. By now, the mall boutique and the people in it were invisible to her; perhaps gone from wherever she was.
Just when Penelope thought that it was not at all possible for her to see anything but the vortex; just when she though she might die, she landed on something hard and moist. Brushing a jet black wave out of in front of her face, she looked all the way up before looking down. The sky itself was a deep blue-black and wrought with flashes of lightning and booms of deafening thunder. The moon was round and full; pale as a blank sheet of printing paper and surrounded by an endless expanse of tiny yellow stars that were so perfect they looked almost cartoonish.
Then, she looked down. Penelope was sitting awkwardly on an earthen ground that was dry and concrete despite the heavy downpour of rain descending from the night sky. Struggling to keep her balance because she was so shaken, she got up and brushed the dirt off of her clothes. Penelope looked around at all of the nothingness, and then it hit her.
I’m there, she thought. I’m in the other realm, with the Dream Reapers. But, where are they. In that very moment, Penelope realized that she had gone to meet her mission far too soon. Damari had not even planned on continuing Penelope’s Moon Lighter training until August, when she was supposed to complete her final mission. Now, without Damari’s permission; without her own permission, she had gone to the other realm that she honestly did not even know the name of. What would her mother and father think? Had she failed Selena and the other Dream Dream ReapedChildren? Or, was this part of the plan to begin with. After all, Damari had claimed to know all things before they ever happened. So, had she known this all along. Perhaps it was another test; one to see if Penelope would choose to obey or choose to disobey. Would she ever be forgiven if she had done something truly unanticipated?
Penelope kept on walking, yet she had nowhere to go. Fear had conquered her spirit; she was left frightened and alone in an unknown realm where dreams became reality. Once again, she heard the strange and sinister footsteps of the Dream Reapers coming towards her; she could not bear the sound, although she sincerely wished that her sister was among them.
Just then, a loud boom of deafening thunder sounded, causing a monstrous bolt of lighting to strike the ground just a few feet from where Penelope stood. She fell to the ground. Her hands were forced down onto the earth in front of her and were bloodied with scratches and biting cuts in the pale flesh of her upper limbs.
“We are ready for you, now,” thousands of young voices said at once, their menacingly innocent smiles almost audible while remaining yet unseen. “It is time for you to choose how to save us; how to save Selena.” Penelope could hear the sound of a young girl’s pixie-like laughter amidst the darkness.
“What if I’m not ready?” Penelope muttered to herself, not entirely ready for them to hear her. Apparently, though, they could detect her voice anyway.
“Oh,” a young boy’s unfamiliar voice began. “You are ready. Maybe you just haven’t figured that out yet.” The little girl giggled again.
Penelope looked up and saw the children. They were all around her, staring with their big, icy blue eyes and their pallid complexions. Staring at her. Suddenly, the children began to move away from where they stood at the center of the barren field, parting a path in the middle. Their actions were almost reverent, as if they worshipped the person who stood beyond what was visible to Penelope.
She waited and waited for someone to come through the path. The thunder sounded once again, louder than it ever had before. Penelope’s ears hurt so bad from the noise that she lifted her blood-soaked hands up to them, covering them as a child would, closing her eyes. From behind her attempted muffling, she heard the night sky quiet itself. By the time she opened her eyes and uncovered her ears, she could see the person who was standing at the base of the Dream Reapers, the person who must have been their leader. It was Michael.
In that moment, Penelope was completely and utterly stunned. Of all the things that she had expected to find in this unknown realm, learning that Michael, the cute guy she had met at the mall, was the leader of the Dream Reapers was the most shocking. Sure, when she first saw him while shopping earlier that day, Penelope had known right off the bat that he was somehow associated to the Dream Reapers. However, she had automatically assumed that he was only the twin brother of a Dream Dream Reaped child.
She had absolutely no idea whatsoever how or why Michael could go back and forth without getting trapped, or how he could be neither a Dream Dream ReapedChild or a Dream Reaper, but, somehow, both. Penelope was just as confused at that point as she suspected that she would be if she were right smack in the middle of the most confusing moment of her entire life. She had to find out exactly what was going on.
“Michael?” she asked him, glancing up from below. “What is this place?”
“This place,” he began, “is called Railunadon.” He briefly lifted his nearly transparent arm up to his head and pushed back a piece of ebony hair that had fallen in front of his face.
“Railunadon?” Penelope inquired.
“Yes, Railunadon,” he said. “It means ‘stolen’ in our ancient language.”
“How can I get myself back home to my friends and family?”
“Well, you kind of can’t.” Michael let out a deep breath. “Once you get here, there is no going back home.”
“I’m a little confused,” Penelope replied. “If there’s no going back from Railunadon, then how is it that you were just at the food court in a New York shopping mall three hours ago, yet, now, you’re in Railunadon?”
Michael just stood there and laughed. “I’m the Prince of Railunadon,” he said. “I’m the original Moon Lighter, and also the original Dream Dream ReapedChild.”
“When were you born?” Penelope asked, straightening up her spine and crossing her arms, now a little more relaxed.
“Almost two hundred years ago,” he said. “I lived in Barcelona, Spain. Of course, everybody there was freaked out by how I looked. My parents rejected me, and so did my sister.”
“Yes,” he said, smirking wildly. “I don’t even have a twin, or a brother.”
“I was a lot older than the others when it happened. I had just reached maturity the previous year. I was nineteen, not a child at all. My family was poor, and all I could think about for months was how badly I wanted gold to pay the apothecary to cure my sister from her blindness. One night, while I was sleeping, I was surrounded my so much gold; more than I had ever seen in my entire life. All of a sudden, I was completely overcome with an unnerving desire to save her. Her name was Maria, by the way. And, my birth name is Miguel.”
“Okay,” Penelope answered. “What else?”
“Well,” he continued. “I kept thinking of how much I wanted it; how I would die for it to help Maria. Then, just when I thought I was going to wake up, the dream became real. The gold was all mine, too. The next morning, I found myself in my bed surrounded by it. My father was appalled. He thought that I had stolen it from the sovereign because one of his servants had miscounted his gold. My father gave me up to him and I was beheaded for treason; put to death. Ironically, the sovereign awarded my father not with money, but with the best doctor in the country for Maria. He received all of the gold. After I had died, the Moon itself offered me immortality and the price was that I had to recruit others to rule the night with me or else I would die for good.”
Penelope was at a loss for words. “So,” she began, “you’re cursed to kidnap innocent children from their beds for the rest of eternity?”
“Basically, yeah,” he replied. “It’s the only way for me to stay alive.”
“No. That’s impossible,” Penelope answered. “You always have a choice to do the right thing, even if it isn’t the right thing for you.” At that point, she had grown rather angry with herself for ever having believed in Michael’s—or, rather—Miguel’s abilities.
Michael softened up a bit, looking Penelope straight in the eyes. “Aren’t you curious in the least bit as to why you, in particular, are here?”
“Well,” she started, “I suppose I am…at least, a little.” She bit down hard on her tongue, trying to fight back her desire to say things that she shouldn’t. “Why am I here?”
“It’s pretty simple,” Michael replied. “If you decide to agree on a deal that I’m about to present to you, then the solution would be simple.”
“You…have a deal….for me?” Penelope asked him, confused.
“Why, yes,” he answered, smirking wildly and vivaciously. “If you promise to free me and let me reside on Earth permanently, you can take my place and acquire my fate and my ability to cross over between the two realms whenever I please.”
“If I do this, will my sister and all the others get to go back home?”
“Indeed, they will.”
Then, Penelope was hit with a sudden realization. “If I can take over for you, why didn’t you just let the first person you took take over? You could have been free all those years ago.”
Michael’s smirk returned. “No, I could not have,” he said, “because you are the chosen one; the one who must deliver the key to all our escapes. And, then, you may become free as well, and the legacy of the Dream Dream ReapedChildren will be a thing of the past.”
“What key are you talking about,” she asked. “Damari never told me anything about a key. I never even got to finish all of my sessions with her. I’m not ready.”
All of a sudden, Michael became completely silent. He did not only become silent in his voice, but in everything, even his breathing. He pulled a small piece of paper out from his left pocket, then blew on it with the breath he had apparently been saving. From far away, Penelope could already see the backwards scrawl of the ancient text that was slowly forming on the crumpled, yellowing scrap of parchment. He handed it to her, then returned to his former statuesque posture.
Where words to show,
And knowledge grows,
It creeps and crawls
‘Long grounds below.
For a moment, Penelope was extremely confused, if not totally incompetent. Then, the answer crept into her mind like a lightbulb chasing after it’s own wattage. The spider.
Within a matter of several seconds, Penelope could feel herself spinning and whirling out of control. Her vision blurred even more, and her stomach started to churn with the queasiness of constant and continuous motion. Once again, Penelope’s entire being had been combined with the magical, somewhat sinister, vortex; the vortex that was beginning to take more and more from her each time she entered into it.
Suddenly, Penelope awoke, in her own home again at last. She got up out of bed quickly, her clothes from the day before clinging with sweat and rubbing noisily against the tacky sheets. However, she did it carefully enough so that her mother and father would not realize she had been gone. To her delight, after she had passed the door to their oversized, messy master suite, it was way past dark, and they were still fast asleep.
She crept down the stairs and all the way to her kitchen, stopping at the newspaper-laden table to grab a stale chocolate-chip cookie and some bitter coffee leftover from the previous morning’s brew. She took a bite of the cookie, which still tasted good, then devoured the rest eagerly. However, when she took her first sip of the old coffee, she got a mouthful of almost-moldy tasting ash water.
Then, she turned to the counter, where she spotted and then grabbed her father’s car keys off of the counter top. She hesitated for a brief moment. Should I? She thought nervously. Then, without any further morality-based delays, she snuck quietly outside to her front lawn, crossing over to the beat-up gravel driveway. As she passed her own mediocre car, she thought once again of taking responsibility for her actions and using her own. Then, her thoughts were pushed back. Nah, she thought. I need to do this in style.
When Penelope finally arrived at the eerie-looking front of the Here the Word bookstore, her mentor, the old woman, Damari, was waiting for her at the entrance door, holding it open so that she could walk in as soon as possible.
“Uh,” Penelope stuttered, not knowing what to say. Her gaze froze on Damari.
“I knew you would be here, child,” she said, looking down at her pupil, Miss Glenwood with a look of both mischief and sorrow. She had always been somewhat well-known for her witchiness, even if that was a tad-bit off from her actual profession.
Once she had stepped foot inside the ominous doorway, Penelope was once again led into the strange back room by her uncannily wise mentor. Damari guided her all the way to the far end of the shelving, where she reached inside a secluded shelf and attempted to pull out a small, red box. Struggling with her weak, feeble hands at first, Damari was finally able to open the tiny thing, revealing the spider that looked a little too much like Penelope, Selena, and all the other Dream Dream ReapedChildren. “Here,” she said, adding “I want you to have it so you can set Michael, Selena, and the others free. Once and for all.”
“Wait,” Penelope began, “I need to do something first. The right thing.” Her hands were trembling so fiercely that she thought they might fall off from over-exertion.
“Ah,” Damari replied, smiling. This time, she appeared to be rather genuine. “So, you want to talk to Rory, I see?”
“Yeah,” she answered. Although she was still a little weirded out by Damari’s super-intuition and psychic abilities, she knew much better than to acknowledge them at that point, since she had already expressed her gawky awe for them in the past. “I feel like I just…”
“Have to?” Damari asked, looking over at the window as if her mind were in a totally different place, even if her body and her thoughts were there.
“Yes,” Penelope responded. “I do. I feel that I have to.”
Penelope glanced over at her tutor and nodded, then got back into her father’s car, driving the easy route to the diner where Rory worked. She rushed in like a maniac, and, when she stood before the humble waitress at the front counter, she was so sweaty and disheveled that every single person in the restaurant was staring her blankly in the face.
“Penelope?” Rory asked, her face falling. “What are you doing back here again?”
“It’s about Lindsey,” she answered, trying not to be sick just from talking about it. “I know what happened to her.”
“Yeah, she got hit by a car.” Rory looked angry. “And, you can stop doing background checks on everyone in my family now,” she added.
Penelope dragged Rory out back into the parking lot. “You don’t get it,” she said.
“No,” Rory began, “you don’t get it!” The waitress was clearly angry with her. “Now, I told you to back the hell off!”
“Why?” Penelope asked her, suddenly feeling consumed by a force much greater than herself. “Did you have something to do with it?” she teased. “Did you kill her?”
“What?” Rory asked, clearly rather confused. “Why the hell would you even think that? I loved Lindsey. She is—I mean—was—my daughter.”
Penelope let go of Rory’s arm. “Good,” she replied. “I was…uh…just checking.”
“Checking?” Rory was still pissed.
Rory walked away.
Once Penelope had wormed her way out of the mess with Rory, she got safely back into her dad’s car, hoping it would stay in one piece. However, she was more than a little disappointed that Rory never got a chance to hear the truth. Sighing, she drove all the way back to Hear the Word Bookstore.
Once Penelope had arrived for the second time that day at Damari’s lair, she reluctantly followed the old woman out back again so they could get Penelope back to Railunadon. Damari instructed her to rest, so she laid down flat on the bench, while her tutor gazed into her eyes, coaching her into the realm of dreams.
Eventually, after a long process of slowly reduced hearing, Penelope could no longer hear the soft, raspy drone of Damari’s voice, and, in its place, although perceived by another sense entirely, the shady outline of Michael’s form began to materialize right before her very eyes. As she began to wake from her temporary stupor, Penelope was assured by her own sight that she was still holding the box with the tiny, black, blue-eyed spider inside of it.
“Here,” she said, getting up and carefully handing the box over to Michael. “I’ve got it.” She placed it into his brawny, outstretched hand.
“Good job,” he replied, smiling once again. “I knew you would be able to figure out what the key to our escape was.” He was grinning now. Normally, Penelope thought that Michael’s grins were just a little bit creepy, but, this time, she did not mind.
“It’s…nothing,” she said, trying her best to act humble.
“Nothing?” Michael asked, smiling almost ear to ear. “Really? You’re going to undersell yourself that much?” He laughed jokingly. Their friendship seemed easier now.
“Well,” Penelope began, “Not that much.” She blushed. “So, uh…how do I save the world? Uh, I don’t mean the world world, but…Railunadon, I guess.”
“It’s…uh… a lot harder than it sounds, actually,” Michael replied. “First, I will have to eat the spider so it can kill me with its venom.”
“You have to what?” Penelope asked, mortified. She had to swallow her spit a few times per thirty-seconds to suppress her gag reflex.
“Aw, come on! You’re telling me you’ve never seen a guy eat a bug before?”
“Actually,” Penelope began, “I did see my kid cousin Tom eat a worm once, when we were both five. I couldn’t eat spaghetti for a year.”
“Okay.” Michael wasn’t about to risk all of their lives over a petty argument. “Once that is…uh…done…then, you have to kiss me so I can transfer the venom to you. Because we’d both have the venom, both of our rights over Railunadon would be transferred to the spider. It will, by then, be dead, so Railunadon will disappear and everything in it will be restored.” “That’s so disgusting,” Penelope said. “Are you just trying to mess with me?”
Michael busted out laughing. “Of course I was. You didn’t think any one would actually have to eat a spider, did you?” He was nearly shaking by then.
“I hate you,” Penelope answered in a playful, teasing manner. “You were just trying to gross me out. How immature.”
“It worked, though.”
She couldn’t even attempt to argue with that. “Well, then. What do we really need to do?”
“We have to kill the spider with a magic tree branch from the tree of Railunadon, and all of its power will be released back up through the sky and into the moon, where it belongs. There’s like a ninety-five percent chance that we’ll all be freed that way.”
“Well, it’s not super easy.”
“No, I meant that there’s only a ninety-five percent chance.”
“What? That isn’t good enough for you?”
“No. Never mind. It’s plenty good enough.”
“Good.” Michael turned over the spider to Penelope, saying, “Go ahead.” When she looked at him with a look of confusion, he added, “Run!”
Although she was unsure as to what he meant, Penelope ran. She ran as fast as she possibly could, all the way to a giant, browned, lifeless tree that stood somehow still perfect, below the sparkling light of the moon. It began to thunder.
By now, Penelope’s weak body was being soaked—no, not soaked—drenched, in icy cold rain that fell from a lightning-ridden sky. She could hardly move her legs beneath the increasing heaviness of her body; her clothes becoming soaked with the freezing rain-water.
Finally, after nearly fainting from exhaustion, Penelope Glenwood plopped down weakly below the tree, lifting up her right arm and painstakingly attempting to reach the lowest branch. She tugged and tugged with all of her might.
At last, the lone, wispy arm of the tree was firm in Penelope’s hands. She clutched onto it for dear life, as if she might die should she lose it. And, to be quite frank, there was a good chance that she would have.
Thunder and lighting were violent in the sky that night, striking and thrashing in a way that Penelope had never witnessed in the regular world. Railunadon seemed to be entirely possessed by some unseen force; some god-like entity that had the power to conquer anyone and everyone.
She looked down at the ground, carefully feeling her way through the damp grass with her left foot; hoping she would not accidentally step on the creature and be poisoned—not to mention—destroy the key to all of their survival.
“It’s right over there!” Michael yelled, pointing Penelope in the general direction of her baby toe. “Hurry, before it bites you!”
“I’ll try!” she screamed back at him, shaking with both anxiety and the sub-zero temperatures that seemed to be indigenous to Railunadon. Penelope finally spotted the little bug, quickly squashing it with the stick. She felt bad about what she had done; Penelope had never really liked killing any living thing, especially not since she had often presumed her sister to be dead. “There,” she answered, adding, “I got ‘em!”
“Good,” Michael finally managed to spit out before they were all being sucked through the vortex in the opposite direction from where they came from.
When Michael and Penelope awoke beside each other a few moments later, they found themselves in a dark ally way. Their clothes were dirty and they were hungry. Apparently, it was not possible to attend to basic needs like hunger or thirst while one was inhabiting Railunadon. “Michael?” Penelope asked her friend, shaking him by the shoulders in a futile attempt to wake him up. “You have got to see this.”
He grunted, looking up at her drowsily and saying, “Are you kidding me? You’re waking me up at this time?” Michael began to look at his surroundings.
“Oh,” a voice began, “There you are.” Penelope could not believe her own ears, for, the voice she now heard was that of her estranged sister, Selena.
“Selena?” Miss Glenwood asked, beside herself as she moved towards her sister. To her shock, the girl who had been a puny pre-teen just a moment before in Railunadon was now just as lovely as Penelope was. “Thank God!” She ran over to her twin, hugging her.
“Well,” Michael started, “I guess my job here is done, then.” He began to walk away, his long, muscular legs swishing past the girls and out into whatever New York street they had finally reached this time. “See you soon,” he added, looking straight into Penelope’s eyes.
“Yeah,” she answered. “See you.”
Selena still had not let go of her twin sister. “Do you … think fondly of him?” she asked. “Of Michael, I mean.” Selena’s hair was ragged and she’d begun to notice. Maybe she was trying to change the subject.
“I guess, if, by fond of, you mean tolerant of, then, yes. I am” Even though she was trying not to make any more of it, she couldn’t help but blush lightly. She was glad to have her sister back. Selena swatted at her sister’s face playfully.
All of a sudden, their conversation was interrupted. “Hey,” Michael’s voice yelled from outside the ally. “Girls, you have to come quick.”
“See,” Selena teased, whispering and playing with a strand of her hair. “He wants to see you. I knew it to be so.”
Penelope pushed her sister away, soon regretting her disregard for their rejuvenated sisterhood. “Knock it off, Selena. He’s serious.” She grabbed the other girl’s arm, dragging her to where Michael was. She was beginning to realize that Selena had plenty of growing up left to do before they would be okay.
“What is it?” she asked Michael, feeling anxious. She bit down on her lip to the point where blood nearly drew, twisting and writhing her hands amidst themselves.
“We neglected to realize that those who would have been too old to live by now have died upon exiting Railunadon. They would have been better off there.”
“Listen,” Penelope said, grabbing tightly onto Michael’s arm. “There’s nothing any of us could have done about it. They couldn’t live forever. At least, we saved the rest.” She looked over at Selena, who had wandered off into a shop to buy some new, better-fitting clothes. “They are all safe. That is all that matters. Right?”
“Yeah,” Michael said, moving in closer to Penelope. “I guess so.” Just then, he leaned in and kissed Penelope gently on the lips.
“You’re not leaving, are you?” she asked, worried.
“Nope,” he said, adding, “Never again.” Penelope smiled, looking up into Michael’s eyes with a type of magic in her heart that she’d never felt.
She kissed him back.
Later that day, Penelope returned home to her family, along with her sister, Selena. Michael, to Penelope’s relief, was not returned to a state of death like the others. This was a result of his former status of immortality. Mr. And Mrs. Glenwood were overjoyed to see their daughters both home, safe. Michael explained all of the secrets of the Dream Dream Reaped children to them. At first, like all parents would, they thought he was nuts and tried to have him committed to a mental institution. But eventually, they realized how important he was to their daughter, so they decided to cut him a break.
That fall, Penelope enrolled in college with some reward money the city had put for Selena’s safe return. Since Selena had not been to school in ten years, she was required to take small steps. She crash-coursed through grade school and earned her GED later that spring. In addition, she has now been promoted to librarian at Hear the Word. Damari has moved to an expensive retirement home for Wiccans.
Michael returned to Spain to visit the graves of his family members. He was glad to see that, thanks to him, his sister had lived a long and healthy life, gotten married, and raised two beautiful children before moving to New York City. However, she had returned to Europe at the end of her life in order to tie loose ends. Michael also plans to visit Penelope during holiday break, but he doesn’t know if she’ll have time. After all, she was going to be a doctor someday.
The day that she returned to New York just a few days before Christmas, he was waiting for her there. He stood outside of a local subway station as she stepped down from the stereotypically metropolitan mode of transportation. Her white face was flushed with pink from the cold, winter weather, and her black curls hung loosely, yet calmly. A single wisp of her hair fell in front of one sapphire-hued iris, with it’s darkened lashes stretched by mascara, and it’s snowy lid twinkling with glitter.
“You’re so…beautiful…” Michael stammered, his breath nearly taken away by Penelope’s complete and utter radiance. “Come,” he said, adding, “Take my hand.”
Penelope smiled, showing a row of electric teeth. “Of course, my love.” She attempted to seem as charming as a long-ago Spanish dame that she imagined he may have once loved. “Have you ever been in love before this?” She asked, succumbing to her curiosity.
Michael smiled. “Never,” he answered. “Always you. Only you.” She wrapped her arms around him tight, then they kissed before walking out into the night. They walked and walked, along the streets of New York, only stopping when they reached a park bench that rested by a lamp post like in the movies. Sitting down beside her, Michael took Penelope’s hand in his, then brought it up to his face.
“What are we doing here?” She asked.
“Watching the moon,” he answered. And, that, they did.