Read Between Online

Authors: Megan Whitmer

Tags: #Between

Between (7 page)

BOOK: Between
8.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Seth shakes his head and waves his hand in dismissal. “Oh, we gave up on Bigfoot a long time ago. She’s a lost cause.”

“She?”

“Yeah,” he says, missing my point. “Total attention whore. No matter what we said or did, she refused to follow the rules. After getting caught on tape one too many times, we had to kick her out.”

I break this information into tiny snapshots in my brain. The infamous image of Bigfoot walking through trees is real. The large, hairy so-called urban legend—the topic of T-shirts and comic books and several bad TV shows—is a creature that exists.

And apparently, she’s a bit of a diva.

“What happens if she’s discovered? Wouldn’t she expose everything you’ve worked so hard to hide?”

“Nah.” Seth points to a dip in the path and I step over it. “She’s been banished from the mystical realm.”

“Banished?”

“She’s no longer welcome here,” he explains. “She can’t return. So she can’t lead anyone to us. Besides, she’s the only Bigfoot left. So whenever she dies, which we expect to be in the next thirty years or so, the sightings should stop. We do have someone who keeps an eye on the situation, though.”

“Bigfoot has her own watchman?”

“There are several creatures with specific units assigned to them, sometimes for their safety, sometimes for ours.”

Ooh. I connect the dots. Mom and Seth work together. Tonight they handled the Mothman like experts, completely without fear or confusion. They knew exactly how to handle him, with no hesitation whatsoever. “So you and Mom are assigned to the Mothman?”

“Hmm?”

“You two are part of his unit? You keep an eye on him?” They must be in charge of keeping him from being a threat to the mortal realm.

“Uh, sort of.”

“Sort of?” I stop walking and look at him. “What do you mean?”

He looks past me, drawing my attention to the darkening horizon. “Let’s get you settled into your room before dark.”

I fold my arms and shift my weight to one hip. I know this trick. I use it all the time when I’m babysitting toddlers. They ask for something I don’t want to give them, I distract them with something shiny.

I am not a toddler.

I move my hand in a circular motion in front of his face. “This whole mysterious thing isn’t nearly as intriguing as you think it is.”

“Believe it or not, intriguing you isn’t my primary concern at the moment,” Seth replies, pursing his lips. “I’m more interested in getting you settled into your room and reconnecting with Adele and Sam. The sooner we get there, the sooner you’ll get your answers.”

Right. Mom and Sam are waiting. The mention of my family is enough to make me push aside my questions for the moment. I’m sure Seth did that on purpose, but I allow it. I have a feeling I’m going to want Mom and Sam with me for whatever comes next.

F
IVE

S
eth presses against the heavy wooden doors of Artedion’s entrance, pushing them open. “Welcome to Artedion. You and Sam will live here like the rest of the Apprentices.”

Artedion’s lobby is wide and brightly lit. Overflowing bookshelves line the wall on my left, and plush chairs and sofas are arranged for conversation in front of the shelves. Small tables and lamps are strategically placed, providing light. In the far back corner there’s a large, wide fireplace with a hearth made of stacked gray stone.

There’s no one around aside from an older woman standing behind a bronze pedestal to my right. She’s completely still, her head bowed and her hands folded on top of the leather-bound book lying on the pedestal. The book is as large as the pedestal itself, with worn, rounded covers and golden-edged pages.

“This,” Seth points to her, “is Vera. She keeps a record of everyone living in Artedion.”

Vera is painfully thin. The long dress she’s wearing would find more shape on a clothes hanger than it does draped over her wiry frame. Her slender face is pointed at the top and bottom, with a wild mess of silver curls piled above her forehead. Her bulging eyes are closed, and her narrow lips are slack. I can’t decide if she’s praying or asleep, but either way I want to shush Seth when he loudly says, “Hello, Vera.”

As soon as he completes the phrase, her head snaps up and a smile spreads across her face as she looks down at us. “Hello, Seth.”

There’s something off about her, but I can’t put my finger on it. She looks human, but then, so does Seth. Maybe she’s some sort of robot?

“Vera, I’d like you to meet Charlie, er, Charlotte Page,” Seth says. “She’s new here. I’m showing her to her suite.”

Vera’s large eyes travel to me as she slips a pair of square-framed reading glasses over her nose. A second pair of glasses is nestled in the curls on top of her head, and a third dangles from the scooped neck of her dress. The book before her lifts, and the yellowed pages make a crinkling noise as they fan open. Her head moves up and down as she traces the lines on the page with her bony finger.

Her fluid movements and natural voice seem too real for a robot. Then there’s her book, which seems like it might have a mind of its own. When her eyes reach the bottom of each golden-edged page, the page lifts and turns without her assistance.

“Ah! There you are!” she announces. The book hops up and turns on the pedestal for me to see. My own blue eyes stare back at me, like I’m looking in a mirror.

“Very good!” Vera says, and the book slams shut, pivots on its spine, and lays flat. “You may take her up.”

I lean over the strange book. “Is Sam, I mean, Samuel Page here yet?”

Vera says nothing, and I watch while her hands fold back into place on the book’s cover and her head slowly turns downward.

“You have to greet her first,” Seth says.

“Huh?” Didn’t we already do that?

“Vera is a slape. Their brains operate at extremely high speeds, devoting all of their energy to collecting and processing information, so they go into a hibernation state when they’re not interacting with anyone.”

Seth steps toward her, bringing his face right next to her cheek while he talks. She doesn’t react to him at all. I inch closer, staring up at her. I can see the slightest ripple beneath her eyelids as her eyes move quickly from side to side.

“It allows more focus for their cognitive processes. You have to use certain phrases to get their attention,” he says.

A human computer. She reminds me of some of the brainiacs back at school—super brilliant, terrible social skills.

“Hello, Vera,” Seth whispers, prompting me.

Huh? Oh, right. I step closer to her. “Hello, Vera,” I say, loud and slow.

I watch her come alive again—her head popping up, her eyes landing on me. I repeat my question, and the book’s heavy cover swings open. Vera scans the pages. After a few seconds, she shakes her head.

A cold sensation pours over my shoulders and down my arms. They’re not here yet? My eyes dart to Seth’s face.

“Hello, Vera.” Seth steps closer. “He hasn’t checked in yet?”

“No. When was he expected to be here?” Vera’s tone is too pleasant to be delivering such troubling news. They should be here, right? Seth’s been telling me all along that they would be here.

Seth hesitates for the slightest moment, his eyes falling across the pages of the book. “Never mind. He’ll probably be here any minute. Send him to Charlie’s room when he arrives. Adele will be with him.”

The book slams shut again, and I shiver. Where are Mom and Sam? They left before we did. What’s taking them so long? Seth’s hand finds my elbow and pulls me along, thanking Vera over his shoulder. I watch her recede into herself again before I ask, “Where are they?”

“They’ll be here any minute,” Seth says, but he won’t look at me.

I stop, pulling my arm from him. “You’re not the least bit concerned?”

Seth’s eyes finally meet mine, and he swallows. “Adele is the best. There’s nothing to worry about.”

I raise my eyebrow, studying his face. His expression is blank, and his stare is steady. I want to believe him, but I saw his reaction when Vera said Sam wasn’t here yet. He’d expected them to be here. What if something’s happened? Sam and I hadn’t even said goodbye. Would Seth lie to spare me the worry?

Seth lowers his chin, staring me in the eye like my thoughts are displayed there. “They will be here.”

I take a deep breath and study the grain of the wood floor beneath my feet. I blow out a breath and shake off my worry. They’re going to meet us here. Mom said so.

Listen to Seth
.

If he says they’ll be here, they’ll be here. A sprawling burst of color on the wall behind him catches my eye.

“What’s that?” I ask. I take a step to the side and take it all in. The painting on the wall stretches from the corner by the fireplace to about halfway across the room, covering the wall from ceiling to floor.

“That,” Seth turns around, “is a map. What you see there is the entire mystical realm.”

It becomes clearer as I approach. “Ellauria” is written in large script, slightly off-center. I recognize a miniature Artedion drawn there and run my fingers along the broad, painted brush strokes, tracing the path back to the unicorn’s field, noting the library along the way. A giant lake sits at one end of Ellauria, and an apothecary center beyond a vast wooded area marks its western boundary. Ellauria is the largest, most detailed section of the map, but there are several other clusters of drawings outside of it, each labeled in the same curved script with names like Ether, Hollow, Gelata, and the Territory of Giants.

Giants! Giant people? Giant plants? I chew on the inside of my lip, reading the names of these places again. What do they mean? Who lives there? I wonder how many of the Grimm’s fairy tales are based on actual events. I walk from one end of the wall to the other, scanning the locations. “Will I get to see all these places?”

“Eventually. But for now,” Seth plants a finger on Ellauria, “you stay here. Apprentices aren’t allowed outside Ellauria’s borders without an Aegis.”

On a scale of one to ten, rating how tired I am of being told what I can and cannot do or feel or know, I’m about a thirty. I file this little Ellauria rule under “To Be Ignored.”

Seth leads me around a corner and down a narrow hallway that ends at another door. Beyond the door, we climb one of the staircases that encircle the outside of Artedion. Halfway up, he stops and nods toward the ground. “See that field?”

I lean over the railing. There’s a flat, vacant area behind Artedion, about the size of two football fields, with a wooden platform on the end closest to me. I spot a line of fairies cutting across it. From this high up, they almost look like dragonflies.

“We call that the Clearing,” he says.

Of course they do. The Between is between the realms and the Clearing is a clearing in the woods, but
I’m
the one that needs the thesaurus.

“The Fellowship holds a meeting there every week,” Seth continues. “Creatures come from all over the mystical realm for updates on Fellowship activities and missions. You’ll attend those meetings every single week to learn more about how we do things. The next one is tomorrow morning.”

I gaze at the Clearing, now empty as the last fairy drops down the slope on its far side. Creatures from all over the mystical realm? From Ether and the Territory of the Giants and everything? Tomorrow morning, I’ll see for myself while I listen to the updates.

Will I be part of the update? Because of the Mothman?

We continue up the stairs, and I gaze above at the network of stairs that lead to different landings in the tree. There must be nearly a hundred Apprentices living here.

Seth stops in front of the door at the top of the first landing and turns to me. The sun slips lower in the sky, casting his face in a golden-pink that makes his brown eyes look even darker.

“This is your suite,” Seth says. “First things first—all of the Apprentice rooms are charmed. Only you, as the occupant, and I, as your Aegis, are able to unlock the door. There are no keys, and there’s no way anyone can get inside without our permission, okay?” He waves his hand over a barely discernible knot in the wood, and the door slides open. “Go ahead.”

I step inside and stop. My “suite,” as Seth calls it, is more of a studio apartment. It’s one deep room, with a bed in the back, a living-room setup in the middle, and a kitchen here at the front. Everything has a vintage feel to it, with painted white furniture accessorized in bright colors. It’s exactly how I would’ve chosen to decorate my own place, if I’d been asked.

To my left is the tiny kitchen, complete with a sink, refrigerator, and narrow island. I step toward it, running my hand along the smooth countertop. Seth leans against a small square table surrounded by four mismatched chairs. A teal bowl filled with fruit sits on top of it, and the sight of food momentarily deafens every thought in my head except for how hungry I am. I reach around him to grab a banana.

“I knew you’d be hungry,” Seth says, like he’s some kind of genius for realizing a girl would want something to eat several hours after dinner.

I strip the peel away and gulp it down in three bites. “Starving,” I say. I drop the peel in a small wastebasket tucked between the countertop and a dark brown leather couch.

All the little details—from the brightly painted lamps on the end tables to the turquoise and melon throw pillows perched in the corners of the sofa—they’re just like the random splashes of color in my room back home.

On the far wall, there are two arched doorways to the right of my bed. One is my closet, large enough to step inside but not exactly a walk-in, and the second is a—

“Bathroom,” Seth calls as I peek inside.

No sheet, Seth
. I poke my head back into the main room. “Is that what that is? The toilet and claw-footed tub threw me off.”

“Your sarcasm is completely wasted on me,” Seth says, flopping onto the couch and resting his feet on the white coffee table in front of it.

I wander back to the closet. “Where did all the clothes come from?”

“They’re yours.”

“Really?” I step inside and drag my fingers along the clothes. He’s right. I recognize everything, from the light blue sundress I bought last week to my beloved gray Chuck Taylors right down to the faded, ripped jeans Mom hates so much. “How?”

BOOK: Between
8.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Limestone Cowboy by Stuart Pawson
Once an Outlaw by Jill Gregory
Igniting the Wild Sparks by Alexander, Ren
The Price of Altruism by Oren Harman
Private Message by Torella, Danielle
Not a Chance by Ashby, Carter
The Guardians by Ana Castillo
The Rose Bride by Nancy Holder